Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Argument for BERNIE SANDERS

Rampant Racism and Inequity, Summer 2015 Edition - new boundaries broken, a struggle ahead and a populace to inspire...

The humidity and stagnation of a New York summer accompanies the potential for real change in our midst, though this hope is far from assured. All about us is the reminder of inequity as street demonstrations are occurring to commemorate the anniversary of Eric Garner's brutal death. The hot air in small living quarters builds like a pressure cooker and the tumult can't help but spill over. 

The history of police corruption is long, the path of racism remains continuous and intertwining, all of it the natural fallout of flagrant capitalism. The Garner tragedy, in one way or another, has become an epidemic all over the nation and a symbol of so much gone so wrong in the nation. This nation, the one which was founded by and for the very wealthy. 

The legacy of classism, racism, sexism, xenophobia and inequality remains to further divide us as a people. The furor in the deep South caused by the removal of the confederate flag from the state house, the resurgence of KKK rallies, the continued anti-Muslim sentiment, the ongoing demonization of labor unions and civil liberties organizations, right-wing hysterics in response to marriage equality and LGBT rights and of course the debate over abortion remains the favorite cross, so to speak, for conservatives to bear. 

Presidential season picked a bad time to rear its hydra-head, but here it is. The Republican field ranges from the Christian-right to noted anti-worker candidates as well as Donald Trump, long seen as a figure of cold capitalist greed and sensationalism in the world view. But if his past statements were  cringe-worthy, these days the man seems to be doing everything he can to humiliate other high-rollers in the USA. He appears to revel in sounding absolutely foolish, senseless, angrily ignorant, yet fully justified in his rants against Mexicans and in every other point that might have a Fox potential for audience. 

For progressives and Leftists, Trumps' candidacy seemed to be a gift---not just a loose canon but a downright moronic, fully unprepared figure of conservative stupidity on the world stage. The "you're fired" guy with a God complex, not only filled with piss and vinegar but open prejudice and thoughtless violence. Twisted ramblings that should be reserved for the diagnosed mentally ill. And, yes, he even made a joke about wanting to marry his own attractive daughter. 

Many mainstream Republicans (if this phrase actually fits anyone in those ranks) are running from Trump now. So how do we explain the fact that polls consistently show that many registered in that party have stated they will vote for this man? He has been holding a steady second place and this is not only frightening, but its enough to make one wonder if there is any hope for the middle and south of the nation, as well as the pockets of ignorance and prejudice everywhere else. But if Trump is to be seen as a bizarre side-show in the long run, the rest of the Republican choices are not so easily laughed off. With so much pent-up hate for the nation's first Black president still in reserve, these guys act like anything goes now when they speak to their constituency. A constituency that needs to blame someone for the lack of prospects for their future and the astronomic cost of homes. Armed with a Bible wrapped in the flag, these angry white Americans just don't know when they've been had. And they have been had for more generations than anyone can count.

Through it all, there is a burning interest in the candidacy of socialist Bernie Sanders. His  run for the presidency on the Democratic ticket marks something truly new in US politics. Sanders openly cites the model of Eugene V Debs, the socialist union leader who ran for president multiple times including from a jail cell when he ran on an anti-war (WW1) agenda. Debs' impact on the working-class and poor was vast and as a result, reforms began to become a reality. If Debs failed to win the presidency, it wasn't for lack of trying: by the time of his Canton Ohio speech, the one that landed him in jail, he'd already become a legend and his following went deep into the center and southern parts of the country as well as the coasts. 

But Debs' period of activity was one in which many farmer-labor parties fielded candidates; his campaigns were run on the Socialist Party ticket. In the current sphere, only the two major parties will be seen in televised debates, let alone the final count of an election. So Bernie is running as a Democrat which assures him a full presence in the primary and an increasing status in the eyes of the press. He has the wonderful audacity to speak of universal healthcare, a federal education and jobs program, and peace in a time of unbridled averice. Sanders is simply unafraid and in this regard a model for every progressive. Especially when it gets too hot. 

The trick now is for we on the Left to finally be unafraid and stand by this man who offers a hope we have never known. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015


JOELITO’S BIG DECISION / LA GRAN DECISIÓN DE JOELITO   (NY: Hardball Press, 2015). Written by Ann Berlak; illustrations by Daniel Camacho   -

Book Review by John Pietaro

Like most children’s books built on a progressive core, ‘Joelito’s Big Decision / La Gran Decisión de Joelito ’ strives for impact. Though educational, it never loses the enjoyable, compelling quality necessary to hold youthful attention. More so, the book is enlightening on both cultural and socio-political levels, and visually enthralling.

The text—including the title—is offered in both English and Spanish, with no differentiation of the font size. The overt and underlying message of this converges in unity and equality. And the story of a boy’s recognition of the need to stand by his neighbors who are underpaid restaurant workers is nothing short of timely. The publisher, Hard Ball Press, was founded by Tim Sheard, an official of the National Writers Union with a long history in the fight for social change (as well as fine literature).

Nine year-old Joelito is part of a warm, caring family residing in an urban California locale. His parents work for a living but by all indications are making ends meet. Each Friday they eat dinner out. The weekly pilgrimage to the local burger place stands as a bonding point for Joelito, his sister Alma and their parents. The restaurant itself looms large in the kids’ sphere, literally and figuratively. But his close friend Brandon’s family is undergoing financial struggles and engage in a labor action at this same restaurant, their workplace. It is through this vehicle that Joelito comes to understand the disparity and imbalance that was always right in front of him.

Writer Berlak’s character studies are standard for a children’s book, where there is a need for expediency. However, the flow of the story is not only well-paced but lovingly told. It feels natural, as if based on conversations overheard among children. Berlak has a vivid understanding of the issue as seen through the fourth-grader’s eyes—her fifty-year career as an educator is evident.

Another character that is featured in this book is the restaurant itself: a large plastic statue of the owner’s head adorns the rooftop of each outlet and while it had previously beckoned Joelito as a positive, fun image, the enormous, bulbous fixture later appears ominous. To the low-wage employees, it represents the arrogance of the owner’s greed. The business God-complex should also be obvious to the adult reading over the children’s shoulder. But what of the plastic veneer of the burger mogul’s effigy?

The artwork by Daniel Camacho requires some note. The influence of classic Mexican folkloric art is proudly overt. The characters have large round faces, wide mouths and staring eyes, appearing all the more like papier mache masks. There is a level of surrealism to this, but never in a manner that may be off-putting to children. In fact, the creative visuals should only enhance the readers’ sense of wonder. Camacho is widely celebrated for his murals; the Mexican and Chicano tradition of political statement through murals is well-established on the Left. Many of the frames in ‘Joelito’s Big Decision / Joelito Decide’ could have climbed off the walls of Camacho’s radical visions.

The story of workers fighting for dignity and security for their families is ongoing. The heritage of struggle is well told here as Joelito, searching for a fuller understanding of this challenge, is reminded by his mother that her parents were desperately poor farm workers: “Demonstrating to be treated more fairly saved your abuelos’ lives”. The accompanying illustration of Cesar Chavez leading a march forges an indelible link between Si Se Puede! and the Fight for $15.

The striving for workers’ rights continues but the choices we make have an impact well beyond our immediate purview.

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