No, Mr. Trump don’t build a wall!
End the huge corn subsidies to US corporate agribusiness
and support small farmers in Mexico and the United States!
January 31, 2018
In his “State of the Union “address last night, Trump continues to make insulting comments about Mexicans and stating he wants to build a wall. I guess he wants to emulate Israel with its wall against the Palestinians. Nevertheless, build a wall? This is insane! Instead, he needs to look at the impact of US policies on Mexican farmers and workers as well as workers in the US. It’s the US policies that need changing, and in particular the huge inappropriate farm subsidies for the US corn industry.When NAFTA was being negotiated in the 1990s, many of us were concerned about the impact this would have on small farmers in Mexico. We already knew a couple of disastrous provisions in the NAFTA agreement that would prove fatal to Mexican farmers. First was the loosening of export provisions to Mexico allowing US subsidized corn to then flood the Mexican market. Second, and for the first time, Mexico was allowing foreigners to purchase land. Our fears of the disastrous outcomes were realized.
I have spent most of my communications career working with Black farmers across the southeast US. It didn’t take long, after NAFTA, for us in the South to witness the changes in the region. Mexicans from rural Mexico were flooding into the United States and black farmers were hiring them to work on their farms and learning Spanish so they could speak with these workers.
First of all, it’s important to note that Mexico is the creator of corn. Corn was first created some 5,000 to 7,000 thousand years in Mexico and it took about 1,000 years for it to reach North America. Oddly and ironically enough, it is now this corn brought to the US from Mexico that is presently destroying Mexico’s indigenous corn infrastructure. In the ideal world, the ancient Mexicans should never have allowed the north Americans to have knowledge of the corn plant.
Mexico has been renowned for its huge variety of indigenous corn – and healthy corn, I might add. The Mexican corn has been grown in healthy soil with no chemicals whatsoever. And now NAFTA has impacted nearly all of this important heritage.
Under NAFTA, American agribusiness has been able to dump its subsidized corn on the Mexican market with disastrous results. Here’s from the New York Times:
The more than $10 billion that American taxpayers give corn farmers every year in agricultural subsidies has helped destroy the livelihoods of millions of small Mexican farmers, according to a report to be released on Wednesday….
Mexico, the birthplace of corn, opened its borders to American corn exports after signing the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. Within a year, corn imports from the United States doubled and today nearly one-third of the corn used in Mexico is imported from the United States. The United States is the biggest exporter of corn in the world and the biggest exporter of corn to Mexico. (2003 – New York Times)
As a result of this cheap and unhealthy corn being dumped on the Mexican market, some 2 million Mexican farmers were forced off the land. Mexican farmers could not compete with this cheap corn and, I might add, the corn from the US was largely GMO and chemical laden. This imported corn has also dramatically and negatively impacted the health of Mexicans. Again, here’s from the New York Times:
As heavily subsidized U.S. corn and other staples poured into Mexico, producer prices dropped and small farmers found themselves unable to make a living. Some two million have been forced to leave their farms since Nafta. At the same time, consumer food prices rose, notably the cost of the omnipresent tortilla.
As a result, 20 million Mexicans live in “food poverty”. Twenty-five percent of the population does not have access to basic food and one-fifth of Mexican children suffer from malnutrition. Transnational industrial corridors in rural areas have contaminated rivers and sickened the population and typically, women bear the heaviest impact.
Not all of Mexico’s problems can be laid at Nafta’s doorstep. But many have a direct causal link. The agreement drastically restructured Mexico’s economy and closed off other development paths by prohibiting protective tariffs, support for strategic sectors and financial controls. (2013 – New York Times)
So not only did NAFTA have a disastrous impact on Mexican farmers and the health of Mexicans, it also impacted workers in the United States, as well as leading to more crime and a lot of this is linked directly to American agricultural subsidies of the huge US corn agribusiness being dumped on the Mexican market. Once again from the New York Times:
Nafta’s failure in Mexico has a direct impact on the United States. Although it has declined recently, jobless Mexicans migrated to the United States at an unprecedented rate of half a million a year after Nafta.
Workers in both countries lose when companies move, when companies threaten to move as leverage in negotiations, and when nations like Mexico lower labor rights and environmental enforcement to attract investment.
Farmers lose when transnational corporations take over the land they supported their families on for generations. Consumers lose with the imposition of a food production model heavy on chemical use, corporate concentration, genetically modified seed and processed foods. Border communities lose when lower environmental standards for investors affect shared ecosystems.
The increase in people living in poverty feeds organized crime recruitment and the breakdown of communities. Increased border activity facilitates smuggling arms and illegal substances. (2013 – New York Times)
So, Mr. Trump you want a “fair and reciprocal” trade policy? You are instead blaming the victims of US policies. And is this being “fair and reciprocal”? I think not.
And regarding trade policies, where are the small Mexican farmers in the mix? Why have their concerns, both by the US and Mexican negotiators, not been considered?
And, Mr. Trump, when reviewing the NAFTA agreement, are you finally going consider ending the huge subsidies to corporate agribusiness that are destroying small farmers in Mexico and also not helping small farmers in America. If you want to help farmers in America here’s another idea. How about offering a sizable portion of the $10 billion to support small farmers and organic farmers in the United States? That would benefit the American economy and the health of Americans, as well, and make America “great” as you say!
But the fact is, it’s way past time to end these huge agribusiness subsidies, although the harm they have already done is immense. Rather than blaming Mexicans in the United States and wanting to build a dreadful wall, here’s another idea if you want to be “fair and reciprocal”. Instead of $10 billion in subsidies going to US agribusiness, how about the $10 billion going to the 2 million Mexican farmers forced off their land and to the Black community in America as reparations for the harm done to them by US policies! Now that could be considered “fair and reciprocal”!
January 21, 2018
Justice Initiative International
I first wrote this article below in 2014 for Counterpunch, but I have revised it somewhat. I decided to send it out given Trump’s latest statement about “shit hole” countries that unbelievably included Africa. As noted in this article, Trump’s statement should be turned on its head and instead of these kinds of criticisms by the likes of Trump, the west needs to instead start learning from Africans as well as the likes of Australian aborigines in order to continue to survive on Mother Earth. The west has been too abusive and yes “shit hole” like to both the environment and other human beings to give any rationale that the west is in any way intelligent compared to other far more traditional societies.
But we do have models out there to learn from as somewhat shared below, and we should take advantage of this wisdom for the well being of all. For example, the European Australians are finally realizing that it’s way past time to begin learning from Australian aborigines regarding how to appropriately survive in the Australian climate. And some westerners are finally also realizing that what’s important is to be respectful of Mother Earth and attempt to live in harmony with it rather than abusing it with chemicals, as well as inappropriate and climate impacting energy sources, such as oil and gas, etc., if human beings are to survive on the planet in the long run.
Let’s face it, the very first university in world was in Africa – the University of Timbuktu:
Long before the European Renaissance, Timbuktu in Mali ranked high alongside great empires in Ghana and Songhai.
The University of Timbuktu in Mali was situated in a city that was already thriving in the 12th century.
The city of Timbuktu had the most universities in any nation. It was proof of the talents, creativity and ingenuity of the African people.
It was also the highly sophisticated North African Black Moors (Muslims) who, when ruling the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) for 700 years (711 to 1492), finally brought Europe out of the Dark Ages. (Telsur)
Immigration? Africans are far better educated than most other immigrants – including those from Norway, as well as those US born – here’s from the the LA Times:
(Regarding Trump)… he clearly does not have a clue about Africa and of the qualifications of Africans immigrating to the US. They are generally far better educated than US born Americans and other immigrants as well. For example, of the 1.4 million Africans over the age of 25 coming to the US since 2010, 41% have bachelor degrees, compared to 30% of all other immigrants, 32% of the US born population and 38% of the 19,000 immigrants from Norway.
African immigrants are also more likely to have graduate degrees. Of the 1.4 million since 1980, 16% had “a masters degree, medical degree, law degree or a doctorate, compared with 11% of the U.S. born population.” (LA Times)
The following is what I wrote about the corporate plunder of Africa in 2014.
Race, Intelligence and the Corporate Plunder of Africa
In the August 12, 2014 Issue of the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik wrote the following:
“Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History”, is the new book by science writer Nicholas Wade that asserts a genetic basis for certain human behaviors and distinguishes them by race. It’s been widely panned in book reviews, especially by experts in the fields of science and social science touched on by the work.
Reviewers have cited scientific errors in the book, but typically aim more directly at Wade’s conclusions.
The most newsworthy reaction to the book has just come from the genetic sciences community, in the form of an open letter signed by (as of this writing) 143 senior biologists and geneticists from around the world, decrying what they say is Wade’s “misappropriation of research from our field to support arguments about differences among human societies.”
They write: “Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate account of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in I.Q. test results, political institutions and economic development. We reject Wade’s implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not.”
Wade’s book was well timed for the gathering in August 2014 by President Obama of African leaders with U.S. corporate leaders and others in Washington to further explore incursion of U.S. corporations in Africa. The book in a sense offers the justification of corporate take-over and land grabbing of the continent, as in, “intelligent” people should control the land.
When I was a high school student in the early 1960s in Atlanta there was some study presented to my “white” high school colleagues and me about intelligence along these same lines presented by the outrageous Nicolas Wade. Even then, at age 16, I knew this was not correct. I spoke out in the class about this and criticized it. My teacher was nonplussed by my comment. I suspected some inappropriate manipulation was going on here and I was right. I usually think of this kind of analysis as a way for whites to assuage their guilt of abuse of others and justifying this abuse by making the point they are more intelligent. What nonsense! If this sort of so-called intelligence makes for abusive behavior then forbid anything of us should have it!!!
But then explaining differences in human groups was what Jared Diamond explored in his book ” Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies” (1997). He was attempting to address differences in acquisition of buildings, various and sundry structures, written language and so on and especially weapons accumulation…and, in fact, ultimately imperialist ventures and violent abuse of others throughout the world which, unfortunately, distinguishes European behavior. China also evolved similarly.
It goes back to agriculture according to Diamond – it is the fount of it all. Its mass production is thought to have started in Iraq some 13 thousand years ago. It led to the diversification of human societies (i.e. farmers, philosophers, builders, scientists, etc.), the creation of written language and then villages, city states, nations and on because food was assured – people didn’t need to hunt for it or gather it as before. They could stay situated.
Diamond maintains that virtually every human group attempted to domesticate what was available to them – both plants and animals – but what made the difference is climate and, essentially, the latitude or longitude where humans lived. When the agriculture methods and domesticated animals moved north of Iraq, or when the humans in the north developed domesticated animals and crops themselves, there was a huge latitude in the plains of central Asia from Europe to China that allowed the crops and animals to acclimatize themselves. When the weather changed during the year, humans in this latitude made sure the food was stored and protected. It was protected often by weapons they developed for this purpose or to hunt on the open plains, so that the availability of the food was not a problem in difficult times of the year. (I maintain weapons systems by the west developed thousands of years ago have got out of hand!!!)
The point is, however, that all human groups are intelligent and what makes the difference in terms of what “things” they might have developed is determined by their needs and environment with the primary goal being able to adapt to their environment and to survive.
Africa is huge longitudinally. Because of that, as crops and animals from Iraq started moving down the continent it took thousands of year to acclimatize to the various longitudinal levels. Food was readily available throughout the year in the tropics. And they didn’t necessarily need their food to be stored in the same way as the weather was not radically changing as compared to the northern climates. Besides they were engaged in their own local production of food as well as hunting and gathering as most human groups have done for time immemorial.
Australian aborigines also attempted to domestic plants available to them, but this was not a long-term viable option given the dry Australian climate. When I lived in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s someone said to me, “The aborigines aren’t anything – what have they built?” And I thought at the time, “So that’s the criteria. What human groups have built or made seems to be what gives the impression of intelligence.”
Whereas the fact is, as mentioned, that what’s ultimately important and intelligent is being able to adapt to your environment. Believe me, Europeans could not survive in the stark Australian desert without Australian aboriginal assistance. Europeans didn’t have the collective intelligence on knowing how to do this.
Virtually all human groups will figure out a way to adapt to their environment but some humans abuse the environment as we in the west have done and are doing. Interestingly enough, however, in Australia for thousands of years the aborigines learned to adapt to the varying water shortage dilemma. Now, because of water and environmental problems in Australia and Australian European abuse of the environment, Australians of European descent are trying to garner the wisdom of the ancient and accumulated aborigine knowledge. Here is a link to an article about this entitled “Living Wisdom: Aborigines and the Environment” by Olga Gostin and Alwin Chong (1994).
But herein lives the difference in attitude of the European worldview versus aborigines as from the above ” Living Wisdom” article. It is critical to understand this difference.
“The European world view tends to separate the spiritual, natural and human domains whose characteristics and attributes are ever open to challenge, debate and reinterpretation. In this lies another important distinction between the two cultural traditions as expressed in attitudes towards knowledge. In the Aboriginal world view, knowledge is an extension of the cosmic order and comprises the accumulated wisdom of the group since time immemorial, handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. This does not mean that the body of knowledge is changeless or finite, but rather that changes and additions become incorporated into the collective wisdom of the group. The individual acquires this knowledge progressively and cumulatively during a lifetime punctuated by periods of intense learning now described in many parts of Australia as “going through The Law”. Knowledge is acquired both by imitation in day-to-day contact with peers and older persons, and by bestowal by specialist older persons.
Knowledge is acquired both by imitation in day-to-day contact with peers and older persons, and by bestowal by specialist older persons. The latter is often undertaken in a highly charged ritual setting, which is both secret and separate from those who are not undergoing the same experience. It does not invite debate or challenge. The individual progresses through these stages of specialised learning and graduates as a different person with new knowledge, new privileges and new responsibilities. This change in status is universally accepted by the group whose acceptance enforces the person’s new role and responsibilities, derived directly from having tapped into the ancient wisdom of the group. At present the diversity of Aboriginal Australia is such that not all Aboriginal people necessarily access the same sources of knowledge. Even so, the role of older persons and kin groups in passing on knowledge remains very important.
The European quest for knowledge, by contrast, is markedly different in character. It is essentially an individual search driven by specialist interests backed by open access to the accumulated knowledge of past generations stored in libraries. The cosmic order has itself been secularised and the quest is to establish verifiable facts and theories in an atmosphere of detached critical analysis and intellectual debate.
‘This impersonal academic tradition is a far cry from the highly ritualised bestowal of knowledge upon a neophyte by the custodians of ancient wisdom. The end product of the two traditions results in a very different reading of the environment and a different perception of what, in the West, is identified as technology and science and. in Aboriginal culture, is celebrated as ancient wisdom and traditional skills. This is not to say that Aboriginal people did not or cannot think about the environment in a scientific or rational way. They can and do.” (Living Wisdom)
I maintain that those of us of European descent are, if anything, arrogant and misled to think we have intelligence that can challenge the wisdom of the likes of the Australian aborigines and Africans. We have largely abused our gift of life and land by thinking that we can challenge and control nature. We can’t. We have not been respectful of it. Some have referred to GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) by likes of Monsanto as “God Move Over”. Indeed.
The consequences of our European abuse of nature are immense and regard even the survival of the planet as we know it.
Just recently in Atlanta I was talking with some friends about south Georgia. There are some beautiful marshlands in the area. It was brought up that all of the land was at one point underwater – all of it part of the ocean. This, of course, includes all of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, the Carolinas and on. Indeed one of the oldest mountain ranges in the country are the Appalachian Mountains in the south that evolved some 480 million years ago. By comparison, we human beings are primates and we evolved in Africa some 6 to 2 million years ago.
The life and land were gifts to us and yet we have abused this gift. We, primarily those of us of European descent, have polluted the land and air. We have thought we could control nature and manipulate it at will rather than being respectful of it and communing with it. And now we are beginning to lose it all thanks to our abuse. The ocean, for one, is reclaiming the land in Georgia and Florida and all over the world we are witnessing loss of island land and countless other environmental challenges because of this abuse. This is thanks to climate change largely brought on by environmental reaction of our massive chemical abuse used in agriculture and transportation. And you call this intelligent behavior? I think not. We have tried to separate ourselves from nature and we are suffering from the consequences of the arrogance and, in fact, considerable lack of intelligence and understanding of the world in which we live.
Nicolas Wade needs to get a grip on history and knowledge of human groups and their evolution. He obviously knows nothing. And further African leaders and all of us should be incredibly cautious of the American corporate demands and investment in the huge African continent for the sake of Africans, their well-being and safety, and for the planet itself.
“But the interesting parallel here is that the food is grown from the same source
of war material – ammonium nitrate. So corn becomes the bullets.”
Below is the audio and transcription of a July 2011 interview with urban farmer Rashid Nuri about both the history and impact of industrial agriculture.
The importance of understanding this history cannot be over-stressed. Rashid wisely begins by sharing the history of the west’s conceptualization of “the way that we think about ourselves and our relation to the material world that exists around us.” He notes that prior to this “man had a much closer relationship to nature than he does today.” He then comments about how this altered conceptual framework in our attitude toward nature has impacted agricultural science and systems that has both negatively effected our lives and has ultimately not been good for humans and the world overall. Rashid emphatically states also that rather than objectifying nature and trying to control it, it’s important to be in harmony with it because, for one, it can’t be controlled anyway and also nature will strike back.
Rashid stresses that it is by being in harmony with the natural world that we can grow healthy food for us all rather than using the dangerous, poisonous and unhealthy chemicals as applied in industrial agriculture.
And finally, and importantly, he says that vis-a-vis industrial agriculture that what’s important is to create the “alternative” which he has done in his natural urban agricultural work.
As from the transcribed 2012 interview with Rashid entitled “Interview: Learning from Rashid Nuri: Rebellions & Revolutions: Usually It’s about Food“, below is information about his background.
At the community radio station WRFG-FM in Atlanta, Georgia, I have a radio program entitled “Just Peace”, that I have been producing for more than two decades. In addition, however, my professional career has been in agriculture working with Black farmers across the South. So, I decided quite a few years ago that in addition to the vast array of justice issues I cover on the show, that it was important to provide listeners with information about food. Not only about the politics of food but most importantly “how to grow it.”
This was inspired thanks to Atlanta’s organic urban farmer Rashid Nuri who created the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture. I had realized that if there was anyone in Atlanta, the United States or virtually anywhere in the world who understood the breadth of the history, the politics of food, and about organic production altogether, it was Rashid Nuri.
With a degree from Harvard University in Political Science and a masters degree in Soil Science from the University of Massachusetts, he is certainly well qualified to put it mildly. As an ‘organic’ farmer he said he had to unlearn virtually everything he acquired from the Soil Science degree, and I understand that as well.
In addition to all of this, in the 1990s Rashid worked under Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Espy (the first Black Secretary), as the Director of the Commodity Credit Corporation. Rashid had also lived and worked on agriculture issues in Africa and Asia for a number of years.
As you can see from all this impressive background, Rashid’s breadth of both the knowledge and analysis of the politics and history of food is significant. We are blessed he decided to create his organization here in Atlanta. So, since 2011, I have been interviewing Rashid once a month about agriculture and also opening the phone lines for listeners to ask questions about the topic at hand or organic production techniques, etc.
The July 2011 interview with Rashid Nuri was by me, Heather Gray, along with questions from co-producer Nadia Ali. The edited transcription of the interview is below.
July 2011 Audio of Interview with Rashid Nuri
Transcribed Interview (Edited) – Learning from Rashid Nuri
The History of Industrial Agriculture and its Impact
We think that we can try to dominate and control rather than be in harmony with the natural order of things…Those chemicals kill everything that’s in the soil.
It’s supporting a system of agriculture production that is killing the earth.
Heather Gray – Tonight we’re going to be talking with Rashid Nuri about industrial agriculture and compare that to, of course, natural or organic production. Rashid, I want to go into a bit of a history of this with you.
Rashid Nuri– Sure. Where do you want to start?
Heather – That’s a really good question because I know you know this so well. But I guess we should start at the beginning, right? Let me couch this in some sort of way by saying that throughout the history of agriculture we have been farming naturally, and then in the past century and a half this started to change a bit.
Rashid – Actually, it was a little before that. Let me try to explain. A very dear friend of mine gave me a book recently. It was an adult story but it began, “once upon a time” and I think that’s where we should begin. Once upon a time, man had a much closer relationship to nature than he does today. We’ve lost that closeness to nature. There are reasons why that has been lost, primarily because we have changed the way that we think about ourselves and our relation to the material world that exists around us. Let me take a minute to explain.
There are a lot of folks who come up to me and say “Oh, Rashid you’re a master of this and a master of that.” And I explain, “No, as long as I’m living, I’m going to continue to learn.”
At about 1600 (15th century), whenever Isaac Newton (1643-1727) was around, he created a new way of thinking. It was Newtonian physics, Newtonian mechanics. And what happened is, rather than looking for ways to be in tune with nature and the core of nature, man got to the point where he thought he could control and dominate nature. And the reason is that they were able to look at the universe and put numbers to it and be able to predict what was going to happen. And it was thought this was the way to approach all of agriculture and all of life.
The metaphor is this. If a watch is broken and you are able to take the watch apart and then you can see where all the parts fit, if there is one part that’s broken you can put it back in and make the clock work again.
But nature doesn’t work quite like that.
We are in an age now of wave theory, quantum mechanics as a way of looking at the universe. How this has been interpreted is that scientists today feel as though they can take apart nature and put it back together better than nature can do itself. And this is what we’ve done with agriculture. This is what we’ve done with all the life around us.
We think that we can try to dominate and control rather than be in harmony with the natural order of things. So this same paradigm has been brought to agriculture.
Then we skip forward to the 150 years ago you’re talking about. There’s a German called Justus von Liebig (1803-1873) who in his laboratory learned there were certain nutrients that plants needed at a minimum in order to be able to grow plants. He narrowed it down to nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Having isolated those elements for the leaves and the roots he stated a theory, which is called the theory (law) of the minimum. Whichever nutrient is available to the plants and then the minimum amount will determine that plant’s ability to grow.
So with that knowledge you go out and put fertilizer on the plants – not thinking about the soil – not thinking about the life in the soil – and isolating the plants from the soil and saying “We know more than God does.” So again, the thinking was that if we add nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to these plants, then we will be able to grow things.
And they did this for a long time, but it doesn’t work because there are certain elements that have been left out. They left out all the micro-organisms and micro-nutrients in the soil that, in combination, there is a symbiosis between all of these elements that helps plants to grow. So the scientists have taken over agriculture production instead of people looking at nature and seeing what nature has provided and how nature works together.
What they have done is say “we know better than nature does and we’re going to control or dominate what happens in the soil.” That has got us where we are today.
Nadia Ali – When you say it got us where we are today, are you speaking about all of the countries and agricultural communities on the planet or just the western ones?
Rashid – Well, that’s a very good point. I’ve got a book here called “Stuffed and Starved” by Raj Patel. And he’s talking about the hidden battle for the world’s food system. And what you’re finding all over the world is that western thought processes about agriculture have been exported all over the world. Everywhere you look. This is why you have a rush in Africa now to acquire that land. Africa has all the resources for everybody and the Chinese are coming in and trying to get it. Americans are invading through Libya to try to get the land. Arabs are buying all this land so they can export commercial agriculture and continue to dominate the populations. It’s a re-colonization of Africa. So, no, it’s not just America, and the western system its being exported all over the world. And that’s a problem.
When the dust bowl in America happened before the Second World War, during the depression, there were a lot of factors that came together. But agriculture production was reduced because of droughts. People didn’t have irrigation.
And then the Second World War war ended and you had all these surplus chemicals and all the chemical manufacturers and the munitions manufacturers wanted to keep making money. War is a very, very profitable enterprise. It has only been America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan where you had recession and wars at the same time. That’s never happened in history before. Generally, people make money and countries do very well when they’re dominating and winning wars.
After the Second World War they had all this ammonium nitrate left over that you use for gunpowder. What are they going to do with it? They said, “Wow! Let’s sell it to the farmers.” So they give it to the farmers and the farmers grow more crops, but the chemicals also kill everything that’s in the soil. Nevertheless, they’re still able to grow more crops.
Then they start subsidizing crops. It’s a very simple but complicated system if you understand it. They – the government – subsidize the production. Then, they use that surplus production to dominate the world politics by using food as a weapon around the world rather than guns. But the interesting parallel here is that the food is grown from the same source of war material – ammonium nitrate. So corn becomes the bullets.
Heather – What do you mean ‘food as a weapon’? How does that work?Rashid – We’ll give you food if you do what we tell you to do. You have a lot of countries that were devastated after WWII. People need food. They have to eat and if your whole economy has been destroyed the Americans said, “we’ll give you food if you let us invest in your country and if you follow our rules.” They used the Public Law 480 program that came to fruition in the late 40s and early 50s, which was “Food for Peace“. You give us that political agreement that we asked for, and we’ll ship you tons of food.What does that do? It provides shipping transports to make money; the farmers make money because the prices get subsidized; the grain companies make money. Everybody makes money accept the folk in countries who are receiving the food. And then, in addition that food, there is an exchange for the raw materials in the countries receiving the food, and the raw materials are brought back to the United States to continue the industrialization process. It’s insidious.Along with this use of the chemicals in the food, you had the US government subsidize breeding programs with grains. And the principal grains around the world are corn, wheat, rice and then there’s cotton as well. Those are the four that really stand out that are commercial crops around the world.Heather– And they are generally called commodities, right?Rashid – Yes, they are commodities. They started breeding programs to hybridize the food and then they standardized it so that all corn is the same size and harvested at the same time.Then we had a man named Norman Borlaug. I have a hero and an anti-hero in agriculture. George Washington Carver is my hero. And Norman Bourlag is my anti-hero. This is the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize for the Green Revolution (see note #1 below) – thinking it was helping people.
But what Green Revolution has actually done is it has created greater poverty around the world rather than riches. The only folks that have become rich are the grain companies and the chemical companies that provided the inputs. The farmers themselves are starving. This is why you’ve got all the suicides today in India because of their relationship with Monsanto (and all the chemical laden seeds and fertilizers being sold to Indian farmers).
Henry Wallace sent Borlaug to Mexico where Borlaug began to conceive of the green revolution. Henry Wallace was Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture and he also ran for president back in the 40s. He had two terms as Secretary of Agriculture under Roosevelt.
These men were well intentioned. But the results of their thought processes and the paradigms in which they worked are where we ended up. This is why I talked about the science of the Newtonian mechanics that is of the thought and concept that we can dominate nature rather than be in harmony with it.
Heather– There’s an “assumption” that we can dominate nature.
Rashid – That’s very correct. There’s an “assumption” that we can dominate nature and we’re finding out every day that you can’t. Just look at the natural disasters that we’ve just witnessed in this century alone. This should let people know that you can’t dominate nature. The best that you can do is be in harmony with and in tune with nature which is the essence of natural urban agriculture.
So the hybridization (see note #2 below) of the crops means there’s certain things you have to have. You have to have fertilizer; you have to have chemicals for the pests; and you have to have irrigation.
Heather – Now when you’re talking about hybridizing you’re talking about this effort to sort of standardize crop production so you have corn that’s the same height and you have the same type of corn and so forth, right?
Rashid – That’s right. There’s some science behind that. The problem with hybridization is that the seeds (see note #3 below) cannot be put back in the ground. You can’t save your seeds and put them back the next year as farmers has always done. You can’t save a 10th and put it back the next year. So what you put back is going to be a throwback from the previous generations of seeds where the seeds have been crossed genetically and thus that keeps farmer in debt to and beholden to the seed companies that provide them with new seed that they have to pay for.
Heather – Whereas, since time began farmers have always saved their seed for next year’s crop.
Rashid – That’s exactly right. That’s where the concept of tithing comes from. Historically, you plant a crop and every 10 seeds you get back you save one and you eat the other nine. That’s where the concept came from. All through the Bible…this is what happened in Egypt with David and Joseph and those folks. That’s why churches have tithing now. It makes good sense. So with hybridization you can’t tithe. You have to go back to the seed company and you have to have the inputs for the seeds and monocrops to produce effectively – the chemicals – you’ve got to have the fertilizer, you’ve got to have the pesticides.
One of the major problems with hybridized food and monocrop culture, is that it is the antithesis of what you find in nature. You go out in the woods and you see everything growing. There’s a biodiversity – an echo-diversity. You’ve got all kinds of plants. You’ve got tall plants, short plants, trees, forests wherever you are. You’ve got the savannahs, the tall grasses, the short grasses. The grasses change over seasons. Just as the fruit goes through the season when you start in the summer and start off with berries and cherries, peaches and apricots, nectarines and eventually, in the Fall, you get your apples and your pears. The same thing happens out in the plains and the prairies where the grass grow. You have different kinds of grasses that grow at different times of the year. You have a biodiversity…and an echo-diversity.
You go to any of these countries that are practicing commercial agriculture and you see one thing in the field and that’s it.
Heather – Let’s talk a little bit about having that one crop in the field and also why farmers are committing suicide. But in the natural state of growth, we have an incredible diversity. So when there is that “sameness” as in having one crop in the field, it creates problems in any number of ways. What are some of those problems
Rashid – If you get a disease a “dis-ease” or an insect that’s going to eat it up everything and your crop is gone – the insects are saying “here’s lunch, let’s eat” – and in these circumstances the whole field is the same thing, the same crop – there is no diversity. Whereas if you have diversity out there – a diverse biosphere – you’re going to have good insects and bad insects. The good insects will ward off the bad ones. You have the different plants growing next to each other – companion planting – and the plants will repel insects and repel disease. It creates a balance that stays in harmony. You’re always going to lose some, but you don’t want to put yourself into a position of losing it all. And the easiest way to lose it all is to have one thing – one crop – out there. That’s the old nursery rhyme – “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” And this is what we have done in commercial agriculture – we put all of our eggs in one basket. So, therefore, you have to keep coming in with chemicals and keep spraying it with all the fertilizers to make it grow and with lots of water to keep it because you can’t do it without water. And it all becomes very precarious.
Heather – Years ago when there were problems with cotton growth, what was said I think was that the reason there was such a massive problem with this is that cotton was a monocrop. In other words there was tons of cotton in one field that provided the opportunity for the boll weevil to attack it.
Rashid – Yeah, I’ve got to tell you a little joke. The man from the department of agriculture called me up yesterday. The agriculture commissioner came out to visit us some time ago and we told him we had some cotton plants planted down there at the Wheatstreet Garden. So he wanted to have this man come out and trap the boll weevil that we may have on our cotton downtown. I said “well my friend it didn’t grow so you don’t have to worry about that.” But they were so concerned because they have eliminated the boll weevil in Georgia.
But the reason you have the boll weevil is multifaceted. One, farmers were monocropping. Cotton was the only thing they grew every single year. They mined the soil. They were not concerned about creating biological life in the soil. The soil is a living thing. It’s all a part of Mother Earth. You have to feed the soil. The soil is alive. You go out in woods and see the humus around and you’re going to find all kinds of like rolly-pollies, centipedes, millipedes, earthworms – there’s life out there – spiders, and all kinds of stuff that makes that soil alive. There’s mycelium in there, all kinds of micro-bacterias that are growing in the ground to make that soil alive – a living breathing thing.
You go out into the cotton fields and the soil is dead because its been mono-cropped. They were not enriching the soil. This is why George Washington Carver is so important. He taught folks about crop rotation and adding organic material back to the soil so the soil could be healthy and grow.
The boll weevil just sat here waiting every year. The boll weevils couldn’t wait for that cotton crop – some more cotton – let’s go get it! As a farmer you can’t allow for that. You have to rotate the crops and then the boll weevil would say, “Oh man, what is this soybean doing here?” This is one of the ways you can fool insects is by rotating of your crops. Keep moving the crops and the insects around.
Heather – What about genetically modified seeds – GMOs?
Rashid – It’s a very simple proposition. Rather than hybridizing/cross breeding plants where you have to go back a couple of generations to get the seed, scientists are taking genes and splicing them into the seed so that they will get the characteristics the chemical company wants. The principle one is BT Cotton – Bacillus thuringiensis – BT is a bacteria that kills bugs. Now, I will use BT but I don’t want a seed that has it in it. I will use the bacteria – it’s natural – to kill soft worms. I don’t use it very often because our soil is good, by God’s grace – let me knock on wood.
But they’ve taken these chemicals and…let me make it more simple… and use cotton as an example. They have round-up ready cotton. Round-up (see note #4 below) is a herbicide that kills all broad leaf plants. If you don’t want to have weeds in your field, you hoe your field. You don’t want to have something like weeds in your field to compete with the thing you’re trying to grow. So they’ll have round-up ready corn, round-up ready cotton, round-up ready soybeans that Monsanto has created. So they’ve inserted this gene into the seed itself so that it will kill all of the broad leaf weeds that emerge in the garden. So the only thing that will come up are the corn, cotton and soybeans.
Heather – So this adds more chemicals to the soil, more chemicals to the food that we’re eating and so forth. But you need to talk about what Monsanto is.
Rashid – Monsanto is a very large chemical company. They and DuPont are probably the biggest ones that make these agriculture chemicals. They invented round-up some years ago that is very efficient in keeping the broadleaf weeds out of the farmland. So they spray from airplanes, they spray it with tractors, they spray by hand. You can buy round-up to spray the cracks in your sidewalk. Round-up is the (main) drug for killing weeds.
Heather – What is it doing to us? To the soil, to the people, to global warming?
Rashid – It’s supporting a system of agriculture production that is killing the earth. Those chemicals kill everything that’s in the soil.
Heather – And it’s getting into our groundwater?
Rashid – Everywhere. Most often before they even plant they’ll go into the fields and with chemicals kill all the weeds that are there. Then they add the round-up to kill the things as they emerge from the soil so you just have the plants. And all of this requires fertilizer, tremendous amounts of irrigation, and pesticides. And every year you plant again, the plants and the insects become more and more resistant to all these chemicals.
Heather – So, I think this is really important because this demonstrates how nature will resist this science-based agriculture. You can’t dominate nature.
Rashid – To lead into where these suicides are coming from, you’ve got these farmers – as in India – who are convinced to use this new technology, which is making money for folks back here in the west. In using this new technology they borrow the money to put the crops in, and instead of making money they become further and further in debt.
In order to grow these crops it takes a tremendous amount of capital. So, if you’re farming on a very large scale, and can live on a small margin, because of the volume that you’re creating, you can make money. But if you’re a small farmer and you’ve been convinced to use this new technology that is foreign to your farming history, you have to go borrow money to put in this crop. You have to do this instead of saving seeds you had from last year and putting those seeds back in the ground – this is a problem.
One of the books I read about agriculture is by Sir Albert Howard – it’s called “An Agricultural Testament“. He spent many years in India using elephant dung to grow food.
Heather – And it was very effective, I’m sure.
Rashid – And the irony is that I’m using elephant dung now to grow food. That’s the principle ingredient we’re using.
Nadia – I’m curious about where you’re getting the elephant dung.
Rashid – Zoo-doo.
Nadia – That’s what I was hoping.
Rashid – No, we don’t have any elephants down there. Here talking about India – they would collect the dung from any place. From the animals that you have from the farm and use that as a fertilizer – pigs, cows, horses, mules, goats, chickens – all that and even human manure. In other places in the world people use their own waste to put back in the ground to feed the soil. But I wouldn’t touch it in this country. The simple reason is you think about what you put down the toilet your very self and if you would want some of that going back into your foods – no, I don’t think so.
Heather – So you’re talking about the chemicals in our diet – like the prescription drugs, etc. is another serious problem.
Rashid – So back to the farmer that would use the waste from his farm. He would also use the hay in his farm to make compost that he would put that back in the ground and grow his food. He would also save the seed from the previous year. He had a system of subsistence. Some people did well and they lived…they lived.
Heather – Most of these farmers, as in India, have never had to borrow money like this before and they were historically self-sufficient in that sense.
Rashid – So the west will say, “try our system it will work. Look what kind of yields you will get, but it’s going to cost you this much to get it.” Then each year you come back you’ve to get more and more of the fertilizers. You have to pay for the irrigation systems as you’ve got to make sure you have enough water because you can’t use these new technologies in agriculture without sufficient water.
The seed companies are also still trying to breed seed for drought areas – drought resistant seed and their having trouble with this.
This is still in the same Newtonian mechanic paradigm of science – as in thinking we know what the constituent parts are so we can take it apart and put it back together in a way that we can dominate nature. It doesn’t work.
Nadia – Rashid, I have two questions. One deals with irrigation that you’ve mentioned several times now that these hybrid genetically altered seeds require irrigation, but wouldn’t you need irrigation anyway? Doesn’t everything need water to grow? The second is, you’ve mentioned India several times. Is this unique to India right now or is this occurring around the globe.
Rashid – I’ll do the second one first. It is occurring elsewhere in the world but you have some of the most stark examples of this in India – folks committing suicide. You also have farmer’s associations and unions that have decided to protest the imposition of these western companies in India.
As far as irrigation is concerned, yes, you have to have water but you need more water with this high technology because it’s the technology that underlies it all. Part of the requirement is to use lots of water to get the chemicals down in the soil, to hold them down, and to help them uptake to the plants. You need more of it in order to get it done. The water’s not just to go down to the roots, the water’s got to get the stuff up into the plants so it takes more to suck it up.
Nadia – That makes sense. There is a caller on the line.
Caller (1) – Rashid, do you know of the company that produced the Agent Orange? And are you familiar with the incident in Bhopal, India where there was an incident with that chemical company that wiped out the entire village?
Rashid – What was Agent Orange? It was a chemical that killed all the crops and harmed the people. It’s a perfect example of the problem we have with this. Agent Orange was one of the most financially successful chemicals ever created and it was designed by Monsanto. The same people that are bringing the round-up into commercial agriculture. (see note #5 below)
Heather – Wasn’t Agent Orange first used in Vietnam?
Rashid – Yeah, that’s where it was used to defoliate the trees so they could see the Vietnamese as they were walking along the paths. With all the foliage in the tropical area you could not see the down to the forest floor. But if you defoliated it all then you could get the helicopters up there are that could spot the troops as they were moving along. But what did the Vietnamese do? They built tunnels – they went underground and you still couldn’t see them.
Heather – We need to say however that the problems with Agent Orange in Vietnam has been immense. The land has been destroyed.
Rashid – Not only the land, but the people got cancers and all kinds of bodily disease because of their exposure to Agent Orange. But from a business point of view it was one of the most successful campaigns that Monsanto had. They sold it to the government. So like I said, war is good for the economy.
As far as Bhopal, India is concerned it was agriculture chemicals that were being manufactured there. The plant exploded and poisoned all the people in a wide radius around the plant and killed tens of thousands of people. (Note: The plant that exploded was owned by Union Carbide and the explosion took place in 1984).
Nadia – My question has to do with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in this country. Can you explain please why if Monsanto and the chemicals it produces and other chemicals and companies like Monsanto, if they are so dangerous to us and to the planet that we’re living on, why are these things allowed by the FDA?
Rashid – It really is quite simple. They own them. You can buy a politician. And with all due respect to my political colleagues who may be listening, the American political system is for sale. He who gives big bucks gets what he wants. And the food and Drug Administration will not test to see if something is healthy. They will say that based upon the information they have received from the manufacturer who has agreed that they have tested these things, we feel that this is safe. There’s no safety there. Let me say that again. Just like an audit that you get from an accountant, based upon the information that has been provided to us, we think this is a good audit. We think this is a good chemical that we think ought to be able to come out to our people – to be sold to the people.
And you’ve got to also remember that companies send their representatives to Washington to be able to lobby within the government and take their seats within the government to represent their interests.
The US Trade Representatives? A couple of people in the higher rungs of that office all came out of the agriculture chemical industry. And you’ll find this throughout the US Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency – the very companies that are doing the polluting and destroying the planet have their representatives helping to make the decisions in Congress, and in the executive branch.
In Congress, if I give you $50,000 campaign contribution or through a political action committee and you get re-elected and you know what my point of view is on a subject, you’re going to listen to me because you want to get that money again so you can get re-elected. It’s an insidious system, but it’s the one we have. What do we do? We have to create the alternative.
Nadia – We have another caller.
Caller (2) – How are you doing brother Rashid? I respect the work you are doing in a basic and essential part of life that is just overlooked by everybody. It is very important. I just wanted to add this input. I have friends who have lived in the city of Atlanta all their lives. I’m a transplant as you may be able to tell. I know people who lived here as children and they told me there used to be a lot of fruit trees and a lot of trees that you could get food from that were growing wild in the metropolis and that this has disappeared.
And what you said about Agent Orange and things like that. I can remember when I was growing up in my native land and they had planes going over and putting these chemicals in that would kill mosquitos, for example, and I just think there was a larger plan to that in killing all these fruit tees so you could buy these foods from the store. I am thinking of that because of what you say regarding the political elements in these big cities, especially and with you being an expert, I wonder if you could give a little more information on that?
Rashid – He’s right. I’m not sure what I can add to that. There are a lot of political machinations that go on – people trying to control and dominate not only the world of nature, but the people in the world and a lot of it is quite insidious.
Again, we can sit up and rail against this, like the young man, but what I decided is that I need to create the alternative.
Here on the program on WRFG and the grace that you’ve given me with the opportunity to talk with folks on Just Peace, we can try to educate folks and help them to have a better understanding of these paradigms and how they effect us. But the real action comes from what are you going to do about it. And from my point of view, it is to create Truly Living Well where we are growing food naturally.
The brother talked about trees that used to be there. You come down to our site and we’ve got fruit trees at every site we have. It’s very important. If you come to me and say I’ve got 10 acres of land, I would say take half of it a grow fruits trees. That’s the first thing you should do and then start growing vegetables. Get your long-term food in. It is called edible landscaping. If you want to sit and have some shade there’s beautiful trees out there – why not get a fruit tree so you can eat it as well as get shade. That apple could hit you in the head and you could eat it and have your lunch. You don’t have to stay in the hammock all day. But let that land be productive.
I think grass is one of the greatest waste of resources that you could possibly have – there’s more fertilizer used on golf courses and lawns than there is in agriculture.
Caller (3) – Rashid, I am so glad you are on the show. My understanding from doing some research is that the PLU’s for the GMO’s starts with the 4 letters for it being a food and number 9 is for organics and number 8 tells you its conventional. It would be good if you could break down for the listeners what that is. My question also is, do you think chemtrails are a part of Monsanto’s dirty work.
Rashid – Yeah there’s a lot there. First the PLU’s are the codes that you find on the food – like cherries are 4045. I happen to know that because I like cherries.
Heather – What is the PLU?
Rashid – The PLU (Price Look-Up Code) is the standard number for any place you go in the country or perhaps in the world. If you go to the cash register or the self check-out you can put in the number of the commodity, it’s the same number at any store that you go in to. Once you know those numbers than its standardized and you can use that in any store across the country and I think around most of the world.
She’s right. The 9 is for organics. But the problem with that is this. The USDA organic standard is a patented phrase. It’s something that you buy. It’s oxymoric to me to have organic food at Walmart that was produced in China that would have an organic stamp on it. The Chinese have been busted out already for faking it and then you find this food right here in this country. And then you have US commercial farmers growing organic food as a market niche and their food is right next to the Chinese food so there’s a problem with that organic terminology.
The only way you’re really going to know what you’re getting in your food is to grow it yourself or go to someone you know who is growing the food for you.
Part of the work we do is to help people attain horticultural literacy. I think it’s extremely important for people to know who grows their food, the quality of their food and where their food comes from. If you come to our site you’re able to get food, you can see it right there in the ground growing and you’re able to bring it home.
So, just because it’s labeled organic doesn’t mean that it’s healthful and safe for you. You’ve got to know what it is.
And I would contend that anything that you buy that has more than five ingredients is not food. Somebody in a laboratory has created it. A carrot is a carrot. An apple is an apple. A collard green is a collard green. There’s no label on it that says this collard green is made up of all these different things that we put together. So just because that label says that it’s organic that does not mean that that is the best thing available to you.
What they’ve been able to create in America is these food scientists and the government has been able to create this perception that this food is good and it’s not necessarily so.Caller (4) – More and more when I go to the store and want to buy some fruit none of them have seeds anymore – not even the watermelons. Is there anywhere we can get fruits that have the seeds that have been grown the way we’re used to it?
Rashid – Yes, isn’t that an anomaly that you’re going to have watermelon that has no seeds? Or a grape that has no seeds in it? How is it going to reproduce itself? It’s a freak. You don’t find anything like that in nature. The best place to buy food is at the local farmer’s market and there are many around town.
Heather – Rashid, you can apparently buy organic beef but apparently it’s defined as organic beef if that cow ate organic corn rather than being grass-fed beef.
Rashid – I call that “in-put substitution” as the commercial farms put the cows in a feedlot, feed them grains and they’re still grain fed. Think about it. For those of you old enough to remember when they started this grain fed beef campaign back in the late 60’s early 70’s and then they got the nation hooked on this thing. When cows eat grass, that’s all they need. That’s the best argument you could have for a vegetarian. The biggest animals in the world – all they eat is grass.
Nadia – Rashid, you just said that grass was a waste of land.
Rashid – No, golf courses and grass in front of your house is a waste. If you’re raising chickens or if you’re raising cows I approve of that grassland.
Caller (5) – I want to give thanks to brother Rashid for the information that he’s giving. It is very, very real and very deep. If I want to grow my own trees what is the best way to tell the conditions of the soil.
Rashid – The key indication of the quality of your soil is the number of the earthworms that you find. If you don’t find any earthworms you know the soil is dead. Earthworms are going to come into healthy soil. That’s the best way to tell the quality of your soil. You’ve heard me say that if you build it they’ll come. If you build that soil and start adding organic material to it – adding compost to it – the worms will all of a sudden appear. I don’t know if they come out of the air or not but they’ll appear. I promise you this.
Heather – So as always, thank you yet again, Rashid!
• Note #1: The Green Revolution: The initiatives, led by Norman Borlaug, the “Father of the Green Revolution”, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, credited with saving over a billion people from starvation, involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers…
Health effects of the Green Revolution: The consumption of the pesticides used to kill pests by humans in some cases may be increasing the likelihood of cancer in some of the rural villages using them. Poor farming practices including non-compliance to usage of masks and over-usage of the chemicals compound this situation.In 1989, WHO and UNEP estimated that there were around 1 million human pesticide poisonings annually. Some 20,000 (mostly in developing countries) ended in death, as a result of poor labeling, loose safety standards etc. Wikipedia
• Note #2: Hybridization is the process of crossing two genetically different individuals to result in a third individual with a different, often preferred, set of traits.Plants of the same species cross easily and produce fertile progeny. … Such plants are referred to as cross-pollinated plants. Plant Life
• Note #3: The “hybridized” seeds (such as corn, soy, etc.) are created in laboratories by seed companies. It is not possible to replant these hybridized seeds. So rather than saving seed for next year’s crop, as farmers have always done, farmers have needed to purchase the seeds from seed companies. This represented, in the 20th century, a major power shift from the individual farmer’s control over production to corporate control.)
• Note #4: Glyphosate (N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine) is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant. It is an organophosphorus compound, specifically a phosphonate. It is used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that compete with crops….While glyphosate and formulations such as Roundup have been approved by regulatory bodies worldwide, concerns about their effects on humans and the environment persist. Many regulatory and scholarly reviews have evaluated the relative toxicity of glyphosate as an herbicide. Wikipedia
• Note #5: Agent Orange is an herbicide and defoliant chemical, one of the tactical use Rainbow Herbicides. It is widely known for its use by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. It is a mixture of equal parts of two herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. In addition to its damaging environmental effects, the chemical has caused major health problems for many individuals who were exposed. Wikipedia
And I harken back to my training in the 60s, which was that
“if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.” Rashid Nuri
January 7, 2018
Justice Initiative International
At the community radio station WRFG-FM in Atlanta, Georgia, I have a radio program entitled “Just Peace”, that I have been producing for more than two decades. In addition, however, my professional career has been in agriculture working with Black farmers across the South. So, I decided quite a few years ago that in addition to the vast array of justice issues I cover on the show, that it was important to provide listeners with information about food. Not only about the politics of food but most importantly “how to grow it”.
This was inspired thanks to Atlanta’s organic urban farmer Rashid Nuri who created the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture. I had realized that if there was anyone in Atlanta, the United States or virtually anywhere in the world who understood the breadth of the history, the politics of food, and about organic production altogether, it was Rashid Nuri.
With a degree from Harvard University in Political Science and a masters degree in Soil Science from the University of Massachusetts, he is certainly well qualified to put it mildly. As an ‘organic’ farmer he said he had to unlearn virtually everything he acquired from the Soil Science degree, and I understand that as well.
In addition to all of this, in the 1990s Rashid worked under Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Espy (the first Black Secretary), as the Director of the Commodity Credit Corporation. Rashid had also lived and worked on agriculture issues in Africa and Asia for a number of years.
As you can see from all this impressive background, Rashid’s breadth of both the knowledge and analysis of the politics and history of food is significant. We are blessed he decided to create his organization here in Atlanta. So, since 2011, I have been interviewing Rashid once a month about agriculture and also opening the phone lines for listeners to ask questions about the topic at hand or organic production techniques, etc.
Rashid had also mentioned to me some time ago that most conflicts in the world have to do with lack of access to food and food prices. So I started researching the issue myself. For example, the 18th century American and French revolutions up to the 21st century Arab Spring were largely around food issues. Then, I have been hearing about the destabilization in Iran in the past few weeks and that access to and the price of food were also critical issues leading to the riots.
Because of the on-going and recent destabilization in many parts of the world, I am sharing both the audio and a partial transcription of the November 2012 interview with Rashid. In the interview, Rashid makes reference to and discusses food issues being critical in virtually every revolution and, importantly, he offers some solutions.The November 2012 interview with Rashid Nuri was by me, Heather Gray, along with questions from co-producer Nadia Ali. The edited transcription below does not include the questions from listeners and Rashid’s answers that are also interesting and can be heard by listening to the entire program recording below.
November 2012 Audio of Interview with Rashid Nuri
Interview: Learning from Rashid Nuri:
Rebellions & Revolutions: Usually It’s about Food
“The fact is that all politics are local.
You think global but you act local.” Rashid Nuri
Transcription of November 2012 WRFG-FM Interview with Rashid Nuri
on Heather Gray’s “Just Peace Program”
Heather Gray – Rashid Nuri is the director of the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture.
We’re having monthly discussions with Rashid about any number of issues. Rashid welcome.
Rashid Nuri – Thank you for welcoming me to WRFG.
Heather – It’s a pleasure. So, Rashid, there is so much to talk about. One of the notices we sent out around the city about the discussion with you is about food prices. But before we go into this or that discussion, tell us a little bit about Truly Living Well for those who haven’t heard about this.
Rashid – We grow food. We teach people how to grow food. We provide agricultural education and we build community and engage in economic development and job creation throughout metro-Atlanta.
Heather – That’s wonderful.
So this is a discussion about healthy foods as well as the challenges we face with industrial agriculture. It’s interesting Rashid, one of the books that you have recommended that I read is Stuffed and Starved. It’s by Raj Patel. He’s actually from India and I know he used to work with Food First.
One of the interesting things in the book is that he said the closer the Mexicans are to the US border, the less healthy they are because they are eating a lot of the American foods. Foods that leads to diabetes and obesity and so forth.
Rashid – Americans are the fattest…I can’t say the most unhealthy…but we’re sure down on the list of being a healthy population because of the various diseases that we have which all comes from the quality of the non-food. No, not even the quality. That’s a bad phrase. From all of the non-food that we eat. So many people base their diet on what they can get at the local gas station. And they’re sick as a result.
So Patel’s observation of those close to the border being unhealthy makes perfect sense to me.
Heather – The notice that I sent out around the city about the program tonight, Rashid, is something that you and I have discussed in the past a bit which is that it’s highly likely that the unrest we are seeing in the Middle East and elsewhere is partly related, if not, in some instances, totally related, to rising food prices.
I think this would surprise people, actually.
Rashid – Well, we’ve talked about that a couple of times on your show. Underlying what they called the Arab Spring was the rise in the cost of food. Here you have millions of educated young people who cannot find jobs. They’re having difficulty surviving without a job on the meager income that they may have and then the price of food goes up. Its makes people angry because they still don’t have jobs and whatever income they had was already meager and now it’s costing more to provide the food.There are a number of factors that went into this – I guess this was last summer in particular – there were extreme droughts in Russia that created a shortage of grains that would have been distributed in the Middle East. The Chinese are buying everything in sight. So the price of commodities went through the sky. American farmers are making money, they don’t need any subsidies right now; the prices of corn and wheat are so high – have been high. That has led to unrest.
I think there is an historical precedent for that – you will find that the higher prices in food undergirds a lot of riots and revolutions and rebellions throughout history – its been around food.
Heather – One of the things we said in the note that went out is that in almost every revolution…the American Revolution….
Rashid – Was about tea.
Heather – Was about tea and other commodities, too, being taxed.
Rashid – Yes, tea was the symbolic (product. And being taxed) which meant the price went up. People had to pay more for tea and the British merchants made more money. And they (Americans) said “no, we’re not going to do this anymore.”
Yeah, it wasn’t just tea. There were other commodities being imported that were being taxed.
Heather – The French Revolution apparently had something to do with sugar and salt.
Rashid – “Let them eat cake!”
Heather -“Let them eat cake!” Marie Antoinette (French monarch) saying “Let them eat cake!”
Rashid – Yeah, they (the peasants) were worried about bread. “Let them eat cake!” And you have to remember which class that she (Antoinette) came from. There are class issues involved.
Basically today it’s who makes the money – it’s the banksters and multi-national corporations.
Back then it was the State, which was the King (royalty), in the French Revolution. And the aristocracy and bourgeoisie in France made great distinctions – they were gaining all their wealth from the peasantry and the peasantry was not eating – and they got mad and said to those in control “Ya’ll have got to go!” It’s very simple. Very simple.
Heather – And it had to do with food.
Rashid – It had to do with food.
Rashid – Same thing. The Chinese were upset – they didn’t have food. They got mad at the emperor saying “we need some food!” And even then you already had a tremendous European incursion to China. They were bringing opium from Afghanistan into China and extracting the silk and the tea and getting people doped up and exploiting the continent and people got mad. Did something about it.
It’s not new. Happens all the time. You go read the history how crack cocaine has taken over the Black community and where that came from and it was subsidized and brought in by the government to keep the people dumbed down.
Then they want to know why folks rise up in rebellion. It’s cause they can’t get food – can’t afford it. It may be there but if you can’t afford to pay for it you’re going to get mad and strike back at someone.
And you look at the connection – how many civil disturbances you’ve had since the 80s. Particularly out in Los Angeles. That’s what the issues were about. People wanting something to eat and being able to support themselves, having jobs, having access to education which costs money.
And who’s making the money?
Heather – Follow the money?
Rashid – That’s my philosophy. You want to understand what’s going on? Just follow the money! See who’s getting paid – whose not! Who’s making the money – whose not! And today it’s the multinationals, banks.
We went through this whole crisis and the Obama administration is in big trouble because he helped bail out the banks. And then the very people who were bailed out are not now beating up Obama and trying to keep him from getting back in there.
The multi-corporations and the banks are the ones who are making the decisions in this world and it’s creating problems.
I think the issues that really need to be confronted are how are we going to wrest control of our destiny and our future from the multinationals and the banksters who are controlling events around the world?
What kinds of changes are necessary in society to bring that about?
Now, we have lots of academics who are studying the subject or intellectuals who are writing about the subject. Raj Patel talks about the problems as he sees them and also many of the solutions.
And I harken back to my training in the 60s, which was that “if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.”
And, the fact is that all politics are local. You think global but you act local.
So for me the best way to address these issues is to grow food right here in the community and feed people.
It all comes back home. What are you going to do?
What I’m trying to do is feed people. Teach people how to grow food for themselves. Help them to attain horticultural literacy, food self-sufficiency, dealing with issues of food sovereignty.
I firmly believe that we can address most of the ills that we find in society and an aspect of it can be resolved through the production of food.
One of the best examples that’s close to us is Cuba. Here you have a country that has been economically boycotted for the last 50 years. The US has cut them off. The US created Cuba (in the 20th century) as a haven for vacationists…gamblers – it was a creation of the US.
So then the US cuts them off and what are they going to do?
So they worked with the Russians for many years and then the Soviet Union fell apart.
So Cuba was in the bad way. Castro had to think about “how am I going to feed my people?”
So they developed one of the foremost urban agricultural programs in the world. They support folks growing food in the cities.
I had a conversation with Dr. Ridgely Muhammad earlier today. He runs the Nation of Islam Farm down in South Georgia.
He thought he and I had a disagreement and I said “no” because you can’t get rid of the rural farms. Here in Metropolitan Atlanta we can grow all the fruits and vegetables that we need to feed everyone. But we’re not going to grow corn, and rice, and wheat, or raise cattle in the cities. We have lots of people with the backyard chickens and I think that’s great. But you’re not going to see a backyard beef cow for those who eat beef – that’s not going to happen.
I don’t think a lot of people have seen what pigs look like these days. They’re not the little oink, oink things. Now they’re huge. You could put a saddle on them suckers and ride them. I don’t eat pork. I don’t eat a lot of those things. But you’re not going to produce those in the city.
But what we can do is grow fruit and vegetables so that we can feed everybody and we need to do that. Castro has done that.
So Cuba, that small island in the middle of Gulf and they’re doing all right. They don’t have to import food, at a minimum. There are some things I’m sure they import. But as a whole they’re not importing. In fact, one of their major exports is tobacco for cigars. They make the best in the world.
Heather – it’s interesting that here we’ve got all over the country and, actually, all over the world these occupy movements. They’re occupying Wall Street and a lot of issues are coming up about where there’s been corporate greed and corruption. So a lot of people are saying and I am also saying that agriculture (corporate agribusiness) needs to be occupied.
Rashid – I don’t agree with that one. The reason I don’t, you go down there and occupy some of these big commercial farms. You’re not going to stop them going that they do. And what we have to do is create the alternative.
So rather than getting mad at them let’s go do what we can do. And talked with these young people in Occupy Atlanta. They came out to the farm on multiple occasions and we had extensive conversations with them. And we said if they really wanted to do something in downtown to make a point, ‘plant a tree.’ Put an apple tree out there. Plant some apple trees.
Nadia Ali – Why did the Occupy Movement folks approach you at Truly Living Well?
Rashid – I can’t answer that question Nadia. But they were seizing land downtown and we’re seizing land and making it productive. We’re doing something with the land that we’ve obtained. We’ve got vacant lots and we’re growing food.
They had the big commons down there and all they could do was fuss at folks. God bless you all who were part of the movement. I understand and appreciate what you were trying to do. I thought there needed to be a little more focus; they needed to have a greater clarity in what it is they wanted to accomplish out of that event and I didn’t see that. Our suggestion was – plant a tree! And if ya’ll want to do something come out here and volunteer work on the farm. Grow some food so you can feed yourselves.
Now if you’re in occupy you’re still running home and to the grocery store. And the same people you’re mad at – the same 1% that you’re occupying against – here you take your money and go and run down to the grocery store and buy food from them. There’s some contradiction there as far as I’m concerned.
Nadia – How did they respond to that?
Rashid – it was interesting. Once we were sitting out there for an hour one day – just me and Eugene – our operations manager. He and I were just sitting there and trying to figure out why we weren’t going home and then here comes these young people up there. It’s amazing how God works and this was what we were supposed to do. Have this conversation with them.
So they came to us and they brought some more people the next day. They came to us with their arguments about why they were doing this and how important it is. And trying to tell us what we didn’t understand.
And I said “Whoa. Time out. Check yourselves. Listen for a second.”
They did listen and understood some of the comments we had and went back and talked with their people and made a few changes and brought some more people back to our site to be able to have a conversation with them.
I am absolutely unequivocally guilty myself, when I was their age, of thinking that I knew everything. You couldn’t tell me nothing. I knew it. As I matter of fact I would put my finger in your face and explain to you why you didn’t understand what you were doing.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized, again, that there’s a futility in that because if you’re doing what you want to do, and you’re doing the best you know how, that’s the best you’re going to be able to do. It’s not on me to change your mind but to show you how to do it different and that’s my orientation.
Heather – Thank you Rashid.
by Heather Gray
December 20, 2017
On December 18, 2017, on WRFG-FM’s “Just Peace” program in Atlanta, I was fortunate to produce the “2017 Annual Celtic Christmas Show” with my niece Jennifer Cochran. The focus this year was on immigration. While Jennifer recites messages and quotes on immigration issues in the program, we are also including many of these quotes below but first here is recording of the show. Enjoy!
QUOTES for the
2017 Celtic Christmas Show
I Come From There
I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.
I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland…..
Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach the stars to change the world.”
“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plaints kindness gathers love.”
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
“Each time a man stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes our against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
“Native American cultures on this continent, most of them, were matrilineal, and some women were the chiefs. Societies were about balance.”
“I think people should look at learning about Native American history the same of visiting Washington DC and seeing the monuments there. It’s all part of the package.”
“Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and of all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.”
“People tend to forget that in our country, we’d pretty much all be immigrants, except for the Native Americans.”
“I always see America as really belonging to Native Americans. Even though I’m American, I still feel like a visitor in my own country.”
“In the end there is no absence of irony; the integrity of what is sacred to Native Americans will be determined by the government that has been responsible for doing everything in its power to destroy Native American culture.”
“You cannot victimize someone else just because you yourself were a victim once – there has to be a limit.”
“If we do not know how to meaningfully talk about racism, our actions will move in misleading directions.”
“Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position, which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship. For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally, I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.”
We are the boat
returning to the dock
we are the footprints
on the northern trail
we are the iron
coloring the soil
Remi Kanazi – Before the Next Bomb Drops
“Peace is not determined by the signage of treaties or the wishes of leaders. Peace is not a discrete event; rather it is a renewable proposition, filled with affirmations designed to mitigate against the collective distrust of two people who little beyond hatred, suspicion, blame and counter blame, intellectual gamesmanship, fear, paranoia historical necessity, retribution, and a host of other deeply engrained emotional projections that are constantly lurking behind the surface.”
R.F. Georgy – Absolution: A Palestinian Israeli Love Story
“Being resettled gave me a chance. It gave me hope again. It gave me an opportunity to find myself and accomplish my dream of getting my degree and getting educated. It gave me a voice that I’m able to use everywhere I go to advocate.”
Ekhlas Ahmed – Teacher, Student, Resettled Refugees
“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.”
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”
“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown is that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all of the darkness.”
October 3, 2017
Violent “white” American males are the problem in America as they have killed far more Americans than any other male group. Yet, just imagine the press and comments from Donald Trump if Las Vegas killer Stephen Paddock had been a black male or a Mexican male or a Middle Eastern male or a Muslim male. Under those circumstances, I can just hear Trump saying, “See, I told you so! We need to control them or get rid of them!” So the question remains, when is the press, and especially Donald Trump and his supporters, going to acknowledge that this was a violent crime by a “white” male and that it is “white” American males who are far more dangerous than any other male group in the United States. Is it not time for white males in America who are concerned about the violence by other white males to begin addressing this issue? I think it is way past time for some action by white males themselves and the white community overall.
Yet, Paddock had all these guns and used an “automatic” weapon to kill 59 people and injure more than 500 now suffering individuals. And Paddock’s use of an “automatic” weapon for this killing spree was the first ever in an American massacre! And no authorities knew he had a sizable compilation of weapons? And/or there was no surveillance of him? That, in itself, is a tragedy.
Should Trump include on his banning list and priorities the deportation of American white domestic terrorist males? Now, there’s a unique idea, except for the fact that nobody would want them! But where would he send them? Whites in British prisons, both convicts and debtors overall, were, for example, sent to the Britain’s American, Australian and other colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries with Georgia being a debtors colony. But I can’t imagine any country in today’s world wanting to increase their violent American white male population. Can you?
The other problem is that the American white males and those in police departments invariably are inappropriately acquitted of the most outrageous and heinous crimes, primarily against people of color, and are not placed in jail as they should be for the safety of all of us. But, nevertheless, most can be identified. This is, in fact, a major issue. Too many white males are acquitted for acts of violence that virtually any other male of color, or those not belonging to a main-stream American religion, would be penalized. In addition to the acts of violence, these inequities in the court system, or the so-called justice system, have to end.
I know that deportation of violent white males is not realistic but we do need to explore ways to better control guns and address the violent tendencies of white males in America. White males need to become accountable. Finally, American whites overall need to end this insane white supremacist mindset and, with compassion, acknowledge the beauty, profound cultures and humanity of all human beings on the face of the earth.
Note: Understanding taxes? Over the years, I have learned from reading the works of cognitive linguist George Lakoff a profound analysis regarding the concept of taxation and the difference in how progressives and conservatives think about it all. In fact, it’s a matter of how we “frame” the debate differently depending on our political orientation. Two of Lakoff’s books that have been so helpful to me are:
Don’t Think of An Elephant!is the antidote to the last forty years of conservative strategizing and the right wing’s stranglehold on political dialogue in the United States.
* The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain
In “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”, Thomas Frank pointed out that a great number of Americans actually vote against their own interests. In “The Political Mind”, George Lakoff explains why. As it turns out, human beings are not the rational creatures we’ve so long imagined ourselves to be. Ideas, morals, and values do not exist somewhere outside the body, ready to be examined and put to use. Instead, they exist quite literally inside the brain and they take physical shape there. ( Good Reads)
Below I am sharing narrative from a chapter in Lakoff’s book, “The Political Mind”. The chapter is entitled “Progressive Thought and the Politics of Empathy”. He also astutely explains the important function of taxation and the impact of its role in government and in our civil society.
But prior to that narrative, I want to share below two of Lakoff’s paragraphs that have been so instructive for me over the years. I find myself repeating the concepts all the time. I need to mention also that as Trump wants to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, Lakoff notes that the wealthiest Americans should instead be paying “more” taxes, not less. Lakoff states this because the wealthiest Americans use our government services and are empowered by these services far more than us so-called “ordinary citizens”. Here’s what Lakoff writes about this:
Nobody makes a dime in this country without being empowered by our government.
There are no self-made men or women. It’s a myth!….
Corporations make use of government empowerment more than ordinary citizens. I drive my car on freeways; corporations send out fleets of trucks. I get a bank loan for my house; corporations get loans to buy other corporations. Corporations thus make compound use of government empowerment, and that is why they-and their investors should be paying more, not less, than ordinary citizens for sustaining the empowering function of government. (Lakoff)
Justice Initiative International
September 28, 2017
Progressive Thought and the Politics of Empathy
From George Lakoff’s The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century
American Politics with an 18th Century Brain (2008) Viking – Pages 47-51
Behind every progressive policy lies a single moral value: empathy, together with the responsibility and strength to act on that empathy. Never forget “responsibility and strength,” because there is no true empathy without them.
During the conservative reign we have seen what Barack Obama has called an empathy deficit-a failure to care, both about others and each other. Caring is not just feeling empathy; it is taking responsibility, acting powerfully and courageously. You have to be strong to care, and to act on that care with success.
The ethics of care shapes government. Care requires that government have two
intertwined roles: protection and empowerment. Protection is more than just the army, police, and fire department. It means social security, disease control and public health, safe food, disaster relief, health care, consumer and worker protection, environmental protection.
Empowerment by the government is everywhere: highways and bridges, so you can go where you want to go and ship products; the Internet and satellite communications, to keep you in contact with the world; public education, to open the world up to you and to provide skilled workers to business; the banking svstem, to allow bank loans, whether you’re buying a house or your company is buying another company; the SEC, to allow the stock market to function; the court system, to enforce contracts and protect patents. Nobody makes a dime in this country without being empowered by our government.
There are no self-made men or women. It’s a myth!
The role of progressive government is to maximize our freedom and protection and
empowerment do just that. Protection is there to guarantee freedom from harm, from want, and from fear. Empowerment is there to maximize freedom to achieve your goals. Progressive government is, or should rightly be through protection and empowerment, the guarantor of liberty. That is what a life-affirming government is about.
Part of the genius of America came in the form of taxes, which used to be paid to the king of England before the Revolution. They were not abolished, but were instead directed toward protection and empowerment of the citizens of this country.
Corporations make use of government empowerment more than ordinary citizens. I drive my car on freeways; corporations send out fleets of trucks. I get a bank loan for my house; corporations get loans to buy other corporations. Corporations thus make compound use of government empowerment, and that is why they-and their investors should be paying more, not less, than ordinary citizens for sustaining the empowering function of government.
Protection and empowerment are part of the moral mission of government. That is why governmental budgets are moral documents. Government is fundamentally different from business. The first responsibility of a business is to make money; the first responsibility of a government is to protect and empower its citizens.
Businesses sell you hamburgers and TVs and rent you cars. The government is supposed to ensure that food and drugs and drinking water are safe; to maintain roads and bridges; to provide education; and to control the money supply to make sure that neither inflation nor unemployment gets too high.
When might the privatization of government functions be appropriate? When there is no moral mission involved, when the life-affirming role of government is not at stake. For example, suppose a government agency has a fleet of cars. It might be more efficient or economical to just rent them from Hertz or Avis. There is no moral mission involved. But when it comes to testing the safety of food or of drugs, a clear moral mission is involved: protecting the public. The danger in privatization is that the profit motive may intervene and undermine the moral mission. We have seen this repeatedly in cases where drug companies fake data on their tests for the sake of profits, which has lead to the death of people taking their drugs.
Empathy leads to recognizing that unfair and discriminatory treatment is a form of harm requiring government protection. This correlates with the idea that we are all equal, and that the denial of equality counts as harm. This is the moral basis of civil rights laws voting rights laws, anti-discrimination laws, and so on. It is also the moral basis of labor law. The right to unionize, for example, recognizes the unfair advantage that employers have over employees in negotiating the conditions of their employment, and OSHA recognizes the need for worker protection.
Empathy is the basis for the concept of a fair and responsible market-a market whose job is to create wealth and distribute resources in such a way as to respect the protective function of government, sustain its empowering function, and treat everyone in the market as fairly as possible. Fairness means that employees should ideally be paid according to their work, their productivity, and their contribution to the society as a whole.
Empathy also forms the moral basis of class action suits, in which companies or
government agencies that harm groups of citizens can be sued both for the harm caused and for “punitive damages” to give the companies an incentive not to harm the citizenry again. These are carried out in the civil justice system, which is like the criminal justice system except that the only punishment is monetary and that the detectives and the prosecuting attorneys are not government employees paid by taxpayers, but are instead civil justice attorneys-trial lawyers paid out of damages assigned by the courts. This means that civil justice attorneys tend to take only cases that they think they can win and where the harm is great enough that the damages will pay them for the time they spend on the case. The civil justice system is the last line of protection for the public against unscrupulous or irresponsible corporations.
Perhaps the most important governmental protection is protection from the power of the government itself. That is why we have a system of checks and balances, with the power of government split between the legislature, executive, and judiciary. It is also why we have frequent elections. The idea is to avoid dictatorial powers via a balance of power and to avoid the exertion of unwarranted power for an unlimited amount of time. This is the moral basis behind the idea of the openness of government so that governmental operations will be transparent and can be criticized when appropriate and prosecuted when necessary.
Empathy is also the moral basis of laws protecting citizens from abuse by the
government. Habeas corpus – which protects citizens from being arrested without a
charge, held without legal counsel or incommunicado, and with no requirement that the state show its evidence – is fundamental to our liberty. Also fundamental to liberty is the right of privacy and the need for the state to obtain a warrant stating reasonable cause before it can wiretap or get access to other private information.
Progressives have a range of attitudes toward the market. Some believe that it is possible for large corporations to function morally, for the public good, and to make that their highest priority, while making enough profit to thrive. Others believe that large corporations will almost always function to make money first and foremost. Their faith in markets rests on either tight governmental regulation or careful market construction for the public good.
But many progressives are keenly aware of, and tend to be suspicious of corporations that lobby to serve their profit, not the public interest, and who will go with profit over the public interest when the chips are down.
Progressives also tend to favor small businesses over large ones, businesses with strong unions, and those where there is a lot of competition.
Progressives are hardly anti-business. But they believe that government has a crucial moral mission to play – protection and empowerment, as we have observed, that in many cases inherently cannot be carried out by private enterprise.
It should be clear that empathy and responsibility are at the heart of progressive thought. But things are not so simple. Not all Progressives are the same.
“Part III: Jorge Lawton and 1973 Chilean Coup”
Note: Below is one of the best accounts I’ve found about the events in Chile leading to the death of President Salvador Allende by one of the world’s greatest writers, no less – Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was written not long after the Chilean coup in 1973 entitled “Why Allende Had to Die”.
But first, here is some information about Marquez.
García Márquez started as a journalist, and wrote many acclaimed non-fiction works and short stories, but is best known for his novels, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). His works have achieved significant critical acclaim and widespread commercial success, most notably for popularizing a literary style labeled as magic realism, which uses magical elements and events in otherwise ordinary and realistic situations. Some of his works are set in a fictional village called Macondo (the town mainly inspired by his birthplace Aracataca), and most of them explore the theme of solitude.
Marquez was a “committed Leftist” throughout his life, adhering to socialist beliefs.On the legacy of murdered Chilean statesman Salvador Allende, Marquez said “Allende’s life proved that democracy and socialism were not only compatible but that the fulfillment of the former depended on the achievement of the latter”.In 1991, Marquez published Changing the History of Africa an admiring study of Cuban activities in the Angolan Civil War and the larger South African Border War. Marquez maintained a close but “nuanced” friendship with Fidel Castro, praising the achievements of the Cuban Revolution, but criticizing aspects of governance and working to “soften (the) roughest edges” of the country.García Márquez’s political and ideological views were shaped by his grandfather’s stories.In an interview, García Márquez told his friend Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, “my grandfather the Colonel was a Liberal. My political ideas probably came from him to begin with because, instead of telling me fairy tales when I was young, he would regale me with horrifying accounts of the last civil war that free-thinkers and anti-clerics waged against the Conservative government.”This influenced his political views and his literary technique so that “in the same way that his writing career initially took shape in conscious opposition to the Colombian literary status quo, García Márquez’s socialist and anti-imperialist views are in principled opposition to the global status quo dominated by the United States.” (Wikipedia)
Castro and Marquez?
Fidel Castro, remembered since his death Nov. 25, 2016 as a revolutionary, dictator, and 20th century icon, was also Gabriel García Márquez’s editor.
Not his main editor, to be sure-el comandante reviewed the Nobel Prize winner’s texts as a friend, said García Márquez during a 1996 interview….
“He’s such a good reader, that before publishing a book I bring him the original manuscripts,” said García Márquez at the time. (Quartz)
Why Allende Had to Die
The Classic piece on the 1973 Chilean coup.
The New Statesman
April 3, 2013
(originally published in March 1974)
Forty years have passed since the Chilean president Salvador Allende died in La Moneda Palace in Santiago, attempting to defend himself with an AK-47 he had been given by Fidel Castro. Here, in a piece from the New Statesman published in March 1974, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez explores Allende’s record in Chile, his rivals’ dealings with the United States and the rise of his successor – the army general Augusto Pinochet.
It was towards the end of 1969 that three generals from the Pentagon dined with five Chilean military officers in a house in the suburbs of Washington. The host was Lieutenant Colonel Gerardo López Angulo, assistant air attaché of the Chilean Military Mission to the United States, and the Chilean guests were his colleagues from the other branches of service. The dinner was in honour of the new director of the Chilean Air Force Academy, General Carlos Toro Mazote, who had arrived the day before on a study mission. The eight officers dined on fruit salad, roast veal and peas and drank the warm-hearted wines of their distant homeland to the south, where birds glittered on the beaches while Washington wallowed in snow, and they talked mostly in English about the only thing that seemed to interest Chileans in those days: the approaching presidential elections of the following September. Over dessert, one of the Pentagon generals asked what the Chilean army would do if the candidate of the left, someone like Salvador Allende, were elected. General Toro Mazote replied: “We’ll take Moneda Palace in half an hour, even if we have to burn it down.”
One of the guests was General Ernesto Baeza, now director of national security in Chile, the one who led the attack on the presidential palace during the coup last September and gave the order to burn it. Two of his subordinates in those earlier days were to become famous in the same operation: General Augusto Pinochet, president of the military junta, and General Javier Palacios. Also at the table was Air Force Brigadier General Sergio Figueroa Gutiérrez, now minister of public works and the intimate friend of another member of the military junta, Air Force General Gustavo Leigh, who ordered the rocket bombing of the presidential palace. The last guest was Admiral Arturo Troncoso, now naval governor of Valparaíso, who carried out the bloody purge of progressive naval officers and was one of those who launched the military uprising of September 11.
That dinner proved to be a historic meeting between the Pentagon and high-ranking officers of the Chilean military services. On other successive meetings, in Washington and Santiago, a contingency plan was agreed upon, according to which those Chilean military men who were bound most closely, heart and soul, to US interests would seize power in the event of Allende’s Popular Unity coalition victory in the elections.
The plan was conceived cold-bloodedly, as a simple military operation, and was not a consequence of pressure brought to bear by International Telephone and Telegraph. It was spawned by much deeper reasons of world politics. On the North American side, the organisation set in motion was the Defence Intelligence Agency of the Pentagon but the one in actual charge was the naval intelligence agency, under the higher political direction of the CIA, and the National Security Council. It was quite the normal thing to put the navy and not the army in charge of the project, for the Chilean coup was to coincide with Operation Unitas, which was the name given to the joint manoeuvres of American and Chilean naval units in the Pacific. Those manoeuvres were held at the end of each September, the same month as the elections, and the appearance on land and in the skies of Chile of all manner of war equipment and men well trained in the arts and sciences of death was natural.
During that period, Henry Kissinger had said in private to a group of Chileans: “I am not interested in, nor do I know anything about, the southern portion of the world from the Pyrenees on down.” By that time, the contingency plan had been completed to its smallest details and it is impossible to suppose that Kissinger or President Nixon himself was not aware of it.
Chile is a narrow country, some 2,660 miles long and an average of 119 wide, and with ten million exuberant inhabitants, almost three million of whom live in the metropolitan area of Santiago, the capital. The country’s greatness is derived not from the number of virtues it possesses but, rather, from its many singularities. The only thing it produces with any absolute seriousness is copper ore but that ore is the best in the world and its volume of production is surpassed only by that of the United States and the Soviet Union. It also produces wine as good as the European varieties but not much of it is exported. Its per capita income of $650 ranks among the highest in Latin America but, traditionally, almost half the gross national product has been accounted for by fewer than 300,000 people.
In 1932, Chile became the first socialist republic in the Americas and, with the enthusiastic support of the workers, the government attempted the nationalisation of copper and coal. The experiment lasted only for 13 days. Chile has an earth tremor on average once every two days and a devastating earthquake every presidential term. The least apocalyptic of geologists think of Chile not as a country of the mainland but as a cornice of the Andes in a misty sea and believe that the whole of its national territory is condemned to disappear in some future cataclysm.
Chileans are very much like their country in a certain way. They are the most pleasant people on the continent, they like being alive and they know how to live in the best way possible and even a little more; but they have a dangerous tendency toward scepticism and intellectual speculation. A Chilean once told me on a Monday, “No Chilean believes tomorrow is Tuesday,” and he didn’t believe it, either. Still, even with that deep-seated incredulity – or thanks to it, perhaps – the Chileans have attained a degree of natural civilisation, a political maturity and a level of culture, that sets them apart from the rest of the region. Of the three Nobel Prizes in Literature that Latin America has won, two have gone to Chileans, one of whom, Pablo Neruda, was the greatest poet of this century.
Kissinger may have known this when he said that he knew nothing about the southern part of the world. In any case, US intelligence agencies knew a great deal more. In 1965, without Chile’s permission, the nation became the staging centre and a recruiting locale for a fantastic social and political espionage operation: Project Camelot. This was to have been a secret investigation that would have precise questionnaires put to people of all social levels, all professions and trades, even in the furthest reaches of a number of Latin American nations, in order to establish in a scientific way the degree of political development and the social tendencies of various social groups. The questionnaire destined for the military contained the same question that the Chilean officers would hear again at the dinner in Washington: what will their position be if communism comes to power? It was a wild query.
Chile had long been a favoured area for research by North American social scientists. The age and strength of its popular movement, the tenacity and intelligence of its leaders and the economic and social conditions themselves afforded a glimpse of the country’s destiny. One didn’t require the findings of a Project Camelot to venture the belief that Chile was a prime candidate to be the second socialist republic in Latin America after Cuba. The aim of the United States, therefore, was not simply to prevent the government of Allende from coming to power in order to protect American investments. The larger aim was to repeat the most fruitful operation that imperialism has ever helped bring off in Latin America: Brazil.
On 4 September 1970, as had been foreseen, the socialist and Freemason physician Allende was elected president of the republic. The contingency plan was not put into effect, however. The most widespread explanation is also the most ludicrous: someone made a mistake in the Pentagon and requested 200 visas for a purported navy chorus, which, in reality, was to be made up of specialists in government overthrow; however, there were several admirals among them who couldn’t sing a single note. That gaffe, it is to be supposed, determined the postponement of the adventure. The truth is that the project had been evaluated in depth: other American agencies, particularly the CIA, and the American ambassador to Chile felt that the contingency plan was too strictly a military operation and did not take current political and social conditions in Chile into account.
Indeed, the Popular Unity victory did not bring on the social panic US intelligence had expected. On the contrary, the new government’s independence in international affairs and its decisiveness in economic matters immediately created an atmosphere of social celebration.
During the first year, 47 industrial firms were nationalised, along with most of the banking system. Agrarian reform saw the expropriation and incorporation into communal property of six million acres of land formerly held by the large landowners. The inflationary process was slowed, full employment was attained and wages received a cash rise of 30 per cent.
All copper nationalised
The previous government, headed by the Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei, had begun steps towards nationalising copper, though he called it “Chileanisation”. All the plan did was to buy up 51 per cent of US-held mining properties and for the mine of El Teniente alone it paid a sum greater than the total book value of that facility.
Popular Unity, with a single legal act supported in Congress by all of the nation’s popular parties, recovered for the nation all copper deposits worked by the subsidiaries of the American companies Anaconda and Kennecott. Without indemnification: the government having calculated that the two companies had made a profit in excess of $800m over 15 years.
The petite bourgeoisie and the middle class, the two great social forces that might have supported a military coup at that moment, were beginning to enjoy unforeseen advantages and not at the expense of the proletariat, as had always been the case, but, rather, at the expense of the financial oligarchy and foreign capital. The armed forces, as a social group, have the same origins and ambitions as the middle class, so they had no motive, not even an alibi, to back the tiny group of coup-minded officers. Aware of that reality, the Christian Democrats not only did not support the barracks plot at that time but resolutely opposed it, for they knew it was unpopular among their own rank and file.
Their objective was something else again: to use any means possible to impair the good health of the government so as to win two-thirds of the seats in Congress in the March 1973 elections. With such a majority, they could vote for the constitutional removal of the president of the republic.
The Christian Democrats make up a huge organisation cutting across class lines, with an authentic popular base among the mod-ern industrial proletariat, the small and middle-sized rural landowners and the petite bourgeoisie and middle class of the cities. Popular Unity, while also inter-class in its make-up, was the expression of workers of the less-favoured proletariat – the agricultural proletariat – and the lower middle class of the cities.
The Christian Democrats, allied with the extreme right-wing National Party, controlled the Congress and the courts; Popular Unity controlled the executive. The polarisation of these two parties was to be, in effect, the polarisation of the country. Curiously, the Catholic Frei, who doesn’t believe in Marxism, was the one who took the best advantage of the class struggle, the one who stimulated it and brought it to a head, with an aim to unhinge the government and plunge the country into the abyss of demoralisation and economic disaster.
The economic blockade by the United States, because of expropriation without indemnification, did the rest. All kinds of goods are manufactured in Chile, from automobiles to toothpaste, but this industrial base has a false identity: in the 160 most important firms, 60 per cent of the capital was foreign and 80 per cent of the basic materials came from abroad. In addition, the country needed $300m a year in order to import consumer goods and another $450m to pay the interest on its foreign debt.
But Chile’s urgent needs were extraordinary and went much deeper. The jolly ladies of the bourgeoisie, under the pretext of protesting rationing, galloping inflation and the demands made by the poor, took to the streets, beating their empty pots and pans. It wasn’t by chance, quite the contrary; it was very significant that that street spectacle of silver foxes and flowered hats took place on the same afternoon that Fidel Castro was ending a 30-day visit that had brought an earthquake of social mobilisation of government supporters.
Seed of destruction
President Allende understood then – and he said so – that the people held the government but they did not hold the power. The phrase was more bitter than it seemed and also more alarming, for inside himself Allende carried a legalist germ that held the seed of his own destruction: a man who fought to the death in defence of legality, he would have been capable of walking out of La Moneda Palace with his head held high if the Congress had removed him from office within the bounds of the constitution.
The Italian journalist and politician Rossana Rossanda, who visited Allende during that period, found him aged, tense and full of gloomy premonitions as he talked to her from the yellow cretonne couch where, seven months later, his riddled body was to lie, the face crushed in by a rifle butt. Then, on the eve of the March 1973 elections, in which his destiny was at stake, he would have been content with 36 per cent of the vote for Popular Unity. And yet, in spite of runaway inflation, stern rationing and the pot-and-pan concert of the merry wives of the upper-class districts, he received 44 per cent. It was such a spectacular and decisive victory that when Allende was alone in his office with his friend and confidant, the journalist Augusto Olivares, he closed the door and danced a cueca all by himself.
For the Christian Democrats, it was proof that the process of social justice set in motion by the Popular Unity coalition could not be turned back by legal means but they lacked the vision to measure the consequences of the actions they then undertook. For the United States, the election was a much more serious warning and went beyond the simple interests of expropriated firms. It was an inadmissible precedent for peaceful progress and social change for the peoples of the world, particularly those in France and Italy, where present conditions make an attempt at an experiment along the lines of Chile possible. All forces of internal and external reaction came together to form a compact bloc.
CIA financed final blow
The truck owners’ strike was the final blow. Because of the wild geography of the country, the Chilean economy is at the mercy of its transport. To paralyse trucking is to paralyse the country. It was easy for the opposition to co-ordinate the strike, for the truckers’ guild was one of the groups most affected by the scarcity of replacement parts and, in addition, it found itself threatened by the government’s small pilot programme for providing adequate state trucking services in the extreme south of the nation. The stoppage lasted until the very end without a single moment of relief because it was financed with cash from outside. “The CIA flooded the country with dollars to support the strike by the bosses and . . . foreign capital found its way down into the formation of a black market,” Pablo Neruda wrote to a friend in Europe. One week before the coup, oil, milk and bread had run out.
During the last days of Popular Unity, with the economy unhinged and the country on the verge of civil war, the manoeuvring of the government and the opposition centred on the hope of changing the balance of power in the armed forces in favour of one or the other. The final move was hallucinatory in its perfection: 48 hours before the coup, the opposition managed to disqualify all high-ranking officers supporting Allende and to promote in their places, one by one, in a series of inconceivable gambits, all of the officers who had been present at the dinner in Washington.
At that moment, however, the political chess game had got out of the control of its players. Dragged along by an irreversible dialectic, they themselves ended up as pawns in a much larger game of chess, one much more complex and politically more important than any mere scheme hatched in conjunction by imperialism and the reaction against the government of the people. It was a terrifying class confrontation that was slipping out of the hands of the very people who had provoked it, a cruel and fierce scramble by counterpoised interests, and the final outcome had to be a social cataclysm without precedent in the history of the Americas.
A military coup under those conditions would not be bloodless. Allende knew it. The Chilean armed forces, contrary to what we have been led to believe, have intervened in politics every time that their class interests have seemed threatened and they have done so with an inordinately repressive ferocity. The two constitutions that the country has had in the past 100 years were imposed by force of arms and the recent military coup has been the sixth uprising in a period of 50 years.
The bloodlust of the Chilean army is part of its birthright, coming from that terrible school of hand-to-hand combat against the Araucanian Indians, a struggle that lasted 300 years. One of its forerunners boasted in 1620 of having killed more than 2,000 people with his own hands in a single action. Joaquín Edwards Bello relates in his chronicles that during an epidemic of exanthematic typhus the army dragged sick people out of their houses and killed them in a poison bath in order to put an end to the plague. During a seven-month civil war in 1891, 10,000 died in a series of gory encounters. The Peruvians assert that during the occupation of Lima in the war of the Pacific, Chilean soldiers sacked the library of Don Ricardo Palma, taking the books not for reading but for wiping their backsides.
History of brutality
Popular movements have been suppressed with the same brutality. After the Valparaíso earthquake of 1906, naval forces wiped out the longshoremen’s organisation of 8,000 workers. In Iquique, at the beginning of the century, demonstrating strikers tried to take refuge from the troops and were machine-gunned: within ten minutes, there were 2,000 dead. On 2 April 1957, the army broke up a civil disturbance in the commercial area of Santiago and the number of victims was never established because the government sneaked the bodies away. During a strike at the El Salvador mine during the government of Eduardo Frei, a military patrol opened fire on a demonstration to break it up and killed six people, among them some children and a pregnant woman. The post commander was an obscure 52-year-old general, the father of five children, a geography teacher and the author of several books on military subjects: Augusto Pinochet.
The myth of the legalism and the gentleness of that brutal army was invented by the Chilean bourgeoisie in their own interest. Popular Unity kept it alive with the hope of changing the class make-up of the higher cadres in its favour. But Allende felt more secure among the Carabineros, an armed force that was popular and peasant in its origins and that was under the direct command of the president of the republic. Indeed, the junta had to go six places down the seniority list of the force before it found a senior officer who would support the coup. The younger officers dug themselves in at the junior officers’ school in Santiago and held out for four days until they were wiped out.
That was the best-known battle of the secret war that broke out inside military posts on the eve of the coup. Officers who refused to support the coup and those who failed to carry out the orders for repression were murdered without pity by the instigators. Entire regiments mutinied, both in Santiago and in the provinces, and they were suppressed without mercy, with their leaders massacred as a lesson for the troops.
The commandant of the armoured units in Viña del Mar, Colonel Cantuarias, was machine-gunned by his subordinates. A long time will pass before the number of victims of that internal butchery will ever be known, for the bodies were removed from military posts in garbage trucks and buried secretly. All in all, only some 50 senior officers could be trusted to head troops that had been purged beforehand.
Foreign agents’ role
The story of the intrigue has to be pasted together from many sources, some reliable, some not. Any number of foreign agents seem to have taken part in the coup. Clandestine sources in Chile tell us that the bombing of La Moneda Palace – the technical precision of which startled the experts – was actually carried out by a team of American aerial acrobats who had entered the country under the screen of Operation Unitas to perform in a flying circus on the coming 18 September, Chile’s national independence day. There is also evidence that numerous members of secret police forces from neighbouring countries were infiltrated across the Bolivian border and remained in hiding until the day of the coup, when they unleashed their bloody persecution of political refugees from other countries of Latin America.
Brazil, the homeland of the head gorillas, had taken charge of those services. Two years earlier, she had brought off the reactionary coup in Bolivia, which meant the loss of substantial support for Chile and facilitated the infiltration of all manner and means of subversion. Part of the loans made to Brazil by the United States was secretly transferred to Bolivia to finance subversion in Chile. In 1972, a US military advisory group made a trip to La Paz, the aim of which has not been revealed. Perhaps it was only coincidental, however, that a short time after that visit, movements of troops and equipment took place on the frontier with Chile, giving the Chilean military yet another opportunity to bolster their internal position and carry out transfer of personnel and promotions in the chain of command that were favourable to the imminent coup.
Finally, on September 11, while Operation Unitas was going forward, the original plan drawn up at the dinner in Washington was carried out, three years behind schedule but precisely as it had been conceived: not as a conventional barracks coup but as a devastating operation of war.
It had to be that way, for it was not simply a matter of overthrowing a regime but one of implanting the Hell-dark seeds brought from Brazil, until in Chile there would be no trace of the political and social structure that had made Popular Unity possible. The harshest phase, unfortunately, had only just begun.
In that final battle, with the country at the mercy of uncontrolled and unforeseen forces of subversion, Allende was still bound by legality. The most dramatic contradiction of his life was being at the same time the congenital foe of violence and a passionate revolutionary. He believed that he had resolved the contradiction with the hypothesis that conditions in Chile would permit a peaceful evolution toward socialism under bourgeois legality.
Experience taught him too late that a system cannot be changed by a government without power.
That belated disillusionment must have been the force that impelled him to resist to the death, defending the flaming ruins of a house that was not his own, a sombre mansion that an Italian architect had built to be a mint and that ended up as a refuge for presidents without power. He resisted for six hours with a sub-machine gun that Castro had given him and was the first weapon that Allende had ever fired.
Around four o’clock in the afternoon, Major General Javier Palacios managed to reach the second floor with his adjutant, Captain Gallardo, and a group of officers. There, in the midst of the fake Louis XV chairs, the Chinese dragon vases and the Rugendas paintings in the red parlour, Allende was waiting for them. He was in shirtsleeves, wearing a miner’s helmet and no tie, his clothing stained with blood. He was holding the sub-machine gun but he had run low on ammunition.
Allende knew General Palacios well. A few days before, he had told Augusto Olivares that this was a dangerous man with close connections to the American embassy. As soon as he saw him appear on the stairs, Allende shouted at him: “Traitor!” and shot him in the hand.
Fought to the end
According to the story of a witness who asked me not to give his name, the president died in an exchange of shots with that gang. Then all the other officers, in a caste-bound ritual, fired on the body. Finally, a non-commissioned officer smashed in his face with the butt of his rifle.
A photograph exists: Juan Enrique Lira, a photographer for the newspaper El Mercuriotook it. He was the only one allowed to photograph the body. It was so disfigured that when they showed the body in its coffin to Señora Hortensia Allende, his wife, they would not let her uncover the face.
He would have been 64 years old next July. His greatest virtue was following through but fate could grant him only that rare and tragic greatness of dying in armed defence of an anachronistic booby of bourgeois law, defending a Supreme Court of Justice that had repudiated him but would legitimise his murderers, defending a miserable Congress that had declared him illegitimate but which was to bend complacently before the will of the usurpers, defending the freedom of opposition parties that had sold their souls to fascism, defending the whole moth-eaten paraphernalia of a shitty system that he had proposed abolishing but without a shot being fired.
The drama took place in Chile, to the greater woe of the Chileans, but it will pass into history as something that has happened to us all, children of this age, and it will remain in our lives for ever.
by Heather Gray
Justice Initiative International
September 19, 2017
Prior to his assassination, Salvador Allende was attempting to provide opportunities for the masses of the Chilean people by undertaking initiatives to end the unfettered capitalist exploitation of the Chilean people and their country’s resources by exploitive corporations in Chile. Remember that the 1970s was also when the U.S. was engaged in the tragic war in Vietnam. The Cold War invariably raised its ugly and tragic violence to, once again, protect corporate interests.
In Part VI of this series in Chile, I am sharing the impressive first speech Allende gave to the Chilean parliament after his election. The entire list of his comments are listed below but, given its length, I chose to include the narrative below of the following sections: Allende’s Introduction; Overcoming Capitalism in Chile; Our road to Socialism; Socialisation of the means of production; Our present economic policy; The leading role of the workers.
It is interesting, relative to the struggles in the United States, that Allende ends his speech by stating, “We shall overcome!” Indeed.
…it was to be Allende’s fate to echo the fate of Martin Luther King; it was his choice to die three years later (after his 1970 speech below). Yes, on September 11, 1973, almost ten years to the day after King’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington, Allende chose to die defending his own dream, promising us, in his last speech, that sooner rather than later — matemprano que tarde — a day would come when the free men and women of Chile would walk through las amplias alamedas, the great avenues full of trees, towards a better society. (Duke.edu)
First speech to the Chilean parliament after his election
Appearing before you in fulfillment of the constitutional mandate, I attribute twofold importance to this message. It is the first message of a Government which has just taken office, and it corresponds to unique demands in our political history.
For this reason I wish to give it special substance, because of its present significance and because of its implications for the future.
For 27 years, I have attended this House, nearly always as a member of the parliamentary opposition. Today I attend as Chief of State, elected by the will of the people as ratified by Congress.
I am well aware that here were debated and established the laws which set up an agrarian structure based on big estates; but here too, obsolete institutions were abolished in order to lay the legal foundations of the land reform which we are now carrying out. Here were established the institutional procedures for the foreign exploitation of Chilean national resources; but this same Congress is now revising these in order to return to the Chilean people what belongs to them by right.
Congress makes the legal institutions which regulate the social order in which they are rooted; for this reason, for more than a century, it has been more responsive to the interests of the powerful than to the suffering of the people.
At the very commencement of this legislative period, I must raise this problem. Chile now has in its Government a new political force whose social function is to uphold, not the traditional ruling class, but the vast majority of the people. This change in the power structure must necessarily be accompanied by profound changes in the socio-economic order, changes which Parliament is summoned to institutionalise.
This step forward in the liberation of Chilean energies for the rebuilding of the nation must be followed by more decisive steps. The land reform which is now in progress, the nationalisation of copper which is only awaiting the approval of Plenary Congress, must be followed by new reforms – whether these are initiated by Parliament or by Government proposal, or by the combined efforts of both powers, or by plebiscite, which is a legal appeal to the foundation of all power, the sovereignty of the people.
We have accepted the challenge to re-examine everything. We urgently wish to ask of every law, every existing institution and even of every person whether or not they are furthering our integral and autonomous development. I am sure that on few occasions in history has the Parliament of any nation been presented with so great a challenge.
Overcoming Capitalism in Chile
The circumstances of Russia in 1917 and of Chile at the present time are very different. Nevertheless, the historic challenge is similar.
In 1917, Russia took decisions which have had the most far-reaching effects on contemporary history. There it was believed that backward Europe could face up to advanced Europe, that the first socialist revolution need not necessarily take place in the heart of industrial power. There the challenge was accepted and the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is one of the methods of building a socialist society, was established.
Today nobody doubts that by this method nations with a large population can, in a relatively short period, break out of their backwardness and attain the most advanced level of contemporary civilisation. The examples of the Soviet Union and of the Chinese People’s Republic speak for themselves.
Like Russia then, Chile now faces the need to initiate new methods of constructing a socialist society. Our revolutionary method, the pluralist method, was anticipated by the classic Marxist theorists but never before put into practice. Social thinkers believed that the first to do so would be the more developed nations, probably Italy or France with their powerful Marxist-oriented working-class parties.
Nevertheless, once again, history has permitted a break with the past and the construction of a new model of society, not only where it was theoretically most predictable but where the most favourable concrete conditions had been created for its achievement. Today Chile is the first nation on earth to put into practice the second model of transition to a socialist society.
This challenge is awakening great interest beyond our national frontiers. Everybody knows or guesses that here and now history is beginning to take a new direction, even as we Chileans are conscious of the undertaking. Some among us, perhaps the minority, see the enormous difficulties of the task. Others, the majority, are trying to envisage the possibility of facing it successfully. For my part, I am sure that we shall have the necessary energy and ability to carry on our effort and create the first socialist society built according to a democratic, pluralistic and libertarian model.
The sceptics and the prophets of doom will say that it is not possible. They will say that a parliament that has served the ruling classes so well cannot be transformed into the Parliament of the Chilean People.
Further, they have emphatically stated that the Armed Forces and the Corps of Carabineros, who have up to the present supported the institutional order that we wish to overcome, would not consent to guarantee the will of the people if these should decide on the establishment of socialism in our country. They forget the patriotic conscience of the Armed Forces and the Carabineros, their tradition of professionalism and their obedience to civil authority. In the words of General Schneider, the Armed Forces are “an integral and representative part of the nation as well as of the State structure, that is, they belong both to the permanent and the temporary spheres, and are therefore able to organise and counter-balance the periodic changes which affect political life within a legal regime”. Since the National Congress is based on the people’s vote, there is nothing in its nature which prevents it from changing itself in order to become, in fact, the Parliament of the People. The Chilean Armed Forces and the Carabineros, faithful to their duty and to their tradition of non-intervention in the political process, will support a social organisation which corresponds to the will of the people as expressed in the terms of the established Constitution. It will be a more just, a more humane and generous organisation for everybody, but above all for the workers, who have contributed so much up to the present and have received almost nothing in return.
The difficulties we face are not in this field. They reside in the extraordinary complexity of the tasks before us – to create the political institutions which will lead to Socialism, and to achieve this starting from our present condition of a society oppressed by backwardness and poverty which are the result of dependence and under- development – to break with the factors which cause backwardness and, at the same time, to build a new socio-economic structure capable of providing for collective prosperity.
The causes of backwardness resided and still reside in the traditional ruling classes with their combination of dependence on external forces and internal class exploitation. They have profited from their association with foreign interests, and from their appropriation of the surplus produced by the workers, to whom they have only awarded the minimum indispensable for the renewal of their labouring capacities.
Our first task is to dismantle this restrictive structure, which only produces a deformed growth. At the same time, we must build up a new economy so that it succeeds the previous one without continuing it, at the same time conserving to the maximum the productive and technical capacity that we have achieved despite the vicissitudes of our under- development – and we must build it up without crises artificially provoked by those whose ancient privileges we shall abolish.
In addition to these basic questions, there is another which is an essential challenge of our time – how can people in general – and young people in particular – develop a sense of mission which will inspire them with a new joy in living and give dignity to their existence?
There is no other way than that of devoting ourselves to the realisation of great impersonal tasks, such as that of attaining a new stage in the human condition, until now degraded by its division into the privileged and the dispossessed. Today nobody can imagine solutions for the distant future when all nations will have attained abundance and realised the satisfaction of material needs and at the same time have assumed the cultural heritage of humanity. But here and now in Chile and in Latin America, we have the possibility and the duty of releasing creative energies, particularly those of youth, in missions which inspire us more than any in the past. Such is the aspiration to build a world which does away with divisions into rich and poor – and for our part, to build a society in which the war of economic competition is outlawed – in which the struggle for professional privileges has no meaning – in which there is no longer that indifference to the fate of others which permits the powerful to exploit the weak.
There have been few occasions in which men have needed so much faith in themselves and in their capacity to rebuild the world and regenerate their lives.
This is an unprecedented time, which offers us the material means of realising the most generous utopian dreams of the past. The only thing that prevents our achieving this is the heritage of greed, of fear and of obsolete institutional traditions. Between our time and that of the liberation of man on a planetary scale, this inheritance has to be overcome. Only in this way will it be possible to call upon men to reconstruct their lives, not as products of a past of slavery and exploitation, but in the most conscious realisation of their noblest potentialities. This is the socialist ideal.
An ingenious observer from some developed country which has these material resources might suppose that this observation is a new manner that backward people have found of asking for aid – yet another plea of the poor for the charity of the rich. Such is not the case, but its opposite. With the internal authority of all societies brought under the hegemony of the dispossessed, with the change in international trade relations stimulated by the exploited nations, there will come about not only the abolition of poverty and backwardness but also the liberation of the great powers from their despot’s fate. Thus, in the same way as the emancipation of the slave liberates the slaveowner, so the achievement of Socialism envisaged by the peoples of our time is as meaningful for the disinherited peoples as for the more privileged, since both will then cast away the chains which degrade their society.
I stand here, members of the National Congress, to urge you to take up the task of reconstructing the Chilean nation according to our dreams, a Chile in which all children begin life equally, with equal medical care, education, and nutrition. A Chile in which the creative ability of each man and woman is allowed to develop, not in competition with others, but in order to contribute to a better life for all.
Our road to Socialism
To achieve these aspirations means a long road and a great effort on the part of all Chileans. It also implies, as a basic prerequisite, that we are able to establish the institutional apparatus of a new form of pluralistic, free socialist order. The task is one of extraordinary complexity because there are no precedents for us to follow. We are treading a new path. We are advancing without guides across unknown territory, but our compass is our faith in the humanism of all ages and particularly in Marxist humanism. Our aim is the establishment of the society that we want, the society which answers the deep-rooted desires of the Chilean people.
For a long time, science and technology have made it possible to assure that everybody enjoys those basic necessities which today are enjoyed only by a minority. The difficulties are not technical, and – in our case at least – they are not due to a lack of national resources. What prevents the realisation of our ideals is the organisation of society, the nature of the interests which have so far dominated, the obstacles which dependent nations face. We must concentrate our attention on these structures and on these institutional requirements.
Speaking frankly, our task is to define and put into practice, as the Chilean road to socialism, a new model of the State, of the economy and of society which revolves around man’s needs and aspirations. For this we need the determination of those who have dared to reconsider the world in terms of a project designed for the service of man. There are no previous experiments that we can use as models – we shall have to develop the theory and practice of new forms of social, political and economic organisation, both in order to break with under-development and create socialism.
We can achieve this only on condition that we do not overshoot or depart from our objective. If we should forget that our mission is to establish a social plan for man, the whole struggle of our people for socialism will become simply one more reformist experiment. If we should forget the concrete conditions from which we start in order to try and create immediately something which surpasses our possibilities, then we shall also fail.
We are moving towards socialism, not from an academic love for a doctrinaire system, but encouraged by the strength of our people, who know that it is an inescapable demand if we are to overcome backwardness and who feel that a socialist regime is the only way available to modern nations who want to build rationally in freedom, independence and dignity. We are moving towards socialism because the people, through their vote, have freely rejected capitalism as a system which has resulted in a crudely unequal society, a society deformed by social injustice and degraded by the deterioration of the very foundations of human solidarity.
In the name of the socialist reconstruction of Chilean society, we have won the presidential elections, a victory that was confirmed by the election of municipal councillors. This is the flag behind which we are mobilising the people politically both as the object of our plans and as the justification for our actions. Our Government plans are those of the Popular Unity platform on which we fought the election. In putting them into effect, we shall not sacrifice attention to the present needs of the Chilean people in favour of gigantic schemes. Our objective in none other than the progressive establishment of a new structure of power, founded on the will of the majority and designed to satisfy in the shortest possible time the most urgent needs of the present generation.
Sensitivity to the claims of the people is in fact the only way we have of contributing to the solution of the great human problems – for no universal value is worth the name if it cannot be applied on the national or regional scale and even to the local living conditions of each family.
Our policy might seem too simple for those who prefer big promises. But the people need decent housing for their families, with proper sanitation – they need schools for their children which are not expressly intended for the poor – they need enough to eat every day of the year – they need work – they need care during sickness and in old age – they need to be respected as people. That is what we hope to offer all Chileans in the foreseeable future. This is what has been denied the people in Latin America throughout the centuries. This is what some nations are now beginning to guarantee their entire population.
But beyond this task, and as a fundamental prerequisite for its achievement, there is another equally important one. It is to engage the will of the Chilean people to dedicate our hands, our minds and our feelings to the reassertion of our identity as a people, in order to become an integral part of contemporary civilisation as masters of our fate and heirs to the patrimony of technical skills, knowledge, art and culture. Turning the nation’s attention to these fundamental aspirations is the only way to satisfy the people’s needs and to wipe out the differences between them and the privileged classes. Above all, it is the only way to provide the young with a mission by opening up broad perspectives of a fruitful existence as builders of the society in which they will live.
The mandate entrusted to us embraces all the nation’s material and spiritual resources. We have reached a point at which retreat or a standstill would mean an irreparable national catastrophe. It is my obligation at this time, as the one primarily responsible for the fate of Chile, to indicate clearly the road which we are taking and the dangers and hopes which it offers.
The Popular Government knows that the transcendence of a historical period is determined by social and economic factors which have already been shaped by this same period. These factors embrace the agents and modes of historical change. To ignore this would be to go against the nature of things.In the revolutionary process which we are living through, there are five essential points upon which we shall concentrate our social and political campaign – the principle of legality, the development of institutions, political freedom, the prevention of violence, and the socialisation of the means of production. These are questions which affect the present and future of every citizen.
Socialisation of the means of production
In 6 months of Government, we have acted with decision on all fronts. Our economic work has been aimed at breaking down the barriers which impede the complete fulfilment of our material and human potentialities. In 6 months of Government, we have advanced energetically along the path of irrevocable change. The printed statement which we have just distributed gives a full and detailed account of our activities.
Chile has begun the definitive recovery of our most fundamental source of wealth – copper. The nationalisation of our copper is not an act of vengeance or hatred directed towards any group, government or nation. We are, on the contrary, positively exercising an inalienable right on behalf of a sovereign people – that of the full enjoyment of our national resources exploited by our national labour and effort. The recovery of copper is a decision by the whole of Chile, and we demand that all countries and governments respect the unanimous decision of a free people. We shall pay for the copper if it is right to pay, and we shall not pay if it is unjust. We shall watch over our interests. But we shall be implacable if we find out that negligence or fraudulent activity on the part of any persons or entities has harmed the country.
We have nationalised another of our basic resources – iron. A short time ago, negotiations with the Bethlehem corporation were concluded, and as a result, iron mining passed over completely to public ownership. We are now studying the constitution of the national steel complex which will group 6 companies together around the CAP (Pacific Steel Industry). The agreement with North American industry has once again shown that the Government is offering a fair settlement to foreign capital without sacrificing the fundamental interests of our nation. But we are not prepared to tolerate the contempt for our laws and the lack of respect for established authority that we find in some foreign firms. We have also taken over coal as collective property (via the Development Corporation).
The nitrate resources are also ours. According to a settlement by the previous government, we owed $24m in debentures payable in 15 years, which with interest amounts to $38m. The shares belonging to the North American sector were theoretically worth $25m. All this has now been redeemed for $8m payable in 2 years.
We have incorporated various firms – among them Purina, Lanera Austral, and the Bellavista Tome, Fiap, and the Fabrilana textile plants – into the area of public ownership – we have requisitioned the cement industry and the Yarur (textile) industry when supplies were threatened. In order to prevent bankruptcy, we have acquired an important share of the assets of the Zig Zag Publishing House, which forms a big part of our graphics and publishing industry, so that it can satisfy the social needs of the new Chile.
In all the firms that have been taken into public ownership, the nation can bear witness to the determined support of the workers, the immediate increase in productivity, and the active participation of workers, white- collar personnel and technicians in management and administration.
We have speeded up land reform and have already achieved a major part of this year’s plan – the expropriation of one thousand big estates. The reform is going forward in accordance with existing legislation, and is protecting the interests of the small and medium-sized farmers. We want to build up a new and more vigorous agriculture, more solid in organisation and more productive. We want the men who work the land to benefit fairly from the fruits of their labour. The state ownership of banks has been a decisive step. With absolute respect for the rights of the small shareholder, we have established state control over 9 banks and are on the point of obtaining majority control in the others. On the basis of previous experience, we are hoping for a reasonable settlement with foreign banks. We are thus trying to gain control of the financial apparatus and to widen the social area in the sectors which produce material goods. We want to place the new banking system at the service of the socialised area and of the small and medium-sized industrialists, merchants and farmers, who until now have been discriminated against.
Our present economic policy
These have been our first acts towards the initiation of the essential and definitive change in our economy. But we have done not only this. We have also planned a short-term policy whose central objective has been to increase the availability of material goods and services for consumption, and we have directed that increase towards the less favoured sectors.
We are carrying on a fierce struggle against inflation, and this is the key to our policy of redistribution. The fight against inflation has acquired a new political connotation – it will be a dynamic element in the popular struggle. To halt the rise in prices means that the people will maintain the increased spending power that has been given them, and this will be definitively consolidated with the deeper entrenchment of socialist organisation. At the same time, independent businessmen can earn fair profits, the higher volume of production compensating for the smaller profits on each item.
In practice this policy has borne appreciable fruits in terms of redistribution. Nevertheless, we know that this planned reactivation faces obstacles. On the one hand, some groups of businesses are attempting to hinder the success of our measures by means of an open or a covert slowdown in production. On the other hand, some sectors which are imprisoned in a traditional model of low production and high profit lack audacity and are unable to understand the present juncture or to play a greater part in the productive process. To do so is, nevertheless, their social duty. To those who do not fulfil this duty, whether deliberately or not, we shall apply all the legal resources within our power to go on urging them and, if necessary, to make them produce more.
We are also carrying out a social policy to improve the diet of our children – to provide speedier medical care – to increase substantially the capacity of the educational system – to initiate the necessary housing construction programme – and to plan greater absorption of the unemployed as an urgent national need. We are doing this without disorder and with justice, endeavouring always to keep the social cost as low as possible. Today the citizen of our nation has greater buying power, consumes more and feels that the fruit of the common effort is better distributed. At the same time, he has the right to feel that he owns the mines, the banks, industry and the land, that he owns the future.
We are neither measuring ourselves against nor comparing ourselves with previous governments. We are fundamentally different. But if that comparison were to be made, using even the most traditional indicators, we would come out favourably. We have achieved the lowest rate of inflation in recent years – we have begun the most effective redistribution of revenues that Chile has ever seen. We shall build more houses this year than have ever been built before in a similar period. Despite the gloomy predictions, we have maintained the normal flow in supplies of essential goods.
The leading role of the workers
Everything we have discussed in the political, economic, cultural, and international fields represents the task of a whole nation, not that of one man or one government.
Between the months of November and February, the number of workers who have been obliged to go on strike has decreased from 170000 to 76000. The Popular Government’s identification with the workers who share its successes and setbacks has made disputes unnecessary which were formerly inevitable. This year there have been no strikes in the coal, nitrate, copper, iron and textiles industries, the health services, education or railroads. In other words, there have been no strikes in those sectors which are vital to the nation’s progress.
I should like to emphasise that for the first time in Chile, voluntary work has been introduced on a permanent basis in some state enterprises. And also, that for the first time it is being carried on in all areas of national life and on a massive scale from Arica to the Straits of Magellan. Soldiers, priests, students, workers, members of the professions and shopkeepers, old and young, are participating freely, spontaneously and in their own time in the common tasks. It is a much more creative development than working for profit. And it is an eloquent reply to those who, inside and outside Chile, would like to believe things that have never happened and never will. In this country there is and there will be a government which knows what methods to apply and when to apply them. As President, I assume responsibility for this.
The great achievements that lie before us will depend on the responsible and determined identification of the worker with his own real interests, which are more far-reaching than the small or big problems of this day, this month or this year. In the solidarity of the workers and their political representative, the Popular Government, we have an invincible instrument.
Those who live by their work have in their hands today the political direction of the State. It is a supreme responsibility. The building of the new social regime is based on the people, who are its protagonist and its judge. It is up to the State to guide, organise, and direct, but never to replace the will of the workers. In the economic as well as in the political field, the workers must retain the right to decide. To attain this means the triumph of the Revolution.
The people are fighting for this goal. They are fighting with the legitimacy that comes from respecting democratic values – with the assurance given by our programme – with the strength of being the majority – with the passion of the revolutionary.
We shall overcome.
Note: On August 26, 2017, I sent out the inspiring article “How About Erecting Monuments to the Heroes of Reconstruction?” by Richard Valelly who is professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College. I was impressed with the responses I received to the article and am sharing them below. Below is also the excellent article posted today in the New York Times by Carl Elliott. Along the line of honoring genuine shining examples, Elliott specifies one of our profound American heroes who should be honored with a statue and it is South Carolina minister Joseph De Laine.
Here are the responses I received from the article “How About Erecting Monuments to the Heroes of Reconstruction?” While I have thanked each of these writers/responders, I am not including their names here as I have not asked for permission to do so. And again, I thank all of you for your responses.
* Excellent. We should also appropriately memorialize the many people who were lynched between 1865 and 1950. A plaque at the site of each lynching is a beginning.
* Heather, That is exactly what I was thinking, as well.
* Everyone needs real heroes to look up to – especially now.
* This could be a positive movement.
* Heather, this is an excellent piece. Thanks to the author and thanks to the Justice Initiative. Celebrations are important, and how one celebrates is also of great importance. Most important, I argue, are the information and events that we evaluate to make the decisions about whom and what we celebrate.
* Without the right information in our collective storehouse of knowledge, we will always be looking over the fence, at someone else’s “store house” for something to celebrate or destroy. Please continue the excellent work and Be well.
* Yes. There were also women not in legislatures and Congress, but very active in that period. Some are mentioned in the book I helped write: Texas Women: 150 years of trial and triumph.
* Good attempt to “make right a history” that America, both black and white, care nothing of. I agree …America must come to terms with the 1877′ Compromise in which both the Northern “US” Government agreed with Southern Government “in the wings” to “veil” a second secession while the South rebuilt its “financial coffers” over the next 90-years with” slavery by another name”. Everyday I see the “damage” caused by that alliance which has metastasized into the prison-industrial-complex of today, continued demonization of African-Americans, distrust on a national scale, isolation, marginalized education in areas inhabited by said group, sub-par housing and employment just to name a few. But you are both right, they – Black Reconstruction Politicians – stood in the “gap” with the likes of Senator Charles Sumner and Representative Thaddeus Stevens against a proverbial evil that continues to the present moment. Be blessed.
* Who could put together a list by southern state of such heroes?
* I assume that there would actually be a very long list of such folk, both pre and post civil war to chose from?
* I agree. rather than destruction, this will be construction
I am also asking each of you reading this to please consider others we should honor in America for their profound leadership in seeking justice for all. Please send your comments to me at email@example.com.
Erect a Statue of This
Civil Rights Hero
If you look closely at Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 school desegregation decision, you’ll see that Brown wasn’t a single case. It was five cases consolidated into one. Briggs v. Elliott, the first of them, took place in my home state, South Carolina. Briggs came about after the Rev. Joseph De Laine organized a group of black parents in Clarendon County to petition for equal educational facilities. The man who stood fast against that request – the Elliott of Briggs v. Elliott – was the chairman of the school board, Roderick Miles Elliott. Or as he was known in my family, Uncle Roddy.
Although I grew up in South Carolina in the 1960s and ’70s, I didn’t learn about Briggs v. Elliott until I was an adult. My father, Uncle Roddy’s nephew, often talked about how shamefully black people were treated in Clarendon County, but he was deeply uncomfortable with the part our family had played. Like most Southerners, he was skilled at avoiding unpleasant conversations, and in the case of Briggs, events conspired to help him. For reasons that remain murky, the Supreme Court case came to be called Brown rather than Briggs, even though Briggs preceded Brown both alphabetically and temporally. So it was Brown v. Board of Education that was memorialized in the history textbooks, and our family name was spared association in the public mind with a racist cause.
I won’t pretend I’m not grateful. But the fact that Brown has overshadowed Briggs has also meant that Mr. De Laine, the man who did more than anyone else to bring about school desegregation in South Carolina, has been too often forgotten. This month, with the blessing of his surviving children, Joseph De Laine Jr. and Ophelia De Laine Gona, my cousin Joe Elliott – Uncle Roddy’s grandson – submitted a letter to the South Carolina legislature on behalf of 21 descendants and relatives of Roderick Miles Elliott (including me), asking the legislature to honor Mr. De Laine with a statue on the grounds of the State House in Columbia.
In a just world, the name of Joseph De Laine would already be familiar to South Carolinians. Mr. De Laine was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a teacher in the Clarendon County public schools, where his wife, Mattie, also taught. Black schools in Clarendon County in the 1940s were in abysmal condition – dilapidated, poorly heated and woefully understaffed. Children had to walk miles to attend school, because the school board, led by Uncle Roddy, refused to provide a bus. It provided 30 buses for white children.
Mr. De Laine began organizing the parents of Clarendon County in 1947 and kept at it for the next seven years. When the Supreme Court finally vindicated his cause in 1954, it used the dissenting opinion in Briggs as the legal backbone for its decision.
In South Carolina, however, Mr. De Laine’s courage and tenacity were punished. Both he and his wife lost their teaching jobs. When an arsonist set fire to the De Laine home, which stood 60 feet outside the city limits of Summerton, S.C., the all-white firefighting squad in Summerton stood by and watched it burn to the ground. Later, Mr. De Laine’s church in Lake City was burned to the ground as well. He was eventually forced to leave the state in 1955 after defending his home against a group of armed attackers. Mr. De Laine died in Charlotte, N.C, in 1974.
Congress awarded Mr. De Laine a Gold Medal in 2004 (along with the Briggs petitioners Levi Pearson and Harry and Eliza Briggs), but a comparable gesture of recognition has never been made in South Carolina. The state has no monuments to Mr. De Laine, and apart from a small interstate interchange near Summerton, no roads, bridges or public buildings bear his name.
Asking South Carolina to honor Mr. De Laine might seem quixotic. It took decades of protest and the 2015 mass murder at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston before the Confederate flag came down from the South Carolina State House. Sixty-three years after Brown, schools in Summerton remain de facto segregated, thanks in part to a private academy favored by many white families. Change never comes easily in South Carolina, a state populated by stubborn iconoclasts who can be single-minded in the pursuit of hopeless causes. To which I say: This is exactly why we should honor Mr. De Laine. He showed us how to put that single-mindedness to work for the cause of righteousness.
School desegregation is often seen as a tool for justice, and rightly so. But it is an equally powerful tool for friendship, love and solidarity. Most of my generation of South Carolinians had the privilege of attending the integrated schools that Uncle Roddy fought against. As a result, many of us have formed lasting relationships across racial lines in ways that would have been unimaginable to our Southern grandparents, both black and white. If we can somehow make our way together through these dark times, it will be in no small part because of the vision of Joseph De Laine.
Carl Elliott, a professor at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, is the author of “White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine.”