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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ebola and Us

(I'm taking a minute from the Black Urban Growers Conference #BUGS2014 #Detroit for this post.  Then it's back to edible landscapes and food sovereignty!)

Ebola Virus
I've been thinking about this since August, but now that my home town, Akron, OH, has hit the spotlight with the identification of U. S. Ebola patient #3, I think it's time.

Americans are spoiled.  We inflict war and carnage, exploit resources and generally mindlessly pursue our self-interest without recognizing that we are not Fortress America, reaching out and pillaging, and then dashing back, arms full of other people's resources, to our titanium castle on a big island in the middle of a big ocean.

We were never that, and we aren't that now.  Globalization brought Christopher Columbus and deadly diseases to the naive immunes systems of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and North America.  The results were 80-95% of populations dying.  Disease and pestilence have been introduced to every continent from some other place because of "journeys of discovery" to find the raw materials of the emerging and consolidating capitalist economies. 

There was a point in this country when people realized that it was unsustainable to continue to pollute our water supplies with our trash and feces.  That gave rise, in part, to the public health movement in the early 20th century (they had other, less honorable intentions of course).  Public health brought sanitation, vaccines, access to clinics and infectious disease control.  In the last 20 years this commitment to public health, that eventually gave us the CDC, the surgeon general and state, county and local public health offices, has been deprived of funding and government support.  The CDC has had it's budget cut by billions over the last 20 years.  

In addition, thanks to the Reagan era health care reform, privatization has resulted in for-profit hospitals with little focus on their public health responsibilities.  And then there are states like Texas.

States like Texas, Louisiana, and West Virginia have inefficient, poorly funded or practically non-existent public health infrastructures.  They pander to extractive industries -- oil, coal, fracked gas -- that need environmental
Houston.  Thanks Juan Parras of TEJAS
and public health regulations to be held at bay so they can make their enormous profits.

So, don't show up in a Texas for-profit hospital and expect them to know where Liberia is or that Ebola is epidemic there.  And if you don't have insurance (because there is no Medicaid expansion Texas) you will be lucky to be handed a bottle of antibiotics but you will definitely be sent away.  But the nurses will try to do their best, cobbling together the protective gear inappropriately so that they will be guaranteed to be the next Ebola victims.

Disease spreads, Ebola will be here.  If you are really worried about your personal health insist your local and state governments reinvigorate the systems that guarantee our public health.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Request from Organizers in Ferguson

Perhaps you are like me, and have a deep and long-standing sense of guilt about not going to the Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  I have mostly
addressed that regret and shame by working with Mossville Environmental Action Now and experiencing the enduring agony that is the situation for communities of color trying to live (and breathe...) in that state's oil patch.  But it only takes the first five minutes of a situation like Ferguson for that old guilty voice to rise up, with this thought, "I should be there.  I should be there supporting my people!" 

I have learned to not give in to this urge.  And while I am obsessed with the events unfolding around the death of Michael Brown, I have been acutely aware that the Organization for Black Struggle,   a St. Louis-based community organization attempting to create some capacity for long-lasting social justice in "The Lou" and its suburbs.  
Jamala Rogers of OBS (OBS Website)
This has been born out by the following request from the people on the ground who understand the issues, resources and needs available in this critical time. OBS has an important message for us. Beginning, most importantly by asking us to STAY HOME.  
Here's their message, received via Spirit House in Durham, NC. They are an affiliate of Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD).

This from The Organization for Black Struggle in Ferguson:

"First let me say, we are appreciative of the calls and texts of concern for us in the state of Misery. For many of you who responded to the call for funds to support a full-time organizer, we are beyond grateful. The Organization for Black Struggle is now able to put a team on the ground in a more strategic, focuses and sustained way.

Your local comrades have been on the ground since Day One of the uprising--initially providing security for both protestors and small businesses located on the busy strip of West Florissant (now the epicenter of the rebellion)--as well as maintaining surveillance of the militarized police force.

OBS convened a group of over 50 people on Friday--labor, community, student activists-- to coordinate our efforts, to rally around the community demands, and most importantly to began setting in place the processes/mechanisms for Ferguson residents to fight for long-term reforms, i.e. civilian oversight board, etc. We organized a Day of Solidarity yesterday that brought thousands together to rally at the apartment complex and then move to workshops/trainings at Steve's church. 

We fully understand that soon the media will roll out to the next hot issue and battle-fatigue will set in for the residents. With all eyes on St. Louis now, we must maximize our impact in the short run as well as the long run.

You have seen the images and being conscious of the media's spin, you can read between the lines to determine what's bullshit and probably be pretty inaccurate without having to be on the ground. We ask that you use all available avenues to make the epidemic of police murders a national issue.
For comrades asking about how they can support this struggle, here are a few suggestions:
  • Help shape and reframe the narrative around looting; the media and even some well-meaning folks are getting caught up with a small piece of the issue that involves an even small percentage of the thousands who have been in peaceful protest. The focus and blame needs to put squarely on the white power structure in Ferguson for their years of political and economic abuse topped with police abuse.
  • Lift up the serious issue of urban centers being treated as if they're militarized zones. As much as we've talked here about the militarization of the police, seeing was believing. When
    Ferguson? No.  New Orleans, 2005
    the country police showed off their military hardware, most fair-minded people were horrified and now we have more allies than ever before. Just in time! The St. Louis police chief wants drones to be added to a bond issue.
  • We have discouraged people from coming to The Lou for a variety of reasons but understandably folks want to be where the action is. This is a bad habit that the movement needs to break--running all over the country to a fight when the damn fight is in your own backyard. (emphasis mine)  Of course, there are times when a call is put out for people's presence because it's the numbers that are needed. This is an opportunity to connect the Mike Brown murder with all of the other extrajudicial murders in the country. (See Fletcher's recent article in ZNet.) Activists and organizers need to began examining/criticizing policing methods where they live and put some real energy into make these occupying forces accountable.

Lastly, if there's something you hear about Ferguson that needs clarifying or you get information that you think is helpful (like the press release I received on the County Police Chief going to Israel for counter-terrorism training a couple of years!), please feel free to call or to share..."

 So, I'm staying home. Send a donation to Organization for Black Struggle so they can hire an organizer to be in Ferguson and build community capacity to address their own problems. 

For my part,  I'm checking in with one of Akron's local social justice group, Stop the Violence Akron Movement, and putting my efforts at the service of BOLD toward figuring out how we build a movement based on working locally, in our own weed-infested backyards.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson & The Declining Effectiveness of Civil Rights Era Leadership

As the reaction to the murder of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, MO cop continues to Many have found the actions (or inactions) of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon  incomprehensible.  On Thursday, August 14, the day he turned enforcement responsibilities over the the Highway Patrol, he made his pronouncements from the relative safety of the University of Missouri.  At some point on Thursday he appeared in Floissant, MO, 3 miles from Ferguson, to seek the prayers and intercession of the local African-American clergy.

Those spiritual efforts have not proven wholly effective.  In fact, local clergy and community leaders have lamented their inability to control the protestors, many of whom are under 30 years old and, frankly, able to stay awake and out in the streets far later than their elders.  Ferguson is a rage that has grown beyond the control of traditional non-violent protest tactics. Perhaps fueling this rage is the disappointment in the outcomes of the civil rights years, not only the police violence, but the unfulfilled expectation of good jobs, housing, and peace in our communities.  Just as our ancestors experienced the fearsome and effective backlash of the white citizens movement at the end of Reconstruction, African-Americans of the last half of the 20th century have experienced an organized reaction, fueled by the defection of southern Democrats to the Republican Party, and the refuge they have taken in the toxic rhetoric of welfare reform, gun rights, drug wars and zero tolerance education policies.

Those of us who made class moves away from historically black communities or embraced the delusional prosperity gospel of the 1990s megachurch  frequently choose to blame those literally imprisoned, or living under a kind of occupation, with the constant reminder of their conditions of servitude:  no or poorly paying jobs, underfunded schools, and a punitive law enforcement that guarantees no one strays from physical and psychic boundaries.

There has always been a black underclass. During segregation we had to live in close proximity to
Howard University Students #Don'tShoot
each other.  As a post-voting rights era class divide has emerged and become a permanent feature of the African-American community this underclass has become more isolated and frequently demonized by those who have climbed (and forgot to lift up the community with us).  So now we wring our hands, sick with outrage and shame.

As I finish this, with no real conclusion to offer, the National Guard is on its way to Ferguson.