Saturday, December 20, 2008

Arnie Duncan As Ed Secretary is Great News for the Privateers and Bad News for US Education

Here are a couple of reactions to Obama's choosing of Chicago Schools head Arne Dunce to be his Secretary of Education.

From me...
Arne Duncan is a very WRONG choice for Ed Secretary if Obama's seeking CHANGE in the nation's education crisis. Arne Duncan is a Continuator of the No Child Left Behind Mess. He is another noneducator who is pro-privatization, pro-hi stakes testing... a minimizer of parental and student involvement, a- at best -middle of the roader when it comes to curriculum reform. He is NOT an advocate of nonEurocentric curriculum development. Rather, he favors the replication of elite white private schools' a la KIPPS Academy- not cultural literacy and culturally relevant teaching and learning. Obama's choice of Duncan tells us that is in agreement with the Bush-Bloomberg-Klein policies of further institutionalizing public schools as cash cows for big business and anti-intellectual centers for workingclass children. Further, the selection of Arne Duncan signals the continuation of Schools-as-preprisons within our mainly Black and Latino urban centers. He may last two years in this position, furthering the spiralling national education crisis and throwing billions at big business's versions of "education solutions." Fellow Educators for Real Change, our fight for quality free public education, our fight to repeal the No Child Left Behind Mess, our fight to mandate antiracist curricula continues.... We clearly have our work cut out for us. Sam Anderson

Arne Duncan called Englewood students a "culture of failure" as Chicago Public Schools worked on charterizing that school. Senn High School got called a "dumping ground for immigrants" at a school board meeting by an advocate of a naval academy being bulldozed into Senn. Senn has students from over 50 countries. Julian High School students have endured being called 'trash' by those who demonize it for being a school which accepts students displaced by Renaissance 2015. Renaissance 2015, AKA Renaissance 2010, is the school 'reform' plan trumpeted by Duncan, designed by Chicago business interests, and unrolled by Mayer Daley.

Duncan and his cartel want to privatize schools and need radical rhetoric in order to justify the destruction of this public good. Students and the teachers get demonized and become collateral damage in this violence .

Schools are badly in need of improvement. Parents and the community are desperate for good schools in an environment where schools are starved for funds.. Well funded schools and slick PR campaigns, followed by Duncan's talking points of 'choice,' 'accountability' and 'children first,' deceive the public into believing that we are receiving the best possible schools for children. A false dichotomy of "accept the status quo or accept privatized education is spewed throughout." No viable alternatives are considered.

Education is a basic human right. All people have a right to equitable education. Chicago's two-tiered school system showers a small minority of schools with vast resources and warehouses the rest of the students. The warehoused students then get slandered and attacked when their school needs to be shut down to make way for 'better' students.

This is the system that Duncan represents. He is a smooth-talking destroyer of the public good.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Now's the Time for a National Black Education Agenda

Sisters and Brothers in Education,

We all know the dire state of Black Education in every sector: preK-16, public and private. We all may not agree on how we got into this state of education emergency. We all, therefore, not agree on how we can stop this downward spiral. But we all can agree that we gotta do something NOW!

I suggest that we have an opportunity to start on that hard, bumpy spiraling road to victory with a set of unprecedented historical convergences: Obama becoming president of the US, the economic crisis, the environmental crisis and the national educational team assembled under Sister Prof.Linda Darling Hammond.

Obama's presidency has inspired millions of Blackfolk to come out of a decades long political slumber. Among these millions are millions of young Blacks 35 and under who are directly or indirectly inspired to see themselves in a more positive light. It may not be an immediate effect, but positive effect it will be. Hence, over the next few years, there will be great opportunities to recruit more Black men and women into the education field.

The economic and environmental crises are hiliting the need for the US to take bold economic steps in the field of public works on rebuilding the US infrastructure and new forms of producing energy. The fallout from the US auto industry will also bring new industry- but not as labor intensive as auto production. President-elect Obama has proposed a 2.5 million jobs producing economic stimultant that will require thousands of educators in all education levels.

In order for us Blackfolk not to repeat history and continue to be on the edges of major social and educational reform, we a need to put together a bold vision of we can be at the very center- and, at times, its leadership -of the educational developments needed to support this economic and environmental challenge.

It is in this context that I offer an outline for us to discuss and build upon to present to our Good Sister Prof Linda Darling Hammond and her transition team. She knows, like you and I, there are many great Black minds out here who have thought thru and implemented brilliant educational policies. I think in this historical moment (and that's all we have- a moment) we can find a way to maximally tap into thos great Black minds and deliver a proposal from national united body of Black Educators to her transition team who would have no option but to incorporate all or major parts of our proposal into the nation's challenge to make education relevant to reversing the economic and environmental crises and to bring antiracist reform directly into US education policy.

What we should present to Prof. Linda Darling Hammond (and I'm sure you have many other proposals!);

• Repeal the NCLB Act

• Education is a Human Right. Have US policy abide by the International Declaration of Human Rights mandates around education


• Create an African American Education Commission/Dept/Working Group that would create and oversee policy relevant to the education goals and needs of people of African Descent in the US. It would be a distinguished group of scholars, education activists, students, public school teachers and administrators. This would be a permanent and fully funded group within the US Dept of Education (Obviously, this implies a Latino/Asian/Native American groupings as well- even tho Native Americans already have theirs)

• Mandate the teaching of Black History/Latino History a central curriculum core from PreK to 16

• Create a Black History/Latino History Teacher Training & Curriculum Development Department that links to Education schools (public and private)

• Create a national Urban Science & Technology Department that:

(a) institutionalizes the recruitment and retention of Blacks/Latinos from preK to 16 to join the teaching and/or industry sectors of science and technology

(b) brings skilled science and technology jobs and training to the Black and Latino neighborhoods

• Guarantee that our HBCUs get First Call on all of the above efforts by having them represented at all levels of the National Program (the "Devil's in the Details" here)

Like I said, there are obviously a lot more national proposals we can and should add on. And there are a lot of complex details that need to be worked out. We have the Black Talent to do this. I am suggesting that we submit to Prof. Darling Hammond a proposal that has the necessary skeleton to be fleshed out within the US Dept of Education.

Our time is very short. We need to submit our proposal while the Transition Team is still working. This means we have about two or three weeks of deliberation to do among ourselves. Then, by the first week in January, have it in the hands of Prof. Darling Hammond with signatures of all those individuals and organizations who support this proposal.

No matter who is the next Secretary of Education, we need this proposal. Even more, OUR Children need to know that we progressive Black Educators came together, discussed, argued, united and created a powerful National Black Education Mandate for the First Black President.

I look forward to your critiques, queries, proposals, strategies and tactics.

In Struggle,

Sam Anderson

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama Cabinet Predictions: Who Could Get Picked?

I predict that President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet will not be as diverse- in terms of race and nationality -as the Bush administration-- the most diverse presidential administration ever. I also predict that the Obama cabinet will be a center-right cabinet... not that much different than the Bush administration. I predict this because Obama believes in the capitalist system and believes that it can be fixed for the betterment of those corporate rulers... and therefore, having benefits trickling down to the ordinary citizens of the US.

I also predict this because Barack Obama must never ever show any sign of "racial favoritism".... Hence, he will not try to reflect the demographic reality of the US in his cabinet. Obama is defined as a postracial man in a postracial world. This new myth has and will be used by those who rule to enshroud/obfuscate racism and race relations from this day forward.

The next couple of weeks will reveal to the more progressive "for change" forces in this nation that we need to immediately keep Obama's feet to the social change/social justice fire. Without a vigilant, persistent and organized progressive front on ALL the issues, Obama will go down in history as the Continuator of the Bush-Clinton imperial global bumrushing policies at home and abroad.
About Obama's Cabinet
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Current Capitalist Crisis-
A Marxist Analysis

Sistas and Brothas, we are in the midst of a major major historical shift in the political economy of the world: capitalism- international finance capitalism -is in a state of swift free fall failure. The world's rulingclasses are trying to put this gigantic broken Humtpy Dumpty egg back together again and keep the anger of us masses under control via the institutionalized dumbing down process and the police state in its various forms.

We, in the US, all have looked to the TV pundits and printed editorials for explanations of this megabursting of finance capital bubbles. We looked to Barack Obama and John McCain for explanations and solutions. A tiny few of us get to hear from Sister Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader about how they see this historic crisis and their solutions. But, they all come up like lite beer: bland and never satisfying your thirst.

In the coming weeks, I will try to bring to you analysis that not only clearly and deeply explains this epoch-changing crisis, but also how we can begin to solve this megacrisis thru mass mobilization and struggle. I hope to bring to you a special focus on how this crisis is directly and indirectly impacting Black America, Africa and its Diaspora.

First, however, we need to look at this unfolding crisis from a critical and scientific perspective. That is, a Marxist analysis of what is going on and how we are going to solve it. And Prof Rick Wolf has made an important and clear starting contribution to this effort. He is professor of economics at UMass Amherst and in this video below, talks on the current "financial" crisis and capitalism. A form of socialism is presented as a possible alternative. This talk was presented by the Association for Economic and Social Analysis and the journal Rethinking Marxism. The video below is a little jittery, but is worth watching. In the next few weeks, we should have a better video of Prof Wolf posted here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NYC Public Forum on School Governance-
History First

September 17 at Murry Bergtraum High School- Manhattan

Below is an hour+ long video where panelists Diane Ravitch, historian and critic, Jitu Weusi, educationactivist and former teacher as well as one of the organizers of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville struggle for Community Control, Betty Rosa, former principal and superintendent of District 8 in the Bronx and now a Regent. The panelists not only give us some great historical insights, but also begin to address the horrendous Bloomberg-Klein mayoral control policies and practices.

The session was moderated by Pedro Noguera of NYU.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Black Holocaust For Beginners Back In Print!


For those of you who are looking for my book- The Black Holocaust for Beginners -it is still available either online or in local bookstores across the US. Since the 2001 death of the Brother publisher, Glen Thompson, Writers and Readers has morphed into another publishing house and has another distributor. Please check into: for any inquiries and orders.

I am available for various kinds of discussions and presentations around the book: classes, seminars, workshops, lectures. It can be in community organizations, activist groups, book clubs, spiritual centers and classrooms from Kindergarten all the way thru Graduate School.

Just email me here-

In Struggle,

Sam Anderson

Here are a few responses to the book from

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars - The single-most impacting book of Black history I've read.
I've been reading everything "black" I could get my hands on since I started my awakening. I stumbled upon the Holocaust book in a small bookstore in Albuquerque, NM and had it read by that afternoon; I couldn't put it down. I was so impacted upon by the pictures, particularly of Sister Translator hanging from her tongue because she could speak to many and because she dared to strike a white man. It was so very interesting to learn about the Arab slave trade, especially the current state of affairs regarding slavery in Mauritania and the Sudan. Of great interest to me was the numbers Mr. Anderson cites. My husband, who is also a Black activist, has said for year he felt there were 100-150 million involved; it's easy to see there were really more than that. I applaud Mr. Anderson's bravery in writing a book about things no one wants to hear. I was moved to tears. Thank you, Mr. Anderson and may the Lord of your Fathers richly bless your life for your contribution to the cause.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars - There may be more scholarly treatments...
There may be more scholarly treatments but the impact that this little book gives the reader makes it one of the most important books you can buy. Don't wait for the professor to assign it. Whatever your heritage/ancestry is, these are pages that you have to read for yourself. You REALLY don't know much until you do.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars - A Must Have
I bought this book based on the previous reviews and its better than I expected. The illustrations and graphics are excellent!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars - An Absolute Must Read
The book is part of an ongoing series that explores individuals and topics that unfortunately receive little or incorrect coverage by "mainstream" historians/books.

This nation has never faced the fact that its economy was built by the slave trade. Equally, many of the so-called heroes of the nation were the ones who pushed hard to continue or expand the buying and selling of humans. And the ramifications still reverberate today in the society.

The book brilliantly uses text and drawings to vividly bring the facts surrounding slavery to life. You will be equally touched and angered about the blood and chains & what must be seen for what it was - the planned extermination of a race of people solely to build a nation.

Critics will say that the book rewrites history. Yes it does. It places the sordid times in its proper context.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars - Black African slavery did not begin with the Atlantic trade
Anderson and Holley rightly tackle a topic that deserves study, however, they de-emphasize the well-developed Islamic slave trade that kidnapped more than 11 million Black Africans from their homes between 700 to 1900. This slave trade began centuries before the Atlantic trade and continued for centuries after. Islamic scripture fully embraces the institution of human slavery. Mohammed left many instructions to slaveowners. This express endorsement of human slavery by Mohammed accounts for the fact that human slavery was not abolished in Saudi Arabia until 1964 and not until 1968 in Kuwait. Islamic slavery was no less brutal than the Atlantic variety. Males slaves were routinely castrated and forced into military service.Female slaves become sexual servants whose children were not their own.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars - Truth In Your face
This is excellent literature, with extremely vivid graphics! Texts such as this should be written more often, as it is a well researched source of Black History.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars - For library black studies and American history collection
The systematic exploitation, enslavement and extermination of Africans in the Western Hemisphere dates from the start of the European slave trade around 1500 BCE to the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865. The Black Holocaust killed millions of African human beings and is (because of the social prejudice and dehumanization necessary to justify slavery) the most under-reported event in western history. The Black Holocaust For Beginners is an ideal introduction to this incredible human chronicle of suffering and is a "must" for every school and community library black studies and American history collection.

Monday, August 04, 2008

"Putting Africa Into the Computer"
Brotha Kwabena Boahen is a brilliant young African scientist who is conscious of the possibilities of the uniquely "African" contributions to contemporary science and technology. One of the key components of this "Africanity" is its nonlinear nature... its embracing of complexity within collectivity... using networks over rigidity in processing and informing. Watch this video to the very end to get an understanding of where Boahen is coming from... and where his ideas can go- IF we bring African traditional cognition into the 21st Century science & tech. Brotha Boahen's very last example of infusing "Africa" into Western technology and culture really helps to clarify where he's coming from... and how Africans and our descendants must move forward for not only our survival and development, but also for the survival and development of Planet Earth.-- Sam Anderson

Kwabena Boahen: Making a computer that works like the brain


Why you should listen to him:

Kwabena Boahen is the principal investigator at the Brains in Silicon lab at Stanford. He writes of himself:

Being a scientist at heart, I want to understand how cognition arises from neuronal properties. Being an engineer by training, I am using silicon integrated circuits to emulate the way neurons compute, linking the seemingly disparate fields of electronics and computer science with neurobiology and medicine.

My group's contributions to the field of neuromorphic engineering include a silicon retina that could be used to give the blind sight and a self-organizing chip that emulates the way the developing brain wires itself up. Our work is widely recognized, with over sixty publications, including a cover story in the May 2005 issue of Scientific American.

My current research interest is building a simulation platform that will enable the cortex's inner workings to be modeled in detail. While progress has been made linking neuronal properties to brain rhythms, the task of scaling up these models to link neuronal properties to cognition still remains. Making the supercomputer-performance required affordable is the goal of our Neurogrid project. It is at the vanguard of a profound shift in computing, away from the sequential, step-by-step Von Neumann machine towards a parallel, interconnected architecture more like the brain.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Continuing the Obama Drama...

A Comment from Brotha Dinizulu...
He's commenting on the Nation's August 18, 2008 article entitled (see below):
Change We Can Believe In: An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Well, this does a pretty good job of making it clear that many more people are feeling the exact same things that the folks closest to us are feeling.

The Obama campaign, however, seems committed to its own version of "realpolitik," the euphemistic excuse which has been offered (even by no less an apologist than Amiri Baraka) for why the compromises and "tilting toward center," as the WSJ called it, must be done -- "in order to get elected" -- which, of course, begs the question of "And Then What?"

We have seen this movie before -- the Dukakis and Kerry versions, and the Jimmy Carter version once he got elected -- and we know it doesn't work. There is even a proverb about changing horses in the middle of a stream, and an even better known one about the obligation to "Dance with who brung you."

These foolish moves by the Dumb-ocrats over the years can be, and have been, attributed to simple poor judgment, or the stereotyped notion of hard working, good-hearted, sincere folk being outplayed by very rich, slick and unscrupulous players on the other side, but I ain't with that. What seems to be in play here is exactly what we suspect most and know best about American politricks.

Established power is a hell of a force to reckon with, especially when we are talking about those at the top of a sociopolitical matrix that is characterized by the most extreme disparity of wealth to be found anywhere on the planet. Power, to para phrase the late Rick James's profound statement about cocaine, "is a hell of a drug." (Dave Chapelle did some hilarious stuff with that.) It is an addiction, and, as such, has no propensity whatsoever to listening to reason or exercising itself in any way that even appears to diminish the possibility of acquiring more.

In the orchestrated scam known as the American political scene, it seems like the villain behind the scene is money. Elections have come to be accepted by the public as money raising contests instead of competitions for the votes of the masses, who are fast on our way to being "shirtless," "unwashed," and all those other epithets. (Any pretense to democracy in this country was stillborn from the getgo, but the will of the people to make it a reality has never quite been crushed. Today, we are closer than ever to that reality.) But extreme concentrations of money are the result, rather than the cause, of undue political influence on the part of those at the top of the matrix, whose single agenda, like that of the junkie on the street, is to feed their addiction to power, which not only leads them to do literally anything in that pursuit, but also allows them to do so without fear of punishment or reprisals. "Nice work if you can get it..."

So now comes this bright, fresh, intelligent, promising face to the world of politics, who seems to be so sharp that he can even command the scene, rather than being commanded by it. He garners the attention of the masses, even some of the most jaded, who are duly impressed. He looks good. He sounds good. He even seems untainted by the poisons coursing through the nation's veins for centuries. This is starting to look like a "We-Can-Do-This" moment. America might be saved! He is perfect!

The most powerful few agreed on that even before the first of the masses got an inkling, and therein lies the rub. In our lifetime we have rarely seen the office of the presidency to be much more than a sales executive position: Advertise and sell predetermined policy on behalf of the most wealthy and powerful to the masses as something that we want and need. Who better to make Americans think that we still have a democracy than this perfect candidate? But this strategy comes with a serious caveat. It is one thing for him to freshen the scene and create a Britney Spears-type distraction from more serious matters at hand, but it is another for him to start being listened to and to have a real chance at winning this thing. So the faster and farther he runs, the more the reins have to be tightened.

In the end, he might win, if he wins, by a nose, and will do so knowing who is in charge and with no foolish sense of having any "mandate from the people." That is their dream. Then there is ours, which is the impetus for this letter. "Go ahead, big guy! You can do it ! We got your back! The entire human race will be grateful beyond words, for generations to come! We need you! We love you!" A hell of a choice.

He was once (now famously), a "community organizer" in Chicago, an activist, one might even say, one of the good guys with some kind of cred on the street. People saw. People heard. People listened. People noticed. All kinds of people. And among those were the people who persuaded and encouraged him to run for political office. A fateful decision. Like so many others -- the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" fantasy comes to mind --he certainly made the choice based on what he could bring to politics rather than what it could do for him. Like the best of candidates, he was there for what he could do, rather than for what he could be.

But once there, what? Where is the courageous voting record? Where is the advocacy other than on the campaign stump? What have we here, really? For sure, the man's genuine temperament and disposition as a bridge-builder who prefers reasoned negotiation and diplomacy to rash and destructive confrontation is an asset, but to whose advantage, really?

What it looks like from where I, and a whole lot of other people, sit, is good ol' politricks as usual. "Realpolitik," it is said to be, as if to impart some sense of historical justification or dignity to the strategy. "Look, ya got the so-called 'progressives' i n your pocket. They're not going anywhere, and they're too cared not to vote for you, a) because they actually believe in democracy, and b) because they are deathly afraid of a McCain continuation of the Bush regime, so you don't have to pander to them anymore, now that they got you the nomination. Sure, that's who brung you to the big dance, but there's a bigger dance coming up, and we know you don't like the sleazy old madam's reputation, but, listen, she's got the connections to make or break you, so what are ya gonna do, big guy? Chuck the whole thing? May we remind you of who really got you here. Some very powerful people have invested a lot in you, and have even risked their reputations in gambling on you as one who can be trusted to do the right things. You guys know how to play ball, right? In fact, you're famous for it. That's all ya gotta do: play good ball and everybody'll be happy. What more can you ask for? You're in. If you want to opt out, hey, it's a free country, but you'll make some people very unhappy. So the choice is yours. We know you'll make the right decision."

Outside of that backroom where the high-stakes game of politricks is being played (the powerful just love their power), an even more serious game is unfolding, with nothing less than human survival (including that of the most powerful) at stake. Immoral and unnecessary wars, massive resources being poured into destructive weaponry rather than productive improvements to the quality of life, global warming, environmental crises (which include foodstocks), dysfunctional health care, increasing symptoms of collective madness like domestic and child abuse, school shootups and random violence, what should be an alarming rate of incarceration, failing schools, divorces outweighing marriages, the AIDS pandemic, exacerbated disparities in material wealth and energy use, sweatshop nations ruked by propped-up dictators, torture made acceptable, etc, etc. Are we supposed to believe that this is normal; just "human nature"; "the way it has always been"; "just business, nothing personal"; etc., etc., in the same way that we are supposed to accept that slavery was, well, OK, or that genocidal "Indian Removal" (which has now reduced the Indigenous population to less than 3%) was "God's will," carried out by "His" people? Are we, as members of a species, not just an "interest group" of one kind or another, supposed to just accept that what passed for "business as usual" in the past, which has created all of these consequences today, is supposed to be acceptable in the present and the future?

I don't expect Mr. Obama, in his position, to give much attention to this open letter, no matter how many people sign it or who the signers are (unless some of his most generous corporate sponsors are on the list), but we, on the other hand, have no choice other than to give it a lot of attention and to stand for what we have been standing=2 0for, whether he stands with us or not, and even if, in the end -- "realpolitik" being what it is -- he stands against us.

We have simply passed the point in history, like it or not, ready or not, when the occupant of the White House can be "The Decider" of who lives and who dies, who enjoys life and who suffers, who eats and who starves. This is partly because the real power of these decisions lies elsewhere -- in oil and energy, pharmaceuticals, agribusiness, global finance capital and other such centers, whose longstanding agenda has been a marginalization or elimination of government as a relevant entity at all, with its power to tax, regulate and monitor private profit making; they can easily envisage a world run by corporate warlords with private armies, not so much to combat one another as to compete for the precious prizes of cheap labor and lucrative consumer markets. Government's only role is to tax the common people, conscript their sons and daughters into the low-paid armed forces that will save corporate expenses to protect their global interests, and, of course feed those interests healthy contracts. That is all stereotypical enough, but even so, the real world is much more subtle.

The rise of the Euro on one side and of the Asian economies on the other are straws in the wind that the role of the U.S. government in world affairs is changing rapidly. The oldthink notions of maintaining some kind of global military empire are just not applicable in the same ways to the 21st century. History has moved on. New generations are being born, with reflexes and responses to reality for which the Old Order is in no way prepared -- the price of not caring. The old fantasy that all opponents (if you ain't with us, you're agin us) can be shot, bombed, gassed, tortured or intimidated out of existence is a pathetic misconception that can only be propped up by ignorance and fear, and both of those props are fast disappearing, in spite of Power's best efforts.

The only hope in all of this is sanity. You can't fix anything that is broken until you have sense enough to know and acknowledge that it is broken. That may not mean that you know how to fix it, but at least it is the first step. Right now, fear and addiction is making that first step look like a leap into the unknown. (Who in America has ever learned how to live in an equitable society, without prejudices and discrimination, for example?) But new generations, born into the world as it is, having no appetite for the game because reality is too compelling, will have much to say about where we are headed.

Nature always seeks balance. The extreme degree of imbalance in the world today can be measured by how much violence (actual and threatened) is required to maintain it. Violence (especially the tools and weapons required) requires a great consumption of resources and energy (mental and spiritual as well20as material). If the human species becomes such a source of imbalance as to make nature more healthy without our presence then I don't think any number of our most dreadful weapons will defend us against that. (As if to show us a lesson in that reality, while our chickenhawks in DC were boasting about their "shock and awe" terrorism in Iran, and threatening others with what "the full might of American military force" can do, there was this tsunami, whose effects were felt from Indonesia to Somalia, killing how many humans in its path. Was it not interesting that so many other species of animals and birds "knew" not to be there when it struck, having moved on to higher ground far away, without evacuation plans, traffic jams, dysfunctional FEMA incompetents, etc.?)

Until we get about the business of seeking that kind of sanity, instead of being concerned with celebrity gossip (which is just about what the race for the White House has been reduced to, in real terms -- which was the material for that "I've Got a Crush on Obama" spoof), we aren't even half serious about the real business of being human on this earth, in the ways that our Ancestors knew we had to be. It is truly said, in our folk wisdom, that "An empty wagon makes the most noise." All around us, we can barely think (mission accomplished!) for all of the noise and distraction -- advertising, politics, religion, violence (attested to by the constant wail of police sirens, if not actually witnessed or experienced) -- all that stuff assaults our senses unrelentingly, especially in urban environments. TV, video games, computer stuff -- like what I am doing right now, consumerist notions of our individual worth, etc., etc., are always there to fill even what might be our quiet moments. Even our music is what we buy, download, or hear on the radio, not what we make. And for all the noise and cacophony, it's all empty, just a big game to get our money so a few of us, like cancer cells can live bloatedly overfed lives at our expense.

Politics and preachers have little to offer, at least at present, to this struggle for sanity amidst the madness-made-fashionable. In fact, many will feel so threatened by our pro-active embrace of another agenda than theirs that we can predictably be put on the threat-to-national-security list, for daring to live simpler and truer lives. In doing so, however, they would do well to be reminded of the nature of the beast they are attempting to ride to the promised land. Its belly stays full of those who have attempted to ride its back; in fact that is the bait and lure by which it feeds. We do well to stay out of its way.

In struggle,


Subject: An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Change We Can Believe In: An Open Letter to Barack Obama

August 18, 2008, The Nation.

Dear Senator Obama,

We write to congratulate you on the tremendous achievements of your campaign for the presidency of the United States.

Your candidacy has inspired a wave of political enthusiasm like nothing seen in this country for decades. In your speeches, you have sketched out a vision of a better future-- in which the United States sheds its warlike stance around the globe and focuses on diplomacy abroad and greater equality and freedom for its citizens at home--that has thrilled voters across the political spectrum. Hundreds of thousands of young people have entered the political process for the first time, African-American voters have rallied behind you, and many of those alienated f rom politics-as- usual have been re-engaged.

You stand today at the head of a movement that believes deeply in the change you have claimed as the mantle of your campaign. The millions who attend your rallies, donate to your campaign and visit your website are a powerful testament to this new movement’s energy and passion.

This movement is vital for two reasons: First, it will help assure your victory against John McCain in November. The long night of greed and military adventurism under the Bush Administration, which a McCain administration would continue, cannot be brought to an end a day too soon. An enthusiastic corps of volunteers and organizers will ensure that voters turn out to close the book on the Bush era on election day. Second, having helped bring you the White House, the support of this movement will make possible the changes that have been the platform of your campaign. Only a grassroots base as broad and as energized as the one that is behind you can counteract the forces of money and established power that are a dead weight on those seeking real change in American politics.

We urge you, then, to listen to the voices of the people who can lift you to the presidency and beyond.

Since your historic victory in the primary, there have been troubling signs that you are moving away from the core commitments shared by many who have supported your campaign, toward a more cautious and centrist stance--including, most notably, your vote for the FISA legislat ion granting telecom companies immunity from prosecution for illegal wiretapping, which angered and dismayed so many of your supporters.

We recognize that compromise is necessary in any democracy. We understand that the pressures brought to bear on those seeking the highest office are intense. But retreating from the stands that have been the signature of your campaign will weaken the movement whose vigorous backing you need in order to win and then deliver the change you have promised.

Here are key positions you have embraced that we believe are essential to sustaining this movement:

Withdrawal from Iraq on a fixed timetable.

A response to the current economic crisis that reduces the gap between the rich and the rest of us through a more progressive financial and welfare system; public investment to create jobs and repair the country’s collapsing infrastructure; fair trade policies; restoration of the freedom to organize unions; and meaningful government enforcement of labor laws and regulation of industry.

Universal healthcare.

An environmental policy that transforms the economy by shifting billions of dollars from the consumption of fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, creating millions of green jobs.

An end to the regime of to rture, abuse of civil liberties and unchecked executive power that has flourished in the Bush era.

A commitment to the rights of women, including the right to choose abortion and improved access to abortion and reproductive health services.

A commitment to improving conditions in urban communities and ending racial inequality, including disparities in education through reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and other measures.

An immigration system that treats humanely those attempting to enter the country and provides a path to citizenship for those already here.

Reform of the drug laws that incarcerate hundreds of thousands who need help, not jail.

Reform of the political process that reduces the influence of money and corporate lobbyists and amplifies the voices of ordinary people.

These are the changes we can believe in. In other areas--such as the use of residual forces and mercenary troops in Iraq, the escalation of the US military presence in Afghanistan, the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the death penalty--your stated positions have consistently varied from the positions held by many of us, the “friends on the left” you addressed in recent remarks. If you win in November, we will work to support your stands when we agree with=2 0you and to challenge them when we don’t. We look forward to an ongoing and constructive dialogue with you when you are elected President.

Stand firm on the principles you have so compellingly articulated, and you may succeed in bringing this country the change you’ve encouraged us to believe is possible.

Here is a list of early signatories to this open letter:

Rocky Anderson

Moustafa Bayoumi

Norman Birnbaum Professor Emeritus Georgetown University Law Center

Tim Carpenter Progressive Democrats of America

John Cavanaugh, director Institute for Policy Studies

Juan Cole

Chuck Collins

Phil Donahue

Barbara Ehrenreich

Tom Engelhardt

Jodie Evans, co-f0under CODEPINK: Women for Peace

Thomas Ferguson

Bill Fletcher Jr., executive editor,

Eric Foner

Milton Glaser

Robert Greenwald

William Greider

Jane Hamsher

Tom Hayden

Christopher Hayes

Richard Kim

Stuart Klawans

Bill McKibben

Walter Mosley

Richard Parker, president Americans for Democratic Action

Gary Phillips Writer and activist

Jon Pincus and member of Get FISA Right

Chip Pitts

Frances Piven

Elizabeth Pochoda

Katha Pollitt

Marcus Raskin

Betsy Reed

Bob Scheer

Herman Schwartz

Jonathan Schell

Gene Seymour

David Sirota

Norman Solomon Author and Obama delegate to Democratic National Convention

Mike Stark

Jean Stein

Matt Stoller

Jonathan Tasini

Zephyr Teachout

Studs Terkel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Gore Vidal

David Weir

Howard Zinn

Affiliations have been added when requested by the signatory.

Add your name to the Open Letter calling on Barack Obama to stand firm on the principles he so compellingly articulated in the primary campaign.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Black Power Historiography for Teachers

From The Organization of American History Magazine's Special Black Power Issue-- Volume 22, No 3 • July 2008

The Black Panther Party:
A Short Historiography for Teachers

by Yohuru Williams

As we are still in many ways coming to grips with the legacy of the Black Power Movement, the historiography of the Black Panther Party is still in its infancy. While the overall pool of sources remains relatively small and uneven, there are still some good places to start.

The earliest chroniclers of the party were the Panthers themselves. While Panther memoirs pose a unique problem in negotiating the contested terrain between memory and history, there are nevertheless a few that are essential for comprehending its growth and development over time. Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time (1970), Elaine Brown’s A Taste of Power(1992) and David Hilliard’s This Side of Glory (1992) provide general information and background on the BPP. Each has its own strengths and weakness but also offer unique perspectives on different periods and aspects of the party. Seale, for instance, documents the origins of the party and its struggles as an organization up through 1969. Brown’s book is similarly vital in its discussion of the important contributions and unique challenges women faced in the party. A slew of Panther biographies in recent years include Flores Forbes, Will You Die with Me (2006), which continues the Panther tradition, for better or worse, of documenting its own history in outlandish—and at times impossible to verify--detail. In 2002, David Hilliard and Donald Weise republished Huey Newton’s 1973 book To Die for the People with a few previously unpublished works by Newton in The Huey P. Newton Reader. Although these are good places to begin examining the group’s legacy from the perspective of some of its leading members, scholars have offered more searing and critically balanced accounts.

With the exception of a handful of dissertations in the early 1970s, journalists wrote the earliest “histories” of the party including Gene Marine’s 1969 book, The Black Panthers, Murray Kempton’s account of the trial of 21 New York BPP members implicated in a bombing plot, The Briar Patch (1973), Donald Freed’s, Agony in New Haven: The Trial of Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins and the Black Panther Party (1973), and Gail Sheehy’s Panthermania (1971), to name a few. Like the Panther memoirs, these vary widely in usefulness since few placed the party in a larger historical context. With a major emphasis on the national leadership, these works tended to view the Panthers as the radical fringe of the non-violent civil rights movement often in dramatic prose. The back cover of Gene Marine’s book for example, famously characterized the Party as “Uniformed, Armed Men in America!: Black Men Who talk back –and Shoot Back!” Published before the verdict in the complicated 1970 murder trial exonerating Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins in New Haven, Connecticut Sheehy nevertheless dismissed the Panthers as undeserving of national attention. “I would only hope that this year we all have more courage to consult the facts and to resist the emotional catharsis of manufacturing black martyrs,” she wrote. “There is too much real work to be done.” Such accounts would later help to fuel the idea that the BPP was little more than a media creation.[1]

Popular histories of the party are rarer still and include Michael Newton’s 1981 publication Bitter Grain: the Story of Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party which, notwithstanding its lack of citations, chronicles the party’s rise and fall in age appropriate language, especially helpful for young readers. Despite much of his information coming from newspaper accounts, it is still a useful overview. A more recent but less cogent popular history is Jim Kaskins, Power to the People: The Rise and Fall of the Black Panther Party (1997).[2] For a whodunit collaboration by a journalist and a professor of urban politics, in the style of the early journalistic accounts of the Party, see Paul Bass and Douglas W. Rae, Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer. For photographs, see Stephen Shames, The Black Panthers (2006). The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, 1967-1980 (2007), offers students a firsthand look at some of the party’s important newspaper articles. For the revolutionary artwork produced by BPP, see Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas. [3] Two compelling video sources are The Murder of Fred Hampton (2007) and What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Party Library (2006). [4]

Professional historians have been reluctant to take on the Panthers but this beginning to change.. The first wave of scholarship to challenge the idea that the BPP were a dangerous and self-detructive entity came from outside the discipline of history. Political Scientist, Charles Jones edited anthology The Black Panther Party Reconsidered (1998) remains a useful resource on the Party, especially for the authors introduction debunking some of the more popular myths associated with the party and for several of the essays engagement of critical issues such as gender and violence. Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsificas’s Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party (2001) is an interdisciplinary collection. While several of the essays are quite interesting, overall this work will be of less interest to teachers seeking to build content knowledge on the party. [5]

In 2000, I published the first full scale treatment of the Black Panther Party in a local setting, Black Politics/White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Panthers in New Haven. [6] This study sought to locate the history of the party in relation to the much larger Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. It demonstrated how at the local level the BPP could be an important conduit for change. In his award-winning book, American Babylon, historian Robert Self discusses the group with the broad sweep of Oakland's postwar urbnan development.

There is much to consider in the works by professional historians on the BPP. To disentangle some of the myths and assumptions about the Panthers that float as popular history begin with In Search of the Black Panther Party (2006). Edited by Jama Lazerow and myself, this collection historicizes the party’s place in history through a multi-faceted engagement with the many groups, organization, and constituencies that effected, and it turned were effected by, the Panthers.

Several short works, including articles and book chapters are available to help build content knowledge quickly. For a general accounting of the party in relation to the much larger issues associated with the Black Power Movement, you should begin with chapter nine, “The Trial of Huey P. Newton,” in Peniel Joseph’s Waiting ’Til The Midnight Hour. Chapter Eight of my book, Black Politics/White Power is also useful as an overview, especially if you are interested in relating the Panthers origins to events nationally and discussing their impact beyond the special confines of Oakland. Donna Murch essay, “The Campus and the Street: Race, Migration, and the Origins of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, CA,” offers new insights into the southern of the Party in Oakland. Murch masterfully documents how the Panthers not only inherited their ideas on self-defense but also their emphasis on education from their southern origins. [7]

The BPP formed alliances with various organizations throughout its history and was internationalist in its outlook. Two outstanding essays on the Panthers relations with the predominately-white peace and freedom party and the Students for a Democratic Society respectively by Joel Wilson and David Barber appear in the anthology In Search of the Black Panther Party. On the Panthers, internationalism see Jennifer B. Smith’s, An International History of the Black Panther Party.

For the Panthers relationship with mainstream civil rights organizations see my essay “A Red Black and Green Liberation Jumpsuit, Roy Wilkins, the FBI and the Conundrum of Black Power” in Peniel Joseph’s anthology The Black Power Movement (2006). Simon Hall offers a good more general overview on the relations between the Panthers and the NAACP while Scot Brown illuminates the party’s tumultuous relationship with Maulana Karenga’s US organization. [8]

My article “In the Name of the Law: the 1967 Police Shooting of Huey Newton and Law Enforcement’s Permissive Environment,” published in the Black History Bulletin in 1998 is a good primer on the Panthers that looks both at their early programs and encounters with police. Two recent works, Curtis Austin’s Up Against the Wall: Violencein the Making and the Unmaking of the Black Panther Party (2006) and Christopher B. Strain’s Fire: Self-Defense as Activism in the Civil Rights Era (2005) endeavor to deal with violence within the BPP from two different if complimentary perspectives. Strain attempts to link the Panthers emphasis on armed self-defense with defensive traditions growing out of the South. Austin, on the other hand, squarely engages the political and personal violence that plagued the party as an important factor that contributed to the party’s demise. [9]

In a short essay, considering the local history of the Panthers, Jim Campbell observed that the BPP might be best understood best not as a national organization but as a “Congress of local movements.” If you are interested in this aspect of the party, be sure to reference several short articles that document this history. In Jeanne Theoharris and Komozi Woodard’s anthology Freedom North, historian Jon Rice, for instance provides an interesting if problematic portrait of the Chicago BPP. The special issue of The Black Scholar edited by Peniel Joseph that gave birth to “Black Power Studies” includes an article on the New Haven Black Panther Party. Two intriguing essays, Reynaldo Anderson's, "Practical Internationalists: the Story of the De Moines, Iowa Black Panther Party" and Robyn Ceanne Spencer's, "Inside the Panther Revolution: The Black Freedom Movement and the Black Panther Party of Oakland, California” document aspects of the local history of the party. [10] Much more substantive short local Studies on Panther and Panther inspired groups in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Winston Salem, North Carolina, Omaha, Nebraska, Detroit, Michigan, Birmingham, Alabama and Milwaukee, Wisconsin are found in the forthcoming Duke Volume, Liberated Territory: Untold Local Perspectives on the Black Panther Party (forthcoming 2008).[11] For a substantial treatment of the Panthers in a larger urban study, see Winston A. Grady-Willis well documented study, Challenging U.S. Apartheid: Atlanta and Black Struggles for Human Rights, 1960-1977.

Two other books on the BPP Jane Rhodes engaging study Framing the Black Panthers and former Oakland Panther Paul Alkebulan’s Survival Pending Revolution make important contributions to the growing body of Panther literature. In conjunction with the other studies mentioned in this brief bibliography they will provide you with the information, you need to design an informative unit on the Black Panther Party and the Black Power Movement.[12]

[1] Gail Sheehy, Panthermania: The Clash of Black against Black in One American City (New York: Harper and Row, 1971Michael E. Staub, “Black Panthers, New Journalism, and the Rewriting of the Sixties, Representations,” No. 57 (Winter, 1997), pp. 52-72.

[2] Michael Newton, Bitter Grain, The Story of Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party (Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1980); Jim Kaskins, Power to the People: The Rise and Fall of the Black Panther Party (New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1997).

[3] Paul Bass and Douglas W. Rae, Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer (New York: Basic Books, 2006); for photographs see, Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones, Black Panthers: 1968 (LA: Greybull Press, 2002) and Stephen Shames, The Black Panthers (NY: Aperture, 2006). For Panther art, see the recent coffee table-style book, Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas (New York: Rizzoli, 2007).

[4] The Murder of Fred Hampton. DVD. 2007, FACETS. What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Party Library. DVD. 2006. Oakland: AK Press.

[5] Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas, Eds, Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthers and Their Legacy (New York: Routledge, 2001). Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodward, eds., Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Movements in America (New York: New York University Press, 2005); Charles E. Jones, ed., The Black Panther Party Reconsidered (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998); Yohuru Williams and Jama Lazerow, Liberated Territory: Local Perspectives on the Black Panther Party (forthcoming from Durham: Duke University Press, 2008)

[6] A new edition is now available from Blackwell Press

[7] On the Panthers links to the struggles of other racial and ethnic groups see Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, compelling essay “Rainbow Radicalism: The Rise of the Radical Ethnic Nationalism, in Joseph, The Black Power Movement, chap.8; or his equally engaging article “Brown Power to Brown People: Radical Ethnic Nationalism, the Black Panthers and, Latino Radicalism, 1967-1973” in In Search of the Black Panther Party, 252-280; for the BPP’s connection with Asian Americans see Daryl J. Maeda, “Black Panthers, Red Guards, and Chinamen: Constructing Asian American Identity through Performing Blackness, 1969–1972,” American Quarterly 57.4 (2005) 1079-1103; For the Panthers influence on Maggie Khun and the Gray Panthers see my introductory comment , “Black Panther, White Tigers, Brown Berets, Oh My!,” in In Search of the Black Panther Party, 183-190; Donna Murch, “The Campus and the Street: Race, Migration, and the Origins of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, CA,” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, (October-December 2007) 9:4, 333 - 345.

[8] Yohuru Williams, “A Red Black and Green Liberation Jumpsuit, Roy Wilkins and the Conundrum of Black Power” in Joseph, The Black Power Movement, 169-191; Simon Hall, The NAACP, Black Power, and the African American Freedom Struggle, 1966-1969” The Historian 69 (1), 2007, 49–82;

[9] Curtis Austin, Up Against the Wall, Violence and the Making of the Black Panther Party, (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2006); Christopher B. Strain, Pure Fire: Self-Defense as Activism in the Civil Rights Era (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005).

[10] Reynaldo Anderson (communication studies), “Practical Internationalists: The Story of the Des Moines, Iowa, Black Panther Party,” and Robyn Ceanne Spencer, “Inside the Black Panther Revolution: The Black Freedom Movement and the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California,” in Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Movements in America (NY: NYU Press, 2005), chap. 13

[11] Black Politics/White Power is still the only local monograph outside the Bay Area to focus on the Panthers. Also, “No Haven: From Civil Rights to Black Power in New Haven, Connecticut,” in The Black Scholar 31:3-4 (Fall/Winter 2001): 54-66; Winston A. Grady-Willis, Challenging U.S. Apartheid: Atlanta and Black Struggles for Human Rights, 1960-1977 (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2006). Curtis Austin’s study, though told from a national perspective, contains significant and sustained forays into the local history of a number of communities, Jon Rice, “The World of the Illinois Panthers,” in Jeanne F. Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, eds., Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940-1980, (New York: Palgrave, 2003);; Two other such essays have been published by scholars outside the history discipline: Judson L. Jeffries (political science), “Black Radicalism and Political Repression in Baltimore: The Case of the Black Panther Party,” Ethnic and Racial Studies (London), 25 (Jan. 2002): 64-98; In addition to a biography on Huey Newton, Huey Newton: The Radical Theorist, Professor Jeffries has also edited two anthologies on the BPP.

[12] Paul Alkebulan, Survival Pending Revolution: The History of the Black Panther Party, (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007); Jane Rhodes, Framing the Black Panthers: The Spectacular Rise of a Black Power Icon (New York: The New Press, 2007). For new works on the BPP see Judson Jeffries, ed., Comrades: A Local History of the Black Panther Party (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007).

Black Women, Black Power: A Historiography for Teachers

Rhonda Y. Williams

While I have already discussed numerous scholarly works that address black women, gender, and Black Power, other poignant studies exist that also explore black women’s Black Power politics and help situate their activism within a broader tradition of social protest, political thought, and cultural expression. A selective bibliography appears below.

Black nationalist politics has a deep and rich connection to black U.S. domestic and international anti-racist struggles. Scholarly works that examine black women’s critical engagement with black nationalism in the decades prior to the emergence of Black Power include Ula Yvette Taylor, “‘Negro Women are Great Thinkers as well as Doers’: Amy Jacques-Garvey and Community Feminism in the United States, 1924-1927,” Journal of Women’s History 12 (Summer 2000) as well as The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002). Victoria W. Wolcott in Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) examines respectability and reform, economic activism, and black nationalism. For keen theoretical assessment of black nationalism and its patriarchal underpinnings, see E. Frances White, “Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counter Discourse and African-American Nationalism,” Journal of Women’s History 2 no. 1 (Spring 1990).

For historical works, including scholarly biographies, of black women primarily in traditional black freedom organizations during the civil rights and Black Power eras, see Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965, eds., Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993); Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement, eds. Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin (New York: New York University Press, 2001); Chana Kai Lee, For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999); and Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2005). Also useful are Kathleen Cleaver, “Women, Power, and Revolution,” in Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party, eds. Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas (New York: Routledge, 2001); and The Angela Y. Davis Reader (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998) edited by Joy James. The reader, which includes excerpts from Davis’ memoir, anti-racist feminist writings, essays on culture (such as the legacy of cultural nationalism), and interviews, charts the intellectual and political development of Davis who at various points in her activist life allied with SNCC, the Black Panther Party, and the Communist Party U.S.A. In her book chapter entitled “Angela Y. Davis and U.S. Third World Left Theory and Praxis” in Soul Power: Culture, Radicalism, and the Making of a U.S. Third World Left (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), Cynthia A. Young pays particular attention to how “Davis’s early internationalist orientation impacted her domestic politics, rather than the other way around” (185).

Other studies examine black women’s feminist and radical responses to racism, sexism, poverty, imperialism, and heterosexism in the 20th century, including during and after the Black Power era. Joy James’s Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999) covers a sweep of time, starting with Ida B. Wells in the early 20th century and ending in the 1990s. Robin D.G. Kelley documents how some black women radicalized black liberation agendas in his book chapter entitled “‘This Battlefield Called Life’: Black Feminist Dreams” in Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Beacon Press, 2002). Erik McDuffie spotlights the U.S. domestic and transnational struggles of the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, a short-lived black women’s radical organization during the Cold War era, in his essay entitled: “[A] new freedom movement of Negro women”: Sojourning for Truth, Justice, and Human Rights during the Early Cold War” in Women, Transnationalism and Human Rights, eds. Karen Sotiropoulos and Rhonda Y. Williams, A Special Issue of the Radical History Review 101 (Spring 2008). In Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968-1980 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), Kimberly Springer provides the first book-length analytical study on the development of 1970s’ black feminist organizations, including their confrontation with black women’s and men’s homophobia. For an example of studies that explore sexuality and the politics of reproductive control, see Simone M. Caron, “Birth Control and the Black Community in the 1960s: Genocide or Power Politics?” Journal of Social History 31 no. 3 (Spring 1998) and Jennifer Nelson, Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2003). Also see, Still Lifting, Still Climbing: African American Women’s Contemporary Activism, ed. Kimberly Springer (New York: New York University Press, 1999), which not only includes chapters by Benita Roth and Kristin Anderson-Bricker on the development of black feminist politics in the 1960s and 1970s, but also explores post-movement era legacies through primary sources and scholarly essays on health activism, electoral politics, prisons, the Million Man March, and workfare.

Numerous studies discuss the broad swath of black women’s resistance at the local and national levels after World War II, decades rich with social struggles for self-determination and equality. Rhonda Y. Williams’ The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles against Urban Inequality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) examines low-income black women, their daily experiences, and social protest against the changing urban backdrop of public housing from the 1940s through the 1970s in Baltimore. In Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2004), Premilla Nadasen charts the formation of the National Welfare Rights Organization with an eye to its activist campaigns and internal race, gender, and class dynamics. Annelise Orleck in Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty (Beacon, 2005) focuses on grassroots anti-poverty organizing among black women in Las Vegas, Nevada.

More historical work is needed on black women, their engagement in the Black Arts Movement, and their legacies in literature, visual art, and music. For one example, see Ruth Feldstein, “‘I Don’t Trust You Anymore’: Nina, Simone, Culture, and Black Activism in the 1960s,” Journal of American History 91 (March 2005). The classic All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave: Black Women’s Studies, eds. Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith (New York: The Feminist Press of CUNY, 1982, 2003), provides a discussion of black female scholars’ creative literary and intellectual responses to white women’s racism, black men’s sexism, and homophobia. Also see, Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, ed. Barbara Smith (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983, 2000); Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004) by Alexis De Veaux.

Finally, for a sample of scholarship on black women and the contemporary politics of Malcolm X, see Farah Jasmine Griffin, “‘Ironies of the Saint’: Malcolm X, Black Women, and the Price of Protection,” in Sisters in the Struggle; and Patricia Hill Collins, “Learning to Think for Ourselves: Malcolm X’s Black Nationalism Reconsidered,” and Angela Y. Davis, “Meditations on the Legacy of Malcolm X,” both in Malcolm X: In Our Own Image, ed. Joe Wood (New York: Anchor Books, 1992).

Rhonda Y. Williams is associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University. She is author of the award winning The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles against Urban Inequality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) and the coeditor of two volumes: with Karen Sotiropoulos, Women, Transnationalism, and Human Rights, Radical History Review 101 (Spring 2008); and with Julie Buckner Armstrong, Susan Hult Edwards, and Houston Bryan Roberson, of Teaching the American Civil Rights Movement: Freedom’s Bittersweet Song (New York: Routledge, 2002).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

An Innovation In Peoples' Gardening

Following a story on BBC News that fellow blogger Sokari of BlackLooks had already picked up earlier in June (as well as Alison), our reader Zeno dropped in an e-mail, asking if we knew more about keyhole gardens.

Keyhole gardens?

Actually, I had heard about those Folkewall installations in Gabarone, Botswana the other day that are used for greywater recycling, but keyhole gardens were indeed quite new to me. Guess this also shows how many smart solutions still exist out there that will need to be rediscovered and put in use.

Keyhole gardens are a technique used to grow vegetables in a dry climate. They are actually a special form of raised bed gardens: circular waist high raised beds with a path to the center. Walled in by stones, there’s a basket made from sticks and straw in the center that holds manure and other organic kitchen waste for compost.

Since they look like a keyhole from above, they are often called keyhole gardens and also promoted under this name in Lesotho, where the charity organisation “Send a Cow” has been promoting the creation of these special gardens for some time now.

So what makes these gardens so special?

* the surrounding stones retain the rich soils and keep it safe from erosion
* the round shape retains moisture
* compact size, even small plots can be used for gardening
* raised beds enable the sick and elderly to help with the gardening work
* center in the middle is used for composting and reuse of greywater (= reuse of nutrients)

“Send a Cow” also created a very informative website on their activities and published some valuable How-to-manuals for us to adopt this smart approach. Please also check out this [short] animation on keyhole gardening:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Barack Obama Song
Reggae-Style: by Cocoa Tea

From Jamaica-- Even tho they can't vote
in the US election...


Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Current Global Food Crisis


The World Food Crisis: Sources and Solutions
by Fred Magdoff

Fred Magdoff is professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont in Burlington and a director of the Monthly Review Foundation.

An acute food crisis has struck the world in 2008. This is on top of a longer-term crisis of agriculture and food that has already left billions hungry and malnourished. In order to understand the full, dire implications of what is happening today it is necessary to look at the interaction between these short-term and long-term crises. Both crises arise primarily from the for-profit production of food, fiber, and now biofuels, and the rift between food and people that this inevitably generates.

‘Routine’ Hunger before the Current Crisis

Of the more than 6 billion people living in the world today, the United Nations estimates that close to 1 billion suffer from chronic hunger. But this number, which is only a crude estimate, leaves out those suffering from vitamin and nutrient deficiencies and other forms of malnutrition. The total number of food insecure people who are malnourished or lacking critical nutrients is probably closer to 3 billion—about half of humanity. The severity of this situation is made clear by the United Nations estimate of over a year ago that approximately 18,000 children die daily as a direct or indirect consequence of malnutrition (Associated Press, February 18, 2007).

Lack of production is rarely the reason that people are hungry. This can be seen most clearly in the United States, where despite the production of more food than the population needs, hunger remains a significant problem. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2006 over 35 million people lived in food-insecure households, including 13 million children. Due to a lack of food adults living in over 12 million households could not eat balanced meals and in over 7 million families someone had smaller portions or skipped meals. In close to 5 million families, children did not get enough to eat at some point during the year.

In poor countries too, it is not unusual for large supplies of wasted and misallocated food to exist in the midst of widespread and persistent hunger. A few years ago a New York Times article had a story with the following headline “Poor in India Starve as Surplus Wheat Rots” (December 2, 2002). As a Wall Street Journal headline put it in 2004 “Want Amid Plenty, An Indian Paradox: Bumper Harvests and Rising Hunger” (June 25, 2004).

No ‘Right to Food’

Hunger and malnutrition generally are symptoms of a larger underlying problem—poverty in an economic system that recognizes, as Rachel Carson put it, no other gods but those of profit and production. Food is treated in almost all of the world’s countries as just another commodity, like clothes, automobiles, pencils, books, diamond jewelry, and so on. People are not considered to have a right to purchase any particular commodity, and no distinction is made in this respect between necessities and luxuries. Those who are rich can afford to purchase anything they want while the poor are often not able to procure even their basic needs. Under capitalist relations people have no right to an adequate diet, shelter, and medical attention. As with other commodities, people without what economists call “effective demand” cannot buy sufficient nutritious food. Of course, lack of “effective demand” in this case means that the poor don’t have enough money to buy the food they need.

Humans have a “biological demand” for food—we all need food, just as we need water and air, to continue to live. It is a systematic fact of capitalist society that many are excluded from fully meeting this biological need. It’s true that some wealthy countries, especially those in Europe, do help feed the poor, but the very way capitalism functions inherently creates a lower strata of society that frequently lacks the basics for human existence. In the United States there are a variety of government initiatives—such as food stamps and school lunch programs—aimed at feeding the poor. Yet, the funding for these programs does not come close to meeting the needs of the poor, and various charities fight an uphill battle trying to make up the difference.
In this era relatively few people actually die from starvation, aside from the severe hunger induced by wars and dislocations. Most instead become chronically malnourished and then are plagued by a variety of diseases that shorten their lives or make them more miserable. The scourge of malnutrition impedes children’s mental and physical development, harming them for the rest of their lives.

The Acute and Growing Crisis: The Great Hunger of 2008

At this moment in history there are, in addition to the “routine” hunger discussed above, two separate global food crises occurring simultaneously. The severe and acute crisis, about two years old, is becoming worse day by day and it is this one that we’ll discuss first. The severity of the current crisis cannot be overstated. It has rapidly increased the number of people around the globe that are malnourished. Although statistics of increased hunger during the past year are not yet available, it is clear that many will die prematurely or be harmed in other ways. As usual, it will be the young, the old, and the infirm that will suffer the worst effects of the Great Hunger of 2008. The rapid and simultaneous rise in the world prices for all the basic food crops—corn (maize), wheat, soybeans, rice, and cooking oils—along with many other crops is having a devastating effect on an increasing portion of humanity.

The increases in the world market prices over the past few years have been nothing short of astounding. The prices of the sixty agricultural commodities traded on the world market increased 37 percent last year and 14 percent in 2006 (New York Times, January 19, 2008). Corn prices began their rise in the early fall of 2006 and within months had soared by some 70 percent. Wheat and soybean prices also skyrocketed during this time and are now at record levels. The prices for cooking oils (mainly made from soybeans and oil palm)—an essential foodstuff in many poor countries—have rocketed up as well. Rice prices have also risen over 100 percent in the last year (“High Rice Cost Creating Fears of Asia Unrest,” New York Times, March 29, 2008).

The reasons for these soaring food prices are fairly clear. First, there are a number of issues related directly or indirectly to the increase in petroleum prices. In the United States, Europe, and many other countries this has brought a new emphasis on growing crops that can be used for fuel—called biofuels (or agrofuels). Thus, producing corn to make ethanol or soybean and palm oil to make diesel fuel is in direct competition with the use of these crops for food. Last year over 20 percent of the entire corn crop in the United States was used to produce ethanol—a process that does not yield much additional energy over that which goes into producing it. (It is estimated that over the next decade about one-third of the U.S. corn crop will be devoted to ethanol production [Bloomberg, February 21, 2008].) Additionally, many of the inputs for large-scale commercial agricultural production are based on petroleum and natural gas—from building and running tractors and harvesting equipment to producing fertilizers and pesticides and drying crops for storage. The price of nitrogen fertilizer, the most commonly used fertilizer worldwide, is directly tied to the price of energy because it takes so much energy to produce.

A second cause of the increase in prices of corn and soybeans and soy cooking oil is that the increasing demand for meat among the middle class in Latin America and Asia, especially China. The use of maize and soy to feed cattle, pigs, and poultry has risen sharply to satisfy this demand. The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last twenty years alone. (New York Times, January 27, 2008.) Feeding grain to more and more animals is putting growing pressure on grain stores. Feeding grain to produce meat is a very inefficient way of providing people with either calories or protein. It is especially wasteful for animals such as cows—with digestive systems that can derive energy from cellulose—because they can obtain all of their nutrition from pastures and will grow well without grain, although more slowly. Cows are not efficient converters of corn or soy to meat—to yield a pound of meat, cows require eight pounds of corn; pigs, five; and chickens, three (Baron’s, March 4, 2008).

A third reason for the big jump in world food prices is that a few key countries that were self-sufficient—that is, did not import foods, although plenty of people suffered from hunger—are now importing large quantities of food. As a farm analyst in New Delhi says “When countries like India start importing food, then the world prices zoom....If India and China are both turning into bigger importers, shifting from food self-sufficiency as recently we have seen in India, then the global prices are definitely going to rise still further, which will mean the era of cheaper food has now definitely gone away” (VOA News, February 21, 2008). Part of the reason for the pressure on rice prices is the loss of farmland to other uses such as various development projects—some 7 million acres in China and 700,000 acres in Vietnam. In addition, rice yields per acre in Asia have reached a plateau. There has been no per acre increase for ten years and yield increases are not expected in the near future (Rice Today, January–March 2008).

Some of the reasons for the recent price increases for wheat and rice are related to weather. The drought in Australia, a major wheat exporting country, and low yields in a few other exporters has greatly affected wheat prices. A 2007 cyclone in Bangladesh destroyed approximately 600 million dollars worth of its rice crop, leading to rice price increases of about 70 percent (The Daily Star [Bangladesh], February 11, 2008). The drought last year in northcentral China combined with the unusual cold and snow during the winter will probably lead the government to greater food purchases on the international markets, keeping the pressure on prices.

Speculation in the futures market and hoarding at the local level are certainly playing a part in
this crisis situation to make food more expensive. As the U.S. financial crisis deepened and spread in the winter of 2008, speculators started putting more money into food and metals to take advantage of what is being called the “commodities super cycle.” (The dollar’s decline relative to other currencies stimulates “investment” in tangible commodities.) While it would be a mistake to see these aspects, however despicable and inhumane, as the cause of the crisis, they certainly add to the misery by taking advantage of tight markets. It is certainly possible that the commodity bubble will burst, bringing down food prices a bit. However, speculation and local hoarding will continue to put an upward pressure on food prices. Transnational corporations that process agricultural products, manufacture various foods, and sell food to the public are, of course, all doing exceptionally well. Corporate profits usually do well in a time of shortages and price increases.

Although not a cause for the increase in prices of other foods, the higher prices for ocean fish have created an added burden for the poor and near poor. Overfishing of many ocean species is removing this important protein source from the diet of a large percentage of the world’s population.

The response to the crisis has come in the form of demonstrations and riots as well as changes in government policies. Over the past few months there have been protests and riots over the increasing cost of food in many countries, including Pakistan, Guinea, Mauritania, Morocco, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. China has instituted price controls for basic foods and Russia has frozen the price of milk, bread, eggs, and cooking oil for six months. Egypt, India, and Vietnam have banned or placed strict control on the export of rice so that their own people will have sufficient food. Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, has expanded the number of people eligible to receive food aid by over 10 million. Many countries have lowered protectionist tariffs to try to lessen the blow of dramatically higher prices of imported foods. Countries heavily dependent on food imports such as the Philippines, the world’s largest importer of rice, are scrambling to make deals to obtain the needed imports. But these various stop-gap efforts have mainly marginal effects on the problem. Almost all people are forced into a lower standard of living as those in the middle class become increasingly careful about the foods they purchase, the near poor drop into poverty, and the formerly poor become truly destitute and suffer greatly. The effects have been felt around the world in all classes of society except the truly wealthy. As Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN’s World Food Program, said in February, “This is the new face of hunger....There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before. There are food riots in countries where we have not seen them before” (The Guardian, Feb. 26, 2008).

Although Haiti has been a very poor country for years—80 percent of the people try to subsist on less than what two dollars a day can purchase in the United States—the recent situation has brought it to new depths of desperation. Two cups of rice, which cost thirty cents a year ago, now cost sixty cents. The description of an Associated Press article from earlier this year (January 29, 2008) is most poignant in its details:

It was lunchtime in one of Haiti’s worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti’s poorest can’t afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau.

The “cookies” also contain some vegetable shortening and salt. Toward the end of the article is the following:

Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.

“I’m hoping one day I’ll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these,” she said. “I know it’s not good for me.”

Many countries in Africa and Asia have been severely impacted by the crisis with hunger spreading widely—but all nations are affected to one extent or another. In the United States—where over the past year the price of eggs increased 38 percent, milk by 30 percent, lettuce by 16 percent, and whole wheat bread by 12 percent—many people are starting to purchase less costly products. “Higher Food Prices Start to Pinch Consumers” is the way the Wall Street Journal put it in a headline (January 3, 2008).

It should be noted here that while wheat prices are at record levels and prices of wheat products in the United States will certainly go higher, the cost of the wheat in a loaf of bread is only small part of the retail price. When wheat prices double, as they have, the price of a loaf of bread may increase by 10 percent, perhaps from $3 to $3.30. However, the effect of a doubling of prices for corn, wheat, soybeans, and rice is devastating for poor people in the third world who primarily purchase raw commodities.

With food pantries and soup kitchens stretched to the breaking point, the U.S. poor are experiencing deepening suffering. In general, the poor in the United States tend to first pay their rent, heat, gas (for a car to get to work), and electricity bills. That leaves food as one of the few “flexible” items in their budgets. In the central part of my home state of Vermont, over the last year the use of food shelves (i.e., aid from local, charitable food assistance programs that give groceries directly to the needy) has increased 133 percent among all users and 180 percent among the working poor! (Hal Cohen, with the Central Vermont Community Action Council, personal communication February 20, 2008.)

The economic recession is beginning to be felt in many parts of the United States, adding to the rise in requests for help from the various government food assistance programs (“As Jobs Vanish and Prices Rise, Food Stamp Use Nears Record,” New York Times, March 31, 2008). But, frequently people using the inadequately funded government programs tend to run out of food toward the end of the month, resulting in a huge increase in demand at food shelves and soup kitchens at that time. And as the need for food has increased, food donations have actually declined—with a large drop in federal donations (with high prices there are fewer “surplus” commodities from farm programs, so $58 million in food was given to food shelves last year versus $242 million five years before).

Supermarkets have found ways to make money from damaged or dated goods they previously donated to charities. In Connecticut, there has been a surge in demand for food while supply is not keeping up. A food pantry in Stamford is supplying food to four hundred families, double the number of a year ago. According to the food pantry’s director, “I have had to turn people away....There were times I went home and wanted to cry” (New York Times, December 23, 2007). A professor at Cornell University who studies food-assistance programs in the United States has summarized the situation: “There is a nascent crisis building....Demand for food-bank assistance is climbing rapidly when the resources are falling in dramatic terms because the dollars just don’t go as far” (Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2008).

The Long-Term Food Crisis

As critical as the short-term food crisis is—demanding immediate world notice as well as attention within every country—the long-term, structural crisis is even more important. The latter has existed for decades and contributes to, and is reinforced by, today’s acute food crisis. Indeed, it is this underlying structural crisis of agriculture and food in third world societies which constitutes the real reason that the immediate food crisis is so severe and so difficult to surmount within the system.

There has been a huge migration of people out of the countryside to the cities of the third world. They leave the countryside because they lack access to land. Often their land has been stolen as a result of the inroads of agribusiness, while they are also forced from the land by low prices they have historically received for their products and threats against campesino lives. They move to cities seeking a better life but what they find is a very hard existence—life in slums with extremely high unemployment and underemployment. Most will try to scrape by in the “informal” economy by buying things and then selling them in small quantities. Of the half of humanity that lives in cities (3 billion), some 1 billion, or one-third of city dwellers, live in slums. The chairman of a district in Lagos, Nigeria described it as follows: “We have a massive growth in population with a stagnant or shrinking economy. Picture this city ten, twenty years from now. This is not the urban poor—this is the new urban destitute.” A long New Yorker article on Lagos ended on a note of extreme pessimism: “The really disturbing thing about Lagos’ pickers and vendors is that their lives have essentially nothing to do with ours. They scavenge an existence beyond the margins of macroeconomics. They are, in the harsh terms of globalization, superfluous” (November 13, 2006).

One of the major factors pushing this mass and continuing migration to the cities—in addition to being landless or forced off land—is the difficulty to make a living as a small farmer. This has been made especially difficult, as countries have implemented the “neoliberal” policies recommended or mandated by the IMF, the World Bank, and even some of the western NGOs working in the poor countries of the third world. The neoliberal ideology holds that the so-called free market should be allowed to work its magic. Through the benign sanctions of the “invisible hand,” it is said, the economy will function most efficiently and will be highly productive. But in order for the market to be “free” governments must stop interfering.

With regard to agriculture, governments should stop subsidizing farmers to purchase
fertilizers, stop being involved in the storage and transportation of food, and just let farmers and food alone. This approach also holds that governments should stop subsidizing food for poor people and then the newly unbridled market will take care of it all. This mentality was evident as the Haitian food crisis started to develop late in 2007. According to the Haitian Minister of Commerce and Industry, “We cannot intervene and fix prices because we have to comply with free market regulations” (Reuters, December 9, 2007). This was the same response that colonial Britain adopted in response to the Irish potato famine as well as to the famines in India in the late 1800s. But to a certain extent this way of thinking is now internalized in the thinking of many leaders in the “independent” countries of the periphery.

This ideology, of course, has no basis in reality—the so-called free market is not necessarily efficient at all. It is also absolutely unable to act as a mechanism to end poverty and hunger. We should always keep in mind that this ideology represents the exact opposite of what the core capitalist countries have historically done and what they are actually doing today. For example, the U.S. national government has supported farmers in many ways for over a century. This has occurred through government programs for research and extension, taking land from Indians and giving it to farmers of European origin, subsidizing farmers directly through a variety of programs including low-cost loans, and stimulating the export of crops. It should also be noted that the United States, Europe, and Japan all developed their industrial economies under protectionist policies plus a variety of programs of direct assistance to industry.

The effects of the governments of the third world stopping their support of small farmers and consumers has meant that the life for the poor in those countries has become more difficult. As an independent report commissioned by World Bank put it: “In most reforming countries, the private sector did not step in to fill the vacuum when the public sector withdrew” (New York Times, October 15, 2007). For example, many African governments under pressure from the neoliberal economic policies promoted by the World Bank, the IMF, and the rich countries of the center of the system stopped subsidizing the use of fertilizers on crops. Although it is true that imported fertilizers are very expensive, African soils are generally of very low fertility and
crop yields are low when you use neither synthetic nor organic fertilizers. As yields fell after governments were no longer assisting the purchase of fertilizers and helping in other ways, more farmers found that they could not survive and migrated to the city slums. Jeffrey Sachs—a partially recovered free-trade shock doctor—has had some second thoughts. According to Sachs, “The whole thing was based on the idea that if you take away the government for the poorest of the poor that somehow these markets will solve the problems....But markets can’t step in and won’t step in when people have nothing. And if you take away help, you leave them to die” (New York Times, October 15, 2007).

Last year one country in Africa, Malawi, decided to reverse course and go against all the recommendations they had received. The government reintroduced subsidies for fertilizers and seeds. Farmers used more fertilizers, the yields increased, and the country’s food situation improved greatly (New York Times, December 2, 2007). In fact, they were able to export some food to Zimbabwe—although there are those in Malawi, who consider that to have lowered their own supplies too far.

Another problem occurs as capitalist farmers in some of the poor countries of the periphery enter into world markets. While subsistence farmers usually sell only a small portion of their crops, using most for family consumption, capitalist farmers are those that market all or a large portion of what they produce. They frequently expand production and take over the land of small farmers, with or without compensation, and use fewer people than previously to work a given piece of land because of mechanized production techniques. In Brazil, the “Soybean King” controls well over a quarter of a million acres (100,000 hectares) and uses huge tractors and harvesting equipment for working the land. In China corrupt village and city officials frequently sell “common land” to developers without adequate compensation to the farmers—sometimes there is no compensation at all.

Thus, the harsh conditions for farmers caused by a number of factors, made worse by the implementing of free-market ideology, have created a continuing stream of people leaving the countryside and going to live in cities that do not have jobs for them. And those now living in slums and without access to land to grow their own food are at the mercy of the world price for food.

One of the reasons for the growing consolidation of land holdings and forcing out of subsistence farmers is the penetration of multinational agricultural corporations into the countries of the periphery. From selling seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides to processing raw agricultural products to exporting or selling them through new, large supermarkets, agribusiness multinationals are having a devastating effect on small farmers. With the collapse of extension systems for helping farmers save seeds and with the disbanding of government seed companies the way was paved for multinational seed companies to make major inroads.

The giant transnational corporations such as Cargill and Monsanto now reach into most of the third world—selling seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and feeds while buying and processing raw agricultural products. In the process they assist larger farms to become “more efficient” —to grow over larger land areas. The main advantage of genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds is that they help to simplify the process of farming and allow large acreages to be under the management of a single entity—a large farmer or corporation—squeezing out small farmers.

The negative effects of the penetration of large supermarket chains are being felt as well. As a 2004 headline in the New York Times put it “Supermarket Giants Crush Central American Farmers” (December 28, 2004). Large supermarkets would rather deal with a few farmers growing on a large scale than with many small farmers. And the opening of large supermarkets does away with the traditional markets used by small farmers.

The Prolonged Crisis Is Intensifying

It seems logical that with higher food prices, farmers should be better off and produce more to satisfy the “demand” indicated by the market. To a certain extent that is true—especially for farmers that can take advantage of all the physical and monetary advantages of large-scale production. Yet, the input costs for just about everything used in agricultural production have also increased, thus profit gains for farmers are not as large as might be expected. This is a particularly difficult problem for farmers raising animals fed on increasingly expensive grains.

In addition, things are not necessarily going well for small and subsistence farmers. Many are stuck in debt so deep that it’s hard for them to get back on their feet. An estimated 25,000 Indian farmers committed suicide last year because they could see no other way out of their predicament. (The Indian government has proposed a budget that includes loan wavers for small farmers that have borrowed through banks. However, if it actually goes into effect, the millions that have borrowed from local usurers will not benefit.) The consolidation of land holdings and the removal of small farmers and landless workers from the land has been exacerbated by the exceptional crop price increases over the last few years.

Rising crop prices cause the price of farmland to increase—especially of large fields that can be worked by large-scale machinery. This is happening in the United States and in certain countries of the periphery. For example, Global Ag Investments, a company based in Texas, owns and operates 34,000 acres of Brazilian farmland. At one of its farms, a single field of soybeans covers 1,600 acres—that’s two and a half square miles! A New Zealand company has purchased approximately 100,000 acres in Uruguay and has hired managers to operate dairy farms established on their land.

Private equity firms are purchasing farmland in the United States (Associated Press, May 7, 2007) as well as abroad. A U.S. company is cooperating with Brazilian and Japanese partners to purchase 385 square miles in Brazil, approximately a quarter of a million acres! This is also happening with South American capital taking the lead—a Brazilian investment fund, Investimento em Participacoe, is buying a minority stake in a an Argentine soybean producer that owns close to 400,000 acres in Uruguay and Argentina.

Rising crop prices have also led to an acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon basin—1,250 square miles (about the size of Rhode Island) in the last five months of 2007—as capitalist farmers hunger for more land (BBC, January 24, 2008). In addition, huge areas of farmland have been taken for development—some of dubious use, such as building suburban style housing and golf courses for the wealthy.

In China during 2000 to 2005, there was an average annual loss of 2.6 million acres as farmland is used for development. The country is fast approaching the self-defined minimum amount of arable farmland that it should have—approximately 290 million acres (120 million hectares)—and the amount of farmland will most likely continue to fall. As part of an effort to gain access to foreign agricultural production, a Chinese company has made an agreement to lease close to 2.5 million acres of land in the Philippines to grow rice, corn, and sugar—setting off a huge protest in the Philippines that has temporarily stalled the project (Bloomberg, February 21, 2008). As one farmer put it: “The [Philippine] government and the Chinese call it a partnership, but it only means the Chinese will be our landlords and we will be the slaves.’’

Ending World Hunger

Ending world hunger is conceptually quite simple. However, actually putting it into practice is far from simple. First, the access to a healthy and varied diet needs to be recognized for the basic human right that it clearly is. Governments must commit to ending hunger among their people and they must take forceful action to carry out this commitment. In many countries, even at this time, there is sufficient food produced to feed the entire population at a high level of nutrition. This is, of course, most evident in the United States, where so much food is produced. It is nothing less than a crime that so many of the poor in the United States are hungry, malnourished, or don’t know where their next meal will come from (which itself takes a psychological toll) when there is actually plenty of food.

In the short run, the emergency situation of increasingly severe hunger and malnutrition needs be addressed with all resources at a country’s disposal. Although mass bulk distribution of grains or powdered milk can play a role, countries might consider the Venezuelan innovation of setting up feeding houses in all poor neighborhoods. When the people believe that the government is really trying to help them, and they are empowered to find or assist in a solution to their own problems, a burst of enthusiasm and volunteerism results. For example, although the food in Venezuela’s feeding program is supplied by the government, the meals for poor children, the elderly, and the infirm are prepared in, and distributed from, peoples’ homes using considerable amounts of volunteer labor. In addition, Venezuela has developed a network of stores that sell basic foodstuffs at significant discounts over prices charged in private markets.

Brazil started a program in 2003 that is aimed at alleviating the conditions of the poorest people. Approximately one-quarter of Brazil’s population receive direct payments from the national government under the Bolsa Família (Family Fund) antipoverty program. Under this program a family with a per capita daily income below approximately $2 per person per day receives a benefit of up to $53 per month per person (The Economist, February 7, 2008). This infusion of cash is dependent on the family’s children attending school and participating in the national vaccination program. This program is certainly having a positive effect on peoples’ lives and nutrition. It is, however, a system that does not have the same effect as Venezuela’s programs, which mobilize people to work together for their own and their community’s benefit.

Urban gardens have been used successfully in Cuba as well as other countries to supply city dwellers with food as well as sources of income. These should be strongly promoted—with creative use of available space in urban settings.

Agriculture must become one of the top priorities for the third world. Even the World Bank is beginning to stress the importance of governments assisting agriculture in their countries. As Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director of the World Bank, has stated,

Today the attention of the world’s policy makers is focused on the sub-prime woes, and the financial crises. But the real crisis is that of hunger and malnutrition...this is the real problem that should grab the world’s attention. We know that 75 percent of the world’s poor people are rural and most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture is today, more than ever, a fundamental instrument for fighting hunger, malnutrition, and for supporting sustainable development and poverty reduction. (All-Africa Global Media, February 19, 2008)

Almost every country in the world has the soil, water, and climate resources to grow enough food so that all their people can eat a healthy diet. In addition, the knowledge and crop varieties already exist in most countries so that if farmers are given adequate assistance they will be able to grow reasonably high yields of crops.

Although enhanced agricultural production is essential, much of the emphasis in the past has been on production of export crops. While this may help a country’s balance of payments, export oriented agriculture does not ensure sufficient food for everyone nor does it promote a healthy rural environment. In addition to basic commodities such as soybeans, export-oriented agriculture also leads naturally to the production of high-value luxury crops demanded by export markets (luxuries from the standpoint of the basic food needs of a poor third world country), rather than the low-value subsistence crops needed to meet the needs of the domestic population. Production of sufficient amounts of the right kinds of food within each country’s borders—by small farmers working in cooperatives or on their own and using sustainable techniques—is the best way to achieve the goal of “food security.” In this way the population may be insulated, at least partially, from the price fluctuations on the world market. This, of course, also means not taking land out of food production to produce crops for the biofuel markets.

One of the ways to do this and at the same time help with the problem of so many people crowded into urban slums—the people most susceptible to food price increases—is to provide land through meaningful agrarian reforms. But land itself is not enough. Beginning or returning farmers need technical and financial support in order to produce food. Additionally, social support systems, such as cooperatives and community councils, need to be developed to help promote camaraderie and to solidify the new communities that are developed. Perhaps each community needs to be “seeded” with a sprinkling of devoted activists. Also, housing, electricity, water, and wastewater need to be available to make it attractive for people living in the cities to move to the countryside. Another way to encourage people to move to the country to become farmers is to appeal to patriotism and instill the idea that they are real pioneers, establishing a new food system to help their countries gain food self-sufficiency, i.e., independence from transnational agribusiness corporations and provision of healthy food for all the nation’s people. These pioneering farmers need to be viewed by themselves, the rest of the society, and their government as critical to the future of their countries and the well-being of the population. They must be treated with the great respect that they deserve.


Food is a human right and governments have a responsibility to see that their people are well fed. In addition, there are known ways to end hunger—including emergency measures to combat the current critical situation, urban gardens, agrarian reforms that include a whole support system for farmers, and sustainable agriculture techniques that enhance the environment. The present availability of food to people reflects very unequal economic and political power relationships within and between countries. A sustainable and secure food system requires a different and much more equitable relationship among people. The more the poor and farmers themselves are included in all aspects of the effort to gain food security, and the more they are energized in the process, the greater will be the chance of attaining lasting food security. As President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a country that has done so much to deal with poverty and hunger, has put it,

Yes, it is important to end poverty, to end misery, but the most important thing is to offer power to the poor so that they can fight for themselves.