MODULE 11: The Latter Naughties
No One Is Illegal (2006)
In the spring of 2006 there were some of the biggest protests in the history of the US. Many cities set records for the biggest protests they had ever had, such as Dallas, Texas. What mobilized so many people so quickly were politicians in Washington, DC talking about making it even harder to be undocumented.
For those who were at these protests, the message was simple and clear: what the United States has is a massive black economy, with super-exploited, undocumented workers as a structural part of it. Keeping things that way comes with various costs to various people in society – costs to the super-exploited workers themselves, costs to those other workers who in one way or another must compete with them, costs to the society which could be generally better off with more workers earning decent wages and spending more money.
Facebook became available to the general public, and began its meteoric rise towards becoming the main way that most of us communicate and get our news about the world around us. Yikes.
In the battle to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah from the insurgents who had seized the city, 80% of the buildings were destroyed. US forces used chemical weapons. Most of the population became refugees.
Meanwhile in Lebanon, a cross-border raid resulting in the seizure of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah prompted Israel to demolish much of Lebanon from the air, almost exactly ten years since the last time Israel did that.
New York City Indymedia activist Brad Will was killed with a camera in his hands in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was there in Oaxaca City with the striking school teachers who had taken over the city. Brad was one of dozens of people killed by paramilitary forces and police during this period.
Meanwhile in Copenhagen, Scandinavia’s premier squatted punk rock social center, the House of Youth – Ungdomshuset – had been sold to a rightwing Christian sect called House of the Father – Faderhuset. There was a pretty serious campaign organized by Ungdomshuset folks to save the building from demolition, but in the end the police arrived with helicopters in force, fumigated the place with tear gas, made several dozen arrests, and soon the historic building was demolished.
The campaign that went on after that, however, grew much bigger than the previous one, with much more support from folks all over Denmark and elsewhere, and eventually the city of Copenhagen gave in to the demands of the youth, and gave them a new building comparable in size to the old one.
The successful campaign mainly involved different groups taking on the organizing of mostly peaceful weekly Thursday marches through town that generally involved hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. Prior to the building’s destruction, the campaign to save it was largely black-clad youth who were at the time coming out of the current Ungdomshuset crowd. The later campaign, as it grew, became more colorful in terms of how people dressed, and broadened in age to include lots of teens and preteens as well as lots of gray-beards, and everyone in between.
Global Financial Crisis (2008)
The banks around the world melted down in 2008, and for the most part, tax-payers bailed them out. For the most part, little changed as a result, most of the bankers who caused so much hardship for so many people got bonuses every year including 2008, and lost nothing in the whole process, perhaps aside from a little respect.
This scenario, however, was not the picture everywhere. If you look at the news regularly, every now and then you’ll see a headline: “banker sent to prison.” If you look more closely, you’ll notice that that headline almost always is from Iceland. Instead of bailing out their failed banks, the Icelandic public – and ultimately the government as well – said no, this isn’t our problem, it’s yours, you deal with it, and by the way, we’re putting you in prison for what you’ve done.
Iceland was threatened by all kinds of powerful countries and international institutions that their economy and future would be totally ruined by what they were doing. All those countries and institutions who said that stuff were completely wrong.
One of the first things that happened in 2009 was a young Black father named Oscar Grant was shot to death by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) cop on a train platform in Oakland, California. What developed after that was a sustained, multi-racial, multi-generational movement for justice and against police brutality and murder that had a big impact locally in the Bay Area – including eventually resulting in a rare instance of a cop going to prison (if very briefly) for killing a Black man in the United States.
“Song for Oscar Grant”
Holy Land Five (2009)
After 15 years of government harassment, threats, and eventually the shutting down of their charity by executive order in 2001, after a trial that resulted in a hung jury there was a second trial, and the result of that one was that the founders of the charity, the Holy Land Foundation, were sentenced and imprisoned for between 15 and 65 years each.
Any hope that President Obama would do anything about this outrageous injustice were foiled when he left office at the end of his second term – his two terms coinciding almost exactly with the first eight years of the prison sentences of these five men, who are serving their sentences in supermax conditions.
What these men were accused and convicted of, very simply, was taking donations from people for the purpose of providing Palestinians and others with food and medical care, and channeling these donations via local community groups called Zakat Committees. The Zakat Committees were also used by USAID and many other organizations until they were declared by the US government to be essentially terrorist committees. The mistake the Holy Land Foundation made was continuing to funnel aid through these committees after they were supposed to stop doing so.
Aside from being a complete outrage in terms of the injustice served up to the foundation and its founders, the case is a terrible outrage in terms of the impact it has had on Muslim charities in the US. Basically, no one knows who you can safely give money to if you want to help Palestinians or various other people from predominantly Muslim parts of the world. If this happened to the Holy Land Foundation, it could happen to anyone.
In short, on a purely practical level with concern to the Zakat Committees, the idea that you could give any serious amount of aid to Palestinians without the money having some kind of footprint of someone who is a member of Hamas would be like trying to give aid money to needy people in New Orleans without it passing through the hands of a member of the Democratic Party.
“Holy Land Five”
Murder In Church (2009)
Dr George Tiller was killed one Sunday morning in front of his family while at his church in Kansas. The zealot who killed him was against abortion, and Dr Tiller was a women’s doctor who provided abortions for those who needed them.
Dr Tiller was only one of many medical workers and others who have been killed for defending the rights of women to have legal access to abortion. The “pro-life” movement contains violent elements that never seem to be as high on the list of organizations to target when the government is concerned about society, since the “pro-life” people are generally neither Muslims nor environmentalists.
“In The Name of God”
Another Coup (2009)
A big part of the latest wave of child refugees and other migrants coming to the US border has been the consequences of the military coup in Honduras in 2009. This coup against a progressive, democratically-elected government was enthusiastically backed by the USA, as usual.
As in other nearby countries where the US has actively backed anti-democratic forces – Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico – these countries also make up the bulk of those refugees that the politicians like to call “economic migrants,” and who are therefore supposed to be so worrying to everyone else.
A longstanding joke of uncertain origin goes like this: “why has there never been a coup in the US? Because the US doesn’t have a US embassy.”
Questions/thoughts for further exploration…
No One Is Illegal (2006)
Many cities in the US had the biggest protests they have ever had in the spring of 2006. What happened?
How has Facebook affected the attention span of global society, along with how we perceive the world?
Why did the US have to destroy 80% of the buildings in the city in order to liberate it? Was white phosphorous used? Is it a chemical weapon? A weapon of mass destruction? What about cluster bombs?
Did the Israeli military know that the UN compound they bombed was full of civilians?
Brad Will (2006)
Brad Will was killed in Oaxaca by paramilitary forces with a camera in his hand. Was he an activist or a journalist?
What does the ultimately successful struggle for Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen tell us about the effectiveness of different tactics?
Does Iceland’s approach to its banking crisis tell us that there might be viable alternatives to the response that most countries took, of passing austerity budgets and using taxpayer money to bail out their banks?
Oscar Grant (2009)
The killing of Oscar Grant became a big local issue in the San Francisco Bay Area. Why did it take several more years before racist police killings became a major national debate?
Holy Land Five (2009)
Is it possible to be Muslim in the US without being under government surveillance and suspicion? What does the case of the Holy Land Five tell us?
Dr George Tiller Assassinated (2009)
Whose interests were Dr George Tiller serving? Whose interests were his assassin serving?
Honduras Coup (2009)
What role did the US play in the coup that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras?