Thursday, December 29, 2011

Manifest Massacre: Revisiting Wounded Knee

I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from the high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream...the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead. -Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota Medicine Man looking back at the Wounded Knee Massacre

On this day 121 years ago the European colonizers of this continent caused a nightmare for the original inhabitants of this land. Under the instruction of Manifest Destiny, a tragic event marked the end of "Indian Wars" and became known as the last conflict between the white man and the Indians. The massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 goes down in history as a day when hundreds of Lakota were slaughtered by the 7th Cavalry of the United States.

In order to put this story in context we need to start with the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, where the Lakota (Sioux) signed a legally binding document with the United States government that would create the "Great Sioux Reservation", which included all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. The treaty stated, "No white person or persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy any portion of the territory, or without the consent of the Indians to pass through the same.".

The U.S. government signed the treaty before they found gold found in the Black Hills (the Lakota's most sacred land) in 1871. In a Wall Street endeavor, mining companies totally disregarded the 1868 treaty and flooded the area under U.S. government protection, and then the U.S. officially seized the Black Hills in 1877.

In 1871 the U.S. government formally ended the treaty process with tribes. A huge blow to Indian sovereignty rapidly increased the assimilation process to western Indians.

At this time Indians were being forced to live on small reservations. For the Lakota this meant that the U.S. government split and seized most of the "Great Sioux Reservation". The various bands of the Lakota were split up into 6 smaller reservations where they still live to this day. On December 3, 1875 Edward P Smith, the commissioner of Indian Affairs, ordered all Lakota and Cheyenne to report to reservations by January 31, 1876 or a "military force would be sent to compel them."

Bands of the Lakota followed the Oglala Lakota Warrior, Crazy Horse, and the Hunkpapa Lakota Medicine Man, Sitting Bull, who both refused to give up their land and their way of life. Both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull helped unite the Cheyenne and the Arapaho to fight against the U.S. This lead to the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 where the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho defeated General George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry . The U.S. faced a significant blow to westward expansion and the craze of Custer's exploits.

At this same time a new spiritual "Ghost Dance" spread throughout Indian Country. The ghost dance was developed by Wovoka, a Pauite Indian from Nevada, who received it in a vision. His vision stated that the dance would eliminate the white man, return the buffalo herds, and restore traditional life on the continent. Out of desperation, people took to the ghost dance and practiced it all over the plains. Alarmed, the U.S. Government perceived the ghost dance as a war dance. In turn, the U.S. government hunted movement leaders. On December 15, 1890, forty Indian Police seiged the house of Sitting Bull for his arrest, and when he tried escaping, they shot and killed him.

Following the killing of Sitting Bull, out of fear, 300 Hunkpapa Lakota fled the Standing Rock Reservation and joined Spotted Elk (later called "Big Foot") and his band of Miniconjou Lakota on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

A call for Spotted Elk's arrest followed Sitting Bull's death. On December 23, 1890 Spotted Elk lead his band of Miniconjou Lakota along with 38 Hunkpapa Lakota from the Cheyenne River Reservation to the Pine Ridge Reservation, seeking shelter and food for the winter with Red Cloud and his band of Oglala Lakota. On December 29, 1890, the 7th Cavalry intercepted the band of over 350 Lakota at the Wounded Knee Village. The Cavalry insisted that they give up all their arms. A deaf man, by the name of Black Coyote, couldn't hear the orders and resisted giving up his gun. After a struggle, the gun went off. The Cavalry that was already in position and drinking throughout the night started shooting at the defenseless Lakota, in response. At the end of the bloodshed, 150 Lakota were killed with 50 wounded with 26 Cavalry members killed and 39 wounded. It later came out that the killed and wounded Cavalry members resulted from friendly fire. Since they surrounded the Lakota, bullets went astray and hit their own men.

American Horse, an Oglala Lakota Chief, reflecting on the inhumanity of the 7th Cavalry said:

There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce...A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing...The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through...and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys...came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there.

A blizzard covered the plains for three days, leaving the dead and wounded covered in snow. Frozen into horrifying postures, dead women, children, and men laid for three whole days until the blizzard cleared. Then the government gave white settlers two dollars per body they dumped in the mass grave at the top of the Wounded Knee hill. Of the frozen corpses, they found Spotted Elk, and in an act of dominance, showing no mercy, they scalped him.

Following the atrocious massacre, the U.S. government gave 20 Medals of Honor to members of the 7th Cavalry . This is the highest military award and the U.S. government has never taken back those metals to this very day.

American Indian Movement (AIM) activist and Oglala Lakota, Russell Means said:

Wounded Knee happened because Indian people wanted to survive as Indians and there wasn't any way to survive, so we made a stand and made a statement, but now Indian people are beginning to rebound, rebound according to their concept of Beauty. And that's really what's necessary. to understand Indian people have to become free again.

Over 80 years later, in 1973, AIM and the traditional Lakota engaged in a 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee and stand off with the FBI, opposing the treatment of Indians in the U.S.. During the stand off, shoot outs occurred almost every night, and Pine Ridge Reservation was regarded as a war zone. At this time, Indians were still legally forbidden from practicing their religion, a law that finally changed in 1978.

In 1980, the Supreme Court, in United States vs. Sioux Nation Indians, ruled that the seizure of the Blacks Hills was indeed illegal and the U.S. government would have to pay $15.5 million, plus 103 years of interest (an additional $105 million), to the Lakota. The tribe turned down the money and instead demand the seized territory back. Obviously, the U.S. government has not given the land back to the Lakota.

On July 28, 2011 Attorney General Eric Holder visited and honored the site of the Wounded Knee massacre. He then talked with tribal leaders about the Law and Order Act, an act Obama signed into law last year to increase the "public safety" on reservations. In effect, police presence and judges on the reservation have increased, and jobs, education and housing still lack funding or significant U.S. government support.

It took from Columbus landing in the West Indies in 1492 to 1890 to fully conquer this land. We often overlook the story of the Indigenous people's genocide and resistance, whether in your history class or a discussion about civil rights. All sides of the political spectrum cast aside the American Indian as a people of the past, hardly existing or mattering. It is our job as fighters for social justice to remember and realize that the American Indian is still alive today and still fighting back.

Today, in our struggle against capitalism, we must stand in solidarity with all those oppressed by its forces, especially the first inhabitants of this land. We must learn from all those oppressed, as well. After all, the American Indians were the first victims of Wall Street and the first fighters against Wall Street.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wall Street's First Victims


The past three weeks have been pretty inspirational in regards to the Occupy Wall Street movement. That it's spread now to other cities throughout the United States shows the wide support it has.

A recent poll says that 74 percent of New Yorkers support the protest. Overwhelming anger towards Wall Street and the bankers that have put us in this economic crisis is the driving force. There was a tweet that I saw which said: "0 bankers were arrested while, over 1,000 protesters were arrested."

The financial bank, JPMorgan recently donated $4.6 million to the NYPD foundation--hmm, I wonder why. This is a telling sign of where government interests lie in this capitalist system, where the richest 400 households in the U.S. have a combined wealth of $1.37 trillion. The government calls for cuts in social programs while handing out over $16 trillion to Wall Street and continuing expensive wars around the world. Some call this backwardness, but this is exactly how the capitalist system works.

This experience, which is new to some people in this country, is the continued story of the American Indian--a people who have been subject to oppression by the speculators on Wall Street and the government ever since Europeans came to the Americas. This country was founded on the genocide, displacement and on stolen land of the American Indians. As their lands were stolen, they were then forced to live on prisoner of war camps called reservations. Any Indian who didn't go to the reservation was considered hostile to the U.S. government and subject to arrest.

As we see today, the police defend the criminals on Wall Street. This is reminiscent of General George Armstrong Custer's exploration for gold into the Blacks Hills in western South Dakota in the 1870s. This land was sacred land and titled land to the Sioux (the Lakota) as part of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. This treaty created the "Great Sioux Reservation", which included all of western South Dakota west of the Missouri River. The Lakota people were entitled to this land for as long as the sun shined. But because gold was there, the U.S. government decided that they didn't need abide by the treaty and seized the land in 1877.

In the 1970s, the American Indian Movement (AIM) came to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. AIM leaders there led the occupation of Wounded Knee (the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890). At the same time, AIM was talking about treaty rights and the Lakota's rights to the Black Hills, uranium was found in the Blacks Hills--and "Custer's expedition part II" started as companies came to drill for profit and help the United States war machine. The FBI came in defense of Wall Street to stop the occupation and protests happening on the reservation.

In 1980, the Supreme Court, in United States vs. Sioux Nation Indians, ruled that the seizure of the Blacks Hills was indeed illegal and the U.S. government would have to pay $15.5 million, plus 103 years of interest (an additional $105 million), to the Lakota. The tribe turned down the money and instead demand the seized territory back. Obviously the U.S. government has not given the land back to the Lakota.

This story is not unique, but rather the normal experience of tribes throughout the United States. Currently, conditions on Indian reservations in the United States are similar to those in the developing world. Most times you will find a significant number of people without running water, electricity or without housing, in very harsh weather conditions and living on desolate land.

Jewell Praying Wolf James, a descendant of Chief Seal'th, in a testimony titled Ecocide and Genocide, wrote:

"The American Indians have the highest infant mortality, shortest life-expectancy, highest unemployment and underemployment, lowest educational and vocational attainments, highest poverty, and the poorest housing. They have been deprived of their traditional foods and medicines, and have been forced to convert religions that oppose the Mother Earth spirituality of indigenous peoples. Their parents and grandparents have been forced out of traditional roles, and family institutions have been destroyed. Our traditional forms of government have been destroyed and non-Indian governmental structures instituted. Our people suffer great amounts of alcohol and drug abuse and psychological and sociological depression and dysfunctionality."

The government moved westward in the name of "Manifest Destiny," but it might as well been Manifest Profits. The government, with the partnership of Corporate America, destroyed the native way of life in order to gain profits and expand markets, simply because the indigenous people's way of life was contradictory to capitalism. So the government deemed these people "savages."

In the same testimony, Praying Wolf James said, "In this society there were no police, no nobles, no kings or queens, no regents, no prefects, no prisons, and no state. There existed a socialist form of economics and marketing."

He went on to say:

"Today, it is corporate and industrial greed that demands more and more from the government, more exploitation of individual rights and the natural resources. The rich get richer and the poor die in toxic contamination caused by mass production, the fever of consumerism, and rampaging materialism. Multinational, transnational and international corporations and industry owe loyalty to profit-making and not humanity.

"When national governments...impose stricter laws to protect the poor, the environment, the wilderness, or to force conservation measures to be implemented, these corporations transplant themselves amongst the Third or Fourth world peoples. They then tell their own people that they are "unproductive" and export their exploitation and toxic wastes to Third World and "underdeveloped" countries."

This show us why we need an international movement of solidarity amongst all the oppressed people of the world against capitalism, whether it's the Egyptian worker, the Wisconsin worker or the oppressed Palestinian. Because the fact is, capitalism is an international system and we can only fight it internationally.

Protesters today across the U.S. as part of the Occupy Movement need to understand that what is happening right now with Wall Street is nothing new and is at the very core of the foundation of this country. Whether it was the genocide of the American Indian or the enslavement of African Americans, this was how the market worked.

It is important to know that this isn't a short-term problem--and the only way we can win is by fighting for a socialist society that is based on human need, rather than profits. A society where American Indians could have true sovereignty for the first time since Europeans came to the Americas.

The protests erupting around the country are inspiring and we need socialist activists to be on the front lines making these arguments and connecting these various struggles to fight for a better world.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why we need to support USPS workers

Today marks the day of national action to save the United States Postal Service (USPS). Congress, along with the support of the Postmaster General, are threatening to lay off up to 120,000 workers and close 3,700 post offices around the country.

USPS is a universal service that represents something more than just mail. It's a service to which everyone is entitled, no matter race, class, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. As I have been biking across this country, there may not be much of anything in a town but there is always a post office. No matter the size, as long as you have a zip code, there is a post office where you can get mail and send mail at an affordable price.

So, is this a real crisis or is it a manufactured crisis (like the great economic recession)? It's definitely a manufactured crisis. The threat of default by the post office is a result of a law that made the USPS overpay into the treasury to fund retirement benefits for workers for the next 75 years. Basically, this means that they are putting money into the treasury account for post office workers retirement who aren't even born yet. By law they have had to put $5.5 billions into this account every year. No other government agency has to do anything like this. Congress could easily allow USPS access to their own money to prevent default and continue to operate without laying people off using a lot of that money to modernize USPS. Obviously, this solution isn't discussed nearly as much as it should be in the overall conversation about how to solve the crisis.

USPS has a work force that is 39 percent minority with 21 percent being African-American. Historically, USPS has been a place where African-Americans could have a secure job. With the unemployment rate already 17 percent for African-Americans (the overall population is at a little over 9 percent), this type of attack would only inflat that number.

The powers that be aren't interested in saving jobs and moving forward in a sensible way. They're interested in busting the union of the post office, privatizing and denying access to the most vulerable people in this country. This fight has everything to do with the government and corporate leaders agenda to attack the working class in the name of the economic crisis. We saw this in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Verizon, the Tacoma Public Schools. This is about a set of priorities, where we won't tax the rich in the name of the crisis or end the wars, rather we will attack the most vulnerable people in our society while Wall Street benefits from million dollar bonuses. If we don't fight back, the attacks will only continue and expand

The only way that we can fight this is through struggle. The government and corporate leaders may have money but we the people have the numbers. As we continue to see struggle happening throughout the U.S. and the world we have to fight the attacks through protesting, taking workplace action and fighting the attacks from the bosses and the government.

Today this struggle is just getting started with a protest happening in every single congressional district in the country from 4:00pm to 5:30pm. This is only the beginning and the Tacoma, WA Teacher's Educational Association showed us that strikes can win and as this fights moves forward we need to connect these struggles and learn what works and how we can win.

Here is some more information about where to protest and the issues:

Uniting to defend postal jobs

Save America's Postal Service

Shock Doctrine at U.S. Postal Service