JoAnn Wypijewski

James Baldwin's Understanding of Sex, Self-Knowledge and Power Demand Attention Now

These are ripe times to read Baldwin. Not just the essays on racist policing; those are, in a way, too easy. “A Report From Occupied Territory,” which appeared in The Nation, burns hot a half-century after it was published. That its depiction of black vulnerability and police volatility could describe the contemporary scene; that its central metaphor of occupation is not too hyperbolic to have been echoed by Eric Holder last year, nor its concern with personal disintegration too dated to anticipate Ismaaiyl Brinsley; that even its particulars (“If one is carried back and forth from the precinct to the hospital long enough, one is likely to confess anything”) feel gruesomely fresh in light of known CIA torture regimens—all of these, enraging as they are, only confirm what we already tell ourselves in weaker words.

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Julian Assange: Hunted by America's Violent Empire

Every once in a while, a situation arises that so completely captures the spirit of the time—in this case, the horror moving like an amoeba under the surface of our pleasant days, our absurd distractions, our seemingly serious politics—that ordinary assumptions, ordinary arguments and their limited conclusions serve only to obliterate honesty, and so any hope of grappling with the real. Such is the case of Julian Assange now.

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Super Prude Prosecutors Charge Teenagers with Pornography and Worse For Sexy Text Messages

Taking nude pictures of yourself--nothing good can come of it.
   --Police Capt. George Seranko, Greensburg, Pennsylvania

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Was the Clinton Era Good for the Working Class? Ohio Primary Will Tell

Three weeks before the primary there was hardly a yard sign to be seen for any of the presidential candidates. On the rise of frozen grass in front of Steel Workers Local 1123 bold red, white and blue letters urge Elect Hiles, State Representative. The Local's president, Randy Feemster, wore a T-shirt sporting the same message for Richard Hiles, who worked at the Timken steel plant here for thirty-eight years. "There are Democrats, and there are labor Democrats, you know what I mean?" Feemster said. He is a big man with a thick, powerful build. But "to tell you the truth," he said when we first met, "I feel like a little bird that was flying, flying and then hit the glass, and now I'm just lying there by the window, stunned." The Steel Workers had backed John Edwards, and when he dropped out, Feemster says, "we had our heart broken."

Across town at Communications Workers Local 4302, four out of five workers I spoke with were similarly dashed and undecided. Edwards had shown up on picket lines and at union rallies, embracing issues that, they said, involved them mentally, emotionally, financially. No other candidate has yet picked up that baton with the same conviction, and the CWA International has not endorsed a candidate because its membership is split. One of the workers I met, Blanche McKinney, 59, is backing Hillary Clinton, as is the Local's vice president, Bob Wise. Experience. Problem-solving. Day one. The reasons McKinney gave for her choice are bullet points of the Clinton campaign. And then there's Bill. "I feel Bill gave me eight good years," she said.

The standard narrative of 1990s prosperity, and thus Bill Clinton's most important remaining legacy, is on the line in Ohio's primary. That, as much as Hillary's flagging electoral fortunes, is why Ohio is a must-win for the Clintons. In the same way that South Carolina shattered the myth of Bill as America's first black President, Ohio could shatter the myth of generalized Clinton-era good times.

Other states' primaries might have done the same; Virginia and Wisconsin broke Hillary's presumed lock on the white working-class vote. But for myriad reasons, earlier primaries did not searingly confront the campaigns with the issue of working-class decline. Decline is everywhere apparent in Ohio, where as a direct result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, 45,734 jobs were lost between 1995 and 2003. That only skims the surface of loss, because for every shutdown factory there are concentric bands of devastation, from direct support industries to the small businesses that depended on the custom of hourly workers to the schools that can't win new levies because people are taxed out. NAFTA sliced the skin, and the bleeding continues. After LTV Steel closed in Cleveland in 2001, according to Don Singer, a former official who worked with the state labor department, 3,100 businesses went down with it. Between November 1999 and November 2003, according to Policy Matters Ohio, the state had a net loss of 244,000 nonagricultural jobs. Today Ohio is the seventh-worst state in the country for finding a job.

Local 1123 is down to 2,400 members, while also servicing 6,000 retirees, and neither Obama nor Clinton has an answer for Feemster and other union leaders who again and again concede on wages to maintain company-paid health benefits and retiree pensions. Even before Edwards dropped out, the Democratic Leadership Council was congratulating itself that none of the top contenders favored a single-payer health insurance system, which Feemster supports. Nevertheless, he was waiting to be wooed by one of the candidates.

It is remarkable that, when we met in mid-February, he hadn't been. Stark County is an important swing county, and Feemster has long been key to mobilizing labor support in elections. Elsewhere I met other experienced election organizers whose only contact with the campaigns has come through robocalls. My requests to both campaigns for their county coordinators' contact information went unanswered. It is as if no one had thought that Ohio would matter, that industrial unions would matter; as if these workers who say they often feel forgotten actually have been, even for the cynical aim of vote-rustling. In such circumstances, it is hard to know what might tip a vote. In Feemster's case it was a talk with Bill Clinton versus a meeting with Obama surrogates. The one, he said, gave specific answers to specific questions, even if Feemster didn't always agree; the others, no way as close to their candidate, danced around the issues. "Will Obama do away with NAFTA?" They waffled about legalisms; Bill said Hillary will fix it, and expounded beyond what Feemster had already heard about both candidates from the TV news shows that have become the background music in his house. Local 1123 cannot endorse a candidate, but with two weeks to go it rented part of its hall to the Clinton camp: "They were the first to ask." With less than a week to go, no one had yet shown up to work.


No question, Election '08 enlists white men in identity politics for the first time. What will lead them, their skin or their dick? A vote for Hillary might cover both propositions. Amid the arcing conveyors of splashy Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s at the GM Lordstown plant, some of Hillary's white male supporters ticked off her plans, her ability to "hit the ground running." But sooner or later, usually sooner, it was Bill they admitted they'd be voting for. Bill will guide her. No one is as experienced as Bill. Because of their past failures, "the Clintons" are better positioned to get it right next time. NAFTA was a good idea that was badly implemented. In 2006, when Sherrod Brown swept away the Republican incumbent in the Senate race by hammering on trade deals, no Democrat called NAFTA a good idea. But the rationalization now is not as bizarre as it first seems. Organized labor rallied for Bill Clinton and the Democrats after he strong-armed Congress to pass the trade agreement, arguing in 1994 and again in '96 that he and the party could best control the downside. And the stock market bubble meant that, for a while at least, the economy expanded and some people had more money in their pockets.

Hillary reminded 200-plus assembled workers at the plant of those good days. They handed her a pair of boxing gloves, and she promised to fight the bankers, the corporations, the credit card companies, Wall Street, China. Afterward, as "She's an American girl…" blasted from the speakers, some workers said she had made the emotional connection they sought: "She actually seems like she's got feeling. Maybe it's because she's a woman. Women don't lie," said a white millwright named Mike. He has worked at GM for thirty years, and for thirteen of those, beginning in the '90s, he worked "seven twelves," twelve hours a day, seven days a week. "You don't make money unless you want to live here," a white man named John said. "You're kind of a slave." GM now wants to outsource most of Mike's work. Last year the United Auto Workers agreed to let the company hire new employees at about $13 an hour, half the rate of veteran workers, and rolled the dice by taking control over retiree health and pension benefits. In her speech, Hillary had said, "Some may call this the Rust Belt. That's not what I see. I see those shiny new cars. They look like the future to me." As Mike was explaining why he voted no on the GM contract, a company flak ordered him back to work and me off the premises.


Michelle Obama gives the talk her husband can't. "Things have gotten worse -- through Republican and Democratic Administrations," she says flatly. She didn't quite count the ways at Ohio State as she had when I saw her at a black church in South Carolina, but she deftly linked the shifting expectations for her husband's campaign with the constantly "moving bar" that has made people anxious wrecks. She projects herself as a class sister in telling of her "little unmiraculous life" -- the daughter of a disabled shift worker on Chicago's South Side, product of public schools who managed to get to Princeton, a life that is out of reach for more and more people. But she also represents the wife every straight man wants: beautiful, loyal and strong; the helper, the lover, "the rock." Charlie Bush, retired former president of UAW Local 402, which represents workers at International Truck and Engine in Springfield, told me he thought Michelle might be decisive in swaying the votes of more than a few men. She is like Hillary was in 1992, he said, "a supporter." An undecided Edwards voter when we met, Bush now says he's going with Hillary; his wife, Cheryl, is still undecided.


"That white's kickin' in, isn't it?" a friend said as I told him about my last day in this town in Clark County, typically a swing county in elections. But first things first. There was once money here, lots of it. Mansions, some moldering, line High Street, along with Frank Lloyd Wright's 1906 Wescott House -- saved from the wrecker's ball and now a museum. Before St. Louis, Springfield was the jumping-off point for the West, and for a time it was second only to Chicago for manufacturing in the Midwest. Not so long ago, International Harvester was the biggest private employer; today that title goes to a call center. International's workforce plunged from 4,500 to less than 1,000 over a six-year period through layoffs and outsourcing; it too has a new union contract allowing it to bring in new workers at about half the old $25 to $30 hourly rate. The call center pays $8 to $12. At CWA Local 4326, Paul Storms, an AT&T technician and the Local president, recited a litany of lost manufacturing: "Speco Aerospace, gone; Buffalo Road Roller, gone; Bomag earth movers, gone; White Motors, gone; Boise Cascade, gone; O-Cedar, gone; O.S. Kelly, gone; the foundries, gone; Robinson Meyers, gone." Solid, cheery housing in working-class parts of town -- going, going and sometimes gone.

Manufacturing began moving to the nonunion South in the '80s; in the '90s NAFTA ensured that it would never come back. Storms summed up the situation: "Corporate America, you give 'em an inch, they take a mile, and in this case they've taken our lives." Springfield today is a go-between city for people working in Dayton or Marysville, at the nonunion Honda plant. Local 4326 itself has only fifty-three members. Mayor Warren Copeland is trying to create an information technology park to bring in higher-paid jobs. What has mainly kept the town from imploding is Wright Patterson Air Force Base and earmarks. According to Copeland, "Community Development Block Grants were cut, UDAG grants were cut; what substituted was earmarks" -- up to $20 million annually. The source of that largesse, Appropriations Committee member Dave Hobson, is about to retire from Congress. Copeland, a white man, caucused for Obama in early January, when delegate slates were chosen. Three times as many people caucused for Hillary Clinton as for anyone else -- almost all the professional politicians, the known party regulars, some unions. Edwards drew union people. Copeland, who has been in Democratic Party politics a long time, knew only one person in the Obama group.

"When people are running they have all kinds of plans," he went on. "Once they get in office, neither one of their plans is going to be adopted, so that's a crazy debate. I'm much more interested in whether they will help people down-ticket. I think Hillary will energize Republicans, and people down-ticket will be hurt." In 2004 the conservative churches, buoyed by Ohio's antigay initiative, called out all their people to vote, and wherever there was no strong union presence in the state, Kerry lost. He lost Clark County by 1,406 votes.

In a conversation with five CWA members, one mixed-race man was leaning toward Obama, one white man was for Hillary ("I'm 61, and ever since I've been alive there's been a man, and that's my big selling point; I'm curious to see if a woman would make a difference"), two other white men were undecided but said they would be happy with either, and the only woman in the Local, a middle-aged white Republican, said she would decide in the booth. She veered between appreciating Hillary's moxie to run and expressing wariness about a woman who took what Bill dished out and who has "her foot in the door of the good-old-boy network." What united them all was a feeling, not yet cynicism, that Democrats and Republicans alike have abandoned unions, the working class and cities like Springfield, and that no matter who wins in November once they get behind closed doors there is no counting on anything.

It is for that reason, along with the similarity of Clinton's and Obama's plans, that gender, race, hope, energy -- the Democrats' equivalent of religion, abortion, marriage on the fundamentalist side -- count for so much this year. Some white professionals I talked with here were favoring Obama. He is new and didn't vote for the war. We talked about racism and the critique that a vote for Obama only makes white people feel better about themselves. These white people, most in their 50s or early 60s, did not think racism was as pervasive as it had been, but even acknowledging that it exists, an electronics engineer at Wright Patterson said, "The flip side of that is that we should feel bad about any progress. Do we have to feel bad all the time?"

There is plenty to feel bad about. There are de facto whites-only private key clubs in Springfield. The city is segregated by race and class the way most cities are. A ride-around one afternoon with local Obama backers stopping at various intersections with homemade signs urging, Honk and Wave, Obama suggested a fair amount of white support, until the group got to a crossing in a predominantly white neighborhood whose fortunes have been tumbling. There expressions were set, grim, like their wearers meant it. No honks. No waves.

"This is Hillary Clinton's base," said Kimberly Beard. "They are Democrats, and they vote. I've lived here for fifty years; I know these people. They're scared, and they can't see that something can be done. They are disillusioned, disconnected from any economic development in the county and disappointed. I've lived in different cities, but I've always come home because I like to be in a place where I can spot a racist from fifty yards away." Beard worked for Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. "He got a delegate here, which was virtually unheard of."

Later that night at the Disabled American Veterans key club, a bar that does not require disability or veteran status for entry, only $17 a year and sponsorship by a member, all of whom are white, the women said, "It's time for a woman," "Women are more compassionate." None of them were hankering for Bill. It was a little different with the men. "I'm for Hillary. I love Hillary," a middle-aged man declared with increasing volume. He is a registered Republican, but he voted for Bill in '92 and '96, for Kerry in '04. He said he's never done worse than he's doing now and wants someone who can "bring down the costs of this goddamned healthcare." Really, though, he said he wishes he could vote for Bill a third time. Entrepreneurs have capitalized on this, selling buttons saying, Bring Back Peace and Prosperity and The Clintons over an image of the two.

If Hillary doesn't get the nomination, this man said, he'd not only vote for but work for McCain, "and I hate McCain."

"Why not Obama?"

"He's too inexperienced."

"And why else?" a woman down the bar asked.

"Because he's black."

"Thank you!" she replied.

More talk, a little heat, and the man exclaimed, "I'm not going to vote for the nigger!"

Some in the bar seemed tensed; they were "undecided." The man goaded them; that's not what they had discussed the other day. He laughed. Another man from across the bar said he knew whom he wasn't voting for: "the nigger."

The first man continued to proclaim, "I love Hillary." He and a friend said she probably should take the VP spot if it were offered; even if Obama gets the nomination, "he's not going to make it." Later he apologized for saying "nigger"; "I'm not a racist." In the hallway a young worker said quietly that I shouldn't pay much attention to the man, that for what it was worth he himself was just trying to figure things out politically, was worried about schools for his two young sons and that most of all he was sick of all the division in the country.


No "bridge to the twenty-first century" was ever built here in the 1990s. In place of the biggest steel plants, which left in the '70s and '80s, there are nonunion mini-mills, a steel museum, nursing homes and two prisons. The state university, where Obama was speaking, graduates more corrections officers than teachers. It used to be good at engineering. Cecil Monroe, a black man, 65, who works for the county government, said he doesn't want his mixed-race daughter to come back here after college: "I think if she comes back, it's just going to be death and destruction." The city is about even black and white, and that seemed roughly the mix of the 6,000-plus people who came to hear Obama. Only 83,000 people live in Youngstown now. The labor historian and radical lawyer Staughton Lynd, 78, who lives in nearby Niles, said it was "the most integrated crowd I've seen in thirty-two years." Also the most easy-spirited. A number of white adults I spoke with had been led by their kids, many of them too young to vote.

The day before, I had been in Toledo, where Bill Clinton spoke to an overwhelmingly white crowd of about 1,000. As in 1992, he emphasized the high-tech future, this time in green technology. Toledo has some infrastructure for such things; Youngstown does not. What Youngstown has is desperation. In that circumstance, it is easy to see why feeling good is no small thing. This is not a liberal town, and even if class clichés were valid the crowd could not be described as "latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing trust fund babies" -- an insult the buffoonish president of the Machinists' Union, Tom Buffenbarger, threw at Obama supporters before introducing Hillary the next day at a Youngstown high school. The Obama rally was on Presidents' Day; people had the day off. Obama was introduced by a laid-off union pipefitter (white, female) carrying a baby in a sling. He ticked off the requisite class issues and took one brief, sharp shot at NAFTA, which drew big applause. But the greatest response was for issues of no direct consequence to Youngstown: closing Guantánamo, ending the debate on torture, restoring habeas corpus, restoring constitutional rights -- in other words, righting the wrongs that have only added shame on top of desperation.

Brook Park

By the old math, this should be Hillary country: a white ethnic working-class suburb of Cleveland. It might be, and Hillary has a passionate surrogate in Anthony D'Amico, president of the Brook Park Democratic Club, a retired Teamster who can tick off her plans and forcefully make the change-through-experience argument. He has organized campaigns for years and was once a city councilman, but as we talked, with less than two weeks to go to the primary, he said no one from the Hillary campaign had contacted him. As he gauges it, neither campaign is visible on the ground, so people are scrambling to do things ad hoc. He puts no faith in the polls, the phone banking: "People are being very standoffish. They hold voting very sacred, and they don't want to tell you shit." There is one other wild card in the deck: "Brook Park used to be 1,000 percent Democratic. Years ago when I was growing up [in the mid-'60s], they're making the signs in the backyard with the hammer and nails." Before the 2005 elections he looked at the registration rolls from the town's four wards, and it shocked him: Democrats, 4,448; Republicans, 882; independents, 6,508. "If you'd asked me even a few years ago, I'd have said there is no way independents are the majority. There's where you want to roll the dice."

North Canton

"Who said there was going to be a giant sucking sound? They made a fool of him, but he was absolutely right." Out his office window Jim Repace, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1985, could see the Hoover factory as he spoke. Hoover was once a Fortune 500 company, the number-one floor-care manufacturer in the world, the only unionized floor-care manufacturer in the country. A few years ago it was posting 30 percent profits; a few months ago it had workers disassembling machines right beside those still on the job. Now this beautiful 100-year-old brick specimen of a daylight factory is cold; 817 hourly workers (down from 2,400 as recently as 2000) will get full wages, health and pension benefits through June. Repace says the shutdown will affect 8,000 in the area; North Canton has a population of 16,000. Next-door to his office, the message board at St. Peter's Catholic Church reads, "God be our hope when life is difficult."

However profitable, Hoover could not compete here with its plants in Juárez/El Paso and China. The union went through the usual rounds of concessions and legal action to keep the plant open, and for fourteen years it almost worked. Hoover did some hiring in the '90s, but Repace could look toward other cities where NAFTA was killing plants, the broad scenario being a fight of all against all, with those left standing cutting living standards to avoid catastrophe. Behind the increases people saw in their CDs, the economy was going. No one who has not lived through this kind of shutdown can really understand the ruthlessness of it, or the fear that the pleasant streets around the plant, the park where workers ate lunch, are in preboarding for hell. NAFTA has not been emphasized in the election, and Repace says, "It's troubling me that it's not" because "it's still going on." He spent years defending Bill Clinton in the '90s, but "I'm just tired of the status quo. We've had eight years of Clinton, eight years of Bush. Enough is enough. I like a new perspective …. I truly believe Obama's going to go in there with something to prove. He is not going to want to be a failure."

A failure for whom is always the question. Sixteen years ago, at a blimp hangar a few miles away in Akron, 50,000 people cheered another fresh face in the general election. Bill Clinton played the working class, and if it were to repay him by proxy on March 4, '90s prosperity should finally enter the book of political fairy tales. However the vote turns, not just the people of Ohio will need some potent ways to show they won't be played again.

AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.

Audacity on Trial

Charleston, South Carolina -- They give "ghost tours" of the Historic District in the evening, as if ghosts weren't present enough without conjury in this too-charming city: the ghosts of planters who stepped from porches of the grand mansions along the Battery within sight of Fort Sumter, headed for the auction house on Chalmers Street, there to appraise human backs and forearms and hips; the ghosts of Africans thus measured, put up for bid; of the ships that brought more captive Africans to this port than to any other American city, and of the black dockers, freemen and slaves, who loaded up the rice and cotton that the new arrivals would soon toil to produce; the ghost-vestiges of extraordinary violence, dressed up as heritage and gracious living -- the South in inverted commas, which favored almost no one who lived in it, including the poor and landless whites who died for it under a battle flag that Charleston is too polite to fly but that figures, nevertheless, in our story.

This past June 9 the flag of the Confederacy hung lifeless in the afternoon heat in front of the state Capitol in Columbia. A year ago it was demoted from its place atop the Statehouse dome, and on this day the air around it vibrated with the shouts of people demonstrating in support of a labor union, International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422, that had been instrumental in organizing the protests that brought the flag down. At the height of the antiflag campaign last year, 46,000 people had marched on Columbia. This was a smaller crowd, about 5,000, but an old-timer told me he had never in seventy-five years seen so many people turn out for a union in South Carolina. They came because the state is gunning for this union of black dockworkers from Charleston who weren't polite about the flag and weren't docile when a shipping company whose vessels they'd worked for twenty-three years decided to use scab labor.

Their troubles with the state began on January 19, 2000, two days after the historic march against the flag. A ship from the Danish Nordana Shipping Lines pulled into the Port of Charleston. Nineteen scabs were mustered to unload it. On three of Nordana's prior visits the union had picketed without police interference. This time 600 battle-dressed troops from throughout the state surrounded the dock, decamped outside Local 1422's hall, patrolled the waters by boat, flew overhead in helicopters, mobilized armored vehicles and horse units, armed themselves with rubber bullets and "bean bags" full of buckshot, beat their batons against their riot shields and waited, waited in the rain for something to happen. After midnight something did, and now five longshoremen -- four black and one white, four from Local 1422 and one from the smaller checkers' and clerks' union, ILA Local 1771 -- are under house arrest awaiting trial this summer on felony riot and other charges that could send them to prison for five to ten years.

They are the Charleston Five, Kenneth Jefferson, Elijah Ford, Peter Washington Jr., Ricky Simmons and Jason Edgerton. But the chant that rang in Columbia on June 9 was "We are the Charleston Five!" because the outcome of this case will not be felt by those five men alone.

The only thing stronger than racism in South Carolina is the hatred of unions and the attendant fear that workers might choose class solidarity over skin and challenge the setup that depends on keeping most of them poor, weak and divided. South Carolina is hardly the only state where this is so, but with some of the lowest wages and the second-lowest rate of unionization in the country, it is among the worst. The white Attorney General, Charlie Condon, openly links his prosecution of the Five with preservation of South Carolina's anti-union "right to work" laws, and it is not happenstance that he has chosen to make an example of the state's best-organized, highest-wage workers, of powerful black workers and white race traitors. Nor is it irrelevant that Local 1422 has supported progressive candidates in local and statewide elections, that it has lent its hall to such candidates and causes, and that Condon -- an ambitious Democrat turned right-wing Republican -- plans to run for governor.

But there's more. Nordana's switch to a nonunion stevedoring company that paid men $8 an hour without benefits for work that brings a unionist $16.50-$25 an hour with benefits was the first time in America that a major line used scab labor to load and unload container ships, the mainstay of longshore life. Charleston's dockers didn't just defy the police; they won their work back. Now they're organizing those former scabs into the union. Men pay for such audacity, especially black men, especially when they win.

Ken Riley, the president of Local 1422, remembers driving along East Bay Street toward the union hall on the afternoon of January 19 and being awed by the gathering army. Outside the Ports Authority's office next to 1422's hall, riot police were practicing maneuvers, lunging in formation with shields raised, batons up. "My Lord," Riley thought, "what are they preparing for?" After conferring with the presidents of Locals 1771 and 1422-A (port mechanics), he outlined the unions' strategy to workers assembled in the hall: They would do nothing. But because the grand strategy was to drive up the costs of working nonunion, they wouldn't go home either. They'd keep the police out there all night, costing the city, the state, the port and Nordana so much money that those forces would be hard-pressed to claim victory.

Throughout the evening members of all three unions -- the blacks who load the ships and have since slave times, the whites who do the paperwork and have since slave times, and the blacks and whites who work as mechanics -- passed through 1422's doors. At about 11:30 pm, guys coming into the hall were saying police at roadblocks had harassed them. A discussion followed. The show of force was meant to provoke but also to intimidate; the workers didn't want to fall into the trap, but they didn't want to be bullied either. These days, some union supporters say this is a case about democracy, but the talk that night was about respect, about not being ground down. "I Am a Man" read the famous sign carried by striking garbage workers in Memphis, 1968, and it was that statement the dockers wanted to make by going out to face the police line in Charleston. Riley watched as they funneled out of the hall. He says there were 130 to 140 workers; rank-and-file participants say there were no more than 200; the media's count has swung wildly, from 600 to 400 to 300.

Things have a funny way of happening in the night, things that never would happen but for the mixture of fear and anger and the infuriating exertion of overwhelming force. Nineteen months later, the story of that night has shrunk to caricature in some tellings, as if the only way to defend the workers is to portray them as passive actors set upon by police and collapsing under the assault. Perhaps it's the liberal fetishization of nonviolence, or a reflexive response to the state's claim, seconded by the white press, that police were passive guards attacked by frenzied workers. What seems to have transpired instead was an explosion of human emotion when only one side has all the serious weapons.

Leonard Riley, Ken's brother, was at the front of the line as the workers approached police. "When you have forces like that come together," he said, "you're not gonna have huggin' and kissin' and glad-to-meet-ya's. But we did go out there with a peaceful plan." The workers came up to the line, told police they wanted to picket the port and were repelled by riot sticks, he said. Each time they returned and were repelled again. Workers now say they couldn't believe they were being treated like criminals. And they didn't yet know that the city jail had been emptied for them. At the line some pushed back; some grabbed hold of police sticks and engaged in a tug-of-war. Farther back in the crowd, William "Boogy" McPherson, a white clerk with 1771, heard a cop say, "We'll beat the hell out of you niggers."

"We were yelling and screaming," McPherson said. "I went up, said to a cop, 'I know what the white man's up to.'" Overhead the helicopters droned. People were pushing. Word passed back that guys up front were being clubbed. McPherson's not sure when workers started picking up rocks to hurl, but he remembers Ken Riley running from the union hall with the other local presidents and rushing to the front. Riley was trying to create a space between workers and police when he was cracked in the head with a baton, receiving a gash that required twelve stitches. It was then that, as 1422's recording secretary, Anthony Shine, put it, "things got ugly." Workers fought back, and some were clubbed mercilessly. They overturned a light tower and struck photographers. Meanwhile, police were beating on them, shooting at them and dispensing tear gas. Local 1422's James Freeman says he had just conferred with police and was getting workers to retreat when he turned and saw the headlights of a police SUV charging the crowd. Freeman dove to the side. Right behind screeched a highway patrol car. In terror, some workers ran; others smashed the car's windows. "They gonna kill us, man," McPherson remembers someone crying out, "they gonna kill us."

Not all of the Five, whose lawyers have advised them not to speak with the press, were arrested that night (one was singled out after his picture appeared in the local paper), and those who were arrested were charged by police with trespassing. That didn't sit well with South Carolina's elite, because almost immediately Condon had the men rearrested, this time on riot and conspiracy, and a range of other charges including assault and resisting arrest. A circuit court dismissed the charges for lack of evidence.

In the meantime, dockworkers around the world had begun to mobilize in solidarity. In Spain they refused to handle Nordana cargo. Pretty soon Nordana was negotiating with the Charleston unions; the scabbing was finished. Condon empaneled a grand jury and got indictments on the same charges the court had thrown out, plus some additional ones. The company that had contracted with Nordana to provide the nonunion workers, WSI, filed a $1.5 million civil lawsuit against the locals, their presidents and twenty-five members, holding them personally liable for lost business. *

There hasn't been a labor disruption in the Port of Charleston since 1971. It is the fourth-largest port in the country, a linchpin for the South's global economy; and, worldwide, only the dockers in Tokyo load and unload a ship faster. More than other industries, shipping depends on speed, a condition that both strains longshore workers and makes shippers vulnerable. At 1422's hall, men line up from 6 am most days as jobs are called out and gangs are formed to work a ship. Often they're asked to "work through," meaning work through lunch, through dinner, through the night, whatever it takes until the ship is ready to go. This brings overtime pay but also fatigue and greater risk of injury. Men eagerly volunteer for it, especially those at the back of the line, with the least seniority, the guys who will take any work -- say, loading chicken boats at subfreezing temperatures -- because they can't be sure when they'll work again. Much is made of the fact that a longshore worker can earn $100,000 a year, but the new people might go days, weeks without work and make a fraction of that.

A couple of days after the march on Columbia a worker was sitting in the hall with his head in his hands. Eddie Thomas, who started on the docks back in the 1960s, when "it was rough, baby, Johnnie-get-your-gun rough, everything by hand," was encouraging this fellow, telling him that things would pick up, that everyone's been through the waiting, and signaling to a union officer to loan the brother some money. Thomas, a retiree who trains new recruits to operate heavy machinery, said, "These guys catch pure hell trying to get work."

It seems people might resist the waiting and the lash of speed, but workers boast that Charleston is number one in the country in productivity, that they can load and discharge a ship with 2,000 containers in twenty-four hours or less, that the scabs couldn't come close to that time, so hiring them wasn't about cost; it was about power. Speed is the boss's game, but workers take pride where they find it. Some point out that not only have black men always worked these docks but after the Civil War they also organized one of the country's first longshore unions and won one of the first waterfront strikes for wages. "That dock out there," Riley said, "that's our house. We built it with our sweat, with our blood, with our injuries. And Nordana is our wife of twenty-three years."

In Charleston liberals and the black community back the workers against the police and prosecution, but it's an indication of the challenges facing organized labor here that even supporters can be heard complaining about union control of the docks. "Why should the union prevent a brother from working for $8 to feed his family?" a journalist with the city's black paper, The Chronicle, asked. His question might just as easily have been phrased, Why shouldn't every worker be threatened with replacement by someone who will work for less until everyone is working for less and every job is a low-wage job? But he didn't see it that way, and he is not alone. This is the colonizing power of "right to work" ideology, the cunning force of a law that seems to be about individual choice, since on paper it simply provides that no one can be forced either to join or not to join a union. In practice, it functions to intimidate workers from organizing and to sow division by allowing those in shops that have unions to reap the benefits of a contract but to opt out of paying dues. And the state not only tacitly condones employer threats and promotes itself as a good place to do business on the basis of its unorganized work force; it has exempted itself from the law.

For state workers there is no free choice on the matter of unionization. Since last year, more than 140 state employees who operate the cranes on the docks signed cards to join Local 1422. They were sick of working ninety-hour weeks, as the number of containers passing through the port increased by 10 percent between 1999 and 2000. The State Ports Authority told them to drop dead; it does not recognize or negotiate with unions. At about the same time anti-union hacks in the state legislature advanced a bill prohibiting anyone from serving on the Ports Authority board "who is or becomes a member, associate, representative, or employee of a labor union if the principal activities of the union are ports-related." Colloquially known as "the Ken Riley bill," this was promoted after the Democratic governor, Jim Hodges, named Riley to the board but then retreated under pressure from the state Chamber of Commerce.

No one I met thinks this case is just, or even mainly, about class, though. In South Carolina workers make about $5,000 less than the typical US wage worker. The legislature aims to keep it that way, passing a bill that would prohibit any locality from raising its minimum wage. This would disproportionately affect blacks, whose average income here falls below the national average, while white income exceeds it. Over the past twenty-five years Charleston has remade itself into a white city -- "historic Charleston," with blacks pushed into the kitchens, the hotel maids' uniforms and the occasional local-color spot, weaving baskets outside the old market, "just to show the tourists we have some happy, smiling black folks," said community activist Jerome Smalls. Black churches appear as islands in a sea of white, relics of a time before politicians used federal urban development money to drive blacks to the fringes of downtown and beyond. The same type of colonial houses that look so fresh in the gentrified quarters are falling down in the ghetto. The city is finally putting some money into restoration there, but whereas its priority for white folks is housing and business development, for blacks it's law enforcement. "Fuck CPD," someone wrote near the corner of South and American Streets, where the Charleston Police Department has been conducting mass drug raids.

At the 1422 hall, a longshoreman named Dwight Collins was wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the word "Endangered" over images of an eagle, an elephant and a black man. Racial profiling, police abuse, unpunished killings of blacks at the hands of police -- "we're being shot down everywhere," Collins said. And yet there's been no mass action, no unified resistance, just "apathy and fear," according to Smalls. Out of this suffocating atmosphere burst the dockworkers' defiance. As Kevin Gray, who heads the ACLU in South Carolina, puts it: "The issue is, will the state allow one of the last powerful black institutions here to survive? The NAACP is all but dead or ineffective, black leadership is underground, black churches are doing nothing but 'Give it up to Jesus.' This is one of the last strong black organizations organizing on significant things, period. Period. And that's why they're slammin' on those brothers." On the street, the issue is also whether the union can put it together with the community and do the necessary coalition-building for a long fight.

The opening date of the trial of the Charleston Five has not been announced, but on that day longshore workers in sixteen countries and along the Pacific Coast have pledged to silence the ports. Solidarity is something new for the ILA, whose International apparatus is more commonly associated with corruption, complacency, concessions and anticommunism. At the June 9 rally ILA president John Bowers could only squawk about his supplications to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao ("If you can use your influence, you're gonna find that our people are gonna vote for people like you") while in the crowd dockers from as far away as Denmark chanted, "Shut the ports down! Shut the ports down!" Although every ILA convention for the past twenty years has featured complaints about nonunion incursions into the union's jurisdictions on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Bowers did nothing to discourage other ILA locals from working Nordana ships while Charleston was out picketing. Immediately after the police brawl, ILA headquarters declined offers of help from the AFL-CIO. The federation ultimately pulled together the Campaign for Workers' Rights and sponsored the march and rally in Columbia, though AFL intervention in a local struggle is always a delicate matter when an International leadership is less than fully committed. In nineteen months Bowers hasn't visited his embattled members in Charleston. The union treasury can't be used to defend the Five or the twenty-five in the civil suit, but he didn't set up a defense fund until he was shamed into it by more than a year of rank-and-file efforts, and Charleston workers have yet to see a penny of it. No matter; Bowers belongs to the past.

Today dockworkers are together as never before, not only white and black at the Port of Charleston, but East Coast and West, as rank-and-file workers have toppled the wall separating them since 1937, when the West Coast dockers walked out of the ILA to form the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union and were branded subversive reds. While the ILA bosses dithered, the ILWU raised more than $150,000 for the workers' defense. Its paper, The Dispatcher, has become the main source from which ILA members get news on maritime labor issues and even on the Charleston Five. ILWU members have organized fundraisers and voted to assess themselves monthly contributions. Riley and other Charleston leaders have been traveling the country and the world as part of a grassroots campaign that has animated the Black Radical Congress, the South Carolina Progressive Network, the International Dockworkers Council and numerous labor groups. (Contributions can be made to the Dockworkers Defense Fund, c/o ILA Local 1422, 910 Morrison Drive, Charleston, SC 29403, attn. Robert Ford. To join or start a solidarity group, call the state AFL-CIO at 803-798-8300.)

Internally, the culture and spirit of the ILA is getting a shake-up, as efforts on behalf of the Five are strengthening a reform movement, the Longshore Workers Coalition, which demands accountability, regional and racial equity, one person/one vote. Open to all, it was spearheaded by black dockers in the South Atlantic, and that is where the energy is in the ILA. In 1999 Riley, the coalition's co-chair, stunned the ILA convention by calling the International's decision-making procedures "a mockery of democracy." The weekend of the rally, Local 1422's hall was electric with talk of reform among ILA men from Philadelphia to Houston: Why aren't members allowed to talk at so many local meetings? Why are there the black slots and then the white club that runs everything? Why does management sit in on International conventions, and why has the leadership negotiated us into a situation where we're fighting for our lives? Why all the corruption and deception, all the intimidation and fear? Bowers has tried to slander and suppress the coalition, but the genie is out of the bottle. "The Charleston workers, they stepped to the front line, baby; they stood up for everyone in the ILA," said Royce Adams, a trustee with Local 1291 out of Philadelphia. "And we're not going back: not with Charlie Condon and this whole establishment in South Carolina, not with scab companies, not with our own International. We're moving forward."

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