November 20, 2016

Two movies for our times - Loving and Denial

Entering into the age of Trump, it is interesting to note that there are several movies that I believe are must see films. One of them is the wonderful movie Loving which tells the story of Mildred and Richard Loving. Their marriage and Supreme Court case brought an end to the anti-miscegenation laws in the United States.  Another is Denial, a movie based on a court case in England that put an end to ability of holocaust deniers to sue for libel.

Loving, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, is a powerful and moving film. Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving grew up in the rural unincorporated town of Central Point, Virginia. They met in high school, spent time together, and eventually, when Mildred became pregnant, decided to marry. But this was the 1950’s and Mildred was African American and Richard was white. Virginia had anti-miscegenation laws which made their marriage illegal. How did these two young people get beyond Jim Crow and fall in love? Well that had a lot to with Central Point VA.

Today many people say they “don’t see color,” but I have always felt that is a cop out that allows people to hide their racism. Richard and Mildred saw beyond color. They understood the reality of the world of segregation that they lived in, but they saw beyond those laws. By growing up in an integrated community they were able to see beyond the social construct of race to reality of their love.

Denial tells the story of Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. In 1996 Ms. Lipstadt, along with Penguin Books, was sued for libel in England by David Irving, an anti-Semite and holocaust denier whom she wrote about in a book. Irving lost the libel suit because Lipstadt’s and Penguin’s lawyer proved that Irving really was a racist and anti-Semite. Irving went on to be banned by countries around the world for promoting Nazism and racism. During the past 2 years we have seen the rise of the “big lie” in campaign for president. We have also witnessed a change in this country. One that is trying to normalize racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islamism and xenophobia. We have seen a return to openness of groups like the KKK and Neo-Nazi’s around the country. We need to stand up and actively fight against this racism. We need to look for the “big lie” and take it on.

To me Denial is an important movie because its central argument revolves around the idea of the “big lie.” The libel laws in England require that a writer prove that their claims are true, rather than having the subject prove that they are false, as the law in the United States is written. So Lipstadt’s lawyers had to prove that Irving manipulated the facts of history, omitting some events and lying about others to support his view of history. At the end of the film there is a scene where Lipstadt is talking to students and basically says that it is important for everyone to pay attention to what people say and to stand up to the lies that are put out to justify political stands and campaigns.

Ms. Lipstadt is consistent in her view of the Holocaust. She has criticized those who use the Holocaust to justify Israel’s position in relation to Palestine saying:
“…the 'hysteria' and 'neuroses' of many Jews and Israelis who compare the current situation in Europe and in the Middle East to the Holocaust era. 'People go nuts here, they go nuts. There's no nuance, there’s no middle ground, it’s taking any shade of grey and stomping on it. There are no voices of calm, there are no voices of reason, not in this country, not in Israel.” 

Today, in the United States, we have entered to era of the big lie, the little lie, lie about the lie. Politicians of both parties will say and do whatever they feel will get them into power. Yes, some sides will lie more than others, and our President Elect lied more than any politician in recent history. In attempting to “normalize” Trump, we now have major news organizations accepting the lies and racism put out by him and his advisors. We must always be ready to find the truth. We cannot just wait and see what Trump does out of “respect for the office.” History has shown us that workers must take on racism and fascism. We cannot sit back and wait. We have seen Trump’s politics.

We also must hold the media to account. We cannot allow them to normalize the racism and fascism that is bubbling up. We cannot accept Steve Bannon in to White House. We cannot accept racists like Jeff Sessions or Rudy Giuliani. We cannot accept the registration of Muslims, and certainly not the use of Japanese internment camps from World War II to justify it. We cannot accept the attack on undocumented workers. We must be active in the fightback against the growing tide of lies and fascism.

November 13, 2016

Don't Mourn the Election - Organize for the Future

I haven’t posted here in quite a while, but events of the past week have renewed my desire to speak out and restart the forum. I am still processing what the next 4 year will be like, and how best to take on the power structure of this country, both Republican and Democrat. The biggest lift I have had this week was taking part in the Anti-Trump rally in NYC on Saturday Nov. 12, 2016.

I mourned the election results on Wednesday morning, but by midday my attitude had changed from being upset about what happened to figuring out what comes next. Where do we go from here? How do we fight to protect the rights and that have been won, and move forward to a society that provides for the needs of all the people that live here. I found hope in the protests that sprang up immediately after election. Thousands of people across the country have taken to the streets. I have been angered by the more than 200 reported acts of open racism and anti-immigrant intimidation that have taken place in the 4 days since Trump was elected. I have been heartened by the expressions of support that been posted across the internet.

Sitting home is not an answer. At home we get buried in the broadcast news and lose touch with each other. So yesterday I went out to join with other New Yorkers to take a stand against the racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia that has been unleashed. I have been to many protests over the years. Sometimes they feel like just a large group made up of the members of many smaller groups. I have been in marches where almost all of the signs are what I call “.org” sign. Pre-printed with a group’s website on the bottom. That was not what happened yesterday.

News report put the crowd in NYC at 20,000-25,000 people. To me that means it was probably closer to 50,000. Fifth Avenue was filled from sidewalk to sidewalk for ten blocks. It was huge. And almost all of the signs I saw were homemade. The crowd was diverse and dedicated. It was really inspiring. Here are some of the things that I saw.

So what comes next? I have no illusions about the next 4 years. The Electoral College will choose Trump, to think not is a pipe dream. He will be inaugurated. I also have no illusions as to what the world would have been like if Clinton had been elected. We live in a system that puts profit above people. We must take on that system. That being said, Trump is a qualitative move towards a more openly fascist America. This is a time where we must join together and fight for the issues that are most important to us. To fight racism. To fight the demonization of the other. To realize that no worker is illegal. To fight for healthcare for all. To fight for good public education and housing.  To fight to bring about a system that meets the needs of all of its members, not just the rich, not the corporations.

I don’t have the answers yet. I know that I saw some very inspiring things on Saturday. I will continue to be involved in groups that I think can make a difference and be involved in movements that I think speak to the issues that I think are important. I am presenting these groups because I am a member of each and I think they are important:

MORE Caucus in the UFT – Part of a growing number of social justice caucuses in teacher’s union around the country. MORE takes on both the day to day conditions of teachers in the union and the effects of living in a racist society that puts the corporate “education deform” movement ahead of the real needs of our students.

Jewish Voices for Peace – because the anti-Muslim forces in this country are deeply tied to the apartheid government in Israel/Palestine.

Bronx Climate Justice North – because the fight over the environment and environmental racism is the one of the main battles we face.

These are not the only organizations out there. There are many, both local and national. I urge everyone who has been upset and depressed since Election Day to get out and find a group to support, not just financially, but in person. Find the people in your community who are taking on power and figure out ways to be involved and do it better.