Flag in Chains

Flag_in_Chains_Collection_University_of_California_at_Berkley 1965 by Marc Morrell

Nick Walsh presents a three-part story about a significant public controversy related to the Vietnam War that happened in my home town of Decatur, Illinois. Using sources from the archives of the Decatur Herald and Review, the Decatur Tribune, Millikin University’s Decaturian, and recent interviews with the one of the controversy’s key figures, Walsh covers how the situation developed, how the public and authorities reacted, and how the court case surrounding the exhibit of Flag in Chains unfolded. I remember the anger of these times fairly vividly. It seemed as if everyone in our community was forced to choose sides.

By using their talents to confront the issues of their time, artists take on a certain amount of risk if their perspectives are contestable in the court of public opinion.  While not directly about the Vietnam War, the story of “Flag in Chains” reflects sentiments and convictions rooted in the national discourse of that era.  Decatur residents were sporadic in giving their opinions about the war throughout its duration.  However, public debate reached a crescendo in 1969, as emotions stemming from the war were channeled into dialogue surrounding a controversial legal case that involved the owner of the Decatur Herald and the Daily Review and a Millikin University art professor.  This collision of patriotism and free expression provides a glimpse into the conscience of Decatur residents during the Vietnam War.

Here are links to all three parts of Walsh’s report.

Flag in Chains: A Collision of Sentiments (Part 1) | RE:DECATUR

Flag in Chains: A Collision of Sentiments (Part 2) | RE:DECATUR

Flag in Chains: A Collision of Sentiments (Part 3) | RE:DECATUR

American Reds

The folks at Red Wedge magazine have created a wonderful new series of posters called Inside Agitators.

The series “aims to reintroduce the notion that communism is an American tradition and a powerful, intersectional tradition at that. American communists have been women and men, black and white and red and brown, queer and straight, disabled and able-bodied. That the posters resemble wanted posters is no accident: communism has been and is a crime, for which our brave forebears were hunted, banished, jailed, and killed.”

Some of my personal heroes, including Helen Keller, Eugene Debs and Big Bill Haywood are among those depicted.

See the posters: Inside Agitators — Red Wedge.

The Assassination of Fred Hampton

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Fred Hampton by the Chicago Police. Five years ago, on the fortieth anniversary, Democracy Now aired a retrospective.

On December 4th, 1969, Chicago police raided Fred Hampton’s apartment, shot and killed him in his bed. He was just twenty-one years old. Black Panther leader Mark Clark was also killed in the raid.

While authorities claimed the Panthers had opened fire on the police who were there to serve a search warrant for weapons, evidence later emerged that told a very different story: that the FBI, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the Chicago police conspired to assassinate Fred Hampton. Noam Chomsky has called Hampton’s killing “the gravest domestic crime of the Nixon administration.”

See the full report: “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther” | Democracy Now!.

The Corporate Court in Context

Peter Montgomery from People for the American Way puts this week’s Supreme Court decisions in historical context.

Samuel Alito is the single most pro-corporate Justice on the most pro-business Court since the New Deal. Still, Alito’s one-two punch was another extraordinary milestone for the strategists who have been working for the past 40 years to put business firmly in the driver’s seat of American politics.

Many would suggest that the modern right-wing movement began with the failed presidential bid of Barry Goldwater. But there’s a strong case to be made that it begins in earnest with a 1971 memo by Lewis Powell, who argued that American businesses were losing public support and called for a massive, continuing campaign to wage war on leftist academics, progressive nonprofit groups, and politicians. The memo by Powell, who was later appointed to the Supreme Court via a nomination by Richard Nixon, inspired a few very wealthy men like Adolph Coors, John M. Olin, and Richard Mellon Scaife, who set about creating and funding a massive infrastructure of think tanks, endowed academic chairs, law schools and right-wing legal groups, including the Federalist Society, which has nurtured Alito’s career.

Read the full article: Samuel Alito: A Movement Man Makes Good on Right-Wing Investments | Peter Montgomery.

Working Class History in the New Century

Sharon Smith, author of Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States, has written a new introduction for a forthcoming Spanish edition of the book, which expands on the history through the last decade. It appears today on Socialist Worker in English, with the permission of the publisher.

Read it: Taking the fire forward | SocialistWorker.org.

America for Americans

This letter is from the archives of the Seattle municipality. Dated November 16th, 1937, it’s addressed to the city council and written by the Chief of Staff of the Ku Klux Klan. Complete with a depiction of a burning cross and hooded night riders at the top, the letterhead features the motto “Communism Will Not Be Tolerated” emblazoned in the footer.

It is easy to forget, in our day and age, that the Klan was once a fairly mainstream organization in the United States. Their chilling self-characterization as “All Americans” who salute only “the Stars and Stripes” prefigures the American Right of today.

Ku Klux Klan letter, 1937

The Bi-Partisan War Against the Poor

DSA Vice Chairman Joseph Schwartz reviews the recent MSNBC special commemorating the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, noting that discussion of the thirty year bi-partian assault on working people received little attention.

The biggest change in the face of poverty in the U.S. from the initiation of the War on Poverty to today is that poverty is now a problem of working families; it was not in 1962.  Today, one half of families living in official poverty have a full-time worker in the household. In 1962, a fully employed worker guaranteed that the family would live above the poverty line.  Why this change? In part, this is due to the conscious corporate assault on union strength.

Read more: The Bi-Partisan Neoliberal War Against the Poor – Democratic Socialists of America.

May Day Joint Statement

The first of May is a moment for us to remember the Chicago Haymarket Martyrs of 127 years ago. These Chicago anarchists helped to lead the major battle of the day, not only for the 8 Hour Day, but also for social liberation.

Chicago’s Four Star Anarchists and several other allied groups have issued a joint statement titled Remembering the Past, Fighting for Tomorrow. It includes a short history of May Day, an examination of present conditions, a positive vision for our world and a call to action.

I commend it to you as appropriate for this May Day, 2013. Click here to read it.

Solidarity!

★★★

Today’s Must Read: A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse

“Submitting oneself to labor discipline—supervision, control, even the self-control of the ambitious self-employed—does not make one a better person. In most really important ways, it probably makes one worse. To undergo it is a misfortune that at best is sometimes necessary. Yet it’s only when we reject the idea that such labor is virtuous in itself that we can start to ask what is virtuous about labor. To which the answer is obvious. Labor is virtuous if it helps others.”

Read the Full Article: A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse | David Graeber | The Baffler.

What I’m Reading: Subterranean Fire

Sharon Smith presents the history of radicalism in the U.S. Labor Movement from the late 1800s forward, with an eye toward reclaiming its rich heritage for the Working Class struggles of today.

The title of the book comes from something Labor martyr August Spies said prior to his execution. “If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement, then hang us. Here you will tread upon a spark, but here, and there, and behind you, and in front of you, the flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand.”