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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since October 2010

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One Nation Working Together for Jobs, Not War

October 12, 2010 ·

Dear friends,

October 7 was the 9th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.  What many believed to be a legitimate war of self-defense, a “good war,” has turned out to be what many others, right from the beginning, knew was not good and feared would be disastrous.  The beliefs have been crushed and abandoned, the fears have been realized. The war in Afghanistan is doing nothing to make the lives of Afghans any better, it is doing nothing to make Americans safer, and is costing billions of dollars desperately needed for jobs at home and reconstruction abroad.  It needs to end.  Completely, and immediately.

But October 7 was another anniversary too.  On that same day nine years ago, the first New York protest against the looming war was held in Union Square.  Thousands came out, despite threats and condemnations, to say no to using war as an answer to the crime of September 11.

And last weekend, on 10-2-10, the One Nation Working Together coalition brought more than 100,000 people out into the streets again, to rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, demanding the kind of real political change that will lead to “justice at home and peace abroad.”  With the great Harry Belafonte leading the way, it was an amazing moment -- the first national protest mobilized by a crucial coalition of civil rights and labor in almost two decades -- galvanizing a whole new level of energy and momentum.

You can watch me being interviewed by GritTV’s Laura Flanders on Free Speech TV along with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! during the rally (Laura and I talk near the beginning of the clip, Amy joins us after Ben Jealous and Marion Wright Edelman),  and read below my new article on the rally, just published in YES! magazine.  On the same day, I had the opportunity to discuss the significance of the anniversary on RT-TV with Adam Kokesh of Iraq Veterans Against the War. 

The rally on Saturday brought new energy, new potential alliances, maybe even a little bit of optimism in these dreadful times.  It was hugely important – but it was only one step.  There was a major focus on getting out the vote for next month’s mid-term elections – and voting is certainly important.  But voting is never enough, and we’ve got an awful lot of work to do before and after, regardless of the results, if those votes are going to matter.

I look forward to working together.

All best,
Phyllis

1492 Revisited: The Real Story of Christopher Columbus

October 11, 2010 ·

When’s the last time you’ve celebrated the existence of a liar, slave trader, thief, and genocidaire? The answer may be more recent than you think. Columbus Day is just around the corner, and for most Americans it means a day off from work or school and perhaps a tip of the hat to one of the greatest discoverers of all time.

In the District of Columbia (named in honor Columbus) there will be a wreath laying ceremony at the Columbus Memorial Statue outside of Union Station, begin at 11 a.m. on October 11. Representatives from Spain and Italy intend to join with the public in celebrating the founder of the “New World.”

For some, however, the second Monday in October is nothing more than the propagation of a myth — one founded on the highly selective and imaginative interpretation of a very real and ugly historical event. Kurt Vonnegut summed it up well in Breakfast of Champions:

1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.

Columbus’s historic journey was intended to find a westwards route to Southeast Asia. Instead he landed in what is known today as the West Indies. There, he and his men began to steal from, murder, enslave, and rape the native populations.

Describing his victims, Columbus wrote, “They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features...They would make fine servants...With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

On the subject of their generosity (naivety, to Columbus) he continues, “When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone.”

The consequences of his attitude towards these people is well documented: the first European historian in the Americas estimated that at least 5 million indigenous people had been killed by the end of 1496, three years after Columbus was granted the position of “Viceroy and Governor” to rule over his newly claimed territories in the Caribbean. Within a generation after Columbus’s arrival the number of estimated deaths multiplied by three, to 15 million people.

Further reason to question this holiday can be found far north of the Caribbean, where excavations in Newfoundland support the claim that Vikings sailing from Greenland were the first Europeans to discover America around 1,000 A.D. Though still controversial, evidence in Ecuador and Peru points to the Polynesians as the first sea-farers to reach South America.

This leaves one to question: If Christopher Columbus was not the first sailor, European or otherwise, to discover America, what are we celebrating if not his legacy of exploitation and oppression? If you’d like to find something positive to commemorate on Monday, I’d suggest joining the people of Berkeley, CA (if not in person then at least in spirit) in celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day, to honor the real first Americans.

Nigeria @ 50

October 7, 2010 ·

Nigeria turned 50 last week.   It’s been a turbulent fifty, a time of great success and more than a few crushing defeats.  The paradoxes of the last 50 years were captured during independence festivities in Abuja last Friday, as thousands gathered in Nigeria’s capital to celebrate Nigeria 50th Independence Day with food and fireworks only to be flee in horror when two car bombs exploded outside the Ministry of Justice, killing twelve.

The occasion of Nigeria’s 50th birthday provided many news outlets and commentators with the hook they needed to perform an autopsy of Nigeria’s history, with the usual analyses of Nigeria’s successes (its literary icons, its contemporary status as peacekeeper and stabilizer of West Africa), and its many failures (the oft-mentioned 419 email scams and the Biafran War among them).  It was jarring to see again the pictures of the Biafran war – the carnage of bodies piled atop each other, the stomachs of children bulging from hunger.  Yet Nigeria survived the catastrophe of its civil war, and has remained unified since.

Nigeria’s future, in many ways, turns on the question of ethnicity and politics, the same questions that have hounded Nigeria since its founding.  These questions will be at the fore as Nigerians head to the polls next year to elect their next president.  The last year has been an especially interesting one in Nigerian politics; the current president, Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian Southerner), ascended to the presidency only after his predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua (a Muslim Northerner), died in office in May.  Jonathan recently announced his bid for the presidency; if he is selected as his party’s candidate, it would throw a wrench into the ruling party’s finely calibrated North-South arrangement whereby a candidate from one half of the country is replaced in the following election cycle by a candidate from the other half.  Since Yar’Adua only served a portion of his term, there are some who believe that a Northerner is entitled to another term as President.  If Jonathan manages to win the political primaries for his party, his candidacy will upset the system, and perhaps for the best.  A Jonathan campaign would hopefully provide an opportunity for Nigerians to focus a bit more on the qualifications and credentials of their presidential candidates, and a bit less on their ethnic background and religious beliefs.

There are many others who aspire to become the next president of Nigeria, the most interesting of whom, perhaps, is Nuhu Ribadu, the former Executive Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Division, the anti-corruption agency.   Ribadu has returned to Nigeria after several years in exile; he fled Nigeria after several attempts on his life as a result of his anti-corruption work.  Now he is mounting a campaign that he promises will be based on the ideals he’s spent his career defending – honesty, integrity, and a promise to crack down on the graft and corruption that has become an endemic part of the political culture in Nigeria.  His campaign has already attracted attention among many youth across ethnic boundaries in Nigeria.

The fate of Nigeria in the next half-century hangs in the balance.  The direction that Nigeria takes – towards a future of hope and growth, or one of backsliding and defeat – depends, to a great extent, on leadership.  For this reason alone, the next few months in Nigerian politics will be of critical importance.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Holly Bass

October 6, 2010 ·

The Furious Dance

an occasional poem in celebration of Alice Walker and her book of poetry, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing

October 2, 2010 (presented with tap dancer Melissa Frakman)

What is a furious dance?
It is not polite.
Does not shuck and jive or shuffle along.
It is not beige.
It is bold. In your face. Ready for revolution.
A solidarity of the body. A rhetoric of rhythm.
A furious dance is the knowing
that despite the opposition's best efforts
to suppress, deny, destroy
we will shake off your oppression
and stamp it into dust
with our furiously dancing feet.

Are you furious
in your peacemaking, in your pleasure making,
your life giving and living? Do you dance the sun up
and give thanks each day?

We must be furious, like our sister Alice
Her words cut through
all the tepid tea parties, the sleight
of hand and misdirection of
pundits, politicos and profit mongers
She speaks truth, sings peace
in her garden of words
fingers coaxing nourishment
from the earth's fertile being

Alice
The eighth and last child of
Willie Lee Walker and
Minnie Lou Tallulah Grant Walker
royalty of "the rural peasantry"
from red clay Georgia
this Daughter, Sister, Mother
Bearer of magic talismans:
a suitcase, a sewing machine,
a typewriter
Walker
She who make inroads
from dirt roads
Who cuts new paths
wherever her feet take her
Spelman to Sarah Lawrence
New York City to Mississippi
Gaza and Washington, DC

Poet, novelist, essayist, anthologist
editor, educator, activist
water-bearer
prophetess
sending us in search
of our mothers' gardens
only to discover that We
are the ones we have
been waiting for

We praise her for teaching
a generation of women the difference
between lavender and purple,
between feminist and womanist
for reclaiming our heroine
Zora Neale Hurston
and returning her arrow-sharp words
to their rightful position

Alice Walker has given us more
than four decades of catalytic language
beginning with a book of poems in 1967
Once
gathering into the global phenomenon
that is The Color Purple
and arriving some thirty books later here
to Hard Times Require Furious Dancing

Require is a word of urgency,
any-means-necessary
That is to say, this is not optional, people
this is a call to action,
to march, to shout, to protest, to love
to dance and dance furiously
our collective humanity.

-Holly Bass

Used by permission.

Holly Bass is a poet and performer. A Cave Canem fellow, her poems have appeared in Callaloo, nocturnes (re)view, Role Call, Beltway and The Ringing Ear, an anthology of Black Southern poetry.

Bass, Poet-in-Residence at the 5th & K Busboys and Poets, was a featured reader for the opening night of Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

America's Hungry Children Need Food

October 6, 2010 ·

Our nation’s safety net program to help low income families and children afford enough food, SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is slated for a $14.1 billion decrease in funding.  Unless Congress acts to reverse this, those receiving SNAP aid will see a substantial reduction in their monthly benefits, possibly beginning as early as 2013.  The decrease in monthly aid would mark an unprecedented event in the program’s history. 

Congress is raiding the SNAP program to pay for other domestic programs such as Medicaid and teacher salaries.  Although a large deficit can be a problem in the long run, studies show that short-term deficit spending in time of recession is beneficial to the economy. Further, SNAP is not only a proven anti-poverty program but also has the stimulative effect on the economy of producing $1.73 in economic activity for each dollar spent on the program. 

New information, which was released from the census bureau on September 28th, found that 20 percent of American children live in poverty.  The census report also found that in Mississippi alone 31 percent of children were living in poverty.  Further troubling is the fact that, in as many as 21 states nationwide childhood poverty was at or above the 20 percent mark.  Since SNAP has proven an effective anti-hunger program, it should be supported and expanded in desperate times, not curtailed.

If you rob Peter to pay Paul, the already hungry Peter will starve.  If we allow this kind of deficit hysteria to hijack our children’s well being, we will be a nation morally starved as well.  

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