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Commentary

A Tribute to Marty Nathan

This piece originally appeared at PopularResistance.org. We are reposting it on Voices for New Democracy to honor Marty Nathan, who was a comrade to many of us.

The Ku Klux Klan Murdered Five Of Her Comrades And The Father Of Her Six-Month-Old Child.

She remained undeterred in her activism for the rest of her life.

On November 3, 1979, Marty Nathan, Mike Nathan, and other members and supporters of the Communist Workers’ Party were stationed along the route of a “Death to the Klan” march in Greensboro, North Carolina. This multiracial working-class movement’s success organizing textile and hospital workers had attracted the attention of the Ku Klux Klan; “not surprisingly,” Marty explained, “the Klan began to rise in 1979 … [in places] where hard-hitting union organizing and strikes were occurring.” Not only were workers and organizers faced with resistance and threats from employers – they were also confronted with the Klan’s virulent racism, violence, and its efforts to spread fear and confusion as the Klan ran their own recruiting drives in the textile mills to split up the unions and grow its base.

The march, in Marty’s words, “was a response to a threat against unionization by the Klan, which would historically split up workers, black and white, threaten the leaders and essentially act on behalf of the corporate owners.” One of the key organizers of the march, Reverend Nelson Johnson, added that “it was absolutely necessary to have some expression of opposition to racism as manifest by the Klan in order to continue with the work of labor organizing in the textile industry and in order to continue with the work of uniting people from different racial backgrounds.” So, on November 3, 1979, the CWP organized a conference about the Klan and labor organizing, kicked off by the Death to the Klan march.

Marty and her comrades would later find out that the Klan had worked with the Greensboro police, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent, and an FBI informant beforehand, which provided the Klan with the route of the march and encouraged them to carry arms while the police mandated that the protestors be unarmed. Before long, the Klan descended upon the march, at that point embedded in the predominantly black neighborhood Morningside, with no police in sight – in fact, a rank and file officer responding to an unrelated call in the neighborhood had been told to clear the area hours before the attack.

As protestors stood on the street, a caravan of nine cars decorated with confederate flags and other paraphernalia approached. The klansmen attacked the protestors, first with sticks and then opening fire, killing five of them and injuring ten others. Marty and her husband Mike Nathan were both doctors stationed at the march to provide medical assistance if needed; she was posted at a later point along the march route running the first aid car when the attack took place and survived the massacre, but Mike, stationed in Morningside, did not. She would rely on her comrades to find out what happened to her husband that day.

In Marty’s words, the premeditated attack killed people who “were organizing unions. They were revolutionaries. They were socialists. And they knew that in order to change society, you have to have an organized working class.” Not only did this movement unite white and black workers with a clear vision, but it understood the importance of internationalism; after the massacre, the survivors linked this “North American death squad” to the death squads in Central America, North America, and South Africa, up to the genocidal violence perpetrated under Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil taking place today (later in life, Marty would at times wear a ring from Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement that had been gifted to her “on my middle finger, which I give to Trump,” she told me).

“After you lose somebody, there’s nothing else that you can lose. But what you can hope in all this is that you can change the future. For victims of racist violence, white supremacist violence, that’s the goal,” Marty told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman on the 40th anniversary of the massacre. “In a time of climate change, threat of nuclear war, and increasing economic disparity, we all have to be in the streets, and we do not want to get shot,” she said. Marty continued to fight against racism and imperialism and for justice even in her last days before passing away on November 29, 2021 from lung cancer and heart disease; she was profoundly shaped by her work with the CWP and by the massacre, and those experiences continued to shape the people around her throughout her life.

Anyone who knew Marty would not be surprised to know that she was undeterred by the attack of the KKK that murdered five of her comrades and took away the father of their then six-month-old child. She fought tirelessly alongside the other survivors and their comrades to expose the direct connection between the KKK, the police, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which also had an informant embedded in the Klan and was aware of the attack before it happened but failed to take any steps to prevent it.

Not only had the police given the protestors’ march route to the klansmen; they were present at the massacre in the tenth car following the caravan in an unmarked police vehicle but did nothing to stop the massacre. Marty and the other survivors successfully proved this and other acts demonstrating the complicity of the police, city, and FBI in the massacre, finally winning a $351,000 civil lawsuit in 1985 after having lost two criminal trials in which the prosecution was more focused on prosecuting the communist victims and survivors of the massacre than the Klan. Only in 2020 would they receive a long overdue apology from the City of Greensboro. Though Marty and her daughter were the only ones awarded money in the settlement, Marty gave her settlement to the other survivors and co-founded the Greensboro Justice Fund in 1980 and, in 2009, the Markham Nathan Fund (MNF) in Mike’s memory to fund grassroots organizations to carry the work forward.

By the time Marty passed away in November 2021, she had fundamentally shaped the organizing landscape in her home of Western Massachusetts, where she moved in 1995. Even when people couldn’t stand each other, everyone seemed to love Marty. She believed in uniting people from a wide range of perspectives, but she never compromised her politics in moments of disagreement. She canvassed for the re-election of Congressman Jim McGovern along with other local officials, and when it came time to hold people to account, she did so unapologetically.

Even as her health faltered in the months and years before she passed away, Marty joined other anti-imperialist activists to call on Congressman McGovern to shift his position on Palestine and to work to lift the sanctions against Venezuela or, in her words, “to inhabit his own skin … – an understanding and compassionate one – … and tell him that he has to follow through because this is not a theoretical issue. This is an issue of people in Venezuela dying everyday… because of the sanctions.” It is in large part thanks to Marty’s work that Congressman McGovern did just that in a letter dated the day of that rally, cited as “the best letter that we’ve ever seen out of Congress on sanctions period” by Alexander Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a leading source of research and data on the sanctions.

Not only was Marty a fierce and dogged leader and mentor: she was also the people’s doctor. During her days in the CWP, she ran clinics at Duke Hospital to treat textile workers with brown lung disease caused by the cotton particles they inhaled on the job. In the weeks before her death, she stood with migrant workers at a press conference not only as a speaker but as a doctor, rushing over to a ditch to mend someone’s twisted ankle during the event. After moving to Massachusetts, she co-founded La Cliniquita, where she worked as a doctor primarily for immigrants and undocumented patients for 18 years, building an infrastructure to provide quality care that did not exist until she moved to the area for communities that had been systematically deprived of health care. At her memorial service, her former patients spoke about what she meant to them not only as a doctor but as a friend to whom she opened her home over the years. In 2012, she co-founded Climate Action Now as well as the climate justice group 2degrees and went on to help win the decades-long fight against a proposed biomass plant in Springfield, MA in 2021, always keeping climate justice at the heart of her work and revolutionary organizing at the heart of her life.

Marty’s list of accolades is unending, but those who knew her know that her ability to bring people together and lift up and mentor those around her, her refusal to give up no matter the obstacles or danger that she faced, and her unrelenting determination to fight for justice are irreplaceable. As Marty said, “after you lose somebody, there’s nothing else that you can lose. But what you can hope in all this is that you can change the future.”

Categories
Analysis Economic Justice Immigration

Commentary: The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism

This post offers commentary on the article, “The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism,” written by Suyapa Portillo Villeda and Miguel Tinker Salas, and recently published in Jacobin. Read the full piece here.

Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala as part of a series of foreign policy meetings regarding Central American migration. But despite the Biden administration’s promises to close the chapter on Trump-era policies by welcoming immigrants and building a more just immigration system, Harris quickly indicated that tight border restrictions are here to stay. Speaking to migrants in Central America, Harris’s message was explicit: “Do not come. Do not come.”

While Harris’s trip was ostensibly meant to begin discussions with foreign leaders around addressing the “root causes” of Central American migration, the overarching message she conveyed was that the United States will turn you back at the border if you try to come. (It’s worth noting that this is legally dubious; all migrants have a right to seek asylum at the US border under existing immigration law.) And even when discussing the “root causes” of migration, Harris continued to disappoint, focusing primarily on issues of corruption and lack of economic opportunity. As many immediately pointed out, Harris failed to recognize that the United States itself has long been one of the key actors animating these “root causes” in the first place.

In a recent Voices for New Democracy forum, scholar Miguel Tinker Salas discussed the United States’ historic record of involvement in Central America and how it continues to animate migration patterns today. He also recently published a new piece with the scholar Suyapa Portillo Villeda in Jacobin magazine elaborating on these issues in the context of the controversy Harris has provoked.

Does anyone believe that promoting “economic development” by expanding the presence of foreign companies in Central America will slow immigration? Does anyone believe that callously declaring “Do not come” will improve the lot of would-be migrants?

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/06/kamala-harris-central-america-guatemala-visit-us-imperialism

Throughout the last century, they argue, the United States has been deeply involved in shaping a neocolonial reality in Central America, as the American economy relies heavily on cheap Central American labor. With this history in mind, Harris’s gestures towards expanding economic opportunity ring hollow – another justification for American-led development and economic policy more likely to favor multinational corporations than potential migrant populations. Ultimately, if we want to get serious about root causes, we must begin with US empire.

Read the full piece, “The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism,” via Jacobin.

Categories
Economic Justice

Commentary: The Dream of a Unionized New Orleans Is Coming True

This post offers commentary on the article, “The Dream of a Unionized New Orleans Is Coming True,” written by Hamilton Nolan and recently published in In These Times. Read the full piece here.

Readers of Voices for New Democracy have long been grappling with the ongoing transformation of the American economy, beginning in the 1970s, towards a post-industrial society. Over the past decades, this has manifested in the decline of manufacturing, rapidly growing financialization, a massive shift towards the service sector, and a series of all-out assaults on organized labor. The American South has been especially hard hit by these trends, particularly in terms of the rights of workers, as Republican control of state governments have created legal regimes that keep wages low, precarity high, and maintain massive obstacles to organized labor.

Amid this trajectory, COVID-19 has been a major disruption, and it remains uncertain whether the fallout could help strengthen the position of workers or serve as a justification for further attacks on labor. That is why the work of unions in the South are so critical, and why the left must focus on these fights; since they represent a model that could upend this trajectory even in the heart of reactionary states.

Hamilton Nolan’s recent piece in In These Times is illustrative. The piece explores the growth of the Unite Here hospitality workers union in New Orleans over the past years, which is especially notable given the low union density across the state and the traditional challenges of organizing in a tourist economy in a right-to-work state. While Unite Here members and staff alike have experienced the fallout from the pandemic, the union has done remarkable work to support its members throughout these challenges, both by negotiating recall rights with employers and providing direct support services to members. All of this work is offering new visions for what the city’s hospitality industry could look like with an organized working class:

The bulk of Unite Here’s organizing in New Orleans happened after the 2008 recession, meaning the pandemic has been the first major economic shock most members have lived through as union members. Even as it lost staff, Local 23 had to transform itself into what Patrick-Cooper describes as ​“a social service beacon.” The union turned its focus to helping newly laid off union members navigate the state’s broken unemployment system. It created a hotline for members to call for assistance, ran a food bank and searched everywhere for fundraising, all while marshaling support for Unite Here’s massive national door-knocking campaign in support of Joe Biden’s presidential run — and fighting for extended recall rights for workers.

https://inthesetimes.com/article/unionized-new-orleans-labor-workers-organizing-pandemic-south

While Unite Here continues to face an uphill battle, its efforts on behalf of its members during the pandemic could help turn the tide for organized labor throughout the state. Union members are the only workers in the city who won guaranteed recall rights, which offers a strong incentive for more hospitality workers to unionize especially at a moment when many working people feel they have little left to lose. And if these local efforts prove successful in these critical right-wing strongholds, they will be key stepping stones to rebuilding a powerful labor movement on a national scale.

As Unite Here’s international president, D. Taylor, says:

You change the South, you change America.

https://inthesetimes.com/article/unionized-new-orleans-labor-workers-organizing-pandemic-south

Read the full piece, “The Dream of a Unionized New Orleans Is Coming True, via In These Times.

Categories
Ecological Justice Economic Justice

Commentary: A Job Guarantee Can Challenge Growth and Fight Climate Change

| Steve Clark |

Coming out of this economic recession, we’re hearing a lot of talk about restarting “growth.” But strategically, it’s crucial to stop promoting growth as a thing in itself. We need to employ everyone, but not in the same way that has brought us to the brink of climate change disaster. We need to refocus production and investment in sustainable enterprise, but what about all the working people who need jobs in the meantime? For instance, fracking is way down now; do we want its revival? What is a former fracking worker to do while jobs in the new economy still don’t exist? As this piece in Foreign Policy points out, a Job Guarantee (JG) would immediately solve this problem… as any worker without a job would be entitled to one funded by the government (at $15/hr with benefits) until the private sector is able and willing to hire her. Instead of climate-destroying jobs in the old economy, a JG can provide useful, caring jobs and stability to families and the economy while we make the structural changes necessary to create a sustainable economy for everyone.

Read more: Foreign Policy – “Stimulus Is an Environmental Disaster Waiting to Happen”

Categories
Global Peace & Collaboration

Transcending Tribalism

| Steve Clark |

In this interview, Alaine Duncan looks at our nation as a “trauma survivor” and discusses how to transcend tribalism. A challenge for our nation’s tribes is learning to tolerate our own discomfort and not perceive discomfort as unsafe.

Transcending Tribalism

Alaine Duncan graduated from acupuncture school in 1990 and completed Somatic Experiencing training in 2007. She was a founding member of the Integrative Health & Wellness program at the DC Veterans Administration Medical Center where she served as a clinician and researcher from 2007-2017. She also co-founded the National Capital Area chapter of Acupuncturists Without Borders who, until Covid 19, provided free weekly acupuncture treatment to immigrants, refugees and neighbors in need. Her book, The Tao Trauma: A Practitioner’s Guide for Integrating Five Element Theory and Trauma Treatment explores East-meets-West approaches to restore survivor’s balance and regulation. It is available in print, audio and kindle wherever you buy books on line.