Jun 27, 2008

APAP, "Political" Organizing, and the Movement(?)

I've been meaning to write a piece about a wing of the "left" (or marginally left-of-center, I guess) in Asian America that I feel may be getting too caught up in "political" organizing and party politics (see here for an example of this, through the decent but still heavily Democratic Party-focused Asian Pacific Americans for Progress). These guys aren't the enemy for the grassroots movement building efforts - not at all, and probably a lot less so than some of the mainstream organizations, but they are picking up a lot of steam and interest from the younger set, and I wonder if this is going to have an impact on people who could get involved in grassroots/organizing work for Asian American communities. Throughout this piece, the "political" organizing I refer to is connected political campaigns, not peoples' political power (though of course, I'm not saying they are always mutually exclusive).

I'm a bit worried that if people begin to buy that the only way to affect real change is by getting involved in the strictly political arena, the legitimate outsider voice -- the one that should more accurately represent where the communities themselves are at -- may lose support from the younger generation. Political organizing is pretty mainstream, and I can't really figure out how people move community agendas with all the concessions they have to give up through party politics. These groups seem to be pushing that it is only through political organizing that we can really have an impact on how government policies affect our communities. Beyond that, voting and PAC stuff is very citizenship status specific: non-citizens, even permanent legal residents, are barred from a lot of activities. So how do you make sure your work still represents the interests of these folks when they aren't part of the pool you're drawing in for your trainings/activities/fundraisers?

I think they may be conflating access for some with power for all. I just don't subscribe to the idea that just because there are more Asian faces in political campaigns and appointments, that that will somehow translate to community power: the American political system is too confusing and removed from the people to actually give folks access to power solely through this mainstream approach. And that's in the best possible scenario, when the party operatives that are trained by APAP and other efforts, are actually grounded in community-based beliefs. I don't know if I buy that they all (or even most of them) come from that perspective. After all, aren't John Yoo and Wan Kim Asian Americans who were/are in influential roles in the Department of Justice? So I'm not feeling it.

For a while, I have had this feeling that there are three different things happening in the Asian American "community" of groups/efforts (not counting the PACs and outliers like Committee of 100 or the 80-20 Initiative):

1) Mainstream policy/service organizations. These are mainly local, with their requisite national group in DC: there are Asian ethnic group-based coalitions/groups (NAKASEC, SAALT, OCA, JACL), issue-based groups and coalitions (APIAHF, AAJC, NAPAWF, National CAPACD), and a range of others. This is kind of the old guard - they are more traditional in focus, and almost wholly 501(c)(3) organizations, which gives them the government, foundation, and individual moneys, but makes it tough for them to take more aggressive stances (or actions) against government action. In addition, the younger folks involved in these organizations tend to be more of the professionalized community worker - one or more graduate degrees, theory and academic skills, but often, distance from the communities that they are working with (or in their parlance, "serving"). I was one of these folks - buying into the idea that you need to have the advanced degree to move forward (part of it is just survival as the field gets crowded with people).

2) Organizing/Radical Collectives. There is a small but growing national network (API Movement, I think it's called) of radical/left groups and collectives, and I think more of an effort to bridge the distance between them. Many of these focus on movement building, taking their cues equally from the heyday of the Asian American Movement in the 70s and other liberation movements. But they are generally poor, not as concerned with the big political or national policy stuff, and sometimes not as easily accessible or visible to the younger folks rising up looking for somewhere to plug in. In desi communities, the best efforts have trained young people through programs like YSS and OY! But it seems like those efforts are more or less on hiatus right now, and it's not clear how these different groups reach out to the unconnected who are interested in being more active.

3) "Political" Organizing. This phenomenon, which is not new but seems to be picking up a lot of steam, really comes from political operatives who have been involved in campaigns for key Democrats (it's always the Dems for this kind of work - money attracts money for the Republicans, and folks organize in other ways for that side of the duopoly). I don't have too much against these folks, except that sometimes it's hard to talk to people without feeling like they have been totally co-opted by the Democratic Party and have a lot of faith in a system that does not care about the less fortunate in their and other communities (see, immigration reform, voting rights, American military conflicts, and a whole host of other things that are more important to our community members than to government electeds and their operatives). That said, there's something sexy about elections and "political power" that draws in the younger, middle class folks with a lot of energy.

Again, I don't think this is a bad place for some focus - it's just that it feels like more and more people go to this work without any experience in grassroots/community-based work, whether that be service delivery or straight-up organizing. So they bring their own interests to the table. Civil rights, check. Affordable housing and access to government benefits? Not so much. Glass ceiling? Check. Rights for the undocumented that extend beyond slogans? Not if it's not going to "win us seats." The calculus of big-party, big-money political organizing is not grassroots and it's not community-based. And I'm worried that the "best and brightest" who are trained to go out and get engaged are looking towards mainstream spaces as the source for power rather than the real communities that they claim to represent.

That all said, there's a space and place for all of these - but they aren't talking to each other. The political folks think they have everything figured out, but aren't far left enough to take more aggressive stances (like creating PACs that actively push a strong Asian American community agenda that comes from the people). So they are seen as sell-outs by the left and too "political" for the non-profit sector. The Left groups get too negative on everyone and often just don't engage the mainstream groups - so there's neither accountability nor dialogue. And the mainstream groups? Well. They tend to just be oblivious until you knock some sense into them. And the neverending quest for funding (blame both the foundations and the groups themselves) leads them to bring more conservative people onto their boards who are uncomfortable with things that aren't even that controversial. So in a community that isn't that large, we have at least these three major things going on, no one's talking to anyone else, and so, where are we going?

Maybe things are better on a local level?

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Jun 26, 2008

National Coalition of South Asian Organizations; NFIA

This past week, 30 South Asian community-based groups around the nation launched a policy platform and national agenda for the South Asian American community at a press conference in NYC. I haven't had a chance to look through the whole agenda/policy platform (that mofo is 65 pages long!!) but it's pretty cool that this many groups have actually signed onto something with substance, that talks about issues from a progressive lens (i.e. recognizes the undocumented population that is a significant part of our community, speaks outright about women's rights, and has a platform concerning the LGBTIQ community).

Think about it - a lot of these groups are not the far left of center groups we all know and love -- many are service and advocacy groups.  It's hard enough to get a few desis to agree on a place to eat, let alone have 30 groups sign onto a comprehensive, progressive policy agenda.

Definitely better this than just adding their names to yet another telephone directory and counting themselves as part of some large "federation" in name alone.  Speaking of which, seems like the National Federation of Indian-American Associations (NFIA) chair is a little upset over this launch. Check out his comment, posted here on the SAJA Forum as soon as the Media Advisory for the NCSO launch hit their site. Actually, I'll reproduce the whole thing after the jump, it's just so rich.

The National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO) is not a new concept nor is a new effort for Indian Americans to unify and speak with one voice. In 1980, the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) was founded with the main goal of unifying the diverse community under one umbrella. Currently, the NFIA has over 200 member associations from all parts of the United States making it the largest umbrella organization representing 2.8 millions Indian Americans here in America. The NFIA has played a leading role in reforming the Immigration policy of the country, has appeared before the Senate Committees to Represent the interest of Indian Amereicans, has raised funds for natural disasters in the United States and India, advocated the strengthening of US-India relations and has presented a collective Indian American Agenda. The Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAOHA,) the American Association of Physicians from India (AAPI), Indian American Forum for political Educarion (IAFPE) and Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) took their birth at the NFIA Conventions held every two years. Many leaders of the NFIA have been bestowed the highest awards in the land and have received the highest public service appointments. By and large, it has done a remarkable job in the service of the community.

We welcome the new associations with similar objectives. The more associations crop up the better we will be served. However, every new effort must acknowledge the hard work of many in the past and should not pretend to be a new kid on the block.

One can call these associations as Coalitions, National Federation or by any other name. One must not forget that the primary aim of any such organization is to improve the quality of life of its constituents and not aim at any personal glory or gains.

Rajen Anand
Chair NFIA

Where to begin on this one?  First, a little history (biased, of course). NFIA is indeed a group that has been around for a long time. But what does it do? What do people know of it? I can't remember, but I can guarantee that it's the successful uncle set. Actually, his email says most of what you need to know: photo-op focus, overwhelmingly well-off, male leadership, model minority pushing, and perhaps less secular and "inclusive" than they will admit in all the accolades they list. And is anyone under 40 involved with that group? But not to be ageist - it's just a question about how they oriented. 

One can call these associations as Coalitions, National Federation or by any other name. One must not forget that the primary aim of any such organization is to improve the quality of life of its constituents and not aim at any personal glory or gains."

This statement seems kind of at odds with the range of self-congratulatory remarks in the long paragraph above it. Beyond the statement's many shortcomings, the most obvious is that this Coalition is not just about "Indians" but about South Asian Americans - recognizing that some of the nationalistic ties that groups like NFIA and the wide assortment of photo-opportunity groups (PACs included) are less useful to people who are still actually struggling in the United States. People in groups like NFIA still don't understand that there's more to the work than photo-ops and getting awards (or pushing for the India-US Nuclear treaty, which is a key NFIA agenda item).

And that brings me to: what is NFIA's public policy agenda?  It does seem like they mention some things of concern like hate crimes and civil liberties, but what has the organization done to promote access to services in our communities? Where has it been when there are conversations about true immigration reform that takes into account how broken the current system is and actually pays attention to the undocumented and low-wage workers in our communities? Where is NFIA's statement that recognizes and pushes for real inclusion of LGBTIQ and other wholly marginalized communities with the "South Asian community"? Actually - wasn't it the group that spawned NFIA - the Federation of Indian Americans (FIA) in NYC that actively discriminated against SALGA and created one of those moments in the late 90s that we still talk about as being an important moment in the formation of a more pan-issue progressive South Asian movement in NYC? Hey, thanks FIA/NFIA!

But on that tip, does anyone know who the NFIA affiliates are? They say that they have 200 member organizations, but where's the list? How many of those groups actually serve the community directly? How many have Hindutva ties? If you missed it, here's their statement that they were "disappointed" that the Butcher of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, was denied a visa the first go around with the State Department.

Oh, and remember this charming line from NFIA's congratulatory press release on Bobby Jindal's election: “it is a great moment in the history of America when some one who looks like us becomes the Governor of Louisiana. We should all be dancing in the streets to display our pride.” It's just ridiculous that groups like this still get the ear of members of Congress - it's only because they throw their money around and play out that they represent community interests.  Looking deeper at their website, they did have a celebration to recognize "Gadar heroes".  Different president at that time, though.

Meanwhile, hats off to the groups that signed onto this policy and action agenda. It's a good step in the right direction.

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Joe Lieberman Must Go!

I just came across this petition and "best of" video. I don't appreciate the rabid hate speech that follows any candidate who is different just based on their background, but you know, slam the man for his fucked up policies all you want. I can't believe this guy is a committee chair. Yet another reason to change the 2 party duopoly that made this possible. Anyway, check out the video, sign the petition, tell as many friends you have in Connecticut to get this man out of office.

I still think he may get tapped by McCain as a running mate.

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Jun 19, 2008

Vincent Chin, 26 Years Later

I wrote about Vincent Chin a little when I found out about the film called "Vincent Who?" I don't want to revisit that discussion, read it here if you care to.

Just taking today to reflect a minute: hate crimes are a terrible, dangerous breed of crime. There are many people who just don't want to recognize that there is a special kind of intent behind these crimes, and a broader impact than just on the immediate victim. Part of their logic is that there are already statutes and laws in place to deal with the crime committed - that of beating someone up, killing them, or in the "lucky" situations, merely ridiculing or harassing someone.

But the point of hate crimes is that they affect communities - the victim is a symbol, and so are the acts. By not embracing much more strict hate crime laws, we're basically saying, you can hate all you want - just don't cross the line of beating or killing someone. But the kind of intimidation that naturally flows from these acts is also behavior that we should actively be pushing against. We don't want to - or at least shouldn't want to - allow people to act out their hate in the public arena without knowing that the society we live in won't tolerate these individual acts against groups of people. That's not the America we want to live in.

But it's all a policy discussion, and in this country, substantive policy discussions quickly devolve into surface political sparring. That's not going to change anything.

So what did Vincent Chin die for? Nothing. His death, just like his attack and his attackers, have become symbolic to some people. But in the end, it means nothing more than that striking, heart-breaking image in Christine Choy's original film about his killing, when his grief-stricken mother said solemnly, fighting back the tears, "We want justice. We want justice."

That we organize, that we coalesce around these watermark moments (or build them into focal points to help us rally for our work), is not a bad thing. It's just sad that it takes this kind of event, and the countless others - small and large - to rally people around creating a more safe, respectful, and polycultural society.

It's sad that mothers who understand their kids' English at home, but didn't have to make public statements in that tongue, have to come forward and put their grief on display in an awkward language, in words wholly inadequate to capture what they are feeling.


People gather in Strawberry Fields in Central Park every year to sing and remember John Lennon on December 8th, the day he was murdered in 1980. I used to think, wow what a wonderful thing that people do that, and that they get together in that way. But Yoko Ono has asked people not to - she said the day was not a day people should commemorate - it was the day that he was taken from us. Remember his birthday instead.

People often create monuments for those who have fallen - from formal statues to street art tributes. The best of these remember the lives of those who we have lost, but often, it's the day that they die that we remember and commemorate. And stories of their lives are superseded by the sad/angering memories of how they were killed/taken from us. While these things are important, we can't lose sight of the stories behind these stories - the stories of triumph, strength, or just people (flawed as they may be) just trying to live their lives.

But I couldn't find Vincent Chin's birthday anywhere - Wikipedia only says that he was born in 1955, and that he was adopted by his parents in 1961. Vincent Chin wasn't trying to be a hero or a martyr. He was at a strip club, celebrating his bachelor party with some of his friends, before his wedding, which was supposed to be on June 27th. Maybe I'll just remember June 27 from now on and think about his loss then instead.


Regardless, remember Vincent, or at least the story of his life and how he was killed. Remember that something is happening to someone right now - whether Asian, black, Latino, white, gay, woman. That person feels alone, feels trapped, feels angry/suicidal/unknown, unheard, unseen. That person may be someone you know, or someone you don't know, but it is someOne.

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Jun 14, 2008

Co-opting Struggle?

I had a really interesting conversation with a good friend last night about Palestine/Israel that got me thinking. She was saying that a good number of her Pakistani friends really take the issue of Palestine to heart - but as a matter of Israel/America and Muslims. She said that the conversation is sometimes couched as a matter of faith, as if the "holy war" narrative that we hear sometimes is actually true (if even just because Muslims feel like they are under attack and Israel/Palestine is the front line). But she felt, and said that a lot of people she's spoken to, that this is more of an anti-Arab thing that's happening in Israel - that the Israelis couldn't really care less about other Muslims, as long as they aren't attacking (physically or verbally) the state of Israel. She said her feeling was that Israel was more concerned about getting rid of the Palestinians - Muslim, Christian, whatever.

I found that to be so interesting, and didn't anything to say that added to the conversation, an outsider myself to all sides of the question. But it made me think more about my recent posts about Palestine and the way that the cause of Palestinian people is so below the radar, and so politically unpalatable in the U.S. that we don't hear or see much. Why have I taken up the issue now - can I just attribute that to having more friends who talked about the right of return, widespread human rights abuses, and family members who are directly affected?

Or is it just a badge of being "down" and/or radical (enough?) by taking an alternative position to the norm in U.S. dialog (from the elections to most other conversations about race/religion in liberal spaces here). I don't want to question it too much - but it made me think about it more - motivation is important.

Maybe I've just really whole-heartedly accepted that Zionism is the new white colonialism, and if I'm anything, I'm anti-colonial, and Palestine is ground zero for that.

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Jun 13, 2008

Sometimes I really wish I could just have one of those moments where, after a long and protracted argument with someone who takes a wholly opposite (and wrongheaded) position on a critical issue like racism or power or the various impending environmental holocausts that right wing nuts continue to ignore, the person is hit with a zinger and has to actually acknowledge that they were wrong. I mean, we go on and on with these debates, but does anyone ever actually move from their ideological line in the sand? And even if people eventually do, can't we just have one of those moments once in a while? Not necessarily one where someone is ridiculed or anything - just where they see the truth and take it from there, rather than just save face and act like nothing's changed.

Maybe it's too hopeful.

But we're all about hope nowadays, aren't we?

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Jun 10, 2008

To Work (or Not) in the Community: That is the Question

Although I'm studying for the bar, the question about what comes next has been on my mind a lot. With it came the question of whether I should move from working in the South/Asian American community where I have some experience to a more mainstream poverty/movement organization.

The plus for the latter is that there are few Asian American (and far fewer South Asian) groups that have adequate infrastructure to train or even give requisite substantive support for particular poverty law disciplines (public benefits, housing, economic justice). Going to a mainstream organization could be a good place to cut my teeth as a new lawyer, just trying to figure out how things work and trying to learn how to actually be a lawyer (notwithstanding whether or not I want to do that for the long term, or whether I feel that's the best pathway to real change - we'll cross that bridge when I find it).

While it's not always a deal-breaker, one of the things I've felt coming up was that you were basically damn lucky if you found a mentor in the APA community who gave a shit about whether you were, 1) learning anything and growing; and 2) afforded the opportunity to actually develop and take on more responsibilities. Nonprofits as a whole aren't that good at this, but frankly, at least on the East coast, this is a real problem. I've seen so many of my friends and comrades drop away from working in APA organizations in their late 20s/early 30s just because they were sick of the new glass ceiling they encountered in these groups, something I like to call the APA Charlton Heston school of leadership: upper management that won't relinquish control or power to the younger set at any cost... "from my cold, dead hands," as it were.

I've spent a lot of time getting over how I felt about this problem. I've met some West Coast folks who just don't seem to have the same chip on their shoulders. They also tend to be people who were actually active in more radical/community-based activism in the 60s and 70s. There are other issues with APA stuff from the West Coast (namely, where are the South Asians at?!) but this leadership thing is a killer. I don't want to assume control/a leadership position. I just don't want to be shut out because I'm not part of the little clique of revolving EDs in some of the organizations (East Coast locals and nationals). It's time we brought a radical change, son.

But this question of where to start after this course of study really bothered me. It's not about selling out - after all, it's still public interest of some kind. It's not about being uncomfortable amongst clients/co-workers who are not of "the same community" - because let's face it: Asian American communities are more or less a convenient (or necessary?) fiction, at least in the client base/community level. The only folks who really embrace that identity are folks who are community workers - it's safe, it's known, it's necessary to justify the work we're doing, and it helps to orient our work in broader immigrants' rights/people of color/poor peoples' campaigns.

So what is it? I think I still have that sense of selling out the community in some way if I'm not working directly in it. There's a real difference between volunteering when you have time, and being able to do this work full time, no matter how much we want to think otherwise. I'm not as young as I used to be - I still have energy, but the more distractions/disparate projects, the less effective I'm going to be in my primary work and even in my personal life.

I still think the revolution is never going to be funded, and that volunteer/micro-organizing is incredibly effective, but I want my work life and my volunteer/DIY life to overlap in some basic ways. The people we meet/work with in one arena could easily place multiple roles in multiple projects if there's enough resonance between projects for which we're wearing different hats. I think.

At the same time, am I just working in a comfort zone and limiting my ability to do more in my program areas because I'm not moving beyond this space? It's hard to tell (and isn't that what coalitions are for, anyway?).

So we'll see how this pans out.

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Jun 9, 2008


I'm not really in the mood to study right now, but I'm going to push ahead because I have to make it past this last hurdle. I feel painfully out of the loop about what's happening in good ol' Asian America (or just plain vanilla America) at this point. Do we have a new president yet? Feels like November will never come.

But if you find yourself getting nostalgic for Bush Jr., you should check out this site that maintains a good database of fabulous flubs by the leader of the free world. The best part is the commentary by the person who maintains the site, and definitely check out the audio clips.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly down about getting through all this work and to the other side, I'll visit this site for a pick-me-up, and it just seems to do the trick every time. I don't know what people did when we had boring, or - gasp! - articulate Presidents.

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Jun 6, 2008

Obama and AIPAC/Israel

There's a lot of excitement around Obama right now. Some of the folks who have been waving his flag for more than 2 years are feeling pretty good about themselves. Even some of the folks who have been on the fence at least since Edwards left the race (but likely far longer than even that) are slowly coming around and supporting him too. And it's easy to point at HRC's mistakes and flubs and get kind of comfortable in thinking that Obama represents something different, something new, some kind of change. In other words, a lot of people are starting to buy the hype. Persuasive marketing, done long and hard enough, works.

Even I got caught a little, though not directly. A few days ago, I posted this angry response to Clinton's address at the AIPAC convention. I didn't get a hold or an earful of Obama's speech, but just felt compelled to write something after hearing her live on C-SPAN. But now I've read/heard Obama's comments. And he's not much better, and I would argue, possibly worse than HRC on the whole issue of Israel/Palestine.

Check out some of his comments here. Of course he's not going to be wholly critical of Israel with this audience, but there's not a single word in here and Israeli restraint, curtailing the settlements, or anything else of its kind. It's as if the issue has only one side: that of the Israeli lobby and the hard right government folks there (not the general public, IMHO). It's scary how easy it is for him to just dismiss Palestinian rights the way that he has been doing - and so publicly.

It leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth, and I really hope that people who seem to be losing all perspective start to remember that the way he deals with this question and issue may reflect how he'll deal with a slew of things domestically: the most powerful, well-funded group, or at least that which he fears the most, will pull the strings. It is for this reason, specifically, that I cannot support him.

Just thinking more about the plight of the Palestinian people - they are a people displaced and now vilified for their displacement. It's really kind of crazy. And you know - the rhetoric has made all Palestinians into threats or "terrorists" - women, children, and men. Kind of reminds me of how Jewish people were so discriminated against around Europe (Germany's particular legacy makes it easy for Spain, France, and all the rest to hide from their own shameful histories). After WWII and Hitler, guilt set in a bit and there were some steps to try to ameliorate the harm of the earlier animus.

But nowadays in this age of permanent news cycles that magnify small or isolated incidents into mass conspiracies, where this "war on terror" is never-ending and forever pitted against the eternal enemy, with an olive complexion and Muslim name, I don't know if there's any "redemption" in sight for the besieged and embattled common Palestinian people, at least in the U.S. and Britain.  Who in the world community will champion their cause and relieve them from their precarious position: caught between a small minority set on severe violence, and one of the most deadly state military presences in the world?

There is little hope that that champion will be the next American President. And the only former President who makes much sense on their future is a peanut farmer from Georgia who is part of an old guard, at least generation preceding Prez Clinton.

It's all pretty depressing, really. So please don't tell me to get on the Obama bandwagon, unless the driver shows me he isn't driving off the cliff on this issue.

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Wonderful Piece on NY'ers and Our Attitude

I don't have a lot of original thoughts right now, with BarBri owning my brain for the next 2 months, but thought I'd share this article that I really enjoyed from last month's Smithsonian Magazine about the bad rap that New Yorkers get about our attitudes.

The piece highlights that in NYC, people act in public how most people act in their private spaces. Read the piece - her observations totally made sense to me - I have waited around when an outsider asked someone else for directions or tips, just in the hope that I could say something. I've struck up conversations (brief, because we always know when to stop talking, which is more than I can say for yappers from other parts of the country) with complete strangers about something we're experiencing, something they're reading, whatever.

Her conclusion? It's because of a sense of common cause. I've read it before, but I think her examples kind of jumped off the page for me. There is definitely something like that - it reminds me, to be honest, of India and other places where people don't have such weird feelings about interacting with strangers. But what I love about the City, still, is that you just shut that off when you want to. You can pretend to not want to engage with people, and go about your bizness. And when you're ready to plug back in, there are opportunities abound as soon as you walk out your door.

But the comments on the article are even more interesting. It really comes down to the difference between people who've never spent much time there (the occasional visitors are so easy to pick out, what with their incessant comments about crime) and those folks who recognized something in the author's observations. There's also an undercurrent of commenters completely not getting that there are spaces for most folks in the city (though we're all getting priced out at this rate).  If you put together the honesty and the grit of struggling to be on top each day, you start getting people who either  don't know how to look up and enjoy anything or those who take solace in dependable habits, unique moments, chance encounters.

The whole idea of going from boxes where you live to boxes where you work in the bellies of smaller boxes that consume fossil fuel, which you take to big boxes on the weekends to buy boxes filled with stuff: well, count me out. Okay, I'm rambling. I intended just to share the article, not to read the comments, but those comments underscore what I've always felt: people just don't get NYC.

And the real city is disappearing as I write this, with the working people and immigrants (whose faces and (sending) places may change with the decades, but whose stories still turn the engine of what makes the place so special) getting pushed out.  How many boutique hotels will we have in Chinatown by the end of this year? How many new condo buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and even Queens? And when they move out of the city, without the public transportation infrastructure from NYC that keeps these communities connected and people in more direct contact with one another, is the future just more suburban ethnic enclaves that revolve more around consumerism than residence and shared experiences?

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Jun 5, 2008

HR Clinton and AIPAC/Israel

Had I the time or the inclination, I would go ape-shit (in a bad way) about Clinton's speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) tonight. I didn't hear Obama's, but I'm sure it was adequately fucked up, as I'm sure Bush and his underlings and all the others are as well.

But I got to hear HRC on C-Span live, and her terrible characterizations of Palestinians and her chauvinistic statements about fully supporting Israel ($2 Bn a year for "defense"?!) boiled my blood.

I guess it's a quintessential American value: the brutal subjugation of an entire people on the justification that "this land is now our land, now get the fuck off or die." Like I've said before, Manifest Destiny, anyone?

So I'm not surprised, but she even got the "debacle in Durban" -- the first global conference on racism, where there was a motion to characterize Zionism (the militant political ideology to expand Israel at any cost - human or otherwise) as racism, that resulted in the U.S. happily (and conveniently) walking away from the discussion. We're going to get to a point where the U.S. and Israel are alone in their inability to fully confront the evils associated with their founding, while the rest of the world moves on. I mean, even Australia is moving closer to understanding that its shameful legacy with its own aboriginal populations must be confronted. But it's easy to stick your head inthe ground when no one else can bully you into accepting the brutal truth of your own nation's sins.

Thing is, many Israelis know better, and there's definitely some level of understanding with regular people about how the question of Israel/Palestine should move beyond "they don't want to recognize our right to exist" to a more detailed parsing of the issues. I don't know if Americans can do the same with the legacies of slavery, decimation of the native population, and everything that came after these things.

But that speech was intolerable, and I'm so sick of hearing every politician with any aspiration to keep or advance in their political careers remaining 100% wholly uncritical of Israel's actions. Shit, I'd consider it something noteworthy if they even mentioned anti-Arab racism and xenophobia in the same speech as antisemitism (no hope for the same paragraph or sentence of course, and disregarding the fact that Arabs are also Semites, but somehow that has been lost in every modern discussion at this point).

The state of Israel is not just a victim: it's also an aggressor in this whole situation. Perhaps the image of besieged state fighting for survival is romantic, or perhaps some kind of national guilt from America's failure to intervene in the treatment and slaughter of the Jewish people for years before finally getting involved in WWII has permeated American politics (I doubt it). Whatever it is, this one-sided approach to the whole thing is incredibly troubling. How can America have any moral authority when it is so totally biased in an arena where one side is using sophisticated war technology that we've provided and the other is using the military equivalent of slingshots and bows and arrows?

What happened to "We are all Palestinian"?

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