Wednesday, April 30, 2008

MAY DAY; Immigrants Rights

April 30, 2008

Op-Ed for L.A. Daily News
By: Nativo V. Lopez, National President,
Mexican American Political Association (MAPA)
The immigrant vote will increase to unstoppable heights in four short years across California's political landscape, a veritable big-foot electorate, according to a recently released study commissioned by the Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees. Fully one-third of California voters by 2012 will be comprised of immigrant voters - naturalized U.S. citizens and permanent residents eligible for citizenship - and their teenage U.S.-born children. The implications of even greater growth for Los Angeles city and county are abundantly clear.

So why do we march this MAY DAY considering these very promising demographic projections? If history teaches us anything it clearly demonstrates that numbers alone do not translate into political power. The political muscle necessary to make substantive policy changes favorable to immigrant working families devolves from organization of the numbers exercised repeatedly towards very specific ends. And the oxygen pumping up those muscles is civic education plus experience.

Today we continue to wage costly battles over too many issues related to the social well-being of our families. The list is long, and much remains as a legacy of the nasty 1990s in California - denial of the driver's license, higher education, financial aid, healthcare access, business and professional licenses, employment authorization - on the one hand, and overt forms of state terror on the other hand - wanton work-place and neighborhood raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE, the arbitrary impounding of vehicles, which constitutes the outright seizure of a personal asset, facilitated by a growing number of police check-points in multiple jurisdictions, and the increased cooperation between ICE and local police authorities throughout the country. The most recent example is the Arizona legislature's approval of legislation mandating local law enforcement involvement in enforcing immigration laws. The state's governor vetoed it.

Notwithstanding a decade of political gains and increased electoral representation for Latinos, in particular, at all levels of government, we have not secured sufficient political strength to curb the practices mentioned above. Although, the prospect of these issues being resolved in favor of immigrants and their children within one more presidential term is highly probable if the numbers coalesce politically at the ballot box and in the street. In others words, it is not the vote juxtaposed to street heat. Both tactics are absolutely relevant to any credible social movement for change, although the change is not an iron-clad guarantee.

Take the city of Los Angeles as an example. The composition of the city council and mayor's office is an embodiment of diversity and liberalism - the greatest number of Latinos, blacks, Democrats, gays, and liberal Jews probably ever in the history of the city. Yet, the city is not as friendly to immigrants as one might think. Immigrant raids continue to abound, vehicles are regularly impounded, sweat-shops are more the norm than the exception, the poverty index remains high, the city is no longer considered a sanctuary as once touted by Mayor Tom Bradley in the 1980s, more then 94 percent of the private work-force is not represented by a union or enjoys a collective bargaining agreement, the city's schools are a laboratory of failure for immigrant youth, and the prevalence of gangs is greater today than a generation ago, disproportionately concentrated in immigrant neighborhoods. This is why we continue to march.

May 1st is a shout out not just to the adversaries of the immigrant's social integration and progress. It's footprint on California's political map will only get bigger. But, it is just as much a shout out internally to the immigrants themselves that shares the story of Lucy Gonzalez de Parsons, Albert Parsons, and the others of Chicago's Haymarket Martyrs in the fight for the eight-hour day during the 1880s, who with the vast majority of other immigrant workers of European national origin stock led the movement to improve the conditions of life and work for all workers, and as a result made America a better place to live. Ironically, however, black, Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese workers remained in even more inferior stations and were forced to create their own segregated organizations to contend with the challenges of the day.

The lesson to working people today is that nothing changes without a fight, a struggle, and a purposeful movement by collections of people with a common cause. And if they don't pursue their dream in an organized fashion, life goes on as before and they remain as objects of history, not subjects.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Social change: Cesar Chavez

Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.

Cesar Chavez
Address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Nov. 9, 1984

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hunger Riots in Haiti

USA Role in Haiti Hunger Riots
By Bill Quigley

Riots in Haiti over explosive rises in food costs have claimed the lives of six people. There have also been food riots world-wide in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivorie, Egypt, Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

The Economist, which calls the current crisis the silent tsunami, reports that last year wheat prices rose 77% and rice 16%, but since January rice prices have risen 141%. The reasons include rising fuel costs, weather problems, increased demand in China and India, as well as the push to create biofuels from cereal crops.

Hermite Joseph, a mother working in the markets of Port au Prince, told journalist Nick Whalen that her two kids are “like toothpicks – they’re not getting enough nourishment. Before, if you had a dollar twenty-five cents, you could buy vegetables, some rice, 10 cents of charcoal and a little cooking oil. Right now, a little can of rice alone costs 65 cents, and is not good rice at all. Oil is 25 cents. Charcoal is 25 cents. With a dollar twenty-five, you can’t even make a plate of rice for one child.”

The St. Claire’s Church Food program, in the Tiplas Kazo neighborhood of Port au Prince, serves 1000 free meals a day, almost all to hungry children – five times a week in partnership with the What If Foundation. Children from Cite Soleil have been known to walk the five miles to the church for a meal. The cost of rice, beans, vegetables, a little meat, spices, cooking oil, propane for the stoves, have gone up dramatically. Because of the rise in the cost of food, the portions are now smaller. But hunger is on the rise and more and more children come for the free meal. Hungry adults used to be allowed to eat the leftovers once all the children were fed, but now there are few leftovers.

The New York Times lectured Haiti on April 18 that “Haiti, its agriculture industry in shambles, needs to better feed itself.” Unfortunately, the article did not talk at all about one of the main causes of the shortages – the fact that the U.S. and other international financial bodies destroyed Haitian rice farmers to create a major market for the heavily subsidized rice from U.S. farmers. This is not the only cause of hunger in Haiti and other poor countries, but it is a major force.

Thirty years ago, Haiti raised nearly all the rice it needed. What happened?

In 1986, after the expulsion of Haitian dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned Haiti $24.6 million in desperately needed funds (Baby Doc had raided the treasury on the way out). But, in order to get the IMF loan, Haiti was required to reduce tariff protections for their Haitian rice and other agricultural products and some industries to open up the country’s markets to competition from outside countries. The U.S. has by far the largest voice in decisions of the IMF.

Doctor Paul Farmer was in Haiti then and saw what happened. “Within less than two years, it became impossible for Haitian farmers to compete with what they called ‘Miami rice.’ The whole local rice market in Haiti fell apart as cheap, U.S. subsidized rice, some of it in the form of ‘food aid,’ flooded the market. There was violence, ‘rice wars,’ and lives were lost.”

“American rice invaded the country,” recalled Charles Suffrard, a leading rice grower in Haiti in an interview with the Washington Post in 2000. By 1987 and 1988, there was so much rice coming into the country that many stopped working the land.

Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest who has been the pastor at St. Claire and an outspoken human rights advocate, agrees. “In the 1980s, imported rice poured into Haiti, below the cost of what our farmers could produce it. Farmers lost their businesses. People from the countryside started losing their jobs and moving to the cities. After a few years of cheap imported rice, local production went way down.”

Still the international business community was not satisfied. In 1994, as a condition for U.S. assistance in returning to Haiti to resume his elected Presidency, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced by the U.S., the IMF, and the World Bank to open up the markets in Haiti even more.

But, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, what reason could the U.S. have in destroying the rice market of this tiny country?

Haiti is definitely poor. The U.S. Agency for International Development reports the annual per capita income is less than $400. The United Nations reports life expectancy in Haiti is 59, while in the US it is 78. Over 78% of Haitians live on less than $2 a day, more than half live on less than $1 a day.

Yet Haiti has become one of the very top importers of rice from the U.S. The U.S. Department of Agriculture 2008 numbers show Haiti is the third largest importer of US rice - at over 240,000 metric tons of rice. (One metric ton is 2200 pounds).

Rice is a heavily subsidized business in the U.S. Rice subsidies in the U.S. totaled $11 billion from 1995 to 2006. One producer alone, Riceland Foods Inc of Stuttgart Arkansas, received over $500 million dollars in rice subsidies between 1995 and 2006.

The Cato Institute recently reported that rice is one of the most heavily supported commodities in the U.S. – with three different subsidies together averaging over $1 billion a year since 1998 and projected to average over $700 million a year through 2015. The result? “Tens of millions of rice farmers in poor countries find it hard to lift their families out of poverty because of the lower, more volatile prices caused by the interventionist policies of other countries.”

In addition to three different subsidies for rice farmers in the U.S., there are also direct tariff barriers of 3 to 24 percent, reports Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute – the exact same type of protections, though much higher, that the U.S. and the IMF required Haiti to eliminate in the 1980s and 1990s.

U.S. protection for rice farmers goes even further. A 2006 story in the Washington Post found that the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all; including $490,000 to a Houston surgeon who owned land near Houston that once grew rice.

And it is not only the Haitian rice farmers who have been hurt.

Paul Farmer saw it happen to the sugar growers as well. “Haiti, once the world's largest exporter of sugar and other tropical produce to Europe, began importing even sugar-- from U.S. controlled sugar production in the Dominican Republic and Florida. It was terrible to see Haitian farmers put out of work. All this sped up the downward spiral that led to this month's food riots.”

After the riots and protests, President Rene Preval of Haiti agreed to reduce the price of rice, which was selling for $51 for a 110 pound bag, to $43 dollars for the next month. No one thinks a one month fix will do anything but delay the severe hunger pains a few weeks.

Haiti is far from alone in this crisis. The Economist reports a billion people worldwide live on $1 a day. The US-backed Voice of America reports about 850 million people were suffering from hunger worldwide before the latest round of price increases.

Thirty three countries are at risk of social upheaval because of rising food prices, World Bank President Robert Zoellick told the Wall Street Journal. When countries have many people who spend half to three-quarters of their daily income on food, “there is no margin of survival.”

In the U.S., people are feeling the world-wide problems at the gas pump and in the grocery. Middle class people may cut back on extra trips or on high price cuts of meat. The number of people on food stamps in the US is at an all-time high. But in poor countries, where malnutrition and hunger were widespread before the rise in prices, there is nothing to cut back on except eating. That leads to hunger riots.

In the short term, the world community is sending bags of rice to Haiti. Venezuela sent 350 tons of food. The US just pledged $200 million extra for worldwide hunger relief. The UN is committed to distributing more food.

What can be done in the medium term? The US provides much of the world’s food aid, but does it in such a way that only half of the dollars spent actually reach hungry people. US law requires that food aid be purchased from US farmers, processed and bagged in the US and shipped on US vessels – which cost 50% of the money allocated. A simple change in US law to allow some local purchase of commodities would feed many more people and support local farm markets.

In the long run, what is to be done? The President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who visited Haiti last week, said “Rich countries need to reduce farms subsidies and trade barriers to allow poor countries to generate income with food exports. Either the world solves the unfair trade system, or every time there's unrest like in Haiti, we adopt emergency measures and send a little bit of food to temporarily ease hunger."

Citizens of the USA know very little about the role of their government in helping create the hunger problems in Haiti or other countries. But there is much that individuals can do. People can donate to help feed individual hungry people and participate with advocacy organizations like Bread for the World or Oxfam to help change the U.S. and global rules which favor the rich countries. This advocacy can help countries have a better chance to feed themselves.

Meanwhile, Merisma Jean-Claudel, a young high school graduate in Port-au-Prince told journalist Wadner Pierre "...people can’t buy food. Gasoline prices are going up. It is very hard for us over here. The cost of living is the biggest worry for us, no peace in stomach means no peace in the mind…I wonder if others will be able to survive the days ahead because things are very, very hard."

“On the ground, people are very hungry,” reported Fr. Jean-Juste. “Our country must immediately open emergency canteens to feed the hungry until we can get them jobs. For the long run, we need to invest in irrigation, transportation, and other assistance for our farmers and workers.”

In Port au Prince, some rice arrived in the last few days. A school in Fr. Jean-Juste’s parish received several bags of rice. They had raw rice for 1000 children, but the principal still had to come to Father Jean-Juste asking for help. There was no money for charcoal, or oil.

Jervais Rodman, an unemployed carpenter with three children, stood in a long line Saturday in Port au Prince to get UN donated rice and beans. When Rodman got the small bags, he told Ben Fox of the Associated Press, “The beans might last four days. The rice will be gone as soon as I get home.”

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and a member of the Sacramento Progressive Alliance Advisory Board. He can be reached at People interested in donating to feed children in Haiti should go to People who want to help change U.S. policy on agriculture to help combat world-wide hunger should go to: or

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Arizona Republicans seek to ban Mecha, Chicano studies

Arizona Proposal Would Prohibit Race-Based Student Groups
Arizona attempts to outlaw MEChA and Chicano StudiesLA VOZ DE AZTLAN Los Angeles, Alta California April 17, 2008 Arizona legislation will outlaw MEChA and Mexican-American Studies
The Appropriations Committee of the Arizona House of Representatives has approved provisions to a "Homeland Security" measure that would essentially destroy the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) and Mexican-American study programs in the state's public schools, colleges and universities. The anti-Mexican provisions to SB1108 were approved yesterday and the bill is now scheduled for a vote by the full House. The provisions would withhold funding to schools whose courses "denigrate American values and the teachings of European based civilization." One section of SB1108 would bar public schools, community colleges and universities from allowing organizations to operate on campus if it is "based in whole or in part on race-based criteria," a provision Rep. Russell Pearce said is aimed at MEChA. Pearce is a Republican and the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee out of Mesa, Arizona. According to Chairman Pearce, SB1108 would
also bar teaching practices that "overtly encourage dissent from American values" such as Raza Studies at the Tucson Unified School District. In addition, SB1108 mandates the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to confiscate books and teaching materials that are deemed anti-American. Chairman Pearce said some of the teaching materials amount to "sedition" by suggesting that the current border between the United States and Mexico disappear with La Raza taking over the American Southwest. One book that would be confiscated mentioned by Pearce is "Occupied America - A History of Chicanos" by Professor Rodolfo Acuña.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Encuentro in Mexico City

La activista contra la guerra en Iraq y ahora candidata para diputada de San Francisco ,Cindy Sheehan,es la oradora pricipal en el "Encuentro" y sus delegadosen Mexico,DF,4 de Abril,2008,en el salon "Che Guevarra" en el auditorio del sindicato de los Electricistas el SME.

Ella reconociendo dos (2) dias importantes,el dia en que "Ascinaron" a Martin Luther KIng Jr y la Muerte de su hijo de la Cindy Sheehan,con muncha emocion de sus palabras a los delegados y al mundo ella nos lleno de muncha emocion y por su valentia de sus palabras hablando de el y los crimenes de nuestro propio gobierno del el "Emperio" de Estados Unidos de America.

Lo impactante fue de la participacion de todos los delegados de los paises de Sur America y Centro America y los paises de Italia y Francia y Haiti.

Mas muncho admiro tambien a mi nieto "Estevon" como participante y delegado al encuentro y sus tomadas de los fotos que les en viamos,les recomendamos de que vean nuestra pagina web del "Organizador" y "El,para mas informacion.

Otro de los oradores invitados lo fue el lider del sindicato de los trabajadores campesinos de la "FLOC" el, Baldemar
Velasquez,que aclaro de que a el y su organizacion "No le importaba la eleciones ni en mesclarze en la politica" ?,bueno esas fueron sus aclaraciones por mas que nos dio saber de que,a su organozacion le mataron en Monterrey un organizador y que el gobierno no ha hecho nada,que siempre en Mexico es el costumbre,pero hay munch que decir sobre los programas "Huespedes todavia y eso vamos a debatir en nuestrtas p[onencias.

Es importante de que tambien estuvo la candidata para la presidencia de los Estados Unidos de America,la ex Diputada congesista, Cynthia Mckinney,y ella tambien dio su discuros fuerte,ademas estuvo la companera,como representante de la CND y el Gobierno ligitimo,Claudia Shienbaum que fue importante por elhecho de las mobilicaziones que se espera llevar acabo en estas semanas contra la privitacion de "PEMEX",sea el petrolio no se vende menos la patria".

En Solidaridad.
Al Rojas,

Friday, April 04, 2008

Prophetic Anger of MLK

The Prophetic Anger of MLK

After 1965, the civil rights leader grew angrier
over America's unwillingness to change.

By Michael Eric Dyson
April 4, 2008

ON THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY of Martin Luther King Jr.'s
death, few truths ring louder than this: Barack Obama
and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. express in part the fallen
leader's split mind on race, a division marked by
chronology and color.

Before 1965, King was upbeat and bright, his belief in
white America's ability to change by moral suasion
resilient and durable. That is the leader we have come
to know during annual King commemorations. After 1965,
King was darker and angrier; he grew more skeptical
about the willingness of America to change without great
social coercion.

King's skepticism and anger were often muted when he
spoke to white America, but they routinely resonated in
black sanctuaries and meeting halls across the land.
Nothing highlights that split -- or white America's
ignorance of it and the prophetic black church King
inspired -- more than recalling King's post-1965
odyssey, as he grappled bravely with poverty, war and
entrenched racism. That is the King who emerges as we
recall the meaning of his death. After the grand
victories of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965
Voting Rights Act, King turned his attention to poverty,
economic injustice and class inequality. King argued
that those "legislative and judicial victories did very
little to improve" Northern ghettos or to "penetrate the
lower depths of Negro deprivation." In a frank
assessment of the civil rights movement, King said the
changes that came about from 1955 to 1965 "were at best
surface changes" that were "limited mainly to the Negro
middle class." In seeking to end black poverty, King
told his staff in 1966 that blacks "are now making
demands that will cost the nation something. ... You're
really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because
you are messing with folk then."

King's conclusion? "There must be a better distribution
of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a
democratic socialism." He didn't say this in the
mainstream but to his black colleagues.

Similarly, although King spoke famously against the
Vietnam War before a largely white audience at Riverside
Church in New York in 1967, exactly a year before he
died, he reserved some of his strongest antiwar language
for his sermons before black congregations. In his own
pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, two months
before his death, King raged against America's "bitter,
colossal contest for supremacy." He argued that God
"didn't call America to do what she's doing in the world
today," preaching that "we are criminals in that war"
and that we "have committed more war crimes almost than
any nation in the world." King insisted that God "has a
way of saying, as the God of the Old Testament used to
say to the Hebrews, 'Don't play with me, Israel. Don't
play with me, Babylon. Be still and know that I'm God.
And if you don't stop your reckless course, I'll rise up
and break the backbone of your power.' "

Perhaps nothing might surprise -- or shock -- white
Americans more than to discover that King said in 1967:
"I am sorry to have to say that the vast majority of
white Americans are racist, either consciously or
unconsciously." In a sermon to his congregation in 1968,
King openly questioned whether blacks should celebrate
the nation's 1976 bicentennial. "You know why?" King
asked. "Because it [the Declaration of Independence] has
never had any real meaning in terms of implementation in
our lives."

In the same year, King bitterly suggested that black
folk couldn't trust America, comparing blacks to the
Japanese who had been interred in concentration camps
during World War II. "And you know what, a nation that
put as many Japanese in a concentration camp as they did
in the '40s ... will put black people in a concentration
camp. And I'm not interested in being in any
concentration camp. I been on the reservation too long
now." Earlier, King had written that America "was born
in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the
original American, the Indian, was an inferior race."

Such quotes may lead some to wrongly see King as anti-
white and anti-American, a minister who allowed politics
to trump religion in his pulpit, just as some see Wright
now. Or they might say that King 40 years ago had better
reason for bitterness than Wright in the enlightened
21st century. But that would put a fine point on
arguable gains, and it would reveal a deep unfamiliarity
with the history of the black Christian church.

The black prophetic church was born because of the
racist politics of the white church. Only when the white
church rejected its own theology of love and embraced
white supremacy did black folk leave to praise God in
their own sanctuaries, on their own terms. Insurgent
slave ministers such as Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey
and Nat Turner hatched revolts against slave masters.
Harriet Tubman was inspired by black religious belief to
lead hundreds of black souls out of slavery. For many
blacks, religion and social rebellion went hand in hand.
They still do.

For most of our history, the black pulpit has been the
freest place for black people. It is in the black church
that blacks gathered to enhance social networks, gain
education, wage social struggle -- and express the grief
and glory of black existence. The preacher was one of
the few black figures not captive to white interests or
bound by white money. Because black folk paid his
salary, he was free to speak his mind and that of his
congregation. The preacher often said things that most
black folk believed but were afraid to say. He used his
eloquence and erudition to defend the vulnerable and
assail the powerful.

King extended that prophetic tradition, which includes
vigorous self-criticism as well -- especially sharp
words against the otherworldliness that grips some
churches. In 1967, King said that too many black
churches were "so absorbed in a future good 'over
yonder' that they condition their members to adjust to
the present evils 'over here.' " Two months before his
death, King chided black preachers for standing "in the
midst of the poverty of our own members" and mouthing
"pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities."
King struck fiercely at the ugly, self-serving practices
of some black ministers when he claimed that they were
"more concerned about the size of the wheelbase on our
automobiles, and the amount of money we get in our
anniversaries, than ... about the problems of the people
who made it possible for us to get these things."

Obama has seized on the early King to remind Americans
about what we can achieve when we allow our imaginations
to soar high as we dream big. Wright has taken after the
later King, who uttered prophetic truths that are easily
caricatured when snatched from their religious and
racial context. What united King in his early and later
periods is the incurable love that fueled his
hopefulness and rage. As King's example proves, as we
dream, we must remember the poor and vulnerable who live
a nightmare. And as we strike out in prophetic anger
against injustice, love must cushion even our hardest

Michael Eric Dyson is a professor of sociology at
Georgetown University and the author of 16 books,
including the just-published "April 4, 1968: Martin
Luther King Jr.'s Death and How It Changed America."


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Racism in the primary

Racism in the Primary: Message from YDS Anti-Racism Committee

By YDS • Mar 25th, 2008 • Category: Features
The rejection of an attempt to use a fear-generating slur in the campaign for the White House over the past few weeks may represent a change of conditions in US electoral politics. A photograph of presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama dressed in traditional Somali tribal grab was leaked to the press, which led many to assume that its release was contemptibly tailored to connote an implicit association between Muslims and the Senator. At the same time, Republican candidate John McCain felt obliged to distance himself from conservative commentator Bill Cunningham, who, when referring to Obama, deliberately brought up the Senator’s middle name, Hussein. This behavior was also noticed and condemned by the Republican National Committee chair. The coincidence of Senator Obama’s middle name being the same as the executed dictator of Iraq has been seized upon by opponents of the Senator to play upon ethnic and religious hatred. However, this tendency is also being noted and condemned by both parties. Has the day come where solid anti-racist politics now dominate the mainstream? The answer is not a simple “yes” or “no.”

To see many Americans speaking out against divisive racist politics indicates a progressive trend in national politics. Racism has long been an impediment to serious progressive reform in our country. Attacks on welfare have historically been directed at people of color, despite the majority of public assistance recipients (and the majority of America’s poor) being white. Conversely, it is also important to remember the nasty legacy of white privilege in the leadership of grassroots social movements. As the GOP leadership openly moves away from bigots attempting to use anti-Muslim prejudice against Obama, we feel justified in questioning their motives.

The Republicans have taken key polls to find that they can no longer get away with blatantly “playing the race card.” “Willie Horton”-type advertisements, patterned after those used against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988, are increasingly unlikely to be widely accepted. Americans have become more sensitive to and more willing to publicly condemn racism, even if they do not acknowledge its lasting legacy. The GOP has had to rely on the words of its fringe elements to spark a nasty discourse to play on the emotions of the electorate.

Recent e-mails to the O’Reilly Factor indicated that some Americans could not see the difference between a racist act and a move to play on racism. The letters to our “friend” Bill O’ questioned what was inherently racist about circulating a picture of Senator Obama in African dress. Of course, the picture itself is not bigoted, but its circulator’s intention was to turn people against the Obama campaign by appealing to existing prejudices against Muslims. We must face that fact.

As long as the right wing attempts to manipulate American nascent fears of Islam and black people, socialists must openly move against such behavior. Racism has been institutionalized so that it can be used to justify oppression and divide those who should share a common struggle for justice, while maintaining white superiority in the labor and financial markets. Socialists must remind our fellow citizens that we do not live in a color-blind society, even if we wish it were so. We must recognize racism’s lingering effects on our national psyche – as the Obama campaign’s aforementioned detractors illustrate – and the need to defend social programs like Affirmative Action and scholastic minority grants to address labor-market inequality. We will continue to fight reactionary politicians’ attempts to use racism to promote their agendas and feed on the vestiges of cultural ignorance.

Written by the YDS Anti-Racism Committee

Race and the Social Contract

from The New York Times

Editorial Observer
Race and the Social Contract

Published: March 31, 2008

In 1893, Friedrich Engels wrote from London to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, another German Communist then living in New York, lamenting how America’s diversity hindered efforts to establish a workers’ party in the United States. Was it possible to unify Poles, Germans, Irish, “the many small groups, each of which understands only itself”? All the bourgeoisie had to do was wait, “and the dissimilar elements of the working class fall apart again.”

America’s mix of peoples has changed in its 200-plus years. Yet when Barack Obama delivered his bracing speech on race, he was grappling with a similar challenge. “Realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams,” he said. “Investing in the health, welfare and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.”

It is a tall order. Ten years ago, William Julius Wilson wrote that American whites rebelled against welfare because they saw it as using their hard-earned taxes to give blacks “medical and legal services that many of them could not afford for their own families.”

As obviously sensible as Mr. Obama’s proposition might be in a nation of as many hues, tongues and creeds as the United States, it struggles against self-defeating human behavior: racial and ethnic diversity undermine support for public investment in social welfare. For all the appeal of America’s melting pot, the country’s diverse ethnic mix is one main reason for entrenched opposition to public spending on the public good.

Among the 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a club of industrial countries, only Mexicans, Koreans and Greeks pay less in taxes than Americans, as a share of the economy. The United States also ranks near the bottom on public spending on social programs: 19 percent of the nation’s total output in 2003, compared with 29 percent in Sweden, 23 percent in Portugal and almost 30 percent in France.

The Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser correlated public spending in Western Europe and the United States with diversity and concluded that half the social-spending gap was due to the United States’ more varied racial and ethnic mix. The other half was mostly due to the existence of stronger left-wing parties in Europe.

Americans are not less generous than Europeans. When private charities are included, they probably spend more money for social purposes than Europeans do. But philanthropy allows them to target spending on those they personally believe are deserving, instead of allowing the government to choose.

Mr. Glaeser’s and Mr. Alesina’s work suggests that white Europeans support a big welfare state because they believe the money will probably go to other white Europeans. In America, the Harvard economist Erzo F. P. Luttmer found that support for social spending among respondents to General Social Survey polls increased in tandem with the share of welfare recipients in the area who were in their own racial group. A study of charity by Daniel Hungerman, a Notre Dame economist, found that all-white congregations become less charitably active as the share of black residents in the local community grows.

This breakdown of solidarity should be unacceptable in a country that is, after all, mainly a nation of immigrants, glued together by a common project and many shared values. The United States has showed an unparalleled capacity to pull together in challenging times. Americans have invested blood and treasure to serve a broad national purpose and to rescue and protect their allies across the Atlantic.

Still, racial and ethnic antagonism all too frequently limit generosity at home. In one study, Mr. Alesina, with Reza Baqir of the International Monetary Fund and William Easterly of New York University, found that the share of municipal spending in the United States devoted to social good — roads, sewage, education and trash clearance — was smaller in more racially diverse cities.

While this tension manifests mainly along racial lines, it has broader ethnic, religious and even linguistic dimensions. A 2003 study by Julian Betts of the University of California, San Diego, and Robert Fairlie of the University of California, Santa Cruz, found that for every four immigrants who arrived in public high schools, one native student switched to a private school.

Politicians, from Richard Nixon to Tom Tancredo, have long exploited racial tensions. But there is nothing inevitable about ethnic animosities, as Senator Obama argued in his speech, which came at an important moment.

Globalization presents the United States with an enormous challenge. Rising to the test will require big investments in the public good — from infrastructure to education to a safety net protecting those most vulnerable to change. Americans must once again show their ability to transcend group interests for a common national cause.