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The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
published 1939 during the last Great Depression.
Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com, May 25, 2010
Arizona SB1070, signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, requires Arizona’s local and state law enforcement to demand the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, and arrest them if they lack documents proving citizenship or legal residency. Effectively making racial profiling into state policy, this law is the latest in a series of attacks on Latin American immigrants, as well as the entire Latino community, who must live with the fear of being interrogated by police for their brown skin. Then on May 11, Arizona went one step further, outlawing the teaching of ethnic studies classes, or any classes that “are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity”. This same law also states that schools must fire English teachers who speak with a “heavy accent.”
Perhaps these new laws make sense if we imagine that undocumented immigrants are merely “aliens”, a danger to the good, mostly white citizens of this great country. But suppose we look at the problem of immigration from the perspective of the immigrants? Why are they risking life and limb to come to a foreign land, far from their home and families? Why aren’t they deterred from making this trip no matter how many walls we put up, no matter how many police collaborate with ICE, no matter how many angry armed “Minutemen” vigilantes are conscripted to guard the border?
John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath, following the Joad family as they migrate to California during the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s, sheds light on these questions in a way that perhaps every American can relate to. One of the most popular and well-written American books of all time, The Grapes of Wrath provides a very human perspective on the harsh lives of migrants, personified by the Joads – a family of poor sharecroppers from Oklahoma. Evicted from their family farm, just as the millions of Mexicans who have suffered enclosure from their land and become homeless and jobless because of NAFTA, the Joads travel to California in a desperate search of work, only to encounter the harassment of authorities and the hatred of the local population.
There are important differences between the “Okies” who traveled to the Southwest in the 1930s and Latino migrantes of the 2000s. The Joads, of course, were white, and did not cross a national border when they made their exodus. But at its core the story of the Joads is the story of the migrant workers, their troubles, their fears, but also their humanity, and their hope. It is a story that can inspire us to recognize the historic nature of the moment in which we live, understand why these enormous transformations are occurring, and recognize that justice for the immigrants is justice for everyone, regardless of color or citizenship status.
In order to understand the migrantes we first have to understand the story of their displacement, or the enclosure of their land, which has left them homeless and with no other options than to leave their homeland in search of a wage. What can The Grapes of Wrath tell us about this reality?
People usually do not resort to risky and desperate moves unless they have nothing left to lose. Steinbeck begins the Joads’ story with the loss of everything they had: the small farm on which they had sustained their family for generations by growing cotton. Young Tom Joad, fresh out of prison, returns to his home to find it deserted. “The Reverend Casy and young Tom stood on the hill and looked down on the Joad place… Where the dooryard had been pounded hard by the bare feet of children and by stamping horses’ hooves and by the broad wagon wheels, it was cultivated now, and the dark green, dusty cotton grew… ‘Jesus!’ he said at last. ‘Hell musta popped here. There ain’t nobody livin’ there.'” (51).
Whether as tenants or small landholders, either for subsistence or for markets, the vast majority of the poor migrantes now coming to this country are fleeing the loss of their farms and their livelihoods, just as the Joads. Perhaps for generations, maybe hundreds or even thousands of years, they had lived in connection with the land and had been able to depend on it for the survival of their families and culture. The loss of this land is devastating to those cultures, but larger forces stand to gain by driving these people into homelessness. Read the rest of this entry »
Also published on The Rag Blog.
Just two weeks after the Massey Energy coal explosion on April 5 that killed 29 miners in West Virginia, the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 more workers. These back-to-back tragedies have brought attention to the fossil fuel industry’s terrible safety record – in both cases there were known safety violations on site, but the government did nothing to prevent disaster from occurring. See the interview below which explains how the federal government approved this BP rig and many more without conducting the environmental review they are legally obligated to.
Unlike the industry executives attempting to shift blame and avoid responsibility, we must look beneath the surface to discover the deeper meaning of these horrible crises.
Is the universe giving us a warning that fossil fuels are going to destroy us? Because if global climate change continues at the rate it has, in the not-too-distant future we will see many thousands, or even millions more deaths as crops dry up, floods destroy coastal wetlands, and diseases migrate to temperate regions. This is no joke. Families and communities are being destroyed so coal and oil corporations can boost their profit margins.
We need to be open to hearing the lessons that are all around us, especially from those who have been silenced and beaten down by capitalism.
Immediately after the Massey explosion and the BP explosion, was Earth Day – April 22. And on this date, indigenous and poor people from around the globe were meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia for the World People’s Conference on Climate Change, a grassroots response to the corporate fraud that was the Copenhagen Summit. Bolivian President Evo Morales, who was proclaimed “World Hero of Mother Earth” by the United Nations General Assembly in October, hosted the conference, proclaiming “The capitalist system looks to obtain the maximum possible gain, promoting unlimited growth on a finite planet. Capitalism is the source of asymmetries and imbalance in the world.”
30,000 people from 140 countries convened and approved the “Cochabamba Protocol”, which calls for an International Climate Justice tribunal to prosecute climate criminals, and condemns REDDs which put a price on wild forests and encourage development, along with carbon market schemes. The protocal proposes a Universal Declaration of Mother Earth and demands that industrialized polluting nations cut carbon emissions by 50 percent as part of a new, binding climate agreement.
Global momentum is building towards confronting capitalism in terms of the ecological devastation it is causing. Here in the United States, Rising Tide North America is calling for a “Day of Action, Night of Mourning” this Friday, May 14 to call for BP to pay for all cleanup and long-term ecological effects of their spill, for the abolition of offshore oil drilling, and for “a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels.”
Government Exempted BP from Environmental Review
Video/interview published by Democracy Now!
May 7, 2010
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well now to the Gulf of Mexico where the enormous oil slick in the Gulf continues to expand. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ordered a 3-week halt to all new offshore drilling permits. Emphasizing that the companies involved had made “major mistakes,” Salazar spoke to reporters Thursday outside BP’s Houston crisis center. He noted that lifting the moratorium on new permits will depend on the outcome of a federal investigation over the Gulf spill and the recommendations to be delivered to President Obama at the end of the month.
- SECRETARY KEN SALAZAR: Minerals Management Service will not be issuing any permits for the construction of new offshore wells. That process will be concluded here on May the 28th. At that point in time, we’ll make decisions about how we plan on moving forward. There is some very major mistakes that were made by companies that were involved. But today is not really the day to deal with those issues. Today and the days ahead really are about trying to get control of the problem.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Secretary Salazar added that the existing offshore oil and natural gas drilling will continue, even as public meetings to discuss new oil drilling off the Virginia coast have been canceled for this month.
AMY GOODMAN: Salazar’s announcement comes on the heel of a Washington Post exposé revealing that the Minerals Management Service had approved BP’s drilling plan in the Gulf of Mexico without any environmental review. The article notes that the agency under Secretary Salazar had quote “categorically excluded” BP’s drilling as well as hundreds of other offshore drilling permits from environmental review. The agency was able to do this using a loophole in the National Environmental Policy Act created for minimally intrusive actions like building outhouses and hiking trails. Well, for more on this story, we’re joined now from Tucson, Arizona by Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. Welcome to DEMOCRACY NOW!, Kieran. Explain this loophole, how you found it, and what it means for the Gulf.
KIERAN SUCKLING: Well, when a federal government is going to approve a project, it has to go through an environmental review. But for projects that have very, very little impact like building an outhouse or a hiking trail, they can use something called a categorical exclusion and say there’s no impact here at all so we don’t need to spend energy or time doing a review. Well, we looked at the oil drilling permits being issued by the Minerals Management Service in the Gulf, and we were shocked to find out that they were approving hundreds of massive oil drilling permits using this categorical exclusion instead of doing a full environmental impact study. And then, we found out that BP’s drilling permit—the very one that exploded—was done under this loophole and so it was never reviewed by the federal government at all. It was just rubber-stamped. Read the rest of this entry »
Disobeying the Banks: An Interview with Enric Duran
by Scott Pierpont
Originally published by the Institute for Anarchist Studies
On September 17th, 2008, Barcelona-based anticapitalist Enric Duran announced that he had expropriated 492,000 euros. For several years, Duran took out loans that he never intended to pay back and donated all of the money to social movements constructing alternatives to capitalism. This announcement came with the publication of 200,000 free newspapers called Crisi (Catalan for “Crisis”), with an article explaining Duran’s action, and other pieces offering a systemic critique of the current financial and ecological crises. The action got the attention of tens of thousands of everyday people as well as major media outlets, who soon dubbed Duran the “Robin Hood of the Banks.” Duran left the country to avoid prosecution. The group that published the newspapers formed Podem Viure Sense Capitalisme (We Can Live With Out Capitalism) and began region-wide organizing through their website, http://podem.cat, bringing together debtors, squatters, alternative economy networks, environmentalists, and everyday people to build a large-scale alternative to capitalism.
Duran returned to Spain six months after the announcement to participate in the release of another publication. On March 17th, 300,000 copies of Podem (We Can) were distributed across Spain in Catalan as well as Spanish. Duran announced the publication during a student protest at the University of Barcelona, and was soon after arrested by the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police on charges of “ongoing fraud” that were brought against Duran by 6 of the 39 financial entities he took money from. He spent two months in jail. He is currently free on bail, having had his passport seized and required to present himself before a judge once a week. None of the charges have been formally brought to trial.
Since then, Duran has been organizing with the We Can campaign. Focused on networking and the distribution of information about alternatives to capitalism, We Can connects with thousands of people participating in alternative economy projects. Many use the group’s website, which includes a “Debtors’ Community” where people get practical advice on how to avoid paying their debts. Duran has published a book, Insumisión a la banca (Disobeying the Banks), the proceeds from which go to We Can, and continues to give talks and participate in national networks on degrowth and alternative currencies.
This interview was taped in Barcelona in December 2009.
The announcement of your action (September 17th, 2008, two days after Lehman Brothers went down) coincided with a dramatic moment during the financial crisis. Was the date chosen for that reason?
That was the goal, to coincide with a moment of ferment in the crises. When the action began at the end of 2005, the crisis hadn’t arrived yet. But the question became when to make it public so it would coincide with an important moment in the crisis. The end of my action was part of the plan, my strategy, by the summer of 2007, when the crisis began in the United States. In the end it was made public in September 2008, coinciding with the breakdown of the international financial order. It was a complete stroke of luck because it wasn’t possible to put an exact date, as we needed a month to prepare the publication and organize people to pass it out. It was really a stroke of luck.
And you planned this action for three years?
Planning, no…it was three years of execution. Between 2005 and 2008 I carried out the various parts of this action. There was a period of research at the beginning, of figuring out how to do it, but very quickly I moved on to practice, because practice is the best way of experimenting and learning.
In your book you mentioned that this technique of taking out loans was inspired by someone you met who falsified pay stubs. But you also mentioned Lucio Urtubia and his action against Citibank. Do you consider your action an expropriation, just as Lucio’s action was?
Yes, the principle examples were expropriations carried out in a non-aggressive way, an intellectual way, such as falsification, or taking out loans and not paying them back, as I did. I don’t know of any precedent involving loans in a political way, but I did have the example of that person who had told me about it before. So I guess the example of Lucio inspired my broader conception of expropriation and direct action, as did the examples of civil disobedience like Martin Luther King in the United States, or those in other countries who showed that public, illegal action can have a major impact on social consciousness. Read the rest of this entry »