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.

Keep reading...Show less

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.

Keep reading...Show less

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

Keep reading...Show less

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.

What Giuliani's Sleazy Sex Life Tells Us About Him

There is something untrustworthy about a man who can't conduct a decent affair. Rudy Giuliani never could. He flaunted his girlfriend Judi Nathan (now a proper lady with a proper lady's name, Mrs. Judith Giuliani) at public events while he was mayor and married to Donna Hanover, with whom he had no understanding about elective affinities. He used his son Andrew as his beard, claiming he was teaching the boy golf those many weekends when he was cavorting with Judi in Southampton. He announced his new love, and concomitant dumping of the old, at a 2001 press conference, thus informing Donna their marriage was over at the precise moment that any New Yorker listening to 1010 WINS learned of it.

Then he tried to push her and the children out of Gracie Mansion so he could get on with his life.

In the return whiff of scandal around Rudy and Judi the hoary details of their crass courtship are said to be of no consequence. Let's not get into his private life, commentators quickly warned, eager to steer political discussion clear of anything that might actually rub up against realities of life experienced by the common horde. Let's talk about the issues, the "new" ones here being hardly newer than what any New Yorker had long known: that the NYPD accompanied the pair on their trysts; that, hark!, these police escorts were paid for from the public purse and involved some finagled accounting.

The parched details and dollar amounts in the latest revelations are nowhere nearly as telling as the rough picture of things sketched in Newsday by Jimmy Breslin back in 2000, when he wrote about a cop nicknamed Wrong Way because once while pulling into Gracie Mansion with Judi in the backseat he almost collided with the cop pulling out of the mansion with Donna.

Wrong Way was later part of a five-car police detail assembled simply to get the king and his court to the ballgame: one car for Rudy, one for Judi, one for Andrew, one for Donna and one for the Other Girl he's said to have kept on the side, the two girlfriends given separate corporate seats at Yankee Stadium. The only evocative tidbits among the latest are news that someone from the NYPD walked Judi's dog and accompanied her on a shopping trip when she selected her sapphire and diamond engagement ring -- in Atlanta, while business in post-9/11 New York bordered on the berserk insisting that Love NY meant Shop NY.

At least the cops didn't torture or kill the dog, a practice that in an earlier life was part of young Judi's job. That would have twinned Giuliani's personal and political deficits, probably irreparably.

In the main, the huff and puff over "taxpayer expense" is not likely to blow down much to obstruct Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. Once we collectively concede that some maximum leader requires maximum protection, and so too his loved ones -- either for the sake of his happiness or as a hedge against ransom threats -- then there's really not much difference between the wife, the kids, the dog, the girlfriend. The reporters at Politico didn't sift through those FOIA documents out of a passion for fiscal probity. Sex is the story that sells here, so why not talk about sex?

Granted it was more fun -- the last time adultery and presidential ambitions coincided so publicly -- to imagine Governor Clinton bound to a bedstead with silken ties, maddened by the big-haired blonde with her animal prints and scented light bulbs, a woman who claimed he was never so happy as when he could bury his face in her muff, than it is to contemplate Mayor Giuliani panting over his soon-to-be-new-missus, the "princess," according to Vanity Fair, who's always longed to be "a queen." To toss around the subject of adultery and politics now is to raise that specter of Saturday Night Bill, and of the other big-haired girl, the frisky Monica, with her kneepads and cigar tricks and oral-anal games in the Oval Office. And no one much wants to do that: not partisans of Hillary Clinton; not her opponents, who may have to support her come November or ask for the Clintons' support; not conservatives, who may find themselves having to back their own philanderer down the road.

Already, this is a repression election. Rumors are afloat that Rudy needs a short leash, his eyes wandering toward a former rhythmic twirler with eclectic tastes, a fan of The Lonely Crowd, The Indispensable Chomsky and Leadership, by Rudolph Giuliani. Democratic bloggers bleat pathetically, "At least he [Bill] stayed married." Although Hillary's great asset, she sometimes wears it like a cross. Rudy is said to be similarly chafing now that Judith is his wedded wife. Christians take heart in Mike Huckabee and, maybe, the knowledge that if Giuliani does turn out to be the chosen one, his sins won't matter anyway.

David got away with Bathsheba, after all, and with dispatching her husband, Uriah the Hittite, to the enemy's spears. The rest of us can take heart that at least Rudy doesn't hold the power of life and death over anyone. Bill executed a man as the Gennifer Flowers story swirled in 1992. He bombed Iraq as the Senate considered removing him from office over Monica Lewinsky. Nothing beats death for distraction.

The trouble, in fact, is in treating sex as a distraction. Usually it isn't. Usually it's just life, like the mortgage and the bad school and the checkbook that's balanced or not, the dinner that's sublime or not. Adultery may thrillingly divert from one reality, but in the form practiced by Bill and Rudy and millions of others it tends to create its own parallel universe, with its own set of mores and unwritten rules. Rudy broke them all. One doesn't bring the paramour to the marriage bed (unless it's a threesome), or involve the children, or deliberately humiliate the spouse.

Bohemians, hippies, gay people, adventurers in polyamory have all experimented with different levels of truth-telling, and have all decided, at one time or another, when a lie or reticence is the kindest act of all. But they've also understood, at some deep level, why the English called adultery a "criminal conversation": the criminal part could be jettisoned, as it was by English law in the nineteenth century, but the conversation, measured physically, emotionally, intellectually, could not.

Only a madman or a monk would count it a moral failure to converse with more than one person for a lifetime, yet most Americans call adultery just that, even when they're involved in it. And most married people probably are involved in it, or have been. Poll numbers are as schizoid as the culture, with overwhelming majorities telling surveyors they "know someone" who's not monogamous while only a minority own up to it.

A politics that's similarly evasive -- that counts as irrelevant the ways in which people arrange their lives, their joys, needs and sorrows; that cares nothing for how and why they converse -- is no politics at all. It doesn't matter that Rudy had sex with Judi or anyone else, or that he had that police escort, frankly. What matters is that Rudy was a prick. Rudy made it cruel.

Trained to Harm: How the Military Abuses Its Own

Accidents," Alexander Cockburn once wrote, "are normalcy raised to the level of drama." The same may be said for scandal, the shocking event that turns out not to have been so shocking after all once the tape is rewound, the warning signs exquisitely detailed and the "big picture" filled in. The scandal du jour is the rampage of Cho Seung-Hui, a "quiet" boy, "no trouble at all" until he killed 32 people at Virginia Tech and others began to recall that, why yes, there were those creepy actions and creepier plays, those diagnoses of mental illness, the telltale trail of every scared, sick loner who one day snaps, adding his victims to the 30,000 Americans killed with guns in far more ordinary circumstances each year.

"Thanks to you I die like Jesus Christ to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people," Cho said in his video. It is as if he had been reading from the scripts of school-shooters past, every one of whom had been taunted as a wuss, or rejected by a girl, or was lonely and withdrawn, or had written harrowing stories of mayhem and slaying. Like them, Cho was finally notable for his orgy of slaughter and the demented aspect of his immortality fantasy; otherwise, he merely supplied the latest dramatic uptick in the long-running saga of the marriage of weakness and cruelty.

Today, Cho; yesterday, Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The injured soldiers at the center of that earlier scandal certainly qualify as weak and defenseless people, except that the object of fascination while they dominated the 24/7 churn of cable news was not their career as killers or the preparations that readied them to kill. They were the victims in the scandal. About the perpetrator, Walter Reed, the question "How could this have happened?" was not answered with any of the searching examination the press brings to the biography of mass murderers. Naturally, we aren't meant to think of soldiers as trained killers or of any military installation as part of an institution of mass murder. It might help if we did. Certainly it would help aspiring recruits better understand what they are getting into, and help wounded veterans understand why they would be degraded as soon as they'd outlived their usefulness to the trade.

The truth is, a system dedicated to transforming psychologically healthy people into people capable of performing what in any other setting is considered a pathological act can't help behaving badly -- not all the time or in all of its realms, not monolithically so that everyone associated with it is scathed. But inevitably the ends deform the means, and inevitably someone pays. No one is talking about it, but what happened at Walter Reed to soldiers injured in war is not shocking at all if one ponders what happens at Army posts to soldiers injured in basic training.

"Like being incarcerated"

Basic training is one of those regimens of cruelty that people have come to accept as normal. The Army has officially eliminated some of its most abusive practices, along with its theory of "breaking them down to build them up," the classic humiliation of recruits by a drill sergeant, designed to make them into soldiers capable of acting as a unit, following orders and killing. This reshaping remains essential; it is simply meant to be accomplished with more respect now. In all events, weakness is to be despised, which means that the 15 to 37 percent of men and the 38 to 67 percent of women who sustain at least one injury due to the rigors of basic training at Fort Sill, Fort Knox, Fort Jackson, Fort Leonard Wood or Fort Benning are in trouble.

A year ago I visited Fort Sill, Okla., where the son of a friend had suffered stress fractures during basic training and was then in the post's physical training and rehabilitation program. PTRP is where the Army, desperate for bodies in a time of war, puts broken enlistees whom it is committed neither to curing nor to releasing, nor even to respecting as soldiers and human beings. Basic training takes nine weeks; PTRP can warehouse soldiers for months, in anticipation of the time they manage to recuperate, pass the grueling PT (physical training) test and go on to battle-readiness; or fail the test, try again, stumble through the bureaucratic labyrinth until the point at which they are chaptered out or medically discharged. As trainees, all have yet to be granted "permanent party" status in the Army. In the military hierarchy, this makes them lower life forms, which is how they were being treated at Fort Sill.

It was Family Weekend when I visited, and the PTRP command was on its toes because for weeks my friend, Pat deVarennes, had been writing a blog exposing the routine abuses of injured soldiers there. As a result of her persistence, the Army had initiated an investigation into the actions of a drill sergeant who had kicked a soldier in his bad knee, sending him to the floor screaming, and who had punished and terrorized the soldiers in numerous other ways. That weekend these men, on crutches and painkillers, wearing casts or moving gingerly, were not being called "fakers," "lady men," "shitsacks," "malingerers"-- the names that, at other times, were regularly hurled at them. The command met with parents and wives and told them their loved ones would be getting individualized medical attention, something many had not had for months, and reassured them that the soldiers' well-being was their chief concern.

A week later, on March 19, 2006, one of those soldiers, Pfc. Matthew Scarano, 21, was found dead in his bunk. He had been in the program for more than a year with a shoulder injury and excruciating pain. It was unlikely he would ever be fit for battle, but he could not get out. Shortly before he died, he wrote to deVarennes: "I liken being here to being incarcerated. And it often helped during the bleaker points in PTRP history to think of it as such: I'm far from being any kind of expert on the subject, but perhaps it was a psychological self-defense mechanism to try to perceive what was going on as being punitive in nature."

Over the months of Scarano's confinement to the program, his shoulder got worse, and so did he. "The Army has me on Ambien, seroquel, tylox and oxycontins. I also get trazadone to take the edge off," he wrote his family. At the time of death he was on Fentanyl, described in medical literature as an analgesic patch 80 times more potent than morphine. The Army said an overdose had killed him, and then, although his injured comrades said that dispensing drugs was as strictly controlled as every other aspect of life in PTRP, it essentially blamed the dead man as a doper and the others as slackers for not reporting his drug problem. In fact, some had reported it, and nothing happened. His condition, moreover, was hardly a secret to the command, since often he was so zoned out he could barely stand in formation.

After Scarano's death, the Army initiated an investigation and issued policy changes. It had done something similar two years earlier when another PTRP inmate, Pvt. Jason Poirier, 22, died in the same Fort Sill barracks from acute methadone intoxication. It's doubtful that the adjustments since Scarano's death will do any more than those after Poirier's to alter fundamentally the treatment of injured soldiers.

Fear of reprisal

Immediately after Scarano's death, I published a story in CounterPunch detailing the abuses at Fort Sill and sent it to every mainstream journalist I knew, urging them to follow up. Readers wrote in droves telling me of their own PTRP experiences at other posts. Some sent the story to their representatives, and Scarano's father was calling for a congressional inquiry. Nothing happened. Ralph Blumenthal of the New York Times wrote an excellent piece on the case, and in it Army officials chalked up the 21-year-old's unfortunate end to lessons learned.

A year later letters continue dribbling into my e-mail box. "Ft. Sill still doing it," read the subject line of a February letter from a woman who said her nephew was sick with pneumonia and asthma and had been kicked in the chest by a drill sergeant. When I asked for more information, she didn't reply. "You must never use our names," wrote a mother whose son had been in Fort Benning's PTRP last year and was then forced to do basic training twice. Actually, she never gave me the names, not of herself or her son or the soldier he said had committed suicide while he was there. People don't want to give names to journalists for the same reason they don't complain to the higher-ups, which makes challenging higher-ups on their behalf difficult.

DeVarennes spoke up because she was scared that if she didn't, someone might die at Fort Sill. Her son had told her about a soldier who came into PTRP with a broken finger. It didn't heal properly for some reason and ended up deformed, his hand at less than 100 percent and his ability to do pushups impaired. He was in PTRP for about nine months trying, and failing, to pass the PT test. One day, he cut himself all over with a razor, smeared himself with excrement, marched naked out of the barracks and was put in a psych ward on suicide watch. Afterwards, no doubt pumped with antidepressants, he was made to try the test one more time, and to fail one more time, before officials moved to discharge him.

He didn't die. Neither did deVarennes's son, Pvt. Richard Thurman. Richard got stress fractures and couldn't run, it was determined, because he had flat feet. Once upon a time flat feet disqualified one from military service. After months in the netherworld of PTRP, Richard still couldn't run but was cleared for active duty. He is now in Iraq.

Wounded, unwanted

I thought of Scarano and the others when I read the stories about Walter Reed. The Washington Post's riveting account of Feb. 18 included the story of Cpl. Jeremy Harper, 19, who had seen three of his buddies die in Iraq and was at Walter Reed for severe PTSD. He refused his medals and kept to his room in the dark, heavily medicated, which everyone noticed. On New Year's Eve 2004 he was seen wandering in the lobby of one of the Walter Reed buildings, looking for a ride home to West Virginia. The next morning he was found dead in his bed of alcohol poisoning.

After the Post's story came out, a familiar sequence of firings, testimony and reform commenced. In April the House passed the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act to streamline administrative processes, create a toll-free hotline for complaints, increase the number of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors, etc. In March it passed the Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (suicide is epidemic, and psychological services are grossly strained). The Senate initiated similar measures. About nine congressional investigations are under way; the president has appointed a special committee, and his 2008 budget increases VA health spending by 9 percent. Being a bureaucracy, the military should benefit some from such bureaucratic adjustment.

Different protocols may have saved Scarano and Harper through more rigorous control of their medications. On some deep level, though, the weakling who would never make a warrior and the weakling who recoiled from the warrior's reality, rejecting its wretched honors and demands, were done in long before the toxins killed them. Fighters who would not, or could not, fight flouted the institution's sacred principle by their very being. It had to punish them.

"At the military's upper levels, abuse is widely believed to be not only desirable but absolutely necessary to have a disciplined, effective military and keep everyone in line," a former Army enlisted man, Tim Moriarty, wrote to me. "Instilling in someone the 'fear of God' (or rather, the fear of the Army) is the first thing one encounters when joining the Army. It's a lesson drilled down deep into the psyche, and it's meant to last for life, or at least the duration of one's enlistment."

And the essence of that fear? It is the knowledge, another former soldier, called Morley, explained, "that the people in front of you (i.e., the enemy) and the people in back of you pointing a revolver at you to keep you from running away (i.e., your own command) are all trying to kill you, and they succeed all too frequently with your friends and buddies. But you can't desert to the enemy, because all combat troops shoot prisoners, no matter what is said in the books, because prisoners are like the wounded, someone has to look after them." And no warrior institution wants to.

After the Walter Reed scandal broke, the media fastened on the mold in Building 18 the rodents and bad food and nightmare of paperwork. But it was the Post's description of formation, the 7 a.m. lineup of injured soldiers necessary to "maintain some discipline," that most unnerved me. Every morning, regardless of weather, the injured assemble. Umbrellas are forbidden, uniforms required. Some soldiers "are so gorked out on pills that they seem on the verge of nodding off." Shades of Scarano. They are reminded to keep warm and avoid beating their spouse and children. Sometimes they are berated for the condition of their rooms or their uniforms or their attitude. There were no soldiers with missing limbs or concave skulls or rearranged faces at Fort Sill, but the condescension and barely concealed cruelty were the same. For the injured soldier, formation enacts the military's ritual of belonging while expressing its disdain. In this single act, the institution tells them that it is taking care of them and that it hates having to do so.

Before he was cashiered as commander of Walter Reed, Gen. George Weightman told the Post that the reason injured soldiers stay so long in the military/medical limbo is that the Army needs to hold on to as many soldiers as it can. It patches up the damaged to send them back into battle, as Mark Benjamin reported in Salon from Fort Benning in March, redeploying troops who, doctors say, are medically unfit, altering medical profiles so that they can kill again. It pushes antidepressants on the psychically damaged in the field to keep up the numbers, as Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman stunningly detailed in the Hartford Courant last May. It displays the injured at basic training posts as a demonstration to the healthy of its caring and as a warning.

On April 20, I received an e-mail from a 24-year-old new recruit from Illinois named Travis Meyers. He had arrived at Fort Sill on Feb. 6, he said, and on his third day there he sat down with a member of post personnel for "a medical moment of truth." Recruiters don't bother to assess the medical fitness of the people they sign up. At basic training, Army personnel have to ask about preexisting conditions, but once presented with a warm body in uniform they are loath to accept any truth that might send that body home. Meyers revealed that a doctor once told him he has heart disease. "The reason that I came forward," he told me, "is because the pushups that we were forced to do and the stress of being yelled at and degraded at any chance had made my chest start hurting extremely bad." He said he had not taken the warning from his civilian doctor seriously before because the condition had never affected him in this way. After dueling EKGs and contradictory medical opinions, Fort Sill decided Meyers was fit for basic training.

"The medical moment of truth is ridiculous because they really don't care," Pvt. Travis Meyers wrote of his introduction to the Army at Fort Sill. "There was a kid that got shipped to basic [training] with two of the four valves of his heart closed. ... I talked to a kid at the TMC -- troop medical clinic -- who had one of his instructors jump on his back and injure him, and it was done twice not just once. ... There was a drill sergeant who kicked a kid in the ribs while he was trying to do pushups."

On March 5, Pvt. Travis Meyers went AWOL. When he wrote he said he was soon to turn himself in: "I'm scared, but not as scared as I would be to go through basic with the way my heart is." His is a normal story, in which the prospect of prison is a step up.

Killed by the U.S. Army

Private First Class Matthew Scarano, all of 21-years-old, was killed sometime between 9 PM Saturday and 4:45 AM Sunday, March 19, 2006. But he wasn't killed by any insurgent force. He wasn't in Iraq or Afghanistan or even, despite his rank and year-plus of service, active in the United States Army. Matthew Scarano died in his bunk, in the barracks of Bravo Battery 95th, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The Army officially lists his cause of death as "still under investigation" but he was as surely a casualty of the War on Iraq as any of the 2,400 US soldiers killed in action. In 2005 he had injured his shoulder during basic training, and on March 1 of that year entered the netherworld of Fort Sill's Physical Training and Rehabilitation Program, or PTRP. It is estimated that 15 percent to 37 percent of men and 38 percent to 67 percent of women sustain at least one injury due to the rigors of basic training. Although Fort Sill's is believed to be the worst, the Army has PTRP units also at Fort Knox, Fort Jackson, Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Benning.

More than a year after he entered PTRP, Scarano was still there, no closer to being healed but still subject to the restrictive rules and routine humiliations associated with basic training, still plagued by what he described in an email of March 7, 2006, as "chronic, piercing and sometimes debilitating pain." The Army considered PFC Scarano a trainee; he and the 39 other soldiers in PTRP at Fort Sill considered themselves prisoners.

PTRP is where the Army, desperate for bodies in a time of war, puts broken enlistees. There they are warehoused, in anticipation of the time they manage to recuperate, pass the grueling PT (physical training) test and can be sent to battle; or fail the test, try again, fail again, stumble through the bureaucratic labyrinth until the point they are chaptered out or medically discharged. All were injured in basic training or advanced individual training and so have yet to be granted "permanent party" status in the Army.

Shortly before Scarano's death, the inspector general at Fort Sill had been forced to undertake an internal investigation of the program for assault and abuse of soldiers, inadequate medical attention, command irresponsibility and overall incompetence. To that list (which I should note is unofficial) they may now add negligence and wrongful death. As of the end of March, the Army wouldn't comment on its investigation or on what killed Scarano, although I did receive a pro forma response saying the matter was "still under investigation." But in the week prior to his death, his comrades in the PTRP barracks say, Army doctors had doubled the dose of his pain medication, Fentanyl, an analgesic patch 80 times more potent than morphine, whose advertised possible side effects include difficulty breathing, severe weakness and unconsciousness.

On the night of March 18, according to Pvt. Richard Thurman, Scarano appeared quite pale and weak. However, Scarano had been in the program for so long, longer than anyone else in terms of continuous service, and was often so visibly suffering or so drugged up as to drool and gaze vacantly, that his infirmity on this particular night did not cause special alarm. Shortly after lights out, at 9, Pvt. Clayton Howell noticed that Scarano was lying on his bad shoulder and turned him so he would not be in greater pain when he awoke. At that time Scarano was breathing. When lights came on the next morning and everyone else had risen from their bunks, Howell again went to Scarano; by then he was dead.

What happened next typifies the trapped situation of injured soldiers at Fort Sill's PTRP.

Someone handed Pvt. Thurman a cell phone, saying, "Call your mom." No one encouraged him to call the medic, or the chaplain, or the sergeant, or anyone on post. Phoning at all meant breaking the rules, as did having a cell phone, contraband for soldiers in PTRP. Thurman crouched in a corner and, amid the near-panic of the barracks, hurriedly dialed his mom, Pat deVarennes.

DeVarennes, an apprentice dog groomer who lives near Sarasota, Florida, is about the only person the PTRP soldiers can confidently regard as their advocate. In January, concerned for the well-being of her son Richard and the other men, she began posting reports on a web log she set up called Only Volunteers. As a result of those reports and her relentless appeals to Fort Sill's Public Affairs Office, the Army began an investigation into PTRP conditions in February. By March 5, 2006, some changes, notably the removal of a sadistic drill sergeant, the introduction of a Medical Center liaison to monitor the troops' medical needs, the suspension of punishing physical tasks and the restoration of weekend on-post passes, had been instituted.

Before reviewing the most egregious abuses recently visited upon injured recruits at Fort Sill, it is necessary to understand the benchmark for normal at PTRP. As deVarennes neatly puts it, "Imagine basic training that never ends." By the old Army standard, the nine weeks of basic training will "break you down to build you up." Lately there have been some changes in that approach, driven by Army psychologists who reckoned that breaking the spirit accomplishes little beyond creating emotional wrecks or sadists. No longer are new recruits regularly addressed as "ladies" or "shitsacks" or subjected to the "shark attack" of drill sergeants screaming top volume into their ears on the bus the moment they arrive. But the regimen of absolute control and arbitrary rules is unchanged, which is why it is time-limited and why even the most hardened soldier will tell you, "Hell, no, I wouldn't want to do it again".

In PTRP, where soldiers have been stuck for months, time seems to have been stopped. The men live in long, narrow barracks that can sleep 42 in bunk beds. They must stand in formation, on crutches, in pain, four times a day in all kinds of weather, sometimes for 20 minutes to an hour, at the drill sergeant's pleasure. They may not smoke, drink, look at porn, go off post, have sex, have soda from a machine or have any food except during set mealtimes. They may not have cell phones or laptops, may use approved electronic devices only at certain hours, and must compete to use the outdoor pay phones in the 35 minutes to an hour that is allowed after dinner. On weekdays, they may not go anywhere on post except with permission and an escort. At times they have been impressed to enjoy "mandatory entertainment" -- a Southern rock concert, the Superbowl, Christian concerts.

When first processed into PTRP, they are not given individualized therapy plans, and doctors at the Medical Center are too stretched to have much time for them, so they use a gym and may sit in a windowless closet-like room to apply ice, but until recently had no sustained medical guidance. They must carry canteens for no other reason -- because these are disgusting and no one drinks from them -- than to advertise their low status. Their dining hall is festooned with nutrition posters that would suit an elementary school. The bathroom in the auditorium they sometimes use is filthy and looks as if it's been decorated by a deranged Martha Stewart, with an Americana wall strip of Teddy bears, apple pies and the flag. Elsewhere, walls are dominated by rugged propaganda posters, battle scenes, life-size blow-ups of soldiers and invocations to "Live the Army Values".

Periodically the PTRP barracks is subject to what its drill sergeants call a health and welfare check, "better known as a shakedown," says Pvt. Thurman. Drill sergeants enter the bay, ordering the men to empty their drawers and lockers. Bedding is stripped, mattresses upended, vent covers unscrewed. During one of these routines, Thurman, who's been in PTRP since November of 2005, was discovered to have a pack of cigarettes and a lighter and was given an Article 15, or nonjudicial punishment, and a fine of $270. Almost everyone who's been in PTRP for any length of time has received an Article 15 for something.

Although the cadre says only "motivated" soldiers are accepted into PTRP, soldiers injured in training cannot un-volunteer. After Private Thurman was in the Army for seven months, doctors discovered he had flat feet, once an automatic disqualifier. But Pvt. Thurman cannot leave. He actually completed basic training and advanced individual training in November. At the time he had stress fractures in his ankle, and because he couldn't run as required for the final PT test, a post doctor prescribed an alternate walking event. He graduated with ceremony, but that same day the Army changed its mind. An officer pulled him and two other soldiers aside and told them walking wasn't good enough and they were being sent to PTRP; there, to satisfy formal requirements, the three were "ungraduated."

In pro forma questioning Thurman had been asked if he wanted to go to PTRP.

"No," he said.

The inquiring officer wrote on his file, "Soldier is unmotivated", and "Soldier is cleared for administrative action," meaning nonjudicial punishment or court martial.

"Lack of motivation is a punishable offense in the US Army," Thurman says. The Army threatened Thurman with being recycled back to day one of basic training. After eight months in PTRP another soldier, who had completed eight weeks of the nine-week basic course before he was injured, opted to return to basic training rather than have to stay in the "rest and rehab" program.

"You have an area you can be in. If you leave that area without permission you can go to jail", Thurman explains. "You have people over you with unquestioned power, and your daily life is at their will. Everything's a privilege." Using the phone is a privilege. Going to the PX on the weekend is a privilege. And as in prison, privileges can be taken away. The culture breeds tormentors and tattle-tales among the inmates -- soldiers who haze their comrades, who report on others for piddling infractions like drinking a Coke from the soda machine for the imagined benefit that might bring the snitch.

"I liken being here to being incarcerated," Scarano wrote to deVarennes less than two weeks before his death. "And it often helped during the bleaker points in PTRP history to think of it as such: I'm far from being any kind of expert on the subject, but perhaps it was a psychological self-defense mechanism to try to perceive what was going on as being punitive in nature."

The soldiers have been ordered not to speak of events that are part of the ongoing investigation, so as not to jeopardize it, but enough was put on the public record earlier via deVarennes' blog to indicate that punishment and not therapy or rehab was in fact the program. What follows is drawn from her reports.

In January, a Drill Seargent named Langford was put in charge of the soldiers at PTRP, and he arrived spitting vinegar, telling the men, as deVarennes recaps, "You're worthless, you're malingerers, you're scared, you're useless, you're not soldiers." He cancelled their weekend on-post passes, confining them to the small area around their barracks, and ordered that on weekdays they could not sit on their beds except during the three hours of free time from 6 PM to 9 PM.

Right before the first Family Weekend at the end of January, the drill sergeant ordered the men to clean and wax the floor of their barracks. After they did it once, moving the heavy bunks and wall lockers in and out of the room, he declared the job inadequate and ordered that they get down on their knees with small scrapers and remove every speck of old wax. Out and in went the furniture again. A soldier with a herniated groin dared not slack off in the moving operation lest he and everyone else incur extra abuse for his offense.

One night another drill sergeant, by the name of Bullock, decided to have some fun with the soldiers and give them a taste of sleep deprivation, ordering them to line up in formation outside every hour from 10 PM to 2 AM. After each line-up they could not simply fall on their bunks fully dressed for the next time because he ordered that they present themselves in different apparel. Soldiers on sleep medication were pulled from their beds by their comrades and hustled into line, since if everyone did not appear at formation, everyone would be punished. Drill Sgt. Bullock is apparently still good standing.

As she was receiving word of these abuses, deVarennes was trying to get someone to care. Rep. Connie Mack's office told her Richard would have to fill out a form before it could act, and since that was impossible, the door slammed. John McCain's office sent her a form letter saying he'd need something in writing from Richard. John Kerry's office never replied at all, which was the most common response she got from members of Congress.

As she was receiving word of these abuses, deVarennes was trying to get someone to care. Rep. Connie Mack's office told her Richard would have to fill out a form before it could act, and since that was impossible, the door slammed. John McCain's office sent her a form letter saying he'd need something in writing from Richard. John Kerry's office never replied at all, which was the most common response she got from members of Congress.

Then an injured soldier simply lost it. He'd been in PTRP for several months, was declared healed and sent upstairs to the Fitness Training Unit, or FTU, where uninjured soldiers who couldn't pass the PT test go through exercise drills to pass it. But his injury prevented him from doing the required exercises, and in the hopelessness of the situation he cut himself up, smeared himself with excrement and marched out of the barracks naked except for his socks and boots. He was packed off to a mental ward for a few days and put on suicide watch.

The soldier's breakdown shook the others in PTRP, and that night Pvt. Thurman called his mother and said, "You've got to find a way to help us." Soon after, a soldier who'd been sitting on watch at the mental ward, whom deVarennes nicknamed Pvt. Gopher, committed his own small act of defiance in front of Drill Sgt. Langford and was ordered to "take a knee," meaning to genuflect. As he'd recently had knee surgery, he told Langford that he wasn't able to do that, whereupon the drill sergeant kicked his legs out from under him, sending him to the floor screaming. A first sergeant on the scene ordered the others to turn away, and told them they didn't see anything. Earlier some of them had tried to report abuses to the medical center, to mental health counselors, to highers-up. Now they'd been ordered to shut up, meaning any action they might contemplate would be in violation of a direct order. Almost identical language--"You didn't see shit"--was used at Abu Ghraib, whose abuses the easy cruelty and indifference to suffering at Fort Sill help put into perspective.

It is illegal for a drill sergeant to strike a soldier, but Langford was not arrested. It is illegal to cover up a crime, but the first sergeant remains in his position. Langford was removed as a drill sergeant; whether he suffers any further indignity or punishment depends on the outcome of the current investigation.

Yet for all this sudden intervention, PFC Scarano still perished. The inspector general did not know about the death until deVarennes e-mailed him. The base commander didn't know until the following Monday. On that day, a spokeswoman at Fort Sill's Public Affairs Office said she couldn't tell me anything about the soldier's death "because I've never heard of that person." In death as in life, this soldier didn't count for much in the Army.

In his March 7 email to deVarennes, thanking her for "becoming our champion when no one else would," Scarano wrote:

Keep reading...Show less

Rainbow's Gravity

Last December, when the smart money was on Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination, when long-shot bettors were talking about Al Sharpton pulling a surprise in the South Carolina primary, when nobody but the Democratic leadership believed John Kerry was "electable," Jesse Jackson was working the South as if a campaign depended on it. At South Carolina State, children with American flags and grown-ups in their Sunday clothes were waiting on him, while the pep band played and a clutch of aides talked into their cellphones.

Jackson was late, traveling from a rally in Goose Creek, where police had raided a high school, forcing 107 kids to their knees, guns to their head, in a search for drugs that turned up nothing. Blacks make up less than a quarter of the student body, Jackson explained after finally bounding onstage, but accounted for two-thirds of those terrorized in the raid. Blacks make up 30 percent of South Carolina's population, but account for 70 percent of its prisoners, who build auto transmissions while real-paying jobs drain away.

Twenty years after his first run for the Democratic nomination, Jackson was in his natal state speaking truths on the rigged rules of race and class that the candidates couldn't or wouldn't, while stressing the imperative of an engaged citizenry. "Keep hope alive!" he urged yet again, and amid an exuberance of cheers there was something in the sullen silence of a row of teenagers that told the difference between the then and now. Jackson mightn't have noticed. In a flash he was off – to a school, to a preachers' lunch, cellphones a'ringing in the borrowed limo, on to Raleigh and thence to Birmingham, "mobilizing the masses," as he put it.

Nobody else was going to do it. For all the candidates' talk about grassroots power, nobody even tried. Explanations abound: the hurry-up primary schedule, the Dean campaign's failure to translate its grassroots fundraising strategy into an investment strategy for indigenous organization; the flimflam of the Sharpton campaign (or "scampaign," as one black South Carolina woman dubbed it) fueled by white Republican dirty-trickster Roger Stone; the relative poverty of the Kucinich camp and its tactical decision to bypass the South, hence African-Americans; the laurel of inevitability conferred upon Kerry after Iowa.

But the political culture that ordered those choices owes to something older, deeper: to 1984, when Jackson launched a grassroots campaign the likes of which the country had never seen; and to the two roads that diverged out of the ultimate wreckage of that year's general election. One was marked "Rainbow Coalition," the other "The Backlash." The former would launch another presidential campaign in 1988, the most formidable internal party challenge in modern times; the latter would constitute itself as the Democratic Leadership Council, a different kind of internal challenge, one hostile to the grassroots (it favored the term "special interests") and determined to make the party safe, or safer, for white men. We live with the legacy of both efforts, and in a sense both coil back to Jackson. In the American dialectic of race, power and politics, the "legacy" of a black-led, left-leaning, populist challenge would never be a simple thing; if the side of the people was emboldened, so were the tribunes of what Jackson once called "the cash system dominated by white men."

If Jackson projected a vision and provided an example of a new kind of movement engagement in electoral politics, the failure to motor that forward must not be his alone. The vital questions on this anniversary, therefore, cannot be contained within the parenthesis of Jackson's personal leaps and limitations. How did progressive forces discharge their responsibilities? How did the Democratic Party respond to the invitation of history? What was gained, and what remains lacking?

Those who did not live in 1984 and 1988 cannot know how sweet a national electoral campaign season can be. Not sweet in the ordinary sense, for there was abundant ugliness, but in that sense where ossification gives way to possibility, where something new appears on the scene that seems to rearrange the pieces on the playing table. It was Reagan time, and Democrats were in retreat. Jackson says now that he never had a mind to run for President, but then the leading Democratic liberals did something that had to be answered. Harold Washington was running for mayor of Chicago in 1983, and though his organization was distinct from Jackson's, when news came that Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale were coming to back Washington's opponents, as Jackson tells it, "We thought, This couldn't be true; these are our guys. So we got together about a hundred black leaders saying, Please don't come. Please respect our alliance. And they came anyway."

Washington won anyway, with a black base that had been deepening for at least ten years, due in part to voter-registration efforts and a methodical training program of Jackson's Operation PUSH that in the early 1970s taught the A to Z of electoral organizing – "the best thing I've ever seen in terms of grassroots politics," according to Frank Watkins, who joined PUSH in 1971 and would later be communications director for the presidential campaigns. Meanwhile in Boston, Mel King had put together what he was the first to call a Rainbow Coalition for mayoral runs in 1979 and 1983.

Nationally, black leftists were looking for electoral options, and within the black mainstream, discussions over how to respond to Reaganism inevitably led also to the indifference of "our guys." The question of What should we demand of them? amped up into Why not go after them? The only remaining matter was Who should run?

That black establishment "wanted very much not to anoint Jesse Jackson," recalls Ron Walters, a political scientist who would be Jackson's deputy campaign manager for issues. And indeed Jackson ran in 1984 without its support. He was considered too brash, too much the maverick, untutored and untested. But Jackson was the candidate of opportunity, and in any case no one else had the moxie to try. Plus Jackson knew the terrain.

"The guy had basically spent the twenty years before that campaigning," says Steve Cobble, who started working for Jackson in 1987 and most recently advised the Kucinich campaign. "No one thought of it as that, but the point is he wasn't showing up the first time as a candidate. That was one of Al's problems this year. It was one of Dennis's problems. Even if people liked you, they liked you on paper; they didn't know you. Jackson they knew. In every state he'd visited, he had people that would offer their church or do volunteer work or bring people out." He knew the deejays, knew how to use free media, so by the time he ran, says Eric Easter, who dealt with the press during the campaigns, he'd begin each day calling black radio shows in about twenty states.

More directly, in 1983 Jackson had toured the South, registering voters in political revival meetings that would contribute to a 30 percent increase in black registration there between 1982 and 1984. In 1980 he'd been on the primary campaign trail, leading rallies on issues he'd hoped the Democrats would embrace. He called it a Third Force Strategy. "We were in Ames, Iowa, before the caucus," says Watkins, now communications director for Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. "Seven hundred fifty people had come out for Kennedy; 1,000 came for Jackson, and people couldn't get in. But we were ignored by the press, ignored by the candidates. I'd actually tried to get Reverend to run in 1979, but he wouldn't do it. Now I told him, 'Unless you're a candidate, no one will pay attention.'"

So he ran. "I ran then to challenge our progressive white allies to accept our issues and our pain, not just our votes," Jackson said recently. "We're still convinced, and still trying to convince the party, that expanding the pool of voters is key to winning – but also dealing with the issues that matter to them. Many people want their votes but don't want their issues. Conservatives try to oppress them; progressives want to wave at 'em but not get involved in the grease and the blood and the grit of dealing with their issues, because their issues create a weighty matter of substance."

Looking back, people with the campaigns say it was the amplification of issues, and the bolstering of ground forces driving them, that are Jackson's profoundest achievements. Walters coordinated twenty-three issue desks in the '84 campaign. "It was like a school right in the middle of the campaign headquarters," he says. "No one else at that level was talking about environmental racism, 'no first use' of nuclear weapons; antiapartheid (remember, the ANC was a 'terrorist organization'); the Arab-Israeli situation." No other candidate had an economic policy based on major investment and cuts in the military, a program Bill Clinton would run on in 1992 (though abandon forthwith). None advocated extension of the Congressional health plan to all Americans. None regarded gay rights as inherent in a larger moral claim and not simply something to be pandered to. None twinned race and class so naturally. None had ever been black.

"Without Jesse, I don't think the antiapartheid movement would have occurred with the strength or vigor that it had," the historian Manning Marable observes, noting the relationships forged in the campaign that boosted that movement and others as well. A full accounting of everyone who "took what they learned and ran with it" can probably never be done, says Eric Easter, who consulted with Dean's campaign in 2003-04. They range from Paul Wellstone, whose 1990 senatorial campaign came out of the Rainbow; to gay activists, who created consciously multiracial projects; to family farmers and Southerners, who planted a garden of organizations; to Latinos and Asian-Americans, who pumped up their political volume; to Tammy Baldwin, who worked for the Rainbow in Wisconsin, entered politics and fashioned a coalition of students, farmers, workers, environmentalists and progressives that would, by 1998, elect her to Congress, the first woman in the state's history and the first openly gay nonincumbent in the nation's. When Baldwin talks about building support both inside Washington and outside in the communities for universal healthcare or daycare or civil rights, she echoes Jackson's campaigns.

Certainly, says Ron Daniels, who was organizing the Rainbow Coalition after '84, became deputy campaign manager in '88 and now directs the Center for Constitutional Rights, "in terms of synthesizing a reformist and radical message, and linking vision to policy to action, those were tremendous contributions," and – especially on the Middle East – "pretty heavy stuff."

QUOT-Madeleine Albright told me at the '84 convention, 'If you even raise this issue [Palestine], you'll destroy this party,'" says Jim Zogby, a deputy campaign manager in 1983, senior adviser and vice chair in 1988, who went on to start the Arab American Institute. "The debate then was, Could you even talk to Palestinians? In the middle of all that, for Jackson to say 'our time, your time, has come' was empowering. There was a raw excitement about being included. But those were difficult years. After the convention, Mondale sent back the money Arab-American businessmen contributed to his campaign. After the election the political director of the DNC told me, 'We can't deal with you because if we do, another group will be angry with us.' I said that's not only insulting to us, it's anti-Semitic. Jackson urged us, Don't give up; the threat you pose is to stick around and fight. In 1988, I led the platform fight for a plank on mutual recognition and territorial compromise. We had a debate but no vote. We made a dent, but what it took to get there was huge."

"One of the things that I loved about Jackson, and still do," says Bill Fletcher Jr., now head of TransAfrica Forum and at the time involved in labor efforts in the Rainbow, "is that Jackson refused to be pigeonholed. In that sense he represented the best in real black political leadership. It wasn't simply ethnic leadership; it was a leader speaking on all the issues of the day from the perspective of being an African-American, so that that African-Americanness infused his viewpoints. What I have found in most white institutions is a failure to accept that and respect that in people of color, and I think it was one of the things that was infuriating to much of the Democratic Party officialdom about Jackson."

Including plantation-mentality black officialdom, stresses Gwen Patton, a longtime Alabama activist and former Rainbow Coalition board member. In Montgomery black politicians collaborated with the white media to attack Jackson and his supporters, even working the polls against him, offering "unsolicited voter's assistance." But Jackson won the black vote in the state, as he did nationwide. As Patton wrote in a biting 1984 analysis in The Journal of Intergroup Relations: "Jackson restored human dignity – the essence of freedom which had been sapped by black politicians in the wake of the people's victory to wrest their citizenship rights from the segregationists. Jackson's candidacy proved that... true leaders are advocates – are waves, as Shirley Chisholm so eloquently says, pushed ahead by the Movement ship steered by the masses." In 1988 Jackson won the Alabama primary outright; this time black officials were on board ship, and grasping at the controls.

Overall, Jackson placed third in 1984, with 3.5 million votes, and the pundits who'd said he would be the party's ruin watched as Walter Mondale, heedless of Rainbow constituents and their issues, crashed in defeat. In 1988, Jackson placed second, winning over 7 million votes, more than Mondale had scored in 1984; and 1,218.5 convention delegates, more than any runner-up in history. Again the pundits, here in The New Republic, warned of "certain and apocalyptic defeat" if Jackson were given a spot on the Democratic ticket. He wasn't, and Michael Dukakis, as heedless as Mondale and hitched to Lloyd Bentsen, a DLC Democrat, suffered his own private apocalypse.

Jackson likes to recount a story from 1989, about a visit to Camp Solidarity in Virginia, where miners were in the midst of the historic Pittston strike. They were, for the most part, large men, white, partial to camouflage, 10,000 strong. Jackson thought they looked pretty fierce. Rich Trumka, then president of the United Mine Workers, told them, "Y'all probably wondering why Jesse Jackson is here. Last year we were told to be scared of him. And this year the folks we gave our money to are nowhere to be seen. So I want you to ask yourselves, Which would you rather have, a black friend or a white enemy?"

It was a question other Southern white trade unionists had raised during the campaigns with their memberships, many of them Reagan Democrats. As elsewhere, the miners listened and responded enthusiastically. Jackson always maintained that a progressive candidate could reach such Democrats with straight talk, empathy, class-angled economics and an appeal to common human values – what veteran activist Anne Braden, who'd organized Rainbow rallies in Appalachia that drew thousands of poor white nonvoters or registered Republicans, called "appealing to the best instincts of Southern whites as opposed to the worst, which is what Bill Clinton played to."

The Pittston story provokes a question now. After all the energy, vision, galvanizing presence and new voters Jackson brought to the scene, can it be said that the party and established progressive institutions answered in the same way as the plain people? Or did they, perhaps, prefer the white enemy to the black friend?

In reviewing what happened with Rainbow politics after 1988, it is common to focus on Jackson. Certainly, he had sharp critics on the left long before he ran, people who called him, variously, an opportunist, a showboat, a capitalist roader, a man too concerned with getting "in" and not enough with the theory and practice of organization. To speak with Rainbow warriors now is to confront a persistent, deep disappointment that in the spring of 1989 Jackson decided against institutionalizing the Rainbow as a mass-based, democratic, independent membership organization that could pursue the inside-outside strategy he'd articulated vis-a-vis the Democrats and build strength locally and nationally to leverage power for progressive aims. Instead, as Ron Daniels, who'd drawn up various plans for such an organization, puts it, Jackson opted for "a light and lean operation." It was, he says, "a lost opportunity." Fletcher captures the general tenor of disappointment: "Jackson inspired a level of activity in electoral politics that I've never seen. He encouraged people who were cynical to get involved. The Rainbow pumped people up, and then it deflated them. And the problem is that it then becomes very difficult to reinflate. I think that he overestimated his own strength in the Democratic Party and was seduced by those, particularly in the black political establishment, that suddenly fawned all over him. But what he'd created, rather than a permanent Jackson wing of the party, was a very broad insurgency within and outside the party. And so, ironically, in demobilizing the Rainbow, he also committed a coup against himself."

It would take more than an article to unravel all the hurts and hopes, the calculations and miscalculations. And because that other organization – imagined as a left variant on the Christian Coalition – never materialized, the might-have-beens are frozen in the amber of conjecture. Jackson himself says, "I like that idea. It's a good idea. But it would've required infrastructure and resources and discipline. You can't just wish something like that into working." Privately, one of his close campaign associates said, "I think Jackson didn't want to have to referee between different parts of his coalition. By 1988 the tensions were already clear. The activists were getting supplanted by the elected officials; the Congress people were telling the lefty radicals to tone it down. The sectarians in various places were trying to take it over internally, and you know the left has never solved that question. We had the most diverse, most little-d democratic, most American delegation anybody's ever sent to a convention, in '88. But if we had just had grassroots little-d democratic votes everywhere, we'd have had a delegation made up almost entirely of black ministers, because they could outvote certainly the gay and lesbian representative, the white Central America activists. Some state coordinators are still catching hell for the choices they made." No doubt, says Anne Braden, "he probably thought he had a tiger by the tail, and maybe he felt he couldn't control it. But on the Rainbow board, people felt we were doing fine. He needed to trust the people more who really wanted to make it work." Privately others say Jackson is incapable of engaging in the kind of dialogue and delegation of authority that sustaining that type of organization would have required.

But if that debate is full of unknowns, plenty of knowns still prick the conscience. In 1984, as Andrew Kopkind and Alexander Cockburn wrote in these pages, Jackson and the Rainbow represented the historical base and radical message for which the left had been yearning in an electoral wilderness. Yet labor, NOW, Democratic Socialists, organized gays and lesbians, other likely constituencies went their own way or, worse, into the arms of Mondale, who, like John Kerry today, accepted the essential premises of the Republican program, except tax cuts, and quarreled merely with the execution. Between '84 and '88, as Cobble notes, "no one of any prominence among white progressives came to Jackson and said, 'We want you to run'; none of the magazines, none of the organizations, only a couple of labor unions (AFGE, the Machinists, 1199). In '88 the only large organization that wasn't black that backed him was ACORN. The Nation didn't endorse until April, which was pretty dang late. After '88 Jackson clearly now is the frontrunner for the nomination. Did the unions say, 'Jesse, let's go, let's start right now for '92'? Did any of the liberal organizations? No. NOW announced it was putting together a commission to study a third party. Jackson's the front-runner for the major-party nomination, and suddenly they're thinking about organizing a third party!"

"Front-runner" talk always disconcerted leftists who cared more about the Rainbow's movement potential. Yet whatever else he could or couldn't do, Jackson was a proven, powerful candidate. His grassroots forays helped the Democrats win back the Senate in 1986 and propelled candidates into office at all levels. By the calculus through which liberal institutions ordinarily support Democrats, the nod to Jackson should have been uncontroversial. A labor official, asked why, after '88, unions would not have seen where their own future best interests lay, said, "That's not the way those people do business; they don't do the outreach." But there was nothing business-as-usual about Jackson, who'd walked picket lines for decades. Frank Watkins was more direct: "The reason labor didn't do that is they're racist. The reason civil rights organizations didn't is they're jealous. The reason the women didn't is they're suspicious."

Someone else was doing outreach. In the spring of '89, Al From, intellectual architect of the Democratic Leadership Council, paid a visit to Governor Clinton in Little Rock. Unlike progressive forces, the backlash Democrats recognized the utility of a charismatic candidate, and of starting early. For 1984 they'd won rules changes, introducing the concept of "superdelegates" to shift power from party activists to elected officials. Jackson managed to negotiate limits on those delegates in 1984. The next year the DLC formally constituted itself. For '88 it advocated one big Southern primary, Super Tuesday, to secure the nomination, it expected, for a white conservative. Jackson swept Super Tuesday, besting the DLC's favorite son, Al Gore. When Jackson then took 54 percent of the vote in Michigan, what appeared in tantalizing prospect was a new party paradigm – neither the New Deal alliance of Northern liberals, blue collars and Jim Crow, nor post-McGovern liberalism with its smorgasbord of interests and its white elite firmly in charge of portion-control. Party liberals had a choice; they chose reaction.

As outlined in Kenneth Baer's Reinventing Democrats, From and Co. were straightforward about rolling back the party to its pre-civil rights past, where the issue of "special interests" would be submerged for the goal of winning, and winning would mean reinstituting what Congressman Jackson calls the "Democratic Legacy of the Confederacy." In the run-up to the 1992 race, Clinton's people, as recounted in Marshall Frady's book Jesse, would confer with old Mondale hands asking, "Why did you guys give so much to Jackson? You shouldn't've got pushed around like that." The iconic image of '92 would be Clinton and Senator Sam Nunn posing at Stone Mountain, Georgia, the graven images of the Confederacy's heroes looming in the background, and in the middle distance, a group of black prisoners.

"The error," says Kevin Gray, who coordinated Jackson's winning campaign in South Carolina in '88 and organized for the '84 win as well, "was in assuming we ever left the Age of Reagan, and not carrying the critique to the Age of Clinton. Where Jesse dropped the ball is he became a Democrat. Instead of a small-d democrat, he became a big-D Democrat – except with an asterisk."

Asterisk? "You know the line, 'World champions and you MVP, you a nigger,/Four degrees and a PhD, still a nigger.' And that's exactly how I think the Democratic Party sees Jesse. Now, I have disagreements with the brother – I think he squandered his leverage, which was our leverage, because the beauty of Jesse running was the threat that we all might one day walk, or even the threat to disrupt things, and for African-Americans in this political system, hell, that's the only power we got. That and moral authority, especially as relates to a Democratic Party that styles itself as having the interests of black folk at heart. Are they living up to it? Hell no. But, now, everybody else got to look in that mirror too. What did the Rainbow stripes get from Bill Clinton? And where were progressive forces on that?"

By a brisk accounting, the black stripe of the Rainbow got the crime bill, women got "welfare reform," labor got NAFTA, gays and lesbians got DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act). Even with a Democratic Congress in the early years, the peace crowd got no cuts in the military; unions got no help on the right to organize; advocates of DC statehood, which would virtually guarantee more Democrats in Congress, got nothing. None of them fought together, if they fought at all. On affirmative action, Jackson had to threaten Clinton privately with an independent run in 1996 before the President declared, "Mend it, don't end it." Marable points out that between Clinton's inaugural and the day he left office, some 650,000 more people were incarcerated; today one in eight black men is barred from voting because of prison, probation or parole. "Talk about amputating your base," he says. Ideologically, however, it was not Clinton's base, the DLC base, that was attacked. It was Jackson's base, the Rainbow base.

Now for every national election, the party underwrites Jackson's loyalty by contracting him to boost voter participation. He believes in it, but the indifference of those South Carolina teenagers last year is multiplied many times over in black communities, where, as Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a progressive South Carolina legislator who was a 1984 Jackson delegate, says, "I hear it all the time: 'I ain't votin'. Ain't nothin' gonna change.'" Half a million blacks in the state are "missing voters," she says, either unregistered or no-shows on Election Day, and no one person can "deliver them all." Nationwide the number is 13 million. Counting whites and others similarly disposed, mostly poor and working-class, it's 100 million. For Jackson there's a contradiction in being a prophetic voice of opposition and the party's paid vote rustler. As he knows better than anyone, people don't vote for just anyone – perhaps the greatest, discounted lesson of 1984.

The day that Ronald Reagan died, Jackson was preparing for a barnstorm through Appalachia. There was a telling symmetry about it. Twenty years ago, as Reagan lashed out at "welfare queens" and projected a fantasyland America, Jackson was in those same hills and hollows, pressing against the flesh and suffered facts of the real thing. It was the children of Appalachia about whom Reagan had said, Let them eat ketchup! and whom America today has sent to kill and die in Iraq. "Why are we going to Appalachia?" Jackson said. "Because that's where our soul is." Our shame, too; along with the Black Belt South, it is the region with the most unemployment, the poorest people, the sickest people, the most persistent underdevelopment, whichever party holds power and however prosperous the time. Urging "Reinvest in America" and co-sponsored by a host of unions that never put their names to a Rainbow campaign, the tour was Third Force all over again, including the blackout from a press gorging on the myth of Reagan, man of the people.

"I do not approach America cynically," Jackson said, "because I did not know a day where we did not have to struggle. People ask about anniversaries – fifty years since Brown, forty years since the Civil Rights Act – and say, 'What happened in fifty years?' It's a good question, but what about what happened before fifty years? For 335 years race supremacy was the law of the land. Then the law changed but the culture didn't. The idea of a nonracist society, legally, is just fifty years old. When we ran, the Voting Rights Act was just nineteen years old. So it's still early in the morning. And it's a bit different between African-Americans and our white progressive allies. For us, liberals and conservatives are often two sides of the same coin. No liberal ever had to fight to use a toilet. No liberal ever had to fight for the right to vote, fight to stay in a hotel, fight to buy ice cream at a Howard Johnson's with money. No liberal is scared today because there are so many ways the constituency can be killed. And there's a culture that goes with that. So you're always fighting two battles. You're fighting the culture in your own huddle as you're fighting the other side. You're pushing political ideas and cultural transformation at the same time. What was gratifying about the campaigns was moving that process, and that process is irreversible."

Electorally, this year's Illinois Senate race is another stage in the process. Barack Obama, 42, is likely to become the only black senator come November. At the Rainbow/PUSH convention in June, the mere mention of his name by John Kerry prompted a standing ovation. As Marable notes, Obama (like Baldwin and Jesse Jr.) is representative of "that generation of the left that came to political maturity in the 1980s informed by three pivotal motions, around AIDS, antiapartheid and the Jackson campaigns." Coming up his own way – Harvard, local elective office, "the Rainbow via Tiger Woods," as journalist John Nichols aptly put it – Obama nevertheless followed a Jacksonian strategy, solidifying his black base, then appealing to Latinos, Asian-Americans, white liberals, farmers, gays and lesbians, labor, with a message of economic justice and opposition to the war that, again, presents an alternative to DLC politics. For a party in search of stars, Obama could be it. But as his friend Camelia Odeh, a 1988 Jackson delegate, longtime Palestinian organizer and executive director of the South West Youth Collaborative in Chicago, cautions: "I wouldn't put so much on the individual. We need more than that on the left – a discourse around ideologies and, beyond only activism, genuine grassroots community organizing. Then when the individual can't pull through or has to compromise, people don't get demoralized."

Perhaps it will take the generation behind Obama for that. At a recent conference of Democratic progressives, the younger cohort, more reflective of rainbowism than their elders, were talking about technology but also "beauty parlor-barbershop" organizing; about voter registration but also about using electoral politics tactically, because "our issues don't go away after the election"; about remembering that "the people need hope" but also regarding the Democratic Party without illusion. The name Kerry never came up. Their issues fell within what Jackson had called "the trilogy of racism, exploitative capitalism and militarism," what Martin Luther King had first named "the triple evils." In their 20s mostly, they weren't quite advocating a "restructuring of the whole of American society," as King had, but they did speak of imagining a different world. In their discussion there was the resonance of something I'd heard from Jack O'Dell, an old soldier of the left, who'd worked with Dr. King, worked with Jackson shaping the international agenda. "There are moments," he'd said, "and we have to take from those moments all that is positive, because that's our inheritance. Because of Jesse Jackson's campaigns, we know how to build a grassroots campaign. Without them, we might have the analysis but not the experience. We must still ask ourselves how we can reinvigorate electoral democracy. We can't drop out, as if what we don't like about electoral politics will go away because we abstain. Movements are directed toward political power, and wherever we can get a piece of it, we have to try to get it and hold on to it. Now, we know what Bush is. If we are victorious in defeating Bush, then our assignment is to make what we can of Kerry. And our job begins the next day."

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."

@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by