Woke in West Virginia

     

       We know that we come from these mountains and we are strong and we have pride and we love this state. We come from an area that is known for standing up for what they believe in. The union wars they originated in the south in Mingo County.

We believe we’re following in their footsteps. We believe the movement was started years ago through the mine wars. We’re just reviving the movement that was started years ago.

                           Striking West Virginia Teacher Katie Endicott in The New York Times March 1, 2018

     The West Virginia Teachers' strikes takes place at a historic moment in national politics.

     The illegal statewide strike of 20,000 teachers that has shut down every school in the state continues into its second week following the rejection of a deal offered by the state government and the teachers union leadership.

     And while a funereal message emanates from the sclerotic leadership of  public sector unions due to the impeding ruling of the Supreme Court in the Janus case, real funerals also took place following the latest mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. 

     Enraged students from Marjory High School have sparked a new movement for safe schools across the country, while enraged West Virginia teachers are fighting for better funding and a decent living. Adding to this political vortex is the inane talk of arming teachers, wholly rejected by the teachers themselves.

     There is a widespread feeling in the country that things have reached a point where change must happen and happen now.

     The West Virginia teachers have demonstrated to us that the post Janus-era can be the beginning of another labor movement. Rank and file democracy has carried the day in a state that just a few months ago was written off as Trump country and provides a concrete example of the way forward for teacher and public sector unions. 

   ---------------------------

 

     The West Virginia Strike bears the fingerprints of resistant to virtually every malevolent feature of neoliberal capitalism. 

 

·      West Virginia school teachers rank 48th out of 50 in the United States in pay.  A series of business tax cuts has prevented teachers from having an across-the-board pay hike since 2014.  The state’s population is declining, making reducing the labor supply for instructors.  Substitute teachers are in high demand but short supply.  The strike is a strike against a quarter century of support reduction, including wage stagnation.  The 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike, which targeted school closings forced by privatization and charter schools, a massive reduction in the tax base for public education, and ‘educational apartheid’ targeting poor non-white communities, was a harbinger of the West Virginia strike. 

·      West Virginia teachers are on strike for health benefits (called P.E.I.A. in West Virginia) eroded by increasing health care costs and wage reduction.  Teachers in West Virginia literally cannot afford to get sick.  Their strike indexes attacks on social provisioning that has been accompanied by the privatization of public services and an increasing ‘health gap’ between rich and poor.

·      The majority of striking teachers---as with most public education workforces, are women. Faced with cuts to social reproduction services (child care, health care) and reduced wages, striking West Virginia teachers indicate the double burden and double vulnerability of women to a deracinated public sphere under neoliberalism. 

·      The strike is a wildcat strike: both illegal, and in contradistinction to the leadership of the teacher unions.  Rank and file union members rejected Governor Justice’s offer of a 5 percent wage increase (which would have been the largest single-year increase ever for WV teachers) and decided to stay out on strike rather than return to classes.  Wildcat strikes are incredibly rare in the contemporary U.S., last seen in the 1960s, including in the coal mining industry, as a symptom of the relative declining weight of Union workers’ run-up to full-scale neoliberalism: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/11/review-how-wildcat-strikes-made-public-worker-unions-grow-and-thrive The Wildcat tactic indicates a rejection of general complacency within teachers’ unions and its bureaucratic leadership offered by the likes of Randi Weingartner and the National Education Association. 

·      The strike is taking place in the American South, a region of the United States with historically lower wages because of its history of slavery, anti-unionism, and in the neoliberal era, intensified anti-workerism, and in a “right-to-work” state.  “Right-to-Work” legislation in Indiana, Wisconsin and other states has been a huge thorn to organized labor in the neoliberal area.  Indeed, West Virginia coal miners were among the first U.S. workers to rise up in the new neoliberal era. In late 1977 and early 1978, 160,000 coal miners from West Virginia to southern Illinois, waged a 111-day rank-and-file strike in opposition to the national leadership of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)—against the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA).  Labor historian James Green wrote at the time, “The 1977–1978 coal miners’ strike must be viewed in the context of an overall offensive by the capitalist class” https://isreview.org/issue/74/miners-strike-1977-78

·      Finally, the strike represents a wave of worker discontent with Trump and Trump Era.  As middle school teacher Jay O’Neal put it in an interview with Jacobin:

 

“This is a fight of working people versus the large corporations. These big companies have controlled and exploited our state for over a century. Historically, it was the coal corporations. But now it’s more the natural gas companies that are calling the shots. We need national exposure on these conflicts.

“People like to dismiss West Virginia as Trumpland. But that’s a simplification. A lot of people here didn’t vote for Trump. And you also have a lot of people who voted for him, but who are involved in the strike. Everyone is now saying, “I know when I’m being screwed over. Enough is enough.” Folks are waking up.”

 

 https://jacobinmag.com/2018/03/west-virginia-teachers-strike-activist-interview

 

 

        

Copy of "Palestine and Our Emancipation"

I’ve chosen this title for my blog---"From the River to the Sea"--as a metaphor for the words to come. The phrase---a slogan, a mantra, a cry in the streets, a political project--is used by Palestinians to articulate and imagine the idea of freedom and self-determination while living under Israeli Occupation. The words symbolize a desire to decolonize land held by Israel from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, and to achieve full equality, civil rights, and dignity.

The words resonate with me in several ways. They have the cadence of music, which is for me the audification of what Robin D.G. Kelley calls freedom dreams. In his recent book Noise Uprising, Michael Denning reminds us that Theodor Adorno, that skeptic of so many things, referred to the gramophone upon its invention as a “proletarian loudspeaker,” and that early recorded music was created by and took place in port cities across a workers' diaspora of the global south. In the Black musical tradition, rhythms of slave revolts originate in syncopated African drums---used to code plans for noise uprisings under the master’s nose---and work: the swinging of hammers intended for the spike, but carrying the weightier aspiration of knocking down systems of slavery, genocide, oppression. In the spirituals, the “sorrow songs,” as W.E.B. Du Bois named them, the River Jordan itself signifies the destination of the living seeking freedom from death in life, and from life in death.

During the Black Lives Matter movement, Afro-Palestinian liberation became a new geography of liberation, to use Alex Lubin’s term.  In the midst of the Ferguson protests against the killing of Michael Brown, Black protestors carried Palestinian flags in the face of U.S. National Guards, while Palestinians ‘tweeted’ from the West Bank directions for dealing with tear gas. The scope of articulated freedom was wide, transoceanic. During the Occupy Movement of 2011, a common slogan used by protesters was “Occupy Wall Street Not Palestine.” The word, 'Occupy,' became a poignant double entendre: Palestinian resistance to colonization a trope for fighting capitalism itself. Palestinians became emblematic of the “99 percent,” and commoners across the globe perceived their solidarity through a felt empathy and identification with the rights of indigenous people to take back what was rightfully theirs: land, bread, freedom, as the Bolsheviks called it in 1917.

“From the River to the Sea” then is an expression of historical, and transhistorical, revolutionary dreaming.  If Marx and Engels argued that under capitalism “The working man has no country”----her own land, bread and freedom expropriated by the capitalist nation-state---then their compulsion for “workers of the world” to unite encompasses struggles to live free everywhere: Palestine, Ferguson, Wall Street, Standing Rock. Indeed “Water is Life,” a slogan of the Keystone Pipeline protests, embodies the elemental nature of human craving to live in a non-exploitative relationship to the world: from the river to the sea.  In his book Capitalism in the Web of Life, Jason Moore reminds us that the capitolocene---the epoch of humanity under capitalism---*produces* nature itself. Rising sea levels are a ‘new nature’ come home to roost through the exploitative, accumulative logics of capitalist production. If nature is produced everywhere then resistance to capitalism is necessarily anywhere. Coal excavation, deforestation, carbon mining are ‘gravedigging’ means by which capitalism creates a planet in revolt against itself.

Finally, “From the River to the Sea” is an expression of gender fluidity: the  transmogrification of bodies that is this historical moment’s most rapid, shape-shifting revolution.  In my working-class literature course at Purdue,  students respond most powerfully to Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues.  The body in Feinberg’s account is the productive site of struggle not just against gender conformity and biological sexism, but capitalist violence against workers, police violence against LGBTQI+ and African-Americans.  “Double consciousness” for Feinberg is the awareness of simultaneously lived oppression and exploitation for transsubjects.  It is also a dialectic of sex that produces bodies in resistance.  As Feinberg becomes transgender, he crosses a River Jordan of compulsory cis heteronormativity, he becomes a body not just in itself but for itself. Feinberg gets free.

Which returns us to Palestine. The capacity to live ‘from the river to the sea’ means the capacity to move, and to move freely.  It means to breathe. The antidote to ‘the working men have no country’ is a borderless world. “Free Palestine” is not simply a heralding of the end of Israeli apartheid; it is a metonymy for a world without walls, without bounded borders, without checkpoints. It is the migrant and immigrant’s plea that emancipation be everywhere, legalized citizenship no where.  The latter is no more stand-in for the former than formal equality is for self-emancipation.  My website thus takes its own mantra from the Palestinian writer and revolutionary Ghassan Kanafani: “Everything in this world can be robbed and stolen, except one thing; this one thing is the love that emanates from a human being towards a solid commitment to a conviction or cause.”    

“From the River to the Sea,” then, this blog, is about returnings, and right of return.  It is about the dispossessions all of us face, everywhere and anywhere, and how solidarity closes the spaces between us: from the river to the sea.

My next blog will take up some of the freedom dreams of the writer James Baldwin.

"Palestine and Our Emancipation"

I’ve chosen this title for my blog---"From the River to the Sea"--as a metaphor for the words to come. The phrase---a slogan, a mantra, a cry in the streets, a political project--is used by Palestinians to articulate and imagine the idea of freedom and self-determination while living under Israeli Occupation. The words symbolize a desire to decolonize land held by Israel from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, and to achieve full equality, civil rights, and dignity.

The words resonate with me in several ways. They have the cadence of music, which is for me the audification of what Robin D.G. Kelley calls freedom dreams. In his recent book Noise Uprising, Michael Denning reminds us that Theodor Adorno, that skeptic of so many things, referred to the gramophone upon its invention as a “proletarian loudspeaker,” and that early recorded music was created by and took place in port cities across a workers' diaspora of the global south. In the Black musical tradition, rhythms of slave revolts originate in syncopated African drums---used to code plans for noise uprisings under the master’s nose---and work: the swinging of hammers intended for the spike, but carrying the weightier aspiration of knocking down systems of slavery, genocide, oppression. In the spirituals, the “sorrow songs,” as W.E.B. Du Bois named them, the River Jordan itself signifies the destination of the living seeking freedom from death in life, and from life in death.

During the Black Lives Matter movement, Afro-Palestinian liberation became a new geography of liberation, to use Alex Lubin’s term.  In the midst of the Ferguson protests against the killing of Michael Brown, Black protestors carried Palestinian flags in the face of U.S. National Guards, while Palestinians ‘tweeted’ from the West Bank directions for dealing with tear gas. The scope of articulated freedom was wide, transoceanic. During the Occupy Movement of 2011, a common slogan used by protesters was “Occupy Wall Street Not Palestine.” The word, 'Occupy,' became a poignant double entendre: Palestinian resistance to colonization a trope for fighting capitalism itself. Palestinians became emblematic of the “99 percent,” and commoners across the globe perceived their solidarity through a felt empathy and identification with the rights of indigenous people to take back what was rightfully theirs: land, bread, freedom, as the Bolsheviks called it in 1917.

“From the River to the Sea” then is an expression of historical, and transhistorical, revolutionary dreaming.  If Marx and Engels argued that under capitalism “The working man has no country”----her own land, bread and freedom expropriated by the capitalist nation-state---then their compulsion for “workers of the world” to unite encompasses struggles to live free everywhere: Palestine, Ferguson, Wall Street, Standing Rock. Indeed “Water is Life,” a slogan of the Keystone Pipeline protests, embodies the elemental nature of human craving to live in a non-exploitative relationship to the world: from the river to the sea.  In his book Capitalism in the Web of Life, Jason Moore reminds us that the capitolocene---the epoch of humanity under capitalism---*produces* nature itself. Rising sea levels are a ‘new nature’ come home to roost through the exploitative, accumulative logics of capitalist production. If nature is produced everywhere then resistance to capitalism is necessarily anywhere. Coal excavation, deforestation, carbon mining are ‘gravedigging’ means by which capitalism creates a planet in revolt against itself.

Finally, “From the River to the Sea” is an expression of gender fluidity: the  transmogrification of bodies that is this historical moment’s most rapid, shape-shifting revolution.  In my working-class literature course at Purdue,  students respond most powerfully to Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues.  The body in Feinberg’s account is the productive site of struggle not just against gender conformity and biological sexism, but capitalist violence against workers, police violence against LGBTQI+ and African-Americans.  “Double consciousness” for Feinberg is the awareness of simultaneously lived oppression and exploitation for transsubjects.  It is also a dialectic of sex that produces bodies in resistance.  As Feinberg becomes transgender, he crosses a River Jordan of compulsory cis heteronormativity, he becomes a body not just in itself but for itself. Feinberg gets free.

Which returns us to Palestine. The capacity to live ‘from the river to the sea’ means the capacity to move, and to move freely.  It means to breathe. The antidote to ‘the working men have no country’ is a borderless world. “Free Palestine” is not simply a heralding of the end of Israeli apartheid; it is a metonymy for a world without walls, without bounded borders, without checkpoints. It is the migrant and immigrant’s plea that emancipation be everywhere, legalized citizenship no where.  The latter is no more stand-in for the former than formal equality is for self-emancipation.  My website thus takes its own mantra from the Palestinian writer and revolutionary Ghassan Kanafani: “Everything in this world can be robbed and stolen, except one thing; this one thing is the love that emanates from a human being towards a solid commitment to a conviction or cause.”    

“From the River to the Sea,” then, this blog, is about returnings, and right of return.  It is about the dispossessions all of us face, everywhere and anywhere, and how solidarity closes the spaces between us: from the river to the sea.

My next blog will take up some of the freedom dreams of the writer James Baldwin.