The National Situation
We’ve got our work cut out for us.
News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.
The controversy arose when the Cordoba Initiative, which aims at "improving Muslim-West relations" announced it would renovate a building - which is already used as overflow for a nearby mosque - into an Islamic community center.
"This is a center like the 92nd Street Y or the Jewish Community Center," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative said at a press conference. "It is meant to have programs to serve the community, to serve the Muslim and the non-Muslim community. This is also our expression of the 99.999 percent of Muslims all over the world, including in America, who have condemned and continue to condemn terrorism."
An assembly of extreme-right wing Republicans, Tea Party members and others influenced by their rhetoric has denounced the project because it is to be built near to the site of the 9/11 attacks. They claim it will be a "breeding ground" for terrorists and demand that the government intervene to stop its construction.
As many point out, despite the Republican-right hype, the center isn't actually that close to the old World Trade Center site. In a huge city like New York, a few blocks is essentially a world away.
And, said Feisal, "We condemn terrorism. We recognize it exists in our faith community, but we're committed to eradicating it." He appealed for the help of non-Muslims, saying, "We cannot do this by ourselves. We need your support, we need your cooperation. We need coalitions of Muslims and non-Muslims together to achieve the common objectives that we as patriotic Americans want to achieve."
People of all political and religious persuasions have voiced support, including Christians, Jews, and others, even outspoken atheists. These disparate groups all argue that, no matter how offended some may feel, there is no basis for interfering in the Bill of Rights guarantee that the government must not discriminate based on a person or group's religious affiliation.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the Jewish American group J Street, said the fight over the Islamic center is, in many ways, a battle over the soul of the United States. "The principle at stake in the Cordoba House controversy goes to the heart of American democracy and the value we place on freedom of religion," he said.
J Street collected 10,000 signatures "to counter the opposition" to the plans "to build a community center in lower Manhattan modeled after Jewish Community Centers and Y's all over the country."
New York's Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in an August 3 speech, noted that the building OS private property and "the owners have a right to use it as a house of worship" and said, "The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right."
"Part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance," Bloomberg said. "It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11."
New York City's progressive Comptroller John Liu voiced his support for the project, saying, "The development of both the mosque and the center gained strong support of the local community board earlier this month. Both are dedicated to promoting education and understanding, and intended to help bridge the divide and unify New York."
While those raising a hue and cry over the project say the Bill of Rights religious liberty protection must be suspended so as not to offend families of 9/11 victims, many survivors disagree.
Donna Marsh O'Connor, spokesperson for September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, said, "This building will serve as an emblem for the rest of the world that Americans stand against violence, intolerance and overt acts of racism and that we recognize that the evil acts of a few must never damn the innocent."
Sound far-fetched? That's because it is.
The above statement is pure fabrication. Pure fabrication - with the exception of the angry mob. They actually did show up.
Egged on by right-wing talk radio and the rest of the tea party crowd, these people descended to protest a "mosque" they perceived to be too close to Ground Zero.
Every mosque, they argued, is a "breeding ground for terrorists, as Islam is based in cruelty and terror and its logical outcome is the fight against modernity, democracy and tolerance."
Further, given that the 9/11 hijackers were Islamic, the hate-talkers say, the "mosque" must certainly be a slap in the face to those who perished. (Whether or not this would be an insult to the several hundred Muslims who also died there was never explicitly said.)
What's being built two block away from Ground Zero isn't even a mosque at all, but a community center based on Islamic values. According to the website for Cordoba House, the center's name, the mission will "[promote] tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City."
While these are likely not values appreciated by the frothing demonstrators, they are a far cry from mocking 9/11 victims.
Then there's the concept that if people of one religion do something wicked to some particular group or in some certain place, it naturally follows that the presence of that religion near the people or area where the atrocities occurred is somehow an insult. But except in the case of Islam, no one in America believes that. If that were the case, there should be no Christian churches near any synagogue, given the horrible persecution that Jews have experienced for centuries at the hands of Christians. But there are synagogues and churches side-by-side all around this city.
And, of course, Catholic churches are allowed not only to be near, but also to run, elementary schools.
Most nakedly obvious is the blatant bigotry against Islam. Those protesting the "mosque" argue that it is a religion of hate based on violence. A fair reading of the Koran will reveal some truly ugly verses-but the same can be said of the Bible. There are acts of genocide, incest, hatred, collective punishment, and so on in both the Old (Torah) and New Testaments.
But millions upon millions of religious people, Jewish, Christian and Islamic, base their faith not on this or that terrible verse, but on a perception that their preferred holy book tells them to love their neighbor.
Sure, Osama bin Laden calls himself a Muslim, but Pat Robertson (who told America we deserved 9/11) calls himself a Christian. In Israel, the hateful settlers take the Torah as their basis, but so do the progressive and democratic sections of the Zionist movement.
Just as most Christians and Jews are not extremists, neither are most Muslims. In fact, the very center being protested has as its aim to "provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form - compassion, generosity, and respect for all."
Compassion, generosity and respect for all: These are values common to billions of Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as any nonbeliever, Communist or true progressive.
Perhaps, most chilling of all is what these demonstrators were demanding: the government to stop the construction of a community center specifically because of the religion of those building it. In short, they wanted the suspension of the Bill of Rights.
Is there anything more chilling than thousands of people demonstrating against fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution?
Osama bin Laden and his thugs wanted to destroy the west, particularly the United States. They failed miserably. Only seven years after 9/11, the American people elected the first ever African American president, a man who grew up in a Muslim country and whose middle name, Hussein, is the same as that of two current or recent Middle Eastern rulers.
There is a huge democratic movement in this country, with labor at its core, that is white, African American, Asian, Latino, Arab and that unites people of all faiths or lack thereof. Its aim is to continue the very American tradition of the fight for peace, equality, democracy, civil rights and freedom-including of religion.
In an ironic twist, though many of them sported American flags, those protesting downtown had much less in common with this movement-and much more in common with bin Laden.
Reading the news, one could be forgiven for believing the false notion that there is too little money in the state of New York. The state budget - due on April 1 - still hasn't been passed, as Albany can't come to an agreement on how to plug the $5 billion deficit. Instead, the legislature has been passing a series of week-long budget extenders to keep the government running.
But while the effects of the crisis are real, the perceived lack of wealth is not.
A federal court struck down Gov. David Paterson's plan to furlough state workers and delay their pay raises, and now he is now calling for thousands of layoffs. Paterson openly questions whether or not an agreement made between labor and the state in 2009, which says that there would be no layoffs in return for big pension concessions from labor, is binding. Even if it can't be overridden, the governor is laying the groundwork for the layoffs to take place as soon as the agreement expires.
On top of that, many in the state Legislature are working to slash funding to education, aid to cities and towns, health care and other areas. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken advantage of the situation and is pushing to reduce the city's workforce by nearly 4 percent. After widespread protest, the mayor was forced to retreat on his plan to axe several thousand teachers, but he is now threatening their planned pay raises.
All across the city and state, the effects of the budget crisis are being felt. Even the New York Public Library has been forced to send out appeals to its supporters urging them to get in touch with their local representative to halt the mayor's proposal for the biggest funding cut to the library system in the city's history. The transit system is planning to lay off hundreds of station agents (there would have been more had a judge not intervened) and to shut down train lines and bus routes.
On the surface, the deficits seem huge. The state is short $9.2 billion, and the corresponding figure for the city is $4.9 billion. In addition, the MTA, a public authority, faces an $800 million shortfall.
What to do?
Of course, there are a number of ways to reduce wasteful spending without cutting services important to working people, and a number of watchdog groups and unions have pointed them out.
But the money is there. Instead of making draconian cuts, the state should simply raise revenue.
Let's put the deficit into perspective: If you add up the city and state deficit, and throw in the MTA to boot, you come up with a total of $14.9 billion. Our mayor, who is presiding over the gutting of people's living standards, is a billionaire. So much of a billionaire, in fact, that he could pay off all of the city and state debts and still have more than $2 billion left over. To put that number into perspective, Bloomberg would then, if he lives to be 108 years old, still have, not accounting for interest, $50 million per year to live off of.
And there are more like Bloomberg: According to a 2008 issue of Forbes, there are 70 other billionaires in the city limits, and they have an average net value of $3.3 billion. These 70 New Yorkers - out of nearly 8.5 million and not including the mayor - control $231 billion alone.
On top of all that, this is the home of Wall Street and its huge firms like Goldman Sachs and others, and countless multi-millionaires.
Compared to all this wealth, the $15 billion the state needs to sustain services to working people seems like a trifle.
Aside from the pressure that monopoly capital can put on the city and state governments, there is simply no reason for New York to face layoffs or cuts to social services. Perhaps more than any other state in the country, we can, if the political will is there, balance the budget - or go further and enact our own statewide stimulus plan.
A small surcharge on the billionaires, a stock transfer tax (specifically tailored to exempt 401k and other pension savings), ensuring that the Fair Share tax law doesn't sunset: all of these things could solve our budget problem.
A planned demonstration by AFSCME District Council 37, which represents 125,000 city public workers, as well as a number of other rallies and campaigns to get people to contact their representatives, are all steps in the right direction.
What's needed is the reemergence of the coalition that enacted the Fair Share Tax Reform a couple of years ago, a broad alliance of all New York City labor, the Working Families Party, the African American, Latino, Asian American communities, religious groups and others.
Posted by Dan Margolis at 1:45 PM
There are quite a number of rotten prejudices current in the Western countries of which Holy Mother Russia is free. They assume there, for instance, that huge public libraries containing hundreds of thousands and millions of volumes, should certainly not be reserved only for the handful of scholars or would-be scholars that uses them. Over there they have set themselves the strange, incomprehensible and barbaric aim of making these gigantic, boundless libraries available, not to a guild of scholars, professors and other such specialists, but to the masses, to the crowd, to the mob!
What a desecration of the libraries! What an absence of the “law and order” we are so justly proud of. Instead of regulations, discussed and elaborated by a dozen committees of civil servants inventing hundreds of formalities and obstacles to the use of books, they see to it that even children can make use of the rich collections; that readers can read publicly-owned books at home; they regard as the pride and glory of a public library, not the number of rarities it contains, the number of sixteenth-century editions or tenth-century manuscripts, but the extentamong the people, the number of new readers enrolled, the speed with which the demand for any book is met, the number of books issued to be read at home, the number of children attracted to reading and to the use of the library.... These queer prejudices are widespread in the Western states, and we must be glad that those who keep watch and ward over us protect us with care and circumspection from the influence of these prejudices, protect our rich public libraries from the mob, from the hoi polloi! to which books are distributed
I have before me the report of the New York Public Library for 1911.
That year the Public Library in New York was moved from two old buildings to new premises erected by the city. The total number of books is now about two million. It so happened that the first book asked for when the reading-room opened its doors was in Russian. It was a work by N. Grot, The Moral Ideals of Our Times. The request for the book was handed in at eight minutes past nine in the morning. The book was delivered to the reader at nine fifteen.
In the course of the year the library was visited by 1,658,376 people. There were 246,950 readers using the reading-room and they took out 911,891 books.
This, however, is only a small part of the book circulation effected by the library. Only a few people can visit the library. The rational organisation of educational work is measured by the number of books issued to be read at home, by the conveniences available to the majority of the population.
In three boroughs of New York—Manhatten, Bronx and Richmond—the New York Public Library has forty-two branches and will soon have a forty-third (the total population of the three boroughs is almost three million). The aim that is constantly pursued is to have a branch of the Public Library within three-quarters of a verst, i.e., within ten minutes’ walk of the house of every inhabitant, the branch library being the centre of all kinds of institutions and establishments for public education.
Almost eight million (7,914,882 volumes) were issued to readers at home, 400,000 more than in 1910. To each hundred members of the population of all ages and both sexes, 267 books were issued for reading at home in the course of the year.
Each of the forty-two branch libraries not only provides for the use of reference books in the building and the issue of books to be read at home, it is also a place for evening lectures, for public meetings and for rational entertainment.
The New York Public Library contains about 15,000 books in oriental languages, about 20,000 in Yiddish and about 16,000 in the Slav languages. In the main reading-room there are about 20,000 books standing on open shelves for general use.
The New York Public Library has opened a special, central, reading-room for children, and similar institutions are gradually being opened at all branches. The librarians do everything for the children’s convenience and answer their questions. The number of books children took out to read at home was 2,859,888, slightly under three million (more than a third of the total). The number of children visiting the reading-room was 1,120,915.
As far as losses are concerned—the New York Public Library assesses the number of books lost at 70–80–90 per 100,000 issued to be read at home.
Such is the way things are done in New York. And in Russia?How can we let this institution, which inspired and inspires people around the world, fall victim to Bloomberg's budget scissors? A fight is necessary. Here's what the NYPL suggests:
We appreciate your support and will keep you informed about the status of Library funding in the next few weeks.We agree fully that everyone should do the above things. But further, we need to demand that no cuts be made to any service on which working people depend. There are 60 billionaires in this city. Bloomberg himself could, out of his own pocket, fill the entire deficit and still have more than $10 billion left over. While working people, especially young people, whose education is under assault in school and at the libraries, face all of these cuts on top of the foreclosure and unemployment crisis, the billionaires, with Bloomberg as their leader, refuse to do their fair share.
"In the absence of progressive national immigration reform, Gov. Paterson is taking a courageous and just step to mitigate what is clearly a deeply flawed system" stated Lillian Rodriguez-Lopez, President of the Hispanic Federation. "This action by Governor Paterson will restore some sense of fairness and justice for immigrant New Yorkers, and help keep families together."
Posted by Dan Margolis at 1:44 PM
This report will not go into too much detail on some of the most important issues—but for good reason. You’ll be hearing a number of extended remarks in the discussion—on labor and the jobs struggle, on housing, education, peace, on the fight against racism.
Co-equal to all this is the job of building the Communist Party. We see this task as so important that we’ve devoted a portion of the Convention to it, a more interactive portion. We’ve asked Danny Rubin, who’s studied Marxism, or Marxism-Leninism, whichever term you want to use for it, and has put decades into the study of the theory of the role of Party, to give a presentation on building the Party, the YCL and our press. Then the Convention will divide into workshops where people can throw out ideas and come to a greater and better understanding of how we can work to build the Party. These will be working meetings; the ideas developed, the best of them, will be put into practice. It’s up to everyone here to make sure that the Communist Party is stronger and better in
Some points on the overall scene:
We’re in a period coming on the heels of a huge victory, the successful culmination in the fight for health care reform. I want to emphasize that I’m using the word “successful” without reservation or hesitation. I won’t go too much into the specifics; there’s a good PW article on that. But it does limit the profits of insurance companies. In less than a decade, more than 30 million new people will be insured.
That means tens of thousands of people each year will live longer, lives saved. What kind of progressive, not to mention Communist, could pooh-pooh this? Fighting against this bill, as some had urged, out of a dogmatic fidelity to the idea of single payer-or-nothing would have sentenced these people to death. We can’t be part of any such thing.
Reform, for the first time in decades, put Congress and the President on record as saying, “Yes, it is the job of the government to protect people and deliver them services.”
It’s not worth it to spend too much time arguing against reform’s left detractors; there is a much larger group of people against reform, attacking it from the right. In fact, the same dynamic can be seen on virtually all issues. We’ve seen two poles emerge in
We said that the working class is around the democratic pole, in concentric circles. Each circle that is closer to the center is more advanced. The same is true of the tea parties’ side, though with far less workers. It has to be said that there is some working class support there. But polls show that the tea party movement is mainly made up of middle strata people. The concentric circles on this side stretch out and meet and overlap with the circles from the other side. There are a huge number of working-class people somewhere in the middle who have contradictory ideas: big government is bad, but we should do something about health care; we’re union members and hate the bosses but why do we let in all these immigrants? Etc.
What to do about this? Obviously, we want to fight to get the best, most progressive, positions forward in our coalition. In practice, this means fighting for the dominance of labor and the other core forces, to set the stage at some point more than the monopoly forces, or the Democratic Party centrist forces in this coalition. At the same time, this can’t come at the expense of pushing that pole away from the working class people in the center. More people who are in the center have to be brought over to the side of the labor-led people’s coalition, that left pole, and we can do that.
We’re in a transitional period between a fight against the ultra right, just that most awful section of monopoly capital, and a period of an all out fight against monopoly capital. Currently, monopoly capital is sometimes an ally, sometimes not, based on any given issue. Even its most moderate section floats between the two poles. The question, then, is: how do we fully defeat the extremist ultra-right section of capital, and bring much of mass base over to the side of progress? How do we move to a new situation of working people and their allies versus all of monopoly capital? The answer given, and the answer with which I believe we would agree, is to fight to push forward the leading role of labor and its allies in the progressive camp and to, without yet pushing them away, marginalize the monopoly capital forces. That means helping to build the power of the AFL-CIO and the NAACP and NOW, NCLR and other Latino organizations, and the youth and student organizations, etc. At the same time, the alliance has to be maintained (even though this section of monopoly capital either doesn’t realize or openly resents being in alliance with such people’s forces), and strengthened, to ensure that the far right doesn’t pick up seats and power in the November elections.
The main issue going forward is going to be the question of jobs; we’ve already seen that this is the case. The biggest thing on the minds of the American people is the economy, and how it affects us. Can we win government intervention that will help to alleviate people’s economic suffering? If so, we can actually strengthen our coalition’s hand in November; if not, we can expect to see a setback, a defeat at the polls that would strengthen the hand of reaction.
I’m restraining myself from getting into the jobs’ fight; we have extended comments on that.
The stakes are high, and this election has to be seen as just as important as 2008. Will we move forward into an era of reforms, or will our efforts be stymied?
Concretely this means picking up Democratic seats in the House and Senate, with the best possible candidates. Here in
We’ll also have to take a look at the House, and compare notes with our allies in labor and the broader movement: There are Democratic seats around the state that face challenges and need to be defended.
Also, there is the question of the governor: How do we make sure that some Republican doesn’t take the governor’s mansion? Or that the State Senate stays Democratic, or picks up some seats to make sure that no right wing coup d’etat can happen again. This will be State Senate that will be in power for the redistricting based on the census results, and the Democrats need to be in power to avoid Republican gerrymandering. These are going to be important parts of the elections, and, given that we are a small party, we have to decide what to prioritize, based on the actual situation as it develops.
We should talk about these elections here, and ask the incoming State Committee to make concrete decisions about what to do, and where.
We talked about the coalition necessary to win, and we saw the
Why was Liu able to do this? The coalition: With the exception of a single union, Liu had the support of the entire city labor movement. He had the support of the African American community, the Latino communities, the Asian communities, the GLBT community, and many white liberals. This powerful, undivided coalition was able to crush the Wall Street candidates. We saw the same thing in the mayoral fight—almost. The coalition nearly came together around Bill Thompson, who was trying to defeat Mayor Bloomberg, who doesn’t just take the side of the bosses, but who is one of the bosses. Bloomberg, who you’ll hear much more about in the sub reports (if I were to really get into him, and how awful he’s been, I’d speak for twice as long!) He spent more money than any other candidate in the history of municipal elections, in any country, about $200 million, and had years of incumbency. Nonetheless, he was only able to beat Thompson by less than five points. And the coalition around Thompson included a divided labor movement. Of the biggest unions in the city, the most powerful, two or three sat out the elections or endorsed Bloomberg—out of fear of what he’d do to them if he won. If a single one of these unions had jumped in and mobilized, we would probably be in a city whose chief executive was Bill Thompson.
This coalition is the only way forward. In everything we do, every election, every fight on an issue, we have to keep in our thoughts the question of how we help this coalition come together and stay united, and how to further empower it. That is the way forward in every instance.
We should take pride that we were able to predict a number of things. We were saying “tax the rich” to fix the budget crisis all along. Now, we saw that the Working Families Party took up that idea, and pushed to tax up to 50 percent of Wall Street bonuses, and Paterson and Bloomberg are backpedaling, since they’ve likely been scared by the popular support for that demand.
We were, aside from Bill Thompson, perhaps the only people in
Turning to the Party organization, I’ve already mentioned our politics, our Marxist analysis, and how all that led us to the right conclusions. Our analysis has proven sound.
Within the past year, we’ve replaced an outdated
We’ve established a
We’ve done other good things as well, but let’s look at some problems. Now, we only have a single person on staff, instead of the two people a few years ago, and three people before that. This is a result of objective conditions—the Party budget. The Party is, for the first time in decades, stable in its finances, and poised to do better (there will be a pre-Convention document on that), but that meant cutbacks in staff.
We have too small of a base of readers of the PW, something Danny is planning to address, and too few members, also something Danny is planning to address.
Because of all this, we haven’t been able to participate and influence the people we want to influence. We haven’t had nearly enough participation in the mass arenas of struggle, in the coalitions: Organizing for
We need better financial support. We’ve got only 26 sustainers in the district! How can this be? You all have a sustainer form in your folders. Can you either start a sustainer—taken out of your account each month automatically—or raise it?
I want everyone here to think about how you can help in this respect. The Party isn’t some amorphous, phantasmagorical organism that exists outside of our membership; it is its membership. We are the Party, and we all have to think of what we can do better.
I wanted to list all of these problems so that we could think about them, how to fix them. I’m not trying to be depressing or gloomy; there would be no point in listing these problems if they were not things we could overcome—and I think we will do so. As I said, we’ve increased our standing. We have politicians coming to us now looking for help in their campaigns, giving us openings in grassroots struggles and, more than five years ago, we’re known as a positive force in many arenas.
We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic; let’s work to ensure that the Party grows stronger—we’re finally moving forward past the anti-ultra right stage of struggle, but we’ve still got a long way to go between now and the construction of socialism!