Bias against those homeless is fought by recognizing their inherent dignity
After almost 70 years since its adoption, the moral influence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has been reluctantly accepted by the governments of the world. Even though the chair of the draft committee of for the UDHR, Eleanor Roosevelt, went to great lengths to remind people that the document was only a moral document and not a legal text, she also recognized that the document may become “the international Magna Carte of all men, everywhere.” To a limited existent, she has been right. There are few corners of the earth where the UDHR’s articles are outright ridiculed. Unfortunately, one of those few corners is here in the United States.
For many American policymakers, the sticking point of the UDHR is Article 25(1) which states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” So far, the political culture in the United States has been divided into to two anti-Article 25 wings.
On one side are those who share the views of former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who described provisions in Article 25 as “a letter to Santa Claus” that “Neither nature, experience, nor probability informs these lists of `entitlements,’ which are subject to no constraints except those of the mind and appetite of their authors.” On the other side is the view articulated by the Clinton Administration. The economic rights described in Article 25 may not be a “letter to Santa Claus,” but they are not important. Civil and political rights take priority. Economic rights could be granted as long as they do not burden governments or markets. In other words, they are not really rights at all, more like thoughtful suggestions.
Fortunately, this is changing. Over the years, it has been accepted that in order to correct grave economic injustices it is essential to codify certain basic necessities as rights. One of the most significant of these is the right to shelter and housing, which—in the landmark case Callahan v. Carey (1979)—has been legally recognized by the Supreme Court of New York. Even though, the enforcement of the right to shelter has been lackluster, its recognition is a watershed moment in the struggle to end homelessness, and its approach should be brought here to Olympia, Washington.
The numbers speak for themselves. In 2014, the Thurston County Homeless Census reported approximately 599 living on the street. The overwhelming majority resided somewhere in Olympia. Of those, only 26% of the population had regular shelter. The remainder was either considered in transition (approximately 30%) or had no regular means to protect themselves from the elements (approximately 44%, the largest margin). Often there is an implicit assumption that people on the street are somewhat deserving on their condition, but the data shows otherwise. Only 3% of the homeless population in Thurston County listed criminal conviction as the reason for homelessness. Far more common sources of vagrancy were job loss, sudden economic instability, family break-up, and domestic violence. All factors that would be considered “circumstances beyond (one’s) control” if a common sense reading of the UDHR was taken seriously.
At the heart of this issue is an awareness of other’s dignity. Communities recognize human rights in order to ensure that their members form empathic connections with one another. Considering the intense prejudice that homeless people face, it is only fitting that we fight this bias by recognizing these people’s inherent dignity. Indeed, that was what Eleanor Roosevelt understood as the original purpose of the UDHR. Shortly after its acceptance by the UN General Assembly, she told the American press that it was the obligation of every nation to “give people rights and freedoms which gives them dignity and which will give them a sense that they are human beings who can walk the earth and look all men in the face.” It is time for Olympia to live up to that obligation.
Marco Rosaire Rossi, a graduate of the University for Peace in Costa Rica, is a resident of Olympia.
Investigation reveals contract between Port of Olympia and ThurstonTalk When the Port of Olympia put out an article on May 5 by Kate Scriven for ThurstonTalk called, “Port of Olympia: Snapshot of Current Projects, Recent Changes, Plans for Future,” via the Port’s list serv, I read it. The public and the media are invited to subscribe to this list serv in order to keep up on Port activities. The article was an interview with Port of Olympia executive director Ed Galligan and read like a one-sided industry puff piece, so I discredited it, but then, I became curious… http://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2015/05/port-of-olympia-and-thurstontalk-when.html
Re: latest issue, page 12 photo caption; “The only known photo of the…blah, blah….”
Come on guys, do your homework.
First, the pictured crowd, estimated then at about 3000, is seen in the Legislative Building rotunda the afternoon of Tuesday, January 15, 1991. The so called “take over” came a while later when someone opened a door to the floor of the House chambers (the House was not in session at the moment) and a large part of the crowd poured in to “take over” the Leg. The Senate side went untouched. There was a debate for some time over how the crowd was able to throw open the door allowing the group to flood through. Generally, the doors were not well guarded at the time and security was pretty lax as compared to current practice.
There are scores of photos in State Archives of the crowd in the House chambers taken by then House Democratic Caucus staff photographer Randy Wood. These are public documents anyone can ask to view and copies obtained. Maybe that’s something of interest for a future issue. Just ask to see House photos on and around that date. They’re all on black and white proof sheets printed from 35mm negatives.
Someone in the crowd carried in an Iraqi flag and hung it over the railing of the south gallery. In the collection of pictures Wood took that night the flag shows up in the background in some. An ultra conservative House member, Rose Bowman of Lewis County, went on something of a rampage trying to obtain copies of the photos that showed the flag, presumably with which to make some kind of political hay. She never got them. House Chief Clerk, Alan Thompson, immediately confiscated the proofs and negatives (black and white back then) and locked them away in his office for a few weeks as the nonsense blew over. They were eventually returned to the photo staff, then eventually were committed to State Archives.
The crowd decided it was going to stay all night. State Patrol showed great restraint through the event. They simply stood by to make sure no one got hurt or damaged property (one drinking glass was broken; someone left $3 and a note of apology) and turned up the lights and heat as high as they’d go to make things uncomfortable for the protesters. By about 8:00 a.m. next morning all but five had left. Patrol simply carried the few stubborn ones out of the chambers and gently set them down outside the building. No one was arrested. The chamber doors were, of course, locked for a while and extra security was posted outside both chambers for a few days to prevent another take over event.
A few legislators met with the crowd in the House chambers that evening. One, I believe, was State Sen. Karen Frazier, then a member of the House, representing Olympia and much of Thurston County. She shows up in Wood’s photos. There perhaps were others showing in the pictures.
How the hell do I know all this? I was there. Well, sort of. I was working as a session employee in the photo lab shared by Democratic and Republican staff photographers (yes, there were both at the time, another long story) and processed and proofed most of Wood’s film. I probably made a few prints too. I don’t think I went into the House chambers that night but certainly knew first hand from Wood and others the blow by blow recitation.
“Most demonstators leave statehouse” archived Associated Press story can be found at the web address:
Suggest you call up Sen. Frazier and ask her about her experience with the event. Bet she would think it pretty funny someone would be asking after all these years.
State Archives, call and make an appointment to see the photos.
Paul Peck, Olympia
In mid-April, La Caravana 43, a group made up of parents and fellow students of the 43 missing student teachers from Ayotzinapa arrived in Olympia. Their visit to Olympia consisted of two events, one at the Washington State Labor Council and one at the Evergreen State College’s Longhouse. Both events entailed a panel made up of two parents, two students, and a member of the Free Nestora Committee. The events were both successful, drawing large crowds that filled both spaces and participated in thoughtful question and answer periods.
For the week La Caravana 43 was in Olympia, the Evergreen student, Movimiento Estudiantil Xican@ de Aztlán (MEXA), put together an art exhibit consisting of 43 chairs each with a picture of a missing student. The exhibit was displayed in the Evergreen Library Building.
There was also a substantial fundraising effort, over $400 was collected in the two days, and the organizers, which include South Puget Sound Solidarity with Ayotzinapa, Free Nestora Committee in Olympia, Mexa de Evergreen, Heroico Batallon de San Patricio, received a large grant from the Evergreen State College’s Diversity Fund. There were also generous donations of food from the Ramirez Family Grocery store, The Jalisco Tortilla Factory, the Heroico Batallon de San Patricio and the Olympia Food Coop, which were used to feed the members of the Caravana 43 during their stay and were much appreciated. The organizers would like to thank everyone who came and shared their time and resources with this effort.
We would like to extend our appreciation to all those who came and supported these events. There will be ongoing work on this effort and you can find updates about future events by visiting www.caravana43.org, https://www.facebook.com/OlympiaCaravana43 and http://freenestora.org.
Becca Echeverria grew up in Northern Washington and currently lives in Lacey. They plan to attend the Evergreen Masters in Teaching program in the fall and hope to be a High School English teacher.
On a cool, clear Saturday morning I was chopping wood. Chips and splinters sprayed as a neighbor peered over my fence in greeting. I welcomed him with dirt speckled face, an axe over my shoulder. He looked around; seeing the pile of split timber and my sweaty brow he congratulated me on the “man’s work.” I smiled with pride, initially unaware that he wasn’t congratulating me for hard work, but for my maleness—he was reveling in it.
My neighbor was well intentioned, but our idea of masculinity has been circumscribed by a false ideological construction. I wondered if he would have congratulated me on the laundry, dusting, and dishes that were started before the chore of “being a man.” I don’t blame him for this, but rather American society’s gender assumptions.
June is “Men’s Health Month,” a time when we are to look inward, contemplating prostate cancer, our testes, or sports related injuries. But being a healthy male should mean more than treating the concussions we received while playing football—it should be about treating the assumption that a healthy man should play football.
The “dominant man” is defined as being aggressive, physically strong, self-determining, and emotionally reserved. The recent film John Wick, epitomizes this narrative. The plot follows a skilled assassin who (like James Bond, Jason Bourne, Beatrix Kiddo, and many others) is a one-man army, an unstoppable force. In the film, Wick avenges his dog’s death and the theft of his vehicle by not merely killing, but methodically murdering countless men. His emotional release isn’t through tears or mourning – his sordid catharsis is found through brutal “manliness.”
Popular American film often represents a restrictive ideal of masculinity, and there are many other forms of media that perpetuate the myth (theartofmanliness.com, men’s magazines, body spray advertisements, the News, etc.). Indeed, there are many films, actors, and public commentators who challenge this stereotype, but the problem is that the myth still exists, is propagated, widely ignored, and effects modern society.
In 2011, the United States Department of Justice released statics showing that males comprised 90.5% of homicide offenders. Some would argue that this is the nature of men—that we are born violent—but we are not. There are many men in my life and in history who show compassion, a commitment to solidarity and community, and have emotional awareness. Men must be allowed to express communicatively—not through aggression.
American sentiment persuades a belief that the male character is defined as predatory, powerful and violent – figures to be idolized. This construction has created emotional problems, has influenced violence, and perpetuated feelings of inadequacy among men. The myth of manliness is a collective issue; it bolsters the fallacy that sex is relegated to arrangements of power in society.
R.W. Connell defined “hegemonic masculinity” as a hierarchical positioning of sex according to male gender roles. Her argument suggests that by believing the ideal man is naturally violent and dominant, anyone defined as “other” is subordinated and innately less valuable.
A man who performs ballet, a man who cries, a man who doesn’t watch sports, a man who doesn’t fight, or is a stay-at-home dad, are examples of what might be considered “effeminate,” less than the ideal man. By negatively describing them as being “girly,” hegemonic masculinity simultaneously diminishes the value of some men and all women.
Gender hierarchies and stereotype reinforcement is imbedded in our culture. Television networks and shows frequently perpetuate the fallacy of the “ideal” man or woman. CW’s Arrow, FX’s Sons of Anarchy, ABC’s Modern Family, and many other popular shows portray their characters according to the stereotypes associated with masculinity and femininity. The Big Bang Theory, 2014’s number one television comedy, is a show that intentionally, frequently, and effectively reverses gender norms to elicit humor. It relies on the audience’s implicit understanding of assumed sexual categorization. While the comedic reversal of culturally accepted gender demonstrates the existence of the myth it also helps create a method that allows a new definition.
Redefining gender roles portrayed in mainstream media reinvents the ideological construction of gender, but it’s not enough. Through our voices, and by our actions, we can influence ideology, working together to eliminate assumptions about sex. Our society will become equally represented when everyone stands against the fallacies of gender and abrogates its ideological roles and hierarchies.
Keith lives and works in Olympia. He is currently completing an undergraduate degree at the Evergreen State College, and is passionate about sociocultural issues and change.
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit a community college near San Francisco that is implementing a Spark Point Center on campus, a centralized hub where low-income students can access core services aimed at helping them achieve financial stability. The underlying assumption is that if low-income students have more financial stability, they are more likely to complete degrees or certificates. This, in turn, is linked to further economic mobility. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, in 2014, the unemployment rate for people with associates’ degrees was 4.5% nationally, compared with 6% for high school graduates. Median monthly income for high school graduates was $668/month; for people with an associate’s degree, it was $792 a month.
The stakes are high. While completing a two-year degree is associated with lower rates of unemployment and higher wages as compared with having a high school diploma, the path from enrolling in community college to graduating is a tricky one. Many students—about half—don’t complete their degrees within six years of starting. According to a recent national report, the vast majority (84%) of community college students work at least 20 hours a week, and nearly 20% of all community college students live below the poverty line. Many more students fall into the category of “low-income.” Moreover, more than half of all students of color enrolled in post-secondary institutions in the U.S. are enrolled in community colleges.
Provide Stability, Increase Success
Cañada College in San Mateo County, CA, the college I visited, is part of the Working Families Success Network (WFSN), as are four community colleges in WA State (Big Bend Community College, Clark College, Highline College, and Walla Walla Community College). These colleges are pilot sites, testing whether a community-based model that helps low-income families achieve some stability will work in this new setting.
In the community-based version of this program, developed by the Center for Working Families (CWF) with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation eight years ago, clients received support in three areas: employment, finances, and income. The idea was that for low-income families, concerns about jobs (or lack thereof), wages, debts, bills and any possible future overlap, merge, and too often leave people not knowing where or how to begin to change their situation. The CWF approach “bundled” support for clients, providing job coaching, financial coaching (and access to low-cost financial products like second chance checking accounts), and income support—including assistance accessing public benefits and tax credits, and matched saving accounts. The approach worked. Families that received bundled services were able to increase their annual incomes.
As the CWF approach spreads to campuses, the three central areas of activity continue to be education and employment services; work and income supports (including access to public benefits, emergency fund, and food assistance); and financial and asset building services. Colleges are also encouraged to work with community partners to enrich the range of services that can be provided to students.
Reframing Traditional Support Services: Campus/Community Partnerships
At Cañada, I got to see the well-stocked campus food bank, with large stainless steel coolers provided by Second Harvest. I also met a representative from United Way of the Bay Area, the group that sponsors the Spark Point program. They have set a goal of reducing poverty in the Bay Area by half by 2020. Establishing Spark Point Centers throughout the Bay Area is one of their strategies, and of the eleven centers that have been started, two are on community college campuses.
Spark Point Centersare designed to provide one-stop support for clients, helping them: manage their credit and address debt; increase income, including accessing public benefits and finding better jobs; and building savings and assets, including establishing matched savings accounts where every dollar contributed by the client is matched by a dollar (or two or three) from another source. These matched savings accounts, or “individual development accounts”, are an effective, but expensive, means of helping low-income individuals build wealth. There aren’t enough of them.
Because of United Way’s commitment, Cañada College has a head start in implementing the WFSN strategy on campus. They just opened their Spark Point Center this spring—and eleven students so far have received financial coaching. The task of persuading the rest of the campus to embrace this wider vision of student support remains, but they will likely succeed. Everyone I spoke with expressed pride in the new center, and in the campus commitment to supporting students.
A Response to Inequality
The WFSN strategy is a response to inequality—it takes inequality as its starting point, and then works to help individual students escape their circumstances through job training, credit counseling, matched savings accounts, and food and public benefits support. But even if the campus could muster up the resources to provide a thousand students a year with those services, the causes of inequality would remain. As critical as the need to help individuals and families escape the worst effects of inequality, it’s not enough. We also need a sharper focus on how to address the root causes.
Inequality caused by human actions
“Inequality is a choice,” argues Nicholas Kristof, in a recent column in the New York Times—a state of being chosen and reinforced by decisions made particularly at the federal level. Kristof frames his discussion of inequality as a choice with two vignettes: the 2014 year end Wall Street bonus pool, the sum of which was twice the sum earned in total by everyone who was working full time last year at the federal minimum wage; and the eruptions in Baltimore catalyzed by the murder of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore police in April 2015. People are frustrated.
Inequality—like droughts and rising temperatures and ocean acidification—is happening. And, as with climate change, inequality will keep “happening” until significant policy shifts are made. If you eliminate all the air-time for hand wringing, the substance of the current mainstream proposals to address the causes of inequality have as much gravitas as do plans to combat climate change by simply picking up litter.
Less hand wringing, more substance
Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination as a Democratic Socialist, points out that in 1952, approximately 32% of the revenue collected by the federal government came from corporations. Today, corporations contribute just below 10%, even though their profits have skyrocketed. That must change. One step in that direction is to raise the minimum wage: Sanders supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15.
As part of his presidential campaign platform, Sanders is proposing policies to raise revenue: stop corporations from using off-shore tax shelters, tax financial transactions (a version of the Robin Hood tax—see robinhoodtax.org for more information), tax income from capital gains and dividends at the same rate as income from work, repeal all the Bush-era tax cuts for families earning more than $250,000 annually, and end subsidies and tax breaks for oil, coal and gas companies.
Sanders also argues that we need to enact policies to reduce military spending, in particular Pentagon waste. He points out that by 2019, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Bush tax cuts will, taken together, make up half the national debt, estimated to be about 17 trillion.
Establishing a New Normal
No one I know who may support Hillary Clinton’s run for president would oppose the WFSN strategy on campuses. It’s a solidly liberal program, aimed at alleviating suffering. And if it were implemented in full, so every student who needed a matched saving account, and a better job, and better credit, got them, I would be the first to applaud.
It won’t work like that, however. Current policies prevent widespread versions of a more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities. We have yet to push the national discourse to a place where a Democratic Socialist candidate, who advocates reductions in military spending and increases in corporate taxes, and promises to take on the “billionaire class” is “normal” and not a radical outlier. All the available empirical evidence points to the soundness of both the WFSN strategy and Sanders’ budget proposals, assuming we hold ourselves responsible for each other’s well-being. As much as leaders in higher education and foundations and non-profits are championing the WFSN strategy, so too should they (and we all) be advocating for the policies Sanders puts forth.
In the short run, locally, given high numbers of low-income students at both South Puget Sound and Evergreen, we should start exploring campus/community partnerships. Even while we work to change our national policy choices, let’s also find ways to help college students in our community achieve financial stability.
Emily Lardner lives in Olympia, where she teaches and writes.
Those inclined to keep track of the calendar know that on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, the 58th American presidential election will take place. Those inclined to keep track of history will ask themselves, in what kind of historical circumstances for the nation, for the world, and for their families are this presidential elections taking place? Those inclined to change history—those with the desire build a better and more just nation—probably ask themselves the same questions as the calendar and history trackers, but also wonder about the validity of the electoral process as an efficient tool for change.
Successful examples of radical democracies
If we look at the history of the last decade we can extract two important political conclusions: neo-liberalism has been challenged around the world, and democratic social change is possible. Latin American progressive governments such as Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil provide successful examples of reducing poverty, redistributing wealth, changing the tax system so it benefits the majority of people, using the national income to improve health and social services, diminishing military expenses, extending education to previously ignored sectors of society, as well as guaranteeing the civil rights of minorities and other marginalized groups, and finally, in the case of Ecuador and now Bolivia, considering nature as an entity with rights similar to people. (Ironically in the U.S we also have granted rights to non-human entities: American corporations).
A similar positive example challenging neoliberalism is given by the electoral triumph in Greece of SYRIZA, a leftist-populist party willing to defy the catastrophic austerity policies imposed by German banks on southern European countries. Equally significant is the victory in the European Parliament of the number of seats gained by the Spanish PODEMOS, another leftist populist organization challenging the inequalities of European capitalism by extending the democratic demands of Spanish people.
All these constitute important popular achievements and re-define the content of democracy in a fashion closer to its original meaning, as a form of government by the people and for the people. These events provide—with diverse levels of intensity—clear examples of how common citizens can have a voice in determining the direction of the economic and political life of the societies in which they live.
We should not conceive democracy as a thing in itself, a state of being, or a noun without adjectives. Democracy necessarily comes holding hands with an adjective or a qualifier tying this form of government to the specific organization of the economy in a specific historical time with specific beneficiaries. American democracy has become a highly developed post-industrial global capitalist economy with growing internal inequality, latent racism and discrimination, a strong military presence around the world, and a centralized, un-scrutinized, all inclusive state apparatus of surveillance of its own citizens and foreign nations alike.
Many social observers describe present day America as a post-democratic society. The social scientist Colin Crouch defines post-democratic societies as societies “dominated by elites, where influential business interests are the only group able to make their voice heard”.
Probably the most important ‘occupation’ of the Occupy Movement wasn’t Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street Financial district, but the linguistic insertion of inequality as a category that is now recognized by the media and American popular discourse. The social asymmetries of the country became obvious, the paradoxical dichotomy between the wealthy 1 percent of the population and the growing difficulties of the experienced by the remaining 99 percent of Americans captured in a clear slogan.
It is not the intent of this article to summarize the inequalities organized by income, wealth distribution, and race inequality. But just to provide a brief illustration: some studies indicate that the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.Similar figures provided by the U.S. Census Bureau regarding poverty, ethnicity and age confirm the growing inequality in America. Officially, 16% of the American population lives in poverty, 20 percent of those, or the equivalent of 44.4 million are children, 9.9 per cent are white, 12.1 percent are Asian, 26.6 percent Hispanic, and 28.4 percent Black. Twenty two percent are people under 18 years of age, 13.7 percent between the ages of 19 and 64, and 9 percent over 65 years old. Indicators like these are hard to justify considering that the U.S. is the wealthiest nation in the history of humanity. They are also hard to justify if we continue calling ourselves a Democracy. What kind of democracy would allow these catastrophic levels of concentration of wealth and disparity?
In this context, it is hard to determine where the American oligarchy gets its definition of democracy—certainly not from the will of the vast majority of American citizens. We have reached a stage in which formal democratic institutions continue to exist but with no real public participation. Public interests are neither heard nor represented. Yes, we can vote (after long struggles and continuous obstacles still present) but do we actually have a voice?
The state, at all levels, continues to restrain democratic spaces, even those considered basic individual rights, such as the right to privacy and free speech. The recent revelations of the clandestine operatives of surveillance and spying on practically every American citizen are indicators of the deficit of the democracy in America.
What determines American identity?
Most nations express their national identity through a sense of shared history or common ethnicity. Given the fact that from its very early days, the American nation was built upon the violent repression of black people and the genocide of Native Americans, history and ethnicity have never been a strong point of departure for American identity. Nor are they now. The most recent series of events in which black civilians have been killed by white police officers is a sobering indicator of how the long history of racism and discrimination lives on. In spite of the particularly inconvenient truth of both historical and current circumstance, the reigning ideology still presents “American Democracy” as the common and highest denominator of what it means to be a civilized country.
Considering just this most recent outbreak of police violence aimed at people of color, we have to ask: what kind of people have we become? What kind of social relations do we value? Yes, we can, and should identify those responsible for the current condition. Yes, we should ask ourselves how we arrived at this point and who is to blame, and they should be taken to the political trial of true democratic justice. But at the same time, we need to remake ourselves by reinstituting true democratic values in our society. The upcoming elections offer a possibility to begin that process–a possibility to generate a more egalitarian sense of national identity.
The up-coming elections
Elections are neither good nor bad in themselves; only a political cretin would assign the essential attributes of wrong or right to the given forms of political participation. The value of electoral processes can only be determined by a concrete analysis of the material situation in which those processes occur. As Lenin stated in 1902, “the whole of political life is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding and gripping as strong as we can the link that is the least likely to be torn out of our hands, the one that is more important at any given moment, the one that guarantees the possessor of a link the possession of the whole chain”
I believe that the struggle for the radicalization of democracy during the upcoming elections should be understood as an opportunity to grip the link that will connect the broadest possible segments of the population willing and ready to change the current situation. To do otherwise—to not take the upcoming elections seriously—effectively detaches the progressive movement from public concerns, and frames democracy as form in itself, a philosophical concept without specific political content. It is important to intervene and participate in the upcoming elections from an inclusive leftist perspective not necessarily based on a particular candidate, but based on a radical democratic political platform centered against corporations and inequality.
We must intervene with an alliance of multiple politically progressive subjects (allied across class, gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation) behind the platform of a candidate who advocates a critique of the current post-democratic derailment of American politics, and the instauration of forms of government and economic policies able to reverse the existing inequality, radicalize democracy, and ensure and encourage public participation.
Given the current circumstances, the following measures are central to any vision of a radical democracy platform for America:
We must build the type of democracy that is not a subaltern of the dominant neoliberal ideology—a democracy that has in mind the interests of 99 percent of Americans.
Enrique Quintero, a political activist in Latin America during the 70’s, taught ESL and Second Language Acquisition in the Anchorage School District, and Spanish at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He currently lives and writes in Olympia.
Aquellos inclinados a no perder de vista el calendario saben que el Martes 8 de noviembre del 2016, se llevara a cabo la 58 elección presidencial estadounidense. Aquellos inclinados a seguir la pista a la historia le preguntarán a sí mismos, en qué tipo de circunstancias históricas para la nación, para el mundo, y para sus familias tienen lugar estas elecciones presidenciales? Aquellos inclinados a cambiar la historia—los que tienen el deseo de construir un mundo mejor y una nación mas justa—probablemente se preguntan las mismas preguntas que los seguidores del calendario y la historia, pero además se preguntaran acerca de la validez del proceso electoral como una herramienta eficaz para el cambio.
Ejemplos exitosos de democracias radicales
Si nos fijamos en la historia de la última década, podemos extraer dos conclusiones políticas importantes: el neoliberalismo ha sido cuestionado en varias regiones del mundo; y un cambio social de carácter democrático es posible. Gobiernos progresistas latinoamericanos como Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia y Brasil son ejemplos exitosos de reducción de la pobreza, de redistribución de la riqueza, de cambios en el sistema de impuestos para beneficiar a la mayoría de los ciudadanos, del uso de la renta nacional para mejorar la salud y la los servicios sociales, de disminución de los gastos militares, de extender la educación a sectores previamente ignorados de la sociedad, así como que garantizar derechos civiles a minorías y otros grupos marginados, y por último, en el caso de Ecuador y ahora Bolivia, el considerar la naturaleza como una entidad con derechos similares a los de la población. (Irónicamente, en los EE.UU., también hemos concedido derechos a entidades no humanas: las corporaciones).
Un ejemplo positivo similar de desafío al neoliberalismo es el caso del triunfo electoral en Grecia de SYRIZA, un partido populista de izquierda dispuesto a desafiar las políticas de austeridad impuestas por los catastróficos bancos alemanes a los países del sur de Europa. Igualmente importante es la victoria en el Parlamento Europeo del número de escaños obtenidos por PODEMOS españoles, otra organización populista de izquierda que desde España desafía las desigualdades del capitalismo europeo extendiendo las demandas democráticas del pueblo español.
Todos estos constituyen importantes logros populares que re-definen el contenido de la democracia de un modo más cercano a su significado original, como una forma de gobierno por el pueblo y para el pueblo. Estos eventos proveen — con diversos niveles de intensidad – ejemplos claros de cómo los ciudadanos comunes pueden tener una voz en la determinación de la dirección de la vida económica y política de las sociedades en las que viven.
Estados Unidos post-democrático
No debemos concebir la democracia como una cosa en sí misma, como ser abstracto, o como un sustantivo sin adjetivos. La Democracia proviene necesariamente tomada de la mano con un adjetivo calificador que une esta forma de gobierno con un modo específico de organización de la economía, en un momento histórico específico y con beneficiarios igualmente específicos. La democracia estadounidense se ha convertido en una economía capitalista global, post-industrial, altamente desarrollada pero con una creciente desigualdad interna, agravados por racismo y la discriminación latentes. A esto se suman una fuerte presencia militar en todo el mundo, y un aparato estatal centralizado no sujeto a escrutinio civil, capaz de someter a vigilancia continua y no autorizada a sus propios ciudadanos y naciones extranjeras por igual.
Muchos observadores sociales describen la sociedad norte-Americana como una sociedad post democrática. El científico social Colin Crouch define las sociedades post-democráticas como sociedades “dominadas por élites, donde los grandes intereses empresariales son los únicos grupos capaces de hacer oír su voz”.
Probablemente la ‹ocupación› más importante del Movimiento Occupy no fue Zuccotti Park en el distrito financiero de Wall Street, pero la inserción lingüística del termino desigualdad, como una categoría que ahora es reconocida por los medios de comunicación y el discurso popular estadounidense. Las asimetrías sociales del país se hicieron evidentes en la dicotomía paradójica entre el 1 por ciento de la población y las crecientes dificultades de la experimentadas por el restante 99 por ciento de los estadounidenses.
No es la intención de este artículo presentar un resumen de las desigualdades en términos de ingreso, distribución de la riqueza y por factores raciales. Pero sólo para ofrecer una breve ilustración de la situación : algunos estudios indican que el 1 por ciento de los ricos en los Estados Unidos ahora posee más riqueza que la totalidad del 90 por ciento restante de la población . Cifras similares elaboradas por la Oficina del Censo de los Estados Unidos con respecto a la pobreza, etnia y edad confirman la creciente desigualdad en América. Oficialmente, el 16% de la población estadounidense vive en la pobreza, 20 por ciento de aquellos, o el equivalente a 44,4 millones son niños, 9.9 por ciento son blancos, 12.1 por ciento son asiáticos, el 26,6 por ciento de hispanos, y el 28,4 por ciento Negros. Veintidós por ciento son menores de 18 años de edad, el 13.7 por ciento entre las edades de 19 y 64, y un 9 por ciento más de 65 años de edad. Indicadores como estos son difíciles de justificar teniendo en cuenta que los EE.UU. es la nación más rica en la historia de la humanidad. También son difíciles de justificar si seguimos llamándonos a nosotros mismos una Democracia. ¿Qué clase de democracia permitiría estos niveles catastróficos de concentración de la riqueza y de desigualdad?
En este contexto, es difícil determinar dónde la oligarquía estadounidense extrae su definición de democracia—ciertamente no de la voluntad de la gran mayoría de los ciudadanos estadounidenses. Hemos llegado a una etapa en la que las instituciones democráticas formales siguen existiendo, pero sin participación pública real. Los intereses públicos no son escuchados ni representados. Sí, podemos votar (después de largas luchas y obstáculos que continúan todavía en el presente) pero no tenemos realmente una voz?
El Estado, en todos los niveles, sigue limitando los espacios democráticos, incluso derechos individuales básicos tales como el derecho a la privacidad y la libertad de expresión e información. Las recientes revelaciones de los operativos clandestinos de vigilancia y espionaje en prácticamente todos los ciudadanos estadounidenses son indicadores del déficit de la democracia Norteamericana.
¿Qué determina la identidad Americana?
La mayoría de las naciones expresan su identidad nacional a través de un sentido compartido de la historia o un origen étnico común. Dado el hecho de que desde sus orígenes la nación americana se basó en la represión violenta de los negros y el genocidio de las populaciones indígenas nativas; la historia y el origen étnico nunca han sido un firme punto de partida para la identidad estadounidense. Tampoco son ahora. La más reciente serie de eventos en los que civiles negros han sido asesinados por policías blancos es un indicador preocupante de cómo la larga historia del racismo y la discriminación siguen vivos. A pesar de la verdad particularmente inconveniente dada por las evidencias históricas y actuales, la ideología reinante aún presenta “The American Democracy” como denominador común y la más alta expresión de lo que significa ser un país civilizado.
Teniendo en cuenta que los mas recientes brotes de violencia policial están dirigidos contra gente de color, tenemos que preguntarnos: ¿En qué tipo de personas nos hemos convertido? ¿Qué tipo de relaciones sociales valoramos? Sí, podemos, y debemos identificar a los responsables de la situación actual. Sí, debemos preguntarnos cómo llegamos a este punto y quién tiene la culpa, y que medidas se deben tomar para conducirlos al juicio político de la verdadera democrática. Pero al mismo tiempo, tenemos que re-hacernos a nosotros mismos mediante la reinstauración de verdaderos valores democráticos en nuestra sociedad. Las próximas elecciones ofrecen una posibilidad para comenzar ese proceso – la posibilidad de generar un sentido más igualitario de identidad nacional.
Las próximas elecciones
Las elecciones no son ni buenas ni malas en sí mismas. Sólo un cretino político asignaría atributos esenciales de bien o mal a esta forma de participación política. El valor de los procesos electorales sólo puede ser determinado por un análisis concreto de la situación material en la que se producen dichos procesos. Como Lenin declaró en 1902, “la totalidad de la vida política es una cadena sin fin que consiste en un número infinito de enlaces. Todo el arte de la política consiste en encontrar y agarrar tan fuerte como podamos el enlace que es el menos probable que sea arrancado de nuestras manos, aquel que es el más importante en un momento dado, el que garantiza al poseedor del enlace la posesión de toda la cadena “
Creo que la lucha por la radicalización de la democracia durante las próximas elecciones debe entenderse como una oportunidad para agarrar el enlace que conectará los más amplios sectores posibles de la población dispuestos y listos para cambiar la situación actual. Hacer lo contrario – no tomar en serio las próximas elecciones – significa separar el movimiento progresivo de las preocupaciones públicas, y enmarcar la democracia como la forma en sí misma, como un concepto filosófico sin contenido político específico. Es importante intervenir y participar en las próximas elecciones desde una perspectiva de izquierda inclusiva, no necesariamente sobre la base de un candidato en particular, pero en base a una plataforma política democrática radical centrada en contra las corporaciones y la desigualdad.
Hay que intervenir con una alianza progresista de sujetos políticos múltiples (aliados a través de clase, género, raza, etnia y orientación sexual) detrás de la plataforma de un candidato que abogue por una crítica al actual descarrilamiento anti-democrático de la política estadounidense, y la instauración de las formas de gobierno y de políticas económicas capaces de revertir la desigualdad existente, radicalizar la democracia y garantizar y fomentar la participación pública.
Dadas las circunstancias actuales, en nuestra opinión, las siguientes medidas son fundamentales para cualquier visión de una plataforma de democracia radical de América:
Debemos construir un tipo de democracia que no es un subalterna de la ideología neoliberal dominante – una democracia que tenga en cuenta los intereses de 99 por ciento de los estadounidenses.
Enrique Quintero, un activista político en América Latina durante la década de los 70, enseñó ESL y adquisición de segundas lenguas en el Distrito Escolar de Anchorage, y español en la Universidad de Alaska Anchorage. Actualmente vive y escribe en Olympia.
On May 1st of 2015 all people of color, and their supporters, peacefully went on strike to stop police corruption. 90% of the country shut down and stayed home with their families. This started a wave of peaceful opting out of the system culminating with the first native, white and black female President of USA in 2016. Then the gods of water, earth, fire, air and spirit regained their rightful place as sacred life givers of earth. Soon, all soldiers came home, all fracking and oil drilling ceased. Hemp and cannabis products became the top exports. Monsanto was quarantined and the bees returned. Geoengineering stopped and the skies cleared. People of all colors and faiths now live in harmony. The murder rate has never been lower. And now, with the free land act and an end to homelessness, not even money separates the people.
Lennée Reid is a geeky Unitarian witch who is trying to make sense of it all and find peace. She writes about esoteric scientific political and or f@cked up sh!t. Lennée has featured all over Cascadia and can be found smudging people at the artesian well at noon on Tuesdays.
At 1:15 a.m. early Thursday, May 21 on the westside of Olympia, Washington, white police officer, Ryan Donald, shot two young black unarmed men, step-brothers, Andre Thompson, aged 24, and Bryson Chaplin, aged 21. These two Olympia residents are in serious condition at nearby hospitals in Tacoma and Seattle. Fortunately, they are expected to live.
According to the local newspaper, The Olympian, of May 22, 2015 the two brothers had been skateboarding at a local park before going to a Safeway supermarket nearby. They picked up some beer and were stopped by an employee of Safeway inside the store but near the entrance and past the cash registers. When challenged, they dropped the beer and took off shortly before 1 a.m. last Thursday. Safeway employees then called the Olympia Police Department. Police officer Ryan Donald responded and found Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin a few minutes later, about a half mile north of Safeway and near the brothers’ home. According to police reports, Police Officer Donald got out of his police car a little before 1:15 a.m. and was attacked by one of the brothers with a skateboard. Donald shot one of them and they fled into a nearby wooded area. When they re-emerged, the police officer, Donald shot the other brother multiple times.
Neither brother was armed. Olympia police officer Donald was not injured.
The first shooting seems unjustified. Remember we are talking about suspects in an alleged shoplifting incident of which Safeway had photos. Officer Donald did not have to get out of his police car.
The second shooting that took place a few moments later appears to be a case of attempted murder. Donald cannot claim that he was in imminent danger when he fired the second time. He has not made a statement yet.
Police officer Ryan Donald, age 35, had served tours of duty as part of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan and also had worked for the U.S. Border Patrol before becoming an Olympia police officer. As one Olympia resident said at a rally on the day of the shooting, Ryan Donald had served in institutions where hunting “men of color” was the norm. There is an important issue of police officers who return from U.S. wars abroad and a militarized border, and then have a mindset that the local residents are dangerous or “the enemy” and shoot if there is the slightest perceived threat.
Many people I know in Olympia, Washington, which is a small liberal city of 50,000, say the police killings of Sean Bell, John Williams, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Akil Gurley, Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Washington, Walter Scott , and most recently, Freddie Gray, and Daniel Covarrubias in Lakewood, Washington were terrible and horrible but police shootings couldn’t happen in Olympia; that we are so liberal. It is a mistaken Olympia exceptionalism.
Police shootings, especially of blacks, can happen anywhere in the United States. Racism exists in Olympia just as it does throughout the rest of the nation. We are not living in a post-racial society.
There is a small but growing African-American population in Olympia. According to the 2010 census, two percent of Olympia is black, five percent self-identify as two or more races, 80 percent are white and the remaining 13 percent are Latino/a, Asian-American or Native American.
African-Americans are more likely than whites to be stopped by the police, to be followed and racially profiled in stores and when walking, to be disciplined and tracked in the schools away from four year college, and to face racial discrimination in renting and buying homes in Olympia. So racism in Olympia is about far more than the police shooting of two unarmed young black men who were suspects in a shoplifting case.
I have lived in Olympia for 27 years and know numerous young white people who have shop-lifted beer from that particular Safeway, which is about a mile from my house. Of course, none were shot. If caught, most were let go after a warning or received a citation to appear in court.
This is also not the first case of major police brutality in this city. In 1989, a healthy, Danny Spencer who was high on LSD, was arrested, hogtied and brutally beaten by two Olympia police officers. Similar to the case of Freddie Gray, he was taken to the police station rather than to a hospital and died. In 2002, Stephen Edwards was repeatedly tasered after shoplifting a steak from a supermarket in downtown Olympia and died. In 2008, Jose Ramirez was killed by a former Olympian police officer, Paul Bakala, who was also involved in the killing of Stephen Edwards, six years earlier. In all of these cases, police from Olympia and surrounding communities investigated the shooting and found no wrongdoing.
For the recent shooting of Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson, Olympia police chief Ronnie Roberts announced that the “critical incident team” is to be led by the Thurston County Sheriffs Department and will include police from the two surrounding cities as well as the State Patrol. This is an old boys’ network of the police investigating themselves. There should be an independent investigation by representatives from groups like the NAACP and the ACLU in Washington State investigating this latest police shooting.
Resistance and public opinion in Olympia
On a few hours notice, a small group of people organized a rally and march from the westside of Olympia to the Olympia police station in downtown on the same day of the shooting. Mobilization was mainly through Facebook. Approximately 800 people—mostly young and primarily white but not totally so—took over one of the main streets in Olympia and by chanting “Black Lives Matter,” made a powerful statement against the police shooting and in support for the two victims, Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson.
With the real possibility of a major physical confrontation with right-wing and pro-police individuals and the likelihood of creating divisions within the progressive community, a planned march the next day to Police Officer Ryan Donald’s home by the Olympia group, Abolish Cops and Borders was called was cancelled.
The local newspaper, The Olympian, has attempted to reduce the support for Andre Thompson and Bryce Chaplin and minimize criticisms of the police, printed in the lead article on May 23 the minor arrest records of the two brothers. This information is irrelevant.
Some Olympia residents have stated that before there are protests, we should wait for the investigation to be completed. This denies the fact that even the police admit that both Chaplin and Thompson were unarmed at the time of the shooting. In addition, similar to their responses to many of the recent police shootings of African-American men, many residents of Olympia, as elsewhere, are quick to voice fear or disapproval of militant protests despite the frequent murders by law enforcement of African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and others. Fortunately, there are many others who are determined to stand up for racial justice.
A recently formed group in Olympia, called ”Olympia for All”, announced they are running two candidates, Rafael Ruiz and Ray Guerra, for the Olympia City Council and a third candidate, Marco Rossi, for mayor. All three candidates have stated that accountability of the police would be a major part of their platform. So will their commitment to be part of a movement for an inclusive Olympia? This includes promoting a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to affordable housing. This is a hopeful development.
The challenge in Olympia as in many other places is to build an ongoing campaign, and a broad social movement from the justified anger at this horrible police shooting in Olympia of Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson. We need democratic, radical, inclusive and principled organizations that can sustain themselves, and where Black people play a major role in a movement against institutional racism and for economic and social justice. All groups need to make racial justice and equality a part of their mission and activities.
Mobilizing, solely through Facebook is insufficient. Mobilizing digitally, even if more broadly than through Facebook, is important and necessary but it cannot substitute for real conversation and education, and in organizing and developing ongoing campaigns for winning meaningful demands to improve people’s lives. Don’t stop.
It is a difficult time in Olympia as it is in other places. There are many, many politically conscious people here of all ages with a willingness to do something, but there are not a lot of anti-racist and active groups and organizations. From of this tragedy is an opportunity to have serious conversations in our community about racism, how Black lives matter, and in what ways we can build a social movement that can effectively challenge white racism and all forms of inequality.
Peter Bohmer is faculty in Political Economy at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and activist since1967 in movements for fundamental social change.
Also, published in Counter Punch, submitted to WIP by the author.