Activists on the left, as well as radical U.S.-based organizations, came out yesterday against the indictments of three members of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP), one former party member, and three Russian nationals for allegedly attempting to sow discord in the United States by working with Russia.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday, April 18, that a federal grand jury returned a “superseding indictment” charging the four people with:
…working on behalf of the Russian government and in conjunction with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to conduct a multi-year foreign malign influence campaign in the United States. Among other conduct, the superseding indictment alleges that the Russian defendants recruited, funded and directed U.S. political groups to act as unregistered illegal agents of the Russian government and sow discord and spread pro-Russian propaganda; the indicted intelligence officers, in particular, participated in covertly funding and directing candidates for local office within the United States.
The four charged include:
Omali Yeshitela, a U.S. citizen residing in St. Petersburg, Florida, and St. Louis, Missouri, who serves as the chairman and founder of the APSP;
Penny Joanne Hess, a U.S. citizen residing in St. Petersburg, Florida, and St. Louis, Missouri, who is chairperson of the African People’s Solidarity Committee;
Jesse Nevel, a U.S. citizen residing in St. Petersburg, Florida, and St. Louis, Missouri, who is chair of the APSP’s Uhuru Solidarity Movement; and
Augustus C. Romain Jr., aka Gazi Kodzo, a U.S. citizen residing in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Atlanta, who once served as secretary-general of the APSP and is a founder of the Black Hammer Organization in Georgia.
Repressing Africans in Struggle
Hess and Nevel are white solidarity members. Nevertheless, that an African organization was targeted has raised concerns.
Anti-imperialist African organization Black Alliance for Peace yesterday issued a statement pointing to the U.S. government’s history of repressing the African liberation struggle:
Not since the Palmer Raids of the early 20th century, nor since the indictment of W.E.B DuBois in 1951, or the confiscation of Paul Robeson’s U.S. passport during the anti-communist “McCarthyist” era, has there been such a hysterical response to African people asserting their rights and freedom of speech in the United States. This renewed attack against anti-imperialist Africans, framed within the absurd notion of “Russian influence,” comes as capitalism decays and U.S. global hegemony loses its hold on the world. The attacks on the APSP and the Uhuru Movement are part of a historical tendency to align African political activists with U.S. “adversary” states to marginalize African internationalism (including solidarity with Cuba and Palestine, for example) and to suppress Black radicalism.
It is also an assault on the efforts of Africans organizing against the violence and murders suffered at the hands of the U.S. state. Indeed, Africans do not need Russia to tell them they are suffering the brunt of violence in the heart of the U.S. empire!
Wayne State University professor Dr. Charisse Burden-Stelly noted her forthcoming book, Black Scare/Red Scare, points to the APSP raid of July 2022 to draw the connection between U.S. domestic anti-communist purges of the past and repression of activists today.
“It is no coincidence that an African socialist organization is being targeted,” she tweeted.
US charges 4 Americans, 3 Russians in election discord case
I start the epilogue of Black Scare/Red Scare with this case to discuss the resonances of those scares today. It is no coincidence that an African socialist organization is being targeted. https://t.co/SnVgP94m3N
The DOJ attempted to connect the charged activists with a Russian conspiracy to interfere in U.S. elections, beginning with the 2016 election of Trump.
“Russia’s foreign intelligence service allegedly weaponized our First Amendment rights—freedoms Russia denies its own citizens—to divide Americans and interfere in elections in the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division.
However, much evidence exists to show the United States interferes the most in other countries’ elections and democratic processes. Aside from invading 201 countries since the end of World War II, the United States deployed 64 covert operations to subvert governments around the world between 1947 and 1989, according to political scientist Lindsey O’Rourke. Meanwhile, political scientist Dov Levin’s work found the United States interfered in 81 elections between 1946 and 2000.
The APSP had been preparing for this moment since late December, when they received “strong indications” of indictments coming down in early 2023 after the FBI had raided the party’s properties in July 2022, as Toward Freedom had reported. Then the APSP announced last month that Regions Bank, a financial institution in the U.S. South, had closed the party’s accounts and withdrawn lines of credit. The APSP referred to that move as “U.S. economic sanctions” on Black community projects.
Freedom Road Socialist Organization also issued a statement that referred to more recent history of repression.
On September 24, 2010, the FBI raided seven homes of anti-war activists and the office of the Twin Cities Anti-War committee. All told, twenty-three activists were subpoenaed to a Chicago-based grand jury that claimed to be investigating “material support for terrorism.” As time went on, the FBI continued their attack on anti-war and international solidarity activists by targeting important veterans of the movement who worked with the Anti-war 23, including Chicano activist Carlos Montes in Los Angeles and Palestinian organizer Rasmea Odeh in Chicago. A national defense campaign defeated most of these attacks.
Toward Freedom Board Secretary and independent journalist Jacqueline Luqman commented on the danger for all activists who oppose U.S. global hegemony.
“Today it’s the APSP. Tomorrow it could be you and me,” she tweeted. “All you need to do is oppose US imperialist policy in Ukraine and Palmer Raids 2023 will be unleashed to silence you.”
Activism and Art are a potent combination for addressing problems that are both enduring and unendurable. The play, Eclipsed, transports the audience into the intimate dwelling of women struggling to survive while living as sexual slaves in a rebel forces encampment at the end of the Liberian civil war in 2003. The story follows a 15-year-old African girl as she escapes from the encampment to become a child soldier in the rebel forces.
Written by Zimbabwean-American playwright Danai Gurira, Eclipsed made history by being the first Broadway show with an all-female cast, and the first all African-American cast, and an all-female creative team. Eclipsed was on Broadway in 2016, with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o in the lead role.
The playwright wants to create awareness about injustices encountered by girls and women around the world by the stories in her plays. “Narrative is in my toolbox, and what I find powerful about narrative is that it actually allows people to be connected, to be disarmed, to see other people across the world that they might perceive of as statistics, [rather than] as actual fellow people that they care about and that they want to see freed to live self-determined lives,” she said in an interview.
Gurira’s work transcends the rationalizations created by terms such as “rape as a weapon of war” that are used to characterize the human experience of sexual violation and violence. Her work portrays the humanity of the captive women, and the difficult choices they must make during a time of war, and how the trauma of those experiences, particularly rape, changes them.
Why is Eclipsed relevant now? In September of 2020, President George Weah of Liberia declared rape a national emergency following a three day protest in the capital city of Monrovia. There were 5,000 anti-rape protesters, and there were violent clashes with authorities. Police tear-gassed thousands of anti-rape protesters. It is difficult to collect meaningful statistics as to the rate of rape in Liberia. A World Health Organization report estimated 75% of women in Liberia at the end of the civil war had experienced rape. That statistic was challenged by American writers because, they wrote, it seems like an improbably high rate. However, the current situation in Liberia, where Covid-19 restrictions have increased the number of Sex and Gender-based attacks by fifty percent, is compared to the same high rate of attacks during the Liberian civil war (1999-2003)
which is the setting of Eclipsed.
The impetus for writing the play came from a 2003 photo appearing in the Western press of Liberian women fighters. Gurira was struck by their attractive appearance, the fierce and intense look in their eyes, and by their guns and their stylish fighting gear. In 2003, the Wall Street Journal interviewed a 20-year-old fighter calle1d Black Diamond, and described her appearance in an almost romantic way: “A pistol and a cellular phone hung from her trendy, wide leather belt. Her jeans were embroidered with roses. Her fellow guerrillas were equally fashionable, wearing tight-fitting jeans, leopard-print blouses and an assortment of jewelry. The number of women in her unit, she said, is a military secret.”
Gurira traveled to Liberia in 2007, setting off on a journey that would reveal that the intensity of the young women fighters in the photo was not empowerment, or a fierce loyalty to the rebel forces and brotherly rebel male fighters. Instead, the style and swagger of the young women covered over the deep trauma of having lived through unspeakable horrors during the civil war including being gang-raped, watching family members murdered, their homes looted and mothers and sisters raped by soldiers. Gurira interviewed thirty women including former women soldiers and women in the Peace Movement who are credited with forcing an end to the Civil War. The characters in the play reflect the histories of those women, as well as Gurira’s research, including the award winning. documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell and the Human Rights Watch report “Roles and Responsibilities of Child Soldiers”.
Gurira weaves together a story that brings the audience into the women’s lives, using experiences that we can identify within our own lives. The women fuss about their hair, clothing and what will there be for dinner, even as they hide the fifteen-year-old girl from their abuser, the Commanding Officer. The fifteen-year-old, who is called “The Girl,” arrives at the camp as a bright, energetic child, able to read, and having plans to go to school to become a doctor or constitutional lawyer.
The commander, called the “CO” by the women, attacks The Girl when she goes outside to go to the bathroom, then designates her as the “number four” wife. After The Girl is raped by the CO, she returns to the shed where the Wives live together. She is listless and unresponsive to questions from the women about what happened, except to say the CO “did it” to her. Soon after, the CO arrives at the women’s shed, and with dread and anxiety they must line up for him, as he chooses which woman he will take away next.
The women in the play go by their ranking as “Wives,” a system set by the CO, and they do not use each other’s names, but address each other with their number in the ranking. Wife Number One, the eldest wife, was captured when she was twelve, and has been held captive for ten years. Number Two was ousted from the women’s shed and has become a rebel fighter. Number Three is six months pregnant with the CO’s child.
After the CO’s officers loot a village, he gives clothing and other items to Wife Number One, and she finds a book about Bill Clinton. The Girl reads parts of it to some of the other Wives, and their struggle to make sense of Clinton’s troubles provides some comic relief to an otherwise intense and harrowing play.
Wife Number Three calls Monica Lewinsky,“Wife Number Two,” and the woman express wonder at the U.S. Congress trying to remove Clinton as president for having two wives. They remark on the closeness they feel as Liberians to the United States, since it was the United States that set up the founding of their country.
Wife Number Two returns to visit the women’s shed, carrying a large gun and dressed in jeans and a slinky top. She has brought food for the Wives, offering a bag of rice because they have none. Wife Number One has moral authority, and will not accept the food, because Number Two is involved in war atrocities. Number Three, pregnant and bemoaning the shortage of food, wants to accept the rice. The apparent freedom that Number Two has as a soldier appeals to The Girl.
Number Two entices The Girl to become a soldier so that she can get a gun and protect herself from being raped. The Girl follows Number Two and becomes a child soldier. She finds she is required to participate in looting, killing and (much to her dismay) rounding up girls from the ransacked villages to bring to soldiers to be raped.
A woman from the Liberian Woman’s Peace movement secretively visits the Wives to tell them that the war will be ending soon. The unendurable trauma of their war experience has unraveled the Wives’ identities, and they struggle to remember what their names were before the war. Rita, the Peace Woman, coaxes Number One to remember. Finally, she whispers her name, and Rita writes “Helena” in the dirt of the shed floor. The educated and upper-class Peace Woman, Rita, has her own story. Her daughter has disappeared, and she searches the rebel camps in hopes of finding her. Gurira lays bare Rita’s struggle with her classism when Rita airs the complaints of the Peace Women to Helena, saying that the CO is “trying to treat us like we’re village girls they rob from the bush,” without awareness that Helena herself was a 12-year-old girl running from an attack on her family’s home in a village, and captured when she was hiding in the bush.
The play ends when Charles Taylor leaves Liberia, signaling the winding down of the long civil war. The Girl has to choose whether to give up her gun in order to go with the Peace Women group; or to keep her gun and go back to the camp of rebel fighters. Helena (Number One) struggles with her decision to leave at first because her identity is her rank in the camp. Number Two cannot believe that she will be safe if she gives up her gun, and she returns to the rebel fighters’ camp. Number Three has her baby, and she chooses to stay with the C.O., believing that he will take care of her and her baby girl. She named the girl Clintine, after Bill Clinton. The naming of this Liberian child, begotten by rape at a rebel commanders’ camp during wartime, may symbolize Liberia’s call for support from their parent country.
Liberia was founded by the American Colonization Society in the early 1800’s as the first free country in Africa, as part of the “Back to Africa” movement designed by U.S. government to avoid abolishing slavery. For many years, U.S. involvement in Liberia was significant, especially in the exploitation of resources (rubber, diamonds and gold) by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company starting in the 1920’s. The U.S. supported the violent and repressive government of Samuel Doe (1980-1990) but has been gradually but continuously disengaging since the end of the Cold War. In 1990, at the beginning of the brutal, 14 year Liberian Civil War, the U.S. citizens were evacuated and U.S. involvement, for practical purposes, ended.
The commanders in the Civil War illegally, according to the Geneva Convention, used over 15,000 children under the age of 18 as soldiers in fighting in Liberia between 2000 and 2002. Many people question U.S. disengagement with Liberia, a country considered to be the “stepchild” of the United States. One U.S. expert says that Liberia sees itself as the 51st state. However, while there are significant straightforward needs in Liberia now, such as DNA machines used to determine the perpetrator of a rape and technicians who know how to operate them, there are questions as to why the U.S. has continued to be unresponsive to Liberia’s crisis.
Despite declaring rape to be a national emergency last September, President Weah has not followed through with establishing a special prosecutor for rape, or setting up a national sex offender registry, or establishing Criminal Court E for hearing rape cases across the 15 counties in Liberia. In March of 2021, President Weah unveiled a DNA testing machine to be used to aid prosecution of rape cases. However, media reports indicate that there are no trained technicians who know how to operate the machine in Liberia.
In Our Bodies, Their Battlefields, Christine Lamb writes that rape is the cheapest weapon known to man.” And also one of the oldest, as some scholars analyze the Book of Deuteronomy’s “Law of the Beautiful Captive Woman” to support a view that women may be treated as “spoils of war”. There were many wartime atrocities, but in particular, the weaponizing of raping women and children leaves a lasting imprint on the cultural integrity of a society. The society in Liberia after the war has been called a “culture of impunity” where there is no penalty for attacking women and children.
Danai Gurira founded a website, newsletter and blog called Love Our Girls which raises awareness about girls in African who are abused and forgotten. She writes there:
“As a writer, scripting narratives is my act of resistance, my way of bringing that unheard African female voice front and center and allowing it to manifest its astounding value. I have always had a passion for women and girls, a hope to see them function on the same playing field as men and have the same opportunities and appropriate protections. I want to be more than an actress and storyteller but an advocate for women, not only in underdeveloped countries but all over the world.”
The play’s central theme is that the light inside of each of these women, a light that can be seen clearly in The Girl when she first arrives at the camp, is eclipsed by the trauma of rape and captivity. For the women who become fighters, this is compounded by the horror of the acts of war they witness and participate in.
Eclipsed is about how the light within these women was blocked by the reign of terror of the warlords, their soldiers, and soldiers of the government.
It is an open question as the curtain comes down: what will become of these girls and women when the war has ended? And it is an open question as well: what will it take, locally and globally, to repair the shattered norms that allow rape of children and women to be happening at alarming rates, and to muster the political will to prosecute and convict those who commit those crimes? Gurira uplifts the stories of women and girls in war and invites audiences to see the lives of women and girls who are subjected to repetitive rape, deprivation of food and freedom, by not showing them as “flailing victims” but instead “… these are dynamic women and girls, in the most treacherous of circumstances, and I want the audience to feel at home with them.” The play provokes the empathy that is necessary for social justice.
Lesley Becker is a playwright and director living in Vermont and a Reparative Board member at the Burlington Community Justice Center. Her plays are available to read on New Play Exchange; she is a member of the Dramatist Guild.
Mobilizations took to the streets of Colombia on April 28 in a national strike to protest social injustice and aggressive tax reforms proposed by the Iván Duque government. Student movements, trade unions, young peoples’ organizations, feminist groups, and indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples’ movements marched, blocked roads and held cultural activities in urban centers and rural territories throughout the country, exercising their right to peaceful protest. But the state wasted no time in responding with violent repression, especially in major cities such as Calí, Bogotá, Palmira and Popayán.
Although the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, isolated incidents of looting and violence have been used as an excuse for using excessive force against protesters. Media discourses around “good protesters” and “bad protesters” legitimize this response. Widespread reports of infiltrators are being used to provoke violence and looting, as has been the case in previous strikes in the country. Armed forces reportedly have stood by and allowed looting to take place, only to later respond to such incidents with violent repression.
Rather than heeding the demands of the citizens against the tax reform and social injustice, the state has responded with militarization, turning peaceful demonstrations into scenes of war. Helicopters circle above protest points and communities, while tanks thunder through narrow city streets.
Several cities are occupied by four armed state actors:
Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (ESMAD, or Mobile Anti-Riot Squads of the National Police),
military forces and
Grupo Operativo Especial de Seguridad del Cuerpo Nacional de Policía (GOES, or Special Security Task Force of the National Police Force).
Instead of seeking to pacify the situation and protect citizens, these forces have increasingly threatened security, peace and human rights.
Flagrant Human Rights Abuses
Countless videos recorded by protesters and onlookers circulate daily on social media, showing cases of police brutality, indiscriminate shootings, and the use of tear gas inside barrios that contain children and elderly people. Over the past few days, the violence has taken on a new face in Calí, with the presence of plainclothes police officers and reports of unmarked cars carrying out drive-by shootings against protesters.
Bogotá-based non-governmental organization Indepaz reports the following occurred between April 28 and May 8:
47 murders (the majority of whom have been young adults and 4 of whom were minors),
12 cases of sexual violence,
28 eye injuries,
1,876 acts of violence,
963 arbitrary detentions and
548 forced disappearances.
Reports are circulating of people being arrested and denied information of their destination, violating their rights to due process and exposing them to the risk of arbitrary detention, cruel and inhumane treatment, and forced disappearance.
Armed police have threatened lawyers and human-rights defenders when inquiring about missing people at police stations. The international community woke up to the seriousness of the situation when, on May 3, members of a humanitarian mission including UN and state representatives were attacked by armed police while waiting to enter a police station in search of missing people. On April 7, as a humanitarian mission was taking place north of Calí with the presence of Senator Alexander Lopez, a drive-by shooting took place, injuring one person and killing three.
The Racialization of State Repression
The violence and repression has a disproportionate impact on Black communities, only mirroring Colombia’s ongoing internal armed conflict. For example, 35 of the 47 murders Indepaz reported took place in Calí, home to South America’s second-largest Afro-descendant population. No surprise that structural and systemic racism are deeply ingrained in Calí. Many of the most aggressive cases of state violence have been carried out in neighborhoods with majority or significant Afro-descendant populations, treating communities as enemies of war. Historically, these barrios have suffered socio-economic exclusion, further entrenched by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural racism and state violence. Many barrio residents already were victims of forced displacement, having fled the armed conflict in the majority Afro-descendant regions of the northern Cauca Department, in which Calí is located, and the Pacific coast.
While official statistics do not reveal the proportion of Black victims in this current wave of police brutality due to a lack of disaggregated data, photos of victims clearly show the disproportionate impact on young Afro-descendant men.
Racial profiling not only underpins state violence, but is central in the denial of state responsibility and impunity. Already, discussions around existing gang violence and urban conflicts are being used to question whether many of these young men participated in the protests or were delinquents killed in the context of the everyday violence in their communities. This discourse no doubt seeks to reduce the numbers of protest-related deaths, simultaneously justifying the deaths of young Black men. The first death registered in Calí took place in the majority Black barrio, Marroquin II, where a 22-year-old man was killed. But the military later denied his death was related to the protests.
Militarization, Imperialism and the Protests
The current situation in Colombia cannot be understood in isolation from the wider armed conflict and the ever-deepening neoliberal agenda supported and sustained by the United States and multinationals that feed off Colombia’s natural resources. U.S. imperialist interests in the region have been clear since the late 19th century, with the attempted invasion of Colombia’s neighbor, Panama, in 1885 and the start of the Panama Canal project in 1904. In 1948, the Organization of American States was created during a meeting in Colombia.
Colombia has been the strategic point for Washington’s political, economic and military operations in recent decades. Thanks to U.S. technical and logistical support, Colombia is now one of the greatest military powers in the region. With the 1999 signing of Plan Colombia and the 2002 Patriot Plan, U.S. military presence and influence has only deepened.
Further, U.S. military support has always depended on state policies that benefited U.S. imperial interests. For example, in 2009 the United States signed an agreement with the Uribe Government to be able to operate from seven Colombian military bases. Although this agreement was blocked by the Constitutional Court, the Santos government later arrived at alternative bilateral agreements. These enabled access and use of the bases in practice, and further facilitated the fruitless and dangerous strategy of spraying the herbicide, glyphosate, on illicit crops. All of this sustains the ideology of the “internal enemy” and the terrorist threat that underpinned the original emergence and expansion of paramilitarism in the 1980s.
It is precisely this paramilitarism model the Colombian state is using in the context of the current protests, particularly in Calí, where state agents, often without proper identification, collaborate with civilians to shoot and kill protesters from high-end cars. The Indigenous Guard, accompanying the protests in Calí, have suffered several attacks of this kind, most recently on May 9, when eight people were wounded.
This violent state repression is yet another consequence of imperialist intervention and the extractivist neoliberal project that uses militarism to eliminate a historically racialized population it considers residual as well as a threat to the capitalist, white-supremacist order.
Esther Ojulari is a human-rights and racial-justice activist and sociologist. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of London, writing on transitional justice and reparations for the Afro-descendant people in Colombia. She worked for eight years as a consultant in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Afro-descendant rights. Esther is currently Regional Coordinator in Buenaventura, Calí and Northern Cauca for the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES). She is a member of several Afro-descendant and African-led international networks and coalitions.
Harrinson Cuero Campaz is a Afro-Colombian rights activist. He is a Ph.D. candidate writing on sustainability in urban and regional planning for biologically and culturally diverse territories. He is a social activist and member of the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN, or Black Communities Process). Harrinson currently works as regional representative of Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) and as a coordinator for the formulation of the Special Territorial Plan of the District of Buenaventura 2021-40.
Now that my Toward Freedom guest editorship has come to an end, I am reflecting back on the stories we ran for the past 6+ months and the writers who wrote them.
The scenes coming out of Modi’s India and its pandemic nightmare have been particularly horrific, causing me to inquire about the health of Toward Freedom contributor Sanket Jain. Sanket is a freelance journalist based in western India. TF ran two of his stories in December and February about how India’s poorest citizens were barely coping with Covid. He emailed me back: “Fortunately, I am safe. For the past few weeks, I have been on the field documenting the disaster that’s unfolding in remote villages of India. Last week, I was shooting photos at the crematorium to see how many people have died of COVID because the Government is hiding official numbers. It’s a nightmare to see a human disaster unfolding at such a massive scale. From lack of oxygen, improper vaccination policy, COVID patients facing ostracism in the village, to frontline healthcare workers facing verbal abuse and even physical assault, India is witnessing a humanitarian crisis. I hope we come out of this disaster soon.”
Stay safe, Sanket, and keep sending us your stories.
Another writer who moved me deeply is Charles Wachira. His recent story on what’s happening in Uganda opened my eyes to what’s happening throughout much of Africa; the maintenance of dictatorial rule [e.g through the (truly) rigged election of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda] to ensure “stability” for resource extraction by foreign corporations. With remarkable patience in responding to my queries, Charles produced evidence that the Great Game for Oil is now on steroids in East Africa (much of which lies opposite the Red Sea – and Saudi Arabia.)
Fascinatingly, a similar situation is playing out in West Africa, as explained by Eric Agnero in his story on how President Alassane Ouattara was able to extend his unconstitutional rule over Cote d’Ivoire, aided and abetted by France and the United States.
I admit: I came into this job with a geopolitical perspective, one which is followed by most world powers as they survey entire regions for riches. I discovered it during decades of researching my new book on endless wars. You’ll find a geopolitical analysis reflected in my article on Afghanistan: If you want to understand the many wars that have swept through the Middle East, Central Asia, and now Africa, you need only to follow the pipelines and the oil schemes taking place right now. All this, despite promises by Big Oil to invest in alternative energy to slow down climate change.
Trend Lines in the TF Stories
Looking back, it was a privilege to be able to choose stories that reflected extraordinary, indeed history-making events between October 2020 and early May. Below, I will highlight some of those stories, as certain trends begin to emerge. Call them patterns of history. Ten years from now, you may want to look back on them as if they were diary entries of an unforgettable period in your life, featuring Covid 19, Trump’s defeat, the January 6 assault on the capitol; the re-invigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd; the rise of the right wing in the United States based on claims of voter fraud, the similar tactics used by Trump’s fascist allies abroad. Democracy v Racist Authoritarianism is one overriding theme. Look for others:
In October 2020, Toward Freedom ran stories on two historic elections. Olivia Arigho-Stiles’s article on the elections in Bolivia, which returned the MAS party to power, gave us some hope that massive turnouts could turn the table on authoritarian regimes. Meanwhile, in the leadup to the November elections in the United States, Harvey Wasserman and Greg Palast sounded warnings that voter fraud mechanisms were in place in Florida and Wisconsin. Who could have guessed that Secretary of State Raffensperger (or, as Palast calls him, Raffens-purger) would later emerge as a hero for upholding the integrity of Georgia’s vote for Biden, when in 2020 he was responsible for purging 198,000 names from the voter roles!
The big news in November 2020, was the defeat of Donald Trump thanks to the commitment of black and brown voters, who ensured “the largest turnout ever by U.S. voters in a presidential election.” We were so hopeful, I wrote back then. noting that Trump’s “multiple lawsuits claiming ‘voter fraud’ have been rejected so far by U.S. courts for lack of evidence.” As It turned out, Trump continued to use voter fraud to enrage his base…even against fellow Republicans. The fight against a fascist movement in America is far from over.
We also witnessed through the reporting of Serbian journalist Nicolas Micovec some tense super-power standoffs. In Belarus, a proxy battle by “the Western-backed Belarusian opposition” failed to topple President Alexander Lukashenko, who is still firmly supported by Russia.” In Nagorno-Karabakh, more deadly proxy battles were raging between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, where “the conflict is being carefully watched for two reasons: 1) its potential to spread beyond its borders, and 2) an underlying energy war between Russia, the US, and the European Union.”
In December 2020, we began to take stock of what the world would soon face with the new Biden administration. Climate change was high on the agenda, especially since the Trump administration in November officially withdrew the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement. Rashika Pardikar, an Indian journalist, wrote of the “responsibility to both undo the damage done by the Trump administration and do more to address climate vulnerability concerns, especially in the developing world.’ Especially, she notes, because “the US is responsible for 25% of global emissions.” And what could provide better evidence of the dangers of climate change than two horrific Category 4 hurricanes which slammed into Nicaragua and Honduras in November, two weeks apart? Toward Freedom contacted Dan Higgins of the Burlington-Puerto Cabezas Sister City program. His and others’ reporting helped raise aid for the people of Puerto Cabezas, where roughly 2,000 homes were destroyed, and another 9,000 properties were damaged. The article turned into a good opportunity for Higgins to reflect on the history of “Port,” whose “peoples, languages, culture and history [on the Atlantic Coast} are very different from the Spanish-speaking side of Nicaragua.” He writes that the issue of autonomy “continues to be a flash point in Nicaraguan politics, with differing interpretations of what autonomy means.”
Elections in Venezuela, another hot point in international affairs (due in large part to the Trump administration’s economic sanctions to bring about regime change), came into focus as CodePink sent reporter Teri Mattison to observe the country’s December 6 legislative elections. “The sanctions imposed on Venezuela are a form of economic warfare… meant to create hardship and unrest,” Teri reported. (The elections resulted in a victory for President Nicolas Maduro and his allies. The opposition, which boycotted the elections, claimed “election fraud!” Thanks to reporting from Peter Lacowski, “Cries of election fraud by Donald Trump and his followers are familiar to Venezuelans; their right-wing opposition has been doing the same thing for years.”
In January 2021, we focused on Trump’s lies about a “stolen election,” which triggered the right wing assault on the Capitol on January 6, causing TF to immediately probe for details. Jonathan Ben Menachem provided some shocking details in “Cops at the Capitol,” which revealed, “at least 26 sworn members of U.S. law enforcement agencies from at least 11 states have been identified by law enforcement agencies and local reporting as attendees of the Jan. 6 rally.” Alexander Hinton, in his evaluation of the raid, warned us –correctly as it turned out – not to underestimate far right extremists in the US.
The other big news of January, of course, was the Inauguration of Joe Biden, and “Why Poet Amanda Gorman Stole the Inaugural Show” with her reading of her newest poem, “The Hill We Climb.” We published her poem in full, noting that Gorman was about halfway through the poem on Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters stormed into the halls of Congress, some bearing weapons and Confederate flags. She stayed awake late into the night and finished the poem, adding verses about the apocalyptic scene that unfolded at the Capitol that day.” Her eloquent performance was a source of pride for the Black Lives Matter movement and its supporters.
By February 2021, Toward Freedom reported that Trump’s voter fraud allegations seem to have found a receptive audience with generals in Myanmar.Emily Blumenthalobserved “glaring similarities between the attempted coup in the US and the successful coup in Myanmar.” She quotes from the rightwing US group QAnon, which supported the coup: “The Burmese military has arrested the country’s leaders after credible evidence of widespread voter fraud became impossible to ignore…Sounds like the controlled media and Biden admin are scared this might happen here. “ An expert on Myanmar concluded, “Trump has given despots across the world fresh rhetorical ammunition to justify their authoritarian actions.”
If this weren’t unsettling news in the post-Trump era, our apprehension about Biden’s foreign policy turned to alarm after US forces bombed Syria in February. In their piece, Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies remind us that “the airstrikes were supposedly authorized by the 20-year-old, post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), legislation that Rep. Barbara Lee has been trying for years to repeal since it has been misused, ‘to justify waging war in at least seven different countries, against a continuously expanding list of targetable adversaries.’
In March 2021, Toward Freedom observed the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring with disturbing reportage about the least known revolts in Bahrain. Finian Cunningham reveals that “Western powers played a nefarious role to ensure that the Arab Spring was kneecapped in order to cripple any progressive potential.” In Tunisia, where popular revolts launched the Arab Spring, Alessandra Bajek provides an in-depth report, noting that “Tunisia has failed to make any substantial progress in the daily lives of its citizens as the country’s democratization is not accompanied by a socio-economic transition. Nor should we forget that it was the Obama-Biden administration that oversaw the Arab Spring, as well as the regime change in Libya, which devolved into a disastrous civil (read proxy) war, killing thousands with many more displaced. According to Mathew Cole, Blackwater mercenaries poured into Libya, portraying themselves as “unarmed logistical personnel being sent in to support oil and gas companies.”
In April 2021, Toward Freedom reported on escalated tensions between Israel and Iran, after Israel bombed Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Kim Zeterreports, “The sabotage seemed timed to send a message — both to Iran and to the U.S. and Europe. It occurred just days after talks began in Vienna to revive the Obama-instigated 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran to control its uranium enrichment production.” Fortunately, cooler heads once again prevailed, and the negotiations are continuing. There is even talk that Saudi Arabia and Iran have been holding secret talks.
The situation in Yemen, as revealed by William Boardman, is not as rosy as the Biden administration would have us believe. “Biden,” he writes, “promised that the US would be ‘ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen.’ Biden gave no specific details. The six-year bombing continues. The six-year naval blockade of Yemen continues. The humanitarian crisis continues, with the threat of famine looming. In effect, Biden has participated in war crimes since January 20, with no policy in sight to end the killing.” Long-time activist Kathy Kelley, worried that the American people were becoming desensitized to the killings in Yemen, reporting on a hunger strike taking place in Washington, DC. demanding an end to the war in Yemen.
Concluding Thoughts: The pandemic brought us many challenges. I, for one, was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to connect with writers from around the world from the safety of my own home.
Now that the pandemic is gradually lifting, I hope to spend more time promoting my book, which suffered greatly from being published during the lockdown. I wish all readers well as they hopefully recalibrate their lives toward a better future. Maybe a new Renaissance will be born out of COVID-19, just as the Renaissance emerged out of Italy’s Black Death in the 15th century. Let history—and science—be our guide, and may today’s movements –for democracy, justice and true equality—be our inspiration!