Confederate flag / Egyptian pyramids meme beautifully illustrates the traditional marriage of racism and stupidity

By Damon Krane
July 2, 2015
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PyramidsMeme

A popular new meme is making the rounds among conservative Facebook users. With a photo of Egypt’s pyramids as the backdrop, the meme asks “When will we take down these monuments of slavery?”

Young Conservatives, a website claiming to have had 13 million views last week and boasting more than a quarter a million likes on Facebook, declared in a June 30 headline that this purportedly brilliant creation is “Probably the Best Meme EVER About the Confederate Flag ‘Debate’ in America.”

And maybe they’re right. Because I can’t think of any other meme that better illustrates the modern conservative movement’s marriage of racism and stupidity.

Well, except maybe the meme equating the offensiveness of the Confederate flag flown over government institutions to the offensiveness of young black men wearing baggy pants below their waist lines… or probably a million other memes that, thankfully, never get to grace my computer screen.

But when the pyramids meme appeared before me compliments of a white man who remarked “Like it or not, it’s history,” I decided to try to turn this meme into a teachable moment.

In case the meme’s intent isn’t clear to you, let’s start with how Young Conservatives contributor Michael Cantrell describes it.

“Ever since the horrible shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, liberals have been fighting day and night to have the Confederate flag removed from every part of society, whether doing so violates someone’s rights or not.

“They’ve also begun to start demanding statutes of famous Civil War figures and other people throughout history be taken down because they’re ‘monuments to slavery.’

“Well this little meme right here poses the question about why race baiting progressives haven’t demanded these ‘monuments’ [Egypt’s pyramids] be taken down, since, you know, slaves helped build them…

“…there is a theory that claims Jews helped build the pyramids, and even though we might not know 100 percent for sure that happened, you don’t want to accidentally soil your liberal anti-Semtic, pro-Palestinian record by supporting them, right?”

So, yeah… That cleared up everything, right?

If you’re having trouble herding Cantrell’s catty mess of right-wing wackiness into a coherent thesis, don’t worry – Cantrell is, too. So he transitions swiftly into this conclusion.

“In other words, the point I’m trying to make is the whole thing is ridiculous, there are bigger issues facing the country, so how about we take care of some REAL business and fix this mess our nation’s in?”

That’s right. If all else fails, just act like American white supremacist racism doesn’t matter. I guess Cantrell summed up the meme’s intent after all.

However, in response, it’s worth pointing out that no one is arguing the Confederate flag should be removed from “every part of society.” No one is arguing that it be removed from historical displays at publicly funded museums. Instead, people are arguing that the flag should not be flying over government institutions.

And the reason we want the flag removed from such locations is not because the first copies of these flags were made from cotton picked by slaves. It’s not that their seams were sewn by slaves. It’s because the so-called Confederate flag always has been a symbol of an organized and murderous movement for white supremacy supported by official state power.

The flag that Dylann Roof brandished proudly on social media, and which Bree Newsome tore from a flagpole on the South Carolina capitol grounds, was one of many different flags designed and used by white supremacist forces in a war they fought to protect slavery. As James Loewen’s July 1 piece for the Washington Post reminds us, seceding states explicitly declared that they were fighting against states’ rights (specifically, Northern states passing state laws that interfered with the Fugitive Slave Act, a federal law) and for the preservation of slavery.

Over the course of its four-year existence, the white supremacist movement that went to war to protect slavery, calling itself the Confederate States of America, represented itself with a succession of three different national flags, the first of which alone passed through four different variations. None of them were what we call “the Confederate flag” today, but they were bad enough.

The second flag of the CSA – “The Stainless Banner” – was created by William Thompson, a newspaper editor who had criticized the first CSA flag – “The Stars and Bars” – for looking too much like the U.S. flag, something which Thompson made clear represented “the abolition despotism against which we are fighting.”

Thompson was quite clear about what a Confederate flag symbolized. “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race,” he wrote. And for this flag designer white supremacy was not just a national cause but a global one, too. Thus Thompson predicted his flag “would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.” (original emphasis)

Yet neither Thompson’s flag nor the other two national flags of the Confederacy are what we call the Confederate flag today. The latter is in many ways a 20th century invention.

Adapted from the CSA Naval Jack and the battle flags of the Confederate armies of Northern Virginia and Tennessee, this new Confederate flag was popularized not by the white supremacist would-be nation that came into being to defend slavery in the mid 1860s, but by the Ku Klux Klan and segregationist Dixiecrat politicians who resurrected and repurposed a symbol of a white supremacist slave society for the fight to preserve white supremacist segregation from the late 1940s through the late 1960s. As they did, their new Confederate flag came to fly over southern capitols and city halls, and to be incorporated into the re-designed flags of several southern states. This time it was not about fighting the Civil War; it was about fighting Civil Rights.

Decades later, as a teenager in 1997 I watched Klansmen brandishing Confederate flags as they stood shoulder to shoulder with swastika-clad neo-Nazis in opposition to an NAACP march in Claysville, Pennsylvania. The march was organized after a cross had been burnt on the lawn of the town’s only interracial couple, presumably a familiar calling card from the Klan.

It was this incident that first got me thinking more critically about those “good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm” that I’d grown up watching on TV. It got me thinking about the namesake of their 20th century Confederate flag on wheels, the General Lee. And it got me thinking about the Confederate flags sold in Claysville during the following spring’s National Pike Festival, emblazoned with the proclamation “The South Will Rise Again.”

My curiosity soon led me to the website of “America’s Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” The first image I saw there was the Confederate flag. Beneath it, the Klan implored readers to “Fly the battle flag with pride, for we are at war again.”

This July 18, it is the KKK that will gather at the South Carolina state capitol to protest the removal of a 20th century Confederate flag that finally has become difficult even for conservative politicians to defend. A symbol of slavery resurrected in defense of segregation, the Klan has always been the flag’s rightful owner, even before the Klan was around to claim it.

So what of the conservative meme’s comparison of the Confederate flag to Egypt’s pyramids?

Were Egypt’s pyramids created to symbolize a pro-slavery movement at the precise moment that movement was fighting a war to protect slavery?

During the last century, have Egypt’s pyramids been adopted as the symbol of a modern Egyptian movement for racial apartheid?

Has the Egyptian government tried to place the pyramids and the buildings that house its key decision-making bodies in close proximity to one another?

Sorry, young conservatives. There is no comparison here.

But there are some other comparisons you may find less comforting.

The Washington Post reported July 1st on a 2004 survey of more than 500 Georgians that found support for the Confederate flag highest among two groups: white racists and those ignorant of Confederate history. But I suspect the two groups are often one and the same. Just as ignorance of history can nurture racism, racism can motivate people to be willfully ignorant of history.

In the case of the Confederate flag, a banner born from a war to protect slavery was reinvented by militant white supremacist segregationists, only to then be defended by many whites as a matter of “Heritage Not Hate”, something with no more contemporary political significance than the pyramids of Egypt. (But didn’t this year’s Republican presidential hopefuls initially suggest the Charleston AME murders weren’t about racism, thereby proving that climate change isn’t the only thing they’re willing to deny despite substantial evidence?) In America, the promotion and denial of white supremacy are both cut from the same cloth. It is only fitting that they would be represented by the same flag.

And it is also only fitting that as manifestations of American white supremacy continue to be challenged by the new civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter, you can expect to see more conservative stupidity coming to a meme near you.

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Announcing the Rebirth & Expansion of Free Student Press!

FSP Chomsky Shor

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Things have been pretty quiet here since last fall. That’s because I’ve been busy laying the groundwork for an exciting new campaign to bring a proven model of student empowerment through civil liberties education and independent student publishing to public high schools across the U.S. Here’s the skinny. (Do people still say that?)

Way back in 1998, my friend Lisa O’Keefe and I founded a group called Free Student Press, which we launched the following year in Athens County, Ohio with the assistance of the Institute for Democracy in Education. Within a month, the first group of high school students with whom we worked had released the first issue of an independent student publication they called Lockdown. School officials reacted harshly — and extremely illegally. They confiscated copies, lied to students about their constitutional rights and vowed to suspend everyone involved. The principal threatened to effectively revoke the valedictorian’s class standing in an effort to make it more difficult for her to go to college, and he suspended another student for distributing a leaflet that criticized his actions. The school’s attorney, meanwhile, falsely accused the newspaper’s teenage creators of promoting violence and drug use. And it was most likely school officials who directed local police to illegally break up a lawful student meeting at a public park.

Crazy stuff, huh?

FSP2015_Broll_Photos_007

Unfortunately, as documented during the past five decades by acclaimed journalist Jack Nelson and the Committee of Inquiry into High School Journalism, the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, both misinformation about student press rights and illegal censorship long have run rampant in our schools. If you’re like most Americans, you made it through more than a dozen years of public schooling and into adulthood without ever learning of students’ rights to distribute uncensored, independently produced student publications at public schools.

The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1969 declared that authoritarian public schools are not compatible with American democracy. “In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism,” the court wrote. But 46 years later, our schools mostly remain “enclaves of totalitarianism” which do a much better job of promoting alienated labor and submission to arbitrary authority than of promoting democracy through empowering education.

The student publishers of Lockdown, who I mentioned earlier, ultimately prevailed. They kept their paper, and their principal lost his job. And in recent interviews, some of Lockdown’s creators discussed the lasting, transformative impact the experience had on their lives.

Over the past eight months, documentarian Roger Hill (Flying Paper and Mental Rev Productions) and I conducted interviews with these former students and others, and we produced two videos — a feature length documentary of the Lockdown saga and explanation of the work of Free Student Press, and a condensed 8-minute video addressing some of the key points.

These videos are now the centerpieces — yes, two centerpieces, because this metaphorical table is too amazing to have just one! — of a 60-day campaign on Kickstarter to bring the work of FSP to public high schools across the country.

Already, superstar public intellectual Noam Chomsky has given this effort a thumbs up, calling Free Student Press “an imaginative initiative that has already attained success in engaging students in constructive dialogue and encouraging independent inquiry, thought, and action.”

I hope you’ll give the Kickstarter campaign look-see now! (And please let me know what you think by sharing your feedback there, or by emailing me at my address under the “contact” tab here.)

Kickstarter Campaign Page

(SHORT) Free Student Press: Student Publishing, Empowering Education & Democracy

(FULL FEATURE) Free Student Press: Student Publishing, Empowering Education & Democracy

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‘Blood Bucket’ makes big mess for supporters of Israel’s ethnic cleansing

By Damon Krane
September 7, 2014
The Ohio University Post (published September 8, 2014)
The Athens News (published September 11, 2014)
Mondoweiss (quoted in articles September 9 and September 16, 2014)
*Updated with afterword, 9/16/14*

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Ohio University Student Senate president Megan Marzec clearly stated her position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It speaks volumes about her opponents that they’d rather silence her than attempt to argue against that position. From the online death threats to that masterpiece of passive aggressive condescension Rabbi Danielle Leshaw authored for last Friday’s Post, those demanding Marzec’s resignation from Student Senate (and/or her head on a platter) don’t seem to want to talk about the issue at hand any more than they want Marzec to talk about it. That’s because Marzec’s detractors aren’t “supporters of Israel.” They are supporters of ethnic cleansing. And ethnic cleansing is a hard thing to advocate openly, especially if you want to keep fooling Americans into paying for it.

Israel was established as an ethnic and religiously Jewish state in 1948 in an area primarily inhabited by Palestinian Muslims and Christians. To make way for a Jewish majority, 700,000 Palestinians were pushed out of Israel – many to the West Bank and Gaza, territories Israel then conquered in 1967. Ever since, Palestinians there (now numbering 4 million) have lived under Israeli military occupation. While continuing to expel Palestinians from the West Bank and incorporating more of their land into Israel, Israel has turned the less desirable land of Gaza into an overcrowded, open-air prison where Israel controls the borders, imposes an impoverishing trade embargo, and routinely attacks trapped Gazans with the world’s 4th most powerful military – attacks Israeli military strategists callously refer to as “mowing the lawn.”

During Israel’s latest attack on Gaza this summer, Palestinian militants killed 66 Israelis, including 61 soldiers, three adult civilians and one child. Israeli soldiers, meanwhile, killed over 2,000 Palestinians, an estimated two thirds of whom were civilians and 30 percent children. ( Note: The most reliable figures to emerge since this article was published place the Israeli death toll at 72 and Palestinian dead at 2,100.) After Israel had finished bombing Palestinian hospitals, schools, shelters – even children playing soccer – the U.S. Congress followed up on the Senate’s unanimous declaration of support for Israel in July with its early August decision to increase funding for improvements to Israel’s missile defense system. No one in Congress suggested giving any missile defense system to Palestinians.

For decades Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. For the past 20 years, the U.S. has given Israel between $2.5 and $4 billion annually – including $8.5 million in military aid each day of fiscal year 2014. The US gives more money to Israel than to all of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined, even though Israel is a country just one fifth the size of Ohio whose citizens enjoy one of the world’s highest per capita incomes and longest life expectancies.

There are several explanations for the so-called “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel. Political scientists Mearsheimer and Walt focus on the power of the Israeli lobby. I think U.S. elites want a well-armed, non-Arab, oil-free dependency in the world’s most important energy producing region. But there’s also a natural cultural affinity.

Israel and the U.S. are both settler colonial states founded on ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians of today are the Native Americans of 200 years ago. Just as Columbus “discovered” America and our slave-owning, Indian-killing, “religious freedom-loving” forbearers “civilized” this country, Israel was “a land without people” (because Palestinians don’t count) just waiting for “a people without land” to “take the desert and make it bloom.” Or, as an Israeli-funded subway poster campaign in major U.S. cities put it recently: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel.”

Yet as much as our shared national mythology might appeal to the Fox News demographic, young Americans just aren’t buying it anymore. A recent Gallup poll found that while 55 percent of Americans age 65 and older supported Israel’s latest massacre in Gaza, the same was true of just 25 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29, 51 percent of whom opposed the offensive. So when OU’s supporters of ethnic cleansing say Megan Marzec doesn’t speak for most of her fellow students, remember this: Megan Marzec speaks for most of her generation.

And when Leshaw and company have the audacity to attempt to speak for all Jews on campus, remember not only all the members of Jews Against the Occupation and Israel’s own Peace Now, as well as prominent Jewish commentators like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Medea Benjamin, Phyllis Bennis, Max Blumenthal and the late Howard Zinn. Think also of OU film professor Louis-George Schwartz. With regard to Marzec’s detractors, Schwartz has stated, “I’m named after two great Uncles killed in Auschwitz… I say unequivocally that those who threaten anti-racists in the name of ‘THE Jews’ do not speak for me, and they dishonor my ancestors. I say unequivocally that those who support the murderous state dominating the territory of Palestine do not speak for me.”

Think about all of this and recognize that people like Leshaw (so hip because she texts swear words just like a student!) are trying to hijack the horrific history of Jewish persecution in order to use it for their own racist political agenda. Keep that in mind, and you’ll never fall for their attempts to portray long-overdue criticism of Israel as unconscionable hatred of the Jewish people.

And finally, if you’ve ever wished you could undo the horrors of America’s own settler colonial past, remember that you have the power to stop history from repeating itself in Palestine. It is your government that is spending your fellow citizens’ tax dollars on Israel’s murderous ethnic cleansing campaign. It is your university and those like it that are invested in Israeli companies. You have the power to change all of that – just like the student activists before you who helped end U.S.-backed apartheid in South Africa. Realize that, and you’ll come to see that the real goal of the effort against Marzec isn’t to silence Marzec, it’s to silence you.

Stand up for Marzec, and you stand up for yourself. Stand up for yourself, and your generation can bring hope – and possibly even justice – to the people of Palestine. Now is your chance.

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[Update: 9/16/14 — In addition to those threatening Marzec’s life, her detractors reportedly also have included people threatening to rape her, others sending astoundingly racist and misogynistic emails, and the student group Bobcats for Israel, four of whose members were arrested September 10th and charged with disrupting a lawful meeting after they tried to shut down a Student Senate meeting in order to force Marzec’s resignation. (For additional accounts of Bobcats for Israel members’ behavior at this meeting, see this letter and this blog post from OU film professor Louis-George Schwartz, whose powerful response to Zionist hardliners attempting to speak for all Jews on OU’s campus I quoted above.)

Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, mentioned above, is heavily affiliated with Bobcats for Israel. Leshaw works for the Ohio University chapter of the group Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Hillel is an international organization active on college campuses which attempts to re-define “Jewish” as Zionist. Leshaw administrates the Facebook page of Bobcats for Israel and accompanied the group to its action at the September 10 Student Senate meeting. After tweeting live updates in support of the action, Leshaw accompanied members of the group placed under arrest to the police station. However, there are no reports of Leshaw participating directly in Bobcats’ September 10 action, nor was she arrested along with the students she mentors.

As the progressive Jewish American Middle East news blog Mondoweiss pointed out, Bobcats for Israel’s logo features a map of Israel which includes the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, all territories illegally occupied by Israel. Consequently, if these Bobcats are for an Israel that is both Jewish and incorporates these territories, then they are necessarily for massive ethnic cleansing. The demographic consequence of incorporating into Israel all of the non-Jews who inhabit these territories would be a Jewish State with a Jewish minority. Thus if Bobcats are for a Jewish Israel that incorporates these territories, the group should be more forthcoming and change its name to Bobcats for Ethnic Cleansing, or perhaps Bobcats for Genocide. (For her part, Rabbi Leshaw responded to Mondoweiss’s reporting with typical decorum by calling Phillip Weiss a “douchebag” and “asshole” on her Twitter feed.)

With regard to this group’s action at the September 10 student senate meeting, Hillel CEO Eric Fingerhut (who was chancellor of OU’s Board of Regents from 2007 to 2011) wrote OU president Roderick McDavis to express his support for Leshaw and his disbelief that members of Bobcats for Israel were “actually booked and charged with criminal conduct.” According to Fingerhut, “These students are owed an apology from the university.”

As if the history of settler colonialism needed any more evidence of the shameless arrogance of the racist colonizers! I remember when I was arrested at OU (and on public property immediately adjacent to the campus of Kent State University) for committing civil disobedience in opposition to a massive crime against humanity (the U.S. invasion of Iraq) instead of in support of one (Isral’s U.S.-backed ethnic cleansing of Palestinians). In the case of my arrests, I don’t recall any present or former chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents demanding that the president of either of these schools apologize to me for their failures to intervene to prevent my arrests, even after I was among the plaintiffs in a successful wrongful arrest lawsuit against the City of Kent. I do remember a letter from the Ohio University Judiciaries expressing the university’s desire that I “act more responsibly” in the future. So cry me a river, Eric Fingerhut.

Yet despite –or perhaps because of— the repugnant audacity of Marzec’s detractors, there are substantial signs of support for Marzec at Ohio University, including a letter now signed by over 50 OU professors; statements by Graduate Student Senate President; a petition to defend Marzec and all OU students’ rights to advocate for Palestinian human rights being promoted by the OU Women’s Center, the student group Fuck Rape Culture, and the OU Student Union (as well as explicitly Palestine solidarity groups on campus); an editorial by the student-run Ohio University Post newspaper; and many letters to Athens media, including this one from OU film professor Tom Hayes, in which Hayes mocked Rabbi Leshaw’s call for Marzec to resign.

“I call for unelected Rabbi Leshaw to resign and find a position at an institution with a less robust tradition of advocacy for the dignity and freedom of humankind. Perhaps she can find an institution where students are required to check with the campus Rabbi, or Imam, or Minister before taking a principled position. A segregated Jews-only university in an illegal Israeli settlement might be a good fit. The disgusting barrage of defamation and abuse directed at President Marzec makes one wonder if some people on this campus think that this is also Israeli occupied territory.”

Along similar lines, OU history professor Kevin Mattson told the Ohio University Post that while he isn’t in full agreement with Marzec, it was Rabbi Leshaw’s “very condescending and unthoughtful letter” to The Post calling for Marzec’s resignation that led him to join the group of faculty expressing its support for Marzec.

“When you ask a person to resign from an office they were elected to, you are basically asking for a reversal of the election,” Mattson said, calling Leshaw’s rationale behind her letter “faulty logic.”

Thus while the backlash to Marzec’s “blood bucket” action has been as repulsive as you might expect of people who do, after all, support a murderous and racist U.S.-Israeli campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, the backlash to that backlash continues to inspire hope — hope for a sustained and powerful Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement that might finally bring justice to Palestine.

[Update: 9/30/14 — Electronic Intifada on September 24 published an interview with Megan Marzec accompanied by a good brief summary of this story. Also, the Ohio University Post and Athens News recently reported on a coalition of right wing campus groups, including Bobcats for Israel and the OU College Republicans, organizing a petition drive to recall Marzec from office for her support of Palestinian human rights.]

Editor’s note: Damon Krane lived in Athens, Ohio from 1999 through 2009, during which time he attended Ohio University, edited The InterActivist magazine, contributed to The Athens NEWS, wrote a column for The Post, ran the high school journalism education project Free Student Press, directed the local center for progressive activist development People Might, and was active in numerous social justice groups.

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Debating a Supporter of U.S. Aid to Israel

By Damon Krane
September 4, 2014
Blog Post
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During “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel’s July-August 2014 attack on the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza, Palestinian militants killed 66 Israelis. 61 of the dead were Israeli soldiers. Five others were civilians, including one child.

A precise number of Palestinians killed in the offensive is harder to come by. But according to most sources, Israel killed more than 2,000 Palestinians during Operation Protective Edge. Roughly two thirds of the dead were civilians, and about 30 percent of the total were children.  

Shortly after the early August ceasefire, a friend posted on his Facebook wall a report about the U.S. decision to increase financial support of Israel’s missile defense system. The decision came despite the many atrocities committed by Israel during Operation Protective Edge (including bombing multiple hospitals, schools and shelters, as well as children playing soccer) and despite Israel already being the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” my friend asked rhetorically.

After several people responded to my friend’s post with similar disapproval of expanded U.S. aid to Israel a supporter of that aid chimed in, and a debate between the two of us followed.

I have reproduced the text of that debate below. In it, my opponent is designated as “DOI”, an acronym for the popular but arguably inaccurate title “defender of Israel.”

While I don’t assume my opponent is a typical example of someone who takes this position, I am curious to know how much his tactics of choice (attempts at intellectual intimidation, obfuscation and false accusations of racism) coincide with those encountered by other critics of settler colonialism, state terrorism and mass murder who have entered into their own debates with so-called defenders of Israel. 

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DOI: Its good to know that all of you are OK de-funding our support of one of the only things stopping the rockets, grenades, and mortars flying into a major democratic ally’s civilian territory.

Be frustrated by the death that is happening there. Weep for the loss of life and of humanity. But before you start acting like you have a glimmer of understanding about how to fix the situation, please, I beg of you, try to educate yourself on the root causes of this conflict. The world has enough under-educated demagogues ranting about every topic under the sun as though they had decades of experiential know-how. Its amazing how much confidence a sourced, alternative news site or one semester studying political science can do for an ego.

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Me: DOI is right. It’s not enough to condemn Israel’s latest terrorism, war crimes and acts of collective punishment. They ought to be seen within the context of their “root causes” — namely 65+ years of Zionists conquering and colonizing places where people (of the wrong ethnicity) already lived — most of which could not have been possible without US tax dollars.

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DOI: I would really love to get into this with you all, but the level of ignorance and bias against Israel (and likely Jews in general) has been made abundantly clear. There appears to be no interest in hearing an alternative perspective. The notion that you might not be educated on this topic well enough to speak intelligently about it drove immediate “oh yea” responses that only proved my point to begin with.

This conflict is more complicated. I never said Israel was perfect. I never made any claims of guilt on either side of this. I did say that there are plenty of under-educated demagogues who feel like their internet searching skills qualify them to inform the public about the “truth.” Those who do would be laughably wrong.

Thanks for the laugh.

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Me: Thanks, DOI. Your predictable attempt to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism, your baseless insults, and your disingenuous claim to not be taking any firm position are all stunning testaments to your opposition to demagoguery and love of honest, informed debate. But if you’re not laughing too hard to provide a counter-argument to my claim that the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (as well as Israel’s most current crimes) is Israel’s settler colonialism, I’m sure I’m not the only one here who’d like to hear it.

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DOI: Damon, I will keep this simple. I have, for the last 32 years, been deeply in touch with this conflict. I have family and friends on both sides of this, have been exposed to and have tracked all aspects of this conflict for as long as I have been able, not just as some trendy news item to champion ignorantly. I have no freaking clue what the solution is.

I do know that your stance is quite firm and to the point. You almost approach it as a matter of fact. There was a reason that I did not offer my opinion. I do not find myself qualified enough to offer short meaningless explanations of “why” on Facebook that will inevitably not do this very serious issue justice, literally or intellectually.

My comments fixated on the demagoguery because there is no intellectual contribution being made. Hence my baseless insult about a lack of education on the topic in question. It is too complex an issue to be meaningfully addressed in this kind of venue or with talking points from an article or two.

So, am I going join this witch hunt? No. I will instead continue educating myself on the issue and if I do make a contribution to a discussion, it will likely be in the form of asking questions of people who seem to have more knowledge on the topic than I. Educated people, who have enough of an understanding of the conflict and who know that there is more to know. Getting into conversations with people who enter into them firmly touting that they already have the answer is fruitless and tiresome. If you want to engage in an honest, informed debate, do not start it off with a preconceived notion of what is right. Test an idea with the intent of gauging its truth, not to pummel the other participants with your foolish demagoguery.

And as I cannot possibly let the “Your predictable attempt to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism” line go unmentioned… Why choose Israel as a focus? What about Israel makes them the prime candidate to level words like “terrorism, war crimes and acts of collective punishment” as descriptors for their behavior over others? Is it because Israel is doing them more frequently and with more intensity than others? Is it because you are directly affected by Israel’s actions that it becomes a personal issue for you? Perhaps it is because of the specific group of people involved… Crimes that dwarf Israeli and Palestinian violence are happening in a neighboring country, no more than 100 miles away. Graves being dug for hundreds of people, filled with people, then executing them. Why dig a grave and move the bodies when you can have the dead walk there before you kill them? Why not talk about that? Not villainous enough for you? Or perhaps its that you object to US dollars going into it. Well, then you should probably object to the military spending of the US in general. If Israel was not there, the US would be blowing lots more than the already inordinate amount that is currently being spent on conflicts with Hamas. Another US occupation, maybe…

Is the issue you have more in line with the “occupation” aspect of this scenario? Is the issue that a state was formed where other indigenous people once lived? Is it that there was a mandate for a country to form by a global authority that hurt a specific group of people? Then up your intellectual critique to all borders and all nations, because the same can be said for every. single. country. to. date. Unless there is a specific issue with the people in this country. In this conflict.

The conflict in Israel/Palestine is devastating and horrendous. The issues that are represented in this conflict are infinitely larger than Israel and Palestine. Fixating on this one conflict makes your critique seem to be chosen out of a pre-existing preference or bias against or for the parties involved. If you want to take the honest, informed debate path, then step it up and debate the issues. Otherwise, it comes off as something else…

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Me: DOI, I decided not to accept your invitation to argue semantics on the vitally important matter of debate etiquette. Instead, I’ve responded to what little you’ve managed to write about the issue at hand – i.e. the questions and claims you begin posting in your fourth paragraph.

Q — “Why choose Israel as a focus?”

A — Because it’s what we’re talking about.

Q — “What about Israel makes them the prime candidate to level words like ‘terrorism, war crimes and acts of collective punishment’ as descriptors for their behavior over others? Is it because Israel is doing them more frequently and with more intensity than others?”

A — Yes. In “Operation Protective Edge,” as in “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” as in “Operation Cast Lead”, as in the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel has been and continues to be the disproportionately belligerent, disproportionately criminal, disproportionately civilian-murdering party. Would you like to debate that, or would you rather stick to accusing me of anti-semitism?

Q — “Is it because you are directly affected by Israel’s actions that it becomes a personal issue for you?”

A — A “personal” issue? Geez. You make it sound like the feminine hygiene aisle at the supermarket. Is it a “personal” issue for me because I’m talking about it? Because I have an opinion? And is that suspect and likely racist because… why again?

Anyway, in direct response to your question rather than your beloved vague insinuations: No, it is more a matter of cause than effect. As an American, I am a citizen and taxpayer of the only country in the world that, while masquerading as some neutral mediator, in reality enables Israel’s rejection of a political settlement with the Palestinians and the ongoing destruction of Palestinian society. Consequently, I have a responsibility for Israeli atrocities and a potential to stop them that I do not have when it comes to many other atrocities around the world, such as the Syrian situation to which you presumably alluded. For those astoundingly obvious reasons I believe I should prioritize this situation over those in which I am less involved and have less ability to affect positively. The key factor is not the scale of the atrocities (which is bad enough in this case), but the personal culpability and personal opportunity I have vis-à-vis these atrocities. That’s what makes it a “personal” issue for me, and for every other American.

So, do you agree that we should be more concerned with those things in which we are more involved and have greater opportunity to affect than with those things in which we are less involved and have less opportunity to affect?

If so, do you agree that Americans play a greater role in and have more ability to affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than they do the Syrian civil war?

You can answer if you like, or you can keep charging me with anti-semitism.

Claim — “Or perhaps its that you object to US dollars going into it. Well, then you should probably object to the military spending of the US in general.”

Response — Yes, DOI, that would be an excellent way for us to stop talking about Israel, wouldn’t it? For the record, I DO object to both the specific scale and, more importantly, the specific applications of U.S. military spending. For the record, I also like Annie Hall much more than Woody Allen’s other movies and Life of Brian way more than anything else Monty Python ever did. But I’m going to stick to talking about Israel here.

Claim — “If Israel was not there, the US would be blowing lots more than the already inordinate amount that is currently being spent on conflicts with Hamas. Another US occupation, maybe…”

Response — So is your implication here that I’m unrealistically frugal when it comes to pursuing imperialistic American objectives in the Middle East? Because resisting those objectives is my intention, not pursuing them. So it’s not a matter of fiscal conservatism for me, just basic morality. But in all fairness to you, I may be attributing far more substance to your comment above than it actually contained.

{Editor’s note, 9/4/14 – Something I failed to add at the time but should have: Israel is not at war with Hamas. Israel’s beef is with Palestinians in general. That is why this conflict pre-dates Hamas. That is why this conflict exists in the Fatah-controlled West Bank as well as Hamas-controlled Gaza. That is why this conflict exists within Israel itself with regard to the “Jewish State’s” minority of non-Jewish citizens. And finally, that is why Israel is currently massacring a civilian population of Palestinians in Gaza much more than it is targeting Hamas.

Israel is not at war with Hamas. Israeli propagandists and their U.S. counterparts, including President Obama and most of Congress, are merely using Hamas as a convenient scapegoat to justify longstanding U.S.-Israeli policies of Israeli expansion at the expense of indigenous Palestinians. Your attempt to portray the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, or U.S. support for Israel in general, as “conflicts with Hamas” shows that you belong to this camp of propagandists, whether knowingly or unwittingly.]

Q & claim — “Is the issue you have more in line with the ‘occupation’ aspect of this scenario? Is the issue that a state was formed where other indigenous people once lived? Is it that there was a mandate for a country to form by a global authority that hurt a specific group of people? Then up your intellectual critique to all borders and all nations, because the same can be said for every. single. country. to. date. Unless there is a specific issue with the people in this country. In this conflict.”

Response — Human history is repulsively violent, and there’s a lot that’s wrong (in both theory and practice) with all modern nation-states. But not every modern nation-state was formed as a settler colony that required the removal of most of the region’s indigenous population. Nor does every nation-state that was formed in such a way continue to confine the remnants of the indigenous population to impoverished cantons. Nor does every nation-state subject millions of indigenous non-citizens to military occupation. Nor is every nation-state currently pursuing, as we speak, Manifest Destiny-style expansion of its territory. Israel is a country ¼ the size of Ohio. Israel is not the world. I didn’t realize erasing meaningful distinctions and trying to mystify fairly straightforward matters is what it means to “up” one’s “intellectual critique.”

Also, I don’t own a time machine. My opposition to settler colonialism is across the board. But it has the potential to do more good for the Palestinians than, say, for the millions of Native Americans that were conquered, displaced, and/or exterminated before my birth. But perhaps the idea that temporal distinctions also matter merely speaks to my level of ignorance.

DOI’s Conclusion — “Fixating on this one conflict makes your critique seem to be chosen out of a pre-existing preference or bias against or for the parties involved. If you want to take the honest, informed debate path, then step it up and debate the issues. Otherwise it comes off as something else…”

Response — My goodness, you make a sleazy argument, DOI. And here’s why I say that…

Since you’ve brought up racism, repeatedly, I want to share a personal story with you.

I grew up in a very backwards, white supremacist area. Shortly after I began developing an anti-racist consciousness, I discovered something odd. Whenever I’d try to talk to other white folks about the marginalization and oppression of African Americans, they’d always say “Well, what about the Native Americans? They’ve had it so much worse, haven’t they?”

Since this was the only time I ever heard these people express concern for Native Americans, it soon became clear they weren’t at all concerned with Native Americans; they were concerned with diverting the discussion from ongoing institutionalized and cultural racism against African Americans.

Now, note that “ultra conservatives” (i.e. American white nationalists / white supremacists) take this one step further and accuse the person trying to talk about anti-Black racism of “reverse racism.” That is, of hating whites.

Then fringe white racist groups take it further still. When the person criticizing white supremacist racism is themselves white, they have a name for that. I learned it at the first political rally I ever participated in – an NAACP march in response to a cross burning intended to scare a dark-skinned southwest Asian man out of an otherwise all-white Pennsylvania town where I lived in 1997. The Confederate Flag-waving Klansmen and masked, swastika-sporting neo-Nazis who protested from the march’s sidelines taught me that name when they applied it to me. It’s “race traitor.”

Now, I believe this personal story is relevant with regard to two things I find very troubling about your last post. The first is that your modus operandi is very much like those white folks who used the plight of Native Americans as a ploy for evading a discussion of anti-Black racism – yours is just a more sophisticated variety of bullshit, and it goes like this:

Damon, if you’re not simultaneously talking about every atrocity/human rights abuse/etc. as well as certain other mysterious issues I’ve referred to but haven’t named, then you don’t have any right to talk about this issue. So you can either attempt the former, which is impossible and therefore proof of the utter incomprehensibility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even for a mind as brilliant and well-informed as my own, or you can just shut up. Either way, one thing is for sure – you won’t be talking about Israel, and I will have succeeded.

Thus all you offer is evasion, obfuscation and a feeble attempt at intellectual bullying – those fallacious appeals to authority which aren’t exactly made more persuasive by the fact that the authority to which you’re appealing is none other than the authority you yourself claim to possess. There is absolutely nothing of substance in either the short or long versions of the exceedingly pretentious and otherwise vacuous comments you’ve seen fit to offer here as Israel continues to kill a disproportionate amount of disproportionately civilian Palestinians and lay waste to Gaza. That’s an epic fail. At life.

The second troubling parallel I see is that Zionists defend Israel in exactly the same way white supremacists defend their ideology. Just as white supremacists accuse their opponents of “reverse racism” (as though opposing white supremacy is the same thing as hating whites), Zionists accuse critics of Israel of anti-semitism (as though being opposed to Israel’s settler colonialism, human rights violations, war crimes, and apartheid policies is the same thing as hating Jews). Further still, whereas white supremacists deem their white opponents “race traitors,” Zionists have a name for Jews that step out of line, too: “self-hating Jews.”

Of course, this is just a broader right wing tendency. It’s why U.S. “conservatives” call their domestic political opponents “anti-American.” It’s the fascistic concept that the state and its policies embody the essence of a people, so you can’t criticize the former without condemning the latter.

Thus it’s not surprising that the most recent Gallup poll found that while 55 percent of Americans 65 and older support Israel’s current massacre of Palestinians, the same is true of just 25 percent of Americans ages 18-29. In other words, the classic Zionist defense that you’ve employed here – i.e. that criticism of Israel is inherently anti-semitic – doesn’t really fly these days with many Americans outside of the Fox News demographic. And the reason it DOES fly with that demographic is that its part of their political playbook, too.

Now, since we’re talking about right wing ideology and racism, let’s talk about your support for Israel.

I’m not opposed to Jewish nationalism per se. Particularly in the years shortly after the Holocaust, when Israel was founded, I think the desire among Jews for a national homeland was exceedingly justified. Had Israel been carved out of Germany, then I’d most likely be a Zionist.

But there is no moral justification for Palestinians paying such a steep price for a sense of… I would call it “Jewish security,” except that the so-called “Jewish State” is no more synonymous with the global Jewish population than Israel is pursuing security. Much like the U.S. in its so-called “War on Terror” (and in conjunction with the U.S. in that war) what Israel is pursuing is expanded geographical dominance at the EXPENSE of its population’s security. And that’s not worth the confiscation of Palestinian life and land.

Since Palestinians don’t owe Jews Holocaust reparations (although others certainly have and do), Jews have no entitlement to Palestinians’ land and resources – unless, of course, you feel that Jews are more deserving on racial or religiously chauvinistic grounds. But what has Zionism become by now, if not a fundamentally chauvinistic, right wing ideology employed to rationalize a kind of gradual genocide?

That’s not where I want to see my tax dollars go. That’s not something I’m comfortable seeing done in my name.

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DOI: Disappointing. You had so many ways to respond, so many opportunities to take the moral high ground. I am genuinely disappointed. At least you didn’t make vague claims at having Jewish friends to justify your stance… The only thing that would be more wrongfully placed than the balance of your second “response.”

Why is my desire to talk about the root cause of this problem construed as pro-Israel? Because I am the only person in this lynch mob questioning the reasoning behind it? A cute notion, but not true.

So, am I pro Israel? Lets get your base-line assumption about me addressed up front, since you clearly lack a capacity to understand why anyone would want to focus on solving the conflict and not fixating on talking points and haphazard and flawed moral arguments. Yes. I am pro-Israel. You are failing miserably in not seeing that I am pro-Palestine just as strongly.

The only thing that cutting off funding to Israel will do is increase Israeli casualties. The Iron Dome that Austin wants us to cut funding to is defensive. The ONLY thing it does is intercept attacks made on Israeli soil. Wanting to even out loss of life to both sides of a conflict is not taking the moral high ground. It is blood-lust. Guess you did pick up some habits from growing up in a white supremacist area after all.

Or, do we want to actually address HOW to stop the violence? (I am sure that was a frequent conversation with your white supremacist childhood friends) Does that even matter? When we stop funding Israel, will anyone give one damn about Palestine? Jesus, how can so many be so painfully narrow-minded?

Now to get to my “classic” Zionist defense of Israel… I am so amazed that this is still a thing. Why not just reference the “problem of the Jew?” I did not defend Israel’s actions. Once. I hate what is happening. I actually want it to stop. Lowering the budget for their defense system will make them more desperate for severe action. To expect anything else is kinda silly and naive. Unless it is only a desire to remove your personal culpability… Then hurrah head-in-sand!

The people of Palestine deserve better champions than you…

And if you want to go tit for tat with personal stories of discrimination, we can have that conversation elsewhere. I am very happy you are championing civil rights issues. It is a tragedy that they still need to be addressed. I guess too many people are fixating on the people exhibiting racism and not trying to change the ideas behind racism…

I do, however, really hope you approach it from a slightly higher moral standard than you have shown here… Telling a Jewish nation not to defend itself in a post-Holocaust world, or to cut funding to its defense tool… Why not just tell them to move to the US, there are plenty of spaces at the back of the bus…. Jesus…

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Me: I’ll make you a deal, DOI. If anyone else reading this comment thread wants to point out anything in your previous two comments that they found persuasive or in any way meriting a response from me, then I’ll address it. Otherwise, I don’t think your attempt to double down on your favorite absurdity is anything I haven’t already refuted.

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DOI: Or you could explain how cutting funding will actually address the problem. And you could back up your claims of Israel’s intent behind its actions. Or…
[At this point, DOI attached a link to Sacha Baron Cohen as “Borat” performing the song “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”

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Me: As I said, “anyone else.”

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DOI: Zzzzzzzzzz

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20 days pass (August 3 – 23) without anyone commenting.

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Me: OK. Looks like nobody took me up on that offer…  

But since I don’t like loose ends, I’ll respond to that bit about the missile defense system you brought in at the end, DOI. Why shouldn’t U.S. taxpayers pay for it? Here’s why.

I.) VIOLENCE REDUCTION / PEACE

Because I believe all human life has equal value, I’m interested in acting to achieve a net reduction in violence and oppression. While there is violence and death on both sides of this conflict, the vast majority of violence is coming from the Israeli side while the vast majority of deaths are happening on the Palestinian side – and that’s even more the case if we’re talking about the deaths of civilians, and even more still if we’re talking about the deaths of children. Therefore, anyone concerned with a net reduction of violence is going to prioritize reducing violence against the people who are suffering the bulk of it – and in this case that’s the Palestinians.

This begs the question: Why is the U.S. funding a missile defense system for Israel instead of one for Gaza? Israel already has one and needs it less. Gaza has none and needs it more.

At the very least, we might wonder why the U.S. isn’t funding missile defense systems for both sides, seeing as how the U.S. is such a neutral mediator and all.

Sadly, reducing the violence of this conflict is not the driving goal of President Obama or virtually any member of Congress – Republican or Democrat. And that says something very chilling (but hardly surprising) about the U.S. socio-political system.

But in contrast to the garbage of debased humanity that rises to the top of our political system, people with fundamentally decent moral values should want a net reduction in violence. And there’s no way to argue that such decent people should prioritize funding Israel’s missile defense system over providing aid to Palestinians.

II.) PEACE & JUSTICE

Of course, decent people aren’t just concerned with violence reduction or “peace.” They’re also concerned with justice. “Peace and justice” get lumped together because they’re inseparably linked, but they’re two words because they are nonetheless distinct. This situation illustrates all of that quite well. So let’s bring justice into the picture, too.

Israel isn’t only the belligerent party because it is disproportionately violent at present and over all. Israel is also the belligerent party because its longstanding policies of settler colonialism (and more specifically, ethnic cleansing) are the root of the conflict.

Even if Israelis and Palestinians were only fighting with water balloons, the fact would remain that Palestinians are fighting to keep their land and Israelis are fighting to take it. One cause is just, the other is not. So once you add a sense of justice to a desire for peace, the argument for supporting Israel gets even weaker.

Bringing justice into the picture also makes something else clear. That is, if you really want a net reduction in violence, work not only toward protecting the predominant victims and constraining the predominant perpetrators, but also work toward eliminating the structural source of the violence. In this case, the structural source of the violence is Israel’s settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

But all that said, wouldn’t a better Israeli missile defense system still save (Israeli) lives – particularly those of (Israeli) civilians? And isn’t that a good thing?

Of course it would. And of course that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean U.S. taxpayers should have to pay for it. In fact, anyone concerned with peace and justice should be opposed to the U.S. or any other country besides Israel paying for it. And here’s why…

III.) THE COSTS OF COLONIALISM

Settler colonialism has its costs for the settlers, too. The resistance of indigenous people is predictable, as is the fact that it will sometimes take very ugly forms. There are cases of Native Americans massacring noncombatant European settlers, including children. There are cases of black Africans doing the same in Europe’s former African colonies. Rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza and suicide bombers are just more of the same. We don’t have to support any of these atrocious acts to recognize their predictability or their root causes. Because oppression isn’t reserved for angels, the resistance it engenders will not always be pretty. Those horrors are a cost of colonialism that settlers have to pay – in terms of defending themselves against it, even if not in terms of actually suffering it.

And that’s why if Israel wants a better missile defense system to protect itself from the costs of its own aggression, then Israel should pay for it. Especially since Israel CAN pay for it. We’re talking about an unusually affluent country, with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, that the U.S. has been pouring billions into annually for decades.

Israel can afford a better missile defense system; it just might need to sacrifice other projects and programs in order to get it. That’s the nature of cost. But so long as American taxpayers are paying the financial costs of Israel’s settler colonial project and Israelis are enjoying so many of the benefits for free, we can expect Israel to stay its present course – a course which is far more likely to result in a net increase in violence than a net reduction in violence.

IV.) REBUTTAL?

Now, DOI… as much as I enjoyed your unintentional self-parody in that Borat clip… (i.e. using the fictional anti-semitism of a Sacha Baron Cohen character to illustrate the fictional anti-semitism you attribute to me) …you are still welcome to break with past practice and enter into a substantive discussion by responding directly to some of the many points I have made in this and previous posts. After all, I think I have responded directly to each and every point you’ve attempted to make up until now.

Editor’s note, 9/4/14 – I posted the entry above on August 23rd. To date I have received no response.

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Better messaging, decision-making would strengthen Athens Take Back the Night march

By Damon Krane
April 2, 2014
The Post (Athens, Ohio)

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Women marching in the 2005 Athens TBTN march. InterActivist file photo by Julie Van Wagenen.

As a male sideline supporter of most of the Athens Take Back the Night marches since 2000, I would like to offer a somewhat different take on this year’s controversy surrounding how men will relate to the march.

This year’s decision to invite men to march alongside women has been particularly contentious. With only a few exceptions, the event has been a women’s march since the late 1970s. Yet regardless of whether men march, every year Take Back the Night is surrounded by controversy. All of the controversy is educational. Most of it is inescapable. But some of it is more divisive than it needs to be.

Most controversial of all is not whether men will march in a feminist march, but whether anyone will. Every year that I participated in sideline support, male students opposed to the march shouted sexist slurs and rape threats from the balconies of Ohio University fraternity houses and the windows of residence halls. Most years marchers made too much noise with their own chants to hear much of this, but sideline supporters got an earful. The current debate over men marching pales in comparison to the kind of controversy that greets any expression of feminism in a society that remains plagued by patriarchy — and perhaps at Ohio University in particular, which, according to the U.S. Department of Education, frequently outranks even the substantially larger Ohio State University when it comes to the number of rapes reported in residence halls. (See my “Crying wolf about crying wolf: Debate over public sex incident teaches more than Grand Jury findings,” Athens News: 10/30/13 and “Students, faculty deem assault prevention inadequate,” Athens News: 1/31/02 and The Post: 2/1/2002)

By refusing to succumb to this patriarchal rape culture, Take Back the Night marchers and supporters create division, to be sure — a division between those working for a better world and those working for a worse one. So “controversy” and “divisiveness” aren’t always bad words. As Frederick Douglass pointed out, they’re absolutely necessary for progress.

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The author after just completing a banner inspired by feminist author bell hooks and first used during sideline support of the May 2000 Athens TBTN march. Photo from author’s personal collection by Monty Hunter.

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The author (far right) and other male sideline supporters, including former Athens City Council member Elahu Gosney (center), during the 2005 or 2006 Athens TBTN march. InterActivist file photo by Julie Van Wagenen

But the controversial aspect of TBTN that is mostly unnecessary and counter-productive is the divisiveness created among Athens feminists/sexual assault opponents over whether men will march. Some of this is unavoidable; even people who share the same goals will disagree about the best strategy for achieving those goals. But much of the conflict flows from two easily corrected but longstanding problems with the march – one of messaging, the other of decision-making.

If the purpose of Take Back the Night is to show opposition to sexual assault in general, then it makes sense for everyone to be welcomed to march, since men as well as trans and genderqueer people are also survivors and opponents of sexual assault. Conversely, if the march is a way for women to empower themselves to combat the overwhelming majority of sexual assault committed by men against women as an outgrowth of patriarchy, then a women’s march probably makes most sense. So which is it? That’s the problem of messaging. And who gets to determine the message is the problem of decision-making.

In her March 30 letter to The Post Devin Aeh argues that TBTN is a women’s march for women’s empowerment and against sexual assault. In an April 1 letter Erin Fischer contends that Aeh speaks for only “a few bigots” and that “TBTN is not about ‘women’s empowerment;’ it’s about standing up to sexual violence and assault.” Decades of local tradition are on Aeh’s side. So are tens of thousands of women and men I wouldn’t identify as bigots. But traditions and even majorities aren’t always worth heeding. So which is it?

In past years, Take Back the Night marches for women’s empowerment eventually gave rise to an additional march against sexual assault per se. This year it seems that a Take Back the Night march against sexual assault per se is giving rise to a separate march for women’s empowerment. Just like Aeh’s and Fischer’s arguments, these developments make two things crystal clear: 1) there is a big difference between these two types of marches and 2) there are people in Athens who feel the need for each type of march. Given that both types of marches are oriented toward worthy goals, perhaps there are even people who feel the need for both.

But whichever type of march the organizers of a particular year’s Take Back the Night choose, the march’s message needs to be made clear so people will be less inclined to continue to fight over it, and instead focus on fighting patriarchy and/or sexual assault.

Yet even if the message is clear, if the process for deciding upon that message isn’t considered legitimate, then there will still be unnecessary conflict and resentment.

The process for deciding TBTN’s message can be authoritarian or democratic. The authoritarian option is for one person or a handful of people on OU’s Student Senate to make the decision unilaterally, perhaps after receiving some degree of wider input (or not). This is what usually happens. Then the decision maker(s) can sit back and see how many marchers and would-be marchers resent not having a say. And by “say,” I’m not talking about mere input. I’m talking about people having a share of actual decision-making power through some system of majority rule or consensus that would constitute a more democratic approach to determining TBTN’s message.

In addition to clearer messaging, a more democratic process that’s open to a wider constituency of TBTN stake-holders would go a long way toward decreasing the unnecessary kind of conflict surrounding the march and increasing the necessary kind.

Editor’s Note — Damon Krane is a former weekly columnist for the Post, contributor to the Athens News, co-founder of The InterActivist magazine and its editor from 2005 through 2008. While a student at OU in 2002, he revealed OU’s violations of federal campus crime reporting laws and helped organize the campaign that both forced OU into compliance and proved instrumental to the establishment of the OU Women’s Center. A freelance journalist, artist and community organizer who currently resides in Georgia, his letter (co-authored with several other men) which argued against men marching (but in favor of one of the first showings of sideline support) was published in the May 8, 2000 edition of The Post and May 11, 2000 edition of the Athens News.

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On Petr Pavlensky’s Political Piercing: How Revolutionary is Masochism?

By Damon Krane
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
ZNet
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Ever participate in a die-in?

You know – it’s that thing where a bunch of protesters lay down on the ground and pretend to be dead in order to dramatize the death toll of an easily ignored foreign war? (I’m American, so obviously we get plenty of chances to do that sort of thing here.)

Well, how about a nail-in? A nail in your scrotum, that is!

Yes, Russian dissident Petr Pavlensky made international headlines Sunday for just that. The 29-year-old performance artist stripped naked, sat down on a street in Moscow’s Red Square and proceeded to pound a large spike through his ball sack, pinning it to the pavement below.

Pavlensky might have left us all scratching our heads as to why he did this (as we protectively clutched our genitals, no doubt) had the young artist not provided a written explanation on his website. Even dramatic actions don’t always speak louder than words, it seems.

“A naked artist, looking at his balls nailed to the Kremlin pavement, is a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of contemporary Russian society,” Pavlensky expounded. “As the government turns the country into one big prison, stealing from the people and using the money to grow and enrich the police apparatus and other repressive structures, society is allowing this, and forgetting its numerical advantage, is bringing the triumph of the police state closer by its inaction.”

A metaphor for apathy? I don’t know about that. But driving home your point with a nail through the nut sack – now that’s a metaphor!

More importantly, millions of people around the world probably would not be reading Pavlensky’s socio-political assessment right now if he hadn’t punctuated his words by perforating his scrotum. In terms of attracting attention to a dissident perspective, Pavlensky’s success is as clear as his dedication. And for that, we should all give him a hand – not to mention a pain killer, some stitches and a tube of antibiotic ointment.

But is attracting attention to a dissident perspective always a good thing? And to just what exactly does such an action prove someone is dedicated?

I ask these questions as a radical leftist who’s engaged in a decent amount of grassroots organizing and street-level direct action. So I assume that Pavlenksy’s assessment deserves attention because it is largely correct, and not just about Russia. Nevertheless, I believe his recent performance and other broadly similar actions – from setting oneself on fire to protest a war, to duct taping one’s mouth shut to protest censorship – often are counter-productive.

Broadly speaking, these actions are all about speaking – expressing a point of view, even if through something other than words. There’s nothing wrong with that. Public expression is as necessary for meaningful democracy as it is for mobilizing opposition to the meaningless democracies we have now and their more classically authoritarian counterparts.

But leftists are often downright obsessed with “speaking out” as if it was a sufficient condition for achieving social change. And once it becomes apparent that the Left is “all talk,” the ways we speak out end up repelling people from movements for social change rather than attracting them.

For example, consider the movement against the Iraq War. Speaking out made a lot of sense in the lead-up to the invasion. Anybody could speak out, so an enormous and diverse swath of people did. Who was the face of the anti-war movement in the early 2003? Better to ask who wasn’t. The wide accessibility of speaking out at fairly sedate, legally permitted, festive mass marches and rallies proved the perfect tactic for quickly building a mass movement. But when the Bush administration launched the war in defiance of majority U.S. and world opinion, it became clear that speaking out wasn’t going to stop the war by itself.

In the U.S. a lot of former war opponents buried their heads in the sand, professed to be war supporters, and hoped for the best. But as the insurgency dragged on anti-war sentiment rebounded, and from the summer of 2004 on a steadily growing majority – eventually about three quarters of Americans – came to oppose the war. Even most right-wing pundits had to abandon or dramatically qualify their previous support.

However, in the U.S., as anti-war sentiment grew, participation in anti-war activism declined. Speaking out had proved to be an insufficient strategy for change, but the major anti-war organizations were determined to stay the course. They simply kept trying to bring people together to speak out at the same non-disruptive mass marches and rallies. More and more Americans saw this as a waste of time, and they were right.

A majority of Americans opposed the Iraq War on the basis of the Left’s geopolitical analysis. For them, the war wasn’t about defending Americans or liberating Iraqis. It was about the U.S. controlling access to vital energy reserves. Yet when America went Left, the American Left went nowhere. Even with a solid majority on our side, we were still all talk.

When the military started failing to reach its enlistment quotas, the clearest minds in the anti-war movement advocated a concerted effort to end the war by further driving down military recruitment. The government certainly took notice, designating counter recruitment groups across the country as domestic threats and subjecting them to surveillance and infiltration. Unfortunately, the major national anti-war groups were slow to progress from symbolic statements to the concrete strategy of counter-recruitment. Finally, when the Great Recession hit, enlistment figures shot back up and counter-recruitment’s window of opportunity closed.

The carnage of an overwhelmingly unpopular war continued unabated into the following decade. Meanwhile, millions of progressive Americans became more discouraged than ever about the prospects of affecting positive change. They gave up on themselves and put their hopes in Obama. The Democratic president then brought more murderous foreign policy, combined with expanded assaults on civil liberties and international law, record-setting deportations and attacks on whistle-blowers. There were no massive demonstrations against any of this. And as disillusioned progressives wandered around in a daze, the Tea Party gained momentum, Republicans won control of the House, and right-wing governors and state legislatures carried out largely effective assaults on collective bargaining, voting and reproductive rights. A historic opportunity for progressive change was squandered, and America’s long march to the Right continued.

Speaking out is vital. But as this example starkly demonstrates, being all talk is a recipe for failure. We spend all our time speaking out rather than building ongoing organizations that enable large numbers of people to act in ways that increase the costs of elites’ preferred actions to prohibitive levels. The result is a Left that most often resembles a labor movement without unions.

A visual representation of last decade’s anti-war movement, for instance, would not be the classic “Organize!” cartoon that depicts a bunch of little fish scaring off a larger, predatory fish by coming together in the shape of an even bigger fish. It would instead be a bunch of little fish swimming about willy-nilly, holding signs declaring “Big fish shouldn’t eat little fish,” as the neo-con barracudas helped themselves to an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet.

It’s time we face the fact that the Left – in the U.S. and elsewhere – suffers from a kind of self-defeating oral fixation. Ironically, this disorder afflicts the very people who should know better. After all, it’s the Left that says our society is dominated by elites or even a ruling class. It’s the Left that rails against corporate personhood, corporate control of the media and unrestrained corporate financing of political campaigns. It’s the Left that points out the vast disparities between opinion polls and government policy on numerous vital issues. Yet judging by our obsession with speaking out, one would think that contrary to every single piece of leftist analysis heretofore produced leftists really believe we live in some kind of democratic-capitalist wonderland where public opinion, once expressed, automatically transforms itself into public policy. Where else could speaking out be enough to win change?

Returning to the young Russian performance artist Pavlenksy, his self-inflicted scrotum abuse may be a more dramatic form of talk, but it’s still just talk. Nailing your nut sack might attract peoples’ attention to your observations of injustice and apathy. But neither the publicity stunt nor the observations advance a compelling strategy for change.

Worse yet, Pavlensky’s particular formulation is likely to insult his potential allies – those supposedly apathetic people who might fully agree with Pavlensky’s assessment but aren’t working for social change because they don’t know how. After all, what is it that they’re supposed to be doing? Nailing their nut sacks, too? Is that what the path to a better world looks like? Like a naked man stabbing at his balls?

At the same time, Pavlesky’s spectacle probably amuses the heck out of his adversaries. A mass movement of dissidents inflicting harm on their own genitals might indeed bring the Russian regime to its knees, but only in laughter. Putin probably got a good enough chuckle out of Pavlensky’s solo act. I imagine how I’d feel if my political opponents decided to stop making history and turned to abusing their own privates instead. Given the long legacy of death and destruction our world’s political and economic elites have left in their wake, they’re welcome to use the contents of my toolbox to mess up their junk any day.

That brings me to a further point of criticism. Nailing your nut sack to protest a repressive regime might be intended to demonstrate your commitment, but it’s just as likely to make people – allies and adversaries alike – think you need to be committed. Not only is there no apparent logical relationship between damaging one’s genitals and bringing about positive social change, but the masochism factor makes such a protest appear all the more bat shit crazy.

Even people who are all about the idea of inspirational martyrdom are probably creeped out by this display. Take Christians, for instance. Their storied hero might have known Judas would betray him, but at least the famed Nazarene left his crucifixion to the Romans rather than nailing himself up there. Even Christian martyrdom is a far cry from the grotesque masochism of impaling one’s own junk to protest a police state.

Do we really advance our causes by associating them with such lunacy?

Pavlenksy may have provided an extreme example, but many leftists are just as eager to present themselves in ways that cast doubt on both their analyses and claims that a better world is possible. Just as Pavlensky reportedly sewed his mouth shut to protest the imprisonment of radical anti-capitalist feminist rockers Pussy Riot and wrapped himself in barbed wire to dramatize “the existence of a person inside a repressive legal system,” U.S. leftists routinely employ the watered down but equally silly tactics of duct taping their mouths shut to protest censorship and laying on the ground supposedly to simulate the death toll of unjust wars.

Is the point of all this that we can silence, humiliate and even hurt ourselves, too? Is that the only power we believe we have left? Have we become bored with the usual perversity of our self-defeating oral fixation? Are we determined to take things one step further by reshaping the Left into some kind of twisted BDSM dungeon?

According to the Guardian newspaper, “leading Russian theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov” dubbed Pavlensky’s Red Square action a “powerful gesture of absolute despair.” An intelligent, passionate young person like Pavlensky deserves better than to be reduced to the physical embodiment of hopelessness. Likewise, the masses he dismissed as apathetic deserve to be addressed with more compassion and respect.

If we can speak in a way that gets the world to listen, we should do more than recount well-known problems and reinforce despair. We should instead revive the suppressed histories of movements that have changed our world for the better so that large numbers of us can employ those movements’ best practices and surpass their limitations. Then those of us who, like young Petr Pavlensky, are brave enough to endure physical injuries for our political ideals can risk facing such hardships as we meaningfully confront oppressive institutions. That seems far better than doing those institutions’ dehumanizing work for them through individual acts of masochism.

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Crying Wolf About Crying Wolf

Debate over public sex incident teaches more than Grand Jury findings

By Damon Krane
October 30, 2013
Athens News

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In his Oct. 17 statement about the Oct. 12 public sex incident and alleged sexual assault that occurred on a busy Court Street sidewalk, Ohio University President Roderick McDavis urged “members of the university community to embrace the educational opportunity that this unfortunate incident has presented.” But few seem to have needed the president’s encouragement. A fierce debate has raged ever since images of the incident were first posted online minutes after being captured. And this debate has been nothing if not educational.

What we have seen is a kind of educational battle – a fight, not only over how we should understand the Oct. 12 incident, but over what broader lessons we should draw about sex, violence and the responsibilities of individuals and institutions.

So many of us have participated in this battle – and often participated so passionately – because its subjects could not hit closer to home. Sex is among the most basic of human desires and certainly a top concern of college students. So regardless of whether we are survivors or perpetrators of sexual assault, or know people who are, we all have a very personal stake in this debate. It is part of broader societal deliberations that will establish what is and is not permissible behavior for and toward each of us, and for and toward practically everyone we know.

So now that a Grand Jury has decided not to indict the alleged assailant in the Oct. 12 incident, what can this debate teach us?

The Grand Jury’s findings may be criticized. (Should consent given by a person who later claims to have been blacked out qualify as consent, either legally or morally?) But the findings likely will make some debaters defensive and others feel vindicated.

Most defensive will likely be those who, from the very beginning, asserted that this was a clear-cut case of sexual assault. But serious charges merit serious investigation. A mere half-century ago, African American men were routinely lynched on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations of raping white women. Fast forward to the present, and we have a president who routinely carries out modern-day lynchings via drone strikes on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations of terror plots against Americans.

The due-process rights of the accused are among the most basic principles of justice, and they are always under attack by bigots of one variety or another – people who give vastly more weight to the suspicions of some than they do to the lives and liberty of others. Obviously, those rushing to condemn the accused in this case have not been bigots armed with torches, ropes or unchecked executive power. Still, any rush to judgment should be cause for concern – and that would be true even if the Grand Jury had decided to indict the accused.

Conversely, the debaters most likely to feel vindicated by the Grand Jury findings are those who didn’t rush to condemn the accused but instead condemned his accuser. We’ve all heard their popular refrain: “The woman involved only claimed to have been assaulted because she was embarrassed by the viral video and photo posts online.” But this was no less a rush to judgment, and it is the most troubling aspect of this debate. What is so remarkable about this claim is that it was always as popular as it was unlikely – and the Grand Jury’s decision doesn’t change that, either.

Rape and other legally defined varieties of sexual assault generally are not the kind of crimes that get over-reported. On the contrary, a 1995 report by the American Medical Association ranked sexual assault as the most under-reported of all violent crimes in the U.S., and a large body of subsequent research suggests the category of offenses remains at or near the top of that list. According to the U.S. Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, more than half of the nearly 1.2 million sexual assaults that occurred in the U.S. from 2008 through 2012 went unreported to police. Last year alone 72 percent were unreported, down from 73 percent in 2011. In contrast, most research into false accusations of rape puts their prevalence at between just 2 and 8 percent of reported incidents. Therefore, the chances of anyone crying wolf about sexual assault appear to be very slim – a 2 to 8 percent exception that would prove a 92 to 98 percent rule.

YET LONG BEFORE ATHENS County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn announced the Grand Jury’s findings and reasoning, countless people had rushed to condemn the woman involved. Some argued the incident was not sexual assault because cunnilingus and digital penetration aren’t performed for a man’s benefit. Or because the woman supposedly wasn’t observed crying out for help or trying to ward off her alleged assailant. Or because both parties were likely intoxicated. But none of this warrants the crying wolf thesis. Cunnilingus and digital penetration are routinely depicted in pornography for the sexual benefit of heterosexual men. More importantly, the Ohio Revised Code defines both acts as sexual assault when they are performed without consent, and a substantially intoxicated person legally cannot give consent.

The crying wolf thesis becomes even more unlikely, however, when we look at its bundle of underlying assumptions. The first is that claiming to have been sexually assaulted is a way for a woman to avoid the embarrassment of further public scrutiny and judgment. Contained within this assumption is the notion that women who claim to have been assaulted are most often greeted with sympathy, honored as survivors of harrowing experiences, and seen as courageously striving to hold violent men accountable.

Yet in this case the allegation of sexual assault caused increases in media coverage, public scrutiny and harsh condemnation of the woman involved. What’s more, those results were totally predictable – and not just to anyone who has followed the horrendous Steubenville and Maryville rape cases, but to anyone who has ever cared enough to pay the slightest bit of attention to this issue. Psychologists and sexual assault survivors frequently refer to the experience that follows reporting a sexual assault as “the second rape.” The unfortunate cost women typically must endure as they attempt to hold their attackers accountable is a major reason why so many sexual assaults go unreported and unpunished in the first place.

But let’s think even more specifically about Ohio University. If crying wolf about sexual assault was a surefire way for a woman to escape the embarrassment of a tryst she subsequently regretted, then given the number of sloppy drunken hook-ups that occur at a university of more than 25,000 students frequently ranked as America’s number-one party school, we would expect sexual assaults to be reported on a daily or even hourly basis in Athens. However, according to the U.S. Department of Education and OU’s annual campus security reports, the total number of sexual assaults reported on or near OU’s main campus during the entire 12-year period from 2001 through 2012 is 230. Rounded to the nearest whole number, that’s an average of just 19 per year.

Granted, that number is unacceptably high considering the heinous nature of the crime and the high rate of unreported incidents. What’s more, during five of the past 12 years, more sexual assaults in residence halls were reported at OU than at any other public university in the state. During a sixth year, OU tied with Miami University for the highest number of these incidents. And during all six of those years, more residence hall assaults were reported at OU than at Ohio State University, even though OSU then had two to three times more students than OU. Nevertheless, an annual average of 19 reported incidents is infinitely lower than what we would expect if the crying wolf thesis rested on correct assumptions.

Finally, the ultimate irony of the crying wolf thesis is that its adherents refute their argument by making it. That’s because if sexual assault survivors were generally celebrated as heroes, there wouldn’t have been an enormous chorus of people so eager to condemn this alleged survivor (or any other) as a villain.

Managing to disprove one’s own thesis is quite a feat of stupidity. Combined with everything else that’s dumb about this sadly predictable rush to judgment, it teaches us two things – first, just how much of their own intelligence many people are willing to sacrifice in the defense of privilege (and in this case, we’re talking about the privilege of men in our society to most often rape with impunity) and two, that when feminists talk about “rape culture,” they’re probably on to something.

The Grand Jury has let an alleged assailant off the hook – maybe even for legitimate reasons. But many of us still have a lot to answer for.

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Damon Krane is a freelance writer and community organizer who lived in Athens from 1999 to 2009, during which time he attended Ohio University, wrote for the Post, The Athens NEWS and The InterActivist magazine (which he edited from 2005-2009), and helped organize various local social justice campaigns, including efforts to combat sexual assault at OU. For more of his writing, visit www.damonkrane.com.

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