Friday, May 18, 2007

The Future is Unwritten: Joe STrummer

Opened last week in the UK. Coming soon elsewhere.
"I'd like to say that people... people can change anything they want to;
and that means everything in the world. Show me any country and
there'll be people in it. And it's the people that make the country.
People have got to stop pretending they're not in the world.
People are running about following their own tracks. I am one of them.
But we've all gotta stop... just stop following our own little mouse trails.
People can do anything; this is something that I'm beginning to learn.
People are out there doing bad things to each other; it's because
they've been dehumanized. It's time to take humanity back into
the center of the ring and follow that for a time.
Greed... it ain't going anywhere; the richest person
in the world is the most unhappy one. They should have that
on a big billboard in Times Square. Think on that. Without people you're nothing."

-Joe Strummer
Okay, so he sounds a little bit cheesy-utopian at times in this quote. Yet, his explanation of oppression and violence coming from dehumanized people strikes home with me. So does his call to pull our heads out and get involved in change. Often, politics and music suck together. Joe Strummer and the Clash proved that it can be done with class (no pun).
p.s. If you click on the poster and go to the official site for the movie/or myspace, you'll hear his eerie voice uttering the quote above. If you ever liked the Clash, it will give you goose bumps.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Sarkozy Triumphant! Violent Reactions Across France

It is official: Nicolas Sarkozy is the heir apparent to France's Elysee Palace. Sarkozy's victory came after the second highest voter turnout in the history of the V Republic (since 1958) at nearly 86%, slightly short of the 87% record in 1974. It was the highest voter turnout in four decades. Nicolas Sarkozy of the UMP party, son of a Hungarian immigrant, received the majority vote at 53% to Socialist challenger Segolene Royal's 47% .

Who voted Sarkozy, Royal?
IPSOS' telephone poll showed that 58% of the youngest voters (18-24) supported Royal,while Sarkozy took the next age bracket (25-34) with 57%. Sarkozy's strongest voting bloc was the over 60. Small business owners and rural voters leaned toward Sarkozy, while urbanites were divided.

Senior citizens don't have much to gain themselves from Sarkozy's plan to change the 35-hour work week and offer more deregulation of the economy. He isn't promising them any great social security increases. However, he has proposed to exempt 95 % of his countrymen from the inheritance tax.

The highly coveted votes from centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round were split, slightly favoring Sarkozy by 40% to Royal's 38% with a significant 15% of Bayrou supporters abstaining.

Despite far-right Front National candidate Jean Marie Le Pen's plea to his supporters to abstain, most of them voted for Sarkozy (63%), with 15% going to Royal and just over 20% abstaining.

Sarkozy rode to victory on these votes he picked up from the center and the far right.

Paris voting patterns
The breakdown of votes in Paris seems to suggest a class and generational bias:

Paris: Nicolas Sarkozy 50.19%, Ségolène Royal 49.81%
(See appendix below for complete breakdown of votes by arrondissement)
The poshest arrondissement (district or borough) in Paris, also not particularly young, is the 16th where Sarkozy received a whopping 80% of the vote. Almost as impressively, he scored in the mid-70th percentile in the 7th and 8th arrondissements, which are also known to be quite expensive, middle-aged to seniors, and conservative. Sarkozy took other major French cities, such as Lyon, Marseille, Nice, and Strasbourg. Royal's only major geographical strength was the West and Southwest, where she received the support of cities such as Montpellier and Toulouse.

Violent Clashes in Response
Over 3,000 police were deployed in Paris and the "potentially difficult" suburban areas that were marked by riots in 2005. Major anti-Sarkozy demonstrations occurred across the country, some turning violent. In Paris around the Bastille in the 11th arrondissement, around 2,000 especially young adults had gathered to hear the results as the polls closed. When they received the results, the crowd became animated and confrontations with police followed. Some shouted, "Police everywhere, Justice Nowhere!" and burned an effigy of Sarkozy. Several hundred people clashed with the police and smashed windows. By midnight, the police were firing tear gas as members of the crowd hurled stones at them. The police then turned a water cannon on the crowd. On the base of the Bastille centerpiece column was graffitied: “Sarko 2007 = Hitler 1933.”

Clashes with police also occurred in France's second largest city, Lyon, where police again fired tear gas into the crowd to disperse it. Protests and clashes also occurred in Grenoble, Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Metz and Marseille.

Some French citizens commented that they could not recall an election outcome in their lifetimes that had been met with similar outrage and violence.

According to the National Police, 730 cars were burned in metropolitan France Sunday night and early Monday morning following the election. Some 592 people were arrested for questioning. So far the French media have not referred to this violence as "riots."

Mr. Law and Order
Part of the high turnout and subsequent violence is due to Sarkozy's extremely polarizing rhetoric over the past three years. He has made security and immigration, work and authority his slogans ever since taking over the position of Ministry of the Interior in May 2005. He received constant public attention for his provocative comments about crime and the immigrant populations, most notably when he called suburban delinquents "scum" that he would remove from their streets with a power hose. Since those suburbs are populated by large numbers of Arabs and black Africans, many interpreted his comment as racist, though he has several times tried to repudiate the label.

During the November 2005 riots he blamed the violence on unemployment (due to socialist economic policies he alleged), different cultural values (such as polygamy) and lack of respect for the Republic on the part of the immigrant population. For him, the suburbs were divided between hard-working French citizens and lazy, violent criminals making illegal money through an underground drug economy. He spoke of the latter as mafias and gangs that had occupied territory belonging to the Republic , which he vowed to reclaim with more national police on site and stronger sentences for "hooligans."

Sarkozy has also favored liberal economic policies, calling for an end to the 35 hour work week in the name of citizens' freedom to work as much as they like. Other major policy proposals include making more use of nuclear energy, lowering the income tax by 4%, and abolishing the estate tax for all but 5% of the population. But to many citizens, he is known as the man who will re-establish law and order.

A recent controversy came in an interview Sarkozy did with philosopher Michel Onfray where he was accused of supporting a racist eugenics to explain an individual's behavior. In that interview he was of the view that "one is born a pedophile." The same for those who commit suicide or get cancer. "Circumstances don't do everything. The role of the innate is immense--genetically."

Critics have then taken such quotations as a context for his opposition to Turkey entering the European Union. In a recent debate, he claimed, "It's not about democracy, it's not about muslims. It's that if Turkey becomes Europe Europe's borders will be Iraq and Syria." It's simply about geography, he concluded.

However, Sarkozy has been on record making more than an argument about geography. Last fall he permitted an interview to a new neo-conservative magazine Le Meilleur des Mondes, which has a very small circulation. "We have a problem of integration of Muslims that raises the issue of Islam in Europe." he said. "To say it is not a problem is to hide from reality. If you let 100 million Turkish Muslims come in, what will come of it?" He went on to make the same comment about Iraq and Syria as the outrageous borders of Europe in such a scenario.

His critics have accused him of deviously exploiting the fears of racists, islamophobes, and generally uninformed citizens. But Sarkozy was able to accuse his opponent of similar fearmongering last week when Madame Royal publicly warned of possible riots if Sarkozy won.

In a victory speech Sarkozy addressed the nation last night, reminding it of his campaign slogans, his brand: "[Voters] have chosen to break with the habits and the ideals of the past so I will rehabilitate work, authority, morality, respect, merit!"

When he finished speaking, giddy supporters feted their hero to a rendition of the French national anthem. Some 30,000 supporters gathered Sunday night at the Place de la Concorde to celebrate Sarkozy's victory. Police closed down the metro stop there and several others nearby, anticipating possible clashes near the seat of government.

Sarkozy's defeated opponent Segolene Royal vowed to keep on fighting. She claimed something powerful had been "set in motion which will not be stopped [by this election outcome]," and that "You can count on me to continue building a renewed left."

Mr. Sarkozy will assume the presidency May 17 to the tune of the Marseillaise and a 21-gun salute. Bang, bang.

Appendix: Paris vote by Arrondissement

Paris 10ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 62.99%, Nicolas Sarkozy 37.01%

Paris 11ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 61.68%, Nicolas Sarkozy 38.32%

Paris 12ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 51.86%, Nicolas Sarkozy 48.14%

Paris 13ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 58.8%, Nicolas Sarkozy 41.2%

Paris 14ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 53.86%, Nicolas Sarkozy 46.14%

Paris 15ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 59.82%, Ségolène Royal 40.18%

Paris 16ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 80.81%, Ségolène Royal 19.19%

Paris 17ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 62.8%, Ségolène Royal 37.2%

Paris 18ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 63.62%, Nicolas Sarkozy 36.38%

Paris 19ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 60.15%, Nicolas Sarkozy 39.85%

Paris 1er arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 56.34%, Ségolène Royal 43.66%

Paris 20ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 64.63%, Nicolas Sarkozy 35.37%

Paris 2ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 54.08%, Nicolas Sarkozy 45.92%

Paris 3ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 57.06%, Nicolas Sarkozy 42.94%

Paris 4ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 50.24%, Ségolène Royal 49.76%

Paris 5ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 50.89%, Nicolas Sarkozy 49.11%

Paris 6ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 61.27%, Ségolène Royal 38.73%

Paris 7ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 74.75%, Ségolène Royal 25.25%

Paris 8ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 76.27%, Ségolène Royal 23.73%

Paris 9ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 50.65%, Ségolène Royal 49.35%
(source: Liberation)

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day: To the Folks Who Brought Us The Weekend

I used to think "May Day" was a distress signal uniquely reserved for hapless pilots and captains. In fact, it wasn't until graduate school while taking an American rhetorical history course that I learned about the Haymarket Riots/Massacre and that Labor Day for many people around the world (International Workers Day), except for Americans, is May 1, in memory of those who died in Chicago on May 3 and 4, 1886 and in celebration of the humanist accomplishments of the international labor movement.

On May 1, labor unions had organized a strike there for the eight-hour day, better working conditions ("The Jungle" is hard to beat on this), for an ideal of international proportions: that one's labor and the person from whom it issues must be respected. For some people such respect meant that laborers deserved certain rights of negotiation and safety to avoid a new feudalism in the age of mass production.

On May3, they organized a strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co., where a fight broke out on the picket line; police intervened, killing two workers and wounding several others. Workers across the city were enraged. Anarchists then distributed flyers for a labor rally at Haymarket Square the following day. Reports vary in this highly politicized event, but many note that people listened peacefully to anarchist leader August Spies's address. Then apparently someone threw a bomb over the crowd, which landed on the police line killing a police officer and wounding other policeman who died later. Policeman fired into the crowd killing a number of people (there are no uncontested counts). Eight German immigrants associated with anarchism were rounded up and convicted on no evidence. The motive was that they were anarchists. Seven of them were sentenced to death. One committed suicide. One's sentence was commuted to life in prison. And five were hanged publicly.

The trial produced some of the most eloquent criticisms of American industrial society and its political butresses. Some, such as George Engel's, even provide an explanation/argument for how one came to be a socialist/anarchist. Here is an excerpt from George Englel's address to the jury, which I recommend reading in its entirety by clicking on this link.

[...]On the occasion of my arrival at Philadelphia, on the 8th of January, 1873, my heart swelled with joy in the hope and in the belief that in the future I would live
and in a free country. I made up my mind to become a good citizen of this country, and congratulated myself on having left Germany, and landed in this glorious republic. And I believe my past history will bear witness that I have ever striven to be a good citizen of this country. This is the first occasion of my standing before an American court, and on this occasion it is murder of which I am accused. And for what reasons do I stand here? For what reasons am I accused of murder? The same that caused me to leave Germany-
of the working classes.
And here, too, in this "free republic," in the richest country of the world, there are numerous proletarians for whom no table is set; who, as outcasts of society, stray joylessly through life. I have seen human beings gather their daily food from the garbage heaps of the streets, to quiet therewith their knawing hunger.
I have read of occurrences in the daily papers which proves to me that here, too, in this great "free land," people are doomed to die of starvation. This brought me to reflection, and to the question: What are the peculiar causes that could bring about such a condition of society? I then began to give our political institutions more attention than formerly. [...]

"I came to the opinion that as long as workingmen are economically enslaved they cannot be politically free. [...]
Of what does my crime consist?
That I have labored to bring about a system of society by which it is impossible for one to hoard millions, through the improvements in machinery, while the great masses sink to degradation and misery. As water and air are free to all, so should the inventions of scientific men be applied for the benefit of all. The statute laws we have are
in that they rob the great masses of their rights "to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I am too much a man of feeling not to battle against the societary conditions of today. Every considerate person must combat a system which makes it possible for the individual to rake and hoard millions in a few years, while, on the other side, thousands become tramps and beggars.
Is it to be wondered at that under such circumstances men arise, who strive and struggle to create other conditions,
over all other considerations? [...]

This speech is an interesting argument (well there are at least a couple of big arguments in it) about freedom in a materialist positive, not negative, economic sense (or positive rights). My dissertation analyzed the story of this rhetorical struggle (positive/negative economic rights with regard to understandings of democracy) in U.S. history, which is more or less erased from popular memory (for more on that, scroll down to the bottom of the blog's page to the last entry).

As this article demonstrates, the radical democratic history of May Day has been coopted in a few places in the world (in an attempt to rob it of its radical history as a resource for current politics), namely the U.S. Like other rights and practices many people hold to be sacred today, the eight-hour day was the result of social struggle and bloodshed (I'm just testifying about it; don't try this at home). Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were radicals, revolutionaries. Moreover, when a gang of patriots doing Native American minstrelsy snuck aboard a tea-heavy ship in Boston harbor and started throwing bags of Earl Grey overboard, they were breaking the law. Other patriots tarred and feathered Tories. Less delicate fates met others loyal to King and country. Radicals, revolutionaries. So was Jesus, as his fellow radical Martin Luther King observed:

"But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist -- "Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice--or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

Why would one resist these analogies about radicals and the progress of justice? If one finds the elision of King, Jesus, Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, Debs, Parsons, Spies, Engel (Haymarket convicts et al.), it must be due to an ideological resistance, a resistance toward their understandings of justice. Jesus resisted in the name of love and to make earth as heaven. King claimed to be following Jesus, Socrates, Jefferson and just about every other positive Western icon that ever lived. Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton justified their rebellion on natural rights that the Creator intended for everyone. The labor movement justified their protest of the 8-hour day in "real" democracy, natural rights, the bible ("Am I not my brother's Keeper?"), and a variety of critiques of capitalism as selfish human exploitation. People will resist that there's an equivocation of "justice" in this set of equations. Really?

I don't have the time-space to defend the thread of justice that runs through these "extremists," and I'm aware of how perilous such discussions are in a post-9/11 and -Oklahoma City era. I'll stick with the Christian tensions for a moment, if for no reason than that many of the extremists who use violence in the U.S. do so in the name of God, but none for economic justice today. Here are some lines that speak to the idea of justice for which the Haymarket protestors died.

Leviticus 25:23: "But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me."

Deuteronomy 24:6 "A handmill or an upper millstone shall not be taken in pawn, for that will be taking someone's life in pawn."

Acts 4: 34-5: "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of land and houses, sold them and brought the prices of these things that were sold. And laid them down at the apostle's feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."

Leviticus 25:36 "Do not exact from him advance or accrued interest, but fear your God."

Jeremiah 5:27-29 "As a cage full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxen rich. They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked; they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy they do not judge. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?"

There are many more like this in that Book. But just as the contents of May Day are systematically emptied out into a day merely to splurge at the florist (and Labor Day's date is shifted), so the Bible's fuller contents and tensions have been emptied by those in charge of preaching it. No wonder people become cynical about such religions when they actually read the holy texts on which they are based.

In that same graduate school class where I learned about the history of May Day, a Polish student who had grown up in the last days of the Soviet Empire told an interesting story. Apparently on May Day, a Polish TV news correspondent was sent to Chicago to report on May Day. He went to the site of the Hay Market, where a monument to the police had been constructed then vandalized. (Only in 2004 was one constructed to acknowledge the workers who died there too. The politics of memorializing this event is quite a story in itself--see "Haymarket Square in the Aftermath"). The Polish reporter went around Chicago asking citizens if they knew that May Day was an international holiday in memory of the Haymarket riots and massacre. No one knew what he was talking about. He responded on their Communist state-run TV broadcast, "This is how capitalism perpetuates itself. Citizens here are robbed of their own history and live in a dreamworld." You don't have to like the Soviet Union to find truth in his observation. (and please, neo-liberals, don't be so cynical as to characterize this memorial as an extreme argument for state ownership of property;it's rather about some redistribution for equal opportunity and the basis for participation in civic life, and limitation of the most powerful who set the terms for the labor market)

The testimony of Engel and others at their fateful trial is also a causal argument about what desperate human beings will do when they suffer political exclusion to work out conflict peacefully. The fact that this event is largely a ghost in American history speaks to how unwilling some people are to look at the ugliness of our history (not that forgetting isn't best in some situations from a certain point of view), the struggles of citizen against citizen because such knowledge is threatening to myths of nation and its tenuous coherence. It's also threatening to those whose interests invested in criminalizing critiques of a consumer society that is killing our planet, not just its people. Part of the reason why it may continue is the suppression of other knowledges of the past and critiques of the present. Just as many wounded laborers were afraid to go to the hospital for fear of being arrested when police opened fire on the crowd on May 4, 1886 (after the bomb exploded) , so today one faces being branded an extremist, a radical, a revolutionary, merely for remembering this past.

Today (yesterday for some people reading this) is May Day. Today, let us remember these people who brought us the weekend.