"First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
— "Letter from a Birmingham jail," 1963
These two quotes from Chairman Omali Yehsitela are so relevant right now with the FBI who recently released a document targeting African-led organizations building for African independence and self-determination as "Black Identity Extremists," to be a threat to the U.S. colonial interests. THIS IS COINTELPRO! White people especially, must take a genuine stand and defend the African liberation struggle because this is the states’ strategy to violently crush any attempt for African's to achieve freedom and to have control over their own lives and resources. - Renée Nassar
Chapter 16: Cointelpro and the War Against the Black Revolution
Quote #1: “[COINTELPRO, the U.S.] counterinsurgency program resulted in various assassinations that included Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton and Lawrence Mann, a co-founder of our Party (African People's Socialist Party).
Others were victims of FBI-influenced internecine violence between African organizations, while hundreds of others were rounded up for incarceration based on false charges or after being set up by provocateurs place in organizations by the FBI or other U.S. secret political police organizations."
Quote #2: "While COINTELPRO'S goals are excerpted here, this rather antiseptic outline, despite its anti-democratic content, does not even begin to describe the terror involved with this program. This excerpt from the actual FBI document, after announcing the expansion of the program to include 41 FBI offices, laid out the following goals:
1. Prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups...
2. Prevent the rise of a "messiah" who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement...
3. Prevent violence on the part of black nationalist groups
4. Prevent the militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability by discrediting them...
5. A final goal should be to prevent the long range growth of militant black nationalist organizations, especially among youth."
#ChairmanOmaliYeshitela #OmaliTaughtMe #ChairmansQuotations#CounterInsurgency #COINTELPRO #BlackIdentityExtremists#UhuruMovement #SolidarityWithBlackPower#ArabSolidarityWithBlackPower
UNITY THROUGH REPARATIONS & IN SOLIDARITY WITH USM - APSC UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF APSP - FALLON LEIGH O'BRIEN
I am Black Power in white face and a soon to be member of the African People's Solidarity Committee under the leadership of the African People's Socialist Party USA. I am honored to be a member of Uhuru Solidarity Movement and I believe that white people owe reparations to the black community. The road to socialism is painted black. African People's Socialist Party USA is the ONLY political party TRULY doing the work to END the OPPRESSION [around the world] caused by a parasite known as capitalism (led by demented white power.) It's raping and exploiting the black and indigenous people and their land. Socialism needs to be led by the African working-class. This party is the force opening minds to the violence of colonialism. Remember, the economic and political are one. Uhuru! Black Power!
INTRODUCTION: 120 MILLION CHILDREN IN THE EYE OF THE HURRICANE
The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations. Centuries passed, and Latin America perfected its role. We are no longer in the era of marvels when fact surpassed fable and imagination was shamed by the trophies of conquest--the lodes of gold, the mountains of silver. But our region still works as a menial. It continues to exist at the service of others' needs, as a source and reserve of oil and iron, of copper and meat, of fruit and coffee, the raw materials and foods destined for rich countries which profit more from consuming them than Latin America does from producing them. The taxes collected by the buyers are much higher than the prices received by the sellers; and after all, as Alliance for Progress coordinator Covey T. Oliver said in July 1968, to speak of fair prices is a ''medieval'' concept, for we are in the era of free trade.
The more freedom is extended to business, the more prisons have to be built for those who suffer from that business. Our inquisitor-hangman systems function not only for the dominating external markets; they also provide gushers of profit from foreign loans and investments in the dominated internal markets. Back in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson observed: You hear of 'concessions' to foreign capitalists in Latin America. You do not hear of concessions to foreign capitalists in the United States. they are not granted concessions.'' He was confident: ''States that are obliged.....to grant concessions are in the condition, that foreign interests are apt to dominate their domestic affairs . . . '' he said, and he was right.
Along the way we have even lost the right to call ourselves Americans, although the Haitians and the Cubans appeared in history as new people a century before the Mayflower pilgrims settled on the Plymouth coast. For the world today, America is just the United States, the region we inhabit is a sub-America, a second-class America of nebulous identity.
Latin America is the region of open veins. Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European--- or later United States --- capital, and as such has accumulated in distant centers of power. Everything: the soil, its fruits and its mineral-rich depths, the people and their capacity to work and to consume, natural resources and human resources. Production methods and class structure have been successively determined from outside for each area by meshing it into the universal gearbox of capitalism. To each area has been assigned a function, always for the benefit of the foreign metropolis of the moment, and the endless chain of dependency has been endlessly extended. The chain has many more than two links. In Latin America it also includes the oppression of small countries by their larger neighbors and, within each country's frontiers, the exploitation by big cities and ports of their internal sources of food and labor. (Four centuries ago sixteen of today's twenty biggest Latin American cities already existed.)
It ought to be generally known that the source of our pleasure, merriment, laughter, and amusement, as of our grief, pain, anxiety, and tears, is none other than the brain. It is specially the organ that enables us to think, see, and hear, and to distinguish the ugly and the beautiful, the bad and the good, pleasant and unpleasant. Sometimes we judge according to convention; at other times according to the perceptions of expediency. It is the brain, too, that is the seat of madness and delirium, of the fears and frights which assail us, often by night but sometimes even by day; it is there where lies the cause of insomnia and sleepwalking, of thoughts that will not come, forgotten duties and eccentricities. All such tings result from an unhealthy condition of the brain; it may be warmer than it should be, or it may be colder, or moister, or drier, or in any other abnormal state.
For these reasons, I believe the brain to be the most potent organ in the body. So long as it is healthy, it is the interpreter of what is derived from the air. Consciousness is caused by air. The eyes, ears, tongue, hands, and feet perform actions that are planned by the brain, for there is a measure of conscious thought throughout the body proportionate to the amount of air which is receives. The brain is also the organ of comprehension, for when a man draws in a breath, it reaches the brain first, and thence is dispersed into the rest of the body, having left behind in the brain its vigor and whatever pertains to consciousness and intelligence. If the air went first to the body and subsequently to the brain, the power of understanding would be left to the flesh and to the blood vessels; it would only reach the brain hot and when it was no longer pure, owing to admixture with fluid from the flesh and from the blood, and this would blunt its keenness.
I therefore assert that the brain is the interpreter of comprehension. Some say that we think with our hearts, and it is the heart that suffers pain and feels anxiety. There is no truth in this; blood vessels from all parts of the body run to the heart, and these connections ensure that it can feel if any pain or strain occurs in the body. Moreover, the body cannot help giving a shudder and a contraction when subjected to pain, and the same effect is produced by an excess of joy, which heart and diaphragm feel most intensely. Neither of these organs takes any part in mental operations, which are completely undertaken by the brain.
Forty years ago, nearly all the major decisions that shape our lives--whether or not we are offered employment, a mortgage, insurance, credit, or a government service--were made by human beings. They often used actuarial processes that functioned more like computers than people, but human discretion still prevailed.
Today, we have ceded much of that decision-making power to machines. Automated eligibility systems, ranking algorithms, and predictive risk models control which neighborhoods get policed, which families attain needed resources, who is short-listed for employment, and who is investigated for fraud. Our world is crisscrossed by information sentinels, some obvious and visible: closed-circuit cameras, GPS on our cell phones, police drones. But much of our information is collected by inscrutable, invisible pieces of code embedded in social media interactions, applications for government services, and every product we buy. They are so deeply woven into the fabric of social life that, most of the time, we don't even notice that we are being watched and analyzed.
Even when we do notice, we rarely understand how these processes are taking place. There is no sunshine law to compel the government or private companies to release details on the inner workings of their digital decision-making systems. With the notable exception of credit reporting, we have remarkably limited access to the equations, algorithms, and models that shape our life chances.
We all live under this new regime of data analytics, but we don't all experience it in the same way. Most people are targeted for digital scrutiny as members of social groups, not as individuals. People of color, migrants, stigmatized religious groups, sexual minorities, the poor, and other oppressed and exploited populations bear a much heavier burden of monitoring, tracking, and social than advantaged groups.
The most marginalized in our society face higher levels of data collection when they access public benefits, walk through heavily policed neighborhoods, enter healthcare system, or cross national borders. That data reinforces their marginality when it is used to target them for extra scrutiny. Groups seen as undeserving of social support and political inclusion are singled out for punitive public policy and more intense surveillance, and the cycle begins again. It is a feedback loop of injustice.
Take the case of Maine. In 2014, under Republican governor Paul LePage, the state attacked families who were receiving cash benefits through a federal program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. TANF benefits are loaded onto EBT cards, which leave a digital record of when and where cash is withdrawn. LePage's administration mined data collected by federal and state agencies to compile a list of 3,650 transactions in which TANF recipients withdrew cash from ATMs in smoke shops, liquor stores, and out-of-state locations. The data was then released to the public.
The transactions that were flagged as suspicious represented only 0.3 percent of the 1.1 million cash withdrawals completed during that time period, and the data showed only where cash was withdrawn, not how it was spent. But the administration disclosed the data to suggest that TANF families were defrauding taxpayers by buying liquor, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. Lawmakers and professional middle-class public eagerly embraced the misleading tale they spun.
The Maine legislative introduced a bill that would require TANF families to retain all cash receipts for twelve months, in order to facilitate state audits of their spending. Democratic legislators urged the state's attorney general to use LePage's list to investigate and prosecute fraud. The governor introduced a bill to ban TANF recipients from using their benefit cards at out-of-state ATMs. These proposed laws were patently unconstitutional and unenforceable, and would have been impossible to obey--but that was not the point. Such legislation is part of the performance politics governing poverty. It is not intended to work; it is intended to heap stigma on social programs and reinforce the misleading narrative that those who access public assistance are criminal, lazy, spendthrift addicts.
This has not been limited to Maine. Across the country, poor and working-class people are being targeted by new tools of digital poverty management, and face life-threatening consequences as a result. Vast networks of social services, law enforcement, and neighborhood surveillance technology make their every move visible and offer up their behavior for scrutiny by the government, corporations, and the public.
Automated eligibility systems in Medicaid, TANF, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program discourage families from claiming benefits that they are entitled to and deserve. Predictive models in child welfare deem struggling parents to be risky and problematic. Coordinated entry systems, which match the most vulnerable unhoused people to available resources, collect personal information without adequate safeguards in place for privacy or data security.
These systems are being integrated into human and social services at a breathtaking pace, with little or no discussion about their impacts. Technology boosters rationalize the automation of decision-making in public services---they say we will be able to do more with less and get help to those who really need it. But programs that serve the poor are as unpopular as they have ever been.
This is not coincidence: technologies of poverty management are not neutral. They are shaped by our nation's fear of economic insecurity and hatred of the poor. The new tools of poverty management hide economic inequality from the professional middle-class public and give the nation the ethical distance it needs to make inhuman choices about who gets food and who starves, who has housing and who remains homeless, whose family stays together and whose is broken up by the state. This is part of the long American tradition. We manage the poor so that we do not have to eradicate poverty.
America's poor and working-class people have long been subject to invasive surveillance, midnight raids, and punitive policies that increase the stigma and hardship of poverty. During the nineteenth century, they were quarantined in county poorhouses. In the twentieth century, there were investigated by caseworkers who treated them like criminal on trial. Today, we have forged a digital poorhouse. It promises to eclipse the reach of everything that came before.
The differences between the brick-and-mortar poorhouse of yesterday and the digital one of today are significant. Containment in a physical institution had the unintended result of creating class solidarity across the lines of race, gender, and national origin. If we sit at a common table to eat the same gruel, we might see similarities in our experiences. But now surveillance and digital social sorting are driving us apart, targeting smaller and smaller microgroups for different kinds of aggression and control. In an invisible poorhouse, we become ever more cut off from the people around us, even if they share our suffering.
In the 1820s, those who supported institutionalizing the indigent argued that there should be a poorhouse in every county in the United States. But it was expensive and time-consuming to build so many prisons for the poor---county poorhouses were difficult to scale (though we still ended up with more than a thousand of them). In the early twentieth century, the eugenicist Harry Laughlin proposed ending poverty by forcibly sterilizing the ''lowest one tenth'' of the nation's population, approximately 15 million people. But Laughlin's science fell out of favor after its use in Nazi Germany.
The digital poorhouse has a much lower barrier to expansion. Automated decision-making systems, matching algorithms, and predictive risk models have the potential to spread quickly. The state of Indiana denied more than a million public assistance applications in less than three years after switching to private call centers and automated document processing. In Los Angeles, a sorting survey to allocate housing for the homeless that started in a single neighborhood expanded to a countywide program in less then four years.
Models that identify children at risk of abuse and neglect are proliferating rapidly from New York City to Los Angeles and from Oklahoma to Oregon. Once they scale up, these digital systems will be remarkably hard to decommission.
Oscar Gandy, a communications scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, developed a concept called rational discrimination that is key to understanding how the digital poorhouse automates inequality. Rationale discrimination does not require class or racial hatred, or even unconscious bias, to operate. It requires only ignoring bias that already exists. When automated decision-making tools are not built to explicitly dismantle structural inequalities, their increased speed and vast scale intensify them dramatically.
Removing human discretion from public services may seem like a compelling solution to discrimination. After all, a computer treats each case consistently and without prejudice. But this actually has the potential to compound racial injustice. In the Eighties and Nineties, a series of laws establishing mandatory minimum sentences took away discretion from individual judges. Thirty years later, we have made little progress in rectifying racial disparity in the criminal justice system, and the incarcerated population has exploded. Though automated decision-making can streamline the governing process, and tracking program data can help identify patterns of biased decision-making, justice sometimes requires an ability to bend the rules. By transferring discretion from frontline social servants and moving it instead to engineers and data analysts, the digital poorhouse may, in fact, supercharge discrimination.
Think of the digital poorhouse as an invisible web woven of fiber-optic threads. Each strand functions as a microphone, a camera, a fingerprint scanner, a GPS tracker, a trip wire, and a crystal ball. Some of the strands are sticky. Along the threads travel petabytes of data. Our activities vibrate the web, disclosing our location and direction. Each of these filaments can be switched on or off. They reach back into history and forward into the future. They connect us in networks of association to those we know and love. As you go down the socioeconomic scale, the strands are woven more densely and more of them are switched on.
When my family was erroneously red-flagged for a health care fraud investigation in 2015, we had to wrestle only one strand. We weren't also tangled in threads emerging from the criminal justice system, Medicaid, and child protective services. We weren't knotted up in the histories of our parents or the patterns of our neighbors. We challenged a single strand of the digital poorhouse and we prevailed.
Eventually, however, those of us in the professional middle class may very well end up in the stickier, denser part of the web. As the working class hollows outs and the economic ladder gets more crowded at the top and the bottom, the middle class becomes more likely to fall into poverty. Even without crossing the official poverty line, two thirds of Americans between ages of twenty and sixty-five will at some point rely on a means-tested program for support.
The programs we encounter will be shaped by the contempt we held for their initial targets: the chronically poor. We will endure invasive and complicated procedures meant to divert us from public resources. Our worthiness, behavior, an social relations will be investigated, our missteps criminalized.
Because the digital poorhouse is networked, whole areas of middle-class life might suddenly be subject to scrutiny. Because the digital poorhouse serves as a continuous record, a behavior that is perfectly legal today but becomes criminal in the future could be targeted for retroactive prosecution. It would stand us all in good stead to remember that an infatuation with high-tech social sorting emerges most aggressively in countries plagued by sever inequality and governed by totalitarians, and here, a national catastrophe or a political regime change might justify the deployment of the digital poorhouse's full surveillance capability across the class spectrum.
We have always lived in a world we built for the poor. We created a society that has no use for the disabled or the elderly, and therefore are cast aside when we are hurt or grow old. We measure human worth by the ability to earn a wage, then suffer in a world that undervalues care, community, and mutual aid. We base our economy on exploiting the labor of racial and ethnic minorities and watch lasting inequalities snuff out human potential. We see the world as inevitably riven by bloody competition and are left unable to recognize the many ways in which we cooperate and life one another up.
When a very efficient technology is deployed against a scorned out-group in the absence of strong human rights protections, there is enormous potential for atrocity. Currently, the digital poorhouse concentrates administrative power in the hands of a small elite. Its integrated data systems and digital surveillance infrastructure offer a degree of control unrivaled in history. Automated tools for classifying the poor, left on their own, will produce towering inequalities unless we make an explicit commitment to forge another path. And yet we act as if justice will take care of itself. If there is to be an alternative, we must build it purposefully, brick by brick and byte by byte.
James Madison called it America's " original sin."" Chattel slavery. Its horrors, Thomas Jefferson prophesied, would bring down a wrath of biblical proportions. ''Indeed,'' Jefferson wrote, ''I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.''
In 1861, the day of reckoning came. The Southern states' determination to establish '''their independent slave republic'' led to four years of war, 1.5 million casualties, including at least 620,000 deaths, and 20 percent of Southern white males wiped off the face of the earth.
In his second inaugural address, in 1865, Abraham Lincoln agonized that the carnage of this war was God's punishment for ''all the wealth piled by the bondsman's 250 years of unrequited toil.'' Over time the road to atonement revealed itself: In addition to civil war, there would be the Emancipation Proclamation, three separate constitutional amendments - one that abolished slavery, another that defined citizenship, and the other that protected the right to vote - and, finally, the Freedmen's Bureau, with its mandate to provide land and education. Redemption for the country's ''sin,'' therefore, would require not just the end of slavery but also the recognition of full citizenship for African Americans, the right to vote, an economic basis to ensure freedom, and high-quality schools to break the generational chains of enforced ignorance and subjugation.
America was at the crossroads between its slaveholding past and the possibility of a truly inclusive, vibrant democracy. Thee four-year war, played out on battlefield on an unimaginable scale, had left the United States reeling. Beyond the enormous loss of life to contend with, more than one million disabled ex-soldiers were adrift, not to mention the widows seeking support from a rickety and virtually non-existent veterans' pension system. The mangles sinews of commerce only added to the despair, with railroad tracks torn apart: fields fallow, hardened, and barren: and bridges that had once defied the physics of uncrossable rivers now destroyed. And then this: Millions of black people who had been treated as no more than mere property were now demanding their full rights of citizenship. To face these challenges and make this nation anew required a special brand of political leadership.
Could the slaughter of more than six hundred thousand men, the reduction of cities of smoldering rubble, and casualties totaling nearly 5 percent of the U.S population provoke America's come-to-Jesus moment? Could white Americans override ''the continuing repugnance, even dread'' of living among black people as equals, as citizens and not property? In the process of rebuilding after the Civil War, would political leaders have the clarity, humanity, and resolve to move the United States away from the racialized policies that had brought the nation to the edge of apocalypse?
Initially, it appeared so. Even before the war ended, in late 1863 and early 1864, Rep. James M. Ashley (R-OH) and Senator John Henderson (D-MO) introduced in Congress a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment was, in important ways, revolutionary. Immediately, it moved responsibility for enforcement and protection of civil rights from the states to the federal government and sent a strong, powerful signal that citizens were first and foremost U.S citizens. The Thirteenth Amendment was also corrective and an antidote for a Constitution whose slave-owning drafters, like Thomas Jefferson, were overwhelmingly concerned with states' rights. Finally, the amendment sought to give real meaning to ''we hold there truths to be self-evident'' by banning not just government-sponsored but also private agreements that exposed blacks to extralegal violence and widespread discrimination in housing, education, and employment. As then-congressman James A Garfield remarked, the Thirteenth Amendment was designed to do significantly more than ''confer the bare privilege of not being chained.''
That momentum toward real freedom and democracy, however, soon enough hit a wall - - one that would be more than any statesman was equipped to overcome. Indeed, for all the saintedness of his legacy as the Great Emancipator, Lincoln himself had neither the clarity, the humanity, not the resolve necessary to fix what was so fundamentally broken. Nor did his successor. And as Reconstruction wore on, the U.S Supreme Court also stepped in to halt the progress that so many had hoped and worked for.
Lincoln had shown his hand early in the war. Heavily influenced by two of his intellectual heroes - - Thomas Jefferson, who advocated expulsion of blacks from the United States in order to save the nation: and Kentuckian Henry Clay, who had established the American Colonization Society, which had moved thousands of free blacks into what is now Liberia --- Lincoln soon laid out his own resettlement plans. He had selected Chiriqui, a resource-poor area in what is now Panama, to be the new home for millions of African Americans. Lincoln just had to convince them to leave. In August 1862, he lectured five black leaders whom he had summoned to the White House that is was their duty, given what their people had done to the United States, to accept the exodus to South America, telling them, ''But for your race among us there could not be war.'' As to just how and why ''your race'' came to be ''among us,'' Lincoln conveniently ignored.
His framing of the issue not only absolved plantation owners and their political allies of responsibility for launching this war, but it also signaled the power of racism over patriotism. Lincoln's anger in 1862 was directed at blacks who fully supported the Union and did not want to leave the United States of America. Many, indeed, would exclaim that, despite slavery and enforced poverty, ''We will work, pray, live, and, if need be, die for the Union,'' Nevertheless, he cast them as the enemy for wickedly dividing ''us'' instead of defining as traitors those who had fired on Fort Sumner and worked feverishly to get the British and French to join in the attack to destroy the United States.
From this perspective flowed Lincoln's lack of clarity about the purpose and cause of war. While the president, and then his successor, Andrew Johnson, insisted that thepast four years had been all about preserving the Union, the Confederacy operated under no such illusions. Confederate States of America (CSA) vice president Alexander H. Stephens remarked, ''What did we go to war for, but to protect our property?'' This was a war about slavery. About a region's determination to keep millions of black people in bondage from generation to generation. Mississippi's Articles of Secession stated unequivocally, ''Our position is thoroughly identified with the with the institution of slavery...Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.'' In fact, two thirds of the wealthiest Americans at the time ''lived in the slaveholding South.'' Eighty-one percent of South Carolina's wealth was directly tied to owning human beings. It is no wonder, then, that South Carolina was willing to do whatever it took, including firing the first shot in the bloodiest war in U.S history to be free from Washington, which had stopped the spread of slavery to the West, refused to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, and, with the admission of new free-soil states to the Union prior to 1861, set up the numerical domination of the South in Congress. When the Confederacy declared that the ''first duty of the Souther states'' was ''self-preservation.'' what it meant was the preservation of slavery.
To cast the war as something else, as Lincoln did, to shroud that hard, cold reality under the cloak of ''preserving the Union'' would not and could not address the root causes of the war and the toll that centuries of slavery had wrought. And that failure of clarity led to a failure of humanity. Frederick Douglas later charged that in '' the hurry and confusion of the hour, and the eagerness to have the Union restored, there was more care for the sublime superstructure of the republic than for the solid foundation upon which it alone could be upheld '' -- the full rights of the formerly enslaved people.
Millions of enslaved people and their ancestors had built the enormous wealth of the United States; indeed, in 1860, 80 percent of the nation's gross national product was tied to slavery. Yet, in return for nearly 250 years of toil, African Americans had received nothing but rape, whippings, murder, the dismemberment of families, and forced subjugation, illiteracy, and abject poverty. The quest to break the chains was clear. As black residents in Tennessee explained in January 1865:
We claim freedom, as our natural right, and ask that in harmony and co-operation with the nation at large, you should cut up by the roots the system of slavery, which is not only a wrong to us, but the source of all the evil which at present afflicts the State. For slavery, corrupt itself, corrupted nearly all, also, around it, so that it has influenced nearly all the slave States to rebel against the Federal Government, in order to set up a government of pirates under which slavery might be perpetrated.
The drive to be free meant that 179,000 soldiers, 10 percent of the Union Army, (and an additional 19,000 in the Navy) were African Americans. Humanity, therefore, cried out to honor the sacrifice and heroism of tens of thousands of black men who had gallantly fought the nation's enemy. That military service had to carry with it, they believed, citizenship rights and the dignity that comes from no longer being defined as property or legally inferior.
To be truly reborn this way, the United States would have had to overcome not just a Southern but also a national disdain for African Americans. In New York City, for example, during the 1863 Draft Riots:
Black men and women were attacked, but the rioters singled out the men for special violence. On the waterfront, they hanged William Jones and then burned his body. White dock workers also beat and nearly drowned Charles Jackson, and they beat Jeremiah Robinson to death and threw his body in the river. Rioters also made a sport of mutilating the black men's bodies, sometimes sexually. A group of white men and boys mortally attacked black sailor William Williams - jumping on his chest, plunging a knife into him, smashing his body with stones - while a crowd of men, women, and children watched. None intervened, and when the mob was done with Williams, they cheered, pledging ''vengeance on every nigger in New York."
This violence was simply the most overt, virulent expression of a stream of anti-black sentiment that conscribed the lives of both the free and the enslaved. Every state admitted to the Union since 1819, starting with Maine, embedded in their constitutions discrimination against blacks, especially the denial of the right to vote. In addition, only Massachusetts did not exclude African Americans from juries; and many states, from California to Ohio, prohibited blacks from testifying in court against someone who was white.
The glint of promise that had come as the war ended required an absolute resolve to do what it would take to recognize four million newly emancipated people as people, as citizens. A key element was ensuring that the rebels would not and could not assume power in the newly reconstructed United States of America. Yet, as the Confederacy's defeat loomed near, Lincoln had already signaled he would go easy on the rebel leaders. His plan for rebuilding the nation required only that the secessionist states adopt the Thirteenth Amendment and have 10 percent of eligible voters (white propertied males) swear loyalty to the United States. That was it. Under Lincoln's plan, 90 percent of the power in the state could still openly dream of full-blown insurrection and consider themselves anything by loyal to the United States of America.
As one South Carolinian explained in 1865, the Yankees had left him '' one inestimable privilege...and that was to hate 'em.'' '' I get up at half past four in the morning,'' he said, ''and sit up till twelve midnight, to hate 'em.'' The liberator reported that in South Carolina, ''there are very many who . . . do not disguise the . . . undiminished hatred of the Union.'' The visceral contempt, however, extended far beyond the Yankees to encompass the formerly enslaved. One official stationed in the now-defeated South noted, '' Wherever I go - - the street, the shop, the house, or the steamboat - - - I hear the people talk in such a way as to indicate that they are yet unable to conceive of the Negro as possessing any rights at all.'' He further explained how murder, rape, and robbery, in this Kafkaesque world, were not seen as crimes at all so long as whites were the perpetrators and blacks the victims. Given this poisonous atmosphere, he warned, '' The people boast that when they get freedmen affairs in their own hands, to use their own classic expression, 'the niggers will catch hell.'' ''
To stop this descent into the cauldrons of racial hate, African Americans had to have access to the ballot box. The reasoning was simple. As long as blacks were disenfranchised, white politicians could continue to ignore or, even worse, trample on African Americans and suffer absolutely no electoral consequences for doing so. The moment that blacks had the vote, however, elected officials risked being ousted for spewing anti-black rhetoric and promoting racially discriminatory policies. But, in 1865, that was not to be. Suffrage was a glaring, fatal omission in the president's visions for Reconstruction - although one that was consistent with the position Lincoln had taken early in his political career when he ''insist [ed] that he did not favor Negroes voting, or, '' for that matter, ''Negroes serving on juries, or holding public office, or intermarrying with whites,''
What a splendid era this was going to be, with one remaining superpower spreading capitalism and liberal democracy around the world. Instead, democracy and capitalism seem increasingly incompatible. Global capitalism has escaped the bounds of the postwar mixed economy that had reconciled dynamism with security through the regulation of finance, the empowerment of labor, a welfare state, and elements of public ownership. Wealth has crowded out citizenship, producing greater concentration of both income and influence, as well as loss of faith in democracy. The result is an economy of extreme inequality and instability, organized less for the many than for the few.
Not surprisingly, the many have reacted. To the chagrin of those who look to the democratic left to restrain markets, the reaction is mostly right-wing populist. And “populist” understates the nature of this reaction, whose nationalist rhetoric, principles, and practices border on neofascism. An increased flow of migrants, another feature of globalism, has compounded the anger of economically stressed locals who want to Make America (France, Norway, Hungary, Finland…) Great Again. This is occurring not just in weakly democratic nations such as Poland and Turkey, but in the established democracies—Britain, America, France, even social-democratic Scandinavia.
We have been here before. During the period between the two world wars, free-market liberals governing Britain, France, and the US tried to restore the pre–World War I laissez-faire system. They resurrected the gold standard and put war debts and reparations ahead of economic recovery. It was an era of free trade and rampant speculation, with no controls on private capital. The result was a decade of economic insecurity ending in depression, a weakening of parliamentary democracy, and fascist backlash. Right up until the German election of July 1932, when the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag, the pre-Hitler governing coalition was practicing the economic austerity commended by Germany’s creditors.
The great prophet of how market forces taken to an extreme destroy both democracy and a functioning economy was not Karl Marx but Karl Polanyi. Marx expected the crisis of capitalism to end in universal worker revolt and communism. Polanyi, with nearly a century more history to draw on, appreciated that the greater likelihood was fascism.
As Polanyi demonstrated in his masterwork The Great Transformation (1944), when markets become “dis-embedded” from their societies and create severe social dislocations, people eventually revolt. Polanyi saw the catastrophe of World War I, the interwar period, the Great Depression, fascism, and World War II as the logical culmination of market forces overwhelming society—“the utopian endeavor of economic liberalism to set up a self-regulating market system” that began in nineteenth-century England. This was a deliberate choice, he insisted, not a reversion to a natural economic state. Market society, Polanyi persuasively demonstrated, could only exist because of deliberate government action defining property rights, terms of labor, trade, and finance. “Laissez faire,” he impishly wrote, “was planned.”
Polanyi believed that the only way politically to temper the destructive influence of organized capital and its ultra-market ideology was with highly mobilized, shrewd, and sophisticated worker movements. He concluded this not from Marxist economic theory but from close observation of interwar Europe’s most successful experiment in municipal socialism: Red Vienna, where he worked as an economic journalist in the 1920s. And for a time in the post–World War II era, the entire West had an egalitarian form of capitalism built on the strength of the democratic state and underpinned by strong labor movements. But since the era of Thatcher and Reagan that countervailing power has been crushed, with predictable results.
In The Great Transformation, Polanyi emphasized that the core imperatives of nineteenth-century classical liberalism were free trade, the idea that labor had to “find its price on the market,” and enforcement of the gold standard. Today’s equivalents are uncannily similar. We have an ever more intense push for deregulated trade, the better to destroy the remnants of managed capitalism; and the dismantling of what remains of labor market safeguards to increase profits for multinational corporations. In place of the gold standard—whose nineteenth-century function was to force nations to put “sound money” and the interests of bondholders ahead of real economic well-being—we have austerity policies enforced by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the American Federal Reserve tightening credit at the first signs of inflation.
This unholy trinity of economic policies that Polanyi identified is not working any more now than it did in the 1920s. They are practical failures, as economics, as social policy, and as politics. Polanyi’s historical analysis, in both earlier writings and The Great Transformation, has been vindicated three times, first by the events that culminated in World War II, then by the temporary containment of laissez-faire with resurgent democratic prosperity during the postwar boom, and now again by the restoration of primal economic liberalism and neofascist reaction to it. This should be the right sort of Polanyi moment; instead it is the wrong sort.
Gareth Dale’s intellectual biography, Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left, does a fine job of exploring the man, his work, and the political and intellectual setting in which he developed. This is not the first Polanyi biography, but it is the most comprehensive. Dale, a political scientist who teaches at Brunel University in London, also wrote an earlier book, Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market (2010), on his economics.
Polanyi was born in 1886 in Vienna to an illustrious Jewish family. His father, Mihály Pollacsek, came from the Carpathian region of the Hapsburg Empire and acquired a Swiss engineering degree. He was a contractor for the empire’s growing rail system. In the late 1880s, Mihály moved the family to Budapest, according to the Polanyi Archive. He magyarized the children’s family name to Polanyi in 1904, the same year Karl began studies at the University of Budapest, though he kept his own surname. Karl’s mother, Cecile, the well-educated daughter of a Vilna rabbi, was a pioneering feminist. She founded a women’s college in 1912, wrote for German-language periodicals in Budapest and Berlin, and presided over one of Budapest’s literary salons.
At home, German and Hungarian were spoken (along with French “at table”), and English was learned, Dale reports. The five Polanyi children also studied Greek and Latin. In the quarter-century before World War I, Budapest was an oasis of liberal tolerance. As in Vienna, Berlin, and Prague, a large proportion of the professional and cultural elite consisted of assimilated Jews. In the mid-1890s, Dale notes, “the Jewish faith was accorded the same privileges as the Christian denominations, and Jewish representatives were accorded seats in the upper house of parliament.”
Drawing on interviews and correspondence as well as published writings, Dale vividly evokes the era. Polanyi’s milieu in Budapest, known as the Great Generation, included activists and social theorists such as his mentor, Oscar Jaszi; Karl Mannheim; the Marxist Georg Lukács; Karl’s younger brother and ideological sparring partner, the libertarian Michael Polanyi; the physicists Leo Szilard and Edward Teller; the mathematician John von Neumann; and the composers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, among many others. In this hothouse Polanyi thrived, attending the Minta Gymnasium, one of the city’s best, and then the University of Budapest. He was expelled in 1907 following a shoving match in which anti-Semitic right-wingers disrupted a lecture by a popular leftist professor, Gyula Pikler. He had to finish his doctor of law degree in 1908 at the provincial University of Kolozsvár (today Cluj in Romania). There, he was a founder of the left-humanist Galilei Circle and later served on the editorial board of its journal.
Polanyi became a leading member of Jaszi’s political party, the Radicals, and was named its general secretary in 1918. He was drawn to the Christian socialism of Robert Owen and Richard Tawney and the guild socialism of G.D.H. Cole. He mused about a fusion of Marxism and Christianity. Polanyi is best classified as a left-wing social democrat—but a lifelong skeptic of the possibility that a capitalist society would ever tolerate a hybrid economic system.
After World War I broke out, Polanyi enlisted as a cavalry officer. When he came home in late 1917, suffering from malnutrition, depression, and typhus, Budapest was in the throes of a chaotic conflict between the left and the right. In 1918 the Hungarian government made a separate peace with the Allies, breaking with Vienna and hoping to create a liberal republic. Events in the streets overtook parliamentary jockeying, and the Communist leader Béla Kun proclaimed what turned out to be a short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic.
Polanyi decamped for Vienna, both to recover his health and to get off the political front lines. There he found his calling as a high-level economics journalist and the love of his life, Ilona Duczynska, a Polish-born radical well to his left. Their daughter, Kari, born in 1923, recalls, as a preteen, clipping marked-up newspaper articles in three languages for her father. At age ninety-four, she continues to help direct the Polanyi Archive in Montreal.
Central Europe’s equivalent of The Economist, the weekly Österreichische Volkswirt, hired Polanyi in 1924 as a writer on international affairs. He continued his quest for a feasible socialism, engaging with others on the left and challenging the right in ongoing arguments with the free-market theorist Ludwig von Mises. The debates, published in agonizing detail, turned on whether a socialist economy was capable of efficient pricing. Mises insisted it was not. Polanyi argued that a decentralized form of worker-led socialism could price necessities with good-enough accuracy. He ultimately concluded, Dale recounts, that these abstruse technical arguments had been a waste of his time.1
A practical answer to the debate with Mises was playing out in Red Vienna. Well-mobilized workers kept socialist municipal governments in power for nearly sixteen years after World War I. Gas, water, and electricity were provided by the government, which also built working-class housing financed by taxes on the rich—including a tax on servants. There were family allowances for parents and municipal unemployment insurance for the trade unions. None of this undermined the efficiency of Austria’s private economy, which was far more endangered by the hapless policies of economic austerity that were criticized by Polanyi. After 1927, unemployment relentlessly increased and wages fell, which helped bring to power in 1932–1933 an Austrofascist government.
To Polanyi, Red Vienna was as important for its politics as for its economics. The perverse policies of Dickensian England reflected the political weakness of its working class, but Red Vienna was an emblem of the strength of its working class. “While [English poor-law reform] caused a veritable disaster of the common people,” he wrote, “Vienna achieved one of the most spectacular triumphs of Western history.” But as Polanyi appreciated, an island of municipal socialism could not survive larger market turbulence and rising fascism.
In 1933, with homegrown fascists running the government, Polanyi left Vienna for London. There, with the help of Cole and Tawney, he eventually found work in an extension program sponsored by Oxford University, known as the Workers’ Educational Association. He taught, among other subjects, English industrial history. His original research for these lectures formed the first drafts of The Great Transformation.
His mentor Oscar Jaszi was also now in exile and teaching at Oberlin. To supplement his meager adjunct pay, Polanyi was able to put together lecture tours to colleges in the United States. He found Roosevelt’s America a hopeful counterpoint to Europe. After war broke out, one of those lecture trips evolved into a three-year appointment at Bennington College, where he completed his book.
The timing of publication was auspicious. The year 1944 included the Bretton Woods Agreement, Roosevelt’s call for an Economic Bill of Rights, and Lord Beverage’s epic blueprint Full Employment in a Free Society. What these had in common with Polanyi’s work was a conviction that an excessively free market should never again lead to human misery ending in fascism.
Yet Polanyi’s book was initially met with resounding silence. This, I think, was the result of two factors. First, Polanyi belonged to no academic discipline and was essentially self-taught. Dale writes that when he was finally offered a job teaching economic history at Columbia in 1947, “the sociologists saw him as an economist, while the economists thought the reverse.” Midcentury America was also a period when political economy, institutionalism, the history of economic thought, and economic history were going into a period of eclipse, in favor of formalistic modeling. Polanyi’s was not a hypothesis that could be tested.
Second and more important, Polanyi’s ideological adversaries enjoyed subsidy and promotion while he had only the power of his ideas. Mises, like Polanyi, had no academic credentials. But he conducted an influential private seminar from his post as secretary of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce. The seminar developed the ultra-laissez-faire Austrian school of economics. Mises’s prime student was Friedrich Hayek. As a laissez-faire theorist financed by organized business, Mises anticipated the Heritage Foundation by half a century.
Hayek later contended in The Road to Serfdom that well-intentioned state efforts to temper markets would end in despotism. But there is no case of social democracy drifting into dictatorship. History sided with Polanyi, demonstrating that an unrestrained free market leads to democratic breakdown. Yet Hayek ended up with a chair at the London School of Economics, which was founded by Fabians; the “Austrian School” got dignified as a formal school of libertarian economics; and Hayek later won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The Road to Serfdom, also published in 1944, was a best seller, serialized in Reader’s Digest. Polanyi’s Great Transformation sold just 1,701 copies in 1944 and 1945.
When The Great Transformation appeared in 1944, the review in The New York Times was withering. The reviewer, John Chamberlain, wrote, “This beautifully written essay in the revaluation of a hundred and fifty years of history adds up to a subtle appeal for a new feudalism, a new slavery, a new status of economy that will tie men to their places of abode and their jobs.” If that sounds curiously like Hayek, the same Chamberlain had just written the effusive foreword to The Road to Serfdom. Such is the political economy of influence.
Yet Polanyi’s book refused to fade away. In 1982, his concepts were the centerpiece of an influential article by the international relations scholar John Gerard Ruggie, who termed the postwar economic order of 1944 “embedded liberalism.” The Bretton Woods system, Ruggie wrote, reconciled state with market by “re-embedding” the liberal economy in society via democratic politics.2 The Danish sociologist Gøsta Esping-Andersen, a major historian of social democracy, used the Polanyian concept “decommodification” in an important book, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism(1990), to describe how social democrats contained and complemented the market.3
Other scholars who have valued Polanyi’s insights include the political historians Ira Katznelson, Jacob Hacker, and Richard Valelly, the late sociologist Daniel Bell, and the economists Joseph Stiglitz, Dani Rodrik, and Herman Daly. On the other hand, thinkers who seem quintessentially Polanyian in their concern about markets invading nonmarket realms, such as Michael Walzer, John Kenneth Galbraith, Albert Hirschman, and the Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, don’t invoke him at all. This is the price one pays for being, in Hirschman’s self-description, a trespasser.
Having been exiled three times—from Budapest to Vienna, from Vienna to London, and later to New York—Polanyi had to move yet again when the US authorities would not grant Ilona a visa, citing her onetime membership in the Communist Party in the 1920s. They ended up in a suburb of Toronto, from which Polanyi commuted to Columbia until his retirement in the mid-1950s.
Though his enthusiasts tend to focus only on The Great Transformation, Dale’s book is valuable for his discussion of Polanyi after 1944. He lived for another twenty years, working on what was then known as primitive economic systems, which gave him yet another basis to demonstrate that the free market is no natural condition, and that markets in fact do not have to overwhelm the rest of society. On the contrary, many early cultures effectively blended market and nonmarket forms of exchange. His subjects included the slave trade of Dahomey and the economy of ancient Athens, which “demonstrated that elements of redistribution, reciprocity, and market exchange could be effectively fused into ‘an organic whole.’” Dale writes, “For Polanyi, democratic Athens was truly antiquity’s forerunner to Red Vienna.” Athens, of course, was far from socialist, but its precapitalist economy did blend market and nonmarket forms of income.
Dale also addresses Polanyi’s views on the escalating cold war and on the mixed economy of the postwar era that many now view as a golden age. The trente glorieuses, combining egalitarian capitalism and restored democracy, should have felt to him like an affirmation. But Polanyi, having lived through two wars, the destruction of socialist Vienna, the loss of close family members to the Nazis, four separate exiles, and long separations from Ilona, was not so easily convinced. While he admired Roosevelt, he considered the British Labour government of 1945 a sellout—a welfare state atop a still capitalist system.
Half a century later, that concern proved all too accurate. Others saw the Bretton Woods system as an elegant way of restarting trade while creating shelter for each member nation to run full-employment economies, but Polanyi viewed it as an extension of the sway of capital. That may also have been prescient. By the 1980s, the IMF and the World Bank had been turned into enforcers of austerity, the opposite of what was intended by their architect, John Maynard Keynes. He blamed the cold war mostly on the Allies, praising Henry Wallace’s view that the West could have reached an accommodation with Stalin.
Dale makes no excuses for Polanyi’s blind spot about the Soviet Union. At various points in the 1920s and 1930s, he notes, Polanyi gave Stalin something of a pass, even blaming the 1940 Molotov–Ribbentrop pact on Whitehall’s anti-Sovietism. And he was sanguine about the intentions of the Russians in the immediate postwar period. As a member of the émigré Hungarian Council in London, he broke with its other leaders over whether the Red Army should be welcomed as a harbinger of democratic socialism. The Soviet liberation of Eastern Europe, Polanyi insisted, would bring “a form of representative government based on political parties.”
Having been proven badly wrong, Polanyi cheered the abortive Hungarian revolution of 1956, yet after it was crushed by Soviet tanks he also found reasons for hope in the mildly reformist “goulash communism” that followed. This was naive, yet not totally misplaced. Though Polanyi was no Marxist, there was enough openness in Hungary that in 1963, a year before his death and well before the Berlin Wall came down, he was invited to lecture at the University of Budapest, his first visit home in four decades.
On the centennial of his birth in 1986, Kari Polanyi-Levitt organized a symposium in his honor in Budapest. The conference volume makes a superb companion to the Dale biography.4 The twenty-five short articles are written by a mix of writers based in the West and several from what was still Communist Hungary—where Polanyi was widely read. The writing is surprisingly exploratory and nondogmatic. Even so, when her turn came to speak, Polanyi-Levitt took a moment to plead: “If I may be permitted one more request to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences…it is that The Great Transformation be made available to Hungarian readers in the Hungarian language.” This was finally done in 1990. Like many in the West, the Communist regime in Budapest was not quite sure what to do with Polanyi.
Today, after a democratic interlude, Hungary is a center of ultra-nationalist autocracy. Misguided policies of financial license played their usual part. After the 2008 financial collapse, Hungarian unemployment steadily rose, from under 8 percent before the crash to almost 12 percent by early 2010. And in the 2010 election, the far-right Fidesz Party swept a left-wing government out of power, winning more than two thirds of the parliamentary seats, which made possible the “illiberal democracy” of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It was one more echo, and one more vindication, that Polanyi didn’t need.
What, finally, are we to make of Karl Polanyi? And what lessons might he offer for the present moment? As even his champions admit, some of his details were off. Earlier friendly critics, Fred Block and Margaret Somers, point out that his account of late-eighteenth-century Britain exaggerates the ubiquity of poor relief. His famous case of the poor law of Speenhamland of 1795, whose public assistance protected the poor from the early perturbations of capitalism, overstated its application in England as a whole. Yet his account of the liberal reform of the poor laws in the 1830s was spot on. The intent and effect were to push people off of relief and force workers to take jobs at the lowest going wage.
One might also argue that the failure of liberal democracy to take hold in Central Europe in the nineteenth century, which paved the way for right-wing nationalism, had more complex causes than the spread of economic liberalism. Yet Polanyi was correct to observe that it was the failed attempt to universalize market liberalism after World War I that left the democracies weak, divided, and incapable of resisting fascism until the outbreak of war. Neville Chamberlain is best remembered for his capitulation to Hitler at Munich in 1938. But at the nadir of the Great Depression in April 1933, when Hitler was consolidating power in Berlin and Chamberlain was serving as Tory chancellor of the exchequer in London, he said this: “We are free from that fear which besets so many less fortunately placed, the fear that things are going to get worse. We owe our freedom from that fear to the fact that we have balanced our budget.” Such was the perverse conventional wisdom, then and now. That line should be chiseled on some monument to Polanyi.
A recent article by three Danish political scientists in the Journal of Democracyquestions whether it was reasonable to attribute the surge of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s to the long arc of laissez-faire and economic collapse.5 They reported that the well-established democracies of northwest Europe and the former British colonies Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand “were virtually immune to the repeated crises of the interwar period,” while the newer and more fragile democracies of southern, central, and eastern Europe succumbed. Indeed, fascists briefly assumed power in northwest Europe only through invasion and occupation. Yet that observation makes Polanyi a more prophetic and ominous voice for our own time. Today in much of Europe, far-right parties are now the second or third largest.
In sum, Polanyi got some details wrong, but he got the big picture right. Democracy cannot survive an excessively free market; and containing the market is the task of politics. To ignore that is to court fascism. Polanyi wrote that fascism solved the problem of the rampant market by destroying democracy. But unlike the fascists of the interwar period, today’s far-right leaders are not even bothering to contain market turbulence or to provide decent jobs through public works. Brexit, a spasm of anger by the dispossessed, will do nothing positive for the British working class; and Donald Trump’s program is a mash-up of nationalist rhetoric and even deeper government alliance with predatory capitalism. Discontent may yet go elsewhere. Assuming democracy holds, there could be a countermobilization more in the spirit of Polanyi’s feasible socialism. The pessimistic Polanyi would say that capitalism has won and democracy has lost. The optimist in him would look to resurgent popular politics.
To The Sounds of Marching Feet
I must go back, these years have held
Great lives and final words, all quelled
Beat desperately, the snow, her sheet
All lost to the sounds of marching feet
In progress, all their proper ends
Unto memories, your lifelong friends
Those caught within the heavy net
Or destined days, so bravely met
With this, then, I might change it all
The seas must rise, the skies must fall
In one, may lone survivor find
I leave no taken dead behind
Familiar loss, more frequent ache
Their visits in a life may take
So clench your fists and beat closed doors
I speak, surviving son, of yours
So tear, my life to stir, replace
Those caught within a mortal chase
To Destiny, as sets things right
Throw singeing flame and blinding light
The lone, of forests ravaged weak,
Now stands, a hope of beacons, bleak
Upon the remnants rests the woe,
The only thing which here, might grow
I've lost, I've made a grave mistake!
The horror holds me, faint, awake
Here all I ask, just take me back,
My faith, my past and all I lack
The marks, the scars, the broken glass
They cannot fade, they mustn't pass
Leave bare upon the timeless slate,
Each ridge and groove, a road to fate
Then grim, for not a hope remains
The slate of names is bled with stains
I see their disillusioned gaze,
Those trapped of time, deprived of days
So goes, as it has always been
Each breath to bring, each beat begin
And intertwine, to end and meet
All lost to the sound of marching feet
I was going to die, sooner or later,
whether or not I had even spoken myself.
My silences had not protected me.
Your silences will not protect you….
What are the words you do not yet have?
What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day
and attempt to make your own,
until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?
We have been socialized to respect fear
more than our own need for language.
Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen?
Then push yourself a little further than you dare.
Once you start to speak, people will yell at you.
They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal.
And the world won’t end. And the speaking will get easier and easier.
And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision,
which you may never have realized you had.
And you will lose some friends and lovers,
and realize you don’t miss them.
And new ones will find you and cherish you.
And you will still flirt and paint your nails,
dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said,
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”
And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty
that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth.
And that is not speaking.