Politics

The Watts Riot Reminds That History Is Cyclical

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

The “long hot, summer” of 1965 was a year of violent uprisings across the United States due to strained race relations at the height of the civil rights movement. America was on fire. Black people were tired and took their frustrations to the streets during and following the arrest of a Black motorist in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The history of police brutality tells harsh truths of how hate and racism disproportionately impacts the lives of Black people and other people of color. The Watts riot is just one example of a people exhausted from the unrelenting oppression at the hands of their government and the police force they empower to carry out their dominance. The Watts riot started August 11 and ended August 16, 1965. The arrest of Marquette Frye, his mother Rena and stepbrother Ronald sparked the violence that brought Los Angeles to its knees.

The Watts riot was not an isolated incident. 1964 and 1965 recorded similar events breaking out across the country prior to the Watts explosion. The History channel reports, “In 1964, there was a three-day riot in Rochester, NY, leaving four dead; in the New York City neighborhoods of Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant, a six-day riot involving as many as 4,000 people following the shooting of a young Black man; in Philadelphia, a three-day riot following the arrest of a Black couple who had gotten into a scuffle with police; and a three-day riot in Chicago when a Black woman attempting to shoplift alcohol was attacked by the store owner and crowds later gathered to protest.” 

Other events leading to the Watts riot include, the 1961 arrest of a Black man in Griffith Park for riding a merry-go-round without a ticket. That incident resulted in crowds throwing rocks and bottles at police. And in 1962 there was unrest following the police raid on a Nation of Islam mosque that killed an unarmed man.

Two years leading up to the Watts riot, 65 Black people were shot by police, 27 of them were shot in the back and 25 of them were unarmed. During this period in Los Angeles there were 250 demonstrations against living conditions and police brutality. It’s clear why 1965 was named the “long, hot summer.”

The Watts riot was among the worst uprisings in the U.S. due to already strained race relations. 35 people lost their lives during the 6-day rebellion, and more than 1,000 people were injured. Property damage topped $200 million. Although tempting, we cannot forget that the violence ignited by the brutal murder of George Floyd has been par for the course of Black lives in America. History is cyclical. As long as those in power refuse to recognize and adequately address the contributions of Black people in the making of America, their continued brutalization and mistreatment despite their rightful credit for the glory, status and wealth of our nation, or budge to the will of the people and humanity, these violent events will continue. Author, iconic orator and civil rights activist James Baldwin once asked, “How much time does America need for its progress?” Today, the question remains unanswered. My question is: How much more time does America need to progress towards a new world order that honors humanity, paves the way for equality, and finally usher in true liberty for all her people?

The Rating Game: The Unintended Consequences of the Conservative Revolution

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of French Philosopher, Michel Feher and do not reflect the views and opinions of ePa. Feher is founding editor and publisher of Zone Books

 

BY MICHEL FEHER

 

Elected on the promise to make the “free world” vibrant again, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan claimed a mandate to impose market discipline on everyone. The Iron Lady and her Great Communicator friend faulted their predecessors for responding to the restive 1960s with inordinate minimum wage and social benefits raises – thereby causing inflation to soar. They also blamed the CEOs of large corporations for balancing the wishes of shareholders with the demands of labor unions and consumers’ advocates – thereby causing profits to wane. Finally, they lamented that the propensity of politicians and employers to placate “special interests” groups enticed wage earners to rely more on wealth redistribution and collective bargaining than on their own hard work and initiative.

The architects of the “conservative revolution” argued that harnessing the power of the state to help markets do their job was not only good for business: more importantly, it was about encouraging the entire population to think and behave like self-reliant entrepreneurs. In their view, awakening the entrepreneurial spirit of every citizen required the creation of an environment where private companies, public administrations and individual consumers in need of resources would have to compete for private funding. To that end, they proceeded to lift the constraints that had hitherto limited the transnational circulation of capital, kept the various branches of the financial industry separate and checked the creativity of financial engineering.

Deregulations certainly enabled financial institutions to act as the arbiters of valuable endeavors. However, the order of priorities that resulted from the ascendency of finance turned out to be quite different than what its political facilitators had envisioned. For financial markets, as John Maynard Keynes warned, do not operate like other markets. More than coordinating transactions, pooling predictions is their specific function: thus the signals they produce are not prices representing the outcome of negotiations between buyers and sellers but ratings expressing the speculations of investors on the value of a project. Moreover, Keynes added, what investors speculate upon is not the eventual yield of an initiative but its immediate impact on the attention of their peers. Corporations were the first type of economic agents to internalize the guessing game of their potential backers. For almost four decades, CEOs have been less intent on maximizing commercial profits – conceived as the difference between sales revenues and production costs – than on bolstering their company’s financial credit – measured by the market value of its stock. Unrealized capital gain, rather than operating cash flow, is the metrics of success – which explains why firms use their resources to “buy back” their own shares.

The primacy of ratings is not confined to the private sector. Keen on improving the attractiveness of the companies based on their territory, 1980s governments catered to investors’ preferences for business-friendly tax codes and flexible labor markets. As the subsequent loss of fiscal revenues forced them to borrow the funds they could no longer collect, elected officials have become increasingly dependent on the value of their sovereign debt in the bond market. Maintaining the trust of bondholders is arguably the main concern of policy makers, over and above economic growth or the welfare of their fellow citizens. In time, the sway of shareholders and bondholders’ valuations has extended to households and individuals. Employers and political leaders who vie for investors’ attention can no longer provide lifelong careers and a sturdy safety net. It is now up to job applicants to make themselves valuable, either by advertising highly prized skills and an appealing address book or, failing that, by displaying unlimited availability and flexibility.

Furthermore, once faced with precarious jobs and receding social benefits, large swaths of the population have been forced to borrow, whether to access housing, study, or simply survive. Yet anyone hoping to obtain a loan must offer guarantees. In the absence of sizeable possessions, aspiring borrowers rely both on the estimated worth of what they want to acquire and the reputation for reliability that they have earned by repaying previous loans. There again, being deemed creditworthy is what enables people to navigate our brave new world. Altogether, the conduct fashioned by the speculations of investors scarcely fit the entrepreneurial type that the conservative revolution was supposed to mold. Pro-market reforms purported to create a world where capital owners, wage earners and even the unemployed would envision their lives as a profit-seeking business, calculating the cost and eventual benefit of every decision. In contrast, financialized capitalism breeds credit-seeking portfolio managers primarily attentive to the appraisal of the assets composing their material and human capital.

In the last fifteen years, the purchase of speculative ratings has spread beyond the economic sphere. Resorting to the same technologies as global finance, social media have also adopted its unique mode of valuation: online friends, followers and reviews attest to the advent of a culture predicated on the relentless pursuit of credit. Far from setting us free to pursue our self-interest, as the conservative revolution had pledged, the proliferation of platforms where people are invited to “share” their experiences, opinions, competences and needs compels us to catch and retain the interest of others – to generate bullish speculations about what we own, who we know and how we are. As ratings inform the various realms of our lives, creditworthiness gains political prominence as well. In China, the government already assigns an aggregate social credit score to its citizens – and denies them access to public utilities and programs when they rate poorly. In the US, Donald Trump has earned the undying support of his core voters by vowing to valorize some key components of their portfolio. Under his administration, being or standing by a nationalist, gun-carrying white male is, once again, a truly valuable asset.

Allocating credit is not the uncontested privilege of authoritarian and populist leaders, however. Some of the most vibrant exponents of the resistance to Trump’s agenda, from Black Lives Matter and #MeToo to the March for Our Lives, are equally focused on producing and circulating their own rating system. Their purpose is not only to discredit behaviors protected by institutional prerogatives, gender norms, and powerful lobbies but also to reappraise the lives that these behaviors depreciate. Though hardly indifferent to specific reforms regarding police practices, workplace environment and gun control, these budding movements understand that deciding who and what deserve credit has become the decisive stake of political struggles. For them, pervasive ratings are not a curse to reverse but a challenge to meet. Speculation is far too important to be left to professionals.

 

I Have A Dream…

 

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination; one hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity; one hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.

So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy; now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice; now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood; now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content, will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the worn threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy, which has engulfed the Negro community, must not lead us to a distrust of all white people. For many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of Civil Rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality; we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities; we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one; we can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”; we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote, and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No! no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations.  Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi. Go back to Alabama. Go back to South Carolina. Go back to Georgia. Go back to Louisiana. Go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.  Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I HAVE A DREAM TODAY!

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama — with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification — one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I HAVE A DREAM TODAY!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be plain and the crooked places will be made straight, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.  With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brother-hood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.  And this will be the day. This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire; let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York; let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania; let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado; let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia; let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee; let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi. “From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

 

Source: Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have A Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World, ed. James Melvin Washington (San Francisco: Harper, 1986), 102-106.

 

Marking The 50th Anniversary Of Shirley Chisholm’s Historic Election To Congress

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was a force to be reckoned with. Fifty years later, the country is remembering her historic election as the first African American woman to serve in Congress. This, in a time when the country is seeing a historic rise in women being elected to political office.

During a 1983 speech Chisholm said, “I think it’s important that as we look around ourselves in the room today, there are so many complex complicated problems. And the time has come that somehow we must be able to utilize our creative energies on a positive manner and work together for the remediation of the human condition. It matters not whether you are white or black, whether you are male or female but that if you have special talents and aptitudes and abilities that these collective talents and abilities should be utilized by all of us in order to try and help make this world a better place in which to live.” Thanks to the brilliant, feisty, bold, unapologetic “unbought and unbossed” Chisholm, we’ve come a long way in the fight for a more just and equal world, but the fight is far from over.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s remarks on Shirley Chisholm: 

Congresswoman Brenda L. Lawrence (MI-14) the organizer of the, “Unbought and Unbossed: A Forum Honoring the Life and Legacy of Shirley Chisholm,”  said, “Fifty years after Representative Chisholm became the first black woman in Congress, she continues to inspire women to push the boundaries.” She’s right. Sheroes have been shaping the world since the beginning of time and thanks to these efforts they’re getting the credit and recognition they deserve.

Rep. Brenda L. Lawrence remarks on Shirley Chisholm: 

The event was co-hosted by the Democratic Women’s Working Group, Congresswomen Lois Frankel (FL-21), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Barbara Lee (CA-13), and Yvette D. Clarke (NY-9). The women gathered at the event spoke about Chisholm’s legacy and influence on policy priorities in Congress and pledged to continue her fight for civil rights, gender equality, lifting families out of poverty, and improving our democracy.

Rep. Steny Hoyer remarks on Shirley Chisholm: 

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” ― Shirley Chisholm

 

Brett Kavanaugh: America’s Privileged Good Ol’ Boy Demands His Due; A Supreme Court Seat!

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

One did it as their civic duty, the other as their defense against a terrible sex crime. And GOP Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee want us to pretend we didn’t see the blaring truth during the hearing; that Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a rotten person. One who led a life currently catching up to him at the peak of what should be the greatest honor of his professional life. If karma could be picked out of a crowd, it would look like the sniffling, bombastic image of a lying man we all saw following the testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing him of attempted rape when they were both teenagers 36 years ago.

Ford’s testimony was not just credible, it was impactful. And that impact is still rippling across America, encouraging many to speak their own truth about sexual assault. The angry senators not courageous enough to treat Ford equally and respectfully, in step with the social movements of our times, are doing more damage to our country and culture in their sunset years that may take another civil war to settle. It’ll be a fight they won’t be around for, and with their wealth, ensure their sons and daughters won’t have to fight either. The spectacle surrounding the Kavanaugh hearing is yet another reminder that the most out of touch Americans, remain the most powerful, making culture shaking political moves that largely impact a demographic on shaky grounds; the average American forced to live (and give) on a minimum wage not one of these power wielding old white men could, or have ever been forced to survive on.

We the people have gone from movement to movement to bring about change; positive change.  And this moment being led by women and supportive men is no different. Unfortunately, some who claim to be leaders for their people are instead the barriers of our inevitable social justice evolution taking root. In other words, a gang of old white rich men are forcing their will upon us like Kavanaugh allegedly did to Ford.

“I remember their laughter … I was underneath one of them while the two laughed,” Dr. Ford testified, adding, “Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life.” And yet, despite her powerful testimony, GOP Senators saw fit to throw a fit to shield their good ol’ boy, “Bart.” And Donald Trump, aka “Cult 45” boarding Air Force One yesterday with what looks like toilet paper on his shoes kept his special kind of crazy exactly as is; going from being sympathetic to Ford, and quickly turning to feed his cult members a basket of undignified mockery of an alleged sex assault victim at one of his strange rally’s. I can only hope the toilet paper on his shoes is God’s way of telling the world; don’t worry, I got this.

But are we really in good hands?  The Senate held a procedural vote on Judge Kavanaugh today. The angry, dismissive old man gang is moving ahead despite the lies Kavanaugh told under oath. They’re defending his temperament, his disrespect and blatant partisanship by rewarding him for his good ol’ boy loyalty with a Supreme Court seat. It’s clear they need his vote to protect their larger agenda and grip on power. Today they voted 51 to 49 to move the procedural vote to a final one. If confirmed, angry “Bart” could be cloaked and seated by next week.

 

Trump’s Smite On The Arts In America

Editors Note: This piece was also featured in DCReport.

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Taking a deeper look at two more of Donald Trump’s nominees for the National Arts Council, having examined the other two in this recent article.

Barbara Coleen Long is the wife of Rep. Billy Long (R-Missouri) who lists his top policy issue as “Conservative values.”  A 20-year search of the Nexis news database turns up not a single mention before her before her July 12 nomination to this prestigious federal advisory board.

The nominee is unknown in the national arts world or even in her own small community of Springfield, other than as someone who attends local performances. Indeed, prior to July 12, the day Trump nominated her, we could not find a single news report mentioning her. Leslie Forrester, executive director of the Springfield Regional Arts Council, said that although she isn’t familiar with Long she supports her nomination. “Congressman Long and his family have been involved in the arts. They’ve been involved in our local community theater, local cinema and others. They’ve been patrons of the arts for a very long time and we certainly count them as allies in terms of advocacy work as well,” Forrester said.

“I have not had the opportunity yet to meet Mrs. Long but I think that having her representation coming from a mid-western state and coming from a smaller community and understanding what is happening in the arts and in rural Missouri as well as our metro area will be beneficial because there are lots of great arts things happening  outside of metro areas and continuing that kind of representation at the national level will ensure that the National Endowment for the Arts is able to fully engage with the arts at all levels,” Forrester said.

If the Longs were truly allies in Springfield’s art community, Forrester would have been familiar with her, but she’s not. The city population is 167,000 and the metro area only 550,000 people, small enough that people engaged in any broad field of activity tend to be known by the leaders in specific fields, like the arts. Rep. Long makes his conservative views crystal clear on his congressional website — he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade. So unless the Longs live in a house divided, it’s logical to surmise his wife holds similar conservative view points.

That made me wonder about what she would think of “Piss Christ,” a 1987 creation of photographer Andres Serrano. It depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a small glass tank of the artist’s urine. It won a Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art’s Award in the Visual Arts. The competition, in Winston-Salem, N.C.,  was sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Considering Long’s family stance on morality, the question then must be; will she support art deemed controversial? Or is her nomination a signal of the type of country Trump wants to create, one that shares his philistine views on arts and culture?

The fourth nominee is Michelle Itzcak, a board certified, registered art therapist and a licensed mental health counselor in Indiana. What she will contribute to the national arts scene is anyone’s guess. How did Itczak get nominated, being relatively unknown in her own town’s art scene? Even Jeremy Efroymson, a major name in the Indianapolis art scene, declined to comment. “Thanks but I’m not interested in commenting,” he said. People named to federal boards usually have track records that get them into the news. So we did a Nexis news database search for all English language news going back 20 years to find news reports prior to the July 12 appointment by Trump. Here is the entire file on Itczak from the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, first from a story in 2010:

Michelle Itczak has resigned from her position as South Vermillion’s girls soccer coach to work at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. Itczak will begin an art therapy program at Riley. And there is this from a story six years ago on a group dynamics: In the conflict resolution workshop, the participants discussed how to avoid mismanaging conflicts to avoid more damage. “If handled positively, I believe conflict is an opportunity to grow,” said session leader Michelle Itczak, an adjunct professor in SMWC’s Master of Art in Art Therapy Program. “Overcoming those challenges can build trust and strengthen relationships.” And from the Indianapolis Star that same year: “Art is a positive outlet for anyone, but particularly incarcerated individuals because it is a nonviolent way for them to express themselves,” said Michelle Itczak, a board-certified registered art therapist, licensed mental health counselor and president of the Indiana Art Therapy Association.

The only other published report we could find was from the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in 2012: Every week, Katherine travels to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis so medicine can be put into her blood. And that’s where she met Michelle Itczak. Itczak is an art therapist who helps children. She urged Katherine to start drawing and painting on the days she had her treatments. Whatever Trump’s, or more likely his staff’s, reasoning for selecting these four nominees to sit on the National Council for the Arts is anyone’s guess but we don’t have to dig too deep when it comes to understanding His Shallowness and the arts. There’s no mystery to Trump. He’s all about worshipping him and money.

When Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul, passed away this week, many took note of her  stirring performances and her  2015 Kennedy Center Honors, which brought President Obama to tears. Not Donald Trump. He reduced her decades of contributions to the arts as one of the greatest singers the world has ever known to this: “she worked for me.”

Trump; the only president to deliberately skip the Kennedy Center honors that are arguably America’s most important evening for the arts, doesn’t care about the arts. His selections seem to fit this pattern.

 

Yes We Can Read These Books This Summer!

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Former President Barack Obama gave us a sample of what he’s thinking, influenced by and of course, reading. Before traveling to Africa recently he reached out to millions of his adoring fans to share his summer reading list. It’s not too late to get started! Quick tip: Audible allows me to catch up and keep up with my reading list, and my long drives are made easier.

Which category do you fall under? 

Former President Barack Obama:

This week, I’m traveling to Africa for the first time since I left office – a continent of wonderful diversity, thriving culture, and remarkable stories.

I was proud to visit sub-Saharan Africa more times than any other sitting President, and I’ll return this week to visit Kenya and South Africa. In South Africa, the Obama Foundation will convene 200 extraordinary young leaders from across the continent and I’ll deliver a speech to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth. Kenya, of course, is the Obama ancestral home. I visited for the first time when I was in my twenties and I was profoundly influenced by my experiences – a journey I wrote about in my first book, Dreams from My Father.

Over the years since, I’ve often drawn inspiration from Africa’s extraordinary literary tradition. As I prepare for this trip, I wanted to share a list of books that I’d recommend for summer reading, including some from a number of Africa’s best writers and thinkers – each of whom illuminate our world in powerful and unique ways.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

A true classic of world literature, this novel paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism. A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence, and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Mandela’s life was one of the epic stories of the 20th century. This definitive memoir traces the arc of his life from a small village, to his years as a revolutionary, to his long imprisonment, and ultimately his ascension to unifying President, leader, and global icon. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history – and then go out and change it.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.

The Return by Hisham Matar

A beautifully-written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.

The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes

It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy, and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.

 

Thanks Trump! The Global Shaming Of America

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

America is being shamed by the world. And it’s all thanks to President Donald J. Trump and his clan. It’s clear, we have an unusual leader at the helm. Unfortunately, the helm is leader of the free world and that’s terrifying af. It’s rare when the world speaks with one voice. And right now it’s chanting loud and clear across Europe, “We hate you Donald Trump, Go Away!” Even the State Department is cautioning Americans abroad to keep a low profile. And, believe it or not, the word Trump actually means Big Fat Problem Baby in Na’vi! That’s why they made a huge baby Trump float to “welcome” him. It’s true.

But, in all seriousness, the take away from this stance is positive and negative. It’s uplifting to know that most people, world-wide, don’t want to blur the lines that separate right and wrong for greed’s sake. This collective stance against Trump and all he represents—arguably, the worst of mankind—makes the negative response to his visit even more poignant, especially on the heels of countless terror attacks in the region and a wave of anti-immigration moves from the top down. I mean for God’s sake, Brexit happened!

On the other hand, it’s deeply disappointing to see the man who represents us as Americans not only behave badly in all social situations but is pushing to advance policies that divide and weaken us here and abroad. Rather than move us forward as a world that stands as one and beholden to goals rooted in humanity and prosperity, Trump is trashing his opportunity to make the world a better place for all of us. And that includes taking care of planet earth, allowing future generations to experience the miracle of life, nature and the universe.

With a decreased status as the world’s super power, thanks to China’s hot dragon breath behind our neck, America is perceptibly floating on “the Nile” River tap dancing away like Fred Astaire because the show must go on despite what’s at stake; nuclear war. President Trump’s performance at the G7 Summit in Europe didn’t go any better than his current visit across the pond. Remember the iconic photo of the G7 leaders looking down at the petulant child-man with all the power? I’m still embarrassed.

But seriously, is he that clueless and unprofessional?! Leaving the queen waiting? … Walking in front of her and just embarrassing himself and by default, the rest of us decent and good Americans? The. Queen. Of. England. Had. To. Stop. And. Go. Around. Him. While. He. Was. Puffing. His. Chest. And. Chin. Out. I cringed watching him walk with his chest inflated, chin up in the air and that ever present stupid, and spoiled, jerky brat look on his face. Keep in mind, Trump goes out of his way to treat women poorly. His lack of respect of the queen is right in line with what he embodies; misogyny. From refusing to shake hands with Angela Merkel, throwing skittles at her, insulting and rating women’s looks and boasting that he can get away with sexual assault. When it comes to modern social norms, Trump is revealing that manners and respect for others didn’t matter in his household when he was growing up. Only he did; shame on his parents.

And considering his hostile policies targeting immigration, you’d think his family never migrated here from one of the countries protesting his European visit; Scotland. His mother migrated to the U.S. from Scotland, paving the way for the life he now lives. Nevertheless, the hypocrisy that keeps him afloat is astounding. His current and third wife, First Lady Melania Trump is accused of lying on her own visa application… It’s hard to think back to her appearance on Larry King Live to support the birther movement to discredit Obama’s birth certificate. She clearly hiked Mount Audacity in Pandora…

The blatant racism, bad behavior, hypocrisy, bold-faced lying and shameful unprofessionalism from this family and the entire administration is astounding and dangerous because it sets the tone of normalcy and precedent for our nation, the world and future leaders.

From Britain to Scotland, people have taken to the streets to voice their disdain for Trump. And yet he doesn’t care that the world hates him and all he represents; American greed and culture. The world can literally see Trump … chosen “democratically”… grabbing America and the rest of the world “by the pussy” and we can’t move his little hand away.

Our democracy is hanging in balance and Trump, propped up by his supporters and enablers couldn’t care less. Why? Because they want to win; even though the prize is debasing American values.

The press plays a crucial role inflating the Trump blimp. Being their bread and butter makes coverage of him and his family increasingly disheartening. And, at times even laughable if there wasn’t so much at stake, making the laughter morph into instant pain and concern. World renowned expert on culture, Edgar H. Schein says culture is very hard if not impossible to change. But in the age of Trump one can argue that American culture is rapidly changing right in front of our eyes. Thanks Trump!

Partisanship is part of the fabric that formed our country. As a nation, we will never see eye-to-eye on how to govern ourselves or lead the world. But that’s what makes us innovative and progressive people. That’s why we have three branches of government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights to ensure our cooperation and coexistence with one another; a diverse people working to overcome a painful past and striving for racial, civil and economic equality. Unfortunately, the hive that accompanies Trump are like biblical locusts dead set on destroying everything in front of them. Who knew Roe v. Wade would be in jeopardy after all this time?! Don’t be surprised when bible thumping conservative lawmakers call for segregation across the land as they work to weaken the working class.

The election of President Obama revealed a dormant racist underbelly anxious to rear its ugly head; an attempt to reverse racial progress. And everything was Obama’s fault. Even rain couldn’t escape being blamed on the man. The trend, “Thanks Obama!” became fodder. Lawmakers at the highest levels of government were more interested in seeing him fail than move the country forward together. It’s those race-obscured blinders that has us waste deep in Russian election meddling today. A serious national security threat. Trump deflecting his involvement with Russia in swaying the election by pointing fingers at Obama is not only par for the course, it’s telling of the continued partisanship that has crippled our democracy.

Trump shames us at home and he shames us abroad. And his party remains silently complicit while feverishly turning the wheel of progress backward to fit a country and world that only values those with golden toilets. The wealthy, the ignorant and the racists among us are the only ones benefiting from Trump. And, the indictment of 12 Russians accused of tampering with the 2016 presidential election won’t phase him or his supporters. This, despite publicly being asked by Trump to hack our security system. Sadly, their “Make America Great Again” slogan touting patriotism as their rationale for standing behind the antithesis of what a great American actually looks like, lives on. Josiah Gilbert Holland once said, “The soul, like the body, lives by what it feeds on.” Perhaps it’s Trump’s glutinous soul diet that needs an overhaul for him to become the human being this world needs. But, I won’t hold my breath while I cringe.  Thanks Trump!

 

China & America: The New Geopolitical Equation

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

A recent talk in New Hartford sponsored by Upper Mohawk Valley Chapter of the United Nations Association, (UMVUNA) highlighted some of the factors facing U.S.–Sino relations as the two sides work to settle contentious trade agreements. Visiting Assistant Professor of Government & Politics, Jun T. Kwon, Ph.D. says to fully grasp the foreign policy directions of both countries we have to understand the Five T’s; Thucydides Trap, Trade, Taiwan, Tibet and Tiananmen.

Starting with the first T, Kwon says the two sides share a relationship that is mainly rooted in the “Thucydides Trap,” referring to ancient Greek historian Thucydides’ reasoning of the Peloponnesian War. “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Kwon says, “The 21st Century belongs to China.” He says it’s this fear that’s causing disruptions in U.S.-China relationships. “China’s power is growing and it’s causing fear in America,” he said. He explains that despite the pessimistic prospects of the two countries, some are optimistic of China rising especially as it pertains to world politics. “They welcome China challenging the U.S. in world politics.”

When it comes to the second T; Trade, Kwon says, “There’s definitely a trade war going on. Free trade benefits everyone. The issue is who will gain more? The U.S. wants to curb China gaining but the U.S. and China are economically intertwined. And, so many other countries are losing to U.S. in trade policy. Chinese growing power is striking fear.” Despite the circumstances, Kwon says, “There’s a compromise expected in the next couple of weeks on the U.S.-China trade dispute.” He adds that ultimately, without an agreement, its American consumers that stand to lose because they’ll see prices skyrocket when China retaliates over trade disputes. Kwon says the negotiations are ongoing because trade relations should be reciprocal.

The third T; Taiwan, may be one of the most contentious issues between China and the U.S. Although Taiwan is a self-governed island under U.S. protection, China claims it as part of the PRC, (People’s Republic of China). Kwon states, “President Trump signed Taiwan Travel Act last month which would facilitate and expand high level visits and exchanges between senior officials in Washington and Taipei. It has fueled the already strained relations between the U.S. and China. One China policy is a principle from China’s point of view that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China.” He goes onto say that China sees it as U.S. intervention into Chinese domestic affairs. “Nothing is angering China more than perception of foreign intervention into domestic affairs.”

The issue of Tibet covers the fourth T. Tibetan independence is undoubtedly an issue causing social instability in China. Kwon says the U.S. stands accused by the Chinese government of instigating Tibetan independence and with an expected White House visit from the Dalai Lama soon, China is concerned about what President Trump will do to harm already strained relations. Kwon says, even though China is eagerly awaiting the death of the Dalai Lama who has tirelessly worked—even in exile–toward Tibetan independence, the concern is a real one for the country because other minorities want to break away from China too. “Tibet refers to one of the most sensitive sources of social instability in China, which is so-called ethnic minority issue. In particular, two notable minorities which have expressed their independence sentiments are Tibetans and Uyghurs who are Turkish speaking Muslims residing in Xinjiang Province in Northwest of China.”

The final T is centered on an important moment in China’s political liberation; 1989 Tiananmen Square. “There has been no meaningful protest since,” Kwon says. This, despite the human rights violations China stands accused of by the U.S. and other world organizations. When the Chinese government removed constitutional term limits to allow President Xi Jinping to be president for life, the Chinese people didn’t seem to care about removing the 10-year term limits and Professor Kwon says, “This is a problem with the lack of activism since Tiananmen Square.” Adding, “China is not democratic at all. But how democracy should be defined is relative. Whether human rights are universal is relative. And, what is democracy? How do you define it? Comparing U.S. and China; U.S. is focused on the By The People part while China focuses more on the For The People part,” he says, adding, “The U.S. wants to use human rights and democracy to make China look bad.” Nonetheless, Kwon says democracy in China will take time and imposing values on others is not democracy.

In a labor intensive industry the U.S. can’t compete with China because China has labor power. “And this threatens U.S. markets.” Asked if the fear is justified, Kwon says, “China wants to come back as the super power. To be number one on the world’s stage. There will be conflict because the U.S. does not want China to take over. If that happens, it’s going to be a major conflict similar to a 1920s war.” Professor Kwon explained that China is not interested in injecting their influence around the world other than in East Asia. However, China does want to expand its economic power around the world, especially in Africa. “The U.S. has military alliances with 58 countries. China has only one; North Korea.”

There is some good news coming from the attention China is receiving as it negotiates new trade agreements with the United States. China, a member of the Paris Agreement, is actively working to reduce pollution. One way is by controlling the purchase of cars by putting limits on purchases, and working to expand where people live and work by building mega cities all over the country to entice people to relocate there and ease congestion in its larger more densely population cities like Shanghai and Beijing. And as it pertains to its relationship with North Korea, Kwon says, “China is nervous about North Korea drifting away from them and forming a relationship with Trump. China wants North Korea to pull back because it’s concerned they are moving too fast to meet with the U.S.”

The recent and third inter-Korean Summit’s focus was the geopolitical landscape and according to Kwon North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons. He says, “Security guarantee from the U.S. is the only way North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons and that’s never going to happen.” He adds, “The U.S. goal is to handcuff North Korea. And, North Korea is scared. They feel threatened.” As it pertains to unification, Kwon says it would mean the collapse of North Korea unless it’s a very slow process of unifying the two Korea’s. He says part of the problem has to do with pathological nationalism. “North Koreans have been brain washed by pathological nationalism. They are brainwashed to worship their leader and blame the U.S. for their economic hardships.” Regardless of the views held from either side of the geopolitical landscape on the future of U.S.-Sino relations, it’s safe to surmise; China’s time as the world’s number one super power will come.

 

Utica Students Will Be Counted In The March For Our Lives This Weekend

 

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

On March 24, the kids and families of March For Our Lives will take to the streets to demand that their lives and safety become a priority, and that we end gun violence in our schools and communities. Here in Utica, NY, students are heeding the national call to action. Many of them will be marching from Proctor High School to Oneida Square on Saturday. The march kicks-off at Noon.

 

March for Our Lives is a demonstration created and organized by #NeverAgain, a group of students who survived the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Every town for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, is helping the students plan and coordinate the event. Organizers are calling on lawmakers to address the issue of gun violence in American schools by implementing comprehensive gun control legislation.

 

 

March for Our Lives has three primary demands:

  • Pass a law to ban the assault weapons frequently used to carry out mass shootings
  • Stop the sale of high-capacity magazines, restricting the amount of ammunition
  • Close loopholes in America’s background checks and implement laws that require background checks on every gun purchase, including those that occur online or at gun shows

For more information about this national event, click here.