Dave Zirin has an excellent essay about reconsidering The Wire in the wake of the police murdering Freddie Gray. And he’s right–one thing missing from the show is how the police are actively part of the oppression of the poor and African-Americans in Baltimore and a second thing missing from the show are community activists and people standing up to make their own lives better. Doesn’t mean it’s not a great show, but it really is far from a complete view of the problems that have create modern Baltimore.
Author Page for Erik Loomis
With Out of Sight’s official release on June 2, I’ll be doing some publicity events here and there, which I will announce here. The first is next Monday, May 11, when I will be speaking at the Workers Unite! Film Festival in New York. It will be a Q&A after a couple of films on the global production system.
On the death of Guy Carawan, I’ve been poking around various folk music sites and the like today and I thought this video of Pete Seeger explaining the development of We Shall Overcome was really interesting and I think a lot of you would find it worthy.
A small Texas high school has notified parents that it was dealing with a chlamydia outbreak.
Officials from the Crane Independent School District confirmed to KWES that the state health department was sending a letter to Crane High School parents informing that at least 20 cases had been reported. The school has an enrollment of about 300 students.
While chlamydia can be cured, it can cause permanent damage to the reproductive system if left untreated.
According to the Crane Independent School District Student Handbook for 2014-2015, the district “does not offer a curriculum in human sexuality.” In 2012, the district’s School Health Advisory Committee had recommended Scott & White’s “Worth the Wait” Abstinence Plus curriculum if a sexual education policy was adopted.
In fact, Texas state law requires any sex-ed course to devote more attention to abstinence than any other behavior. And students must be taught that abstinence until marriage is the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
No doubt all those young sluts are to blame, infecting those good clean boys just looking to blow off some steam.
I confess I knew nothing about 19th century hog drives, which were like cattle drives except with much more independent minded animals and generally took place in Appalachia and not the Great Plains. Pork was the staple meat of the nation before the rise of packaged beef in refrigerated rail cars. So I guess such events are not surprising. Anyway, this is your historical read of the day.
Guy Carawan, the folk singer who taught the civil rights movement “We Shall Overcome” has died at the age of 87. Carawan is a super interesting guy, someone who came out of California at the very beginning of the folk movement and ended up at the Highlander Research and Education Center in east Tennessee, famous for its role in left-wing southern organizing in the 20th century. Everyone thinks Rosa Parks was this woman who just decided not to move to the back of the bus one day, but she in fact had already trained at Highlander on civil rights issues. Martin Luther King was there too and the fact that a member of the Communist Party was there at the same time fed the whole King=communist equation of white supremacists of the time.
Anyway, here’s a good story from a couple of years ago about Carawan’s role in “We Shall Overcome” becoming the anthem of the civil rights movement. There were many architects of this, as one would expect, but there’s a good chance the song does not catch on without Carawan.
In Southern California in the early 1950s, the song reached Guy Carawan. He was finishing graduate work in sociology at UCLA and doing some singing himself. He also learned about the Highlander Center in Tennessee, and that’s where he ended up. Candi Carawan and her husband have been teaching together at Highlander for many years now. They met as the center’s focus was shifting to civil rights, and “We Shall Overcome” was about to become an inspiring force.
“I first heard this song from a friend of mine, Frank Hamilton. He taught me this song, and he also had put some chords to it [on guitar],” Guy Carawan says. “When I came to Highlander in 1959, Zilphia Horton had died, and I had some singing and musical skills and they needed somebody there. So by the time I came to Highlander, I was playing it with the guitar like that.”
Candi Carawan, too, remembers the first time she heard the song. A California transplant like Guy, she’d gotten involved with sit-ins in Nashville in 1960 and visited Highlander for a weekend event for students from various cities who’d been carrying on similar demonstrations.
“Guy was there trying to find out what songs we were using as part of our demonstrations — and mostly we didn’t have a lot of songs,” Candi says. “He taught us a number of songs that weekend, and one of them was ‘We Shall Overcome.’ And I can remember this electrifying feeling when we heard it, that that song just said exactly what we were doing and what we were feeling.”
In the weeks that followed, Guy Carawan met other student leaders who were convening their own gatherings.
“And then at a certain point,” he says, “the young singers, who knew a lot of a cappella styles, they said, ‘Lay that guitar down, boy. We can do the song better.’ And they put that sort of triplet [rhythm] to it and sang it a cappella with all those harmonies. [It became] a style that some very powerful young singers got behind and spread.”
Organized in Albany, Ga., by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, The Freedom Singers were Cordell Reagon, Charles Neblett, Rutha Harris and Bernice Johnson-Reagon (then just Bernice Johnson — she was later married to Cordell Reagon for several years).
Johnson-Reagon was a preacher’s daughter and knew the song as “I Will Overcome.” She recalls the change to “We Shall Overcome” as a concession that helped bring whites and blacks closer in the civil rights struggle.
“The left, dominated by whites, believed that in order to express the group, you should say ‘we,’ ” explains Johnson-Reagon. “In the black community, if you want to express the group, you have to say ‘I,’ because if you say ‘we,’ I have no idea who’s gonna be there. Have you ever been in a meeting, people say, ‘We’re gonna bring some food tomorrow to feed the people.’ And you sit there on the bench and say, ‘Hmm. I have no idea.’ It is when I say, ‘I’m gonna bring cake,’ and somebody else says, ‘I’ll bring chicken,’ that you actually know you’re gonna get a dinner. So there are many black traditional collective-expression songs where it’s ‘I,’ because in order for you to get a group, you have to have I’s.”
Johnson-Reagon says she was still singing “I Will Overcome” when the civil rights organizers came to Albany. It was Cordell Reagon who persuaded her to make the switch to “we” — a lesson, she says, he’d picked up from Highlander.
“And, you know, we’d been singing the song all our lives, and here’s this guy who just learned the song and he’s telling us how to sing it,” Johnson-Reagon says. “And you know what I said to myself? ‘If you need it, you got it.’ What that statement does for me is document the presence of black and white people in this country, fighting against injustice. And you have black people accepting that need because they were also accepting that support and that help.”
I once met Carawan at Highlander. This is when I was organizing in east Tennessee, maybe 1999 or 2000. It was a really eye-opening experience and not necessarily for good reasons. I can’t quite remember precisely why I was up there but there were a lot of other young activists I knew, as well as a few older people. Already knowing a lot of that history, it was incredibly inspiring just to be in that place and around those people. The Carawans played a set of music for us. It was great, hearing them play those old songs. But for them, music was about the shared aspect of singing, with power coming from the multitude of voices. They were leading the singing, but it wasn’t supposed to be a concert. Yet nearly all the young people, myself included, were really very much not into the shared singing. Some people were really rather annoyed by the whole thing. That irritated me–after all Guy and Candie Carawan had done a hell of a lot more than they had to change the world using those very methods. But it’s not like I was singing either! After all, I am as much a product of the ironic pose as anyone else (plus I had grown up mumbling words in the Lutheran church to songs no one wanted to sing). And that really bothered me. The power of collective song can be very real. But is that even possible today? Even if new generations got over the irony (and I don’t know maybe they kind of are. After all, Arcade Fire is a band that basically got over on the basis of unrestrained sincerity. And I like that band so I don’t say that with any negative connotations, what would the basis for that shared music be? What style? Who would it reach out too in this era of a million demographics?
Anyway, Guy Carawan isn’t well known today but was a really important player in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. He later released a bunch of albums, a couple of which I own on vinyl, including one when he went to China during the Cultural Revolution that includes a bunch of songs played on the hammered dulcimer. It’s pretty good. Sounds a good bit like this performance from 1982, where you see Carawan wasn’t just some political folksinger, but a pretty compelling performer.
I tend to believe that events have their roots in structural causes rather than the actions of a single individual. And I confess to not thinking too much about nail salons. But who knows, maybe the actions of Tippi Hedren in having Vietnamese refugees trained to do nails is why the Vietnamese play such a large role in this industry today.
I will also use this space to say that The Birds, starring Hedren, is my least favorite major Hitchcock film.
Can the nation afford a $12 minimum wage in 2020? The answer is obviously yes on the face of it. But the always useful Economic Policy Institute released a report showing that the answer is in fact yes.
A federal minimum wage of $12.00 in 2020 would return the wage floor to about the same position in the overall wage distribution that it had in 1968.
In 1968, the minimum wage stood at 52.1 percent of the median wage.5 By 2014, this ratio had fallen to 37.1 percent.
Raising the federal minimum wage to $12.00 by 2020, under the conservative assumption of no real wage growth at the median, would leave the ratio at 54.1 percent, just above where it was in 1968.
If we assume just 0.5 percent annual real wage growth for the median worker between now and 2020, the ratio would fall to 49.9 percent.
A broadly similar story emerges when using the average hourly earnings of nonsupervisory production workers, instead of the median wage, as a benchmark.
The federal minimum wage was equal to 53.0 percent of the average production worker wage in 1968. By 2014, this ratio had fallen to 35.2 percent.
Raising the federal minimum wage to $12.00 by 2020 would restore the ratio to 51.4 percent (under the conservative assumption of no real wage growth for production workers), just below its 1968 value.
The strong rise in average worker productivity and the increase in the age and educational attainment of low-wage workers in the last five decades suggest that the 1968 benchmark may understate the economy’s capacity to support a higher national wage floor in 2020.
The compression of median wages across the U.S. states over the last five decades, especially the catching up of lower-wage states, means that the federal minimum wage has less impact on low-wage states today than was the case in 1968.
What I want to know is whether we can have a $20 minimum wage by 2020.
Another reason why we need pressure from Bernie Sanders and the left wing of the Democratic Party is to push back against the corporate pressure that motivates much of the Democratic political class. Delaware governor Jack Markell is the perfect example of this, as his Atlantic piece is nothing but a restatement of centrist, pro-business, DLC shibboleths as solutions for the problems we face. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will be great for the American working class! I’m willing to sign a bill to raise my state’s minimum wage to a whopping $8.25, but only if we have financial counseling at places of employment so workers can figure out that they need 2 jobs to survive on that salary!! And maybe, after letting corporations set the agenda, we will beg them to stop inversion mergers that allow them to get away with paying virtually no taxes in the United States!!!
Markell can smugly dismiss populism, Occupy, protest, and economic activism all he wants to but his way has led to the New Gilded Age and I’m glad to see more Americans seriously questioning if not rejecting the pro-corporate approach to American politics.
When Bernie Sanders announced his presidential bid, I saw several comments from people who may have supported the third party campaigns of people like Ralph Nader in the past respond by asking when the people who supposedly prefer primary challenges to third parties would start criticizing Sanders for challenging Hillary Clinton. The upshot of these statements is that those who oppose third party bids are actually Democratic Party hacks who just want to protect their beloved Al Gore or John Kerry or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or whoever the party centrists select.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for myself, who is a very strong critic of anything to do with third parties on the left, this is absolutely not true. I think Sanders’ run is great. Here’s the thing about Bernie Sanders as opposed to say Ralph Nader–he is neither consumed with his own ego nor an idiot who doesn’t understand American politics. Rather, he is challenging Hillary Clinton in a way that is going to force her to move to the left on real issues, through the primary process. That matters a lot.
Relatedly, I strongly endorse almost everything in this Bhaskar Sunkara piece on Bernie Sanders.* Sanders is no revolutionary socialist. He’s really pretty comparable to a good Great Society liberal like Hubert Humphrey or Ed Muskie. But by running for president within the Democratic Party instead of a pointless, quixotic third party campaign, he gives voice to the Democratic Party base that may be OK with Hillary Clinton as the nominee but would sure like her to be significantly farther to the left. By making socialism not a dirty word but rather an appealing option to DLC corporatism, Sanders represents a threat. It’s not that I think Hillary Clinton believes in her soul that her husband’s policies of mass incarceration need to be reversed or that the Trans Pacific Partnership is really flawed. I don’t care what she feels. I don’t look to politicians for sincerity. I care what she feels she has to do in order to motivate the base to vote for her and support her in her presidency. Bernie Sanders is making her do more work there. And she won’t be able to completely repudiate those positions once in office.
The Bernie Sanders campaign has its limitations. It’s not bringing socialism to the United States. But if we recognize what it is doing, it has real significance and should be wholly supported by the entire Democratic base. In an increasingly polarized nation, the centrist voters the Clintons were made to appeal to are almost nonexistent, Beltway writers notwithstanding. She should have to work to win over a Democratic base that is moving to the left. The more work she has to do, the more likely she will govern to the left.
In the end, politics is not about which candidate you want to have a beer with or the left-wing version of this, which is about which candidate seems to hold your feelings deepest in their heart. It’s about the expression of power. A legitimate run by Sanders finally shows the Democratic Party that the party left not only wants change but actually understands how politics work and how to enforce discipline. It shows that the left has organized enough to pull the party left. And that would be a big win for progressive forces.
* I don’t agree with the whole “transcend the Democratic Party” point because replacing it with a Socialist Party isn’t ever going to happen and to try and do so would suck out the energy to create concrete gains for working people. But understanding that right now the way to do that it effectively to infiltrate the Democratic Party nomination process is good enough. Plus he’s a socialist editor of a major leftist journal so what is he supposed to say?
Despite every freak out when black people riot, white Americans love rioting too and always have. From the Boston Tea Party to any given sports championship, white people love raising some hell in the streets. But of course they are white and so it’s OK. Heather Cox Richardson with some context and many examples of white people rioting.
As long as America is a democracy, we will have riots. But they will not all be viewed in the same historical light. Riots bring popular attention to a perceived inequality. Once people start paying attention, the unfairness of the underlying situations in places like Ludlow or Watts or even colonial Boston, make them sit up and work to fix those inequalities. But as often, popular attention to the rage of rioters makes it clear that the rioters are the ones trying to maintain inequalities. Popular disgust for the mobs in the New York City Draft Riots or at Ole Miss moved society forward too, but not in the way those rioters anticipated. Far from achieving their ends, the rioters in New York City in 1863 or the ones a century later at Ole Miss created a backlash that advanced the very policies they opposed.
The people who are burning Baltimore are not thugs. They are Americans, acting in a grand American political tradition. Calling them thugs and demanding non-violence prejudges them as those who are out of step with modern America. It says that, like the New York City Draft Rioters or the segregationists at Ole Miss, the wrongs they are protesting are in their own heads. That the city of Baltimore has paid damages to more than 100 victims of police brutality in the past three years, and that Freddie Gray’s spine was mysteriously severed and his larynx crushed in police custody, makes it seem unlikely that today’s protesters are imagining injustice.