Photo Credit: Kunal Mehta / Shutterstock.com
May Day, falling on the weekend of Donald Trump’s destructive first 100 days, makes for much symbolism in the struggle for justice and the soul of America. While Trump and his administration arbitrarily and ineptly attack immigrants from all over the world—especially Muslims—and the administration works to undermine labor rights across the board, hundreds of thousands of people will be pushing back, striking and protesting Monday in what is shaping up to be the biggest May Day demonstrations in at least 40 years.
The biggest and one of the most unified actions will be in Los Angles, a Democratic stronghold and sanctuary city with a vibrant labor movement and home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of them undocumented.
Kent Wong, the director of the UCLA Labor Center and a vice president of the California Federation of Teachers, explains that this May Day “is being spearheaded by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, representing more than 800,000 union members. Some of the most dynamic labor organizing campaigns in Los Angeles have been led by immigrant workers, including janitors, hotel workers, home care workers, food workers, and car wash workers.”
The massive show of strength and solidarity by the labor movement in L.A. and elsewhere is a relatively new development. Wong explains: “Although May Day grew out of the struggle for the eight-hour day in Chicago in 1886, for generations the U.S. labor movement had refused to stand in solidarity with global worker celebrations on May Day. One of the largest May Day demonstrations in U.S. history occurred in 2006, in opposition to draconian anti-immigrant policies being proposed by U.S. Congress.”
Now according to Wong, 120 years after the first May Day in Chicago, “the spirit of May Day has returned to the U.S. led by a new generation of immigrant workers.“
There is large-scale mobilizing in Los Angeles for May Day, with labor unions joining workers’ centers, immigrant rights groups, faith-based networks, and community organizations. Wong says, “Many unions are encouraging their workers to engage in a one-day strike. The broad-based coalition has united with leaders of the women’s march, which mobilized the largest women’s demonstration in history the day after the inauguration. This growing labor and community alliance is also credited with the recent victory of the campaign for the $15 minimum wage in Los Angeles and California.”
On the national level, the hope of many is that May Day 2017 will build lasting alliances for immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights and social justice, to lead the resistance against Trump and to build a broad-based movement for change. Much of the energy for change is coming from the immigrant community.
Wong explains: “While fear of deportations in immigrant communities is high, there is also tremendous courage and resilience. Immigrant youth led walks-outs on college and high school campuses throughout California the days after the Trump election. The campaign to advance sanctuary for immigrants is spreading throughout the country. People of conscience are repulsed by the hateful, anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump administration.”
Push for Freedom Cities in NY
Among the activities in New York on May Day is the push for Freedom Cities, a vision that goes beyond sanctuary cities. According to organizers, the goal is “to live in cities without fear, where communities control the resources they need to thrive. Freedom Cities is an intersectional movement that seeks to redefine safety, making entire cities, towns, and communities safe for immigrants, black people, workers, Muslims, trans and gender nonconforming people, and all oppressed communities.”
“I am going out on May Day for all of us workers,” says Lydia Tomlin, member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center and the New York Worker Center Federation. She continued, “We are immigrants, women, LGBTQ, people of color, and we work in industries across the city. Without our labor, who will serve New Yorkers their coffee, stock their shelves, clean their houses, construct their buildings? Who will make NYC run?”
Marchers from Freedom Cities, including the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Black Youth Project 100, Million Hoodies, Beyond the Moment, New York Worker Center Federation, and other allies will join the 6th Annual Immigrant Worker Justice Tour, which highlights the struggles of over a dozen social justice campaigns across NYC and elsewhere, with stops throughout downtown Manhattan calling out police and corporate abuse.
The Immigrant Worker Justice tour convenes at 1pm with a rally at Washington Square Park. March begins at 2pm (preview video).
Incredible Diversity of Cultures
Especially noteworthy about the May Day activities in New York and across the country is the amazing diversity of cultures and of workers, many with common cause provoked by threats from the Trump administration, ICE and security and police forces looming over many communities.
This May Day, according to Zoe West, an organizer with the New York Worker Center Federation (NYWCF), the Freedom Cities effort is “particularly focusing on the issues of economic justice and criminalization with a focus on redefining safety as being about investing in communities rather than investing in more policing.”
She continues, “The NYWCF members are very diverse and experience threats as Mexican street vendors, Bangladeshi restaurant workers, day laborers, African-American retail workers, taxi drivers, immigrants facing the looming threat of ICE, all different folks living in over-policed communities, etc.”
West adds, “Through the growing Freedom Cities coalition, there has been increasing focus on how criminalization is an issue affecting people across a range of communities: immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, low-wage workers and more.”
In Atlanta, Georgia, racial justice organizers will join in solidarity with The Majority, a new coalition of more than 50 social and racial justice organizations across the country, in leading May Day actions “to put forth a truly collective vision of economic justice and worker justice that centers black people, women, LGBTQIA people, immigrants and undocumented people and those that live at the intersections of multiple identities.”
The planned May Day rally and city council speakout will “demand justice for workers, immigrants, women, LGBTQI, formerly incarcerated people, artists and activists.”
A Look Back at May Day in the 1970s
While at this point an historical footnote, May Day celebrations in 1970 and 1971 were watershed protest events in a different era when there was a raging fight to stop the war in Vietnam and rein in corporate power. The invasion of neutral Cambodia by President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was the spark that produced a massive outpouring of anger, with large-scale protests In May Day 1970 on hundreds of campuses and in many cities.
Protests led to the shooting of Kent State College students by Ohio National Guardsmen on May 4, 1970, leaving four dead and nine wounded. In the public mind, this still ranks as one of the most startling examples of excessive police abuse in U.S. history. Shockingly, 11 days later, at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi, a group of students were confronted by city and state police. Shortly after midnight, the police opened fire, killing two students and injuring 12.
On May Day in 1971, people didn’t just march on Washington, they shut it down. Roughly 25,000 protestors calling themselves the May Day Tribe blocked roads with cars, trash cans and their own bodies in order to prevent government employees from getting to work across Washington and at the major bridges and roadways leading into the city. Seven thousand or more were arrested (including yours truly), probably the most ever at a U.S. protest.
So May Day, which is a national holiday in much of the world, has a long complex history, starting from the protests in Chicago for the eight-hour week in 1886, which led to the Haymarket massacre, when a bomb was thrown at police by a never identified individual and the police retaliated by shooting protestors. Overall, seven police officers were killed and 60 wounded, an estimated eight civilians dead, and another 40 injured.
As Kent Wong reminds us: “One of the most powerful slogans that emerged from 2006 May Day is, “Hoy marchamos, manana votamos!” “Today we march, tomorrow we vote!”
The alliance between labor, immigrants, and communities of color in California and elsewhere has resulted in powerful progressive political victories that have rejected Trumpism and the right-wing Republican machine over the last 10 years. This is a movement that must spread throughout the country to embrace a progressive vision for the future.
Let’s hope that May Day 2017 is the biggest yet and keeps building the movement against Trump and the right-wing forces in this country.
SATURDAY, APR 29, 2017 11:00 PM PDT
The idyllic Connecticut woods with a touch of Waters’ wacky additions
Ah, the sights and sounds of summer camp.
Remember the smell of a bonfire? The ring of the dinner bell in the mess hall? The refreshing sensation of jumping into a lake on a hot day? The burlesque lessons taught by notorious film director and writer John Waters while getting drunk on scotch and puffing down stogies? The endless games of capture the, wait, what was that last one?
Ok, so maybe getting taught how to perform variety shows with a buzz by the film guru of hits like Pink Flamingos and Polyester doesn’t register in the memory banks of most people’s summer camp experiences, but it will be for 300 lucky campers.
Waters will host an adult summer camp weekend experience full of filthy fun at Club Getaway in Kent, Conn. this September. The camp will be complete with all the traditional camp essentials like cabins and canoes, as well as activities like arts and crafts, paddleboarding and rock climbing, but will also feature Hairspray Karaoke, John Waters reading a John Waters’ book and a costume contest judged by the Prince of Puke himself and other wacky and weird Waters-like things for campers to enjoy.
The excursion started at $499, plus alcohol, and is already sold out, but there is a waiting list for people interested if spots open up and more wacky weekend excursions could be in the making due to the popularity of the first one.
Each camper will be given a signed copy of Waters’ new book “Make Trouble,” which is based on a commencement speech he gave at the Rhode Island School of Design where he told the class of 2015 to “get a job and fuck it up and then go to the next place and fuck it up.”
Waters stopped into Salon to talk about “Make Trouble” with Salon’s Amanda Marcotte. “I mean, wreck things in a good way,” Waters said. He explained that he did not want to offer a “Hallmark greeting kind of way that really means nothing and you can’t take the advice and do anything with it.” Instead, he said, he wanted to remind the students that wrecking the world is their responsibility.
“That’s youth’s responsibility. Every new movement comes from ending the movement that came before. So I say, don’t try to get on your parents’ nerves. Try to get on the coolest people one year ahead of you in school’s nerves. Then you can change things, right?
Watch the Salon Talks interview with John Waters to hear more.
Street art by Zelva1
for LatidoAmericano in Lima, Peru
29 April 2017
Unabashed. Shameless. Provocative.
Such words perhaps begin to do justice to the decision by former president Barack Obama to accept payments of $400,000 for each of two public appearances. Two so far.
A researcher earlier this year suggested that the Obamas “could earn as much as $242.5 million from speeches, book deals and pensions.” But that modest calculation was based on an estimated $40 million in book fees for the couple and a $200,000 fee per appearance. The book deal turned out to be worth far more, $65 million, and now we see what Wall Street firms and large corporations are prepared to pay the ex-president for his dollops of wisdom.
The two speaking fees alone put the former candidate of “change” into the top one percent of income earners in the US—in fact, one of them would almost have done the trick.
It is extraordinary. An array of political elements and media outlets invested large amounts of time, energy and money into selling Obama to the American public in 2007-08 as a progressive figure, a cut well above George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, a man of compassion who would understand the average American’s pain. Of course, eight years of the actual Obama, who ruled exclusively in the interests of the financial oligarchy and the military-intelligence apparatus, disabused and disillusioned millions—thereby opening the door for Donald Trump.
But still one might think, given the appalling and reactionary character of the new administration, that Trump’s predecessor would be held—or would hold himself—in political reserve, that he retained, after all, a certain political use value as a means of confusing or disorienting the mass opposition that must emerge.
But they can’t apparently help themselves, this current crop of American politicians. They don’t merely represent enormous wealth, they are themselves enormously wealthy, they are flesh of the oligarchy’s flesh, blood of its blood. Rubbing their riches and privilege in the public’s face is a mode of existence; it comes nearly as naturally as breathing.
The New York Times, along with various Democrats and others, registered a certain nervousness about Obama’s actions. The Times attempted, impossibly, to balance the “two post-presidential Barack Obamas,” one obviously greedy as sin and the other, “civic-minded”: “Throughout his years in the White House, Mr. Obama championed the problems of the poor even as he showed an affinity for Hollywood superstars, elite artists and technology billionaires.” He never “championed” the problems of the poor; he paid occasional lip service to them, the deceitful stock in trade of the Democratic Party.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts and “influential progressive,” according to CNN, described herself as “troubled” by Obama’s payoff. Warren has recently made the astonishing discovery that “the influence of money” in Washington is a serious issue. She told CNN that money was “a snake that slithers” through the nation’s capital and “shows up in so many different ways.”
Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, the nominal “independent,” told CNN on Friday that he found Obama’s plan to receive $400,000 for speaking at a Wall Street conference “distasteful.” Tellingly, he added, “At a time when we have so much income and wealth inequality … I think it just does not look good.”
This was also the theme of Jill Abramson’s column in the Guardian: “The optics of some of Obama’s decisions since leaving office have been damaging,” including “the vacations. … [T]he former president did deserve a holiday. But did it have to be with the Billionaires’ Club? There was a widely reported visit to Richard Branson’s place in British Virgin Islands for kitesurfing, photos of which went around the globe. In French Polynesia, this was followed by a jaunt on David Geffen’s 45ft yacht [actually 454 feet!] with celebrities including Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Bruce Springsteen.”
After noting that the “habitual kowtowing of senior Democrats to the billionaire class has left their party close to morally bankrupt,” Abramson argued that “Obama needs to be the leader of the Democratic party right now.” The disclosure of his personal corruption, however, runs the risk of leaving the Democrats even more exposed and vulnerable.
Farcically, in the midst of the widespread revulsion with Obama, the Nation too proposed that the former president should be the moral and intellectual leader of opposition to Trump (“Do We Need Obama in the Trump Resistance?”). Educating the public about “reinvesting in health care or climate change,” the column asserted, “would be a significant rebuke to the current administration, but not quite the outright ad hominem attack on a sitting president. Such a campaign could preserve Obama’s legacy while catapulting the liberal agenda forward.”
The International Socialist Organization and its socialistworker.org, which proclaimed Obama’s election a “transformative event” in 2008, eschewed all references to “slithering,” “kowtowing” and “catapulting.” In fact, as per usual when complicated and uncomfortable things occur, the group eschewed saying anything at all, which is the ISO’s own special brand of political complicity.
Obama had open defenders in the liberal media too, as well he should, given its current degenerate moral state. Daniel Gross at Slate had several preposterous arguments. “Speaking for money is a very large industry,” he commented. “Many of us, including me, participate in this economy. The fees range all over the place, but it’s extremely lucrative. It’s harder to make more money legally in an hour than you can giving a speech.” In other words, I’m a swine, Obama’s a swine, we’re all swine together.
Gross too was concerned about “the optics.” But “accepting speaking fees doesn’t inherently compromise your integrity, and there is no baked-in conflict between having or making money and being heavily invested in progressive causes.” Obama, he reasoned, “was the most effective populist—yes, populist—president since Lyndon B. Johnson.” Gross went on to argue, wonderfully, that because Obama will make lots of money and “take all of his earnings as ordinary income,” he will pay lots in taxes!
Michael Harriot at the Root claimed that the criticisms of Obama’s avarice were at least in part racially motivated. “Obama is black, which means his critics are like a P. Diddy remix: They can’t stop, won’t stop.”
Would taking $400,000 from Wall Street undermine “his [Obama’s] attacks on income inequality” or make him “a hypocrite,” would “large speaking fees make him inaccessible to the common American”? Harriot was not concerned. He asked rhetorically, “Should Democrats and progressives cede all influence over Wall Street to Republicans who espouse trickle-down theory and free-market principles? Speaking of the ‘free market’ … shouldn’t Obama be free to command whatever someone is willing to pay?”
Whatever miserable apologetics are thrown up, Obama’s raking in enormous fees from giant firms disgusts large numbers of people and further undermines the American economic and political system, the fenced-off domain of the fabulously wealthy.
Ruling classes condemned by history can never help themselves, that’s the nature of the beast. One rather conventional historian pointed to what was then considered a truism in a work written over a century ago on the coming of the French Revolution of 1789: “It was the luxury and extravagance of the aristocracy of the old regime and the insolent, ostentatious display of their wealth that created envy and hatred in the hearts of the common people; but the lessons of the past were unheeded by the rich and their conduct at this time only increased the general discontent.”
The American aristocracy is every bit as ostentatious and unheedful, and every bit as historically doomed.
SATURDAY, APR 29, 2017 04:30 PM PDT
Divine drama: Bryan Fuller and Michael Green combine their talents to bring Neil Gaiman’s deity-driven story roaring to life
Take a moment to appreciate the spiritual symmetry Starz’s “American Gods” brings to the next eight Sunday nights. Millions will greet each of those mornings with ceremonial worship and prayer, and a share of those same people, as well as others who are less religious, will end the day watching this drama — a show that questions whether faith gains us anything in the end.
For there’s no question in “American Gods” as to whether deities exist. They walk among us and have done so for centuries, sharing many of the same urges and frustrations as humans do. What the gods are not, however, are interventionists. Pray all you want; odds are they’re not listening. But be careful because the ones who answer may not give the pious the deliverance sought.
“American Gods,” premiering Sunday at 9 p.m., represents Neil Gaiman’s contemporary take on pantheons merging and colliding, something genre fiction writers played with on page and screen many times over. Readers familiar with Gaiman’s “Sandman” comic books will recognize the insouciant humor and a similarly fluid sense of time and reality in Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s television adaptation.
If Odin’s boys could only see him now! Traveling as Mr. Wednesday, the battered and rumpled old god (played sublimely by Ian McShane) merrily, lazily slides into the life of recently released convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle). Shadow finds out as he’s released that his wife Laura (Emily Browning) has died unexpectedly, a terrible stroke of fate that brings him into Wednesday’s orbit.
Wednesday cons his way into first class by pretending to be senile and harmless, and Shadow, in a stroke of luck, is bumped up when his seat is double booked. Whether this was actually coincidence or the downward-trending god’s will is the first of many small mysteries “American Gods” sprinkles throughout its initial episodes — and probably the least important.
Mr. Wednesday is up front about who he is: a liar, cheater, swindler, hustler. A few drinks later Mr. Wednesday persuades Shadow to become his paid bodyguard, a job assured to come with a lot of perks as well as a high probability of a violent death. For Wednesday is gathering an army of old deities to take on the New Gods, a coalition of uncaring beings led by Mr. World (Crispin Glover), which includes the bratty Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and the seductive Media (Gillian Anderson).
While the Norse god can count on some truly potent allies, including a tall and pugilistic leprechaun named Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) and Czernobog (Peter Stormare), a bloodthirsty Slavic lord of darkness, latter-day humanity’s obsession with material gain and convenience has decided tilted the odds against Mr. Wednesday’s team.
Now capricious creatures of faded glory, these formerly supreme beings have been forgotten, pushed into musty, small spaces and wrapped in dingy, plain clothes. Survival has transformed them from masters over the elements and protectors of humanity into con artists, thugs and killers. Yet they personify timelessness; regardless of the actor playing them, these beings do not seem recognizably young or ancient. Their places of worship may be velvety scarlet dens of supplication or a bank of screens at a big-box store; their altars are dreamscapes of temptation, threats and teeth that catch men by the throat.
“American Gods” takes place at the nexus of classic myth and modern techromancy, archetype and prototype, and wrestles with concepts no less than the churning of an unconcerned and enthralling cosmos.
Gaiman’s new gods, like the old ones, are manifestations of modern beliefs. And what do we believe in these days? The material and the measurable — fame, convenience, wealth. The new gods promise the kind of immortality that can accessed by a search engine, with none of the nonsense about souls or angels or never-ending bliss in union with the infinite.
But the infinite is dazzling, no question. Transitional sequences within each episode convey the wonder of the universe through wide shots of color-saturated natural vistas and skies streaked with carpets of stars. The show’s cinematography and digital imagery emphasize the juxtaposition of the natural world against the synthetic, reality versus the realm of the unreal, impressing upon the viewer how inconsequential man happens to be in the vastness of time and space. It also invites the viewer to see an extra level of magic within floating tufts of dandelion seed.
The drama provides an ideal canvas for Fuller and Green to unleash their creative and collaborative powers. The conscientious visual style that Fuller honed on “Hannibal” achieves riotous new heights of sensuality in this series. Green, a DC Comics veteran whose television credits include serving as an executive producer on “Heroes,” aids in harmonizing the story’s surfeit of histories and personalities into an intelligible and spellbinding structure.
Combining their strengths, Fuller and Green have taken a story long believed to be untamable and channeled its powers into a delirious odyssey that takes its time with character development without putting too much drag on the tale’s velocity.
It doesn’t take long for Shadow and Wednesday’s road trip to become a Technicolor debate about the nature of belief and the power of faith. Mr. Wednesday needs both to continue to exist. Shadow Moon, as his name implies, is a guardian of the threshold between the mortal and the eternal. He believes in nothing. Yet the oddity he witnesses at Wednesday’s side gives him pause.
Fuller and Green co-wrote five of the first season’s eight episodes, and their scripts gives the show’s superlative cast a buffet of opportunities to chew the scenery. Orlando Jones’ introduction as Mr. Nancy is marked by a blazing monologue evocative of Alec Baldwin’s epic “Glengarry Glen Ross” speech and it’s chockablock with just as many cold assurances.
McShane ascends to his usual level of brilliance, but Whittle’s Shadow wields a seductive, brooding charm that stands up to the “Deadwood” star well enough. And their partnership gives credence to the idea that the gods could be a little insane.
But Fuller and Green accentuate the comedic side of these gods and goddesses much more than their cruelty (the exception being Yetide Badaki’s divinely concupiscent Bilquis) which imbues “American Gods” with a cheeky flair. And if the performances by the likes of Jones, Stormare, Schreiber and Cloris Leachman seem outsized, that’s proportional to the beings they play.
So numerous are the number of gods that we don’t even meet them all in the first four episodes. Those who are introduced, however, are fascinating enough to purchase the viewers’ patience with the relatively leisurely speed that “American Gods” travels through the plot. It takes time to construct a world worthy of worship.