Friday, April 24, 2015

In Defense of Cornel West--Has Michael Eric Dyson Lost His Mind?

In Defense of Cornel West: Is Barack Obama Right, or Has Michael Eric Dyson Lost His Mind?

Carl Dix with Cornel West at a recent anti-police terror march.

By Carl Dix and Lenny Wolff

April 22, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |
(Right now Carl is in Baltimore focused on the fight against police murder and mass incarceration.  Given, however, the seriousness of the attack against Cornel West, he and I have talked at length about this, and I am writing for us both.  Lenny Wolff)

This Sunday, the New Republic posted a vicious attack on Cornel West, “The Ghost of Cornel West,” by Michael Eric Dyson.  This attack is not an academic dispute; it is a hit job against a deeply principled intellectual who refused to put away his critical faculties when Obama took office, who has increasingly stepped out into the struggle against murders by police and mass incarceration, and who has done so in a way that condemns and exposes the crimes—and yes, they are crimes—of the Obama Administration.  All the sound and fury of Dyson’s long rant cannot hide that essential, and shameful, fact.

On one level, Dyson’s attack is beneath contempt and barely merits reply.  But because principle and intellectual rigor are currently so debased in this society, and because powerful forces seem intent on promoting Dyson’s takedown of Cornel West, reply we must. 
Instead of making a reasoned critique of Cornel West’s actual positions, Dyson vacuums up a toxic brew of speculation on personal motives, rumors, criticisms from all kinds of quarters (some of which he says he doesn’t even agree with), and out-of-context bits and pieces from West’s personal life (taking special advantage of moments where Cornel made himself vulnerable by confiding personal regrets), and then he spews this all over his readers.  

Dyson has combined this brew with mis-readings of key concepts developed and/or worked on by West (the rise of nihilism in the Black community during the 80’s/90’s, the role of prophecy as a strand in Black leadership, the relevance of jazz to intellectual undertakings, etc.) that are as superficial as they are willful.  All of this is designed to overwhelm people’s critical faculties and hide the actual substance of what Dyson is attacking and defending.  This is what passes for intellectual criticism in the era of reality TV.  Let’s look at what Dyson says.

First, Dyson indicts Cornel West for a lack of new thought.  Dyson must not have read and listened to West lately, for surely he would have noticed that Black Prophetic Fire is actually a further development of West’s thinking on a number of very important questions.  West uses the form of conversations about six pre-eminent figures in the cause of Black emancipation.  He draws out the contributions and shortcomings of each as he sees it, and in the process further develops his thoughts on the particular role of the Afro-American people in US history and the current day, the (varying, multiple and sometimes contradictory) qualities of what he calls prophetic leadership, the challenges posed by the current era, among other things.  Yes, this is a different form, in keeping with West’s drawing on the jazz tradition—this is improvisation on a theme, done collectively in dialogue with someone who has differing but overlapping views.  How refreshing! 

The actual content of WHAT Cornel gets into here—what he is driving at, how he is posing and approaching these questions, the actual evaluations he makes of these different signal historical figures, the synthesis he is driving at and our respective “takes” on this—is beyond the scope of this letter.  What is relevant here is that Dyson, in claiming that West has no new thinking, never actually engages what Cornel has been saying, in this and other works and forums.  This kind of blatant non-engagement should be seen as unconscionable and ruling whoever does it out of any sort of serious consideration.

Second, Dyson dismisses Cornel West’s work of the past six years as driven by personal spite.  Please!  What a commentary on this gossip-driven culture that such a claim has any legs at all.  One of us, Carl, has actually been in public dialogue with Cornel at least half a dozen times, stretching from the June 2009 dialogue on “In The Age of Obama: What Future for our Youth?” to a dialogue this month on the emergency of murder by police.  You can see these dialogues for yourself on-line, or you can check out any of the other dialogues that Cornel has done with a whole range of people over these past years—including the recent unprecedented dialogue with Bob Avakian at Riverside Church this past November on revolution and religion—and even a few minutes should convince you that Cornel West’s critique of Obama focuses on questions of empire and of Obama’s actual actions as the head of that empire.  (It is—again—stunning, and a sad commentary on intellectual discourse today, that Dyson feels he can get away with attacking Cornel West and never once mention the word “empire” in the whole steaming 9500-word heap.)


If the stakes were not so high, it would be almost comical when Dyson instructs Cornel in “how to deliver criticisms of Obama to Black audiences.”  Dyson says you have to start with how much you love and respect Obama and his “achievement” of becoming President, then acknowledge the animosity he’s incurred among the racists and fascists, and only then offer your criticisms for his “missteps and failures.”  As Carl strongly pointed out in discussing this with me, this pat little formula totally leaves out the fact that Obama is Commander-in-Chief of the biggest empire in the world, and is raining down terror and horror on people in that role, and these are CRIMES and not “missteps.”  Dyson then boils Cornel’s supposed inability to follow the formula to West’s “lack of respect” for Obama, when the key difference between the approaches of Dyson and West is precisely whether you expose the objective ROLE of Obama.
Third, it is telling—and speaks very much to the point and purpose of Dyson’s screed—that he delivers a back-handed slap at the fact that Cornel West has increasingly assumed a front-line and very important role in the struggle against police murder.  Dyson goes so far as to say that this activity is nothing but stunts for the camera. 

Let’s look at the facts.  One of us, Carl, co-founded the network to Stop Mass Incarceration with Cornel in August of 2011 in a basement meeting with a dozen other people and nary a camera in sight.  The first action of this network was to link up revolutionaries and anti-police brutality activists with the Occupy movement in October of 2011 to do a series of civil disobedience actions against Stop-and-Frisk in New York.  Yes, Carl, Cornel and the others involved sought to make this known, to get this outrageous abuse in the front of the cameras—innocent as charged!  Cornel came to critical, out-of-the-limelight meetings where strategy and political will was forged with the parents and relatives of police murder victims, immigrant rights activists, clergy, and many others and he made time on a number of occasions to speak at events organized by parents and clergy in particular, and to lend his name and platform to their cases.  It is highly ironic that the New York actions against the police a week ago which Dyson briefly cited in his New York Times op-ed of Friday April 17 were part of national actions which Cornel and Carl led in calling for and helped to organize, including at a critical rally where the two spoke on April 6 in NYC leading up to these actions. 

Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council (at mic) speaks at a 2012 rally before the opening day of the trial for 20 people who were arrested at a Harlem police precinct during an October protest against NYPD stop-and-frisk practices. Behind her are (from l.) defendants Elaine Brower, Cornel West and Carl Dix. 

What exactly is Dyson’s problem with all this?  Is it that during these past few actions West has been quoted making the point that here we are six-plus years into the reign of a Black president, Black attorney general, and Black head of “Homeland Security” and there has not been a single successful federal prosecution of murder by police?  That in fact this crime has grown during their reign? 

(And here it has to be said, in the face of Dyson’s accusations of egotism, that—as Carl often points out—Cornel has gone out of his way since 1996 and the first time they worked together to credit others and bring them into the spotlight, and more generally to reference the work of others and graciously point to their contributions at any opportunity, even when this goes against the grain of his audience.  In many ways, Cornel West fights to represent what Bob Avakian has called the “largeness of mind and generosity of spirit” so badly needed in society today.)

Dyson’s rant takes on what would, again, be comical proportions were it not for the stakes and dangers of these times when, toward the end of his piece, Dyson delivers his pathetic list of Obama’s “achievements.”  These are supposed “left-wing” accomplishments that Obama has carried out while cleverly pretending to “talk right.”  Here Dyson blots out and covers over Obama’s record as deporter-in-chief, his refusal to even half-heartedly criticize murders by police (let alone do anything about them) until not doing so would have seriously undermined his legitimacy among Black people, his defense of draconian surveillance and attacks on those daring to reveal these crimes, his all-out support for Israel’s genocidal attacks on Gaza, his vicious military predations and outright war crimes from Afghanistan to Libya and most recently Yemen (where, with true  Obama-esque double-talk, he now “condemns” the Saudi airstrikes that he himself authorized!), etc.  And as Dyson once knew when he (correctly) took a whole book to go after Bill Cosby’s “pull-up-your-pants” poison, “talking right”—as Obama does when, at his “Brother’s Keeper” press conference in 2014, he all but openly blamed the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis on absent Black fathers (when such “absences” have everything to do with the very consciously designed genocidal policy of mass incarceration)*, or when Obama does his own Bill Cosby imitation at places like the Morehouse graduation ceremony in 2014—has seriously bad consequences.

There is a further irony here when Dyson, who praised Race Matters when it came out, now faults Cornel West’s criticism of nihilism in that book as “blaming the victim.”  First of all, read the damn book and engage it—get into what he’s actually saying and if you, Dyson, have changed your opinion on it now, say why you agreed back then and why you now have changed your mind.  More to the point, it’s really outrageous to say this about Cornel, when a large part of his vocation over decades now has been precisely to uphold, defend and stand with in deed as well as word “the least of these”—those who have been cast out, stigmatized, demonized, despised, incarcerated and murdered by this system. 

I want to conclude by saying that Carl particularly emphasized to me that one has to wonder at the timing of this attack when the network which he and Cornel co-initiated has just mounted a mass outpouring against police murder on April 14, making a major contribution to reseizing the offensive on this for the movement as a whole.  You have to wonder at the timing of this compendium of cheap shots, rank distortions and half-truths, right when we are beginning what promises to be a long hot summer, to invoke that 60’s term—a time when the police have been emboldened by the Justice Department’s whitewash of Darren Wilson’s murder of Michael Brown but when masses of people are increasingly refusing to take this, and not so persuaded by those who would want them to work within the system, and when the Obama administration that Dyson so cherishes has no real answers to this horror.  

You have to wonder as well why Dyson offers not reasoned criticism or disagreement, but a really foul farrago of snark, half-truths and straight-up slanders, seemingly designed to destroy a rare and important truth-teller and, increasingly, front-line activist at just this crucial time.
Michael Eric Dyson: which side are you on?

* The conference on Brother’s Keeper took place just days after the anniversary of Martin’s unpunished murder by the vigilante George Zimmerman, and shortly after Jordan Davis’ killer had been found not guilty, in his first trial, of the homicide of Davis.  It is painfully ironic that for all of Obama’s emphasis about absent fathers, the very real presence of both these fathers in their sons’ lives could not prevent white supremacy from murdering them.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gregory D. Johnsen - The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America's Wa...

Appeal to support Black Panther Party Documentary by Stanley Nelson


Dear unknown,

One of the most memorable interviews from THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION came from Wayne Pharr, a founding member of the LA chapter of the Black Panther Party. He passed away last year shortly after giving his truthful and powerful account of being a Black Panther. 

Wayne's story will challenge viewers to rethink the romantic and demonized visions of the Panthers so many have held over the years. Help bring Wayne's authentic voice to audiences across the country.

We know that times are tough so we are offering great rewards as thanks for your generous support. For less than $100 you can get:
  • Tickets to the see actor Wendell Pierce (Selma, The Wire, Treme) in the acclaimed play, BROTHERS FROM THE BOTTOM when it premieres at the Lupin Hall in his hometown of New Orleans
  • A signed DVD of the finished film 
  • Private link to watch the film online followed by an online Q&A with myself and former Black Panthers
  • Black Panther t-shirts, tote bags and official posters from the film
  • Tickets to theatrical premieres in Seattle, Baltimore and Maryland
  • Rare, signed photo of Kathleen Cleaver from a 1978 rally in San Francisco
  • And for the budding filmmakers out there, I will review your rough cut or screenplay and offer detailed advice and feedback. Think of it as a virtual mentorship!

Have you already donated? Thank you! Please share this newsletter with your family, friends and colleagues and encourage them to make a donation and own a piece of their history.

Remember, even though we've raised over $33,000 in 15 days, we will LOSE IT ALL if we do not reach $50,000 by May 5. Your donation of any amount moves us further from that possibility - and closer to our goal.
Thank you!

With deep gratitude,
Stanley Nelson,
Director, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Founder, Firelight Media and Firelight Films

The Viet Cong Never Called Me a Nigguh!

Muhammad Ali


"I Ain't Got No Quarrel With The VietCong...
No VietCong Ever Called Me Nigger" — Muhammad Ali, 1966

On August 23, 1966, Muhammad Ali embarked on the biggest "fight" of his life when he applied with the Selective Service for conscientious objector status on religious grounds (as a minister with the Nation of Islam). In what became an extensive legal, political, professional, and personal battle, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, stripped of his boxing title, and became a lightning rod — and a voice — for opinions on the Vietnam War. Muhammad Ali's willingness to speak out against racism in the United States, and the affect it had on domestic and foreign policy, earned him many supporters and detractors. In 1971, nearly five years after it began, Ali's legal battle finally culminated with a unanimous decision (8-0 with Thurgood Marshall abstaining) by the United States Supreme Court overturning his draft conviction. The following resources document his struggle, his views, and his influence.

Clay, aka Ali v. United States 1966-1971
Click here for resources detailing Muhammad Ali's fight against induction into the U.S. Army — from 1966 to 1971. It includes the full text of the Supreme Court decision (Clay, aka Ali v. United States), a 1967 CIA document describing a pro Ali rally, editorials and coverage from the Nation of Islam publication, Muhammad Speaks, and more.

Ali's Vietnam Legacy
Muhammad Ali's stance on Vietnam inspired admiration and hatred among many. Click here to find resources describing Ali's Vietnam legacy, including reactions to his being named "Athlete of the Century" by USA Today in late 1999, an Ali interview with National Public Radio from December 2001, in which Ali answers his critics, and more.


Source: Muhammad Ali — The Measure of a Man. (Spring 1967). Freedomways, 7(2), 101-102.
"No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder kill and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people the world over. This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end."
—Muhammad Ali

Source: "Muhammad Ali — The Measure of a Man." (Spring 1967). Freedomways, 7(2), 101-102.
Send feedback or questions to Freedom Archives banner
“You will kill ten of us, we will kill one of you, but in the end, you will tire of it first.”
― Hồ Chí Minh

Hồ Chí Minh 

Anti-War Demonstrators

Bay Area Asian Coalition Against the War

Link to Interactive 
Viet Nam War Timeline

Various Viet Nam sound clips
- Ho Chi Minh addressing the anti-war movement in English
Ho Chi Minh led the anti-colonial struggles against the French and the US. He was the first President of modern Viet Nam, declaring independence on September 2, 1945.
- Madame Nguyen Thi Bình appeals to the US Congress
Madame Binh served as Foreign Minister of the Provisional Revolutionary Government and negotiated at the Paris Peace Conference. She has also been Vice-President, Minister of Education, and held other posts as one of the leaders of Viet Nam. (1972)
- Vietnamese Students
Protest demonstration by Vietnamese students, including US representative of the National Student Union of South Viet Nam, protesting repression in the southern part of Viet Nam under the Thieu regime. (1972)
- Dao Interview
One of the members of the Union of Vietnamese in the US, who were very active in the antiwar movement. (1976)
- Robert and Mabel Williams on Viet Nam
Leaders of an armed self-defense movement against the Klan in North Carolina, the Williams were forced into exile, first in Cuba, then in China.  For more on their story and struggle, see here.
- H Rap Brown - selections from a speech in 1967.
H Rap Brown (now Imam Jamil Al Amin) was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s.
- Huey Newton on the Black Panther Party and Viet Nam
Huey Newton was a founder and first Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party. (1970)
- Martin Luther King, Jr
Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam. (1967)

- Geronimo ji Jaga on Viet Nam and Detroit
A leading member of the Black Panther Party in Los Angeles, Geronimo was a Viet Nam war veteran. He was falsely imprisoned for 27 years in a frame-up engineered by the FBI as part of their counter-intelligence (Cointelpro) program. For more, see here.
- Chican@ Moratorium Speech on Viet Nam War
The Chicano Moratorium was a broad-based coalition of antiwar Chican@ groups throughout the Southwest that organized a march of more than 30,000 in Los Angeles on August 29, 1970, in which four were killed by police. Rosalio Munoz speaks.
- Chican@ Moratorium Press Conference on Viet Nam War
- Native Americans on Viet Nam
A solidarity statement that emphasizes anti-imperialist commonalities between the Vietnamese and Native American struggles. John McClain speaks for the Bay Area chapter of AIM. (1975)
- Attack the Water - Janice Mirikitani
A San Francisco poet who often read at antiwar events, and brought forth her childhood experience in the concentration camps in the US during World War II that imprisoned Japanese-Americans. (1973)

The Long Haired Warriors from mel halbach on Vimeo. They were soldiers, activists and tortured as prisoners of war. This is a film trailer about Vietnamese women who struggled against American occupation and the South Vietnamese government during the war in Vietnam.

Viet Nam Victory - April 30, 1975

Liberation Forces Tank entering Saigon - From BBC "War of the Flea"
Victory from Freedom Archives on Vimeo.
April 30, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the victory of the people of Viet Nam over the US military. The Vietnamese national liberation struggle moved the entire world and is one of the most important historical events of the 20th century.
The people’s war waged by the people of Viet Nam, reaching a peak in the Tet Offensive of 1968, demonstrated that a united people, even in a poor and underdeveloped nation, could defeat the most powerful military and economic power on earth.
In an era when national liberation struggles surged in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the struggle of the Vietnamese people provided an inspiring example to solidarity movements around the world and inside the US. The movement against the war in Viet Nam in the US was inextricably tied to the early anti-imperialism of the civil rights/Black liberation movement, and many other movements of the 1960s and 1970s. 
The victory of Viet Nam is a living example that holds lessons for the ongoing struggle against US imperialism today.  We are creating this online tribute, much of it drawn from the Freedom Archives, to help illustrate and pass on these lessons.
From 1964 to 1972, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world made a maximum military effort, with everything short of atomic bombs, to defeat a nationalist revolutionary movement in a tiny, peasant country-and failed. When the United States fought in Vietnam, it was organized modern technology versus organized human beings, and the human beings won.
- Howard Zinn from A People's History of the United States

The Chican@ Moratorium marches against the Vietnam War played a decisive role in ending that conflict (poster: Malaquias Montoya)

Colonialists, International Traitors, Think Carefully Before You Take Vietnam - To Lien (1978)

Women played a powerful, absolutely crucial role in Viet Nam’s liberation struggle, from the Trung Sisters leading ancient struggles against Chinese domination to the courageous participation of millions of women from north and south in the people’s war against the US Empire. Prominent leaders include General Nguyen Thi Dinh, a commander of the National Liberation Front, and Madame Nguyen Thi Binh, who led the delegation for the Front at the Paris negotiations. There were a number of meetings between Vietnamese women with women from North America and other nations during the war; the example of women in Viet Nam’s independence struggle had a profound impact on the antiwar and then resurging women’s liberation movements—and in fact inspired women all over the world. In her book, Women and Revolution in Viet Nam, Arlene Eisen quotes Bui Thi Me, then Minister of Health of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Viet Nam, as saying, when welcoming her to a liberated zone: “We are part of the worldwide family of militant women. The oceans cannot dampen our feelings of solidarity and love.”

One of the most powerful and often understated components of the movement against the war in Viet Nam was the unprecedented wide-scale revolt inside all branches of the US Armed Forces that essentially led to the breakdown of the military’s ability to wage war—the US military in all branches became unmanageable. At its height, the GI movement involved nearly half of all enlisted personnel. There were 300 antiwar GI newspapers, and many antiwar GI coffeehouses near bases throughout the US. For soldiers of color, who were predominantly fighting and dying on the front lines allegedly for “democracy” the contradictions were even greater, as activists inside the US struggled and sometimes died for a democracy that had so long been denied. On the battlefield itself, there were numerous incidents of rebellion, including “fragging”—the killing of officers by enlisted men. Even official statistics record hundreds of successful fraggings—and those only include incidents using explosives, not rifles or other means, nor the many threats of fragging that curtailed officer orders.  By 1970, the US Army recorded 65,643 desertions, roughly the equivalent of four divisions. There were also many thousands of draft refusals and an active draft resistance movement, including demonstrations such as Stop-the-Draft Week in Oakland, California and the public burning of draft cards in many cities.

We will fight and fight from this generation to the next - 1969. May 19: Birthday of Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh, two great revolutionary fighters for social justice and national liberation.

"It became necessary to destroy the town to save it."
― Unidentified U.S. Army major, Bến Tre, Viet Nam, February 7, 1968.
On Lynching and the Ku Klux Klan by Ho Chi Minh - 1924
Interview with Vo Nguyen Giap about People's War and Diên Bin Phû
Viet Nam War & Resistance Timeline


By the late 1960s Marvin X was a central figure in the Black Arts Movement in coast to coast and had become part of the Nation of Islam, changing his name to El Muhajir and following Elijah Muhammad. Like the heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, Marvin X refused his induction to fight in Vietnam. But unlike Ali, Marvin X, along with several other members of the Nation of Islam in California, decided to evade arrest. In 1967 he escaped to Canada but was later arrested in Belize. He chastised the court for punishing him for refusing to be inducted into an army for the purpose of securing White Power throughout the world before he was sentenced to five months imprisonment. His statement was published in the journal The Black Scholar in 1971.
Despite his reputation as an activist, Marvin X was also an intellectual, and a celebrated writer. He was most concerned with the problem of using language created by whites in order to argue for freedom from white power.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mumia Abu Jamal Health Update


Prison refuses Mumia Medical Care


Mumia is still in medical danger. He is weak, in the infirmary, and still needs a wheelchair to come out to visits. In a phone call on Monday his voice was hesitant and lacked its usual vibrancy.   
Yesterday, the PA Department of Corrections notified Mumia’s Attorney Bret Grote (of the Abolitionist Law Center) that it would:
  1. Not allow Mumia to be examined by his own doctor;
  2. Not allow Mumia to be examined by a endocrinologist (diabetes specialist);
  3. And they denied access for the doctor to communicate with prison medical staff to assist or direct Mumia’s care; and the Prison has refused to provide for regular phone calls between Mumia and his doctor. Currently, Mumia can only use the phone every other day for only 15 minutes, as the infirmary does not have phone access.
Mumia is being held in the very infirmary that caused his chronic conditions of eczema and late-onset diabetes to become life-threatening. The medical personnel on site were prevented from ordering tests when he was ill in mid-March, and are under the same prison/corporate restrictions today. One postive note, at this time Mumia is being allowed to monitor his own blood sugar multiple times a day, and he is receiving insulin. Since Mumia was hospitalized in ICU on March 30th with life threatening complications from chronic conditions we have been advocating for his treatment. We have to step up our efforts.

Take Action Now! 

Demand that the Department of Corrections permit Mumia to have an examination by his doctor! Click here to call and fax the Prison and State officials and state our demands. 

Pam Africa, Abdul Jon, and Johanna Fernandez visited with Mumia at SCI Mahanoy. 
We have 11 days left to reach $40,000 for Mumia

In just 20 days, 465 supporters from around the world have defended Mumia's life by raising $24,837! Now, with 11 days left, we need to reach $40,000 to get Mumia the care he critically needs!

Have you given yet? Now is the time.

We are pursuing every step necessary to get a medical care team to see Mumia.

Please join us by helping Mumia’s medical fund reach $40K now! We're asking you to contribute $1,000, $250 or even $8 to the medical fund that will save Mumia's life. 
Rise For Mumia

Prison Radio Commentaries:

"PSA Urgent Alert to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal" (1:04) by Cornel West

"Of Punks, Predators and Pigs" (1:37) by Mumia Abu-Jamal

"A Message for MOVE" (6:12) by Janine Africa

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Oh, Elijah, you told us the modern Babylon would fall

Oh, Elijah Muhammad, you told us America, the great nation of descendants of slave makers and so-called Negro slaves, i.e., Africa...