PIEDMONT LEFT REVIEW The Triad's Socialist Magazine
Dec 2017 • Issue 1 • Volume 1
CONTRIBUTORS:Â Editors: Garrison Clark Tom Neas Writers: Matthew C. BrownÂ Taylor Briggs Garrison Clark Eric Ginsburg Alex Macmillan Joel Sronce
Piedmont Left Review is a monthly online magazine dedicated to bringing socialist and leftist perspectives to the politics, culture, and art of the Triad, NC, and beyond. All contributors, editors, and designers donated their labor to make this project possible. If you are interested in submitting a piece, helping out with design, or have ideas please shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Essays North Carolina and the Price of Neoliberalism by Garrison Clark Bits & Pieces A New Vision for the White Oak Mill by Eric Ginsburg Two Tennessee Towns Turn Back the Far Right by Alex Macmillan Interviews Joel Sronce/Kickball for Kaepernick by Garrison Clark Culture The Quarter Roys by Taylor Briggs In Space No One Can Hear You Scream by Matthew C. Brown An International Sports Resistance: #TakeAKnee Reaches Berlin by Joel Sronce
18 25 27
NORTH CAROLINA AND THE PRICE OF NEOLIBERALISM By Garrison Clark This is the first installment in a multi-part series that will cover the ways in which neoliberalism has affected NC. North Carolina in many ways is a posterchild for neoliberalism in America. A state that once was sustained by thriving textile and furniture industries forced to face the new economic order of post-NAFTA and the end of history. Only Michigan lost more jobs in the neoliberal turn than North Carolina to trade and automation. Yet the workers of the state, turned out from the mills and shop floors, would find greener pastures in the booming tech industry of the Triangle, buoyed by the retraining and education opportunities found in our world class colleges and universities. Or so the story goes. Peel back the layers and underneath you’ll find a much different reality than what was sold. Hunger and poverty have increased at alarming rates, while more North Carolinians find themselves evicted or incarcerated than they did at the end of the Clinton era. Much of the misery inflicted on the working class in state has been attributed to the rise of an ultra-
ultra-reactionary NC GOP, who took power in both houses of the state legislature in 2010 and were led by the disastrous governorship of Pat McCrory, father of the “bathroom bill.” While the NC Republican Party has led a particularly egregious and deadly class war on the working peoples of the state, the neoliberal turn occurred mostly under the watchful eyes of Democratic Party governors and legislatures.
Neoliberalism in its most basic form is a return to the laissez-faire economic policies that characterized liberalism in its early stage. Standing in contrast to the Keynesian model of state intervention in capitalist economies, neoliberalism preached privatization and deregulation of industry to spur growth. This economic school of thought took hold after the stagnant growth and high inflation of the early 1970s, which the Keynesian economist were unable to account for, and culminated in the neoliberal administrations of Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK. While Keynesian ideas had found a home in the Democratic Party for a large portion of the 20th century, the loss in three consecutive presidential elections in the 1980s pushed the party to embrace the free market as the solution to the nation’s economic and social ills. This gambit seemed to pay off with the 1992 election of Democrat Bill Clinton, who pursued a policy of market liberalization in both the United States and abroad, through the shrinking of the welfare system in 1997 with TANF and the opening up of trade policies through NAFTA in 1994 and successive free trade deals. With an ascendant US economy throughout most of the 1990s fueled by a booming tech industry and a lack of alternative economic systems with the collapse of the USSR in 1991, it appeared that the embrace of free market had won out as the sole economic path. The consequences of this turn in economic thought did not show themselves immediately and proved to have a much different result for the working class of both the US and North Carolina.
The story of the decline of North Carolina’s textile industry, the core of the manufacturing base of the state, is very much the story of US trade policy. The industry began to see layoffs and consolidation in the 1980s, but with the signing of NAFTA in 1994 and other free trade deals the once thriving textile sector went into freefall. With China entering the World Trade Organization in 2002, there was little to be done to save the textile factory as a source of lifelong employment for the state’s working class. It is hard to overstate the painful degree to which the industry contracted- between 1997 and 2002 alone, North Carolina lost 100,000 textile jobs and a further 70,000 in the apparel industry. Median income fell by nearly 9% in the same period, as laid off workers struggled to find jobs to replace the ones they thought they would be working for life. Retraining, the miracle tool held up during the free trade debates by neoliberal politician and economists, could only manage to place workers into lower paying and more precarious sectors- it could not recreate the employment opportunities that the manufacturing industry provided. In 1999, even as this process of deindustrialization was taking its toll, North Carolina had a lower unemployment rate and less families in poverty than the national average. Only 6 years later, nearly 12% of NC families were impoverished and 1 in 14 workers unemployed. Over the same period the state GDP increased 15% to 447 billion dollars in 2005. The policy decisions that brought North Carolina to this point had less to do with Raleigh and more to do with Washington and New York. Political
leaders at the state level spoke out against trade policy that would very clearly lead to a decline in NC jobs and our elected representatives in Congress voted against free trade deals in large numbers. Stopping here would give you the standard line in the debate about trade policy- that politicians at the federal level sold out the American worker with bad deals and if we didn’t sign onto NAFTA, if we didn’t allow China into the WTO, all the manufacturing jobs would have remained. This analysis does not paint the full picture. The free trade deals that decimated the textile and overall manufacturing industry of North Carolina were not deals that failed or bets that were poorly placed- they worked exactly how they were designed to. Cone Mills and other textile manufacturers, like thousands of other US firms, simply moved their operations to countries where they could pay their workers less and where workers were provided less protection for hours and condition. This so called “race to the bottom” is a primary feature of capitalism, one in which firms maximize the productivity of workers while keeping their wages as low as possible. This is an inherent mechanism of market based competition and one that exerts a strong force in prying open labor markets for exploitation. While it is certainly possible that trade policy could have been kept more protective for a few years more, it seems unlikely that the levers of power would have been unable to resist the power that capital can bring to bear. It is also clear that while little could be done to stop or blunt the initial blow
to North Carolina’s economy done by NAFTA and similar deals, the misery that followed could have been dampened by state level intervention. Yet those who suffered found themselves completely ignored by policymakers in Raleigh or found their suffering to be a new market for capitalization by the very same forces that had eliminated their jobs in the first place. In the immediate aftermath, workers who were previously in the manufacturing sector had to take jobs that paid less than their previous ones and this new group of workers increased the labor pool for sectors like the retail industry or service sectors jobs, giving firms in these sectors more power over their existing workforces. Firms had more power to keep wages low, to ignore worker protection laws, and to extract as much surplus value as they possibly could. This shift also affected and continues to affect all of the workers entering the workforce after- the manufacturing jobs that could have possibly offered a livable wage are no longer there and were not replaced by jobs offering comparable incomes. Food Insecurity When the USDA first began regularly reporting on food insecurity in the US in 1995, North Carolina was tied for 25th in the nation with 10.9% of its residents struggling to put food on their tables. The state was faring better than many of its southern neighbors which consistently ranked low in poverty metrics and was also below the national average of 11.9%. Manufacturing jobs were beginning to tick down but the bottom had yet to fall out for the industry. As the large scale layoffs began starting in 1999,
food insecurity began to rise for the state up to 11.4%, good for 20th in the country. After the recession of 2001 and the collapse of textile jobs in North Carolina, food insecurity stood at 13.8% for the period of 2002 to 2004, 8th worst in the country. This represented a massive and rapid shift in the quality of life for the working class of the state and one that had occurred in decade in which food insecurity had decreased nation-wide. While the numbers fluctuated to varying degrees over the intervening years, North Carolina has never recovered from this swift fall. The very deindustrialization and economic restructuring that had pushed the working class families of the state in such a precarious position in the first place continued their cold calculating logic on the United States as a whole and exacted a heavy price. As of 2016, 15.1% of NC families now struggle to secure enough food to eat, which translates to 630,000 households who are grappling everyday with how to secure the most basic necessity of life. The vast majority of these households have children and nearly half regularly skip meals just to survive. The price paid by children facing food insecurity is enormous- higher cognitive problems, poorer general health, higher rates of anxiety, and higher rates of asthma.
to a 2017 report by Apartment List the national eviction rate stands at 3%, while North Carolina court records show that the state average is 6.8%. Median income is the best predictor for eviction so it is little surprise that the decline in income in the years between 1997 and 2002 coupled with the stagnant growth in the decade after has led to NC to such a high rate of eviction. North Carolina has seen its rent, mortgage, and utilities costs increase over the same period, in line with national trends, which only further exacerbates working class families’ ability to pay for housing costs and avoid eviction or foreclosure. Between 1997 and 2002, per capita housing and utilities cost in the state increase by nearly 25% while median incomes declined by 9%. From 1997 until 2016, per capita housing and costs increased by 98% while median incomes only increased by 0.5%. Evictions create feedback loops of impoverishment: they threaten families’ abilities to secure housing in the future, create risk of job loss and make future employment more difficult, and put an immediate strain on families’ overall financial situations. They leave lasting impacts- single mothers who are evicted are two times more likely to report struggling with depression years after. And the children of those mothers are twice as likely to suffer from poor health.
Eviction Debt In step with the rest of the US, North Carolina has seen its eviction rates increase as families struggle to pay ever higher rents and gentrification entices landlords to push out low income residents. But the degree to which it has risen is stark. According
Nationwide, household debt began increasing at a large rate around 1980 due to both deregulation and the need for a method to sustain and grow consumer spending in the face of stagnating incomes. Debt payments
as percentage of disposable income reached a high of 13% before declining after the Great Recession. North Carolina, like the rest of the country, increasingly found itself relying on credit to supplement the stagnation of wages and income growth in the face of rising prices of goods and services. In 1999, NC residents carried a per capita debt of $20,760. By 2005, this had increased by 70% to $35,360. While seemingly a massive growth, this trend was in line with what was happening nationally. However, this increase coupled with the decline in NC incomes over the period created a squeeze on disposable incomes as debt payments grew, evident in the rise of credit card debt in the state. Per capita credit card debt grew 28% between 1999 and 2002. Auto loan and mortgage debt per capita also increased over the same period and followed national trends during the decade after. Student loans per capita, relatively low for NC in 1999, increased 981% by 2016. Debt, while relatively common as a feature of modern life under capitalism, can make a households economic situation more precarious and more fragile in the face of financial shocks. Large service payments towards debt cut off portions of income that could be used to respond to medical crises, job loss, and other life events that require an immediate use of cash. Increased student loan debt combined with stagnant income growth and poor job prospects results in a tightening budgets to the degree that many individuals cannot save for retirement and cannot purchase a home. Debt
service payments as a percentage of income are now at the same point they were at the end of the Great Recession- a massive risk that could have devastating impacts for NC families when the next recession hits. And for many lower income members of the working class, especially POC, access to credit can be limited in the first place which results in an even more precarious household financial situation, where moderate financial shocks can lead to food insecurity, job loss, and homelessness. Health In addition to the steady income provided by the manufacturing jobs of the textile industry, so too did these jobs provide access to health insurance benefits for NC families. As these jobs left and workers found themselves pushed in to other sectors, the working class of the state had an increasingly more difficult time securing affordable healthcare. From a low of 14% uninsured rate for the period between 2000 and 2001, North Carolina saw its uninsured rate climb to a 17% average between 2002 and 2003. The state had gone from having a better rate of coverage than the national average to one of the worst. By 2012, before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the rate had reached 17.8%. Parallel to this increase in the uninsured rate, per capita healthcare expenditures in the state increased by 68% between 2000 and 2012. Loss of access to healthcare can have immediate life or death consequences for those who need extensive health services or individuals who face
catastrophic health events. But a sustained and growing lack of healthcare access also results in long term consequences where serious conditions that could have been addressed by that access go unchecked and worsen.Â While North Carolina had seen its infant mortality rate decrease steadily since 1980, this trend reversed in around 2012 and the rate began increasing to 7.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016, with a rate of 13.4 for black infants in NC. Overall mortality rates, which had decreased over the same period began increasing again after 2012 reflecting a growing national trend- the opioid crisis. Part 2 will appear in the January issue. Garrison Clark is an organizer in Greensboro and a member of DSA
BITS & PIECESÂ
A NEW VISION FOR THE WHITE OAK MILL By Eric Ginsburg
At this point, we should know better. Despite North Carolina’s longstanding attempts to woo businesses here, those jobs we so covet always seem to disappear. It’s long been state policy to align closely with industry, to bend over backwards to kiss the shoes of capitalists who “create jobs.” We somehow believe will actually let us kick the football. Our predecessors could possibly be excused for being enamored with the idea that manufacturing could save us. If we keep our wages low and our workforces docile, they thought, we could draw heavy industry away from the North where costs are high. And they were right, at least in the short term. But inevitably the snake-oil salesmen picked up again, moving yet farther south, on their perpetual race to the bottom. It’s harder to forgive today’s false prophets, the ones who extol the same tired language of bringing back “good jobs.” It’s like we, collectively, have a rotten ex who’s moved on but who, we convince ourselves, would be totally different this time around. It will be better this time, we deceive ourselves, citing no evidence and reciting the word “jobs” like a mantra. By the end of the year, Greensboro’s White Oak textile plant will close. The machines will fall silent, no longer
rocking the wooden floors as they crank out denim. The facility’s operator, Cone Denim, will no doubt move production to one of its existing factories in Mexico or China, following the same pattern of the Piedmont’s industry titans over the last several decades. Some of us were foolish enough to think something might’ve changed, that a market for American-made products could prop up the selvedge denim mill. Not so. Labor didn’t save us, either. Plenty of people who long ago saw the owning class and the larger economic system for what it is placed their hopes in organized labor. But the national unions only made what could be called a half-hearted effort to organize North Carolina textile (or the South at large), despite unceasing dedication from workers from Gastonia to Greensboro. Some of those workers gave their lives to that struggle, pushing up against not only the operators of the area’s mills but also the Klan. Five were gunned down in 1979 — the Greensboro Massacre — and locals were all too happy to shield their eyes, disavowing these communist labor organizers as outside trouble. But had the labor movement somehow succeeded in organizing
North Carolina’s textile industry, what then? If White Oak had been solidly union territory, who among us believes that would’ve prevented Platinum Equity — the private, Beverly Hillsbased firm that owns Greensboro’s International Textile Group and by extension Cone Denim — from shutting it down and moving abroad? That’s not to say that things might not have been considerably different with robust unions at Revolution, or Proximity, or White Oak, or others. And it isn’t to say that all operators are exactly the same. But how stupid are we to try the same thing over and over again, lying to ourselves that this time we’re the final station rather than a stop along the way? White Oak is closing. The cigarette industry that propped up WinstonSalem is gone. Furniture is on its way. Dell unplugged and left. We’ve been asked to believe that enticing an auto manufacturer to a nearby megasite will once again save us. And maybe, to some extent, it would be a reprieve. But it isn’t too difficult to imagine that one day we’ll be having this same conversation, just with the names switched around. We’re falling for the same dull pick-up line. It’s just too predictable. If a manufacturer arrives, some of us bow down. Then some of us try to agitate to improve conditions, to install a union. Maybe the union loses, like at Boeing in South Carolina, or maybe the ending changes. Neither scenario does much to change the permanence of the facility, just like the story we’ve already seen play out in Detroit. Concessions can be won, gains can be made, but the power ultimately remains in the same hands.
What if instead, we marshaled our resources in a different way? Instead of expending every effort to attract, worship, and ultimately mourn these “good jobs,” what if we built our own, together? What if economic development looked like helping former workers from White Oak reopen the plant and collectively own and operate it? I’m not talking about state-owned industry. I’m suggesting that the equation is different when a business is not just locally owned, but collectivized. That if we, where possible, aim for self-sufficiency rather than endless dependency, the ending might be altered. Worker-owned businesses are not a silver bullet. There is no such thing. It is certainly possible that a worker-run White Oak plant would’ve run aground, ultimately leaving us in the same position. But it’s not ridiculous to think that the decision to fire almost 200 people would’ve gone down much differently. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, a naïve concept especially in this period of late capitalism. But it’s a hell of a lot better than the fallacy we’re being asked to believe in spite of our experience. Eric Ginsburg isn’t a socialist, but he’s naturally skeptical of authority and refuses to accept prevailing wisdom. That’s probably why he became a journalist. Find out more about him at eric-ginsburg.com.
TWO TENNESSEE TOWNS TURN BACK THE FAR RIGHT ByÂ Alex Macmillan Anti-racist overwhelmed white nationalist forces in two Tennessee towns on Saturday, October 28, outnumbering the fascists in Shelbyville and compelling them to cancel their event altogether in Murfreesboro. Both towns had been on edge since neo-Nazi groups announced plans for what they hoped would be a repeat of the violence and terror carried out in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, where scenes of street fighting ultimately gave way to murder by motor vehicle. But anti-racist forces from across Tennessee and the region bravely mobilized to say that the white supremacists weren't welcome. In Shelbyville, where the day's first event was scheduled, hundreds of antiracists more than doubled the 150 or so white nationalists who gathered behind a heavy cordon of police protection. When the Shelbyville event ended, the anti-racists made their way to the site of the next protest in Murfreesboro, where an even larger crowd of counterprotesters--more than 1,000-had assembled to confront the white supremacists.
But the neo-Nazi groups canceled-making the announcement via Twitter--and the far right never mustered more than 30 or so, again with heavy police protection. The antifascist gathering protest turned jubilant as word spread that the white nationalists had abandoned their own rally. Many of the same far-right groups behind the events in Charlottesville had spearheaded plans for the Tennessee rallies under the banner of the Nationalist Front--which acted as an umbrella for several groups, including the National Socialist Movement, Traditionalist Worker Party, League of the South, White Lives Matter, American Vanguard and the Klan. After failing to mount credible rallies in Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area in August, some among the white supremacists advocated a retreat from their strategy of mobilizing in liberal strongholds, opting instead to hold rallies in smaller towns in red states where they would find a more sympathetic audience and more cooperative police departments.
Indeed, they may have found friendlier police--according to reports, police in Shelbyville made anti-racists leave behind anything that could be used as a weapon or even for self-defense while the racists were allowed to assemble with helmets and shields. But the people of Tennessee proved no more inclined to welcome the white supremacists than their bluestate counterparts. Originally branded as "Unite the Right 2.0" to position it as a sequel to the Charlottesville demonstration, organizers eventually changed the name to "White Lives Matter." Featured speakers included Matthew Heimbach, leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, and Michael Hill, president of the League of the South. The demonstration in Shelbyville, a town of 21,000, was deliberately located near housing projects that are home to a large immigrant and refugee population. Brad Griffin, a member of the League of the South, explained that the motivation for the rally was twofold: First, to criticize Trump for not politicizing a recent shooting at a Nashville church by a SudaneseAmerican man, and second, to "protest the ongoing problem of refugee resettlement in Middle Tennessee." In the last 15 years, about 18,000 refugees have resettled in Tennessee, which is less than 1 percent of the state's population.
In Murfreesboro, a city of about 100,000, Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee issued a statement cancelling a number of university events and outlining plans to lock residence halls and apartments for the weekend ahead of a rumored torchlight rally on the university's campus. The event flyer encouraged male participants "to wear something similar like some combination of a white or black polo and khakis," and for women to dress modestly, a trend activists also noted in Charlottesville and apparently an attempt to give a respectable veneer to a violent ideology. The White Lives Matter rally also tried to capitalize on the findings of a recent poll showing that a majority of white Americans believes white people face discrimination. But according to Nashville resident and anti-racist protester Eric McDermott, the showing by the neoNazis was nothing short of pathetic: "There was one guy draped in a Confederate flag and wearing Air Jordans, which--the irony does not fail you...There was three of them for about an hour and then four or five more of them trickled in...a total of maybe 10 people on the Nazi side of things. One guy had a sign but I couldn't really see it...Their turnout was so low that it seems to me like we accomplished something by showing up."
A number of anti-racist groups in Middle Tennessee came together to organize the counterprotests, including the Tennessee Anti-Racist Network, Statewide Organization for Community Empowerment and Surenxs en Acciรณn, as well as national organizations and networks such as Stand Up for Racial Justice and the Democratic Socialists of America. Local churches and faith communities also joined forces to show solidarity against the white nationalists. Two local interfaith groups, Shelbyville Loves and Murfreesboro Loves, also hosted family-friendly cookouts with banner- and sign-making activities for community members and counterprotesters. While the white nationalists shouted the infamous Nazi slogan "Blood and soil" and other chants like "Closed borders, white nation, now we start the deportation," counterprotesters responded with "Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!" and "No fascists, no KKK, no racist USA!" "I'm furious that these Nazis think they can come to Middle Tennessee to recruit so they can terrorize and intimidate immigrants, refugees, and communities of color," Candice, a counterprotester from Nashville, told Socialist Worker. "We need to stand up and fight these guys back."
Unfortunately, notably missing from the counterprotest coalition was the Black Lives Matter chapter of Middle Tennessee, which released a statement saying, "We believe that gatherings of neo-Nazis and Klansmen like these distract us from the destructive ways systemic white supremacy rallies against the lives of Black and Brown folks in Middle Tennessee and this country every day," adding that "we believe that these rallies are times for white people to step up." Activists noted a sizable police presence with snipers on roofs, drones and helicopters in the air, and barricades and checkpoints on the ground. Most of the police presence was directed at anti-racist activists as opposed to the white nationalists. In sum, the day was a major victory for anti-racists. The large size of the counterdemonstrations, the inability of the white supremacists to mete out violence or injure the targets of their fury, and the broad-based coalition that was able to mobilize to defend these small cities from the far right all contributed to this outcome. Roaming white nationalists did spark a fight after taunting a biracial couple in Brentwood, Tennessee, following the rally, but there have not been other reports of violence or major conflict.
Candice, the activist from Nashville, said she was encouraged that there was a strong showing from the local community and also that it appeared "most of the counterprotesters had traveled from nearby cities like Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville." Knoxville anti-racists made a particularly strong showing in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, having had to defend their city from the far right this past August, overwhelming the racists with roughly 3,000 counterdemonstrators compared to a few dozen white supremacists. This sort of regional solidarity is crucial when any town or city comes under attack, and the left also must adapt its strategy to build power within rural working-class communities now in the sights of the far right. "We don't want to do anything that makes [the far right] look good," David Clark, a member of Shelbyville Loves, told reporters. "They're here to recruit our neighbors, and we love all our neighbors." Working-class communities such as Murfreesboro and Shelbyville dislike hate groups as much as major metropolitan areas, and building local united fronts against hate needs to be a crucial component of any anti-racist strategy to beat back the rising tide of reactionary sentiment across the country--by empowering working people everywhere to fight for a better world for themselves and their neighbors.
Originally published in Socialist Worker. Alex Macmillan is an organizer in Greensboro.
INTERVIEW: JOEL SRONCE By Garrison Clark Kickball for Kaepernick is a Greensboro based event centered around creatively boycotting and discussing the NFL through kickball games. Joel Sronce is an organizer at K4k. Garrison: How did Kickball for Kaepernick get started? Joel: Well, I was at this event and it was a tribute to Dick Gregory, the comedian activist who died a few months ago, in Winston-Salem at this place called Triad Cultural Arts. We were talking about Kaepernick, and I was sort of personally thinking about whether and how I would do my own boycott because I think that even if it’s in your own little way you should put pressure on the people who are making these shitty decisions. Someone at that event said “you shouldn’t just not watch the NFL on Sundays, you should spend that time with a kid. Like you should get to know a kid and spend time with them and mentor them.” And I thought “That’s a great idea, to make your boycott a little more intentional and active rather than just passively not watching.” So it got me to thinking that we should really do this publicly. We should have a public
boycott that says none of us are watching the NFL. And not only are we not watching the NFL, we’re out here in solidarity with Kaepernick. But we’re also going to use this time to plug into local activism, come together and exchange ideas. And it really is kid-centered. I make handouts every week that are kid-friendly, that are about athletes and activism and why Kaepernick and the NFL are having their dispute, and whose shoulders Kaepernick is standing on: athletes who have been activists in the past. What has the response been like from city residents? So we do it in Center City Park downtown, which I’m glad we’ve been able to because it’s a very public space, and if we did it out in Hester Park [located on the outskirts of town], no one would be coming by to see what was happening. It’s been really positive so far. We haven’t had anyone come wag their finger at us or say “You’re doing the wrong thing.” None of that has happened. And maybe it will and maybe it has happened to certain people on social media but I haven’t really heard about it. So it’s been really cool so far. Just a little background, I had the idea and I reached out to a couple of people, a comrade in ISO and some other people I knew from activism: events and other
"AND NOT ONLY ARE WE NOT WATCHING THE NFL, WE’RE IN SOLIDARITY WITH KAEPERNICK."
things. People I thought would be really into the idea and able to help with it. And so often it’s their kids and then their friends and their friends’ kids. It’s that community but almost every week we’ll have people walking around in the park and saying what is this and can we play kickball and sometimes they’ll stick around and listen to the conversations we have. Every week we seem to sort of reacha new family, a new person and occasionally I’ll have someone text me “is it happening this week?” and stuff like that. It fluctuates up and down, in terms of who all can come out for whatever reason, but the response has been really good so far. It’s been all on the positive side. So compared to standard boycotts and protests, how does the centering of a kickball game differ? What are the differences in organizing and responses compared to say picketing or boycotting? That’s a good question. So one thing is that there are no real eyes on us, meaning we’re not doing this to intimidate the people who we’re boycotting against. We’re not right outside a factory or something like that. It’s a lot more about solidarity with one another and building local activism than it is about trying tolike we don’t hope to single handedly or
even assume that we’re part of a bigger version of this kind of thing that’s going to bring down the NFL. So I think that fact, the fact that the main goal is solidarity and conversation, is what makes it a little different. And it’s also fun. It really is. And the kickball part of it, I think kickball is a great sport because it’s easy for all ages to play together and it’s non-gendered. It makes everyone look forward to it. Whereas protests are serious and they don’t really have that element of fun that seems to continue to bring people back every week. And one thing we also do, this isn’t a direct response to that question, is we’ll make these signs. Like, have you seen any pictures of it? Yeah. Kids will make these signs and we’ll stick them in the ground, sort of like electionsigns. And that’s cool too because they’re able to use their creativity to express themselves. It’s nice that kids who are more interested in doing that than playing kickball have that chance as well. And we made shirts one time!
"REMEMBER, KAEPERNICK’S ORIGINAL PROTEST WAS NOT ABOUT BEING ANTIFLAG, NOT ABOUT BEING ANTI-ANTHEM OR ANTI-MILITARY. IT WAS ABOUT POLICE BRUTALITY."
Awesome! So talking with participants, have the comments of Trump or NFL owners come up? Have they changed anything about the approach? I’m thinking specifically about recent comments made by the Houston Texans owner [Rob McNair] about the “inmates running the prison.” The NFL protests become a lot more politicized than at the beginning of the season. So it’s interesting because that’s sort of ballooned like crazy this year. A lot more into the mainstream. Which is great. But yeah I sort of assumed that Trump’s lunacy would allow for fodder for conversation. And we definitely address the things that he says. Parents can bring their own censorship if they want but that’s very rarely the case. They’re usually very comfortable and even excited for the opportunity to have their kids be part of discussions about the things the president said. Like he called the players “sons of bitches and wouldn’t it be great if they got fired for disrespecting the flag.” So like A.) Why is he doing that? What is he trying to get out of that? And B.) What has happened to the conversation? Remember, Kaepernick’s original protest was not about being anti-flag, not about being anti-anthem or anti-military. It was about police brutality. And the fact, he said “There are bodies in the street and
people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Where else to draw attention to that issue except during the anthem because it’s going to raise attention. So why are Trump and so many owners trying to move away from that conversation? Why do they have that intention in moving this conversation away from police brutality and systemic oppression to the flag and being patriotic/unpatriotic? And it’s great because kids have been grappling with these issues. There was a high schooler who had a lot to say, a middle schooler who had a lot to say. And they know it’s wrong. I think it’s great to be able to see that engagement in kids and almost try and foster this kid led discussion because it needs to be a space where it’s not like “Mom says don’t watch the NFL” but “I really want to know why this is happening” and not only why the original protest happened but how it’s turned into this sort of tug of war about the actual intent of what’s been happening. I think that’s a good segue into this next question. What do think the role of politics in sports in the US is? Both at the national level and locally. What do you mean by that?
"YOU HEAR PEOPLE SAY “SPORTS ARE INTEGRATED AND THEY’RE THIS MERITOCRACY,” BUT THEY’RE REALLY NOT.."
Well, seeing the backlash to the kneeling protest, it is sort of a cookie cutter response. “Politics does not have a place in sports.” People go to sports to get away from politics and everything. And for many people, it’s more unimaginable to have politics involved in sports at the local level. So given that, where politics fit in with sports? There’s a lot to talk about but I’ll try to keep it short. Obviously the same problems that are in greater society and culture work their way into sports. We can be talking about race- only one NFL owner is nonwhite, except for the Green Bay Packers who don’t have one owner. Michael Jordan is the only black owner in the NBA. And so you hear people say “Sports are integrated and they’re this meritocracy,” but they’re really not. There are still obviously issues of race, and misogyny- I’ve heard women’s sports get about 3% of the coverage on ESPN. They are very political arenas. People want sports to just be entertainment; they want to go home and only worry about how their team is doing. It’s a kind of respite in that way. But I think that it is an unbelievably powerful force in our country because so many people watch and pay attention to it. And we’re fortunate to have people like Kaepernick because to be on that level in sport and
still risk the end of your career, to still have the courage to make a political statement and risk the consequences, which he is suffering now, is a huge deal. And sports are also commodities. The NCAA is a great way to look at that. The people at the top are making seven figures. Billion-dollar TV deals. And none of the players are making any money, in any sport. A really important thing as a socialist is to highlight the player-owner, worker-boss relationship because the comment that McNair, the Houston Texans owner, madewe don’t want the inmates running the prison- but as socialist we do want the inmates running the prison. Obviously that language is fucked up, but what many people want to see- Dave Zirin [left-wing sportswriter], us- is that we want to see the workers, the athletes come together and say “We have the power here. You, the owners, don’t go put on a uniform and amaze people with your physical genius. We do that.” That’s what socialist want, is for people in any profession to do that. We people at any layer of society to say “wait a minute, you can’t just jerk us around like this. We are where the power is.” The way that we’re currently set up is through capitalism, and questioning and fighting that economic and political system at any level is a necessity.
"WE SEE A 16-YEAR-OLD KID LIKE JOSE CHARLES GET ASSAULTED BY THE POLICE AND THE MAYOR AND THE CITY COUNCIL DON’T STAND UP FOR HIM. WHAT IS THAT? THAT IS THE VERY THING THAT KAEPERNICK WANTS TO ADDRESS."
We haven’t necessarily gotten to that level of discussion at Kickball for Kaepernick but I do want to get there. And I also want to connect the story of Juana Tobar Ortega [local undocumented resident who has been in sanctuary since earlier this year] to K4K because I don’t think her case is very well known. And I want to ask these kids: why does Juana have to do this? She has lived here for 25 years, she’s a part of her community and has kids. Why does she have to live in a church? Because I think in ISO and probably DSA as well, it’s really important to talk about overlapping oppressions. It is important to understand the similarities of police brutality against African American communities and other state violence against undocumented communities. Who are putting these communities in these situations and why? Why can’t she go home, why does she have to live in a church? And it’s a local story. We can tell the kids that a few miles away from here Juana is living in a church and hear what they have to say. They won’t try and give a moral validation of it but they will try and analyze the systemic problems that are affecting Juana, or Jose Charles, or others. Has there been any connection between the issues at stake in the kneeling protestpolice brutality and oppression against communities of color and instances of
those issues here at the local level? The Greensboro Police Department has had several high profile instances of brutality and systemic discrimination, such as Jose Charles, so I’m wondering if in discussions at Kickball for Kaepernick if that connection is talked about? We have yet to address specific local cases, like the high profile cases you alluded to. But it’s not lost on the kids, the majority of whom are kids of color. It’s not lost on them that what Kaepernick is talking about, and then what the other kids are talking about, is the role of police in our lives and police brutality. That’s something we discuss. So it’s not like these things are happening in Kaepernick’s world and not here. We recognize through shared experience that the things that he is talking about are very much worth fighting for. Because we see a 16-year-old kid like Jose Charles get assaulted by the police and the Mayor and the City Council don’t stand up for him. What is that? That is the very thing that Kaepernick wants to address. And we support him, not only because of the sacrifice he is making but because we want to address the same problem in our communities. I wanted to talk briefly about some of the handouts that we have been discussing at Kickball for Kaepernick.
"I’M HOPING TO CREATE DISCUSSION AND TO HAVE THE KIDS GRAPPLE WITH THESE QUESTIONS."
Sure, absolutely. The first one we used was on other athlete activists, made specifically for the kids. We discussed Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a MuslimAmerican woman who holds the Massachusetts state high school scoring record for either boys or girls. She played college ball at Memphis and then at Indiana State, becoming the first college player to play in a hijab. But she couldn’t play professionally because FIBA had a rule that you couldn’t wear head coverings, even though no one had been injured by head coverings. Because of her activism, gaining all these signatures, and teaming up with other Muslim-American athletes, FIBA was ultimately pressured to pass a rule that permitted head coverings. So after reading this with the kids, we asked: how was she successful and is there anything we can learn from her? And we’ll try to get the kids to understand how her work and her solidarity with other athletes helped to create change. We also looked at the Greensboro Sit-in and the legend that a group of NC A&T football players joined on one of the days of the sit-ins and formed a flying-v around the activists to protect them. We asked the kids how they felt to know that this happened here in our city and to know
that athletes were involved. And finally we talked about Jesse Owens and about how Adolf Hitler didn’t shake his hand at the 1936 Olympics after Owens won gold. But then Owens came back to the US and FDR didn’t send him a telegram or anything like that. By the winter, he was racing against a horse for money. And there was a quote from Barack Obama that said “I want Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that they may cause.” And we wanted the kids to answer the question:Is what Obama said fair? With these hand-outs I’m hoping to create discussion and to have the kids grapple with these questions. What can folks do to help support Kickball for Kaepernick and how can they connect with y’all? We have facebook events every week and the events are on Sundays at Center City Park in downtown Greensboro. The FB event for this week was Kickball for Kaepernick Week 8 so they can find the events by searching that way. With the winter coming up, I’m personally happy to bundle up and go out there, but with a lot of kids we probably won’t be having much in terms of events. But I think looking into joining us every Sunday at 1PM or through social media connecting with me and others just to talk is beneficial too. Joel Sronce is a writer in Greensboro, a member of ISO, and a contributor here at PLR.
REVIEW: THE QUARTER ROYS by Taylor Briggs Last month, Greensboro’s own The Quarter Roys dropped their debut album, entitled If You Think I Should. Mixing elements of psychedelic, progressive rock, rock n’ roll, bubblegum, and jazz stylings, this album nods to a varied potpourri of sounds with surprising cohesiveness and pop sensibility. Transitioning seamlessly from Beachboys-like “ew-la-las”, to tasteful jazz licks, to drifting, dreamy guitar solos, to driving riffs delivered with Ramonesesque intensity and distortion, The Quarter Roys take listeners on a fun, trippy, and engaging adventure that sometimes veers out of its lane, but never crashes off the side of the road. For this reviewer, the most outstanding track is Fool’s Errand - a lighthearted, toe-tapping ‘60s pop-like song well-tailored for radio play and dance party playlists. Also noteworthy is the album’s ballad, Sometimes, which delivers heartfelt lyrics to a tender and rhythmically intricate melody. The closing track, Don’t Come Around, is highly reminiscent of The Beatles. It makes for a solid anchor – lyrically and musically playful, and impossible to not headbop to at least a little bit. “I would say that we chose to use the genres and sounds that we used on our album because they represent the point of making music the most – it’s about artistry, and we feel that people who inspired us express the human experience best, and
that to me is the point of art.” - Ethan Golden The Quarter Roys, made up of Ricky Perez (drums), Nick VanBuskirk (bass),Logan Butler (guitar), and Ethan Golden (guitar/vocals) came together here in Greensboro and have been playing together for a little over half a year. “Nick and I met in high school and formed a fusion jazz group. Everyone except for Ethan was in the jazz program at UNCG. Nick invited Logan to join the jazz group. I decided later I wanted to form a rock group. Through a mutual friend I met Ethan and discovered that we idolized the Beatles equally. I was really impressed by his songwriting and lyrics – pretty blown away actually. My mindset was that if we formed a band we would be a super group, no doubt.” - Ricky Perez In talking to the band, it’s evident that they take their craft seriously. Most of the members (with the exception of Ethan) are music students at UNCG. Stalwart in their ambitions, The Quarter Roys view playing music together not as a pastime, but as a hopeful and feasible career going forward.
“We want to make it our legacy – the music we make as the Quarter Roys. I was in Poe Palace and it was the first band that I feel I aligned with artistically, but I didn’t get the sense that that was what everyone was trying to do with their lives, and it is what I want to do with mine. If I feel that way I need to play with people who also feel that way. The rest of the Quarter Roys possess the passion and dedication that I feel for it. Naturally, being in the band together was a good setup.” - Ethan Golden Though based in Greensboro, The Quarter Roys have played in various cities in NC. They take pride in Greensboro as a welcoming and creative community. Members Golden and Perez, along with their friend Jacob Brunner,have spearheaded an artist support group called the Greensboro Collective in hopes of fostering an even stronger sense of solidarity between local creatives. “I love Greensboro - I think the spectrum of characters here is wide and interesting and it seems like no matter where you lie on this spectrum, one thing that brings us together is that we like art. Greensboro seems like a sleeping beast that is just waiting to wake up.” - Ricky Perez Still, as has been expressed by many (or more accurately, most) local musicians in our community, they spoke briefly about the gap between creative talent and viable venues to host local and touring acts in Greensboro. “Greensboro is already a pretty supportive musical community, but I
feel like if there were more venues that supported the art that artists make instead of just the performance as background music it would be more beneficial for artists and also help us network. I think that mobility – “where do we go and what do we do next?” – is a big part of the experience for artists.” - Nick VanBuskirk Though pointedly influenced by some highly recognizable artists, The Quarter Roys’ sound is uniquely and thoughtfully pieced together, culminating into a cohesive sound all its own – fresh and relevant, but also reminiscent of a bygone musicalera. They will be playing themselves in an upcoming local theatre performance – “Two Times a Charm,” which will take place nightly from January 22 - 25 at 7:30 in the Elliott University Center auditorium on UNCG’s campus. If You Think I Shouldis available for stream and download at thequarterroys.bandcamp.com Instagram: @the_quarter_roys Facebook: facebook.com/thequarterroys Taylor Briggs is a musician in Greensboro and a member of DSA
In Space No One Can Hear You Scream BY MATTHEW C. BROWN
If you approach Alien (1979) as a
Many Sci-Fi films involve either the
single, stand-alone film, which you
invasion of Earth or human vessels by
should, then the film’s intentions are
extraterrestrials, or the script is
magnified. It is a story that inks
flipped so that humanity is cast as
Humanity in its place in the universe:
the invaders. Whichever way the
as miniscule specks in the vast dark of
meeting of worlds is portrayed, we
space-time. It traps Humanity in a
are really being invaded by ourselves.
bottle with a spider of its own making.
We are seeing into our own eyes, our
There is nowhere to go, and the
own mind. We create these
chances of escape are as minute as
projections of ourselves as visitors
our place in the universe. Yet
from other worlds because we have
somewhere inside the silent scream
not yet been face to face with an
that is Ridley Scott’s Alien, questions
extraterrestrial species to show us
resound; empirical and philosophical
how the “alien other” would actually
questions of great importance about
proceed or interact with us.
what it is to be human or alien and how we should proceed in our collective future.
Sci-Fi stories like these are cautionary
never been topped. Certainly the
tales that beg us not to perpetrate the
other films that many believe make
horrors of our human past and
up an “Alien franchise” have not been
present on other worlds and species
able to reach the heights of
in space (not to mention each other
intellectual and philosophical terror
here on earth). Though they are over
that the original film achieved, and I
the top sometimes and often are
include in that Ridley Scott’s most
poorly executed B movies, they are
recent returns to that universe,
intended to be lessons in humility not
Prometheus (2012) and Alien:
to be taken lightly.
Covenant (2017) .
The concept behind Dan O’Bannon
The film begins as the Nostromo, a
and Donald Shusett’s original story
commercial mining vessel, whose
and screenplay for Alien is that of a B
mission is being funded by the
monster film, something that had
Weyland-Yutani Corporation, is
been done before many times over
returning from an expedition. When
and had thusly confined the Sci-Fi
its crew is awakened from stasis, far
genre to the niche realm of the
before their destined arrival on Earth,
laughable, obscure, and second rate;
by “Mother”, the ship’s central
but what Dan O’Bannon really wanted
computer, the crew nervously goes
from Alien was to find a way to make
about asking , “Why?”. It seems that
a B monster film with A+ production
somewhere in the fine print of the
value. If that is all O’Bannon wanted
crew’s mission contract there is a
from Alien then he should be proud,
stipulation that states that they must
were he still with us, to see that the
investigate any distress signal, or
resulting film far surpasses just
alien lifeforms they come across, and
brilliance in artistic technique. The
if the crew members do not assist in
film’s continued stature in the Sci-Fi
said investigation, they forfeit their
genre, much like the “facehugger”
payment (shares). Mother has
inserting its Xenomorphic spawn into
detected a distress signal coming
Kane’s stomach, cannot be detached
from the planetoid Acheron (LV-426),
from any debating of the greatest Sci-
thus the crew must go down to the
Fi films of all time, nor, in fact, the
surface of the planetoid.
greatest films of all time, lest it render the debate wholly deceased.
During their search the crew finds the petrified corpse of a large
Alien set a high bar for Sci-Fi writers
humanoid alien with a hole in its
and filmmakers, a bar which has
chest. They also find a hive of eggs,
and the occupant of one of these
creature, the Xenomorph, that
eggs latches itself onto the face of
terrorizes the ship, but there is more
one of the crew members.
at work here.
When the rest of the crew brings his
The concept of the “alien inside us” is
still living body back to the ship,
also at play. An example being that
Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is faced
the creature gestates inside the
with an ethical dilemma. If she opens
stomach and then bursts out, killing
the door to them, she risks
the host—On a symbolic level this
contaminating the shuttle and the
represents the doppelganger of
rest of the crew including herself, but
humanity being born from out of the
if she does not open the door half of
human form. It kills the old human,
the crew, including the captain, will
as if shedding its skin. In reality, the
die. Protocol states she should not
process of traveling at length
open the door to the contamination,
through space-time will shape
but in the heat of the moment, Ash
humanity in different ways
(Ian Holm), the ship’s science and
intellectually, adaptively, and
medical officer opens the door to the
evolutionarily. This killer creature
crew outside, contaminating the
bursting forth from our bodies is an
shuttle in the process.
immediate and literal representation of that biological and intellectual
Ash’s seemingly very human act of
change, as the creature has no
empathy and compassion for the
morality and is entirely parasitic.
crew members outside is revealed later to be a highly calculated, pre-
The more subtle and artistic turn in
programmed action in accordance
the writing of the film and the real
with his ulterior mission given him by
thesis of the film, though, is that the
their employers (Weyland-Yutani
“alien inside us” is actually Ash, who
Corp) who placed Ash, an android, on
is our own (humanity’s) creation, an
the ship to guarantee the capture of
entity that has already infiltrated or
any extraterrestrial species at the
contaminated the ship.
expense of any and all crew members. There are many themes that are
If one sees the Nostromo as a
explored surrounding this moment
representation of the female body
and those ensuant.
and “Mother” as the human mind, one can see Ash as a foreign agent
The film very subtly asks us, “What is
that allows for the breaking down of
alien?”. The obvious answer is the
the body’s defenses.
You then see Ripley as the
concisely twists the “alien” entity
personification of the mechanical
back on humanity. Ash, an android,
womb that is the Nostromo, and the
built by the corporation in secret to
bridging of biological and the
carry out a secret mission is
mechanical which represents
not human but appears to be to the
Humanity’s movement away from its
crew. Even his one seemingly human
initial form to a mechanical and
act of letting the crew through the
amoral form. This is a theme that is
door along with the creature is in
explored through H.R. Giger’s erotic
compliance with his prime directive.
biomechanical production design.
Much like the creature that he lets
There is also, very prominently, a
onto the ship, Ash is completely
thematic exploration of Julia
amoral and mechanical in his actions
Kristeva’s feminist responses to
and programming. The lesson and
Sigmund Freud’s ideas about
thesis here being we must deal with
sexuality. Something one can read
our own demons that we bring with
more about in Barbara Creed’s The
us before introducing ourselves to
Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism,
other extraterrestrial ones.
Psychoanalysis, but that I do not have space to explore the complexities of
For a long time now we have been
able to see the beginnings of our
The script’s approach to the character
corporate future in space, the same
Ash and the revelation that he is an
corporate future that is portrayed in
android is one of the key elements
Alien. Companies like Space-X come
that separates Alien from your typical
to mind in this respect. Weyland-
Hard Sci-Fi film. No film so subtly and
Yutani is a fictional version of some
such massive corporation (Weyland
is undeniably central to the film.
Corp was valued at $218 trillion before its hostile takeover of Yutani Corp),
While Sci-Fi fantasy films and stories
one which represents the rate of
such as George Lucas’ Star Wars
expansion and exploitation that is
(1977) and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s
natural and inevitable within
Dune (which though brilliantly
capitalism. Xenopedia states that,
realized was never truly executed)
“Weyland-Yutani is consistently
take place in imagined galaxies far
portrayed as exhibiting the worst
away from our native Earth, Alien,
aspects of corporate profiteering,
deals in known science here in our
willing to sacrifice decency and life in
galaxy and uses that knowledge to
the endless pursuit of profits.” The
project Humanity into the future. The
term to use is no longer globalization
film falls in the sub-genre of Hard
but universalization, and we must
Sci-Fi, a genre whose boundaries are
take care not to let the face of
blurred by many Sci-Fi worlds and
humanity be primarily corporations
works. It is a sub-genre of cautionary
bent on imperial pursuits like
tales and warnings about missteps
resource acquisition because we will
we might take as a species in the
undoubtedly be perceived as a threat
future; a sub-genre which is always
to any conscious life forms we come
being added to and needs to be
across and the employees of such
explored further in order to usher in
companies are and will be subject to
the Human future that we truly
the highest degree of exploitation.
desire in space and here on Earth. Alien is a perfect example of that
The relationship of the Weyland-
genre dealing practically, although
Yutani Corporation to the crew and
darkly, with Humanity’s interstellar
Ash’s presence as an android spy on
the Nostromo suggests that capitalism and its corporate system
That said, Alien, is not completely
represent a part of the “alien other”
perfect. The final product, though it
that we must tame in ourselves. The
does not treat race unfavorably,
way the film unfolds suggests that a
places a woman in a powerful
lack of trust and empathy coupled
leading role, and features white men
with Capitalistic and imperial pursuits
being overpowered and consumed
leads to Humanity evolving past
first before others, could be more
morality and allowing its darkness
intersectional. As we move forward
and myopic vision to consume itself.
with Sci-Fi projects, particularly in a
That is certainly one throughway that
very white-washed film industry,
it is important that we pull focus to
Sci-Fi and entertainment, but it is
the many other oppressed
important for our growth as a
perspectives in Sci-Fi. There are
species to accept the facts and foster
incredible Afrofuturist and Astro Black
workable ideas and solutions in the
stories that already exist and need to
face of the immensity of space-time.
be released as films/TV to wide
There is no sound in space, and the
audiences. These are stories that
situation and our relationship to
project all of us into the future in an
space is much more serious than
equitable light, working together, and
films like Star Wars would have us
living for one another and the spirit of
admit. The reality is that space gives
scientific discovery. Though films like
us many things to fear. We cannot
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
afford to fear ourselves as well. It’s a
and Rogue One (2016) and other
sobering thought to be sure, but our
prominent TV/Film ventures like Star
future depends on our creativity, our
Trek: Discovery (2017-) are opening up
ingenuity, and our brave face. As we
spaces for intersectional characters
boldly go to brave the vast darkness
and storylines in space, a majority of
it is important to remember the
the iceberg is still underwater. Ava
reality of the situation of which Alien
Duvernay is slated to bring Octavia
warns—in space no one can hear you
Butler’s work to the screen, and that
can’t happen soon enough. But as we move forward I do hope that Sci-Fi
Matthew C. Brown is a film buff in
writers, whoever they may be, will
Greensboro and a member of ISO.
approach our imminent space future practically and realistically. I do not wish to stifle creativity, and space fantasy has its place, but we also need to grow up and work together keeping the horrors and cultures of our ancestry in mind here in the present to project ourselves equitably into the future. In Sci Fi Fantasy films that we love, one can hear laser blasts and explosions echoing unrealistically within the vacuum of space. Those films have their place in the world of
An International Sports Resistance: #TakeAKnee Reaches Berlin BY JOEL SRONCE
In the monumental Olympiastadion
But a chill ran through me as I stared
in Berlin, where Hitler once bristled at
at the austere platform protruding
the unanticipated triumphs of
from the stands.
African-American athletes, something
The balcony itself has surely changed
happened eighty years later that
since the 1936 Olympics — whether
Trump, too, did not intend.
pockmarked from Soviet machine guns during an attack at the end of
Someone in our group tapped me on
the Second World War, or altered
the shoulder and gestured toward the
under the years of British control, or
stark concrete balcony on our right.
polished in the stadium’s 21st
“That’s where Hitler watched,” he said.
century renovations to represent a
Suddenly I felt its shadow.
It was a clear, breezy day in the early summer of 2012. Sunlight soaked through the transparent panels in the roof of Berlin’s Olympiastadion, gilding the verdant pitch and the bright blue track surrounding it.
Yet regardless of its changes, the
I spent the spring and summer of
rostrum remains a trace of what, and
2012 in Berlin, studying at the Freie
who, the entire “Reichssportfeld” was
Universität — or Free University
once constructed to honor. A terrible
(imagine that!) — where I made
past maintains the structure’s former
friends from all across the Continent.
command, demanding remembrance
Surprisingly, Sebastian Bommell, a
of its consequence — a trace directly
roommate for my four months in the
stenciled off a hell that was.
city, became my only lasting German companion — at least the only
Shadows of the Third Reich stalk the
friendship that continues to this day.
city of Berlin, as does the troubled
Apart from our trip to watch Berlin’s
past of any place: unhealed wounds of
Hertha BSC in the Olympiastadion,
prejudice and hate that have not fully
we enjoyed a summer of great
been pried from our world. Of late, in
soccer. Our friends and I followed
fact, such wounds have been
Bommell to watch-parties for
renamed, salted, and sponsored.
Germany’s UEFA European
Berlin is haunted by those ghosts, not
Championship run — once even deep
as shockingly commemoratory as our
in the woods of a park — each time
Confederate monuments, but eerie in
joining hundreds of rabid viewers
their proximity to the present day.
and consuming Berliner Weissbier by
One of my living grandmothers was
the kiloliter. Germany shut out its
already twelve when Hitler stood here
group competition, only to be bested
upon his balcony and nearly all the
by Mario Balotelli and the Italians in
one-hundred thousand in attendance
the semi-finals in late June.
joined him, believed him, raised their
Back in the United States, Obama
arm in his salute.
and Romney had begun their billion-
Enlivening this image now is the rise
dollar dance. The country rumbled
of fascism found not only in the
with social unrest in the year
United States — in Charlottesville, in
between the murder of Trayvon
Portland, in Richard Spencer’s ‘Hail
Martin and the birth of the Black
Trump’ speech that followed the
Lives Matter movement, rising in the
November election — but throughout
wake of the acquittal of Martin’s
Europe as well.
killer, George Zimmerman. That
Yet where there is prejudice there is a
summer Colin Kaepernick trained
resistance, one that spans history and
during the offseason, the one
continents — one that includes the
preceding his move into the starting
world of sports. On grounds that once
role in which he would lead the San
belonged to evil, solidarity can
Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl.
The balcony in Berlin’s
not unlike the Olympic cleansing
Olympiastadion was an intentional
that has continued to this day in
part of the building’s original design
host cities such as Atlanta, London
for the coming 1936 Olympics,
and Rio de Janeiro.
perhaps the most famous sporting event in history.
But as for the Games themselves, a hero emerged that Hitler did not
When Hitler and the Nazis came to
expect. African-American track star
power in 1933, they chose to use the
Jesse Owens dominated in the
Games as both a pulpit for Nazism
Olympiastadion, winning gold
and a dazzling veil to cloak their
medals in the 100, the 200, the long
growing crimes of Aryan supremacy.
jump and the relay. Such success
Author Jeremy Schaap describes the
had never been seen before, nor
‘36 Games as “a fascist fantasy come
would it be again until Carl Lewis in
true.” Well before the Olympics began,
the Nazis used them as a chance to send propaganda throughout Europe,
According to Zirin, “This infuriated
including one poster that depicted
Hitler. He refused to be
Hitler’s face, along with the harrowing
photographed with Owens or even
words, “I summon the youth of the
acknowledge the existence of the
man who stole the games. The Americans ought to be ashamed of
In his book A People’s History of
themselves for letting their medals
Sports in the United States, political
be won by Negroes, he said. I myself
sportswriter Dave Zirin notes, “The
would never shake hands with one of
Nazi pomp and circumstance
launched the kind of over-the-top nationalism associated with the
Indeed, before Owens received any
Olympics today. The Nazi Olympics
of his medals — in fact before
also saw the birth of the kind of stark
repression associated with the
Cornelius Johnson received his gold
Olympics, as governments have
medal on the Olympics’ first day —
attempted to cleanse cities for an
Hitler had left the stadium.
international audience.” Zirin describes how Berlin police detained hundreds of Gypsies and put them in internment camps, a process
The only thing you could do better is
“Going to the White House is
if you see [players protest], even if it’s
considered a great honor for a
one player, leave the stadium, I
championship team.Stephen Curry is
guarantee things will stop… - Donald
hesitating,therefore invitation is
Trump, Sept. 22, 2017.
withdrawn!” — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23,
The snubbing of Owens’ achievements
shines a light not only on Hitler’s racist fury, but on the racism
consuming the lives of even successful American athletes of color
More than eighty years after Owens’
when they returned home.
triumph, a few seasons after
Owens, whose own political history
Kaepernick’s Super Bowl loss, the
raises some eyebrows, once noted:
quarterback sat during the playing of the national anthem during a 2016
“When I came back to my native
preseason game. No one noticed. He
country, after all the stories about
sat again the follow week, and no
Hitler, I couldn't ride in the front of
one noticed. Finally, during his third
the bus. I had to go to the back door. I
week of protest, the act gained
couldn't live where I wanted. I wasn't
national attention. Kaepernick
invited to shake hands with Hitler, but
addressed the media in the days that
I wasn't invited to the White House to
shake hands with the President,
“I'm going to continue to stand with
the people that are being oppressed,” his statements included.
“To me, this is something that has to
In the weeks that followed, NFL
change. When there's significant
players on many teams began to
change and I feel that flag represents
kneel or raise a fist in the air during
what it's supposed to represent, and
the anthem. The protest spread to
this country is representing people
high-school teams and coaching
the way that it's supposed to, I'll
staffs, cheerleaders, marching bands
The next week, after talking to a
former Green Beret, Kaepernick decided to kneel. “... as we talked
After the 2016 season ended,
about it, we came up with taking a
Kaepernick became a free agent. As
knee,” Kaepernick said. “Because there
the weeks and months into his free
are issues that still need to be
agency went by, the quarterback
addressed and it was also a way to
wasn’t picked up.
show more respect to the men and women who fight for this country.”
Despite overwhelming evidence that Kaepernick belongs in the NFL —
That week, Kaepernick was joined by
coming off the 2016 season with 16
49ers teammate Eric Reed.
touchdowns and only four
After the game, Kaepernick unveiled a
interceptions — he has been denied
plan to donate $1 million to charities
employment. It’s clear that this isn’t
that focus on racial issues. Later that
because of talent or work ethic, but
afternoon, Jeremy Lane of the Seattle
because he began to express the
Seahawks — the first non-teammate of
political truths that threaten the NFL
Kaepernick — sat during the national
owners and their exploitative game.
Evidence of the deliberate shuttingout of Kaepernick abounds, such as
“I wasn't trying to say anything. Just
seen in Bleacher Report’s Mike
standing behind Kaepernick,” Lane
Freeman’s tweet, “144 quarterbacks
said after the game.
have thrown 200 or more passes in the year when they turned 29. 143
Three days later, US Women’s Soccer
were on NFL rosters when they
star Megan Rapinoe knelt, expressing
turned 30. Kaepernick is the only one
both solidarity with Kaepernick and
frustration with a country that doesn’t protect all her liberties as a member
The NFL owners, conservative 1-
of the LGBT community.
percenters to be sure, colluded
against Kaepernick in a move that
people of color. Even as the owners’
might one day be brought to court.
contribution to such causes exceeds
Not only has Kaepernick’s career been
chump-change, these issues will
taken away, but the meaning of his
protest has been severely threatened. As Trump, Pence and others attempt The desire of the owners and the
their own collusion over their
Trump administration to stamp out
approach to the protest, it’s clear
the players’ ability to draw attention
that the right-wing’s attempt is one
to political issues — hoping to tug the
of age-old political exploitation —
protest’s meaning away from state
using a fear of social disorder and
violence and into a conversation
civil disobedience to mobilize a
about patriotism — is a form of
conservative agenda, scapegoating,
racialized social control. Just like the
and white racial resentment.
police brutality that sparked the first NFL protest. Just like mass
For the fascist regime that revelled at
incarceration: the locking out of
the opportunity to host the 1936
millions of African Americans from
Olympics, the surrounding (and
opportunity, public benefit and
momentarily suppressed) agenda
was much of the same. But in the monumental
Olympiastadion in Berlin, where Hitler once bristled at the
Colin Kaepernick has been kept out of
unanticipated triumphs of African-
the NFL, but protest has not. Players
American athletes, something
continue to kneel, raise their fists,
happened eighty years later that
organize, and demand concessions
Trump, too, did not intend.
from the teams’ owners, even after the NFL’s nearly $90 million pledge to
In the weeks following Trump’s racist
social justice projects.
comments toward the NFL protesters
As athlete-activists have expressed,
— “Get that son of a bitch off the field
there is an enduring, intentionally
right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!” — in
constructed schism between the
which he attempted to mobilize the
ideals the flag is supposed to
ill-will of a largely white audience
represent and the devastating
against protest executed almost
experience of police brutality and
entirely by African-American players,
oppression that plague millions in this
the momentum of the resistance
country — particularly, of course,
against him went international.
Just before their October 14 home
“I didn't know who started the
match against Schalke, the players for
protest,” he told me later.
Hertha BSC gathered on the pitch at
“But as a leftist I do support the
the Olympiastadion. They linked arms
message, especially since the right
with one another, and, to the surprise
wing becomes stronger in Germany
of everyone watching, they knelt in
during the past few years — all over
solidarity with the NFL protest.
europe it does. Some people seem to
“Berlin is colourful,” the stadium
not remember what happened
announcer called out to the 50,000
during the Second World War.
fans in attendance, according to ESPN FC. “Hertha BSC stands for diversity
“So I welcomed the Hertha team to
and against violence. For this reason,
kneel, because everybody watches
we are joining forces with the protest
soccer in Germany. Even the right-
of our fellow American athletes to
take a stand against discrimination. For a tolerant Berlin, both now and
Hertha BSC steht für Vielfalt,
Toleranz und Verantwortung! Für ein
My old friend Sebastian Bommell first
Berlin, dass auch in Zukunft
heard about the kneeling that
weltoffen ist! #TakeAKnee #hahohe,
evening on "Sportschau," a German
the team tweeted with a picture of
SportsCenter of sorts, as I understand
the players kneeling.
(Hertha BSC stands for tolerance and responsibility! For a tolerant Berlin
Though he didn’t know the context,
and an open-minded world, now and
Bommell was thrilled to see it.
forevermore! #TakeAKnee #hahohe).
It wasn’t the only time in the recent
politics, Bommell said, “I always
months that protest has worked its
enjoyed playing basketball with you,
way into the world of German soccer,
Simon and the [bigger] Sebastian
from Berlin. This is still one of the best examples for me: why sport is a
He told me about a game between
good way to learn about each other.”
China’s under-20 men’s soccer team
He’s right; sports are. And so is
and the German club TSV Schott
Mainz. It was one of 16 friendlies the young Chinese team had scheduled
Since Bommell told me about the
against lower clubs in Germany.
Tibetan flags at the match, I’ve
According to the Guardian, four
learned more about their history
Tibetan refugees and two Germans —
than I’ve ever done before. Not for an
part of the Tibet-Initiative Germany
article, but in order to know which
group — unfurled Tibetan flags while
side I’m on.
attending the match, protesting the
Hertha BSC forward Salomon Kalou,
Chinese occupation and oppression of
who hails from the Ivory Coast, said
that their collective action was a stand against the presence of racism,
The Chinese team refused to continue
white supremacy and discrimination
the match, which was broadcasted
surrounding any sport.
live in China, and walked off the pitch for 25 minutes. The remaining games
"Taking a knee has nothing to do
have been postponed.
with the [American] flag, but rather showing that we are one as people
The Hertha BSC act of solidarity was
and that we going to rise together,"
brief, and under-reported. In the most
Kalou told ESPN FC. "A human heart
negative light it was irrelevant, even a
is too tiny to have a place for hate,
marketing push — saving face against
because hate is such a horrible thing
to put in your heart.”
But no, this matters. Bommell and thousands more might
In the minds of those exiting the
now take a look at who Kaepernick is,
stadium, perhaps their struggle was
at his protest, at where he has
legitimized, or their worldview
donated $1 million, and at the
challenged, or lengthened.
reaction to it all. These are entry
Perhaps they walked
points into a fight for a better world.
contemplatively down one of the
When our correspondence left
main streets outside the stadium,
one renamed in 1984 to a moreworthy recognition, a more-fitting commemoration: Jesse Owens Allee. Joel Sronce is a sports writer in Greensboro.
First Issue of the Triad's Socialist Magazine!