Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Troubador: People's History in Song

Dear friends and fellow misfits,

What you're looking at here is the digital version of my new release, Troubador: People's History in Song. The physical version includes a booklet with the notes below plus lyrics for each song along with spiffy graphics, and a remastered CD with the eighteen songs on it. Six of the songs have never appeared on a CD, and the other twelve are from several different recordings I made between 1998-2009. As of October 1st it will be available at my shows and online for purchase via my estore.

For the no-frills digital version you're looking at, you can find the lyrics and high-quality audio for each song by clicking on the song titles below.

These eighteen songs are by no means a survey of world history – that would be a ridiculous thing to attempt in eighteen songs. But they do represent eighteen important stories, eighteen among countless others out there to be found, or not. You can find more songs and stories at www.davidrovics.com along with other things, including my frequently-updated This Month in History and Song section and a "donate" button for anyone who wants to support these efforts.

Hope to see you on the road and in the streets!


Shays' Rebellion (1780's)
Listen to “Berkshire Hills

If you're hiking on the Appalachian Trail in western Massachusetts, at the edge of a corn field you will come upon a small monument to the last battle fought in the rebellion of the farmers of the region known as Shays' Rebellion.

Having spent years fighting against the British in the cause of liberty and democracy, the farmers of western Massachusetts quickly discovered that the same old landlords were still running the show, and were actually charging farmers back rent for the time they were away fighting. They couldn't pay, and the veterans of the revolution were losing their farms to the greedy landlords.

Betrayed and destitute, farmers organized. One of the highest-ranking officers of the Continental Army among them, Daniel Shays, was elected leader of the rebel army, and Shays' rebels commenced a campaign of terror against the landlords and their courts, through which the evictions were taking place.

Although there was widespread sympathy for the rebels, including among the militias the state employed to suppress the rebellion, eventually the government was able to take back control of western Massachusetts. Following the age-old pattern of rule through both concession and repression two very significant developments resulted directly from Shays' Rebellion: on the one hand, the federal government passed the Bill of Rights. On the other, the “Founding Fathers” decided they needed a permanent standing army to defend the privileged classes from the rabble who had just fought and won the great American Revolution for their benefit.

The San Patricios (1846)
Listen to “Saint Patrick Battalion

It is a shocking fact that the population of Ireland has still not come close to reaching the eight million people who called the island home at the time of the British conquest. Still today, the scars of centuries of slavery, torture and deprivation imposed on the people of Ireland by the British conquerors are evident to any astute visitor. Millions of Irish people were killed by the invading armies from across the Irish Sea, and millions more left the island to escape persecution and death. The United States was the destination of choice.

In 1846 the US launched a war of aggression, one of many such wars the would-be rulers of the Americas would initiate over the course of centuries of empire-building, and arguably the most successful among them. By 1849 Mexico had lost most of its territory to their invading neighbor, never to regain it.

The 1840's was a time of upheaval not just in Ireland but across Europe, and the US at that time saw an unprecedented wave of immigration. The new immigrants were put to use right away – they were handed a gun and a uniform and told to prove their loyalty to their newfound home by killing Mexicans.

It is often said that people mainly do things out of self-interest. Yet history demonstrates time and time again that on so many occasions people are willing to suffer terrible hardship and even risk or lose their lives in the defense of people other than themselves. As the US Army killed, raped and burned their way deeper into Mexico thousands of soldiers deserted. The mainly Irish group of soldiers who came to be known as the San Patricios could have done the same, and, as many did, could have lived out their natural lives without being caught. But these 202 deserters took things a significant step further – they joined the Mexican Army.

With their own green flags and uniforms the San Patricios engaged the US Army in five major battles, and most of them died fighting. Most of those who were captured after the last of the five battles were hanged for treason. Those that managed to escape lived out the rest of their lives in Mexico, marrying and having families, and some places in Mexico are said to have a greater number of red-haired residents as a result today. If you visit the beautiful San Jalisco neighborhood of Mexico City you will find a small plaque dedicated to the memory of the San Patricios, on one of the walls of the Catholic Church in which many of these men lived when they made it to the capital city.

Bleeding Kansas (1850's)
Listen to “John Brown

In the decade preceding the American Civil War, things were coming to a head around the critical issue of slavery. The Fugitive Slave Act had been passed in 1850 to appease the plantation aristocracy in the South, and now no escaped slave – or “free” person of African heritage accused of being an escaped slave – was safe, even in the North. The Underground Railroad now had to reorient – assisting slaves to escape the South and come North was now no longer good enough, and Canada became the new destination of choice.

The freshly-stolen state of Kansas was up for statehood and whether it entered the union as a “free” state or a slave state depended on who settled the state and who voted which way or the other (and whether the vote would be counted properly – always a question in our still-dysfunctional democracy). The abolitionist movement was large and full of people who were completely dedicated to the cause. But then as now, progressive forces were divided along different ideological and strategic lines. The principle division in this pre-Civil War era was between those who believed that slavery could only be ended through nonviolent resistance and those who subscribed to the “by any means necessary” philosophy.

John Brown and thousands of others were solidly in the latter camp, and when the tension was building in Kansas they set out from New England and elsewhere in the country to go there to make a stand. After years of conflict between abolitionists and pro-slavery forces in Kansas, victory ultimately went to John Brown and his colleagues. Many of the rifles used by the abolitionists in this conflict were shipped in wooden crates labeled “Bibles.” The rifles got the nickname “Beecher's Bibles” after a popular abolitionist minister of the time.

John Brown continues to be known today mainly for the badly-planned and badly-executed raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia which led to his capture and execution. It's a noteworthy moment in history particularly for what it may have to teach us about the limitations of what might be considered an early version of Che Guevarra's “foci” theory of guerrilla warfare. But John Brown should, in my view, especially be remembered for leading the abolitionist movement to victory in Kansas.

The Eureka Stockade (1854)
Listen to “Song for the Eureka Stockade

In 1851 there was a gold rush in the Australian state of Victoria, two years after the gold rush in California. The city of Melbourne quickly lost many of its working class residents, and many of the upwardly-mobile ones as well. The rumor was that the governor of the state even had to groom his own horse. At the same time, tens of thousands of people of all walks of life descended upon Victoria from around the world. Viewed generally as unwanted riffraff by those in power at the time, this international mob of gold diggers quickly made up an uncomfortably large percentage of the state's small population.

In response to these developments the powers-that-be instituted an outrageously high tax on anyone seeking to dig for gold – meanwhile the wealthy “squatters” were freely being given massive plots of land throughout Australia. The tax on gold diggers was so high that only the most successful diggers could even afford to pay it, or those diggers who came to the gold fields with some savings. Most of the diggers had neither success nor savings. A large local police force was formed for the sole purpose of collecting the tax, and they were paid by commission, so they had an incentive to be brutal, and they were.

These moves by the state, combined with a steadily dwindling supply of gold, set the stage for rebellion. The rebels came from all around the world – there were many veterans of the California gold rush, many Irish emigrants who had no interest in suffering further at the hands of the same British authorities who they had recently left behind, and many from continental Europe who were veterans of the upheavals of 1848. Perhaps most notably, the seeds of rebellion were most well-developed in the Ballarat goldfields, which were some of the hardest fields to work with, and the ones that required the greatest degree of cooperation among the diggers.

The diggers of Ballarat and other nearby goldfields decided en masse to stop paying the license fees, and they built a primitive stockade on a hilltop and waited for the British Army to attack, which it did, in the middle of the night, while many of the defenders of the stockade, particularly the California Riflemen, were elsewhere looking for the Redcoats. The attack against the badly-armed gold diggers was over quickly, with several British soldiers dead and unknown dozens of diggers killed, many executed point-blank after they surrendered.

Undeterred by this massacre, exactly a month after the event 15,000 miners rallied against the license fees, and this time the state's response was to concede. They canceled the hated license fees and also granted the rebel miners the right to vote, land, and much more. Two years later Australia became the first country in the world to pass the eight-hour workday, decades ahead of anywhere else.

The Death of Ginger Goodwin (1918)
Listen to “Song for Ginger Goodwin

Starting wars can often be a very effective way to rally everybody around the flag and make people feel unpatriotic if they support the rights of workers to organize. Time for us all to tighten our belts, they'll say – except for the rich, of course.

When Ginger Goodwin left England as a young man the average Yorkshire miner didn't live past his early thirties, due to deplorable safety conditions, lack of ventilation in the mines, terrible conditions in the quarters in which mining families were forced to live, and so on – all conditions caused by the greed of the mine owners. When he got to Canada he saw more of the same in mining operations both east and west.

Ginger became a leader among the miners in organizing for the rights of the workers, and more broadly, he became an avowed socialist, opposed to capitalism as well as empire, in support of the international working class. When what we now call World War I began, Ginger and much of the rest of the labor movement in North America denounced it as a bosses' war and said workers shouldn't kill workers from other countries.

Although Ginger had at first been passed over for conscription for health reasons – along with about half of the rest of the draft-age male Canadian population – he was called up for the draft later for obviously political reasons, along with many other undesirable elements the powers-that-be wanted to get out of their way. Opposed to the war, and also suffering from chronic respiratory problems, like so many miners, and entirely unfit for military service, Ginger hid out in the mountains, with much community support.

The exact circumstances of his death remain a matter of conjecture, as the only “witness” who survived was the cop who shot him. Today on Vancouver Island there is a road that is sometimes called Ginger Goodwin Way, depending on which party is in power in the province at the time, and in the small town of Cumberland you can find the small headstone marking the grave of this Yorkshire miner.

The Battle of Blair Mountain (1921)
Listen to “Battle of Blair Mountain

It was not until the 1930's that the hundreds of thousands of miners then working underground in West Virginia were successfully organized into a union. But heroic efforts were made in the previous decade that were only defeated by the arrival of thousands of federal troops, and which saw the first use of airplanes by the federal government to drop bombs on its own population.

What became known as the Coal Mine Wars were especially vicious in West Virginia partially due to the mountainous nature of the state and the high cost of transporting coal from the mines there, as opposed to other coal-rich regions that were mostly flat, like Illinois. If the mine operators were to successfully compete with the operators in the midwest this depended on labor costs being lower than the competition's.

Miners had been on strike for a year, living through the freezing West Virginia winter in tents, regularly being shot at by the company's hired thugs. A hundred striking miners were being held indefinitely with no trial in jail in the town of Mingo. When a popular pro-union sheriff, Sid Hatfield, was shot by thugs in broad daylight on the courthouse steps this was the last straw. Against the advice of the union leadership 13,000 miners and many more supporters set out to lay siege to the town of Mingo and liberate their comrades.

They looted provisions, guns and ammunition from the usurious company stores as they went, hijacking trains and private cars to get them where they were going. The venerable and beloved labor leader, Mary “Mother” Jones, arrived on the scene, beseeching the miners to reconsider their actions. Many were convinced to turn back, but then word got around that a number of women and children had been massacred in the town of Sharples by company thugs, and the miners turned back around and resumed their march toward Mingo.

In the face of the approaching army of miners the more “well-to-do” elements of West Virginia society mobilized to defend Mingo. All five hundred of West Virginia's police force were there along with thousands more doctors, lawyers, scabs and whoever else they could find who identified with the mine owners as opposed to the miners.

The two sides took up positions on either side of a mountain valley. For three days and nights they shot at each other from across the valley. The foliage was so thick nobody could see what they were aiming at. Most men on both sides of the valley were veterans of World War I, and all knew far too well the terrible bloodbath that would inevitably result from either side storming the lines of the other. Neither side did that, and thus the total number of fatalities was estimated to be around 16 – with many more injured. With no particular leadership structure, women from the mining camps very effectively organized medical care and food to maintain the front.

During the course of the siege planes were sent in from military bases outside West Virginia. Many of them crashed when attempting to land in this mountainous region. Those that managed to get to Mingo dropped bombs on the lines of the miners, but the only bombs that exploded did so in the absence of any people, so no one was hurt in this attempt to kill the miners using air power. The siege ended when thousands of federal troops arrived who at least made a pretense of acting as a neutral arbiter of the situation, relieving both sides of their positions and essentially telling everyone to go home now.

In the ensuing years laws would be changed and efforts would be made to imprison at least some of those who had taken part in the rebellion, but no jury in the entire state of West Virginia would convict the rebel miners.

The Fifteenth Brigade (1936-1939)
Listen to “The Last Lincoln Veteran

Although the war resulted in a victory for the forces of fascism in Europe, the response of ordinary people and left organizations around the world to the rightwing military coup in Spain in 1936 remains a powerful symbol for the concept of international solidarity. Before and since the Spanish Civil War there have been many examples of people traveling on their own initiative to another country to join the more progressive side of a fight. But the International Brigades in Spain were certainly the instance that involved the broadest spectrum of partisans from around the globe.

Tens of thousands of men and women came to Spain, many organized by their local Communist Party, many coming by other means. The biggest groups of anti-fascist volunteers came from the very nations that were supporting General Franco with large amounts of armor and troops – Italy and Germany. Thousands more came from all over Europe and the Americas.

The only support of any kind coming from governments friendly to the Spanish Republic was from the poor nation of Mexico, and the far-away USSR. France, Britain, the US and most of the rest of the world's governments pled neutrality, effectively meaning the Spanish Republic suffered an international embargo while Franco's forces received constant aid. For its part, aid from Russia was minimal because Moscow was busy trying not to offend France and Britain – hoping as they were to have the aid of these countries in the impending war with Nazi Germany.

Despite the clearly overwhelming forces arrayed against them, despite having access mainly to antique or home-made weaponry, progressive forces in Spain along with a significant contingent of international volunteers fought side by side for three years against most of the Spanish military and tens of thousands of German and Italian troops.

The survivors among the volunteers who came from the US, like their counterparts from many other countries, were dubbed “premature antifascists” upon their return home. Most of them spent the rest of their lives involved in one way or another with the struggle for civil rights, against the war in Vietnam, fighting for the rights of workers to organize, and otherwise involved with efforts to make the world a better place for ordinary people. One of those survivors was my friend and neighbor Bob Steck, who died recently at the age of 95.

The last few lines of the song are borrowed from the Lincoln Brigade anthem, known to most people on the English-speaking left in the years following the Spanish Civil War, called Jarama Valley (which itself is an adaptation of the old song, Red River Valley).

Sugihara's Visas (1939)
Listen to “Sugihara

Hitler's forces were quickly taking over most of Europe, and millions of European Jews were desperately trying to escape. No one wanted them – including Britain and the US, which were both turning away boatloads of Jewish refugees and effectively sentencing them to death.

Poland had been conquered, and thousands of Polish Jews had managed to get as far as Lithuania. The German Army was quickly advancing across eastern Europe and they would soon enter Lithuania. In order to get permission from the Soviet authorities to travel across the USSR and get out of Europe that way – about the only avenue available – the refugees needed a visa showing they were traveling across Siberia in order to transit to another country. Effectively, this meant they needed a visa from the Empire of Japan – Nazi Germany's erstwhile ally in the Pacific.

It has long been popular to stereotype Japanese people as unimaginative and obedient followers of the status quo. A serious reading of Japanese history will provide us with a rich tapestry of rebellion, however -- along with the fanatical emperor-worshippers and corporate drones who we have already heard about far too much.

When Sempo and Yukiko Sugihara looked out from their diplomatic residence in Lithuania at the desperate faces of the Jewish refugees outside their home, begging them for a visa to get out of Europe, the diplomat called Tokyo and received clear orders not to help the Jews. Fully conscious that they had no idea what the consequences might be for their livelihoods or even their lives, Sempo Sugihara and his wife Yukiko decided they must help these people, at whatever cost.

For a month, with barely any interruption for food or sleep, Sempo and Yukiko worked day and night filling out thousands of visas. Each visa was good for a family, so it is estimated that they saved the lives of ten thousand Jews, who now represent a population of forty thousand descendents, including my friend Ben Manski of Madison, Wisconsin.

Hugh Thompson and My Lai (1968)
Listen to “Song for Hugh Thompson

The My Lai Massacre, in which several hundred civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, were systematically slaughtered by US troops, was one of many such massacres committed by US troops occupying many different countries, starting with their own. The My Lai Massacre became infamous around the world, but helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson's courageous act of insubordination that led to the final conclusion of this terrible event is largely absent in the histories of what in Vietnam they call the American War.

In 1998, thirty years after this massacre, the government of Vietnam invited Hugh Thompson to come to Vietnam and meet the men and women who were babies and children when he saved them from meeting the same fate as the rest of their village. The US military caught wind of this and they hurried to recognize this soldier's heroism in a hastily-planned award ceremony, several decades late, but before Vietnam beat them to it.

In any accurate history of the US invasion of Vietnam there are certain basic things that must be recognized. The war was a genocidal war waged by the most powerful military of the world against the mostly peasant population of Vietnam, and the US lost. The US defeat came at an unbelievably high cost to the population of Vietnam, with millions killed and millions more maimed, and a nation in ruins. But the US defeat was not only a consequence of the heroism and sacrifice of the Vietnamese resistance – it was also a direct result of the widespread refusal of its imperial soldiers to fight.

Hugh Thompson died far too soon, like so many other veterans, in 2006 at the age of 63. The late Dave Klein, fellow veteran and friend of Hugh Thompson's, called me up after Hugh's funeral to say that they this song had been part of the proceedings.

The Overthrow of Salvador Allende (1973)
Listen to “Santiago

Salvador Allende was a doctor and a socialist who was elected to the Chilean presidency in 1970 on a platform that included the nationalization of the copper mines in order to use Chile's resources to feed Chile's people. Anaconda Copper and the Nixon administration, among other representatives of the corporate elite, didn't like this, and they set about to destabilize Allende's government and Chile's economy.

On September 11th, 1973, a far right junta within the Chilean military led a coup that involved the bombing of the presidential palace, La Moneda, and the death of Allende. Many thousands more would soon be tortured and killed over the course of a long and vicious dictatorship in Chile. Before and since the coup, the CIA and the (now renamed) School of the Americas have played an active role in training and funding the torturers.

Supporters of radical free market ideology such as Milton Friedman and his followers like to say that under the dictatorship Chile's economy thrived, but nothing could be further from the truth. Things may have looked fine if you didn't leave the downtown core of Santiago, but the rest of the country was suffering, and the economic crisis of the 1980's was only eased when the junta stopped following Friedman's free market recipe.

It is also often claimed by those who support the mainstream historical narrative of the high school textbooks that the United States actively supports democracies and opposes dictatorships around the world. If you repeat something often enough people will start believing it, but no matter how many times it is said in however many ways, it's still not true – the hard truth is that the US has for centuries been actively undermining democracies and supporting dictatorships around the world, while claiming to do exactly the opposite. Allende was only another in a list that began long before 1973, including names like Arbenz and Mossadegh.

Francis Hughes and the Hunger Strike (1981)
Listen to “Up the Provos

In the early twentieth century most of Ireland won its freedom from half a millenia of British rule. Six of Ireland's 32 counties remained within the United Kingdom, however, and within the Occupied Six Counties there has been conflict in one form or another around questions of sovereignty ever since.

The simmering conflict took a decidedly violent turn in the decades following Bloody Sunday, when British troops in Derry hunted down and shot 13 supporters of the Irish civil rights movement. British efforts to crush the resistance through draconian measures such as internment without trial only fueled more anger.

Francis Hughes is one of the ten men who died on hunger strike in prison in 1981 in Northern Ireland. He was already a legend before he joined the hunger strike for being an extremely daring and effective guerrilla fighter as well as for being a man of few words.

The Blockade of Prince William Sound (1993)
Listen to “Cordova

When Exxon spilled tens of millions of gallons of oil in Prince William Sound in 1989, lots of promises were made, all of them broken. Promises of a cleanup, promises of ecological recovery, promises of compensation for the massive losses to the economy of the communities completely reliant on fishing.

It took a few years for those involved with the fishing industry to realize that the Herring were not going to recover from this disaster, and that a huge part of the once-burgeoning fishing industry in Alaska was gone for the foreseeable future. Upon the collapse of another Herring run, every seaworthy vessel in Cordova, filled with the people of the town, pushed through a storm and formed a blockade in the harbor.

President Clinton sent in the FBI to see what was up, but there was not a single boat they could use to get out to the blockade to talk to folks. Upon hearing the news that Coast Guard gunships were on their way from Seattle, the community waited until close to the time they'd be arriving and then went home, but not before winning demands that resulted in important research being done on the previously unknown degree of the toxicity of oil.

Global Day of Protest -- February 15th, 2003
Listen to “Trafalgar Square

There have been many international days of protest over the course of the past century, but February 15th, 2003 was the date of the largest, broadest-based day of protest in global history, with an estimated 13 million people in thousands of towns and cities around the world participating. There were particularly massive crowds in some of the predictable places – Rome, Berlin, Paris, London, New York City, and elsewhere – but what was especially notable was the smaller protests that were happening in towns and small cities throughout the US that had never had a protest in their history as far as anyone could recall, and suddenly there were thousands of people crowding into the little town center.

I was singing at the rally for an estimated half million people in New York City on that freezing afternoon, but friends reported from London about the massive rally there. Mocking the rhetorical efforts of the Bush administration to publicly topple the big statue of Saddam Hussein, folks in London constructed a large statue of George Bush for the occasion, which they toppled at the rally (and it fell far more gracefully than the statue in Baghdad, I might add).

This date probably represents the peak of what we could arguably call a short-lived mass movement, which began in its 21st-century form with the invasion of Afghanistan. It has often been observed that mass movements are rarely sustained unless the participants believe they might accomplish something. Bush, Blair and company did their best to pretend they were unaffected by this outpouring of dissent amongst their supposed constituencies, the latest invasion of Iraq commenced the following month, and the antiwar movement began a slow decline, increasingly settling back to its core, the “usual suspects,” those who are dancing in the dark no matter what. But who knows what tomorrow may bring. Something good, I hope.

The Miami Model (2003)
Listen to “Miami

For a brief period beginning at the end of the twentieth century there was a growing, youth-based anti-capitalist movement in the USA. It was consciously part of a global movement – many of the participants were very consciously inspired by Latin American developments such as the Zapatistas and the election of Hugo Chavez. In turn, the existence of a growing anti-capitalist movement within the great belly of the beast was a shot in the arm for the radical left around the world.

The mass civil disobedience in Seattle surrounding the WTO meetings there at the end of November, 1999 was the event that put the US anti-capitalist movement on the map and inspired others throughout the country and the world to do that again. Which they did -- in Australia, Europe, the Americas and Asia, shutting down or seriously impacting meetings of the global ruling elite wherever they happened.

In many countries these sorts of actions – and many others – are still taking place. At the G8 in Rostock in 2007 the only way delegates could go anywhere was by helicopter or boat (all roads had been successfully blockaded). In the US there were various factors that took the wind out of the sails of this movement. Chiefly four things: 9/11 and it's various repercussions with regard to any kind of protest now being equated in one way or another with Al-Qaeda; widespread police brutality against protesters of all kinds in Seattle and at all future such protests; a corporate media blackout on progressive voices and anything progressives do; and an inability of the radical left to decide on tactics.

The last time any group of people seriously considered attempting to disrupt a meeting of the global corporate elite through civil disobedience was outside the meetings of the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami, Florida in November, 2003. Under the leadership of the hyper-militaristic police chief Timoney, the police rioted once again, clearing the streets of Miami of the undesirable elements with tear gas, clubs and tasers. The national media was far too busy obsessing about Michael Jackson that week to pay any attention to the bloodbath happening in Miami.

After walking past the gangs of police (in and out of uniform) in the otherwise abandoned and tear gas-soaked streets of downtown Miami I wrote this lyric. The tour I did up the east coast after the protests was like a moving gallery of injuries. I'd ask who got attacked by the police in Miami and the welts would be out and visible for all to see. American democracy in action.

Hurricane Katrina (2005)
Listen to “New Orleans

As with so many other such disasters there were many warnings prior to Hurricane Katrina which were ignored by the authorities, who were too busy pursuing profits and oil wars to worry about the dying wetlands of Louisiana or the state of the levees on the Mississippi River and other bodies of water around the city of New Orleans. The Bush administration was also too busy gutting government services to respond to the disaster with anything approaching competence.

If the boarded-up neighborhoods along the levee were a testament to the decline of urban America before the flood, the city became an even more poignant testimony to the growing class and race divide in the country after the flood. The lack of reconstruction reminds many of the Reconstruction with a capital “R” that never happened, after the Civil War. Now what was once a majority-Black city is now majority-white, ethnically cleansed, its refugees scattered throughout the US and the world.

Despite the many good people within its borders, America remains steeped in institutional racism, with so many condemned to death, with so many survivors having no access to the funds needed to rebuild and no reparations for generations of the most unspeakable injustice. It is an eloquent, horrific statement that despite the intervening twentieth century, in the nineteenth century there was a huge slave plantation called Angola, on which five thousand Black men picked cotton by hand for no pay. Today, the Angola plantation is now the Angola federal prison. In view of a golf course overlooking the cotton field today, five thousand Black men pick cotton by hand for no pay.

The Murder of Dr. George Tiller (2009)
Listen to “In the Name of God

While the federal authorities regularly pass legislation to increase penalties for so-called “eco-terrorists,” locking people up for decades for destruction of logging equipment, a much more widespread movement involving thousands of acts of property destruction as well as violence against other human beings has been moving forward throughout the country. Since abortion was legalized in 1973 there have been nine doctors targeted and killed by anti-abortion activists. Dr. George Tiller was shot in the head in church on May 31st, 2009.

The Great Upheaval (2010)
Listen to “Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler

In the mid-eighteenth century Acadian people fled eastern Canada after the French defeat in what became known as the French and Indian Wars or the Seven Years' War. Many eventually ended up settling in Louisiana. Although geographically isolated in a part of the world that is not without its challenges, the people who became known as Cajun thrived in Louisiana, farming and especially fishing the rich Mississippi Delta region, and developing forms of music that have spread throughout the world.

The Cajun people survived the original Grand Derangement, the relocation from Canada to Louisiana, and they have collectively survived many other challenges to their existence – the Battle of Baton Rouge in the Revolutionary War, discrimination and assimilationist pressures since the early twentieth century, the rise of the oil industry and the threat this has represented to fishing and to the physical health of the region and its people, Hurricane Katrina and the destruction it brought to so many homes, boats and lives. In what form the Cajun people will survive this new Great Upheaval, the oil leak off the coast and its aftermath, is unknown.

Massacre on the High Seas (2010)
Listen to “Song for the Mavi Marmara

On May 31st, 2010 Israeli soldiers boarded seven boats full of humanitarian activists trying to end the siege of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military. On the biggest of the seven ships, the Mavi Marmara, some crew members attempted to stand in the way of this act of piracy on the part of the Israeli military, and they were massacred. By the time the shooting was over there were nine confirmed dead, with many more seriously injured, and an unknown number overboard.

This atrocity on the part of the Israelis was only a more recent chapter in a long history of atrocities committed against the Palestinian population and their supporters. In trying to protect the home of a doctor from having his home bulldozed, Rachel Corrie lost her life. One of the ships boarded after the Mavi Marmara was named after her.

The resistance of the Palestinian people is one of stones against tanks, the resistance of an occupied people against their occupiers. It is a particular tragedy that those doing the occupying are themselves often descendants of refugees from European fascism, but the fact that it is refugees killing refugees doesn't make the killing any more acceptable.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How to Organize a Benefit Concert

When only a few people show up or the band sucks, a benefit concert can be demoralizing. But when done right it can accomplish a number of important goals. It can raise much-needed money for activist groups, energize and inspire your community, help your group do more outreach and networking with the broader community, and they can even help support artists! By my informal accounting, at least 90% of the progressive community could really get something useful out of this article. Please feel free to share it!

Fundraising 101: How to Organize a Benefit Concert

Everybody loves to practice many different forms of social networking, but when it comes to the kind of networking that might allow you or your organization to make money, many people are terrified. In much of the progressive community specifically, people are scared of money. This is a big problem, since we need money, too – whether you're trying to pay the rent on your infoshop, feed the homeless, buy a plane ticket so you can be a delegate to that conference or participate in the next caravan to Gaza, whatever it is, money is required. In some countries in Europe folks can get on welfare and be full-time activists while the state pays their rent, which is fantastic, but it doesn't work here in the USA.

I make a living traveling the world and playing concerts, almost all of which are organized by local progressive activists of one kind or another. There are lots of great organizers out there who are able to consistently put together events that allow me to make a living, raise money for their projects, and bring together the local progressive community and leave them feeling inspired – all at the same time! Sometimes, though, the efforts people make result in badly-attended events that leave people feeling discouraged or sometimes well-attended events that, despite good attendance, fail to raise money for the performers or for the cause.

Aside from blizzards, volcanic eruptions, police raids and other things that are pretty hard to control, there are three main reasons why a benefit gig fails to be a benefit gig: fear of money, lack of effort or lack of knowledge about how to do a good job of organizing one. Lack of effort usually is tied to a lack of understanding of what's required to make the thing work, so I won't say anything more on that one, but I'll just run you through what's involved with doing it right.

But first, a promise: you never again need to utter phrases such as “we don't know how many people might show up,” “we don't have any money,” “we tried to get the word out but we're not sure if it worked,” “there are a lot of other things happening in town tonight so we don't know what's going to happen,” “I'm so nervous because I don't know if we're going to get a crowd,” etc. Whether you live in a big city, a college town, or even an economically-depressed town of a few thousand people somewhere in Appalachia, a few people each putting in a few hours a week of their time for a month leading up to an event is enough to result in an event that will raise between one and three thousand dollars and be attended by fifty to two hundred local people – consistently.

Symbiotic Buzz and Enthusiasm

The steps I'm going to run through below mostly pertain to some aspect of publicity. There are two things underpinning these different forms of publicity. One is that it all must be done in order to work – these things work best in symbiosis. By themselves they won't do as much, and most crucially, they won't generate the ever-important buzz. You are trying to create a situation that sparks the powerful phenomenon known as word of mouth. You need this to go viral, and you can make it do that, every time. Along with not skipping anything, you need to do it all with enthusiasm. This is an exciting, community-building event you're organizing. The performer(s) are fantastic and come from far away. You will meet your next best friend as well as the love of your life at this gig, etc., it is undoubtedly the place to be this week.

Charging a Cover

By passing around a bucket and asking for donations, in most cases, you will raise a small fraction of what you could raise by charging a cover. If you let the bucket sit somewhere without passing it around you'll usually raise even less. You can have a sign saying “no one turned away for lack of funds,” and people with no money can still come. But, you worry, this may make people feel uncomfortable and it's less intrusive for those folks if there's a bucket which they can quietly ignore. And this is true! However, if you want to do it right you have to charge a cover. What this means, to be precise, is to sit in front of the entrance with a cash box, look everybody in the eye, and ask them for $10 (or whatever you're charging, but in most of the US $10 is a good minimum amount to charge for a benefit show).

Advance Tickets and Sponsors

One of the advantages to charging a set cover is that you can sell advance tickets. Advance ticket sales can be your biggest way to make money. The money is raised, and most of the networking happens, long before the actual show. It's a win-win situation. In terms of advance ticket sales to individuals, the individual gets to support the cause whether or not they show up to the gig. Most people who say “I'll definitely be there” mean “I'm not sure if I'll make it but I think it's really cool that you're doing this.” Let them show their support by buying a ticket – then they'll feel much better when they don't make it to the event.

Another advantage is it can be a great networking opportunity and can be an important factor in the word on the street going viral. Here's one way to do it: go talk to people who work for a nonprofit, who run a small business, or who are involved with an activist group, a church, a union, or any other such grouping of people. Ask them if they want to cosponsor your event by buying 5 advance tickets for $50, and if they'd like to have their name on publicity materials as cosponsors. They can re-sell their tickets, use them themselves, give them away to their members or volunteers, etc. Talk to 30 people involved with different groups and you've raised over $1,000 -- weeks before the show happens!

Venues, Artists and Conventional Publicity

Three very common mistakes people make when they're organizing shows are: relying on venues, relying on the performer(s), and relying on the local newspaper to do much publicity – it's almost a certain way to make sure the gig's a flop if you focus too much on these traditional methods of publicizing events. Having said that, they are all still important potential ways to get more folks to come to your event.

In terms of the venue, aside from looking for a nice place that's free or cheap to use and will let us charge a cover, it can help a lot if the place is well-known and easy to get to for local people. Good music venues, whether it's a club that focuses on live music, a cafe that sometimes has performers, or a church coffeehouse series, will have an email list and contacts with local press.

While the venue may get your gig listed in the paper they will be unlikely to get you a cover story in the Arts section, which is the only print publicity that will really make much difference in terms of attendance. The possibility that the paper will run a story is of course completely uncertain, but the chances can be helped immensely if you send in a pre-written article about the artist coming to your town and other information about the event so they can run the story without having to pay a reporter to write it. They do this all the time – for better or for worse it is the norm at this point. The main problem with any publicity the venue or the local paper does is that it is not targeted to your organization's constituents nor to the artists fans, the two groups of people most likely to attend the event. It's great to get publicity out to a broad audience, but only a tiny minority of the general public who hear about an event will go to it.

In terms of the performer(s) and the publicity they might be able to do, there are several factors to bear in mind. If the musician is a local they probably perform locally too often to be able to help a whole lot with publicity. If the performer(s) are from far away, even if they have a big following, make a living as touring performers, and have many thousands of people on their email list altogether, they probably don't have more than a few dozen contacts on their list in any given city, and even if they only perform in your area once a year or less, probably not more than 10% of the people on their local list are going to come to a given show.

Social Networking, Facebook and Community Media

Effective social networking is very important and it mainly happens off-line. It seems terribly old-fashioned these days and it may not seem very attractive because it involves a serious time commitment. I'm talking about talking to your actual, real-life friends, acquaintances, neighbors and coworkers, giving them info about the show, encouraging them to come and encouraging them to help get the word out, sell advance tickets, etc. Use the phone, talk to people in person, and send emails to individual people.

Online social networking is also of great potential importance if you do it right. These days, doing it right means one thing in particular: having a Facebook account and knowing how to use it. One important way to use it is to create an Event page for the show and Tag everybody you can think of in your area, or people who know lots of folks in your area, including the performers! Share that on your Profile page regularly, keep putting it on the top and weekly reminding other people to do the same.

In terms of community media, on the one hand I'm talking about email lists and websites related to local groups with constituencies that are relevant to your event, one way or another. Bear in mind that even with a popular email list less than 10% of recipients will even open a given email, let alone read it. So as with most other forms of publicity, don't rely much on this avenue, but use it as much as possible and make sure any lists that are remotely relevant to your event are covered, hopefully on multiple occasions in the weeks leading up to the event.

On the other hand I'm talking about your local Pacifica affiliate or other community or college radio station. Get the show listed in the community calendar and try to line up phone or live interviews with hosts of relevant local programs. Don't expect much from this, but it's good to hook up the performers with the radio hosts in order to try to facilitate what you really want to line up, which is for someone at the station to create a PSA (Public Service Announcement, or cart) to plug the event, which, if all goes well, they will run during the breaks in the most popular program on the station (probably Democracy Now!) daily for a couple weeks leading up to the event. If they do this, this will bear fruit, far beyond anything else a community radio station might do for you. If there's any chance of getting them to do this it will only work if the show is a benefit (preferably a benefit for the station itself).

Outside of the US, including in most of Europe, there's not much in the way of community radio but there are mainstream local stations and even national programs you have a good chance of getting on to promote your event if you make an effort.

Posters and Handbills

Unless the performers at the event are very, very famous, posters are the least likely way to get an audience because it's not a targeted form of publicity, unless you put them up on popular bulletin boards in places where people look for info on events like yours, in which case the poster will get covered up within a few hours, so you have to return to the coop every day in many cases for this really to help. All forms of publicity are good, especially because each one reinforces the other and helps a little in getting that all-important viral effect happening, so do put up posters, but bear in mind that by themselves they're unlikely to have much impact.

The idea with handbills, on the other hand, is to use them in a more targeted way, and this can be very effective (but, as usual with effective things, more time-consuming for you). What this means is going to events that are likely to attract supporters of your organization or fans of the artist(s) and handing out small fliers about the event. Putting one on everybody's chair before the event begins and handing them out as people are leaving the event is the idea.

Artist Compensation

How you and your artist(s) deal with this question is up to you, but I encourage you to consider that if you're working with professional performers, even relatively well-known ones, they are probably quite low-income and may very well be wondering how they're going to pay next month's rent. Whether or not you make a guarantee of a certain payment with them, consider paying the musicians as part of your overhead along with other expenses involved with putting on the event. Bear in mind that hopefully your goal in putting on this event is to network and build your organization, raise money for it, as well as to foster a sense of community. Artists are integral to this process and need to be paid if they are to continue to share their talents with the public.

Other Odds and Ends

The causes that people will most readily get enthusiastic about are generally situations where there is a tangible, immediate project at hand that you're trying to raise money for, whatever it may be – raising money to send people to a conference or protest that's happening in two months, raising money to buy a new computer for your local pirate radio station, or to pay the rent for your local community theater, etc.

In your publicity materials don't say what time the event ends – just say what time it begins. Just trust me on that one.

Hopefully your event is going to be big enough that you'll need to have a sound system. Don't assume that the venue has one or that the artist is traveling with one – just ask them. If you need to rent one you can usually do this cheaply at a local music store – or see if they'll cosponsor the event by loaning you a sound system for free (and getting 5 advance tickets in exchange). A local musician may have a sound system you can borrow as well, whereas a traveling musician may have left theirs at home (if they have one).

Along with good sound, lighting can make a huge difference in terms of how the event feels. Even if you're having an event in a sterile lecture hall with fluorescent lights you can turn off those lights and bring in a couple of tall lamps to light the stage area instead. If there are no real stage lights in the venue you're using be creative and figure out how to light the event in a cozy way, without fluorescents or bright lights everywhere.

Keep your event short – not too short, but leave people wanting more. Don't schedule so many performers so that you risk people leaving mid-way through the night. A little over two hours is a good maximum length. Have breaks in between acts where people can freely mingle. Make sure the main performers on the bill are really good, and preferably have a significant following. If they're not good performers, then your publicity efforts are less likely to go viral and people are much less likely to come to future events you organize, or to feel particularly inspired the end of it.

Having a raffle at the event -- after attempting to sell raffle tickets to everybody who walks in the door, raffle prizes somewhere nearby and visible – is a great way to raise still more money at your event, sometimes a lot more. A lot of people will gladly buy multiple raffle tickets if you're doing a raffle, regardless of the prizes, but most people will be encouraged by knowing what the prizes are. They don't need to be terribly impressive though – a bottle of wine, a bottle of Palestinian olive oil, relatively little things like that will do the trick.


Doing a good job of organizing and publicizing a fundraiser is a lot like doing social change generally – there's no one way to do it, but by using lots of different avenues people get the sense that something is happening that they want to be a part of. People need to hear about your event in at least three different ways that seem to be independent of each other. Then they'll get excited about it and start telling their friends to meet them at the show.

A different version of this essay, more oriented to organizing shows specifically for me, can be found if you go to http://www.davidrovics.com and click on "How to Organize a Show."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tea Parties, Espresso Snobs, Freedom and Equality

I can't stand talk radio of any political persuasion, it's all too repetitive and emotional. But I like to keep tabs on the media landscape out there, and in terms of who's talking on the radio in much of the USA here are your choices, in order of prevalence: football, Jesus, Rush Limbaugh and, late at night when folks are apparently good and ready for it, shows about the government hiding the existence of aliens from outer space who are living in Nevada. If you find the “public” radio station and the classical music playing all day hasn't put you to sleep yet, for an hour or so in the evening you can listen to chirpy graduates of Ivy League schools with upper-class New England accents review the latest in French cinema or the newest innovations in poodle-grooming techniques. On TV it's even worse. Through this static there are a lot of people who are out of work and living in an overcrowded, dilapidated shack somewhere in Michigan or Texas who are desperately trying to make sense of the world around them.

The one redeeming thing about talk radio is that they actually allow people to call in now and then and the conversation isn't entirely one-way. It's clear who has the mike and who's steering things, but I'm always impressed at how often the disconnect comes up. That is, the caller is usually a good “ditto head” as long as we're lambasting hippies or the cultural elite or drug addicts or poor people attempting to take advantage of the remnants of our welfare system. But as soon as a caller says something negative about the corporations, corporate welfare, the corporations who took their business to Mexico and China and left unemployment and poverty in their wake, Rush quickly corrects their impression that the rich are in any way to blame for this situation – no, the unions are to blame for demanding a living wage, in case you didn't know.

For Rush, the pundits on Fox, and so on, it's all about freedom – freedom from the tyranny of the Democratic Party, who, according to their narrative, are intent on spending all of your tax money on helping people inside the US and around the world who are too lazy to help themselves, leaving you, the hard-working white American man, ignored and exploited. For Rush and company, above all, freedom is about freedom from government (when Democrats are involved) and the great importance of individual liberties – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to home school, the right to bear arms and be left alone. The Democrats want to make your children go to school and turn them into atheists, raise your taxes in order to waste more of your money, and take away your guns.

These are people who are often working two shit jobs to make ends meet whereas a generation ago one would have done just fine. They very legitimately feel disenfranchised and they're being told by the only voices on the airwaves that seem to resonate with an appropriate level of anger that their problems were caused by the Democrats and Democratic rule will make everything still worse. If you actually talk to these people, it often doesn't take long to realize that many of them feel almost as alienated by the Republicans as they do by the Democrats. You realize that if there were appropriately pissed off voices of the radical left broadcasting across the airwaves, reaching into the trucks on the highways and the trailers in the prairies, as long as these were the sorts of radical left voices that support individual liberty and aren't trying to take everybody's guns away, a good anti-corporate message would resonate perhaps more now than ever.

In fact, much of this stirring among the self-proclaimed “patriot” groups predates Obama. Many among this milieu were outraged by the bank bailout that happened under Bush's watch, just as most of the rest of society was. But it was only after the election of Obama that the Republican media mouthpieces (Fox, etc.) began blaming the new government for the imploding economy, as if the years of corrupt Republican rule never happened, as if the deregulation of the banking industry and the bank bailout was not supported by the Republicans as well as the Democrats.

Rush and Fox and company do their best to keep their listeners in a permanent state of confusion about where we've been, where we're at now and what the solution is – they do their best to make it look like the problem is anything but monopoly capitalism, rule of the rich, control of the government by the Fortune 500. But while many of their listeners may be skeptical about letting the corporate elite off the hook in terms of why so many hard-working, rugged individualists are in a state of deprivation despite their formidable efforts, it's not hard for them to agree with the pundits and “patriot” group leaders on one thing – that the Democratic Party is a hopelessly corrupt institution led by people who constantly say one thing and do another.

Now, most people, especially people who define themselves as progressive, would say exactly the same thing about the Republicans – and of course they'd be right. Both parties' leadership claim they're on the side of Main Street, not Wall Street – ordinary people, not the elite. The truth is quite evident to people who actually study the facts, rather than listening to the propagandists of either party: both of our ruling parties are thoroughly corrupted institutions serving the interests of the corporate elite, at the expense of the ordinary people of the US and ordinary people around the world.

The leadership of neither party questions our massive military expenditures. Both parties claim we're trying to bring democracy to other people, to better the lives of women and the oppressed in the Muslim world, when what the leadership of both parties know full well is that we're fighting wars for oil. For decades the Democrats, in and out of power but always part of the power structure, claim they stand for equality, for an egalitarian society. They always claim their social programs are going to house the poor, improve the schools, give people jobs – and, fundamentally, again and again, year after year, decade after decade, they lie. The schools continue to deteriorate, the jobs are harder to find and pay less, the opportunities for most people decrease, the society becomes increasingly divided, whether Democrats control the Congress and the White House or not.

The truth is in our country the rich and the big corporations are hardly taxed, while the working class and the small businesses bear the lion's share of the tax burden, and this is the program of both the RNC and the DNC. In our country neither party really supports social programs that could seriously lift our people up because both parties are too busy spending much of our money on nuclear bombs, corporate kickbacks and armies of private mercenaries. Both parties rule by a system of legalized bribery, called lobbying, that would land politicians in other ostensibly democratic countries in jail.

And if these angry listeners of Rush Limbaugh go looking for alternative versions of reality, let's hope they don't discover Mother Jones magazine, because they'll just be pushed right back into Rush's arms. In this month's issue we have a fearful expose of the Oath Keepers, and the editors lamenting that people like Rush “are actively negating a fundamental principle of American politics: that the government, no matter how much you might disagree with its representatives, is of, by, and for the people.” What a crock of shit. Mother Jones herself would be appalled at such drivel.

This is a government of, by, and for the corporate elite, which controls both parties. To regular people in the rest of the world this is fairly obvious. The “patriot” rank and file sense this but they've been actively misled by their supposed spokespeople for a long, long time, going way back before the invention of talk radio. But liberals whining that the “patriots” just need to play by the rules isn't helping at all. These people are angry for all kinds of good reasons – unemployment, poverty, and yes, most definitely taxation without representation – they are just confused about how things got this way, and this confusion is a state some very large corporations and their lackeys work very hard to maintain and benefit from.

I don't want to downplay the possibility of a serious fascist movement in this country. With forces like Rupert Murdoch and Dick Cheney at work, with a widespread perception that democracy has failed us, combined with growing hopelessness about the future prospects of “the American Dream,” the prospects for a real fascist movement are alarming. But let's not get into this stiff “us and them” dichotomy when it comes to the “patriot movement.” These are people with very legitimate complaints, and dismissing them as racists or whatever other label people on the left want to put on them is simplistic. They have certainly been fed a steady diet of pro-corporate and most definitely racist propaganda from the corporate media and from both major political parties for decades or longer. This doesn't excuse bigotry, but it certainly explains it.

Whether or not the “patriots” know it, neither corporate party is going to make things better for them, and under different circumstances, with accessible, local voices of real anti-elitist, anti-corporate, pro-human reason around them they might be a lot angrier and they might know what they're angry about. The grandparents of many of these disgruntled “patriots” were probably, in their youth in the 1930's throughout the midwest, taking back farms and homes by force which were foreclosed upon by banks, and joining massive unions of the unemployed. Rush is telling them the Democrats only care about “special interests,” which is entirely true (it's just that the special interests in question aren't the same ones Rush says they are). For their part, the Democrats are responding to the bubbling rage of this growing underclass with calls that they should just play by the rules, while steadfastly refusing to make the kinds of changes that could really make a difference – doubling taxes on the rich, outlawing corporate lobbying, ending corporate welfare, slashing the military budget, bringing the troops home, and hiring millions of new teachers and windmill-builders, for example. The “patriots” are outraged, whether or not they really understand why, and you should be, too – it's about as true now as it ever was, though many Democratic voters have removed their old bumper stickers: if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

If the so-called progressives of this country can't snap out of their Obama-induced slumber, take to the streets and vocally break ranks with both corrupt parties that are driving this country into the ground – if the left can't offer a serious, grassroots, anti-elitist alternative to rightwing populism, but insists on maintaining the ridiculous illusion that we live in a democracy, then the future will indeed be bleak, and ugly, and filled with “patriots.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How to Light a Prairie Fire

Here in the USA, millions of people are continuously losing their jobs and not finding new ones, millions more are losing their homes, still more millions are in prison for nothing more than self-medicating with drugs that arbitrarily happen to be illegal and will be discriminated against as felons for years to come. Tens of thousands are being shot to death every year, there are massacres happening somewhere in the country every other week or so, our Democrat-controlled government has just passed a health care “reform” that is being praised by the corporations who bought the government in the first place, we continue to spend as much on the military as the entire rest of the world combined, and our military is actively employed killing people in at least four different countries while threatening to expand that number. The oil industry is making good on their investments in the Congress and expanding off-shore drilling for the first time in twenty years, while the nuclear industry is getting a great bang for their Democratic buck and now has the chance to build new nuclear reactors for the first time in the US in three decades.

Those of us who have woken up from our Obama-induced trance state or never got hypnotized in the first place (because we're too busy being bombed by drones, for example) are feeling frustrated. Some of us, certainly, are venting that frustration in various constructive ways, but by and large that old “silent majority” is being pretty silent. As I travel around the country doing concerts people earnestly, often a bit desperately, wonder aloud to me, what's it going to take to get people really riled up and ready to do something about this situation? How much greater must the divide between the rich and poor grow? How many more ecological disasters? How much more climate change? How many more dead Muslims? Etc. People start feeling bad about their fellow Americans – are they just sheep after all?

Backing up a moment, the fact that people are asking the question “where are my fellow outraged citizens” tells me that one important thing is already understood, at least by most people who come to my shows – that mass movements of outraged citizens (and other people) is what's needed in order for real change to have a chance to occur. So then the question is, what are the conditions that need to exist for this movement to coalesce? If the situation is so bad for so many why is so little happening in reaction?

This is, of course, one of those perennial questions that everyone who yearns for a sane society is trying to answer. If there were a clear recipe, if it were like baking a loaf of bread or something that would be nice, but it's somewhat more complicated. If there's one thing I think many people need to understand – and there are probably many things, but if there's one thing that seems most relevant in what I get out of these conversations I'm having with people all over the place, it is this: sustained mass movements rarely happen unless many of the participants believe they might win.

It seems especially worth noting given that in hindsight everything is a bit less volatile – what's happened has happened. When you're there, making history, everything is much less predictable. The rebels in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 knew they were merely choosing the time and place of their deaths, and they referred to each other as “the walking dead.” They are the exception, however, not the rule – most rebellions take place in an atmosphere not just of need but of hope. The tens of thousands who went to Spain in the 1930's were not just planning to become martyrs. They were risking their lives, yes, but they thought that if enough of them joined in, and perhaps if France or Britain helped out a little (they didn't), they could defeat fascism in Spain. As for the thousands of brigadistaswho came from Germany and Italy, why did they not launch a rebellion against fascism in Germany or Italy in 1936 rather than going to Spain to fight German and Italian troops there? Because they thought in Spain they might win, and they had already lost the fight in their home countries for the time being, most of their comrades by then already dead or in prison camps.

You can't organize workers to go out on strike if they think they'll inevitably lose their jobs and get blacklisted – people are generally willing to strike if they think there's at least a decent chance that some of their grievances will be redressed. During the first two decades of the twentieth century there were millions of people involved with a militant labor movement that was ultimately crushed with the Palmer Raids and other events following World War I. During the 1930's another massive wave of labor organizing, this time resulting in lasting reforms to the capitalist system. Why no huge strike wave in the 1920's? Were conditions so good for workers then? No, there were other factors at play – among them the sense that victory was (or wasn't) possible.

The many thousands of people who were participating in the movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989 were not planning on being massacred, they were planning on bringing lasting change in China. The millions who poured into the streets of Caracas after the coup against Chavez in Venezuela in 2002 were not planning on being massacred, either. They were planning on bringing about the return of their president this way – and they were successful. A year later millions of people pouring into the streets of every city and many small towns in the US and around the world hoped through these demonstrations they could affect Bush's foreign policy. If they had known for sure before the fact how little impact this would have on the US government most of them would probably have stayed at home.

Of course there are innumerable other factors involved with movement-building – especially successful movement-building -- aside from the existence of conditions people want to change and people having a feeling of optimism about changing those conditions. I'll outline my take on some of those factors, for what it's worth.

It seems to me the first thing people need is a sense of who is out there. A heck of a lot of people in this country live in suburbs where they don't know their neighbors and their main contact with the world is what they see on TV, what they see out the window of their cars, and what they experience at either of their two jobs. These people and people around the country need to know that most of their fellow citizens are also unhappy with the status quo – according to mainstream poll after poll it is clear that most people think things like health care, housing and education should be government priorities rather than oil drilling and empire-building. Most people think action should be taken urgently to deal with climate change.

First and foremost it is a battle for the hearts and minds of the people. The ruling elite knows it, that's why they've bought up most of the airwaves and won't even let Al-Jazeera on cable here. Successful social movements have met this challenge in the past by creating their own media, running their own educational institutions, summer camps, theaters, etc. At the heart of successful social movements is a vibrant culture of resistance, complete with a more sensible historical narrative, a vision of a better society, and lots and lots of songs. There is a clear sense of a larger community of like-minded people and a sense of being part of a long and often successful history of social movements that have come before us.

The movements that tend to succeed are also broad-based, inclusive, and more or less democratically organized. There are commonly-held ideas about tactics and strategies. Tactics tend to be militant and may often be illegal, but are designed to build your support rather than to alienate your supporters.

Naturally, the ruling elite, their lackeys in Congress and the White House, bought and sold by the Fortune 500, will try to convince us that raising money for political campaigns and then voting in rigged elections is the way forward. (Either that or smashing the windows of your local Starbucks.) They won't tell you that democracy doesn't happen that way. Naturally, the ruling elite will have their own, much better-funded and far more ubiquitous institutions of learning, their media, their outlets of propaganda in Hollywood or Nashville.

But when people ask me whether I am hopeful in these dark times, my answer, unequivocally, is yes. Perhaps partially because I take a long view of history. But also because I am privy to a secret that is known well to the powers-that-be: for all the wealth and power of the corporate clique who are ruining the world for their private gain, they still require the consent of the governed. They will throw us crumbs while they rip us off and they will try to give us a false sense of security as we race headlong towards the proverbial wall. But, to use a dangerous word, there are basic truths on our side, and as someone said, ten minutes of truth can counteract 24 hours of lies.

We live in a corporate-run empire, not a democratic republic, and there is a mysterious thing that can happen when enough people who are being adversely affected by this fact understand it and realize that they're not alone. I was interviewing veteran organizer Leslie Cagan for my internet radio show the other day, asking her about the police infiltrators constantly trying to create divisions within activist groups. “They're just people,” she said. And just like us, they can make mistakes, and regularly do.

What I'm trying to say is, sure, always question tactics, strategies and visions. But whatever you do, ye fellow members of the choir, know your history and don't give up. Know that as you're apparently spinning your wheels, doing whatever things you do to try to organize, educate, agitate or otherwise work to build the infrastructure of a future democratic society, the darkest hour is often just before the dawn. At any moment, apparently quite suddenly, the spell can be broken, and things can shift. That another such moment is coming is certain. What we and our neighbors will do with it is the question.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I'm A Better Anarchist Than You

Some Thoughts on Vancouver and the Black Bloc

I love a good riot. The distant sound of things breaking, the smoke billowing from whatever is burning, the young men and women busily smashing whatever they can find into fist-sized pieces, launching the objects over the heads of their fellow rioters (if all goes well) and into the ranks of the black-clad police with their Ninja Turtle armor, translucent plastic shields and their array of far more sophisticated weaponry. I love the scent of tear gas (if I'm just on the outskirts of the cloud), it's exhilarating, the scent of possibility, of the situation's volatility, the thrilling uncertainty. The excitement of seeing the barricades get lit on fire, knowing that no police vehicle, no matter how well-armored, is going to drive through that.

They're going to have to put the fire out first, and until they manage to get some big hoses to the scene (which might require the participation of the fire department, which might not want to participate), this is our block. Maybe the police even retreat a couple times under particularly heavy volleys of rocks and bottles, the crowd surges and cheers, meanwhile the more experienced rioters stay busy gathering wheelbarrows full of more things to throw at the cops, knowing they'll be back soon. My neighbor says it's because I'm an Aries, but whatever it is, if I find myself in the midst of such a situation, the memories are all fond ones of the rush and the togetherness of the moment. It's a warm, fuzzy feeling, really.

However, most people in most of the countries with which I'm fairly familiar – the US, Canada, England, Germany, Denmark, Australia, Japan – don't feel that way. For most people I meet riots are scary things and they don't care or notice much whether it was a chain store's windows smashed or a local one, whether only SUV's were torched or hybrids, too, whether any passersby got hurt in the process or not. The major news outlets don't pay much attention to what the underlying reasons for the rioting is – just enough about the situation for people to associate the riot with the cause and the cause with scary people who aren't like them.

I've been home in Portland over the past couple weeks, not in Vancouver for the Olympics and the accompanying protests that tend to materialize when a gigantic corporate event and the international media covering it rolls into (and over) the town. By European standards the event the media was focusing on sounds like it was a pathetic little riot, a few smashed windows and overturned newspaper boxes, but it managed to attract the lion's share of Canadian and even international media coverage, as usual – it's sensational, but more than that it serves the purposes of corporate media outlets who, for political reasons, want to make most protesters look bad and don't want people going out to rock the boat in the first place.

By my informal count traveling around, I'd say that most people in many countries are afraid to go to protests, even if their sympathies are with those protesting. They're afraid of what they've heard in the media about how things get out of control. They'd rather avoid lines of police in riot gear, and they feel unsafe at the thought that what they believed was going to be a nonviolent event might suddenly get scary when a small group of people decide to start throwing rocks through store windows.

Some of the rock-throwing anarchists (as opposed to the far more numerous non-rock-throwing variety of anarchists) will now ask, who cares? Who cares if lots of people are afraid to come to protests because of us. They're “liberals” anyway (anyone who doesn't support your right to riot is a liberal, in case you didn't know).

But here's the thing: we need a mass movement, and contrary to what certain popular primitivist authors like to say, a few thousand dedicated people are not going to accomplish much of anything, let alone revolutionary change, without the support of a mass movement. That is, whatever tactics you're using to organize resistance groups of any kind, the tactics need to be ones that don't completely alienate the general public (very much including the “liberals”). And the general public tends to be freaked out by groups of people committing acts of violence (or forms of property destruction that seem violent to them). In recent decades lots of people in lots of places have embraced all kinds of militant and often effective tactics – strikes, bus boycotts, sit-ins, building take-overs, nonviolent civil disobedience of all kinds. Those of any political persuasion who would say that tactics like these are universally ineffective are simply ignorant.

Equally, there have been some pretty darn effective movements that have employed violence around the world over the past few decades and centuries, and you'd have to be an extremely ideological pacifist not to recognize that. But these movements that have employed violent means have used a lot more than rocks. It takes a pretty desperate situation (say, Cuba in 1959) for movements like that to garner popular support, and there's not a serious guerrilla movement anywhere that wouldn't admit that the fish need the sea in which to swim, or they quickly die.

In the context of most modern, relatively well-off countries, it seems quite evident that rioting – even if it's not much of a riot – only impedes anyone's efforts at building a movement. It is, in fact, a much-used strategy of the police, as we've seen time and time again certainly throughout North America, Europe and elsewhere. I have no doubt that the first rock thrown is thrown by an undercover cop at least half the time in most situations. I also have no doubt that most of the young people participating in Black Bloc and advocating for “diversity of tactics” (translation: “don't tell me not to throw rocks, you oppressive, ageist liberal carnivore!”) are well-meaning people doing a lot of good work in their communities when they're not throwing rocks through windows. But whether or not they want to believe it, when they start throwing rocks during a march they are doing exactly the same work as the police provocateurs – I mean literally, not figuratively.

Black Bloc: doesn't this make you wonder about what the fuck you're doing?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ireland: The Arrest of Pat O'Donnell

In a country with the kind of tumultuous history that Ireland has it's not surprising that a man being arrested and jailed for seven months would escape the notice of the media, at least outside of Ireland. What should hopefully pique some interest is that this is a man with a long history of being bullied, intimidated, arrested and treated roughly by the authorities for his nonviolent resistance against Shell Oil's construction of a gas pipeline, and now the judge is calling him a bully and jailing him for seven months on the extremely dubious charge of intimidating an officer.

To be sure, this is not Nigeria, where Shell regularly massacres those opposed to the oil drilling which is destroying the environment and the livelihoods of so much of the population. Shell doesn't run Ireland in the way it controls Nigeria. But at the same time, much like my own country, the Irish government has proven itself to be far from free of corruption.

When I arrived in Dublin last June, on the other side of the country from where Pat O'Donnell's family has fished the bay for the past five generations, the Shell to Sea campaign was a subject that came up regularly in conversation. There was, and is, a buzz around it because, especially for those of us the authorities like to denounce as “professional activists,” the Shell to Sea campaign in County Mayo is inspiring as an example of an effort that has brought together people from all walks of life. To be sure, there are many scruffy young activists involved of all sorts, from Dublin, Cork and Galway, with and without dreadlocks, along with scruffy environmentalists from England, France and elsewhere. But the backbone of the campaign are local school teachers and fishermen.

Despite my GPS it was difficult to find the tiny town of Rossport in Mayo because, well, it didn't seem to exist. Occasionally there was a cell phone signal and I was able to make contact with a very patient volunteer, but between the two of us we couldn't figure out where I was or how to get to Rossport from there. My traveling partner, fellow US musician Shawnee Kilgore and I resorted to asking for directions, which we ended up doing frequently. Once in a pub full of three generations of locals enjoying the craic, then at a little grocery store. The woman in the grocery store was the last little town we came to, then it was all narrow dead-end streets that ended at someone's farm. At one such farm we were met by a very nice but completely unintelligible elderly farmer whose border collie herded us into submission when we got back in the car and wouldn't let us leave for a good couple minutes.

Like everyone else we had met in Ireland, people seemed to have a positive view of the campaign in Rossport. Until now our sample had been fairly self-selecting, the types of folks who come to leftwing folk music shows, but here in Mayo it was a decidedly random sample. The next person from whom we asked for directions was a young man with a wheelbarrow full of shit, a physique that suddenly made me question my heterosexuality, and the humble, friendly manner that gives the Irish countryside its reputation.

Once we crossed into County Mayo, and increasingly as we neared our destination, there were home-made signs of all sorts on the sides and roofs of barns, perched in front of haystacks and all kinds of other places making clear in no uncertain terms that Shell and its pipeline were not welcome here. Finally, getting tantalizingly close to our destination, we stopped in front of the house of a transplant from England, yet another sympathizer, who was the last person from whom we required assistance that day. (After that, finding our way around got a bit easier because I could at least find our way back to the camp by saving our coordinates on my GPS. The GPS had the road in there marked as “road,” which was better than nothing...)

First we found the B&B where we were booked in for the next couple nights, a couple miles down the road where the Shell to Sea camp was now set up. The woman running the B&B was another strong supporter of the campaign. She also had probably the only wifi signal to be found for a hundred miles. We asked her where to find the camp, and she explained that now that we had gotten this far it was easy – just drive down the road a bit further and you'll see all the police vehicles.

The ranks of the police as well as of the campaigners were swelled that weekend for the planned events, which were many-fold – an introduction to the campaign for newcomers, a workshop on how to do civil disobedience, a workshop on how to talk to the media and workshops on other subjects, a mini-festival with an impressive roster of punk, hiphop and acoustic performers from several different countries, and an attempt to scale the formidable steel fence surrounding the nearby Shell base of operations for this stage of the pipeline-building operation.

Within a couple hours of our arrival I found myself sitting around a fire on a field that sloped down to the water fifty meters away. Sitting on logs and chairs around the fire with people from County Mayo and others from England, Lithuania and elsewhere in Ireland, a man sat down and introduced himself to us one by one. This was Pat O'Donnell. He thanked us for coming and joked that a few years ago people in the town would cross the road in fear if they saw someone looking like some of these unwashed feral types, but now they were all good friends. Around the fire there Pat gave us an informal course on why this community had mobilized against Shell.

Although the circumstances are always different wherever you go, I was reminded sitting around that fire of other small gatherings around a firepit where I have heard other people say the same things. Sometimes the phrases are identical. I heard elderly Dineh women around a firepit in Arizona talking about the uranium mines and middle-aged farmers from the Wendlandt area of Germany talking about the nuclear waste transports. I imagined Pat O'Donnell had never been to Arizona, but he'd sure find the discussions familiar there in Black Mesa.

Some people are cynical and just accept that “progress” is inevitable, he said. Some make money from selling property to the corporation. Others talk about the jobs the pipeline will bring in. But what about those whose livelihoods will be lost when the fish becomes toxic? What about the drinking water they're going to poison? They say their operations are safe but we know that's not true, we know their safety record, it's disastrous.

It's when people like Pat start talking about “generations” that I feel like I'm in a David and Goliath type movie – the Milagro Beanfield War or Civil Action or something – my family has been fishing here for five generations and I want to make sure we can fish here for the next five generations.

Certainly the only people visible in Rossport who supported Shell were the police, and there were a lot of them, from all over Ireland. Pat and others from the community gave speeches to those police that would make a fascist cry, one would think, but the police were studiously unmoved. Others protesting were a bit more confrontational at least in their chants, if not in their actions – “Whose cops? Shell's cops! Whose cops? Shell's cops!”

Attempts to scale the fence were beaten back, literally. One young Lithuanian man (a different Lithuanian than the one around the fire the day before) suffered a badly sprained ankle from being shoved down the hill by the police. It seemed like it might be broken. I drove him to the nearest hospital an hour away. Except for the local folks I was one of the few at the camp who knew I could find my way back. (Oddly enough it seemed that half the other people there at that emergency room that day were there for injuries below the knee.)

While some local people will profit from Shell's operations, the company itself stands to make hundreds of billions of dollars from this vast untapped resource off the west coast of Ireland, but these profits will clearly come from the poisoning of the air, land and water of County Mayo and the region. Moreover, the Irish people, ostensibly the owners of this vast resource, are virtually giving it away. In 1987 and again in 1992 laws were passed that decreased the share of profit from such operations tremendously for the Irish public. One government minister was jailed for corruption as a result of the 1987 law but it remains on the books.

Most of the people arrested on the day of the protest that I participated in were released later that day. I found out later that a few days after I visited the Shell to Sea camp Pat O'Donnell's fishing boat was boarded by four masked men who held Pat and a colleague in a room while the four men sank their fishing boat. Pat and his friend only survived because they were quick with getting on an inflatable raft, from which they were eventually rescued. And now, eight months after the sinking of his ship by these mysterious masked men, Pat is in jail. Coinciding with Pat's imprisonment, Shell is making plans to get a lot of work done in his enforced absence.

As Shawnee and I headed towards Belfast for the next gig we had after our weekend in Rossport we were pulled over by the Gardai. They asked to see my license and the ID of the other three people in the car (we were giving a ride to a couple folks who had come down from Belfast for the festivities). They took notes. They didn't say why we had been pulled over. They told me my American driver's license wasn't valid in Ireland (untrue) and that they could take my car from me. They said the car may be legal in Belfast (where it was rented) but not in the Irish Republic (where I had rented cars on many occasions with the same license). Then, out of the goodness of his heart, he decided to let us go – this time.

No, Ireland isn't Nigeria. The outside agitators get harassed, not shot. The community organizers have their boats sunk by thugs and are regularly imprisoned, they're not hanged. But in Ireland as in Nigeria, Royal Dutch Shell lies about their safety record, lies about their intentions, while making obscene profits off of the poisoning of the environment while most of the local people have less than nothing to show for any of it.

David Rovics is a singer-songwriter based in Portland, Oregon. For more information about the Shell to Sea campaign go to www.shelltosea.com.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Arresting Gandhi

“Violent Clashes” and the Arrest of Abdullah Abu Rahma

He's a Palestinian man, and he has one of those very Muslim-sounding names with “Abu” in it (it means “father of”). Any time his name is mentioned in the media it tends to be quickly lined up with phrases like “violent clashes.” If the article is more than one paragraph long then somehow or other the topic of suicide bombing will make its way into the discussion. And the Israelis have charged him with weapons possession and have arrested him (the weapons are an assortment of used bullets and tear gas canisters that have been fired at Abdullah and his family, but no matter). Many readers will by then have decided by then that it's all pretty scary and complicated and they'd best move on.

The Israeli military's “tougher line” on “West Bank protests” made its way into the New York Times last Friday and mention was made of some of those arrested, injured and killed by the Israelis in the course of the weekly Friday protests that are now happening in a number of villages – villages like Bil'in, where Israel's massive new wall is being constructed just outside the town, cutting the village off from its farmland, its water and the livelihood of its residents. As part of their “tougher line” the IDF been arresting protest organizers, or in many cases killing them, always claiming the killings are accidental. Basem Abu Rahma, for example, was recently killed by a high-velocity tear gas canister shot directly at his chest, the same type of weapon that nearly killed American activist Tristan Anderson months before.

And now Abdullah is in jail. The overwhelming majority of the world community doesn't know, and why should they? After all, the Palestinians have yet to find “their Gandhi” – Bono said so, among others. And the IDF spokesman quoted by the Times says of the weekly protests, “these are violent, illegal, dangerous riots.” Therefore there is justification for the hundreds of Palestinian children killed by the IDF over recent years – sometimes they were throwing rocks. Let's stay with the logic here a moment. Take their land and build walls around it, arrest their parents for organizing nonviolent protests, kill their children for throwing rocks (while arresting their parents), call all that “violent, illegal, dangerous riots” and do it all again the next day.

Spokespeople for Israel like to say that if people in, say, Europe had to deal with this sort of thing the Europeans would be doing the same sorts of things as the IDF, except worse, since as everybody knows (or at least as all Israelis have been told repeatedly by their leaders since birth), the IDF is the most moral army in the world.

For what it's worth I'd like to try to put all this into some kind of context. I have been to Bil'in, I stayed at Abdullah Abu Rahma's house, and I witnessed the “violent clashes.” I have also been in the midst of many far more “violent clashes” in Europe than what I witnessed in Bil'in, and I think the contrast is completely relevant.


The Israeli military's new tactic (if “new” is even remotely applicable here) is nothing short of breaking down doors in the middle of the night and arresting the pillars of the community for the crime of being pillars of the community. If Abdullah Abu Rahma were in a different context, say in some equally small town in Massachusetts, he's undoubtedly the sort of guy who would be an active member, and perhaps occasionally president, of the local Rotary Club. He's the sort of guy anybody from anywhere would recognize in their community – a reliable, gentle man without any grandiose ambitions in life, a family man, content with village life. But due to circumstances he finds himself on the front lines of an ever-encroaching, ever-expanding process of annexation and settlement -- the land-hungry state of Israel. So instead of presiding over Rotary Club meetings he spends his time trying to get foreign media attention on what is happening to his village. Instead of giving his second house to his children he uses it for young people from around the world who come every Friday for the weekly protests he organizes against the wall.

Abdullah is very familiar with Ramallah, only a half hour drive from Bil'in (depending on the ever-present possibility of the IDF's moving checkpoints). He knows where every office of every media outlet is in this little capital city, and when I visited in 2005 he took me to every one of them, encouraging the reporters for Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabia and others to come cover this week's protest. The weekly protests often feature visiting dignitaries of some kind, and this week it was two musicians – me and an elderly classical pianist from the Netherlands who was a Jewish holocaust survivor and an outspoken critic of Israeli policies.

At first the protest in Bil'in followed a familiar format. We held a small rally involving a couple speeches, a song and an instrumental piece on the piano. Then we marched towards the site where the wall is being built. More speeches and music. The military, in riot gear, began clubbing and arresting people and firing tear gas.

What followed that was a departure from what might be called the normal European script. Children as young as ten began throwing stones, popping out from behind buildings to throw a stone, then ducking back again, while the soldiers fired rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas canisters and other projectiles at them.

The Friday I was there several were arrested but no one was killed or seriously injured. Other occasions have been far more lethal, and in the course of identical scenarios over the past months and years in the West Bank and Gaza many hundreds of children have been killed by the soldiers.

Stones are certainly potentially harmful things to have thrown at you, no doubt, but in the context of soldiers in riot gear armed with machine guns and usually hiding behind tanks and armored bulldozers, stones are a symbolic protest, meant to evoke images from Jewish mythology, of little David taking on the invincible Goliath.

The children are killed for throwing stones, and what are the consequences for the killers? Nothing other than the pangs of their own consciences. Why? Because Israel is only a democracy for Israeli citizens, and the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are occupied subjects, not citizens. And in the minds of so many Israeli Jews the Palestinian children are just future “terrorists” and not worth defending from the soldiers -- from their sons, brothers and fathers who are doing the killing.


Contrast can be illuminating. Seeing the stone-throwing youth I am reminded of many scenarios in which I have found myself in Europe. Except in Germany and Denmark the youth throwing the stones have been older, mostly in their older teens or twenties, and there are more of them, many more. The police are dressed in riot gear like the Israelis, but they don't usually have guns, and if they do they almost never use them. They fight rocks with clubs and tear gas. They charge and they retreat. As in the Israeli media, the European media derides the youth with stones as misguided and violent. The youth are arrested, sometimes jailed for months for their offenses.

The differences are many. The European stone-throwing youth are charged for their offenses, unlike the Palestinian kids who are often held indefinitely without charges. Also, the European youth are rarely killed, and when they are, there are consequences. Why are there consequences? Because in Europe there is something more more closely resembling democracy than in Israel. Mass movements of citizens in the streets and voters in the voting booths have made sure over the decades that the police are not allowed to use whatever weapons they want and kill citizens with impunity. When Carlo Giuliani was killed in Italy during the G8 protests nine years ago, hundreds of thousands of regular Italian people poured into the streets across the country to protest the killing of this 23-year-old anarchist youth. Several months ago in Greece a teenager was killed by police in Athens and since then the whole country has been rocked by massive protests and riots against police brutality.

But Israel, some will say, is a victim of “terrorism.” By extension these stone-throwing youth are somehow “terrorists” and therefore different standards apply. But it's not true. In recent years in Madrid and London scores of people have been killed in suicide bombings, but this has not led the Spanish or British militaries to start killing en masse Spanish or British youth who may be (and often are) misguided enough to throw rocks at the police in the course of a protest.


In Denmark there is a group called Parents Against Police Brutality. These are people who tend to see the police as often playing a provocative role (for example in destroying the anarchist social center, Ungdomshuset not long ago) and they go to protests more or less as observers to make sure the police aren't hurting their children. They're not there to tell the kids what to do, they're just there to make sure the police don't hurt them. Whereas in the western media the question is rhetorically asked why the Palestinian parents allow their children to go throw stones at tanks, nobody asks why the parents of Denmark let their kids go throw stones at cops. The Danish parents would generally just prefer that the police would stay home in the first place and not give their kids such an obvious and deserving target for their frustration (since they weren't born yesterday and they remember that it was the police who destroyed their social center, for example).

In Germany, following the fairly sizable riots during the G8 meetings in Rostock, some conservative politicians were complaining that the police, a number of whom had suffered broken bones in the melee with protesters, needed to be better armed. The politicians said the police should be given tasers, pellet guns, and whatever else. The police chief responded that they didn't want projectiles, as this would escalate things in future confrontations with angry citizens.

It's been years since there's been any significant Palestinian-led violence against Israelis, and Israel is increasingly at risk of being seen universally, maybe even eventually in the US itself, as the aggressor. Shooting children looks especially bad when the kids don't have suicide vests on, if all they're ever doing is throwing stones at tanks. Knowing that if they suppress peaceful protest by arresting people like Abdullah Abu Rahma, Jamal Juma, and many others, this will help encourage other, less peaceful forms of protest, the Israeli leadership seems to be doing its best to foster a more violent opposition, hopefully one just violent enough to give Israel the justification it needs to continue to keep the Palestinian population controlled through wanton brutality.

Maintaining a lack of democracy, keeping the Palestinian population in a state of fear, and maintaining at least a smokescreen of viability in the eyes of the west by having a legitimately violent menace to combat are all essential ingredients to keeping Israel Israel, or at least to keeping the West Bank for their settlers. The Palestinians most definitely have their adherents to Ghandian nonviolence, I have met many of them – and they are being systematically arrested.