Posts tagged with: Iraq

Kap-tain America and Black Protest in Sports

When we think of sport being adopted as a forum for political causes, we more often than not conjure in our minds the image of African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing on the 1968 Olympic medalists’ podium, raising their fists during the playing of the United States national anthem – a gesture of strength and unity for those fighting for human rights, they said.

If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.

– Tommie Smith

Controversial at the time, their act has since become synonymous with the empowerment of historically oppressed people, and a symbol of inspiration for millions. They were also concerned, they said, about the way a certain world-famous black boxer was stripped of his title…

From a heritage of slavery, Cassius Clay rejected his family’s slave name of Clay, becoming Cassius X and then – after joining the Nation of Islam – “Muhammad Ali.” Rival pugilist Ernie Terrell still insisted on ignorantly referring to him as “Cassius Clay,” so in his fight with Ali, Muhammad famously pummeled him while asking, ‘What’s my name?!’ and calling him an “Uncle Tom.” Muhammad Ali then went on to sacrifice his boxing career for a court battle as he resisted being drafted to fight for the U.S. in Vietnam, declaring, ‘I got nothing against no Viet Cong; no Vietnamese ever called me a n***er!’ Threatened with imprisonment over his resistance, he simply stated, ‘So what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.’ With mass protests against the military campaign in Vietnam – an unmitigated disaster for the U.S. elites – decades later few even attempt to defend it, in the same way few now defend the opposition to the civil rights movement at the time.

If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me – I’d join tomorrow.

– Muhammad Ali

But the civil rights movement has long been oversimplified as a single-issue cause of the legendary Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, when in fact his commitment to social justice naturally reached into the realms of trade unionism, and American culture today generally holds him in high regard while at the same time cleverly omitting the fact he was assassinated while supporting striking sanitary workers. Like Muhammad Ali, he was also vocally opposed to the military involvement in Vietnam.

The creation of communist threats around the world was important for the military industrial complex: weapons manufacturers make millions from war, and peace doesn’t boost profits for their shareholders (this is why the military industrial complex sponsors presidential candidates). The insanity of this is represented by how the U.S. and the U.K. both permit arms sales to human rights violators such as Saudi Arabia, who in turn support the latest threat: ISIS.

Our government officials wear poppies at the same time as neglecting armed forces veterans, using them instead to promote and justify military aggression overseas for – in the case of Afghanistan and especially Iraq – resources such as oil. The rise of militarism and flag-waving is not a coincidence, and the rise of the “Tea Party” and Donald Trump in the U.S. and “Britain First” in the U.K. are a product of this: rampant nationalism within an increasingly militaristic culture, where in order to care about your country – or better yet, your armed forces – you have to support your government’s military aggression overseas that so often put brave servicemen and women unnecessarily in harm’s way, even if it provokes terrorist attacks on your towns (in fact, the terrorist attacks help too, because in turn, they promote nationalism and militarism).

Suppose somebody asks, ‘Do you support the people in Iowa?’ …It’s not even a question; it doesn’t even mean anything. And that’s the point of public relations slogans like ‘Support Our Troops,’ is that they don’t mean anything, they mean as much as whether you support the people in Iowa. Of course there was an issue: the issue was, do you support our policy, but you don’t want people to think about the issue. That’s the whole point of good propaganda, you want to create a slogan that nobody is gonna be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. But its crucial value is it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: ‘Do you support our policy?’ And that’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about.

– Noam Chomsky

All of these violent atrocities in the West, as well as overseas in bombing campaigns, certainly put sports into perspective, and as we can see, several athletes have realised this and used their athletic platform to raise awareness on issues far more important than a sporting contest.

In the wake of a disproportionate amount of police brutality towards African-Americans in particular, including murders, the last few years have seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers would turn out to be embroiled in controversy surrounding the cause, despite society long since redeeming the likes of Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Muhammad Ali, all of whom began a battle continuing to this day: it’s the same one Colin Kaepernick is fighting.

As is no secret, the Pentagon takes millions of dollars in taxes from struggling American citizens to pay for bombing campaigns while people at home struggle to pay for healthcare or education – and they get away with it because of the culture of fear, and the perpetuation of the perception of threats from overseas. But what is less known, is the fact that – to further boost militarisation and nationalism in American culture – they went directly to the NFL.

That’s right. Pentagon officials reached into their deep pockets to strike a deal that would be laughable if it wasn’t so cynical: they paid between $60,000 and $1,000,000 to initially 14 teams to have them pause before the start of their games so they could sing the anthem, fly the flag, and – yes, you guessed it – “support our troops.” Yes, as Chomsky suggested, who wouldn’t want to support their troops? It’s unquestionable. And that’s what the Pentagon intended by striking at the core of apple-pie American culture: get the American people associating even their favourite sports with nationalism and militarism. And, as we have seen, it has largely worked.

Hence such a bizarre backlash – despite all history has shown us – against Colin Kaepernick when he decided to drop to one knee during such flag-waving ceremonies. The media quickly confronted him about it, and he was quick to articulate his actions.

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

– Colin Kaepernick

The San Francisco 49ers had a change of Head Coach, and the regime change saw “Kap” released from the team. Usually, a quarterback of his stature would have been snapped up by another franchise pretty much immediately. But it didn’t happen. And apart from the same kind of white racists over in the U.K. who called soccer player Eni Aluko ‘bitter’ for challenging racism while being dropped from the national team, most people began to believe this ongoing free agent status was simply because Kap had openly opposed the establishment, albeit by merely taking a knee during the national anthem.

Yes, having the teams observe the anthem was a recent phenomenon in the NFL, but even so, as NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy stated at the time, ‘Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.’ So of course, it’s not like this was even that much of a deal at all.

But the culture had changed: Pentagon money had meant that the rules of the NFL or even of the flag itself were irrelevant – they had successfully created a nationalistic, militaristic culture where people were outraged over something as simple as taking a knee, even if it wasn’t breaking any rules – they were angrier about this than they were about black people being slaughtered in the streets of the United States by officers of the law. Think about that for a moment.

That absurdity is the greatest possible victory for fascists in the Pentagon and in the White House.

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.’? You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag – he’s fired.’

– Donald Trump

Of course, the amazing and inspirational women of basketball have been protesting injustice for quite a while longer. Recently, protest has been increasingly prominent amongst their male counterparts, as well – but without the same outcry provoked by American football, something some feel is due to the different audiences attracted by the sports.

Oh, (Colin Kaepernick) is being blackballed. That’s a no-brainer. All you have to do is read the transactions every day, when you see the quarterbacks who are being hired. He’s way better than any of them. But the NFL has a different fan base than the NBA. The NBA is more urban, the NFL is more conservative.

– Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors Head Coach

Pentagon bribery doesn’t hurt, either.

Those around the important, bold and brave Black Lives Matter movement all seemingly unanimously embrace Colin Kaepernick for standing up (or kneeling down) for the worthy cause – including his own brilliant awareness-raising Know Your Rights initiative – but have different thoughts on the prospect of an NFL team finally hiring the excellent quarterback, from what I’ve gauged from the internet the last few months:

In the midst of his legal action against the NFL, some worry that Kap signing for a team would be part of a compromise where it would disprove the claims of being “blackballed,” and potentially contain him (if that’s possible), while subjecting him to further abuse if he continued protesting; others feel his message would be uncompromising yet amplified if he was part of an NFL team, and would be a vindication of his efforts, taking his standing and his protests to another level of prominence, perhaps even expanding the movement even more to the mainstream.

From the excellent “Superheroes In Full Color”

There are indeed pros and cons to both. But just as Muhammad Ali simply wanted to take part in high-profile boxing competition while in his own prime that was stolen from him because he stood up for what was right, Colin Kaepernick is still an American football player who keeps training, and simply wants to play. He deserves to play. Whether he’s a more effective activist as an official NFL player, or outside of the NFL, remains to be seen – but if he does get signed by a team, they will, on principle, enjoy my support, providing they set him loose to both play, and protest, with freedom. I’ll be buying the merchandise, just to prove a point of popularity.

As history has told us, sport means nothing without principles, but is at its best when it retains them, free from the vested interests of war profiteers and corrupt politicians. In fact, its enjoyment for all of us is heightened when its participants stand up for fairness on and off the playing field…otherwise, you’re just cheering for a jersey.


Labour Loyalties and Where They Lie

The 1980s in which I grew up were dark days. The Conservative Party, having won the 1979 general election, dominated British politics, winning again in 1983, and beating Neil Kinnock’s Labour in both 1987 and 1992 before his party decided he was “unelectable.” Get used to that word. It gets thrown around with greater frequency nowadays.

1997 was the first British general election in which I could vote. With the Conservatives holding on to power for so long, this was the year where they finally lost their grip and the appetite for democratic socialism was so strong that Tony Blair became Prime Minister. Despite growing up in Doncaster, in a Labour heartland and a Labour household, this wasn’t a tradition I felt I could follow in order to keep our family loyal to the party.

With a strong majority and increasing indications that a reversal of Thatcherism were not a priority, “New” Labour failed to appeal to me. In 1997, because I smelled a rat, I actually voted Liberal Democrat.

I continued voting for the Lib Dems – as they also joined a million of us in the February 15th, 2003 march I took part in, against the attack on Iraq, and I was quite inspired by the late Charles Kennedy’s anti-war speech in Hyde Park. Of course, there were other Labour Party figures, like Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, who remained vocally opposed to such immoral actions. I felt like they remained loyal to their principles rather than to a party going in the wrong direction; they remained loyal to their principles rather than lying to themselves.
blair_liedI even made a documentary venting my frustrations at Blair’s obsession with overseas invasions, immigration, and the surveillance state, and got a standing ovation for it at its worldwide premiere in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. I despised Tony Blair, and enjoyed some relief when Gordon Brown came in and at least demonstrated the decency to have his podium symbolically moved further away from that of George W. Bush, Jr.

Nonetheless, the political culture became one where neoliberalism had remained largely unchallenged rather than reversed, and where party leaders were required to be slick public relations experts and slippery, smarmy smooth-talkers who wanted foot soldiers as door-to-door salesmen to make sure people bought into illegal wars. After years in the wilderness, the Tories realised Labour were actually beating them at their own cynical game, and went back to the drawing board to get their own “Heir to Blair.”

david-cameron-getty-v3

In 2010, given the poor excuse for democracy in this country, there came the revelation that the Tories could actually return to power, and that was a scenario much more frightening than a Gordon Brown-led Labour government that still gave us the Minimum Wage, Human Rights Act, Sure Start children’s centres, and progressive taxation. So, for the first time, I supported Labour, but during the Blair/Brown years their New Labour project had let three million voters slip through their fingers, a hemorrhage they couldn’t stop, and they lost. This was depressing to me, and I resented New Labour for allowing Tories into power.

I was rooting for Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband to become the next Labour leader, and became a party member when he actually did, through a combination of support from fellow MPs, members, and unions – or, “union barons” as the right-wing media preferred to refer to them, ignoring the millions of workers who cast their votes. In addition, the leadership election took so long that the Tories established a new narrative ignoring the £1.5 trillion bank bailout and instead reasserting the lie of Labour “overspending” that became part of press presupposition. As Ed tried to oppose the resulting austerity agenda of small-state sell-offs to private interests, pro-privatisation “Blairites,” behind the argument that it was too late to do so, stopped him at every opportunity.

We tried anyway. I attended most meetings. I became an active campaigner. I flyposted leaflets until my hands literally bled. I regularly engaged with Labour councillors losing sleep over cuts from central government that left them with agonizing budget choices at Town Hall. Because of this, I also agreed to do some work for Labour in getting the Fair Deal for Sheffield campaign rolling out online to raise awareness about the disproportionate cuts to our city from Westminster. And while at times, bizarrely, finding myself sat laughing with people like Lord Glasman in Labour workshops, and groups like Progress and even the Fabians having an air of unreality about them, I kept going – as many of us did – to get Labour back into power.sky

In my column “What Ed Said,” I wrote at length about the media’s caricature of “Red” Ed and how he somewhat understandably softened his stance on austerity after attending the March 26th March for an Alternative and being bashed by protesters for not being radical enough, and lambasted by the press for attending the demonstration in the first place, juxtaposed with shots of a minority of violent protesters – all the while being subject to undermining by Blairites who felt he wasn’t cosying up to the corporate world enough. Despite this, he called out the bankers, the media monopolies, and even landlords, and promised to push the break pedal on austerity and shift course for the country. My fear was, if even this failed, Blairites would claim it was time to return towards the right.

Making an ill-advised quest to actively oppose Scottish independence while failing to reach out to working class communities that were instead courted by a UK Independence Party appealing to their darker nature, a Labour leader impossibly trying to be all things to all people was finished off by two forms of nationalism. In addition, Ed, who had worked with Benn and Brown, tried the tactic of trying to appeal to everyone else that remained – and, as is usually the case with such an approach – ended up pleasing few of them. The Blairites despised him; the socialist membership complained he wasn’t going far enough. Thus, there was no great movement to get him into power, and the Tories this time took a majority win.

Despite my own fellow Sheffield Central constituents increasing the majority enjoyed by our MP, Paul Blomfield, from 165 to 17,309, my partner Jane Watkinson having been used on pamphlets to urge voters to switch to reds from the Greens as she had, we remained “The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire” – what we felt was not what the country voted for.dsc_0174

And so another Labour leadership election began, this time to find a replacement for Ed. With no more Liberal Democrats to hide behind in Westminster, the Tories found themselves exposed for the con men they were, and a Prime Minister who had actually packed his bags ready to leave 10 Downing Street was so tired in his role as mouthpiece of the elites that his mask slipped with increasing regularity.

Of all the Labour leadership candidates, I was so uninspired by the prospect of an even bigger PR disaster than Ed that as a party member I no longer felt we had anything left to lose: I instead voted with my heart, and chose Jeremy Corbyn, a man who had done such things as oppose apartheid, support LGBT rights, refuse to pay the poll tax, and sport a beard long before any of these were considered cool.cnknamrxeaao877-jpglarge

Lo and behold, he won with the most historic, massive mandate in Labour history – a sign that members were sick and tired of polished PR men and instead wanted progressive policies and “straight-talking, honest” politics. It was a revelation; a realisation that politics could be different; that maybe, now that the “token” few socialists had a voice, it could resonate with working class communities disenchanted with career politicians fueling an electoral machine, and prepared to be all things to all people as long as they got power. Now we had integrity.

From the very moment he became leader, Jeremy Corbyn faced an onslaught from the mainstream media and even those in his own party who had expected him to act as a paper candidate in the leadership race; a token “loony lefty” like Diane Abbott supposedly was before him in the previous leadership election. This was clearly never a part of the plan. This was a glitch in the Matrix. And heck, did the system ever remind us of the fact – over and over again, with headline after headline, newsflash after newsflash, and resignation after resignation from those who, truth be told, enjoyed Labour’s “broad church” branding as (in reality) a years-old excuse to control socialism and let the rampant capitalists in. “Broad church”? ‘My goodness, it was never meant literally!’ they surely exclaimed. ‘Blair? Yes! Corbyn? No!’ That’s how it works.

main-david-cameron-eating-a-hotdog-and-ed-miliband-eating-a-bacon-sandwichSo I wrote to my MP, Paul Blomfield, and urged him to stick to the principles he expressed so strongly as Ed Miliband was mocked for not being “statesmanlike” and awkwardly eating a bacon sandwich while the media downplayed David Cameron eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. Like most party members and Corbyn, Blomfield is against the renewal of Trident, but engaged in an email exchange with me claiming Labour needed different leadership. I’ll at least give him the respect of not publishing the email exchange here on my blog, but suffice to say I was disappointed. I told him I felt I was being told by those in Westminster that, as a party member, my vote was meaningless, and that I was a peasant who didn’t know what was good for me; as though they were a party happy to take in nearly a thousand pounds of my money up to that point, and then tell me to shut the hell up.

Paul Blomfield then announced that he was backing former Pfizer lobbyist Owen Smith to replace Jeremy Corbyn, a man who not only inspired hundreds, even thousands, but accumulated more Twitter followers than Ed Miliband did in nearly five years as Labour leader.

I got up after three hours’ sleep to go to my Constituency Labour Party meeting to indicate, as others across the country had (overwhelmingly for Corbyn over Smith), who we collectively backed. Aside from the fact “delegates” had been selected as the chosen ones to vote while members like me were put at the back of the room, we heard speeches from Corbyn and Smith supporters for an hour, only to then decide not to even have a vote after all. Corbyn speeches were all about being engaged in politics; Smith speeches suggested Corbynistas are stuck on social media but never come to meetings. After wasting over an hour of our time, this might be why!

Nonetheless, I was offended by so many suggestions that – despite bleeding Labour red – as a Corbyn advocate, I wasn’t a campaigner, even though Smith supporters were reiterating that the general population, not party members, were important. It was such a miserable, pessimistic sentiment. After this exercise in futility, I went straight home for a coffee. My MP and several councillors didn’t seem keen to talk to me anyway. Sheffield’s ever-increasing city-centre conservative middle classes had nixed the whole idea of their CLP even choosing in the leadership election. But their MP still went ahead and endorsed Owen Smith anyway, regardless of this impasse of his constituents. He unilaterally decided he was still backing Owen Smith, regardless of what we wanted.

In a sign they’d left citizenship behind and become far too cosy with people in positions of power, many councillors I knew were suddenly opposing our leader, perhaps explaining that odd feeling I had experienced when first entering the party – almost as though I had got the handshake wrong, missed a secret meeting, or failed to get a memo. I began to question everything I’d taken for granted in the Labour party; everything I knew, or thought I knew.

Despite the countless times I’d defended them, some councillors began blanking me in the street. One MP’s former campaign manager even stopped following the Fair Deal for Sheffield campaign (that he’d spearheaded) on Twitter because it had included tweets favourable to Corbyn’s campaign. A top women’s football club owner did the same to me because he saw I was pro-Corbyn. For goodness sake, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, who had enjoyed my support and had followed me for years on Twitter, suddenly stopped doing so, then blocked be – the only thing I’d done differently was support his own leader. It was perverse. Many of us actually hadn’t voted for him to be Deputy Leader, but respected the democratic process. Unlike him.screenshot_20160812-233611

Numerous high-end authors and academics, too, spoke out against Corbyn. Owen Jones, a supposed “left-wing” Oxbridge product now writing for the Guardian, was one of the more high-profile ones.

I just wasn’t in the club.

But I wasn’t the only one, as evidenced by the thousands in the social democratic Momentum campaign, the most exciting mass movement to happen in party politics since the birth of Labour itself, with a membership of 12,000. This too has been targeted. I approached a Momentum stall in, funnily enough, the Peace Gardens here in Sheffield as a man walked over, shouting at the stallholders, ‘You’re a party within a party! You’re abusive!’ with no irony whatsoever, as those staffing the stall calmly asked, ‘Why don’t you come here so we can discuss it?’ I have moved closer to Momentum as a result, as have many others, because of this kind of treatment. The card-carrying paid-up members have been treated like an inconvenience, and we want grassroots, democratic change – from the bottom up, not the top down. Loyalty was only valued one-way; it was never a symbiotic relationship. Any loyalty to members like myself was a lie.

Something has happened in the Labour party. Perhaps this is now the revealing of the ugliness that was always there, and I was a sucker for believing it wasn’t. When you’ve given a leader one of the biggest mandates ever, and politicos undermine, and then even try to reverse that, you know John Lennon was right when he sang, ‘You think you’re so clever and classless and free, but you’re still ****ing peasants as far as I can see.’