March 18, 2008

A New McCarthyism, Part II: Roget Attacks!

The messages kept coming, from the same email. Now he called himself "Michael Jones," and took to looking through the thesaurus for insults:


If you want to insult my intelligence, you might want to use correct grammar. Did you transfer from U of M Dearborn?

Although I think terrorist is such an apt term to describe you, in the future I will also refer to you using the following words: agitator, insurgent, insurrectionist, malcontent, mutineer, nihilist, rebel, revolter.

The messages increasingly failed to resemble ideas.

I decided to track the source of these emails by their IP address. The messages had all been coming from Wayne State University computers and from a Farmington Hills, MI law firm by the name of Kaufman, Payton, and Chapa.

Several months later I tried to post a comment on a Detroit-area site known as "Anti-Racist Blog", an ugly outgrowth of the Horowitz Campus Watch phenomenon that polices what professors and students say about Israel and Palestine. They repeatedly level charges of antisemitism and racism at critics of zionism.

When my comment did not appear on the “anti-racist” blog, I got in contact with the blog administrator, asking why. I received an anonymous response:


"Anti-Racist Blog reserves the right to reject or remove any comments that are racist, offensive, untrue, annoying, or disrespectful.”

"Anti-Racist Blog stands by the argument that anti-Zionism is racism."

This time when I tracked the anonymous blog administrator, I was taken back to a familiar place: the same law office in Farmington Hills where the earlier attack emails came from; Kaufman, Payton, and Chapa.

Which makes a July posting on the “anti-racist blog” especially strange. The blog posted my original letter to the Michigan Daily (the one which elicited attacks by the anonymous harasser last March).

At the bottom of the post, Anti-Racist Blog claims that someone wrote in to them complaining about an email exchange they had with me:


"However, Mr. Abowd's views are very troubling. One Anti-Racist reader wrote in to say that he corresponded with Mr. Abowd about his article. Besides being completely unapologetic, Mr. Abowd allegedly included the following statement in one of his e-mails: "Long Live Nasrallah!"

Out there on the fringes of Zionism, the (not so?) sparse ranks of anonymous hate-peddlers multiply their identities and befriend themselves.

Why are people from Kaufman, Payton, and Chapa sending attack emails from their law office? Will they stop launching smear campaigns on committed teachers, students and organizers? Or at least emerge from anonymity and claim their ideas and actions?

March 16, 2008

A New McCarthyism

It began nearly a year ago, when I wrote a letter to the Michigan Daily calling for my school, the University of Michigan, to divest from military companies that arm the Israeli military.

3/19/07 I receive an email from "," who quickly employed a familiar tactic: call any critic a terrorist:

Does it bother you that you advocate and support terrorism?... Thanks for identifying yourself as a lover of jihad, and a friend of terrorists.
Yours truly, Divestmentisracism

And on it went for a week or so, me and the anonymous. Selections from his/her emails ranged from the hateful and absurd, to a childish playground blather.


Your future employers will also love to read your hate speech. You can forget about ever running for political office outside of Dearborn.

Oh, when I called you a terrorist...I meant it. You support terrorists, and that is obvious.
Michael Jones

My email exchange became a disturbing glimpse into the world of crazed Zionists. I began to enjoy hitting back, fascinated but saddened by the magnitude of hatred that returned with each message.

What to say in response?:


"Be aware that by justifying the occupation of Palestinian land, you shirk the precedents of international law set forth by the United Nations after WWII to stop reckless nations like NAZI Germany and Imperial Japan from conquering their neighbors. This framework was designed to protect innocent life and to end wars of conquest. By justifying US unilateral invasion of Iraq and Israel's subsidized war on and conquest of Palestinian land, your opinions fly in the face of these human rights laws and international precedents which, had they been created earlier, may have prevented the holocaust in Europe or the Rape of Nanking by Japanese forces.

Long Live Nasrallah!
Best, Paul

My mistake was the playful "Long Live Nasrallah," which became the new rallying cry accusation of my anonymous friend:


"You ended your e-mail by saying "Long Live Nasrallah!"
This shows your true terrorist-supporting colors. Thanks for admitting your true allegiance. I am forwarding your e-mail to the relevant law enforcement authorities, given that Hezbollah is a designated terrorist group. "

But in the response, which threatened me with state action, I saw the implications of our exchange more clearly. It was not merely about two private citizens squabbling over distant politics. This exchange was about discursive power, and the normalization of racist ideas and policies in media, academia, and government. Symbiotic relationships form to govern and police the ideological boundaries of the mainstream, and to criminalize the critics of colonial projects.

to be continued...

March 10, 2008

Islam...uh, Obama?

As the status of Obama’s religious and ethnic background come forth in all distorted forms, he continually fights off claims that he swore into office on the Koran, or that he attended a Muslim terrorist training school. But Naomi Klein points out that rebuffing these charges is not enough. And seeing it as slander perpetuates the depictions of Muslims here and abroad as a national security threat. Its not slander, she says, but racist propoganda.

Klein argues that Obama needs to take an extra step, not merely remind people that he is in fact "safely" Christian. He has a chance to lead the way in disabusing Americans of their negative associations with Islam. Until then, merely “setting the record straight” might help save Obama, but it doesn’t address the deeper problem of the consistent criminalization of entire religious and ethnic communities that often runs through these candidates' statements and policy proposals.

The transformation of American consciousness about the Islamic world, and a re-conception of what constitutes terrorism is key to any foreign policy shifts proposed by the Democratic candidates.

Yet, look at Obama’s stances on Israel as a case in point to the absurd forms of racism that continue to come out of the mouths of liberal politicians… and which are explained away consistently as the requisite lip-service for winning office. Take Obama’s AIPAC speech a year ago, his pro-Israel reversals at debates, or his letter to the US ambassador to the UN, defending Israel’s economic and military seige on Gaza. All these actions hollow out his hopeful calls for progressive changes in American foreign policy, let alone his more profound call for a new-born political culture.

His transparent pandering to the pro-Israel right is doubly tragic, as it un-does his early support for Palestinian rights organizations in Chicago. The Zionists he seeks to bring into his coalition are some of the very purveyors of the insistently racist attacks on him and his association with Islam.

Even these outright lies and "accusations" of his Islamic heritage have not dissuaded Obama of his desire to win favor with American Zionists, many of whom look upon him with suspicion or disdain. In trying to cozy up to AIPAC, a group that actively pushed for war in Iraq and has been beating the drums for an attack on Iran, Obama undermines his strongest claims to foresight and principle as the only remaining “anti-war” candidate.

I like Obama, but its sad to see him pulled down into the dirty system he claims to transcend. The more he panders, the less moral high ground he retains, and the weaker his claims to change appear. The anti-Islamic attacks on him are not only racist and wrong, but have the potential to drive an increasingly calculating candidate Obama to more hawkish stances on foreign policy. This a vain compensation for the popular depictions of his connection to a religion of "the terrorists"—a discourse that some of his policies tacitly uphold and perpetuate.

By the end of this, we could see a candidate like Kerry, so obsessed with appearing tough on terrorism that it became unclear to us and to himself, what exactly he stood for.

What will it take for a Democratic candidate to take a stand? Ironically, its the brand of transformative leadership to which Mr. Obama lays claim.

Bringing Christ to Campus

Campus Evangelicals: their mission, motivation, and why it’s cool to be saved
from The Michigan Independent

Nate Ardle looks more like a normal guy working on his laptop in the Union than a spiritual leader. He enjoys the hit series “24,” the occasional computer game, and time with the family. And he’s really into Jesus. As Pastor for Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), Ardle leads a ministry aimed at the common college student. “We feel like every person needs to have a relationship with Christ,” he says. At the University of Michigan, Cru works alongside evangelical churches like New Life to infuse the good news with mass appeal. Less reliant on fear-mongering, campus evangelism is guided by ‘Christian rock’ strategies of planting the faith into the mainstream. It seems to be working. New Life’s community has outgrown its worship space in the Modern Language Building and is finishing construction of a new chapel for its 900 congregants. Until then, Sunday services get fired up fashionably late at 10:01 and 12:01 and hundreds pack into MLB Auditorium 3 seeking the promised “relevant, guilt-free, rockin’ good time.” This ain’t your grandma’s church. It’s an interactive concert, God’s Woodstock, and for evangelicals, it’s cool to be “saved.”

But these groups don’t thrive on the campaign of cool alone. The church community attracts students seeking personal guidance or a way to put their faith into action. Members of both New Life and Cru sign up for service trips aimed at quelling AIDS in Africa, hunger in Haiti, and hurricane destruction in New Orleans. These voyages don’t escape the complex history of missionary work and usually retain some strain of self-righteous zeal. Even with positive by-products, missions are part of the proselytization work for believers who see sin and depravity in the ‘underdeveloped’ world.

Pastor Ardle’s Campus Crusade for Christ is equally committed to spreading the word locally. The community is 300 strong and members can be seen armed with the Bible and pocket-sized pamphlets that read, “Would you like to know God personally?” Unlike traveling preachers who bring their one-man show to campuses to decry the sins of secularism, groups like New Life and Cru are taking a more delicate approach. The campus is a place where evangelicals have come not to scold so much as to tap into campus life and construct believers from the grassroots level. Ardle is a prime example. Not too many years ago, the pastor and his wife got involved as students in the evangelical community at Ohio State University. Now, his ministry in Ann Arbor cultivates the next generation of church leadership.

Gaia Stenson grew up in Michigan in an agnostic household. She pinpoints the moment in high school, at age 17, when she became interested in God. At a time when many high school kids are embracing Atheism as a response to school uniforms or Sunday morning mass, Stenson sought small group Bible study and found a community that really cared for each other. “I didn’t feel cornered, or judged, or pressured in any way,” she says. Stenson’s thoughtfulness is surprising. She’s a far cry from wild-eyed evangelists who trumpet rehearsed Bible verses laced with scorn. After graduating from U-M last year, Stenson decided to work for New Life as a campus organizer. “There have been a lot of bad things done in Jesus’ name,” she says. “Church positions have been used for power or oppression. I am ashamed at times, and deeply saddened that things have occurred.” Even so, she remains compelled by Jesus’ message, despite those who distort it: “I am not ashamed of the core of what Christ is about. That, in its most pure form, is the most beautiful thing.”

But is there an objective message? Faith is interpretative and interpretation involves selectivity. Some Christians see Jesus as a resolute pacifist, the ultimate peacemaker. For others, like Ardle, “Jesus doesn’t really address the issue of war very directly.” Both views depend on the emphasis of certain passages and the avoidance of others, and strain the logic of those who view the Bible as divine in its entirety. The good book has been a vessel through which people have sanctified their pre-existing political agendas for centuries. Its evolution is continually at the whim of power, illustrated by the multitude of successive translations and editions, each with their own adaptation of the text. This distortion has left a distinctly human imprint on the supposed word of God.

Believers all infuse their power into the Bible, but some have more power than others. There is a hierarchical relationship between national organizations and individual congregants. Groups like the Greater Commission Ministries fund church planting projects and have created a network of satellite churches, like New Life Ann Arbor. President Bush has helped to empower these umbrella groups by issuing executive orders for the establishment of “Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives,” within government, which allow religious groups access to federal funds. The National Association of Evangelicals has received not only monetary support for its agenda but an amplified voice within Bush’s born-again boardroom.

Ardle’s ministry is also one chapter within an enormous international organization that bears the same name. The predominant interpretations on modern evangelism are forged at the top, where decision making power resides. It’s a pervasive traditionalism among conservative elites that facilitates a certain dissemination of God’s view on gay marriage. It’s the perceived clash with Islamic fundamentalists that compels evangelical leaders to pull out verses from “Romans” to justify war against the wrongdoers. And then there are the millions who relate to this brand of evangelism; those who fill the pews (or stadium style seating) of mega-churches every Sunday to have their worldview sanctified.

Pastor Ardle maintains that evangelism is not political. Though not overtly partisan, his carefully crafted statements of the faith do contain something fundamentally political, and at times paradoxical. Acceptance and judgment exist in tension alongside each other. New Life’s website embraces this tension too, speaking of eternal love and eternal damnation: “God declares righteous all who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation.” For those who don’t honor the Bible, a less upbeat promise. “At physical death the unbeliever enters immediately into eternal, conscious separation from the Lord and awaits…everlasting suffering, judgment and condemnation,” the site reads.

This tension is reflected in specific issues like the dominant evangelical view on homosexuality. Ardle adds a disclaimer to his comments, emphasizing that it is not the goal of his ministry to condemn gay people. But as he elaborates, the judgment comes forth, less shrouded in niceties. “It would be just as sinful for me to commit adultery against my wife, as for someone to be in a homosexual relationship,” he says. “Both would be repugnant in the eyes of God.” Given the battle raging over gay marriage on state ballots, Ardle’s ministry finds itself intimately entangled in struggles of earthly power.

Though Stenson and Ardle represent a diversity within evangelism, there are central ideas that unify their community. To give your life to Jesus involves making, as Stenson asserts, “an exclusive claim on truth.” Choosing not to embrace Jesus is not simply a matter of preference, but a matter of eternal life or eternal death. Even the more tolerant amongst evangelicals seem steadfast in their conviction that theirs is the only way to “salvation.” This is hard for Stenson. “In terms of scripture, and what I believe, there is one way, and I’m fully aware that that is offensive, and hard to deal with, but it becomes an issue of standing on truth,” she says. But presuming to know truth on such questions has often had bloody consequences.

The problem of fundamentalism is not exclusive to Christianity, but the American brand presents a stunning case study. Evangelists in America are not only a mobilized demographic force or a community emboldened by sympathetic elements in government. The new technology of evangelism operates with a subtlety that is particularly insidious. Recognizing that no one wants to be screamed at about eternal damnation, evangelical groups on campus react to difference first with an invitation. Ardle insists that sin is the great equalizing force, but with a catch: “Everybody will be judged for their sin. But the only way I escape judgment is because of Jesus Christ, because I have placed my life in his hands.” The invitation is for everybody, but the promise of salvation quickly turns into judgment if a homosexual refuses to “become” straight, or a Muslim refuses the “enlightenment” of Jesus. Campus evangelical groups are a comforting presence for some students, but they remain part of a well-oiled fundamentalist machine that operates internationally on the premises of self-righteousness, intolerance and exclusion.

Why America needs to find its inner-Socialist

Stigmatized Solutions
From The Michigan Independent

On the eve of the 2006 midterm elections, the Michigan Union lawn was littered with the tiny billboards of a few dozen candidates. A rented truck shot four giant rotating light beams from its chassis to the sky, publicizing a midnight campus visit by Governor Granholm. Giddy Democrats packed the ballroom inside, but outside something was askew. Campaign knick-knacks generally sport some variation of the stars and stripes theme followed by vague promises of a hopeful dawn. But there, drowning in a sea of red white and blue, sat Matt Erard’s campaign sign for the Michigan House of Representatives 53rd District seat. Erard’s Socialist campaign cut costs on their yard-signs - sporting a smaller dimension, black and white print, and neither stars nor stripes - but this one stood out amid the glare of high-beam, two party fanfare.

Though our generation is involved with politics, much of this energy gets funneled into organizations like the College Democrats, which push for reform within a free enterprise framework. Though Marxist theory is a staple of most liberal arts educations, many students fail to see how revolutionary change can happen, or refuse to believe that such drastic measures are necessary. Instead, many liberals choose the gradualist strategies of election activism, which carry the appeal of a short term framework and tangible results, not to mention a row of glossy candidates, slogans, and policy promises which students can latch on to. For Socialists, this is not satisfying enough; no matter who wins within today’s political framework, corporate capitalism remains the central actor and beneficiary.

Erard recognized this early on, joining the Socialist party at age 15. His predominantly black attire accentuates the white anti-Bush slogan on his t-shirt and the button on his jacket complaining: “U.S. military spending is killing US.” Currently an Undergrad at the University of Michigan, Matt ran his 2006 campaign to expand the Socialist presence more than to actually win. “It would be great if it were possible to come to power through the American electoral system, but for a variety of reasons it’s likely to be impossible,” he says. Radicals in America constantly recite an ambivalent mantra. Erard’s pessimistic view of the capitalist behemoth is balanced by a resolute optimism of will - the belief that organized voices of a working majority can overcome seemingly insuperable barriers to Socialist transformation.

The American system won’t ban Socialists from running, nor keep Erard from planting his sign. But monied adherents to the two-party paradigm have mechanisms for protecting their monopoly from those who seek entrance. One small example is ballot access. Erard, just like any aspiring third party candidate, faces outrageous requirements. “It’s very difficult for Socialists to get on the ballots,” he says. “And the reason for these restrictive laws is because of past Socialist and Communist victories.” In Michigan, some 40,000 valid signatures, collected throughout the state within a 180-day period, are needed to get on the ballot with minor party affiliation. The two dominant parties are beholden to lower ballot access requirements and use federal and corporate aid to mobilize signature campaigns. There is also a virtual blackout from major media outlets, which operate on a foolish tautology: contending voices deserve little coverage because they don’t get any to begin with. Virtually every aspect of capitalist society becomes a commodity available to the highest bidder. America’s ideology of fairness is corrupted by those who can purchase a soapbox sufficiently large to dominate discourse with amplified voices.

Within a hostile political climate, Erard believes a movement can be built from the workplace. The establishment of radical democracy starts with organized worker’s associations to regain control over the value that their labor produces. Economic democracy is the necessary prerequisite to political democracy, says Erard: “As long as you have a ruling class controlling most of society’s institutions, that class will use its clout to control the state.” Socialists don’t merely battle an exploitative relation between “capital and labor” but a cultural milieu that normalizes capitalism as conventional wisdom. The Cold War witnessed a blitz of what Erard calls “capitalist propaganda” that made the thought of communism almost criminal. The intensity of that campaign has faded, leaving a residue of triumphalism. The fall of the Soviet state, and with it the relevance of Marx, came at the hands of a superior free market model, so the story goes. Socialist ideas sound foreign in a society where every facet of our lives is filtered through an ideological lens that frames existence in capitalist terms.

So what sets radicals like Erard apart from liberals? The substantive differences become clear where bi-partisan consensus thrives. The two-party discussion of “national security” lacks debate over imperialism. Democrats and Republicans largely presuppose American primacy in the world, with tactical disagreements over how best to manage and police it. Liberal opposition to the ravaging of Iraq was largely muted until Bush’s nation-building strategy began producing American body bags. Even as Democrats take a stronger stance against troop levels, very few question the legitimacy of the 14 U.S. bases now being primed for a permanent stay in Iraq. Bi-partisan expansionism cradled the American arms industry in its formative years; now it’s a manufacturing hub and a core American export unto the world. While over 50 percent of the Federal discretionary budget goes to the Department of Defense, and the U.S. military budget is larger than that of the next 14 highest countries combined, America’s social safety net is in tatters. Both parties are more or less willing to work within the artificial budgetary constraints imposed by frivolous military buildup.

In the face of yet another fear-mongering blitz from government and a brand of open force not seen since Vietnam, the Socialist appeal to anti-imperialism is more prescient than ever. The deployment of a post-WWII global military presence is, for Socialists, evidence of capitalism’s appetite for control over foreign spheres. America’s comparative advantage is weapons production, and the arms industry has a giant stake in preserving the militarized status quo. General Electric, a major weapons producer, also owns NBC and gives large PAC donations to both parties (on a consistent 60/40 split between Republicans and Democrats), illustrating the central role of corporate power on the ideological and material fronts of America’s hegemony project.

But not everyone follows in lock step. In 2006, Bernie Sanders was elected to the U.S. Senate as the first self-described Socialist Senator in American history. Sanders has spent decades in Vermont politics, first as mayor of Burlington, then spent 15 years in Congress. Though the Socialist Party does not recognize him, and actually ran a candidate against him this year (Sanders ran as an Independent), his work within the system of American capitalism carries radical strains.

One might dismiss Sanders as an aberration, a Vermont progressive whose message could never hold weight in the heartland. But Sanders’ focus on economic struggle is far from elitist. In a July interview with The Nation, Bernie lamented that the liberal establishment allows Republicans to steal working class votes with divisive cultural issues: "The Republicans jump in and say, 'OK, look. Democrats are not talking about your economic issues. We're not either, but at least we're telling you about the Ten Commandments, we're telling you about abortion, we're telling you about gay rights.' The biggest mistake Democrats make is to take economics off the table.” His advocacy for working class America is in striking contrast to most Democratic elites who embrace the myth of economic fairness rather than affect the changes necessary to realize it.

Erard reminds me that Sanders does not advocate basic Socialist tenets like “social ownership, or worker control of basic economic institutions,” but Sanders is an infiltrator, pushing the envelope from within a restrictive system. Entering the electoral world has required him to adapt. Even so, he remains unafraid of addressing America’s class crisis: “The richest one percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The richest 13,000 families earn more income than the bottom 20 million families. We are moving toward an oligarchic form of society.” While so many have so little, Sanders wonders aloud why we don’t hear about this inequality on the nightly news. He blames not only failed government policies, but the cynical refusal by large media conglomerates to broadcast pressing American realities.

Still, among Socialists, Sanders has earned the nickname “Bernie the Bomber” for his support of the NATO intervention in Kosovo and the US-led UN Sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s. This conflict with Sanders represents a larger tactical crisis for Socialists. Operating within our electoral system requires compromise, something that doesn’t mix well with the resolute Socialist camp. Infighting also threatens Socialist unity, as every splinter group claims to be more radical than the next. Erard is currently engaged in an initiative which would incorporate such groups under a decision making model called democratic de-centralism, thus creating a more unified umbrella organization. But splinter groups fight for autonomy, often at the expense of substantial common ground. According to Erard, some 30 Trotskyist groups are currently alive in the United States, many of whom insist on being the vanguard of the American socialist movement. As they figure out how best to engage the American political system, Socialists struggle simultaneously to avoid painting themselves into a corner.

A hundred years ago, American Socialists organized in reaction to a “rags to riches” myth which proved to be more exception than rule. Eugene Debs ran for President several times in the early 20th century to expose capitalism’s affinity for conquest: “The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose - especially their lives.” Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for these words, which violated the Espionage Act of 1917. In prison or not, Debs knew that he and American workers were incarcerated by the confines of industrial capitalism. The poor were squeezed of their labor and sent to the front lines of America’s expanding imperialist frontier. And Debs’ persecution validated his message; the master class would not tolerate opposition to a war (or an economic model) which required the participation of the working majority.

These struggles are not distant lore. According to Sanders, American wealth inequality today is comparable to that of the infamous “roaring twenties,” when Debs warned against America’s unsustainable productive drive. By the end of the decade, American capitalism was in shambles, and the Socialist prophecy was redeemed, if only to be co-opted by Roosevelt’s New Deal which saved capitalism from itself. Today, the injunction to embrace capitalism infiltrates our conceptions of human nature to such a degree that divergent impulses seem perverse. In a time when the hegemony of market ideology coincides with increasing inequality on a global scale, embattled Socialist critiques are needed more urgently than ever.

March 03, 2008


Welcome friends. I'm as new to this place as you are. I'm warming it up here with two newly published stories below as well as old stuff too, and more writing and photos coming along.

That's 75 South cutting through Southwest Detroit, mexicantown, my home. We have a wonderful old train station without windows and a view of the ren cen on a clear day. Full streets and lots of movement in this part of town. We've also got ft. wayne, clark park, hotel yorba, churros, a blinking restaurant district, the border patrol, the ambassador bridge going south, and two more years of highway construction.

On this first post, I want to share a remarkable piece just published in The New Yorker dealing with America's legacy of torture. It was written by my favorite professor and mentor from Ann Arbor, historian Paul Kramer.


Part-Time Faculty Organizing at Wayne State!

From March 2008, at Labor Notes and Monthly Review's WebZine

by Paul Abowd

One at a time, the teachers came out of the sub-zero January cold and into the lobby of Wayne State University's McGregor Hall in Detroit. By the time the board of governors meeting began -- where the teachers had three minutes total to detail their concerns -- they were together in force.

Before they went inside, staff organizer Bryan Pfeifer held out a green folder full of names. These were the part-time teachers who lost work last fall when the university cut its humanities department and interdisciplinary studies program.

"We had a teacher who was here for 10 years, and they told him his class was cancelled the day before the semester began," said Pfeifer, who organizes contingent faculty for Michigan's American Federation of Teachers (AFT) branch. "Without a union, what can you do?"


The part-timer phenomenon has its roots in the 1970s, when college administrators suffering from funding cuts scrambled to reduce costs just as demand for post-secondary education rose. Campus populations were changing, as "non-traditional" students appeared in classrooms, struggling to find a place in the weak job market.

"Schools could no longer project how many sections of English 1A they needed to staff, and they lived in terror of the fact that full-time faculty might go idle," said Joe Berry, a labor educator at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of Reclaiming the Ivory Tower.

To stay flexible, schools began to hire more contingent faculty and reduced tenure track positions. The result was a new workforce employed for lower pay and fewer benefits, with precarious job security.

Four decades of lean management in higher education has produced a nationwide reliance on contingent teachers. Full-time non-tenure track professors and part-time adjuncts form a majority of faculty in higher education. Contingent instructors rose from 43 percent of the workforce in 1975 to 65 percent in 2003, according to a Department of Education report.


Southeast Michigan has been an epicenter of part-time faculty organizing. Contingent instructors are the fastest-growing segment of the Michigan AFT. Part-time professors at Wayne State, who outnumber full-timers four to one, voted 445 to 58 to form the AFT-affiliated Union for Part-Time Faculty (UPTF) last spring.

As they negotiate their first contract, teachers are holding community forums and visiting each other in classrooms to break down the isolation between overworked contingents. Amanda Hiber teaches English at Wayne, where two-thirds of her department is staffed by adjuncts. "I did not know many of my colleagues," she said. "We didn't usually have time to talk to each other, but now we have some community."

Many of the 1,000 part-timers at Wayne responded to UPTF's surveys, revealing the sordid details of life as an adjunct: no pensions, health care, or seniority system. Pay is not prorated with tenure-track faculty, and varies by department.

University President Irvin Reid, however, made $394,000 last year -- a 63 percent raise. But teacher salaries don't make life in the ivory tower cushy. "If I taught the teaching load of a full-time professor at Wayne," Hiber said, "I would make less than $14,000 a year."

At other Michigan universities, contingent teachers are organizing, and seeing results. The Lecturer Employees Organization at University of Michigan built a union to represent most of the non-tenure track faculty on all three of its campuses. LEO's one-day strike in 2004 secured pay raises, health benefits, and sick pay for 1,200 teachers, an agreement that was renewed late last year.


Nearby Henry Ford Community College recently voted for a union and full-time non-tenure track professors at Michigan State University in Lansing are organizing, while Wayne State hammers out their first agreement.

Local organizing is growing, but Berry says national solidarity is a must. The Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, a loose network of activists, works to forge these ties by highlighting common struggles. Late last year, the Chicago COCAL released a guide on unemployment insurance, which has been consistently denied to contingent faculty on a university's claim to give "reasonable assurance" of employment.

When San Francisco Community College teachers won a class-action appeal for the right to unemployment benefits in 1989, California part-time teachers organized around this legal precedent.

Though different regulations exist from state to state, the victory in California informed organizing strategies elsewhere. The Washington AFT in 2001 carved out a legislative provision for contingent faculty at two-year colleges to secure eligibility for these benefits.

Teachers have joined the growing ranks of the part-time, flexible labor force as corporate cost-cutting models have seeped into the university. But the spread of contingent teachers also represents a potential for organizing.

"In the last 30 years, the rate of 'yes' votes for part-time faculty unions has been huge," Berry said, "But it hasn't been enough to change standards across the board. Now it's a matter of building a critical mass nationally."

Chicago Group Protests War with Civil Resistance

March 1, 2008 in Z Magazine

Over a year after Democrats won Congress on a still un-fulfilled anti-war pledge, Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) was one of the many anti-war groups still calling for a transformation of U.S. foreign policy. Buttressed by mass opposition to the war, the Chicago group went to Iowa for caucus week to launch a civil disobedience campaign called Seasons of Discontent: A Presidential Occupation Project (SoDA POP).

Throughout the primary season, the SoDA POP members will be in campaign offices making demands that no major candidate will likely agree to. In Des Moines, they asked candidates to support a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan within 100 days after they take office, as well as an end to military plans and sanctions on Iran and a commitment to fully fund the reconstruction of Iraq. They refused to leave offices until they received these assurances. Fifteen were arrested in Iowa, and in the process they revealed the discomfort, even among “anti-war” candidates, with the anti-war movement.

These acts of civil disobedience express hope and despair. The transgression rejects an unresponsive corporate “democracy,” but appeals to its leaders for support. Jeff Leys reconciles this tension: “We have to use every non-violent lever at our disposal. We need to do this extra-legal work as an extension of the necessary work of participation.” Leys spent the week in Des Moines campaign offices and at the precinct.

After arrests at Guliani headquarters, another wave of protests hit the Clinton campaign, which literally shut the door on debate. Four protesters risked arrest and tried to enter, but ended up protesting outside the locked office until it closed for the day. On New Year’s Eve, cameras crowded the doors of Huckabee headquarters where three more protestors inquired of the reverend: “Who would Jesus Bomb?”

Kathy Kelly, Mona Shaw, and Robert Braam before their arrests at Huckabee's Des Moines campaign headquarter—photo from Des Moines Catholic Worker
One of these women was Kathy Kelly, a tireless veteran of the peace movement. The day after her arrest at Huckabee headquarters, she appeared on C-SPAN from Des Moines where the anchorperson went through her lengthy bio. She has been to Iraq dozens of times and was in Baghdad during the 2003 shock and awe bombings. “I was with children (in Iraq) who were so terrified they began to grind their teeth, morning, noon, and night,” she said. A hostile Iraq war veteran called in to inquire as to whether she was from this planet, where we face Islamic radicalism. Kelly pointed out, “When you hear children crying in pain, you have a different experience of the effect of bombs being dropped from 30,000 feet in the air.”

For months members of the Chicago community have asked Senator Obama to take this risk, not just to end the war, but to change priorities. Says Kelly: “There’s such an opportunity for leadership among the Democrats to educate Americans about the consequences of this war and about what could be done with the money that would be voted to fund ongoing wars.” They met up again with the campaign in Des Moines to ask for Obama’s support. The response from the office of a candidate running on his anti-war credentials revealed not just hostility, but a coordinated attempt to marginalize the anti-war message.

About a dozen protesters entered, carrying banners and pictures of Iraqis they’d met in their travels. Obama’s people swiftly removed members of the press, claiming that space had to be made for visitors at the front entrance, which was then promptly locked. A sign was posted, directing visitors to the back entrance away from the protest.

With the red, white, and blue Obama “O” as his backdrop, John Tuzcu, a member of Des Moines Catholic Worker, read from the Illinois candidate’s plan to leave tens of thousands of troops in Iraq through his first term. The campaign staff quietly evacuated the main room in protest of the protesters. Brian Terrell, 51, read from MLK’s April 1967 speech on Vietnam; “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” Obama’s people whispered to each other, then had police usher the protest out the side door.

Kelly and others are giving equal scrutiny to the liberal field. Leys is concerned; “The biggest danger is that Democrats are normalizing the idea of partial withdrawal, and disarming the anti-war movement to the idea of residual troop levels.” The SoDA POP organizers are pushing for withdrawal, not just from Iraq, but also from a failed strategy that diverts public funds for a highly militarized global presence.

The VCNV project is about reclamation of the political process, and reclamation of funds better used for the common good. Leys sees the drain of the war effort on public services in Chicago: “The state government is on doomsday number three for mass transit funding. Fares might be doubled in the next few weeks, and the suburbs are already cutting their routes and services to the city.”

As the war brings its effects home, it has sparked a rise in civil resistance actions nationwide in the last year. Each arrest makes it clear that Americans don’t accept these realities willingly. Leys hopes that more voices will join to create a more forceful culture of protest: “We need to acknowledge that we haven’t done enough yet to build up anti-war sentiment in Congress.”

Robert Braam, one of the people arrested in Des Moines, called the discontented to action: “Only thing we did wrong? Stayed in the wilderness too long. Only thing we did right? The day we stood up to fight.”

March 02, 2008

For a Right to Fight

From June 2007 on Michigoss Jon Ganz and Aaron Mondry's U of M schoolyard webjournal. May she rise again!

Jesus too had his table-turning fit in the temple. Perhaps the prophet of the meek realized that violence is often the only way to be heard, or sometimes, to survive. The centuries-long chronology of colonialism proves that power won’t defer to a turned cheek. Frantz Fanon lived his entire life as a black subject of white empire. The French wielded the sword and piled the dead, but also inflicted psychological wounds upon the living. A just world would not confront anyone with the choice to kill or be killed. And yet, predatory power structures persist in compelling large portions of humanity to face precisely this morbid ultimatum. To advocate non-violence as a universal ethical rule is to misunderstand the particular plight, and urgent demands, of those upon whom the cloud of domination continues to rain down.

The core of Fanon's message was thus: free yourselves by any means necessary. A psychologist of the Freudian tradition, Fanon envisioned violent resistance as a cleansing release from the trauma of the colonial experience. In his view, colonized communities had internalized the inferiority imputed upon them by repressive regimes. In turn, individuals had colonized themselves by repressing their most basic desire for freedom. As a boy in French-ruled Martinique, Fanon absorbed daily violence in many forms. His early education taught him a French history about the gallant Gauls and white heroism. He was written out of the story, or rather, re-written by representations of the irrational savage as the embodiment of moral darkness.

The colonized had to navigate a matrix of power in which body and psyche alike were bombarded by collective punishments. The dominant “other” cast a glare that fundamentally re-fashioned black communities while reducing their value to metrics of labor utility. The black man would never be human in a white world unless he challenged and defeated inhumane power structures. Fanon synergizes Marxist class analysis and his own explanation of the psycho-racial dynamics of colonial society, while asserting a prophecy of biblical proportions: “The last shall be first.”

But how would this reversal of fortunes be achieved? What is one to do, when bodies and identities are fixed in submission? Fanon found his answer late in life, after moving to an Algeria steeped in revolution. French colonialists understood only the language of force, for that is all they spoke. Sartre backs Fanon in his preface to Wretched of the Earth: “First comes the violence of the settler. Then and only then does the violent resistance of the colonized return upon the settler as if he were approaching his image in a mirror.” Violent resistance is the great equalizer; those who carry it out reject the farce of colonial hierarchy, and in destroying its infrastructure, expose the mortality of a regime that insists on its eternality. In the violent clash, the “subhuman” destroys the “superhuman” foe, and in so doing, deconstructs the hegemony of a colonial ideology which seeks to assert difference and maintain exclusion.

Though Fanon’s vision of decolonization may glorify violence, he ultimately embraces complexity. The spontaneous eruption of tormented communities must be channeled by a coherent political strategy. The colonized need leaders to vocalize a grassroots vision of the post-colonial future, they need to train themselves as theorists as well as guerillas, and they need to cultivate an artistic and intellectual culture of resistance within their communities. In Fanon’s view, violent resistance merely destroys that which is rotting. Destructive violence is merely the prerequisite for an unleashed constructive impulse among the liberated, who are free to create something better.

The fifties became the sixties, and Fanon was on the ground while Algerian FLN rebels clashed with a dying French regime. In hospitals he saw both French and Algerians pouring in, carved up by the assorted shrapnel of war. For his Algerian patients, it was often the lasting trauma of torture, and for the French it was often remorse which dug the deepest wound. He saw French civilians and soldiers crushed by the realization that, in helping their nation gain another piece of empire, they had lost their own mind. It might seem, in this setting that violence begets violence, creating an endless cycle of madness. But insanity was a pre-existing condition of colonial life, and the cycle was fundamentally colored by a power struggle: colonization, in reality, induces resistance.

And still, those who blindly apply a theory of violence to any and all struggles make the same error as the resolute pacifist. Fanon failed to address the fact that all struggles happen in different moments, and up against different technologies of power. It is foolish to universalize pacifism just because Ghandi used nonviolence to unseat the British in 1947. To automatically cut and paste Fanon’s discourse of violence into any contemporary power struggle is equally reckless. Violence worked for the FLN in 1962, and the French left Algeria when the cost of retaining rule outweighed its benefits. But that doesn’t presuppose, for example, that Palestinian resistance to Israeli colonialism must take violent form, especially if such strategies fail to distinguish Israeli civilians from the Israeli military and the settlers they protect.

Ultimately, Fanon overstates his case and ignores the particularities of geography and moment by professing that decolonization will always be violent. And yet, he deals a devastating blow to “moderates” of the West, the breed of soft-imperialists who today wave the flaming rag of Gandhi while arguing that colonized groups must not ever take up arms. Violence, when carried out from below, upsets their stomach, as well as their fine-tuned, though tuned-out, “rational” sensibilities. Fanon has no time for these self-righteous demands on the methods of the oppressed, nor should we.

Because strategies for imperialism have not simply died off as French and British colonialism gave way to a new global order, Fanon remains entirely relevant. We must not rule out violence for those upon whom the boot domination rests most firmly. The debate over methods is important, but must be grounded in empathy and solidarity with those who are fighting to attain their livelihood and retain stolen dignity.

Farmworkers Target Tobacco Giant After Deaths in the Fields

From October 2007, on Labor Notes

Tobacco kills in many ways. Long before that first puff lies yet more lethality, hidden in the fields where the tobacco leaf is grown. Last year alone, heat stroke claimed nine North Carolina field workers.

A new force is joining tobacco pickers as they go about their dangerous, backbreaking work, one that promises to organize the workers to change those conditions. Members of The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) voted this summer to undertake a campaign against Reynolds American, the parent company to RJ Reynolds, America’s second-largest tobacco retailer.


Reynolds is responding like many corporations have when faced with a farmworker campaign: by trying to ignore it. Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Toledo, Ohio-based union, asked for a meeting with Reynolds CEO Susan Ivey on September 6, but his request has been answered with silence. Meanwhile, in the fields just beyond Reynolds’ Winston-Salem headquarters, 32,000 workers gather another crop that gets rolled into 19 RJR products from Camel to Kool.

The recent farmworker deaths have increased the urgency of the campaign.

“Workers we talk to say the hardest part of tobacco is the summer heat,” said Rachel Lovis, an organizer at FLOC’s North Carolina office. “Workers often aren’t allowed a break, and the chances of heat sickness are high.”

Unorganized and undocumented, tobacco pickers are paid $5.35 an hour by growers who sell their crop to RJR, although workers are often not paid on time or at all. Others face harassment or firings for requesting time off or seniority benefits.

The campaign has put RJR under new scrutiny. Glossy public relations saturate the Reynolds American website, which touts the company’s commitment to employee benefits.

Along with a “comprehensive health and welfare benefits package,” RJR crows about its paid holiday and sick-day provisions, as well as a range of “mentoring programs and company-sponsored diversity councils.” But these protections and benefits are not available to workers in the fields, without whom the tobacco industry couldn’t function.

Most of the people working these jobs are migrant laborers, making organizing more arduous.

“We get a lot of hesitancy from workers who fear getting called out by immigration authorities,” Lovis said. “It’s a matter of building trust between organizers and workers.”


An alliance of labor and faith organizations, brought together through the National Farmworker Ministry (NFM), is focusing on health risks posed by picking tobacco. Their visits with migrant workers reveal stories of overcrowded housing facilities which are often located next to fields sprayed by pesticides, making harmful exposure an issue even after the work day.

“The growers don’t provide proper washing machines for workers to clean the pesticides from their garments after a day in the fields,” Lovis said.

Tobacco workers are especially at risk because of continual contact with nicotine, which compounds the risk of heat stroke by raising body temperature considerably. A lack of health benefits or workers’ compensation makes these conditions more dangerous, and NFM statistics show that field workers are more susceptible to heat stress, skin disease, and tuberculosis.

NFM works alongside the union to integrate people of faith into the North Carolina campaign.

“We have delegations out in the fields on Sundays talking about the effort,” said Alex Jones, an organizer with NFM. “We share a meal with workers, and learn about each others’ lives.” NFM also provides logistical support and transportation to farmworkers. These on-the-ground networks are combined with a nationwide letter-writing campaign to pressure the corporation to meet with FLOC.

Selling one-third of all cigarettes bought in the United States, Reynolds revenue last year was in excess of $8.5 billion. That largess has not extended into Winston-Salem’s outlying farmworker communities—a reality FLOC is intent on changing.

“The campaign doesn’t mean anything unless it brings real change for the worker at the bottom,” Velasquez says.


For decades, the union has turned those words into deeds. In the Toledo office, organizer Michael Hale pointed to a large red poster from 1983, featuring FLOC’s 553-mile march from Toledo to Camden, New Jersey to publicize their boycott of Campbell’s.

It took years, but by the early 1980s the union had shed light on horrific farm conditions hidden by the company’s wholesome public image. In 1986, FLOC won an unprecedented contract to incorporate tomato and pickle workers into the union ranks.

“It was the first three-way agreement that brought farmworkers, growers, and the parent company to the negotiating table,” Hale said. The campaign also resulted in the creation of the Dunlop Commission, which forged a channel for newly unionized workers to address grievances in the fields.

The victory at Campbell’s showed that corporations could be held accountable all the way down their supply chains, in the farms where migrant communities live and work. FLOC drew these connections again in the 1990s, pushing into North Carolina to unionize pickle workers.

A victorious boycott of Mt. Olive Pickle ended in 2004 when contracts were signed between farmworkers, the North Carolina Growers Association, and the company.

FLOC’s victory not only incorporated guest workers with temporary H2A visas into the union ranks once they got to the United States but also set up organizing centers south of the border to advocate for Mexicans seeking guest-worker status within a corrupted application process.

The union now has 7,700 members in North Carolina who are protected under a contract that ensures wages at $9.02 per hour, worker’s compensation, bereavement leaves, and free transportation and free housing services. For many people in the fields, the benefits of organizing have become clear.

On October 28, FLOC workers and supporters marched to get the attention of RJR’s executives. In fact, the rally led right to Reynolds American’s front door in Winston-Salem, the initial steps of what may be a drawn-out fight against an industry long known for its foot-dragging.

“We will show them that they’ve gotten more than they bargained for,” Jones said. “Our voices aren’t going away.”

Another Setback on the Road to Peace

From Sep. 2006 at Michigan Daily

The road to peace in the Middle East was bombed out again this summer. Hamas and Hezbollah were popularly portrayed as instigators bent on disturbing the peace. Meanwhile, Israel couched its violence in the language of reluctant self-defense. This way of imagining the conflict, however, is short-sighted for its failure to consider the preceding decades of Israeli occupation in Palestine and Lebanon.

Israel's persistent denial of Palestine's right to exist, either as a sovereign state or as a people, remains a root cause of resentment and violence in the region. Resistance to the Israeli government comes in response to its foreign policies, which, like those of its U.S. sponsor, have had little regard for human rights. In much the same way that Native Americans were justified in fighting expanding American settlements or as Algerians were compelled to use violence to end a dehumanizing French colonial regime, Palestinian and Lebanese people have every right to resist an Israeli military that encroaches on their livelihood. Try though the colonizer might to criminalize the colonized, the resistance of an occupied population is justified in self-defense from the aggression of their occupier.

However, there are different types of resistance, which should be evaluated separately. Despite Hezbollah's legitimate grievances, its use of rockets on civilians was indefensible. Along the Gaza border, however, the Hamas attacks were on military outposts - a justified method of resistance to Israel's stranglehold over Palestinian communities.

In any case, the scope of Israel's response to each attack was disproportionate. In the wake of the Hamas attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert refused to negotiate with the democratically elected Palestinian government and instead authorized the kidnapping of dozens of Hamas elected officials. The invasion of Gaza targeted civilian centers and destroyed Gaza's only power plant.

In Lebanon, diplomacy could have addressed Hezbollah's list of demands. Though Israel was forced to leave southern Lebanon in 2000, it retains control of the Shebaa Farms, continually violates Lebanese airspace and holds thousands of Lebanese citizens in Israeli prisons without due process. Israel responded to these grievances by launching another incursion in a long history of bloody invasions, conjuring memories of Ariel Sharon's 1982 "butchering" of Beirut, which devastated the city and took tens of thousands of lives. This summer, the Israelis were armed with fresh shipments of American weapons and empowered by an American administration that bought them the time necessary to launch an attack.

Even so, Israel's invasion was a failure. The offensive was not only immoral but also ineffective and has exacerbated a conflict that should have been addressed with humane negotiations. Further, Israel's prodigious military force has been exposed for its ineptitude in asymmetrical conflicts. Though Israel attempted to divide Lebanese factions by blaming its destruction of Lebanon on Hezbollah's rocket attacks, Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, instead garnered unprecedented solidarity against Israel's abominable war.

Employing collective punishment on the Lebanese people, Israel forced nearly 1 million civilians (of a population of roughly 4 million) to flee their homes for safety. More than a thousand civilians, many of them children, did not escape the bombs. The Israeli war machine killed several U.N. peacekeepers in an attack on their outpost and prevented humanitarian aid from reaching war-torn villages. Israel drained the lifeblood of ordinary Lebanese civilians, destroying power plants, refineries, bridges, airports, hospitals and factories. In a diabolical act of terrorism, the Israeli Defense Force dropped leaflets on civilian areas warning them to evacuate - but then proceeded to destroy the major roadways used by potential exiles for evacuation. In weeks, Israel decimated a nation while evoking condemnations from every corner of the global community, including an August report from Amnesty International that declared the attacks a war crime.

Thousands of Israeli citizens gathered in Tel Aviv this summer to protest, and hundreds of IDF reservists signed petitions demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.. There is much we can do to show our solidarity with these principled voices.

As members of the global community, we should demand that Israeli officials be held accountable at the International Court of Justice. More narrowly, as American taxpayers, we are responsible for ending U.S. military aid to Israel, which has facilitated the occupation for far too long. We must make it clear to Congress that their unflinching support for Israel can no longer be offered in our name. Israel receives far and away more military aid from our government than any other country in the world - and has used it with grave consequence.

As students, we are also tied to the conflict by the University's investment of our tuition dollars. As of June 2005, the University held investments in major arms producers who sell Israel and other nations their high-tech arsenals. We are more intimately connected to these injustices than our consciences can permit. If we as a nation are serious about fighting terrorism, let's begin by holding our government accountable for the state terrorism that it perpetrates and funds.

Viewpoint: Divest from complicity

From March, 2007 on Michigan Daily

By Paul Abowd

In America, we are often told of a place called Israel, where our western-like ally is steeped in a cycle of violence, a micro-war on terror that no one can stop. Framed this way, the discussion avoids mention of the power dynamic at work between a colonial state and a shrinking nation called Palestine. This is an occupation, not merely a war fought between two equal sides. And though geographically distant, Americans are closely tied to the violence. The Israeli government would not be able to execute its decades-long campaign of oppression without American support.

Some months ago, the Daily's then editorial page editor Christopher Zbrozek complained that the discussion of this issue had begun to bother him: "As an American without a horse in this race, I at least have the luxury, if I choose … to ignore the whole mess as I go about my life" (The worst debate on campus, 11/28/07). Smug indifference ignores the impact that we have on a situation we all wish would be resolved.

America gives about $3 billion in combined military and economic aid to Israel ever year, more than it gives to any other nation in the world. So what's the problem with this support? Israel uses this money to purchase American weapons and impose an overt colonial project.

For decades, Israel has purchased fighter jets, attack helicopters and high-tech weapons from American companies. It now constitutes the largest air force in the Middle East; and uses it not just for self-defense. The Israeli Defense Force uses this military superiority to expand control over Palestinian land and livelihood. Our elected officials sign the checks, even though Israeli occupation defies International Court of Justice rulings and international law.

Dollars keep flowing, even though the occupation is condemned by the United Nations as well as many major American and Israeli human rights organizations. America's blind support even violates its own laws, which prohibit aid "… to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."

America's attempt to mediate peace is corrupted by this long history of subsidization. The latest "Road Map" proposal is equally meaningless as long as our government enables the occupying army. Peace is attainable only if it ensures justice and security for both communities.

In 1993, Israel promised to freeze its settlements as part of the peace agreement forged at Oslo. But 14 years later, Israel's settler population has only increased, and Palestinians are surrounded by the Israeli military regime that isolates their communities. The IDF justifies every offensive in the name of security. The military has sealed the borders of Gaza, enforcing economic strangulation to punish Palestinians for voting the "wrong" party into power.

All Palestinians are treated as suspects, and anyone could be the target of fly-by assassinations in civilian areas or home demolitions that punish entire families for the alleged crimes of individuals.

Palestinians are confined by a matrix of military surveillance, walled in by a separation barrier, curfews, checkpoints and a network of Israeli-only roads connecting settlements to each other while bypassing and further isolating Palestinian communities. The occupied are terrorized by raids, arrests, indefinite prison sentences and well-documented methods of torture used in Israeli prisons.

The first Palestinian suicide bomber attacked in 1994 - almost 30 years after the occupation began. Even so, Palestinian protests during the first intifada in 1987 were answered with gunfire and terror. Words cannot fully illustrate the desperation created by occupation, realities which our taxes help pay for. The money we need to revitalize America's ghettoes and overhaul our dysfunctional prison complex is underwriting the creation of ghettoes in Palestine and the maintenance of a veritable prison for Palestinians living within the confines of Israeli apartheid.

American colleges hold investments in companies - like Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, Boeing and General Electric - that produce and sell the tools of occupation. In solidarity with students at the University of Michigan at Dearborn and Wayne State, Howard and Stanford universities, we must demand that administrators at our university investigate and sever our complicit ties with militarism.

The University Board of Regents and University President Mary Sue Coleman owe the campus community an explanation as to these troubling investment policies. U.S. military support must cease in order to create conditions for a just peace. As students, we can do our part by demanding divestment from American companies who fuel and profit from Israeli state terrorism.

Piety and Paradox in Fire and Brimstone Politics

From 2006, on Campus Progress

I went to church with my parents over this year’s fall break. As we drove into the parking lot, something caught my eye and made me burn with the fire of a heretic at the stake. A bumper sticker has never evoked anything more than casual amusement or indifference, but this time was different. There, on the car of a church staffer was a sticker that angered and perplexed all at once: This masterful piece of blunt alliteration informed me that “Kerry Kills Kids.” I was angered by the fact that a staff member of the church not only ascribed to such rhetorical guff, but advertised it as well. But, despite my distaste for a church that fed me a steady diet of fear, guilt and shame from an early age, I admit to feeling a little sorry for the Christian institution that day. Couldn’t the followers of Jesus, a noble figure, do a little better than the aforementioned bumper sticker? Though it was just one person’s view, this sort of ideology evoked in me a sense of dread about the imminent election.

In the weeks following the parking lot incident, I wondered what made that person focus on Kerry as a baby killer, but fail to acknowledge the problematic policies of his incumbent counterpart, which were clearly worthy of some bumper sticker bon mots. It became clearer to me after the election why Bush and his campaign of “holier than thou” politics came out on top. We all know the story of the Religious Right and Karl Rove. The campaign was successful in resonating with millions of Americans who believe that abortion is murder, gay marriage is sinful, and that God needs their help to fight people who hate our freedom. With resolve, Bush pitched a faith-based vision of post- 9/11 America to an insecure heartland that found refuge from Kerry’s campaign, which lacked a certain “born-again” fervor. Bush was able to indict Kerry for his service in the Vietnam War, for his indecision on the Iraq War, and his campaign for the consumption of fetuses. In the process of defending his humanity, Kerry failed to take Bush to task not only for evading service in Vietnam and creating a quagmire in Iraq, but also for the theological inconsistencies that Bush employed to legitimize his mission at home and abroad. Now, an emboldened Bush administration flaunts its political capital in one hand and the Bible in the other. It employs scare tactics reminiscent of my 1st grade catechism class with Sister Mary Jogue, whose frequent tirades in front of a room full of 6-year-olds included threats like, “damnation awaits those who fib.”

It looks like Sister Mary Jogue’s sermon on deceit didn’t pan out; the men who fibbed their way into a unilateral invasion and occupation don’t seem to be facing damnation or a fiery hell anytime soon. They are leading a remarkable social movement that is rewriting our law books and tearing out the pages that stipulated the separation of church and state. This legacy of pluralism and individual liberty is under attack by a social phenomenon to be reckoned with. Some serious reflection is in order for religious leftists in America who oppose the continued hijacking of “moral values” in this country. Perhaps they can take a lesson from the failures of candidate Kerry, and start a movement of their own that promotes the universal values of human rights, egalitarianism, and tolerance of plurality.

The Christian Left is especially integral right now in holding the Religious Right accountable for a gaping disparity between their words and actions regarding the “culture of life.” Why are the Bush administration and other evangelical figures able to integrate religious rhetoric into policy decisions that affect a pluralistic society – even into the filibuster controversy? Perhaps the answer lies in the inability of Christian liberals to confront President Bush’s superficial pro-life campaign that selects which lives are worthy of preservation. Christian liberals, politicians, clergy, and citizens alike have been unable to check the paradoxes of an administration that frames unsustainable economic, environmental, social, and military policies in a pious light. Moreover, they have failed to offer frustrated religious Americans in the heartland another, more honest set of “pro-life” values to rally behind.

Granted, there might be problems with this nascent movement. Perhaps the Christian institution is not even a fit launching pad for a progressive political mobilization and change, given its troubling gender and sexual politics. Further, how can religious people on the left, particularly Christians, challenge their adversaries on the right without engaging in a war that would further threaten to destroy the line between church and state? Can a religiously based progressive movement serve the interests of plurality and minority rights?

I think it can because, quite simply, it must. While the questions I raise are real concerns, the religious left cannot afford to remain paralyzed in the face of an evangelical political movement that continues to exploit the political capital afforded by America’s Christian legacy. The Bush administration has wisely seized on the fact that religious beliefs resonate with many Americans and they will continue to curry favor with this demographic group until the left offers a real alternative.

The injustice is exemplified by the current political climate, which allows the indictment of any old moderate as a “Kid Killer” for his belief in abortion rights. While left-leaning Christians remain reluctant to forge a new vision founded on a progressive interpretation of Christian principles, the so-called “pro-life” Bush administration continues to deploy its shock and awe campaigns abroad and advocate for the execution of mentally retarded criminals at home.

Something is horribly wrong here. It seems that the answer to this injustice is a political movement that can scrutinize the “fire and brimstone” politics of the Bush administration by employing the egalitarian, golden-rule mentality espoused by a famous man named Jesus. I hear he is a pretty important figure in the church, and his opinions might hold some weight. Why not utilize these, the core values, as a starting point for frustrated Christians who have seen their religion co-opted for destructive ends? This Christian Left movement could mobilize tremendous progressive power from within their chapel halls, and have tremendous positive impact on political dialogue. However, if the Christian Left does mobilize a progressive voice within the chapels of America, the values of the movement must be universalized to protect the various sectors of the American public who choose not enter the chapel at all.

Anger in Uniform

From May 10, 2006 on Campus Progress

Camouflage doesn’t really work on college campuses. Among the legions of coordinated North Face fleeces, Nalgene water bottles and UGGs, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) students in uniform tend to stick out in a larger army of book-toting students. Military garb can become a target for criticism and ridicule on campus. As recent events at the University of Texas illustrate, student anti-war activists are increasingly turning to anti-military recruitment efforts. One member of the ROTC at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, who asked to remain anonymous, reports being called a “baby killer” on his way through campus.

Other students in uniform have spoken of feeling harassed by mocking salutes or other hostile gestures. Several members of the ROTC report feeling indicted for the errors of policy makers and military officials beyond their control. While Americans have good reason to criticize a mission in Iraq that was proclaimed “accomplished” almost three years ago, it is wise to distinguish our President – who wears the uniform for PR stunts – from those who don the military dress as part of a real commitment to service or as an opportunity for advancement.

Students angered by the presence of the military on campus are careless in their knee-jerk reactions against members of the program. According to the US Army website, the purpose of the ROTC is to provide “individuals with the tools, training and experiences they need to become Officers in the U.S. Army.” Students join the ROTC for myriad reasons. Whether motivated by the desire to serve their country, the promise of an instant career path upon graduation, or the ROTC scholarships that allow students to go to school first and serve later, one thing is for certain: students in uniform espouse a range of political beliefs and are in the military for a variety of reasons.

As Michael Owens, a Naval ROTC officer, explained, “The majority of them tell me that service to the country motivates them, but obviously, we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t think the scholarship money was important to them.” After a thirty year career in the Navy, even Capt. Owens had a hard time pinpointing one particular reason why individuals enter the ROTC. In addition to service and financial need, he referred to “a mixed bag” of family tradition, patriotism, and a desire for adventure or leadership, but ultimately conceded, “Every time I talk to a different student, I tend to get a slightly different answer.” In this light, it is senseless to target and prejudge those in uniform without knowing their back-story.

Even worse, defaming the uniform only lends credibility to the puffed up conservative rhetoric about elitist liberals overrunning universities, while episodes of blind harassment on the University of Michigan campus easily provide ammunition for conservative claims that opposition to the war translates into opposition to our troops. These actions alienate an essential ally – service people and war veterans – from a national movement intent on bringing the troops home.

Though it goes without saying that harassment of ROTC students is wrong, these campus incidents beg a tougher question: What does it mean when people advertise their support for our troops? Though we are bombarded daily by magnetic ribbons, yard signs, t-shirts, and partisan rhetoric, Americans have left the issue of what “support” really means relatively untouched. Does support suggest that we blindly condone any actions that service people carry out overseas just because they are our troops? I hope not. Support should include an understanding of the dangers faced by many servicemen and women.

Demonstrating our support for troops means advocating for decent pay, adequate safety equipment, and good health benefits. For years, the Bush Administration repeatedly cut benefits for veterans who put their lives on the line for their country. As recently as last summer, the Department of Veteran Affairs admitted to being short $1 billion for the fiscal year, and according to the White House budget, veteran medical benefits budget would increase in 2007, but decrease afterwards.

Support means understanding the enduring economic draft in this country that has compelled many into uniform because they seek access to higher education as opposed to a role in the “War on Terror.” A National Priorities Project study conducted last November showed that “nearly two-thirds of all [military] recruits were from counties with median household incomes below the US median … [and] that 15 of the top 20 counties had higher poverty rates than the national average.” So, supporting our troops doesn’t mean a blind adherence to the military policies they carry out, but, instead, solidarity with those members of the armed forces who are most adversely affected by its policies.

No matter what your definition, the “support our troops” mantra is unfulfilling because it is impossible to really pass judgments, positive or negative, on the troops as a unified entity. The partisan debate over who really supports the troops is a mindless political football game that turns people into statistics and overlooks the individuality of those in the military and the differences between each soldier, unit or division. The actions of an individual in the armed forces should be judged on a case-by-case basis taking into account, among other things, one’s place in a chain of command.

By virtue of their immense power, commanding officers at the Pentagon and officials in Washington war rooms have primary responsibility for the results of war. The military structure subjects individual autonomy to its will, and rallies individuals under an ideology of duty and country. In this way, it is difficult to assign responsibility to soldiers for the things that happen in war, however atrocious or valiant. And yet, to strip these men and women of responsibility is to deny them the very humanity which we must remember and confirm.

The Nuremberg trials following World War II determined that individuals who played a role in the genocide would not be exonerated by the defense that they were simply following orders. As Principle IV of the Nuremberg code states, “The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” The principle articulated by the Nuremberg code simultaneously re-infuses agency into an individual while tacking on a clause that highlights the difficulty, which persists today, of addressing moral responsibility.

In combat, soldiers inevitably enter another world where accountability withers, and where individual moral choices are tugged at by so many external forces. For most of us, nothing we have ever experienced comes close to this kind of moral dilemma, and so it is difficult to see this as anything but black and white. But it is critical that students empathize with the harsh realities of military service and war, before making blanket statements about the troops.

No matter how great your distaste for war, or your disapproval of militarized college campuses, it is senseless to project these frustrations indiscriminately onto students in uniform. Whether in training or returning from service, members of the military deserve to be engaged before they are judged.

Michigan's Vigilant Outcasts

From July 2007, at Electronic Intifada

Henry Herskovitz grew up in Pittsburgh as Israel planted its flag of independence in Palestine. Raised to revere Zionism as he did the Israelites of old, Henry heard little of the catastrophe buried beneath the budding Jewish state. Though he "drank the kool-aid for years," Henry has been making up for lost time. It was the mid-'80s, on the steps of Temple Beth Israel in Ann Arbor, when a fellow congregant told him that Israel had the fourth mightiest air force in the world. He went home, looked into it, and began a journey that would bring him back to the synagogue under different circumstances.

In 2002, Henry came face to face with life under occupation in Palestine. A vast colonial infrastructure had encroached upon Palestinians for decades, through conquest and treaty alike. Though desperation and poverty were pervasive, Henry was struck by the love he received: "It was at the Balata refugee camp, in the midst of about four of five Palestinian men. I revealed my Judaism to them and was welcomed instantly as a friend in Palestine. This was a story that the Jewish community back at home needed to hear." So he went back to the synagogue but all three Ann Arbor temples refused him a forum. As the door of Beth Israel shut behind him, Henry found himself once again on those steps where he came to re-evaluate the Israeli military.

Neither Henry's family nor his synagogue had raised Israel's sordid past with him. "That's a personal drive for me. If you tell me 'A' and it turns out 'B,' I'm pretty mad. And if I find out later that you knew it was 'B,' now I'm in the opposite camp, and I'm really upset," he says. Soon after his unsuccessful visit with the Ann Arbor rabbis, he went back to Beth Israel again, but this time he stayed outside. Nearly each Saturday morning for the past three years, Henry has pulled on his starched shirt and knotted his tie. As congregants assemble to pray, he has stood in silent vigil outside Beth Israel. The Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends (JWPF) formed when others joined him in a common cause: to rescue Judaism from Zionism.

Not surprisingly, theirs is a message many prefer to avoid. Jeffery Bernstein, a board member at Beth Israel, insists that the synagogue will not interact with the group: "The objectionable nature of their method interferes with any attempt to rationally discuss their message." Meanwhile, the Jewish Witnesses have generated press and compelled Rabbi Dobrusin of Beth Israel to engage them. Henry explains, "The Rabbi published a letter in January in the Ann Arbor News, after he had sworn to ignore us." Even negative reactions present an opportunity for the JWFP to raise the issue in Ann Arbor. Henry adds, "Many people publish letters critical of the vigils. They don't address the issues, but it allows us to rebut and bring up the issues, and 60,000 people read it." Though initially focused on engaging the synagogue, the Witnesses now connect their movement to the entire community.

Bernstein views the actions of the Jewish Witnesses as "morally wrong." This served as his stock response to the author's various attempts to discuss more substantial issues surrounding the conflict. He argues that, as a place of prayer and worship, the synagogue is the wrong place for dissent: "Injecting political protest into this setting and harassing the people who come here is wrong." Meanwhile, Beth Israel mobilizes support for Israeli policy. Though religious communities form around cultural solidarities, these affiliations are not precluded from embodying the political, especially when the collection basket goes around. Because the Israeli flag flies outside, and tithes are offered to the IDF inside, Henry insists that the synagogue is fair game for protest. "When you have taken a faith, Judaism, and instead of praying to God, now you're praying to Israel, something is wrong," he says. Even so, most people at Beth Israel remain outraged. Common etiquette just doesn't allow this sort of behavior in front of religious sites.

But the dozen or so people holding weekly vigil challenge the purveyors of conventional wisdom, whether Emily Post or Theodore Herzl. Agitation is the necessary catalyst for changing destructive paradigms, particularly those most firmly entrenched in popular discourse. At a recent forum at the public library, Sol Metz, a member of the JWPF spoke about the importance of protest, even outside religious institutions: "When I was very young there was a priest in Royal Oak, a well-known anti-Semite. I think it's shameful that there was not a vigil outside his church."

Bernstein however, thinks the vigil is unwarranted, as Beth Israel has held forums for a range of speakers who question Israeli policy: "Our synagogue has hosted a group called Rabbis for Human Rights. We bring lots of people who would be considered on the left wing of the political spectrum." While Mr. Bernstein focuses his argument against the vigil's tactics, it is clear that the rift goes deeper. "We have a right not to host people who deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel," he says. But for Henry, Zionism is the issue around which the conflict turns.

Though the group has non-Jewish members, a large proportion of the Witnesses seek to un-align their religion with an exclusionary colonial state. Mr. Metz's voice shook while describing his 2002 visit to Palestine, where he witnessed a home demolition at the hands of the IDF: "These acts were carried out by Jews in the name of Jews everywhere. I saw these acts as a betrayal of the Judaism I had learned about. I came to believe that criticism of Israel was my duty as a Jew." An increasingly vocal contingent of anti-Zionist American Jews rejects the assumption that Israel is part-and-parcel of their religious identity. But this is nothing new. From its inception, Zionist theory faced intense opposition from within the Diaspora, though today many Jewish-American organizations lobby incessantly to collapse these two distinct belief systems into one. The Jewish Witnesses actively distinguish Judaism from a state project with blood on its hands, lest Israeli crimes degrade the integrity of their spiritual traditions.

The vigil might not be pretty, but neither are the policies against which it stands. Encoding the primacy of one religion as a foundational national ideal is fundamentally the square peg to democracy's round hole. Non-Jews, and Jews of Arab descent, live in Israel as second-class citizens, or under military occupation in Palestinian "Bantustans." Despite these grave truths, the Witnesses struggle to make a dent in a discursive current that proclaims the legitimacy of a Jewish state while denying its colonial dimensions. In his Wretched of the Earth, theorist Frantz Fanon railed against a French regime that utilized its power to legitimate discourses of disappearance. In addition to brute force, army officials captured Algerian rebels and compelled them to repeat mantras under the threat of torture: "Algeria is not a nation; it has never been a nation; it will never be a nation. There is no such thing as the 'Algerian' people."

Fanon's 1963 rallying cry called for resistance to this kind of psychological warfare, in which Zionists have consistently indulged. The early Zionist theorist, Israel Zangwill, claimed that Palestine was a suitable homeland because it was "a land without a people for a people without a land." This rejection of manifest realities, namely, the presence of a Palestinian national identity, allowed Zionists to imagine an empty, fallow landscape for their cultivation. No weapon was more effective than denial for clearing the conscience of Israeli settlers who proceeded to clear the landscape of its "transients." In a 1969 Washington Post interview, former Prime Minister Golda Meir famously recalled the frontier upon which Zionists settled: "There were no such thing as Palestinians. They did not exist."

Denial remains a valuable rhetorical tool for Zionist apologists, and not merely in the realm of punditry inhabited by David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes. Along the Democratic Party's ideological spectrum, public officials ignore or distort the realities of Zionist occupation and apartheid. Instead of reprimanding Israel for four decades of occupation, the US Senate and House recently passed a bi-partisan resolution, "commend[ing] Israel for its administration of the undivided city of Jerusalem for the past forty years, during which Israel has respected the rights of all religious groups." This dominant narrative makes false claims to the rights of non-Jews in Israel/Palestine and emboldens Israel in its removal and marginalization of indigenous communities.

And so the Witnesses hold vigil as Americans too, protesting not only mindless Congressional pandering but also America's multi-billion dollar connection to the occupation. Local activist Aimee Smith joined the vigil to end American complicity with these misdeeds: "We have to focus on the things that our tax dollars go towards. We each need to work to undo the crimes and the terror that we are participating in." Expansion and exclusion are not foreign to America's own nation-building narrative. Persecuted Puritan exiles landed in America constructing their city on a hill of Christian favoritism. In the intervening years, pioneering Christians extended this ideology westward in pursuit of a god-given manifest destiny. White America rooted its nation in soil tilled rich with indigenous blood. While we can't undo this past, it is possible to keep this history from rhyming in Israel/Palestine.

Though the vigils are unpopular at Beth Israel, Henry maintains that the synagogue has a role to play: "If they want us to stop, they can influence my choice to leave. But you don't end a strike and then negotiate." For one, the synagogue could state their public support for Palestinian human rights. This is highly unlikely, as most congregants won't even speak to the Witnesses. Though he is open to suggestions as to the correct tactics, Herskovitz is a steadfast believer in grassroots mobilization: "The world had to apply pressure to White South Africa, had to criticize the Dutch Reform Church to end apartheid. And so we have to do it too."

Signs of a shifting tide are apparent even in America, where bi-partisan support for Israel reigns in Washington. Ivy-league professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer and former US president Jimmy Carter reached wide audiences with their critiques of Israeli occupation, if not Zionism itself. But Herskovitz mobilizes from what he knows. He never taught at Harvard, and never held public office, but the retired engineer knows about problem solving. Zionist exclusivity is a root of the conflict, and if this fact continues to be ignored, the situation in Israel/Palestine will only worsen with time: "If there's a noise from the front end of my car, I have to find the problem. Turning the radio louder is not going to solve the problem; its going to eventually ruin my car."