Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Democracy Now! | Slavery by Another Name: Author Douglas Blackmon on the Re-Enslavement of Black People in America

Democracy Now! | Slavery by Another Name: Author Douglas Blackmon on the Re-Enslavement of Black People in America

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how was it—for instance, if someone was arrested on a vagrancy charge, you would assume that this would only be a very short sentence. How were they able to be then impressed into service for these companies for longer periods of time?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, take, for instance, the example of a man named Green Cottenham, around whom I built much of the narrative of the book. Green Cottenham was a child of former slaves who was born in the 1880s in the center of Alabama. And by the time he had reached adulthood, just after the turn-of-the-century, this whole new system of intimidation, really terror in many respects, had come into place against African Americans across the South.

And he was arrested in the spring of 1908, when a deputy sheriff in Columbiana, Alabama went out on a sweep, effectively, to round up a number of African American men, because a few days later, the man from the US Steel mine, who came by periodically to pick up laborers and take them back to the mines, would be arriving in a few days. And so, Green Cottenham was swept up. He was standing around with a number of other African Americans behind the train station in the town. And this group of men were arrested for no particular reason.

By the time they were brought before a judge two days later, the deputy couldn’t remember exactly what the charge had been, and so the original charge that’s written down on the day he’s arrested is different from the one that the judge finally decides to convict him of, which was simply vagrancy. And almost any farm worker, and certainly any indigent African American man, in 1908 could be charged with vagrancy, unless he had some powerful white man willing to step forward and say, “No, he works for me. He’s under my control.” Well, that didn’t happen for Green Cottenham, and so he is convicted of vagrancy.

He was sentenced to a fine of $10 or thereabouts, but on top of the fines, there would be imposed on these men—in those days, sheriffs and court clerks and many other government officials received their compensation not in salaries from the government, but from fees that were charged to the people they arrested and convicted. And so, in addition to his fine, there was almost $200 of additional fees tacked onto what he would have to pay to become free. Well, that’s two or three years’ wages in that era. And that was something that would be impossible for a young man like him to have produced.

And so, to pay off those fines, he was effectively sold into the control of US Steel Corporation, who would pay back his fines a month at a time. And this happened to thousands of people, many of whom, even after their fines had been paid off, were still not released, or the people who were holding them would invent another offense and make another claim of a spurious crime, have them convicted again and hold them for an even longer period of time.

AMY GOODMAN: You say the system’s final demise came with World War II. Explain why that was so significant.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, at the beginning of World War II, just days after Pearl Harbor, as President Roosevelt was mobilizing the national war effort, one of the issues that was being discussed at the Cabinet level in Washington were the propaganda vulnerabilities of the United States: what would be the issues that the enemies of America would raise to try to undercut morale in the United States? And immediately, one of President Roosevelt’s aides points out that particularly the Japanese would argue that America was not the country fighting for freedom and that the proof of that was the treatment of African Americans in the Deep South. Roosevelt realized what a vulnerability that was. He ordered that there be legislation against lynchings, making it a federal crime, that that be introduced in Congress, which it was.

And then, shortly after that, the attorney general was having a similar conversation with his deputies, one of whom said, “By the way, there are also many places in the South where slaves are still being held, and it’s been the policy of the federal government, of the Department of Justice, not to investigate.” And this was the case for many decades, that the Department of Justice had a policy not to investigate allegations of slavery in the South and not to bring prosecutions against those who were holding slaves. But because of the propaganda concerns at the beginning of World War II, the attorney general issued a new policy, which said, from this day forward, investigate these cases. And within a few months, there was an investigation and a prosecution underway against a family in Texas which had been holding a man named Alfred Irving as a slave for many, many years under terrible circumstances.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Democracy Now! | Plan Mexico and the US-Funded Militarization of Mexico

Democracy Now! | Plan Mexico and the US-Funded Militarization of Mexico

In the case of Plan Mexico, it’s a perfect example of the result of those policies. Essentially, it’s very important what Avi says, that it’s not just a counter-narcotics program, it’s a regional cooperation security initiative that includes counter-narcotics, counterterrorism and border security. So it lumps these together and basically gets a greater military presence for the United States within Mexico, not actual troops, but in terms of its intervention in the Mexican national security apparatus, and imposes the agenda of the United States government on that country.

AVI LEWIS: A senior State Department official named Thomas Shannon, who’s deeply involved in the Security and Prosperity Partnership, I think kind of let the cat out of the bag in a speech this past spring, when he was talking about the SPP and North America as a shared economic space, which is the current lingo for this worldview. And he said explicitly, “What we’re doing, in some way, in a certain respect, is armoring NAFTA.” And I think when you look at the intersection of the economic agenda, the cover of the war on drugs, the immigration and border hysteria underneath it, Plan Mexico represents exactly that, the armoring of NAFTA. And, of course, it’s not talked about in those ways when it’s approved by Congress, when Democrats and Republicans reach across the aisle to support it.

LAURA CARLSEN: It’s no coincidence that this is coming up right at the time in which Mexico’s involved in another very important debate, which relates to the privatization of the oil company. By having a militarized society, you are assuring a certain amount of social control. We know in Mexico that there will be mass opposition to the privatization of oil. And yet, access to Mexico’s oil resources have been another major objective of the SPP, the Security and Prosperity Partnership under NAFTA. So, by having the army in the streets, you’re in a position to quell social uprisings that may be coming up that have to do with control over natural resources, as well.