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Good Day in Chillicothe

Jun1

by: Sam Quinones on June 1st, 2016 | No Comments »

In Chillicothe, Ohio, the way I understand it, school janitors are heroes.

Many kids are growing up in families of addicts and have no place to go, their home studded with neglect and jagged edges; so they hang around after school. There, janitors have befriended them, bringing them food, giving them a sober adult to talk to and a calm place to hang out.

My family and I spent Thursday in Chillicothe, a southern Ohio town (pop. 21,000) bedeviled, as so many are, by the opiate-addiction epidemic.

I spoke all day long – a radio interview at 6:30 am, meetings with three groups through the day, and a 7 pm public talk at the Majestic Theater, the oldest (1853), continuously operated theater in America. Yet by the end I wasn’t exhausted; I was instead exhilarated by the electric, intense response of people I met.

That’s how it’s been everywhere lately.

Source: Sam Quinones

Writing Dreamland wasn’t arduous; it was engrossing. But it was also about a tough topic in which the worst of human behavior was on display. So I’m thrilled to see towns like Chillicothe using the book to come together, form alliances, leverage talent, talk about this problem in a way that hasn’t happened before, and do something hopeful.

Heroin seems to be having the opposite effect in Chillicothe that it has on users. If heroin isolates addicts into self-absorption and hyper-consumption, the drug also seems to be bringing people together to fight against it. I see this elsewhere as well and that’s encouraging. I know the problem is big. A new sporting-goods store delayed its opening in Chillicothe for months, I’m told, because it couldn’t find enough workers that could pass a drug test.

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Reclaiming Words: Niggas, Bitches, and Queers

May31

by: on May 31st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

WARNING: I will quote the original sources in this essay verbatim. Some people may find the words offensive. Reader discretion is advised.

At the 2016 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, the last during the administration of Barack Obama, the first African-American president, comedian Larry Wilmore ended his presentation referring to the president as “my nigga.” His use of the word “nigga” reignited the discussion about when and where and how and by whom the word ought to be used or whether it ought to be used at all. Civil rights leader Al Sharpton is among those critical of Wilmore’s use of the word. Sharpton rejects the argument that the word can have a positive connotation, that there is such a thing as reclamation of pejorative words, either for African-Americans or for anyone else.

I say that most words are fecund with meaning, that these multiplicities of meaning shift depending upon context and the human being using the word, that negative words have been turned upside down and inside out, and reclaiming words is a liberatory act of empowerment.

I will not rehearse the etymologies of the three words I will consider in this essay – nigga, bitch, and queer – except to say that they were and are sometimes still used to disrespect another human being. Once upon a time in America it was common to see the word “nigger” used to speak of African-Americans in respectable journals. There is no question that the word was used to represent black people as less than white people. There was a time that to call an African-American person black would be cause for consternation. Some white people past and present till spit the word “nigger” out with hate-filled venom.

James Weldon Johnson in his 1912 novel – “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” – wrote of a common rhyme: “Nigger, nigger never die. Black face and shiny eye.” However, Frank Horne, activist, physician, civil servant, poet, and uncle to the actress and singer Lena Horne, reclaimed the word in his poem “Nigger” when he turned the rhyme into a black history lesson. (https://hiddencause.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/poem-of-the-week-horne-2/)

The poem says in part:

Little Black boy,
Chased down the street
“nigger, nigger never die
Black face an shiny eye
Nigger. . . nigger. . . nigger. . .

Hannibal. . Hannibal
Bangin’ thru the Alps
Licked the proud Romans
Run home with their scalps
. . .
Toussant. . . Toussant
Made the French flee
Fought like a demon
Set his people free
. . .
Jesus. . . Jesus
Son of the Lord
Spit in his face
Nail him on a board
Nigger.. . nigger. . . nigger

Little Black boy
Runs down the street,
“Nigger nigger never die
Black face an’ shiny eye
Nigger. . . nigger. . . nigger
(http://www.poetrynook.com/poem/nigger-0)

Also, in “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man”, Johnson describes the use of the word “nigger” among some black men:

“I noticed that among this class of colored men the word “nigger” was freely used in about the same sense as “fellow” and sometimes as a term of almost endearment; but I soon learned that its use was positively and absolutely prohibited to white men.”

This is not unusual. Most group have some expression that they may use to refer to themselves or that others in the group may use but is forbidden to outsiders. In the popular British Television show, “Downton Abbey”, the Irish chauffeur who has married into the English aristocracy says of himself:

“You won’t make a gentleman of me, you know. You can teach me to fish, to ride, to shoot, but I’ll still be an Irish mick in my heart.”
It would have been an insult for anyone else to say that to him.

And this is the rub. Some words are acceptable within groups, but are forbidden to those outside the group. In their use of the word “nigger” within the group, it is a word that connotes shared experience, but when the word “nigger” becomes “my nigga” it connotes a shared moral and communal location. African communal logic says that: Because I am we are, and because we are, I am. The moral space created between the individual and the community past, present, and future, makes a righteous claim on both individual and community. We all exist to uplift the individual, and the individual has a responsibility to do her or his best for the sake of the community. Thus “my nigga” is family and friend and sometime enemy, someone with whom I share past, present, and future moral responsibility.

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Sanders is Israel’s Best Friend in 2016

May27

by: on May 27th, 2016 | 6 Comments »

NOTE: As a non-profit, Tikkun magazine does NOT endorse any candidate or political party. Nor does Rabbi Lerner. This article is a response to distorted media coverage of Sanders’ appointment of prominent progressives to the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee whom the NY Times, the Jewish Forward and other media are describing as anti-Israel. Some of our readers support Bernie Sanders, some support Hillary Clinton, some support Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, and there may be other candidates that some of our readers support. This article is not meant to enter into that debate, but only to challenge the media coverage of Sanders on Israel.

(Source: Flickr/ Phil Roeder)

I wasn’t surprised when the NY Times on May 26th made a front page story out of the alleged damage Senator Bernie Sanders was doing to the Democratic Party by placing among his 5 representatives on the Democratic Party’s Platform committee a few people who might support Sanders’ view that the US needs to be “more even-handed” in the Israel/Palestine struggle.

The New York Times has consistently turned its news pages into the loudest cheerleader for Hillary Clinton’s bid for the nomination. If mentioned at all, they bury deep in their paper, Bernie Sanders’ primary wins and the many polls that indicate he’d be more likely to win against Trump than Hillary. So it’s no surprise that when Bernie won permission to appoint 5 of the 15 members of the Platform Committee of the Democratic Party Convention, the Times focused the story on the possibility that 2 of these appointees, James Zogby and Cornel West, would turn the convention into a debate about US policy towards Israel, and thereby weaken Hillary’s capacity to fight off Trump in the general election. There was nothing in the story to confirm that these appointees had any such intention, but that didn’t keep the N.Y. Times from making this front page story a way to once again stir worries that Bernie’s vigorous pursuit of the nomination (as Hillary Clinton herself had done in 2008 against Obama even after it was clear she would not win the nomination) was going to hurt Hillary’s chances in the Fall election–thus creating the story should Hillary lose that it was really all the fault of that socialist Jew from Vermont!

The Times ignored the important Bernie appointments of Congressman Keith Ellison, a leader of the Congress’ Progressive Caucus, a supporter of social justice for middle income people and the poor, universal healthcare and a $15 minimum wage, and an opponent of Obama’s use of drones, Rebecca Parker, vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington State, who is likely to emphasize rights for indigenous peoples and criminal justice reform, and Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org who is likely to push for a tax on carbons and other aggressive policies to save the planet’s life-support system. To turn the discussion solely to Israel, and suggest that somehow Sanders’ very mild call for an even-handed policy that took into account the needs of the Palestinian people is a threat to Israel’s existence is irresponsible and ludicrous.

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President Obama & Hiroshima: A Pathway to National Atonement

May27

by: on May 27th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

President Obama’s speech today in Hiroshima did not contain the word “atonement.” Nevertheless, the spirit of atonement was carried throughout. It was not only the most remarkable speech of Barack Obama’s presidency, it is arguably the most remarkable speech given by any U.S. president, ever.

In concluding his speech, President Obama said:

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

There are so many areas in which to critique President Obama’s tenure in office, and yet there are times, like today, that I am grateful to have a sitting president whose core intention is to seek the greater good of all humankind.  Yes, it is disappointing that he has presided over a wholly corrupt military system and has done nothing to change it: namely, a military system that lures young men and women with financial and emotional enticements to fight the nation’s wars, all while the rest of the nation, whatever their politics, goes about the charade of “supporting the troops,” as if morally tolerating the corrupt military machine that has and is devouring their lives can remotely approximate the notion of loving fraternity.  We have a long way to go as a nation, from President Obama to the men and women of Mainstreet, to atone for our toleration of this ongoing assault on the sanctity of human life.

Yet I give President Obama credit for at least endeavoring throughout his presidency, and the last two years in particular, to create the emotional space for the American people to atone for our sins as a nation.  Politicians do not succeed at their primary craft – winning elections – by creating that emotional space, and that largely holds true for Barack Obama as well.  Yet that space, that space for genuine national atonement, has been carved by this president.  It may be a small space for now, but it is something that we can, I believe must, expand upon.


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Bernie Sanders and Comics Part 5: A Finale with Paul Buhle and The Dales

May24

by: Paul Buhle with Ben Dale and Karen Dale on May 24th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Paul Buhle is one of the foremost historians of American radicalism and the American Left. He is also the editor of 12 comic art books including Yiddishkeit and most recently has been editor of the project Bernie Sanders Comics (www.BernieSandersComics.com).

In an earlier blog post, Buhle wrote that the “project brings together the ‘Underground Comix’ generation of the early 1970s with artists who are now in their mid-twenties and at the onset of distinguished careers. Each artist has made a unique contribution, in both narrative and in comic art style.”

Last week we here at Tikkun Daily started running a series of blog posts by Buhle about Bernie Sanders, comics, and the 2016 presidential election. With each post we also published comic art by Buhle and the other artists at Bernie Sanders Comics.

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Bernie Sanders and Comics Part 4: A Historical Note

May23

by: Paul Buhle with art by Sharon Kahn Rudahl on May 23rd, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Readers who appreciate the Bernie Sanders Comics series may be interested to know that half of the artistic contributors boosting the Jewish candidate happen also to be Jewish.

Comic art, the comic strip and the comic art book, owe less to the Jewish tradition than do film or theater (a favorite quip reads: it would be easier to write a history of American Jews without theater than American theater without Jews … because American theater without Jews would hardly be a history at all). But the tradition, continually growing and changing, still owes a lot to the Jewish tradition, and in several interesting ways.

The comic strip of the daily newspapers – the origin of modern comic art going back to the 1890s – saw giants like Rube Goldberg, Harry Hershfield, and Milt Gross, with millions of devoted readers into the 1930s and 1940s. Often, their characters were also delightfully ‘ethnic’ with the Jewish ‘look’ and language of the immigrant generation, the lively, colorful lower-middle class, malapropisms and all.

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The Game of Ones

May23

by: on May 23rd, 2016 | No Comments »

Earlier this month, the Guggenheim Museum announced it had received a “a major grant from the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation to support Guggenheim Social Practice, a new initiative committed to exploring the ways in which artists can initiate projects that engage community participants, together with the museum, to foster new forms of public engagement. As part of the initiative, the museum will commission two separate artist projects, one by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and one by Jon Rubin and Lenka Clayton, which will be developed and presented in New York City in 2016 and 2017, respectively.”

The museum curators who conceived and run this initiative join a growing cohort of gatekeepers at institutions and foundations creating programs shaped by the aesthetic and ethic I’ve started to call the Game of Ones. To play it, you create a competition (whether public and visible or private and quiet, the form remains a contest) which richly rewards – with funds and fanfare – a small number of winners from within a large field of practice.

The Guggenheim has chosen three artists who taken as a group deflect some of the criticisms of the category “social practice,” which has accumulated resources in direct proportion to its trendiness. (For a little background, check out “Artification,” a piece I wrote about it a few years ago; the title comes from Rick Lowe’s quip that “social practice is the gentrification of community arts.”)

To counter the accurate charge that most artists who identify with the label are white and disconnected from both ground-level social realities and the movements for social justice that drive community-based collaborative arts projects, the Guggenheim has chosen an African American artist deeply rooted in community-based work (Joseph) and two white artists from Rust Belt Pittsburgh whose work touches on issues such as international conflict (Rubin) and feminism (Clayton).

My concern is not with the artists chosen, nor with their willingness to undertake the selected projects. Congratulations to them! If I were anointed with a “major grant” from the Rothschild Foundation, I’d take the money – wouldn’t you? I’ve got a few books queued up to write and a bank account that reflects a lifelong addiction to social and cultural activism, so if anyone is considering nominating me for the next fellowship or prize, feel free!

The bone I want to pick is with the institutional aims and values that have produced the Game of Ones, a framework that ratifies the social order we sum up nowadays with a phrase: “the one percent.”

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Bernie Sanders and Comics Part 3: Why Can’t Bernie Catch a Break from the Talking Heads?

May19

by: Paul Buhle with art by Nick Thorkelson on May 19th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Everyone knows that television talk shows on mainstream news channels are stacked against Bernie. As Sanders’ victories in state primaries continue to roll in, the Bernie surge is described as interesting but irrelevant, except for as it adds to or subtracts from Hillary Clinton’s supposedly inevitable campaign against Trump.

Meanwhile, social media is flooded with discussions about this notable bias. Is this a contradiction of historic proportions? Or perhaps a return to a little-discussed saga within American liberal history.

Danny Goldberg, a veteran music producer of many of the most progressive, feminist, antiwar, pro-labor acts in the business, more than a decade ago offered a keen interpretation of this type of bias that somehow did not register with the Left. How The Left Lost the Teen Spirit (2003, revised edition 2005) actually explored the shift of Democratic Party leadership away from serious interest in, or even sympathy for, the attitudes of young people. The most vivid example of Goldberg’s argument lay directly in front of him: a long-standing crusade by Joseph Lieberman, the 2000 vice presidential candidate and hawkish liberal from Connecticut, in tow with presumed future First Lady, Tipper Gore. Was it a crusade against war (no) or against corporate wrongdoing and pollution (yes, but only in a certain narrow sense)? The crusade was actually against the popular music and films that, Gore and Lieberman insisted, were poisoning American youth, the very youth that patronized the forbidden fruit as eager consumers.


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Bernie Sanders and Comics Part 2: Memes and Comic Art

May18

by: Paul Buhle with art by Hilary Allison and Ellis Rosen on May 18th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

The Bernie Sanders campaign has provoked so much homegrown vernacular expression, ranging from visual art to music, that one might fairly call it the grassroots social media campaign par excellence. He is arguably the most extraordinary Jewish political candidate (in the U.S.) in recent generations based upon what he has encouraged the old, and especially the young, to do for his cause.

Nothing is quite so prolific among Bernie supporters as the production of memes, of which thousands are made with Bernie. Friendly or less-than-friendly images of Hillary Clinton, and overwhelmingly hostile images of Donald Trump, seemingly trail somewhere behind Bernie’s popular memes – but this varies inevitably with each user and their online partners.

Comic art, old in the daily press but recent as an accepted art form in the U.S. – we might date that to the Pulitzer Prize for Art Spiegelman and his Maus volumes – also has a contribution. I’m glad to say that my artists and I set out on a project that may or may not be nearing a conclusion: the Bernie Sanders comics.


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Bernie Sanders and Comics Part 1: Memories of Eugene V. Debs

May17

by: Paul Buhle with art by Gary Dumm on May 17th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

(Managing Editor’s note: Paul Buhle is one of the foremost historians of American radicalism and the American Left. He has also edited 12 comic art books including Yiddishkeit and is the editor of the comic project at www.BernieSandersComics.com. This week we will be running a series of blog posts by Buhle on Tikkun Daily about Bernie Sanders, comics, and the 2016 presidential election. With each post we will also be publishing comic art from he and other artists involved in the www.BernieSandersComics.com project. Today’s comic is from Buhle and Gary Dumm. Tikkun does not, and cannot, endorse or oppose candidates or political parties. We have published a variety of perspectives about the 2016 election and are actively seeking articles, comics, and other publishable work in support of any and all candidates for the U.S. presidency and from any political party. The views expressed in the posts and comics are the author’s and/or artist’s alone.)

Debs, FDR, and Martin Luther King, Jr: these three, far more than any others, excited idealistic expectations of progress-minded Jewish Americans in the twentieth century. Norman Thomas could be added for that moment, of his Socialist Party campaign in the 1932 presidential election, when it looked like he would get a million votes and perhaps save a Depression-wracked nation. Roosevelt got most of the would-be socialistic votes instead, and with the Second New Deal, three years later, fostered the famous witticism on the three worlds of American Jews: Diese Velt (this world), Yene Velt (the next world) and …Roosevelt!

But for those old enough to remember, the memories of Debs remained. An ancient old-timer, recalling his most vivid memory growing up in the blue-collar Jewish neighborhood of the 1920s, told me he could still see in his mind’s eye, in 1980, the day Debs’ death was announced in the papers. “People were crying on the streets.” The next year, in Fontana, California, at a Slovenian old folks home, I interviewed a 98-year-old woman who was a former union organizer of hat makers. She was now in a bed, hardly moving, and mostly senile, but there was a memory that kept returning, in the repeated phrase, “GENE DEBS HELD MY BABY!” She grabbed my arm as she said this: the experience of a lifetime.

Indeed. In photos of crowds with Debs speaking, young parents typically held up their children so they could, later in life, remember that shining moment. This last summer, when a crowd of 10,000 in Madison, Wisconsin, broke the virtual press boycott on covering Bernie Sanders as more than a fringe candidate, I was stunned to see the same phenomenon. I’ve seen it again in photos of street events with Bernie making an appearance. A friend of mine, parent of an 11- year-old boy in New York, told me that his son had been watching Bernie on television for weeks, with mounting excitement. The two traveled to the South Bronx together and were disappointed, the boy bitterly disappointed, to be only part of the overflow. And then, as they were leaving for the subway, Bernie’s car came around the block, hesitated, and Bernie looked at them and waved (as he did to so many thousands of others that day). The day was made: a memory that would last, perhaps for a lifetime, recast also as something more personal, as we all do in our memories.

Whoever heard MLK in person, or for that matter on a television news segment, would be likely to say the same, of course, but let us focus a little on Debs and Bernie. Eugene Victor Debs, a locomotive engineer from Terre Haute, Indiana, son of free thinking French-born parents who named him after authors Eugene Sue and Victor Hugo, was already a legend in the 1890s when he led a solidarity strike, for the besieged workers in the company town of Pullman, Illinois, a strike that spread across the Western states with almost perfect nonviolence and the immense idealism of human as well as class solidarity. Imprisoned, he converted to socialism. By 1900, the first time he ran for president, his Terre Haute friend and leading American sentimental poet James Whitcomb Riley wrote a lyric for the campaign, with a Hoosier “Injiana” twang:

And there’s ‘Gene Debs – a man ‘at stands

And jest holds out in his two hands

As warm a heart as ever beat

Betwixt here and the Jedgement Seat.

Debs was often viewed as secular saint, a hundred or perhaps a thousand years ahead of his time. His martyrdom sealed the image in history: arrested after a speech in Ohio in 1917, opposing U.S. entry into the First World War, he was convicted and sent to prison by the ostensibly liberal but emphatically hawkish Woodrow Wilson administration. Nearly a million Americans gave the unjustly imprisoned Debs their vote for President in 1920, an action unknown before or since. Prison broke his health, as it was perhaps expected to do, and he died from heart problems he experienced there.

No American politician in office, for generations, so venerated Debs as did the young Bernie Sanders. Certainly none thought to put on a record, in the voice of a later socialist, i.e., Sanders himself, the words of Debs for listeners of younger generations to listen and understand.

Bernie’s presidential campaign, whatever its outcome, has done more to bring back the idea of “socialism,” by any definition at hand, than efforts over three quarters of a century. Despite his apparent (and avowed) secularism, there is a spiritual affect to his message and the way it is heard. The incident of a bird landing on his podium in Portland, and his evocation, “No more war!” had more than a touch of the Biblical Dove. Immediately, memes placed Bernie as a modern St. Francis of Assisi – in harmony with nature and all the deity’s creatures – with the Jewish candidate’s visage replacing the original.

It is no wonder that many thousands of young Jews, as well as young Gentiles, view him with something more than admiration. He has opened their hopes to an escape from the downward cycle that has marked so many ordinary younger Americans’ experiences for something like forty years.

Bernie the secular saint, like Debs before him? Perhaps not, but secular saints are created, in the popular mind for what they symbolize even more than for who they are personally or even for what they manage to do. Today’s Bernie Sanders, in his ongoing campaign, with “honesty” and “integrity” polling as the chief virtues separating him from other candidates, unmistakably evokes redemption, the possibility of redemption. This evocation is not so different from Gene Debs’ a century ago.

Or so it seems to this historian of the American Left.

_

Paul Buhle has been a contributor to Tikkun for more than twenty years.

Gary Dumm, a longtime collaborator with the late Harvey Pekar, has contributed to many anthologies, including Students for a Democratic Society (as principal artist), The Beats, A Graphic Adaptation of Studs Terkel’s Working, and Yiddishkeit.

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