Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"the public is stunned and listless"

A quote from one of my favorite blogs, Organizing Notes by Bruce Gagnon:
At the same time we witness the "big deal" that was cut in Washington DC last night to "save the federal government from shutdown". The deal will slash another $40 billion from social programs as the Republican controlled House of Representatives, the Democrats, and Obama continue their relentless assault on social progress. This $40 billion is equal to what the Pentagon spends on the Afghanistan occupation in about three months. But we are not supposed to notice. 
In many respects the public is stunned and listless.
Abu Graib prisoner tortured by U.S. troops, as ordered by their officers. The release of these photos is what sent my husband and I back to vigil every week on the bridge where we first met, just before Shock & Awe.
I was stunned this week when a colleague invited me into his class to observe a lesson that is part of a unit on WWII. Studying the rise of Nazi Germany, the students were taking up the question, How can people participate in horrors like being concentration camp guards? Or just stand by silently while their government does such things?

One of the things the class considered was research psychologist Philip Zimbardo on the nature of systemic evil. Here you can see his lecture which raised the central questions: Are there intrinsically bad apples? Do bad barrels make bad apples? And if so, who or what makes the bad barrels?
My colleague warned the class, both at the beginning and then again right before the video, that they would be seeing graphic images of torture and abuse from Abu Graib prison in Iraq. The students were given permission to not view the images; no one left the room, but I did notice one girl looking down at her desk.

Most of the students are in the 10th grade and by chance this section of the class on Modern World Studies was full of able students who value their own learning. I've had them all in class before, and I knew this about them. They were relatively quiet during the class I observed, but there was some discussion, and it appeared they were paying attention.

At the end of the period there were a few minutes left, and I wondered aloud how many were seeing the Abu Graib photos for the first time. Answer that left me stunned: all of them. The whole class of about twenty teenagers had not only never seen any of the Abu Graib photos but THEY HAD NEVER HEARD OF ABU GRAIB. At all.

I am stunned. But I will be damned if I am listless.

Most of the teachers I've discussed this with reference the fact that they grew up discussing current events with their parents. That was back in the days when families had dinner together. Also the days when the news had a little bit more real information in it.

Nowadays, ten thousand Muslims and their allies could march down Broadway in the middle of a Saturday in NYC, and the New York Times could completely ignore it. (The Portland Press Herald completely ignored a large immigration march I joined in Maine a couple of years ago, also.)

So before I go off to my day job, I will do my second job, spreading real news. This report is from Peter Titus, who attended both the April 9 NYC antiwar march full of Muslim families for peace, and a same day labor rally in Times Square. I think it was scheduled for the same time deliberately to compete with the antiwar march, which began being organized last July when a date was set, and was attended largely by those who didn't vote for Obama the first time -- and have no intention of even pretending to support the Democratic Party.
Having attended both events (I stopped by the Times Square labor event around 12:30 PM) my observation is that the short, punchy labor gathering attracted around 6,000-7,000.  I counted about 1,500 per packed "pen" of which there were three between 42nd and 39th streets, plus 500 in the way-back "pen" and another 1,500 along the other side of the street comprised of "pen-free" people.  The participants were overwhelming union members. The theme was "stop the war against workers". I don't recall any of the speakers offering a way to actually stop this war, however the audience was big, militant, and ready for action. By comparison, our antiwar march an hour later  was attended by a huge throng, easily twice the size of the labor event.  I could not say it was more energetic or more willing to put up a fight because both groups scored hight points here according to my unofficial scorecard. The large turnout was probably the result of extensive outreach, especially involving at the Muslim community. In contrast to the labor event, our event also offered a way forward for working people by demanding an end to the wars and occupations. Both events shared one thing in common: they were completely ignored by the N.Y. Times which failed to mention either milestone event.
The mainstream press ignored this event also. Maine State House Hall of Flags, April 4, 2011 rally to bring our war $$ home.

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