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“A Brief History of Jerusalem”
On July 15th, 1099, the walls of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) were breached in the First Crusade. Upon entering the ancient city, the European Crusaders ruthlessly killed all inhabitants they came across, making no distinction between men, women, children, Christians, Muslims or Jews. Freedom of religion and other freedoms were only restored when Muslim rule was restored, after the re-taking of the city from the Crusaders. The Muslim concept of “Jihad” was developed afterwards, as a response to the invasions of the Crusaders. It’s still popular today, because the Crusades never ended (among other reasons).
“Black Flag Flying”
26 pirates publicly hanged on the gallows in Newport, Rhode Island on July 19th, 1723. This would be only one of many mass hangings of pirates that took place in the 1720’s throughout the North Atlantic, in the course of the British Empire’s efforts to put an end to the Golden Age of Piracy which was at the time having a tremendous impact on British transatlantic trade. To put this in some perspective: throughout the Seventeen Years War between Britain, France and Spain, which saw the tripling of the sizes of the navies of all three countries, British transatlantic trade steadily grew. During the six years that scholars refer to as the Golden Age of Piracy immediately following the Seventeen Years War, British transatlantic trade barely stayed steady, and did not grow at all.
The tenant farmers of upstate New York chose the auspicious date of July 4th, 1839 to announce that they would be engaging in a mass rent strike until the feudal system that then governed the region would be broken up, so the farmers could own their own land, rather than perpetually renting it at usurious rates from a useless feudal lord — a situation no different at all than the sorts of arrangements that were driving so many poor people to flee Europe in search of somewhere they’d stand a better chance of surviving, and maybe prospering. After nine years of refusing to pay the rent, mobilizing en masse — on horseback, armed and masked — every time any of the farmers in the region were threatened by the landlords and their police, the tenant farmers who fought what were known then as the Rent Strike Wars were victorious.
“Age of the Robber Barons”
On July 8th, 1839, John D Rockefeller was born. He would grow up to become the world’s first billionaire. Due to the efforts of him and others like him, the United States was at its most unequal around the time that the first billionaires were hitting the scene. Fairly early on it became commonplace to refer to this bunch of ultra-rich as Robber Barons. It’s an especially relevant historical period because the second-most unequal period in the history of the US is right now. (The Great Depression wasn’t unequal enough to count in the top two most unequal periods. It gets third place.)
The labor movement in Canada, the US, and many other places was especially militant during the first couple decades of the twentieth century. This period saw the birth and rise of the Industrial Workers of the World and other organizations that were similarly militant. A very large segment of the labor movement, very much including the IWW, opposed the World War (later to be known as World War I) as a “bosses’ war.” On July 27th, 1918, labor organizer Ginger Goodwin was killed by a cop in British Columbia who was hunting down draft-evaders, which Ginger most certainly was. His execution led to a general strike involving tens of thousands of workers.
In July, 1940, hundreds of Jewish refugees massed at the gates of the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. They were largely Polish Jews fleeing the Nazi terror that had enveloped their country. Heading west — through Germany — wasn’t an option. They had to flee to the east, which meant going through the Soviet Union. But the only way to get a pass to travel across Siberia was if you had a visa to another country. As implausible as it was that they might get any help from the Nazi’s ally in east Asia, the Japanese Empire, this was their only hope. They would not be disappointed by the Japanese diplomat they would shortly encounter.
“Song for Hugo Chavez”
On July 28th, 1954, Hugo Chavez was born. He would grow up to be the most popular elected leader in the history of Venezuela, and at least for a few years, to be a beacon of socialist hope for Latin America and the world. During his presidency he would be instrumental in lifting millions of Venezuelans out of poverty, and he would be a key force in the global movement against the predatory practices of institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the US government. One of the most notable moments of his presidency would occur in 2002, when he was briefly overthrown by a rightwing coup. The coup was defeated after three days because millions of Venezuelans risked their lives and liberty to pour out into the streets and prevent military vehicles from leaving their bases.
“Atif and Sebastian”
On July 12th, 1994, Atif Rafay’s parents and sister were murdered in Bellevue, Washington. It was a brutal killing of three members of a family, which matched a pattern of other similar killings, all of Muslim scholars. US and Canadian authorities instead blamed Atif Rafay and his friend, Sebastian Burns, for the killings. In order to “prove” their guilt, the RCMP entrapped the unwitting pair in an elaborate ruse that would have been thrown out of court in many countries where the rule of law is held in higher regard than in either Canada or the US. The two men are still in prison today.
On July 17th, 1996, TWA Flight 800 went down over Long Island soon after taking off, killing everyone on board. Scores of witnesses clearly saw a missile coming from the ground and hitting the plane, after which it broke apart in the air and came down in flaming pieces. The FBI and CIA both intervened in the Federal Transportation Safety Board investigation. The piece of the plane that was hit by the missile was mysteriously missing, although the rest of the plane parts were found. The CIA took it upon itself to make a video explaining how all the people who saw a missile rise up from the ground and take down the plane were actually experiencing a complicated visual hallucination of some kind. Whoever shot down the plane, whether on purpose or by accident, has never been ascertained or brought to justice of any kind.
July, 2001 was the first time I personally encountered the Rinky Dink in Bonn, Germany. This magnificent bicycle-powered sound system on wheels and its creator and his friends and comrades from England were at the climate talks in Bonn, along with thousands of other people from around the world (mainly England, Germany and the Netherlands). The Rinky Dink can still be found at festivals and protests in England and elsewhere on a regular basis.
“Behind the Barricades”
In July, 2001, Carlo Giuliani was killed at the G8 protests in Genoa, Italy. From the climate protests in Bonn, a train full of folks left for Genoa to participate in those protests. When they came back, most were traumatized and some had broken bones. After reading something my friend Starhawk wrote about her experience in Genoa, I wrote a love song.
“Waiting for the Fall”
On July 2nd, 2003, President Bush challenged those in Iraq attacking US troops to “bring it on.” They did, in an insurgency against the US occupation that lasted for years, and later resurfaced in new forms (such as Islamic State). In seeking to maintain control over the country and defeat the insurgency, the parts of Iraq that had survived the invasion were largely turned to rubble. Later, in the war against IS, the bits that hadn’t been turned to rubble yet were turned to rubble. Now Mosul is just as much of a pile of rubble as Fallujah and other once-beautiful, ancient cities in the region.
“Holy Land 5”
On July 27th, 2004, a federal grand jury in Dallas, Texas, returned a 42-count indictment against the Holy Land Foundation. Unlike real trials, grand juries are basically like inquisitions — the verdict is rarely in doubt. The US government had it out for the Holy Land Foundation from the beginning, and with the grand jury process they were finally able to do what they wanted to do — give outrageously long prison sentences to the founders of this charity which had provided so much aid to the occupied people of Palestine as well as other people in other countries. For using the same Zakat Committees to distribute aid that USAID had itself used previously, the founders of the Holy Land Foundation were found guilty and sentenced to decades in a maximum-security Texas prison-within-a-prison known euphemistically as a Communications Management Unit.
Volunteers with a group called No More Deaths were arrested on July 9th, 2005 and threatened with long prison sentences. Their crime? Taking a man who appeared to be dying in the Arizona desert to the hospital, rather than to the Border Patrol.
Beginning in July, 2006, Israel destroyed Lebanon once again in a massive aerial assault. Thousands of Lebanese were killed, tens of thousands of homes destroyed, ostensibly in retaliation for a cross-border raid by Hezbollah fighters which resulted in the capture of two Israeli soldiers.
“Letter to My Landlord”
In July, 2008, my landlord raised the rent on the apartment I had lived in for just over a year. He has since raised the rent every year. Now it is more than twice what it was when I moved in. For most other people in Portland, Oregon, things are worse. We need rent control now. Or, ideally, we need to seize all properties owned by landlords who are not living in them. (After we nationalize all the banks that we bailed out.) If we really were serious about dealing with the housing crisis, we’d house people — not just talk about it, while using the crisis as an excuse to build more unaffordable housing. (Calling the housing affordable does not make it affordable. It just allows the developers to take advantage of tax loopholes and subsidies, that do not get passed on in any useful way to the renters or mortgage-holders, sometimes misleadingly referred to as “homeowners”.)
On July 22nd, 2011, Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway, mostly young people on the island of Utoya, where a gathering of progressive youth was taking place. This would be by far the worst mass killing to occur in Scandinavia since the end of World War II. Breivik was inspired by Nazis and other white supremacists from the US and elsewhere. It would also be the only mass murder event to take place in Norway since the end of the war, where rapid-fire weapons are very hard to come by. Breivik considers himself to be part of a long, proud tradition of European white supremacy, intolerance and xenophobia. He also claims to be a member of the militant vanguard of the medieval Holy Warriors, the Knights Templar. While this claim may be dubious, the fact that Breivik represents a major historical strain of European political discourse can only be ignored at the peril of humanity.
On July 19th, 2012, the YPG/YPJ took control of the city of Kobane. Islamic State had defeated the defenders of town after town, city after city, with their massive armada of tanks and heavy weaponry that was more or less given to them by the retreating forces of the so-called Iraqi Army in Mosul. Mainly due to the incredible perseverance and self-sacrifice of the mainly Kurdish fighters defending the city, IS was forced to retreat. Since the successful defense of Kobane, the radically egalitarian, feminist notions guiding the highly motivated defenders of the region they call Rojava has attracted attention globally. One form this has taken has been the formation of international brigades of fighters from around the world who have traveled to Rojava to join the armed struggle there. Many of them have been killed in battle alongside their Kurdish comrades, Islamic State forces, the Turkish Air Force and other actors in the transnational war being waged on Middle Eastern soil. I wrote this song after the death of a YPG fighter from the United States named Robert Grodt.
On July 20th, 2012, there was yet another mass killing in the United States. This time it was opening night for the latest Batman movie at a cinema in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado. Was the killer violent and deranged? Certainly. Did he have easy access to rapid-fire, deadly weapons? Oh, yes. This is America, where “freedom” (that is, the freedom of the arms industry and their servile hate group, the NRA, to buy our government’s complicity in the daily mass murder of our children) is more important than life itself.
“Song for Pelican Bay”
In July, 2013, prisoners in California began a long hunger strike. The hunger strike went on for almost two months in many cases. At its peak, tens of thousands of prisoners were participating — across racial and ethnic lines. They were protesting against the daily torture that is solitary confinement, and otherwise to be treated like they might possibly be human beings with some semblance of human rights — even in prison. As usual, this hunger strike and the fact that the US incarcerates more people than any other country on Earth barely made the news anywhere.
“Coup That Wasn’t A Coup”
The Egyptian uprising of 2011 led to the overthrow of the US-backed military government, and ultimately to elections in which the long-time opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, won power. The Brotherhood’s rule would not last long, however. In July, 2013, only a year after Mohammed Morsi’s election to the presidency, the Egyptian military seized power and reinstated martial rule. In the process, soldiers slaughtered protesters on a massive scale and jailed and tortured many more. Well aware that this was going on, the Obama administration declared that this military coup wasn’t really a military coup. Why deny the obvious reality of what had just happened? Because if a coup had taken place, the US would be legally required to stop selling weapons to Egypt.
On July 6th, 2013, a train derailed and exploded in Quebec, killing 47 people in the town of Lac Megantic. The train was full of volatile fracking gas extracted at great cost to the environment and human health in North Dakota. Despite there being over seventy cars full of explosive gas, no one was responsible for watching the train overnight, where it was parked, from where a brake failed and the train began to roll towards town. If it hadn’t been after midnight, the death toll would have been far higher. The town center was destroyed. Most of the dead were in a music club. Only after this terrible disaster were safety laws improved on railways in Canada, so that this particular kind of disaster might be less likely to occur in the future.
On July 17th, 2013, the Associated Press revealed that former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels had banned books by historian Howard Zinn from state institutions before moving on to his present job, as president of Purdue University.
In July, 2014, Israel destroyed Gaza again, destroying essential infrastructure once again, killing thousands. Since this war crime was committed by the inappropriately-named Israeli Defense Force, the crime has been immeasurably compounded in scope every day since then, as each day is another day that Israel continues to prevent anyone in Gaza from importing the equipment they need to rebuild their infrastructure. As a result, Gaza is a toxic wasteland, completely unlivable, with 90% of the drinking water too toxic to drink. Yet millions of people live there, trapped, drinking the water and dying far too young, whether of preventable illnesses, Israeli bullets or Israeli bombs (which, incidentally, mostly have US flags on them, since that’s where they were made).
“I Can’t Breathe”
On July 17th, 2014, a racist cop on Staten Island choked Eric Garner to death, even while he said eleven times that he could not breathe. Other cops looked on or cooperated as this murder was slowly committed. The bystander who filmed the event has been threatened ever since. The killer cop was later found not guilty, leaving sensible observers worldwide incredulous.
“Song for a Refugee”
On July 13th, 2015, Hungarian workers began building a fence along its southern border, shutting down a route of migration for the hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees who were then fleeing war zones or dictatorships in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea and elsewhere.
On July 20th, 2015, a suicide bomber detonated himself outside the Amara Culture Centre in Suruc, Turkey, just across the border from Kobane, Syria, killing dozens of leftwing youth from throughout Turkey who had gathered to provide aid to the besieged enclave of Rojava.
In July, 2015, a greedy developer named Douglas MacLeod began destroying my neighborhood — cutting down old shade trees, demolishing old houses and building big, square new houses that appear to be made mostly of glue, which are so overpriced that nobody wants to buy them.
“If This Were A War”
On July 7th, 2016, five cops were shot and killed by Micah Xavier Johnson, a young man who was in a parking garage overlooking a parking lot in Dallas, Texas, following a march against police violence. Micah was a sniper with military training and was a very good shot, though one civilian was shot in the leg. It was clear from social media posts that Johnson was upset about racist police killing Black people in the US on a daily basis. The Dallas police killed him by using an improvised robotic suicide bomber that they sent onto the floor of the garage he was on.