Thursday, October 27, 2016

Standing Rock protest by the Sioux and their supporters: an effort to break from a long, sad history

(Famed 19th Century Sioux Indian Chief Sitting Bull, who was killed at Standing Rock in 1890)

The Dakotas lie outside the U.S. South, but the struggles of indigenous people such as the Sioux have parallels throughout the Global South.

In the 1934 Warner Brothers film Massacre, Joe Thunder Horse (played by Richard Barthelmess) tries to navigate the white majority world by playing an Indian in a Wild West show. After reconnecting with his Indian heritage and seeing the depth of injustice whites have done to that heritage and his people, he goes to Washington, D.C., to plead with the Indian Affairs Commissioner to do something about it.

“Every move I make is blocked by the same organized groups that have been bleeding the Indians for years,” the commissioner tells him. “Water power, oil rights, cattle ranges, timber—whatever the Indian happens to own, they manage to get it away from him. They control public opinion and legislation, and they’ve got me hog-tied.”

The same could be said today as American Indians from across the nation join in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Indians along the North and South Dakota border to protest plans by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners to build the so-called Dakota Access pipeline, part of which would be on Sioux land and under the Missouri River. The river is the tribe’s only source of water.

Tribal leaders say the pipeline seriously threatens the water supply on the reservation and could destroy ancestral lands considered sacred. In taking their stand, they and hundreds of their supporters have created the largest joint effort by American Indians in the nation’s history.

Company officials insist the Indians’ concerns have no foundation and that they have met with tribal representatives numerous times over the issue as well as provided the U.S. Corps of Engineers—which owns the land and approved the pipeline—with extensive data backing their claims. They say the pipeline meets and exceeds existing safety standards.

A federal judge denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to stop construction on the pipeline, but the Obama Administration proceeded with temporarily shutting down the part of the project that was a half-mile from the reservation.

The protest has led to dozens of arrests, including the filing of trespassing and riot charges against Democracy Now reporter Amy Goodman for filming a confrontation between Indians and the pipeline security officers. These confrontations have included the pepper-spraying of protesters and unleashed dogs lunging at them. The charges against Goodman were later dropped.

The dispute has gotten minimal attention from the mainstream media—no big surprise there—even during a presidential election when it would be interesting to hear the candidates’ positions.

It’s the latest chapter in the long, sad history of American Indians in this country. Four years ago, New York Times writer Nicholas D. Kristof traveled to the Sioux Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and called it “the poster child of American poverty and of the failures of the reservation system for American Indians in the West.”

Kristof said Census data showed that Shannon County there had the lowest per capita income in the nation in 2010 and that several other counties that included Sioux reservations were among the nation’s poorest. The jobless rate in Pine Ridge was 70 percent, 50 percent of the over-40 population suffered from diabetes, and as much as two-thirds of the adult population were alcoholics. Tuberculosis was rampant—eight times the national rate—and life expectancy was under 50 years of age.

The Pine Ridge reservation includes Wounded Knee, the village where the U.S. Seventh Cavalry slaughtered Chief Big Foot’s band in 1890, the last of the 19th century battles between U.S. military and American Indians.  Famous Sioux Chief Sitting Bull was killed at Standing Rock that same year in a shooting melee related to government efforts to crack down on the so-called "Ghost Dance" movement. The Ghost Dance was a mystical ceremony Native Americans performed to rid their land of the white man.

Maybe it’s better if the mainstream media stay away from Standing Rock. When they do come, they tend to treat American Indian issues like a John Wayne movie, such as the coverage by many news organizations of the Wounded Knee protest and hostage crisis on the Pine Ridge reservation back in 1973,  the Navaho-Hopi land dispute near the Grand Canyon 10 years later, and the so-called “Navaho flu” health crisis in New Mexico in 1993.

“I feel a sadness for the white man,” American Indian Movement leader Russell Means once said. “He has no roots. No foundations.”

And too often, the white man, in his greed, attacks those who do have roots and foundations but stand in the white man’s way.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Labor South roundup: Trump & Joe McCarthy; prisoners strike & Native Americans protest; Jim Beam workers in Ky vote to strike; and longshoremen solidarity

It’s time for another Labor South roundup as the nation slouches toward election day, Jim Beam workers in Kentucky vote to strike, and the International Dockworkers Council meets in Florida.

Echoes of Joe McCarthy while no one’s talking about the nationwide prison strike and the Standing Rock protest

(U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wisconsin)

Back in February 1950, U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin appeared before a crowd in Wheeling, West Virginia, waving a sheet of paper that he said included a list of 205 communists in the U.S. Department of State. In later speeches, the number of communists he would cite ranged from as few as 10 to as many as 81 or even 205.

I was reminded of Joe McCarthy as I listened to Sunday’s presidential debate en route back to my home in Oxford, Mississippi, from a trip to North Carolina. At one point, Republican contender Donald Trump blasted his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for destroying 33,000 emails from her time as secretary of state. At another, that number jumped 6,000 to 39,000.

It’s the same old demagoguery, and Clinton herself is not above a certain degree of it. When asked about the Wikileaks revelations of her speeches to Wall Street financiers, she quickly went ad hominem by attacking the Russians for leaking the material to Wikileaks. My old logic professor would have flunked me if I had tried that trick in his course.

I served on a panel discussion titled “Civil Discourse and the Role of the Media in the 2016 Presidential Discussion” here at the University of Mississippi Wednesday of this week. I joined the other panelists in acknowledging the challenges facing journalists in holding the candidates’ feet to the fire of truth this election, particularly Trump. A group of reporters found that Trump either misspoke, mislead or out-and-out lied 72 times in a single speech back in March.

Fox News journalist Chris Wallace, chosen to moderate the Oct. 19 debate,  has now famously said “I do not believe that it’s my job to be a truth squad” when serving as moderator. In other words, Wallace sees himself simply as a referee. Granted it’s mighty hard for anyone to be a “truth squad” this election cycle, much less a debate moderator. However, writing for Moyers & Company, Todd Gitlin had this to say: “If the boxer comes out of his corner with his glove dripping with some unknown substance, is it not the job of the referee to interfere?”

Beyond lies and misstatements, perhaps the worst disservice to the public this election is what’s not being discussed. Where are the statements from Trump and Clinton on the nationwide prison strike against poor prison conditions and what is largely unpaid labor by convicts in prisons in Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and beyond? This is labor that benefits huge corporations such as Walmart and McDonalds.

What about the huge protest by Native Americans against the Dakota Access pipeline planned near Standing Rock Sioux tribal lands in North and South Dakota? It’s an issue that pits a Dallas-based private company against one of the most put-upon groups of people on the continent, Native Americans, who want to protect their ancestral lands against a potential environmental disaster.

Jim Beam workers in Kentucky vote to strike

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 111D voted overwhelmingly this week to strike at two Jim Beam distilleries in Clermont and Boston, Kentucky, after weeks of bargaining failed to produce a new contract to replace the one that ends Friday.

Suntory Holdings Ltd., a Japanese company, owns Jim Beam. Company officials defended their offer of a contract that they said did away with a two-tiered wage system and included wage hikes.

Bourbon consumption on the whole is on the rise worldwide--most of it is produced in Kentucky--and the relative prosperity has led to generally good relations between management and labor in recent years. However, apparently all is not well with workers in bourbon land.

Dockworkers and longshoremen of the world unite!

Last month’s meeting of the International Dockworkers Council (IDC) in Miami, Fla., provided an opportunity for many delegates to praise the 97,000-member organization that has kept its grassroots identity with the rank-and-file.

The IDC prides itself on international solidarity with dockworkers and longshoremen around the world and keeping alive the old IWW/Wobblies motto of “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

In yours truly’s 2008 book Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press (University Press of Mississippi), I wrote about the importance of such solidarity in the International Longshoremen’s protest against a union-busting Danish shipping line in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2000.

“Hundreds of battle-ready, black-clad police and highway patrol officers stood in formation, armed with riot helmets, wooden clubs, and plastic shields” to put down the protest. Before long, protesters were throwing rocks at the police, and the police were beating protesters with sticks and firing smoke grenades at them, according to varying accounts of the event.

As indictments were filed against the so-called “Charleston Five”, dockworkers around the world kicked into gear and joined the protest, including the West Coast-based International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) (which the legendary Harry Bridges formed in the 1930s) and workers as far away as Spain. Criminal felony charges eventually were dropped against the Charleston Five, and the Danish shipping line agreed to work with the International Longshoremen’s Association local (ILA) in Charleston.