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WKOG Op-Ed | Keystone XL: The Specter of Truth

WKOG Op-Ed

November 8, 2015

by Forrest Palmer and Cory Morningstar

 

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In 1865, the Civil War ended. The narrative at that time was that the Civil War was fought and won by the North for the preservation of the Union. Revisionist historians the past few decades have concluded that in hindsight, it wasn’t about preservation of the Union, but the destruction of slavery in a false account that it was done to somehow save the Africans who were being used as free labor during that period. With all that being said, any impartial opinion that takes into account the past history and present circumstances of the post-Civil War period must come to the conclusion that the Civil War was fought to end slavery, but not to save the victims of that scourge of humanity. It was fought to shift the power base of the country to the banking and manufacturing North instead of residing in the agrarian, staple crop South. This is shown in the fact that all the slaves in the South were worth more monetarily than everything else in the country, be it the land, textile industries, buildings, et. al. This in and of itself meant that economic power resided in the South. This was problematic for the North in regards to which region held sway over the other economically, the ONLY thing of importance in a capitalist system.

In regards to the victims belief in this revisionist history, this cultural lie has framed the modern day mindset of black people into thinking that their freedom was ultimately attained due to some benevolent factors in the North (regionally) and federal government (institutionally). Most believe that these were not only the primary reasons, but the only reasons. Systemically, this is indoctrinated into young black minds at the school level through Western education, whereby most black people have been trained to reflexively think that the Civil War was fought to specifically set them free for moral reasons. And since the end of the Civil War, black people in Amerikkka have looked at all the efforts of the civil rights movement as the SOLE answer as to why they have been able to gain some social successes in the country. Hence, the misguided belief is that black Amerikkkans will only get results by way of how much pressure is put on the powers that be through marching, protesting, voting and the like.

Now, the delusion of black people when it comes to the causes of why they have achieved societal gains resides in the faith that it was just their personal organizational efforts, protests and white beneficence. This isn’t the case since there were many SUPERSEDING things that allowed the black community to make gains, such as the fear by the state that black people would collectively become anti-capitalist and align with socialist and communist structures both internal and external to the United States and the need of the country’s leaders to portray the U.S. as a world leader on human rights to both its enemies during the Cold War and its allies in the Western world. (It doesn’t look good when the leaders of the “free world” are at a conference and on the front page of an international newspaper, there are a bunch of white Amerikkkans standing around a hanging black body that has been burned to a crisp with his genitalia cutoff). But, when you look at the levels of poverty, incarceration, discrimination and everyday vagaries of survival in Amerikkka presently, the improvements made by black people have been miniscule at best in most areas and have reverted back to how they were during previous decades in many instances.

This topic of conversation is germane to the Keystone XL issue in that this type of delusion as to the exact causes of its rejection by Barry will disallow the environmental movement from dealing with the present circumstances of its ultimate INSIGNIFICANCE and the future obstacles that will have to be broached in order to reach the ultimate goal (whatever that is, since the ultimate goal in the Western environmental movement has never been detailed to any great degree since it ranges from a faux “green” capitalist economy to the total dismantling of industrial civilization, which leaves a lot of room in between). This current myopia is entirely reminiscent of the delusion present in the Amerikkkan black community in regards to the walk towards an ersatz freedom all these countless years. In terms of the environmental movement, it is this lack of concrete ideals amongst the protesters that has allowed disparate personalities and causes to claim “victory” for Barry (Obama) rejecting the permit for TransCanada. As people have touted this rejection as showing that these people with diverse interests have been able to come together and accomplish a common good, all it will take is many of the people whose self interests are no longer being affected to turn against those who see this as a global issue when their self interest are no longer involved. Hence, many allies today will quickly turn into enemies tomorrow once those who understand the gravity of our situation step out of the bounds administered by those who don’t question the system, but only momentarily take issue with its effect and control in terms of their personal self-interests. Truthfully, it will be the ones who are today judging this in its most stark and honest terms who will be the ones that will stand in solidarity with the same people who are today congregating with those who will one day be their enemies in the mainstream environmental movement. Regarding the most servile response by the people in the mainstream, the fact that people are in celebration because of one measly pipeline when Barry himself said that he and his administration “added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some”, is beyond astounding.

In looking at all these various issues, if the people at the grassroots level are not willing to be honest about the truth, such as the other outside factors that have had MORE INFLUENCE on whatever freedoms black people have today and, in comparison, the facts as to why this one pipeline was rejected that don’t reside in mass mobilization at the grassroots level, then how can people actually affect change? The removal of the obstacles will never be achieved unless the masses are at least willing to be honest. In relation to the Amerikkkan civil rights movement, this mindset has been the major impediment to black people making measurable gains in this country. As black people have become more patriotic and less of a threat to ally themselves with any internal and external groups who don’t want to continue “business as usual”, it is no mistake that things such as mass black unemployment and incarceration levels have exploded in the Amerikkkan black community. And although this is anathema to most black people in Amerikkka, the inability to accept these truths as fact is probably the greatest impediment to actually making strides towards liberation, physical and, even more importantly, mental in nature. This comparable anathema is wholly present in the response by the mainstream environmental movement to anyone who questions the importance of the Keystone XL project’s rejection.

In terms of ongoing pipeline proliferation, if there was a carefully orchestrated plan to shut down ALL pipelines and go to a ZERO CARBON emissions lifestyle and this was the beginning of this long and arduous task, akin to laying the first spike down in the transcontinental railroad, then there would be reason to celebrate. However, other than momentarily affecting the balance sheet of a handful of multinational corporations with the Keystone XL rejection, this has been and will be an irrelevant non-starter to dealing with the literally suffocating problem of carbon emissions and capitalism’s reliance upon said emissions. But, as Barry’s act is being portrayed as being due to the efforts of those at the grassroots level, all evidence points to this being anything but the case. The grassroots just benefited from the actions of Barry (to only a very miniscule, microscopic degree, I might add). In summary, the raw truth is that Barry’s actions weren’t a byproduct of pressure, but of political expediency.

Honestly though, the same people who will look at this commentary as sacrilege in telling the truth about the Civil War or the lack of primacy when it came to the civil rights movement in establishing inroads to white supremacy are the same ones who will take the truth tellers to task for being honest about Keystone XL on this day. But as you look at the plight of black people in Amerikkka today, who are existing in as miserable conditions as they did at any given time during the post Civil War era, the attempt to live a lie has a had a deleterious effect on society as a whole, which is a harbinger of the outcome of this ultimately insignificant action by Barry and how it is being promoted by the mainstream environmental movement.

In that same vein, to act like this is a victory of some sort gives the impression to the masses that the fight is won while there is not a shred of credible evidence to prove this as being a fact. In all the congratulatory talk about the pipeline, there is no discussion of how this will have no real effect as to the present carbon emissions issue where it will only slow down our runaway environmental issue globally to a small degree, at best. The reason this discussion isn’t present is that this would be seen for exactly what it is: a hollow victory.

And to compare an individual in the civil rights movement to those who are willing to tell the truth about this current event regarding the environment, after the hallowed Martin Luther King Jr. turned from just talking about civil rights for black people and delved into capitalism, Western militarism and poverty during the last couple of years of his life, he became a pariah to those on the right and left, white AND BLACK. But once again, revisionist history will not tell you this since it is much more palatable to pawn King to the masses as someone who was beloved throughout his life in the guise of obsequious obedience to the social order illustrated in his adherence to non-violent principles. In the hands of the power structure, this is used as a euphemism to inculcate people into allowing themselves to be walked over and feel bad about responding “by any means necessary” as a justifiable reaction by any unprejudiced measure, to use a phrase coined by the great Malcolm X.

So, as that is the case, all of the people berating the ones who are shining a light on how this Keystone XL decision is not a victory in any way, shape or form are in direct alignment ideologically with the ones who castigated King during his last years on this Earth because he was willing to speak the truth no matter how uncomfortable it made the people who he was ultimately trying to help. Since that is the case, I think it is time to ask the same people today whose side they are truly on. Because if people aren’t willing to disprove the statements by the individuals who are critiquing this in as honest way as possible, then the responders are being disingenuous at best and are enemies posing as allies at worst. I think we are learning that many are the latter and not the former.

Ultimately, the single pipeline that was stopped MOMENTARILY by stroke of Barry’s pen is akin to a single slave running away from a plantation in the Deep South. And although we like to culturally aggrandize the singular stories of certain slaves that were able to escape from Amerikkkan slavery, like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, the TRUTH is that less than 1% of slaves were able to make the arduous journey from enslavement to freedom during the legal slavery on these shores. Hence, the past celebration and present commemoration of singular successful slave attempts at freedom while millions of other lived in the worst conditions possible is beyond dishonest. In the same way, to celebrate this individual event of Keystone XL is beyond shortsighted. It is time to stop celebrating the individual battles when we are losing the war by any unbiased opinion. And for those who are concerned with the truth, it is time to start talking about winning the war and not be satisfied with useless, facile individual battles and their interpretative victories.

Summarily, if you can’t talk honestly about the problem, then how can you ever come up with a solution?

 

 

Beyond MLK

The New Inquiry

January 20, 2015

By Lorenzo Raymond

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“Basically your ministers are not people who go in for decisions on the part of people, I don’t know whether you realize it or not…they had been looked upon as saviors.” – Ella Baker

“King was assigned to us by the white power structure, and we took him.” – John Alfred Willams

LBJ and the repressionThe legend of Martin Luther King Jr. looms larger than usual this winter, even though it’s every January that we celebrate his birthday. One reason, obviously, is that there‘s a new Hollywood film out about him, which, while snubbed by the Oscars, has been embraced at the White House. The other reason is that the wave of black resistance sweeping the country today is often characterized as “a new civil rights movement,” and King—we are told—was the supreme leader of the civil rights movement.

However unfair the Oscar snub (whatever its faults, the film is a hell of a lot better, both historically and cinematically, than American Sniper) the most interesting argument so far about Ava DuVernay’s Selma remains the controversy over the relationship between King and President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Former LBJ advisor Joseph Califano has publicly argued that King and Johnson were not at odds during the Selma campaign as the movie depicts, but that the African-American leader followed Johnson’s encouragement to nonviolently dramatize the obstacles that blacks had to voting in the South. The filmmaker shot back that this was “offensive to SNCC, SCLC and black citizens who made it so.” (the acronyms refer to civil rights organizations the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, respectively). But Califano’s assertion has gained traction because there‘s more than a grain of truth in it.

“King: And it’s very interesting, Mr. President, to notice that the only states that you didn’t carry in the South, the five Southern states, have less than 40 percent of the Negroes registered to vote. It’s very interesting to notice. And I think a professor at the University of Texas, in a recent article, brought this out very clearly. So it demonstrates that it’s so important to get Negroes registered to vote in large numbers in the South.” – Johnson Conversation with Martin Luther King on Jan 15, 1965, tape WH6501.04DuVernay distorts the record here in order to avoid one of the great problems of Martin Luther King’s career: his compromised position in relation to the white power structure. Califano may have jumped the shark when he wrote that “Selma was LBJ’s idea” but he hinted at a deeper truth—that the whole idea of Martin Luther King as “the Moses of his people” was largely established and maintained by members of the white elite. In January 1957, when King had only been an activist for a year and a half, he was contacted by Clare Booth Luce, conservative mogul of the Time-Life empire, and offered a cover story. According to King biographer Taylor Branch, Luce rescued King from a state of “helplessness”. In the aftermath of the famous bus boycott and its apparent victory, the City of Montgomery had shut down all bus lines after the Ku Klux Klan began shooting at black passengers, and commenced to enact a whole new wave of segregation laws—an early manifestation of the Dixiecrats’ “Massive Resistance” campaign which blocked King’s nonviolent movement throughout the late fifties. Luce, who was also US Ambassador to Italy, was explicit that she wanted to show off King to a skeptical global public who doubted that there was hope for racial equality in America. The Time article, meanwhile, was explicit that what it liked most about King was his pacifism and moderation; The reverend was “no radical,” they gushed: “he avoids the excesses of radicalism.” MLK’s first visit to the White House took place later that year. In its aftermath, King’s host, Vice-President Richard Nixon, approvingly told President Eisenhower that Dr. King was “not a man who believes in violent and retaliatory pro-Negro actions.” As King’s friend, the black journalist Louis Lomax once acknowledged, “certain white men and events would make the choice for King to become as famous as he did.”

Nelson Rockefeller’s support for MLK, Rockefeller’s work with Kissinger and the Missile Gap. See alsoThe American Right has become notorious in recent years for mythologizing King as a one-dimensional conservative. But it won’t do for the Left to offer up their own whitewash, painting him as a lifelong opponent of the ruling class when he was anything but. Before the fifties were over, Nelson Rockefeller emerged as one of MLK’s primary sponsors. Rockefeller is often depicted as a progressive, but his major project of the time was escalating the Cold War by promoting the fiction of a “missile gap” between the US and the Soviet Union. His principle agent for spreading this hysteria was a Harvard political scientist named Henry Kissinger. Nelson Rockefeller’s support for MLK, Rockefeller’s work with Kissinger and the Missile Gap. See also It tells us a great deal about the hegemony of elite money over both the respectable Left and the respectable Right that Dr. King and Dr. Kissinger had the same benefactor. As Timothy Tyson demonstrated in his classic book Radio Free Dixie, Rockefeller and King worked in concert to suppress the radical but popular North Carolina leader Robert F. Williams, who advocated for armed self-defense against the KKK. King once claimed that Governor Rockefeller had ‘‘a real grasp and understanding of what the Negro revolution is all about, and a commitment to its goals,’’ but given that Rockefeller would go on to order the worst state massacre of African-Americans in US history at Attica (“a beautiful operation” Rockefeller told Richard Nixon later), and to create some of the most racist drug laws in the country, this was not one of King’s wiser political insights.

Clayborne Carson on MLK’s reluctance toward civil disobedience.The truth is that King’s turn to radicalism was hard won. “In some ways,” Michael Eric Dyson has written, “King’s change was even more startling and consequential than Malcolm X’s…what is little appreciated is how…an element of Malcolm’s thinking got its hooks into King.” Pre-1965, King was a public supporter of US foreign policy and capitalism who preferred to rely on traditional political maneuvers, even as he supposedly represented a movement built on direct action (King scholar Clayborne Carson notes that the reverend did not initiate the bus boycott, the sit-ins, or the Freedom Rides, and only participated in them reluctantly). Clayborne Carson on MLK’s reluctance toward civil disobedience Post-1965, King gradually evolved into a relentless public opponent of American imperialism and avarice who was prepared to personally defy federal injunctions.

“…his antiwar activity was motivated as much by moral and political pressure from key black colleagues as by conscience and commitment to nonviolence…” -Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There With You, p.51-56How did this come about? Principally through the pressure put on King by militant activists associated with SNCC. When SNCC demanded an unconditional withdrawal from Vietnam in January 1966, King suggested a conditional ceasefire—but came around to SNCC’s position a few months later. When SNCC began calling for the election of black officials who were independent of the Democratic Party, King called for the election of more blacks within the Party—but the following year considered an independent campaign himself. “…his antiwar activity was motivated as much by moral and political pressure from key black colleagues as by conscience and commitment to nonviolence…” -Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There With You, p.51-56 When SNCC declared the ghettos were internal colonies that should be granted community control, King rejected this and began campaigning for open housing in white neighborhoods to thin out the ghetto—but then came around to publicly considering “[self-] segregation as a temporary way-station to a truly integrated society.”

LBJ conversation with King, August 20, 1965, Tape WH6508.07Leftists often laud King this time of year for his anti-imperialist statements, epitomized in the classic 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam”. But a conversation with LBJ illustrates King’s agonizing reluctance on this cause prior to SNCC’s pressure. By 1965, two American pacifists, Alice Herz and Norman Morrison, had already perished setting themselves on fire to protest the war, yet King’s criticism of US aggression in Vietnam remained, in Michael Dyson’s words “a modest proposal” for negotiated settlement. Talking privately with Johnson, King seemed apologetic even for that. In an August 1965 phone call, LBJ pleads the victim (“…if they’ll quit tearing up our roads and our highways and quit taking over our camps and bombing our planes and destroying them, well, we’ll quit the next day…”) and then the Domino Theory (“If I pulled out… I think that we’d immediately trigger a situation in Thailand that would be just as bad as it is in Vietnam. I think we’d be right back to the Philippines with problems. I think the Germans would be scared to death…”) King responds with praise for “the breadth of your concern” in Vietnam which “represents true leadership and true greatness.”LBJ conversation with King, August 20, 1965, Tape WH6508.07 Lobbying is a dirty job. Dyson notes that this “vicious double-bind effectively silenced King’s opposition to the war” during its first wave of escalation.

Ultimately, King embodied a kind of neutral zone that the power structure and the radical grassroots kept trying to push toward their respective goalposts. He once acknowledged that “I have to be militant enough to satisfy the militant, yet I have to keep enough discipline in the movement to satisfy white supporters,” and even admitted at the end of his life that the entire “black church has often been a tail-light rather than a headlight” in the movement. Selma builds up MLK as a decisive leader and strategist, but he was more often a follower and a figurehead.

Although DuVernay claims to defend the honor of the SNCC militants, it is she who paints an offensive portrait of them. When SNCC leader James Forman criticizes King’s media grandstanding and dependence on whites in the film, it’s portrayed as the competitive chest-thumping of a bitter young upstart . Yet in reality, the first person to raise this critique wasn’t some insecure man-child, but an experienced black woman who’d been organizing her people since King was in diapers. Ella Baker was a veteran NAACP organizer who mentored Rosa Parks, and went on to work under MLK in the late fifties. She found him to be an out-of-touch narcissist who was more interested in promoting his book than promoting voter registration. When she left to help found SNCC in 1960, she warned the students about the phenomenon of the “charismatic leader…It usually means the media made him, and the media may undo him…such a person gets to the point of believing that he is the movement.” Militant deviation from King also arose from SNCC leader Gloria Richardson, another mature woman with a grassroots constituency. King originally refused to aid her working-class chapter in Cambridge, Maryland unless he was paid $3000 for speaking, but later invited himself to town after rioting broke out in 1963. Richardson told him that her campaign was going fine (it turned out to be one of the most successful of the period) and that him and his aristocratic style were obsolete in Cambridge.

In 1966 Alabama elections, John Lewis did not support the independent primary of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization with the rest of SNCC, instead joining King in campaigning for Democrat candidate Richmond Flowers. He also refused to join the SNCC boycott of meetings with LBJ. Both were major factors in his being deposed from his Chair. (Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 460-467)That isn’t to say that men like James Forman were never incendiary, just that they were fired-up with a purpose. After King made a secret agreement with the White House on March 9 to halt the second Selma march (which the foremost historian of the campaign, Gary May, calls “King’s lowest moment as a leader”) Forman led students in a uncompromising sister campaign at Montgomery that broke away from nonviolence, and declared that “If we can’t sit at the table of democracy, we’ll knock the fucking legs off!” This was a risky move given that black riots had swept the Northeast the previous summer, and an armed civil rights militia, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, was beginning to sweep the South. But it was only at this point that Lyndon Johnson introduced the voting rights bill to Congress and sent federal troops to Alabama to intervene between police and protesters. Needless to say, King’s backroom deal and Forman’s bold leadership aren’t included in the movie. (Another SNCC leader, John Lewis, is depicted favorably in the film, but only because he’s a loyalist to King and LBJ. In 1966, he would lose his chair in SNCC due to his devotion to the Democratic Party, a loyalty which has since served him well in his 30 year Congressional career.) In 1966 Alabama elections, John Lewis did not support the independent primary of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization with the rest of SNCC, instead joining King in campaigning for Democrat candidate Richmond Flowers. He also refused to join the SNCC boycott of meetings with LBJ. Both were major factors in his being deposed from his Chair. (Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 460-467)

These historical distortions aren’t just academic: they affect how we view militancy and moderation today. If activists and supporters aren’t aware of the contribution that rowdy non-nonviolent marches made to the campaign, they might instead chalk it up to King’s horse-trading, and thus submit to elite calls for tighter leadership and a cooling-off period—a course that would undermine the crucial momentum of the movement. (Selma producer Oprah Winfrey has said it’s precisely her intention to divert protesters into King’s “strategic” model.) If they come to associate the archetype of the well-funded, well-connected leader with strategic wisdom, they may find themselves embracing the next faux messianic figure who emerges to channel revolutionary energies into reformism, despite the fact that decades of liberal church leadership have brought real losses to the black community, including rollback of the Voting Rights Act.

Claims that Selma’s success somehow breaks the mold of Hollywood depictions of black struggle are dubious at best. That the filmmakers are women of color doesn’t change the fact that the film is fundamentally a King biopic that entrenches the Great Man theory of history. Meanwhile, commenters have noted that the most memorable sequences of the film feature white racists brutalizing helpless black bodies. “History as a horror movie” wrote The Washington Post approvingly, going on to compare the film to 12 Years a Slave. As Azealia Banks said in her trenchant, courageous interview about racism last month, “It’s really upsetting…that they’re still making movies like 12 Years a Slave. I don’t want to see no more fucking white people whipping black people in movies.”

The post-Ferguson movement is making 21st century history with its overall refusal of accommodation and martyrdom. Yet the historical narrative Selma reproduces threatens to paper over the necessary divisions among today’s protesters with a romanticized view of a “black united front” that never quite was. Lecturing the young militants, one liberal leader recently claimed that for all their “different ideas,” King and SNCC ultimately “came together to dialogue.” She doesn’t mention that this dialogue usually began with the moderate leader apologizing for “the betrayal of my own silences” (to use King’s words in “Beyond Vietnam”). Al Sharpton has been called out by activists repeatedly for his riot-shaming and victim-blaming, yet rather than apologizing, the great patriarch has tried to bad-jacket them as “provocateurs.” But the street kids made this movement. If any false messiah tries to push them away from the table, they should borrow a page from SNCC, and knock the fucking legs off.

 

 

[Lorenzo Raymond is an independent historian and educator living in New York City.]