The Berkeley Book Festival wants you to understand that they did not disinvite Alice Walker because of her consistent and vocal support for Palestine. And the san francisco public library wants you to understand that they weren’t censoring Palestinians when they cancelled the Clarion Alley Mural Project’s Wall + Response exhibit.
Alice Walker, famously the author of The Color Purple, had been scheduled to interview Fanonne Jeffers at the headlining event of the festival in May, at Jeffers request. Walker has been outspoken throughout her life on racism, sexism, queer issues, genital mutilation, and has often taken a lot of flack from people who should have been her allies. She has been a consistent advocate for Palestine, and joined Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza in 2011, an actual and symbolic attempt to break israel’s deadly blockade.
The Festival’s decision was publicized in March in j-weekly, who reported, “After festival organizers learned from those inside and outside the organization about Walker’s history of remarks widely criticized as antisemitic, and of her support for Icke, they canceled her invitation on Thursday.” (david icke is a british conspiracy theorist, who has made statements widely considered antisemitic.)
Alice Walker has been the target of zionists for years. In 2012 she was accused of anti-semitism for refusing to let The Color Purple be translated, published and sold by an israeli publisher. This refusal was consistent with the 2004 call for an educational and cultural boycott by Palestinian Civil Society. In an interview on Democracy Now in 2012, Walker described the oppression in Palestine, “The unfairness of it is so much like the South. It’s so much like the South of 50 years ago, really, and actually more brutal, because in Palestine so many more people are wounded, shot, shot, killed, imprisoned. You know, there are thousands of Palestinians in prison virtually for no reason.”
After the statement to j-weekly, the festival issued a series of statements on April 4, April 22, and April 28 in which they increasingly walked back general allegations of antisemitism, denied they had been asked by zionist groups to cancel her appearance, and claimed that their decision had solely been based on Walker’s statements supporting ickes. I don’t know what Alice Walker sees in icke, but I do know that she has been in lifelong opposition to anti-jewish prejudice, and the only reason zionists are raising issues about icke is in order to attack Alice Walker.
Coincidentally? in March, the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) put out a letter in response to the san francisco public library demand that they remove one of the murals in the exhibit Wall + Response, or the library would cancel the exhibit. CAMP had been planning the exhibit and associated programs with the library since November. Wall + Response is a two year project involving 16 poets responding to the “social, political and racial justice narratives” of the four murals. The library had demanded the removal of the Arab Liberation Mural. It later offered to allow the exhibit if CAMP removed one of the many slogans on the mural that are depicted as picket signs, “zionism is racism.”
In the letter, CAMP stated, the “Arab Liberation Mural was created by a diverse team that included Arab youth, Jewish allies, and Latinx artists to express the resilience and resistance of the Bay Area community to attacks on freedom and liberties of Arabs, Muslims, people of color, immigrants, and refugees.” CAMP and the poets accused the library of not following city laws and policies requiring inclusion, and of not following principles the library had signed supporting racial and social equity, and encouraging diversity of expression.
Various groups and individuals, including QUIT! wrote letters and signed petitions to the library opposing their decision to eliminate the exhibit. The library’s director of communications responded,
“The decision to ask Clarion Alley Mural Project to consider an alternative presentation of one of their pieces without the statement “Zionism is Racism” was not predicated on favoring one group’s viewpoint over another’s as the Library does not advocate or necessarily endorse the viewpoints of exhibitions or exhibitors. The Library strives to provide a safe and welcoming space for our entire community. Presenting expressions, such as “Zionism is Racism,” which are widely viewed as antisemitic are counter to that mission and would set a precedent that would justify the exhibition of other viewpoints harming minority communities and identities based on race, gender, national origin, sexuality, or religion. The Library presents a panoply of viewpoints on a wide range of topics, but we draw the line at a public display of speech that negatively targets any specific race, ethnic or religious community.”
To be clear, the term “Zionism” doesn’t target any “race, ethnic or religious community.” It targets an imperialist ideology in which Jewish identity is privileged. In the 1800s “modern Zionism” emerged as an ideology that stated Jews could never be assimilated in Europe. Accepting this prejudice, zionists urged European imperialists to use Jews as settlers in Palestine. Zionism has become the basis for a racist hierarchy in all areas claimed by israel, in which white Jews are on the top, and Palestinians are on the bottom. It was no geopolitical coincidence that israel supported the apartheid regime in South Africa. Zionism remains a settler movement that has taken over an increasing part of Palestine, with an explicitly stated goal of ethnic cleansing. Zionism is also anti-Jewish, in that it claims to represent all Jews in its colonialist adventures and its genocidal campaign to wipe out Palestinian society.
The city of san francisco has a history of running from zionist groups when they charge Palestine supporters with antisemitism. In 2003 the jewish community relations council (JCRC) attacked San Francisco Women Against Rape’s (SFWAR) decision to specifically name zionism in a policy intended to ensure that anti-rape services are anti-racist. People involved in SFWAR during that period have been critical of the manner in which the new policy was developed and implemented, and a few Jewish volunteers at SFWAR went to the JCRC. The JCRC complained to the city which partially funds SFWAR through the commission on the status of women. SFWAR also received funding from private foundations, who expressed concerns. A “compromise” was eventually reached in which the word “zionism” was removed, SFWAR went through mediation with the JCRC, and eventually provided trainings to staff and volunteers on antisemitism through jcrc.
Some of the work from the CAMP exhibit is available through files at the sfpl. But, despite some attempts to deface the murals, all the murals remain gloriously on display at Clarion Alley, and can also be seen on-line, along with the poetry.
How did Ukraine end up being the spark that started what could be World War III, World War Last, the End of the World, or a momentary conflagration en route to a New New World Order? Even though my mother’s family were technically from Ukraine (Kiev and Odessa), they spoke Russian and as far as I knew, considered themselves Russian, and emigrated to get away from the Tsar. And until I was thirty, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, so I never had any reason to know or care about its specific history or culture. And in this, I am far from alone. Now we are all scrambling to make up for lost time.
Ukraine, which means “at the edge” or “borderland” in Slavic (the root language of current Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Slovenian, Macedonian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Belorusian, Russian and Ukrainian (also Sorbian, spoken by 30,000 people in Germany and Kashubian, spoken by 3,000 people in Poland), is the second largest country in Europe by area, and until a few weeks ago, had a population of 43 million people (for reference, California has 40 million). In 1991, when it declared independence from the Soviet Union, its population was 52 million, making it the second largest Soviet republic after Russia.
It is one of the most fertile countries in the world, also one of the poorest and most polluted. It has borders with Poland, Belarus, Russia, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia as well as the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The 600-mile Dnieper River has major hydroelectric dams. The Crimean peninsula, annexed to Russia in 2014, had the most beautiful beaches in the Soviet Union, as well as the USSR’s largest warm water naval port in Sevastopol. According to Keith Gessen, writing in The Guardian, “Without Ukraine’s population, industry and agriculture, early-20th-century Russia would have ceased to be a great power.”
Modern humans arrived in Ukraine around 32,000 BCE, preceded by the Neanderthals. Ukraine is considered to be the likely location for the domestication of the horse. From the 6th century BC, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine colonies were established on the north-eastern shore of the Black Sea. It was then dominated by the Goths, the Huns, and the Khazars and eventually the Slavs moved down from the Carpathian mountains into the territory encompassing modern Ukraine, Belarus and much of Russia into a state known as Kyivan Rus’. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Kyivan Rus’ was the most powerful state in Europe.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, most of the territory was claimed by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (who knew?), which transferred it to the Kingdom of Poland in the late sixteenth century. There were also periodic invasions by Crimean Tatars, a primarily Muslim, Turkic speaking people on the Crimean peninsula. The Russian empire conquered the Crimean Khanate in the late eighteenth century.
In the fifteenth century a new military group formed in the central steppes of Ukraine. They were called “Kazaks,” which meant “free man” or “adventurer.” They developed a radically democratic organizational structure, centered around a general assembly called the “rada.” Today, Ukraine’s parliament is the Rada. The Cossacks’ elected leaders were “hetman.” The Cossack Hetmanate, as they became known, fought against Tatar and Turkish invaders, often with the support of the Polish government, but when they weren’t doing that, the government was highly suspicious of their radical democratic tendencies. Government repression led to a series of Cossack revolts, sometimes joined by the Tatars. The Cossacks became militantly pro-Orthodox, in opposition to the Polish Uniate Catholic leadership, and “vented their fury on those they associated with Polish tyranny and social oppression—landlords, officials, Latin and Uniate clergy, and Jews.” Hence the hostility between Cossacks and Jews, immortalized in Fiddler on the Roof.
In the early Soviet years, Ukraine, as the second largest republic and primary source of food, was heavily targeted by Stalin’s collectivization strategy. Unrealistic quotas for production of grain and other staples were imposed, and harsh penalties were exacted for failing to meet them. In 1932 and 1933, millions of Ukrainians died in a famine which became known as the Holodomor – “murder by hunger.”
During World War II, most Ukrainians fought as part of the Soviet army. Of the 8.6 million Soviet troops killed in the war, over 40% were Ukrainian. However, two independent armies, the Ukrainian Liberation Army (ULA) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), formed. The UPA fought both the Soviets and the Nazis, but at times also allied with the Nazis, while the ULA fought alongside the Nazis. This led to heavy repression of Ukraine after the war, with “Russification” – relocation of millions of Russian and other nationalities into Ukraine, as well as deportations of up to 20% of the Ukrainian population to Siberia and other parts of the USSR.
In the late 19th century, around three million Jews lived in Ukraine, representing a little over a quarter of the world’s Jewish population. Many had already emigrated by World War II, but of those who remained, the majority, around 1.5 million, were killed after the Nazis occupied Ukraine in 1941. Nearly all of them were shot, rather than deported to camps. Non-Jewish Ukrainians, and the Ukrainian armed forces, largely collaborated. The largest single massacre of Jews by the Nazis occurred at Babi Yar, where 33,000 were shot in one day and buried in mass graves.
Of the nearly one million Ukrainian Jews who survived, most left after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the majority, sadly, for israel. However, several hundred thousand remain, and Dnepepetrovsk boasts the largest Jewish community center in the world, a 538,000 square foot, “seven towered” (whatever that means) building museum and cultural center which opened in 2012 with funding from two Ukrainian Jewish bankers. One of the two financiers, Ihor Kolomoyskyy, is the 1941st richest billionaire in the world, according to Forbes. On March 5, 2022, he was “designated” by u.s. secretary of state anthony blinken as an “oligarch” “involved in corrupt acts that undermined rule of law and the Ukrainian public’s faith in their government’s democratic institutions and public processes.” His wife and two children were also “designated,” which makes them ineligible to enter the u.s. In addition to Ukrainian citizenship, he holds Cypriot and israeli citizenship.
The other benefactor of the Menorah Center, also a billionaire and also implicated in shadowy dealings, is the president of the “Ukrainian Jewish community,” but holds Cypriot, british and israeli citizenship, while residing in Geneva, switzerland. In 2014, he funded an educational center for Jewish history in a hall excavated under Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter.
Independence and the Orange Revolution
The Ukrainian Rada (parliament) declared independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991, and that was ratified by a referendum in December. A reported 84% of the electorate participated in the referendum, with 93% of those voting in favor. However, only 55% of ethnic Russians in the country voted in favor.
Ukraine, as we can see, has historical divisions, along ethnic, linguistic, religious and political lines, which were both suppressed and used by the Soviet leadership. During the early Soviet period, the government encouraged the revitalization of the Ukrainian language, which is distinct from but closely related to Russian. Later, under Stalin’s Russification policy, it was discouraged, though never outlawed. Even before that time, urban elites used Russian to separate themselves from the rural “provincial” classes.
After independence in 1991, Ukrainian was declared the official language and the constitution required 80% of schools to teach in it. In 2012, there was an actual brawl in the Rada over a proposed bill making Russian a second official language. Typically, schools in the eastern, heavily Russian areas taught in Russian and western schools taught Ukrainian. However, many who grew up under the Soviet Union don’t speak Ukrainian well or at all.
Ukrainian elections, unlike in some of the other former soviet republics, have been competitive. Presidential elections have tended to be won by a few percentage points, with frequent accusations of corruption. Numerous political officials have been murdered, and often the incumbent president has been accused of ordering or at least condoning them.
One of these contested elections, in 2004, led to the “Orange Revolution,” as a result of which Viktor Yuschenko became president. Yuschenko was head of the Our Ukraine party, a nationalist anti-corruption party which favored closer cooperation with the European Union and NATO. Rival Viktor Yanukovych “accused Yushchenko, whose father was a Red Army soldier imprisoned at Auschwitz, of being a Nazi, even though Yushchenko actively reached out to the Jewish community in Ukraine and his mother is said to have risked her life by hiding three Jewish girls for one and a half years during the Second World War.” (Wikipedia) In September 2004, in the midst of the campaign, Yuschenko became violently ill and was flown to Vienna for treatment. They found high levels of dioxin in his blood. Yuschenko and other opposition leaders suspected the Ukrainian government, and possibly its backers in Russia, of poisoning him.
One of Yuschenko’s strongest allies at the time of the Orange Revolution was Yulia Tymoshenko, who was elected Prime Minister by the Rada, her second stint in the post. After only a few months, she fell out with Yuschenko and was replaced as prime minister, but won it again in 2007. In 2010, she narrowly lost the presidency to Viktor Yanukovych, who wanted to pursue closer relations with Russia and move further from the European Union. When she refused to accept the election results, she was removed as prime minister by a vote of no confidence, and subsequently, in 2011, arrested on corruption charges – ironically, in part for buying natural gas from Russia at inflated prices. She was released during the 2014 “Maidan Square” protests, when as part of an agreement to resolve the uprising, the statute under which she was convicted was decriminalized. Tymoshenko’s imprisonment was one of the factors which stalled the planned European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, which was approved by the EU member states and the Ukrainian cabinet in 2013. As part of the final approval of the agreement, the EU had insisted on Tymoshenko’s release to seek medical treatment abroad. The same week that Tymoshenko asked the EU to withdraw the demand for her release so that the agreement could go forward, the government of Viktor Yanukovych withdrew its support and announced that it would instead pursue a three-way trade agreement with the EU and Russia.
The Maidan Square Uprising
Massive protests erupted in Ukraine in 2014, partly influenced by the Arab Spring and the worldwide surge of pro-democratic activism including Black Lives Matter. The uprising began with student protests against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the association agreement with the EU. The severe repression of the protesters by police in Kyiv led to a nationwide rebellion. According to the anarchist think tank crimethinc (one of the best things out there, check them out at crimethinc.com):
“The Russian government presents it as a Nazi coup, a US State Department project, and so on. The protesters themselves were a motley crowd: far-right activists with their symbols, liberal leaders talking about European values and European integration, ordinary Ukrainians who went out against the government, a few leftists. Anti-oligarchic sentiments dominated among the protesters, while oligarchs who did not like Yanukovych financed the protest because he, along with his inner circle, tried to monopolize big business during his term.”
Yanukovich fled to Russia in 2014, and his supporters put up posters and held rallies denouncing the new interim government as a “Jewish clique” seeking to defend the interests of wealthy Jews, and mount a “Zionist coup.”
Within two weeks, Russian troops and paramilitaries entered Crimea, which was culturally and linguistically predominately Russian. Russian president Vladimir Putin organized a snap referendum in Crimea, and used the positive result as an excuse to annex Crimea. At the same time, Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (collectively called the Donbas) took over government buildings and proclaimed independent “people’s republics.” Putin sent Russian troops to support their claims, who have remained in the region ever since. crimethinc states, “in our opinion, disinformation played a key role in generating the armed conflict: some residents of Donetsk and Lugansk were scared that they would be killed, so they took up arms and called for Putin’s troops.”
In 2008, Russia had invaded Georgia, and supported the declaration of independence by two regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. No other countries have recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent. Russian troops have stayed in Georgia for the past thirteen years, with periodic bloodshed and virtually no one outside the region paying attention. In Moldova, Russian troops supported a brief uprising in 1992, resulting in the establishment of a tiny autonomous Russian speaking republic called Transnistria.
After the Maidan movement, known as the “Dignity Revolution” in Ukraine, Pyotr Poroshenko was elected president. After campaigning on an anti-corruption platform and saying that there was too little support to pursue an alliance with NATO, Poroshenko, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, proved as corrupt as any other Ukrainian president. As part of his plan for peace in the beleaguered eastern region, he did support greater regional and local autonomy and opposed increasing federal and presidential powers. He also backed nationalist agendas like laws requiring a majority of radio broadcasts to be in Ukrainian and regulating the amount of education which can be conducted in other languages. Notably, education at the secondary level was restricted to “official languages of the European Union,” which does not include Russian.
In 2014, Poroshenko announced plans to pursue “NATO integration,” saying that Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbas had proven that “the nonalignment status of Ukraine proclaimed in 2010 couldn’t guarantee our security and territorial integrity.” He also signed a decree banning 43 international journalists as threats to the country’s security.
Zelenskyy and Beyond
Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected Ukraine’s sixth president in 2019 with a surprising 73% of the vote. He’s a former comedian and television star, having played the president of Ukraine for three years in a show called “Servant of the People.” When he entered politics, he created a party of the same name. He mostly campaigned via social media, including YouTube. Like most of his predecessors, he campaigned on an anti-corruption, anti-establishment platform, espousing “libertarianism” and “something between liberal and socialist views.”
He promised to pursue peace with Russia. He ostensibly supports the free distribution of medical cannabis, free abortion in Ukraine, and the legalization of prostitution and gambling. He is the country’s first Jewish president. He supports the ongoing “decommunization” of Ukraine but says he opposes the manner in which it has been done recently, and opposes nationalist legislation and attempts to suppress the Russian language.
The October 2021 Pandora Papers revealed that Zelenskyy and his chief aide and the head of the Security Service of Ukraine Ivan Bakanov operated a network of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, and Belize. Zelenskyy said he had sold his interest in the companies but apparently members of his family continue to receive income from them. With his peace plan for the east scuttled and his approval ratings down to 21%, Zelenskyy turned to the tried and true Ukrainian tactic of prosecuting political rivals, including Poroshenko, who was charged with treason in January. (Tymoshenko was arrested a few days ago on orders of a judge in her 2010 trial.)
As of this day, two and a half weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, 2.6 million people have fled their homes. The largest number have gone to Poland, which like other neighboring countries, suspended visa requirements and border controls for Ukrainians. Except if those Ukrainians are Black, in which case they may wait hours or days at the border. being cared for by a network of African students who mobilized under the hashtags #AfricanInUkraine and #BlackInUkraine and the organization Black Women for Black Lives.
About 20,000 Indian students in Ukraine have also reported harassment and discrimination at the borders.
LGBTQI Ukrainians are also not thrilled about being refugees in Poland, which a 2020 survey by the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) ranked as the most homophobic country in Europe. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s governing Law and Justice party, has called homosexuality a “threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence, and thus to the Polish state.”
Jews who know that most of the Jews who managed to escape from Nazi camps in Poland were killed not by the Nazis but by Polish civilians or police are also not thrilled about seeking asylum there now. The Law and Justice Party has also made it against the law to talk about that history or to refer to the Nazi camps in Poland as “Polish camps.” Romania and Hungary don’t seem much better.
No one who reads UltraViolet needs me to tell them that the u.s. is not the defender of freedom and democracy around the world. Hopefully no one needs me to remind them that vladimir putin is not a communist, is in fact probably a billionaire, and is not trying to undermine capitalism as much as to make sure he and his friends can profit from it. As the Russian group Feminist Anti-War Response reminds us, “The current war … is also fought under the banner of the “traditional values” … [which] include gender inequality, exploitation of women, and state repression.”
Putin may or may not be more power-mad than biden but it is pretty clear that he miscalculated when he decided that this was the time to try to seize Ukraine. His response has been bigger and potentially more lethal weapons – “thermobaric,” or “vacuum bombs,” and blowing up nuclear power plants, eliminating independent media and attempting to curtail dissent. According to trans and queer activist and journalist Masha Gessen (Keith’s sibling, for those keeping track), who went back to Moscow just before the invasion, describes seeing police in combat gear dragging women into buses, and no one watching. It’s a crime punishable by fifteen years in prison to refer to the conflict as a ”war.” Every one of the more than 13,000 people who have been arrested at protests in Russia since the war began faces decades in prison, and while most of them will probably not receive that – they can’t, some of them surely will.
Gessen also points out that u.s. sanctions “matches the working definition of insanity. Sanctions is the thing that never works, that the United States and other Western countries try over and over again expecting a different outcome.…The idea that sanctions could possibly change Putin’s behavior, or motivate the elites or the masses to coalesce and protest and overthrow Putin is wrong. It is demonstrably wrong.”
What Is To Be Done?
Does one ever write anything about Russia without that line? Maybe not, but it’s pretty damn relevant right now. Sanctions don’t work, no one wants to see u.s. intervene militarily or even necessarily fund Ukrainian weapons, and it’s not comforting to hear that Germany is massively increasing its defense spending and rethinking its opposition to nuclear power.
It’s hard to see the outpourings of love for Ukrainian Molotov cocktails launched at Russian tanks, while knowing that Palestinians throwing stones at israeli tanks are cast as terrorists by the same viewers. (see graphic from Mondoweiss by LAtuff) When I read instructions on Facebook for how to book an airbnb in Kyiv, with no plans to go there, as a way of getting money directly into the hands of besieged Ukrainians, I wonder, could this have been a tactic in Gaza for the last fifteen years? And why didn’t anyone think of it? I get daily reports of the welfare and struggles of a Ukrainian cockatoo owner from a friend in an international cockatoo support group. Would we feel a stronger connection with Syrians if we knew they had pets?
When Polish mothers leave strollers in a Krakow train station for use by Ukrainian arrivals, I wonder how they would feel if they knew that any of their strollers were being used by queer parents, whose adoptions are illegal in Poland.
But I take inspiration from my Palestinian friends, who while concerned that Jewish Ukrainians being transported to israel may become settlers in the West Bank, have mostly been unsparing in their outpouring of encouragement for the resisters. They post photos of a mural with the image of Hanthala, the Palestinian refugee child drawn by the cartoonist Naji al-Ali, with signs proclaiming, “Support Ukraine (12 days ago), Also Palestine (74 years ago).”
Free Ukraine. Free Palestine. Free Tibet. Free Puerto Rico. Free All Political Prisoners.
As UV readers may remember, in September 2020, SFSU shut down an online open class entitled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance: a Conversation with Leila Khaled.” The class was organized by Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, an associate professor and a member of the Department of Ethnic Studies, who is a Palestinian scholar and founding director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies program at SFSU, and Dr. Tomomi Kinukawa, a lecturer in the university’s Department of Women and Gender Studies.
Leila Khaled was born in Haifa and is a Palestinian refugee. She is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The online panel also included Rula Abu Dahou, acting director of the Institute For Women’s Studies at Birzeit University in Palestine’s West Bank, and Ronnie Kasrils, member of the South African Communist Party, the African National Congress and a founder of the ANC’s armed struggle formation Umkhonto we Sizwe, Sekou Odinga, member of the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army and a former 30-year political prisoner, and Laura Whitehorn, a civil rights and antiwar activist who served 14 years in federal prison
But just as the class got started tech giants Zoom, Facebook and Google-owned YouTube caved in to Zionist pressure and shut it down. Zoom representatives said Leila Khaled’s participation was the reason the company shut down the class in an attack on academic freedom, the Palestinian community and anti-Zionist Jews.
After a long struggle through the SFSU grievance process, the panel organizers and participants were vindicated. On Oct. 14, a panel of three SFSU faculty members upheld the grievance. It ordered the university to issue a public apology to Abdulhadi for not upholding academic freedom. The panel found that SFSU not only caved into pressure from tech giants, but failed to defend Abdulhadi and Kinukawa against threats of arrest made by the Lawfare Project if the class went forward, and even amplified the threats. The Panel said the school must provide a site for rescheduling the event on an alternate platform without interference.
Abdulhadi commented on the victory findings: “This is a huge victory not only for us, but for everybody speaking about Palestine and for our ability to teach about Palestine as part of the indivisibility of justice. After the pain and the anguish for over a year that we have suffered, by being vilified by character assassinations, by being chased by Zionists, by the hate mail, by all the nastiness that has happened, by the fact that the university did not have our backs, we were vindicated.”
On Wednesday March 10, after much discussion and decision-making, the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee voted to pass a resolution proposed by Austin Tam (AD 18) and Andrea Luna (AD 18). The resolution was titled “End U.S. Support for Israel’s Forced Displacement of Palestinians and Crimes of Apartheid.”
Many of the speakers, including Lara Kiswani (AROC) and Dr. Hatem Bazian, pointed out that several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have documented human rights and international law violations committed by Israel through military occupation and apartheid, forced displacements of Palestinians from their land and permanent settlement of stolen lands. The resolution pointed out that “according to the United Nations Human Rights Council” there are approximately “700,00 Israeli settlers” inhabiting “illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.” Kiswani quoted Desmond Tutu who was a strong critic of Israeli apartheid and an advocate for Palestinian rights and self-determination.
The resolution called upon the conscience of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee members by appealing to them to make the connection between their work and positions “against racism and injustice,” including fair housing policies, to the decades long oppression against Palestinians. The intent of the resolution is to get Democratic congressional members to issue public statements opposed to the continued 3.8 billion dollar support for Israel’s militaristic and colonial-settler policies. The authors of the resolution point out that “California taxpayers contribute $536.6 million a year” to funding Israeli apartheid and violations of international law.
The resolution passed, putting pressure on Bay Area Democratic party political leaders to speak out against U.S. funding of Israel and the illegal occupation of Palestine.
SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) (Hulu)
During the summer of 1969 for 6 Sundays in a row, the Harlem Cultural Festival put on a show. It celebrated Black music, history and culture and promoted the ongoing politics of Black Pride and resistance. The US had recently experienced the assassinations of JFK (1963), Malcolm X (in Harlem, 1965), Dr Martin Luther King, Jr (1968) and Robert F Kennedy (1968), with massive civil upheaval nation-wide after Dr King’s assassination. As said in the film, “Black folks are used to not having their history told. This was nothing new.” The whole Festival was filmed but then spent the next 50 years in a basement until Questlove (who co-directed with Hal Tulchin) got the archival footage and added new interviews with audience members and some of the performers. They also added social commentary with Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Jesse Jackson, Sheila E., Greg Tate and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Tony Lawrence (a NYC nightclub singer) was the creator, promoter and MC, and the hugely successful Festival drew an estimated 300,000 people. And what a show it was! The R&B, jazz, soul and gospel performances were fantastic. There were too many performers to mention them all, but they included a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder, B. B. King, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Fifth Dimension, Hugh Masekela, Herbie Hancock, The Edwin Hawkins Singers, David Ruffin, Mahalia Jackson, The Staples Singers, Abbey Lincoln and The Chambers Brothers. One of the highlights was when Mahalia Jackson asked Mavis Staples to sing Precious Lord with her. Other unforgettable moments were Nina Simone singing “Backlash Blues” and the performance by Sly and the Family Stone. The performances were electrifying and the memories of the original audience were very moving. See it if you can.
RESERVATION DOGS(FX on Hulu)
This innovative new comedy-drama series follows the lives of four Indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma trying to get money so they can move to California. Elora, Bear, Willie Jack and Cheese– the 4 ‘Rez Dogs,’ hang out together and are always on the lookout for scams and schemes, which generally backfire or get them into trouble. They have a contentious relationship with an opposing group (the NDN mafia), and they interact with relatives and friends on the reservation and in the small town nearby. The series features all Indigenous writers and directors, and an almost entirely Indigenous North American production team and cast (including unknown actors from Indigenous communities), so the characters are not portrayed stereotypically. Imagine! The regular and guest cast play friends, relatives, other people who live in the area and a few spirit characters. A lot of the wry humor, pathos and poignancy comes from the commentary of various characters about things they or other people are doing, and from the interplay between traditional and modern ways. It’s low key and not like a Hollywood production. The series is executive produced, directed, and co-written by Sterlin Harjo with Taika Waititi co-writing and executive producing. Many of the storylines are inspired by events from Harjo’s childhood. Harjo and the other 5 members of 1491s, the Native American sketch comedy group, are all involved in the series (check them out on YouTube). It’s the first series to be filmed entirely in Oklahoma. The acting, writing, storylines and music are all great. It’s groundbreaking and compelling. See it if you can.
A great series is ending this year. Insecure, created by Larry Wilmore and the multi-talented social justice BLM activist and star Issa Rae, ends on December 21. In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and demonstrations, Rae shared the organizations she was donating to and said that her objective is “to ultimately Defund the Police via the People’s Budget, and to aid protestors in the immediate time by providing bail money.” I (Deni) have loved the show since it started in 2016: it’s a combination of humor, self-reflection, deep and complex friendships among women, portrayals of life in Black communities in South Los Angeles including relationships, jobs/careers/businesses, political observations, family, experiences of racism, fun and hard times. This is all accompanied by excellent acting and writing with an illuminating debriefing after each show. Particularly noteworthy was acting by Yvonne Orji as Issa’s best friend Molly, Natasha Rothwell as Kelli, and Amanda Seales as Tiffany (the group of four women friends) and Jay Ellis as on-again/off-again boyfriend Lawrence. I’m holding off on watching the last episodes because I don’t want it to end. Issa Rae continues with other great projects but I’m gonna miss her and the community of folks she created on Insecure.
CHEWING GUM(HBO Max)
Chewing Gum was an early series done by Michaela Coel, queer British actor, screenwriter, director, producer and singer who created and starred in the astonishing 2020 series I May Destroy You. Chewing Gum – hilarious, insightful and affecting – began as Coel’s senior university graduation project and became a tv sitcom series. Coel stars as Tracey Gordon, a 24 year old shop assistant, a religious virgin with a very religious anti-sex family, who wants to have sex and learn about the world. The excellent supporting cast includes her mother (Shola Adewusi) and sister (Susan Wokoma) and very religious up-tight long-time boyfriend Ronald (John MacMillan) who [spoiler alert!] turns out to be gay. Tracey’s sexual exploration and discoveries are graphic and frequently really funny.
In July, Coel was cast for a mystery role in the summer 2022 sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and in September, she published her highly praised book Misfits: a Personal Manifesto, which addresses her experiences with racism and misogyny.
COLIN IN BLACK AND WHITE(Netflix)
This 6-episode Netflix docudrama centers on Colin Kaepernick’s childhood growing up biracial in the very white city of Turlock in California’s Central Valley (the 2000 census says Turlock had 1.4% Black people out of a population of 55,000). Created and executive produced by Ava DuVernay (director of Selma and When They See Us) and Colin Kaepernick, each episode has Kap talking to the audience about his experiences with racism growing up, and his broader understanding of racism as he got older. The scenes are well-played by Jaden Michael as Kap and Mary Louise Parker and Nick Offerman as his white adoptive parents. Kap, an A student, excels at baseball, football and basketball but struggles to find his own identity. One episode graphically draws a parallel between prospects at the NFL scouting combine and a slave auction. Kap had to fight hard to get a college football scholarship—the sport he wanted to pursue—but he prevailed. After graduation, in his 6th season in 2016 as quarterback with the SF 49ers, he started kneeling during the national anthem to peacefully protest racial injustice, police brutality and the systemic oppression of Black people in the US. He lost his football career, but gained a world-wide platform. The series ends with adult Colin giving an uplifting message to himself on his way to play football in college. It concludes with an inspiring message to Black youth: trust your power.
The 2021 documentary Attica by writer, director, producer Stanley Nelson and producer Traci A. Curry about the 1971 Attica prison uprising is an immensely powerful film, and devastating in its portrayal of prison conditions and racist inhumane treatment of prisoners from guards to governor to President Nixon. The rebellion in Attica NY began on September 9, 1971 when over half the 2,200 Attica prisoners (a majority of whom were Black) seized control of half the prison, holding about 40 hostages. Leading up to that event, in July 1971 a group of Attica prisoners gave Commissioner of Corrections Russell Oswald and Governor Nelson Rockefeller a list of 27 demands about improving prison conditions. The commissioner took no action on the list of demands, and the warden’s response was to add more restrictions to inmates’ reading materials and personal belongings. In August, George Jackson was killed attempting to escape San Quentin and over 700 Attica prisoners went on a hunger strike in solidarity. The film is told through the eyes and voices of a number of Attica ex-prisoners who were part of the Uprising, townspeople, family members of guards held hostage, members of the observer/mediator/legal team, and one member of the National Guard. The prisoners’ stories are insightful and horrifying. They also describe how it started out with no leaders but elections were held block by block for leadership, and of the importance of their Manifesto and Demands. The Attica Liberation Faction Manifesto states that: “We, the imprisoned men of Attica Prison, seek an end to the injustice suffered by all prisoners, regardless of race, creed or color…the administration of the New York prison system have restructured the institutions which were designed to socially correct men into the fascist concentration camps of modern America…Because of our posture as prisoners and branded characters as alleged criminals, the administration and prison employees no longer consider or respect us as human beings…”
The Uprising presented 33 demands including better medical treatment, fair visitation rights, improved food quality, religious freedom, higher wages for inmate jobs, an end of physical abuse, for basic necessities like toothbrushes, showers and clean water every day, for professional training, and access to newspapers and books, and very importantly, amnesty for all Uprising participants. At one point in the negotiations with Commissioner Oswald, it looked like some demands might be met but then things took a turn for the worse – a hostage died and pleas to Rockefeller to just show up were ignored. The documentary makes clear Rockefeller was taking direction from Nixon to not negotiate. The racism exhibited in the tapes of their conversations was virulent, as were the guards’ shouts of “white power” outside the prison. After cutting off food and water, on Sept. 13, the 5th day of the Uprising, pepper gas was dropped into the yard and hundreds of NY State police, troopers, Bureau of Criminal Investigation personnel, sheriff’s deputies, park police, and “correctional officers” from Attica shot into the smoke. Twenty-nine prisoners and 9 hostages were killed by “law enforcement,” who also shot 128 other prisoners.Leaders of the Uprising were singled out and killed by troopers during and after the assault, including eloquent spokesperson “L.D.” Barkley. There was vast media coverage of the massacre and the film footage is horrifying. Throughout the film, the voices of the prisoners bring depth and poignancy with statements like: “It was ok to say no, to be rebellious, there may be consequences but it was ok.” And “Just because we were incarcerated didn’t mean we were less than human; somebody had to take a stand.”
BITS AND PIECES
GOOD NEWS FROM HONDURAS!
In Honduras, the leftist candidate Xiomara Castro won the presidency at the end of November. US historic connections to supporting right-wing authoritarianism in Honduras (Reagan used Honduras to supply and train the Contras in the 1980s) are well-documented and when a coup toppled the slightly leftist President Zelaya in 2009, Obama allowed enough time to elapse before protesting the coup for the coup to cement its power. US immigration policies have also destabilized Honduras since the 80s-90s by creating drug gang activity in Honduras. Honduran immigrants fled to the US to escape war and poverty. Some Honduran immigrant youth ended up in gangs in cities like LA and then wound up in prison. After completing their sentences they were deported and brought gang activity back to Honduras. In an effort to transfer Honduras with this new election, President Castro said, “We win! We win! Today the people have made justice. We have reversed authoritarianism.” Thousands of people packed the capital blowing car horns, set off fireworks and waved the Libre party’s red flags.
GOOD NEWS FOR PALESTINIAN FILMS!
In October, Netflix introduced a collection of 32 award-winning movies and documentaries made by Palestinian filmmakers. Some of the films have already been on Netflix but will now be grouped under the Palestinian Stories heading, making it easier to locate them. Most are films we haven’t seen, but Deni did see the 2013 film Omar in the theater (she fondly remembers doing that) and it was incredibly powerful. Buthaina Hamdan, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in Ramallah, has said that international platforms don’t give Palestinian films enough screening space. She told Al-Monitor that “The screening of Palestinian films on international platforms … would shape global public opinion and create a just awareness of the Palestinian cause.” For those of us with access to Netflix, this is good news, and can educate a wider audience to support a Free Palestine!
GOOD NEWS FOR BDS!
Award-winning Irish author and screenwriter Sally Rooney (a self-described Marxist) said in October that she would not allow the Israeli publishing house that handled her earlier novels to publish her new book, “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” because of her support for the Palestinian people and the BDS-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Go Sally! This is a highly acclaimed novel, support her by buying it if you can.
Very sadly, Greg Tate, author, reviewer, and cultural critic extraordinaire, died in early December in NYC. He was one of the commentators we mentioned in the Summer of Soul movie review above. From the NYT: “His first book, published in 1993, ‘Flyboy in the buttermilk: essays on contemporary america,’ catalyzed a generation of young writers of color with its vivid language, easy erudition and kaleidoscopic range.” A great loss.
MOCHA COLUMN QUIZ! BANNED WHERE?
Match the country to what’s banned or may be banned
A) Russia B) USA C) Saudi Arabia
1) West Side Story banned because of trans character portrayed by non-binary actor
2) Netflix may be banned for “gay propaganda” violating a national law
3) Communities force the banning of books in schools and public libraries, often for LGBTQ content
On November 28, the intrepid marketers of Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT!) struck again outside of the safeway on market in SF, offering cookies and coupons to boycott “Killsbury”.
Pillsbury, which is owned by General Mills is a target of the international BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement to free Palestine. General Mills has a factory in the Atarot Industrial Zone which is an illegal Israeli settlement in occupied East Jerusalem, near Ramallah.
On June 4th the people won a decisive Boycott Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) victory! The volans, a boat from the israeli shipping line zim, was unable to unload its cargo at the Port of Oakland. The combination of a vigorous determined 1000-person picket and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 refusing to cross the picket line, in solidarity with Palestine, forced the volans to leave the port having lost vast amounts of money in time and unloaded cargo.
zim shipping line has not been to the Port of Oakland since 2014 when a coalition of Palestine solidarity groups in concert with ILWU local 10 kept up a three day continuous picket line preventing zim from unloading cargo. zim left after the three day action but a few days later tried to sneak back to the port to a different berth. The activists caught them in the act and prevailed by rushing back to the port to the new gate and the shipping line left, never coming back to Oakland until now.
Why did zim return at this historical juncture after such a resounding defeat seven years ago? It cannot be coincidence that this provocative capitalist shipping foray was made only two weeks after the vicious Israeli attack on Gaza, which murdered more than 300 hundred Palestinians and destroyed whole apartment buildings, hospitals, schools refugee camps, infrastructure, and internally displaced hundreds of thousands. Clearly the israeli government thought this would be a good time to try to challenge the ever-growing boycott divest and sanctions movement by sending their ships to Oakland. The bay area was already mobilized in response to the israeli bombing, having had a number of big demonstrations, the largest a 10,000 person strong march in conjunction with a beautiful street mural painting in the Mission to commemorate the Nakba.
Zim, the largest israeli shipping line, is a Haifa based business founded in 1945 by the israeli maritime league and the Jewish agency histadarut labor federation to transport immigrants to Palestine after WWII as part of the settler-colonial project that became the state of israel in 1948. zim is fond of saying to the press that it is now a privately held company and that the majority of stockholders are not israelis (so really no need for a pesky boycott). However if you look closely at the website, you see that the Israeli government retains the last word on major decision making, because zim is so important to its “security” and “defense.”
The activist community has some mysterious way to track zim ships all over the globe. In mid-May of this year, the call went out from Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC), which leads the Palestine Action Network (PAN). PAN is an ongoing coalition of groups doing Palestine solidarity work in the bay area of which QUIT! is a member. The call alerted the community that a zim ship was coming towards Oakland and that a new Block the Boat campaign was forming. Five thousand people signed up for a text message alert system.
The zim ship lurked out in the Bay for a week or so. ILWU Local 10 put out a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people decrying the bombing of Gaza. Local 10 was responding to a call from the Palestine federation of Labor in Gaza, asking US unions not to unload cargo from israel This union has a long history of activism, participating in the boycott of south africa’s apartheid state by refusing to unload their ships coming to the Port Oakland. The AROC campaign was boosted on social media far and wide with the promise to arrive at the port as soon as word came that the zim ship was docking. Interestingly zim remembered the events of 2014 and on May 17th, at the mere mention of a mobilization of activists to the port, they rerouted to Los Angeles. AROC called this a victory but urged more people to sign up to the text alert system and to stay ready because the ship would likely try again.
AROC called for a week of international action against the zim shipping line, asking other ports to boycott of the apartheid state of israel’s shipping line. AROC said: “We have sent a powerful message that the Bay Area will stand strong against Zionism, apartheid, and any business that is complicit with Israel’s colonization of Palestine.” This call was amplified on social media. Seattle set an alert system, as did New York and New Jersey. zim was paying attention. They stayed away from Oakland for 12 days. The radical Palestine solidarity community waited on pins and needles, checking our phones for alerts constantly.
On June 4th the emergency text alert to mobilize went out, the zim boat was docking, flexing its corporate zionist muscle. The people just weren’t having it and a thousand activists converged on the Port of Oakland at 6 am ready for the first shift of workers. Six gates were picketed blocking all entrances to the berth, a riotous sea of banners, Palestinian flags, drumming contingents, bicycles, and chants of FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA PALESTINE WILL BE FREE. QUIT! (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism!) members arrived with our BDS, Right of Return queer banner and a stack of Queers for Palestine stickers to distribute, made for us by Gay Shame. Lines of truckers honked in solidarity trying to get into the completely blocked port. Longshore workers hung out in groups NOT crossing the picket line. Some joined the line.
The ILWU has a provision in their contract that says that they don’t have to cross a picket line if they feel endangered while still getting a day’s pay. At about 8 am the contract arbiter arrived and pronounced that ILWU would not work that shift. AROC called it a victory for the morning shift, but said we would return for the 4 pm shift. Social media took up the call for continuing the pressure by showing up for the 4 pm shift. QUIT! members arrived for the afternoon shift, a QUIT! bicyclist joining a bike blockade of recalcitrant truckers. Again the ILWU did not cross the picket line in solidarity with Palestinian workers. At about 6 pm the community watched the israeli apartheid profiteering zim ship leave the port without unloading ANY cargo. It was a spectacular victory!
As I write this activists are blocking a zim ship in the port of New York/New Jersey.
Elias Al-Jelda, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) in Gaza, stated:
“It warms our hearts in the besieged occupied Gaza Strip and the rest of occupied Palestine that our comrades led by AROC, and with the solidarity of our fellow workers in ILWU Local 10, achieved this great #BlockTheBoat victory against ZIM in Oakland. We call upon all dockworkers worldwide to intensify the boycott campaign against ZIM ships and all business profiting from apartheid Israel, in solidarity with our people’s struggle for freedom and justice in Palestine.”
In April, I went to MN to help stop the Line 3 pipeline being built by the Canadian company Enbridge. The pipeline would bring tar sands from Alberta Canada to the Great Lakes port in Superior WI. There has been a pipeline for about 50 years, part of which is supposed to be “replaced”. In fact, it has a whole new route in MN which allows Enbridge to abandon and not clean up the old corroding pipeline and put in a larger pipe which will pump even more oil and use even more energy. This is despite the fact that there have been numerous Enbridge pipeline spills of crude oil including the biggest inland oil spill in US history which occurred in Grand Rapids, MN. The pipeline construction causes irreparable harm to sensitive ecosystems and creates enormous risks of spills and contamination. Tar sands is the dirtiest form of fossil fuels that exists. To mine it, the forests and land of Alberta are transformed to a moonscape. The sticky oily sand is diluted with water to pump it and spills are impossible to clean up. Unlike the horrible and inadequately cleaned spills from crude oil, there is no known technology on how to clean up tar sands spills. The proposed pipeline route crosses rivers 22 times, cuts through more than 200 bodies of water and 800 wetlands. It would also cross and potentially contaminate the treaty protected wild rice lakes of the Anishinabe; wild rice is subsistence as well as having tremendous cultural and spiritual importance. The pipeline cuts across multiple Sovereign Indigenous nations in further violation of treaty rights. The Mississippi river basin drains about 40% of the continental US, a lot of our water to get polluted. And, the Great Lakes have about 20% of the freshwater on the planet. How can we allow this type of pollution of all of our water, all of our future generations’ water, and the water of all the innocent and beautiful nonhuman beings? And, if the spills and water damage weren’t enough, the pipeline is estimated to create greenhouse gases equivalent to 50 coal fired plants.
Knowing of the horrors associated with the pipeline, I decided to go to MN to “throw my body on the gears of the machine” doing so much to damage future life on this planet. (Not that I had the illusion my one body would save the world, but still felt I had to try to do something.) What I didn’t know was how incredibly beautiful the land would be. I fell in love with the forests, frogs, rivers, and birds. There were bald eagles, deer, bear, beaver, porcupines and more. Some days I would walk by the river watching the spring flowers poking up out of the snow and sob at how all of this could be sacrificed for greed and the dying gasps of the fossil fuel industry. How can this become a sacrifice zone for more billionaire’s wealth? How can we allow our entire planet to be sacrificed so that our coming generations will not be able to survive?
In Minnesota I went to two very moving gatherings for MMIW, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, children, 2-Spirit people. Every person I talked to knew multiple people who were murdered or missing: children, sisters, mothers, cousins, friends. I heard stories and saw photos of the missing ones. At one gathering a teepee was painted and erected; relatives of the murdered and missing dipped their hand in paint and made an imprint on the teepee. People then wrote the names and dates of the loss of their loved ones. Survivors who got away told their stories as well. The role of the pipeline “man camps” have exacerbated this problem as well as increasing domestic violence. The Enbridge contract with the state of Minnesota stipulated a fund to help cover such “associated costs.” Indigenous women have had to form their own teams to go out and look for women who are missing as police ignore the reports.
I was so sad to have to return home but I needed to be near my 90 year old mother who lives in the northern CA area which is burning down with climate chaos. Last year I helped her evacuate to my home in Oakland twice. I also knew that the West Berkeley Shellmound, sacred site of the Ohlone people of the East Bay, had lost an appeal to developers who want to put a mega building on top of it. Having been part of the struggle to save the site for many years, I wanted to come home to organize and check in with our team. And I had been helping to plan an event for the Nakba on May 15, commemorating the forced removal and massacres of Palestinians in 1948. We had no way of knowing the new terrible catastrophe the Israelis would create in Palestine to give the event new urgency and bringing 10,000 people out into the streets. I was honored to support the Palestinian community in creating a beautiful street mural.
After less than a week home, I was still sad and in tears about the next phase of the struggle in MN. I wanted to go back. In MN, there are 22 pipeline river crossings. Enbridge is going to attempt to drill starting mid-June. (Enbridge had to wait for the river to unfreeze and the mud to dry up to start work.) There are massive drills used to go under rivers. Only 5 such drills exist in the entire US. The rest of the pipeline has mostly been laid, marked by massive swaths of clear cuts. There have been numerous legal challenges to the pipeline. The Biden administration has been asked, begged and demanded to stop the pipeline. Right now, it is only the people who are willing to slow or stop the drilling that are going to stop the pipeline. If Enbridge cannot complete the crossings before the winter freeze, we will have more time for all the other strategies to work. I think of the Indigenous people of Turtle Island who continue to struggle and survive despite centuries of genocide, attacks, theft, and destruction of their land, culture, and way of life. I think of the Palestinians resisting against all the might of the Israeli terror. Each of us can take a stand against insurmountable odds on the off chance we might make a difference.
I talked with my folks and decided I could go back to MN for another month. There is a national call out by the Indigenous organizers inviting folks to come to MN and help Stop Line3. If you come, you must be willing to work under Indigenous leadership, mainly Indigenous women. You can get more information and give $ directly to the organizing at Honor the Earth or Stopline3.org
White supremacy rears its head on our trip
I traveled to MN with 13 other people in a multiracial group that was organized by a “progressive” nonprofit working on racism and reparative justice. Sadly, and not surprisingly, the representatives of the group who traveled with us were not able to live up to the goals of the organization. When BIPOC folks challenged the way decisions were being made and the way they were being treated, the group started to unravel. There were numerous meetings before and during the trip. We had divided into a BIPOC group and white-identified groups to try to process separately and then come back together. Things worsened with the stresses of travel and the first couple of days in camp. We regrouped in a space generously provided by allies in Duluth and met intensively together and in our separate groups.
I threw myself into talking with the other white people. I talked about my ongoing struggles to deal with my own internalized white supremacy and patriarchy. I took responsibility for repeatedly making mistakes and inadvertently harming BIPOC folks during my life and organizing and how I try daily to decolonize, apologize for my errors, and work to repair relationships that have suffered. I vulnerably talked of the personal harms of sexual abuse and violence that I have experienced, which I rarely speak of, to try and help the cis men understand the layers of oppression many BIPOC women and other marginalized people deal with. To no avail. One white man in particular could not see his role in white supremacy and patriarchy. His white fragility kicked in big time, and 4 of the 6 white folks left earlier than expected WITH the van that was rented to bring all of us to camp. This decision was made individually, communicated indirectly, with no accountability to the group process that was trying to come up with a collective resolution.
Those of us who were left regrouped, having become tight in the struggle. We rented a vehicle on a credit card and went back to camp where we were warmly welcomed. We were told it was sadly not the first time the camp had witnessed such dynamics. As white people, we must be willing to listen to BIPOC folks and take their leadership. We white people are so used to our privilege. Being in charge and making decisions can seem so natural and familiar.
The california board of education (cbe) is attempting to finalize the model curriculum for ethnic studies in public schools. The possibly final meeting will be on March 18, and people have been urged to call in once again to make public comments, which the board will ignore.
In 2016 the legislature passed AB 2016 requiring the state board of education to adopt a model ethnic studies curriculum. An advisory board was set up to review curriculum proposed by several experts in ethnic studies. The draft curriculum published in the summer of 2019 was attacked as being far too radical. Zionists took the lead in the attack, claiming the curriculum was anti-Semitic. So it has gone through several rounds of drafts, each getting further from the concept that ethnic studies needs to address the work, culture, oppression, and resistance of people of color in California. In February all of the writers and advisory committee members involved in the original draft of the curriculum wrote to the board of education demanding their names be removed from the revised draft.
Meanwhile in September AB 331, which would have required an ethnic studies course for high school graduation was vetoed by gov. newsom, who called it not sufficiently inclusive. By the time the bill had passed the legislature, it included “guardrails” which would have established a basis for suing a school or school district if the parent considered the curriculum to be “biased” in any way. Some advocates for ethnic studies are now promoting development of “liberated ethnic studies.” For more information, see http://www.liberatedethnicstudies.org.
In a letter this month supporting a return to the original curriculum as the basis for ethnic studies in California, QUIT! (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) wrote:
QUIT!, Queers for Palestine, a community-based activist group, strongly opposes the current version of the CA Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) We support an Ethnic Studies curriculum that centers the voices and experiences of communities of color. The original version of the ESMC, written by experts in the fields of education and Ethnic Studies, provided guiding principles to ground the Ethnic Studies course in anti-racist, de-colonial and liberatory pedagogy. Students taking the original Ethnic Studies course would have been empowered with critical thinking skills to analyze current systemic injustices.
QUIT! as an LGBTQ organization, recognizes that the struggle for Queer liberation cannot be achieved without a clear intersectional anti-racist and de-colonial focus that was woven into the original Ethnic Studies. We stand in solidarity with communities of color in the struggle for a genuine Ethnic Studies that provides empowering representational models of people of color. We recognize that LGBTQ students faced a similar struggle, in which we were frequently told that our need for accurate curriculum was impossible to achieve.
In particular, we demand that the Arab American lessons, including Palestine, that were written by Arab American educators, be reinstated under the Asian American rubric. We find intolerable the use of a racist definition of anti-Semitism as criticism of Israel and the inclusion of Ashkenazi Jews in Asian American Studies, which have no basis in foundational scholarship.
We also demand the restoration of the original key Ethnic Studies concepts, guiding principles and pedagogy that defines the foundations of an Ethnic Studies course compared to a general course in history. This will entail reinserting the key terms and definitions aligned with Ethnic Studies scholarship and the correction of erroneous information about Ethnic Studies.
Finally, as one of many groups who spoke at the Instructional Quality Committee, addressed public comments to the California Department of Education, and showed up in support of principle based Ethnic Studies that included Arab American Studies and Palestine, we are appalled that tens of thousands of comments and letters could be ignored in forming the revisions of the original Ethnic Studies Curriculum. The resulting revision has led to the silencing of all those who are struggling to create a public education system that is formed by and serves our students of color and their families, who make up the majority of California’s public schools.
As California works to educate all students from kindergarten to community colleges to expand educational possibilities, and as California strives to address systemic racism through transformational policies, it is urgent that the State Board of Education sends a message of support for an anti-racist, de-colonial and liberatory Ethnic Studies in the spirit of the 1968 Third World Liberation Front and Black Student Union strikes. It is not too late to call for the reinstatement of curriculum to reflect the current anti-racist struggles for liberation.