In the aftermath of the Arizona shooting, where six people were killed and thirteen injured, including Tucson representative Gabrielle Giffords, there have been numerous calls for more civility in the political discourse of the country.
Forces from the left and right have blamed each other, with the lack of civility getting blamed for the shooting, or it is said that it contributed to the violence. The Republicans in control of the House postponed a vote on repealing the healthcare law, anticipating an "uncivil" debate. President Barack Obama, speaking at the memorial service in Arizona said, "Let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy — it did not — but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make [those killed] proud."
One way or another, the tone of American politics is a main topic of discussion.
The entire discourse is diversionary because what political discourse are we talking about? Both at home and abroad, violence has become the weapon of choice to deal with economic, political, social and cultural problems. Carrying out regime change, the drone massacres of civilians and targeted assassinations are not examples of sorting out problems on the basis of civil political discourse. Political solutions are necessary for there to be civility.
Will more civil discourse change the fact that in Arizona the violence of the border death wall is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of workers, women and children, of killings of unarmed civilians by the Border Patrol, all backed up by 1200 National Guards? Violence, not politics, is the weapon of choice.
The discourse about the need for civility is part of the disinformation of those in power and their monopoly media. It serves to divert attention from the fact that violence has become the weapon of choice to deal with economic, political, social and cultural problems and to eliminate discourse. It blocks the necessity for political discourse by the people themselves for purposes of defending their interests. Instead, the diversion of more civility is promoted. The working class and people are supposed to line themselves up pro or con civility or pro or con the Tea Party and/or Obama. All of this conceals the substance of the contradictions within the U.S. ruling circles and the serious danger of civil war. So long as violence is the weapon of choice of both sides and there is an absence of the independent politics of the working class, no prospects are provided for averting this danger.
Political solutions, political discourse, even the meaning of the word politics are all eliminated. The working people are left with the impression that politics are conducted with the violent, racist language of those in power, with something that we are better off without.
Politics is the plural of the word politic and it refers to the activities going on in the body politic. Body politic is the name given to the modern political society in which everyone has the right to participate in taking the decisions that affect their lives.
The nature of the body politic is governed by the nature of the political process. In the U.S., the modern body politic came into being as the rule of white men of property. This was the rule of propertied interests with the state as their instrument. For the rulers, the civil war was fought between those who wanted to remain slave-owners and those who wanted the economy to be based on wage-slavery instead. Today, the ruling elite continues to fight over the direction of the U.S. and the political process remains in their hands. It resorts to violence, including assassinations and threats of assassination, to sort out the contradictions in its own ranks. This is a civil war scenario within the ranks of the ruling class. It is also to prohibit the creation of public opinion — the scenario of civil death for all those Americans who refuse to swear allegiance to what are called American values. Its aim is to prohibit the creation of the people's political movement for empowerment.
Within this, the role of the president is to unite America and avert civil war, which is why Obama keeps quoting Lincoln. But so long as violence is also his weapon of choice, the choice is not between Obama and the Tea Party or the Democrats and Republicans. All these factions of the ruling class ensure a process where one or the other war party, or both, remain in power and the people remain out of power.
The choice is between all that is old, including factional civil war politics and the interests of the elites which continue to hold privilege and power, and the new which must be based on anti-imperialism and the rejection of the use of force to sort out economic, political, social and cultural problems both at home and abroad.
The U.S. ruling class wages class struggle to preserve its imperialist system and class rule while ensuring the working class does not wage class struggle in its own interests. The discourse, which claims that the problem in the U.S is to change the tone of political discourse, is a diversion to keep the working class from intervening in the political arena in a manner that favors its own interests and those of the American people and the peoples of the world. It is a means to eliminate politics in the interests of the working class and peoples of the world.
This is a very serious problem. More civility in the realm of the politics of the ruling elite will not resolve the contradictions within its ranks. It is beyond their reach because they are no longer interested in a civil society and the renewal of political mechanisms to resolve disputes calmly.
The solution can be found in stepping up the work for politics of empowerment -- for a political process that empowers the people themselves to govern and decide. A new and modern democracy of our own making is needed. What will it look like? How will it be constituted so as to provide for the rights of all, including the right to govern and decide? Waging the struggle for political empowerment of the people, including focusing political discourse on this necessity, is the way forward.
(Kathleen Chandler is General Secretary of the U.S. Marxist-Leninist Organization)
We reprint below a recent interview with Sandra L. Smith, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), from The Marxist Leninist Daily (TML), available at cpcml.ca.
* * *
TML: The New Year opened in the U.S. with the January 8 shooting in Tucson, Arizona of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. New agencies were saying that the shooter is likely mentally ill. Despite knowing who carried out the shooting, the airwaves in the U.S. are filled with talk about who is to blame for the shooting — the so-called left-wing blaming the right-wing and vice-versa. We are told there is a problem with the tone of American political discourse and that this contributes to such senseless acts, and so forth. What is your opinion?
Sandra L. Smith: Two things immediately come to mind. The first is that if this targeted assassination is the act of a mentally-ill individual, then when the U.S. carries out such acts all over the world, does it also mean the U.S. is mentally-ill? If that is the case, how can one provide a raison d'état for the U.S.? And why is Canada joining it?
The second is that what is called political discourse in the United States is not political. Its aim is not to inform the polity but to disinform the polity. It is thus the other side of the same coin, which considers targeted assassinations and violence as options. The U.S. has adopted the practice of carrying out the assassination of its enemies, of those it sees as interfering with its aims and interests and this includes "regime change." This is not new in the sense that through its covert agencies it has been doing this for a very long time. It was a covert operation in its Cold War against communism and led to the criminal dirty wars in many countries. All of it was to eliminate the political opposition, carry out coups d'état, establish military dictatorships, etc. Countless crimes against humanity have been committed by the U.S. and its henchmen in various parts of the world. But since the early nineties, using violence to effect regime change has become the U.S.'s weapon of choice. It started by providing justifications such as eliminating the danger of weapons of mass destruction, hunting for Al-Qaeda, eliminating the danger of terrorism.... Once the unfolding events totally discredited these justifications, it brazenly carries out its attacks in the name of U.S. interests. We are to presume that if it serves to protect the national security of the United States, it will preserve the national security of any country and anyone who is not also an enemy of everything the U.S. ruling class says is worthy of protection. The logic is that "You are either with us, or with the terrorists and if you are with the terrorists then you deserve to be annihilated."
It is also to make sure politics are not used to sort out differences of opinion or interests. Besides using force to effect regime changes abroad, U.S. administrations in the name of defending U.S. national security have also endorsed the practice of assassinations. So when U.S. citizens, whether mentally ill or not mentally ill carry out such things, then the rulers do not want to look in the mirror and see themselves reflected there. They do not want to face the consequences of their actions. Such things are done in the first place to make sure no political movement of the people can be formed, that no political opposition can coalesce. Then the disinformation about them serves the same purpose.
In this regard, what goes for political discourse in the U.S., especially the calls of the usurpers represented by the likes of Sarah Palin for the physical elimination of their rivals is a straightforward civil war scenario. These calls are countered with calls for unity, union, civility, One Nation politics, one America. This is the job of the Presidency — to make sure civil war does not take place. This is why Obama pushes what is called bipartisanship, centrism, one-nation politics, one America. In U.S. history, failure to protect the union would mean a civil war in the United States between factions of the ruling class all over again. Does this mean one faction stands for violence and the other does not? No. Both sides advocate violence and use disinformation to smash the creation of public opinion, the formation of any political movement of the people.
TML: What then should the American people do?
SLS: The American working class must intervene with its own independent politics to develop a movement for political renewal. The American people are historically progressive, generous, courageous. Today they have to work out for themselves how to intervene so as to end the use of violence to smash the creation of public opinion. This cannot be done by siding with Obama against the Tea Party or with imperialist calls for sovereignty, etc. Solid anti-imperialist and proletarian internationalist stands must be taken. In my opinion what is taking place in the U.S., and Canada as well for that matter, should be taken up seriously. We are seeing dangerous developments emerge as a result of the failure of the political institutions to sort out the different interests on a political basis. Look at the kind of violence we saw in Canada as well at the G20 protests and the decisions vis-à-vis security certificates and Harper's law and order agenda. The use of the state to crush the formation of political opinion is an alarming development.
Support Ohio Prisoners’ Hunger Strike
Four prisoners at the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary, located in Youngstown, Ohio, started a “rolling” hunger strike January 3. The strike is to protest the torture being inflicted on the prisoners, including being locked down in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day, since 1998 — 13 years. All four were subject to the revenge of the unjust and racist U.S. prison system for leading a rebellion at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio in 1993. Because these prisoners organized for rights and were negotiators for all the prisoners, they were singled out by the state and convicted on the basis of false testimony.
Their strike is demanding an end to the inhuman and unjust conditions they face and for more humane conditions for all. As Bomani Hondo Shakur, one of the strikers put it, the strike is “to express the deep disdain” of the prisoners for their unjust situation and their refusal to “lend legitimacy to a process that is both fraudulent and vindictive.” All four face the death penalty for their resistance.
Bomani Shakur (convicted as Keith LaMar) was the first to refuse food. On January 6, Iman Siddique Abdullah Hasan joined the hunger strike. Imam Hasan, a leader of the Sunni Muslims during the 1993 rebellion, was one of several negotiators for the prisoners. Jason Robb joined in refusing meals on January 9. Robb, a leader of the Aryan Brotherhood, was also a negotiator during the 1993 uprising. Finally, Namir Abdul Mateen (aka James Were) will join the hunger strike to the extent that his health permits.
The united stand of the prisoners, like that recently demonstrated by the prisoner strike in Georgia, is striking fear in the hearts of prison officials. It is this same stand that the state has tried to smash using torture, death sentences and other means. But the prisoners will not submit.
These four prisoners are also known for their hunger strike together in 1996 with George Skatzes, the fifth prisoner to receive the death penalty following the Lucasville uprising. This hunger strike achieved its aim: Skatzes was transferred out of OSP for medical reasons.
The torture imposed on the four prisoners is revenge for their persistent organizing efforts. They have been deliberately kept at the most restrictive security level, Level 5, since they were brought to OSP, in spite of good behavior and cooperation with prison programs. During one of the annual reviews, prison authorities stated in writing, “ … your placement offense is so severe that you should remain at the OSP permanently or for many years regardless of your behavior while confined at the OSP.”
Their solitary confinement is conducted in such a way as to ensure no contact with other prisoners even during showering and “recreation.” The doors to their cells are sealed to prevent sound transmission. During visits, they are shackled even while confined within a booth, separated from their visitor by bulletproof glass, while other death-row prisoners can have contact with their visitors through an opening in the glass. Other death-row prisoners have also been transferred out of the supermax prison or have had their security level relaxed. The four strikers are the only prisoners kept for so long at the maximum security level.
The five were singled out originally as leaders and blamed for the death of one guard during the Lucasville rebellion. They were also targeted for negotiating a peaceful settlement preventing a potential massacre by prison officials. All five were convicted in the guard’s death, and themselves sentenced to death. Attorney Staughton Lynd has provided proof that these convictions relied almost exclusively on witnesses who perjured themselves in exchange for reduced sentences. This is confirmed by the fact that key witnesses have recanted their testimony against the strikers. Despite the evidence, prison officials continue to keep the four on 23-hour lockdown and the courts refuse to grant new trials.
Lawyers and supporters rallying around the strikers are demanding an end to the torture and that the convictions be overturned and new trials granted. Supporters of the hunger strikers will gather at the gates of OSP, in Youngstown, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, January 15, for a rally and press conference. There will be reports on the status of the hunger strikers, statements from the prisoners and solidarity messages from across the country and around the world.
As the strike entered its second week support is poured in from around the country and worldwide. Bomani Shakur reported, “So much energy is coming in from all over. I’m just trying to hang on and ride the wave.” People sent emails, participating in the facebook page and posting materials about the strike on numerous webpages. Organizers report the support is growing, with Detroit, Columbus and Philadelphia planning to bring carloads of people to the rally, and calls from Los Angeles, Denver and Washington, D.C. offering support. A letter of support to be given to OSP prison officials has been signed by people across Ohio as well as people from Norway, Italy, Greece, Nicaragua and elsewhere.
Additional international support is coming in, notably from Ireland, known for its fierce resistance and use of hunger strikes to defy British imperialism and stand for Irish freedom. A letter printed in a Belfast newspaper called for support for the hunger strikers in Ohio, and applauded Irish resistance saying, “This year marks the 30th anniversary of the hunger strike in the H-blocks of Long Kesh. Ten men died and many others were prepared to die.” The 1981 H-block hunger strike included organizer and political prisoner Bobby Sands, who was elected to Parliament during the strike. He was among those who died fighting for the rights of prisoners and for an end to British occupation of Ireland.
The strikers remained firm and organizing work is going forward for the January 15 rally and continued support. For more information, contact Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network: 216-571-2518, firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign the petition in support of the prisoners at http://www.iacenter.org/prisoners/lucasvillehungerstrikepetition.
If We Must Die Let Us Die With Dignity
Wrongfully convicted following a prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio, in 1993, Bomani Hondo is currently at Ohio State Penitentiary, a supermax prison, where he and other prisoners began a hunger strike on January 3, 2011. His statement is below:
Before I speak my piece, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t want to die. I want to live and breathe and strive to do something righteous with my life. Truly. For the past 16 years, however, I’ve been in solitary confinement, confined to a cell 23 hours a day for something I didn’t do and, speaking honestly, I have gone as far as I’m willing to go. Am I giving up? No.
This is a protest, the only nonviolent way I can think of to express the deep disdain I have for the unjust situation that I am in. Make no mistake: My physical and mental strength is intact. However, to continue on in this way would be to lend legitimacy to a process that is both fraudulent and vindictive; this I am no longer willing to do.
I realize that for some of you the thought that an innocent man could be sent to prison and ultimately executed is inconceivable. But it happens. In a system that is based more on competition than the equitable treatment of others, the football field is not the only place where participants are encouraged to win at all cost.
Hence, in order to be victorious, some prosecutors hide evidence, lie in open court and even pay for the perjured testimony of their witnesses. And this is exactly what happened in my case (and in the majority of the cases stemming from the 1993 prison uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville); there are a few people among you who have reviewed the file and know this to be the truth.
But let us for the moment put aside the question of my guilt or innocence, because that, believe it or not, is not what this is about. On that score, we have written several books, produced a play, and are putting the finishing touches on a full-scale documentary to illustrate the travesty of justice that has taken place here; and these things are available to you if you are interested. For now, I want to talk about dying …
In all that is presently unclear, one thing is certain: I have been sentenced to death, which, as you know, is the severest penalty. Typically, when one has been given the death penalty, one is placed alongside other similarly sentenced prisoners and they, together, are housed in an area that has been designated as death row. As living situations go, this is a very bleak and miserable place. Men are sent here to die, to be killed by the state. No one in their right mind would ask to be sent here; and yet, this is precisely what I am asking, which should give you an indication of just how insufferable the situation I am living under is. And I am not alone.
When the uprising was over, and all was said and done, five of us were singled out as leaders and sentenced to death. Jason Robb, James Were (or “Namir,” as he prefers to be called), Siddique Abdullah Hasan, George Skatzes and myself. With the exception of George Skatzes, who for the past 10 years has been in a less pressurized — though by no means acceptable — situation, we have undergone penalty on top of penalty; been kept from fully participating in our appeals, from touching our friends and families; denied adequate medical treatment; and so many other things that are too numerous to name. In a word, we have been tortured. And yes, I’m aware that the word “tortured” is a strong word to use, but I know of no other word that more adequately describes what we have been through. We have been put through hell.
A few months ago, a federal judge recommended that my case be dismissed, which effectively moved me one step closer to being executed. It’s hard to explain how this made me feel, but upon hearing the news I immediately thought that a mistake had been made and that my attorney had somehow misunderstood the judge’s ruling. As it turns out, I was the one who misunderstood. Indeed, I have been “misunderstanding” things all along.
Treat us with ‘dignity’
When I was first named as a suspect in riot-related crimes, I was certain that my name would eventually be cleared. Instead, I received a nine-count murder indictment with death-penalty specifications. I was shocked. And then they offered me a deal: “Cop out to murder and we’ll forget the whole thing,” they told me. “But I’m innocent,” I said, thinking to myself that the truth of this would somehow set me free. And so, with the trust and faith of a fool, I went to trial, thinking and believing that I would receive a fair one (I didn’t) and that I would ultimately be exonerated (I wasn’t). And then, when I was sentenced to death, it was my understanding that I would be placed on death row and allowed to pursue my appeals alongside other similarly sentenced prisoners; but, again, I misunderstood … “Just wait until you get to federal court,” I was told, “and you’ll definitely get some relief there.” So I waited … I waited for 16 years!
If justice as a concept is real, then I could with some justification say, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” But this has never been about justice, and I finally, finally, finally understand that. For the past 16 years, I (we) have been nothing more than a scapegoat for the state, a convenient excuse that they can point to whenever they need to raise the specter of fear among the public or justify the expenditure of inordinate amounts of money for more locks or chains. And not only that, but the main reason behind the double penalty that we have been undergoing is so that we can serve as an example of what happens to those who challenge the power and authority of the state.
And like good little pawns we’re supposed to sit here and wait until they take us to their death chamber, strap us down to a gurney, and pump poison through our veins. I refuse to go out like that: used as a tool by the state to put fear into the hearts of others while legitimizing a system that is bogus and sold to those with money. That’s not my destiny.
At the beginning of this I wanted to make it perfectly clear that I didn’t want to die, and I don’t. Life is a beautiful thing, especially when one is conscious and aware of the value of one’s life. Sadly, it took going through this process for me to wake up and finally understand the value of my life. I say “wake up” because, unbeknownst to me, I had been asleep all this time, oblivious to the reality of my situation and unaware that the only way for one to stop dreaming (and gain some control over things) is for one to open one’s eyes. My eyes are open now.
Is it too late? I don’t know. As I said, the books have been written, the play has been performed, and, pretty soon, the documentary will be completed. But what good are these things if they never enter into the stream of public opinion and force the governor (who answers to the public) to issue a general amnesty?
Admittedly, convincing the governor to bend in our favor will be a difficult undertaking, one that will require huge amounts of energy and effort on our behalf. But it can be done; at the very least, it can be attempted. In the meantime, we who have been sentenced to death must be granted the exact same privileges as other death-sentenced prisoners. If we must die, we should be allowed to do so with dignity, which is all we’re asking: the opportunity to pursue our appeals unimpeded, to be able to touch our friends and family, and to no longer be treated as playthings but as human beings who are facing the ultimate penalty.
Again, I stress the fact that I do not want to die, but in the words of [poet] Claude McKay, I share the following as my parting sentiments:
If we must die, let it not be like hogs [TOP]