Archive for September, 2012

War On Cultural Institutions Within The US

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

The musicians of the Chicago symphony are striking against the continued demands by the orchestra’s administration for wage and benefits cuts despite this fact:

“Earlier this year, [Deborah] Rutter, [president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association] announced a record-breaking year of fundraising for the CSO, whose contributions increased 15 percent to $24 million.”

Chicago Symphony performing

The reason for the apparent dichotomy between a record breaking year of fund raising and refusal to leave musicians salaries at their previous levels, much less increase them, may be found in the information below:

“According to a national study of 2008-09 orchestra budgets, 42 percent of total compensation went to executives, while just 17 percent went to players. Orchestra executives generally make annual salaries in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, although Rutter’s current pay isn’t public.”  You can read the complete article  about this here.

The URL for this blog includes danceforpeace.  I am a dancer as well as an activist.  The blog was started by my tango dance partner as a way to keep friends informed when I went to join those protesting the Bush regime’s wars and torture at Camp Casey in Texas.  The focus has been on reporting on issues of US war and torture and resistance to them which goes largely unreported in the corporate media.

Today, I want to report on the war on culture that is going hand in hand with the wars on foreigners who have what the US elite want–oil mostly right now, wars on rights and liberties within the US as a way to extract more and more from the US population, war on the planet’s ecosystem (which may just be a by-product of the greed that drives the other aspects of this total war) and war on the economic prosperity of the US population.  There are all linked.  Those ruthlessly greedy for all the power and all the resources are engaged in unrestrained war.

The war on culture in the US is easy to wage.  Unlike in the developed world where cultural institutions have been paid for publicly [the war there is being waged as well, but differently], these institutions have been created historically in the US by private “philanthropy.”  Vastly wealthy people like Andrew Carnegie who had made their fortunes on the backs of ill paid workers, founded, and funded, orchestras and museums and other institutions.  Their work has been imitated and continued by other members of the elite with fund drives and charity balls.  While some of those who participate may be interested in the art or music, many are not.

 

Why then would they give money and some of their time to these fund raising events?  Perhaps the list of names of major contributors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, chiseled into the marble in a conspicuous place in the museum, is one reason.  And the lists of contributors in programs, usually ranked by amount of contribution, must be an inducement, too.  In a world where human value is determined by how much money one has, this is a declaration of pedigree.  See how rich they are!

Their own kind are appointed to direct the major arts institutions and paid well–not what they could make if they had real income like that of the donors, but an income that Mitt Romney thinks is “average” for the US.*

Cultural institutions are not usually free to the public in the US and tickets for concerts of the country’s best orchestras, opera and ballet companies are often well beyond the capacity of many to afford.

And how are our artists trained in this country?  Mostly in private institutions.  Arts in schools are not well funded and there are few, no internationally celebrated, public conservatories for serious young artists.  With the elites having discovered the lucrative education market, young concert musicians, visual artists, dancers, actors, singers, and others begin their careers with massive amounts of student debt, not unlike their peers in other fields.  The arts, however, except for a very few big stars, pay little–in fact pay less and less.

The same elites who founded many of the cultural institutions in the US also established foundations, which are thought by many to provide grants for the arts.  Yes, some do, but candidates for these grants must complete with underfunded medical and other social services as well as with one another.  And, grants only provide a part of the budget of any project–often only ten percent.

How, in contrast, does the developed world support cultural institutions?  The entire society contributes through taxes to both major cultural institutions and to the formation of artists in public conservatories. Culture belongs to everyone–or at least to a much greater number of people–in those countries.

The contrast of private funding of cultural institutions also results in situations like one reported in the article mentioned above. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to open their season with a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.  It is a nationally and internationally known orchestra, so this is not surprising.  What is surprising is that Rahm Emanuel is scheduled to speak at a $1500.00 per plate fund raising dinner afterward to benefit Carnegie Hall programs.  He can raise money for that, but not defend the salaries and benefits of the orchestra of the city where he is mayor?  He must be networking with others there to contribute to his next campaign.

Carnegie Hall, US flag prominently displayed

As a performing artist myself,  I live with the realities of the war on culture all the time.   Those of us who serve the public interest with art are discounted and completely marginalized  if we cannot be used by the system to serve its ends.  Can we work together to change this?

 

*Romney said that average US income was $250,000.00 a year.  In fact average income in the US was $39,959 in 2010.  Median income, that is the midpoint in a scale of all the amounts people earned, half of the population earning more than this sum, half of the population earning less, was $26,364.   Of course, in the current depression caused by the greed of the ruling elites, many people are without work and earn nothing.   Read more here.

Back to the Bronx

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

It was back to the  Bronx for me on Saturday, to the same neighborhood where we were on September 13 passing out whistles and encouraging people there to Blow the Whistle on Stop and Frisk.

This time a very small number of us were at the intersection of Westchester and Boynton where Noche had observed the brutal attack by police on a young man on March 27th of this year.  Noche himself was arrested for engaging in that act of observing which is perfectly legal.

Our goals were two fold.  First, we wanted to see if we could find anyone who had seen the incident and would be willing to serve as a witness or who had made video which they would provide to Noche’s lawyer. Secondly, we wanted to be in that community, targeted by the police, listen to what the people there say, and invite any of them who have had enough of the repression to join with others to work against it.

We handed out flyers and blew the whistle.  Jamel, who is especially talented for this, would agitate, reminding the passersby of the incident at that intersection in March 27th.  As he did that, Sarah and I, later Jonathan from John Jay College, handed out flyers and talked with people.  Sometimes Jamel talked with people also.

We also asked shop keepers on the busy commercial street if they had seen the incident and would serve as witnesses.

Many people remember the event well.  The police dragged a young black man out of a car, pulling his hair out as they did so.  People remember seeing the hair on the sidewalk.  A large crowd had gathered as many police were called to the scene to back up the original officers.  Observers called out to the police to stop, some saying “You are killing him.”  The young victim of this attack has been reported as saying that he felt sure he would have been beaten to death.

Noche, an observer of this incident was arrested.  Observing the police, who are supposed to “serve and protect” the public, not brutalize us, is not unlawful.  It is our right, and I believe our duty, to make sure these public servants are doing their job.  A young Latino or black man, members of a criminalized group in this city, is not afforded the rights of the rest of the population.  Doing what is every citizen’s duty, though few enough of us do it, caused Noche to be arrested.  He is charged with obstruction of the police.  Would that more of us were courageous enough to try to keep them from beating people.  I was in that community to do what I can to help Noche avoid prison time for standing up to police abuse.

We heard many more stories of police brutality and targeting of young black and Latino men in particular.  People in that community are both angry and afraid.  They risk police retaliation and retribution for standing up and speaking out.  Small wonder that few do.

I had been thinking on Friday night about my privileges as a white woman in this city. George and I had dinner at a little place on Lexington Avenue in the 80’s.  We did see some NYPD officers who had ordered take out food and were at the counter.  The only ways they were offensive to the upper east side community were in taking up space at the register and having their radios on.  They spoke respectfully to some people from the neighborhood who came in.  My income may not place me in the “middle class”, but my race, education, and background give me immunity from things suffered by some of my sisters and brothers in this city.  I don’t want to forget them, nor that they are my sisters and brothers.  Today, I was glad to be in an area where things are very different to support the people there and work to make a better world for us all.

Myth that the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo are “too dangerous to be released” dispelled

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Though it does not say transfer to where, the list was published today of men at Guantanamo who were cleared years ago for release and have languished for almost eleven years at the torture camp and have now been officially (again) “released for transfer.”  See the list here.

Zachary Katznelson, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said:

“These men have now spent three years in prison since our military and intelligence agencies all agreed they should be released. Not on the list, of course, is Adnan Latif, who died in his cell earlier this month despite having been repeatedly approved for release from Guantánamo. It is well past time to release and resettle these unfairly imprisoned men.”  Read about Adnan Latif’s death on this blog here and more about him here.

You can read the ACLU press release here.

Center for Constitutional Rights Executive Director Vincent Warren issued the following statement:

“Most of the 55 men listed have endured 11 years of indefinite detention without charge or trial, despite the unanimous assessment of every responsible U.S. national security agency that these men could be safely released or transferred. The government’s justification for hiding the identities of these men was always unconvincing, and their names should have been made public three years ago when the Guantanamo Review Task Force made its determinations. Though today’s announcement is long overdue, we welcome the disclosure of this important information which finally dispels the myth that the remaining detainees who are trapped at Guantanamo are too dangerous to be released. [Emphasis mine]

“The list announced today, however, is incomplete, and not appearing on the list is no indication of wrongdoing. It is long past time for the government to release the men it does not intend to prosecute. It should begin by urgently resuming transfers of the 86 men it has already cleared. The government did the right thing today by releasing the partial list of names. It should take the next step of releasing the men themselves.” [Emphasis mine]

You can read the Center for Constitutional Rights complete press release here.

The men at Guantanamo should all be sent home or wherever they want to go.  Even if, as Andy Worthington suggests, there may be 38 dangerous men still at the prison, they have all been tortured and just trails of any of them are impossible.  If the US had cases against any of them, it should have tried them years ago.

Jamel’s Photographs from Sept. 13 in Harlem

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

The photographs below are by Jamel “JamNoPeanut’ Mims and show people of all ages participating in Harlem.  Some of the youngsters were great at distributing whistles to people all around the projects. We all enjoyed blowing them.

BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON STOP AND FRISK

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Jamel with one of the Posters

I had written the phone number of the National Lawyers Guild on my left arm in preparation.  I might have needed it.  When I got to the meeting place, I noticed that Noche, the courageous young activist whom I was to meet for this action,  had done that, too.

We were in a section of the Bronx targeted by the NYPD for the Stop and Frisk policy, which produced nearly 700,000 incidents where police, without warrants, stop mostly young men of color mostly in specific neighborhoods, and subject them to humiliating personal searches. The “reason” the city and NYPD give for this practice is to keep guns off the street.

Below is what the Center for Constitutional Rights says about this policy:

“In 2011, in New York City, 685,724 people were stopped, 84 percent of whom were Black and Latino residents — although they comprise only about 23 percent and 29 percent of New York City’s total population respectively. 2011 is the highest year on record for stops. The number of stops represent an over 600 percent increase since Mayor Bloomberg came into office. In 2011, 88 percent of all stops did not result in an arrest or a summons being given. Contraband was found in only 2 percent of all stops. The NYPD claims their stop and frisk policy keeps weapons off the street – but weapons were recovered in only one percent of all stops. These numbers clearly contradict that claim.” See the complete report here.

Noche and I were soon joined by a few other people, including a legal observer from The Bronx Defenders. The young attorney, Cara Suvall, was there to see that the police did not impede our rights to protest and to note any illegal behavior of the police should there be any.  I always like to see the legal observers on the street with us.  At least if things go wrong, there will be a qualified witness to testify what really happened.

A police car drove up and stopped right in front of us as we were taping signs to the railings of the public housing project and park, passing out flyers and whistles to passers by and encouraging them to blow the whistle any time they see the police stopping the young people of the neighborhood.  The police took photographs of us from the car and before long a “white shirt”, Lieutenant Jose Torres showed up.  I was standing next to Ms Suvall, who fortunately was very tactful with him.  He was there to “help” us.  The only help he could give would be to advocate for an end to Stop and Frisk.  Not willing to borrow trouble, however, I did not say that, nor much of anything

He asked what I understood to be whether the protest would be repeated on some regular basis.  I said that I knew of no such plan when Ms. Suvall deferred to me on this. I did not explain that we hoped to empower the entire neighborhood to resist the policy all day, every day, forever or until the policy is stopped, whichever comes first.  I could imply with all honesty that I, personally, did not plan to be on that street corner at any regular interval.  I hope people in the neighborhood will be there every day.

He withdrew a little and was joined by a van of police who hung out more or less out of earshot for most of the rest of the time we were there.  As police encounters for this campaign to STOP Stop and Frisk go, this was not bad.  Launched last year and spearheaded by Professor Cornel West and Revolutionary Communist Party spokesperson Carl Dix, the campaign still goes on.  A chant for it is “We won’t stop till we  STOP Stop and Frisk.”  To date, we have not stopped.

This particular action was to support people in the neighborhoods and empower them to lead the charge against this policy.  People stopped to talk with us, some already having whistles that were distributed earlier.  Many took away whistles and flyers.  Some told us stories of the brutality they have seen and experienced.  One old man of great dignity walked up to the police and blew the whistle at them then and there.  I tried to speak to grandmothers and mothers, as I want to contribute to making a better world for all of our children and know that they share my desires.  My heart was especially touched by the adorable little boys I saw, all of whom will be eventual targets of this policy unless we stop it.

Young Protester Blowing the Whistle

Noche was really good with the young men. He knows what they experience and can offer  strength to them on how to resist. A young journalist from Columbia University interviewed us and was especially moved by Noche’s story.  He is facing years in prison for standing up for people who are oppressed, but there he was on the street again.  A reporter and camera woman from NY1 also interviewed him. I loved the group of neighborhood people, mostly young men who were grouped behind him as he answered the reporter’s questions on camera.

People who work for two local social service agencies, came out of their offices in the buildings across the street, drawn in part by all the whistle blowing.  “‘How are we to do homework help with a young person when they’ve just gone through an interaction with a police officer that has broken down their spirits with folks who they trust?’ said David R. Shuffler, the director of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. ‘It’s a real challenge in our neighborhood.'” He shared this in an  interview with NYC1.  See that report here .

Indeed, the shockingly low effectiveness of the Stop and Frisk policy for what the city and police force say it is for, leads people to wonder if it is not really intended to intimidate persons of color and criminalize them.  A look at prison statistics could give credence to that idea as well.

When things began to slow down at our location and we heard that they were still going strong in Harlem, Noche and I loaded signs, whistles, and flyers into a wheeled cart and got very good at carry it up and down the subway stairs as we ventured to the area of Harlem north of 125th between Amsterdam and Broadway.  We marched about the public housing projects, greeted often with people blowing their whistles in support and distributing more of them to people who didn’t have one along with flyers about ways to use them to help STOP Stop and Frisk.  I did not see a police officer and wondered why, but also felt glad.   This seemed more like a celebration and less like a siege.  The fact is, however, that many young persons endure Stop and Frisk in that area as well.

People mounted similar actions in Brownsville in Brooklyn, Jamaica in Queens, and the Styvesant Place and Wall Street area of Staten Island.  You can read Elaine Brower’s account of the Staten Island event on the Stop Mass Incarceration Network website here.  It remains to be seen if the people in those neighborhoods targeted for Stop and Frisk will blow the whistle to stop the policy.   I want to go back and see before too long.

We won’t stop till we STOP Stop and Frisk

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif Succombs to Torture

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif died in Guantanamo after nearly eleven years of torture.  One of the frailest of the remaining prisoners there, it is a miracle he did not die before.  Whatever the official story is, he was murdered with US tax payers’ money–that includes mine.  I must continue to speak out and resist.

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif’s story is related on this blog Click here.  The signal issues are ones that millions of people in the US should be able to relate to.  He was looking for affordable health care.  He had sustained a serious head injury in an auto accident.  We should understand; unlike the developed nations of the world which have universal health care, the US does not.  Many people here in his situation would look for affordable health care if injured that way, too.  He had heard of a Pakistani doctor practicing in Afghanistan and went there to seek treatment.

The US invaded before he found the doctor.  He was sold by bounty hunters to the US because, being from Yemen, he “looked Arab.”

I have been in a foreign country and very ill.  When I told people there I was sick, no one disbelieved me.  People were helpful.  What would I have done, if instead, I was arrested, suffering greatly, and believed to be lying?  What if nothing I said made any difference and I was thrown in a dungeon and tortured, held without charges for over a decade?

Can we begin to see this from Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif’s perspective?   What do we think we would do if we were one of his guards or interrogators?

Some of the US personnel who have perpetrated the horrors at Guantanamo and Bagram and other black sites, are now filled with remorse that they did not believe people like him.

He should have been freed.  Even more, he should have been offered medical care, not as a prisoner, but as a suffering human being when he was discovered.  He was a casualty of the invasion of Afghanistan, like millions of other civilians who were killed at the time or whose lives have been devastated.  I include among the latter, US military personnel.

We must end US aggression.  No more torture no more war.

No more murders of innocent men in Guantanamo and other US prisons at home and abroad.  No more torture of any prisoners, even those in the US who have been convicted of crimes in US courts.  War and torture are the crimes.