The First Decoration Day

Here’s an account of one of the earliest known commemorations of Memorial Day, from professor David Blight’s book The Civil War in American Memory. I may try to learn “Rally ‘Round The Flag” on banjo this weekend in tribute.

African Americans founded Decoration Day at the graveyard of 257 Union soldiers labeled “Martyrs of the Race Course,” May 1, 1865, Charleston, South Carolina.

The “First Decoration Day,” as this event came to be recognized in some circles in the North, involved an estimated ten thousand people, most of them black former slaves. During April, twenty-eight black men from one of the local churches built a suitable enclosure for the burial ground at the Race Course. In some ten days, they constructed a fence ten feet high, enclosing the burial ground, and landscaped the graves into neat rows. The wooden fence was whitewashed and an archway was built over the gate to the enclosure. On the arch, painted in black letters, the workmen inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

At nine o’clock in the morning on May 1, the procession to this special cemetery began as three thousand black schoolchildren (newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools) marched around the Race Course, each with an armload of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by three hundred black women representing the Patriotic Association, a group organized to distribute clothing and other goods among the freedpeople. The women carried baskets of flowers, wreaths, and crosses to the burial ground. The Mutual Aid Society, a benevolent association of black men, next marched in cadence around the track and into the cemetery, followed by large crowds of white and black citizens.

All dropped their spring blossoms on the graves in a scene recorded by a newspaper correspondent: “when all had left, the holy mounds — the tops, the sides, and the spaces between them — were one mass of flowers, not a speck of earth could be seen; and as the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them, outside and beyond … there were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with tears of joy.” While the adults marched around the graves, the children were gathered in a nearby grove, where they sang “America,” “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The official dedication ceremony was conducted by the ministers of all the black churches in Charleston. With prayer, the reading of biblical passages, and the singing of spirituals, black Charlestonians gave birth to an American tradition. In so doing, they declared the meaning of the war in the most public way possible — by their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of roses, lilacs, and marching feet on the old planters’ Race Course.

After the dedication, the crowds gathered at the Race Course grandstand to hear some thirty speeches by Union officers, local black ministers, and abolitionist missionaries. Picnics ensued around the grounds, and in the afternoon, a full brigade of Union infantry, including Colored Troops, marched in double column around the martyrs’ graves and held a drill on the infield of the Race Course. The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration.


It’s been one of the pleasures of my life to attend the annual Socialism Conference in Chicago the past couple of years. Socialism 2015 is July 2nd through the 5th. Click the banner below for details.


The Story of Matthew DeHart

Cory Doctorow details the story of Matthew DeHart, a veteran from a multi-generational military/intelligence family, whose Tor server ran him afoul of our government.

DeHart once discovered an unencrypted folder of damning documents on his server, which quickly disappeared and was replaced with an encrypted folder of the same size, with the same name. The unencrypted docs detailed an FBI investigation into some very dirty CIA tricks, possibly involving the still-unsolved slew of anthrax-laced letters sent to Congress in 2001. Not long after, DeHart was spooked by a visit from the FBI to one of his contacts, and he destroyed all potentially compromising storage associated with his server. That’s when things got weird.

Read the Story: Hacktivist sees too much, FBI lock him up on child-porn charges, produce no evidence – Boing Boing

On the Dems and Bernie

Danny Katch asks the question: Can the Democratic Party be used for good?

The question is whether the left can use the Sanders campaign to gather a new generation of young activists and bring them closer to socialism–or whether it will be the radicals who get used once again by the Democrats…

This debate is not about “political purity” on one side and clever tactics on the other. Both sides believe their position is both principled and strategic, and there’s no need to paint Sanders supporters as imperialist sellouts or those who won’t join his campaign as unthinking dogmatists. Instead, there are three questions that are more useful points of departure for the discussion.

Read The Full Article: Can the Democratic Party be used for good? |

RWU Statement on Amtrak 188

Here are some excellent thoughts from Railroad Workers United concerning the derailment of Amtrak 188.

If we are serious about preventing future catastrophes of this nature, we must equip railroad workers with the necessary tools to enable them to perform the job safely. Pointing fingers at this or that employee (at any level in the company, union or management) might make some folks feel better, but it does little or nothing to prevent future accidents. Railroad Workers United believes it is time we learn from these terrible tragedies and get serious about implementing the necessary measures to ensure safe railroad operations.

Read More: Railroad Workers United: The Wreck of #AMTRAK188 Talking Points From RWU

Pensions and Chicago’s Credit Crisis

There needs to be a discussion of how to solve these problems without hurting our pensioners and workers.

What happens when you’ve been kicking the fiscal can down the road for years, but the road suddenly hits a dead end? That’s what Chicago – and the state of Illinois – are about to find out.

Read More: How Illinois’ Pension Debt Blew Up Chicago’s Credit – ProPublica

From The Jungle to The Chain

Bill Droel takes a look at the meat packing industry as exposed in The Chain: Farm Factory and the Fate of Our Food by Ted Genoways, a new book in the tradition of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

A dirty and perhaps infected carcass more likely makes its way down the line. Workers suffer more injuries, including a nerve-damaging infection that is only detected later. Our relatively inexpensive meat “comes at a high cost to its workers.”

Read More: Food Processing | Catholic Labor Network

How Capital Puts Creativity to Work

Carl Magnes writes in Jacobin:

The rapid growth of mega-festivals is a physical expression of the increasingly aggressive class barriers and inequities that fracture the social economy of art and music. They offer only a few strictly defined identities. You can be a member of the creative elite; an owner of capital; hired staff; or a member of the policed, regulated audience. The fences, hierarchy of privileges, and security guards are a live theater version of our cultural life’s stratification.

Read More: Money Before Music | Jacobin

Ruth Wilson Gilmore on Baltimore

Historian and geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore claims that the rebellion in Baltimore is an uprising against austerity. She says that gentrified cities, the fall of manufacturing and the filling of jails with black men all fueled the reaction to the killing of Freddie Gray.

The US is more segregated by race and income now than in 1960.

Read More: The rebellion in Baltimore is an uprising against austerity, claims top US academic | US news | The Guardian

A View of Sanders’ Campaign from the Left

Bhaskar Sunkara says we should welcome Bernie Sanders’ presidential run, while being aware of its limits.

Sanders’s candidacy doesn’t have to channel left forces into what will likely be a Clinton nomination. Instead, it could be a way for socialists to regroup, organize together, and articulate the kind of politics that speaks to the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of people. And it could begin to legitimate the word “socialist,” and spark a conversation around it, even if Sanders’s welfare-state socialism doesn’t go far enough.

Read the Essay: Bernie for President? | Jacobin

A Conversation With Chomsky

Isabelle Kumar of Euronews interviews Noam Chomsky on a range of topics. On the subject of Greece’s debt (and that of Portugal and Spain and others) this is what he said.

Who incurred this debt? And who is the debt owed to? In part, the debt was incurred by dictators. So in Greece it was the fascist dictatorship, which the US supported, that incurred a large part of the debt. The debt I think was more brutal than the dictatorship, and that’s what’s called in international law, “odious debt” which need not be paid, and that’s a principal introduced into international law by the United States, when it was in their interest to do so. Much of the rest of the debt, what is called payments to Greece are in fact payments to banks, German and French banks, which had decided to make extremely risky loans with not very high interest and are now being faced with the fact that they can’t be paid back.

Read the Transcript: Chomsky says US is world’s biggest terrorist | euronews, the global conversation

Here’s the video.

Don’t Call Me A Liberal

Once upon a time, I thought I was a Liberal, and I thought the terms “Left” and “Liberal” meant pretty much the same thing. Then a funny thing happened. I began to read.

Some of the things I began to read were outside of what is often called “the main stream” of American political discourse. I read The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. It rang true to me, accurately describing our society in a way that I hadn’t seen it described before. It turns out that Debord was a Marxist. Who knew?

I began to have an aching sense that what I believed in my heart to be true was not really reflected in the actions or the statements of the Liberal politicians who generally received my support and approval – people like John Kerry, Dick Durbin, Claire McCaskill or Barack Obama.

At some point, I ran across an interesting tool for defining and assessing a candidate’s or an individual’s political tendencies. It’s called The Political Compass.

Instead of defining the political spectrum as “Liberal to Conservative” or “Left to Right” the Compass is a Johari Window, with a Libertarian/Authoritarian axis as well as a Left/Right axis. A person can fall into one of four quadrants: Authoritarian Left; Authoritarian Right; Libertarian Left; and, Libertarian Right. Also, degrees and shades within each quadrant are assessed.

I was surprised to learn that I am about as far down in the Libertarian Left as one can be.


That little red dot represents me.

The really astonishing revelation came when I looked at the analysis of historical figures, and current day American politicians. It looked something like this.


Wait a minute. What are my Liberal heroes doing up there in the same quadrant as Reagan? Obama is just barely to the Left  economically of Hitler? What the heck is going on here?

As I studied more, I learned that I would be considered a “Left Wing Anarchist/Marxist” based on my answers on the assessment. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at first. Puzzlement would probably be the best description. I did, however, attempt to learn more about what all of those scary terms mean.

Then another funny thing happened. It was called “Occupy Wall Street.”

Although I didn’t understand precisely what was going on at first, the things I was hearing from the folks in Zuccotti Park rang true to me, in the same way that Debord’s book had, in a way that was a revelation. They were articulating the alienation that I felt, and the injustice that I saw, putting it all into focus for me – giving me a context and vocabulary that I had lacked. Their criticism of the Obama Administration was refreshing. Here was a group of folks being called “the Tea Party of the Left” and yet they seemed to have no interest in catering to the Democrats. By then, neither did I.

Once I gave myself the space and permission to question Liberal orthodoxy, I nurtured my newfound political identity with a wider range of information. I had never read Marx. I had never read Bakunin or Emma Goldman or E.V. Debs or James P. Cannon. I had never listened to the songs of Joe Hill.

I read, and began to search my heart, and realized that I had accepted a lot of ideas that don’t hold up well under closer scrutiny. For instance, almost anything falling into the category of “bipartisan consensus” was tossed by the wayside pretty quickly. The more I questioned, and the more I learned, the more the label “Liberal” became a pejorative term. In fact, in gatherings with other Leftists, I found that calling someone a “Liberal” could be fighting words.

Here’s why this matters and why it is important to correctly name things. When we don’t properly describe the political landscape, it limits the range of discussion and critical thinking that is publicly acceptable. For me, that little bit of space between Obama and Romney is just not enough. When we accept the typical U.S. Liberal/Conservative continuum as the only thing that exists, it precludes an entire world of ideas, analysis, strategies and potential solutions. It also reinforces the “lesser evil” narrative that liberals always trot out in election season. “Yes, we’d like to see more progress too, but this is the real world. Do you want another Scalia on the Supreme Court?”

When we take pains to understand and properly name the entire range of political currents and tendencies, we can also begin to reclaim our history, and to see the connections between the politics of the past and the politics of our own time. We can learn that vigorous, fighting labor unions are the best bulwark against totalitarianism, and realize that opposing Scott Walker’s or Bruce Rauner’s corporatist anti-union agenda places you on the same side of history as those who opposed Adolf Hitler. Such is the great power in naming things accurately and placing them in context.

I would encourage you to take The Political Compass assessment yourself, and learn more about their model and what each quadrant means. It may offer you some new perspectives on our politics and where you fit in. I know where I belong now.

So please, don’t call me a Liberal.