Campaigning for Democracy And Socialism
Dumping 'Roe' Is Only the Opener to Much Worse
The cartoon to the left makes good use of 'The Handmaid's Tale' as a reminder that the right to an abortion, or the lack of it, has far wider implications.

It starts with the subjugation of women but soon leads to an order where we are all held down. Don't stand by passively.

Please send us your letters, comments, queries, complaints, new ideas. Just keep them short and civil. Longer commentaries and be submitted as articles.

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May 19:
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM EDT

Steps on the Road to a New Texas: Lessons from Power Concedes Nothing

Click picture for link

Local organizers discuss growing investment, infrastructure, and effectiveness of
labor unions in
Texas electoral politics

Guests will discuss the growing investment, infrastructure, and effectiveness of labor unions in Texas electoral politics based on the 2020 elections and identify lessons for future campaigns in Texas and nationally.

This discussion comes out of the must-read book Power Concedes Nothing that lays out the organizing work building up to the monumental 2020 election including what worked, what didn't, and how they approached the challenge of both "going broad" to win a crucial election and "digging deep" to build a base for long-term progressive change.
Thirty one songs are presented in a beautiful hard cover bound double CD and digital download containing new performances in a traditional style by numerous contributing artists.

An accompanying 64 page liner notes booklet includes complete lyrics as well as reproductions of historic documents. The liner notes also include essays by the album’s producer Mat Callahan, scholar Robin D.G. Kelley and activist organizer Kali Akuno.
The album is also available via digital download and streaming services.

A companion full-length book, to be published by the University Press of Mississippi, documents the sources of these newly released songs, as well as providing historic context:

A documentary film documents the entire project and is available for screenings.
'Making Sense of the War in Ukraine' ties together critical pieces of background on the current crisis and raises questions that call for our immediate attention. Guests Alex Gendler, Ramon Mejía, and Jerry Harris touch on the pattern of post-Soviet Russian imperialism; the real strength of the far right in Ukraine and Russia; the links between militarism and the fossil-fuel economy, and how we can build solidarity without militarism. Click picture to view
Honor Women, Defend Women's healthcare,
Protect Women's Right
to Choose

Monday evening, May 23
9pm ET, 8pm CT, 6pm PT

Sponsored by
CCDS Socialist Education Project

Join us for this
important discussion.

As we see the far right with the rightist justices of the Supreme Court, as they attempt to overturn Roe V Wade.

Make no mistake this is an attack on everyone. By using arguments they directly threaten legal protections for homosexuality, contraception, interracial marriage, and much more.

Register in advance
for this meeting:


Mildred Williamson

Mildred Williamson, PhD, MSW, has spent her career in public service with human rights/social justice as her passion. She has more than 30 years of experience in developing and leading public health safety net programs for vulnerable populations. She recently retired as Executive Director of HIV Services for Cook County Health and continues to serve as Adjunct Assistant Professor the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health (UIC-SPH). She served as HIV/AIDS Section Chief for the Illinois Department of Public Health from 2008-2015 and began her public health career at Cook County (now John H. Stroger) Hospital in 1989 as the first administrator of the Women & Children HIV Program, which today, is part of the Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center - the largest provider of comprehensive HIV services in the Midwest. Dr. Williamson obtained her Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Social Work at the School of Social Service Administration/University of Chicago.

Heather Booth 

Booth is one of the country's leading strategists about progressive issue campaigns and driving issues in elections. She started organizing in the civil rights, anti-Vietnam war and women's movements of the 1960s. She started JANE, an underground abortion service in 1965, before Roe. There is a new HBO documentary about this called The JANES, and there is a new Hollywood film version of the story, Call JANE.

She was the founding Director and is now President of the Midwest Academy, training social change leaders and organizers. She has been involved in and managed political campaigns and was the Training Director of the Democratic National Committee. In 2000, she was the Director of the NAACP National Voter Fund, which helped to increase African American election turnout. She was the lead consultant, directing the founding of the Campaign for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2005.

In 2008, she was the director of the Health Care Campaign for the AFL-CIO. In 2009, she directed the campaign passing President Obama’s first budget. In 2010 she was the founding director of Americans for Financial Reform, fighting to regulate the financial industry. She was the national coordinator for the coalition around marriage equality and the 2013 Supreme Court decision. She was strategic advisor to the Alliance for Citizenship (the largest coalition of the immigration reform campaign). She was the field director for the 2017 campaign to stop the tax giveaways to millionaires and billionaires She directed Progressive and Seniors Outreach for the Biden/Harris campaign. She has been a consultant on many other issues and with many other organizations. She is a member of the consulting firm Democracy Partners.

There is a film about her life in organizing, "Heather Booth: Changing the World." It has been shown on PBS/World Channel stations around the country.

Marilyn Katz

Marilyn Katz is a long-time women's rights advocate going back to the new left of the 1960s. She was part of SDS and the New American Movement. As a communications specialist, she play a major role in the campaigns of Mayor Harold Washington and Senator Carol Mosley Braum Carol Mosely Braun. She was a founder of Chicagoans Against War and Injustice.
Latest News
Photo: "The family policing system’s punitive design that’s targeted at the most politically marginalized communities is deeply rooted in a history of state violence," says author Dorothy Roberts. CATHERINE MCQUEEN / MOMENT / GETTY IMAGES

The End of “Roe” Will Lead to More Family
Separation and Child Disappearance

Movement Memos: Part of a Series

By Kelly Hayes

May 12, 2022 - “This strategy of making fetal protection more important than the lives and freedom of women and other pregnant people began with the prosecutions of Black women, who were pregnant and using drugs,” says Dorothy Roberts, author of Torn Apart and Killing The Black Body. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” Roberts and host Kelly Hayes discuss the leaked draft SCOTUS opinion that would end Roe and how the child welfare system will ramp up family separations in a post-Roe world.

TRANSCRIPT Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.

Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer, Kelly Hayes. Today, we are going to talk about reproductive justice, the foster care system, and some important history that I think is largely missing from the current discourse around abortion and adoption. We will be hearing from Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body, Shattered Bonds, and most recently Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families — and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World.

To my listeners, trust me: to navigate the dynamics of this moment, you are going to want to read Torn Apart. I wish I could give everyone a copy. It’s especially relevant right now, as we are facing the end of Roe in a nation that terminates the parental rights of more people than any other country on Earth. Every year, agents of the state forcibly remove 250,000 children from their homes in the U.S. Another quarter of a million are removed informally, through coercive agreements that the system calls “safety plans,” which many parents accept in order to avoid going to court. If that sounds like a plea bargain, that’s because this process is incredibly carceral — and just like the criminal legal system, it is arbitrary, racist and violent. So-called child welfare services are systems of captivity and family separation, and as more people lose access to abortion care, we will see more captivity and more separation. So we have to talk about it now.

A lot of people do not understand the financial or racial dynamics of child removal in the United States, and that has led to some really bad analysis. For example, a lot of people were rightfully horrified over the language “domestic supply of infants” being used in the SCOTUS draft opinion, but some of the liberal responses I saw were also pretty horrifying: a number of people insist, for example, that there is no shortage of “adoptable” children in the U.S., because there are plenty of children in foster care.

But children in foster care are not supposed to serve as an open adoption pool for anyone with money who wants a child. In fact, most of those children have parents and families who want them back. They are not the “domestic supply” of children the draft opinion referred to. I honestly find it disturbing that people are arguing that we don’t need a new stock of children for people with money who want a child to choose from, because there’s already an available catalog of kids. The correct position is that children should not be treated as a commodity that we need to stockpile, or that people are entitled to, simply because they have money and want a child. In Torn Apart, Roberts explains why what we tend to refer to as “child welfare services” can be more aptly described as “family policing” – and by the end of this episode, I think many of you will agree.

I have also seen some people suggest that white people do not want to adopt children from the foster care system because they supposedly want “healthy white babies.” And I think it’s really important to emphasize that, while I am sure some white people would prefer children who look like them, white adoptive parents have been seizing Black and Native children through the foster care system for years. With Roe still intact, the adoption industry often relies on the state’s termination of parental rights to produce adoptable children. But the adoption industry is not interested in most of the youth in foster care. Children under the age of four are the most sought after by adoptive parents. At present, states do not terminate the rights of nearly enough parents of children within that age range to meet the demands of a $15 billion a year adoption industry.

When Roe is gone, the same system that currently equates poverty with abuse, and snatches children on that basis, will ramp up its operations. Some people are imagining a post-Roe world where baby brokers are waiting by the phone for desperate, pregnant white girls to call their adoption agencies, when in reality, nothing is being left to chance. There is an apparatus that already works daily to snatch children from poor families and parents with disabilities, or from those who are grappling with addiction and other health issues. It will soon be poised to take the children of poor people who otherwise would have aborted their pregnancies — whether those people want to surrender their children or not. These extractive forces are fully operational, and, as is currently the case, we can expect Black and Native communities to bear the brunt of family separation in a post-Roe United States.

Now, in my experience, when people have a positive impression of the child welfare system, it’s usually the product of movies or television – particularly “copaganda” shows, which tend to monstracize parents whose children wind up in the system. On shows like “Law & Order,” even sympathetic characters whose children are taken away are usually depicted as posing some danger to their child, despite their best intentions. But that kind of propaganda is wholly divorced from the reality of the system. So, if you’re someone who has a positive, or even neutral impression of child welfare services and foster care, I am going to ask you to put aside everything you think you know about this topic, for the next hour or so, and try to keep an open mind, because with Roe on the way out, there is a lot that we need to get on the same page about.

For starters, I think people have a lot of illusions about the family policing system being grounded in a benevolent concern for children, and that has simply never been the case, so I asked Dorothy Roberts if she could walk us through some of the history that delivered us to this moment.

Dorothy Roberts: The family policing system’s punitive design that’s targeted at the most politically marginalized communities is deeply rooted in a history of state violence. It’s rooted in the history of the separation of enslaved Black families. Throughout the first 400 years of this nation’s history, where breaking up families at the whim of enslavers was an integral part of the slavery institution. It was part of enslavement that white enslavers had authority over Black children and could therefore separate them whenever it was economically advantageous to them from the children’s parents. Families were routinely broken up sometimes at slave auctions that were held by judges where children were ordered to be purchased by white enslavers, apart from their parents.

It also is rooted in the history of the apprenticing of Black children after the civil war, when judges would order Black children to be given over to their former enslavers, as apprentices on grounds that their Black parents were neglecting them. It’s also rooted in the history of the U.S. military’s use of child removal as a weapon of war against Native tribes during the so-called Indian Wars. And then into the 1970s, the official federal government’s adoption policy, which they entered into a collaboration with the child welfare league, to remove Native children from their families on grounds of child neglect, and give them over to white adoptive families, or put them in white-run orphanages. This history of using child removal as a weapon of terror against Black people and Indigenous people is left out of the common narrative of child welfare agencies as benevolent rescuers, saving children from abusive parents.

KH: These histories are also being left out of a lot of conversations around reproductive justice right now in the United States. I have, however, seen many allusions to “The Handmaid’s Tale” in popular discourse recently, and I find it interesting that this book and TV show hold such a fixed place in the popular imagination. In matters of reproductive justice, it seems as though a lot of white women find the show’s fictitious, totalitarian society more politically relevant and personally relatable than the history and present condition of Black and Native women in the U.S. Even now, as people who act against laws governing bodily autonomy face criminalization, it is not criminalization and the horrors of the prison system that are being highlighted, but rather, imagery of domestic sex servants in red capes. I’m not opposed to theatrical imagery or evocative metaphors, but right now, we need a collective analysis rooted in tough realities that people don’t like to talk about, and I think we need to start there. I also agree with Dr. Roberts that we need to take a hard look at how the government’s treatment of Black women got us into this mess.

DR: I think we need to bring into focus, for a couple of reasons, the long history of regulating Black women’s childbearing in particular, because overturning Roe will have a disproportionate impact on Black women, because Black women are more likely to seek abortions because they’re more likely to have unwanted pregnancies for all sorts of reasons, stemming from structural racism and poverty, and other kinds of structural impediments to reproductive freedom. Also because they are more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes. And that includes the whole range of ways in which pregnancy can be dangerous. And because Black women are less likely to have high-quality medical care during their pregnancies, and also because of structural problems that make them less healthy when they get pregnant and have babies, or because of unsafe abortions as well. Again, maternal mortality relates to deaths from pregnancy-related causes. And then finally, they’re more likely to be punished for their pregnancy outcomes. And this brings me to the second reason why I think we need to focus on the history of Black women’s childbearing being devalued and regulated.

And that’s the way in which the right-wing anti-abortion movement has been engaged in a concerted assault on reproductive freedom, both punishing women for their pregnancy outcomes like miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as punishing women for abortion. And this campaign, this strategy of making fetal protection more important than the lives and freedom of women and other pregnant people began with the prosecutions of Black women, who were pregnant and using drugs. And I’ve always seen that assault on Black women’s childbearing as being very connected to the assault on abortion, but it wasn’t really recognized as concerted-related types of assaults on reproductive freedom when these prosecutions began. I think today, it’s clearer that the criminalization of pregnancy, whether it’s for conduct during pregnancy, or whether it’s for a stillbirth or a miscarriage, or whether it’s for having an abortion, they all are part of the criminalization of pregnancy, generally. ...Read More
The GOP’s Pedophilia Smears Are An Incitement to Violence

The fusion of QAnon and Pizzagate conspiracy theories with a homophobic moral panic makes the current Republican grooming smears a threat to the physical safety of LGBTQ people.

By Jeet Heer
The Nation

May 13, 2022 - Long ago, in another America, you had to turn to the underground press if you wanted to conjure up images of wholesome Disney cartoon characters fornicating. In 2022, Republican lawmakers now provide that service. In 1967, The Realist, a gleefully subversive journal founded by Paul Krassner, published Wally Wood’s “The Disneyland Memorial Orgy,” a two-page spread that showed Mickey Mouse and the gang, impeccably rendered, engaged in all manner of X-rated activity. Krassner and Wood were countercultural anarchists, but by some strange alchemy, what they presented as satire is now a part of Republican rhetoric.

On his podcast, Verdict With Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas added his voice to the chorus of Republican lawmakers who have suddenly started to accuse Disney of pushing sexual propaganda on kids. In an April episode, Cruz sputtered, “Now they’re going to have, you know, you know, Mickey and Pluto going at it.” Even Cruz’s guest was nonplussed, responding, “Thank you for that image, senator.”

Cruz’s comments may be (the pun is inescapable) goofy, but they are also part of a much larger wave of bigotry. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, predictably, provided the crudest expression of the opinions echoed by many of her colleagues. “The Democrats are the party of pedophiles,” Greene said in early April. “The Democrats are the party of princess predators from Disney. The Democrats are the party of teachers, elementary school teachers trying to transition their elementary-school-age children and convince them they’re a different gender.”

These comments by Cruz and Greene are part of the recent revival of a brand of homophobic rhetoric rooted in the belief that LGBTQ identity is intertwined with pedophilia and the sexual “recruitment” of children. Such rhetoric was a staple of the anti-gay movement of the 1970s led by figures like the singer Anita Bryant. In the years after the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized marriage equality, this type of homophobia seemed to be in abeyance.

As Colby Itkowitz noted in The Washington Post on April 20, “The rapid escalation in public support for the LGBTQ community’s rights in recent years had quieted much of the blatant homophobia in the nation’s political discourse. But, in recent weeks, Republicans have reverted to verbal and legal assaults on the community, sometimes employing baseless tropes that suggest children are being groomed or recruited by defenders of gay rights.”

Itkowitz argues that this revived homophobia is motivated by short-term electoral concerns: “The efforts ahead of the midterm elections are intended to rile up the Republican base and fill the campaign coffers of its candidates, without offering evidence that any Democrat had committed a repugnant crime.”

This is true, as far as it goes. Obviously, measures like the notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law pushed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are designed to energize the Republican base, particularly the religious right. When DeSantis’s efforts met with resistance from Disney (which faced an uprising by LGBTQ employees urging opposition to the bill), Disney became a target as well. But the grooming and pedophilia smears go beyond being a particularly nasty example of political hardball.

These deranged accusations of grooming and pedophilia have a more immediate, and more sinister, antecedent than Anita Bryant–style homophobia: They also derive from the Pizzagate conspiracy theory (which held that Democratic elites were part of a satanic pedophile cult run out of a Washington pizza parlor) and QAnon (which spun this conspiracy theory into a saga involving a hidden war between Donald Trump and the “deep state”).

It’s this fusion of partisan conspiracy theories with a homophobic moral panic that makes the current grooming smears a threat to the physical safety of LGBTQ people—and to the survival of US democracy. Such charges go beyond mere political mudslinging designed to discredit opponents. The horrific nature of the accusations—combined with the imputation of powerful conspiracies—suggests that the accusers have no other goal than dehumanization and destruction.

Few pundits have thought through the underlying logic of this smear campaign. The two major exceptions are Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo and Sarah Jones of New York magazine. Both have used the word “eliminationist” to describe this rhetoric. “These aren’t so much purported factual claims or even conspiracy theories,” Marshall argues. “They are libels designed specifically to stir elemental primal fears, render their targets so evil and threatening as to be less than fully human and set the stage for mass violence against them.”

Jones usefully links this eliminationist rhetoric to the GOP’s authoritarian turn (evident in the Trump presidency, the January 6 insurrection, and subsequent anti­democratic activities). Jones says she is “concerned that QAnon’s creep toward mainstream respectability lowers the probability that there will be a significant backlash, at least within the bubble of the right wing. They’ll certainly anger liberals and alienate younger voters, but I think that’s why we see this fixation on LGBT rights occur alongside an assault on voting rights and a gradual turn toward anti-democratic beliefs.” ...Read More
Digging Deeper into the Current Conjuncture:
Protestors at the Supreme Court about abortion rights. Illustration by João Fazenda

How Alito’s Draft Opinion on Abortion Rights Would Change America

One way to illustrate the reach of the leaked draft by the Supreme Court Justice is to look at what the options for defending reproductive rights would be in its wake.

By Amy Davidson Sorkin
The New Yorker

May 8, 2022 - Those who have watched Samuel Alito during his sixteen years as a Supreme Court Justice will not have been surprised to learn that his draft opinion in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to a restrictive Mississippi abortion law, is written in a register of scorn.

Alito’s 2015 dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry, complains that “those who cling to old beliefs” will be forced to “whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes,” lest they be subject to “turn-about” persecution by gays and lesbians and their sympathizers.

What’s different about his Dobbs opinion, which was leaked to Politico last week, though, is that it’s not a dissent. It was, apparently, circulated in February as the draft “opinion of the court,” with four other Justices joining Alito to overturn Roe v. Wade (decided in 1973) and its successor, Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). Alito calls Roe “egregiously wrong” and writes that there is no constitutional right to seek an abortion—not at any stage, in any pregnancy, or for any reason he acknowledges. His signature note of grievance may still be present, but it is accompanied by a blast of triumphalism.

Assuming that Alito’s majority stays intact—and that the final opinion resembles the draft—Dobbs will mark a shift in the country that goes beyond access to abortion. (The decision had been expected in late June.) Alito’s companions in aiming to throw out Roe are, it seems, Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, the last three of whom were nominated by Donald Trump. Chief Justice John Roberts had reportedly hoped that a majority could be found to uphold the Mississippi law while leaving Roe, in some form, in place. But his vote hardly matters. The ambitions of the Court’s five most conservative members seem unrestrained.

The most immediate effect of Dobbs, if the draft opinion holds, will be that tens of millions of women will abruptly lose access to abortion. The ruling itself would not institute a ban, but it would give states almost boundless power to do so. More than twenty states already have measures in place that would severely curtail access: “trigger laws,” designed to go into effect once Roe is overturned; restrictions in state constitutions; or laws that predate Roe but were left on the books. After the draft was leaked, Louisiana legislators moved forward with a bill that would not only ban almost all abortions but would define them as homicides. Sixteen states, meanwhile, have laws protecting abortion rights. This should be cold comfort to people who live in those jurisdictions or who have the financial means to travel. Their own rights will be conditional; they may feel that their choice of where to live is constrained; their country will be more divided and unequal than it is now. But the burden will fall most heavily on Americans with less money.

One way to illustrate the reach of Alito’s draft is to look at what the options for defending reproductive rights would be in its wake. Congress could, in theory, enact protections, although the filibuster is a barrier. But a Republican-controlled Congress could also, with the help of a Republican President, introduce a nationwide ban. Following the leak, people around the country donated to funds that, for example, would help someone of limited means in Missouri, which has an onerous trigger law, pay for a plane ticket to obtain an abortion in Massachusetts.

These efforts echo the work of groups such as the Jane Collective, which helped women find reputable abortion providers during the pre-Roe era. They are a positive means of providing mutual support—for now. Some Missouri legislators, however, have pushed for a measure that would allow anyone who helps someone obtain an out-of-state abortion to be sued. A follow-up case to Dobbs could easily involve a pregnant person’s unrestricted right to travel to get care in another state. (Women who have miscarriages may be exposed to legal scrutiny, too.) In fact, Alito’s opinion offers a blueprint for a future finding that the Constitution not only doesn’t protect abortion but prohibits it.

The extremism of the draft has given rise to theories about who leaked it and why—to prevent further edits or to force them? There will be an investigation, but what seems clear is that there has been a breakdown at the Court. Its ability to function as a space for thoughtful deliberations and its air of legitimacy both seem diminished. The leak may be more a symptom of that decline than a cause.

Roe has held for nearly fifty years, with the support of a majority of Americans, and yet, to hear Alito tell it, it has no real place in the country’s history or law or in any reasonable concept of liberty. Roe and Casey are part of a long series of cases in which the Court, relying in large part on the Fourteenth Amendment, has recognized certain unenumerated rights that derive from the Constitution, even if they are not spelled out there. A number of those cases have involved a right to privacy—a notion that Alito disparages. The Alito opinion, despite its claim to be limited to abortion, thus casts doubt on Obergefell and even on Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that recognized the right of married couples to obtain contraception. Some commentary surrounding the leak has portrayed fears that these rights could be taken away as overblown, but, whatever the political will, the Alito draft creates a legal pathway to do so. Certain forms of contraception may be imperiled by Dobbs itself: some opponents of reproductive rights put intrauterine devices in the category of “abortifacients,” alongside the morning-after pill. We may be entering an increasingly un-private era

Alito notes that “women are not without electoral or political power.” Indeed, an effect of his draft opinion would be that Americans who care about reproductive rights will be asked to expend a great deal of energy carrying their fight to every level of government, perhaps most especially in elections for state legislatures, which is where, for the immediate future, access to abortion will be doled out or withheld. For many, it will be dispiriting and deeply sad to be asked to wage battles long thought won, when there are so many other struggles to be fought—child care, climate change, Trump. The light that Dobbs casts on each party’s priorities could nonetheless be bracing. Elections are worth the effort. It may be Alito’s Court, but it’s not yet his America.

Photo: Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights (BACORR) clinic defense at Planned Parenthood on Valencia, San Francisco, 29 September 2011

Abortion, The Christian Right, And Antifascism

By Matthew N Lyons
Three-way Fight

May 07, 2022 - It’s time for antifascists to stop treating the Christian right as a secondary threat.

When the U.S. Supreme Court scraps legal protection for abortion rights—using arguments that also directly threaten legal protections for homosexuality, contraception, interracial marriage, and much more—it will mark a historic victory for the Christian right.

More than anyone else, Christian rightists have worked steadily and carefully for almost half a century to reach this goal. They have done this not only because they want to stop pregnant people from making decisions about their own bodies. More broadly, Christian rightists have used abortion as a tool to rally mass support behind their larger agenda to impose patriarchal families, compulsory heterosexuality, and “God-given gender identity” on society as a whole.

Protesters hold abortion rights signs and a large banner that reads "We'll never go back" with a coat hanger crossed out

The Christian right has played a long game, setting aside centuries-old theological disputes, bringing millions of people into political activism for the first time, mobilizing both wealthy patrons and independent funding streams, and gradually building a rich organizational network, from think tanks and lobbying groups to local prayer cells.

The Christian right has forged and used alliances with diverse actors, including neoconservatives and laissez-faire libertarians, Likudniks, and conservative Islamic governments. The Christian right’s embrace of Donald Trump as a modern-day “Cyrus”—an ungodly man of power who serves God’s purpose—is a model of realpolitik, and it has paid off in spades.

The Christian right has functioned as a political big tent, encompassing multiple ideological doctrines, strategies, and tactical approaches, and making room for different factions to riff off of each other without tearing each other down. Most importantly, it has encompassed both reformist and revolutionary poles of thought—a creative tension between those working to make changes within the existing political system and those who want to scrap all secular and pluralist institutions and replace the existing state with a full-on theocracy. In this dynamic, the incrementalists have had the numbers but the theocrats have been the trendsetters, again and again staking out forward positions that have helped to guide and animate their more cautious comrades.

A pioneering current of theocratic politics known as Christian Reconstructionism—whose “Godly” vision includes disenfranchising women and punishing homosexuality with death by stoning—has played a pivotal role within the anti-abortion rights movement, pushing it toward more violent actions and more militant opposition to the state.

Michael Bray, a Lutheran pastor who spent four years in prison for firebombing a series of reproductive health clinics in the 1980s, is a Reconstructionist. So was Paul Hill, a former Presbyterian minister who murdered a physician and his bodyguard outside a clinic in Pensacola, Florida, in 1994. So is Matt Trewhella, a Pentecostal minister and founder of Missionaries to the Preborn, who in the 1990s defended the killing of abortion providers as “justifiable homicide” and urged Christian rightists to form church-based militias.

The movement’s other leading theocratic current, New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), has combined Reconstructionism’s call for right-thinking Christians to “take dominion” over all spheres of society with authoritarian mass organizing and the Pentecostal/Charismatic belief in divine prophecy and working miracles. NAR leaders have aggressively promoted homophobic legislation, including a notorious bill in Uganda that would have made gay sex punishable by death. New Apostolics have been a dominant force in the Christian Zionist movement and have proselytized Jews aggressively in Israel and elsewhere. NAR leaders staunchly supported Donald Trump throughout his presidency and have played key roles in the fraudulent Stop The Steal campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The Christian right’s theocratic wing falls squarely within my proposed definition of fascism: a revolutionary form of right-wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while promoting economic and social hierarchy. Whether you accept that definition or not, it’s clear that Christian theocrats (a) advocate intensified forms of oppression and repression, (b) want to impose their beliefs through a comprehensive transformation of society, and (c) use scapegoating, rituals, and people’s longing for community to mobilize supporters behind their goals. Theocratic organizations are a significant force in their own right, and their role within the larger Christian right gives them leverage far beyond their numbers. (One 2013 estimate puts the NAR’s U.S. membership alone at 3 million. Even if that’s off by an order of magnitude, it still dwarfs the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys combined.)

Discussions of right-wing politics are often compartmentalized by ideology. This approach treats Christian rightists separately from white nationalists and the far right, and excludes Christian right politics from many definitions of fascism. That’s better than lumping all rightists into one nebulous category because we need to understand our opponents’ differences so we can combat them effectively. Unfortunately, in practice, many antifascists treat Christian right politics as not just separate from white nationalism, but also less important. Maybe they think Christian rightists are more moderate than white nationalists, or maybe they see issues of gender and sexuality as secondary to issues of race. In this framework, the Christian right gets attention only to the extent that it has a relationship with white nationalism or the extent to which its politics are seen to be “really” about race.

Interconnections with white nationalism are important, as is segregationism’s role in fueling the Christian right’s rise in the 1970s, and the movement’s more complex racial politics today. But those aren’t the main reasons the Christian right is dangerous. For half a century, Christian rightists have consistently placed gender and sexuality—not race—at the center of their program, and those wars need to be fought on their own terms.

Let’s remember: In the 1990s, the Anti-Racist Action Network made support for abortion rights and reproductive freedom one of its four Points of Unity, and ARA activists helped defend reproductive health clinics while also confronting neonazis and racist cops. This is history we can learn from. The fight against Christian theocracy is a fight against fascism. The fight for abortion rights is a fight against fascism.

For further details and references about the Christian right, see Insurgent Supremacists, chapters 2 and 6, and Right-Wing Populism in America, chapters 11 and 12. ...Read More
When Should We Stop Excusing the Russian Invasion?

Ukraine, Self-determination,
and the National Question

By Bill Fletcher Jr., Bill Gallegos and Jamala Rogers 
NEW POLITICS via Portside

May 11, 2022 - The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been met with strange responses on the part of segments of the USA Left and among many progressives. While, generally speaking, there has been a strong condemnation of the Russian invasion, there has simultaneously been a tendency to excuse the Russian invasion and place the responsibility for the aggression solely on the US government (and NATO). Not only is such an analysis factually inaccurate, but it arises from an analytical error rooted in a downplaying of the entire issue of the right of nations to self-determination.

As two African Americans and one Chicano, we have concluded that it is time to speak out against a misconstruing of what has been unfolding in Ukraine and an inclination to either excuse Russian aggression or to advance a position of neutrality. As individuals who are socialists and have been integrally involved in our respective people’s struggles for democracy and self-determination, we simply cannot remain silent, even though this puts us at odds with some comrades we have known, respected, and loved for years.

We submit this paper in order to promote more extensive discussion and debate. By no means do we assume our views to be the final words on this question. We do believe, however, that the failure to address the national question has led to errors in analysis, strategy, and response by many on the broad Left and progressive movements in the USA.

Which side are you on?

The actions of the Russian government cannot be construed as a “special military operation.” They represented an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country. It is critical that we understand this and not waver. Russian troops, and not NATO troops, crossed the border into the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Ukraine never threatened Russia.

There is no question but that NATO expansionism has been uncalled for. In fact, we would argue that NATO, which was never a defensive alliance, should have been dissolved as soon as the Cold War ended. NATO expansion was opposed by various Russian regimes and was unnecessarily provocative.

Yet what is rarely discussed in US Left circles was the desire of countries in the former Soviet bloc to link to NATO out of fear of post-USSR Russian intentions. We, on the U.S. Left, can and should be critical of NATO, but we must understand what the underlying fears and concerns were on the part of former Soviet bloc countries.

It is additionally the case that there was opposition within NATO to the inclusion of Ukraine. Not only had there been little support within Ukraine—prior to 2014—to entrance into NATO, but preceding the Russian invasion of 2022, there was opposition within NATO to the inclusion of Ukraine. Since NATO inclusion had to be unanimous, it was unlikely that any steps would have been taken. The Putin regime knew this.

The Putin regime claims that it was coming to the aid of the secessionist regions of the eastern Ukraine. There are a few problems with this assertion, beginning with the fact that in 2014 Russia invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea, and in addition provoked secessionist revolts in the eastern region, including the supplying of unmarked military personnel.

Some of our friends have argued that the Russians seized Crimea in response to an alleged US-sponsored coup in Ukraine, i.e., the Maiden uprising. They also say that the revolts in the eastern region were entirely self-motivated.

First things first. There is little evidence that Maiden 2014 was a US-sponsored uprising. This was not Chile in 1973. There was a mass movement that included a variety of forces ranging from the far Right to the Left—and many in between—engaged in a revolt against the oligarchs, corruption, and the reversal of the administration’s decision to build a relationship with the European Union. This was an internal matter of Ukraine. One can have an opinion on the causes and outcomes, but the suggestion that this was primarily driven by the machinations of the USA turns the Ukrainian people into simple puppets of outsiders which flies in the face of reality. While the USA may have supported a particular outcome of the Maiden uprising, such support is not the same as being the source of the revolt.

Second, the seizure of Crimea was a blatant violation of the Budapest Accords (1994) whereby Ukraine turned over its nuclear weapons—to Russia—in exchange for a commitment that Russia would NEVER attack Ukraine. The notion that Russia had a right to seize Crimea disregarded the fact that the territory had been part of Ukraine since 1954. There has also been a very strange silence by segments of the USA Left on another part of the Crimea question: the ignoring or the disregard of the question of the Crimean Tatars—the indigenous population—and their replacement/removal by the Russian settlers (going back to the days of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin). Yes, prior to 1954 Crimea was part of Russia. But it is also the case that Russian settlers displaced the relocated Crimean Tatars, thereby further complicating how one must understand the ‘Crimean Question.’

As a side note, it has been suggested that the referendum held in the aftermath of the Russian seizure of Crimea somehow made the seizure legitimate. This, we find to be an interesting position. To believe that a referendum on the future relationship of Crimea to Russia could be held freely while Russian troops are deployed in full force is, quite literally, incredible.

Third, the secessionist movements in the Donbas region are reflective of internal challenges of Ukraine. There have been clear regional and linguistic challenges within Ukraine for quite some time (in the post-Soviet era). Rightwing forces in Ukraine attempted to suppress the use of the Russian language. In the so-called People’s Republics (in the eastern region), efforts were undertaken to erase the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian history. But there is no evidence that these so-called “People’s Republics,” established in 2014 with the assistance of Russia, have anything to do with a legitimate, popular demand for separation; in fact, their level of popular support is highly questionable. It should be noted that it was only Russia that recognized these so-called People’s Republics, and that recognition came on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine. This reminds one of the Bantustan/independent “republics” established by apartheid South Africa as a means of legitimating population relocation and total control over South Africa.

Fourth, according to international law (and the Budapest Accords) there was no right for the Russians to invade Ukraine in either 2014 or 2022. The rationale used by the Putin regime of neutralization and de-nazification is nothing more than sophistry. The internal political situation in Ukraine was and is a matter to be faced by the Ukrainian people, not by any outsider. The US Left should be clear on that, particularly considering its opposition to the USA aggression against Afghanistan and, later, Iraq.

Fifth, Putin gave away his hole card on the night of the invasion when he described Ukraine as “national fiction” and went on to dispute the very right of Ukraine to exist (including by polemicizing against the theories on national self-determination elaborated by Lenin and Stalin).

Finally, the appeal to a defense or legitimation of Russia’s alleged regional strategic interests is almost comical on at least two grounds. First and foremost, the last time that we checked, the Left was not supposed to be proponents of spheres of influence by countries or empires. When the USA described the Cuban Revolution, the Nicaraguan Revolution, and other Latin American and Caribbean (e.g., Grenada) radical movements and governments as a threat to USA interests, we laughed uncontrollably and fought the various Democratic and Republican administration who articulated such nonsense, tooth and nail. Yet, in the case of Ukraine, there are respectable leftists who suggests that Russia’s alleged geographic interests should be respected when there has been no threat to them from Ukraine.

There is a second component to this point, however. The issue of borders carried militarily strategic implications in the pre-nuclear era when massive land-based military operations were being conducted, e.g., Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the USSR in 1941). Today, a massive land-based invasion of a nuclear power is highly unlikely. Rather, the greater danger rests in tactical and strategic nuclear weaponry and their delivery systems, along with the threat of chemical and biological warfare. Russia has the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet and a delivery system to reinforce the point. For nuclear powers, borders are next to irrelevant, at least at the military level. When it comes to politics and economics, however, borders can be very relevant, pointing us in the direction of some of the real motivations of the Russian aggression.

There are no defenses of the Russian invasion that pass the straight-face test. Efforts to justify the invasion based on criticisms of the post-1991 Ukrainian regimes ignore international law prohibition on such invasions. Only a United Nations sanctioned invasion would have been justified, as anyone familiar with the debates in the lead up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq would well know.

What about the National Question?

Lost on many US leftists was the significance of Putin’s tirade against Lenin and Stalin on the matter of national self-determination. Unless one was up on the history of early communist movement, it could sound like an exploration of medieval Christian theology.

The pre-1917 Russian communist movement found itself facing several dilemmas, one of the most critical being the Russian Empire itself, what was once described as a “prison house of nations.” The Russian Empire had grown through the forced absorption of myriad nationalities stretching from what is now Poland to the Pacific Ocean. This empire was not a federation but was a formation dominated by the so-called “Great Russians,” i.e., the Russian ethnicity and their monarchical/capitalist ruling class.

Lenin commissioned Stalin to elaborate a theory on what was called the “national question,” i.e., understanding the exceptional circumstances of nations of people who had suffered a special oppression and domination, in this case by Russia. The complexities and issues contained in Stalin’s conclusions go way beyond the scope of this paper except in one particular arena: the notion that nations and peoples who had suffered oppression and domination as nations (including language discrimination; terror; subordination in all spheres compared with the Russian ethnicity; lack of political power) were entitled to the right to national self-determination. To put it another way, whether they were Finns, Ukrainians, or the peoples of the former Turkestan, amongst others, they had a right to determine their own future without the interference of outside forces. ...Read More
Photo: Bernie with Lee in Pittsburgh

Sen. Bernie Sanders Rallying for Summer Lee,
Sanders Rips AIPAC for Trying to 'Buy Elections'

'Talk about a corrupt political system,' said Sen. Bernie Sanders. 'And that is why Summer and so many of us are going to do everything that we can to put these super PACs out of business.'

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

May 13, 2022 - During a rally in support of U.S. House candidate Summer Lee on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders called out super PACs bankrolled by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and billionaire donors for spending big to crush progressives in Pennsylvania and elsewhere across the country, efforts that the Vermont senator decried as "pathetic" and corrosive to democracy.

"If they are successful, they will carry this into November," Sanders warned at the event in Pittsburgh, which was held days before the May 17 Democratic primary in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District. "They have billions of dollars at their disposal."

"What you should know is that this organization is funding over 100 Republican candidates."

"We need a strong progressive like Summer in the Congress," Sanders added. "But honestly it is even more important that we tell these billionaires that we will not allow them to buy elections and control this democracy."

In recent weeks, the United Democracy Project (UDP)—a super PAC that AIPAC founded late last year—has spent more than $2 million attacking Lee or boosting her primary opponent Steve Irwin, a corporate lawyer and former Republican congressional staffer.

Billionaire Haim Saban, a longtime AIPAC supporter, is UDP's biggest individual donor.

Democratic Majority for Israel—a super PAC with close ties to AIPAC—has also been spending in support of Irwin fresh off its success in Ohio's 11th Congressional District, where the group helped defeat progressive champion Nina Turner earlier this month.

"These ads, paid for by AIPAC, are attacking Summer because she's not a 'loyal enough Democrat,'" Sanders said Thursday, referring to a recent 30-second spot by UDP highlighting Lee's past criticism of the Democratic Party. "But what you should know is that this organization is funding over 100 Republican candidates."

"So here you have a super PAC saying 'she's not a loyal Democrat' while they're endorsing over 100 Republicans, including many who even refuse to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election," the Vermont senator continued. "Talk about hypocrisy. Talk about a corrupt political system. And that is why Summer and so many of us are going to do everything that we can to put these super PACs out of business by overturning Citizens United."

Lee, too, slammed the special interests that are pouring money into Pennsylvania's 12th District in an attempt to undermine her campaign, which includes a platform of Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and tuition-free public colleges and universities.

"When people attack you or when they come for you, you must be doing something right," Lee, a current member of the Pennsylvania State House, said in a fiery speech to the crowd of supporters gathered in Pittsburgh Thursday night. "But I want to be clear in this moment: It's not me they're attacking... They're worried about you. If they were in this room right now, they would not be able to stare us in the eyes."

"If you are somebody in this country who cares about people, why would you want to stand in the way of healthcare for everybody?" Lee continued. "If you care about this country and you care about our party the way they say, why would they stand in the way of clean air and water? How dare they get in the way of us fighting for every worker to have a living wage and a union and paid sick and family leave." ...Read More
From the CCDS Socialist Education Project...
A China Reader

Edited by Duncan McFarland

A project of the CCDS Socialist Education Project and Online University of the Left

244 pages, $20 (discounts available for quantity orders from, or order at :

The book is a selection of essays offering keen insight into the nature of China and its social system, its internal debates, and its history. It includes several articles on the US and China and the growing efforts of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.

Click here for the Table of Contents
Taking Down
White Supremacy

Edited by the CCDS
Socialist Education Project

This collection of 20 essays brings together a variety of articles-theoretical, historical, and experiential-that address multi-racial, multi-national unity. The book provides examples theoretically and historically, of efforts to build multi-racial unity in the twentieth century.

166 pages, $12.50 (discounts available for quantity), order at :

  Click here for the Table of contents

NOT TO BE MISSED: Short Links To Longer Reads...
The Realistic, Humane, and Just Choice': Sanders Unveils Medicare for All Act of 2022

'As we speak, there are millions of people who would like to go to a doctor but cannot afford to do so," said the Vermont senator. "This is an outrage.'

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

May 12, 2022 - Slamming the current U.S. healthcare system as a morass of waste, dysfunction, and profiteering, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday introduced Medicare for All legislation that would eliminate out-of-pocket insurance costs and provide comprehensive coverage to everyone in the country.

"Medicare for All will save the average family thousands of dollars a year."

"It is not acceptable to me, nor to the American people, that over 70 million people today are either uninsured or underinsured," Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said during a Medicare for All hearing that he convened Thursday morning.

"As we speak," the Vermont senator continued, "there are millions of people who would like to go to a doctor but cannot afford to do so. This is an outrage."

The Medicare for All Act of 2022, which Sanders unveiled with 14 Senate co-sponsors, would transition the U.S. to a single-payer healthcare system over a period of four years, during which the Medicare eligibility age would be incrementally lowered from 65, benefits would be strengthened and expanded, and the program would be made available to children.

Under the system that Sanders' bill would usher in, patients would no longer have to fork over copays, deductibles, and premiums to hugely profitable insurance companies.

"If Medicare for All becomes law, your taxes will go up," Sanders noted, anticipating insurance industry talking points against his bill. "But what they won't tell you is that there would be no out-of-pocket costs."

"And what they certainly won't tell you," Sanders added, "is that Medicare for All will save the average family thousands of dollars a year. In fact, a study by RAND found that moving to a Medicare for All system would save a family with an income of less than $185,000 about $3,000 a year, on average."

The coronavirus pandemic, now in its third year, has shone a spotlight on what Sanders, progressive advocates, doctors, and nurses have long characterized as systemic flaws at the core of the U.S. healthcare system, under which coverage and access to lifesaving medications are closely linked to employment and the ability to pay.

"The only way to solve the healthcare crisis is to enact a single-payer, Medicare for All system." ...Read More
L.A. County’s Project Internet: Bringing High-Speed Internet to Poor Communities

LA County’s project could falter if the political winds change and money is no longer available. County officials must secure sustainable funding that won’t dry up.

By Robin Urevich
LA Progressive

MAY 11, 2022 - Post-pandemic, there is near universal agreement that fast reliable internet is as essential as electricity or water. However, the debate over who should provide it and how is still heated.

Big telecom companies have long fought to keep government out of their business: Barriers to municipal broadband are in place in 18 states, making it hard for localities to establish their own networks, thanks to industry lobbying. Even in California — where legislators lifted a restriction on public broadband in rural areas in 2018 — publicly owned networks are still rare.

Now, however, $65 billion in broadband funding included in last year’s federal infrastructure bill has changed the dynamic, fueling a nationwide rush by state and local governments to connect residents to the internet. Los Angeles County is at the forefront among municipalities with a public-private partnership to offer free broadband internet to its poorest residents in Watts, Boyle Heights, Sun Valley and four other communities as soon as year’s end. These are neighborhoods that are heavily Latino and Black.

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles County Business Federation were among dozens of groups and individuals that contended a county-run system would deliver inferior service, and argued for subsidizing low income people, not building new networks to connect them.

“By elevating the county as head operator, we place our most vulnerable students, workers, and other community members in the slow lane of connectivity with inferior and unreliable service,” wrote L.A. County Business Federation spokesman Chris Wilson in an email to Capital & Main.

The Board of Supervisors, however, were not swayed by the argument, and voted unanimously last November to move forward with plans both to back subsidies for lower income people and build their own system.

Now, county officials seek private partners to design, build and manage high speed wireless networks. ...Read More
Target Workers Are Joining the Union Wave

Employees at a store in Virginia filed for a union election Tuesday, with more locations potentially to come.

By Bryce Covert
The New Republic

May 10, 2022 - On Tuesday, a new retail store joined the recent frenzy of union activity: Workers at a Target in Christiansburg, Virginia, filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

The workers behind the drive at that location hope to be the first of many for the retail chain. Other stores are working in concert with these organizers on following suit, although none are ready yet to call their own elections. Adam Ryan, one of the lead organizers at Target Workers Unite—the umbrella organization for Target employees seeking to unionize—and the Christiansburg store, estimates that workers at about a half-dozen Target stores currently have active but early stage campaigns.

Their unionization push comes amid a wave of unionizing at other retail companies. Last month, the independent Amazon Labor Union won its union election at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York (although a subsequent vote at another nearby warehouse failed). Workers at an REI in Manhattan voted to unionize in March. Union elections have been called at Apple stores in Atlanta and Baltimore. And about 60 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since December, with dozens more elections filed.

Many of these campaigns have important things in common. These are the kind of low-wage, service-sector workers who seemed so impossible to unionize for so long. Amazon and Starbucks workers aren’t bringing in organizers from big, established unions, but instead workers are leading the way themselves. And they’re going store by store, location by location. It was long thought that such a campaign couldn’t work. “What people didn’t recognize is the contagion factor,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Target Workers Unite is hoping to instigate exactly that kind of national spread.

The campaign to unionize Target in Christiansburg goes back to at least 2017, when Ryan heard about an abusive boss who was sexually harassing employees at his current store. He had recently moved back to the town, where he grew up, when he was unable to afford living in Richmond while trying to get a start as an organizer and “just got stuck,” he said. So while there he decided to get a job at the store with the intention of organizing the 100 or so employees, and he helped organize a weeklong strike just months later. The action resulted in Target opening an investigation into the abusive boss and removing him from the store. ...Read More
Photo: A payday loans location along Park Avenue on Memphis

Wealth Stripping by Design: The Impact of Predatory Lenders in Memphis

By Steve Dubb

May 11, 2022 - Memphis, according to the 2020 census, is home to about 633,000 people, of whom 64.5 percent are African American. As a new report from the Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis (BCCM) and Hope Policy Institute—the policy arm of Hope Credit Union, a Delta-based community development financial institution (CDFI)—demonstrates, Memphis is also home to an astonishing 114 storefronts of predatory lenders. That is more than one storefront for every 6,000 people.

Those 114 storefronts, the report’s authors emphasize, works out to “more than twice the number of Starbucks and McDonalds combined” citywide (2). This is just one finding in the two organizations’ new report, titled High-Cost Debt Traps Widen Racial Wealth Gap in Memphis, which examines at the micro level how daily extraction of wealth from Black Americans occurs in the city of Memphis, Tennessee.

Memphis, as census data also show, is tied for being the nation’s second poorest big city (500,000 or more people), with a 2020 poverty rate of 24.6 percent. By stripping assets out of low-income and especially Black neighborhoods, predatory interest-rates reinforce this poverty. In Memphis, 45 percent of Black households and over 50 percent of Latinx households are unbanked or underbanked, compared to 15 percent of white households (6). People who lack full bank services, of course, are the people most likely to turn t alternative sources of finance, including predatory lenders.

Memphis in Context: The National Reach of Predatory Lending

At NPQ we have written regularly about the racial wealth gap. Often, the focus is on how to build BIPOC wealth. But no one should lose sight of the fact that BIPOC wealth is stripped from communities every day. As Jeremie Greer of Liberation in a Generation wrote in Shelterforce earlier this year: “The racial wealth gap is a systemic problem, not a product of Black people’s personal choices. And no matter how many wealth-building opportunities we create for Black people and other people of color, these efforts will never deliver if we leave the wealth-stripping processes intact.”

One of the processes that Greer describes is predatory lending—loans with triple-digit interest rates. According to an article published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, “payday lending” is a $9 billion market. As economist Jeannette Bennett writes, on average “the typical $375 loan will incur $520 in fees because of repeat borrowing.” If one adds check cashers and related enterprises, the size of the predatory lending industry is even larger. One estimate puts the number at $19.1 billion. Black and Latinx families are disproportionately affected. And as a recent study by Jim Hawkins, a University of Houston law professor, and Tiffany Penner, a recent law school graduate, published in the Emory Law Journal documents, marketing is skewed to attract borrowers of color.

In their article, Hawkins and Penner found that in Houston, “while African Americans make up only 15.6 percent of auto title lending customers and 23 percent of payday lending customers, 34.8 percent of the photographs on these lenders’ websites depict African Americans.” They add that 77.3 percent of the advertisements at physical locations that they surveyed targeted borrowers of color.

How Predatory Lending Extracts Wealth from Communities

Predatory lenders go by many names: payday loans, car title loans, and flex loans being the most common. Regardless of the name, what they share are triple-digit interest rates and coercive repayment mechanisms. In their report, Hope Policy Institute and BCCM outline how these lending mechanisms work:

Payday loans: In Memphis, under Tennessee state law, a borrower can charge an annual percentage rate (APR) of 460 percent on a two-week loan. Some states permit even higher interest rates; Texas has highest in the country, with a 664 percent APR.

What does 460 percent translate to at a biweekly pace? Effectively, this works out to a fee of slightly more than $17.50 per $100 borrowed. As the report’s authors explain, “Payday lenders take access to a borrower’s bank account either through requiring a post-dated paper check or electronic bank authorization (ACH) as part of the loan transaction. This means that on the day a borrower receives their income – whether it be their paycheck, stimulus check, or Social Security check – the payday lender stands first in line for repayment” (8). These loans can—and of course regularly are—rolled over for a price; over 75 percent of payday lender fees are generated by people who borrow for 10 consecutive two-week periods or longer.

Car title loans: These are secured not by a paycheck, but by a vehicle. According to the report’s authors, a typical $300 loan will carry $66 in fees for 30 days, an effective APR of 267 percent. Like payday loans, these loans are typically rolled over—according to national data, on average eight times. In Tennessee, in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, 45 percent of car title loans issued that year went into default, and over 11,000 cars were repossessed (9). Notably, 2019 was, relatively speaking, a good year for car title borrowers in Tennessee. Over the six-year period from 2014 through 2019, title loan companies repossessed over 101,000 cars statewide—an average of nearly 17,000 repossessions per year.

Flex loans: These were created in Tennessee in 2014 and act as an open-ended line of credit that can be secured either by a paycheck or car. While payday-loan borrowing is capped at $500, , flex loans allow you to borrow as much as $4,000. ?? Tennessee State law sets the interest rate for flex loans at 24 percent; however, borrowers must also pay a daily carrying fee, or “customary fee,” of up to 255 percent, resulting in an effective combined 279 percent annual rate (9).

The Geography of Lending

As noted above, marketing efforts by predatory lenders focus on attracting borrowers of color. Additionally, when you look at a map of Memphis’ 114 predatory lending storefronts, it is clear that the location of those storefronts is anything but random, with nearly all located in neighborhoods heavily populated by people of color.

In addition to tracing the geography of the storefronts’ physical location, the report’s authors also trace the geography of the storefronts’ ownership. As the report details, 74 of the 114 storefronts are owned by firms headquartered outside of Tennessee, with 52 of them owned by just two firms—Ace Cash Express (Populus Finance Group) of Texas and Title Max (TMX Financing) of Georgia. This means that over half of the profits generated by payday lenders, title companies, and flex lenders are extracted from the Memphis community entirely and end up instead in the hands of out-of-state investors and managers.

Policy Solutions

There are many complicated issues regarding economic policy. However, ending triple-digit interest rates is not one of them. As BCCM president Reverend J. Lawrence Turner says in the report, which he coauthored, the impact of charging up to 460-percent interest on loans serves to “effectively ensnare the working poor into webs of long-term debt” (7).

It’s worth noting that today’s predatory lending is a relatively recent development. As Pew Charitable Trusts has documented, while it may seem that payday lenders have always been with us, that’s not the case. Starting in 1916, and continuing for many decades, states limited monthly interest rates at 3.5 percent; annual APR ratings varied throughout the states from 18 to 42 percent. This changed with deregulation of consumer protections in the 1970s and 1980s. As Pew puts it, “As this deregulation proceeded, some state legislatures sought to act in kind for state-based lenders by authorizing deferred presentment transactions (loans made against a post-dated check) and triple-digit APRs. These developments set the stage for state-licensed payday lending stores to flourish.”

Even today, just 18 states and the District of Columbia cap loans at annual rates of 36 percent or less. They include many states in the Northeast (Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland). But many others have also acted. For example, in the South, Arkansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia have passed similar laws. In the West and Midwest, similar laws exist in Illinois, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, and Arizona. A recent American Banker article adds that similar legislation is currently being debated in four more states—Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Rhode Island. There is also pending federal legislation introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) that would create a 36-percent maximum rate nationwide.

The report’s authors add that even if the Senate blocks legislative action, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could use its regulatory authority to act. “The CFPB,” the authors insist, “has the ability to issue new rules that ensure high-cost lenders, such as those in Memphis, do not endlessly trap people in unaffordable cycles of debt as they do now”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steve Dubb is a senior editor at NPQ ...Read More

The Suffering of Crimea’s Tatars

Crimean Tatar leader and Soviet dissident Mustafa Dzhemilev talks to New Lines about a war that, for him, began in 2014 and has only grown worse since

Interviewer Riada Asimovic Akyol is the strategic initiatives editor at New Lines
May 12, 2022

Crimean Tatars, the indigenous Muslims of Ukraine and the country’s largest ethnic minority, have joined the fight against Russia’s invasion. Tatars serve throughout Ukraine’s military ranks and as civilian volunteers offering humanitarian help.

Tatars are Turkic-speaking Muslims who have lived in Crimea since the 13th century. Russian rulers have persecuted them for almost 300 years. One of the greatest tragedies in Tatar history was their genocidal expulsion from Crimea by Josef Stalin in 1944. About 200,000 Tatars are said to have been forcibly deported to Central Asia by the notorious Soviet secret police, the NKVD, in cattle cars. According to estimates, half died before they even reached the inhumane labor camps where the Soviets forced them to work and dwell.

Tatars were allowed to return to Crimea in the late 1980s, but most did not go back to their homeland until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In 2014, Tatars faced Russian aggression once again, when Russian President Vladimir Putin’s army annexed Crimea.

In 2022, many Tatars have helped Ukraine defy its invaders. This is the latest Tatar struggle for freedom from Russian imperialism. The memory of pain and a history of repression form the basis of Tatar support for Ukraine’s defense, though Muslim neighbors with similar historical experiences — like some Chechens — have openly joined their oppressor’s side.

New Lines spoke with Mustafa Dzhemilev, a venerated leader of the long-persecuted Crimean Tatars. Dzhemilev is also a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and a celebrated human rights activist. He has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, including this year. Dzhemilev spent 15 years in prison camps in the Soviet Union, and he once went on a 303-day hunger strike.

Despite experiencing imprisonment and systematic political persecution throughout his life, Dzhemilev continues to raise awareness about human rights violations and the oppression of his people. He resisted Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and has staunchly opposed its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The Russian authorities have illegally denied him entry to Crimea, his homeland, until 2034.

Dzhemilev was in Kyiv on May 6 at the time of this interview. He spoke by video about the horrors of violence and the war crimes Russia is perpetrating across the country. He also addressed the situation of Crimean Tatars, and he shared his views about Ukraine’s immediate and future needs, including military support and sanctions.

New Lines: How are you doing these days, considering the difficult circumstances that Ukraine is in currently?

Mustafa Dzhemilev: Thank goodness I’m fine, now I’m at home. There are occasional alarms, the bombardment continues, but they are dropping bombs on the whole of Ukraine. Now the weakest part for Ukraine is that we don’t have air [defense systems]. Our soldiers are brave, they are fighting, they inflict a lot of damage to the enemy. According to Russia’s plans, they were going to take Kyiv in three days. Now, on the 71st day of the war, they are expelled from Kyiv, but there are ferocious fights in the Donetsk region, serious battles on the Kherson side.

Our losses are quite substantial — of course not as much as the Russians’, but still a lot. The saddest part is that there are a lot of dead civilians. According to today’s figures, at least 247 children have been killed. I went to Bucha, the place where they killed the most, and they showed me pictures of children. [Setting aside] the ones who died at the time of that bombardment, they shot with guns in the chests of the little children and killed them. What kind of people are these people, actually these creatures, we can’t understand.

NL: A Russian-controlled court set up in occupied Crimea has recently declared you guilty of several charges: illegal storage of ammunition, improper storage of weapons and illegal border crossing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine protested the decision against you, describing Russian accusations as “unjustified.” The MFA reminded that this is not the first attempt by the Russian occupation administration to restrict your freedom, further explaining, “The so-called courts are pursuing a purposeful policy of Russia to persecute the Crimean Tatar people and its leaders in order to expel the Indigenous people from Crimea.” What is your comment on this development, and what are the consequences of this decision?

MD: I am really sad. They give 15, 17, 19 years of imprisonment to normal people there — to those who say a few words opposing Russian occupiers. To me, they gave three years, and a conditional sentence on top of it, like I did almost nothing. I was a bit sad of course.

In fact, this is my eighth time in court. This is a ridiculous court. The main accusation is that I broke the law for illegal crossing of the Russian Federation border. I was going to my house in Bağçasaray. Actually I couldn’t pass those borders — I didn’t. I couldn’t get to the checkpoint, because there were tanks there. They greeted us like that, as if they had come to a war.

Negotiations took place in a neutral place. They spoke with the Turkish ambassador, they said, [Turkish President Recep] Tayyip Erdoğan and [Turkish Prime Minister at the time Ahmet] Davutoğlu are watching the events there, because they were broadcasting it to the whole world. They said, please go from there. A new front might open against Ukraine, but we would try to solve your entrance to Crimea with diplomatic ways. At that time, our citizens, up to 1,000-2,000, who crossed those borders, had passed.

I stated my conditions and said, “You will put them back in Crimea. You will not punish them, then I will withdraw.” That’s how we did it. But, the Russians, of course, were deceitful, as they always are. They punished the people there a lot, gave fines, put three people in jail, and then they filed a lawsuit. In fact, they opened that case in 2016. They appealed to Interpol, but since then I have been to many countries. I did not surrender. Interpol doesn’t listen to them.

They filed a lawsuit again in 2019, and the reason for that is that we were going to march toward Crimea, so [they wanted] to scare us. It was along the lines of, “If you cross the border, we will catch you, you will go to prison.” They said that to me and Refat Chubarov, the head of the Majlis of the Crimean Tatar people.

We did not do that march, but not due to fear of their punishment. With the COVID pandemic, it was not possible to gather that many men. We delayed it. For two years, they continued this trial. My lawyer is a renowned, very good lawyer, Nikolai Polozov. He had to leave Russia because of some threatening signals that they would imprison him. He is in Turkey now. So, they recently announced the verdict in absentia. Three years in prison conditionally. But the prosecutor protested my supposedly soft sentence, so there will be another trial, yet again.

NL: Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine has been going on since Feb. 24. Russian troops have carried out airstrikes on important military and civilian infrastructure, destroying military units, airports, oil depots, schools, churches and hospitals. In your interview with the Crimean News Agency on April 27, you made some statements after visiting Bucha. You said, “Things that are unbelievable for the 21st century have happened here.”Despite this nightmare, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that Ukraine has entered a new phase in the war against Russia, with Ukrainian troops stopping the advance of the invaders. Zelenskyy said that Ukraine must first do everything to stop the war and then move on to diplomacy. What do you think about these statements?

MD: Actually, I didn’t think highly of Zelenskyy before. We didn’t vote for him. I didn’t take him seriously. The comedian man, in such a difficult situation, became president. I did not vote for him. I supported [former President Petro] Poroshenko. But I see that after this war started, he behaved very well. He was very determined, very brave. I said to his face too: “I am proud of my president.”

The negotiations with the Russian delegation started a month and a half ago. First there were talks at the Belarus border, and then in Istanbul. In Istanbul, I was there too. These negotiations make no sense, because of Russia’s ridiculous demands: You will recognize the Crimean Peninsula as Russian territory. You will recognize those self-proclaimed, lawless republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. You will give up your intention to join the EU and NATO. You will return your weapons taken from abroad. So, we would completely surrender there.

Now, we said, “Look, let’s talk about the cease-fire now, because it is necessary not only for us, but also for you. Collect your own dead here.” There are hundreds of dead bodies that they do not take. There are trains full of corpses, the refrigerators are full of mortal remains, and they do not accept it. “No, our demands are like that,” they say. [The only thing that was] agreed is to make human corridors from the few besieged places under Russian control, but those agreements did not work either. Because you start to let the people in the corridors upon which we agreed, and they pass, but [the Russians] also open fire. So the people are forced to go back.
Currently, the most difficult situation is on the Mariupol side. The commander of Mariupol sent me a clear video request a couple of days ago, actually not on my behalf, but asking for help from Tayyip Erdoğan. We delivered it to Mr. Tayyip and sent it to Hürriyet, CNN Türk, Sabah [Turkish media]. This is what we can do.

Yesterday [May 5], there was a Crimean Tatar medic at Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol who also appealed for help. He expects something from Mr. Tayyip … because in Ukraine, Turkey’s reputation is very high, they love Mr. Tayyip very much, they trust him very much. But unfortunately, Mr. Tayyip could do nothing.

[Turkish presidential spokesperson] Ibrahim Kalin paid a visit here recently and spoke with [Sergei] Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, on this Mariupol issue. Shoigu said, “We will allow the wounded and civilians to pass but let the soldiers surrender. Let Zelenskyy order them to surrender.” Mr. Ibrahim responded to him: “Look, no commander has the right to say ‘surrender’ to his own citizens. Therefore, we offer you, the people there, your captives.”We have more than a thousand Russian captives. [Quoting Ibrahim:] “Let’s exchange them. One of Turkey’s ships is waiting in Istanbul, it can take more than a thousand men. When you [Russians and Ukrainians] make a decision, we will come by ship to the port of Berdyansk. We will take the men out with buses that are under our control, we will take them to Turkey by ship, and we give you our word that they will stay in Turkey until the end of the war. We will host them there.”

But no, they did not agree.

Now they have their holiday, “Russia’s Victory Day,” on May 9. On that holiday, they want to hold a rally, [celebrating that they] took Mariupol, took captives, and things like that. But our people won’t surrender, so people most likely will die. Our friend who sent his message yesterday from Azovstal is actually a doctor. He says there is no material, no medicine, that people die in doctors’ hands. But we, unfortunately, get nothing.

NL: Yes. Yesterday, media around the world shared a video that an unnamed man who described himself as a Crimean Tatar, a Muslim medic, posted late night on Thursday, May 5, to Instagram, as a direct appeal to Erdoğan. He called for help to save the lives of civilians who were still trapped in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. So, is it true that the Russian invaders brought at least 13 mobile crematoriums to Mariupol to hide the traces of their crimes? Journalists and officials in Mariupol also reported that at least three mass graves were found.

MD: They use mobile crematoriums not only in Mariupol, but also in Donetsk. They send a few bodies, but they burn most of the dead there to reduce their number. According to our Interior Ministry’s writings, 12,000 parents from over there [Russia] made phone calls or went to our websites to ask about their children. These are parents of children [we are] 99% [certain are] dead. But they don’t ask the Russian authorities, because they are afraid. According to their laws, they give some money for the dead soldiers. So they say [to parents] that if you report this information, we will not pay you, and we will say that your child is missing, or we will say that he was lost during a drill. We will not mention war. To get the money, parents don’t tell anyone about their dead children. That is what’s happening.

NL: In an interview with the Associated Press on May 5, even Russia’s close ally, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, admitted that he felt the “Russian special operation” was not going as planned. Considering this situation, what can we expect from Putin? Of course, he probably will not take a step back, but will he use more violence?

MD: If this president of Russia was a normal person, then it would be possible to make predictions. But he does not think about Russia or the Russian people. If he had really thought about Russia’s future, he would not have come to Crimea in 2014. He would have thought a little about his fate. Now he has entered the territory of another independent country — with a total of 190,000 soldiers. What would the world’s reaction be to that? And what are you going to do after you enter the country? In 2014, [then-German Chancellor Angela] Merkel said to him, directly to his face: “You probably live in the 15th or 16th century, that is your logic.” Indeed, he is like that.

At the moment, all sorts of analyses are being made, with guesses as to what he might do. But it’s a little hard to say for sure. … There are other issues, but it is not about just pressing a red button, there are seven or eight stages before that. They say it is very difficult to use a nuclear weapon, that it is 99% impossible, but even if there is a 1% chance, it is a danger to the world.

In the first days of the war, our people fought really bravely. The enemies thought they would take Kyiv in three days, according to their plans, and that they would hold a parade on the fourth day. They were going to hold a celebratory concert. But half of them were destroyed, half of them escaped to Bucha. They started to torture civilians around Kyiv, and they killed a lot of people. Now they have left the Kyiv region. According to their plan, they want to take Donetsk, Luhansk — the Donbas region. They want to take Kherson and pass to Moldova, to Russian-controlled Transnistria. They also want to make Donetsk a corridor to the Crimean Peninsula. They want to besiege Ukraine, to close the exits to the seas. They intend to make the country helpless.

I am sure that they will not carry out these plans, because thanks to them, the Western countries have given a lot of weapons. We expect the situation on the fronts to change a lot soon.

NL: You warned in the past that Russia would use occupied Crimea to attack the rest of Ukraine. Today, the whole world admires the high motivation of the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian people in defending their homeland. You said it’s hard to make predictions, but what are Ukraine’s most pressing needs? I think the European Union’s oil embargo against Russia is essential to limit Putin’s financing of war against Ukraine. Do you agree?

MD: The most urgent need is to close the air space. We need planes, we need air defense systems. They are firing S-300 rockets, and we can’t do anything. They are deploying Iskanders on ships from the Black Sea, and we cannot respond. Our rockets cannot reach that distance. These howitzer weapons, which will be given from America, give the opportunity to hit a 35-40 km (22-25 mile) area, but to reach Sevastopol from the territory of Ukraine that is under our control, we need rockets with a range of at least 400 kilometers (250 miles). Unfortunately, we do not have those rockets. This is our weak side. But our advantage here is that people have great motivation, they fight very bravely. The Russians’ main motivation is to make raids in the occupied lands. They allow women to be raped. They have no other motivations.

People call me from Crimea and say there are trucks filled with used phones, washing machines for sale, things raided here and sold in occupied lands. And people buy because of the low prices.

NL: Among the Ukrainians resisting the Russian occupation, there are also the Crimean Tatars. In early April, several Ukrainian media outlets shared your statement that all institutions, businesses and schools have been instructed to regularly post on Facebook in support of Putin, and to support what they call the special operation. At that time, you also shared with the media that kidnapped civilians from the Kherson and Melitopol regions were taken to, and brutally tortured in, Crimea. So what’s going on in Crimea right now?

MD: There is tension there at the moment. Everyone in Crimea has been instructed to be ready for war. I [talk by phone] with our citizens there. I tell them, “Look, we actually had a plan to save Crimea from occupation without a war, but since they occasionally open fire on the Crimean Peninsula, maybe Ukraine will have to reciprocate. Take your precautions, protect your lives.”

The peninsula of Crimea is now practically closed. It is not possible to get out of there, nor is it possible to enter. … We occasionally appeal to our citizens over there to not come here in any way. If you come here, you will either become a corpse or a murderer. Therefore, refuse. Do not go into the Russian army.

[For a failure to enlist], the punishment is up to two years in prison. The best thing is to go to jail. But do not come to war. Yet it is very dangerous for them to surrender, because their relatives are held as hostages in Crimea, and they are in such a difficult situation. So there’s a lot of tension. FSB [the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation] men come to the houses of many people, our activists, and threaten them if they write words of support for Ukraine. The punishments would be such and such — so there is terror.

NL: During your recent visit to Antalya during The Diplomacy Forum, you said, “The West does not fully understand that we are fighting not only for ourselves, but also for them.”

MD: It really is like that. Ukraine is now the main war front against this totalitarian fascist regime. If Russia is victorious here, after that it can attack other countries. Firstly, the Baltic countries and Poland — and they do not actually hide that they have such intentions. That is why now it is a little immoral to look at this war from the outside and be an impartial spectator, because our war is not only for ourselves, but for all freedom. That’s why we always expect support from countries.
Fortunately, the countries in the West are giving enough support now, but if they had given this support in 2014, when the Russians occupied Crimea, if these serious sanctions had been imposed then, maybe we would not have come to this day. Unfortunately, countries in the West were a little late in this regard.

NL: What are your hopes and expectations for the future of Crimea?

MD: The war is actually a bad thing, but as a result of this war, we hope very much that there will be a chance to save Crimea from occupation. That is to say: This war started in Crimea and will end in Crimea as well.

Because until the full territorial integrity of Ukraine is restored, this war will not end. But Russia will certainly not triumph here. How long will the war in question continue? This is the main issue. Ukraine will of course fight to the end, for the whole of its own territory, for freedom.

NL: You said in an interview a few years ago that Putin cannot be trusted. You stated, “There is no point in believing Putin, because he is a person who can violate any contract he signs.” What kind of person do you think Putin is?

MD: About 99% of the words he says are lies. But it’s a very strange thing. At the same time, according to the Russian press, Putin’s ratings are rising. It is not possible to believe their statistics, because it is dangerous for someone to [give an answer the authorities] don’t like. A Russian journalist said that according to some sociological studies, 87% of the people living in Crimea are very happy about being part of Russia and asked me how I interpret that. I said it is possible, but the problem is this: If people say, “I don’t recognize the Russian occupation, Crimea is part of Ukraine,” that person stays in prison for five years, but comes out as a dignified person. If you give the death penalty for that [response], then 99% would say they support Russia. That is the situation. It is impossible to believe the statistics there.

The truth is that they have a lot of propaganda. People living in Russia mainly watch their own televisions — they can’t access many other internet sites, because many have been closed by the Russian government. If Russia’s politics continues like this, the Russian state has no future. Gradually, the Russian state is turning into a big North Korea.

Oil embargoes affect the economy of Western countries. But as time passes, the situation will change. Therefore, as much as possible, all sanctions should be applied now. If it is too little, then Putin’s regime will stay in place for a few more years. This is very harmful, both for the world and for the Russian people.

NL: In your message to the Crimean News Agency a few days ago, you congratulated all Muslims on the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Emphasizing that many Crimean Tatars have had to celebrate the holidays away from their homeland for eight years due to the Russian occupation, you said, “We believe that we will mark the next and future holidays in our own lands.”I have to be honest and ask you a difficult question: Are you worried about the future of the next generation of Tatars? Is it difficult to keep them attached to the Tatar culture, language and religion as Muslims under constant pressure?

MD: [The Russians] make moves not against [the Tatars’] religion, but against their identity. They’re closing schools. Russification is everywhere — that’s where the danger lies. There is a lot of propaganda. Our people should not be blind, as they were in Chechnya. But you know, we were under Soviet propaganda for more than 70 years, and a few years after perestroika, people’s minds were restored. Now, if there was freedom there, our children, our people would be fine. But it is a pity, of course, that people do not speak in their native language. There is so much discrimination. They are treated like second-class citizens. They are also trying to comply with the laws in order to find a place for themselves, and this causes great harm to the mentality and honor of a people.
The sooner we are saved from the occupation, the better. ...Read More

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This Week's History Lesson:
How Yellow Fever Intensified Racial Inequality
in 19th-Century New Orleans
A 19th-century illustration of two yellow fever victims in New Orleans A 19th-century illustration of two yellow fever victims in New Orleans Bettmann / Getty Images

A new book explores how immunity to the disease created opportunities for white, but not Black, people

By Karin Wulf
The Smithsonian
Contributing Writer

April 19, 2022 - More than two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, the social, economic and political implications of public health crises are more apparent than ever—as is the fact that people of color and poorer communities often bear the brunt of these contagions’ consequences.

A new analysis of yellow fever in antebellum New Orleans highlights striking parallels with the ongoing pandemic, illustrating how the mosquito-borne virus interacted with the Louisiana capital’s unique climate, cotton-driven economy and violently exploitative labor regime to spark wave after wave of epidemics. Against a backdrop of intensifying slavery, yellow fever transformed New Orleans into a city of the dead, claiming as many as 150,000 lives between 1803 and the outbreak of the Civil War. The disease also created a horrific form of what Kathryn Olivarius, a historian at Stanford University, describes as “immunocapitalism”: a “socially acknowledged lifelong immunity to a highly lethal virus, providing access to previously inaccessible realms of ... power.”

In her book Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom, out now from Harvard University Press, Olivarius explores the racialized nature of New Orleans’ yellow fever epidemic. For the disease-ridden city’s 19th-century populace, immunity was the key to opportunity, determining where locals lived and worked, who they socialized with, and other aspects of daily life. Because people had no way of proving their immunity in this pre-vaccine world, accruing “immunocapital” was more about convincing others of one’s status than actually being immune to yellow fever. This immunity—whether real or perceived—had wildly conflicting implications for white Orleanians and enslaved Black people.

At the time, medical professionals erroneously believed that African people were immune to yellow fever—a theory that was used, in turn, to justify racial slavery. Slaveholders reasoned that “God intended for enslaved people to be enslaved, specifically in the American South, ... because the cotton economy would entirely collapse without the labor of immune Black people,” says Olivarius. “Many pro-slavery theorists and doctors essentially were saying that Black slavery was positively humanitarian because it distanced white people, who would be vulnerable to yellow fever, from labor and spaces that would kill them, whereas Black people could safely work in these spaces.”

Smithsonian chatted with Olivarius about yellow fever in New Orleans, how surviving the disease played out differently for white and Black people, and what it was like to write about the history of racism and disease in the midst of a pandemic. Read a condensed and edited version of the conversation below.

What is yellow fever, and how is it different from Covid-19?

Yellow fever is very, very different from Covid-19. It’s an acute hemorrhagic fever spread by mosquitoes, and in the 19th century and earlier, it was the most terrifying disease in the Atlantic world. This was the disease that kept people up at night, because it was a miserable way to die. Victims experienced a sudden onset of nausea and chills, muscle pains, back aches, and jaundice. Within days, patients would be oozing blood through their orifices. They vomited up partly coagulated blood with the consistency and color of coffee grounds. They could lapse into a coma and die of organ failure. Even the most pious victims—ministers, priests—were screaming profanities as the end neared. It was that painful.

Yellow fever was terrifying because it was so mysterious. Even the most experienced doctors were flummoxed. There was no cure, no inoculation, no satisfactory explanation for why it killed some people and spared others. It was only at the end of the 19th century that Cuban researchers discovered yellow fever’s vector, the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, and only in the 1930s that an effective vaccine was developed.

How did people at the time understand and treat this deadly disease?

The full impact of yellow fever is hard to calculate because at the time, they bent over backward to not come to grips with the enormity of any epidemic. Every second or third year, an epidemic would strike, and during those epidemics, as many as 8 percent of the population could die. In some immigrant neighborhoods, especially German and Irish ones, epidemics killed off 20 percent of people. In 1853, the year of the worst epidemic in New Orleans, with over 12,000 deaths, about 10 percent of the city’s population died. And one-fifth of the Irish-born population died. ...Read More
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Morena to Migrants: Help Us Transform México
Mexicans who live in the United States, we all know, care deeply about immigrant rights.

But Mexicanos and Chicanos also care about a broad range of other hot-button US policies. In state after state, for instance, our racist right has recently been passing legislation that bans the teaching of anything that smacks of “critical race theory,” a prohibition that essentially renders brown children invisible and robs them of their sense of belonging.
Migrants also have concerns about life back home in México. Under the old PRI and PAN governments, México’s political elite agreed to policies that benefited US corporations at the expense of Mexican small farmers and working men and women. Inequality grew and hope shrank.
But since the 2018 elections, México has had a new sheriff in town. President López Obrador and his Morena party are working to create the conditions that would make it possible for Mexicans living abroad to return home and reunite with their families and communities.
To stay on this path, Morena will need the help of the Mexican people. And that includes the 11 percent of the Mexican population who now live abroad, most of them in the United States. Diego Torres, our Voices spotlight this week, works for the Morena secretariat tasked with reaching Mexicans living on foreign soil and explaining to them Morena’s bottom-up approach to transforming México into a democracy of, by, and for the people.
México, halfway through AMLO’s six years in office, still faces problems like violence and marginal employment, and, in this environment, earning trust will always be hard and difficult work. But Torres and Morena have a powerful message. They’re inviting all Mexicanos and Mexicanas to become part of the solution. You can change history, the Morena movement is helping Mexicans everywhere understand. Your voice, your vote, your joining with your fellow citizens can transform México. ...Read More
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Film Review: ‘Happening’ Is an Award-Winning French Drama About Abortion. It’s Also the Most Urgent Movie of 2022
An extraordinary story of a young woman desperately trying to terminate an unwanted pregnancy in 1960s France has gone from an international sensation to a call to arms

By David Fear
Rolling Stone

“Can you help me?”

It’s the first sentence you hear in Happening, filmmaker Audrey Diwan’s loose adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s semi-memoir–ish novel, and given that the opening credits are still rolling over a black background, it’s hard to say who’s asking whom for what.

But it’s definitely a female voice, and belongs to one of the three young woman getting ready for a night out. Two of them are ribbing each other about their outfits, their looks, their chances of getting lucky; the other, Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), mostly keeps quiet as she raises her friend’s hem above her knees. All three of them are university students in a modest French town, eager to indulge in the follies of youth while anxious to experience what’s looming on the other side of adulthood. Meanwhile, there’s rock & roll to dance to, Coca-Colas to sip, boys (and/or hunky local firemen) to flirt with. The year is 1963, which technically makes this a period piece. The idea of it being just a reminder of things long past, however, is nothing but a cruel joke.

Anne, we soon find out, met a gent from out of town a little while back, one thing lead to another, and she’s now pregnant. She asks her family physician to “do something” to help her rectify this situation. He replies that she must not ask him that, “not me…not anyone.”

Abortion is illegal in France (it would remain so until 1975), and Anne has already seen classmates become pariahs and leave school under duress because of unwanted pregnancies. She wants to continue her studies, possibly to become a teacher one day. and to make her working-class mother (the great Sandrine Bonnaire) proud. More than anything, Anne needs to have a say as to which way her life will go. The ability to have a choice in this matter is “essential” to her — not a privilege but a basic human right. The more she talks to disapproving doctors, disappointed professors and other male authority figures, the more desperate she becomes. And desperate times lead to measures that aren’t just desperate but dangerous.

A former journalist and longtime screenwriter, Diwan has said she was interested in doing something in regards to her own abortion experience as a follow up to her directorial debut Losing It (2019). When she came across Ernaux’s book, the French filmmaker found that the author’s story of trying to procure a termination procedure nearly 60 years ago touched on the same intersection between the sociopolitical and the extremely personal that she’d been curious to explore.

And despite the difference in eras, it’s easy — too easy — to imagine the common ground. The male allies who morph into opportunists (and straight-up creeps), the medical practitioners who foist their own prejudices and agendas upon patients, the sense of secretiveness and shame that’s de facto associated with even inquiring about an abortion: those factors are not the exclusive property of the 1960s or the 21st century. The one big change is that a young woman risked prison time for herself and others, not to mention putting their own health at serious risk, in 1963.

It’s these life-or-death stakes that Happening puts front and center, as it forces viewers to not just confront the stigma associated with abortion — a word, by the way, that’s never uttered in the film — but to immerse themselves in the same dread and paranoia that Anne feels. At one point, our hero is forced to take matters into her own hands; Diwan films the entire sequence with the camera on Vartolomei’s face, letting her expressions and reactions guide us through every fraught moment. (The young Romanian actor has proven herself to be an extraordinary listener and observer onscreen up until this point, yet this key scene demonstrates her chops for simultaneously channeling emotional vulnerability and strength. It’s one of several devastating virtuoso moments in a genuinely stand-out performance.) Once Anne is forced to enter an underground network in order to obtain the procedure, Diwan and her co-writer Marcia Romano ratchet up the suspense, complete with ticking-clock intertitles charting how far along her pregnancy has progressed. There are times when you’d swear you were watching a WWII French Resistance thriller.

When Happening won the Golden Lion after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival this past August, you got the sense that the jury was rewarding the movie less for making a statement and more for the sheer amount of cinematic talent apparent in every close-up, every terse and/or coded exchange, every narrative left-turn. If you were lucky to catch it when it begin screening on the domestic fest circuit this year, playing everywhere from Sundance to San Francisco, it was still possible to appreciate not just Diwan’s use of silence and space, for letting scenes unfold at a deceptively leisurely pace before turning the screws, and for her seemingly telepathic rapport with her lead actor. It’s the type of movie that deserves praise and your undivided attention no matter when it comes to theaters near you.

Yet it’s tempting to think some sort of cosmic joke is being played regarding the fact that Diwan’s cri de coeur is being released in America this week, only a few days after a leak of SCOTUS papers confirmed that Roe vs. Wade is a mere whisper away from being overturned. A cosmic joke, or maybe the universe delivering us exactly what we need at this very moment. You do not need to adhere to the Ebert Doctrine™ about movies being empathy machines to be moved and enraged by its portrait of a misogynistic system from 60 years ago, in which education about the female anatomy is considered verboten, the notion of female pleasure is treated like a mystery or a myth, and a woman trying to make a choice about her life was considered a public enemy. You don’t need to be a woman to feel like you’re witnessing a nightmare. The sense of urgency around its “throwback” notion of having to risk safety and freedom to have control over your own body was palpable before. It’s overwhelmingly so now. That opening question goes from “Can you help me?” — and its climactic reprise of “Can someone help her?” — to a much deeper inquiry. Happening is a no longer just a look at what happened then. It’s a preview of what happens next if we don’t stop this reversal of rights right away. ...Read More
Book Review: Lives of Enslaved Women

By Giselle Gerolami

An Intimate Economy:
Enslaved Women, Work, and America’s Domestic Slave Trade
By Alexandra J. Finley
University of North Carolina Press, 2020, 200 pages, $22.95 paperback.

AN INTIMATE ECONOMY: Enslaved Women, Work, and America’s Domestic Slave Trade, by University of Pittsburgh historian Alexandra J. Finley, examines the economic contributions of enslaved women between 1840 and 1861 in Richmond, Virginia and New Orleans, Louisiana where two of the largest slave markets were located.

While the extensive economic studies of this time period have been dominated by men, the economic value of work performed by women has gone unrecognized. The book’s focus is largely on domestic and socially reproductive work as well as the sexual economy.

The book is divided into four chapters corresponding to the four case studies Finley is exploring. “Fancy” is about how lighter-skinned enslaved women were marketed for their attractiveness and fertility and looks specifically at the life of Corinna Hinton Omohundro. “Seamstress” shows how women produced the clothing worn by slaves in the slave markets and how well-dressed slaves could command higher prices.

In “Concubine,” we learn the remarkable story of Sarah Ann Conner, an enslaved concubine who manages to earn, lose and then regain her freedom. Finally, “Housekeeper” tells the story of the enslaved concubine Lucy Ann Cheatham.

Corinna Hinton Omohundro was the second enslaved concubine of Silas Omohundro, an agent for slave trader Rice Ballard of Franklin & Armfield in Richmond, Virginia.

Purchased as a “fancy” at 14, she contributed to Omohundro’s livelihood by providing food and clothing to the slave jail, managing boarding houses and raising her own children. After Omohundro’s death in 1864 there was a court battle over his estate, which he had willed to Hinton. The courts, mostly in Pennsylvania where Omohundro owned property, did not accept that Hinton was his legal wife and entitled to his property.

Sarah Ann Conner, a slave in New Orleans, was able to save money for herself by renting, furnishing and then subletting rooms. For unknown reasons, she brokered her freedom purchase through Theo­philus Freeman. She lived as a free woman for several years but, when Freeman went through bankruptcy, creditors went looking for hidden property and that included Sarah Ann Conner.

Many legal battles followed and in 1851, the Supreme Court found in her favor. However, her legal problems were not over. She was later convicted of perjury and sentenced to five years hard labor but it is not known whether or not she served that sentence.

She continued renting rooms, had a long-term relationship with a police officer, and eventually moved to Washington, D.C. where she had relatives. She adopted a daughter there and purchased property.

'Sale Suits' and Concubinage

Slave trader Hector Davis regularly paid women for sewing and his ledgers tell an interesting story. Slaves were given “sale suits” for their sale in the slave markets and the sewing was performed by women. By the 1840s ready-made suits were available for men. Northern manufacturers marketed the suits in the south and there were southern manufacturers who also marketed suits. This was the most expensive option.

Another option was pre-cut cloth that just needed to be sewed. The final option was to buy cloth and pay someone to cut and sew the suits. Davis made regular payments to Anna Davis, the wife of one of his agents, for sewing. He also made regular payments to Virginia Isham, an enslaved woman, for sewing. Not surprisingly, he paid Isham considerably less than he paid to Anna Davis.

In one of the author’s more notable asides, she explains that although by the mid-19th century sewing was considered a task for women stemming from their “natural” ability, that had not always been the case.

In fact, male tailors dominated and fiercely guarded their trade into the 19th century until simple mantuas became more common and women began making clothing commercially.

Lucy Ann Cheatham was purchased by John Hagan, who brought her to New Orleans where she became his enslaved concubine. She had a daughter who was known as Dolly but who, unbeknownst to her husband, she named Frederika Bremer Hagan after a Swedish anti-slavery reformer.

Lucy had three other boys before Hagan died in 1856. He had emancipated her and his children shortly before his death. He bequeathed to her ten thousand dollars and a small property which was a tiny portion of his estate, the rest of which went to his mother and siblings.

The will was not contested, possibly because of how little Cheatham was given. She ended up in bankruptcy by 1863 but was able to rebuild after the war.

Cheatham had lifelong, meaningful friendships with other women who were similarly situated. There is no evidence that Sarah Ann Conner and Lucy Ann Cheatham knew each other but we find out, in the epilogue, that when Finley went to visit the graveyard where they are buried, she discovered that they are buried beside each other.

Finley consciously chooses the term “enslaved concubine” in order to emphasize the lack of choice in these relationships. She grapples with the issue of love and consent by trying to move beyond the debate to consider the specific realities of the lives of enslaved concubines:

“According to the logic of nineteenth-century contract law, enslaved concubines could not consent to a sexual relationship; yet white slaveholders fetishized their willingness. Faced with severe violence or other punishments, enslaved concubines faced a “choice” that was no choice at all. The men who enslaved them could thus create the appearance of choice for enslaved concubines. Historians must be careful not to interpret enslaved women’s survival strategies and lack of options as consent. Trapped in impossible situations, enslaved concubines in the slave trade prioritized survival while still resisting in subtle but meaningful ways.” (11)

Privileging, Oppression and Resistance

Finley’s exposition and exploration of the phenomenon of “fancy” women is possibly the strongest part of this book. “Fancy” women were given expensive clothing, jewelry, gloves and stockings and were meant to approximate white women but were sexually available to white men and could be used and discarded.

From the racist privileging of lighter-skinned enslaved women to the assumptions around the sexual availability of these women to the delusions of consent, this intriguing topic could easily be a book on its own.

The organization of the book is somewhat problematic to the extent that the content of the chapters does not correspond well with the chapter titles. All three women were enslaved concubines who performed domestic work which including sewing. There is not much in the chapter “Housekeeper” about the particulars of domestic work. Only “Seamstress,” which focuses on an individual slave trader’s logs recording payments to different women for sewing services, is able to develop the named topic. Perhaps it would have been better to tell these women’s stories in a different way, rather than trying to assign a theme to sum up their lives.

Without elaborating, Finley dismisses Marx and Engels for “quickly abandoning a materialist inquiry of women and relying on familiar assumptions about female nature.” (9) She is kinder to Marxist feminists such as Mary Inman and to other feminist thinkers.

The central thesis of the book regarding the economic value of the work performed by enslaved women is asserted throughout the book but not developed sufficiently. There is heavy reliance on ledgers of transactions by slave owners. What does this information tell us? It’s only possible to extrapolate so much.

The women whose lives Finley examines are interesting in their own right, but there is not much connection between what little we know about them and what we might glean about the economic value of the work they did.

Finley deserves credit for choosing to highlight arguably one of the historically most oppressed groups. Instead of focusing on their oppression, she looks at what they contributed in terms of economic, social and emotional labor but also, under the most dire circumstances, at their small acts of resistance which can inspire all of us who are fighting for a better future.

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