Bernie Bias: The Mainstream Media Undermines Sanders at Every Turn

The pattern is to ignore, downplay and mischaracterize Sanders’ positions.

Photo Credit: via Sanders campaign

Who knew, when Bernie Sanders announced a run in the Democratic primary, that not only would he meet with hostility from his main opponent’s chief surrogates, but that the media would acquiesce and even collude to such a great degree?

When analyzing the quantity and content of the vast majority of what is said and written about Sanders, his campaign platform, and appearances, one finds a running theme across the so-called liberal media. The New York Times has been called out by more than one analyst, myself included, for its complete lack of serious coverage of Bernie Sanders.

Since joining the staff at the New York Times, Maggie Haberman has written about Sanders on fewer than a handful of occasions, while she has written about the other candidates in the race more often. While it is understandable that Hillary Clinton would be the subject of more numerous articles, it makes no sense for Martin O’Malley to have more articles written about him than Sanders, given the pecking order that emerged right from the start, yet that is what has transpired so far.

In articles that address various aspects of the Democratic side of the primary, Senator Sanders’ ability to succeed is always described in doubtful terms, even as Hillary Clinton’s troubles in the polls are being described. The New York Times has published fewer than a dozen pieces that are Sanders campaign-specific and each is problematic in the way he is portrayed. Most often, Sanders’ age and hair are highlighted, and the incorrect moniker “socialist” is applied. (Socialist and Democratic socialist are not interchangeable terms.)

While the age of a candidate might matter to some when thinking about a candidate’s experience or mental capacity, Bernie Sanders is 73, only six years older than Hillary Clinton. His mental capacity has never been a subject of contention. One can only conclude from the repetition of negative references, that writers are attempting to condition readers into thinking of Sanders as the “unkempt” elderly stereotype.

Most presidential candidates have been older than 60. Think of Ronald Reagan. The distance between 67 to 73, in human years, isn’t that significant from either the experiential or health standpoints. If anything, Sanders’ breakneck schedule, accounting for work in the Senate, crisscrossing the nation to hold rallies, and appearing on cable news shows demonstrates a high level of mental and physical energy.

The most harmful way anti-Sanders media bias has been manifested is by omission. In this respect, the New York Times is joined by the vast majority of the mainstream media in not typically reporting on Sanders, especially on policy. Overall there is  a version of a “wall of silence” built by the media when it comes to serious reporting and analysis of his policies; or when analyzing or reporting on the policies of his opponents, a failure to mention Sanders’ in contrast, especially when his is the more progressive position. This behavior hasn’t gone unnoticed by readers. You can see numerous complaints from readers about the Times organization’s bias toward Sanders. You see it in the New York Times comments section, on the Facebook pages and comments sections of all the major publications, and just about everywhere else. Readers complain about the lack of substantive coverage as well as the bias in what little is published. The Times’ Jason Horowitz’ piece, “Bernie Sanders Draws Big Crowds to His ‘Political Revolution” drew over 1600 comments, double what the most popular columns usually fetch, with most in protest over the obvious bias of the piece and the Times’ egregious lack of coverage of Bernie Sanders news.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign has centered around economic justice and his plans to reform banking, taxation, trade, stimulate the economy, promote manufacturing at home, and institute jobs programs. I’ve yet to see side-by side comparisons of the top two Democratic candidates’ prescriptions for the US economy. Most economists and economic writers chose to publish pieces on the Clinton economic plan before she gave her speech. Few wrote about it after, and with reason: The speech didn’t deliver much in the way of specifics, and was vague about policies that the voting public expects. Sanders’ version of an economic plan has yet to garner serious analysis and discussion. Both Clinton and Sanders base their economic prescriptions on economist Joseph Stiglitz’ most recent work, Rewrite The Rules. Paul Krugman has, on three occasions, talked up Hillary Clinton’s economic platform, specifically on wages, without so much as mentioning Sanders. Clinton favors a minimum wage of $15 per hour in New York City, and $12 an hour nationally. Sanders has called for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour for everyone. The Times had reported, in May, that Stiglitz’ work would likely greatly influence Clinton’s platform. If it has, one wouldn’t know it, judging by subsequent writings.

Plan for Racial Justice

While news outlets were reporting on the disruptions of Sanders by the Black Lives Matter movement, few followed up on the story as Sanders began to respond positively. Sanders gave a major speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on July 27. It received very little attention from the press. And within a week, Sanders delivered his answer to Black Lives Matter, by way of a plan. The New York Times has yet to make mention of Sanders’plan for racial justice, link to the senator’s website, or publish it outright in an article. And the media has ignored the fact that the racial justice plan has received praise among a number of Black Lives Matter leaders, including activist Deray McKesson.

Clarence Page recently wrote about Sanders in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune. He took a tack that many in the press now use: comparing and contrasting Sanders to Donald Trump. Given the kinds of controversy Trump has kicked up with his racial statements, and the treatment Sanders has received over his racial justice bona fides, it is no surprise that many of Sanders’ supporters are angry. Page begins his op-ed with: “The farther the left and right wings in politics move toward extremes, an old saying goes, the more they resemble each other.”

In any other context, that kind of contrast might have been fair, but not in a piece about Trump and Sanders. In his third paragraph, Page writes: “In recent days we have seen how both Trump, now a seasoned reality TV star, and Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, have faced sharp criticism within their separate political tribes for omitting or offending key constituencies.”

While it is true enough that Trump has been making racially offensive statements about all constituencies that aren’t key to his campaign, that same accusation does not apply to Bernie Sanders, who in stark contrast to his main opponent, has never, in 50 years of documented political activism and public office, uttered a racially offensive statement, or favored policies that are detrimental to minorities.

Page praises Sanders’ plan for racial justice, without any discussion of its points and then goes on to characterize the diversity of Sanders’ supporters: “But his impressively huge crowds have been even less diverse than his 95-percent-white home state of Vermont.” There’s not been a study or poll of the crowds at Sanders events. From what I could see of Sanders’ Los Angeles and New Orleans rallies, the crowds seemed to match the diversity of the locale. Of note is the fact that there hasn’t yet been a large-scale poll of the black community on its support of Sanders following the publication of his plan for racial justice.

Over a month after the publication of Sanders’ plan for racial justice, the media continues to portray him as someone who is racially wounded, when to begin with, that “problem” came into existence the day of the Netroots Nation disruption under the guise of eliciting needed policy from all candidates, even those who are considered friends. As the top Democratic candidate continues to owe such “needed policy,” Hillary Clinton continues to enjoy relative insulation from the perception of having any racial wounds, in spite of a record of promoting policies that have led to the very reasons for the birth of Black Lives Matter.

Over at Vox, coverage of Sanders by everyone but Ezra Klein has mostly been overtly negative. Dara Lind address a portion of the race issues in her interview of comedian Roderick Greer, who came up with the Twitter hashtag BernieSoBlack. But that piece contained much more than an explanation of some funny hashtag, and all of it was slanted in the direction of stripping Sanders of his civil rights achievements, even as the piece was titled to indicate Greer’s frustration at Sanders’ supporters. Attacking Sanders’ supporters and portraying them as racist or borderline racist has been a running theme in the press. Since his record on civil rights cannot be impeached and he has never committed a racial faux-pas, the only way to attack him on race is through his supporters, and that is how in piece after piece, Sanders’ record is being sullied.

The attacks on Sanders began with a curious refusal to give him any credit for taking part in the civil rights movement, and have been followed up by pieces designed to paint him as dispassionate about human rights and racial justice. Few are those who cite Sanders’ longstanding near-perfect rating by the NAACP and ACLU, or mention those, like Senator Cory Booker, who have spoken up in defense of Sanders’ lifelong record with the African-American community.

Since when don’t records matter?

Up until Bernie Sanders, a politician’s record has always been the measure by which evaluations are made. This is of particular import here because Sanders’ main opponent, Hillary Clinton, also has a very long record and it isn’t being scrutinized. When Clinton met with protesters in New Hampshire and she was confronted with policies of hers and Bill Clinton’s that have harmed the black community, little was made of it in the press. All chatter about Clinton’s behavior at that meeting has practically come to an end, and she has yet to publish her own policy proposals for racial justice.

Sanders has focused his tenure as a public official on economic justice. That doesn’t mean he paid no attention to racial justice. His stump speeches, with few exceptions, make mention of the racial disparities in our society. One example that comes to mind is Sanders’ appearance in front of the Council of La Raza, where he spent several minutes addressing racial disparities harming African Americans.

The characterization that Sanders’ position on solving the problems of racial injustice is through addressing economic inequality is patently false. Sanders has long been on record as saying that racial inequality is a separate problem that needs to be addressed in parallel. Almost to a voice, the U.S. mainstream press corps avoids any mention of that in order to cement the perception that Bernie Sanders isn’t serious about redressing America’s original sin.

At a time when economic and racial inequality are at their deepest, we are again at a similar moment in time as when the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking out in favor of racial unity to fight poverty and inequality. In one of his last speeches, “The Three Evils of Society,” King described the conditions we find ourselves in today. His prescription came in the form of his Poor People’s Campaign, uniting the nation’s whites and blacks to fight for economic justice. It is painful to hear and read those who are intimately familiar with King’s speeches joining in the same behaviors as the rest of their colleagues in the media in praising Bernie Sanders and putting him down all at once, at times even using the very same Martin Luther King quotes included in Sanders’ plan for racial justice.

To Martin Luther King Jr., racial, educational and economic justice were always inexorably tied. To James Baldwin, racial, educational and economic justice were indivisible from each other. It takes a rare cynic who is well versed in the writings of Baldwin and King to use them as bludgeons against Sanders, all the while withholding salient facts from the public, so it can do its job as described in Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time:

“And here we are at the center of the arc, trapped in the gaudiest, most valuable, and most improbable water wheel the world has ever seen. Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands; we have no right to assume otherwise. If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, recreated from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”

In the absence of fair media coverage, how do we create the consciousness of the others? How do we achieve our country? How do we avoid repeating history?

Rima Regas is a Southern California-based writer and commentator with a passion for progressive politics, and social and economic justice. Her career has included stints as a congressional staffer, graphic designer, technical writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter @Rima_Regas and Blog#42

Phoenix: After WWII in Germany, a woman rises from the ashes

By Joanne Laurier
3 September 2015

Christian Petzold’s Phoenix is now playing in movie theaters in the US. This is an edited version of an article that appeared as part of the coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival on September 24, 2014. Labyrinth of Lieshas yet to be released in the US.

Whether their creators intended them as responses to the resurgence of German militarism or not, two films screened at this year’s Toronto film festival, both set in the postwar period, dealt quite strongly with the devastating consequences of Nazism. One way or another, as the recent resolution of the Socialist Equality Party of Germany noted, “History is returning with a vengeance.”


The fact that, as the resolution goes on to say, “Almost 70 years after the crimes of the Nazis and its defeat in World War II, the German ruling class is once again adopting the imperialist great power politics of the Kaiser’s Empire and Hitler,” must have the most significant implications for German filmmakers and artists.

Christian Petzold’s Phoenix and Italian-born Giulio Ricciarelli’s Labyrinth of Lies are both skillfully made, intelligent films that delve, in quite different ways, into the legacy of fascism.

In Phoenix, set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, a Jewish concentration camp survivor, Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss, in another collaboration with Petzold), is grossly disfigured and traumatized. With the help of her close friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), Nelly undergoes plastic surgery in Berlin. Her face is altered, although Nelly did not want to forfeit any of her past identity, including her looks—presumably as an act of defiance toward her persecutors. It soon becomes clear that she also wants to be identifiable to her beloved husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld).

Lene, who works for the Jewish Agency for Palestine, tries to dissuade Nelly from searching for Johnny, claiming that he divorced her and betrayed her to the Gestapo. With a sexually enigmatic devotion to Nelly, Lene works toward their relocation to Israel.


Nelly, at one time a well-known performer, eventually locates Johnny, formerly a pianist, doing menial work in a sordid cabaret in the rubble-filled American sector of the city. Believing his wife to be dead, he does not recognize the surgically repaired Nelly.

Seeing an opportunity to get hold of his former wife’s inheritance, he proposes to remake the mysterious woman (the real Nelly) into his wife. For various emotional reasons, including her need to be near Johnny, Nelly allows him to change her clothes, hair and walk—he is pleased that her handwriting is already a close match! Johnny is prepared to go to great lengths to convince friends and family that Nelly survived the Holocaust and is now able to claim her fortune.

Petzold’s dark cinematography bolsters the film’s portrayal of a devastated society, suffering from the impact of enormous historic crimes, and a population that has been nearly effaced, physically and emotionally. In the film, postwar Germany is a wreckage made up of broken people and places that cannot be put back together again.

Neither Johnny nor Nelly has any hope of returning to his or her prewar self. Their respective experiences have qualitatively and permanently transformed them. In a real sense, Nelly is “unrecognizable” to Johnny. Despite the war’s end and despite the settling of personal accounts, there is no immediate relief from the almost universal suffering and sense of betrayal, both of which may be insuperable.

Labyrinth of Lies

In the Allied-organized Nuremberg trials (1945-46), twenty or so prominent Nazi leaders were prosecuted and convicted. Nearly two decades later, the Auschwitz (concentration camp) trials, which opened in Frankfurt on December 23, 1963 and ended August 19, 1965, marked the first time that Nazi officials were brought before courts in the German Federal Republic (West Germany). Some 1.1 million prisoners, 90 percent of them Jewish, died in the network of Auschwitz camps.

Labyrinth of Lies

Of the more than 6,000 to 8,000 former members of the SS (Nazi Party paramilitary organization) who guarded Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, only 22 came before the Frankfurt court.

Giulio Ricciarelli’s Labyrinth of Lies opens in Frankfurt in 1958. An ambitious young prosecutor, Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling)—a fictional composite of three prosecutors who participated in the Auschwitz trials—is eager for more challenging work than his current caseload of traffic violations. Although traffic court is where he meets and eventually falls in love with Marlene (Friederike Becht), whom Johann initially prosecutes for a minor infraction—the incident is also going to prove what an incorruptible, “by-the-book” sort of individual he is.

Coming into Johann’s life as well is an energetic, contrarian journalist, Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski), who forces the prosecutor to recognize how many former Nazis still function unimpeded in West German society. Chief Prosecutor General Fritz Bauer (played by the late Gert Voss, to whom the film is dedicated, who died in July 2014 at 72), well aware of the Nazi plague, encourages his young associate to pursue the matter. (See this three-part WSWS series: “Forty years since the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial,” part 1, part 2,part 3.) Working with Gnielka and concentration camp survivor Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch), Johann is stunned when he learns the vast dimensions of the Nazis’ machinery of extermination at Auschwitz and that many of those who ran the “factory of death” now have comfortable careers in public service. (“The public sector is full of Nazis. And none of them has anything to worry about.”)

Sifting through the chaotic records of 600,000 individuals stored at the U.S. Army Document Center, Johann discovers that thousands of former Nazis seamlessly returned to their prewar lives. In his pursuits, he is aided by the testimony of Auschwitz survivors, his endearing and principled secretary Schmittchen (Hansi Jochmann), and a fellow prosecutor, who initially ridicules Johann about the project.

In one of the film’s most powerful moments, Auschwitz survivors file through Johann’s office, one after the other, to provide testimony. There are no words in the sequence, just a series of headshots of people with resolute, determined expressions and horror stories to recount. Schmittchen cannot contain her grief and shock.

At first, Johann is exclusively focused on capturing the elusive Dr. Josef Mengele at the expense of lesser targets. After discovering that his girlfriend Marlene’s father was a Nazi, Johann begins to wonder about his own now-deceased parent, whom he idolizes and idealizes. At one point, one of Johann’s hostile superiors angrily asks: “Do you want every young man in this country to wonder whether his father was a murderer?” Labyrinth of Lies successfully dramatizes the events leading up to hearings that helped illuminate the truth about the death camps and had a strong impact in particular on a younger generation of Germans.

Expressive of some of the current ideological difficulties, neither Phoenix norLabyrinth of Lies makes any attempt to explain German fascism as a historical and social phenomenon. The Nazi regime is rather an appalling “given,” the starting point in both cases for a legitimate and compelling drama. Each work tends to reduce the problem to individual moral choices, summed up in this comment by one of the lead characters in Labyrinth: “The only response to Auschwitz is to do the right thing yourself.” This sidesteps the question, however, of how it was that Auschwitz came into being to begin with and whether its existence was inevitable.

Nonetheless, both are serious and sincere films and serve as warnings against any attempt to minimize or relativize the crimes of the Third Reich.

WATCH: Teen Behind ‘Deez Nuts’ Gives First Interview


…Offers More Nuanced Views than GOP Field

This kid would definitely be a better choice than Donald Trump.
The 15-year-old behind the Internet sensation “Deez Nuts”, Brady Olson, has given his first sit-down interview with a local affiliate KTIV’s Sam Curtiss and has some rather refreshing views for a teenage troll.

“Hopefully, [my joke] paved the way for more than a two party system,” Olson said earnestly. “In Canada they had a debate for the Prime Minister election and they used a four-party debate.” He supports voting rights in overseas territories and his position on immigration, while quite reactionary, is light-years more nuanced than any of the GOP field, especially hothead and proto-fascist Donald Trump.

Though he supports a “wall to keep out” undocumented workers he also supports creating a pathway to citizenship for the ones who are already here.

Why should we care about the political positions of a 15-year-old troll? We shouldn’t really, except that when a random practical joking kid from Iowa is making more sense than most of the GOP field, it should serve as a stark reminder of how far gone the party has become.

Watch the clip below:

Adam Johnson is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter at@adamjohnsonnyc.

Is Donald Trump Really a ‘Fascist’?

The Trump campaign doesn’t seem so funny anymore.

Donald Trump speaks in Manchester, New Hampshire, USA, on April 12, 2014
Photo Credit: Andrew Cline /

Although he is still a clown, nobody laughs at Donald Trump anymore — which may be the real purpose of his candidacy, at least as far as he is concerned. The casino mogul is pleased to instill fear among Republican elites, as he dominates their presidential nominating contest — and forces them to face a hard question about the man who is exciting such belligerent enthusiasm among Republican voters.

Is Trump a real live fire-breathing fascist?

From Newsweek to Salon to the Daily Caller, commentators of various colorations have found ample reason to apply that often-discredited label to him. While these observers hesitate to lump Trump in with totalitarian dictatorships and historic crimes against humanity, they are clearly concerned over his strongman appeal, his populist rhetoric, and his rejection of GOP free-market orthodoxy.

Genuine conservatives aren’t wrong to fret, but they seem unwilling or unable to grasp the clearest evidence that Trump is channeling toxic currents from the past — namely, his appeals to racial bigotry, his truculent attitude toward other nations, and his extremist “solution” to illegal immigration.

Obvious clues to the noxious nature of Trumpism keep cropping up across the political landscape like poison mushrooms. In Boston’s “Southie” neighborhood, once headquarters of the openly racist anti-busing movement known as ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights), two white males severely beat an older Hispanic man. When arrested, one of the thugs told police, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”

Rather than deplore this ugly assault, Trump’s impulse was to praise the zeal of his supporters. “It would be a shame,” he said when first told of the beating, then added: “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

At a big rally in Mobile, Alabama, Trump welcomed Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, R-Ala., the only prominent politician singled out for praise. Sessions is a dubious figure whose federal judicial nomination was once rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee over his record of racially inflammatory behavior and remarks — which included calling a white civil rights lawyer “a disgrace to his race” and opposing the Voting Rights Act. Today, he is the chief Senate opponent of legal immigration to the United States.

Opposition to legal as well as illegal immigration is a foundation of the white nationalist movement in the United States. So perhaps nobody should have been too surprised when a loud voice in the Mobile audience greeted Sessions’ arrival by screaming “White Power!”

Again, the reaction of the Trump campaign was telling. Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski responded that he wasn’t aware of the “white power” shouter. “I don’t know about the individual you’re talking about in Alabama,” he insisted. “I know there were 30-plus thousand people in that stadium. They were very receptive to the message of ‘making America great again’ because they want to be proud to be Americans again.”

Asked about the Boston beating, Lewandowski acknowledged that violence is “unacceptable,” continuing: “However, we should not be ashamed to be Americans. We should be proud of our country, proud of our heritage, and continue to be the greatest country in the world.” Like his boss, Lewandowski isn’t subtle. His dog-whistle about “heritage” and being “proud” was heard loud and clear by the white supremacist underworld, which is rallying behind Trump.

The troubling tone in Trump’s language can be detected when he talks about foreign policy, too. As David Cay Johnston recently reported, the draft-dodging billionaire boasts that he is the “most militaristic” candidate, and has blatantly advocated attacking other countries to “take” their oil. Imperial warmongering is a classic hallmark of fascism — indeed, it was military aggression by Nazi Germany that led to World War II.

Finally there is Trump’s “solution” to illegal immigration. He promises to deport an estimated 11-12 million people, a plan that would be ruinously expensive and grossly inhumane to even attempt. The only analogous projects on that scale were atrocities carried out by the Turks against Armenians and, later, by the Nazis against European Jews.

Imagine a country that seeks to round up millions of brown-skinned people by force, transforming itself into a police state, while mobs of vigilantes in militias scourge frightened families out of hiding. It is not hard to predict scenes of bloodshed and horror.

No Donald, that isn’t the way to “make America great again.” For most of us — the majority of citizens who have no use for Trump and Trumpism — that isn’t America at all.

Joe Conason is the editor of the National Memo and writes a column for

David G. Spielman’s The Katrina Decade

An unsentimental look at how things are now

By Christine Schofelt
29 August 2015

The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City, David G. Spielman, with essays by Jack Davis and John H. Lawrence, The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2015

Photographer David G. Spielman (born 1950) documented the immediate aftermath of the devastation in New Orleans in his previous book, Katrinaville Chronicles(2007). The story of that book is itself remarkable.

His publisher, Louisiana State University press, explains: “When Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, photographer David G. Spielman decided to stay and weather the storm, assisting his Uptown neighbors, a community of Poor Clare nuns. Katrina passed, and as the flood waters filled the city, the scope of the devastation only gradually dawned on Spielman, who was cut off from outside communication. Faced with the greatest personal and professional challenge of his life, he determined to document the scene unfolding around him. He managed to secure a generator to power his laptop computer, and in the days, weeks, and months after August 29, 2005, he transmitted e-mails to hundreds of friends and clients and cautiously traversed the city taking photographs. Katrinaville Chroniclesgathers Spielman’s images and observations, relating his unique perspective on and experience of a historic catastrophe.”

Spielman revisits the subject in his most recent book, The Katrina Decade. Documenting the state of the city in black-and-white photos taken between 2009 and 2014 or so, he leaves the well-traveled paths taken by the tourist industry and Chamber of Commerce, who tout the “resilience” and supposed recovery of the city.

Mid-City; 2015; © David G. Spielman

Unlike much of the photography devoted to New Orleans, before or after Katrina, Spielman’s work includes many more recent buildings and scenes. The French Quarter and genteel mansions are entirely absent. Since those are well-documented elsewhere, this is not a great loss. Spielman’s focus is on the low-lying areas of the city, those most hard-hit. These areas were largely unknown, poor and unfashionable at the time of Katrina, and remain so. Very few people are present in the photos, and those who are bring out the lingering desolation.

Buildings overgrown with vines are common–whether in the Seventh Ward, Mid-City or Central City. One in particular, possibly a shotgun double in New Orleans East, is totally enveloped–its triangular outlines the only indication that humanity had any hand in things at all. In the distance sits another building seen as the glimpse of a roof in good repair. The buildings cannot be more than a few hundred yards from each other, but the distance seems unbridgeable.

The majority of the photos are of residences or infrastructure such as hospitals and retail stores. Both the storm itself and the intervening years have taken their toll. Graffiti (some quite poignant), occasional squatters and the unrelenting natural elements contribute in their various ways to push buildings that might have been salvageable into a state of irretrievable decay.

Hollygrove; 2012; © David G. Spielman

The image of Charity Hospital taken in 2014 is one of the starkest, however surrounded by traffic and life it may be. Indeed, this is the most bustling of the photos in the book, but the hospital, which never re-opened after Katrina, is caught here under a looming sky and stands as a symbol of incredible lost potential.

As the WSWS noted at the time, “The catastrophe unleashed by Katrina has unmistakably revealed that America is two countries, one for the wealthy and privileged and another in which the vast majority of working people stand on the edge of a social precipice.” The processes of official neglect and searing poverty exposed to the world’s view by the hurricane ten years ago have continued on. This finds sharpest expression in tracts of untouched or barely touched neighborhoods to which people have not been able to return or, if they never left, have not had the resources to rehabilitate.

Central City; 2012; © David G. Spielman

One notes the similarities between certain pictures of the West Bank [of the Mississippi River] or Uptown and images of de-industrialized areas from many US cities (Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, etc.): burned out, stripped-down cars sit in front of abandoned mid-century housing developments, children play basketball in a broken hoop set before a broken house.

Spielman is not given to the current fetish for “Ruins Photography.” There is no romanticism in these pages. A news photographer by trade, he cites the Works Project Administration’s Dust Bowl documentation in the 1930s as his chosen approach to his city, and is careful to avoid sentimentality. That the images are aesthetically effective is the result, in the first place, of the objective situation being taken for what it is. The buildings are largely shot head-on, and there is no attempt to prettify or make them approachable. If someone happens to live or work there, he or she is taken as part of the whole.

New Orleans East; 2014; © David G. Spielman

Such honesty is particularly welcome when dealing with this much-mythologized city. It is seemingly forgotten in the anniversary events marking the catastrophe that actual people lived here, or live here still–some in appalling conditions more reminiscent of the turn of the last century than this one.

The promoters who want to welcome tourists or entice investors are full of bravado and boasting. New Orleans, they say, is “back.” Much, however, is still missing and still slipping away. Spielman’s book is a quiet and potent reminder of this.

Dismaland, Banksy’s parody theme park

A despairing response to a complex world

By Kelly Taylor
26 August 2015

The announcement that artist Banksy was creating “Dismaland”, an installation parodying the theme park experience, created a huge wave of interest. (See the video trailer here.)

The website selling advance tickets for the show crashed due to the volume of people trying to make a purchase. Banksy issued apologies and follow-on announcements. Despite rumors that the process was a hoax, a spokeswoman for the artist insisted, according to the BBC, that the attraction’s website was “100 percent real” and had gone down under “huge demand”.

Dismaland at night

In any event, the ticket-buying experience was a taster for the theme park as a whole—how the process of life under capitalism of building hope, excitement and anticipation in youth becomes butchered by the reality of disappointment, anger and loss in adulthood. This was a sentiment expressed by one of the artworks, proclaiming, “Keep hold of your longings … going … going … gone”.

Banksy says he hit upon the location for the theme park while walking past the disused Art-Deco “Tropicana” Lido in the seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare (on the Bristol Channel, 18 miles southwest of Bristol) six months ago. There is some irony to the fact that the event is being held in the town. After the Second World War it became a popular holiday destination for workers from industrial Birmingham, but then fell, like many resorts, into a protracted decline in the 1970s. Today, with significant alcohol and drug problems, parts of Weston have turned into a real-life Dismaland.

A slogan at Dismaland

Entry to the theme park is via an airport-type security installation created by California-based artist and filmmaker Bill Barminksi. Actors play the roles of unhelpful and intimidating staff. For visitors, it is probably the only opportunity they will get to poke fun at security measures and not face further consequences.

This effort to warn about the threat of a militarised and locked-down society is married to another concern of Banksy—attendees bringing in pens, markers and paint. They are not allowed on site, for fear of attack on the artwork by opponents of Banksy who feel he has sold out to commercialism.

Coming through the main gates into Dismaland, one is confronted with a world that is terribly sick, where the staff are depressed, uncooperative and dreary, and the slowed-down Hawaiian-style holiday music continually bears down on you. The entire thing is a scene of surreal carnage, with a riot van operating as a fountain on the palace lake.

The show consists of three parts: the traditional Banksy dark view of modern life with old, battered fairground toys littered everywhere, along with works from his previous shows in Bristol and New York; a more traditional art exhibition inside the old main building; and an area of tents given over to the promotion of “political activism”. Throughout the exhibition there is a strong anarchistic theme, conveyed through simplistic slogans such as “Power Inherently Corrupts, Don’t Trust Experts”.

Dismaland brings together artists from all over the world and particularly the oppressed countries of the Middle East in an interactive art form, with Banksy in the role of curator. Some of the art works are sensitive and emotionally charged, and address the chaos and violence of the present class system, including:

* Banksy’s “Immigrants on a Boat”. This traditional seaside slot machine game allows visitors to steer boats across a pool, but with a difference. Numerous boats are packed with migrant workers, but one is a gunboat patrolling below the white cliffs of Dover while the attendant shouts out, “I see no borders, I see no race”. It comes as a shock to visitors to realise the water is littered with dead migrants or to discover they are steering the gunboat. The feeling that these people are human and deserve better is heightened by the intricate and individual detail in each migrant’s face, clothing and posture.

Migrants on a boat by Banksy

* Amir Schiby’s upside down image of four Palestinian boys playing on a beach, recalling the innocence and beauty of childhood and made all the more emotive knowing they were later killed by Israeli shelling.

* Jimmy Cauty’s UK town in the aftermath of a social uprising, the scale and detail of which is breathtaking. The flashing blue lights of the police light up the set. The streets are awash with soldiers and police, a few of whom spray “Fuck the P……” on a wall—a reminder of the false flags and provocations often carried out by the police to justify further oppression.

* Darren Cullen’s “Pocket Money Loans” installation, offering a satirical attack on payday loan companies. Children are offered a good price to sell their healthy teeth and get advance payments on their pocket money.

From Darren Cullen’s “Pocket Money Loans” installation

* The “Museum of Cruel Objects”, curated by Gavin Grindon, housed in a blacked-out bus with a timeline of war and oppression.

* Tammam Azzam’s reproduction of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”, projected onto a bombed-out housing complex in Damascus, Syria.

The simple iconoclastic images in Dismaland and the one-liners that often accompany them offer the visitor an amusing, angry and healthy protest, but after a while their impact weakens and one is struck by the build-up of unrelenting despondency. Inevitably, hopelessness and the lack of belief that the situation can be improved create a certain cynicism.

However genuine Banksy’s opposition to the existing set-up may be, his outlook has never developed beyond a youthful anarchism gained on the trendier back streets of Bristol.

Tamman Azzam’s reproduction of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”

Disneyland, like McDonalds, is an easy target and something of a cliché for artistic treatment. More problematic still is the thin line between attacking big-brand influence on economic and political life and blaming the working class for supposedly being wedded to consumerism and viewing a trip to Disneyland as the “holiday of a lifetime”. Attendants in various places hold bunches of black balloons—as if for sale-which read, “I am an imbecile”.

The resignation, passivity and fatalism expressed by the likes of Banksy become links in a causal chain. This is an artist who has had an impact on people. It is an evasion of responsibility simply to say “Oh, what a terrible world we live in, but there’s not much we can do about it”.

The limitations of the parody theme park raise the need for a far greater appreciation by artists of a host of historical and contemporary issues, including the crisis of working class leadership and perspective. Only such a deeper understanding will help break down the scepticism and pessimism that dominates in artistic circles, even the “oppositional” ones. And it might lead Banksy and others to avoid simply portraying working people as passive victims of the “consumer society”, but as the social force that can and will fight for something better.

“We’ll die for this land”: when slum dwellers revolt

By Jared Sacks On August 24, 2015

Post image for “We’ll die for this land”: when slum dwellers revoltSouth African media often depict poor black protesters as angry and irrational. Supporting their struggle requires challenging this discursive trope.

Photo: A boy watches as the police moves into the Marikana slum, by Daneel Knoetze, via GroundUp.

Put your shoes into my shows
and wear me like a human being
would wear another human being.

Conway Payn of the Symphony Way Pavement Dwellers

In the aftermath of deadly communal violence that rocked the Cape Town township of Philippi East, where dozens of homes were destroyed and four killed, I meet a young man named Raymond in the new shack settlement of Old Marikana.

On this cold winter day amongst the corrugated zinc shacks, Raymond dons the popular K-Way branded beanie and a typical blue South African construction worker onesie – dirty, old and with plenty of holes. He wears his anger on his sleeve – a bit intense, crazed. Full of unruly energy both physically and verbally, he jumps from one topic to the next, rarely transitioning with explicit conceptual links.

Raymond’s mannerism offends Makhulu (‘Grandma’) Judith, the settlement’s assertive elder activist and ardent churchgoer. Yet standing amongst the makeshift plywood fencing that surrounds each home, I find him intriguing because he seems to exemplify the typical caricature of angry black youth in the South African media.

Raymond’s rational anger

His brother, Justice, relating to me Raymond’s particular intelligence, laments that he is “not right in the head” because of ‘tik’, the favored local variant of crystal meth. He complains that his brother, who does not have a formal job, recently stole his TV and destroyed his previous home in aid of his habit.

Yet Raymond’s stories of shepherding cows on the empty land that became Marikana and his persistent conflicts with police, arouse my curiosity. While it is difficult to discern which aspects of his stories are real and which are imagined, the stories themselves complicate the simplistic youth narrative.

“The anger of the poor can go in many directions,” explains shackdweller leader, S’bu Zikode.

In his engagement with me, Raymond knows that he is playacting the embodiment of the angry black youth. He is implying through his range of emotions what can happen to those who are mistreated and cornered into despairing ghettos — their righteous anger turning inwards onto their own community.

As a resident of Old Marikana, Raymond was not party to the protests and subsequent violence which began after electricity disconnections in New Marikana. He kept away knowing his vulnerability at confronting the ensuing mob from Lower Crossroads: “They have guns… I used to have a gun but it was taken away by police.”

But his anger at almost everyone around him is immediately visible. He indicates that if he still had a gun and lived in New Marikana, he would have been forced to return fire to defend himself.

In a recent article on Donald Trump, journalist Oliver Burkeman notes that “nobody ever does ‘crazy things’; every behavior in which we engage makes some kind of sense, once you ‘understand the emotional premise’.”

This is true of Raymond as well.

One cannot understand the destruction nor the African National Congress (ANC) factional fights in the area, without comprehending how people like Raymond think and are situated emotionally. Raymond’s anger is powerful — in the way it unsettles people like Makhulu, in the way it has the potential for horrific violence, but also in its productive force. He is able to, politically speaking, cut straight to its underlying cause.

He interrupts my conversation with Makhulu about the destruction that had ensued a few weeks earlier exclaiming: “They treat us like dogs here!”, referring to the wealthy elite and the state forces who have forced him into this township ghetto. He is acutely aware of the structural onslaught against his humanity.

Discursive trope

It is a common discursive trope in South Africa — as elsewhere — to present poor black people, especially youth, as irrational.

This is not merely an expression of individual prejudice, but also a rhetorical device perfected in the colonial era to justify the domination of black civilization. As a crude social construct, it has been extended to further subjugate the female gender and oppress the poor.

South Africa is not an exceptional place in this regard. Apartheid, as Mahmood Mamdani points out in Citizen and Subject, was merely the deepening of racist colonialism on the African continent. Post-1994, in the most crucial ways,apartheid remains. Its ideology is stronger than ever, presenting blacks — i.e., all non-white South Africans, including those characterized as Indian and colored — as uncivilized and lacking reason.

During expressions of violence that emanate from oppressed communities, this trope is strutted out publicly by politicians, police, lawyers and media to justify repression. Recently, the most prominent example is mainstream media obsession, following the 2012 Marikana Massacre, with the use of Muti (traditional medicine) by striking miners in their struggle against Lonmin and the police. The racist vilification was even legitimated at the Farlam Commission as evidence that the miners had “lust for murder.”

Delving into the complexity of local community politics to show a hidden order and logic even in seemly incoherent situations helps challenge this mode of thought. The Symphony Way Corridor, as the site of continuous occupations since 2007, is an important example that allows us to understand this community rationality.

The pavement dwellers and other occupiers

During the 2007 Christmas holidays there was a massive occupation of over 1,000 newly built government houses along Symphony Way in Delft. After thousands were evicted two months later, the Democratic Alliance (DA) councilor who opportunistically supported the occupation, turned his back on the occupiers, instead advocating their removal to the “the human dumping ground” of Blikkiesdorp (Tin Can Town).

Those who resisted the political party machinations of the DA and the ANC staged a second occupation in February 2008 and became known as the Symphony Way Pavement Dwellers — one of the most inspiring intentional communities I have ever encountered. Following their 21-month blockade of the Symphony Way thoroughfare, they were forcibly removed to Blikkiesdorp where they are again in the news fighting expansion plans for Cape Town International Airport.

On the other side of the busy N2 Freeway along Symphony Way lies Philippi East. What was once poor farmland (sold to private investors who left it unused for decades), has now become a massive shack settlement of over 10,000 people.

This began in 2011 with the occupation of ‘Zone 14′. Two years later backyard dwellers from across the road in Lower Crossroads attempted to occupy adjacent land. They called their new home Marikana, they said, “because like the 34 miners shot by police, we are willing to die for this land.”

After months of evictions, reoccupations and protests, a small steadfast group of the original occupiers were able to gain a long-term foothold and challengedtheir eviction in court.

Then in July last year, some desperate families approached the Marikana community hoping to join their settlement. As often happens when struggles take legal routes, Marikana residents refused to let them build on the occupied land for fear that this could affect their eviction case.

However, there was a massive expanse of fallow land next-door and residents encouraged these families to settle there instead. The new occupation, ‘Rolihlahla’, after the lesser known Xhosa name of Nelson Mandela, consisted of only a dozen or so families during its first few weeks.

Yet in August 2014, word of their successful occupation suddenly spread. Thousands turned up and, in the space of only two weeks, the 10,000-strong ‘New Marikana’ land occupation was born.

Marikana residents seen protesting on the streets of Phillipi East.
Photo by Lulama Zenzile.

The militancy of the ‘poo protestors’

Most shack settlements in South Africa are organized along a continuum from democratically-elected to autocratically-appointed committees typical of communist-inspired anti-apartheid organizing. These committees are rarely at one or another end of the spectrum — usually put forward by local politicians with top-down sway but given tacit operating approval by residents. On the other hand, sometimes these committees are elected, but lose their democratic character as they are co-opted into existing local political structures.

New Marikana and Rolihlahla took such forms. The former affiliated with the ANC-aligned Ses’khona social movement and the later associated with another ANC faction that backed the local councilor. Old Marikana, on the other hand, retained a committee unaffiliated with party politics. Though it was militant for some time, its leadership and mobilization soon diminished as the threat of evictions faded.

However, New Marikana under the banner of Ses’khona, referred to disparagingly in local media as the “poo protesters” after they dumped bucket toilets in front of government buildings, has staged a number of large marches on the city government demanding basic services. Unsuccessful at compelling the DA-led City of Cape Town to acquiesce to their demands, New Marikana’s tactics, soon became more aggressive.

Rank-and-file were frustrated with queuing in long lines for water and not having their refuse removed. However, militant action was also stoked by top-level Ses’khona leadership looking to one-up the opposing ANC faction in nearby New Crossroads.

A community unmade by destruction

In late May, the New Marikana community’s electricity was cut. Jolene Henn, Western Cape spokesperson for the energy para-statal Eskom, responded to my questioning by blaming the outage in the area on “illegal electricity connections” by residents. She categorically denied any role in the disconnections.

However, reports coming from New Marikana indicate that electrical workers from either the City of Cape Town or Eskom had disconnected the settlement from the power grid.

Whatever the truth, it was this perception of forced disconnections which put hundreds of angry people on the streets. The police met the consequent road blockade of Symphony Way with a violent response employing semi-lethal means to disperse the crowds.

As frustration increased, the protests escalated. A small group of Marikana residents burned down the house of the local ANC councilor. An indignant old lady complaining about tire smoke had her Lower Crossroads house set alight as well. The last straw was the attempted incineration of a local school. In response, a group from Lower Crossroads struck back with the explicit aim of driving out all of Marikana’s 10,000 residents.

For a month following the violent clashes between groups from Marikana and Lower Crossroads, Symphony Way remained strewn with garbage, rocks, massive cement blocks and burned metal wiring that was once an assemblage of blazing Dunlop tires. Sections of the roads remained dug up and armored police Nyala APCs straddled the road with trailers of barbed wire previously used to separate the communities.

In Lower Crossroads, about a dozen formal “RDP” houses, including that of the local councilor, were burned down. In New Marikana and Rolihlahla, homes made from zinc sheeting were also scorched, demolished or abandoned. Approximately 40 burned-out shacks were visible from Symphony Way and many more homes were destroyed deep within the settlements. It took about a month before families who fled as refugees returned.

The media and the problem of reporting on violence

Generally, South Africa’s mainstream media descend like a pack of vultures at the slightest smell of large-scale violence — a well known performance actstarring various groups of protesters, police and journalists. This is generally the only time many newspapers bother to report on the lives of poor people.

However, the violence in Philippi East barely registered on the media’s radar except via the nonprofit news service GroundUp. This inattention was despite the massive destruction and week-long blockades impacting hundreds of thousands in the area, the dozens of families who lost their livelihoods, and the murder of four people in cold blood.

The coverage that did take place neither problematized the violence nor bothered to try to understand it. The media discourse remained simple: uncivilized and angry poor black youth are once again fighting one another. The irrational violence has something vaguely to do with the (depoliticized category) ‘service delivery’.

Yet, much was happening behind the scenes showing an introspective and thriving group of communities attempting to remake the fabric of a township in which they have little control over their own lives.

Sign at the entry of the Marikana settlement. Photo by author.

Meeting and rebuilding

Within the context of the massive violence, communities led a counter-movement to rebuild social relations. Mass meetings were called, negotiations began and people sought to quell the tension through various collective acts. New Marikana leadership held meetings to decry the violence and extort its residents to stand down. They also went to meetings in Lower Crossroads to officially apologize and make amends.

Next-door, Rolihlahla held public meetings to address these issues. While they had not joined the protests, they were still targeted when residents of Lower Crossroads attacked. When I attended one of the meetings, at the invitation of their now deceased pro-bono lawyer and aspiring politician, Gcinikhaya Nqaqu, the main item on the agenda was restoring their relationship with Lower Crossroads.

In poor communities where residents lack home insurance and money to rebuild, the idea of collective reconciliation and restorative justice is not just an airy-fairy philosophy, but a practical way of ensuring the reconstruction of social relations after conflict.

Despite the fact that an individual community member had joined the New Marikana protests and was responsible for burning the house of the old lady across the road, a committee member named Thuliswa suggests that they collect 50 rand from each resident to fix it. After intense discussion and vacillation, residents collectively committed to both raising this money and volunteering their skills as builders, carpenters and electricians. This is what the rationale of the collective looks like in practice.

Directing anger

Back in Old Marikana, residents discussed the importance of heading off such violence in future. Makhulu lamented to me that “they [the residents of Lower Crossroads] are poor people like you; they are also staying in shacks before they get houses.” She wants people to direct their wrath at the government rather than at one another.

Makhulu’s words reminded me of a message that Conway Payn of the Symphony Way Pavement Dwellers narrated to me six years ago as part of the innovative anthology: No Land! No House! No Vote!

It was a message about a dog, backed into a corner, hurt, hungry, angry, and with no other way out than through the person who had trapped it. In his poetic tale of his own anger and resistance, Payn assures us that the dog will eventually develop the courage to pass through its jailer, and — if necessary — kill him in the process.

Directing his anger is something that Raymond, given his fractious situation, is unable to do despite being politically aware of where his oppression comes from. Ultimately, this is the primary difference between Conway and Makhulu’s ire and that of Raymond. It is also the key divergence between the mob-like violence that upended Philippi East and the original rebellion against electricity disconnections a few days earlier.

One of the recurring themes I have encountered where communities organize themselves is the importance of directing anger vertically, at those in power, rather than horizontally, at those who are suffering right beside you. It is this process and the subsequent tension with authority that creates space for maintaining strong social relationships and engaging in horizontal forms of organizing.

The collective struggle of the Symphony Way Pavement Dwellers recognized this and it was through this tension-laden process that they were able to virtually stamp out crime, ensure all of their children went to school, and build a vibrant and semi-autonomous community during their 21 months of occupation.

Yet this form of transformation remains beyond the current struggle in Marikana. There are many forces at hand using anger as a divide and rule tactic of governance. For instance, Ses’khona’s factional fights with the local ANC councilor are couched in a militant language of resistance hence easily fuel the misdirected violence.

While Marikana is a “community in movement,” to reword Raul Zibechi’s notion of Latin American movement organizing, it is difficult to predict whether that motion will be able to build autonomous forms of resistance from below, or if violence will continue to eat away at the social structure of these communities. However, for such struggles, it seems that one of the keys to achieving the former is the necessity of working with youth similar to Raymond to produce more enabling social environments that direct anger vertically.

For those of us who are on the outside, who may come from a privileged, middle-class background and often fall prey to the propaganda that present poor black people as irrational, our support for autonomous organizing must also include challenging this discursive trope. This begins with “wearing” the lives of people like Raymond.

Jared Sacks is a founder of a children’s NGO. Since 2007, he has been living in Cape Town working directly with a range of poor people’s movements. He is also a freelance journalist and the compiler of the anthology No Land! No House! No Vote!. He blogs at Medium and tweets at @jaredsacks1.