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“The Bicycle Song”
On June 12th, 1817, Baron Karl von Drais became the first person known to ride a bicycle for 13 miles.
On June 3rd 1839, Chinese troops burned 20,000 crates of British opium. The response of the British government — with the participation of military detachments from the US, France and Russia — was to launch a years-long “trade war” of aggression in which cities were burned to the ground and tens of thousands of Chinese were killed. China’s ultimate surrender was predicated on the country lifting their embargo on the addictive drug the UK authorities were intent on pushing around the world. This and other such episodes became known as the Unequal Treaties in China, a national subjugation that many Chinese today remember and wish never to repeat.
On June 19th, 1847, Scientific American magazine referred to the use of Egyptian mummy wrappings for paper-making. This was one of very few public references to the active trade between the US state of Maine and the nation of Egypt. When the workers in the paper mills would throw the rags from the ships onto the floor, sometimes the rags would snap back into the form of the human body they had been wrapped around for thousands of years.
“Helen Keller, Revisited”
On June 27th, 1880, Helen Keller was born. She would go on to become a leading voice for radical labor unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World, and for the rights of women, people of color and the disabled, regularly doing speaking tours throughout the US, Japan and elsewhere, and publishing many books and essays. Her role as a leader of the US left was so controversial then and since that her adult life has been virtually written out of the history books. She is still mainly known for her accomplishments before the age of seven, when she overcame the fact that she was unable to see or hear, and learned to talk, with the help of her teacher and lifelong friend and comrade, Anne Sullivan.
On June 23rd, 1894, Alfred Kinsey was born. He would go on to become a pioneering researcher into human sexuality. Although sexual liberation is most commonly associated with the 1960’s, the radicals of the early twentieth century in the US, Germany and elsewhere were often not just rebelling against the political establishment of the day — capitalism and empire — but were often also rebelling against social norms such as monogamy.
“Ballad of a Cluster Bomb”
On June 14th, 1943, Nazi Germany dropped cluster bombs (Butterfly Bombs) on Grimsby, England. The terrifying and deadly episode was censored in England, so few people heard about it at the time. Cluster bombs would go on to be used extensively by the US military to kill untold numbers of people in Vietnam and other invaded countries. The US military developed new ways of making the bombs accomplish their ends. One innovation involved making them out of plastic rather than metal, so that the shards that would fill up the bodies of the victims would need to be removed without the aid of x-rays to identify their locations, thus causing such operations to be even more time-consuming for the medical establishment, and thus even more taxing to it. The goal, in other words, was to kill and maim people on a widespread basis while at the same time working as hard as possible to completely cripple the health care system of the country.
On June 25th, 1950, the war between the US, Korea and China known in the US as the Korean War began. Over the next three years the US military would drop more bombs on Korea than all sides of World War II combined, bombing dams, killing millions, committing many of the most unforgivable crimes against humanity in the history of civilization. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops were also killed, and tens of thousands of Chinese trucks were destroyed.
“The Ghost of Ethel Rosenberg”
On June 19th, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed. The US government knew that Ethel had not been a spy for the Soviet Union, but they charged her anyway, to get her husband to talk. With her strong encouragement, he did not do so, and the Rosenberg children lost both their parents that day. The Rosenberg Fund for Children has been an important organization in the decades since then in helping the children of prisoners in the US.
As the old joke goes: do you know why there’s never been a military coup in the United States? Because it doesn’t have a US embassy. On June 18th, 1954, the CIA initiated a coup d’etat against the democratically-elected leftwing government of Jacobo Arbenz. This was far from the first or the last time the CIA would do that, but it’s an especially horrific example. The coup that the CIA set in motion led to decades of genocidal military rule. With US backing, in the name of fighting communism, hundreds of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans and others were tortured and killed.
On June 5th, 1967, the Six-Day War between several ill-equipped Arab nations and the settler-colonial regime known as Israel began. Israel won, and annexed yet more Palestinian land in the process. The ongoing, egregious violations of international law and human rights committed daily by the state of Israel, which the Arab armies had sought to stop, only got much worse after the annexation and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that began when the war ended.
“Flag Desecration Rag”
On June 21st, 1989, the US Supreme Court ruled that burning the US flag is legally protected speech.
In the years leading up to and just after the turn of the 21st century there was a spate of pie-throwing activity going on in many countries, with rich and powerful men having their just desserts delivered directly to their faces on a regular basis. On June 21st, 2000, former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling was a very deserving recipient of one such delicacy.
In June, 2002, I was turned away from the Canadian border and prevented from going to the G8 protests in Alberta. The immigration agent who turned me away showed me that I was on a watch list first. He wasn’t supposed to do that, but it was so helpful that he did. Most of the time when you’re on a watch list it’s not necessarily obvious, and you have to guess at why strange things keep happening. In my case, there was no need to guess.
“They’re Building A Wall”
On June 16th, 2002, construction of the Israeli Separation Barrier began. It would quickly become clear that the wall would not be anywhere close to the 1967 “border.” Rather, the wall would be an instrument for the further theft of Palestinian land, and a means to further atomize the West Bank into isolated little bantustans.
“Before Their Ship Arrives”
Like other settler-colonial societies, Australia had a whites-only immigration policy for most of it’s existence as a country. Australia’s policies have been the most draconian of them all, however. On June 27th, 2002, during a protest outside the Woomera refugee camp, imprisoned refugees escaped and blended with the crowd, which helped them get away. Some of them have never been found by the authorities.
In June, 2005, Paul Wolfowitz was appointed to head the World Bank. Prior to this appointment, he was in charge of privatizing the Iraqi economy, which was being done by the occupation government — at the point of a gun, backed up by air support, as these things are usually done.
“Ballad of CeCe McDonald”
CeCe McDonald was attacked in a Minneapolis bar by a Nazi on the evening of June 5th, 2011. It became very clear that her assailant was in fact a Nazi because when she eventually responsed to his assault by stabbing him with a pair of scissors, it turned out she had stabbed him squarely in his swastika tattoo. Although clearly an act of self-defense, this Black, trans woman was convicted for killing the bigot who had attacked her.
On June 6th, 2011, Congressman Anthony Weiner apologized for sending pictures of his penis to random women he had never met. It wouldn’t end there.
“Ballad of Eola Park”
What? You’re not allowed to feed hungry people? You’ll get arrested?! Yup. And in June 8th, 2011, Food Not Bombs servers were arrested in Orlando, Florida. But this isn’t just a Florida thing — one of those arrested, Keith McHenry, had been arrested dozens of times before in California and other states for the same offense. Hungry people, it turns out, should be kept out of sight in church basements — not in public parks and not in front of City Hall.
The previously-held understanding that the closest primate relative to humans were chimpanzees was proven wrong. On June 13th, 2012, scientists determined bonobos are equally close relatives. This discovery called into question a lot of social darwinists, for whom us being related to comparatively violent chimps was politically convenient. Bonobos aren’t like that. They prefer group sex.
In June, 2013, Edward Snowden flew from Hawaii to Hong Kong and revealed the existence of a secret NSA spying-on-everyone program called Prism. For blowing the whistle on the program he was roundly condemned by leaders of both parties in the US, and celebrated by freedom-loving people in the US and around the world.
“America Has Never Been So Great”
On June 16th, 2015, Donald Trump announced his intentions to run for president and Make America Great Again. He would be one of many con men to amass great power and wealth by selling nostalgic fantasies to desperate, gullible people.
“State House Lawn”
The day after Trump announced he was running for president, on June 17th, 2015, a white supremacist killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in an attempt to foment a race war.
On June 20th, 2015, the Golden Rule hit the water again. This historic boat which had sailed to the Pacific to protest nuclear bomb testing there in the 1950’s was fixed up by Veterans for Peace so that it could once again sail the waters of the Pacific to oppose US militarism.
“I Know A Man”
The US Supreme Court legalized marriage on June 26th, 2015. Before that date the institution only applied to heterosexual couples in many states.
On June 12th, 2016, a very troubled man with a rapid-fire weapon killed 49 people at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida. And what led this man to commit such an atrocity? Homophobia? Self-hatred? The invasion of his ancestral homeland, Afghanistan? Hateful rightwing cable TV shows? Xenophobia all around him? The easy availability of weapons of mass destruction? All of the above?
“Names and Addresses”
On June 14th, 2017, the awful chickens borne from decades of austerity budgets came home to roost in the form of the Grenfell Tower Fire. Scores died as the flammable plastic wrap surrounding the building caught fire and rapidly engulfed the entire building. The fatal question: why on Earth was a building wrapped in flammable plastic cladding in the first place?