BODY ELECTRIC graduate journal in american studies 1850-present
volume II centre for american studies western university
The Centre for American Studies presents
BODY ELECTRIC American Studies 1850-present
Volume II 2015
Caroline Diezyn – Founding Editor-in-Chief Diana Szabo – Managing Editor Courney Mathison – Assistant Editor Heather Stephenson – Assistant Editor Peer Reviewers and Copyeditors: Alexandra Wapia Robyn Schwarz-Pimer Dylan O’Leary Web Admin & Communications: Christine Wall Centre for American Studies at Western University Room 1003, Social Science Centre London, Ontario, Canada N61 5C2 http://cas.uwo.ca/research/publications/the_body_electric.html Email: BodyElectricEditor@gmail.com Twitter: @BodyElectricCAS Online edition: http://issuu.com/bodyelectric Cover photograph by Caroline Diezyn Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors and editors do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for American Studies at Western University. All rights remain with the respective authors.
Table of Contents Foreword
Monument to Industry: The Detroit Industry Murals and Economic Crisis By Jessica Cappuccitti
From Scottsboro to Ferguson: Reconfigurations of the Myth of the Bestial Black Man By Natasha Di Cecco
Grotius, Locke, and Water as a Natural Right By Cameron Fioret
Occupy Wall Street and Indigenous Feminism: The Radical Left’s Reconstitution of Imperial Power By Phil Henderson
New World Within the Old: A Comparison of the Industrial Workers of the World and Occupy Wall Street By Tristan Johnson
“Armed Self-Reliance”: The Struggle for Desegregation in Monroe, North Carolina By Michael Thorburn
Foreword Thank you for reading, and patiently waiting for, the second edition of Body Electric. The papers in this edition examine the themes of lack and excess, abundance and scarcity, want and deprivation—whether in terms of wealth, social status, mobility, power, resources, or ethics. When we wrote our call for papers, excited as we were then about Baz Lurhmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, we wanted to know, “Who can dream the American Dream and succeed?” In these paragraphs, and in light of the contributions of the authors, I’d like to consider a secondary question: Should we pursue the Dream? Evidently, not everyone can attain the Dream; otherwise, it would lose all its appeal. Nevertheless, for the average American surviving in an aggressively capitalist society, the Dream is useful insofar as it can be held up as a standard that ought at least to be possible (if only you’d “pull up your bootstraps”). It’s a concept to be exalted, but certainly not an earthbound reality. The Dream forces those who are excluded to get creative. This exclusion/adaptive survival dynamic of the American Dream is at play inthe topics covered by our contributors. Cameron Fioret discusses philosophical arguments not to privatize resources like water. Jessica Cappuccitti traces the history of the Detroit Industry murals in the context of the city’s former industrial success, and its torpor in the 2008–09 recession. Tristan Johnson compares and contrasts two iterations of the labour movement: the Industrial Workers of the World and Occupy Wall Street. Phil Henderson critically examines Occupy Wall Street, arguing that the movement still marginalizes Indigenous women—in spite of its contributions to the feminist project. Natasha De Cicco’s “From Scottsboro to Ferguson” explores how the myths used to exclude black
men from “civilized” American society continue to be reconfigured. And Michael Thorburn outlines the controversy surrounding civil rights leader Robert Williams’s right to bear arms. Only a minority can dream the Dream and succeed; the rest of us dream, make due, fight. In short, the American Dream is a rat race—that is, a fiercely competitive struggle for position and power. Pursuing it makes us and our children sick and distracts us from the fact that what really nourishes us is quickly vanishing, gobbled up by the greed of those who think that the bounty of our planet cannot be enjoyed unless it is possessed and dominated. Do we want to succeed in this race? In response to this question, I leave you with the words of Hubert Selby, Jr., author of Requiem for a Dream. Selby is writing about his own characters, but he understands why F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is a cautionary figure: I believe that to pursue the American Dream is not only futile but self-destructive because ultimately it destroys everything and everyone involved with it. By definition it must, because it nurtures everything except those things that are important: integrity, ethics, truth, our very heart and soul. Why? The reason is simple: because Life/life is giving, not getting.
The American Dream is the pursuit of things not essential to life. If Selby and Fitzgerald are right, no one can afford the price of the American Dream. No one can afford to lose their very heart and soul. Sometimes we glimpse this truth. Can we finally learn, before it’s too late? Diana Szabo Managing Editor of Body Electric, 2013–2015
Monument to Industry: The Detroit Industry Murals and Economic Crisis Jessica Cappuccitti Jessica Cappuccitti is a PhD student in Art and Visual Culture at Western University. Her research interests include contemporary art, activist art and community-based projects focused on re-growth. This paper was written for a Monuments in Early Modern and Modern Art seminar taught by Dr. Cody Barteet. “Henry Ford [is] a true poet and artist, one of the greatest in the world.” - Diego Rivera
The Museum visitor arrives through the grand, triple-arched entrance on Woodward Avenue (Fig. 1) and enters into an elaborately decorated Rococo space, characteristic of the Beaux-Arts style (Fig. 2). After dodging catering staff and admiring the wedding centrepieces adorning the reception tables in the Great Hall,1 the visitor passes through a set of wrought iron gates (Fig. 3). Decorated with life-sized birds and squirrels perched amongst detailed foliage, the gates open up into the former ‘Garden Court.’(Fig. 4) This expansive space, now known as the ‘Rivera Court,’ with its high ceilings and glass roof is a testament to the history of the Detroit Institute of Arts and the city of Detroit (Fig. 5). The Neoclassical surroundings that include the architectural embellishments of pilasters and the mascarons decorating the keystones atop the doorway arches, contrast with the Modern imagery and aesthetics of Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals (1932-1933). In 1931, the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, William Valentiner invited the acclaimed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera to paint the walls of the Garden Court at the Institute. 1
The height of Museum tourism coincides with the height of wedding season. The DIA is a popular place to host weddings and private functions alike. Museum hours are used for set up before the reception begins and often times visitors will run into these types of preparations. (This introductory description is based on the author’s September 27, 2014 visit to the DIA.)
This project, funded by Henry Ford’s son and successor to the Ford Motors empire, Edsel B. Ford, would prove to be amongst both the most controversial and popular commissions of the twentieth century. This essay will argue that the Detroit Industry murals are a monument to industry by the city of Detroit and Rivera himself. These frescos act as a pilgrimage destination for tourists interested in Detroit’s modernist era and reflect the now lost golden age of industry. It is compelling to analyse the history of the creation of these murals and the controversy surrounding them in the context of Detroit’s current economic situation and most notably, the potential deaccessioning of the DIA’s collection of art to pay off the debts of the bankrupted city. The Detroit Industry murals celebrate the accomplishments of Detroit and operate as a monument to an industrious city built on manufacturing that promised for its workers the fulfillment of the ‘American Dream.’ The murals painted for the Detroit Institute of Art2 were not Rivera’s first in the United States but they would become the most memorable. Rivera and his wife, the painter Frida Kahlo spent four years in America from 1929-1933. The first of Rivera’s mural projects was in San Francisco for the stairway of the San Francisco Stock Exchange Luncheon Club in 1930. Allegory of California (1931) (Fig. 6) would combine Rivera’s interests in nature and industry with an image of California including “the three bases of her richness – gold, petroleum, and fruits. Transportation, rail and marine, will be motifs stressed, and on the ceiling, energy and speed.”3 These themes would be important in the creation of Rivera’s Detroit narrative, of which he spent approximately two months researching the various industries, observing the work done in the factories and preparing sketches. The works in Detroit would be received both 2
The Detroit Institute of Art will be here on referred to as the DIA. Lawrence P. Hurlburt, The Mexican Muralists in the United States (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 100. 3
triumphantly and critically, causing uprisings from both strong supporters and vehement opponents. It is interesting to look at these murals and the responses they garnered in the context of the Great Depression and Rivera’s own communist beliefs. Upon the completion of the Detroit murals, Rivera and Kahlo would move on to New York where he would paint the most controversial of his works in America, the Great Hall murals in the Rockefeller Center (1933). These works would remain unfinished and ultimately whitewashed due to the appearance of a portrait of Vladimir Lenin (Fig. 7). Rivera and Kahlo would return to Mexico in December of 1933, leaving behind an incredible legacy for the city of Detroit. The time Rivera spent preparing for the Detroit Industry murals was instrumental to the narrative of technological and industrial advancement depicted in his work. He spent two months touring and observing Detroit’s car factories, streel foundries and chemical laboratories.4 “He eagerly made sketches and took photographs of men and giant machines working in apparent harmony together on the assembly lines, often in desperately hot and noisy conditions.”5 Rivera described this experience:
I walked for miles through the immense workshops of the Ford, Chrysler, Edison, Michigan Alkali, and Parke-Davis plants. I was afire with enthusiasm. My childhood passion for mechanical toys had been transmuted to a delight in machinery for its own sake and for its meaning to man -- his self-fulfillment and liberation from drudgery and poverty. That is why now I placed the collective hero, man-and-machine, higher than the old traditional heroes of art and legend. I felt that in the society of the future as already, to some extent, that of the present, man-and-machine would be as important as air, water, and the light of the sun.6
Saronne Rubyan-Ling, “The Detroit Murals of Diego Rivera,” History Today 4 (1996): 2. Ibid. 6 Diego Rivera and Gladys March, My Art, My Life: An Autobiography (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1992), 111-112. 5
Rivera was so excited by what he observed that he requested permission to paint all twentyseven panels rather than the two previously agreed upon.7 Two things would inspire Rivera and influence his design of the mural above all other observations he made, his tour of the Ford River Rouge Complex where they were building the new V8 engine that would become the centre piece for the mural and his visit to Henry Ford’s museum of American antiquarianism in Dearborn, Michigan. The River Rouge Complex was innovative because it took a comprehensive approach to manufacturing by processing everything from the raw materials to the completion of the finished car. Rivera created a design that would become the theme of the murals and would symbolize this marriage between nature and technology. Rivera’s visit to Ford’s museum in Dearborn resulted in the formation of an unlikely relationship with Henry Ford, built on a foundation of mutual interests in technology and respect for one another. After Rivera spent almost twenty hours marvelling at the collection of technology, Ford, astounded by his interest stated, “…that's quite a record time for a visitor to stay at a museum… It proves that you may be even more interested in mechanics than I am.”8 Rivera later dined with Ford and the relationship was cemented, with Rivera later exclaiming that Ford was “a true poet and artist, one of the greatest in the world.”9 Thus the communist artist let down his guard to the capitalist industrialist. The Detroit Industry murals would include imagery based on the foundation of the city’s economy with panels dedicated to: water transport and the geography of Detroit, coal producing
Rubyan-Ling, “The Detroit Murals of Diego Rivera,” 2. Diego Rivera and Gladys March, My Art, My Life: An Autobiography (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1992), 112-114. 9 Ibid., 115. 8
steam, steam turbines generating electricity, manufacture of poison gas, administration of a vaccination, pharmaceuticals and surgery, production of chemicals, the air force and man’s potential for war, and the two largest panels on the north and south walls dedicated to the automotive industry. Included above the automotive panels are those dedicated to four generalized races of humanity or the continents: Caucasian and Asian (Europe and Asia) on the south wall, and African and Native American (Africa and North America) on the north wall. Fists of varying shades of skin colour represent the diversified worker and were meant to represent all workers and create a sense of unity, even though racism and discrimination ran rampant in the factories. Rising in the eastern wall’s panels is an embryonic image flanked by two earth-mother or mother nature type figures that each envelope the bounty of their harvest, wheat in the north-east corner and fruit in the south-east corner. The embryo is contained like a seed in a pod buried in the earth. It is both representative of the birth of mankind and the inherent link to nature as well as a personal reference to Kahlo’s miscarriage, the first of four that she would suffer. Professor Dorothy McMeekin observes that this image “represents the universal idea of the interdependence of all living and non-living things.”10 The theme of the natural world is carried throughout the smaller panels, remaining a constant reminder of the link between nature, man and technology. The various imagery of the diverse races of the continents, the savage nude earthmothers, in combination with the racially diverse work force and the nativity-like vaccination scene, created an obscene uproar. Members of the media, various political factions and religious
Lawrence P. Hurlburt, The Mexican Muralists in the United States (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 144.
leaders criticized the work for its “alleged Communist imagery, religious disrespect… and the unsuitability of the paintings for their architectural environment.”11 Alex Goodall explains that the ‘aesthetic conflict’ between the Mexican mural work and its rococo surroundings forms part of this effect. The clash of competing heritages, a high modernist portrait in a sixteenth-century gilt-edged frame, as it were, is a fitting depiction of the magpie culture that was, and remains, Detroit and the United States.12 Furthermore, Rivera himself described the uproar regarding the clash in taste, “[b]eautiful, welldressed ladies… complained about the loss of their peaceful, lovely garden, which had been like an oasis in the industrial desert of Detroit.”13 To the wealthy patrons of the DIA, this mural was a vision of labour that they did not want to be confronted with. The DIA was criticized by the public for paying a Mexican Communist over $20,000 to paint offensive imagery on their beloved museum walls. A criticism from the editor of the Detroit Free Press exemplifies the racist reaction to the museum and the murals, “[a]n art director is brought from Germany to commission a Mexican artist to interpret the spirit of an American city. Why not hire a French director to find us a Japanese muralist to tell us what he thinks we look like?”14 This outrageous statement highlights the environment of racial tension and discrimination in Detroit at this time. To counter criticism like this, a sign was mounted in the Garden Room that read:
Ibid., 158. Alex Goodall, “The Battle of Detroit and Anti-Communism in the Depression Era,” The Historical Journal 51 (2008): 478. 13 Ibid., 467. 14 Hurlburt, The Mexican Muralists in the United States, 158. 12
…He came from Mexico to Detroit, thought our mass production industries and our technology wonderful and very exciting, [and] painted them as one of the great achievements of the twentieth century. This came just after the debunking twenties when our own artists and writers had found nothing worthwhile in America and worst of all in America was the Middle West. Rivera saw and painted the significance of Detroit as a world city. If we are proud of this city’s achievements, we should be proud of these paintings…15 It did not matter that Rivera was from Mexico or that he was politically aligned with the Communist Party, his murals depicted his respect for the workforce and technical genius that was the manufacturing industry of Detroit. Rivera was equally condemned for accepting the sum of money that amounted to half of the museum’s $40,000 operating budget for the year.16 The money should have been a moot issue as the funding was coming completely from Edsel B. Ford, and could have been if Ford Motors had not laid off tens of thousands of its workforce. The commission by a great American Capitalist seems to contradict with Rivera’s Communist beliefs, a fact that is made worse by the economic state of depression that had hit Detroit the hardest in the country. However, “…Rivera did not concern himself with depression Detroit in his mural program. He focused instead on the spectacle of the ultramodern and technically sophisticated River Rouge complex and the effect this working environment had on the worker.”17 He seemed to truly believe that by painting this mural and representing the individual workers in the various industries that he was celebrating humanity’s ingenuity and that in the end, technology would make life better for all mankind. The current economic crisis consuming Detroit provides a thought-provoking lens through which to discuss these Depression Era murals. On July 18, 2013, the City of Detroit filed 15
Goodall, “The Battle of Detroit and Anti-Communism in the Depression Era,” 477. This compares to the 1928 budget of $400,000. Hurlburt, The Mexican Muralists in the United States, 130. 17 Hurlburt, The Mexican Muralists in the United States, 130. 16
for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy protection, marking the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the United States.18 Many stories of unemployment, poverty, violence, abandonment and exodus resulting in substantially decreased land value and empty homes left to looters, vandalism, arson and blight have come out of Detroit’s downfall. Suburbanization, industrial decentralization of the auto industry, desegregation and race riots are several leading factors in the early years of the ‘downsizing of Detroit.’19 The decrease in population and unemployment rates resulted in a decaying and deserted city. Scott Martell explains that: [l]eft behind are the financially isolated and immobile – the uneducated and undereducated and those with pressing medical, psychological, or drug problems. Without access to reliable transportation, they also lose access to suburban jobs. In Detroit, the problem is compounded by the spread of its geography and an inadequate public transportation system.20
The shrinking tax base has taken its toll on the city’s services leaving many residents without water and electricity. Approximately 40 percent of street lights are out, the average police response time is 58 minutes, only a third of the city’s ambulances are in service and the violent crime rate is at 2137 with a homicide rate of 48.2 per 100,000 residents.21 The city’s debt burden as of the July 2013 bankruptcy filing was $18-20 billion, $8 billion of this owed to creditors and approximately $12 billion worth of unfunded pension and health care obligations.22 With so much of the system failing and this incredible amount of debt, it is not surprising that the city turned to its art investments to solve the financial crisis. 18
Chapter 9 of the United States Bankruptcy Code is available strictly to municipalities and assists them in the restructuring of debts. http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/Bankruptcy/BankruptcyBasics/Chapter9.aspx 19 The 1967 Detroit Riot is cited as “a powerful propeller behind already existing forces, exacerbating racial and class divides drawn by the national trend toward suburbanization, industrial decentralization by automakers and other industries, and local white reaction to housing desegregation.” Martelle, 195. Mark Binelli states that the even today, blame for Detroit’s demise is placed on the Race Riots of 1967. Binelli 112. 20 Martelle, Detroit (A Biography), 225. 21 Mathieu Hikaru Desan, “Bankrupted Detroit,” Thesis Eleven 121 (2014):123. 22 Desan, “Bankrupted Detroit,” 124.
The potential deaccessioning of the DIA’s collection of art to pay off the city’s debts has become the leading headline to come out of this crisis. The art collection is owned by the city of Detroit and operated by the non-profit organization, the DIA Founders Society. It was appraised by Christie’s auction house and found that of the 66,000 piece collection, 2,700 of the works are valued between $454 million and $867 million.23 Other estimates from Artvest put the entire collection’s value between $2.8 billion and $4.6 billion.24 These estimates do not take into account that because this ‘fire sale’ of art is in bad taste and an enormous embarrassment in the industry, the auction would not be entirely successful in raising the necessary funds the city needs. Michael Plummer, founder of Artvest stated that “[i]t would be considered to be a tragic event. It would not be sold in a celebratory fashion. It would not be marketed in a glamorous way. It would have to be sold in a discrete way and it would have an aura that was negative not positive.”25 The potential deaccessioning of the DIA’s collection is a completely unprecedented crisis in the museum world and would irrevocably devastate the institution and further devastate the city’s economy. This however, is a solution that is easier talked about than done. There is a complex system at work involving the institution, the city and the state of Michigan. The main argument in court was the ‘charitable-trust argument’: whether the city owned the collection with no restrictions or whether the city is a “trustee required to hold the art collection in trust for the benefit of the city’s citizens.26 It is argued that a tri-county tax millage further complicates the
Matthew Dolan and Emily Glazer, “Plan to Save Detroit’s Art Museum From Sales Faces Test,” Dow Jones & Company, Inc. (2014), NA. 24 Caitlin Devitt, “Testimony: Art Sale Would Destroy Detroit Institute of Arts,” The Bond Buyer 19 (2014), NA. 25 Devitt, “Testimony: Art Sale Would Destroy Detroit Institute of Arts,” NA. 26
Emmanuel U. Obi and Camisha . Simmons, “Detroit’s Art: Priceless Public Treasure or the City’s Disposable Assets?” American Bankruptcy Institute Journal 32 (2013): 91.
city’s claim over the art collection. The tax millage which was enacted in 2011 afforded the museum approximately $22 million of its $32 million annual budget in 2013.27 Representatives from Macomb and Oakland Counties stated that the sale of the collection would end the millage and consequently eliminate the majority of the museum’s budget. On November 7, 2014, Judge Steven Rhodes agreed to a ‘Grand Bargain,’ ending the city’s bankruptcy and allowing the museum to secure its collection by providing the city with $100 million now of a total $800 million in funds for the city’s pensioners. After months of securing funding commitments from the state, non-profit organizations and private DIA supporters, the museum and the museum going public can breathe a sigh of relief.28 The $100 million from the DIA towards the city’s debt is the first in a move to transfer the ownership of the collection to the non-profit organization, the DIA Founders Society. The collection will be securely out of the hands of the city after a total of $800 million is raised.29 “The ruling means that the museum will never again be put at risk by the vagaries of city finances or politics, and it brings to a close one of the most harrowing chapters in the DIA's history.”30 It is interesting to compare the current economic state of Detroit and this particular crisis at the DIA, with the state of Depression during which Diego Rivera’s murals were painted. The amount of money that can be raised to save a museum collection or pay an artist to paint a mural is both inspiring and shocking given the desperate situation of the people of Detroit then and 27
Devitt, “Testimony: Art Sale Would Destroy Detroit Institute of Arts,” NA. Donors like Quicken Loans, DTE Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Meijer pledged a total of $26.8 million with another $10 million from Penske Corp. and $26 million from the US automakers. (Matthew Dolan, “Detroit Institute of Arts Raises Nearly $27 Million,” Dow Jones & Company, Inc. (2014), NA.) 29 This is a 20 year agreement. 30 Mark Stryker, “DIA Supporters Elated by Bankruptcy Decision,” The Detroit Free Press, November 8, 2014, http://www.freep.com/story/entertainment/arts/2014/11/07/dia-elatedbankruptcy-approval/18657133/. 28
now. The overcrowded slums and breadlines of the 1930s contrast with the present, foreclosed and abandoned homes on streets with no electricity. One is left to question why art or art collections take priority over social welfare and how major private corporations can pledge millions of dollars to a museum while simultaneously ignoring the residents of the city living in abject poverty. The simple answer is that art is ‘prettier’ than poverty. But it is obviously more complex than this.31 Many have argued that the sale of the DIA’s collection would result in an even greater economic blow to the city. Museum attendance would drop significantly and Detroit would be forever remembered as the city that sold off its valuables to creditors - not exactly a desirable trait to tourists. One could argue that the major corporations of Detroit and Michigan pledged the enormous sums of money to the museum in order to secure the legacy for future generations and to secure the museum’s place as a treasured part of Detroit’s past. Thus, one could also assert that when Valentiner commissioned Rivera to paint his mural that would become a monument to Detroit, he was securing the public’s interest and investment in the museum, providing for it, an image of local pride. Valentiner said of this commission, “[i]t seemed indeed a coincidence, though, that I should meet Rivera, for I had always hoped to have on my museum walls a series of frescos by a painter of our time – since where could one find a building nowadays that would last as long as a museum.”32 These words seem ironic now given the deaccessioning scare, but they also highlight the role of the museum as collector, caretaker and protector of our cultural history.
Including tax benefits and everything else that goes with corporate donations - made more complex by the role of these major corporations within Detroit and their efforts to stimulate a renaissance of the city. 32 Hurlburt, The Mexican Muralists in the United States, 127-128.
On April 23, 2014 the Detroit Industry murals were designated a national historic landmark, officially recognizing their “national-level historical significance.”33 The murals are a monument to industry by the city of Detroit and Rivera himself. They reflect the now lost golden age of industry and seem poignant given the long and arduous downfall of the city. The frescoes represent the history of Detroit both at its peak and lowest point of the Depression. They celebrate the accomplishments of modern man and the things attained through use of the machine as well as the failures of man and machine in the form of war. It has proved compelling to analyse the history of the creation of these murals and the controversy surrounding them in the context of Detroit’s current economic situation and the potential deaccessioning of the DIA’s collection of art to pay off the debts of the bankrupted city. This is made more interesting given the fact that newspapers in Mexico City had expressed concerns over the fate of the murals, so inextricably tied to the fate of the museum. Director Graham Beal met with the consul general in the fall of 2013 to “assuage concerns.”34 Unrealistic as these concerns were, it does emphasize the global importance of these murals. In March 2015, these murals that act as a pilgrimage destination for tourists interested in Detroit’s modernist era, will become the centre-piece for a blockbuster exhibition at the DIA titled, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit. As if to off-set the bad press surrounding Detroit’s bankruptcy and attempted deaccessioning of the museum’s collection, the timing of this exhibition could not be better. It both highlights the DIA’s international prominence in the art world and the regional specificity of this show. An exhibition about Rivera and Kahlo in Detroit
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Historic_Landmark Sherri Welch, “DIA to stage River-Kahlo exhibit of their time in Detroit,” Crain’s Detroit Business 30 (2014), NA. 34
can only be presented in Detroit, thus securing high numbers of visitors as well as providing an opportunity for the celebration of the city by the world.35 List of Illustrations
Fig. 1 Exterior, Detroit Institute of Art, Woodward Avenue Entrance September, 2014
Fig. 2 Entrance, Detroit Institute of Art September, 2014
Fig. 3 35
An interesting trend to consider in future research would be that of the contemporary Street Art and muralist trends in Detroit. An compelling discussion of the influence of the Detroit Industry murals on contemporary street murals could include the parallel economic crises of the two different time periods â€“ the Great Depression of the thirties versus the recession of 2007 and the current bankruptcy of the city of Detroit.
Wrought Iron Gates separating the ‘Great Hall’ and the ‘Rivera Court’ September, 2014
Fig. 4 Interior view of the ‘Garden Court’ Detroit Institute of Art c. 1927
Diego Rivera Allegory of California 1931
Fig. 7 Diego Rivera Portrait of Lenin in the Rockefeller Center murals 1933
Fig. 5 Interior view of the ‘Rivera Court’ Detroit Institute of Art c. 2013
Austen, Ben. “Detroit, Through Rose-Coloured Glasses.” New York Times Magazine, July 13, 2014. Binelli, Mark. Detroit City Is the Place to Be. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012.
Caspersen, Shannon. “Oppression, Depression, and Work in the Murals of Diego Rivera.” American Journal of Psychiatry 170 (2013): 598. Desan, Mathieu Hikaru. “Bankrupted Detroit.” Thesis Eleven 121 (2014):122-130. Devitt, Caitlin. “Testimony: Art Sale Would Destroy Detroit Institute of Arts.” The Bond Buyer 19 (2014), NA. Dolan, Matthew and Emily Glazer. “Plan to Save Detroit’s Art Museum from Sales Faces Test.” Dow Jones & Company, Inc. (2014), NA. Matthew Dolan, “Detroit Institute of Arts Raises Nearly $27 Million,” Dow Jones & Company, Inc. (2014), NA. Engelhardt, Julia. The Murals of Diego Rivera. London: Desmond Rochfort, 1987. Goodall, Alex. “The Battle of Detroit and Anti-Communism in the Depression Era.” The Historical Journal 51 (2008): 457-480. Hurlburt, Lawrence P. The Mexican Muralists in the United States. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press,1989. Martelle, Scott. Detroit (A Biography). Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2012. Obi, Emmanuel U. and Camisha L. Simmons. “Detroit’s Art: Priceless Public Treasure or the City’s Disposable Assets?” American Bankruptcy Institute Journal 32 (2013): 91-93. Rivera, Diego and Gladys March, My Art, My Life: An Autobiography. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1992. Rubyan-Ling, Saronne. “The Detroit Murals of Diego Rivera.” History Today 4 (1996): 1-5. Stryker, Mark. “DIA Supporters Elated by Bankruptcy Decision.” The Detroit Free Press, November 8, 2014, http://www.freep.com/story/entertainment/arts/2014/11/07/dia-elatedbankruptcyapproval/18657133/.
Frida and Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting. Edited by Dot Tuer and Elliott King. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2012. Catalogue of an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, October 20, 2012 through January 20, 2013. Welch, Sherri. “DIA to stage Rivera-Kahlo Exhibit of Their Time in Detroit.” Crain’s Detroit Business 30 (2014), NA.
From Scottsboro to Ferguson: Reconfigurations of the Myth of the Bestial Black Man Natasha Di Cecco Natasha Di Cecco received an MA in History and in American Studies at Western University. Her research interests include representations of the intersections of race, class, and gender in film and television. This paper was written for an American Studies Method and Practice seminar taught by Dr. Bryce Traister. August 9, 2014, shortly before noon, Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old from the St. Louis, Missouri suburb of Ferguson, was shot and killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson. Before any evidence had been collected, before any trial had been conducted, before Brown’s and Wilson’s names had even been released to the public, Brown and Wilson were cast in roles that have existed for centuries in America. Brown, a black teenaged male, was typecast as a violent criminal whose murder was justified because of his physical threat to the police officer; Wilson, a white male police officer, was typecast as a heroic defender of public safety. The characters cast in Ferguson, as the event was later referred to, were eerily reminiscent of characters cast eighty-three years earlier in Scottsboro, Alabama. In Scottsboro, the black male characters were similar to that of Brown’s. In 1931, nine black adolescent and teenaged males, ranging in age from twelve to nineteen years of age, were accused of assault and rape. The white character in Scottsboro, however, was different. The Scottsboro Boys, as they would come to be known, had allegedly raped two young white women, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. Though Price and Bates themselves shared a socio-economic background closer to that of their alleged attackers than that of the white, Southern, middle class men who championed for their justice, these two women were upheld as representations of the white race as soon as they claimed they had been raped by black males. The similarities and differences of the white and black characters cast in Scottsboro and Ferguson represent the similarities and differences in American society in 1931 and 2014. These characters also represent two uniquely American figures: the bestial black man and the defender of
the white race. These two characters have existed in American myth since the colonists arrived on the East Coast in the seventeenth century. However, while these characters have existed for centuries, they have been readapted and reconfigured as American society changes for better and for worse. Thus, the relationship between the mythical bestial black man and white defender is in a constant state of flux. The myth of the bestial black man has existed in America probably since the first black male slaves arrived in Virginia in the 1600s. N. Jeremi Duru describes it as “a myth, deeply embedded in American culture, that black men are animalistic, sexually unrestrained, inherently criminal, and ultimately bent on rape.”36 Duru traces the origins of the myth of the bestial black man to Virginia and the beginning of the American chattel slave system. Black male sexuality was prized because it produced more slaves, but it was also criminalized and fanatically feared.37 White men irrationally believed black men sought only to have sexual relations with white women. This ideology became even more entrenched in the American psyche after the Civil War led to the emancipation of slaves. Slavery kept blacks in their place and stopped them from acting out their “animalistic” behaviour. With slavery abolished, white Americans feared former slaves would devolve into their brutish natural state. Thus, whites sought new ways to control blacks.38 One of the ways whites exerted their control over blacks in post-slavery America was through lynching. The worst period for this form of execution was after Reconstruction to 1900, during which Southern white men felt the need to reassert their power over their former slaves.39 White Americans felt most threatened by freed blacks in the immediate aftermath of the abolition of slavery and deconstruction of white American social structures. There was no longer a system which
N. Jeremi Duru, “The Central Park Five, the Scottsboro Boys, and the Myth of the Bestial Black Man,” Cardozo Law Review 25 (2003-2004): 1320. 37 Duru, “The Central Park Five”: 1324. 38 Ibid.: 1325. 39 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1900 (New York: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1919), 31-32 in James R. McGovern, Anatomy of a Lynching: The Killing of Claude Neal (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982, 2.
kept black men in their place as it was dictated by white men. While black men could by lynched for having allegedly committed any crime, “the violation of the Southern caste code most certain to provoke a lynching was for a black man to rape or have sexual relations with a white woman.”40 White women, especially in the South, were considered the custodians of white culture and civilization. Their existence meant the continuation of white social hierarchy. Their bodies, therefore, must always be upheld and protected. The ideology of the white woman as keeper of white American civilization emerged in a time when white men literally owned black men through chattel slavery and figuratively owned white women through inherently sexist laws which denied women equal rights. White men revered white women as “keepers of [white] culture” while simultaneously fearing black men as the potential destroyers of white women and, therefore, white society.41 The myth of the black man as an inherently sexual beast bent on having sex with white women thus manifested in such a sociocultural climate. In the twenty-first century, however, black men and white women are technically—though not always actually—afforded the same rights as white men. There is therefore no longer a need for white women to rely on white men as their guardians, nor can white men justifiably consider themselves protectors of white women. The loss of this social system also meant the loss of a justifiable excuse for white male violence against black males. Thus, white males were forced to seek new ways of controlling black men in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, just as they were forced to seek new ways of controlling freed black male slaves in the years following Reconstruction. Because American social structures have changed since Reconstruction, the mythical figure of the bestial black man should no longer be considered a sexual deviant focused only on sexual 40
James R. McGovern, Anatomy of a Lynching: The Killing of Claude Neal (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982, 7. 41 Catherine Clinton, The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South (New York: Pantheon Books, 1982), xv.
relations with white women. Rather, the definition of the bestial black man should now be: “a myth, deeply embedded in American culture, that black men are animalistic, unrestrained, inherently criminal, and ultimately bent on violence.” The violence black men are now feared to be capable of is no longer of solely a sexual nature but of any nature, and can target either white women or white men. The myth of the bestial black man transcends the circumstances and era in which it is found. In 1931, a time during which both black men and white women were struggling to escape from male hierarchical rule, the Scottsboro Boys were considered beasts because of what white American men thought them capable of doing to white women, the keeper of white American values. In 2014, Michael Brown was depicted as the newest version of the bestial black man because of what white Americans thought him capable of doing to a white male cop, the new keeper of white American civilization. The bestial black man remains a constant in this American myth, but his behaviour is adapted to fit the American society wherein he is found. It would be impossible to address the entire American narrative of the relationship between race, sex, and gender in one paper. Establishing Scottsboro’s and Ferguson’s places in this narrative can be approached from dozens of different perspectives. This paper will consider how, through an analysis of the ways in which the Scottsboro Boys and Michael Brown were described in the days after their alleged violent behaviour, one can see the evolution of the myth of the bestial black man. The Scottsboro Trials was one of the first events concerning race, sex, and gender to capture the attention of all of America. As such, it was one of the first cases of its kind to receive attention in academia and has, in a sense, set the stage for the study of the uniquely American narrative of the relationship between black on white violence. Since the 1960s, study of the Scottsboro Trials has evolved from legal and factual analysis to interpretations of social constructs. Dan T. Carter published the first comprehensive analysis of the Scottsboro Trials in 1969 wherein he explained the trials chronologically with the use of court documents and newspaper articles. Since then, scholars have stopped focusing on the question of what happened in Scottsboro and have turned instead to analyzing why the event unfolded as it did. Scottsboro scholars are now concerned with establishing
why the Scottsboro Boys were accused of rape, why the press and public condemned them to death even with evidence suggesting their innocence, and why the teenagers were repeatedly subjected to an inherently unjust justice system. In 1995, James E. Goodman opened up the discussion in Scottsboro scholarship on the specific connection between the case’s ideologies and late-twentieth-century America’s ideologies. He told the story of Scottsboro through the stories of all those involved in the case and thus explained the event through the lens of varying socio-economic, gendered, and racial lenses. In 2008, James R. Acker expanded Scottsboro scholarship by addressing how outside influences, namely the media, influenced the public’s understanding of the case. Most recently, James A. Miller considers how Scottsboro fits into a larger context. Miller argues that Scottsboro is part of a “pattern of discourse which continues to circulate … around public events rooted in the still explosive alchemy of race, sex, and violence in American life.”42 Miller’s argument is the beginning of the next step in Scottsboro scholarship: the placement of the Scottsboro Trials into the larger American narrative of the relationship between race, sex, and gender. Scholars must study cases such as Scottsboro and Ferguson, and all of the similar cases that took place in the years between them, in order to fully understand how racially-based crimes fit into the American narrative. To understand the context in which the Scottsboro Boys were accused, one must first turn to the evolution of the myth of the bestial black man in the post Reconstruction Era. In the late nineteenth century, newspapers in the North and South consistently featured stories of black on white sexual assault or rape. While most of the stories refrained from using explicit terms and resorted instead to more respectable euphemisms such as “outrage” in place of “rape,” the stories were nevertheless sordid and salacious. Animalistic terms were used almost always when describing the black male alleged 42
James A. Miller, Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 2. See also: Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969); James E. Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro (New York: Vintage Books, 1995); James R. Acker, Scottsboro and Its Legacy: The Cases that Challenged American Legal and Social Justice (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008).
perpetrator. An article describing the attempted rape of a Raleigh, North Carolina white woman by a black man in 1897 claimed “the negro beast attempted rape” but was “frightened off.”43 This choice of wording is eerily similar to the way one might describe a near-attack by a dog who was luckily scared off before being able to cause any harm to its potential human victim. The symbolism used to allude to wild beasts when describing black males contrasts markedly against the ways in which the white females were described. While the black male was consistently dehumanized, the white female was nearly always described in ways which highlighted her femaleness. An 1889 story from New Orleans reported “a white woman attacked by a negro.”44 Four years later, a Philadelphia newspaper, reporting a crime which had occurred in the South, noted that “one of the two brutes who [assaulted] a white woman” had been lynched.45 In these stories, the white female is allowed to maintain her humanness; she is referred to as “woman.” Conversely, the black male is reduced to an object—a Negro—or an animal—a brute. White women were also described in ways which preserved their virtuous character. Raleigh’s News and Observer described a white female victim of an alleged assault as “a highly respected maiden lady” who had been “terrorized” by a black male.46 Through such descriptions, newspaper stories reporting alleged black male on white female sexual crimes utilized several tools in order to remove the black male’s humanness and or reinforce the white female’s. Newspapers also highlighted the physical differences between black men and white women. An 1881 St. Louis story noted, in terms which eerily foreshadowed Darren Wilson’s description of Michael Brown more than a century later, that a “negro brute” had attacked one of the county’s most “accomplished and cultivated ladies.”47 The attacker was “a muscular man” who easily overpowered his “fragile and frightened victim.”48 By highlighting the dominating physicality of the black alleged
News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), August 7, 1897. Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA), August 20, 1889. 45 North American (Philadelphia, PA), July 26, 1893. 46 News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), December 1, 1887. 47 St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat (St. Louis, MO), June 14, 1881. 48 Ibid. 44
assailant, these newspaper stories only served to perpetuate the idea of the black man as dangerous to white women, whether the man in question was guilty of his alleged crime or not. The portrayal of black men as bestial so permeated the public mind that this trend also found its way into post Reconstruction Era literature. An example of the bestial black man as he was found in fiction is no better represented than in Thomas Dixon, Jr.’s 1905 novel The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. The second novel of Dixon’s infamous trilogy, The Clansman was eventually adapted by Dixon into a wildly successful play and by D. W. Griffith as the equally successful 1915 film, Birth of a Nation. One of the most graphic scenes in The Clansman is the rape of the character Marion by the character Gus in chapter ten. Marion, a fifteen-year-old white girl, is the sweetheart of one of the novel’s main white characters, Ben Cameron; Gus is one of the Cameron family’s former slaves. One evening, Gus and three other men break into Marion’s home, where she is alone with her mother. Dixon describes these four male characters as “four black brutes,” thereby using the same words one would find in the newspaper’s description of potentially violent black men.49 Gus in particular is given specific animalistic descriptions: “his yellow teeth [grinned] through his thick lips” and “his sinister bead-eyes wide apart [gleamed] ape-like” in the moments before he rapes Marion.50 If the reader had any doubts as to what were Gus’s intentions, Dixon makes them explicitly clear in the last line of the chapter: “A single tiger-spring, and the black claws of the beast sank into the soft white throat and she was still.”51 Dixon uses animalistic adjectives to allude to Gus’s bestial character. More explicit, however, is the reconfiguration of Gus from man to beast in the chapter’s final sentence. Gus is no longer “like” a beast; he is a beast—a wild animal, he attacks his unsuspecting prey. The bestial descriptions of black men were so entrenched in the American psyche and 49
Thomas Dixon, Jr., The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1905), 303. 50 Dixon, The Clansman, 303-304. 51 Ibid., 304.
rhetoric of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that they were still very much in existence by the time of the Scottsboro tragedy in 1931. In the immediate aftermath of the two women’s accusations of rape, the local townspeople and press perpetuated the idea of the bestial black man who was out to rape white women. The press’s accounts of the alleged crime were sordid. Most compelling to those witnessing the event unfold, however, were the suggestions of the Scottsboro Boys’ nonhuman nature. The press consistently dehumanized the nine teenagers. The evening the crime was reported, the Jackson County Sentinel ran a banner headline which called the teenagers “nine black fiends,” while the accompanying story described them as “brutes.”52 The Chattanooga News labeled the teens as “savages.”53 Even more revealing of the perpetuation of the myth of the bestial black man was the press’s connection of the crime and its alleged perpetrators to the wilderness. Literal wild spaces were used to invoke a sense and symbolism of savagery in connection with the teenagers. For instance, in Huntsville, Alabama, the Daily Times reported that the incident “savored of the jungle.”54 A reporter from the same paper summed up the overwhelming majority of the press’s sentiments with a single line: upon observing the teenagers in their prison cells, the reporter noted that “they were beasts unfit to be called human.”55 In the days following the arrest of the nine teenagers, the press and public played off one another in their perpetuation of the myth. The press believed in what they reported, and the local townspeople in turn believed the press. By late afternoon on the day the crime was reported, “townspeople solemnly asserted that the ‘black brutes’ had ‘chewed off one of the breasts’ of Ruby Bates.”56 This rumour, believed to be factual, paints the Scottsboro Boys as animals through its
Jackson County Sentinel (Scottsboro, AL), March 26, 1931 in Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969), 13. 53 Chattanooga News (Chattanooga, TN), March 27, 1931 in Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969), 20. 54 Daily Times (Huntsville, AL), March 27, 1931 in Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969), 20. 55 Daily Times (Huntsville, AL), March 26, 1931 in James E. Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro (New York: Vintage Books, 1995, 13. 56 Daily Times (Chattanooga, TN), March 27, 1931 in James E. Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro (New York: Vintage Books, 1995, 19.
inclusion of the word brute as well as its inclusion of the physical act of violence of chewing another human’s flesh. One could only believe such a story if they believed those accused of the crime truly were beasts. Eighty-three years after the Scottsboro Boys were accused of rape, Michael Brown was shot and killed on the street in Ferguson. He was alleged to have been violent in the moments leading up to his death. Darren Wilson, the white police officer who killed him, testified that he was concerned he himself was going to be killed by Brown’s physicality and physical violence. Brown, like the Scottsboro Boys, was described as a violent criminal who violated the body of a protector of white American society. The ways in which Brown was described in the days following his death are undeniably similar to the ways black men were described as savage rapists in the late nineteenth century as well as the ways in which the Scottsboro Boys were described as beasts, not humans. Wilson’s testimony before a Grand Jury echoes these themes. Wilson presents Brown as crazed and with the potential for violent behaviour at any moment, stating that “[Brown] was just staring at me, almost like trying to intimidate me or overpower me … The intense face he had was just not what I expected from any of this … I’ve never seen that much aggression so quickly from a simple request to walk on the sidewalk [which is what Wilson asked Brown to do moments before the two men’s alleged altercation].”57 With such a description, Wilson paints Brown’s character as inherently threatening. While Brown was not immediately physically violent—and possibly not physically violent at all—Wilson felt threatened simply by Brown’s facial expression. Wilson also highlighted Brown’s apparently dominating physical features to emphasize the fact that Brown’s body was a threat to Wilson’s. When Wilson first grabbed Brown’s forearm at the beginning of their altercation, he felt as though he was trying to subdue someone similar to that of a professional wrestler. Wilson stated that when he grabbed Brown, he felt “like a five-year-old
State of Missouri, Plaintiff, vs. Darren Wilson, Defendant, St. Louis County Court, September 16, 2014, transcript of testimony, 209-210, 210, 234.
holding onto Hulk Hogan … that’s just how big he felt and how small I felt.”58 Wilson went on to say that “[Brown] was obviously bigger than I was and stronger.”59 Wilson’s choice of words here is interesting in two ways. First, Wilson described Brown in such a way as to make him appear almost larger-than-life. His allusion to Hulk Hogan, a wrestler, suggests that Brown was capable of intense bodily harm with the use of only his own body. Thus, Brown’s body itself is perceived as a threat. Second, Wilson is careful to emphasize the drastic differences in size between the two men. In this scenario, Wilson perceives himself as childlike when faced with Brown’s substantial size, incapable of subduing Brown because Brown was “obviously” bigger. In actuality, Wilson and Brown stood at the same height of 6’4”. While they were the same height, Wilson saw himself as much smaller and therefore at risk of Brown’s physicality. Brown’s black male body was seen by a white male as a threat not because of size but because of what the body represented—the bestial, non-human black man. Like his post Reconstruction counterparts, Wilson also completely and utterly dehumanized Brown’s physical and psychological character. Wilson tended to describe Brown as animal-like, much like the way black men in the nineteenth and early twentieth century were described. This time, however, the “animal” was not attacking a white woman, but a white man. During the altercation between the two men, Wilson remembers Brown as having “made like a grunting, like aggravated sound.”60 Such verbs and adjectives are also used to describe the sounds made by wild animals. When Brown looked up at Wilson after having been shot at, Wilson remembers Brown as having “the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon.”61 Through his use of this single word—demon—Wilson stripped Brown entirely of his humanness. Just as the Scottsboro Boys were savages capable of chewing off a woman’s breast, Brown was no longer a man but a monster. In Wilson’s eyes, he was an animal that, if not put down, would kill. 58
Missouri vs. Wilson, 212. Ibid., 216. 60 Ibid., 227. 61 Ibid., 224-225. 59
31 Wilson was uneasy even before his encounter with Brown. Wilson stated that he was in an
“anti-police” area where he “felt threatened.”62 He testified that he had always worked in “predominantly African-American neighborhoods.”63 Thus, his words “anti-police area” could arguably be substituted for “African-American area.” Wilson felt threatened because he was in a neighbourhood inhabited largely by blacks. As custodian of white American civilization and social order, Wilson, a white male police officer, felt he was a target of the black men who lived where he kept order. Wilson’s belief that he was a target of black male violence was echoed in the media storm surrounding Brown’s death. On August 10, the day after Brown was killed, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar held a press conference. Though only seven minutes long, Belmar’s speech set the tone of the event in a way which cast immediate shadow on Brown’s character. Belmar began his public address by stating that the incident occurred after Brown allegedly “physically assaulted the police officer” and that “the genesis [of this incident] was a physical altercation.”64 Before the police force had concretely established if Brown had assaulted Wilson, the public was being told that this was in fact the reason Brown had been killed. The twenty-first century version of the myth of the bestial black man was in full swing. Darren Wilson’s name was not released to the public until August 15. Not by coincidence, the St. Louis Police Department also chose August 15 to release video surveillance of Brown committing strong-armed robbery wherein he stole cigarillos from a convenience store and physically assaulted the store clerk. The inclusion of this surveillance video with the release of Wilson’s name is another example of the twenty-first century iteration of the bestial black man. After the release of the surveillance tape and Wilson’s name, the public could be justifiably sure that Wilson was a white male fulfilling his role as a protector of public safety and that Brown was a
Ibid., 238-261. Ibid., 252. 64 FOX News, “The O’Reilly Factor,” television, August, 2014.
physically violent black male. The media suggested that if Brown was capable of committing strong-armed robbery only an hour before being killed, it was entirely believable that he could have been violent toward Wilson. In other words, the public was being told that Wilson was simply carrying out his duty as custodian of white American civilization. If Brown posed a threat to Wilson’s body, the literal and physical embodiment of white America, then Wilson had no choice but to eliminate the threat of Brown’s body. The media’s reports of Brown’s death were—and continue to be—saturated with the idea that Brown was posing a threat to a white police officer. After having watched the surveillance video of Brown robbing the convenience store, FOX News’s Bill O’Reilly cut his vacation short to inform the public that Brown was “not a regular guy.”65 Prior to having seen that tape, the public could continue to hope that Brown was not, in fact, violent. According to O’Reilly, however, the fact that Brown was capable of committing strong-armed robbery meant that he was also capable of committing any other violent act. Now that the public had been made privy to Brown’s potential for violent behaviour, they could understand why “there may have been a reason” for Brown’s murder.66 O’Reilly never explicitly said what the reason for Brown’s murder might be. However, this news segment is full of references to Brown’s body as a potential threat. While O’Reilly and his cohosts are having what one might call a rational discussion about the peaceful protestors who took to Ferguson’s streets after Brown’s death, the surveillance video of Brown assaulting the convenience store clerk is played repeatedly in the background. Furthermore, O’Reilly places emphasis on the apparent fact that Wilson needed to be treated in the hospital for injuries inflicted by Brown. O’Reilly’s entire discussion about Brown’s death is based on the idea that Brown had the potential to be violent. In other words, according to O’Reilly Brown was not a “regular” citizen; his very being was a threat to white American social order and needed to be stopped.
33 It is easy to find the twenty-first century version of the myth of the bestial black man in the
right-wing news. It is somewhat harder to find it in less conservative media, but it is still there. In an August 15 segment entitled “Who Was Michael Brown?” CNN provides the public with a short glimpse into Brown’s life. The intent of the segment was allegedly to show the public a less violent side of Brown. The segment begins with CNN news anchor Jason Carroll stating that Brown’s parents wanted to make one thing clear: Brown would not have wanted violence in Ferguson.67 However, the segment, only just over two minutes long, immediately changes tone and switches from the clip of Brown’s parents speaking of Brown’s peaceful nature to the surveillance footage of Brown’s robbery and physical assault the morning he was murdered. The juxtaposition of these two characters—peaceful individual and violent criminal—is strong and forces the viewer to literally see Brown as a potentially violent black male. One has to wonder why CNN chose to include the surveillance footage in a short clip dedicated to revealing Brown’s peaceful character. This clip, from a news source much more liberal than O’Reilly’s, is simply perpetuating the reconfigured version of the myth of the bestial black man. The myth is inescapable. Just as the press and public fed off one another in the days following the Scottsboro Boys’ arrests, so too did the press and public feed off one another in the days following Brown’s murder. As soon as it was suggested that Brown was potentially violent, he was reconfigured by the media into the character of the bestial black man who threatened the virtuous white police officer. The twenty-first century press’s perpetuation of the reconfigured myth of the bestial black man is a result of the fact that this myth is so entrenched in the American narrative. Whenever there is an incident of racially-based violence between a black male and a white male or female, it is inevitable that the behaviour of the black male will be called into question, whether such a question is warranted or not. Such was the case in Scottsboro in 1931; it was the case with Emmett Till in
CNN, “Who Was Michael Brown?” online, August 15, 2014.
1955; it was the case with Trayvon Martin in 2012; and it is the case with Michael Brown today. The myth of the bestial black man, the animal-human hybrid who is always on the verge of violence and violating white American society, is inescapable. However, just as the mythical figure of the bestial black man has before transcended the time in which it was constructed, it has done so again. While some mainstream media outlets chose to perpetuate the idea that Michael Brown, as a black male, had a great propensity toward violent behaviour, the majority of those watching the event unfold and the majority of those who publicly protested a plausibly wrongful death and unjust system of justice chose to believe otherwise. In a reversal of roles, Brown was cast as a peaceful individual who was not acting violently, while Wilson was cast as a violent, power-hungry, and uncivilized brute who murdered without just cause. The myth of the bestial black man, though very much present in the days following Brownâ€™s death, was and continues to be challenged. Perhaps this is simply another reconfiguration of the myth. This time, however, society is at a turning point. Michael Brown was not simply accepted as the latest example of the bestial black man and then forgotten. The construct that he was an inherently violent criminal was challenged. At the end of the day, whether or not Michael Brown was violent in the moments leading up to his death is not what we as witnesses should take away after having watched the event unfold. Rather, we should be working to deconstruct the myth of the bestial black man, abandon the idea that all black men are violent while all white men are societyâ€™s protectors, and work toward the establishment of a public that considers evidence before considering myth. The myth of the bestial black man is going through another reconfiguration. This time, however, its evolution has the chance to be a positive change and reject the myths seen in the past.
Acker, James R. Scottsboro and Its Legacy: The Cases that Challenged American Legal and Social Justice. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008. Carter, Dan T. Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969. Chattanooga News (Chattanooga, TN), March 27, 1931. Clinton, Catherine. The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982. CNN. “Who Was Michael Brown?” Online. August 15, 2014.
Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA), August 20, 1889. Daily Times (Chattanooga, TN), March 27, 1931. Daily Times (Huntsville, AL), March 27, 1931. Dixon, Jr., Thomas. The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1905. FOX News. “The O’Reilly Factor.” Television. August, 2014. Goodman, James E. Stories of Scottsboro. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Jackson County Sentinel (Scottsboro, AL), March 26, 1931. McGovern, James R. Anatomy of a Lynching: The Killing of Claude Neal. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982. Miller, James A. Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1900. New York: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1919.
News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), December 1, 1887. News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), August 7, 1897.
North American (Philadelphia, PA), July 26, 1893. St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat (St. Louis, MO), June 14, 1881. State of Missouri, Plaintiff, vs. Darren Wilson, Defendant. St. Louis County Court, September 16, 2014. Transcript of testimony.
Grotius, Locke, and Water as a Natural Right Cameron Fioret Cameron Fioret holds an MA in philosophy from Western University. His research interests include moral and political philosophy, focusing on subjugation and the proper distribution of necessities. This paper was written for a philosophy of law/political philosophy seminar entitled 'Property and Political Philosophy,' taught by Dr. Dennis Klimchuk.
Placing monetary value on water has resulted in the exclusion of water from people. This essay will be an argument against the commodification of water, and will assert that water, being a necessity for human life, must be open to all. To pay for water—be it bottled water or tap water—when water one is in need is impermissible because it appropriates something that is naturally needed for life. Issues concerning payment for water have been brought to the forefront with citizens in Detroit, Michigan who have been unable to pay their hydroelectricity bills, and have had their access to water denied; in addition to this example, other instances of water being denied to those who cannot afford it, and being excluded by private enterprises from the public, will be explained in this essay. Hugo Grotius’s philosophy in De Iure Praedae and De Jure Belli ac Pacis will be used to justify my claim that water should always be free to those in need, and inexpensive at all times. John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government speaks against people having dominion over other people, so his philosophy will be used in this essay as well. I maintain that selling water is to have dominion over others, which is against the Lockean law of nature. I assert that water must be made free for everyone in dire need of it because it is necessary for life; in addition, Grotian “common property” justifies water being free and open to all. Water must not be denied to those who cannot afford it, but water is not entirely costless; thus, it is okay to charge for running water as long as it is subsidized by governmental bodies, cheap,
and entirely publicly owned. Water must be open to all, inexpensively, and those in dire need of water must be given it freely. I must explain why I am utilizing the philosophies of Hugo Grotius and John Locke for the modern issue of excluding people from accessing water. International law has been inspired by Grotius, while the political and legal systems of the United States of America were inspired largely by Locke (Cassirer, 249). The very systems that allow for water to be sold for profit, and made exclusive, exist in the United States and pertain to legality in both the United States, and abroad. Locke and Grotius provide the basis for international, and American, rights and laws. However, the allowance for necessities to be sold for profit proves that current laws have moved away from their philosophies, so I will try to resuscitate their philosophies to change current laws and ideologies. In addition, Grotius and Locke both describe humanity as beginning in an equal state. The current situations involving the selling of water, and the denial of water to those in need, show a movement away from equality without reasonable, law-based justification. Grotius and Locke both provide reasons for why such movement away from equality is unnatural, unjust, and intolerable. The echoes of Grotian and Lockean thought reverberate to this day. Before the philosophies of Grotius and Locke are used to justify my claim that water must be inexpensive common property, I must explain their philosophies. I will begin with Grotius and his De Iure Praedae and De Jure Belli ac Pacis. In De Iure Praedae, or “On the Law of Prize and Booty,” Grotius begins by distinguishing between ownership and common property. The sea is described as res nullius; it is common property that is owned by no one (226). Grotius describes the evolution of ownership and property through human history. Ownership “connotes possession of something peculiarly one’s own...something
belonging to a given party in such a way that it cannot be similarly possessed by any other party,” while common property “is applied to that which has been assigned to several parties, to be possessed by them in partnership...and in mutual concord, to the exclusion of other parties” (227). Under “natural law,” during humanity’s first foray into ownership and community, “there was no private property under the primary law of nations” (227). Common ownership merely represented joint private ownership. “For in the eyes of nature no distinctions of ownership were discernible,” Grotius writes (227), and in the primitive days of ownership, ownership was “universal and indefinite” (228), as opposed to present day ownership connoting the private possession of some thing. Ownership evolved organically, through “nature herself” (228), and Grotius explains two types of things that could be owned as ownership evolved. The two distinctions are things “consumed by use...in the sense that they are converted into the very substance of the user and therefore admit of no further use,” and things “rendered less fit for additional service by the fact that they have once been made to serve” (228). Food and drink are under the first description, and private ownership is inseparable from food and drink because the consumption of such products negates the use of said products from others. Food and drink are naturally exclusionary once consumed, but I contend that this does not mean drink, such as water, should be exclusionary before consumption. Grotius explains the natural process of the evolution of ownership and property. He writes, “The recognition of the existence of private property led to the establishment of a law on the matter, and this law was patterned after nature’s plan” (229). Laws mirroring the blueprint of nature follow from recognition of private property, and laws concerning such private property.
Commerce, and the establishment of states, resulted in laws concerning both public and private property (230). Public property is established through occupancy. Grotius draws two inferences, or laws, from his historical tracing of property and ownership, and his inferences will be germane to my thesis concerning the necessity of water to not be privatized and denied from people. Grotius writes in “On the Law of Prize and Booty:” [T]wo inferences may be drawn. The first runs as follows: those things which are incapable of being occupied, or which never have been occupied, cannot be the private property of any owner, since all property has its origin as such in occupancy. The second inference may be stated thus: all those things which have been so constituted by nature that, even when used by a specific individual, they nevertheless suffice for general use by other persons without discrimination, retain to-day and should retain for all time that status which characterized them when first they sprang from nature (230-31). One can use a certain property that one does not own, provided that doesn’t diminish the property. Also, the magnitude of a property can determine whether the property can or cannot be owned or privatized. If the end of property can be realized without property becoming private, there is no need to make the property private. Fresh water will be explained to be a common property that cannot be absconded from anyone because it is necessary for survival. One must be responsible when using water, be it for washing or consumption, and one must use only enough that is needed. “Deny to no one water that flows,” is a maxim quoted by Grotius (231). Grotius notes that people should own only that which will not harm others by being held and made exclusionary, as he says private property “includes everything capable of serving the
convenience of a given person without detriment to the interests of any other person” (231). To exclude others from fresh water is to harm others. “The use of water is a common right,” Ovid writes (231). Drinkable water, just like the air and the sea, was public and open for the ancient Romans (231), and Grotius adheres to the belief that water must be common property that must be open to all. The vastness of the air and water, coupled with the necessity of water for human life, does not allow for water to be privately owned, and subsequently sold. It is unnatural to sell water because it is naturally open to all (231-32). For Grotius, the right of necessity is an exercise of one’s property rights, so when one needs water, one must be given water. Grotius writes, “Anything capable of becoming private property through the process of occupancy, is likewise capable of becoming public property...” (233). This is pertinent to my thesis because Grotius is explaining why it is unnatural to privately own and sell something like water; however, water is sold and privatized in modern times nonetheless. Water has become a monetized commodity, but it can be made publicly, and inexpensively, accessible because the privatization of water ignores the necessity of water. Private ownership of water circumvents natural laws, and places profit over the wellbeing and survival of human beings. Such private ownership is contrary to Grotius and, as it will be explained later in this paper, to John Locke. One cannot occupy a common property and take ownership of said property unless common use is not hindered. To own water is to hinder and exclude the common populace from accessing the formerly public water. In De Jure Belli ac Pacis, or “The Rights of War and Peace,” Grotius further explains ownership, as well as private and public property. God gave humanity dominion over the Earth and its plenitude of goods (R 2.2.1). Ownership can come about through the “Common Right of mankind,” which includes “corporeal things” and certain acts which are
owned, or not owned (R 2.2.1). Property began negatively, and a yearning to live lives of luxury led to the birth of industry. Property is not an act of the “mind alone;” it comes about through a “certain pact” or expression of division, or it can come about tacitly through occupation (R 2.2.2). Private property also makes charity possible. Importantly, Grotius notes that only things that can be bounded can be made property, so the air and sea cannot be made private property (R2.2.3). Fresh, potable water can, indeed, be bounded, but it cannot be sold and made exclusive due to the Common Right of all that is necessary for life. The Right of Necessity forbids the walling-off of water from the people; selling water for profit, by excluding those who cannot afford it, effectively “walls-off” people from obtaining the necessity of water. People can have private property, but necessities must be given to those in need when people are in dire straights, according to Grotius and laws of nature (R 2.2.4). The raison d'être of private property was to “recede as little as possible from natural equity,” but the current privatization of water has resulted in inequality and hindrances to necessities (2.2.4). Extreme necessity allows for water to be a public element, as Grotius writes, “Hence it follows, that in extreme necessity, the pristine right of using things revives, as if they had remained common: for in all laws, and thus in the law of ownership, extreme necessity is excepted” (R 2.2.6). Extreme necessity makes a certain property common. In this case, the extreme necessity of water is to be made common and open. One has a natural right to use what one needs, and the world is to be held in common on naturalistic grounds, according to Grotius (R 2.2.7-8). Grotius contends that one must allow others to use one’s property after all avenues have been exhausted in trying to obtain such necessary property by other means (R 2.2.7). Using this Grotian maxim, one
must allow others to use and consume one’s water if there are no other means to acquire drinkable water. Indeed, Grotius does say that the possessor of the private property takes precedent over those without the property, but water is an element that cannot be privatized in such a system, so it must always be open and accessible. The Right of Harmless Use, described by Grotius with reference to Cicero, applies to necessities, and it states that one must not destroy a necessity when it is in use because it is a necessity for others (R 2.2.11). Concerning water, Grotius writes, “So a river, as it is a river, is the property of the people within whose boundary it flows, or of him under whose authority the people is” (R 2.2.12). In addition, he states, “Water is in this way a public property” (R 2.2.12). Water is public, or common, property. Just as one cannot block a public waterway, due to the necessity and the natural publicness of water under the Grotian model, one cannot block and make private fresh water sources (R 2.2.13). Water can be sold at an “equitable price,” according to Grotius (R 2.2.24), but once one needs the water despite not being able to pay the “equitable” or reasonable price, one must give the water to the one in need. John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government also provides support for my assertion that water must be cheap and open for all. Locke’s work explains what humanity does, and does not, have dominion over. In Book 1, Locke asserts that people have a natural right to property. Humanity, just as Grotius asserted, was made in the image and likeness of God, and has been given dominion over the Earth (T 1.4.40). The “original community of all things amongst the sons of men” was the initial position of humanity, and neither nature nor the Bible allows for people to have dominion over other people (T 1.4.40-41). It is unnatural to have people rely on others for natural necessities, such as water. Locke writes:
But we know God hath not left one man so to the mercy of another, that he may starve him if he please: God the Lord and Father of all has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world, but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of goods; so that it cannot be justly denied him, when his pressing wants call for it: and therefore no man could ever have a just power over the life of another by right of property in land or possessions (T 1.4.42). It is unjust to have power over another, and it is unnatural and wrong to hoard necessities, and to deny necessities from those in extreme want. To deny water to those who cannot afford to pay for it is to commit a crime against nature and one's fellow citizen, and such exclusion of water elevates the possessors of the necessary goods above those in need. The owners and sellers of water hold dominion over those who need water. Those who hoard water, and control the flow of water to those in need, hold a sword of Damocles above the heads of those in need. The privatization of water inexorably leads to dominion and power over the populace in need of water. No “private dominion” over people and necessities was ever bestowed upon humanity (T 1.4.43). John Dunn agrees, adding, “[Locke] takes it as truth both of human reason and of revelation that the earth, like its inhabitants, belongs to its Creator and that God has given it to these human inhabitants in common...” (Dunn, 37). To sell a necessity like water for profit, and to exclude water from those that cannot pay for water, violates laws of nature and, in Locke’s case, God. Natural rights to necessities, coupled with the need to act charitably for Locke, means water must be given to those in need.
Others in need have a right to one’s surplus of a good, and I add that others have a right to necessities when in desperation. Locke writes, “As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much out of another’s plenty, as will keep him from extreme want...” (T 1.4.42). The charity of giving water to those who cannot afford it would be just because one gives a necessity to fellow humans. Charity is tied to property, and charity overcomes the unnatural force of money because charity is an attempt at resurrecting the equality of the initial state of nature. Money is unnatural and has no intrinsic value (T 2.5.50), but it has been attached to that which has natural intrinsic value, namely fresh water. A shift back to the initial situation of water being open to all must be made in order to align with nature and the needs of those going without water. The result of not making water an inexpensive common property open to all will be instability and conflict. A “State of War” is the result of living outside natural laws (T 2.3.16), and living in accordance with the unnatural laws of money. Good will, mutual assistance, and preservation are present in a state of nature, but the instability brought by selling necessities contains “enmity, malice, violence, and mutual destruction” (T 2.3.19). A “declared design of force” brings about such chaos, and to deny water to those who cannot afford it is to employ the force of necessities against fellow “equal” human beings (T 2.3.19). To control water, and to dictate to whom it can be given according to the monetary price given to water, is to act in discordance with nature and laws. The state of nature that Locke describes in Book 2 of Two Treatises of Government is one of “equality,” and it is governed by “reason” (T 2.2.4-6). “No one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possession,” Locke writes, and to deny water to those who cannot afford water is an
affront to life, health, liberty, and possession. The gnawing of thirst, unquenchable for the needy, consumes one’s dignity and focus, and to deny water to those in need dehumanizes those without water. The payment of bills trumps the human need for water when one’s taps run dry, just as one’s bank account runs dry. Locke mentions the “judicious Hooker,” who contends that justice and charity should be actualized by all people, and all people are naturally equal (T 2.2.5). To withhold water due to nonpayment is both unjust and uncharitable because water is necessary for life. One becomes beholden to the might that is wielded by those with necessities at their disposal. Locke believes that one’s life is the property of God (T 2.2.6), but one’s life also is in the hands of those who have the power to withhold necessities such as food and drink from the starving and parched. The thirsty man is at the mercy of the one with the water, and at the mercy of the monetary cost of the water. Money is the intermediary between physical sustenance and the one who needs sustenance. Ernst Cassirer writes that, “Locke counts the right of personal freedom and the right of property [as] fundamental rights,” and common property is the initial position of humanity in a state of nature (Cassirer, 250). Water, according to natural law, should be the property of all. Water is a natural sustainer of human life, be it through consumption of water or the use of water on crops to grow food, so to dictate who can get a naturally common property violates natural law. The denial of water to those who cannot afford water is present in Detroit, Michigan. Through the first few months of 2014, “Detroit's Water and Sewerage Department began turning off water utilities for overdue or delinquent accounts. Since April of 2014, the department has cut off the water for nearly 3,000 households per week” (Shastry, Web). Approximately 100,000 people are being denied water because they cannot afford it, and
such people rely on donated bottled water for consumption, cooking, bathing, and cleaning (Shastry, Web). For some residents, there exists an intractable choice between paying a water bill and receiving clean water, or paying for food. Water bills in Detroit are some of the highest in the United States because the water infrastructure of Detroit, and the area of Detroit, has not changed over the last 64 years, despite the population declining from 2,000,000 people in 1950 to around 700,000 today (Shastry, Web). The smaller taxable population, coupled with unchanged infrastructure and destroyed water pipes in vacant houses, has resulted in exponentially expensive water bills. Representatives of the United Nations have declared the denial of water to those in need as â€œan affront to human rightsâ€? (Shastry, Web). Water, treated as Grotian common property, would overcome the denial of water to those who cannot afford their water bills because the necessity of water for human life would be realized and placed above money. If the control of water over those who cannot afford it is recognized as human domination, as it is in the Lockean model, then water would not be denied to the poorest in a community, when combined with the Grotian view. The poorest in Detroit would receive water, regardless of payment, because of their need for water. The abuse of water through monetization is rife. Present day examples of water issues are prevalent concerning the denial of water to those in need, and the hoarding of water for commercial use. For the Irish news source Independent, Claire McCormack writes of 100,000 protesters marching in Dublin for the cause of inexpensive water. "We are here in our tens of thousands to say water is a human right, based on need, not an ability to pay," one protester explained, but the issue of being denied water due to insufficient funds is not only an issue in Ireland, it is an issue with global reach.
The issue of privatizing water, and funneling water from citizens to private corporations, is a problem that crosses borders and seas. Water in Queensland, Australia has been opened up for mining companies (Edwards, Web). Groundwater, used for growing crops and sustaining aquifers and the Great Barrier Reef, can be extracted with no cap on the amount of water that is allowed to be extracted, according to a newly passed governmental bill (Edwards, Web). Water, which should be publicly owned and preserved, is now being privately depleted. This has resulted in harmful use because citizens in Australia, a drought prone nation, are being excluded from using the water for consumption, crop growth, and survival. Issues concerning water are present in California, as well. Like Australia, California is subjected to frequent droughts. However, the privatization of water has exacerbated California’s water problems. Despite Governor Jerry Brown declaring the drought a state of emergency, the food and beverage company Nestle continues to bottle spring water (Koba, Web). Nestle can circumvent state regulators because the company’s sources of water extraction are on a Native American reservation, which lies outside state regulations. Profit, and water exclusion in the form of bottled water, is tacitly being used to justify the public right and need of water. The control of water is directly affecting the standard of living, and quality of survival, of people in California. Water continues to be encased in plastic and sequestered from the world, a microcosm of the restriction of water from the masses. In California, surface water in lakes and rivers is being depleted to such an extent that groundwater is now the source of water extraction. Groundwater, a “savings account” for when convenient surface water is not present, exists nearly 1,200 feet underground in some locations, and it is being used for commercial use (Stahl, Web). Groundwater was once an insurance-like public need, but it is now the source of bottled water. Also,
groundwater is now the lifeblood of inefficient crops, such as almonds (Stahl, Web). One might say that the privatization of water would benefit the public because the profit-motive would lead to efficiency in water use, and water proliferation to those in need, but this is not the case in California. Water privatization, driven by monetary gain, has resulted in “historic lows” concerning California’s water supply (Stahl, Web). Water, the ichor of humanity, is being usurped by money and profit, the ichor of capitalism. The director of National Intelligence of the United States in a 2012 report stated that within a decade "many countries important to the United States will experience water problems ... that will risk instability and state failure..." and believed the "use of water as a weapon...” would become a reality (Stahl, Web). To control water is to control the lives of those who need water. There is domination in the profligate and irresponsible path one takes when one determines who can receive water. The abuse of the natural right of water, by restricting it from those in need and funneling it through corporate coffers, is contrary to Grotian and Lockean natural rights. Instability, and conflict, is the result of denying necessities to those in need. One might contend that water must be privatized, or else there could be no regulation. One might say that free water would lead to egregious abuses of the resource, and that privatization allows for regulation and enforcement. I assert that regulation of water and responsibility concerning the use of water can occur outside of a privatized system that restricts water to those who cannot afford it. Regulation by one’s government can occur outside of a system that dictates to whom water can be given. The risk of abusing the resource of water, and allowing water to go to waste, is present in both a privatized system and publicly open system;
however, a privatized system that disallows water to those who cannot afford it is inherently abusive of human rights. Water as a public property that is inexpensive, open to all, and regulated by a government, satisfies natural laws. Regulation and enforcement of water, to combat wastefulness, can occur in a system that is not privatized and does not deny water to a societyâ€™s poorest citizens. Privatized water exists for profit, and it is an unnatural and immoral domination that is admonished by Grotius and Locke. It is quixotic to assert that water must be free at all times, for everyone. The intricate processes that filter and clean water, and bring it to households through oneâ€™s pipes and taps, requires payment. I do not deny that people must pay for such services to exist, but those who cannot afford to pay for such services must be allowed water. Regardless of payment, water cannot be denied to the poorest in a society. A subsidized system that allows for universal water usage, similar to a Canadian or Scandinavian model of health care, would satisfy natural laws and not exclude anyone from water. The denial of water to those who cannot afford to pay their bills dehumanizes those who are already marginalized and in need. Denying water to those who cannot pay their bills, or hoarding water for private profit-driven ends, results in subjugation, instability, and conflict, according to Locke, and it is Grotian common property runs contrary to such actions. By using Grotius and Locke, two philosophers who provide the basis for international law and property, a solution to the privatized abuses of water can be formulated. Water must be an inexpensive common property that cannot be denied to anyone who cannot afford it.
Works Cited Cassirer, Ernst. The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. Trans. Fritz C. A. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove. Boston: Beacon Press, 1961. Print. Dunn, John. Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984. Print. Edwards, Alyse. “Controversial mine water bill passed in Queensland.” Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 27 Nov. 2014. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-27/water-bill-passed-by-queenslandparliament/5922396> Grotius, Hugo. Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty. Trans. Gwladys L. Williams and Walter H. Zeydel. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950. Print. ---. The Rights of War and Peace. Trans. William Whewell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1853. Print. Koba, Mark. “California drought can't stop production of bottled water.” CNBC. 7 Aug. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://www.cnbc.com/id/101892496#.> Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Ed. Thomas Hollis. London: A. Miller et al., 1764. Print. McCormack, Claire. “Water charges protest draws massive crowd to the streets.” Independent. 12 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <http://www.independent.ie/irishnews/politics/water-charges-protest-draws-massive-crowd-to-the-streets-30656878.html> Shastry, Neha. “Shutoff: Detroit’s Water War.” Vice News. 19 Aug. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVVT03LIX0w> Stahl, Leslie. “Depleting The Water.” CBS News: 60 Minutes. 16 Nov. 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/depleting-the-water/
Occupy Wall Street and Indigenous Feminism: The Radical Left’s Reconstitution of Imperial Power Phil Henderson Phil Henderson is an MA student in Cultural, Social and Political Thought at the University of Victoria. His research interrogates the formation of resentful subjectivities within the matrices of settler colonial and neoliberal power structures. This paper was written for Dr. Biswas-Mellamphy’s "Women, Sex and Politics” seminar. During a two month period in the fall of 2011 a spectre haunted major cities around the globe - the spectre of Occupy Wall Street. Responding to a call by the counter-culture magazine Adbusters, on September 17th thousands of protestors flooded into the Financial District of New York City.68 Their brief occupation of Zuccotti Park opened a space in the American political imagination that remains relevant two years later. However, despite revolutionary overtures the movement’s true transformative potential must be properly assessed. This can be done most effectively by examining the negative elements of the movement, those things which are excluded from its discussions. Therefore, in this paper I critique Occupy Wall Street from the standpoint that can be characterized broadly as Indigenous feminism.69 While the protests made strides towards goals that can be broadly called feminist, I argue that they perpetuate the problems against which Indigenous feminists struggle. This perpetuation is expressed most clearly in the movements’ inability or unwillingness to grapple with the original theft of Indigenous territories. To support these
“#OCCUPYWALLSTREET,” Adbusters, July 13, 2011, https://www.adbusters.org/blogs/adbusters-blog/occupywallstreet.html (accessed November 1, 2013). 69 While offering this critique, I am cognizant that no singular indigenous voice exists. Indigeneity is, at all times, an amalgam of multiple voices, multiple nations, and multiple experiences. However, for the purposes of this paper, I examine indigeneity from the North American experience of European colonization and ongoing occupation.
assertions I first briefly outline what is delineated by the terms Occupy Wall Street and Indigenous feminism. Following this, the movement’s positive contributions to the feminist project are highlighted. I then present criticisms of Occupy Wall Street framed by an Indigenous feminist perspective. The year 2011 marked when “ordinary worlds irrupted in revolutionary sounds,” not just at Occupy Wall Street but also around the globe.70 Beginning in late 2010 and gaining real momentum in 2011, the Arab Spring was a series of protests and demonstrations that swept the Arab world, demanding political and economic changes benefiting working people. The spectacle of Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Egypt’s revolt, inspired the organizers of Occupy Wall Street to demand change of their own government.71 While the Arab Spring protestors desired to end the brutal despotism and corruption that had stagnated their economies and crippled their civil societies, Occupy Wall Street sought to address the growing disparity of wealth in America, aggravated by the recession of 2008. On September 29, 2011 the occupation presented The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, a document which functioned as a manifesto for the movement; amongst its grievances is the assertion that “no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.”72 The movement sees the influence of corporate power in nearly all aspects of American political life; as such, there is a wide “refusal to recognize the legitimacy of
Betty M. Bayer, “Enchantment in an Age of Occupy,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 40, no. 3 & 4 (Fall/Winter 2012): 45, http://www.jstor.org/ (accessed October 22, 2013). 71 Max Haiven, “Feminism, finance and the future of #Occupy - An interview with Silvia Federici,” Libcom, November 27, 2011, http://libcom.org/library/feminism-finance-futureoccupy-interview-silvia-federici (accessed October 22, 2013). 72 The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, September 29, 2011, http://www.nycga.net/resources/documents/declaration/ (accessed October 29, 2013).
existing political institutions.”73 By contrast, the site of occupation was one which enacted radically egalitarian politics. Protestors at Occupy Wall Street can then be thought of as “‘prefiguring’ the world they wished to see,”74 thus enacting what Judith Butler calls “a notion of politics as performative.”75 Occupy Wall Street’s globally diffuse nature often leads to confusion; for clarity, unless otherwise noted, it is assumed that I am discussing the occupation of Zuccotti Park from September 17 to November 15, 2011. Furthermore, as a nod to the pivotal role played by social media in this movement, I will be referring to the protests as #OWS for the remainder of this paper. While it is popular to talk about feminism as if it were a monolithic school of thought, the truth is that feminism is as diverse as political theory writ large. In the case of #OWS, many assert that the movement was made possible only through the discourses and “consciousness-raising tactics” of feminist movements fighting for reproductive rights in North America during the 1960s and 1970s.76 However, this claim fails to recognize that the feminism and the actions of the 60s and 70s was confined largely to white, middle-class women in America. Nina Power has argued that this “focus on the experience of small groups of women in the West” is one of the key aspects of modern, mainstream feminism that needs to be changed.77 73
David Graeber, “Occupy Wall Street’s Anarchist Roots,” in The Occupy Handbook, ed. Janet Byrne, (New York: Back Bay Books, 2012), 144. 74 Manissa McCleave Maharawal, “Occupy Wall Street, Radical Politics of Inclusion,” The Sociological Quarterly 54, (2013) 178, http://www.jstor.org/ (accessed October 22, 2013). 75 Judith Butler and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Who Sings the Nation-State?” (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2010), 26. 76 Stephanie Rogers, “What Occupy Wall Street Owes to Feminist Consciousness-Raising,” Ms.Magazine, December 12, 2011, http://msmagazine.com/blog/2011/12/13/what-occupywall-street-owes-to-feminist-consciousness-raising/ (accessed October 22, 2013). 77 Nina Power, “10 Things that Feminism Could Do Better,” Alternet, July 9, 2010, http://www.alternet.org/story/147491/10_things_that_feminism_could_do_better?page=0% 2C1 (accessed October 22, 2013).
There is a tendency in Western feminism to create a “deliberate distancing” of the Western woman from violence, and to believe that she is “not in any way part of the systems of violence.”78 Feminists who talk about a global sisterhood or shared experience of global female-oppression, assume that they and women everywhere suffer from the same types of violence. However, Western women are not only embedded in a web of violence, they often benefit from said violence at the expense of women of colour (WOC) and Indigenous women. Whether it be sharing the spoils of colonialism or cheaper consumer items because of sweatshop labour, women in the global north walk on threads oppressing the global south just as men do. The effect of these power differentials characterizes a “cross-cultural incommensurability” between relatively privileged women in the West and more deeply marginalized women around the world.79 It is between these contradicting feminisms that the analysis of Indigenous feminism is most pertinent. Their analysis rejects, unequivocally, the “universalist perspective” of Western feminists.80 As such, a homogeneous womanhood is an abstraction, one that serves only to obfuscate the different experiences of women globally. Indigenous feminists assert that women can only form sisterhood through “concrete historical and political practice and analysis.”81 The feature which most differentiates Indigenous feminists is their promotion of their nation’s
Elina Penttinen, “On Violence: a call toward absolute vulnerability,” Kaalratri, October 25, 2013, http://kaalratri.com/2013/10/25/on-violence-a-call-toward-absolute-vulnerability/ (accessed October 26, 2013). 79 Rosemarie Tong and Tina Fernandes Botts, “Women of Color Feminism,” in Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction, ed. Rosemarie Tong, (Boulder: Westview Press, 2014), 225. 80 Ibid., 221 81 Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” in Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, ed. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo and Lourdes Torres, (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991), 58.
(sometimes called tribe or band) sovereignty as an important aspect of women’s rights.82 For Indigenous women, the nation was the original feminist institution, and was only corrupted by the effects of Western imperialism. It is through this lens that I will present my most important criticisms of #OWS. Before criticizing it is necessary to recognize that #OWS has brought forward many new methods, proposals and ideas that are hugely beneficial, not just to Western feminists but also to WOC and Indigenous women. These benefits are of three broad categories, each of which is discussed below. First, #OWS goes to great lengths to ensure formal equality between men and women within the movement, essentially fulfilling a liberal conception of feminism. Second, efforts are made to address the issues of race that both informed and necessitated the movement. Finally, #OWS’s continual self-critiquing methodology must be properly recognized and applauded; it serves as an example for how to begin seriously deconstructing male-privilege. For women who participated in the movement, #OWS’s primary promise is the fulfillment of the traditional liberal feminist project. The feminist movement arose because social movements at the time had proven either unable or unwilling to adequately represent the interests of women. Moreover, the feminist movement has remained because these trends persist. Unless a movement is explicitly feminist, it is likely that it will fall victim to the phenomena of “manarchism.”83 Separate from patriarchy, which is an established system dominated by males or masculine identities, manarchism arises in social movements
Tong and Botts, “Women of Colour Feminism,” 231. Sarah Seltzer, “Where Are the Women at Occupy Wall Street? Everywhere - and They’re Not Going Anywhere,” The Nation, October 26, 2011, http://www.thenation.com/article/164197/where-are-women-occupy-wall-streeteverywhere-and-theyre-not-going-away# (accessed October 22, 2013). 83
that challenge the status quo. The problem of manarchy occurs when social movements are co-opted and run by men who disregard issues of gender or sexuality. Accounts from many female protestors at #OWS indicate that this was not an issue; even “veteran” activists claim that compared to other social movements #OWS is far less androcentric.84 It has even been commented that at #OWS the “archetypal” leader is the “educated woman,” controverting years of sexism within social movements.85 In addition to the high-profile presence of women, efforts were also made to ensure their safety within the occupation site. “[S]afer space initiatives for women” sprang up at #OWS sites everywhere in order to prevent the sexual assault of female participants; moreover “peacekeepers” were always on hand in order to deescalate any situations that might lead to violence.86 87 The safety of women was taken with extreme seriousness, and as #OWS was meant to ‘prefigure’ how society ought to be, it highlights the need within the wider community to prevent the violent assault of women. WOC will recognize that #OWS attempted to resolve the gap between racialized groups that exists in America, without claiming to speak on anyone’s behalf. This sentiment is most clear in the occupation’s Statement of Autonomy, which demands that everyone “SPEAK WITH US, NOT FOR US” (emphasis original).88 #OWS’s demand is that everyone ought to be given the respect of representing and speaking on their own
Ibid. Bayer, “Enchantment in an Age of Occupy,” 35. 86 Leah Horlick, “Occupy the Patriarchy!” Canadian Dimension 46, no. 1 (January/February 2012): 9, http://proquest.org/ (accessed October 22, 2013). 87 Chris Hedges, “A Master Class in Occupation,” in The Occupy Handbook, ed. Janet Byrne, (New York: Back Bay Books, 2012), 167. 88 Statement of Autonomy, November 10, 2011, http://www.nycga.net/resources/documents/statement-of-autonomy/ (accessed October 29, 2011). 85
behalf, precluding Western feminists from claiming a globally shared women’s experience. Furthermore, #OWS was a movement that had special significance for people of colour as it was a reaction to the deepening entrenchment of wealth disparity in America. The current recession, beginning in 2007-2008, led to Blacks and Latinos losing their homes in numbers disproportionate to those experienced in the White community.89 Moreover, as Occupy Oakland organizer Jack Bryson has stated, Black people have been part of the American underclass for four hundred years.90 Similar to the situation of women within the occupation, it was recognized early in the movement that the historic situation of racialized minorities needed further redress. As such, a working group was formed within #OWS to interpret and advance the movement from the perspectives of non-Whites. The People of Color Caucus (POC) issued a call for the “expansion and diversification” of #OWS, noting that for Blacks, the economic crisis began with the founding of the American slave-state and, from the Indigenous perspective, before the nation was even built.91 92 This Caucus continued to meet in Zuccotti Park throughout the occupation, and represented a major effort within the movement to address racial issues.
Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich, “The Making of the American 99 Percent and the Collapse of the Middle Class,” in The Occupy Handbook, ed. Janet Byrne, (New York: Back Bay Books, 2012), 301. 90 “Fault Lines: Occupy Wall Street: Surviving the Winter,” March 27, 2012, video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAXCuimxgCs&list=WLB297C8FFC0F93B3E (accessed November 1, 2013). 91 People of Color Caucus, “Call Out to People of Color from the #OWS POC Working Group,” October 13, 2011, http://www.nycga.net/group-documents/call-out-to-people-ofcolor-from-the-ows-poc-working-group/ (accessed October 22, 2013). 92 For a fuller explanation of how the foundations of a nation-state are often predicated on the expulsion of another group please refer to Butler and Spivak, Who Sings the NationState? 7.
Finally, #OWS ought to be applauded by feminists for its continual striving towards self-criticism. Unlike movements in the past, #OWS was open to critique both from without and from within, and was in a constant state of flux, trying to challenge its own assumptions and become a more just and inclusive movement. The key to the success of the movement was to achieve “solidarity with critique,” enabling action without domination.93 Tools that enabled individuals to openly and powerfully critique the movement were embedded in the structures of #OWS from the outset. An important method that could be employed was known as ‘blocking’; if any motion were to be brought forward at a General Assembly, anyone present had the authority to veto, should they deem it necessary.94 As General Assemblies could consist of hundreds - at times thousands - of people, the veto represented an enormous power in the hands of individual members, and it was used only when absolutely necessary. Seltzer notes a group of Desi95 women who blocked a resolution only because they felt that its sentiment “erased centuries of racism” and would have been an affront to them as a persecuted minority.96 In addition to blocking, General Assemblies were always structured by a speakers’ list that was determined by the ‘progressive stack’ technique. A progressive stack meant that speaking order was determined by reference to the speakers’ inclusion in “traditionally marginalized groups,” meaning that a Black woman would be brought ahead of a White man, or even a Black man, should she wish to speak.97 Some might criticize this methodology as tokenism; however, it represents an honest
Seltzer, “Where Are the Women at Occupy Wall Street?” Ibid. 95 The Desi are a culture of increasing diaspora found in Southern Asia and India. 96 Ibid. 97 Ibid. 94
attempt by #OWS to hear voices and experiences that have historically lacked privilege. As such, feminists would find much in the structure of #OWS that furthers their cause. However, despite its strengths #OWS’s faults ultimately cripple its capacity for truly transformative politics. I contend that the movement represents only the newest phase in the Left’s - anarchists, communists, white feminists, etc. - ongoing betrayal of Indigenous politics. Two themes running through #OWS help to support this claim. The first is that while #OWS was largely successful at providing a self-critique, it had an inexplicable ability to ignore the reconstitution of American imperial power enabled by their own occupation. The dialogue that #OWS initiated has, at its core, reenforced the colonized status of Indigenous peoples; achieved by presenting their assembly as legitimate despite occurring in territory long occupied by settlers. Additionally, the movement’s poor framing of the debate undermines its emancipatory credibility. The debate about wealth inequality which #OWS has touched off rests on an appeal to a time when the economic order functioned fairly, thus occluding the founding injustices of American capitalistic expansion. From the Indigenous feminist perspective, these faults represent the continuing miscarriage of justice and prevent #OWS from being an effective feminist movement. This recycling of old injustices is perhaps no where more prevalent than in #OWS’s occupying of land already under occupation. Zuccotti Park, the physical heart of #OWS, is on the island of Manhattan, a part of modern-day New York state. However, as recently as four hundred years ago this territory belonged to at least one, but possibly several, Indigenous nations. At the time of contact, an “ideological difference” over the notion of land ownership led the European settlers to believe that they had bought the entirety of
Manhattan from the Indigenous nations.98 Believing themselves to be entitled to the land, Europeans began to clear and colonize the area and have occupied it since. Yet at no point did the Indigenous inhabitants ever knowingly transfer their ownership of Manhattan to any Europeans or relinquish their claim to the territory. As such, the Isle of Manhattan, Zuccotti Park and #OWS are all spaces of European occupation, representations of an ongoing theft of Indigenous land. Not once in the Declaration of the Occupation, Statement of Autonomy, or the Principles of Solidarity - each issued and ratified by the General Assembly - was there any recognition of said theft.99 100 101 At the core of #OWS - its commitment to the occupation of public spaces - is a conception of spatiality that actively suppresses the foundational violences embedded in any notion of the ‘public.’ The irony of this situation has not been lost on the Indigenous community. Robert Desjarlait, an Anishinaabeg, asserted that the “mentality of this ‘settler society’ permeates the mindset” of the protestors at #OWS; all the “occupiers are occupying occupied land” that rightfully belongs to Indigenous nations.102 The failure of #OWS to recognize their sense of entitlement to enter and occupy the territory of Zuccotti is the most perniciously banal form of imperialism. #OWS’s “deliberate distancing” of themselves from the “systems of violence” that colonize Indigenous peoples, is the exact type of selective
Dennis Zotigh, "America's First Urban Myth?" The National Museum of the American Indian, August 3, 2011, http://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2011/08/americas-first-urbanmyth.html (accessed November 1, 2013). 99 The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City. 100 Statement of Autonomy. 101 Principles of Solidarity, September 23, 2011, http://www.nycga.net/resources/documents/principles-of-solidarity/ (accessed October 22, 2013). 102 Robert Desjarlait, “Decolonization and Occupy Wall Street,” Racialicious, October 11, 2011, http://www.racialicious.com/2011/10/11/decolonization-and-occupy-wall-street/ (accessed Novemeber 1, 2013).
radicalism that Penttinen denounces in Western feminism.103 Indigenous feminists do not have this privilege as for them the feminist struggle will never be complete until the nation is regains original sovereign status; #OWS has only established another roadblock on that path. The debate that #OWS has initiated creates a discourse that prefiguratively marginalizes Indigenous feminists. Sjoberg and Chessman have noted that every debate “excludes its other as much as it constructs a conflict between its in-crowd.”104 At points over the course of #OWS this marginalization is readily apparent. The language used throughout the occupation signifies an iterative othering of indigeneity. A sentiment commonly expressed within #OWS was that the American government had fallen short of its promise: that of a state “founded by… and for the people.”105 However, Indigenous feminists recognize that a state formed through genocide and the theft of a continent is ‘by’ and ‘for’ only a specific group of people. This group certainly cannot include the original inhabitants - now victims of theft and murder - nor the people of colour who built the country as slaves.106 What is most problematic is that #OWS reifies this notion of a preconstituted American people. Through their appeals to an idea of the ‘public,’ both David Graeber and Judith Butler expressed their belief that #OWS was occupying spaces that
Penttinen, “On Violence.” Laura Sjoberg and Christian Chessman, “The Biopower of Occupation: Insights for ‘Knowledge Exchange’ in (Gender and) IR,” (presentation at the Critical Reflections on Researcher-Practitioner Relationship Conference, 2012), 18. 105 Rogers, “What Occupy Wall Street Owes to Feminist Consciousness-Raising.” 106 People of Color Caucus, “10/6/11,” October 13, 2011, http://www.nycga.net/groupdocuments/10611-meeting-minutes/ (accessed October 22, 2013). 104
rightly belong to the public.107 108 From these comments it can be presumed that ‘public’ means the body of persons who has the right to access the commons, be that spatial, political, economic, etc. Neither Graeber, Butler, nor #OWS generally paused to consider what their conception of the public entails in this instance. Without first critiquing how these commons were established and maintained, their continuity becomes only the perpetuation of injustice. #OWS prefigure themselves as insiders who are reclaiming rights that have been taken or corrupted. This supposedly radical narrative marginalizes the Indigenous feminist who has no historical place within these systems. #OWS has been billed by many as the hopeful model for radical leftist organization, and a boon to the feminist project as well. In fact #OWS did break with many of the old revolutionary moulds. The movement’s aversion to the excesses of manarchism that plague many radical groups was apparent even to veteran feminists, and active efforts were made to ensure the safety of female occupiers. Additionally, as a movement committed to the individual’s right to represent themselves, #OWS contested the tendency of women in the West to speak on behalf of women everywhere. Finally, #OWS was structured to facilitate the inclusion of historically marginalized voices. While these things are each commendable, they fail to correct #OWS’s foundational issues, the first being that #OWS continues to trivialize the persistent oppression of Indigenous nations by reconstituting European occupation. As such, the debate initiated by #OWS is prefigured with Indigenous nations outside the realm of liberation. The subjugation of Indigenous nations that is perpetuated by #OWS is antithetical to the core tenant of Indigenous feminism. As such, I must conclude 107
“Fault Lines: History of an occupation,” March 21, 2012, video clip, YouTube,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4VLYGfGDZg&list=WLB297C8FFC0F93 B3E (accessed November 1, 2013). 108 Sjoberg and Chessman “The Biopower of Occupation,” 9.
that while #OWS had many aspects worthy of respect and praise, its project is fundamentally anathema to the Indigenous feminist movement. If the occupiers are right that they have “already won!”109 then Indigenous women have already lost.
Works Cited Arnall, Gavin M. "The Idea(s) of Occupy.” Theory and Event 15, no. 2 (2012). http://proquest.org/ (accessed October 22, 2013). Bayer, Betty M. “Enchantment in an Age of Occupy.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 40, no. 3 & 4 (Fall/Winter 2012): 27-50, http://www.jstor.org/ (accessed October 22, 2013). Butler, Judith and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. “Who Sings the Nation-State?” Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2010. Desjarlait, Robert. “Decolonization and Occupy Wall Street.” Racialicious, October 11, 2011, http://www.racialicious.com/2011/10/11/decolonization-and-occupy-wall-street/ (accessed Novemeber 1, 2013). Ehrenreich, Barbara and John Ehrenreich. “The Making of the American 99 Percent and the Collapse of the Middle Class.” In The Occupy Handbook. Edited by Janet Byrne, 300-306. New York: Back Bay Books, 2012. “Fault Lines: Occupy Wall Street: Surviving the Winter.” March 27, 2012. Video clip. YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAXCuimxgCs&list=WLB297C8FFC0F93B3E (accessed November 1, 2013). “Fault Lines: History of an occupation.” March 21, 2012. Video clip. YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4VLYGfGDZg&list=WLB297C8FFC0F93B3E (accessed November 1, 2013). Graeber, David. “Occupy Wall Street’s Anarchist Roots.” In The Occupy Handbook. Edited by Janet Byrne, 141-149. New York: Back Bay Books, 2012. Haiven, Max. “Feminism, finance and the future of #Occupy - An interview with Silvia Federici.” Libcom, November 27, 2011, http://libcom.org/library/feminism-financefuture-occupy-interview-silvia-federici (accessed October 22, 2013).
Gavin M. Arnall, "The Idea(s) of Occupy," Theory and Event 15, no. 2 (2012), http://proquest.org/ (accessed October 22, 2013).
Hedges, Chris. “A Master Class in Occupation.” In The Occupy Handbook. Edited by Janet Byrne, 164-172. New York: Back Bay Books, 2012. Horlick, Leah. “Occupy the Patriarchy!” Canadian Dimension 46, no. 1 (January/February 2012): 9. http://proquest.org/ (accessed October 22, 2013). Maharawal, Manissa McCleave. “Occupy Wall Street, Radical Politics of Inclusion.” The Sociological Quarterly 54, (2013) 177-181. http://www.jstor.org/ (accessed October 22, 2013). Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” In Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Edited by Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo and Lourdes Torres, 51-80. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991. Penttinen, Elina. “On Violence: a call toward absolute vulnerability.” Kaalratri. October 25, 2013, http://kaalratri.com/2013/10/25/on-violence-a-call-toward-absolute-vulnerability/ (accessed October 26, 2013). People of Color Caucus. “Call Out to People of Color from the #OWS POC Working Group.” October 13, 2011, http://www.nycga.net/group-documents/call-out-to-people-ofcolor-from-the-ows-poc-working-group/ (accessed October 22, 2013). —-. “10/6/11.” October 13, 2011, http://www.nycga.net/group-documents/10611-meetingminutes/ (accessed October 22, 2013). Principles of Solidarity. September 23, 2011, http://www.nycga.net/resources/documents/ principles-of-solidarity/ (accessed October 22, 2013). Power, Nina. “10 Things that Feminism Could Do Better.” Alternet. July 9, 2010, http://www.alternet.org/story/147491/10_things_that_feminism_could_do_better?page=0% 2C1 (accessed October 22, 2013). “#OCCUPYWALLSTREET.” Adbusters. July 13, 2011, https://www.adbusters.org/blogs/ adbusters-blog/occupywallstreet.html (accessed November 1, 2013). Rogers, Stephanie. “What Occupy Wall Street Owes to Feminist Consciousness-Raising.” Ms.Magazine. December 12, 2011, http://msmagazine.com/blog/2011/12/13/what-occupywall-street-owes-to-feminist-consciousness-raising/ (accessed October 22, 2013). Seltzer, Sarah. “Where Are the Women at Occupy Wall Street? Everywhere - and They’re Not Going Anywhere.” The Nation. October 26, 2011, http://www.thenation.com/article/164197/where-are-women-occupy-wall-streeteverywhere-and-theyre-not-going-away# (accessed October 22, 2013).
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A New World Within the Old: A Comparison of the Industrial Workers of the World and Occupy Wall Street Tristan Johnson Tristan Johnson is a PhD student in History at Western University. His work relates to the attacks of September 11th 2001, especially in the realm of the early internet. This paper was written while earning his MA in American Studies in 2013. From the first days of the occupation of Zuccotti Park in 2011, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests evoked images of something older than the social movements of this generation. These images were of the end of the Gilded Age, and the early protests of labour unions. Was this a return to the struggles that marked the end of that age, with all the promise and dread that comes with that? One of the major players of that era, like OWS, found themselves targeted by the media and authorities. This group was the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW); a radical labour union that sought to unite all workers under a single banner.110 In recent history articles on labour and the IWW, the image of OWS is referenced as a modern incarnation. This begs the question, does this comparison fit? Is there sufficient lineage to put OWS into a common heritage with the IWW? If so, what significance does this have for the history of social movements? Occupy Wall Street has its role in the annals of labour history. Some labour studies researchers, such as Penny Lewis and Stephanie Luce, argue that OWS is a labour movement on the very grounds that it tackles wealth inequality.111 Although not directly associated, labour united with activists and nonprofits in common cause. Labour came as a
110 Don Fitz. "Remembering another occupy."Synthesis/Regeneration. no. 58 (2012): 13. 111 Penny Lewis, and Stephanie Luce, "Labor and Occupy Wall Street: An Appraisal of the First Six Months,"New Labor Forum, 21, no. 2 (2012): 43-49, p. 43
reminder to themselves of what they have lost in their decades of de-radicalization.112113 The IWW by no surprise also participated in the first wave of OWS activism.114 This is enough to posit that while OWS is a different entity their role in pro-labour activism puts them in the IWW's timeline. Both groups distinguish themselves from mainstream activism. Sociologists Kathleen Fitzgerald and Diane Rodgers named the IWW specifically when reclassifying them and others as a distinct form of Social Movement Organization. They classified these as Radical Social Movement, and OWS fits all of their criteria. The criteria, according to their article â€œRadical Social Movement Organization: A Theoretical Modelâ€?, are internal structure, ideology, tactics, communication, and assessments of success. It is on these lines that this article will compare the two organizations. Using them to assess how Radical Social Movement Organizations (RSMOs) have evolved in the century separating them. Internal Structure Fitzgerald and Rodgers characterized RSMOs by their distinct internal structure. These organizations act as in direct opposition to the stratified, bureaucratic systems of the traditional social movement organization. They adopted a participatory egalitarianism, where membership is based on participation.115 Historically, the IWW practiced this
112 Benjamin Shepard, "Labor and Occupy Wall Street: Common Causes and Uneasy Alliances,"WorkingUSA, 15, no. 113 (2012): 121-134, p. 121-2 114 Smilios, Arthur. "Dispatch from the Front Lines of Occupy Wall Street." Industrial Worker, October 1, 2011. http://www.iww.org/PDF/IndustrialWorker/IWNovember2011.pdf (accessed December 19, 2013). 115 Kathleen J Fitzgerald, and Diane M Rodgers, "Radical Social Movement Organizations: A Theoretical Model," The Sociological Quarterly, 41, no. 4 (2000): 573-592, p. 578
organization structure, leading to dispersed leadership in local chapters.116 OWS had a similar structure. However, the evolution of communications networks heavily altered it. The structure is of Rothschild’s collectivist-democratic organization. RSMOs consciously employ a non-hierarchical, group-centric leadership. This participatory style encourages leadership skills in all members. Decisions are made through consensus. The point of this decision-making process is that it promotes a decentralized operation and encourages grassroots mobilization. Its strength lies in the conservation of their ethics in the maintenance of the organization.117 Occupy practiced this form of internal organization as well. Occupy Wall Street activists are primarily autonomous individuals connected through social media. The key difference of using social media rather than the meetings the IWW practiced is that they promote diversity of opinion. Research in organization studies show that physical congregations tend to support agreement and conformity of opinion.118 Even within the occupation, the logistics of such a sit-in were managed in a non-hierarchical fashion, without the commoditization of goods.119 Occupy evolved since the days of Zuccotti Park. The internet provided tools to transform OWS to a network that allows activists to experiment with methods of social 116 Jonathan A Christiansen, "“WE ARE ALL LEADERS”: ANARCHISM AND THE NARRATIVE OF THE INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD,"WorkingUSA, 12, no. 3 (2009): 387-401, p. 394 117 Kathleen J Fitzgerald, and Diane M Rodgers, "Radical Social Movement Organizations: A Theoretical Model," The Sociological Quarterly, 41, no. 4 (2000): 573-592, p. 579-80 118 Christoph Haug, "Organizing Spaces: Meeting Arenas as a Social Movement Infrastructure between Organization, Network, and Institution,"Organization Studies, 34, no. 5-6 (2013): 705-732, p. 722 119 Ruth Milkman, Penny Lewis, and Stephanie Luce, "The Genie's out of the Bottle: Insiders’ Perspectives on Occupy Wall Street," The Sociological Quarterly, 54, no. 2 (2013): 194-198, p. 196
activism, and then utilize successes or learn from failures collectively. The platform that facilitates this exchange is called interoccupy.net.120 The internet age is a key progression from the times of the IWW where communication was slower. One effect of easier communication through ubiquitous technology is that OWS can exist in areas without a physical congregation. This allows for easier development of tactics as well as building an activist ecosystem that the IWW could not at its time. Ideology By definition, the agenda of a Radical Social Movement Organization is further to the fringe of the political spectrum than their mainstream counterparts. Because of their decentralized nature, their ideologies are more flexible and can differ member to member. The radical leftist organizations tend to be fiercely anti-militaristic. The scope of their goals is different as well, with a radical restructuring approach to change rather than a reformist one.121 The IWW very much had this desire to change society fundamentally.122 Occupy Wall Street, while not as radical as the IWW, suffered criticism for their lack of specific goals.123 This comes from the misunderstanding of OWS as a regular social movement rather than a radical one. However, examples such as the internal structure of the Zuccotti Park occupations show an ideology opposed to the capitalistic order. While not 120 Marianne Manilov, "Occupy at One Year: Growing the Roots of a Movement," The Sociological Quarterly, 54, no. 2 (2013): 206-213, p. 207, 210 121 Kathleen J Fitzgerald, and Diane M Rodgers, "Radical Social Movement Organizations: A Theoretical Model," The Sociological Quarterly, 41, no. 4 (2000): 573-592, p. 578 122 Deborah B Balser, "The Impact of Environmental Factors on Factionalism and Schism in Social Movement Organizations," Social Forces, 76, no. 1 (1997): 199-228, p. 209 123 Craig Calhoun, "Occupy Wall Street in perspective," The British Journal of Sociology, 64, no. 1 (2013): 26-38, p. 29-30
necessarily Anarchists, the movement in its organization does take a leaf from Anarchist organization as mentioned in the previous section.124 Their demand was for a new social order, and a need for truly public space. Both had a focus on grassroots mobilization. The IWWâ€™s famous example is the 1906 General Electric sit-in strike; the first sit-in strike in the United States.125 To this day, the IWW organizes salts; people who get employed in a business and from the inside organize them into a union.126 One example of OWS practicing grassroots mobilization is the attack on predatory debt in the city of Oakland. The local OWS group allied with Oakland unions to force the city government to crack down on these debt collectors.127 Essentially, OWS became a platform for many different issues and beliefs. It differs from the IWW in this plurality. The IWW focused on anarcho-syndicalism and kept rather focused on labour. Occupy, by contrast, spoke on tuition, austerity, wealth inequality, environmental issues, labour issues and unified by the single source of all of these issues with the 1%. This diversity of agenda allowed for greater incorporation into the movement, making it much more accessible. This was necessary as no protests of his type had been popular for nearly 40 years. 128 OWS worked from a position where labour and social movements were weak while the IWW was one of many up and coming unions at the time.
124 ibid, p. 30 125 Don Fitz, "Remembering another occupy,"Synthesis/Regeneration, no. 58 (2012): 13, p. 13 126 Steve Early, "Organizing for the Long Haul: Colonizing to the Rescue?," WorkingUSA, 16, no. 3 (2013): 351-369, p. 365 127 Marianne Manilov, "Occupy at One Year: Growing the Roots of a Movement," The Sociological Quarterly, 54, no. 2 (2013): 206-213, p. 211 128 Ruth Milkman, Penny Lewis, and Stephanie Luce, "The Genie's out of the Bottle: Insidersâ€™ Perspectives on Occupy Wall Street," The Sociological Quarterly, 54, no. 2 (2013): 194-198, p. 195
The stronger emphasis on a plurality of opinion, coupled with this inclusiveness allowed Occupy to grow in ways that the IWW never could. Tactics The 1906 sit-in strike by the IWW is an example of the tactic of direct action. RSMOs are usually the pioneers of new tactics, and heavy users of direct action. Though a mainstream movement may adopt these tactics later, the RSMO is the innovator, pushing the envelope of protest. They are still nonviolent, but highly confrontational. Examples of direct action include sit-ins, free speech campaigns, boycotts, mass meetings, and demonstrations.129 Both the IWW and OWS practiced direct action heavily. The IWW was a mass utilizer of direct action, beyond the famous sit-in strike. As mentioned earlier, the IWW is involved with supporting and sending colonizers, known today as salts. When American towns limited rights to free speech in an effort to quiet IWW rhetoric, they would arrive in large numbers, and hold rallies. The point of these free speech campaigns were to force the arrest so many people, and fill the jails and courts to the point where it would become impossible to stop them all.130 For OWS, the very act of occupation is in and of itself an ongoing form of direct action.131 Other projects, such as the Occupy our Homes campaign, involved sit-ins to protect people who refused to evict after the bank had already foreclosed on them. In order to reimagine debt as a moral rather than an economic
129 Kathleen J Fitzgerald, and Diane M Rodgers, "Radical Social Movement Organizations: A Theoretical Model," The Sociological Quarterly, 41, no. 4 (2000): 573-592, p. 578, 583 130 Jonathan A Christiansen, "“WE ARE ALL LEADERS”: ANARCHISM AND THE NARRATIVE OF THE INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD,"WorkingUSA, 12, no. 3 (2009): 387-401, p. 387-8 131 Ruth Milkman, Penny Lewis, and Stephanie Luce, "The Genie's out of the Bottle: Insiders’ Perspectives on Occupy Wall Street," The Sociological Quarterly, 54, no. 2 (2013): 194-198, p. 196
issue, the Occupy Student Debt campaign organized a boycott of college loan repayments in protest of the burden they impose. 132 The major difference between the direct action of the IWW and OWS are fourfold. First, the IWW took larger risks. Their movementâ€™s protests, like the free speech campaigns, involved volunteering oneself for arrest and incarceration. Occupyâ€™s strength lies in the (relatively) low risk of participation. While the threat of a police shutdown was ever-present, the Occupy protestors lived in a different time where police understood the power of their image, stalling them. This allowed for a massive turnout, and for it to grow quickly. Secondly, through the interoccupy.net website, Occupy protestors are able to evolve their tactics faster. Thirdly, Occupy also practices direct action in a more abstract way such as the student debt boycotts. Lastly, the Occupy protests emphasized the construction of new spaces as a form of direct action. The biggest example would be Zuccotti Park, but there are others such as the construction of homes in abandoned buildings.133 It is still confrontational but involved with a construction of their own exemplary society rather than simple overt protests. Communication While regular social movements are able to have their messages relayed by mainstream methods of communication, RSMOs do not get this luxury. One defining feature of these groups is either being ignored or misrepresented by the media. To
132 Marianne Manilov, "Occupy at One Year: Growing the Roots of a Movement," The Sociological Quarterly, 54, no. 2 (2013): 206-213, p. 208, 211, 212 133 Jeffrey S. Juris, "Reflections on Occupy Everywhere: Social media, public space, and emerging logics of aggregation," American Ethnologist, 39, no. 2 (2012): 259-279, p. 269
communicate their causes, they have to lean on alternative means. This comes in forms such as music, pamphlets, street theatre, and newsletters.134 Often the problem with media comes from their internal structure. The IWW noted reporters requesting to speak to someone in charge. Normally, they would just appoint an informal representative, but the flexible ideology mentioned earlier created difficulties. The communications of their own organization were at times used against them. When locally focused groups with different ideologies under the same umbrella organization produce conflicting or violent communications, representatives end up having to defend or explain an ideology that does not necessarily fit their practices. The IWW was under constant police scrutiny and oppositional violence. 135 To compensate, they used music and narratives to create a sense of identity and to communicate messages and values. 136 The media also scrutinized and misrepresented Occupy Wall Street. Often, they were publically decried for lack of organization and leadership.137 However, to express their message they used alternative means to express themselves. When the megaphone was banned by the police in the Zuccotti Park occupation, the organization strategized a new way to broadcast their message. Through relaying slogans from the inside decision making
134 Kathleen J Fitzgerald, and Diane M Rodgers, "Radical Social Movement Organizations: A Theoretical Model," The Sociological Quarterly, 41, no. 4 (2000): 573-592, p. 578 135 Kathleen J Fitzgerald, and Diane M Rodgers, "Radical Social Movement Organizations: A Theoretical Model," The Sociological Quarterly, 41, no. 4 (2000): 573-592, p. 584-6 136 Kathleen J Fitzgerald, and Diane M Rodgers, "Radical Social Movement Organizations: A Theoretical Model," The Sociological Quarterly, 41, no. 4 (2000): 573-592, p. 590 137 Daniel Norton, Mandy Henk, Betsy Fagin, Jaime Taylor, and Zachary Loeb, "OCCUPY WALL STREET LIBRARIANS SPEAK OUT," Progressive Librarian, 38/39 (2012): 3-16,120-121, http://search.proquest.com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/docview/1220415792 (accessed December 19, 2013).
area to the exterior, they could synchronize an amplified message.138 Slogans like ‘We are the 99%’ proliferated extremely effectively over social networks. Occupy Wall Street found itself in the same situation as the IWW when it came to the relaying of their message. While the IWW had protest songs and pamphlets, OWS built on those and added websites and tweets. 139 Assessment of Success Unlike mainstream social movements, RSMOs work with very limited resources. Their organization may have short lives, sometimes intentionally so. This leads many sociologists to declare them failures, but that is an interpretation of their success based on the terms of the mainstream SMO. These movements can be local manifestations of a global phenomenon. Often, mainstream social movements will appropriate the tactics that the RSMO pioneered. Despite their goals going unfulfilled, there may be broader cultural change that they unintentionally bring about. 140 The IWW was in this exact situation. Many consider their movement a failure as they failed to achieve their lofty goals by the time the organization began to dwindle after the Second World War.141 However, they did exemplify the growing Marxist phenomenon. This is why Americans targeted them during the first red scare.142 Other social movements
138 Craig Calhoun, "Occupy Wall Street in perspective," The British Journal of Sociology, 64, no. 1 (2013): 26-38, p. 30 139 Ibid, p. 32 140 Kathleen J Fitzgerald, and Diane M Rodgers, "Radical Social Movement Organizations: A Theoretical Model," The Sociological Quarterly, 41, no. 4 (2000): 573-592, p. 578 141 Jonathan A Christiansen, "“WE ARE ALL LEADERS”: ANARCHISM AND THE NARRATIVE OF THE INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD,"WorkingUSA, 12, no. 3 (2009): 387-401, p. 389 142 Dana M Williams, "Red vs. green: regional variation of anarchist ideology in the United States," Journal of Political Ideologies, 14, no. 2 (2009): 189-210, p. 192
would appropriate their tactics. The sit-down strike they pioneered in 1906 would re-emerge over the century. After their decline, the IWW took to working with other unions to aid in strikes as well as ‘colonize’ non-unionized workplaces.143 This all totals to a huge impact on the course of social movements in 20th century America. Some critics consider Occupy Wall Street a failure for its inability to solve wealth inequality, but its contributions to today’s politics are massive.144 They were a part of a global phenomenon in reaction to the 2008 financial collapse. These occupations began in 2010 in countries like Greece, Portugal, and Spain as a reaction to the Eurozone crisis. These were youth; angry about the indignities expected of them in the name of austerity. Their employment options were bleak, and they resisted the service cuts imposed on them. The joblessness and indignities spawned other occupations. Protests began in Tunisia, and famously spread across the MENA region to countries like Libya, Syria, Algeria, Bahrain, and Egypt. The parallels are obvious to make between the occupation of Tahrir Square and Zuccotti Park by their tactics and agenda.145146
Occupy brought the new wave of
protest to the United States. This social media connected organization has rallied many across the United States and the world with famous examples like Occupy Oakland. Movements like Idle No More used this internal structure to bring pockets of Canadian
143 Jonathan A Christiansen, "“WE ARE ALL LEADERS”: ANARCHISM AND THE NARRATIVE OF THE INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD,"WorkingUSA, 12, no. 3 (2009): 387-401, p. 389 144 Ruth Milkman, Penny Lewis, and Stephanie Luce, "The Genie's out of the Bottle: Insiders’ Perspectives on Occupy Wall Street," The Sociological Quarterly, 54, no. 2 (2013): 194-198, p. 196 145 Craig Calhoun, "Occupy Wall Street in perspective," The British Journal of Sociology, 64, no. 1 (2013): 26-38, p. 146 -8
native activists from across vast distances to rally behind one banner.147 Occupy Wall Street brought the new face of protest to American shores. Occupy Wall Street also changed the political discourse in America. 148 Terms like the 1% and the 99% are powerful rhetorical tools to make more Americans aware of their situation of wealth inequality. Arguably, this rhetoric became a significant issue for the failed presidential election of Mitt Romney.149 The strongest legacy of Zuccotti Park is the first steps towards class consciousness in 21st century America. After the initial events of OWS, they moved on to become an activist network for interrelated causes. Around the world, from Oakland debt strikes, to supporting the 2012 Walmart strikes, to giving humanitarian aid for those displaced by Hurricane Sandy, Occupy’s network persists and continues to test new forms of activism. 150 Conclusions By establishing OWS as a modern iteration of the RSMO in the same lineage as the IWW, there are several intriguing factors that display the evolution of protest in the 20th century. The tradition of innovation in tactics has grown to embrace the new world of social media, as well as inclusion. Their internal structure allows for a greater variety of ideas by communicating via social media, bringing a worldwide movement into the same fold. While the IWW focused primarily on labour and one ideology, Occupy embraced activists and
147 Laura Briggs, "Notes from Antigua Naval Base," American Quarterly, 65, no. 2 (2013): 303-308, p. 306 148 Ruth Milkman, Penny Lewis, and Stephanie Luce, "The Genie's out of the Bottle: Insiders’ Perspectives on Occupy Wall Street," The Sociological Quarterly, 54, no. 2 (2013): 194-198, p. 197 149 Todd Gitlin, "Occupy’s predicament: the moment and the prospects for the movement," The British Journal of Sociology, 64, no. 1 (2013): 3-25, p. 8 150 Marianne Manilov, "Occupy at One Year: Growing the Roots of a Movement," The Sociological Quarterly, 54, no. 2 (2013): 206-213, p. 207, 208, 211
non-profits as well as unions and had different degrees of ideology beyond the IWW’s Anarchist and Socialist binary. They have built upon the IWW’s legacy of direct action into a living activist ecosystem where successful innovations are instantly distributed. OWS built upon the methods of communicating their messages with the use of sites like Twitter and occupations of public space. Also like the IWW, OWS suffered from misrepresentation in mass media, and is considered a failure by many for its short life in Zuccotti square. However, Occupy, like the IWW, continues to exist and cooperate with other organizations to rally behind countless causes. Even in their short time in New York, they deeply impacted America’s political culture. In 2005, the IWW celebrated its 100th anniversary. A century of protest, whether it be sit down strikes, seeding new unions in different workplaces, or bringing unions together in solidarity. Occupy Wall Street has barely existed for two years. In that time, it has impacted discourse, and turned itself into a gigantic activist network. It set a new standard in America for activism. With all this in such a short time, one can only imagine where it will be by 2111.
Works Cited Balser, Deborah B. "The Impact of Environmental Factors on Factionalism and Schism in Social Movement Organizations." Social Forces. no. 1 (1997): 199-228. Briggs, Laura. "Notes from Antigua Naval Base." American Quarterly. no. 2 (2013): 303308. Calhoun, Craig. "Occupy Wall Street in perspective." The British Journal of Sociology. no. 1 (2013): 26-38. Christiansen, Jonathan A. "“WE ARE ALL LEADERS”: ANARCHISM AND THE NARRATIVE OF THE INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD."WorkingUSA. no. 3 (2009): 387-401. Fitz, Don. "Remembering another occupy."Synthesis/Regeneration. no. 58 (2012): 13. Fitzgerald, Kathleen J, and Diane M Rodgers. "Radical Social Movement Organizations: A Theoretical Model." The Sociological Quarterly. no. 4 (2000): 573-592. Todd Gitlin, "Occupy’s predicament: the moment and the prospects for the movement," The British Journal of Sociology, 64, no. 1 (2013): 3-25, Haug, Christoph. "Organizing Spaces: Meeting Arenas as a Social Movement Infrastructure between Organization, Network, and Institution."Organization Studies. no. 5-6 (2013): 705732. Juris, Jeffrey S. "Reflections on Occupy Everywhere: Social media, public space, and emerging logics of aggregation." American Ethnologist. no. 2 (2012): 259-279. Lewis, Penny, and Stephanie Luce. "Labor and Occupy Wall Street: An Appraisal of the First Six Months." New Labor Forum. no. 2 (2012): 43-49. Manilov, Marianne. "Occupy at One Year: Growing the Roots of a Movement." The Sociological Quarterly. no. 2 (2013): 206-213. Milkman, Ruth, Penny Lewis, and Stephanie Luce. "The Genie's out of the Bottle: Insiders’ Perspectives on Occupy Wall Street." The Sociological Quarterly. no. 2 (2013): 194-198. Norton, Daniel, Mandy Henk, Betsy Fagin, Jaime Taylor, and Zachary Loeb. "OCCUPY WALL STREET LIBRARIANS SPEAK OUT." Progressive Librarian. (2012): 3-16,120121. http://search.proquest.com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/docview/1220415792 (accessed December 19, 2013). Shepard, Benjamin. "Labor and Occupy Wall Street: Common Causes and Uneasy Alliances." WorkingUSA. no. 1 (2012): 121-134. Smilios, Arthur. "Dispatch from the Front Lines of Occupy Wall Street." Industrial Worker, October 1, 2011. http://www.iww.org/PDF/IndustrialWorker/IWNovember2011.pdf (accessed December 19, 2013). Williams, Dana M. "Red vs. green: regional variation of anarchist ideology in the United States." Journal of Political Ideologies. no. 2 (2009): 189-210.
“Armed Self-Reliance”: The Struggle for Desegregation in Monroe, North Carolina Michael Thorburn Michael Thorburn is currently pursuing his JD at Osgoode Hall Law School. His research interests include African-American alternatives to passive resistance in the 20th century and legal theory. This paper was written for a Power & Resistance seminar at Simon Fraser University, taught by Dr. Brenda Lyshuag. Introduction The 1950s were an especially turbulent period for race relations in the American South. A virtually impregnable caste system—facilitated by the Jim Crow laws— continued to rage onwards, partially as a result of the federal government’s reluctance to interfere with ‘states rights’ (i.e. sidestepping civil rights altogether by framing the ‘Separate but Equal’ laws as an issue of federalism). Many African-Americans who had served their country to defeat fascism in WWII were growing increasingly weary of their inferior standing and lack of progress within Southern society—having evolved from being regarded as sub-human to three-fifths of people to second-class citizens in the span of 200 years.1 From this long weariness, two philosophically distinct camps embroiled African-American activist circles: Groups who advocated non-violent civil disobedience, and those who were publically willing to use force to gain practical recognition of what they demanded as federally protected constitutional rights. As many African-American WWII veterans returned home increasingly willing to engage in political agitation amid escalating vitriolic discrimination from southern whites, the ideological divide between 1 The
“three-fifths” compromise was enacted during the 1787 constitutional convention in the United States. The agreement entailed that black slaves would be counted as three-fifths of people in census data, which amounted to Southern states possessing a third more seats in Congress than they would have had African-American slaves not been counted. In effect, it was an act of expedience that rejected the full personhood of slaves yet utilized them to increase the political power of slave carrying states.
2 passive resistance and militancy was only further entrenched. This paper seeks to discuss the development of combative resistance against southern white oppression during the 1950s and early 1960s. To do so, I will briefly discuss the Jim Crow context of the south of and then focus specifically on mid-20th century African-American resistance efforts in Monroe, North Carolina. Particular emphasis will be placed on the experience of Robert F. Williams, a community leader within Monroe, and his interactions with white townspeople and the southern power structures underlying their oppressive actions. This paper will argue that while ‘armed self-reliance’ led by Williams was morally acceptable, perhaps even warranted, it had the effect of isolating key blocks whose support was necessary for the movement to be successful. Southern white power structures ultimately recognized this weakness and were able to adapt their methods of repression to prevent any large scale, tangible civil rights progress for African-Americans in Monroe. The interactions within the town will be examined using the analytical tools provided by three theorists of power relations: Eugene Genovese’s dialectic of accommodation and resistance,2 John Gaventa’s dimensions of power3, and James Scott’s idea of the public and hidden transcript.4 Jim Crow Context Before discussing the specific case of Monroe, North Carolina, it is important to understand the foundations of “Jim Crow” in the American South. The laws, which were upheld by the United States Supreme Court in the landmark Plessy V. Ferguson (1896) case, justified de jure public segregation on the basis of race. The courts allowed the decision based on the idea of “separate but equal”—i.e. public facilities could be racially 2 Eugene
Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll (New York: Random House). Gaventa, Power and Powerlessness (Chicago: University of Illinois Press). 4 James Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press). 3 John
3 segregated so long as they were of the same quality for both whites and AfricanAmericans. In practice, the “separate but equal” not only left African-Americans with inferior public facilities (in cases where they were fortunate enough to have amenities to begin with) but, more insidiously, the policy entrenched ideas of white supremacy into all realms of public interaction. In fact, Jim Crow established a system of colour-coded “solutions”, enforced by a white monopoly on violence, ranging from “where one might urinate,” as Glenda Gilmore expressed it, “to where one’s ambition might soar.”5 One result of segregation was the establishment of racial “etiquette” and poisonous stereotypes, often perversely contradictory. An example of such contradictory stereotyping is in white of the period regarding African-Americans as inherently lazy, yet after a day of strenuous labour, white Southerners would exclaim they had “worked like niggers.”6 Jim Crow largely rested on its capacity for self-justification: white southerners assumed African-American acceptance of the status quo of social inferiority as a result of their fear of challenging the public norms. The institutional entrenchment of AfricanAmerican inferiority in all spheres of racial interaction was spread almost universally across the American south from the post-reconstruction landmark Plessy V. Ferguson decision until at least the mid-1950s.7 Race Relations in Monroe, North Carolina North Carolinian society was, like all former states of the Confederacy, no exception to the spread of the “separate but equal” policy. Largely predicated on institutional oppression and systemic violence, the system fostered the conditions
Gilmore, Defying Dixie (New York: W.W. Norton & Company), 15. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press), 21. 7 Even though many attribute the Brown v. Board (1954) case as the ‘end’ of segregation, many states (North Carolina included) resisted implementing such changes for an entire decade. 6 Timothy
4 possible for at least sixty state lynch mob murders from 1900-1943.8 For a brief period following the Second World War, the town of Monroe, situated within Union County, fortunately escaped the worst of the statewide violence. In this period Union County had a population of about 12,000, a third of which was African-American.9 Monroe was only 14 miles from the South Carolinian border and thus shared a spirit more similar with that of the Deep South than the liberal atmosphere that some ascribe to few southern cities like Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Nonetheless, Union County was the southeastern regional headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan and featured a small NAACP chapter.10 While Monroe was relatively peaceful for nearly a decade following WWII, the Supreme Court Brown V. Board of Education (1954) decision turned Union Countyâ€™s NAACP chapter into a primary target of segregationists. NAACP membership dwindled as a result of the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens Council threatening violence and economic sanctions to members. Most African-Americans in Union County depended on local whites, one way or another, so many people did not want to risk their livelihood for the sake of activism. Monroe Post-World War II: Veterans Return to America During this period of coercive threats, Robert F. Williams, a decorated marine from WWII, returned to his hometown of Monroe. When Williams joined the local NAACP, the chapterâ€™s membership had dwindled to only six people.11 The upper crust of the African-American community (i.e. professionals, businessmen and white-collar workers) did not want to be involved, at least outwardly, with the political push for equal
Litwack, Trouble in Mind (New York: Vintage Books), 22. Williams, Negroes with Guns (New York: Marzani & Munsell), 50. 10 NAACP stands for the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People 11 Robert Williams, Negroes with Guns, 51. 9 Robert
5 rights or desegregation. Working without the social leaders of the community, Williams was voted chapter president. The chapter did boast the membership of one professional: Dr. Perry (who was elected as vice-president). They subsequently recruited membership among veterans, labourers, farmers, domestic workers, and the unemployed.12 The recruitment of veterans is crucial to understanding why African-Americans in Monroe chose to temporarily push back against the oppressive segregationist ideology. Williams succinctly understood that veterans joining the chapter were more inclined to challenge the status quo because they were â€œvery militant and didnâ€™t scare easy.â€?13 This assertion accounts for only a portion of the significance; the broader post-WWII context must be also considered. African-Americans who were born in the South and involved in the war were subject to two highly incompatible worldviews: the first, being the ideology of segregation and the second being the ideology prescribing a universal notion of human freedom. Fighting as members of the Allies and garnering respect throughout Europe made African-American veterans choose the latter worldview. Instead of pushing for desegregation through apolitical, accomodationist means, like those African-American elite who did not fight in the war, returning veterans were able to challenge the oppressive ideology in a more assertive manner on the basis of its direct contradiction to the ideas expressed during their wartime experience. Doing so directly challenged norms that had been publicly developed and adhered to since the onset of Jim Crow: African-American veterans challenged the idea that only accommodationist methods were viable to protest desegregation. The Second World War, in effect, emancipated African-American veterans from purely apolitical struggle and
6 enlightened them to a new worldview. U.S. civil rights leader and former NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins wrote that it was Hitler who jammed “white people into their logically untenable position.”14 The United States government was forced to profess human worth and dignity for all of mankind as a rallying point against the Axis for the sake of the nation’s survival. That notion, in conjunction with the Cold War context that followed, provided African-American veterans with an opportunity to challenge the segregationist ideology on the basis of ideas—even if only in the private sphere amongst each other. Williams stated that before he left for the war, whites appeared so powerful and so well organized that he felt they might actually be superior. But after successfully defeating white supremacy across the Atlantic, he returned home with a self-confident and assertive attitude similar to many of that his other black compatriots—unable and unwilling to accommodate to the traditional Southern racial etiquette.15 As head of the NAACP Walter White said, it was World War II that created the “rising wind” of racial possibility.16 Armed-Self Reliance in Action: Analyzing Power Dynamics While many African-American veterans were able to see the hypocrisy of the United States government’s avowed foreign policy ideals and the reality of its domestic dealings, the true difficulty lay in moving from righteous indignation to tangible political and societal change. This was especially true in Williams’ efforts in Monroe. Alongside a group of former veterans, the Monroe NAACP moved from desegregating the town library to ambitiously seeking to win economic rights, educational rights and the right of
Timothy Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, 29. Timothy Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, 27. 16 Ibid, 50. 14
7 equal protection under the law at the national level.17 As a result of Williams’ candid interviews wherein he advanced his willingness to take up arms against racial oppression, the national media came to present the Monroe NAACP as the most militant chapter in the United States. The local KKK and white citizenry predictably responded to this by increasing threats of violence and intimidation. While WWII exposed the contradictory nature of the segregationist ideology, Southern governments responded by blocking African-American attempts to convert ideas into the realm of policy (thus preventing practical change). In Monroe, this utilization of the 2nd dimension of power led to further oppression and exclusion of African-Americans from their constitution rights throughout the latter half of the 1950s. In 1956, the Monroe NAACP branch began efforts to gain African-American access to the local town swimming pool. Multiple drowning of unsupervised AfricanAmerican children in local waterholes sparked the group’s efforts to advocate for a safe facility. After being denied construction of a new pool in the African-American community, the local NAACP extended a compromise to city officials: asking the mayor to give African-American children access to the town pool two days a week. Williams argued the pool was built with New Deal federal funds and supported with municipal taxes; therefore it ought to be open to all residents of Monroe. Utilizing the 2nd dimensional tool of institutional inaction, the city officials’ first gave the impression they would build a pool but gave no finite date other than ‘within the next 15 years’. After the NAACP chapter rejected the timeline the officials the original compromise, stating desegregation of the local pool would be too expensive because the town would have to
Williams, Negroes with Guns, 52.
8 drain and refill the water every time a “colored person” used the facility.18 A local white Catholic priest attempted to ameliorate the issue by driving African-American youth 25 miles to a “Negro pool” in Charlotte once a week. Soon after Monroe city officials were made aware of the priest’s actions—including word that he had swam alongside the African-American youth—they had him banned from the Charlotte pool for violating the rules of segregation. After exhausting efforts to comprise, the local NAACP decided to take legal action against the Monroe pool and city officials. Initially the local NAACP started a campaign of pool stand-ins while preparing for the case. Soon after, the town’s newspaper, the Monroe Enquirer, began to report on increased Ku Klux Klan activity in response to the stand-ins. Klan rallies were reported to increase from 3,000 to an estimated 7,500 in attendance during the stand-in period.19 The Klan regarded the NAACP as “communist inspired” and began their own campaign for the purpose of removing African-American members from the community. The Klan’s attempt to label Williams and others within the organization as communists can arguably be viewed as an attempted perception altering 3rd dimensional counter-punch to the post-WWII realization among African-American veterans who sought to resist white supremacy in the United States. If the Klan could discredit ex-military members of the local NAACP by labeling them as communist sympathizers, they would essentially be reframing the ideological debate once more. Tapping into the perceptions promoted by the Cold War would have allowed anyone accused of being receptive to communism to be looked upon as an enemy of the state. Thus, labelling African-Americans as Soviet
18 Robert 19
Williams, Negroes with Guns, 52. Ibid, 53.
9 sympathizers would, at least temporarily, justify the societal power structures (i.e. city officials, courts, police officers) to stand against racial integration. After one week of protest the Ku Klux Klan boasted 7,500 supporters (many of whom drove from South Carolina) and a petition with over 3,000 signatures asking for Robert Williams and chapter Vice President Dr. David Perry to leave Union County.20 Both men ignored the petition, and the Klan responded by taking direct action to intimidate African-Americans involved in the pool sit-ins. Such actions included KKK members shooting their pistols in the air while traveling in motorcades through AfricanAmerican communities, calling in bomb threats against chapter leaders’ families,21 and, on occasion, forcing lone “colored women” to dance at gunpoint.22 Pacifist leaders in the community appealed to city officials to prohibit the Klan from forming motorcades for such a purpose but the city rejected the request on the basis that the KKK had a ‘constitutional right’ to organize. Since the city officials would not ensure the safety of African-Americans, the local NAACP appealed to federal and state officials, the governor and even to the office of President Eisenhower. In each case, the attempts to enforce equal protection under the law—the 14th amendment of the United States constitution— were either ignored or denied. In fact, Luther Hodges, the Governor of North Carolina at the time, was supportive of the Ku Klux Klan, stating that their behaviour was neither illegal nor disorderly.23 This selective application of the law in Monroe is another example of those
Williams, Negroes with Guns, 54. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, 88. 22 Robert Williams, Negroes with Guns, 54. 23 Robert Williams, Negroes with Guns, 57. 21 Timothy
10 in opposition to the NAACP using 2nd dimensional power. All levels of government stonewalled the supposed ‘inalienable rights’ of African-American activists in Monroe. Williams and the local chapter had acute awareness of this reality. As the pool stand-ins developed into a picket the white community grew increasingly hostile and threatening in their demands for a return to the status quo. The local NAACP chose to arm themselves as a precaution. Soon after they did this the repression in the town increased to its highest point. Two examples of violence give deep insights into the reactionary power structures in Monroe in the mid-1950s. First, Williams’ vehicle was repeatedly rear ended while he was driving on the highway. The driver behind Williams rammed his vehicle into a ditch as three highway patrolmen on the opposite side of the road laughed and turned their backs to the highway.24 Williams recognized his assailant as Bynum Griffin, as the Pontiac-Chevrolet dealer in Monroe. Williams took his car to the police chief and asked him to send out a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Griffin. To this request, the police chief repeatedly laughed and stated, “I don’t see anything. I don’t see anything at all.”25 It was not until the police chief saw a newspaperman standing outside of the station that he invited Williams into his office. The conduct of the police chief, as well as the change of his behaviour at the sight of the press, is worth analyzing. This situation provides insights into the prioritization certain of dimensions of power over others; perhaps the police officer chose to momentarily sacrifice his exercise of 2nd dimensional power in order to avoid the risk of the segregationist system losing favourability in the eyes of the broader public to mass media reporting (i.e. a concern with the functioning of 3rd dimensional power). The event
Ibid, 44. Ibid.
is also an example of the performance that the police chief was bound to carry out by virtue of his role in society—he could not give the outward appearance of completely ignoring Williams’ request. Still, upon inviting Williams inside (and ensuring privacy), the officer quickly reasserted his own control by refusing to issue a warrant for Mr. Griffin. The second violence incident took place two weeks later, wherein about 3000 individuals lined along the highway in protest of the African-American swimming pool picket. Williams and some students from the chapter were driving along the highway and were stopped by the large group of white southerners. The protestors began throwing rocks on top of Williams’ car and chanting, “Kill the niggers! Pour gasoline on the niggers! We aren’t having any integration here! We’re not going to swim with niggers!”26 Armed with two pistols and a rifle (which was legal in North Carolina) Williams and two students in the vehicle readied their weapons as a warning to the mob. The police were stationary the entire time until they saw that Williams and other African-Americans were armed. At that point, they approached the car demanding the NAACP members surrender their weapons. A member of the mob shot a pistol in the air causing a panic to spread throughout the crowd. As the police grew closer to Williams, he struck one in the face stating that he did not intend to be lynched so he would not surrender his weapon. Another police officer attempted to stand behind the car to shoot Williams in the back but was shocked to see a .45 being pointed at him by a 17-year old African-American student who was in the backseat of the car. Ultimately a city councillor forced the police to let Williams drive away, as the group was leaving they witnessed an a very old white man in the crowd was screaming and crying, “God damn, God damn, what is this God damn 26 Robert
Williams, Negroes with Guns, 46.
country coming to that the niggers have got guns, the niggers are armed and the police can’t even arrest them!”27 This event is an example of the private transcript of African-American veterans exploding into the public sphere in southern society. Robert Williams noted that his experiences in the marines revealed the importance of armed defense. Other veterans in the local NAACP reinforced this message and spread it to the African-American student members. Thus, for the local NAACP, armed defense because a common, arguably internalized feature of their private transcript. Of course, this belief in what Williams called the “American tradition” was not shared by all members of the African-American community: those who wished to avoid conflict would have been in directly opposed to the local NAACP’s actions. In arming themselves, the group did not perform the actions that were publically expected of African-American males in the South. The old white man’s shock to see African-Americans carrying guns was based in a reaction to witnessing the private transcript directly challenge the public transcript: Williams and the students’ actions ran counter to the acts of racial etiquette that had become normalized in southern society—especially throughout the life of the old white male. The very notion of an armed African-American is a fundamental threat to the segregationist system that was predicated on white supremacy and monopoly on violence. It is also important to note that Williams’s decision to arm willing African-Americans in self-defence ostracized the few white liberals who were sympathetic with the efforts at integration. Perhaps this reveals that African-American armed self-defence was too bold a challenge to the public transcript that ruled Monroe.
Williams, Negroes with Guns, 46.
In order to regain control of and reassert the public transcript, the leaders of Monroe, using state and federal institutions, resorted to character attacks on Robert Williams and Dr. Perry to discredit the local NAACP. The Ku Klux Klan continued to threaten Dr. Perry, and ultimately tried him for allegedly performing an abortion.28 Dr. Perry was deeply religious and vociferously denied all charges yet was convicted. In the early 1960s Robert Williams was constructed to be a threat not only to white society in Monroe, but also to the entire nation. The FBI labeled him a murderer, a schizophrenic and a domestic terrorist. Ultimately he was forced to flee to Canada and then fly to Cuba.29 Governments at the municipal, state and federal levels each played a part in defaming Robert Williams. It is essential to question that if such actions were grounded in a genuinely application of the law, or if they were due to the ideological threat that the potential of mass African-American armed resistance posed for the existing power structures of the day. Conclusion Efforts to integrate the Monroe pool hall did not prove to be successful until after Robert Williams was politically exiled in Cuba. Still, the struggles of the Union County NAACP give useful insights into the nature of southern power relations in the 1950s. World War II played a significant role in reshaping the perceptions and worldview of African-American soldiers, but the ideas they learned stood diametrically opposed to Southern norms and the transcript of segregation. This caused African-Americans who aimed to integrate, with the threat of armed self-defence, to be ostracized from AfricanAmerican elites as well as white liberals (i.e. the two groups that may have provided the
28 Timothy 29
Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, 87. Ibid, 220.
movement financial support or fair recognition in the media). Williams’ NAACP chapter had a legal right to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights, but the power structures and the public were not yet ready to accept social change at the barrel of an African-American’s gun—doing so would run counter to deeply entrenched Southern norms. Though the efforts of the NAACP chapter ultimately fell short, their experiences give valuable insight into the diffuse and adaptable nature of Southern power structures.
Works Cited Gaventa, John. Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1980. Genovese, Eugene. Roll, Jordan, Roll. New York: Random House, 1976. Gilmore, Glenda Elizabeth. Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights 1919-1950. New York: W. W. Norton & Company , 2008. Litwack, Leon F. Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow. New York: Random House, Inc. , 1999. Redding, Kent. Making Race, Making Power: North Carolina's Road to Disfranchisement . Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003. Scott, James C. Domination and the Arts of Resistence: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. Tyson, Timothy B. Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams & the Roots of Black Power. Chapel Hill: The Univeristy of North Carolina Press, 1999. Van Thompson, Carlyle. Black Outlaws: Race, Law and Male Subjectivity in African American Literature and Culture. New York : peter Lang , 2010. Williams, Robert. Negroes With Guns. New York: Marzani & Munsell, Inc. , 1962.
This is the second volume of peer-reviewed graduate student essays sponsored by the Centre for American Studies at Western University. 201...
Published on Nov 22, 2015
This is the second volume of peer-reviewed graduate student essays sponsored by the Centre for American Studies at Western University. 201...