Born on this Date in 1871
“Those who do not move do not notice their chains.”
Things began, as they usually do, at a party. Everyone had been working hard, and after hours they were cutting loose pretty quickly. We were indoors. The place was semi-dark and not so much smoke-filled, but everything smelled like, or perhaps looked like, it had a tinge of leftover smoke from years and years of such gatherings. And it had the look of a place that was no stranger to a deep fat fryer too.
Our colleagues from the Embarras River Basin Agency were the life of the party. Every one of them was smart, skilled and an excellent dancer with issues arising from low self-esteem. “You sure know how to pick ’em, Harry,” I thought to myself. Rest in Peace.
I was working in the Southcoast Cosmos of Bendiego. Our most serious and accomplished investigator, portrayed by Saundra Santiago, was frantically reviewing some old case files, trying to vindicate herself in one of the most frustrating débâcles of the agency’s history. The entire case turned on the testimony of a dog, and whether or not the dog was genuine, or merely a VR creation of the perpetrators, meant to throw people off the track by telling the truth. The fact that the jury had been required to wear special googles during the dog’s appearance might have been a clue, but everyone missed this at the time.
Now the Feds were breathing down our necks, and we were at it around the clock in an effort to prove our competence and good faith. Saundra was viewing the video of the dog again, frame-by-frame, and studying the defense expert’s testimony for inconsistencies. It was then that I noticed the map on the desk.
It looked like something cut out from a child’s coloring book, with a three-by-three grid of some sort laid out over the drawings. The edges of the map outside the grid were sticky, and at that very moment a flash of insight came to me. The dog didn’t matter. We didn’t have to prove that the dog’s testimony was valid. We only had to test the glue on the edges of the map to see if it matched that surrounding a corresponding rectangular hole on the back side of a crumpled piece of construction paper nearby that had been an early clue but discarded as unimportant. Forensic science is sometimes like this.
The old man in the blue suit had entered the room without us noticing, and nodded as I revealed the discovery. I could tell, without him saying a word, that he had hoped that we wouldn’t get to the bottom of things. The Feds, as always, just want to come in and take over, and this dog and paste business was the only thing standing between him and his ambitions. The sonofabitch knew all along, but was just toying with us.
He and I were facing each other in an office with lots of windows on the southeast corner of the building. I felt underdressed. I was wearing a black suit, but was disheveled feeling. I told him I needed to grab my trench coat before we could go to lunch, which I was dreading anyway.
When I went to get my coat from the refrigerator next to the pizza, it had disappeared. I can see it, right there, folded neatly, the size of the pizza box. But it is gone. Maybe it’s on the floor somewhere. There were other things I meant to take along, books or electronic devices or something, but going through the desk was no help.
I remembered that I had had trouble parking that morning because the lot was covered with ice, and cars were parked all askew. I crawled up on the ice, which was several inches thick encasing the tall mound of earth between two parts of the lot, and as I looked down, there were several trucks or vans or some other sort of large vehicles. Busses. They were full of people in festive garb, headed to some kind of competition or celebration. One bussload started waving and yelling at me, trying to get my attention, or trying to make fun of me or something. It was all good natured, but I was uncomfortable, and yelled down that they shouldn’t be wasting their time with me when Kent Wade was right there on the bus with them.
A man in a gold mohair long coat approached me and said something, smiling. I couldn’t understand what he had said. Then he said something else, and all I could make out was “Oxley Chamberlain.” I wanted to ask him to speak more clearly, but then he was starting to get angry and suspicious, so I explained that since I’ve gotten older the thick hair that has grown inside my ears sometimes makes it difficult for me to hear people correctly. It had nothing to do with his slurred brogue, or that I thought I was better than him or anything like that. I didn’t really say those things, but I thought that he was thinking them. You wouldn’t want to make that conversation explicit.
I decided to put some distance between myself and the people in the icy parking lot, and the best way to do that was to cross the street in front of one of the floats that were coming along for the Mardi Gras parade or whatever it was. I wasn’t quick enough and actually had to put my hand on the front of the float to hold it back from running over me as I crossed the street. Looking back, most of the ice had melted in the lot and I noticed that there weren’t really that many cars and they were actually parked fairly straight.
Then I remembered that I hadn’t parked in the lot after all, but had parked on the street a couple blocks away from the building. So I headed east down the parade route, and turned south on the next side street, which must have been the one I had parked on. I saw the car parked across the street down the block. Then when I got there it was gone, so I looked up the block again remembering how I had driven in that day, trying to think of what landmarks I saw as I was driving and pulling over to park. This spot looks good, and it’s only two blocks from the office. Where the hell is that car?
I walked a little further, and was surrounded now by menacing, seedy characters in a menacing, seedy neighborhood. I felt like I stood out. Everyone was inebriated on who knows what. I was aware not to reach for my wallet in the back pocket of my baggy jeans, because it would draw attention to my self consciousness. Several unpleasant encounters occurred where I was trying to signal to people that I understood their plight and was not an asshole. But the last thing menacing, seedy characters want is for well intentioned assholes to understand their plight.
I was walking along a high wall, trying to get back to the place where the car should be. It was shiny and black and seemed a little slick, like a polished headstone, and there were occasional folks walking the other direction toward me and it was hard to negotiate walking by each other without falling. I finally came to a spot where there was an intersecting wall and I couldn’t go any further. I sat down, and realized that it was really only about six feet, maybe ten? Maybe only four feet from where I was sitting to the sidewalk below. I decided to go for it, and slid down from my perch. As I dropped, a woman who was laying beside where I had been sitting grabbed my hand to try to help slow my descent so I wouldn’t be injured. We looked back up at her from the sidewalk, and I wanted to say thanks, and she was about fifteen or twenty feet up, so it was a little hard to communicate. She had dropped a flower or trinket or something down to me. It’s hard to get these details right, because the orange and blueish I Dream Of Jeannie outfit that she wore was distracting. Although I had more or less learned to expect this type of unexpected attire from the seedy but for some reason suddenly not so menacing (after all, I was down on the sidewalk below now) folks.
I said “What about the other item?” She played dumb. I said “Come on now,” and looked straight into her eyes. She dropped something else down to me. Again, I don’t have details. I was trying to decide whether to pursue the matter. I said “Don’t you have something else for me?” She finally tossed down my wallet. I remembered that I had maybe thirty dollars, and I started looking through the bills to find something to give her. After all, she had been honest, when push came to shove, and she probably needed the money. There are so many crumpled notes and receipts and junk here that it’s just a mess. What is all this stuff? There are even notes and claim tickets and things BETWEEN THE BILLS! Fives and ones and tens all turned every which way, and half hanging out of the wallet. I can’t stand here in the middle of the sidewalk, holding up foot traffic, organizing all of this. Just fold the damned thing and put it in your pocket, for Christ’s sake.
The way back to the office was two blocks directly north. Tall, old buildings blocked the view, but I have an excellent sense of direction so I knew. Even though I had walked across the street to the east for the car and not returned, I was still where I needed to be. Just a short walk back.
I walked cater-corner to the northwest, which would put me to the west of the office eventually, but seemed like the correct move. Crossing a huge empty lot, I was accosted by what looked like a cross between a Swiss Guard or Beefeater and a garden gnome, about five feet tall, all dressed in a red and white and yellow uniform, with a neatly trimmed painted on white beard. It was sort of square shouldered. Not like when you say someone is square shouldered meaning good posture, but his whole body was the shape of a cigarette package.
His voice was kind of like a Dalek, or like the Knights Who Say “NI!” And I couldn’t really make it out. He was to my right, and there was another one in front of me and to my left, and they were trying to impede my progress. I realized that they wanted to take me prisoner. There were dozens, maybe hundreds of them in the lot, trying to stop all of us from moving any further. I still couldn’t make out what they were saying, but we were their prisoners, and they were all delivering the same message.
Then I realized that they couldn’t really stop me from just leaving the lot. As I started to move past them, the leader (the first one I’d encountered) announced that any prisoner who chooses to leave is accepting the injustice of the apartheid state. He kept repeating this, and the entire group of cigarette pack shaped Santa robot gnome nutcracker people joined in. I understand now that this is performance art, and the only way to be truly free is to participate. I begin screaming “FREE, FREE PALESTINE!” But I wasn’t heard over the din of the little gnome guys. I remembered that I had the chant wrong, and I should have started with “LONG LIVE PALESTINE!” I tried again, and some of the nutcracker performance artists began to get confused. They stopped with the announcement to the prisoners, and looked at each other, trying to make sense of things and figure out what to do. They clearly hadn’t trained for this, and the signal between them and their leader wasn’t strong enough for them to receive their marching orders. I thought that if I could only make my voice work, and get the chant right, that we could all join in together. Although this would have screwed up what was probably the original idea of the performance art piece, which, as I get it, is that people shouldn’t just walk on across the parking lot going on with their lives as usual and ignoring the suffering of others.
I felt conflicted, as one does.
October 3, 1947 – February 7, 2018
Rest in Peace and Power
The federal government is deliberately concealing methods used by intelligence or law enforcement agencies to identify or investigate suspects—including methods that may be illegal. A new report from Human Rights Watch describes the process.
Through a practice known as “parallel construction,” an official who wishes to keep an investigative activity hidden from courts and defendants—and ultimately from the public—can simply go through the motions of re-discovering evidence in some other way. For example, if the government learned of a suspected immigration-related offense by a person in Dallas, Texas, through a surveillance program it wished to keep secret, it could ask a Dallas police officer to follow the person’s car until she committed a traffic violation, then pull her over and start questioning her—and later pretend this traffic stop was how the investigation in her case started.
Read the Report: Secret Origins of Evidence in US Criminal Cases | HRW
The Labour Party Leader spoke at the United Nation’s Geneva headquarters last Friday, setting out his vision for a more just international order and a new and independent foreign policy for Britain.
This moment, a crisis of confidence in a bankrupt economic system and social order, presents us with a once in a generation opportunity to build a new economic and social consensus which puts the interests of the majority first.
These remarks were originally intended to be shared at a film screening to mark the centenary. As that event has been cancelled, I decided to share them here.
On International Women’s Day of 1917 the women textile workers of Petrograd went on strike. They wanted food for their families and an end to the war. Tens of thousands joined them in the streets, and a week later the Russian Tsarist monarchy was no more.
This set into motion eight months of continued struggle, which culminated in the first worker’s state in the history of the world. On October 25th, 1917 (which is November 7th on our current Gregorian Calendar) the Bolsheviks, along with the left wing members of the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary parties, having gained a majority in the Congress of Soviets, took power from the final iteration of a provisional government that had stumbled through numerous reconstitutions and attempts to consolidate power since February. The people wanted “peace, land and bread” and the provisional government had failed to deliver.
It was the only revolution in human history that occurred in accordance with a popular democratic vote.
One-hundred years have passed. Why should we still care about the October Revolution?
I’d just like to share a few quotes that I think sum things up pretty well.
The first is from Victor Serge, who was an anarchist who returned to Russia from exile after the revolutions, and joined the Bolsheviks.
“The essential gain of that day, of those years, is the fact that for the first time in history the workers were able to achieve total victory, sustain it, take control of all the levers of command of society, both the economic and the political, get the machine working, and, under the worst conditions, reorganize, despite unbelievable difficulties, all of production on a collective basis. This is what remains and will remain; this is what makes the Russian October shine behind us like a flame that nothing can tarnish.”
There’s also a passage from China Miéville’s excellent history October that’s worth reading. He writes first about the horrors that came under Stalin, and then observes that those who count themselves on the side of the revolution must engage with the failures and crimes that followed in its wake. But he goes on to say:
“It is not for nostalgia’s sake that the strange story of the first socialist revolution in history deserves celebration. The standard of October declares that things changed once, and they might do so again.
“October, for an instant, brings a new kind of power. Fleetingly, there is a shift towards workers’ control of production and the rights of peasants to the land. Equal rights for men and women in work and in marriage, the right to divorce, maternity support. The decriminalisation of homosexuality, 100 years ago. Moves towards national self-determination. Free and universal education, the expansion of literacy. And with literacy comes a cultural explosion, a thirst to learn, the mushrooming of universities and lecture series and adult schools. And though those moments are snuffed out, reversed, become bleak jokes and memories all too soon, it might have been otherwise.
“Twilight, even remembered twilight, is better than no light at all.”
I find it worthwhile to study these events not only to draw inspiration from them, but also in order to better understand what ultimately went wrong, and how we, in our time, might get it right.
And I think it’s particularly important for my countrymen to learn about the great American radicals who were involved in the events of 1917. It’s a history that has been suppressed and hidden and stolen from us, but from them we can learn that fomenting communist revolution is as American as apple pie.
John Reed was an American journalist and political activist who witnessed the revolution first hand on the streets of Petrograd. His masterpiece Ten Days That Shook The World was, at the time of publication, the definitive account of the Russian Revolution. I think that it captures the essence, not only of that moment, but of the revolutionary impulse that is still with us today.
Just at the door of the station stood two soldiers with rifles and bayonets fixed. They were surrounded by about a hundred business men, Government officials and students, who attacked them with passionate argument and epithet. The soldiers were uncomfortable and hurt, like children unjustly scolded.
A tall young man with a supercilious expression, dressed in the uniform of a student, was leading the attack.
“You realise, I presume,” he said insolently, “that by taking up arms against your brothers you are making your-selves the tools of murderers and traitors?”
“Now brother,”answered the soldier earnestly, “you don’t understand. There are two classes, don’t you see, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. We——”
“Oh, I know that silly talk!” broke in the student rudely. “A bunch of ignorant peasants like you hear somebody bawling a few catch-words. You don’t understand what they mean. You just echo them like a lot of parrots.” The crowd laughed. “I’m a Marxian student. And I tell you that this isn’t Socialism you are fighting for. It’s just plain pro-German anarchy!”
“Oh, yes, I know,” answered the soldier, with sweat dripping from his brow. “You are an educated man, that is easy to see, and I am only a simple man. But it seems to me——”
“I suppose,” interrupted the other contemptuously, “that you believe Lenin is a real friend of the proletariat?”
“Yes, I do,” answered the soldier, suffering.
“Well, my friend, do you know that Lenin was sent through Germany in a closed car? Do you know that Lenin took money from the Germans?”
“Well, I don’t know much about that,” answered the soldier stubbornly, “but it seems to me that what he says is what I want to hear, and all the simple men like me. Now there are two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat——”
“You are a fool! Why, my friend, I spent two years in Schlüsselburg for revolutionary activity, when you were still shooting down revolutionists and singing ‘God Save the Tsar!’ My name is Vasili Georgevitch Panyin. Didn’t you ever hear of me?”
“I’m sorry to say I never did,” answered the soldier with humility. “But then, I am not an educated man. You are probably a great hero.”
“I am,” said the student with conviction. “And I am opposed to the Bolsheviki, who are destroying our Russia, our free Revolution. Now how do you account for that?”
The soldier scratched his head. “I can’t account for it at all,” he said, grimacing with the pain of his intellectual processes. “To me it seems perfectly simple—but then, I’m not well educated. It seems like there are only two classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie——”
“There you go again with your silly formula!” cried the student.
“——only two classes,” went on the soldier, doggedly.
“And whoever isn’t on one side is on the other…”
Though a century has passed since the events of 1917, the world remains much the same. This is why the experience of those days is still relevant, and worth our consideration. As long as the struggle between a greedy, callous ruling class and a weary, beleaguered working class continues, we shall have recourse to study, to remember and to celebrate Red October.
The Vera Institute of Peace has created a tool for examining and comparing incarceration data across the United States by county.
You may have already seen our data tool—Incarceration Trends—on jail and prison populations in every U.S. county. Right now, we’re expanding our efforts to make sure that everyone knows how many people are incarcerated in their backyards, so they can power the fight against mass incarceration.
They’re encouraging everyone to share this on Facebook.
I’m still learning my way around the tool, but the information about Kankakee County that I’ve been able to digest is troubling.
Thanks to Allison Shapiro of the Daily Journal for her interest, and for presenting an accurate picture of who we are and what we’re trying to do.
Whether it left you thrilled or heartbroken, most of us agree the 2016 presidential election had a profound effect on our political landscape. Here, in Kankakee County, Jacobin Reading Group for the South Suburbs meets to discuss articles from Jacobin, the leading magazine of the far left, and to talk about what comes next.
On April 29th of 2015, I became a member of the Left Caucus of the Democratic Socialists of America. The caucus had been established to push for a fairly specific program within DSA, many of which points were adopted at the organization’s Biennial National Convention this Summer (including withdrawal from the Socialist International and formal endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement).
Although the group was ultimately largely successful in accomplishing the goals it had established when first formed during the Summer of 2014, it was becoming clear for some months leading up to the convention that commitment of many long time members to the caucus beyond the accomplishment of those goals was beginning to fade.
I was delighted earlier this month to learn of a new group forming that proposes to be “The Radical Left Caucus of DSA” and after reading their points of unity and political program, I agreed wholeheartedly to an invitation to join the ranks.
The public announcement of the Refoundation Caucus was made today. You can learn more on the website.
We are a caucus of revolutionary Marxists active in Democratic Socialists of America. We wish to see DSA grow, flourish, and become a mass, independent socialist party in the United States. The times demand it. With the massive growth of DSA over the past year and a half, we believe we have a unique opportunity to build a movement and a party that can fight for and win socialism in the United States. We cannot let this opportunity pass.
I would invite all to review the points of unity and political program of the group, and to keep an eye on the site for position papers and statements to come. To my DSA sisters and brothers who are interested in being part of a vital and vigorous self-conscious left wing, I urge you to consider joining us.
As to the comrades who have been working so hard to organize and develop this caucus, I thank you.
I have recently become a member of an organization that seeks, among other policy goals, the abolition of prisons and policing in our society. A dear friend and I were discussing this, and he raised questions about how an alternative justice system might work. Is there a clear vision for a restorative justice system on a material level? What will the system look like? Who will be in charge of it?
As luck would have it, there was an excellent article at In These Times today about the need to rethink how we respond to violence. That led me to the Vera Institute website, and a very good report on the subject.
In the United States, violence and mass incarceration are deeply entwined, though evidence shows that both can decrease at the same time. A new vision is needed to meaningfully address violence and reduce the use of incarceration—and to promote healing among crime survivors and improve public safety. This report describes four principles to guide policies and practices that aim to reduce violence: They should be survivor-centered, based on accountability, safety-driven, and racially equitable.
You can read their fact sheet here.
Or download the full report below.
Read More: Accounting for Violence | Vera Institute