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On November 19th, 1915, IWW member, organizer and songwriter, Joe Hill was executed by firing squad in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was convicted on entirely circumstantial evidence for the murder of a shopkeeper, and he was given the maximum sentence — death. Many prominent people attempted to intervene on Joe Hill’s behalf, to no avail. Born Joel Emanuel Hagglund in Gavle, Sweden, Joe Hill was one of many IWW leaders who were targeted and persecuted by the state — and the giant corporations it served then and now — in one form or another. He died young, but before he did so he grew to epitomize the way the One Big Union, the Industrial Workers of the World, used music and culture to inspire people to action, and to educate their members and fellow travelers about the class struggle, effective and ineffective tactics, contemporary politics, and history.
“When Johnny Came Marching Home”
On November 11th, 1918, the First World War ended. Millions of civilians and millions of soldiers were dead, entire societies completely transformed by death, with an entire generation of young men forever absent — just as would happen one generation later, in the Second World War. The most horrific, industrial-scale slaughter to take place prior to World War I had been the American Civil War. But World War I eclipsed even that bloodbath in the scale of the mass killing of humanity. Aside from so much death and so many permanently broken families, the soldiers often came home in the form of traumatized shells of their former selves. In turn, they traumatized their children, and gave rise to generations of traumatized children raised by traumatized, emotionally damaged fathers. One more consequence of the permanent war economy that has been the norm in the US ever since.
“Ballad of a Wobbly”
On November 7th, 1919, on the second anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and just prior to the first anniversary of the end of World War I, the Palmer Raids began in earnest. The aim of the newly-created FBI, under the direction of Mitchell Palmer, was to destroy the radical US labor movement, as represented by the IWW. Employing the use of rightwing vigilante war veterans to systematically burn down IWW union halls across the United States, the FBI’s thugs rounded up, arrested, and deported thousands of Wobblies. Prior to the formation of the FBI, the US had no national police force. It was created — and given the intentionally misleading name of the Federal Bureau of Investigation — so that the US would have such a force, which the authorities were convinced they needed in order to crush the labor movement. The main role of the FBI in US society since then has been to infiltrate, disrupt and destroy other important social movements, from the CIO to the Black Panthers.
“How Far Is It From Here to Nuremberg?”
The Nuremberg Trials began on November 20th, 1945. For the victors of World War II, what constituted a war crime of course had to be things the Nazis did which the Allies didn’t do. So there was little mention of bombing cities, which was something all sides engaged in enthusiastically.
“I Wanna Go Home”
On November 22nd, 1967, in the wake of the Israeli conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in the most recent Middle Eastern war, the UN passed Resolution 242, saying that refugees had a right to return to the lands from which they had to flee. The resolution remains unenforced and unrealized. It remains the most glaring of the glaring double-standards that govern the actual implementation of international law (to say nothing of US foreign policy).
On November 11th, 1989, the Salvadoran rebel coalition, the FMLN, launched an offensive to attempt to seize power from the corrupt, US-backed dictatorship they had been fighting throughout the decade. Unfortunately for the FMLN and for humanity, a shipment of surface-to-air missiles en route to the rebels had been intercepted, and they were defenseless against the fighter jets that mercilessly bombed their own capital city in order to force the rebels back into the mountains, and the Salvadoran revolution would remain a dream for which so many men, women and children paid with their lives.
“Song for the SOA”
On November 16th, 1989, six priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter were killed in El Salvador by graduates of the School of the Americas. The fact that those killed were priests was one factor that propelled this particular massacre to international prominence. It was also helped compel a priest named Roy Bourgeois and many others to start organizing annual protest gatherings outside the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, where the SOA (which has since changed its name, but not its practices) is based.
“Welcome to the European Union”
On November 1st, 1993, the Maastricht Treaty went into effect and the European Union was born. The consolidation of power in EU institutions that the treaty represented was opposed by various elements of civil society in many different countries, including some that initially voted down the treaty, such as Denmark. In the case of Denmark, a slightly modified version of the treaty was presented to the Danish voters the following year (1993) and it passed (just barely).
“Shut Them Down”
On November 30th, 1999, meetings of the World Trade Organization were shut down in Seattle by tens of thousands of people who blocked the streets, despite the Seattle police spraying so much tear gas that they ran out of their supplies of it. The WTO protests in Seattle notified the world that the movement against neoliberalism that was thriving in Latin America, Canada and elsewhere had now spread to the United States. In truth, it was already in the US, but the corporate media hadn’t noticed yet. Now they did, at least for a few days, before they’d resume their general policy at the time of barely mentioning protests of any kind, no matter how large or well-organized. The anticapitalist movement of the time, also known as the global justice movement or the movement against corporate globalization, was a growing, largely youth-led phenomenon until 9/11/2001. Efforts to organize mass civil disobedience continued after 9/11, but the movement was besieged and shrinking. The last attempt in the US at such an action was in Miami, Florida in 2003.
“Song for Al Grierson”
On November 2nd, 2000, Al Grierson died in a flash flood while heading home from a gig at a high school in Texas. Originally from Alberta, Al was a musician who fell in love with the Texas hill country, and moved there a few years before he died there. I used to visit him whenever I was passing through, which used to happen a couple times a year on average, back when I was able to tour the USA on a regular basis.
On November 26th, 2002, a Canadian government minister referred to President George W Bush as a “moron.” She then lost her job.
“Song the Songbird Sings”
Mahmud Al-Qayyed, age 10, was killed by an Israeli sniper on November 7th, 2003. He was one of many children killed for the crime of seeking to catch songbirds in an area where they are often present, near the “border” fence separating Gaza from Israel. Like the others killed in identical circumstances, Mahmud was not trying to get over the fence or commit any acts of violence. He was a child in an olive grove, being a child in an olive grove, trying to help his poor family survive in the open-air prison that is Gaza.
In November, 2003, Miami police drenched their city with massive amounts of tear gas, directed at thousands of protesters who had come to voice opposition to the latest trade being negotiated at the time, the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Many people were injured by steel-coated rubber bullets and other “nonlethal” weaponry employed indiscriminately by the Miami police, who also engaged in other tactics such as letting local African-American residents know that there would be no consequences if they felt like mugging any of these protesters. None did, though many went out of their way to inform us mostly young, white protesters from out of town that they had been encouraged by the police to do so.
“Pirates of Somalia”
On November 15th, 2008, Somali pirates seized an oil tanker with two million barrels of oil in it. Much propaganda has been written maligning the Somali pirates. While the motivations of pirates are rarely entirely benign, there are many things worth mentioning about this period of piracy on the high seas off the coast of Africa. The Asian tsunami of 2004 had revealed the fact that western corporations had been dumping nuclear waste in the ocean off the coast of Somalia, taking advantage of the lack of any kind of coast guard patrolling the waters off the coast of this very large failed state. The only thing that stopped this nuclear waste dumping was the rise of piracy in the region.
“It’s Legal Now”
On November 6th, 2012, Colorado and Washington voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Oregon and other states would soon follow. Oddly enough, for the country that is normally leading the way for all the wrong reasons (torture, predatory loans, deregulated banks, private prisons, solitary confinement, fracking and so on), as a result of the phenomenon of state referendums, it’s sometimes possible to subvert corporate rule and engage in a little actual democracy every once in a while. And thus, some US states became global hotspots in the international struggle against cannabis prohibition — itself a phenomenon largely led by the US in the early twentieth century, primarily just to have one more tool in the toolbox for the police in their quest to find new ways to keep people of color in check since slavery had (ostensibly) ended.
“Eagles of Death”
On November 13th, 2015, people with machine guns slaughtered other people in Paris during a concert by a band from the US called the Eagles of Death Metal. The people with the guns were Belgian and French nationals who identified with civilians being killed in the name of their countries, and sought revenge through killing civilians in Paris. Since they were Muslims of North African descent, many people in France and elsewhere in Europe say they are proof that multiculturalism doesn’t work. The fact that France and Belgium are NATO countries involved with killing lots of Muslim women and children in Afghanistan and elsewhere never seems to be a relevant point in most of the western press coverage of these depressingly regular mass-murder eventsh.
“Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz”
On November 25th, 2016, Fidel Castro died. In the US he was always denounced by media and politicians of both parties as a terrible dictator. How it was that this terrible dictator was so beloved by people all over the world was never explained. No need to explain what you don’t mention in the first place. But Fidel was a much-loved figure around the world, because he stood for the dignity of a small country to stand up to a big one, and despite extremely difficult circumstances, to govern with scarce resources in such a way that he successfully not only ran a country which provided health care, education and housing to every Cuban, but sent thousands of doctors around the world to provide health care to millions of others outside of Cuba.