Tens of thousands of New Jersey high schools students walked out of class on April 27 to protest the proposed $820 million in education cuts by New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie. Around 17,000 students walked out at Montclair, Eastern Regional and West Orange High School and many other high schools in Newark and Camden. The walkout was organized through Facebook, a social networking site that high school students used to facilitate communication.
by Matt Hern
“We thought of the place as a free city, like one of those pre-war nests of intrigue and licentiousness where exiles and lamsters and refugees found shelter in a tangle of improbable juxtapositions...but what happened is that Reagan was elected and the musk of profit once again scented the air.” -from Luc Sante’s “My Lost City” Kill All Your Darlings (2007)
Freud’s final book, Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), compares the complexity of the individual psyche to Rome, Eternal City of layers and layers of architecture, history and experience, a city whose “long and copious past [has created] an entity...in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one.” This makes it difficult to trace what influences, crises, developments, made it what it is today and for whom. Each of a city’s inhabitants has his or her own set, or map, of memories, streets, arteries, markers, tribulations, traps and desires. A city is an urban eco-system we all contribute to, for better or worse. Returning from my first trip to Rome, with its labyrinthine streets, lush fountains and ancient ruins, I remember how dull, with its gridded street plan and brick houses, my city, Philly, seemed. Still, as always, I was glad to be home. I love Philly – its neighborhoods, backstreets, graffiti, food, music, parks, bars; its weather-work-wear n tear-driven blend of grumpiness and enthusiasm. I’ve ridden my bike around the city for 30 years, and it still feels new and exciting to me. But Philly has problems – one of the highest poverty rates of the country’s BIG cities, displacement, homelessness, gentrification, violence (“Killadelphia”), pollution, high unemployment rates, police brutality, and racial inequality, to name a few. Like most cities globally we are struggling for sustainability – human, economic, social, and environmental. What are the possibilities? Within the constructs of global capitalism, the push has been to recreate cities (consider New Orleans – see Mike Davis’ “Who is Killing New Orleans?” in The Nation, 10 April 2006) in terms of corporate profitability. Corporations court city governments and vice versa. Over and over again we’re told that’s how to sustain the city’s economy: make the city attractive to people with money: “If we build it, they will come.” Then what? Journalist Luc Sante and urban theorist Matt Hern, among others, describe what happened to Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 80’s and 90’s, the “‘shock treatment’ that began the steady displacement of community and flavor from the neighborhood in favor of gentrification. A market mentality, skyrocketing rents and a distinct loss of vibrancy.” Comcast? Casinos? Stadiums? Or, a city can value its people, natural and social environment, have ethics.
Maybe everyone else might want to try and gloss this over, but we sure as hell won’t.
Here’s the deal: back in April, Sgt. Robert Ralston claimed that he was shot by a robbery suspect while on patrol in West Philadelphia, or to make it more nuanced, a black man with cornrows and a mark or tattoo under his left eye. Anyone who deals with police brutality issues regularly, and particularly with how cops act when their own get shot, knows what happened next. An all-out manhunt went down. This is the same police department who can see nothing wrong in pulling people out of cars and collectively beating them down while news helicopters tape the scene, or with bum-rushing a baby shower and assaulting attendees while looking for a suspect that wasn’t there, or even with dropping a bomb on a city block because they are pissed off at a few political activists (May 12th was the 25th anniversary of the infamous MOVE bombing). So Philly’s all-out manhunts tend to be a problem, especially where shot-up cops are concerned.
In late April Arizona Governor signed Senate Bill 1070 into law. SB 1070, also know as the ‘Papers Please’ law, mandates that all police officers inquire about immigration status if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that a person is undocumented. This state sanctioned racial profiling has received intense opposition from across the country, with major political and cultural figures such as basketball player Charles Barkley speaking out against it.
Philadelphia has been participating in a program similar to SB1070 for the past 2 years.
The Philadelphia Police Department collaborates closely with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that focuses on deportation and detention. In the early winter of 2009 Mayor Nutter re-established a policy of "non-inquiry," which prohibits police officers or any other city employee from asking about immigration status.
In the midst of the Arizona state government passing the most outrageous anti-immigrant law since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, several happenings pass unnoticed by the national media. At a packed Flagstaff City Council meeting discussing the law, waves of people declare publicly that they are undocumented, practically daring law enforcement officers to arrest them.
Not content to see Arizona be the sole butt of jokes about being an Orwellian police state, Pennsylvania State representative Daryl Metcalfe has introduced House Bill 2479– apparently another example of Federation for American Immigration Reform (F.A.I.R) inspired authoritarian nonsense.
A philosopher once said patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. I always took that quote with a grain of salt and never gave it much thought until recent events brought the quote to the forefront of my mind. As the two ruling parties continue to contend for power within this country, the political and cultural right have adopted a battle cry of “take America back,” as if a foreigner occupies the White House. Every day we’re bombarded with shouts that a radical left-wing government has seized power and have to suffer the protests of a Tea Party movement composed of grumpy old white people pissed off that an intelligent “socialist” African American was elected president of the United States. For real radicals and revolutionaries to hear this nonsense is really insulting considering that Obama is neither radical or socialist. As a matter of fact, Obama is probably one of the most moderate presidents in U.S. history. He‘s even disillusioned much of his liberal base by maintaining many of the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Guantanamo remains open, troops remain in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has been escalated, and funding for mass imprisonment continues. In short, little has changed within the United States under Obama.
On May 5th, all hell broke loose in Athens, Greece. Tens of thousands of people of all political stripes flooded the streets to protest the government’s reduction of public sector wages, cuts to pensions, and the rollback of pro-labor laws. In the midst of these riotous demonstrations, the firebombing of Marfin Bank, allegedly by anarchists, resulted in the deaths of three of its employees from suffocation.
Among the diverse array of angry Greeks protesting austerity and capitalism are of course dogs. One particular dog, who calls himself Loukanikos, has taken to the streets he lives on to join the mobs. Barking at police, inhaling copious amounts of tear gas and chasing rubber bullets, Louk apparently hasn't missed an Athens riot in years, first appearing in photos of street disturbances with protesters after Athens cops killed 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in December 2008. Since then Louk has consistently pitched in, barking and growling at neoliberal austerity measures and agents of state repression during times of street warfare, and providing comradeship on the sidelines. Capital has taken notice: riot dog even appeared on the cover of a recent edition of the European edition of the economist.
The Toronto Community Mobilization Network is a group of community-based organizers and allies, facilitating teach-ins, creative actions, rallies and demonstrations leading up to and during the G8/G20 Summits in Toronto, June 21-27, 2010.