By Ron Ridenour, crossposted from thiscantbehappening.net
I enlisted in the United States Air Force to fight “commies”, after my military career father and I heard that the Soviet Union had taken control of Hungary, in 1956. I was 17 years old.
In 1957, I was stationed at an Air Force radar site in Japan where we were forced to live in segregated barracks. Several whites walked about the base in uniform with KKK emblazed on their baseball caps.
White airmen forced segregation upon Japanese bars in the nearby town. When I defied the racist ritual and drank with black airmen in “their” Japanese bar, I was tortured upon returning to my barracks. Four southerners held me down naked, sprayed DDT on my groin and lit it afire burning my genital hairs and singeing my testicles. Later, they forced my head under snow. “I can’t breathe”—I conked out briefly. A black airman who tried to visit me at my barracks afterwards was thrown off the steps before he could knock. Otherwise, no support.
Across the Pacific Ocean, the new civil rights movement faced torture, murder, including lynchings, imprisonment, openly condoned police brutality in the South. Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King, bus boycotts, sit-ins at segregated eating places…
In summer 1961, not long after I finally got out of the racist military and started college in Los Angeles, I joined local CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and Non-Violent Action Committee protests against segregated housing.
My first action, though, took place a few months before. In April 1961, I picketed at the US Federal Building in support of the Cuban people and their new revolution as the CIA invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. A key reason for my support was the revolutionary government’s official eradication of racism. Even the president-dictator Fulgencio Batista, an ally of the US and the Mafia, had not been welcome in the Havana country club because his skin had the same color as Barack Obama.
In 1987, Cuba’s Ministry of Culture invited me to work at its foreign publishing house, Editorial José Martí, which published my first book about Cuba, It describes, and with interviews, how 26 Cubans and an Italian infiltrated the CIA to aid the survival of the Cuban revolution, and exposes CIA’s use of chemical-biological warfare. I later worked for its news agency, Prensa Latina, which Che had started. I was a media worker in Cuba eight years and eventually wrote six books about revolutionary Cuba, its ups and downs.
I still carry my card of membership to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. FPCC folded following the assassination of President John F Kennedy, November 22, 1963. FPCC leaders feared becoming victims of the CIA ploy to blame Lee Harvey Oswald for murdering JFK as a supposed member of FPCC and agent of Communist Cuba. I am certain that it was the CIA which organized the assassination. There is a wealth of evidence. Oliver Stone’s JFK film illustrates much of this, as do a number of well-documented books.
Julian Bond was a founder of the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), formed in 1960 during sit-ins at lunch counters in North Carolina and Tennessee. Bond was its communications director during the voting registration campaign for black people, the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964. Nearly one thousand of us, black and white volunteers from the South and the North, assisted black Mississippians to register to vote. Few were allowed to “pass” the special “Negro Registration Tests,” such as: what does paragraph X in Y law say?
We also taught black youth subjects they were not taught in segregated schools. Another effort was building the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, with hopes it could unseat the official Mississippi Democratic Party which excluded African-Americans, who comprised 40% of the state population. The Democratic leadership under President Lyndon B. Johnson and Hubert Humphrey prevented this from happening.
SNCC was one of four organizations in the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), which stood for the Mississippi Project. During that summer, many volunteers and some family members who housed us, were assaulted. Some who housed us had stones thrown at their houses and several were fired from their jobs. Racists burned thirty black churches and some homes that summer.
Racist politicians endeavored to split us, to belittle us. Senator James Eastland had the audacity to say that the “supposed” disappearance of three civil rights activists was a hoax that we perpetrated.
Eastland chose me to demonize the entire movement. The July 23, 1964 edition of many newspapers in Mississippi, including The Mississippi Press Register where our project was, wrote: “[Mississippi Senator] Eastland Names Specific Communist Agents…Agitating in Mississippi.”
I was one of the four persons who was an alleged Communist in the movement. Two of them were just visiting, but we were accused of controlling the entire operation for equality. A SNCC leader called me to ask if it was true. Was I a Communist? Yes. He was upset. This could hurt the cause. SNCC was a principled group of human beings so they accepted all politically oriented persons as compatriots if they worked for the cause.
I felt relieved yet anxious about how I would be received that night at the weekly community meeting. When I entered the hall about 300 people greeted me with loud applause.
Shortly after that uplifting moment came the news. Three of our comrades (members of CORE) had been found murdered. On June 21, 1964, we had received word that James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman had not returned from investigating a black church burning near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
During an FBI-led search for them, eight murdered bodies of black men not in the movement were found buried in woods, fields and swamps. Our colleagues were found buried at the bottom of a dam two months after their murder. I’ll never forget the facial expression of some of the killers during a court case.
Deputy Cecil Price and Sheriff Lawrence Rainey
lounge during court hearing on charges in the murders
of three civil rights workers. Rainey gleefully chews tobacco.
[Source: University of Missouri-Kansas City]
Following important equal rights victories—the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1964-5—Bond decided to run for Georgia’s House of Representatives. I had been SNCC’s communications director at the Moss Point-Pascagoula local project, one of scores we organized. He asked me to be his public relations director for the campaign. I liked and trusted Julian but had to decline the offer as I opposed working for either of the duopoly parties.
Bond won the election, becoming one of first of eleven African Americans elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, a result made possible by forcing officials to allow greater voter registration of black people. It took a Supreme Court decision, however, before Bond could take his seat, which the members of Congress initially denied him. Their reasoning? SNCC opposed the imperialist war in Vietnam.
That was just one of several victories we won for equal rights, which is also a goal of the current uprising of black people and their allies.
“I can’t breathe”! Motivated by the memory of slavery, colonization, and the 50s-70s civil rights movement, black people are again fighting back, their actions sparked by the videotaped casual strangulation murder of yet another black man, George Floyd, by a white cop. This time, in contrast to my time, everyone has mobile phones with photographic and video capabilities, which makes it difficult-to-impossible for cops to deny their murders. This readily available technology helps to spread reality even into the mass media, and we gain support.
This time, victims of white racism have even greater activist support from whites, Latinos and Asian-Americans. Day and night across the United States Police State, they are defying cops, tossing back the tear gas canisters fired at them, ripping down slavery/colonialist symbols, demanding an end to systemic racism.
The Establishment is worried, even more so than in my youth. The decades since have wrought more havoc: a major decrease in real wages due to the neo-liberalization of the economy in the 1970’s accompanied by weakened unionism; permanent war since September 11, 2001, which is killing millions and draining funding for social welfare: an inadequate health care system, a more expensive university education; an unprecedented identity crisis, and divisions among people.
A decade ago, another inspirational revolt arose resisting the transfer of trillions of dollars in taxes to bail out greedy corporations that caused the financial/economic crisis of 2008-9. The Occupy Wall Street movement was militant and had much of the population’s support. It had to be crushed, so the Democratic party’s President Barack Obama, the hope of black and white liberal people, consorted with the people’s enemy—the corporations—and unleashed militarized police to brutally stop protestors, destroying their camps, food, signs, beating them and using pepper spray and tear gas. Obama assured the ruling class they would not be bothered, and he could continue warring against more countries at one time, seven, than any other US president.
The fact that Obama, and presidents before him, cut back on social funding left the nation ill prepared to meet epidemics. Covid-19 reveals to nearly all but the ideologically blind that the economic system, that is, capitalism, is the culprit that facilitates the rapid spread of this disease without proper resources to curtail it quickly.
With Donald Trump in the White House, it is easier to feel that the power system is hopelessly out of touch with reality, and he vulgarly encourages racism and misogyny more than other presidents.
Today, there is greater awareness in much of the population of the evils of capitalism than in my youth. Sure, then we had many socialist-communist groupings and political parties whose members understood, but that was not true of the majority of protestors as it appears to be today. While the resistance is strong, passionate and clear about the need for system change, it apparently lacks, however, plans to change societal structures, and protest actions are mostly leaderless.
Despite lack of direction, today’s fighters for justice are incredibly courageous and persistent. They brave “crowd-control weapons”—flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper bombs and spray, truncheons and clubs. National guardsmen, and even some federal troops briefly, have been sent to “clear the way”. Military helicopters fly over protestors violating city and state laws. Surveillance is everywhere. The FBI even accompanies local cops to visit activist homes, hoping to entrap them for “lying to an FBI agent”, a federal offense punishable by years of imprisonment.
Nevertheless, cracks in the system are enlarging, and many capitalists and their government officials see that. To prevent a total collapse, some city councils are heeding activists’ calls to “defund” the police—shifting some police funds to social needs, even reorganizing police forces, replacing some police with community facilitators. City, state and even federal laws are being written to, at least, placate demands and even make useful reforms. Some cities already ban police chokeholds, no-knock warrants, using military weapons, mandating body-worn cameras, and perhaps ending “qualified immunity” for cops charged with “excessive force”.
The probable next president, Joe Biden, even gives lip service of support for some of these reforms and to Black Lives Matter, the major name associated with much of the protests.
Athletes’ taking the knee when the national anthem is sung to the flag in protest of police murdering innocent black people, a protest launched by San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has spread to many sectors of society, also among some police officers, and even abroad.
Because Trump is so irrational, erratic and authoritarian in character, he is not a reliable president even for the ruling class and its generals. That became crystal-clear when, for the first time in US history, leading generals, and two Trump appointed Defense (sic) Secretaries, refused to militarize the nation by sending in their troops to clobber rebels, thus sealing the idiot’s political future.
Elizabeth Sutherland Martínez edited the book, Letters From Mississippi, written by volunteers, in 1965. A new edition was published, in 2002, with an introduction written by Julian Bond. I quote from it to show how it felt for us in the struggle for equality and justice.
“It was a time when nobody stopped to wonder, ‘What is the meaning in my life?’”
That expression represents our identity as a human being in fellowship, something, I am sure, hundreds of thousands of activists in the streets of the United States Military Racist Empire feel today—so liberating! I wish I was in the streets resisting today. That’s where revolutionary action is mounting!
In the 60s-70s, we were many who learned to see the connections between racism, police brutality, and imperialism’s wars with military brutality. The US imperialist war of aggression against Vietnam and later also Cambodia and Laos, was vividly horrendous with millions murdered.
It is always African-American soldiers who are sent to die first, and it is they who are the most consciously aware of the connections between slavery/colonialism/racism and imperialism. Wall Street sends its Pentagon militarists to war against people of color, in order to steal their resources, and re-enslave them with neo-colonialism.
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X helped link racial equality with anti-war struggles. Black and White marched against racism, police brutality and imperialist wars. That is one of the important reasons why both Malcolm and King were assassinated. King Malcolm in their later years both came to see and articulate the interconnectedness between fighting for justice and peace and in unifying all peoples regardless of color, race, nationality or creed. At that point they became too dangerous to the capitalist-imperialist system, the US Military Racist Empire, and had to be snuffed.
Police brutality and the civil rights movement gave rise to the black power movement. The Black Panther Party (BPP) was among several such groups formed in the mid-to-late 60s. They followed the lead of Alabama’s Black Deacons, armed for self-defense. They fed breakfast to black children and taught them to be proud. I supported them through solidarity organizing with whites. I was the full-time organizer of the Committee United for Political Prisoners (CUPP) in Los Angeles. The BPP was on J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI’s eradication list. Not religious, the Panthers nevertheless looked up to Malcolm X, a Muslim. They, too, had to be wiped out.
The sixties witnessed a wide variety of struggles, strategies and tactics, and, unlike today so far, spontaneous massive violent revolts (commonly called riots by politicians and the media). The spark was always vicious beatings of black people by white cops or a police murder of an unarmed black person.
Violent outbreaks by African-Americans occurred summer 1965, in Watts, where I participated; in spring-summer 1967 in 159 cities (Long Hot Summer); in April 4, 1968 responding to the assassination of MLK (Holy Week Uprising) in over 100 cities; April-May 1992 (Los Angeles Uprising) when the cops who viciously beat Rodney King were acquitted. Between 200 and 300 people, mostly black, were killed, many thousands injured, tens of thousands jailed. Billions of dollars in property burned up.
Today, while there is quite a lot of property damage and plundering (reparations of goods, some of us call it), the mood in the nation in favor of protests against racism and police brutality has caused the police to be more careful about not killing lots of black people as they did in the 60s, and 1992. As cops assault protestors, they try to hide this by “censoring” the media with force. By June 25, cops have attacked reporters and camera crews 450-500 times, beating some, and arresting over 100. This is counter-productive, however. Anyone can see how willfully brutal they are, even against whites who can expose their viciousness.
Our struggles for racial equality led to radical women fighting for equal gender rights, which many men joined; the Mexican-American/Chicano and Puerto Rican Latino movements; and the Native American movement (Wounded Knee Occupation, 1973, where I also participated with the American Indian Movement). Homosexuals were also inspired to struggle for equality and an end to brutality against them by police and macho men. The feminist and Gay Rights movements have had significant victories.
Our internationalism embraced struggles for the liberation of all colonies, especially in Africa, where many socialist movements won power, at least for a time. We supported the toppling of US-backed and embedded ruthless dictators and military regimes, especially in Latin America. (Remember the Pentagon-CIA’s Operation Condor which coordinated a multi-nation assassination and murder campaign targeting Latin American leftists.)
We were inspired by a great counter-culture with an endless spectrum of music, poetry, literature, art, films. Our music was everywhere, in clubs, at outdoor concerts, love-ins, Woodstock… In fact, our culture came to set the tone for much of society’s mass culture.
Our music and often individual musicians’ commitment to justice and peace aided our struggles. Musicians often refused to perform to segregated audiences, and in apartheid South Africa and Israel.
While I was active in the civil rights movement and a supporter of the Cuban revolution, I used most time actively fighting-writing against the Vietnam War. During these various struggles, I was arrested a dozen times, and served half a year in jail for anti-war and pro-strike actions. The FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department’s police “red squad” followed me, and got me fired from three media jobs. Secret agents falsified my income tax returns one year to indicate that I received lots of money from a Pentagon intelligence service. They sent these papers to the Los Angeles Free Press where I was the political reporter, to other underground papers and peace groups. Fortunately, I was able to show recipients a copy of my original tax returns and prove the falseness of the provocation. Infiltrating, falsifications, planting drugs and weapons, and encouraging violence and splits was a major strategy of the system.
This subversion was part of the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO)—bad-jacketing they called it. Started in 1956, COINTELPRO aimed to destroy the emerging civil rights movement. J. Edgar Hoover ordered his staff to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” our movements. Just like the CIA, they used “fake news” by planting false stories in the media. Bad-jacketing and snitch-jacketing caused the murders of several activists. The FBI financed and armed neo-fascists, creating the Secret Army Organization to cripple leftists violently. The FBI, police red squads, and the SAO murdered some of us, especially Black Panthers.
The FBI had me on its security index list to be interned in national emergencies. They released to me 1000 partially blacked-out dossier file papers. FBI continues to use these illegal, anti-democratic tactics against anti-globalization groups and Black Lives Matter.
We created thousands of city and campus anti-war groups. Many linked together to establish two national coalitions against the war. Sometimes we concentrated on mass protests in one city, usually Washington DC or New York. Sometimes we had scores of demonstrations simultaneously in many cities and on high school, college and university campuses. We numbered in the millions off and on, yet we never overcame our ideological differences. Had we been able to do that, we might have created a People’s Front and maintained our movement beyond the Southeast Asians’ victory. Following Indochina War’s end and Nixon’s resignation to avoid impeachment, our movements died out.
Then and Now
Back then, there was the draft. Many draftees went underground, some moved to countries that would accept them, Sweden, Mexico and Canada for instance. Many disillusioned soldiers in Vietnam became drug addicts, some killed their commanding officers (fragging). Armed forces figures showed 900 fraggings just between 1969 and 1972. Many soldiers committed suicide. Many joined our peace movements, like Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace.
A disappointment with today’s uprisings is the lack of connecting domestic racism and police brutality to US war policies and military brutality—the invasions of countries populated by people of color. Why is this movement ignoring this essential connection? Possibilities:
- The Establishment abolished the draft. One is no longer forced to be in the military or to partake in aggressive wars.
- Back in the 60s, 70s, many of us were inspired by leaders abroad: Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, Mao Tse Tung (for some), Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Amilicar Cabral, Carlos Mareighela, Camilo Torres…the list is long. Then, one-third of the world’s population was experimenting with developing socialism, which the Western colonialist-imperialists did all they could to warp their efforts and crush them—largely successfully before the end of the 20th century.Today, there are few international leaders who inspire, and the countries the US/NATO invade are not led by internationalist revolutionaries. Some of the nations invaded today are dominated by extremist religions. Some Muslim-dominated states, however, are (were) politically secular and allow much equality for women—such as Iraq, Libya and Syria—and provide(d) much greater social welfare to the people than the US and its Arabic allies. So, naturally, the US, NATO, and Zionist Israel target these progressive states and its leaders for war. For most people in the West, today’s wars are too confusing or too alienating to bother with so there is very little anti-war action.
- Then, the mass media was not totally controlled by just a few big capitalists who operated newsrooms with strict censorship as today. Then, our protests eventually achieved significant coverage. One personal example is the image I retain 55 years later of watching a TV network news program showing US bombs dropping on fields and woods as if a backdrop to a huge Coca Cola billboard with a smiling blondie holding “The drink that refreshes”. Never since have I bought or drank the militarists’ soda.
Today’s media hides the truth behind the US state of permanent war. But it is interested in diverting protests against racism and police brutality into an alliance with the Democratic party, in order to get rid of a narcissist, which the capitalist class can’t totally control as it can a normal Republican or Democrat. So, the mass media seem to sympathize with peaceful protestors, who clearly must also be anti-Trump. He started off not with war in mind, but the Establishment got him to do its bidding by continuing its wars against Syria and Afghanistan, and conducting massive economic and political sanction against Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba…Still Trump has to go.
- While the protests are not politically organized, some groups involved, such as Black Lives Matter, take money from some phony “progressive” capitalists connected to the Democratic party leadership. Conditions are set for receiving donations, and some who try to guide the current insurgence comply by keeping “foreign politics” out of the picture.
In saying this I take my cue from Black Agenda Report. Glen Ford wrote, “Time to Sharpen Our Weapons and Wits”, June 11.
“’Movement’ politics is how the people flex their power, while electoral politics under a corporate duopoly system is the domain of the moneyed classes. This is a lesson learned in the Sixties—a period when some years saw as many as 5,000 separate demonstrations.”
Ford wrote that movement politics were crushed and seduced, in part by the Democratic Party when it “opened its doors to a hungry cohort of Black politicians and aspiring businessmen who preached that the movement must shift gears ‘from the streets to the suites’, the beginning of today’s Black Misleadership Class.”
Most of the elected black politicians in the Black Caucus vote for Wall Street’s wars abroad, for incarcerating more black people in US prisons (mainly for simply consuming drugs), and for making police a “protected class”.
It seems that much of Black Lives Matter, as an organization, is participating in the streets and the suites today.
“Community control of police and outright abolition of police are wholly compatible demands,” Ford writes. “Both are predicated on the right of the people to shape, control or abolish the coercive organs of the state, at least in their own communities… However, a significant section of ‘Black Lives Matter’ — those under the influence of Alicia Garza and her corporate philanthropic backers – is clearly resistant to community control of the police and only gives lip service to abolition as a goal for the far-off future. We can expect that the contradictions between that faction of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and other activists will deepen – maybe rather quickly – since the conflict is rooted in who’s paying the bills.”
“The lifeblood of social movements against white supremacism, capitalism and imperialism is solidarity among all the victims of these isms. Alicia Garza actively discourages Black solidarity with anybody outside the borders of the United States – doubtless as a condition of her funding. That’s why her Black Census project, which last year conducted the biggest survey of US Blacks in history, chose not to ask a single question on foreign policy. Black Americans have historically been the most pro-peace, anti-militarism constituency in the nation and, besides Arab Americans, have been the most empathetic towards the struggle of Palestinians. The Black Census is most useful as a domestic issues guide for Democratic politicians – which is how it is cleverly packaged. Garza has chosen to be an asset to the Party – a disturbing situation, given her status in the ‘movement.’
“The Democratic Party is the movement’s greatest institutional political foe, since it infests and dominates virtually all Black civic organizations. (The Republican Party is not a factor in Black America’s internal workings.) The Democrats are the Party of capital, of the bankers, the people displacers, the warmongers – and a Black Caucus that is allied overwhelming with the police.”
Donations to the official Black Lives Matter website are redirected to ActBlue Charities, an organization that bankrolls election campaigns for Democrats with, literally, billions of dollars.
Black Agenda Reports supports, “Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations”, which has 15 organizations plus many individual activists. They promulgate a 19-point National Black Agenda for Self-Determination, which “puts forward principled, self-determinationist positions on the broadest range…including community control of police.”
Militant resistance has changed the national discourse for the moment, at least. It has also had an impact upon other societies, especially in France, somewhat in Brazil, Germany and England. Even where I live in Denmark, a few peaceful demonstrations have supported the US uprising and called for equal treatment for black and Arabic residents, citizens, and refugees who flee from countries warred upon by Denmark alongside its US ally. Much media engages in this discussion.
Outrage in the streets makes it more possible to show how anti-life the economy and lifestyle based upon competition is. Our rebellion and the Corona virus make it easier to illuminate connectedness for what it means to be a human being compatible with all life on this planet. Competition leads to annihilation whilst a life based upon values of cooperation is uplifting and leads to sustainability—a cooperative economy, true equality, real democratic decision-making, which requires abolishing that which does not advance human life: wars, torture, slavery, child labor, discrimination, pollution of mother earth.
“If we want to save the planet earth, to save life and humanity, we are obliged to end the capitalist system”, thus opened Bolivia’s then President Evo Morales’ “Ten Commandments to Save the Planet”. “Sisters and brothers, as the tenth point, we propose to Live Well, not live better at the expense of another…”
Former National Lawyers Guild president Marjorie Cohn writing for the Jurist described the current rebellion as the “broadest popular movement in the history of the United States”.
“The powerful video of Floyd’s lynching is reminiscent of the 1950s Civil Rights Movement. Televised images from Little Rock in 1957.” Cohn cites from David Halberstam’s book The Fifties. “It was hard for people watching at home not to take sides: There they were, sitting in their living rooms in front of their own television sets watching orderly black children behaving with great dignity, trying to obtain nothing more than a decent education, the most elemental of American birthrights, yet being assaulted by a vicious mob of poor whites.’”
NBC News photo of nine black high school students being escorted by federal troops that President Eisenhower had to call in to force integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, September 1957.
Cohn suggests a solution.
“The National Lawyers Guild supports 8 to Abolition’s demands to defund the police, demilitarize communities, remove police from schools, free people from prisons and jails, repeal laws that criminalize survival, invest in community self-governance, provide safe housing for everyone, and invest in care, not cops. The NLG also supports reparations for slavery and discrimination against Africans and African descendants.”
“This transformational moment is becoming a transformational movement. The time to effect revolutionary change is now.”
Revolution for Justice, Equality and Peace!
Don’t let the system return to normal!
Stop the Killing Everywhere!
No Justice No Peace!
No Socialism No Solution!
Unify the Movements—Build a People’s Party
RON RIDENOUR is a US journalist and anti-war activist living in Denmark. He is a new member of www.thiscantbehappening.net His books, “The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert” and ‘Winding Brook Stories’ are available at Amazon and Lulu. His other work can be found at ronridenour.com; firstname.lastname@example.org