Frank Joyce

Are We Being True to Our July 4th Values? Yes - That’s Exactly the Problem

Another July 4th of hot dogs, historical confusion, and military worship has come and gone. This year of all years, it's a sadly missed opportunity to advance a much-needed conversation.

Keep reading... Show less

The Profound Misunderstanding the Public Has About How the Military Operates

In one of the greatest PR successes of all time, close to 100 percent of Americans believe the United States has a volunteer military. It does not. What the United States does have is a recruited military.

Keep reading... Show less

A Ball O’ Confusion Is Comin' to Your TV: Ken Burns' PBS Series on Vietnam Gives Its Corporate Sponsors Little to Worry About

Breaking fake news! Bank of America is withdrawing its support for the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick PBS documentary series "The Vietnam War," which starts Sunday night, because the series turned out to be too antiwar.   

Keep reading... Show less

Detroit Is Not a Movie

Are you thinking of seeing Kathryn Bigelow’s movie Detroit? Don’t.

Keep reading... Show less

On the 50th Anniversary of the Deadly Detroit Rebellion, There Is Celebration, Controversy and Continued White Supremacy

Author's note: This article originally appeared in a somewhat different format in the summer 2017 issue of the Fifth Estate.

Keep reading... Show less

The Mass Killing of Civilians, Now in Syria and Iraq, Is Part of a Long, Depressing Pattern of American War-Making

A recent New York Times op-ed by Micah Zenko documents a new increase in civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria. The headline asks the question, "Why Is the U.S. Killing So Many Civilians in Syria and Iraq?"

Keep reading... Show less

America's Manufactured Amnesia Puts Everyone in Peril

With credit to Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman for their long ago description of how the media/education system manufactures consent, this article is about one of its critical components: manufactured amnesia. Simply put,  the media treats everything it deems newsworthy as a discrete event that is taking place for the first time ever. So,  for example,  the white male supremacist presidency of Donald Trump is presented as something brand new in US history. Sigh.  

Keep reading... Show less

What Martin Luther King's 1967 Speech Can Teach Us About the Relationship Between Race and Class Today

Fifty years ago the times were tumultuous, as they are now. Activists were fragmented by gender, race, tactics and issue silos then too. The machinery of surveillance and repression by local, state and federal government was intense and about to become more so.

Keep reading... Show less

As Trump Reminds Us, We Have Had the WMSVD Disease for Ages: It Is Time We Fight It Head On

A very long time ago, a Zika type virus escaped from the human laboratory.  Like Zika it deforms the human brain.  It assumes supremacy by human males over women and all other forms of life.  Its most prominent manifestation is male monotheistic religion—the obligation that humans worship a lone male deity.  No goddesses allowed. 

Keep reading... Show less

Exposing America's Hidden Past as a Center for the Slave-Breeding Industry

Slavery as practiced in what is now the United States is one of the greatest crimes and one of the greatest coverups in human history. But it is covered up no more. The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry, by Ned and Constance Sublette is a masterful forensic investigation. A profound work of scholarship and revelation, it is the story not just of chattel slavery but of the United States itself. It exposes in meticulous detail a history that has been sugarcoated, broken into pieces so tiny as to become meaningless, or often not told at all. It is a juggernaut in a new wave of books that explains our past as we have never been able to see it before.  

Keep reading... Show less

A Dissenting Opinion on the Importance of the Supreme Court in This Election

One of Ronald Reagan’s first acts as president was to fire all of the striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), a union that had endorsed his election. In doing so, he was not making unions weak. He was taking political advantage of how weak they had already become.

Keep reading... Show less

Are You Ready for Some Hard Truths About the Birth of Our Nation? Brace Yourself

Ah, July 4th. Of all the national orgies of self-congratulation, militarism and, of course, shopping, this one stands out. Even more than, say, Memorial Day, it perfectly captures the combination of myths and ignorance that make up the fairy-tale view we hold of our national origins and character.

Keep reading... Show less

The Big Lesson From Flint: Resistance Is NOT Futile

Few topics in recent memory have generated as much attention from the mainstream and alternative media as Flint’s water crisis.  Not surprisingly, the right wing press has barely covered it at all.

Keep reading... Show less

The Future of Life Depends on Bringing the 500-Year Rampage of the White Man to a Halt

The future of life on the planet depends on bringing the 500-year rampage of the white man to a halt. For five centuries his ever more destructive weaponry has become far too common. His widespread and better systems of exploiting other humans and nature dominate the globe.

Keep reading... Show less

Can the People Make the Peace Again?

Raise your hand if you are a U.S. American and you have lived one single day of your life when the United States government was not killing someone in some foreign country somewhere. I thought so. Very few hands.

Keep reading... Show less

It’s the Humans, *Stupid*

"It's inconceivable to most people that the existing order of things is itself the source of most of society's problems." — John Michael Greer

Keep reading... Show less

'You Calling ME a Racist?' Why It's So Hard for Whites to Confront Their Own Failings

Statement: Racism is deeply embedded in our system. 

Keep reading... Show less

A Visit to the Slavery Museum: How the Legacy of Slavery Is Linked to White Racism Today

Over many years of doing anti-racist work among whites I have learned that the role of slavery in the formation of the economics, politics and culture of the United States is not well taught or well understood. That’s unfortunate, because when it comes to the connection between slavery then and white racism now, William Faulkner’s famous line “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” could not be more appropriate.

Keep reading... Show less

Now Is the Time For A New Abolition Movement

The first abolition struggle arose to oppose slavery. For the most part, it did not challenge the idea of white supremacy. It did not advocate for racial equality. It sought the end of chattel slavery. Period. The second developed to abolish the Jim Crow version of apartheid that replaced slavery.

Keep reading... Show less

Why Do People Hate? And Is There a Way to Counteract It?

Who hates and why? Trying to answer that question, New York Times writer Seth Stephens-Davidowitz recently used big data methods to exhaustively analyze traffic on a prominent hate web site. His conclusion, “Why do some people feel this way? And what is to be done about it? I have pored over data of an unprecedented breadth and depth, thanks to our new digital era. And I can honestly offer the following answer: I have no idea.”

Keep reading... Show less

America Can Be a Violent, Hateful Place: One Group Is Fighting Back

Do most Americans grasp just what a violent culture we live in? Probably not. As Tim Wise said about deeply embedded attitudes of white supremacy, “a fish doesn’t know it’s wet.” Our culture and our history are saturated with violence starting with genocide against first peoples’ and the brutality required to build and maintain an economy based on slavery.  

Keep reading... Show less

Federal Judge Describes, Then Supports Plot to Rob Detroit Pensioners

On December 3, United States Bankruptcy Judge Stephen A. Rhodes—to the surprise of no one—formally ruled that Detroit is “eligible” for bankruptcy. In other words, creditors will now wrangle over Detroit’s government assets with Rhodes as the referee.

Keep reading... Show less

The Real Story Behind the Decline of Detroit … And Yes, Great Things Are Happening There Too

As a life-long Detroiter who has lived both in the city and the suburbs, I’ve been fascinated by the media frenzy over Detroit’s bankruptcy.  Like most big news topics these days,  Detroit has become a screen onto which people project whatever political viewpoint they have. 

Keep reading... Show less

How Successful Cooperative Economic Models Can Work Wonderfully… Somewhere Else

Years ago food critic Ruth Reichl declared, “There is no bad food in Italy.” She was right. Within Italy, the Emilia Romagna region is thought by many to offer the best food of all. 

Keep reading... Show less

Why the Viet Nam Anti-War Movement's Work Is Not Yet Done

Most US citizens these days don’t consider Viet Nam at all. Of those who do, many believe that all is well. And in some ways it is. Viet Nam has normal diplomatic relations with the US, belongs to the World Trade Organization, accepts investment by US based multi-national corporations and is allied with US foreign policy on some geopolitical issues including concerns over China’s intentions regarding “disputed” territory in the South China Sea.

Keep reading... Show less

I Spent Super Bowl Sunday at a Ceremony Cremating the Remains of King Father Norodom Sihanouk

It’s not every day you can start off watching the Super Bowl on TV at 6:00 AM and a few hours later see a nearly five hour ceremony for cremating the remains of King Father Norodum Sihanouk.

But because I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia yesterday, that’s exactly what I did. No offense to Beyonce, but the cremation ceremony was by far the more spectacular spectacle. Although we were only three blocks from the Royal Palace, access was severely restricted, so my wife and I could only watch on TV. What a show it was.

All day long there were pre-produced pieces on the life of the King. As some recall, Sihanouk was yet another enormously popular foreign leader repudiated by the US government for holding views insufficiently favorable to US geopolitical interests. He was overthrown in a coup in 1970 and replaced by the friendlier (some would say US puppet) Lon Nol. It’s a long story, but that action ultimately led to Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot taking over the government and slaughtering two million Cambodians.

Sihanouk died at age 89 on October 15 last year while in Beijing for medical treatment.

The “Super” cremation was the culmination of a 110 day long period of tribute and mourning. At least a million Cambodians had lined the streets in blistering heat when Sihanouk’s embalmed body was returned to the country. Over the last week, tens of thousands stood in long lines for hours to pay tribute at the Royal Palace. The King was beloved as the leader who gained Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953, brought a measure of prosperity and equality to the nation and later, as the Cambodia Daily newspaper put it, “helped the nation navigate its way out of civil war in the 1990’s.”

One of the more interesting tributes to his impact came in the form of an angry full page advertisement in the English language Cambodia Daily from Dr. Beat Richner, founder and head of the Children’s Hospital Kantha Bopha. The headline was “What President Barack Obama Could Have Learned In Cambodia.” (He visited here briefly in 2008, just after he was elected President.)

The gist of it was to praise the late King by taking Obama to task for a US health care system vastly inferior to Cambodia’s free health care for children. The first Cambodian children’s hospital was built by King Sihanouk and named after his daughter Kantha Bopha who had died of leukemia. It was destroyed by US bombing during the American war on IndoChina. It has since been rebuilt and additional hospitals added to the system.

“Without Kantha Bopha thousands of children would have died and would die, month by month,” Dr. Richner says. He then points out that he was told by the US Ambassador that the US could not “contribute a single dollar to Kantha Bopha because the patients do not pay by themselves.”

In the Cambodian system Dr. Richner says, “nobody is excluded from the human right getting correct and efficient treatment. The poor is not discriminated. There is justice, there are no doctors running after money, extorting parents…No overpaid insurance companies, no unnecessary administrators and health officials taking money…Kantha Bopha is a model for the whole world how health care for children can be realized free and fair.”

The only thing the “our way or else” mindset of the US policy makers hate more than deviation from our system is when that deviation is enormously popular with the masses as were the policies of King Father Sihanouk. On the day of the cremation, that popularity was on display as virtually the entire nation dressed in white shirts or blouses and black pants.

Starting in the afternoon, dignitary after dignitary filed into the palace grounds. Many heads of state and other high officials attended the ceremony, including the Prime Minister of France and Japanese Prince Akishino. The US sent only the Ambassador. Monks in orange robes had a part in the ceremony of rituals and prayers . The uniform of the day for most attendees despite the 95 degree heat was starched whites with black armbands.

At the lighting of the coffin, fireworks erupted over the city and a 101 gun salute boomed as well.

Sihanouk’s widow, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath presided over the proceedings with the grace for which she has long been known. At her side was the her son, King Norodum Sihamoni—now only a ceremonial leader under the Cambodian constitution

As I write this morning, the TV is showing a long, solemn procession carrying the King Father’s ashes to a boat that will go to the convergence of three rivers in Phnom Penh. It’s quite a different “day-after” ritual than debating which was the best commercial during yesterday’s celebration of violence in New Orleans

The football Super Bowl, a sport played only in the United States, had by far the bigger TV audience worldwide. Sihanouk’s cremation was virtually invisible in the US media, but watched by millions here and elsewhere.

From Indo China to Iraq to Pakistan, Palestine and Iran it is this unbalanced view of the world that again and again leads the United States into ignorant, arrogant, brutal and yes, evil, foreign interventions.

Why the Obscenely Wealthy Whine When They Have It So Good

So, Mitt Romney now tells Sean Hannity he was “completely wrong” about the 47%.  On the surface that looks like a typical etch-a-sketch campaign pivot. But I think there is more to it than a little clean up in aisle three. 

My theory is that after careful research and analysis,  the smartest guys at 1% World Headquarters reached a disturbing conclusion. They decided that the whole fiasco needs to be contained as much as possible because it has the potential for serious damage well beyond the November election.   

Keep reading... Show less

Why Do Americans Have to Crush Others to Get Ahead?

While I was watching a recent episode of America’s Got Talent,  I was reminded all over again of the power of the competition meme.  Were the contestants talented?  Yes. Did they sincerely hope they could find their way to fame,  fortune and escape from a precarious working class life?  To be sure.  Were the judges witty and clever?  You betcha.  Was the audience,  both live in the studio and on TV passionate and engaged?  Very.  Well then,  apparently the competition system is working just as the 1% wishes it to. 

Keep reading... Show less

Is It Possible To Build An Economy Without Jobs?

Suppose that something caused iTunes, Sony Music, "American Idol," SiriusXM and every other commercial music entity to disappear. Would humans still make music? Of course we would.

Keep reading... Show less

The Most Important Conference You Never Heard About

"G-8, G-8 -- We've got a Question for You
Why do you want us to suffer?
Why do you want us to perish?
We are the creditors
Cancel Debt, Cancel Debt"
--Lyrics to a song performed by HOPE RAISERS, a Nairobi Hip Hop group at the 2007 World Social forum held in Nairobi, Kenya
It's best to look at the recently concluded World Social Forum (WSF) 2007, held in Nairobi, Kenya through a telescope, not a microscope. What you see is a gathering force, a mood, an attitude. It's the kind of thing you might have sensed, if you knew where to look, in Montgomery, Alabama or colonial Africa in the late 1950's or, for that matter, in the British colony of North America in the 1770's.

Officially, more than 66,000 participants came together for WSF 2007. They were nuns, slum dwellers, academics, activists, Nobel Prize winners, students, trade unionists, NGO staffers and government officials including Kenneth Kaunda, the former President of Zambia. There were more than 1,400 participating organizations from 110 countries. More than any of the previous world forums, they came from Africa. That made the 2007 WSF the most globally representative yet.

As a cultural and political phenomenon, there is nothing quite like the WSF which started in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. Even if you visit the United Nations or attend the Olympics, you won't be so engaged with people from so many countries speaking so many languages, wearing so many different styles of clothing and so driven by a broadly shared social vision. Nowhere else can you have this kind of six day opportunity to march, sing, dance, demonstrate, talk, listen and learn. WSF 2007 included 1,200 workshops formal workshops (the newsprint program was 176 tabloid size pages long), rallies, musical performances and other events.

It would be inconsistent with its nature and character for the WSF to take place in plush surroundings. And so the participants had to contend with numerous organizational and logistical tribulations. Workshops met in the less than ideal meeting conditions that came with holding the conference in the Kasarani sports complex, miles from the center of Nairobi. The acoustics were poor. Moreover, especially when sound systems worked, fabric "room" dividers did little to stop the audio from bleeding into the adjoining workshop. Bench seating for meetings scheduled to last two and half hours also leaves a lot to be desired.

Also problematic was the distance of the stadium from virtually any available accommodations including those in downtown Nairobi -- a $15 cab ride over crowded, pothole filled roads. That's $30 round trip, times five days of meetings. Public transportation in the form of buses and Matutu's (a common form of transportation in urban Kenya) were available. Using them, however, was discouraged because of rampant crime.

Admittedly, it isn't easy to find a venue anyplace for tens of thousand of people from all over the globe, especially when most are not affluent. And holding scores of simultaneous workshops in a soccer and track stadium does have one advantage. It is big enough to accommodate in one place all of the myriad WSF activities including meetings, workshops, demonstrations, eating facilities, vendor sales booths and cultural performances. Some who had attended previous forums considered that a worthwhile tradeoff from events held in many scattered locations. In any case, the net result was a vibe that was generally warm and friendly. And the quality of the conversations on labor rights, water, debt relief, resisting or reforming the architecture of global capital (the World Bank, IMF, WTO etc.), HIV/AIDS, tax issues, bio-diversity and a host of other subjects was quite high.

Was there a lot of Bush bashing? You might expect so. But you would be wrong. Sure, there was an anti Bush poster or reference here and there. One African group was selling a T-Shirt featuring a picture of Paul Wolfowitz that said, "Send the Wolf Back to Bush!

But mostly Bush and, for that matter, the US, were little mentioned. WSF participants simply take it for granted that the US symbolizes the world that stands as the polar opposite to the WSF slogan "Another World is Possible." Further, the meeting was in Africa. The African struggle against colonialism left a legacy of deep understanding that oppression and exploitation come from a system. It is simply not the "deviant" policy of a "bad" leader like George Bush. (One of the more profound and more amusing banners at the WSF read, "MAU MAU -- Fighting terrorism since the 1800's.")

Many delegates focused on an "issue." Some activists think that access to clean water is most important. Some concentrate on debt relief. HIV/AIDS in Africa is critical to others. Some see tax policy as the cutting edge struggle. The one clearly unifying theme is opposition to the grinding poverty found throughout the global South.

Americans might find that hard to understand. Our awareness of poverty in the global South is low. Likewise, the breadth and depth of opposition to poverty is also little appreciated. Some of that is attributable to the media. As Wahu Kaara, a Kenyan activist who played a key role in bringing the WSF to Africa, put it matter-of-factly "the architectural design of media is to misinform." A fine example of that misinformation is the invisibility of poverty, even domestic poverty in the US, let alone the deeper and wider poverty below the equator. The "shock and awe" that came with Katrina is the exception that proves the rule.

Americans live in bubble and a very thick bubble at that. For the most part, we like it in there. We'll take American Idol over Anderson Cooper reporting from Darfur any day. Other than Nicholas Kristoff and Anderson Cooper, can you think of any other MSM journalists who bother at all to report regularly on poverty and suffering outside the US? I can't. By the way, once you get past Danny Schecter, the alternative media list isn't very long either.

The net effect makes it hard to exaggerate the degree of isolation we experience. Poverty; disease; the genital mutilation of women; corruption that makes Jack Abramoff and Tom de Lay look like choir boys (although maybe not Dick Cheney); the pandemic of HIV/AIDS; brutal political dictatorships; the conscription of children as soldiers; the lack of clean water; open sewers, the hourly threat of crime and violence faced by billions: mostly, we don't want to know.

After all, one of the greatest privileges of affluence is the willful ignorance of mass suffering at home and abroad. WSF coverage in Europe was quite extensive. But as best I can determine, not one MSM media outlet in the US carried so much as one story about the WSF.

While the New York Times had at least 20 stories and columns referencing the World Economic Forum meeting of the plutocrats in Davos, Switzerland, they carried not a word on the WSF What make this all the more interesting is that they did manage to get a reporter to Nairobi the day after the WSF ended. What get their attention? Two American white women and several diplomats were robbed and murdered there in recent weeks.

Media attention or not, is the WSF is precursor to a new world government of peace and justice? Should the very existence of the WSF give even a moment's pause to the masters of the universe who meet every year in Davos?

Is another world possible?

Even though there is no WSF scheduled for 2008, in the years ahead, I believe that WSF will play a major role in spawning the kind of organizations and movements that will challenge the hegemony of transnational capitalism. (There will be a global week of WSF activities and a one-day worldwide mobilization in 2008. A WSF 2009 will take place, although the host country has yet to be determined.)

As US social activist Grace Boggs has put it, "Another World is Possible. Another World is Necessary. Another World is Already Happening."

In the "already happening" department, one of the outcomes of WSF 2007 was the creation of the Tax Justice Network for Africa, which is struggling against illicit capital flight, tax evasion, tax competition, tax avoidance and other brutal tax policies and practices. A new Africa Water Network was also formed by more than 40 organizations across Africa opposing the privatization of water. It is these kinds of networks that begin to take the WSF into a realm beyond that of a morale building festival.

John Christenson, staffer for the London based Tax Justice Network told me that the formation of the Africa tax justice group was a direct outcome of conversations at previous WSF meetings. According to Christenson, tax issues will emerge as the "next big thing' for global anti-poverty activists. He may be right.

He makes good points about tax policy as the underpinning of both injustice and misconceptions about the "third world." The basic idea is very simple. Were transnational companies to pay anything close to fair taxes on their operations in poor countries, the impact on debt relief and corruption would be enormous.

As a result of tax evasion, aggressive tax avoidance, illegal arms trafficking, outright embezzlement, transfer mispricing (a practice that Wal-Mart and others use to evade taxes even in the US), counterfeiting and narco trafficking , transnational corporations deprive the governments of poor countries of needed revenue. That in turn makes them the more vulnerable to the loan dependency manipulations of the World Bank, the IMF and the corruption that comes with the whole range of dirty money schemes. The dirty money schemes are in turn facilitated by the squeaky-clean appearance of Swiss bank accounts, offshore tax havens, the absence of transparency in global financial transactions and other components of the global banking system. There are many points of darkness in the vicious circle of exploitation of the peoples and economies of the global South but the tax evasion strategies of transnational corporations, not to mention rock stars like Bono and the Rolling Stones are certainly among them.

So too the enslavement of debt service imposed by the World Bank and the IMF. Dennis Brutus, the South African poet who became well known to a whole generation of anti-apartheid activists in the US and elsewhere in the 1970's, eloquently addressed this issue. Speaking at a forum on radical reform of the World Bank, Brutus pointed out that the struggle to defund apartheid in South Africa has much in common with the struggle to defund the World Bank.

Whether you think the World Bank is a selfless force for economic development in poor countries or the agent of Satan, you probably think you don't have much to do with its funding. But you do.

Do you own any mutual funds? Do you know how your pension funds are invested? Unbeknownst to me and I suspect many others, the World Bank raises 80% of its funds from the sale of bonds to pension funds, universities etc. So, just as religious and campus activists helped to defund apartheid, a similar campaign can be waged to defund the World Bank. And in many countries, such campaigns are already underway.

This brings us back to the impact and the future of the WSF. From outside the US, it is far easier to see that the world is in the midst of a "Copernican" revolution. New York Times columnist David Brooks can try all he wants to persuade us otherwise but that does not change the reality. Attempting to rebut the view that Iraq and other factors will permanently reduce the global power of the US, Brooks wrote on February 1, "The hegemon will change. The hegemon will do more negotiating. But the hegemon will live."

Brooks is wrong. The time when all the world revolves around the United States is waning. It is true that the United States played a key role in defeating fascism and communism in the twentieth century. That era is over. Here inside the bubble, the fumes from that history may still be thick. But in Nairobi and most other places in the world today, those vapors are long gone.

It will take years if not decades but the hegemon is ending. From Nairobi it is possible to see the beginning, however faint, of a truly new world order. Another World is Possible. Another World is Necessary. Another World is Already Happening."

A good place to judge for yourself would be to attend the United States Social Forum in Atlanta, GA this coming June (June 27-July 1).

How to Stop Hate in Your Hometown

Humans hate. Apparently it's a significant component of our emotional "palette." At the risk of sounding naïve, or visionary, someday maybe we'll evolve out of it. Hate may become unnecessary like our tonsils -- unused and serving no purpose but still there, only occasionally becoming infected. Or maybe we'll learn to focus and harness hate so that it is only directed usefully at injustice and cruelty. It's not inconceivable at all that medicine will find a cure, much as progress continues to be made on curing depression.

For now though, hate can rear its ugly head in social as well as individual and family settings. Mistrust, fear, hatred of the "other" race, the "other" gender, the "other" religion, the "other" nationality, or the "other" sexual orientation can escape the boundaries of civil order. Then vandalism and violence, up to and including murder, result. At that point a community faces a crisis.

Since we don't have a cure for hate, the best we can do is an antidote. There is one. It was "invented" 10 years ago in Billings, Mont. It's called Not In Our Town (NIOT). Thanks to the efforts of a nonprofit media production company called The Working Group (TWG), the NIOT model has grown in scope and substance.

Ten years ago TWG made a film about how people in Billings resisted the efforts of white supremacists to gain a foothold in their community. That simple half-hour story about a small Western town sparked a decade-long campaign against hate violence in communities around the country.

TWG has been tracking and connecting a remarkable group of NIOT activists over the years. They are the people who refuse to be silent when they know something is wrong. They are upstanders, not bystanders. They take action when their neighbors or their town is in trouble.

The NIOT model has been used, one community at a time, from Newark, Calif., Olympia, Wash., Bloomington-Normal, Ill., Charleston, W.Va. and elsewhere to restore order, calm and civil decency to schools and communities convulsed by hate crimes.

For the first time ever, local NIOT activists will gather in Bloomington-Normal on Oct. 5-7.

As fate would have it, this 10th anniversary gathering could not come at a better time. Why? Speaking personally, over several decades of civil rights, labor, peace and justice activism, I have never felt so strongly that the direction of the United States is so "up for grabs." I think this sense of danger and possibility is widespread. So while a localized approach to a hate crime or incident is always necessary, it is no longer sufficient.

The hard fascism of Germany, Italy and Japan didn't come all at once. It was preceded by soft fascism. It first came slowly in tiny steps. It came amidst the pull of everyday life that caused people to look away when they saw and heard hate and abuse, scapegoating and discrimination. Hannah Arendt famously called it the banality of evil. The current turmoil, animosity and confusion that define our national political life creates plenty of moist soil in which hate can grow. You can see it in the arc of the debate in recent years about affirmative action, immigration and gay marriage.

NIOT knows what to do it about hate. We will need many more Not In Our Towns in the months and years ahead. And they will need to work more closely together.

Perhaps that sounds depressing. Don't take it that way. To meet the NIOT activists is to be inspired that hate can be defeated. Time after time, they have turned a negative into a positive. And now the courage and inventiveness shown by these community activists have the potential to be forged into an effective national force.

If you're looking for hope and a well-tested action plan, the NIOT Gathering, to be held Oct. 5-7 in Bloomington-Normal is a guaranteed good place to find it.