Tagged ‘Celebrity Fetish‘
Celebrity ‘Charity’: A Gift for a Vicious System

Celebrity ‘Charity’: A Gift for a Vicious System

Al Jazeera

December 3, 2017

By Belen Fernandez

Irish rock star Bono talks to pupils at a school near Lesotho’s capital Maseru on May 17, 2006 [Mike Hutching/Reuters]

When movie star George Clooney married human rights lawyer and fashion icon Amal Alamuddin in Venice back in 2014, the Entertainment Tonight website declared that “it was charity that came out as the real winner” of the multimillion-dollar nuptial festivities.

The reason for the alleged win was that proceeds from certain wedding photos were said to be destined for – you guessed it – “charity”, that favourite celebrity pastime that so often translates into massive PR points and saviour-hero credit, not to mention tax breaks.

We non-celebrities have been so conditioned to perceive charity as something unconditionally positive – rather than a commodification and exploitation of faux altruism – that we don’t seem to notice reality’s conspicuous absence from the feel-good world of celeb-philanthropy.

Case in point: reports that rock star Bono’s anti-poverty foundation ONE managed in 2008 to channel a mere 1.2 percent of the funds it raised to the people it purported to be assisting have done nothing to interfere with the man’s portrayal as some sort of messiah for Africa.

In the case of the Clooneys, who now preside over their very own Clooney Foundation for Justice, celebrity worship and Amal-mania have also precluded sound judgement. Objectively speaking, it would seem that “justice” is not really an option in a world in which human rights lawyer-philanthropists by the name of Amal Clooney wear outfits costing $7,803.

The obscenity of inequality

Currently targeted for charitable assistance by the Clooneys’ organisation is the Syrian refugee population of Lebanon, where, the foundation’s website stresses, “refugee children are sent out to work for as little as 2 dollars per day”. Roughly calculating, it would thus take a Syrian refugee child approximately eleven years to accumulate enough funds for the aforementioned outfit (less if accessories are left out).

Fantastically expensive galas, celebrity photo ops with black and brown children in international charity hotspots, and other mainstays of the celebro-philanthropist repertoire do little, in the end, to alleviate poverty, hunger, oppression, and the rest of the global ills that are repeatedly invoked to tug at heartstrings and thereby provoke admiration and/or financial contributions to the cause being peddled.

This is not to suggest, of course, that one must always calculate and justify one’s expenses in terms of Syrian refugee income, but rather to point out that any sort of actual justice in the world would require dismantling the prevailing neoliberal panorama of obscene economic inequality.

In a forthcoming book titled Against Charity, authors Julie Wark and Daniel Raventos offer a meticulous and scathing indictment of the institution of charity as a key component of the neoliberal order – and of the role of celebrity philanthropists in keeping the have-nots in place and the powerful in power.

Celebrities, write Wark and Raventos, “draw attention to social distress but immediately cover it up by giving the impression that something is being done” by the wealthy of the world, who have the money to do things.

But fantastically expensive galas, celebrity photo ops with black and brown children in international charity hotspots, and other mainstays of the celebro-philanthropist repertoire do little, in the end, to alleviate poverty, hunger, oppression, and the rest of the global ills that are repeatedly invoked to tug at heartstrings and thereby provoke admiration and/or financial contributions to the cause being peddled.

Again, were global oppression to somehow magically cease, the “philanthropic” rich and famous would be up a creek – since no arrangement governed by literal justice would allow the obsequiously-celebrated “poverty fighter” Bill Gates to own a house with 24 bathrooms or for the ever-so-charitable David and Victoria Beckham to trademark their children’s names.

Disappearing context

Regarding the function of celebrities within “a system that sees famous people as brands and thus consumer products”, Wark and Raventos note that celebrity “excess” helps sustain the consumerist model by providing glorified examples of over-the-top materialism – while celebrity “beneficence” helps whitewash the brutality of institutionalised socioeconomic disparity.

Meanwhile, the “awareness” that celebrities purport to raise for their respective causes is frequently devoid of the political context necessary to comprehend contemporary causes of human suffering.

Take, for example, actress and philanthropic superstar Angelina Jolie, whose work as Special Envoy for the United Nations refugee agency elicits continuous media prostration before her charitable “radiance“.

Descending upon war-torn nations and refugee camps in characteristic superhuman perfection, Jolie decries earthly injustice – while regularly excising crucial pieces of the puzzle from her lament.

This was the case in a March 2017 speech in Geneva, when Jolie referenced “the conflict in Iraq – the source of so much Iraqi suffering to this day”, and yet proceeded to self-identify as “a proud American” and a believer in the notion that “a strong nation, like a strong person, helps others to rise up and be independent”.

Never mind that the US – a strong nation indeed – happens to have effectively destroyed Iraq, inflicting unquantifiable death and misery upon the Iraqi people.

In Iraq and beyond, in fact, the military and economic policies of the country of which our heroine is so “proud” have contributed to a range of humanitarian crises now abstractly seized upon by Jolie & Co – not least the Saudi-led starvation of Yemen, aided and abetted by none other than the US.

It’s showtime

A recent Vanity Fair cover story on Jolie touches on numerous aspects of the actress’ life, from her new Los Angeles mansion – “listed for around $25 million” – to her cofounding, with British former foreign secretary William Hague, of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in 2012. According to its website, the initiative “aims to raise awareness of the extent of sexual violence … in situations of armed conflict and rally global action to end it”.

This is the same Hague who, in addition to fervently championing the war on Iraq, argued in 2015 that just because Iraq had turned out poorly didn’t mean the west shouldn’t intervene in Syria.

In other words, so much for the prevention of violence.

Wark and Raventos observe that “the demigods of celebrity culture are a symptom of a general moral and ethical malaise in which, as capitalism is foundering in its own morass, mythmaking is essential for keeping the show going”.

If only the curtain would fall – not only on the sideshow of celebrity philanthropy, but on the myth itself.


[Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.]


WATCH: Oscar Winner White Helmets Hand in Hand with Al Qaeda

The Wall Will Fall

February 4, 2017

by Vanessa Beeley


Oscar Award White Helmets


The following video is a compilation of testimonies taken from Syrian civilians, finally liberated from almost five years of Nusra Front-led terrorist occupation of all districts of East Aleppo. The unadulterated, unedited, uncensored voices of the Syrian people, released from Nusra Front aka Al Qaeda jail in East Aleppo, finally given a platform instead of corporate media’s terrorist propaganda amplification and “regime change” narrative monopoly.

I was in East Aleppo during its final liberation from Nusra Front-led extremism and during the lead up to Christmas until the 27th December. I witnessed the emaciated civilians arriving at the Jebrin registration centre to receive food, hot drinks and medical treatment. Medical treatment that the Nusra Front dominated, extremist groups, had refused them. We saw a young boy whose foot was missing, he told us that he had received no attention for his wounds prior to arriving in Jebrin. He had been injured in a terrorist mortar attack on the district he had been living in.

I was in East Aleppo between the 9th and the 14th December when the majority of the districts were liberated. Every civilian I spoke to said the White Helmets were effectively Nusra Front’s civil defence. Some said they “occasionally” helped civilians but then qualified by adding that their priority was the “armed groups”.

The content of this video also exposes the #FakeNews peddlers, Channel 4, who have consistently acted as “cheerleaders” for Nusra Front-led terrorism in Syria. Where were they when the civilians were free and their voices could be heard condemning the “rebels” that Channel 4 and so many other corporate media promoted as “freedom fighters”.

This video is not only a further exposure of the truth about the multi-million dollar NATO & Gulf state funded fraudulent White Helmets, it is also a testament to the honour, the integrity and the fortitude of the Syrian people, who despite all they had suffered and endured during the almost five year terrorist occupation, came out resilient and determined to rebuild their shattered lives. Watch:


[Author Vanessa Beeley is a contributor to 21WIRE, and since 2011, she has spent most of her time in the Middle East reporting on events there – as a independent researcher, writer, photographer and peace activist. She is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Syria Solidarity Movement, and a volunteer with the Global Campaign to Return to Palestine. See more of her work at her blog The Wall Will Fall.]

Further Reading:

UPDATED: White Helmets are Denied Entry into US, Hollywood Dreams Over


FLASHBACK: George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers


July 24, 2015

by David Swanson



May 19, 2012: “Political pals: Clooney and President Obama have met on a number of occasions, like this Darfur event in April”

George Clooney is being paid by the world’s top two war profiteers, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, to oppose war profiteering by Africans disloyal to the U.S. government’s agenda.

Way back yonder before World War II, war profiteering was widely frowned on in the United States. Those of us trying to bring back that attitude, and working for barely-funded peace organizations, ought to be thrilled when a wealthy celebrity like George Clooney decides to take on war profiteering, and the corporate media laps it up.

“Real leverage for peace and human rights will come when the people who benefit from war will pay a price for the damage they cause,” said Clooney — without encountering anything like the blowback Donald Trump received when he criticized John McCain.

Really, is that all it takes to give peace a chance, a celebrity? Will the media now cover the matter of who funds opponents of the Iran deal, and who funds supporters of the wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.?

Well, no, not really.

It turns out Clooney opposes, not war profiteering in general, but war profiteering while African. In fact, Clooney’s concern is limited, at least thus far, to five African nations: Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, though these are not the only nations in Africa or the world with serious wars underway.

Of the top 100 weapons makers in the world, not a single one is based in Africa. Only 1 is in South or Central America. Fifteen are in Western allies and protectorates in Asia (and China is not included in the list). Three are in Israel, one in Ukraine, and 13 in Russia. Sixty-six are in the United States, Western Europe, and Canada. Forty are in the U.S. alone. Seventeen of the top 30 are in the U.S. Six of the top 10 mega-profiteers are in the U.S. The other four in the top 10 are in Western Europe.


Hillary Clinton, Rob and Alisa Bair, Amal and George Clooney. Photo credit: Adam Schultz. | Clooney called Clinton the ‘one consistent voice’ in the 2016 election. He hosted a lavish fundraiser (that took in 15 million) for Clinton that Bernie Sanders observed as “obscene”.

Clooney’s new organization, “The Sentry,” is part of The Enough Project, which is part of the Center for American Progress, which is a leading backer of “humanitarian” wars, and various other wars for that matter — and which is funded by the world’s top war profiteer, Lockheed Martin, and by number-two Boeing, among other war profiteers.

According to the Congressional Research Service, in the most recent edition of an annual report that it has now discontinued, 79% of all weapons transfers to poor nations are from the United States. That doesn’t include U.S. weapons in the hands of the U.S. military, which has now moved into nearly every nation in Africa. When drugs flow north the United States focuses on the supply end of the exchange as an excuse for wars. When weapons flow south, George Clooney announces that we’ll stop backward violence at the demand side by exposing African corruption.


“United States actor George Clooney (R) embraces former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a Leaders Summit for Refugees during the United Nations 71st session of the General Debate at the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 20 September 2016.”

The spreading of the U.S. empire through militarism is most often justified by the example of Rwanda as a place where the opportunity for a humanitarian war, to prevent the Rwanda Genocide, was supposedly missed. But the United States backed an invasion of Rwanda in 1990 by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers, and supported their attacks for three-and-a-half years, applying more pressure through the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and USAID. U.S.-backed and U.S.-trained war-maker Paul Kagame — now president of Rwanda — is the leading suspect behind the shooting down of a plane carrying the then-presidents of Rwanda and Burundi on April 6, 1994. As chaos followed, the U.N. might have sent in peacekeepers (not the same thing, be it noted, as dropping bombs) but Washington was opposed. President Bill Clinton wanted Kagame in power, and Kagame has now taken the war into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with U.S. aid and weapons, where 6 million have been killed. And yet nobody ever says “We must prevent another Congo!”

What does George Clooney’s new organization say about the DRC? A very different story from that told by Friends of the Congo. According to Clooney’s group the killing in the Congo happens “despite years of international attention,” not because of it. Clooney’s organization also promotes this argument for more U.S. warmaking in the DRC from Kathryn Bigelow, best known for producing the CIA propaganda film Zero Dark Thirty.

On Sudan as well, there’s no blame for U.S. interference; instead Clooney’s crew has produced a brief for regime change.

On South Sudan, there’s no acknowledgement of U.S. warmongering in Ethiopia and Kenya, but a plea for more U.S. involvement.

The Central African Republic gets the same diagnosis as the others: local ahistorical spontaneous corruption and backwardness leading to war.

Clooney’s co-founder of the Sentry (dictionary definition of “Sentry” is “A guard, especially a soldier posted at a given spot to prevent the passage of unauthorized persons”) is John Prendergast, former Africa director for the National Security Council. Watch Prendergast find himself awkwardly in a debate with an informed person here.

Clooney’s wife, incidentally, works for U.S.-friendly dictators and brutal killers in places like Bahrain and Libya.

More nations could soon be spotted by The Sentry. The President of Nigeria was at the U.S. Institute of “Peace” this week pleading for weapons. U.S. troops are in Cameroon this week training fighters.

If the peace organization I work for had 0.0001% the financial support of The Sentry, perhaps the debate would change. So, one thing you can do is support the right antiwar efforts.

Another is to let The Sentry know what it’s missing. It asks for anonymous tips when you spot war profiteering. Have you ever turned on C-Span? If you see something, say something. Let The Sentry know about the Pentagon.




Further Reading:

Enough of CIA’s ‘Enough Project’ in Africa! [Avaaz, International Crisis Group, Center for American Progress]

WATCH: 21st Century “Environmentalism” Explained in less than 90 Seconds

December 21, 2016



The following excerpt is from the article Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits [Part 6 | Conclusion]

“Environmentalism is dead. Today we bear witness to 21st century anthropocentrism. The goal is no longer to protect nature and all living things. In stark contrast, the goal is to now propel technology at the expense of nature and all living things. A “clean energy revolution”, at the expense of what little remains of nature and non-human life, for the gratification of human desires. In this sense western societies have collectively devolved to the most contemptible depths imaginable. Yet, as a conditioned society, few notice. As always, youth are targeted and groomed, the sacrificial lambs for continued capitalism….

Collectively, Western society has been conditioned to believe that anthropocentrism is environmentalism and anthropocentrists are environmental activists. It is quite possible that this may be one of the best examples of successful social engineering to date, as financed by the world’s most powerful oligarchs.”


Further reading:

Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits [Part 6 | Conclusion]

McKibben’s Divestment Tour – Brought to You by Wall Street [Part XIII of an Investigative Report] [The Increasing Vogue for Capitalist-Friendly Climate Discourse]




A Madame of Mediocrity

A Culture of Imbeciles

January 23, 2016

Klein - Oprah 2

“Naomi Klein is the Oprah Winfrey of the Toy Che Brigades–another vapid luminary on the cover of Vogue.”  Poet Garcia Madero, Visceral Realist


Further reading: The Increasing Vogue for Capitalist-Friendly Climate Discourse

The King’s Speech (King Leo, that is)

Wrong Kind of Green Op-Ed

January 16, 2016

by Forrest Palmer and Cory Morningstar


Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Golden Globe winner, 2016

At the recent Golden Globe Awards, the immensely popular actor Leonard DiCaprio (King Leo for short) was awarded a leading actor award for his recent movie “The Revenant”, a fact based revenge tale of a man seeking retribution towards another man who killed his son, who was half native. As there were heavy elements of the North Amerikkkan native cultures in the movie since the film was set during the time of Western expansion in the 19th century, the movie took a few sparse moments to discuss the destruction of the indigenous cultures by the European at certain points of the movie.

As a result of the tone of this movie that brought him this current accolade, King Leo was compelled to pay homage to the people who helped provide him the background narrative for his recent inconsequential awards show victory. In King Leo’s acceptance speech, he said the following:

“I want to share this award with all the First Nation’s people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time we recognize your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”

Of course, this was met with a nice round of applause from the almost exclusively white audience at this awards show since Western filmmaking, and Hollywood specifically, is entirely an anglo dominated environment. And the reason that this was such a resounding and overwhelmingly positive response is because nothing will come of it. It is beyond non-intimidating on the face of it to the status quo since there are a sparse amount of indigenous people in this country that are still alive after this most successful genocide. And because the closest these people ever get to “actual” natives is dressing up like one of them for a Halloween costume party or adorning themselves in some sports paraphernalia to support their local sports franchise that uses their likenesses as a mascot, it means nothing in any tangible way to the audience. Hence, there is no reason to fear indigenous infiltration into their exclusively white environment. Even if the entirely exclusive white spheres in Amerikkka threw open the doors and invited every living native person into their environs, the onrush would be a mere trickle of people, if even that.


September 21, 2014, Indian Country Today Media Network: “Star Power: Leonardo DiCaprio Climate Marches With Natives, and 9 Other Celeb Sightings: While DiCaprio and Ruffalo marched alongside Indian chiefs and Idle No More organizers, the likes of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon strode side-by-side with former Vice President Al Gore, primatologist Jane Goodall and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, among many, many others.

amazon watch CBennett_AWClimate140922013

September 21, 2014, Amazon Watch website: “Our indigenous allies Patricia Gualinga, Gloria Ushigua, Nina Gualinga, Elena Gálvez, and Antonella Calle joined with thought-leaders and celebrity change-makers such as Naomi Klein and allies Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton, Sting and Trudie Styler.” 

Yet, this is not the first foray into the intersection of Hollywood and mainstream recognition of indigenous genocide. On March 27, 1973, Marlon Brando won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his part in the movie ‘The Godfather’. As a sign of solidarity regarding the recent indigenous uprising at Wounded Knee as well as the disgusting representation of natives in Amerikkkan cinema, Brando chose not to go to the Oscars that year and sent an indigenous representative, Sacheen Littlefeather, to accept his award if he won that evening. Here is the wikipedia entry regarding this particular incident:

“Brando had written a 15-page speech for Littlefeather to give at the ceremony, but when the producer met her backstage he threatened to physically remove her or have her arrested if she spoke on stage for more than 60 seconds. Her on-stage comments were therefore improvised. She then went backstage and read the entire speech to the press.

The incident provoked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to rule out future proxy acceptance of the Academy Awards.”

In addition, the response to Littlefeather’s words by the audience was much different than one King Leo received from his assembled audience recently. The video of Littlefeather giving her speech, which can be found on youtube, shows mostly stunned silence, a few applause, but a noticeable amount of boos also.


Sacheen Littlefeather refusing to accept the Best Actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando for his performance in “The Godfather” – the 45th Annual Academy Awards in 1973. Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore presented the award.

Since that time, there hasn’t been much mention of the treatment of natives in cinema or even in Amerikkka during Hollywood awards ceremonies or anywhere in the entertainment industry. Before King Leo’s recent speech, the only other blip at a Hollywood awards ceremony was during Kevin Costner’s acceptance speech for Best Picture in 1991 for the film “Dances With Wolves”, his grand opus about one good white man amongst the savages, where the natives were a mere backdrop like any onstage prop to showcase the white character’s overwhelming humanity. Costner threw a few words of thanks to the Sioux community, but nothing of any significance in terms of reparations or acknowledgement regarding even the present plight of the people who he exploited for artistic recognition and monetary success. It was just a perfunctory thank you for Costner’s brief appropriation of their culture for his individual aggrandizement. Nothing more and nothing less. And since it was as non-threatening as you can get, the positive response was approximately twenty years after the previous reaction, which was tepid in the most positive, unbiased description of the scene .

The relaying of non-anglo pain and anguish must always be filtered through the mouth of a white representative, most preferably male.In a sign that this may actually be cyclical in nature, a little over twenty years has passed since ‘Dances With Wolves’ received awards and accolades and a fair amount of revenue for a youthful Kevin Costner. Now, King Leo is at the pinnacle of Amerikkkan Hollywood supremacy and he is the mouthpiece of what is perceived of consciousness from this particularly vacuous and superficial community. Over the past few years, King Leo has positioned himself to be seen as the social conscience of the celebrity elite. But, it is only because of this fact that the message is acceptable. It isn’t the words themselves. It is only the conduit from which they are emanating. The relaying of non-anglo pain and anguish must always be filtered through the mouth of a white representative, most preferably male.

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio (C) poses for a photo with May Boeve, executive director of (L) and Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. (R) following a Divest-Invest new conference on September 22, 2015 in New York City.  [ Further reading: September 15, 2014: This Changes Nothing. Why the People’s Climate March Guarantees Climate Catastrophe][Follow up: September 23, 2015 Under One Bad Sky | TckTckTck’s 2014 People’s Climate March: This Changed Nothing]

leo and gore 2014

Photo: Leonard DiCaprio (L) and ‘s Al Gore, September 2014 [Source: leonardodicaprio via Instagram./ Published: 01/4/2016] [Further reading: The Increasing Vogue for Capitalist-Friendly Climate Discourse]

Another reason why this is so palatable to mainstream society is that it is not a threat. The only thing King Leo is calling for is just for people in general to recognize the indigenous community. Well, since the indigenous community has been totally destroyed in this country, how are these words going to physically manifest themselves in any tangible way?  This isn’t calling for the sparse few indigenous to get some type or reparations or restitution, as they are housed in some of the worst conditions imaginable in this country that are equivalent to modern day concentration camps. It is just a mere call “to honor” them in some general terms and only so far as it benefits whiteness since King Leo framed it as following ‘the noble savage’ and the mystical aspects of their romanticized existence to be the salve for what is ailing the world. In an homage to the old idiom of wanting your cake and eating it too, you can evidently have the affluence represented by the congregation of the Hollywood elite and also be a spiritual messiah for all that is good in the world. The fictionalization of the world doesn’t just stop once the movie cameras stop rolling.

private island 2

United Nations climate change envoy DiCaprio has purchased an island in Belize to build a multimillion-dollar ecotourism resort. The 104-acre Blackadore Caye is to feature 68 guest villas, a mile of secluded beach, and infinity pools. Although prices have yet to be announced, some of the villas will be for sale at US$15 million. According to the National Post, the project will tap into the growing market for upmarket eco holidays.

But, what does King Leo really mean by “save the Earth”? In similar fashion to how King Leo is now co-opting the global indigenous movement and attempting to be the face of the humane Western response, he has long been considered the face of the mainstream celebrity portion of environmentalism (or more honestly, its faux aspects). But, if you look at all of his work for the environmental movement, it has been nothing more than the combination of exclusivity of white privilege, the intense commercialization of all designated renewable resources (renewable in name only mind you) and the exorbitant cost of making this available those at the highest rung of the class and social order.


Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio at a press conference on Tuesday announcing a new fossil fuel divestment report. At the same event, it was announced that DiCaprio planned to divest his personal and those belonging to his foundation.” (Credit: David Sassoon, InsideClimate News)

So, when King Leo gets on this stage and says these things, he is bringing the entire cache of Western acceptability and respectability that he has been able to amass during his twenty years of success in Hollywood. This in and of itself makes him a non-threat. Yet, as the mainstream media is a byproduct of the anglo power structure, it has totally embraced King Leo’s words as the representation of the most heartfelt plea imaginable for the small, miniscule portion of Amerikkkan society that feels “sorry” for past depredations against the indigenous.

leo and kerry 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and Leonardo DiCapri, 2014.

Therefore, King Leo will continue to receive a pat on the back from the mainstream as he is doing the job of rectifying the inequities of the past by his current statement. The fact there is no actual list of suggested solutions regarding the past and current oppression of natives is the cause of the ovation shown by the crowd at the Golden Globe Awards and the praise by the members of the liberal side of the media. However, King Leo ever endorsing something that would actually benefit the indigenous here in Amerikkka would cause a much different response. Therefore, if King Leo was to list the actual policy changes that would assist the indigenous and, by extension, affect the privilege of his audience, the applause would inexorably transition from applause to the boos of yesteryear.

And the greatest lie is that King Leo doesn’t know this…or that all of us don’t know it either…



The Fight For The Soul Of The Black Lives Matter Movement


April 7, 2015

by Aaron Miguel Cantú and Raven Rakia 


(Tod Seelie / Gothamist)

At a march in mid-December organized by Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Washington D.C., organizers rushed the stage and claimed that the old guard was attempting to hijack the nascent Black Lives Matter movement away from its founders.

“This movement was started by the young people,” Johnetta Elzie, a key organizer from St. Louis, said to the raucous crowd. “There should be young people all over this stage.”

It was one of the most visible examples of the clash between the old, signified by Sharpton, and the new, represented by grassroots groups who emerged from Ferguson and New York after the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions.

Sharpton has been extremely sensitive to this criticism. “Oh, you young and hip, you’re full of fire. You’re the new face,” he sneered at a recent gathering at the headquarters of NAN in Harlem. “All that the stuff that they know will titillate your ears. That’s what a pimp says to a ho.”

At an MLK Day march in Harlem, the division between the old and the new was quieter but no less pronounced.

On Luxembourg Street, three cops stood behind a barricade, just a few feet away from a thousand protesters. One of the two female officers, brown skinned with accentuated eyebrows, plucked lint from the uniform of her stocky, white male colleague; they all laughed.

Meanwhile, a dozen or so protesters began to veer from a universal chant—one about justice being lost until it is found—to a more abrasive one: “How do you spell racist? N-Y-P-D.” It’s the same kind of chant Mayor Bill de Blasio called “hateful” and an “attempt to divide this city in a time when we need to come together” a week after two detectives were fatally shot in their squad car in Brooklyn. Immediately the three officers stiffened their backs and softened their smiles.

Minutes later, dozens of members of a group called Justice League NYC stormed past the officers on the sidewalk, led by some of its key staffers, with Councilmember Jumaane Williams at their side.

Seeing the group of well-groomed activists and politicians stroll by, the three officers relaxed and dropped their hands from their waists. The police seemed to know that for all the demonstrators’ bluster, it was going to be an uneventful day.

The Justice League had convened the MLK demonstration, a shift in a strategy that has prioritized closed door meetings with police officials and politicians—including Governor Cuomo—over action in the streets and grassroots organizing. It’s the sort of insider-activist strategy that Sharpton has mastered.

While Sharpton’s influence has grown within the establishment, his tactics have become less palatable among young people. That’s what makes the Justice League a new sort of political animal: It has all of Sharpton’s trademarks—compromise politics, access to power and media, rebel aesthetics, calculated outrage campaigns—but doesn’t feature the MSNBC talk show host himself. This approach has allowed Justice League to confidently assume the reigns of New York’s anti-police brutality movement in recent months.

But some grassroots activists who began organizing out of anger towards the grand jury decisions, as well as the fatal police shooting of Akai Gurley, many of them working class and politically unconnected, fear that the establishment-friendly reformism championed by the Justice League threatens to water down the struggle against state violence. They worry that the group’s ties to city government and wealthy celebrities make it nearly indistinguishable from the power it’s trying to change. The result has been a quiet struggle for the future of the Black Lives Matter movement in New York City.

(Scott Lynch / Gothamist)

“The way [the Justice League is] moving, it’s like it would appear to outside forces that they are the face of the movement, and it’s so not true,” said Ty Black, a 26-year-old activist and artist.

After the killing of the unarmed Gurley by an NYPD officer in a stairwell of East New York’s Pink Houses, Black and a small group of young activists from East New York and Crown Heights, along with Gurley’s aunt, came together to form Justice for Akai Gurley. The group has organized multiple protests at the Pink Houses, marching through different public housing complexes in East New York before stopping at the 75th Precinct.

According to Black, the group aims to build community power and reclaim control of their own streets, while also “eliminating police presence in our neighborhood through things like copwatch,” the tactic of vigilantly documenting routine police interactions with civilians. In February, copwatch footage exonerated Jonathan Danza, a Sunset Park street vendor who was accused to assaulting the police; video showed that in fact it was Daza who had been violently assaulted by his arresting officers.

“Police are the paramilitary arm of New York City development,” says Asere Bello, another member of JFAG. He pointed to the broken elevator in Gurley’s NYCHA building and the burnt-out light in the stairwell where he was fatally shot as a part of the disenfranchisement that played a role in his death.

JFAG plans to ask NYCHA residents about the repairs needed in their buildings and recruit handymen to fix them. After surveying residents in East New York who expressed a need for ways to deal with interpersonal violence—the police receive more than 700 domestic violence calls each day—JFAG’s second march was led by women, and focused on the connections of state and gender violence.

The point, representatives of the group say, is to reclaim their own power and reduce dependence on state institutions, and show the connections between Broken Windows policing, displacement, gentrification, and police brutality.

“For us it’s a matter of getting the skills to navigate our own relationships or our own conflicts…in a way that lessens the dependency and completely eliminates the dependency on the state to resolve our conflicts,” Bello said.

Ty Black (courtesy Kelly Stuart)

Like Justice for Akai Gurley, nearly a dozen grassroots groups in the Bronx are organizing against police brutality as well as interrelated social problems like gentrification, and the school-to-prison pipeline. At a protest in December, Ephraim Cruz, a former agent with the Department of Homeland Security who now leads the group Bronxites for NYPD Accountability, said the NYPD were committing “operational terrorism,” not only through overt violence against people of color but by enforcing a system that inflicts trauma on the poor every day.

“We are at the very tip of the brunt of officer abuse impact,” he said. “We’re being pushed off streets because cops tell us to clear the corners, they tell us that we can’t interact in public. And we’re being pushed out by gentrification, we’re being pushed out of public schools by charter schools. We’re here to say the jig is up.”

At a different gathering, which was formally closed to press, a member of the group Take Back the Bronx discussed their group’s efforts to establish “no cop zones,” or places where community members actively but nonviolently repel police presence block-by-block. “We explore alternatives to policing,” the representative said, adding that non-profits tied to formal funding sources attempt to “pacify us and channel the anger.”

Regarding Justice League NYC, Black and Bello did not see the League as being as prominent as Sharpton’s NAN, but acknowledged celebrity culture and representative politics as things to be wary of.

“Ella Baker said it best: ‘Strong people do not need strong leaders,'” Bello noted.

With respect to Al Sharpton and NAN, Black said, “I have different views on how the movement should go. Anybody or any organization that’s embracing the National Action Network, I feel it’s important for the grassroots to stay away from that.”

Founded in early 2014 by Carmen Perez, a former parole officer, the Justice League is considered an initiative of the non-profit Gathering for Justice. Many members of the Justice League, including Tamika Mallory, former executive director of Sharpton’s NAN, and Michael Skolnik, political advisor to hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, also work within the city’s nonprofit sector, which has maintained the legacy of reformism championed by middle and upper class Blacks since the NAACP was founded in New York City a century ago.Their approach generally embraces a neoliberal concept of opportunity—a world where everybody can have an equal shot at economic success—while keeping the overall economic structure more or less intact.

In the middle of the last century, an increasingly radical campaign for racial justice taking aim at international capitalism also gained prominence. This approach seeks to undermine economic exploitation by encouraging self-sufficient communities independent from the mainstream economy. In practice, it looks like the Black Panthers’ numerous community initiatives, and the sort of organizing JFAG is pursuing in East New York.

The last serious challenge to reformism arose during the 1960s and 70s, when Black working class activists affiliated with the Black Power movement, led by the Black Panthers, tussled with more moderate and affluent Blacks who aligned with groups like the NAACP. At one point, in 1967, two members of a cell called the Revolutionary Action Movement were charged with conspiracy to murder civil rights leaders working for the NAACP and another moderate group. But the fight for influence rarely got that violent, and after a while it wasn’t even much of a contest.

In the 1980s, after the Panthers and similar liberation groups mostly withered away (thanks in part to coordinated infiltration by the police and FBI) the nonprofit sector grew in size and influence due to Reagan-era budget cuts to social services. Because they rely on a mix of private funding and government contracts, nonprofits generally have to maintain cordial relationships with powerful members of the public and private spheres. That closeness can be seen in how Bill de Blasio was able to transition from his job at a nonprofit focused on improving health care in Central America to low-level aid in City Hall, the move that jump-started his political career.

In The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, Naomi Murakawa argues that liberal reforms, Democratic politicians, and the NAACP are partially to blame for today’s policing practices. She argues that “liberal law and order” laid the foundation for mass incarceration in the 21st century.

Some who are critical of the Justice League see the group as part of this pattern.

“I see this movement being empowered off the idea of ‘better police,’ ‘better laws,'” says Timothy DuWhite, a Black Lives Matter activist. “I see the overwhelming assertion for officer indictment as a direct reflection of our society’s dependence on the prison industrial complex.”

“The names we hear being chanted and lifted up in the streets are not black trans-women, are not cis black women, and are not queer identified men, these are just not the stories being told,” DuWhite said.

“We must push the movement forward past the simplicity of physical harm and murder committed by the police, and begin to talk about how poverty is a form of state-sanctioned violence. How reduced access to health care is a form of state-sanctioned violence. How reduced access to proper education is a form of state-sanctioned violence.”

(Getty Images)

After leaderless masses of protesters poured into the streets to block traffic on highways and bridges in the aftermath of the Garner and Brown grand jury decisions, the Justice League NYC began organizing actions, giving order to the spontaneity that had captured the world’s attention. The group’s first major event was a die-in and rally outside of Barclays Center during a Nets basketball game, and it continued holding similar actions in major shopping centers, as well as press conferences with councilmembers and celebrities like Nas and Russell Simmons, hours after Simmons and Jay Z met with Governor Cuomo.

Soon Justice League moved to the front of the protest line. The mix of celebrity and media exposure compounded the number of people at their events, reinforcing their growing influence in the movement.

After organizing a few events, the Justice League issued a set of 10 demands in early December. They ranged from calling for meetings with Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, to passing a law prohibiting chokeholds and a transparency-enforcing Right To Know Act.

Mallory, the executive director at NAN for four of her 14 years there before stepping down in late 2013, describes Justice League, along with its parent non-profit, Gathering for Justice, as “exist[ing] on the same principals of National Action Network.”

“There are many people in the Justice League who have connections to City Hall. I’m one of them,” Mallory told Gothamist. Harry Belafonte, who sits on the Justice League’s board, spoke at de Blasio’s inauguration, and the mayor selected Mallory to join his transition committee.

“There are perhaps maybe some folks who don’t necessarily feel that that is the right strategy,” Mallory said of working with the government. “But the bottom line is that we can protest, which we do all day, but if we don’t move legislation and actual rules and regulations, then we’ve accomplished nothing.”

The Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee led a march into Bed-Stuy in late November (Jessica Lehrman / Gothamist)

One long-time New York City activist who works at a non-profit in the city and asked to remain anonymous because they feared reprisal within the community, sees serious flaws in this strategy.

“We’re concerned that the group’s liberal politics and their ties to the mayor’s office, and for instance, someone like Linda Sarsour, with political aspirations, will prioritize being conciliatory at a time when liberal gatekeepers must be challenged and held accountable,” the activist said. “Despite their rhetoric, their actions are already interpreted as watering down progressive and human rights work in the city.”

Sarsour is a member of the Justice League and the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.

“It’s very disingenuous to say, ‘Oh the Justice League just showed up yesterday,'” Sarsour told Gothamist. “They’re making it sound like people just woke up one morning, never set foot in the movement, don’t know anyone in the movement, and all of the sudden now we’re doing work. We’ve been in the movement, we just didn’t have a name! Now we have a name.”

Sarsour pointed to the Justice League’s affiliations with the NYC Revolution Club and the Zulu Nation as proof of the group’s willingness to work with more radical elements. She also defended their use of star power.

“The way you raise the profile of an issue, is by making the issue cool and relevant in pop culture. And if people are seeing it on Twitter, if they’re seeing Russell Simmons tweeting about police brutality, and getting people involved, at the end of the day young people are going to come out for that,” Sarsour said.

“I wish that more of the celebrities, who are multi-millionaires, probably, are able to say to themselves: Wow, my communities are under attack, and I need to give back to my community. And when they come to us, and they want to be a part of something, we absolutely include them. We wish more people would come and be part of the movement.”

Mallory stressed that her group’s political connections wouldn’t compromise their willingness to challenge the status quo: “I know that the leadership of Justice League and the leadership of the Gathering for Justice are certainly of the mind set [that] we must work—not only work with City Hall, but challenge City Hall when need be about what they are or are not doing.”

Sarsour asserts that lawmakers “wouldn’t give us the time of day if they didn’t see the influence we had in our communities.”

“This is civic organizing that I’ve been doing for the past fourteen years of my life. Building civic participation of immigrant communities across the city, getting people to the polls. People watch that. Elected officials know that that’s important, and there’s some people that won’t win elections without communities of color at the polls.”

(Scott Lynch / Gothamist)

After two NYPD Legal Affairs Bureau officers were assaulted on the Brooklyn Bridge in December after a large demonstration, Mayor de Blasio met with members of the Justice League, who, the mayor said, agreed to identify anybody who “seeks to harm the police or harm anyone and undermine their non-violent peaceful progressive movement.” The mayor seemed to be positioning the Justice League as a wedge between him and more radical elements of the movement.

The Justice League issued a press release right after the meeting that did not address this assertion. Still, some members of the group began to vehemently deny the mayor’s claim on Twitter. Sarsour blamed the “corporate media,” not de Blasio, for trying to discredit and spread division between protesters. The next day, the group tweeted a statement saying they would not work with the NYPD to identify protesters.

Some have questioned why the Justice League didn’t specifically denounce the mayor after he alluded to their possible work as informants.

“If the mayor is the one that’s lying…Why don’t they call the mayor out?” said Dennis Flores, an activist with El Grito de Sunset Park. “If they don’t, it shows that they’re really trying to protect their relationship with the mayor as opposed to calling him out on lying.”

Asked to speak to this controversy, Carmen Perez told Gothamist, “We did not, and do not, get distracted from the important work we are doing, by sensationalized media reporting.”

Linda Sarsour added, “Just because we get a meeting with the mayor—excuse us! Excuse me that I got a meeting with the mayor. I apologize. I’ve built those connections. I didn’t wake up one morning and become some important person.”

(Tod Seelie / Gothamist)

After two detectives in Brooklyn were killed on December 20 by a lone gunman from Baltimore, the Justice League adopted a more conciliatory and solemn tone, holding a vigil in Harlem the day after the shootings.

In the following weeks, activists in Take Back the Bronx and related groups—including the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee, which was vilified in the press for its chants about “dead cops”—say they were the targets of coordinated police raids.

A liaison for the protesters, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation by the NYPD, told Gothamist that one activist’s relative was “roughed up” after more than a dozen police officers entered his home. Another activist said police threatened them with deportation. At least one videographer has been subpoenaed.

With the streets largely empty today, and an uneasy peace between City Hall and the police—who turned their backs to the mayor and stopped enforcing petty crimes after the assassination of the two detectives—the mayor says his biggest regret through the whole affair was “not moving quickly enough to repudiate the harsh rhetoric of protesters.”

The Justice League has continued their dialogue with high-level public officials, including a meeting with Governor Cuomo on January 20 and a closed door meeting with NYPD Police Chief James O’Neill at NAN’s headquarters on February 11.

“We are encouraged that the Governor has publicly stated his commitment to advance criminal justice reform legislation addressing urgent concerns that have been rightfully raised by communities across the country impacted by our biased justice system,” Carmen Perez said in a statement after meeting with Cuomo.

The governor later tabled the juvenile justice reforms he initially championed in order to pass an on-time budget.

(Tod Seelie / Gothamist)

“One conclusion I have made out of this whole thing is that the only person and group that seems to have emerged from this situation in better than they were before is William Bratton,” says Harry Levine, a sociologist at CUNY Queens who has written extensively on the NYPD’s racially-biased marijuana arrests. “He’s a smart cookie.”

When the rift between the mayor and the police unions was deepest, de Blasio leaned heavily on Commissioner Bratton to shore up his waning support within the NYPD. And he was careful to condemn the rank-and-file for showing their backsides to the mayor without meting out any real consequences for their insolence, keeping him mostly in the favor of officers.

Bratton has also held the tacit approval of the Justice League. Perez told the New York Review of Books that she “looked favorably upon some of Bratton’s statements about improving community relations.” And although there is no indication that Justice League has personally met with the commissioner, Chief O’Neil is the second highest ranking official within the NYPD, and has been a close ally of Bratton’s since the early 1990s.

So intact is the commissioner’s political standing despite weeks of demonstrations, he casually announced that the NYPD had a new machine gun-toting unit to deal “with events like our recent protests” (the NYPD clarified that protests would be handled by officers without automatic weapons). More recently, Bratton visited lawmakers in Albany to request a bill that would make resisting arrest a felony, an alarming proposal, considering that 72 percent of all resisting arrest charges are brought by 15 percent of all uniformed officers.

Like other groups, Justice League supports an end to Broken Windows policing, the strategy of cracking down on minor offenses that many say contributed to Eric Garner’s death. Tamika Mallory, the Justice League boardmember, told Gothamist that she personally opposes Bratton, the staunchest defender of Broken Windows.

“Being in the position that he’s in, as the top cop in New York City, tells us that [Bratton] is not the right choice for police commissioner. The mayor ought to reconsider having Commissioner Bratton in position.” Still, the recommendation to remove Bratton as NYPD commissioner didn’t make it on to the group’s 10 demands in December.

Asked about the group’s stance on Bratton, Perez said Justice League is “not interested in human resources,” but added, “Broken Windows is just stop and frisk with another name.”

To Nicholas Heyward, who has organized against NYPD violence over the last 20 years since his 13-year-old son was shot and killed by a police officer in 1994, the man is inseparable from the theory, a sentiment shared widely by activists and protesters. “I think Bratton’s a racist, and his Broken Windows theory targets minority people,” he told Gothamist. “Bratton has to go.”

Josmar Trujillo of New Yorkers Against Bratton began protesting the commissioner before he was even appointed. When Bratton showed up at a City Council hearing last month to ask for 1,000 more officers, Trujillo’s group shouted down the testimony; one woman was arrested, and the chambers were cleared.

“We learned a lot in the last year about the non-profit industrial complex in this fight with Bratton and de Blasio,” Trujillo says. “Ferguson…showed they didn’t need the celebrities or academics to fuel a movement. Somehow, though, that message hasn’t gotten through here in New York just yet. What can the Russell Simmons of the world, all buddy-buddy with the Democrats selling us out, provide other than another token seat at the table?”

Trujillo added, “If people are serious about liberation then tables of power need to be flipped this time around.”

(Jessica Lehrman / Gothamist)

On April 13, Justice League plans to march 250 miles from New York to Washington D.C., with stops in Newark, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore.

Their stated goal is to urge Congress to act on legislation regarding racial profiling and police demilitarization.

“I’m not going to show up to Washington, D.C. and mobilize thousands of people to meet us there after marching 250 miles and then just scream on the lawn and talk about our pain,” Linda Sarsour says. “We know what the problem is. We need to make sure that the people in power, who have the influence and the authority to change the things we want to be changed, they need to know what’s coming.”

Sarsour said that for politicians, the choice is simple: “You’re either going to welcome us, and welcome our movement, or you’re going to become the opposition.”

If the Justice League is operating by representative politics, some people haven’t asked to be represented. Zora, 23, performs anti-repression organizing with Can’t Touch This NYC. She accused the group of “shucking and jiving for these politicians.”

None of the smaller organizations interviewed for this article have plans to participate in the march, nor does Zora.

“They’re trying to establish themselves as leaders for a movement when the movement doesn’t need leaders.”



[Raven Rakia is a journalist & writer. She has bylines in The Nation,, Truth-Out, VICE/VICE News, Dazed Digital, and more. Aaron Miguel Cantú is an investigative journalist and researcher in Brooklyn.]

Life in the Celebrity Circuit

A Culture of Imbeciles

March 11, 2015

“Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, funding artists, intellectuals and filmmakers, gently luring them away from radical confrontation.”~ Arundhati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story


Vogue Klein

The American aristocracy has long fostered activist charades as a prophylactic against democracy, but the wholesale choreography of fossil-fueled puppets is unprecedented. Arundhati Roy’s blurb on the cover of This Changes Everything is thus particularly disturbing.


I wonder what kind of incentive was provided to Roy. What we know is that Arundhati is bright enough to comprehend Naomi Klein’s fraud, and that her name on the cover of Klein’s book functions as a shield for Naomi, and increases her prestige among the 350 cult.

Roy already has significant prestige herself, so the question is why she would publicly support a vapid sell-out who is undermining what Roy purportedly stands for. Was it bribery, extortion, or a misguided sense that Klein’s Wall Street-funded revolution could be hijacked by socialists? It doesn’t make sense.