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The end of the three-year period during which an organized militia of tenant farmers controlled western Massachusetts came to an end on February 3rd, 1788, a date which became known as the “last battle” of Shays’ Rebellion. For three years, the rebel farmers kept the courts from opening, which was crucial because it was the courts which were responsible for evicting tenant farmers from their land if they were late with their rent. Many farmers were late with their rents because they were busy fighting the Revolutionary War for several years. Many of them never returned home. Those that did had had enough of this kind of authority — in fact, they thought they had just defeated just this sort of thing through their service in the Continental Army. They were wrong about that, but their rebellion did scare the pants off of the powers-that-be, and cause them to pass the Bill of Rights — an after-thought to the Constitution, won in blood.
As the US expanded ever westward throughout the nineteenth century, new regions were called “territories” up until the time that they had a white majority. This was achieved through a combination of state-directed genocidal slaughter, the purposeful and incidental spread of deadly diseases, forced displacement of entire populations, and white settlement. In Oregon the white settlers were given the mythic status of “pioneers.” As with most “pioneers,” they were mostly people desperately seeking somewhere they could afford to live — the main driver of westward settlement. The state they “pioneered” was also founded by especially virulent racists, who were looking to found a “white homeland.” In order to make it so, they passed Exclusion Laws directed against people of color, which were not rescinded until 1926. (And in practice they have never been rescinded — see red-lining for more on that.) Oregon became a state in February, 1859.
“Liberty and Justice For All”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration in the 1930’s and 40’s lifted millions of people in the US out of poverty and gave millions of people a decent education. New Deal reforms — what remains of them — continue to positively impact an otherwise extremely divided society. But for Japanese-Americans and for the people of Japan, Roosevelt will forever be known as the man who passed Executive Order 9066 in February, 1942, and the man who saw fit to destroy entire cities in Japan for no military purpose whatsoever. (Yes, Truman dropped the bomb, but Roosevelt was an enthusiastic supporter of doing so until the day he died — as was Winston Churchill.) Executive Order 9066 ordered the immediate rounding up and imprisonment of Japanese nationals and US citizens of Japanese descent, including children. They would be kept in squalid internment camps, surrounded by armed guards, for the duration of the war. If this policy had anything to do with national security, the Japanese-descended population of Hawaii would also have been interned, but they were not, demonstrating that it was all about stealing the land and property of a very prosperous segment of the west coast’s population. To date, it has never been returned.
The Irish famine is probably the most well-known event in 1840’s Europe, at least for North Americans. But the potato crop failure was Europe-wide. While Ireland was the only part of Europe at the time to experience full-on famine — which was due to a change in British policies towards its colony at the time, from “keep them alive” to “let them starve” — hunger and hardship faced most people throughout the region. Most people were spending most of their money on food, as it had become so expensive due to the crop failures. This led to most of the factories closing, since most people couldn’t afford to buy anything they produced. This, in turn, led to massive unemployment. Hungry and unemployed, workers and peasants throughout Europe rebelled. In February, 1848, the rebellion swept through France. It soon spread in every direction. For at least a time, every monarchy in Europe except for the UK and Russia were overthrown by popular revolt.
“Trading With the Enemy”
In February, 1963, following the Cuban Missile Crisis a few months earlier, President Kennedy intensified sanctions on Cuba under new provisions within the Trading With the Enemy Act. The first time Cuba had a government that was the least bit interested in the welfare of the Cuban people was after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The revolution naturally involved the redistribution of wealth and land, which involved some US corporations being paid what they claimed in their tax filings their property was worth (very little). Since Kennedy and the rest of the US government were mostly interested in representing corporations rather than the common people, they didn’t care that the Cubans were now eating, getting medical care, housing and education for the first time in their country’s post-Columbus history. Kennedy instead sought to harshly punish the Cubans for daring to eat, imposing devastating economic sanctions that have so far never been lifted, despite Obama’s tentative efforts.
On February 8th, 1968, police opened fire on protesters in Orangeburg, South Carolina, killing 3 students and wounding 27. This would turn out to be a sort of introduction to the many more protests, strikes, mass civil disobedience, riots, and extreme police violence that would characterize 1968 throughout the US and many other countries. 1968 and the period around it, like other periods in history (1848, 1917), a time of global revolution and revolutionary movements. The power structures remained in place in the major countries in the west, but in other countries many colonial masters were overthrown. And in the countries where the elite remained in charge, their rule was perceived to be more tenuous and more open to the influence of social movements than before.
“Mama’s Royal Cafe”
Mama’s Royal Cafe opened in Oakland, California in February, 1974, and has been making delicious breakfasts ever since. Served by heavily-tattooed, lovely people, last I checked. (I was a regular there a long time ago.)
“Henry Ford Was A Fascist”
In February, 1974, the Ford Motor Company’s Nazi ties were revealed in a Senate report. For Henry Ford and his company, ties with the Nazis were numerous and complex. Ford was a believer in the pseudo-science of Eugenics, and was a firm believer in white supremacy and the inferiority of other races. He funded pro-Nazi speaking tours around the US in the 1930’s, was quoted by Hitler, and profited massively from both sides of the war, building cars and tanks in both Michigan and Germany. Just as Coke changed their name to Fanta for sales within Germany, Ford changed their name to Opel. Perhaps the most shocking part of this whole saga is how Ford sued the US government for damages for bombing some of their tank factories in Germany. And they won.
“Between You and That Harpoon”
On February 6th, 1980, Sea Shepherd operatives sank a Norwegian whaling ship in Lisbon harbor. They would go on to sink other whaling ships, and generally to make life difficult for whalers around the world.
February 15th, 2003, was judged by many to be the biggest single global day of protest held on Planet Earth up until that time. An estimated 13 million people demonstrated in towns and cities around the world against US plans to attack Iraq. I sang at the protest in New York City. I heard about the one in London, which is what this song is about. The war, of course, went ahead the following month, leading to the devastation and destabilization of an entire region and causing millions to lose their lives and millions more to become refugees — which in so many cases is just a somewhat slower way to lose one’s life than being shot or bombed.
On February 9th, 2005, TransCanada Corporation proposed building a pipeline to transport Alberta Tar Sands oil to Texas. There has been much popular opposition throughout the US, Canada and other countries since then, but due to the unwavering support of the political establishment from both major parties in both the US and Canada, the pipeline projects generally go ahead as planned. And then, inevitably, the pipes break, leak, poison rivers, groundwater, farmland and prairies. And then they’ll still tell us that it’s safer than trucks or trains — as if that’s a sensible argument at all for why we should be drilling for highly toxic oil and gas and shipping it anywhere by any means in the first place.
“Burn It Down”
Convicted monkeywrencher Rod Coronado had been arrested many times before for destroying corporate property or sabotaging a hunt, but his arrest in February, 2006 was for giving a speech that related to such activities. Rod’s crime, under this law, was that he answered a question during a talk he was giving. The question related to to practical logistics of how he committed a crime for which he had been arrested and served years in prison. He answered the question, in very simple terms. For that, he was charged with essentially encouraging people to commit acts of terrorism. If found guilty under this law by a jury, he would have faced a mandatory 25-year prison sentence. After a hung jury he took a plea bargain, like the several other people who have been threatened by this law, and he was taken away from his family to serve one year in prison. If you sing the chorus to this song, you can break the same law he broke.
“A Dream Foreclosed”
In February, 2007, stock markets began crashing, banks began failing, and the subprime mortgage crisis that led directly to the Global Financial Crisis began. Millions would lose their savings, millions would lose their homes, millions would be sent into a constant state of uncertainty and hardship. As with other such massive economic calamities, the richest people who were in the best position to ride out the storm or get bailed out made out like the bandits that they are, and got much richer as a direct consequence of the crisis, by profiting from the misery of the millions who had had to give up their homes. But if you steal food to feed your children, you’ll be imprisoned — unlike the bankers who stole your homes and livelihoods. They’re not in prison. They’re on Wall Street, snorting expensive cocaine, drinking $1,500 bottles of wine, and laughing at us. No, really, they are — you’re not allowed to work in that industry unless you’re a sociopath. Lobotomies for Republicans — it’s the law.
“If Only It Were True”
It was in February, 2007 that then-Senator Barack Obama finally put all the media speculation to rest and announced he was running for president. He would go on to make a lot of great speeches. In terms of policy, his eight years in power would see the further stratification of wealth in the United States, with poverty and homelessness increasing, and not even any talk of a national solution to the wildly increasing cost of buying or renting housing in so much of the US. He would make many vague promises related to the environment, while presiding over the worst environmental disaster in US history on the Gulf Coast, and while approving lots of new oil drilling, fracking and pipeline-building operations. He would receive the Nobel Peace Prize while simultaneously waging drone warfare on more countries than ever before, jailing more whistleblowers than ever before, deporting more refugees than ever before. In other words, he did all the things neoliberal regimes are supposed to do in order to make way for fascism. Fascists feed on neoliberalism, as I often like to say when I sing this song in public, which I often do. Obama gave birth to Trump, just as Macron may give birth to Le Pen if he keeps up his neoliberal policies. And so on.
“Song for Chelsea Manning”
In February, 2010, WikiLeaks published the first trove of material provided by whistleblower extraordinaire, Chelsea Manning. Private Manning took big risks to get that material out of the military base in Iraq where she was working as an intelligence analyst. In so doing, she exposed horrific war crimes — the kidnapping and torture of dissidents and massacres of civilians, all carried out either by or under the auspices of the US military. After being exposed and arrested, she was herself tortured by her captors on a daily basis. After serving over seven years in maximum-security military prisons, Chelsea was pardoned by President Obama just before he left office.
“Steal This MP3”
Many people were surprised by the number of protests, and the number of people involved with them, which occurred throughout Europe — particularly eastern Europe — against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The fight here is for the control of public space online, the control of the internet, and the question of what is the commons and what should be proprietary — and who should profit off of that which is legitimately someone’s intellectual property, however that concept is defined. And how shall it be defined? This not a matter of natural law — it’s something we decide, as societies. Or as monolithic corporate entities, answerable to no one but their stockholders.
In one of the multitude of similar events that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, 17-year-old African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin, was killed by a racist member of the local “neighborhood watch,” George Zimmerman, in Sanford, Florida. Trayvon’s crime was that he was an African-American teen walking to the store in the rain and wearing a hoodie. Incredibly, the murderer was found not guilty, on the grounds that he was defending himself. By getting out of his car on a rainy evening and shooting an innocent pedestrian, he was defending himself.
On February 22nd, 2014, Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovich was deposed by a rightwing coup, replacing a pro-Russian kleptocrat with a pro-western one, with active western support and encouragement. Years of civil war would follow.
After spending years being tortured by the US at Bagram and Guantanamo, Moazzam Begg of Birmingham, England was released by his kidnappers. On February 25th, 2014, Moazzam was arrested once again upon his return to London from a visit to Syria. The charges were later dropped.
“Angry White American Man”
On February 10th, 2015, yet another angry white man from the United States committed a massacre, entering the home of young Muslim neighbors and killing three of them. In recent years, massacres in the US are far more likely to be committed by a white US citizen than by any other demographic, although most white people may or may not be aware of this fact.