Democracy has a dream-like character. It sweeps into the world, carried forward by an immense desire by humans to overcome the barriers of indignity and social suffering. When confronted by hunger or the death of their children, earlier communities might have reflexively blamed nature or divinity, and indeed those explanations remain with us today. But the ability of human beings to generate massive surpluses through social production, alongside the cruelty of the capitalist class to deny the vast majority of humankind access to that surplus, generates new kinds of ideas and new frustrations. This frustration, spurred by the awareness of plenty amidst a reality of deprivation, is the source of many movements for democracy. Habits of colonial thought mislead many to assume that democracy originated in Europe, either in ancient Greece (which gives us the word ‘democracy’ from demos, ‘the people’, and kratos, ‘rule’) or through the emergence of a rights tradition, from the English Petition of Right in 1628 to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789.
In this third decade of the twenty-first century, the U.S. and global working class confront conditions unique both in their potential for advancing justice and in their ability to deepen already gaping economic and racial inequality and planetary peril. Especially since 2020, workers have engaged in protest and organizing in ways that inspire great hope. Workers are angry, organizing, striking, and challenging their bosses and the systemic racism they face. From Red for Ed and teacher strikes, to the strikes at John Deere and Kellogg, and the organizing at Amazon and Starbucks, there are growing examples of workers organizing, standing up, and fighting on a level we have not seen in a long time. And hopeful strategies are emerging too. Workers are organizing in the automobile industry as it transitions to electric vehicles, and innovative organizing initiatives are emerging in tech, retail, banks, and other key sectors of the economy.
Tucked away in Park Slope, Brooklyn, since 2011, Interference Archive tells the stories of people imagining and fighting for a better world in the face of hostile power structures. Pulling from decades of American social movements, the archive’s materials often reveal deeply intimate insights into long-gone individuals, groups and subcultures — some of which can be found nowhere else. Run entirely by volunteers, it started with the personal collections of Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee, along with two other cofounders, Kevin Caplicki and Molly Fair. Interference Archive self-consciously attempts to preserve and promote forgotten or marginalized histories through its events, books, podcast (called Audio Interference) and exhibitions. Volunteers at the open-access archive have poured hundreds of hours into compiling shows on climate justice, student organizing and cooperative housing, to name just a few.
In April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an eloquent and stirring denunciation of the Vietnam War and US militarism. The speech titled “Beyond Vietnam” is relevant to today’s war in Ukraine. In the speech at Riverside Church, King talked about how the US had supported France in trying to re-colonize Vietnam. He noted, “Before the end of the war we were meeting 80% of the French war costs.” When France began to despair in the war, “We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war.” King went on to recall that after the French finally left Vietnam, the United States prevented implementation of the Geneva Accord which would have allowed Ho Chi Minh to unite the divided country. Instead, the US supported its preferred South Vietnamese dictator. The U.S. has played a similar role in blocking compromise solutions and international agreements to the Ukraine conflict.
Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across the U.S. in the last few years to decry police brutality, to oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to restrict abortion rights, and to contest what they believed was a rigged election (the January 2021 Capitol riots). Only small hardy bands by comparison have taken to the streets to protest record military budgets—approaching $1 trillion under Joe Biden—or the illegal bombing of Syria, expansion of U.S. troops in Africa, provision of $20 billion in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, and military provocations directed against China. Joan Roelofs’ new book The Trillion Dollar Silencer: Why There Is So Little Anti-War Protest in the United States (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2022), starts with an important question: “Why is there so much acceptance and so little protest against our government’s illegal and immoral wars and other military operations?”
On January 1, 2023, hours after the Ukrainian armed forces engaged in an airstrike on a Russian military base that led to the death of at least 89 Russian soldiers—most of them raw recruits—the Ukrainian parliament, army leadership and local officials celebrated the 114th anniversary of Stepan Bandera, the figurehead of Ukrainian fascism. Bandera advocated the establishment of an “ethnically pure” Ukrainian state in alliance first with German and then with US imperialism. He personally participated in multiple targeted political assassinations of Polish politicians in the 1930s. During World War II, the Bandera-led Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and its paramilitary wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), participated in the Nazi-led genocide of hundreds of thousands of Jews in what is now Ukraine and Poland; in 1943-44, the OUN-B and UPA engaged in massacres of an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 Poles.
One of the fun things about the 2022 Labor Notes Conference was the presence and enthusiasm of young people. To this labor veteran, it was encouraging to see the young blood and new faces; it was clear that we have a new generation of leaders emerging in the labor movement. And that is more than welcome! That being said, there is a lot of experience that has already left and will leave over the next 20 or so years. It’s not that my generation—folks who came of age during the late 1960s and early ’70s—had all the answers or did everything correctly. But we did a lot; and there’s a lot that younger activists need to be exposed to so they can smell our victories, learn from our mistakes, and surpass our efforts.
New Documentary On Late Sixties Civil Unrest Is A ‘Rosetta Stone’ For Decoding The Modern Day Police State
Minneapolis, Minnesota – A new documentary film shines light on the history of the militarization of American police in an era defined by civil unrest, drawing sharp parallels to today. Without mentioning recent events in the entire film, Sierra Pettengill’s new documentary “Riotsville, USA” still invokes striking parallels between the late 1960s and the George Floyd protest uprisings in 2020. The film was produced during 2015-2021, premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2022 and was widely released in September by Magnolia Films; it’s attracted more coverage in lists of top documentaries for the year. [See our editor’s note below for more Unicorn Riot original reporting on domestic military and police training programs.]
Dakota men, women and youth rode into Mankato, Minnesota, on horseback on Dec. 26 to honor Dakota warriors hanged by President Abraham Lincoln on that day in 1862, in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The Dakota 38+2 Wokiksuye Sunk Akan Yankapi — the 17-day Dakota Prayer Ride and Water Walk — honors the 38 warriors hanged in Mankato, as well as two additional men who were kidnapped from Canada three years later, brought back to the U.S. and then executed. This year about 100 riders rode from their homes throughout South Dakota and elsewhere to gather at Sisseton, South Dakota, and began the honoring ride on Dec. 10. The ride follows the 330-mile path of their ancestors to the site of the mass hanging. Also this year Dakota runners started Dec. 25 from Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota, and joined the riders at Reconciliation Park in Mankato.
Benton County, Washington - The most polluted place in the United States — perhaps the world — is one most people don’t even know. Hanford Nuclear Site sits in the flat lands of eastern Washington. The facility — one of three sites that made up the government’s covert Manhattan Project — produced plutonium for Fat Man, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II. And it continued producing plutonium for weapons for decades after the war, helping to fuel the Cold War nuclear arms race. Today Hanford — home to 56 million gallons of nuclear waste, leaking storage tanks, and contaminated soil — is an environmental disaster and a catastrophe-in-waiting. It’s “the costliest environmental remediation project the world has ever seen and, arguably, the most contaminated place on the entire planet,” writes journalist Joshua Frank in the new book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America.
A new book uncovers the development of the world’s most widespread environmental management practice. Rising carbon emissions. Heatwaves and wildfires. Supercharged storms. Environmental headlines these days can be bleak — and with good reason. But a new book proposes an antidote. “There is hope to be found in ecological restoration,” writes Laura J. Martin in Wild by Design. If we want to save threatened species or ecosystems on the brink, we’ll need to get our hands dirty. Across the world billions are being spent on restoration projects — like reforestation efforts or reintroducing extirpated species — to try and undo some of the harm we’ve done to the natural world. How well we do those projects, and what science and ethics guide them, is critically important to the future of life on this planet.
In December 1972, coal miners rocked the American labor movement by electing three reformers as top officers of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), a union which at the time boasted 200,000 members and a culture of workplace militancy without peer. In national balloting supervised by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Arnold Miller, Mike Trbovich and Harry Patrick ousted an old guard slate headed by W.A. (“Tony”) Boyle, the benighted successor to John L. Lewis, who ran the UMWA in autocratic fashion for 40 years. Boyle’s opponents, who campaigned under the banner of Miners for Democracy (MFD), had never served on the national union staff, executive board or any major bargaining committee.
From unionizing Starbucks and Amazon workers to thousands of graduate students on strike, we’re seeing a fresh upsurge of union struggle in the United States. And that movement is becoming more militant: the last few months alone have seen a major uptick in strikes, with this year already outstripping the last. Eric Blanc has weighed in on the upsurge. Assistant professor at Rutgers and writer at Jacobin and elsewhere, he recently sent out and posted a four-part essay (here are parts I, II, III, and IV) responding to the work of Charlie Post as well as Cody Melcher and Michael Goldfield. In it, Blanc wants to convince union organizers our first hope has to lie in the Democratic Party. For him, a key part of our strategy has to be voting for, and appealing to, Democrats.
Behind the triumphant narrative of the American entry into WWI is another story of a society riven by powerful contradictions. In 1917 the US was overwhelmed by labor disputes, rising anti-immigrant ‘nativism,’ and unrelenting racial violence, particularly against Black people. In his new book, American Midnight: The Great War, A Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis, historian Adam Hochschild traces the untold story of how WWI reshaped America’s domestic politics. The Great War provided the occasion to clamp down on the Socialist Party of America and the International Workers of the World, muzzle the press, and stroke ethnic and racial strife between communities of workers left to fight over scraps. Adam Hochschild joins The Chris Hedges Report to discuss the secret history of WWI and its relevance over a century later to our current political crises.