Friday, June 15, 2018

When Fellow Workers Can No Longer Find Work: A Talk with the Long-Term Unemployed




When Fellow Workers Can No Longer Find Work: A Talk with the Long-Term Unemployed
By Devon Bowers

The following is an email interview with three individuals - Cayla, Carlos, and DR - who have been long-term unemployed. They talk about how their unemployment has affected them mentally and emotionally, and also question the idea of work being so deeply linked to a person's identity.

1.If you are okay with saying, what led to your long-term unemployment?

Cayla: Well, my unemployment wasn't intentional. I am a student. I have been since I left the Army in 2011. I was in the middle of working on a bachelor's degree when I got sick. I am schizoaffective. So, I had to take some time off school. I'm going back in the fall. Because I am a veteran, I get free education and a monthly stipend while I attend school, so I have no need to work.

Carlos: I work in an industry that has a very short span guarantee of employee, I work in the non-profit industry (for a lack of a better term). In the region that I live, South Texas, there are a good number of nonprofits which provide invaluable services to the community. Especially for an area with high poverty rates as those on the Appalachian region and Native American reservations.

Funding for non-profits is usually tied to the funding source, which can be from local to national government grants, foundations, or university grants. The life span of grants usually range from one to five years and it is never guaranteed to be refunded. So as much as I love working in community organizing or community-building work, it is very tenuous employment. The times I was unemployed was because my service to a nonprofit ended due to no more funding or end of funding of program. The longest I have been unemployed was about 10 or 11 months.

DR: In 2014, I was working as a salesperson for a regional chain furniture store. They prided themselves on being "family friendly" and their ability to work with staff in arranging or adjusting schedules as needed or in case(s) of a family emergency. This was one of the main reasons I had been so happy to be hired there, as I was the main provider of my two young daughters at the time and in the midst of a somewhat messy custody dispute.

According to their records I was laid off because my sales were below target, but at the time my sales seemed to be on par with just about everyone else's, and the only real difference I could see was that I was the most recent hire. Also, it should be pointed out that at the time I was laid off, I was just shy of the end of my 6-month trial period, after which I could begin receiving benefits. You can draw your own conclusions from this.

Not long after I was hired my ex-wife moved approximately 2,000 miles away to Tennessee, leaving both children in my care, which meant I immediately went from being the main provider to the sole provider of my daughters - something I obviously had no say in.

As a newly single father I desperately needed that job, especially as I couldn't even afford childcare as things were. Once let go, I was forced to be even pickier for which jobs I applied. I could no longer accept any other job like say, fast food work, or another minimum-wage or part-time job… that is, unless they knew my story beforehand and were willing to work with me and possibly whomever else also took a chance and hired me, which was already not likely.

Plus, given the large amount of teenagers and retirees in my town who obviously made much better part-time or minimum-wage workers than me, this was basically impossible. Let me tell you, though, I tried and I tried with gusto - my children's livelihood was/is on the line. I could not and can not afford to feed my kids on California's minimum wage. California, as I'm sure you're aware, is one of the highest cost-of-living states.

So, after everything I just detailed, I enrolled in CalWorks - California's form of general assistance. I was already receiving SNAP (food stamps) while working at the furniture store, because again, even with minimum-wage plus commission, I could still not afford food for my family.

2. I was recently listening to a podcast where it was mentioned that the idea of personhood has been linked to work, that in working, we in a way prove that we are people. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think that on a societal level that's true? Do you still accept that notion or have you moved on and if so what made you start to reject the idea that work equals personhood?

Cayla: I think our society stresses the notion of work = personhood because we are capitalist. We worship the dollar bill, therefore we associate exploitation with identity. None of us are what we do, we just spend a large part of our day being exploited. I don't need to be exploited to feel like a whole person.

Carlos: This is an idea that you can trace to most ancient societies once they settled into economic classes. The idea of what you do (work, skills) is who you are. In the United States, this is drilled into our psyche. Not only does work reflect us, but the idea that you must be working in or be employed in order to have worth as a person. Fortunately, for me, I am a red diaper baby. So my parents inculcated in me with a different view of the world than the one schools, peers, institutions promote.

DR: Let me say this, the idea that personhood equals value, with value equating work, is absurd. You are a human being, and therefore have intrinsic value because you exist. Not the kind of value that says whatever you can contribute to others equates to what kind of person you are; how you should be treated or where you fall on the scale of who matters and how much.

As Human Beings, we are entitled to life, liberty, and property. Property falls under the label of labor; labor is property. Life includes healthcare -- ALL healthcare: mental and emotional care is the upkeep of our minds and brain; teeth and eyes are parts of our physical body that need upkeep, therefore mental, emotional, dental, and eye care are included in healthcare as well. Life also includes education, childcare, food, clothes, and shelter - these all contribute to the upkeep of our lives.
Last but certainly not least, liberty is (but should be so much more than just) the choice between working to receive what is little more than a slave wage or starving. Which, in all actuality, is not liberty because the idea that it's a choice is a joke in the worst form. It is not a choice, and it is not liberty.

The idea that value equals work which equates to personhood is ridiculously able-ist in construct. There are many, many people who cannot physically work… does that take away their personhood? What an archaic, classist, able-ist construct of thinking. This isn't 10,000 years ago, I believe we can and SHOULD evolve from that ancient, unreasonable, dusty form of "Social Darwinism" or "Natural Selection." We are modern humans living in the modern age. I wholeheartedly believe that "from each according to their ability to each according to their need" is fundamentally the best idea and construct for our society and ourselves.

The entire time I have been unemployed, I have not remained idle. I have labored. Intensely. I have: raised my children, grown gardens in my backyard in a step towards self-sufficiency, I have worked my family member's land and houses. I have done handiwork in my own home. I have constructed things. I have educated people, adults and children on a multitude of different issues. While on CalWorks, I have gone to college, increasing my own knowledge, and working towards my goal of becoming an educator; a history teacher to be specific.

 I have volunteered with countless organizations, including Western Service Workers Association (WSWA), which is a mutual aid organization and a "para-union", or a union for non-unionized workers, like IHSS workers or farmworkers. I am currently a coordinator for their food procurement program, which entails me going to different grocery markets and taking donations for our food bank, so that it may be fully stocked and ready to help other families and individuals in need. I have become an organizer for the Socialist Party USA (SPUSA).

I have organized protests against the DAPL and other such pipelines. I have organized demonstrations in support of universal healthcare. I have organized demonstrations of solidarity with the LGBT community when our local mega-church Bethel openly declared themselves a hate group in support of conversion therapy and told their congregation to vote against a CA Assembly bill which would grant members of the LGBT community greater access to healthcare and would ban the practice of billing people for conversion therapy.

I have organized food drives and supply drops for the homeless, and poor working class families like ours. Most importantly, I have been the in-home caretaker of my partner, and mother to our new son, who suffers from PTSD, agoraphobia, and panic disorder, due to rape-trauma, multiple sexual assaults, including while she was a child. I have witnessed the ableism she has encountered- from her own family no less. We are currently in the process of having me added as an official IHSS worker on payroll, which would end my long spell of unemployment. I have been working this entire time. I am proud of the work I have done.

3. What are some of the psychological and emotional effects that have been caused by your long-term unemployment? Have any of these problems spilled over and started affecting you physically?

Cayla: My psychological problems are likely caused by my disorder, but I experience a lot of boredom. I have a severe lack of motivation, so even the simplest chores are hard work for me. This has led to a feeling of emptiness that may be associated with a lack of direction or an existential crisis. Anyhow, not working can become boring, if you don't engage in some kind of hobby. I gained weight, though, again, this could be the schizoaffective disorder and the meds I have been put on. My health has suffered, my Dr. gave me some bad news: pre-diabetes and high cholesterol.

Carlos: It is a very stressful time when you are unemployed. Even more so when you have a family. Not only do you depend on your livelihood, but also your spouse and child. When I was unemployed, it created a lot of stress. Each & every day. Not knowing how you are going to pay for rent, utilities, etc.

Knowing that you need to keep your core of living expenses to make sure you can make it through. For example, making sure you have enough to pay the phone bill so you can still be connected for interviews, etc. From when you wake up to when you go to bed and hoping you were able to survive that day. And physically it's even worse since you lose your health insurance and you're a diabetic like me. Meds become a luxury, but knowing you need them in order to get to old age.

DR: The psychological and emotional effects of my long-term unemployment have mostly been encountering the ableist and classist constructs of people in society who do believe that as long as I am not officially "working" that my life and myself are meaningless. There is anger. There is resolve and determination to keep working towards the abolition of such a cruel, self-serving, greedy, hateful society.

4. What are your thoughts on universal basic income? Do you think it could provide something of a cushion for you?

Cayla: I think it's a wonderful idea, though I'm unsure how effective it would be in practice. I've read that it may be ineffective because if it were ever put into place, the resulting price increases would basically render it useless. I have a pension from the VA, so I know how wonderful it can be to have a bit of security. I wish this for everyone, though I'm not sure that a universal income is the way to get there. While I have my doubts, if I were forced to choose now, I would give everyone a universal income. I want everyone to have the opportunity to pursue their passions and chase their dreams.

Carlos: Honestly, I do not know much about the movement or proposal. I have read different variations of it. As a quick reform, it sounds promising. I do think in the immediate, what we would need is to make sure we a) fund unemployment insurance better, b) make sure that the level of unemployment insurance is of a level good enough to live on while also making sure that it is there as long as the person is looking for a job, and c) making sure the unemployed have access to health insurance. I would add that as a democratic socialist, a UBI still doesn't do away with the exploitation of the capitalist on the working class. The end goal is not to reform capitalism, but to birth a new society not based on class exploitation.

DR: Universal Basic Income can only be a good idea if it does not come in place of free healthcare, or education, or food stamp benefits. As it is now, proponents of UBI are suggesting $1000. If you live in CA, you'd be lucky if that even covered rent, let alone food and other necessities. The fact that big CEO's like Mark Zuckerburg, Elon Musk, and more are starting to come around to UBI should be alarming to the working class. They say it will be necessary because automation will replace countless jobs.

Now if those jobs are gone forever, you can't call UBI supplemental, it will be the only source of income for working class families to live off of. I've even seen some republicans come around to it, but saying they'd want it to replace food stamps and medical coverage. So UBI by itself, or replacing other benefits would ultimately be destructive to the working class. I would, however, support a UBI that a working class family could actually live on. Along with Universal Healthcare for all, free education from Preschool through College for all, a Job Guarantee for those who are able to work, cost of living controls, and a minimum wage that could sustain a family, and a maximum wage of no more than 10x the minimum.

Then, and only then, would UBI be a good idea. Technology has the opportunity to free us from work for necessity, and could free us to working for passion and fulfillment, only if it is hands of the People, and not the elites.

5. What do you think of a federal job guarantee?

Cayla: Again, I'm not very well versed on the subject, but with my limited knowledge, I would choose to have one. I don't know how effective they have been in the past, but the idea sounds great. I am disabled from the Army. That's how I receive my pension. I am limited as to how many hours or how physically demanding a job can be. It would be nice if the government could guarantee me a good part-time job with benefits. As I understand it, some countries are moving to shorter work days, due to overproduction. We don't need to be constantly working and producing so much. We are destroying the planet doing it. Perhaps if the gov't guaranteed everyone work, we could limit our own work days. If everyone worked together, rather than competing, we could all work less.

Carlos: I think a federal job guarantee should be tied in closely with the aforementioned response. I do think this reform is more viable and easier for mainstream folks to understand and back. This is one proposal from Sen. Sanders, but has been around since the '70s.

DR: As I stated above a Federal Job Guarantee would be useful, if coupled with the following services; UBI, Universal healthcare for all, free education from Preschool through College for all, cost of living controls, a minimum wage that families could live on, and a maximum wage of no more than 10x the minimum. These reforms must exist together if they are to truly benefit the working class.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Touring The Struggle Depot: An Interview with Kate and Sally


Touring The Struggle Depot: An Interview with Kate and Sally

By Devon Bowers

Below is the transcript of a recent email interview I had with Katherine Heller and Sally Tamarkin, hosts of the podcast TheStruggle Bus, where we discuss the creation of the podcast and mental health.

1. What made you want to create The Struggle Bus?

Sally: We started TSB kind of on a whim. Katharine and I had recently met and become fast friends. A lot of our conversations in the beginning of our friendship were about how we were doing with Life, mental health, etc. So when Katharine, who already hosted a great podcast called Tell The Bartender, suggest we start an advice show, it seemed like the perfect way to hang out together and do what we do best—talk about mental health and share our feelings and opinions!

Katharine: I was so excited when I met Sally and wanted an excuse to hang out with her. We talked about doing a podcast together, monthly, just for fun. At some point she used the term “Struggle Bus” and I’d never heard it, and thought that it would be a good name for a podcast.

2. How do you go about giving advice? Is it off the cuff or do you plan and research beforehand?

Sally: For me it’s kind of a mix of both. The way I prep is: I read the questions we’re answering that week a few times. I make some notes in my Notes app of things that the listener’s email made me think about and I come up with a few points that I think I want to make. I also spend some time trying to determine what, if anything, I am projecting onto the questioner because one thing I’ve noticed is that it’s VERY easy to give advice from a me-centric point of view and I have to make a conscious effort to not put too much of myself and my experiences into the way I respond, because then I think it just becomes Here’s What Sally Would Do In This Situation Or Has Done In Similar Situations, which does not center the person who’s asking us for advice at all. Once I have spent some time with the questions in my head and making notes, I stop thinking about them because I know that once I hear how Katharine responds, it will make me think about the email in a new way and I’ll have new/different things to say. My objective is to be prepared but not to be scripted because I think a lot of the best advice we give comes from Katharine and I sort of collaborating as we respond.

Katharine: I read the emails ahead of time, and if there’s anything I need to know, I do some research. For example, if I don’t know an acronym for a medical condition, I’ll look that up. There have been times when I wanted to ask a professional to be sure we handled something sensitive in the right way. An example of this is when we got an email from a sexual molestation survivor who had rape fantasies, but would never act on harming a child. I know from personal experience that it was totally normal, but since we’re NOT professionals, I wanted to be sure I had more information before talking about it. Other than that, I don’t plan anything because based on my improv background, I feel that honest, in the moment conversations are the best and Sally makes that easy.

3. The fact that the two of you seem to have fostered an atmosphere of genuine concern and caring from the podcast to online and even real life spaces (ie Struggle Bus Live) is quite interesting.  Does this help you  to recharge on a personal level?

Sally:  Trying to maintain an atmosphere of caring and concern on the podcast, in our FB group, and in live shows has been important to my mental health, especially recently. It’s helped me realize that spaces that feel truly caring and open, where people can feel safe being vulnerable, are pretty rare. To try to create and maintain a space like that, particularly since the 2016 election has felt like pretty important work to me, and that, in turn, is recharging. Before TSB I don’t think I was consciously aware of how many spaces we occupy day in and day out that are about performing OK-ness and hiding vulnerability. The community around TSB (whether it’s Katharine, or people who write in, or buddies in the FB group, or guests and audience at the live show) inspires people to think about vulnerability and boundaries kind of simultaneously and it’s definitely a kind of feedback loop because what Katharine and I put out there we get back tenfold from listeners, social media followers, and FB group members. I really feel like we’re all stewards of this dope ass community.

Katharine: This podcast has helped me in so many ways. For me, helping people makes me feel good, and I legitimately feel compassion for every person who writes in. I feel less “alone” with my mental health problems, and I like knowing other listeners help each other as well. I’ll sometimes go on the FB group when I’m feeling down because it’s a good reminder that it’s ok to be sad/mad/scared. Plus, people post the best animal photos and gifs. The weeks when I’ve been unable to record are very sad for me, because I love doing this show. AND it makes me check in with myself about my own self care.

4. In what ways do you care for your own mental health as you help others tackle their own problems?

Sally: I have learned that doing a segment every week called A Thing We Did (For Self-Care) makes you hyper aware of that fact that if I don’t take time for myself every week and pay close attention to my mental health, I won’t have anything to say into the mic. So, I make sure to do all my regular stuff—I go to therapy every week, I journal for about 2 minutes each night, I work out, sometimes I meditate. Another thing I try to be very aware of during the podcast recording and prep is what certain emails might be bringing up for me. So many of our experiences are universal or at least relatable and there are times that someone writes something in that really activates me; it pushes on a bruise I have or reminds me of something shitty I’ve gone through, etc. In those moments I try to think through what’s happening with me, breathe, and think about how I can ask Katharine to support me through the part of the show when we address that email. I might ask her to be the one to read the email or allow me to be the one to read it. I might ask to stop recording so I can breathe and think and organize my thoughts, etc. That is very specific to the time we’re recording, but it’s a big part of my self-care.

Katharine: While I love therapy and recommend it to everyone, there are some weeks when I just don’t want to go. So then I remember that I need to practice what I preach, and that gives me motivation to keep going. Also, I have learned I have limits and it’s ok to vocalize that. If an email is upsetting to me, I’ll as that Sally read it. Ultimately, I know I have to take care of myself first because if I can’t, there would be no show. So it’s helped me maintain my mental health work. The segment A Thing We Did For Self Care has been surprisingly important to me, and I’m grateful I have a show/space where I’m consistently reminded that I have to do the personal work.

5. Do you think now is the time for a podcast such as yours since mental health has become semi prevalent in the media?

Sally: I couldn’t be more in favor of the fact that mental health is more and more present in mainstream conversations. I think it’s always the time for more openness about the fact that life is hard, being a person is difficult, and relationships take a lot of work. I feel like I grew up thinking that there was something majorly wrong with me or my experience of the world, because I was always so worried and anxious and full of dread, even as a kid. Yet what I was seeing and learning through pop culture and what adults were modeling is that Life Is Just Fine. Growing up and realizing that basically everyone (at least in my world/experience) is having or has had a rough time to get through, survive, recover from, etc. has made me feel like a secret of the universe has been revealed to me. In conclusion, yes, but also I feel like it was always the time.

Katharine: Pre podcast/internet, one of the most popular categories of books was self help, so I think since the history of time people have sought out help to understand themselves and those surrounding them. I feel podcasting allows that conversation to continue, and I’m so happy this kind of content can be offered for free. It’s wonderful to see so many great mental health podcasts, and that hopefully, the stigmas are fading. I never see another mental health podcast as “competition”, I am filled with joy that so many exist.

6. What apps or programs would you recommend to working people who may not be able to afford therapy?

Sally: I’m hesitant to recommend any apps because I haven’t personally tried any. I’ve heard some great things and some mixed things about some of the services out there. I think one great resource is the crisis text, chat, and phone lines that various places have. For example, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24-7, as is The Trevor Project, which is a hotline for LGBTQ people who are in crisis or feeling suicidal. The National Eating Disorders Association has a similar service. These are obviously for acute intervention in times of crisis, but the fact that they’re there and free and can provide help in a crisis and direct you towards longterm resources is great. The other thing I’d recommend is doing some research to see if there’s a community clinic or university in your area offers free or very low-fee therapy. I don’t know if people realize that although there is DEFINITELY not enough affordable, accessible, culturally competent mental healthcare available out there, there’s more stuff out there than just those $350/hour therapists who don’t take insurance.

Katharine: I recommend looking into a school with a PHD program for therapists because they need to accrue a certain number of hours and offer low-fee sessions. Also group therapy, in person or online, is usually available and inexpensive. It’s not the same as talk therapy, but it’s a good option until you can make therapy happen. Online support groups during crisis are helpful, for example RAINN has a chat room with a counselor 24-7.

7. How can people support your work?

Sally: People can listen to TSB and tell their friends about us! Also, write us a review on iTunes! Also write in to us—ask us for advice, tell us what we should do more of, etc.

Katharine: Rate and review on iTunes, tell your friends, encourage major publications to run a story about us, become a Bonus Member, or just donate money to us!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Retail Work and Customer Relations: An Interview



Retail Work and Customer Relations: An Interview
By Devon Bowers

This is the transcript of an email interview I did with former UK retail worker Helen Howard in which we discuss retail work, relations between customers and workers, and where the US retail industry is headed.

1. How did you wind up working in retail?

I started at the age of 16 in 1997, and by the next year I needed a weekend position to help me out financially. I was given four hours on a Sunday afternoon working in the music/video section of the store my brother worked at, with the opportunity to work extra hours during the week to fit in around my studies. Once I left college in 2001 I decided to stay on as I didn't know what I wanted to do for a career. I worked for the one company in various branches for 16 years, then left to enter education in 2013.

2. You stated in our discussion that you went all the way from a regular worker to an asst manager. In what ways did you see the personality differences and attitudes towards workers change as you moved up the ladder? Did you internalize some of these attitudes?

As members of my family had worked in the same store, I was pretty well known anyway and it was always assumed I would have most of the answers to questions. The store I was working at was unlike most other high street stores, giving all members of the store team the authority to solve most issues without having to call a supervisor. As I grew in confidence I dealt with most things myself and soon noticed that my weekend colleagues would turn to me to help them out. I discovered I was good at solving problems and when I was given a new member of staff to train up, I was able to help her settle in and eventually empower her to make her own decisions over refunds etc. I was given the promotion to supervisor in another store when I left college.

I soon gained a reputation as a 'fix-it' person, and was sent by the area managers to other stores that needed support in getting back on track with tasks. I only met with negativity in one particular store, but the whole attitude of the store team was not as it should be, and although I got a few people onside it was not a big success, and I left soon after. I didn't take these attitudes on board, as I knew the problems in that store ran deeper than I could fix.

3. When the internet first came into existence, how did that affect workers and what was the industry concerned about, if they were concerned at all?

We first noticed that people were starting to question why something was cheaper online than in stores, not something we were prepared for. When people then said, "Oh well I may as well get it online then," we knew we had a problem.

This grew when the cuts to overtime came in. Then we noticed that we were increasingly left with fewer and fewer colleagues around, and that people who had left were not getting replaced. When the large, two-floor store I used to work at was reduced to one floor in the early 2000s: that was when the alarm bells started ringing.

The company saw takings fall and knew it had to increase footfall into their stores and away from the internet so there was a huge increase in promotional activity in the store. Confectionery and stationery companies now do deals with the company to push their merchandise. This was by far and away the biggest change. Bigger signage, more cardboard display stands, more hanging signage, more pre-orders on books and videos were introduced. The pressure increased on workers to offer exemplary customer service, give out vouchers, keep displays filled and push certain confectionery lines at the tills. Stores in the 1990s were clear, tidy and quite open plan. By the 2000s, they were filled with colour, huge signs and displays everywhere to the point where they now look cluttered and visually 'noisy.'

4. You did a study in which you examined interactions between retail workers and customers. What were your findings and how do they relate to the alienation people experience in the workplace and larger society?

I had long been fascinated by the reactions some customers would have when told they couldn't have a refund, even though I remained calm and explained the store policy very clearly. This led to me deciding to explore this when I went back to university to study a degree in Psychology. I interviewed both customers and my colleagues at the store I was working inat the time. I compared their responses, and discovered something rather interesting. I saw that both the customers and sales assistants had a 'them and us' mentality. The customers saw the assistants not as individuals, but as faceless representatives of the company, and the assistants saw each customer as just one of many people they would serve that day. Significantly, both sides saw themselves as unique individuals. When this view was challenged by the other side, that's when the high negative emotions began to emerge.

Additionally, it should also be understood that human beings have a strong need to belong and to feel safe in a collective. Customers would band together and support each other against the assistant in a refund dispute, and so would the assistants. This effect would heighten the more serious the dispute. (I would theorise that if something extraordinary happened such as armed gunmen coming in to the store, the customers and assistants would then band together against the gunmen as it would make them feel safer.) This all relates to social identity theory, which aims to explain how people behave and feel in society. Tajfel (1979) proposed that the groups (e.g. social class, family, football team etc.) which people belonged to were an important source of pride and self-esteem.

Groups give us a sense of social identity: a sense of belonging to the social world. So customers would see fellow customers as their 'in-group,' and the assistants as the 'out-group.'I understood from my study that the best customer service was when a customer was made to feel their uniqueness and individuality, particularly when an assistant would make an extra effort to solve an issue or query. An assistant would always remember and appreciate a customer who would smile and be pleasant to them, perhaps offering a compliment or something. On each occasion, the customer or the assistant would have their sense of individuality recognized and appreciated, rather than just be treated as 'one of the out-group.'

As a supervisor in a large store (as I was in around 2004), I was effectively Assistant Manager although the official title was almost obsolete by then. I knew that team morale was lead by the store manager and myself. I could sense that when there was conflict between us, the store team was unsettled and uneasy. When we were having a laugh and the store was doing well, the team was happy and worked very well together. If any member of my team felt unhappy or alienated, I would do my very best to talk to them and identify what the problem was. It was essential to make every person feel they were valued, respected and that I was grateful for every contribution they made.

5. Retail work many times is manual labor. Why do you think society looks down on retail as not a so called real job, but simultaneously admires manual laborers?

Twenty to thirty years ago, a career in retail was admirable and respectable. Nowadays this is not the case.

I would say that the main reason that retail is looked down on by most in other professions, is because there are no real qualifications needed to start, and many store managers have risen up the ranks by experience alone. (We do have some qualifications in the UK to assist in a career in retail, such as a BTEC or NVQ in Business Management, but these are not necessary.) The skills needed in retail (common sense, practical thinking, solution-focused problem-solving, numeracy and literacy, stress and time management amongst many) are not taught in a course but developed over time and mostly learned on the job.

Even though not everyone can develop these skills, they are still not valued as much and are therefore not as well paid. Most people in other professions would have taken a Saturday job in order to bring in a bit of pocket money, so it would be seen as a stop-gap job and not taken seriously.
People admire manual labourers such as builders, plumbers, electricians etc, because there are necessary courses to take to learn how to perform these jobs and a lot of money can be made. To most people, fixing a car or their central heating system is completely beyond them and therefore those that can, are respected and admired.

6. In the US currently, many retail stores are shutting down due to folks shopping online. Is there a same affect in the UK?

Yes, absolutely. We have lost many beloved high street stores over the past twenty years, particularly record and electronic shops and have also seen many companies buy each other out. However the various pound shop chains are alive and thriving.

For those that remain, store staff has been reduced to a skeleton and pressure exists to cut even more. Branches have been closed down with staff either made redundant or forced to relocate. Self-service checkouts have been introduced to attempt to cut queues. As a side-note, this further exacerbates the feeling of 'de-individualisation' of customers by the company, as they are not even served by a real person!

I think in the future, the convenience of shopping online will slowly bring back the desire to be treated as a human being and people will return to shopping in actual stores. People have never liked using automated systems such as telephone banking or choosing options on a phone keypad and really appreciate more than ever a personal service.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Endless American Horror





The Endless American Horror: Lynching and Police

Author's Note: Please note that this article contains graphic descriptions of lynchings. Discretion is advised.

This article was originally published on AHTribune.com.


In 1918 Brook County, Georgia, a local plantation owner was killed by Sidney Johnson, a black man who had been leased out to the plantation via the convict lease system, in a dispute over unpaid wages. Upon hearing this, the white community went on a rampage and lynched not only Johnson, but anyone they thought to even be remotely involved in Johnson’s decision. One of these men was Hayes Turner. Not only was he lynched, but also castrated.

Turner’s wife, Mary, who was eight months pregnant at the time, began to speak out against her husband’s lynching; unfortunately, she too, became a victim. A white mob “hanged her by her feet, set her on fire, sliced her stomach open, and pulled out her baby, which was still alive.” They stomped on the child’s head, killing it. Then the mob “[took] the time to sew two cats in Mrs. Turner's stomach and making bets as to which one would climb out first.” [1]

This can be described as nothing short of demonic. In many ways, even that fails to fully encompass the horror and pure wickedness of this event. Though, the only thing more horrid is that in a way, lynchings continue in the form of police murder.

Before delving into the connections between the aforementioned violence, it is imperative to first understand lynching. The origins of lynching truly lie in slavery where “there were numerous public punishments of slaves, none of which were preceded by trials or any other semblance of civil or judicial processes. Justice depended solely upon the slaveholder.” [2] Punishment ranged from lashings to family separation to mutilation and branding. The overall idea behind these actions were that black people were not human beings, in a way, they weren’t even property, they were just things, lesser than both humans and animals. This mindset continued in the post chattel slavery era, where slavery took on the form of both the convict leasing and sharecropping systems respectively. Yet, it also took place in the form of mob violence against blacks.

There have been many explorations as to the reasoning behind lynching. E.M. Beck, a professor of sociology at the University of Georgia, posited the argument that lynching was linked to the cotton markets. He argued that lynchings “[increased] during times of sparse cotton revenues, and declining with increasing cotton profits.” The lack of profit from cotton led unemployed whites to want to replace black workers and that “Mob violence was a form of intimidation to facilitate this labor substitution.” [3] While further studies have shown that fluctuations in cotton pricing don’t explain lynching [4], it should be noted that white elites would have an interest in fueling white angst into hatred against blacks, effectively utilizing poor whites as foot soldiers in their mission to maintain the current racial and economic hierarchy.

The cause of lynching was first and foremost the culture of white supremacy that had existed for the past two centuries or so. Blacks became scapegoats for many of the problems that were going on and thus a subculture of violence that had arguably already taken root in the days of slavery, took on new form. “The existence of a subculture presupposes a complex pattern of norms, attitudes and actions” which “reflects 'a potent theme of violence current in the cluster of values that make up the life-style, the socialization process, [and] the interpersonal relationships of individuals living in similar conditions.” [5] Effectively, violence becomes normalized and is used as a tool of to socialize and condition people as to how the society operates.

This normalization and conditioning can be seen in the form of the lynching. Lynchings were very much a community affair in which legal authorities seldom if ever got involved as “the judge, prosecutor, jurors and witnesses—all white—were usually in sympathy with the lynchers” and “local police and sheriffs rarely did anything to defend Negro citizens and often supported lynchings.” [6]

Newspapers as well were extremely biased in covering lynchings. “Southern editors often used sympathetic language in describing lynch mobs while reserving callous damnation for lynch victims. The southern press was extremely creative when it came to providing moral, if not legal, justification for the action of lynch mobs.” We can see the affect that journalists had on the public’s view of lynching in the case of the murder of the Hodges family in Statesboro, Georgia. [7]

Henry and Claudia Hodges lived on a remote farm, near a black community, some of whom were the employees of the Hodges. Late on the night of July 28, 1904, two men saw the Hodges home aflame. They went to investigate and found the mutilated, charred remains of the entire family. The suspected motive was robbery as it was known that Hodges was better off than most farmers and it was even rumored that he possibly had several hundred dollars stashed away on his property.

The following morning, Bulloch County sheriff John Kendrick formed a group to hunt down the killers. After discovering strands of hair, a knife, a shoe, and tracks of mud, they were led to a small shack occupied by Paul Reed, a black laborer. While Paul denied involvement, he, along with his wife Harriet, were arrested and taken to jail. When being interrogated, Harriet broke down and revealed that her husband and another black man, Paul Cato, had planned to rob the Hodges. The shoe matched the one found on the Hodges farm and blood stains on his clothing seemed to seal the deal with regards to Paul Reed’s guilt, however, no money was found. The sheriff also arrested thirteen other blacks who lived in the general vicinity.

Despite the lack of hard evidence in the form of money, newspapers assumed Reed’s guilt. The Macon Telegraph wrote “The wholesale butchery . . . of the Hodges family near Statesboro by dehumanized brutes adds another to the long list of horrors perpetrated in this state since the emancipation of the African slaves in 1865” and noted that “the people of [Statesboro] ... displayed great moral courage and forbearance in permitting the perpetrators to escape summary punishment without the forms of law,” [8] a statement clearly hinting that lynching was on the table as an option.

Others went even further in their demonization of the alleged perpetrators, such as the editor of Statesboro News who penned “Good farmers awoke to the fact that they are living in constant danger, and that human vampires live in their midst, only awaiting the opportunity to blot out their lives.” [9] Language such as this only served to heighten white anxiety and fears that a black uprising had occurred in response to white mistreatment, something that had been the in the backs of their minds since the institution of slavery began.

The media actively went and pushed erroneous and misleading evidence, such as was with Morning News which stated that Reed had made a ‘partial confession’ to the murders, despite there being a lack of legal evidence to support the assertion. The Statesboro News continued to utilize inflammatory language, publishing an article which said in part “Their guilt has been established beyond a doubt - every chain has been traced and all lead to their door.” [10] Additional stories argued that the rape of both Mrs. Hodges and their daughter Katy, where the real motives for the motive for the murders, again without the slightest shred of evidence.

Newspapers also noted that Reeds and Cato belonged to a distinct subset of blacks who were lazy and shiftless. This contrasts with the blacks who ‘know their place’ in society and often work on white farms. The only reason this was even discussed was because there were rumors floating around that the Hodges family may have been killed due to Mr. Hodges being too friendly with blacks, something that only aided to reinforce the region’s racial caste system and conjure images of murderous black people who would attack whites were they to let their guard down.

An Atlanta News editorial minced few words in its character analysis: “It is true that the negroes in the turpentine campus of south Georgia are in the main a lot of irresponsible and half-savage vagabonds, apparently hopeless to the redeeming efforts of civilization, and that their presence makes a continual menace and threat to the peace and safety of the people.” [11]
On August 15, the court case finally got underway. Superior Court Judge Alexander Daley was forbidden by Georgia law to request a change in court venue, despite his wanting to as to possibly give people time to ‘cool off.’ This was actually dangerous in some ways as such changes were often used by mobs as an excuse to lynch blacks on the grounds that they may have a chance to ‘escape justice.’

When the trial began, the press continued to present rumor as fact. The Statesboro News reported that Reed had admitted to being part of a gang of blacks who were roaming the Bulloch County countryside, robbing, raping, and killing whites. Once again this increased the amount of fear in whites and put them more dead-set on lynching. It didn’t help that throngs of whites were milling about outside the courthouse.

The actual trial was incredibly brief, lasting less than a day and a half, with Reed’s and Cato’s respective defenses lasting barely eight minutes, both men plead innocent. Still, the court sentenced them to hanging. As soon as this was done, the white mobs that had been surrounding the courthouse burst in and took both men, making no effort to hide their identities, despite the fact that soldiers (without any ammunition) had been dispatched to protect the men. Both men were beaten and eventually doused in kerosene and set ablaze and dead by 3:30 pm.

Many newspapers actively defended the lynching. The Forest Blade published an editorial which argued “While we will not say we are in favor of lynching principles, there are crimes - and this is one of them - that fully justified the act,” similarly another editorial in the Sparta Ishmelite wrote “What society does not do for them [Georgia’s whites], efficiently, they do for themselves.” [12] The press played a major role in increasing tensions and outright encouraging lynchings, a serious act which helped to normalize the very act itself.

The normalization of lynching was rampant in Southern society. In 1893 in Paris, Texas, a black man by the name of Henry Smith was lynched for allegedly killing and raping the sheriff’s daughter. Smith’s lynching was in that a spectacle was made of it. It was the first “blatantly public, actively promoted lynching of a southern Black by a large crowd of southern whites with features such as ‘the specially chartered excursion train, the publicly sold photographs, and the wide circulated, unabashed retelling of the event by one of the lynchers.’” [13] It should be examined in detail that there were a number of “event-like themes, such as a float, carnival, and parade” all of which indicates “that within the act of justice, the structures of entertainment were organized. […] In addition, the souvenir scrambling for burnt remains as well as promotional materials for acquisition or purchase provides a similar semblance to paraphernalia purchased at modern-day sporting events.” [14]

Thus, what we see is within the context of lynching, there was also an aspect of entertainment and even revelry, as if it was something to be celebrated and loved. The squabbling over Smith’s remains reinforces the unbroken idea from slavery that black people aren’t human beings, but rather just things, in this case a trophy.

The situation went even further in the case of Jesse Washington, a 17 year old mentally disabled boy who was accused of murdering a white woman and subject to a kangaroo court. Children were even bought to view his horrific lynching:

Fifteen thousand men, women and children packed the square. They climbed up poles and onto the tops of cars. . . . Children were lifted up by their parents in the air. Washington was castrated, and his ears were cut off. A tree supported the iron chain that lifted him above the fire of boxes and sticks. Wailing, the boy attempted to climb the skillet hot chain. For this the men cut off his fingers. The executioners repeatedly lowered the boy into the flames and hoisted him out again. With each repetition, a mighty shout [from the crowd] was raised. [15]
It is in acts such as this, with the involvement of children and, as with Smith’s lynching, the selling of Washington’s remains as if they were memorabilia, that the murder of black people becomes normalized and something beyond a source of maintaining racial hierarchy, something akin to a form of entertainment. Among this murderfest, though, there were those who fought back such as Ida B. Wells.

Wells was a black woman who was mainly focused on battling racial discrimination and penning articles. This changed in 1892, “when a close childhood friend of hers, Thomas Moss, was lynched” in Memphis [16] Wells was of the mindset that lynching was an overreaction by whites against rapists, however, her views quickly changed given the fact that Moss was lynched for defending his grocery store from armed whites and being lynched for the simple act of self-defense. On top of this, Memphis law enforcement didn’t even bother to lift a finger to arrest the lynchers, who were publicly known.

Wells took a bit of an academic-esque approach to the situation, thinking that if lynching were exposed as the incarnation of racial hatred it was, it would no longer be socially acceptable. For three months, she traveled around the South investigating lynchings and interviewing witnesses. She found that not only were Black men lynched for having consensual relationships with white women, but also virtually all lynchings became about rape after the lynching went public.

She took her information and published a pamphlet entitled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. Eventually due to threats on her life, she fled Memphis and moved to Chicago, where she continued to write and speak out against lynching. Still, there were others who took a more hands on, self-defense approach to lynching as took place in Decatur, IL.

On June 3, 1893, in Decatur, IL, a black day labor by the name of Samuel L. Bush who had been accused of rape, was taken from the Macon County jail and lynched by a white mob after they had went on a rampage searching for him from March 31 to June 2. During this time, rather than meet with members of the black community to discuss Bush’s situation, “State's Attorney Isaac R. Mills, Decatur Mayor David Moffett, Deputy Sheriff Harry Midkiff, and Decatur Marshal William Mason were meeting with Charles B. Britton and Charles M. Fletcher, the leaders of the vigilantes.” They attempted to appease the leaders, with Mills stating that if Bush wasn’t sentenced to death, “it would then be time to resort to extreme measures.” [17]

Despite days of lynching rumors floating around, the authorities allowed for nearly one thousand people to gather across from the jail where Bush was being held and made no effort to move or in any way ensure Bush’s safety. Just before 2 AM, “a mob composed of some of the county's leading citizens broke Sam Bush out of jail and lynched him.” [18]

In response to the lynching, Wilson B. Woodford, the only black lawyer in town that Bush had hired, published an open letter to blacks living in Decatur, urging them to attend a mass meeting where a strategy for dealing with the lynching would be formed. At the meeting, Woodford advocated taking the legal route, pushing the state attorney, the same one who had been complicit in Bush’s lynching, to take action. Some, such as Edward Jacobs, rejected it and pushed for armed blacks to go themselves and arrest Bush’s murderers. The resolutions committee backed Woodford’s strategy and messages were sent to both the governor and state attorney.

Woodford and Jacobs were coming from two separate worlds. Woodford, having a legal background, “was predisposed to distinguish between the law and enforcers of the law. Woodford, like other liberal race men and women, believed that racial prejudice and contempt for law and order were the twin causes of lynching” whereas Jacobs questioned this method of thinking. Jacobs acknowledged the cozy relationship between lynchers and the police and knew that “knew the authorities had mobilized the vigilantes to help them in capturing Bush but had rejected African-American support either to protect Bush or to arrest his murderers.” [19]

Interestingly enough, the two strategies would merge as both Woodford and Jacobs were members of the National Afro-American League, an organization that push for black development and fight against white responses to said development. NAAL “combined the pre-eminent philosophy of self-help and racial solidarity with the protest tactics of legalism, direct action, and violent self-help.” [20]
A year later, James Jackson, a black male porter, was accused of raping a white woman under questionable circumstances. The father of the woman was pushing for Jackson’s lynching and stated that help was coming from Mt. Zion. This situation would turn out rather differently than Bush’s.

Blacks controlled the streets surrounding the jail. They could be seen in doorways, under stair wells and behind wagons, armed and ready for action. Other African-Americans patrolled the streets scrutinizing whites who happened to be out at that late hour. And unlike at the protest meeting, at least two black women participated. [21]
They continued to patrol the streets around the courthouse, the police didn’t attempt to intervene, and there were no attempts to lynch Jackson.

As the case with Bush shows, the police themselves were many times the very ones who were, at best, complicit (not that that truly matters), and at worst, active participants in lynchings. This shouldn’t be surprising as not only were the police entrenched in the same racial mindset as the lynchers, but also the purpose of the police was (and is) a tool of social control, especially against black people.

The police themselves came out of slavery as “slave patrols and night watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities.” [22] In fact, in 1871 Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, “which prohibited state actors from violating the Civil Rights of all citizens in part because of law enforcements’ involvement with the infamous group.” [23] (emphasis added) The police themselves oftentimes were directly involved in lynchings such as with the case of Austin Callaway, a sixteen year old boy.

Callaway was shot and killed in LaGrange, Georgia on September 8, 1940, having just a day earlier been accused of assaulting a white woman. He was arrested and taken to the local jail. Later that night, six men, one of them armed, went into the jail, forced the jailer to open the door, and murdered Callaway. [24] Though the killers were never found, it is known that the police were personally involved. It was noted in 2017 by LaGrange’s police chief, Louis M. Dekmar, in an apology regarding Callaway’s murder. Specifically, Dekmar said “I sincerely regret and denounce the role our Police Department played in Austin’s lynching, both through our action and our inaction.” [25] Callaway’s story is just one in many [26] where police were directly or indirectly involved in lynchings. It is this historical backdrop in which police actively murder black people that today’s police murders continue.

With lynchings, the body would hang for days as both a reminder to other blacks to ‘stay in their place’ but also a part of the aforementioned spectacle. This spectacle continues as can be seen with “the fact that Michael Brown’s body was left on the street for hours after he was killed by police officer Darren Wilson,” something “that points to just how little has changed in American race relations since the days of Jim Crow.” [27] Leaving Brown’s body out to languish was an illustration of the lack of concern and decency the Ferguson police department had for him and is reminiscent of leaving a lynch victim’s body out for all to see, to remind everyone where black people stood on the racial hierarchy: the bottom.

The media, too, plays a role in police killings as they did during lynchings. Once again, the Michael Brown case puts this in stark view. Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Brown, described him in disproportionate and even inhuman terms.

“When I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” Wilson, who is 6′ 4″ and 210 lbs., said of Brown, who was 6′ 4″ and 292 lbs. at the time of his death. […]He said Brown tried to get his fingers inside the trigger. “And then after he did that, he looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.” [28]
Not only are black people described in nonhuman terms, but there is a constant implication that they deserve to be shot due to past transgressions. In the case of Akai Gurley, “The New York Daily News ran a headline, Akai Gurley had criminal record, innocent when shot by cop, which they later switched out for ‘Protesters call for arrest of rookie cop who shot Akai Gurley as victim’s sister says he didn’t deserve to die.’” [29] There is also guilt by association. When twelve year old Tamir Rice was killed by the police, the media bought up the fact that the family’s lawyer had “also defended the boy's mother in a drug trafficking case” [30] and that Rice’s father had a history of domestic violence. [31] Regularly, the media brings up information that has nothing to do with the actual incident in question, but actively works to defame and sully the victim’s name.

Where there once were slave owners and slave catchers, the KKK, and lynch mobs, they have all now “become largely replaced by state agencies such as the criminal justice system, and local and federal police.” [32] In August 2016, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent went on a mission to the United States. In their conclusion on their findings, they wrote: “Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching. Impunity for State violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.” [33]

This assessment is quite correct, especially within the ideas of the spectacle and normalization. While there may not be a sports theme to current police murders, there is a spectacle in and of itself in the near constant sharing of videos of black people dying at the hands of police and the footage being played again and again on the nightly news.

While one shouldn’t discount that videos are being shared to raise awareness and may very well get people involved in activism, at the same time by the videos being shared and viewed over and over, it can very well create a situation where it the death of black people is normalized and an immunity of sorts built up to it. As writer Feliks Garcia notes:
To witness the final moments of someone’s life is not supposed to be a regular experience, yet it feels like every week, we’re presented with a new video of a different unarmed black man—or child—killed by police.

With the reach of social media, each of these videos is viewed ad nauseum, and you have to ask what purpose this serves. Who needs to see these videos at this point? [34]
Due to the constant viewing of black people dying at the hands of the police, coupled with the media’s twisted narratives, seeing black people die becomes a normal occurrence.

The ongoing police murders of black people draws strong parallels to lynchings: from the involvement of the police to the utter dearth of justice to the larger social implications. It is both a tragedy and a nightmare, an endless horror.

Endnotes

[1] This American Life, Suitable For Children, https://www.thisamericanlife.org/627/transcript

[2] Robert L. Zangrando, About Lynching, http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/lynching/lynching.htm

[3]E. M. Beck, “The Killing Fields of the Deep South: The Market For Cotton and the Lynching of Blacks, 1882-1930,” American Sociological Review 55:4 (August 1990), pg 526

[4] James W. Clarke, “Without Fear or Shame: Lynching, Capital Punishment and the Subculture of Violence in the American South,” British Journal of Political Science 28:2 (April 1998), pg 272

[5] Clarke, pg 275

[6] Robert A. Gibson, The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950, Yale-New Haven Teacher’s Institute, http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1979/2/79.02.04.x.html

[7] Richard M. Perloff, “The Press and Lynchings of African Americans,” Journal of Black Studies 30:3 (January 2000), pg 320

[8] Reed W. Smith, “Southern Journalists and Lynching: The Statesboro Case Study,” Journalism and Communication Monographs 7:2 (2005), pg 63

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid, pg 64

[11] Ibid, pg 65

[12] Ibid, pg 70

[13] Rasul A. Mowatt, “Lynching as Leisure: Broadening Notions of a Field,” American Behavioral Scientist 56:10 (August 2012), pg 1371

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid, pg 1376

[16] Amii Larkin Barnard, “The Application of Critical Race Feminism to the Anti-Lynching Movement: Black Women's Fight against Race and Gender Ideology, 1892-1920,” UCLA Women’s Law Journal 3:1 (January 1993), pg 15

[17] Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua, “A Warlike Demonstration,’ Legalism, Armed Resistance, and Black Political Mobilization in Decatur, Illinois, 1894-1898,” The Journal of Negro History 83:1 (Winter 1998), pg 54

[18] Ibid

[19] Cha-Jua, pg 57

[20] Ibid

[21] Cha-Jua, pg 59

[22] Victor E. Kappeler, A Brief History of  Slavery and the Origins of American Policing, http://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/brief-history-slavery-and-origins-american-policing

[23] Ibid

[24] Northeastern University Law School, Austin Callaway, http://nuweb9.neu.edu/civilrights/georgia/austincallaway/

[25] Alan Binder, Richard Fausset, “Nearly 8 Decades Later, an Apology for a Lynching in Georgia,” New York Times, January 26, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/us/lagrange-georgia-lynching-apology.html)

[26] State Sanctioned, Police and State Involvement with Lynching, https://statesanctioned.com/police-and-state-involvement-with-lynching/

[27] David G. Embrick, “Two Nations, Revisited: The Lynching of Black and Brown Bodies, Police Brutality, and Racial Control in ‘Post-Racial’ Amerikkka,” Critical Sociology 41:6 (June 2015), pg 837

[28] Josh Sanburn, “All The Ways Darren Wilson Described Being Afraid of Michael Brown,” Time, November 25, 2014 (http://time.com/3605346/darren-wilson-michael-brown-demon/)

[29] Simple Justice, The Outrage of the Victim’s Rap Sheet Must End, http://blog.simplejustice.us/2014/11/23/the-outrage-of-the-victims-rap-sheet-must-end/ (November 23, 2014)

[30] Brandon Blackwell, “Lawyer representing Tamir Rice’s family defended boy’s mom in drug trafficking case,” Cleveland, November 24, 2014 (http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2014/11/lawyer_representing_tamir_rice.html)

[31] Brandon Blackwell, “Tamir Rice’s father has history of domestic violence,” Cleveland, November 26, 2014 (http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2014/11/tamir_rices_father_has_history.html)

[32] Embrick, pg 838

[33] United Nations General Assembly, Report on the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to the United States of America, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/183/30/PDF/G1618330.pdf?OpenElement (August 18, 2016)

[34] Feliks Garcia, “Police brutality is modern lynching- and you may be a part of it,” Daily Dot, April 20, 2015 (https://www.dailydot.com/via/black-men-police-violence-lynching-internet/)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Coups and History: An Interview on Zimbabwe






Coups and History: An Interview on Zimbabwe
By Brenan Daniels


This is a transcript of a recent interview I did with Abayomi Azikiwe of Pan African Newswire and Nefta Freeman, an Analyst and Events Coordinator for the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a longtime organizer in the Pan-African and international human rights movement, and former Liaison for the Ujamma Youth Farming Project in Gweru, Zimbabwe. He also hosts and produces the radio show Voices With Vision on WPFW 89.3 FM, on the recent coup on Zimbabwe, putting it in current and historical context.


1. The coup in Zimbabwe seemed to happen all of a sudden. What were the events leading up to it?
 

Abayomi Azikiwe: These factional dispute within the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) ruling party have been coming to a head for over three years. With the expulsion of the former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her supporters in Dec. 2014, the stage was set for an intensified struggle between those aligned with the now Interim President Emmerson D. Mnangagwa on the one side and the forces surrounding First Lady Grace Mugabe on the other.
The Generation 40 Group aligned with the First Lady appeared to be gaining the upper hand when the-then Vice President Mnangagwa was expelled during early Nov.

Nonetheless, the Lacoste Group, the supporters of Mnangagwa, had strong backing within the military and this was the determining aspect of the struggle which shifted power toward the current leadership group. On the surface the conflict appeared to be an internal struggle within the ruling party itself although there have been suggestions and some documented proof that outside interests such as the United States and Britain may have played a role as well in forcing the resignation of President Robert Mugabe. It was quite interesting that the Voice of America reported on Nov. 21 that the State Department had already outlined the terms for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Whether the sanctions are actually lifted will remain to be seen. There have been western business-friendly statements made by some officials of the current leadership within the party such as a willingness to compensate the British settlers for land confiscated in 2000; the scaling down of government personnel including ministerial portfolios; the amendments already made to the indigenization policy; and the potential for Zimbabwe re-entering the Commonwealth.  

Nefta Freeman:
Some are disputing use of the term coup given that it doesn't fit other historical examples of coups in Africa. But getting into that would be too much and would deviate from the question.

First, nothing of this nature can happen all of a sudden. The context might be a little too complicated to explain in this interview but a synopsis seems to be that this was the culmination of power struggles within the ruling party ZANU PF that have been brewing since at least 2015 or 14. Contributing factors to their acuteness are the economic tensions largely due to imperialist sanctions imposed on the country and concerns over who would succeed the aging President Robert Mugabe now 93.

It should be no wonder that tensions about succession would arise and intensify.
As they say politics abhors a power vacuum. Factions formed, one delineated as a younger strain of ZANU PF party members known as G40 or Generation 40, led by Grace Mugabe and the other being the old guard of members many of whom fought in the liberation struggle for independence led by one of two Vice-presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Some very contentious politburo meetings ensued with accusations being leveled against one another of plots to force a government take over. The tensions led President Mugabe to depose Mnangagwa of his post. This seemed to set off what seemed to be a contingency plan already in place by Mnangagwe and Defense Commander Constantino Chiwenga to use the military to constrain the police forces and anyone under the influence of G40. Then assume control of the various levers of the government.

I can't pretend to know which of the factions (G40 or Team Lacoste, as the other is known) were motivated by the more altruistic concerns or revolutionary principles. The lessons for African and the struggling world are many. What we do know now is that after initially holding out, Mugabe has resigned.

2. Generally Mugabe is seen as a dictator. Can you shed some light on who exactly Mugabe is?

Abayomi Azikiwe: President Mugabe's position in modern African history is secured as a liberation movement leader, progressive governmental head-of-state and an ideological contributor to the African revolutionary struggle for Pan-Africanism, Anti-imperialism and Socialist-orientation. Mugabe worked as an educator and youth leader during his younger years. In the 1960s he was imprisoned by the settler-colonial regime of Rhodesia for ten years. After being released in 1974 during an internal crisis within ZANU, he was able to steer the liberation movement to victory by 1979-1980.

After gaining independence in April 1980, he presided over a government of reconciliation and transition for five years as prime minister. The 1985 constitution made Mugabe president and by late 1987 he along with Joshua Nkomo, considered the "father of the movement", who headed the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), merged the two groups into ZANU-PF which ended the initial instability which occurred in Matebeleland in the early 1980s after independence where a rebellion was ruthlessly suppressed by the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) Fifth Brigade. The reconciliation with Nkomo was historic and can serve as a model for African governance moving forward.

The 2000 Land Reclamation program was key in consolidating the genuine independence of the country. However, it drew the ire of western imperialism which imposed sanctions that hampered the capacity for economic growth and development. In addition, the advent of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parallels the land redistribution program debates and enactment from 1998-2000. MDC has been funded by the West along with other groups in a failed effort to reverse the independence process. These methods have failed due to the incompetence of the opposition leaders largely stemming from their lack of support among the people and gross opportunism.

Nefta Freeman: I can't agree with that. Generally seen by whom as a dictator? I do know that the West consistently refers the leaders of countries that do not bow to them economically and politically as dictators.

But if a dictator is defined as a ruler with total power over a country then how can one be a dictator in a country with a parliamentary system constitutionally consisting of Executive, Judiciary and Legislative structures? This is what has been in Zimbabwe. And on top of that it's been a multi-party system? Even if accusations were true that the system has been manipulated to give disproportionate power to Mugabe, it can’t be said that he held total power.

But to answer your question who is Mugabe; Robert Mugabe was the son of a carpenter and as a youth attended Roman Catholic mission schools. He won a scholarship to go to a Black University in South Africa where he achieved the first of his 6 degrees in one year and became an African nationalist. He returned home to what was then called Rhodesia to teach for 4 years before going to teach and study in Ghana and becoming influenced by Kwame Nkrumah.

Once he returned to Zimbabwe he involved himself in African nationalist politics advocating revolution through non-violent direct action, propaganda, and civil disobedience. At that time he considered himself a Marxist and staunch anti-racist. In the early years of the struggle he was arrested several times by the white minority regime. In a 1965 government crack down on the African nationalist movement Mugabe was incarcerated for 10 years without trial. While in prison he taught and also earned 3 law degrees.

During this time was when he and his comrades determined that armed struggle was the only way to liberation. After his release he was given refuge by the new revolutionary government in Mozambique where he founded ZANLA, Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army with many of his former fellow political prisoners and entered into the fray. ZANU, the Zimbabwe African National Union was formed later as the political arm.

To make a long story short, in 1979 the Rhodes as they were referred to were forced to the negotiation table in Lancaster. After the Lancaster House Agreement established elections for a new president in 1980 in which Africans ran for office, Mugabe won in a landslide victory.

3.Talk about how the economic situation has changed and deteriorated over the past several years.
 

Abayomi Azikiwe: Zimbabwe has been hampered through the sanctions imposed by the United States, Britain and the European Union. There have been discussions held with Washington for a number of years around lifting the sanctions particularly after the acceptance of a Global Political Agreement and coalition government after the disputed 2008 national elections. Yet despite the bringing of opposition forces into the government between 2008-2013, the U.S., Britain and EU have maintained the sanctions.

This clearly reveals that the ultimate objectives of the sanctions were to either topple ZANU-PF or drastically shift the domestic and foreign policy of Zimbabwe. The impact of the sanctions have been compounded by the worst drought in recent history which exists throughout the entire Southern Africa region. Also there has been a precipitous decline in commodity prices over the last three years that was a direct result of U.S. economic policy under the administration of President Barack Obama. Prices are starting to rise again in the energy and strategic mineral industries.

Zimbabwe has large deposits of diamonds and platinum. Consequently, the imperialists are set on gaining favorable terms for any long term economic relationships with Zimbabwe and other states in the sub-continent.

Nefta Freeman: Yes there is hyper-inflation and high unemployment and the value of currency is very precarious. But what is often missing from the explanation are the effects of the EU, UK and US sanctions legislation explicitly designed to damage the economy. This is done by denying any extension of credit and loans to the government or any balance of payment assistance from international financial institutions. The sanctions also actively dissuade investments in, or trading with the country. All this has had devastating effects on the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe in multitude of ways, a fact that Western media and liberal progressive pundits never fail to ignore.

I'm not denying that there is some mismanagement and corruption. The government officials in ZANU PF and Mugabe himself acknowledge it but this is not to blame for the magnitude of the economic problems. The economic warfare that had been being waged against Zimbabwe also included denying it access to foreign exchange which is needed to carry out diverse international business transactions.

4. There has been some talk of China possibly giving the green light to the coup plotters, what are your thoughts on this?

Abayomi Azikiwe: I have not seen any evidence that China was involved in the military intervention and the resignation of President Mugabe. Typically Beijing does not get involved in the internal affairs of African states. China is a large trading partner with Zimbabwe and its assistance along with the neighboring Republic of South Africa and Republic of Mozambique have been essential in maintaining stability in Harare. Relations between the People's Republic China, the ruling Communist Party of China, and ZANU-PF goes back to the era of the national liberation war. These ties have been maintained, strengthened and enhanced over the years since independence.
Nefta Freeman: This seems a mischaracterization.

As we know China has a strong and long relationship with Zimbabwe in many economic areas. And it has been further strengthened by ZANU's "Look East Policy" in response to the belligerence of the West toward them. Mnangagwa and General Chiwenga were simply assuring that China would not feel compelled by a change of forces to interfere in Zimbabwe's internal affairs and that the diplomatic and economic relationship would remain.

5. It was reported recently by the Australian Broadcasting Company that Zimbabwe is looking to go back into the British Commonwealth. Why would they do that? What about giving the white farmers back land?

Abayomi Azikiwe:
Zimbabwe under President Mugabe in 2002 did not leave the Commonwealth voluntarily. They were in effect expelled. London set terms for their return and these conditions were rejected by ZANU-PF. These are colonial institutions. ZANU-PF has developed a "Look East" policy. The objectives are to build economic relations with other African states, countries in Asia and Latin America. This is the future of the world. Britain is facing a tremendous crisis due to the vote by the electorate to withdraw from the EU in June 2016.

There maybe an attempt to re-enter the Commonwealth under Interim President Mnangagwa. Nevertheless, what will Zimbabwe have to sacrifice in order to re-enter this declining system? There are many other former British colonies in Africa who are Commonwealth members yet their people remain impoverished and uneducated. Zimbabwe has the largest literacy rate in Africa where over 95 percent of the people can read and write. This is a monumental achievement of the Revolution.

Nefta Freeman: First on the land question, no one could give back the land to the white farmers even if they wanted to. That process is past the point of no return. Besides doing that would be the easiest way to get the country to revolt against the new dispensation. The media is fond of showing images in the urban areas, particularly Harare the capital, of what are basically opposition forces to ZANU and Mugabe. But the majority of the population is in the rural areas, which are also the areas that benefitted most directly from the 2000 fast track land redistribution.

What Emmerson Mnangagwa did say was that the land reform would remain untouched but that they would continue to compensate the white farmers for certain upgrades they made to farms. That part really wasn't anything new and had already been part of the 2000 fast track land reclamation process.

About the British Commonwealth, I don't know. I've been hearing that said but not yet from the leaders of the new dispensation themselves. Every time i read it is Europeans saying that they would welcome them back if they meet certain conditions. If they are looking into it, i would be careful that we not have a knee-jerk reaction to it, as if that in and of itself is a sellout move. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonweath in 2002 based on imperialist hegemonic demonization that claimed among other things that Zimbabwe elections weren't free and fair. But this is bull for two reasons.

One is that those elections were certified by independent electoral observes, including a delegation of the NAACP that drafted a detailed report on how fair those elections were. The second reason is the West doesn't really care about democracy in other countries. They will invade and over throw democratic countries.

But many people, myself included, applauded Mugabe's response to them suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. He basically said Africans don’t need the approval of Europeans and then left the body all together. But because Member states have no legal obligation to one another and there are some benefits to being a part of it, like in trade agreements and working together to cooperate on things like migration policies for instance, I don't think it should be seen as principled position to stay out of it. It has a different history than the OAS, Organization of American States but essentially serves the same purpose. Countries just need to make sure rejoining is not based on compromising its sovereignty and revolutionary or socialist principles.

This is actually is the area that I am concerned about in the new developments

6. What are your thoughts on what lie with the future of Zimbabwe?

Abayomi Azikiwe:
This will depend on the policies coming out of the interim government between now and the elections slated for mid-2018. If the Party maintains its legacy it will do well in the elections. However, the imperialists now perceive an opening and will utilize the current situation in an attempt to influence domestic and foreign policy. As I have outlined in a previous report, there are four areas which are significant in assessing the direction of events in Zimbabwe.

The land question, indigenization, the country's commitments to regional institutions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), and the role of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The developments in Zimbabwe should be a lesson as well for the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. There are factional problems within ANC and the imperialists along with their allies within the opposition parties inside the country are seeking to overthrow the ANC using similar methods.

Therefore, the situation in Southern Africa is at a critical stage and the next year will be important as it involves the region and the continent as a whole.

Nefta Freeman: It is still too early to determine what lies ahead and to know where the heads are of those who have assumed leadership of the country. I’m very concerned over some things we're seeing. All the imperialist countries that have had Zimbabwe in their crosshairs are now pledging to help with economic recovery and sending emissaries to the country etc.

The new leadership seems to be working toward re-establishing dealings with institutions of neo-colonialism, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These institutions are notorious for imposing their "economic structural adjustment programs" (ESAPs) on underdeveloped countries. These programs obligate countries to surrender to foreign trade relations tilted to benefit multi-national corporate interests, like privatization of public goods and services, deregulations, wage caps, and all sorts of things not in the interest of the masses.

It is hard to pass judgment on the leaders for the decisions they make. I am not in the predicament they are in and don't know what decisions i would make if actually in their shoes. But history teaches us that Imperialism does not make such commitments unless they are certain that their economic interests are secured. So what is being worked out behind closed doors concerns me. I do think that peace and justice loving people outside of Zimbabwe should take the principled stand for the unconditional lifting of sanctions and for her people's right to national self-determination.