Archive for November, 2011

November 24, 1985: The Colman School Occupation

By • on November 24, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Seattle’s Colman School, located in Rainier Valley and built in 1909, stood out for many years as a symbol for the city’s African-American community due to the distinction of being the first school in Seattle attended by black students, as well as having hired many black teachers. When it was closed by the Seattle School District in June 1985 due to the expansion of neighboring Interstate 90, many felt the building should have been converted into a black history museum–an idea which had first been proposed in 1981. When a city government task force formed to discuss the idea went in the direction such endeavors often go–namely, nowhere–a group of African-American community activists began, on the date in focus here, a direct-action occupation of the building as a means of forcing the issue forward.

The activists, numbering roughly 40, entered the building, located at 24th Avenue South and South Atlantic Street, through a window that had been broken earlier by vandals. The building had lights, but no heat and no running water. Charlie James, spokesman for the activists, said, “We understand it’s going to be cold and uncomfortable, but we have a mission to accomplish.”

The main roadblocks to the activists’ stated goal of claiming the Colman School for the proposed museum were much more bureaucratic than ideological in nature. While many in Seattle’s city government, including Mayor Charles Royer, openly supported the museum in principle, the Seattle School District was at the time negotiating with the Washington State Department of Transportation for the transfer of the property from the city to the state. Thus, the acquisition of the building was a much more complicated legal task than it would have been had the land still been simply owned by the city. The immediate goal of the occupation was to let the city know that the activists were serious about claiming the Colman School as the ideal location for the museum.

While the school district warned the group of the illegality of the occupation, it refused to arrest or evict the activists for fear of bad publicity. Four of the activists–James, Earl Debnam, Michael Greenwood, and Omari Tahri–would continue to occupy the school for eight years, making their action the longest act of civil disobedience in U.S. history to date.

The occupation finally ended in 1993 when the Seattle city government at long last agreed to fund the museum. The dream soon became deferred when the activists found themselves at odds with a group of mainstream local black civic leaders who wanted to use their clout in City Hall to carry the project forward. It would be another ten years of lawsuits and bad blood before Seattle’s Urban League was able to buy the building from the Seattle School District for $800,000. The final result of the Colman School occupation, the Northwest African American Museum, part of a complex that also contains 36 apartments dedicated as affordable housing, opened on March 8, 2008.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: “African American Task Force Formed,” The Seattle Medium, February 13, 1985; Kathleen Klein and Mary Rothschild, “Goal of sit-in: a black museum,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 26, 1985, p. D 1; Charles E. Brown, “Activists move in at old school,” The Seattle Times, November 26, 1985, p. B 1; Kathleen Klein, “Museum supporters plan to stay at school,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 27, 1985, p. D 1; Connie Cameron, “Takeover at Colman,” The Seattle Medium, December 5, 1985; Trevor Griffey, “A Dream Fulfilled,” Colors Northwest, March 2008; Charlie James, “The Complete History of Seattle’s Newest Museum,” The Seattle Times, March 20, 2008.

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Just When You Think Obama Couldn’t Possibly Be An Even Bigger Asshole…

By • on November 21, 2011 at 12:49 am

He goes and proves you wrong.

Er, considering his is probably gonna be a one-and-done presidency, you’d think he’d get busy and work out the Obama Doctrine already. You know, for his “legacy”, and all.

Hey dude, if you’re looking for suggestions, here’s one (free of charge):

Everything Dubya Bush did, we’ll just keep doing it — only maybe a little more extreme-like. Gotta show all these fuckin’ numb-nuts protestors who’s boss, yo.


Reclaim Our History Nov. 16-30

By • on November 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Nov. 16, 1997: After a silent, half-mile long “funeral procession” attempts to enter the base, 601 are arrested at School of the Americas. Nov. 17, 1989: 10-20,000 teens try to march to Wenceslas Square in Prague, Czechoslovakia; 400 injured. Begins a series of mass demonstration that leads to downfall of regime, splitting of country. Nov. [...]

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Collusion in the Defense of the 1% is No Vice

By • on November 18, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Well, perhaps. But it’s certainly no surprise. Interesting report this evening in the San Francisco Bay Guardian suggesting that big city mayors have not been the only ones making conference calls in an effort to coordinate crackdowns on Occupy Movement encampments: …a little-known but influential private membership-based organization has placed itself at the center of [...]

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A Pastoral Lament

By • on November 16, 2011 at 9:45 am

You could feel the tension and raw energy crinkling throughout the air as the marchers once again began their journey into downtown Seattle. The Occupy Movement is the prophetic voice of God calling out to the nation to “repent” and turn from its ways of corruption. Those who camp are a ragtag, motley crew made [...]

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Still Occupied

By • on November 15, 2011 at 11:28 pm

The occupation is dead. Long live the occupation. Amidst the massive media coverage of the military-style eviction Tuesday morning of the original Occupy Wall Street encampment at New York’s Zuccotti Park, an interesting factoid surfaced thousands of miles away. In an interview with the BBC, Oakland mayor Jean Quan, whose police force forcibly evicted that [...]

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Reclaim Our History: Nov. 1-15

By • on November 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Special “Occupy Oakland” Edition! Nov. 2, 2010: Jean Quan elected mayor of Oakland, its first female mayor. Her statement regarding the police riot of October 25: “We want to thank the police . . . who worked over the last week to peacefully close the encampment.” Nov. 2, 2011: General strike scheduled for Oakland, to [...]

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From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy the Neighborhoods

By • on November 9, 2011 at 9:13 pm

The Occupy movement has done something amazing, getting Americans to start questioning our economic divides. It’s created spaces for people to come together, voice their discontents and dreams, creatively challenge destructive greed. It’s created powerful political theater, engaged community, an alternative to silence and powerlessness. But it also faces major challenges. I’m fine that this [...]

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Money in Local Politics

By • on November 9, 2011 at 8:15 pm

While overall nationally, yesterday was a good day for the left, the post-Citizens United impact of new corporate money filtering down to local races was a recurring theme. And one of the best case ballotwide studies anywhere was in Seattle. For the last several months, I’ve been on staff for a well-qualified woman challenging an [...]

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Some Kind Of Monster

By • on November 9, 2011 at 7:07 pm

In his thoughtful column for the November 9 Seattle Times, Steve Kelley suggested what only a few other commentators have: that Joe Paterno was aware, by no later than 1999, of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes…yet allowed them to continue. At any rate, it’s clear that Paterno and many others in the Penn State chain of command were aware by no later than 2002 that there was something seriously amiss. And yet it was swept under the rug. The mind boggles. But, really, ought it?

Does anybody think that if these sorts of crimes can be committed in the Penn State football program — the very embodiment of virtue — that they can’t/aren’t/won’t be happening in other programs of similar stature? So long as the games go on, so long as we may continue to receive our Saturday fix, we shall choose to remain blissfully in ignorance.

Don’t believe it? Here’s the reaction in Happy Valley — the community in which contrition should have been the strongest  – to Paterno’s dismissal:

After the firings, thousands of students descended on the administration building, shouting, “We want Joe back!” then headed downtown to Beaver Avenue. The mood there was boisterous but not angry — almost all the students were decked out in Penn State gear.

Beyond football, are Sandusky’s actions worse than those of the perpetrators and enablers of Abu Ghraib — about which nobody remembers, even though abuses of this nature are still ongoing in Imperial gulags the world over (including U.S.-run gulags, if it needs to be stated), the punishing of a few so-called “bad apples” notwithstanding? (See related post, from April of 2004.)

Are Sandusky’s victims more emotionally scarred than are the victims (i.e., the entire populations) of our sickeningly violent blood-lettings in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, by proxy, Palestine — to name just a very few of the latest sites which have been visited with (what ought to be) utterly shocking horror at the hands of the American War Machine (and by extension any who, by consenting to pay their taxes, enable it)? Not only are we not shocked by the ongoing horrors, not only do our lives continue as though the horrors weren’t ongoing, we revel in them, glorify them when they’re at their very height. We allow them to occur time and time and time again.

Each and every day, 50,000 children are killed by starvation and poverty-related diseases; the World’s children are suffering poverty largely owing to austerity measures imposed by the World Bank and IMF. The media silence is deafening. Our silence is our tacit approval.

There are countless examples of daily injustices of varying magnitude — from the household, to the municipality, to big time athletics, to international affairs. How can we allow them to happen? Uncovered, how can we allow them to continue?

The problem isn’t “bad apples” run amok. It’s power itself. For the granting of power is a license to abuse power — and not a one of us is above corruption, nor knows whether we would have the courage to blow the whistle were we witness to abuse.

This is, apparently, human nature — as is, apparently, the ability to turn a blind eye to atrocities committed in one’s own name and yet retain the audacity to look oneself in the mirror, go to sleep at night, keep hold of one’s sanity.

Moreover, even if individuals were incorruptible, the nature of our societies’ current institutional framework ensures injustice everywhere we turn.

  • Capitalism is by definition a means to exploit workers’ labor.
  • Blacks and Latinos are imprisoned at rates far beyond Whites’.
  • The first Gulf War and the economic sanctions which followed were carried out under the auspices of the United Nations; yet was an injustice of such immensity (considered genocidal by those most in position to know) as to make the utterly shocking Penn State revelations appear utterly trivial by comparison.

The number examples of injustice delivered at the hands of institutions working as they were designed to work is more less unlimited. The magnitude of institutional injustice undoubtedly far outweighs the magnitude of lawless, or scandalous, injustice…and that’s without even getting into injustices perpetrated against the non-human inhabitants of our blue marble.

In his column, Kelley lays blame in the Penn State case upon the “actions of one evil man and the inactions of so many others.” But Sandusky isn’t “evil” — he’s sick. And how could he not be? How could any individual be anything but a mirror of our sick fucking society? Sandusky’s sickness happened to manifest in the manner that it did. Placed in a position of power, he was enabled to act upon it.

Does anybody really believe that Sandusky wanted to be saddled with his terrible compulsion? That he enjoys it? That he has not been horribly scarred by it? That he believes his victims found their experiences pleasurable, and/or that they will someday find them to have been beneficial? Of course we don’t.

And if we don’t, we need to acknowledge that Sandusky had no choice but to commit these heinous acts. No doubt some individuals, when afflicted with his same compulsion, are able to resist. Others, surely, are able to use counseling to overcome their compulsion. They’re the lucky ones (although probably still miserable). Sandusky, and “so many others”, have been biologically unable to circumvent their compulsions — for had they been able to, they would have chosen different paths. That’s as obvious as the sky is blue.

The crimes of, e.g., Jerry Sandusky and Lynndie England, are symptoms. We may apply some ointment to the open wounds: Jerry Sandusky may go to jail; Joe Paterno has been shown the door. The teevee cameras will soon enough evaporate; on to the next one. But that isn’t “justice”: the crimes can’t be undone, and the punishments won’t prevent future crimes of similar nature taking place.

Whatever admixture of lived experience — upbringing, geography, media, dumb genetic luck, who-knows-what-else — causes one person to reflect societal ills by becoming a pedophile, another by “going postal”, another by designing high-tech weapons systems,  another simply by purchasing sweatshop-made clothing — is beyond the limits of our comprehension. But merely punishing wrong-doers and sanctimoniously decrying their actions is, apart from the hypocrisy, as pointless in real life as it would be in the case of the proverbial frog-stinging scorpion.

The addressing of symptoms will not affect cause. Without removal of cause, new symptoms will continue to occur over and over again. This has been so since long before the first slave was ever enchained, or the first “blasphemer” was ever stoned to death. If we don’t change, it’ll continue to be so long after the firing off of the last missile announces the sunset of the American Empire.

It’s kinda fucked, but it’s what we’re up against. And there’s nothing to be gained in the righteously indignant pointing of fingers. We must be willing to rethink the fundamental nature of our societies: authority, institutions, the state, property (as in, it’s theft).

Naive? Fine. But until we’re willing to consider a fundamental societal reorganisation — a polity not founded upon violence and coercion — Renault-esque outrage at the latest abuse of power du jour to burn up the airwaves is nothing more than wheel-spinning hypocrisy.