Just a brief note to let readers know that I haven’t died or been abducted and sent to a secret torture chamber in Kyrgyzstan. Along with Takin’ Care of Business, as the pictures tell, I spent some time tooling around the back roads of Ohio with my equally genealogy-nerd aunt and enjoying the time travel that is visiting nonagenarian farming relatives. I’ve also rediscovered the charms of Greyhound riding in a Midwest summer swelter. I’ll be heading to the Third Coast here in a few days. The blog will resume its regular irregularity in a couple more weeks; sometime after the last line in my trilogy of Gore Vidal novels is finished and my sunburn soothes. All this trying to relax isn’t very relaxing, but I will continue to try. Until then, I will see you at the beach.
As Coal Miners Die and Bulldozers Raze Historic Blair Mountain, Petition Calls for National Registry Re-Listing: By Jeff Biggers
Will coal miners ever receive any respect?
Since the April 5th non-union Massey mine disaster, an estimated 300 coal miners have died from black lung disease.
And yet, clear evidence in a new report by researchers has emerged that five areas in the historic Blair Mountain Battlefield in West Virginia–the most important historic landmark for coal miners in America–are being bulldozed into oblivion by reckless Big Coal mountaintop removal operations.
“My archeological colleagues have discovered five apparently recently bulldozed areas of great historic interest in the southern part of the Blair Mountain Battlefield, one of which was previously recorded as a battle site in the files of the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office, ” said long-time Blair Mountain archeologist and professor at Appalachian State University, Dr. Harvard Ayers. “Only one of the five is on land with current mining permits,” he added. “This bulldozing is particularly disturbing since we scientists are only beginning to understand the details of this 1921 labor conflict. To bulldoze a fragile archeological resource that means so much to West Virginians and beyond is like ripping pages out of the only history book of the battle.”
Wess Harris, a former coal miner and editor of the Blair Mountain Battle classic, When Miners March, adds:
“Corruption in our state’s historic preservation office has galvanized an amazing coalition of local residents, state wide activists, and national organizations– all determined to protect Blair Mountain. Recent discoveries regarding the brutality of coal camp life have made it ever more clear why citizens were called to arms to end the unspeakable abominations that are now being spoken.”
Citing a lack of compliance with National Park Service regulations, the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States, the Sierra Club and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have a filed a formal petition to reconsider the outrageous removal of Blair Mountain Battlefield from the National Register.
In 1921, coal miners led the largest armed insurrection in the US since the Civil War in the Blair Mountain area, in an attempt to liberate besieged coal camps that had not been allowed to unionize.
According to the petition, the Keeper of the National Register “improperly relied on a list of 57 owners ‘recalculated’ by the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office” last spring, which led to the delisting of the historic battleground from the Registry. Assisted by Big Coal lawyers, the WV State Historic Preservation Office list even included dead people.
The Petition, which was sent to the Carol Shull, the Keeper of the National Register and the WV State Historic Preservation Office on July 6, requests that the battlefield be reinstated on the Registry and concludes:
“Mining companies own a substantial amount of land within the Blair Mountain Battlefield, and absent the special protection afforded under West Virginia law by National Registry listing, they intend to proceed with mountaintop removal operations, substantially destroying this important site.”
As this Saturday is the 12th of July, and as I am supposed to be writing about the North of Ireland in particular, it becomes imperative that I say something about this great and glorious festival.
The Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne is celebrated in Belfast by what is locally known as an Orange Walk. The brethren turn out and take possession of the principal streets of the city, and for the space of some hours they pass in processional order before the eyes of the citizens, bearing their banners, wearing their regalia, carrying symbols emblematic of the gates of Derry, and to the accompaniment of a great many bands.
Viewing the procession as a mere ‘Teague’ (to use the name the brethren bestow on all of Catholic origin), I must confess that some parts of it are beautiful, some of it ludicrous, and some of it exceedingly disheartening.
The regalia is often beautiful; I have seen representations of the Gates of Derry that were really a pleasure to view as pieces of workmanship; and similar representations erected as Orange arches across dingy side streets that, if we could forget their symbolism, we would admire as real works of art.
The music (?) is a fearful and wonderful production, seemingly being based upon a desire to produce the maximum of sound in the minimum of space. Every Orange Lodge in the North of Ireland, and many from the South make it a point to walk, and as each Lodge desires to have a band without any regard to its numbers, the bands are often so near that even the most skilful manipulator cannot prevent a blending of sounds that can scarcely be called harmonious.
I have stood on the sidewalk listening to a band, whose instruments were rendering:
|Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly.
Whilst another one about twenty yards off was splitting the air with:
|Dolly’s Brae, O Dolly’s Brae,
O, Dolly’s Brae no more;
The song we sang was kick the Pope
Right over Dolly’s Brae.
But the discord of sound allied to the discord of sentiment implied in a longing to fly to the bosom of Jesus, and at the same time to kick the Pope, did not appear to strike anyone but myself.
For that matter a sense of humour is not one of the strong points in an Orangeman’s nature. The dead walls of Belfast are decorated with a mixture of imprecations upon Fenians , and, the Pope, and invocations of the power and goodness of the Most High, interlarded with quotations from the New Testament. This produces some of the most incongruous results. What would the readers of Forward say to seeing written up on the side of a wall off one of the main streets, the attractive legend:
|God is Love,
Hell Roast the Pope.
Of course, the juxtaposition of such inscriptions on the walls appears absurd, and yet, the juxtaposition of sentiments as dissimilar is common enough in the minds of all of us, I suppose.
To anyone really conversant with the facts bearing upon the relations of the religious in Ireland, and the part played by them in advancing or retarding the principles of civil and religious liberty, the whole celebration appears to be foolish enough.
The belief sedulously cultivated by all the orators, lay and clerical, as well as by all the newspapers is, that the Defence of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne were great vindications of the principles of civil and religious liberty, which were menaced by the Catholics, and defended by the Protestants of all sects.
The belief we acquire from a more clear study of history in Ireland is somewhat different. Let me tell it briefly. In the reign of James I, the English Government essayed to solve the Irish problem, which then, as now, was their chief trouble, by settling Ireland with planters from Scotland and England. To do this, two million acres were confiscated, i.e., stolen from the Irish owners. Froude, the historian, says:
“Of these, a million and a half, bog-forest and mountain were restored to the Irish. The half a million of fertile acres were settled with families of Scottish and English Protestants.”
A friendly speaker, recently describing these planters before a meeting of the Belfast Liberal Association, spoke of them as:
“Hardy pioneers, born of a sturdy race, trained to adversity, when brought face to face with dangers of a new life in a hostile country, soon developed that steady, energetic, and powerful character which has made the name of Ulster respected all over the world.”
And a writer in the seventeenth century, the son of one of the ministers who came over with the first plantation, Mr. Stewart, is quoted by Lecky in his History of England in the Eighteenth Century, as saying:
“From Scotland came many, and from England not a few, yet all of them generally the scum of both nations, who from debt, or breaking the law or fleeing from justice, or seeking shelter, come hither, hoping to be without fear of man’s justice in a land where there was nothing, or but little as yet, of the fear of God … On all hands Atheism increased, and disregard of God, iniquity abounded, with contentious fighting, murder, adultery.”
The reader can take his choice of these descriptions. Probably the truth is that each is a fairly accurate description of a section of the planters, and that neither is accurate as a picture of the whole.
But while the Plantation succeeded from the point of view of the Government in placing in the heart of Ulster a body of people who, whatever their disaffection to that Government, were still bound by fears of their own safety to defend it against the natives, it did not bring either civil or religious liberty to the Presbyterian planters.
The Episcopalians were in power, and all the forces of government were used by them against their fellow-Protestants. The planters were continually harassed to make them adjure their religion, fines were multiplied upon fines, and imprisonment upon imprisonment. In 1640, the Presbyterians of Antrim, Down, and Tyrone, in a petition to the English House of Commons, declared that:
“Principally through the sway of the prelacy with their factions our souls are starved, our estates are undone, our families impoverished, and many lives among us cut off and destroyed … Our cruel taskmasters have made us who were once a people to become as it were no people, an astonishment to ourselves, the object of pittie and amazement to others.”
What might have been the result of this cruel, systematic persecution of Protestants by Protestants we can only conjecture, since, in the following year, 1641, the great Irish rebellion compelled the persecuting and persecuted Protestants to join hands in defence of their common plunder against the common enemy – the original Irish owners.
In all the demonstrations and meetings which take place in Ulster under Unionist Party auspices, all these persecutions are alluded to as if they had been the work of “Papists,” and even in the Presbyterian churches and conventions, the same distortion of the truth is continually practised.
But they are told
“all this persecution was ended when William of Orange, and our immortal forefathers overthrew the Pope and Popery at the Boyne. Then began the era of civil and religious liberty.”
So runs the legend implicitly believed in in Ulster. Yet it is far, very far, from the truth. In 1686 certain continental powers joined together in a league, known in history as the league of Augsburg, for the purpose of curbing the arrogant power of France. These powers were impartially Protestant and Catholic, including the Emperor of Germany, the King of Spain, William, Prince of Orange, and the Pope. The latter had but a small army, but possessed a good treasury and great influence. A few years before a French army had marched upon Rome to avenge a slight insult offered to France, and His Holiness was more than anxious to curb the Catholic power that had dared to violate the centre of Catholicity. Hence his alliance with William, Prince of Orange.
King James II, of England, being insecure upon his throne, sought alliance with the French monarch.
When, therefore, the war took place in Ireland, King William fought, aided by the arms, men, and treasures of his allies in the League of Augsburg, and part of his expenses at the Battle of the Boyne was paid for by His Holiness, the Pope. Moreover, when news of King William’s victory reached Rome, a Te Deum was sung in celebration of his victory over the Irish adherents of King James and King Louis.
Therefore, on Saturday the Orangemen of Ulster, led by King Carson, will be celebrating the same victory as the Pope celebrated 223 years ago.
Nor did the victory at the Boyne mean Civil and Religious Liberty. The Catholic Parliament of King James, meeting in Dublin in 1689, had passed a law that all religions were equal, and that each clergyman should be supported by his own congregation only, and that no tithes should be levied upon any man for the support of a church to which he did not belong. But this sublime conception was far from being entertained by the Williamites who overthrew King James and superseded his Parliament. The Episcopalian Church was immediately re-established, and all other religions put under the ban of the law. I need not refer to the Penal Laws against Catholics, they are well enough known. But sufficient to point out that England and Wales have not yet attained to that degree of religious equality established by Acts XIII and XV of the Catholic Parliament of 1689, and that that date was the last in which Catholics and Protestants sat together in Parliament until the former compelled an Emancipation Act in 1829.
For the Presbyterians the victory at the Boyne simply gave a freer hand to their Episcopalian persecutors. In 1704 Derry was rewarded for its heroic defence by being compelled to submit to a Test Act, which shut out of all offices in the Law, the Army, the Navy, the Customs and Excise, and Municipal employment, all who would not conform to the Episcopalian Church. The alderman and fourteen burgesses are said to have been disfranchised in the Maiden City by this iniquitous Act, which was also enforced all over Ireland. Thus, at one stroke, Presbyterians, Quakers, and all other dissenters were deprived of that which they had imagined they were fighting for at “Derry, Aughrim, and the Boyne.” Presbyterians were forbidden to be married by their own clergymen, the Ecclesiastical Courts had power to fine and imprison offenders, and to compel them to appear in the Parish Church, and make public confession of fornication, if so married. At Lisburn and Tullylish, Presbyterians were actually punished for being married by their own ministers. Some years later, in 1712, a number of Presbyterians were arrestcd for attempting to establish a Presbyterian meeting house in Belturbet.
The marriage of a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian was declared illegal, and in fact, the ministers and congregations of the former church were treated as outlaws and rebels, to be fined, imprisoned, and harassed in every possible way. They had to pay tithes for the upkeep of the Episcopalian ministers, were fined for not going to the Episcopalian Church, and had to pay Church cess for buying sacramental bread, ringing the bell, and washing the surplices of the Episcopalian clergymen. All this, remember, in the generation immediately following the Battle of the Boyne.
The reader should remember what is generally slurred over in narrating this part of Irish history, that when we are told that Ulster was planted by Scottish Presbyterians, it does not mean that the land was given to them. On the contrary, the vital fact was, and is, that the land was given to the English noblemen and to certain London companies of merchants who had lent money to the Crown, and that the Scottish planters were only introduced as tenants of these landlords. The condition of their tenancy virtually was that they should keep Ireland for the English Crown, and till the land of Ireland for the benefit of the English landlord.
That is in essence the demand of the Unionist Party leaders upon their followers today. In the past, as the landlords were generally English and Episcopalian, they all, during the eighteenth century, continually inserted clauses in all their leases, forbidding the erection of Presbyterian meeting houses. As the uprise of democracy has contributed to make this impossible today in Ireland, the landlord and capitalist class now seek an alliance with these Protestants they persecuted for so long in order to prevent a union of the democracy of all religious faiths against their lords and masters.
To accomplish this they seek insidiously to pervert history, and to inflame the spirit of religious fanaticism. The best cure I know of for that evil is a correct understanding of the events they so distort in their speeches and sermons. To this end I have ever striven to contribute my mite, and while I know that the sight of the thousands who, on July 12, will march to proclaim their allegiance to principles of which their order is a negation, will be somewhat disheartening. I also know that even amongst the Orange hosts, the light of truth is penetrating.
In conclusion, the fundamental, historical facts to remember are that:
|The Irish Catholic was despoiled by force,
The Irish Protestant toiler was despoiled by fraud,
The spoliation of both continues today
under more insidious but more effective forms,
and the only hope lies in the latter combining with the former in overthrowing their common spoilers, and consenting to live in amity together in the common ownership of their common country – the country which the spirit of their ancestors or the devices of their rulers have made – the place of their origin, or the scene of their travail.
I have always held, despite the fanatics on both sides, that the movements of Ireland for freedom could not and cannot be divorced from the world-wide upward movements of the world’s democracy. The Irish question is a part of the social question, the desire of the Irish people to control their own destinies is a part of the desire of the workers to forge political weapons for their own enfranchisement as a class.
The Orange fanatic and the Capitalist-minded Home Ruler are alike in denying this truth; ere long, both of them will be but memories, while the army of those who believe in that truth will be marching and battling on its conquering way.
Two years ago this August the great poet and freedom fighter Mahmoud Darwish died. I had heard of Darwish, but it was watching his funeral and the days surrounding his death live on Al Jazeera as well as the reaction from the best of the solidarity movement that I was grabbed by the voice and saddened and angry that my Western ears had never heard his words before. Watching the Palestinians bury Darwish and the obvious, genuine, heart-broken grief expressed by the multitude at his funeral belied the whole Western and Zionist narrative on Palestine. What other people would bury a poet as a national leader? In Darwish the Palestinian people may have had their most effective, particularly universal, voice, but it was that particular universality of the Palestinian experience that Darwish expressed. No wonder the flowing tears in Palestine at his death. Darwish was a Palestinian and an activist; one who lived the long Palestinian reality of war and exile and betrayal and solidarity and resilience. His words spoke of the Palestinian plight (though certainly not only this), but in doing so he spoke of a world of Palestinians, a world of dispossessed and despised, the homeless and the human.
Now, every new encounter with his words leaves me wanting more and am wondering if readers might point me to definitive translations and/or particularly good volumes available in English, though I have been tempted to learn Arabic for the sole purpose of understanding Darwish as he reads aloud his poems with his melodic, almost mesmerizing (in the best possible sense of the term) cadence. I find myself listening to him speak, especially in front of large, enraptured audiences (what crowds, what respect for this poet!), though I can’t make out at all the words he says. The conveyance of those words with certain eloquence and an elegant rage requires no wordly translation, it simply exudes life and is impossible to retreat in the face of it. Even in a language I don’t understand, the sound of Darwish’s voice demands that I listen, and I can say that I have felt, at least, that I might have understood.
With the passing of Darwish, humanity lost one of its finest, most intimate voices. His words and his life are the verification that we humans might have a say in our own human nature, despite the inhuman and unnatural treatment meted out to humanity and the natural world by the ‘fallen angels of our nature’. Long may we hear it, in a thousand languages, read aloud in a million places or silently at home or in prison or both. Three from Darwish then, all in different forms with English translations and one with Darwish reciting in Arabic. Mahmoud Darwish, Presenté!
I Am Yusuf spoken by Darwish with English subtitles, a hint of his remarkable delivery
Don’t Write History As Poetry: Translated from Arabic by Fady Joudah
Don’t write history as poetry, because the weapon is
The historian. And the historian doesn’t get fever
Chills when he names his victims and doesn’t listen
To the guitar’s rendition. And history is the dailiness
Of weapons prescribed upon our bodies. “The
Intelligent genius is the mighty one.” And history
Has no compassion so that we can long for our
Beginning, and no intention so that we can know what’s ahead
And what’s behind . . . and it has no rest stops by
The railroad tracks for us to bury the dead, for us to look
Toward what time has done to us over there, and what
We’ve done to time. As if we were of it and outside it.
History is neither logical nor intuitive that we can break
What is left of our myth about happy times,
Nor is it a myth that we can accept our dwelling at the doors
Of judgment day. It is in us and outside us . . . and a mad
Repetition, from the catapult to the nuclear thunder.
Aimlessly we make it and it makes us . . . Perhaps
History wasn’t born as we desired, because
The Human Being never existed?
Philosophers and artists passed through there . . .
And the poets wrote down the dailiness of their purple flowers
Then passed through there . . . and the poor believed
In sayings about paradise and waited there . . .
And gods came to rescue nature from our divinity
And passed through there. And history has no
Time for contemplation, history has no mirror
And no bare face. It is unreal reality
Or unfanciful fancy, so don’t write it.
Don’t write it, don’t write it as poetry!
I Long For My Mother’s Bread, sung (exquisitely) and played by Marcel Khalife with English subtitles. I shared this with my mother last year after the passing of her mother, my grandmother. From the Levant to the lower American Midwest, common tears.
And finally, without subtitles, Darwish reciting Praise of Shadows in Algeria, 1983 after the siege of Beirut, flight of the PLO from Lebanon and the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla. Written on the deck of a boat leaving Lebanon for Tunisia. Try first watching and listening and then reading the excerpts.
‘In Praise of the High Shadow
It is for you to be, or not to be,
It is for you to create, or not to create.
All existential questions, behind your shadow, are a farce,
And the universe is your small notebook, and you are its creator.
So write in it the paradise of genesis,
Or do not write it,
You, you are the question.
What do you want?
As you march from a legend, to a legend?
What good have flags ever done?
Have they ever protected a city from the shrapnel of a bomb?
What do you want?
Would the papers ever hatch a bird, or weave a grain?
What do you want?
Do the police know where the small earth will get impregnated from the
What do you want?
Sovereignty over ashes?
While you are the master of our soul; the master of our ever-changing
For the place is not yours, nor are the garbage thrones.
You are the freedom of creation,
You are the creator of the roads,
And you are the anti-thesis of this era.
Poor, like a prayer,
Barefoot, like a river in the path of rocks,
And delayed, like a clove.
You, you are the question.
So leave to yourself,
For you are larger than people’s countries,
Larger than the space of the guillotine.
So leave to yourself,
Resigned to the wisdom of your heart,
Shrugging off the big cities, and the drawn sky,
And building an earth under your hand’s palm – a tent, an idea, or a grain.
So head to Golgotha,
And climb with me,
To return to the homeless soul its beginning.
What do you want?
For you are the master of our soul,
The master of our ever-changing existence.
You are the master of the ember,
The master of the flame.
How large the revolution,
How narrow the journey,
How grand the idea,
How small the state!’ (excerpt)
István Mészáros speaking earlier this year on the unfinished economic crisis at a London Counterfire forum emphasizing his position that this crisis will result in the further concentration of capital and a massive attack of austerity…nail. on. head. He also emphasizes that what we are seeing is not a conjunctural crisis of capitalism, but a systematic crisis. I’m not sure if I find his overall thesis convincing. In the end, given the cyclical nature of capitalist reproduction what’s the difference between a conjunctural and a systemic crisis? Scale perhaps, or results maybe, but neither of these have, in my opinion, fully revealed themselves as of yet, so I can’t arrive at some of Mészáros’ conclusions. That said, he has been a close observer and keen chronicler of capitalism’s workings and saw clearer this spring that, while others were rejoicing and promoting (marketing) the end of the crisis, the crisis was far from over. We use the tools of analysis to see trends and in some cases events, but they are different sorts of prognoses though deeply related. Mészáros offers both and in doing so raises many valuable questions, at the very least.
If ever there was a time to make some good old-fashioned structural analysis popular, now is it. Done correctly the dynamism an honest debate and a living movement produce might add a dynamic corrective to any determinist heresy that might arise; the analysis framing the issues and offering the reaching, out-stretched finger to new possibilities. Given the four months or so that have passed since this was recorded I would say that Mészáros grasp of the situation was and is far superior to Timothy Geithner or Barney Frank or the liberal’s darling Robert Reich and the progressive’s darling Paul Krugman. More proof that, in the midst of these stormy economic seas, Marx remains the best ‘navigator’ we have. I just hope the train doesn’t hit me, I’m still bruised and working myself to my feet from the last one to barrel through.