MODULE 14: 2014-15
Having never lifted the embargo they imposed on Gaza years before, without Gazans ever having had the opportunity to rebuild their towns and cities since the last time the Israeli Air Force destroyed it all, Israel launched yet another devastating war against the people of Gaza, and the infrastructure and civilian buildings of the besieged Strip, killing thousands.
His Hands Were In The Air (2014)
When a young Black man in Ferguson, Missouri named Michael Brown, Jr was shot to death by a cop in broad daylight with his hands in the air, after his body was left lying in the sun for hours, the whole thing set off a wave of protest around the US, centered in Ferguson itself. (Later, when the cop was found not guilty of any wrongdoing, there was lots more protest.)
The killing of Michael Brown was far from the first time a Black man was killed by cops in the US while his hands were above his head. But it is an iconic image, particularly given that if both your hands are above your head, there is approximately zero possibility that you are intending to put up a fight, or that there is any chance you might be able to resist with firearms, since by displaying your hands above your head, you are thereby demonstrating that you are unarmed – and around the world, this is what is understood by this gesture. This police killing in Ferguson gave rise to the popular slogan shouted at protests around the US for years afterwards – “hands up, don’t shoot.”
At the same time was this wave of protest was happening in the US, lots of Palestinians in the West Bank were protesting the ongoing bombing of Gaza. Protesters from Ferguson and Palestine posting on social media realized they were being attacked by cops firing the same canisters of Pennsylvania tear gas, each one marked with a little US flag.
“His Hands Were In The Air”
The end of cannabis prohibition in many US states has been noticed around the world, for good reason. The US has been the main proponent of the global “war on drugs,” which has destroyed countless lives around the world. And now these progressive advances are happening in the US, of all places.
The reason why such good things occasionally come out of the US has mainly to do with an aspect of US democracy known as the state referendum. The voters in a state can sort of bypass the state legislature by holding a direct vote on a question such as whether cannabis should be legalized, or whether marriage should be available for LGBT people, etc. Sometimes these referendums can result in meaningful change.
“It’s Legal Now”
Tax the Sun (2014)
In a perfect demonstration of how US democracy functions (or fails to function), the legislature of the oil-rich state of Oklahoma passed a law aimed at defending the industry that pays for the legislators to get re-elected. While other states and many countries were passing laws to help encourage the development and use of alternative (less polluting) forms of energy, Oklahoma went decidedly in the opposite direction. The legislature passed a tax on the use of solar panels.
“Tax the Sun”
Terrorist In Chief (2014)
On the eve of September 11th, 2014, President Obama spoke glowingly about his administration’s efforts to fight GW Bush’s “War On Terror.”
This was just a speech, but combined with record-breaking military budgets each year along with what this particular commander-in-chief’s armed forces have been doing with that budget, it serves to illustrate one of the most glaring and dysfunctional aspects of US democracy: the mainstream majority of politicians from both parties wholeheartedly support the US spending almost as much on the military each year as the rest of the world combined.
In other words, if voters in the US want to vote for a party that does not support imperialism and neoliberalism, they do not have an option.
“Terrorist In Chief”
Moazzam Begg spent years as a detainee in Guantanamo, though his only crime appears to have been living in the wrong place at the wrong time (Pakistan at the end of 2001). After finally being released from Guantanamo and returning to his home in England, he became involved once again in charity work and in supporting people trying to survive in war zones, as he had done before. Then on his way back home from Syria in 2014 he was arrested by police in London.
With a socialist on the City Council, Seattle passed a $15 an hour minimum wage. Other cities did, too, or made plans to do so. Of course, by the time some of these extremely expensive cities passed the minimum wage increase, $15 an hour was no longer really a living wage. But that was the idea when the campaign started, and it’s certainly the most successful labor campaign to occur in the US in a long time, headed up by SEIU, Jobs With Justice and other groups.
After “hands up, don’t shoot,” the next popular chant that swept the country was “I can’t breathe” – in reference to the illegal choke hold that a cop used to kill a Black man in New York City named Eric Garner one day in July. There were more waves of protest around the country later, when the cop was found not guilty.
“I Can’t Breathe”
Oso Mudslide (2014)
43 people were killed when a mudslide occurred in the mountainside village of Oso, Washington. Mudslides of this sort don’t occur naturally. The mudslide was a consequence of many decades of bad forest management. Good forest management would have been especially important in the area, because the soil is naturally very loose.
The millions of refugees from war zones in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere had long been creating massive problems for societies like Lebanon, which probably doubled in size as a result of the Syrian Civil War – and countries like Jordan, Turkey, Iran and Kenya, which each took on many millions of refugees. In 2015, refugees from these war zones began leaving the unbearable conditions of wars or camps and heading for Europe in significant numbers.
Although Germany and Sweden especially gave asylum to many, these two countries were the exception rather than the rule. Although all of the countries of Europe, like most countries in the world, are signatories to the Geneva Conventions on human rights, most of them habitually disregard them.
“Song for a Refugee”
In order to claim asylum in a country that would abide by international law and accept them as refugees, refugees first needed to cross many borders illegally, and without being caught. Thousands died on overcrowded boats. Others crammed into trucks on the land route, such as the 71 men, women and children who suffocated to death in the back of a sealed refrigerator truck on the side of the highway in Austria one day.
The most iconic image of the great migration of 2015 was that of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee with a life jacket and spiffy new clothes, lying face-down, dead on a beach in Turkey. The photo of the boy spread around the world and led to an outpouring of solidarity with refugees for a time.
“Upon Our Shores”
2015 began and ended with massacres in Paris. As has been the case in so many other such mass killings, the perpetrators were born and raised in the country in question – they were French. They were also mostly of Algerian origin – their families came from Algeria, in north Africa. If this common heritage of these adherents of Islamic State has any significance, it probably has to do with a lasting resentment of French colonial brutality and torture in Algeria, and the experience of growing up as second- or third-class citizens in France.
“Before the War Came Home”
In the US, as with every other year in recent history, 2015 was marked by a depressing variety of mass shootings. In Charleston, South Carolina a young Nazi killed a minister and eight of his parishioners, in a historic Black church one Sunday morning. He timed the massacre to coincide with a historic slave rebellion that resulted in dozens of people being publicly hanged in the city. His goal was to start a “race war.” He was a regular visitor of white supremacist online forums where he learned about all these things.
“State House Lawn”
Another angry white man killed three people in Chapel Hill, North Carolina – all Muslims. Another heavily-armed, sociopathic racist, and yet another massacre in the land of massacres, the United States.
“Angry White American Man”
Meanwhile in Syria, a ragtag group of mostly Kurdish women and men had managed to fend off a protracted effort by Islamic State to take the city of Kobane. A group of leftwing student supporters of the struggle there had gathered across the border in Turkey, preparing to go to Kobane and offer solidarity in various forms. And then there was a bomb.
Marriage Equality (2015)
The US Supreme Court legalized marriage in the United States (for people, generally – not just heterosexual ones anymore).
“I Know A Man”
Rasmea Odeh (2015)
Homeland Security began the process of deporting this fixture of her community in Chicago for many decades because of a minor misunderstanding in long-ago immigration proceedings. The real reason they wanted to deport her was political: the Israeli authorities wanted this Palestinian back in their prisons to serve more time for a crime she never committed in the first place.
Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its Atlantic companion were in high gear, and protests against the agreements were also increasing, especially in certain parts of Europe. The old WTO rules weren’t good enough for the current administration in the US – the rules were too democratic. With the TPP and TTIP the ruling classes were hoping to consolidate decision-making powers to stay within a tighter little cabal of corporate crooks. Their plans are temporarily on hold.
Questions/thoughts for further exploration…
Did Israel commit crimes against humanity in the ongoing siege of Gaza?
His Hands Were In The Air (2014)
How was the police killing of Michael Brown, Jr justified? Why was the cop found not guilty? Does it make sense that so many people were so upset?
Who was impacted by marijuana prohibition? How have things changed since it was lifted in some states? Was prohibition ever about the health of people?
Tax the Sun (2014)
Is there any way to justify taxing solar panels rather than subsidizing their proliferation and use?
Terrorist In Chief (2014)
How many countries did Barack Obama bomb?
What justification did UK authorities have to detain Moazzam Begg at the airport in London?
If a higher minimum wage causes economic problems as many corporations say, then why is Denmark one of the most prosperous societies on Earth?
I Can’t Breathe (2014)
How likely would it be for a middle-aged white man to be strangled to death by a gang of cops because he was selling cigarettes illegally?
Who is responsible for mudslides like the one in Oso, Washington? How much of a factor was past logging practices? How about climate change?
Do humans have rights just for being human? What does that look like in practice for refugees?
A Truck In Austria (2015)
Why did so many refugees resort to such desperate measures as packing into sealed trucks, even once they were already in Europe?
Children Washing Up (2015)
How much impact did the photo of Aylan Kurdi have? Why? Content? Timing? The power of art?
Before the War Came Home (2015)
Why have all of the big recent terrorist attacks in France been carried about by people who were born and raised in France? Is there a history of racism and colonialism that has created a disaffected minority in France?
Is the mass shooting in Charleston usually listed among recent US terrorist attacks? Were the timing and location picked in order to try to provoke a race war?
Chapel Hill (2015)
Why are white men so much more likely to carry out mass shootings in the US than any other group?
What has been the basis of the relationship between Turkey and Islamic State?
Marriage Equality (2015)
We now have marriage equality. How will we know when we have total equality?
Rasmea Odeh (2015)
Was Rasmea Odeh targeted for political reasons at the request of the government of Israel? Should Israel be trusted to be providing accurate information in a case like this?
What was it about the World Trade Organization processes that was found wanting by those who initiated the TPP and TTIP negotiations?