Tuesday, May 31, 2016

People Taking Charge: The Stonewall Riots


"It takes no compromise to give people their rights, it takes no money to respect the individual, it takes no political deal to give people their freedom, and it takes no survey to remove repression." - Harvey Milk

"From the time I was a kid, I have never been able to understand attacks upon the gay community. There are so many qualities that make up a human being that by the time I get through with all the things that I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it is irrelevant." - Paul Newman


         The Stonewall Riots were a series of unplanned protests and violent outbursts by citizens of New York City's gay community. The anger and frustration clearly visible in the riots were justifiably directed at the New York City Police Department. More specifically against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of mid Manhattan. This is, by far, is considered to be the watershed event that gave rise to the modern gay rights movement. Technically speaking, the police had a solid legal justification for raiding the bar. The bar was a well known Mafia establishment, which was serving liquor without a license, running an illegal gambling racket, and hosting a prostitution ring. Despite this, and with good reason, New York’s gay community had grown weary of the police department targeting gay clubs. New York City had very strict anti-gay laws, and as a result, a majority of the gay clubs prior this event had already been raided and closed. As soon as the police arrived, a crowd began to form outside the club. The crowd watched quietly as Stonewall’s employees were arrested, but when the police started forcing customers into a paddy wagon, the crowd began throwing bottles at the them. The officers were forced to take shelter inside the establishment, and two policemen were slightly injured before reinforcements arrived to disperse the crowd. The crowd, however, would not be dispersed, and the spontaneous protest spilled over into the neighboring streets. It was so raucous, in fact that order was not restored until the deployment of New York City's riot police. The riot was followed by several days of demonstrations all over the city. This incident was also the impetus for the formation of gay civil rights organizations like the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance, Lavender Menace, and STAR. It is also regarded by many as history’s first major protest on behalf of equal rights for the gay community.


        Prior to the Stonewall Riots, the gay community in the United States was not unrepresented. The Society for Human Rights was a gay rights organization established in Chicago in 1924. Society founder Henry Gerber was inspired to create it by German doctor Magnus Hirschfeld and his work with the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in Germany. It was the first recognized gay rights organization in the United States, received an official charter from the state of Illinois, and produced the first literature publication for the gay community, Friendship and Freedom. However, just a few months after being chartered, the group ceased to exist. This was, unfortunately, because many of the group's top members were arrested on charges of sodomy and immoral behavior. Despite its short existence and small size, the group is recognized to have contributed an early push for the gay rights movement. The Mattachine Society was founded in 1950. Harry Hay, and other members of the  Las Angeles gay community, founded the group to protect and improve the rights of gay men. To secure anonymity because of anti gay laws in California, they adopted an independent cell style structure. By 1961, as they expanded, however, they began to form more cohesive regional groups. In the early 1960s, the various unaffiliated Mattachine Societies, especially those in San Francisco and New York, were among the foremost gay rights groups in the United States. Beginning in the middle 1960s, however, things began to change. Especially, following the Stonewall riots. The Mattachine Society was increasingly seen as too traditional, and they were criticized for not being willing to get confrontational. No longer able to meet the needs of the gay community, the Mattachine Society eventually disappeared, replaced by organizations that were more willing to address the community's issues in the manner that they believed best suited their situation and social conditions. These organizations were also better equipped to get involved in the larger social upheaval of the day, opposing the Vietnam War and pushing for the advancement of the sexual revolution.


        The Daughters of Bilitis, more informally referred to as just the Daughters, was the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States. The organization was founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, in 1955. They had been together for three years when they complained to a gay couple that they did not know any other lesbians. The gay couple introduced Martin and Lyon to another lesbian couple, one of whom suggested they create a social club. In October, eight women met to provide each other with a social outlet. One of their priorities was to have a place to dance, as dancing with the same sex in a public place was illegal. It was recalled later that women needed privacy, not only from the watchful eye of the police, but also from gaping tourists in the bars and from inquisitive families. Although unsure of how exactly to proceed with the group, members began to meet regularly. Soon, they realized that it would be prudent to be organized, and they speedily elected Martin to be their President. From the start, they had a clear focus to educate other women about lesbians and to reduce their own self loathing brought on by the socially repressive times. The organization endured for fourteen years. During this period, it evolved into an educational resource for lesbians, gay men, researchers, and mental health professionals. Unfortunately, by the end of the sixties, it too found itself outmoded, and the organization was overtaken by the more militant organizations of the seventies.


        The Gay Liberation Front was formed in New York City in July of 1969, immediately after the Stonewall Riots of late June. It was discussions amongst the leaders of the local gay community immediately after the riots that lead to the formation of group. Mark Segal and Martha Shelley, both now known for their many positive contributions to the gay rights struggle, were among the group's founding members. As these leaders began to push the group's agenda, the word, Stonewall, became a rally cry for the people fighting for equality in the gay community. One of the group's first acts was to organize a march that would maintain and boost the momentum of the Stonewall uprising. Then, they started making demands. Their first demand was that an end be put to the persecution of the gay community. The group also developed a broad political platform, denouncing racism, denouncing the war in Vietnam, declaring support for various struggles in the developing world, and offering solidarity to the Black Panther Party. They took an anti capitalist economic stance, and they challenged the boundaries of the post World War II nuclear family, as well as, traditional American gender roles. Additionally, to supplement the marches held immediately after the Stonewall Riots and to commemorate the riots, themselves, Gay Pride marches were organized around the country and held every year on the anniversary of the riots. When the group stated that it advocated for sexual liberation, however, they were not just referring to the gay community. They were, in fact, advocating for all people. They believed that heterosexuality was a remnant of cultural inhibition and felt that change would not come about unless the current social institutions were dismantled and rebuilt without defined sexual roles. The idea was to transform the idea of the nuclear family into more of a loose affiliation of members without biological subtexts. Members were also active outside the group. Many were active in other anti war organizations, as well as, the latter stages of the Civil Rights Movement. Some members even got involved in other anti sexism movements. The only problem for the group was that philosophical differences amongst the leadership limited their ability to take action for the cause. By 1972, unfortunately, these differences came to head, and the group was subsequently disbanded.


         The Gay Activists Alliance was founded in New York City on December 21, 1969, just a week shy of the six month anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. It was founded by former members of the Gay Liberation Front who left the organization because of irreconcilable philosophical differences. The group's first president was Jim Owles. The group was incorporated by Hal Weiner of Coles & Weiner, a two-person law firm. This was after Weiner defended Sylvia Rivera in a criminal court proceeding after she was arrested in Time Squire. She was arrested for gathering signatures for a petition that proposed that the New York City Council pass legislation removing the city's legal restrictions levied against the gay community. She was charged with soliciting for the purpose of sex, and her civil right to petition was not recognized. Further, the corporate certificate application filed by Weiner was rejected by the New York State Division of Corporations and State Records, on the grounds that the name was not a fit name for a New York corporation. Their argument was that they did like the connotation in which the word gay was being used. They were also not happy that the corporation was being formed to violate the state's sodomy laws. The group had to weight another five years to receive permission from the state to incorporate under that name. Politically, the group wanted to form a single issue, politically neutral, social organization, whose goal it would be to secure basic human rights, dignity, and freedom for all gay people. The group was at the height of its activity from 1970 to 1974. However, they published their newspaper, The Gay Activist, until 1980. The group's most famous meeting place was the old firehouse at 99 Wooster Street in Soho. They occupied this building from May of 1971 until it was burned to the ground by anti gay reactionaries on October 15, 1974. Unfortunately, this group also eventually broke up because of philosophical conflicts. The group was dissolved in 1981.


         Lavender Menace was an informal group of lesbian feminists who banded together to protest the exclusion of lesbians and lesbian issues from the feminist movement at the Second Congress to Unite Women in New York City on May 1, 1970. The founding membership included Karla Jay, Martha Shelley, Rita Mae Brown, Lois Hart, Barbara Love, Ellen Shumsky, and Michela Griffo. They were mostly members of the Gay Liberation Front and the National Organization for Women. The story behind how the group got their name is an interesting one. The term, Lavender Menace, was first used in 1969 by Betty Friedan, then President of the National Organization for Women. She used it to describe the threat that she believed associations with lesbianism posed to her organization and the emerging women's movement. Friedan, and some other straight feminists, worried that the association would hamstring feminists' ability to achieve serious political change, and that stereotypes of mannish, man-hating lesbians would provide an easy way for men, and society as a whole, to dismiss the women's movement. The women that soon took Lavender Menace on as a badge of pride, got off to a quick start at the opening session of the congress. To make their presence known, they organized an outdoor demonstration that used humor and nonviolent confrontation to raise awareness of lesbians and lesbian issues. It was their goal to show that these were vital parts of the emerging women's movement. Next, they passed out mimeographed copies of "The Woman-Identified Woman," a manifesto of sorts, moved inside, and took the stage of the congress by force. Once there, they explained how angry they were about the exclusion of lesbians from the congress. A few members of the congress' planning committee tried to take back the stage, so that they could return the event to its original program, but they were soon forced to give up. The Lavender Menace would not yield the stage, and the audience was enjoying the excitement. The group and the audience then used the microphone for a spontaneous speak out on lesbianism in the feminist movement. Subsequently, several of the participants in the affair were invited to run workshops the next day on lesbian rights and homophobia. At the end of the congress, straight and gay women alike joined together in an all-women's dance to show their support for lesbian issues.


        The Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries organization, or STAR, was a gay and transgender activist organization founded in 1970 by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, both famous in the New York City transgender counterculture. Both founders were long term civil rights activists, and they were present during the Stonewall Riots, as well ass, the intense period of gay organizing that came afterwards. Johnson and Rivera were often homeless and both of them were part of the gay community at the Christopher Street piers. However, they were constantly vigilant; and when they could, they took in homeless gay youth, especially young transgender youth. They used to hustle the streets every day in order to keep everyone fed and sheltered. They also worked as hard as they did because they wanted to keep the younger members of their community from having to do the same things that they were doing. The group began as a caucus of the Gay Liberation Front, and with the help of that organization, they were able to create the STAR House, a shelter for transgender citizens that found themselves rejected and homeless. However, as time passed, the mainstream gay community moved away from confrontation as they pushed to show America that gays and lesbians could integrate into normal society without the apocalypse occurring. As a result, Rivera, in particular, often found herself at odds with the mainstream gay community, which practiced what she called, respectability politics. They, unfortunately, also contended that the transgender movement was misogynist. Despite this opposition, she continued to press for the inclusion of trans, and all gender nonconforming people, in the gay community and its social organizations. By 1992, however, the year that Johnson died, under what now consider to be questionable circumstances, the organization had faded.


        In the 1990s, the gay community's cause came to be referred to as the LGBT Movement. This, essentially, served and still serves as an umbrella designation for a multitude of organizations that fight for the rights of gay community in the United States. Among these groups are BiLaw, Marriage Equality USA, the Gay Straight Alliance, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Rights, and Equality Across America, as well as, many others. Also, by this time period, the LGBT cause had largely moved away from aggressive street demonstrations, and instead, moved its struggle into the court room. One by one, state after state repealed their anti gay laws. The biggest victory in the movement's history, though, would have to wait for the twenty-first century. Decided on June 26, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges is the landmark US Supreme Court ruling that determined marriage discrimination to be unconstitutional. The Court ruled five to four that no one's fundamental right to marry the person of their choice could be abridged, no matter the gender of the partner they choose. The Court ruled that this right is protected under the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Though this was a major victory and should rightfully be commemorated as big win for civil rights in the United States, the LGBT community's struggle for equality in this country is far from over. The latest attacks have been against transgender citizens. On March 23 of this year, the North Carolina legislature passed, State House Bill 2, or the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act. The bill was put together so quickly that many lawmakers had not seen it before it was introduced that morning, which is terrible by itself; however, worse, is what the bill does. It specifically bars people in North Carolina from using bathrooms that do not match their birth gender, and it goes even further. It also prohibits municipalities from creating their own anti discrimination policies. Instead, it creates a statewide anti discrimination policy that intentionally fails to mention gay, lesbian, and transgender people.


        North Carolina is not the only culprit. The state legislatures in Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas, among others, have brought similar bills to vote with varying levels of success. Thankfully, there have been public officials and famous personalities who have had the courage to speak up for the transgender population of the United States. Several musicians have cancelled stops on their concert tours in the states that are refusing to repeal their discriminatory laws, and Michael Jordan has threatened to move the Charlotte Hornets out of North Carolina if they do not repeal their law. More importantly, the Supreme Court may soon step in on the issue. The Obama administration has recently instructed the Justice Department to withhold millions of dollars in public federal funding from the states that refuse to repeal their discriminatory transgender laws. As a result, several states, including North Carolina, have brought a suit against the Obama administration to federal court, arguing that he is actually the one doing the discriminating. They argue that he is pushing an unwarranted intrusion of the federal government into state's affairs. They are, essentially, crying states' rights. It will, thus, be up to the Supreme Court, if and when the case reaches their bench, to decide which way the pendulum will swing in the LGBT community's latest battle against discrimination. Hopefully, the ruling will mirror the marriage equality ruling of 2015. If it does, a great deed will have been done for loyal Americans who have been fighting a long battle for equality in this country. If it does not, then this nation runs the risk of falling down a slippery slope, for, as the old axiom says, if even one citizen is robbed of their freedom without cause, then we have all been robbed of our freedom. The time spent and the distance traveled by the LGBT community, since June 28, 1969, is immense, and the roads traveled have not always been smooth, but things are looking up. Remember the Stonewall Inn!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

People Taking Charge: The Knights of Labor


"A deeply rooted feeling of discontent pervades the masses." - Terence V. Powderly


        The Knights of Labor, known officially as the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the nineteenth century. Its most important leader was Terence V. Powderly. The Knights promoted the social and cultural uplifting of the working man, rejected socialism and anarchism, even though many of their demands were socialist in nature, demanded the eight-hour day, and promoted the producers' ethic of republicanism, a contradiction that did not go unnoticed. As a labor union, they negotiated with employers, and as a social organization, they helped to organize workers into their own associated unions. Unfortunately, the Knights were never very well organized, and after a rapid period of expansion in the mid 1880s, they suddenly lost most of their new members and became a small operation again. The Knights were founded by Uriah Stephens on December 28, 1869. By 1880, they had reached twenty-eight thousand members members. Just for your years later, however, they had skyrocketed to over one hundred thousand members. By 1886, twenty percent of all American workers were affiliated with the Knights of Labor, ballooning the organization to nearly eight hundred thousand members. Unfortunately, their poor organizational structure could not cope with the overload, especially as they faced charges of failure from their members and charges of violence from the government. The failure of the Great Southwestern Railroad Strike in 1886 was the event that signaled the organization's decline. Their association with the Haymarket Square incident, later that same year, was another nail in their coffin. Most of their members dropped their affiliations by end of 1887, leaving at most one hundred thousand members in the organization in 1890. Many of them chose to join groups that helped to identify their specific needs, instead of the Knights who addressed many different types of issues. The final death blow to the Knights came in the form of the Panic of 1893. This financial panic greatly contracted the American economy and effectively eliminated any need for the Knights. They had also begun to see themselves slowly replaced by a new labor organization, the American Federation of Labor. Remnants of the Knights of Labor carried on until 1949, when the organization's last fifty member local dropped its affiliation.


         At its inception, the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor operated more as a fraternal organization than it did as a union. This was the idea of Uriah Stephens, the head of the Philadelphia Tailor's Union in 1869, and his two partners, Daniel Spahr and Sam Catri, the lead member of the union. At first, the organization remained a local affair. However, after the the collapse of the National Labor Union in 1873, the Knights were set to fill a massive vacuum. Thousands of workers were now looking for a new organization to represent their interests against their corrupt bosses. Unfortunately, Stephens was not prepared for the national stage. The Knights got a boost in organization and developed a national vision when they replaced Stephens with Terence V. Powderly. The Knights also got a boost in popularity in the middle of the 1870s when they assisted Pennsylvania coal miners face their bosses during the economic depression that was going on then. This gave them what they needed to spread to other regions of the country. The Knights ran a diverse industrial union open to all workers. The leaders felt that it was best to have a versatile population in order to get points of view from all aspects of the worker's spectrum. Its members included low skilled workers, railroad workers, immigrants, and steel workers. As membership expanded, the Knights began to function more as a labor union and less like a fraternal organization. Local assemblies began not only to emphasize cooperative enterprises, but to initiate strikes to win concessions from employers. Powderly opposed strikes, which he referred to as relics of barbarism, but the size and the diversity of the Knights afforded local assemblies a great deal of autonomy. Hence, strikes were a tool used by the Knights.


        By 1882, the rapid growth of the Knights had begun. In response to this, they dropped the pretense of being a fraternal organization and remove the words Noble Order from the title of their organization. This was also done to assuage the fears of their Catholic members and their church leaders, who wanted to avoid any resemblance to freemasonry. As has been noted, the Knights were initially averse to strikes as a method to advance their goals. However, the Knights did come around, and they helped with various strikes and boycotts. One of their most popular successes was the Wabash Railroad strike in 1885. Powderly finally supported a strike, and the Knights were successful in unionizing Jay Gould's Wabash rail line. After a meeting with Powderly, Gould agreed to call off his harassment campaign against the Knights of Labor. It was this harassment campaign that had caused the workers on the Wabash rail line to the strike in the first place. This victory and other simultaneous positive developments gave the Knights the momentum that they needed to expand even further. Thus, by the beginning of 1886, they had reached their height of over eight hundred thousand members. As they moved onward, the Knights' agenda was fairly straightforward. The pushed for an eight-hour day, they called for legislation that would put an end to child and convict labor, and they pressed for a graduated income tax. They were also eager supporters of cooperatives. Even more progressive for the day, was the fact that one of their officers was a woman. Leonora Barry worked as an investigator and described the horrific conditions in factories. She also reported on the abuse of women and children. These reports made Barry the first person to collect national statistics on the American working woman. The Knight's generally avoided getting involved in politics; however, Powderly was able to push a pro labor platform in the 1886 Mayoral Election in New York City, the city were many major companies kept their corporate offices.


        The Knights also made an asserted effort to bring people from many different cultural backgrounds into their organization. However, they were not exactly successful in this effort. They were extremely successful in uniting Catholic workers and Protestant workers. The Knights were appealing to these groups because various leaders in the organization were either Catholic or Protestant, so they could bring their group along. However, when it came to women and African Americans, they were less successful. It took them nine years to even partially incorporate those sectors into the organization. Once in the organization, though, they did advocate for the admission of African Americans and women into local assemblies. The biggest stain on their record in this area, though, was the toleration of segregation in the South. Locals in the South were permitted to exclude African Americans. To compound this, it was common for African Americans organized by the Knights to receive little to no help when local whites retaliated against strikers. Certain professions were also excluded from the organization. If you were a banker, a doctor, a lawyer, a stock broker, or a liquor manufacturer, you were not considered fit for the ranks of the Knights of Labor. Unfortunately, they same went for Asian Americans. The Knights strongly supported the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and in November of 1885, the branch of the Knights in Tacoma, Washington worked, in a failed effort, to completely the expel the city's Chinese population, who amounted to nearly a tenth of the overall population at the time, from the city. That, however, was not the worst of it. In 1885, the Knights local in Wyoming conflicted with the Union Pacific Railroad when they refused to do overtime work at the standard rate of pay. They wanted more pay for the extra time. Rather than pay the Knights a higher wage for the extra work, the railroad hired Chinese workers to do the extra work at half the cost. The aftermath of this slight was not pretty. The Knights committed an act genocide, essentially, historically known as, the Rock Springs massacre. They killed over one hundred Chinese laborers, and then forcefully drove the remainder of the workers completely out of the territory.


        The Knights of Labor also built up a strong internal social culture. Further, though it is often overlooked, the Knights also contributed to the tradition of labor protest songs in the United States. The Knights frequently included music in their regular meetings, and encouraged local members to write and perform their work. In Chicago, James and Emily Talmadge, printers and supporters of the Knights, published the songbook, Labor Songs Dedicated to the Knights of Labor, in 1885. The song, "Hold the Fort," also known as, "Storm the Fort," a Knights of Labor pro labor revision of the hymn by the same name, was the most popular labor song in the United States, prior to Ralph Chaplin's IWW anthem, "Solidarity Forever." Pete Seeger often performed this song, and it appears on a number of his recordings. Songwriter and labor singer, Bucky Halker, includes a slightly altered version of the song, entitled "Labor's Battle Song," on his album, Don't Want Your Millions, released by Revolting Records in 2000. Halker also drew heavily on the Knights' songs and poems in his book on labor song and poetry, For Democracy, Workers, and God: Labor Song-Poems and Labor Protest, 1865-1895, which was published in 1991.


        The Great Southwest Railroad Strike took place in 1886. It was a labor union strike involving more than two hundred thousand workers. It began on March 1, 1886, when railroad workers in five states across the US southwest struck against the Jay Gould owned, Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads. During the strike, at least ten people were killed. The strike, however, completely collapsed within two months. This was the event that led directly to the collapse of the Knights of Labor. The origins of the strike lie in a pattern of labor actions, negotiations, and temporary agreements made with Jay Gould and the Union Pacific Railroad, all throughout 1885. These arrangements included the stipulations that no man should be discharged without due notice, or without proper and fair investigation. This was purportedly violated when a Knight in Marshall, Texas, named Charles A. Hall, was fired for attending a union meeting while on company time. Local District Assembly No. 101, under the leadership of Martin Irons, chose, in protest, to call for a strike. Irons was a popular labor leader, and within a week, in solidarity, more than two hundred thousand workers were on strike throughout Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Texas. The strike made an immediate impact. A headline in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch read, "Traffic Throttled: The Gould System at the Mercy of the Knights of Labor." However, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen refused to honor the strike, and its members kept working. Further, Gould immediately hired strikebreakers to work the railroad. He also hired some Pinkerton detectives to work the rails so that they could be on site to resist any trouble that may be dealt about by the Knights.


        As of March 10th, no serious violence had been reported; however, one strikebreaker was assaulted in Fort Worth, Texas. However, as time went on, there were reports made of daring acts of sabotage. Some of the strikers were assaulting and disabling moving trains. There were also reports of threatening notes making their way to company officials and complimentary visits being made to engineers who refused to honor the strike. One incident got a particularly aggravated response on the national stage. A band of some six hundred Knights and additional sympathizers marched on a roundhouse in DeSoto, Missouri and drained the boilers in every engine they could find. This tactic was known as letting the locomotives go cold, which would then force the railroad to spend up to six hours slowly reheating the engines for use, thus, putting the company behind on freight deliveries and passenger travel. This did the job of bringing Jay Gould to the negotiating table. On March 19, 1886, Powderly, and other leaders of the Knights were invited to Kansas City, Missouri to meet with the state governors of Kansas and Missouri and senior officials of the Union Pacific Railroad. The goal for the governors and company officials, of course, was to bring an end to the strike. After two days of meetings; however, the parties were unable to reach an agreement. This was because Gould and his executives refused to meet any of  any striker's demands. Meanwhile, the violence escalated. On April 3rd, Tarrant County Sheriff's deputy, Richard Townsend, was shot and killed in a confrontation with protesters in Fort Worth, Texas. Two other deputies were also wounded. There was further violence on April 9th, in East Saint Louis, Illinois. There, eighty switchmen walked out on strike against the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, another line own by Jay Gould. Violence broke out when a crowd of the strikers met with eight deputies guarding a freight train. The guards shot into the crowd. They killed six strikers and narrowly avoided shooting the towns mayor, Maurice Joyce. The strikers responded to the unprovoked killings by burning the company's railyard to the ground.


        Fearing that these incidents would cause the violence to spread, Gould requested military assistance from the governors of the affected states. The Governor of Missouri mobilized the state militia, the Governor of Texas mobilized both the state militia and the Texas Rangers, but the Governor of Kansas refused to call up his state's militia. Local officials in his state reported that there had been no incidents of violence, which was contrary to claims from railroad executives that strikers had seized control of trains and that rail yards were burning. On April 26th, a freight train was derailed near Wyandotte, Kansas. The incident took the lives of two crew members who had chosen not to strike. They were buried in wreckage and mud on the banks of the Kaw River. The incident was claimed by Knight affiliated strikers. Subsequently, six Knights were charged with murder and destruction of private property even though the only evidence against them, testimony from a paid informer, was purely circumstantial. Soon after, in retaliation for the workers killed by strikers just days earlier, a striker named John Gibbons was fatally shot by an undercover Pinkerton Detective, masquerading as switchman, in Saint Louis, Missouri. This blatantly subsidized murder set off more violence against the company. However, as the violence spread, public opinion began turned against the striking workers. Additionally, the Pinkerton agents, with company approval, stepped up their attacks against the strikers, and this scared thousands of workers into returning to work. The strike was officially called off a on May 4, a little over a week after the Wyandotte incident.


        The failure of the great Southwest Railroad Strike represented the first major defeat sustained by the Knights of Labor. When the strike did not draw the support of the engineers and other industrial workers, the Knights' vision of an industrial union withered, as well. Internal conflict broke out between various factions within the Knights. This paralyzed the union and made any further actions difficult to implement. The great Southwest Railroad Strike, the Haymarket Riot, and the collapse of the 1887 Sugar Strikes in Louisiana, one last effort by the Knights to organize workers, demoralized the Knights of Labor and encouraged companies to push back even harder. Employers adopted a model for stamping out strikes that called for holding firm and relying on the use of government troops. By 1890, membership in the Knights of Labor had plummeted by ninety percent. While the collapse of the railroad strike set the American labor movement back, it also made the organizational problems of the Knights of Labor glaringly apparent to leaders, who previously, had not seen them. This, then, motivated Samuel Gompers, of the Cigar Makers Union, Peter J. McGuire, of the Carpenters Union, among others, to organize what they hoped would be a more effective labor organization. On December 8, 1886, Gompers, McGuire, and dozens of other delegates from former Knights of Labor affiliated unions met in Columbus, Ohio to create the American Federation of Labor. The Knights were now effectively non existent.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

People Taking Charge: The Underground Railroad


"I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more, if only they knew they were slaves." - Harriet Tubman


        The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by American Slaves in the Antebellum South as they sought to escape to freedom in free states to the north. There were even some individuals who made their way all the way up into Canada. The fugitive slaves, as they were referred to by the US justice system of the day, were able to do so because of the aid that they received from abolitionists and other allies who were sympathetic to their cause. The term, Underground Railroad is also used to refer to the abolitionists, free African Americans, and former slaves who assisted these runaway slaves in their quest for freedom. Various other routes led to Mexico or even overseas. An earlier escape route running south toward Florida, then a Spanish possession, existed from the late seventeenth century until shortly after the American Revolution. The network that is now generally known as the Underground Railroad was formed in the early nineteenth century, and it reached the height of its activities between 1850 and 1860. It has been suggested that by 1860, nearly one-hundred thousand slaves had escaped the oppression the Old South via the Underground Railroad. It is further estimated that over thirty thousand of these daring individuals successfully made it all the way to Canada, where slavery was prohibited by British law. The journey for these brave souls, no matter where they went, was not easy. Their lives were in constant danger, and their freedom was always in jeopardy as they ran from slave catchers. Numerous escaped slaves allowed their stories to be documented. Some of these are represented in the book, The Underground Railroad Records. The book was published in 1872 by William Still, an abolitionist who had been the leader the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, one of the groups that oversaw operations, when the Underground Railroad was at its height.


        From its pre American Revolution roots to its height of activity in the decade leading up to the Civil War, the Underground Railroad is estimated to have secured the escape of an average of one thousand slaves per year. During this period, no more than five thousand court cases for escaped slaves seeking their freedom were recorded. The rest either got away or were recaptured. The Underground Railroad's economic impact on the Southern economy was comparatively minuscule; however, the psychological effect that it had on slaveholders was immense. Under the legal conditions of the original Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, officials from free states were required to assist slaveholders or their agents in their efforts to capture their runaway slaves; however, citizens and governments of many free states intentionally ignored the law, and the Underground Railroad thrived. After intensive lobbying by Southern politicians, though, the Compromise of 1850 was passed by Congress. The law controlled the expansion of slavery, a good thing, but it also strengthened the Fugitive Slave Law, which was a very bad thing for the Underground Railroad. The new law compelled officials in free states to assist slave catchers by threatening them with criminal sanctions. It also gave slave catchers immunity for any deeds committed while in the performance of their duties, which out of fear of what they might do, further compelled officials in free states to assist them. 



        Another key point in the law was the fact that it required very little documentation to claim a person was a fugitive slave. Slave catchers, getting paid by the head, used this loophole to kidnap free men, especially children, and sell them into slavery. The fugitive slave section was included in the law because Southern politicians often exaggerated the numbers of escaped slaves. Further, they would blame these escapes on Northerners interfering with Southern property rights, a key contention in a Southern dominated Congress. The law also deprived suspected slaves of the right to defend themselves in court, which made it extremely difficult to prove their free status when their case was taken before a judge. Slave catchers, usually the agents of rich slave owners that could afford their services, were also known to bribe judges. For those judges that were not just outright bribed, the law created an incentive program for confirming people as runaway slaves. Judges, per the law, were paid a ten dollar service fee for a decision that confirmed a suspect as a slave; whereas, they were paid only five dollars for a decision that confirmed a suspect to be free. Thankfully, many people, whether they be judges, sheriffs, or other officials, still ignored the law and assisted, at great risk to themselves and their families, any an all slaves fleeing the South in their effort gain their freedom.


        The escape network that was the Underground Railroad was not literally underground, nor was it an actual railroad. It was figuratively underground in the sense that it could technically be considered an underground resistance. It was known as a railroad because of how it physically operated. The Underground Railroad consisted of meeting points, secret routes, various forms of transportation, and hidden safe houses. Each stop along the railroad was managed by an abolitionist sympathizer who worked much like a post master, receiving new arrivals and sending messages ahead to other stations on down the line. Participants generally organized in small independent groups. This allowed them to maintain secrecy and anonymity. They knew their part of the route, but little else. Escaped slaves would move north along the route from one way station to the next. Conductors on the railroad came from various backgrounds and included free men, white abolitionists, former slaves, and Native Americans. Church clergy and congregations often played a role, as well, especially the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers. Congregationalists, Wesleyans, and Reformed Presbyterians, as well as, certain sects of mainstream denominations, such as branches of the Methodist church and American Baptist church helped, as well. The most critical support came from free men who residents of the various locals around the Underground Railroad's stops. Without there help, as they could vouch for suspected runaways with the law, there would have been much fewer runaways successfully escaping to freedom.


         The reason that many people associated with the Underground Railroad knew only their part of the operation, and very little of the whole scheme was to secure their anonymity. This way people could not be cajoled into giving someone up, and they could protect themselves from any potential prosecution under federal law. Conductors led or transported the runaway slaves from station to station. When in the South, a conductor sometimes pretended to be a slave in order to enter a plantation. Once a part of the slave population on a given plantation, the conductor would work to direct as many runaway slaves northward through the Underground Railroad as they could manage. The slaves would then travel at night. Depending on the route they took, they would have to cover somewhere between ten and twenty miles between each station. They would stop at the stations or depots, as they were called, during the day to rest. A message would then be sent on to the next station to let that station master know that there fresh runaways headed their way. The stations were often located in barns, attics, under church floors, or even in hiding places like caves or hollowed out riverbanks. There was also a name given to people who gave money and supplies to the station master for operational assistance. They were known as Shareholders. There were also some biblical references used for some of the destinations along the Underground Railroad. Canada was referred to as the Promised Land because slavery was outlawed there, and the Ohio River was referred to as the River Jordan because it marked the boundary between the slave states and the free states.



        On the Underground Railroad, the modes of transportation used by the runaway slaves and their conductors varied. On occasion, they traveled by boat or train, but their normal mode of transportation was slow land based routes like trails or back roads.  On those routes, they would travel by foot or by wagon in small groups of one to three slaves; though, there were some groups that were considerably larger, especially when family units escaped together. Abolitionist Charles Turner Torrey and his colleagues took even large groups. They would rent horses and wagons and transport as many fifteen to twenty runaway slaves at a time. Ultimately, however, the majority of the successful escapes were made by individuals or small groups. Mass escapes did occur, though. The escape routes were often purposely indirect to confuse pursuers. However, the journey was often considered particularly difficult and dangerous for women and children. Children were sometimes hard to keep quiet or were unable to keep up with a group. In addition, female slaves were rarely allowed to leave the plantation, which made it harder for them to escape in the same ways that men could. Although escaping was harder for women, some women did find success in escaping. One of the most famous and successful conductors was Harriet Tubman, herself an escaped slave woman.



        As has been discussed, due to the risk of discovery, information about routes and safe havens was kept secret. Normally, information was only ever passed along by word of mouth. Southern newspapers of the day were often filled with pages of notices soliciting information about escaped slaves and offering sizable rewards for their capture and return. Federal marshals and the professional slave catchers pursued runaway slaves as far as the Canadian border. These things made the journey perilous to say the least. Even worse, considering how lucrative a business slave catching was, runaway slaves were not the only African Americans at risk from these slave catchers. The old south was in constant need of fresh labor. With cotton booming the way that it was, strong, healthy African American males in their prime working and reproductive years were seen and treated as highly valuable commodities. This put the freedom of former slaves and free African Americans in jeopardy, as well. There are multiple documented cases were free men were kidnapped and sold into slavery. The case of Solomon Northup of Saratoga Springs, New York is the most recently popularized case. Certificates of Freedom, or Freedom Papers, were signed, notarized statements attesting to the free status of individual African Americans.  The documents could easily be destroyed or stolen, and so even if someone was captured while in possession of their papers, the papers provided little protection to the free man or woman carrying them. The was especially true in the South, for once in the South, they would be marketed as a slave and thus, would not be able to defend themselves in a court hearing, if they were to ever be granted such a hearing in the first place. So, as is clear, anonymity on the Underground Railroad was crucial, especially for free men and runaway slaves.


        The business of selling former slaves or free men into slavery was unofficially known as the Reverse Underground Railroad. Along the Ohio River, in the southern regions of some free states like Illinois, Ohio, or Indiana, there were some communities that were sensitive to the Southern cause. In these communities, there were buildings specifically set aside for this dastardly business. The Crenshaw House, in far southeastern Illinois, is a known site where free men, specifically, were sold into slavery. Under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, when suspected fugitive slaves were seized and brought to a special magistrate known as a commissioner, they had no right to a jury trial and could not testify in their own behalf. Technically, they were guilty of no crime, but the marshal or slave catcher needed only to swear an oath that they were in fact a slave to acquire a writ of replevin for the return of alleged stolen or misplaced property. Additionally, Congress was dominated by southern Congressmen. They were able to gain this majority, despite low white populations, because of the three-fifths clause in the Constitution that allowed them to apportion additional representatives based on the number of slaves residing in their states. They passed the aforementioned Fugitive Slave Clause in the Compromise of 1850 out of their frustration at having their slaves led to freedom by sympathetic Northerners, former slaves, and public officials in the free states. This is what gave them the power they needed to return escaped slaves to their masters and empowered slave catchers to smudge the law when it came to kidnapping free men and selling them into slavery. Opposition to slavery did not mean that all states welcomed free men. For instance, Indiana, whose area along the Ohio River was settled by Southerners, passed a state level constitutional amendment that barred free men from settling in their state. Needless to say, this did not make the Underground Railroad's job any easier, but despite all of these increased threats, including natural barriers like swamps, rivers, and other obstacles, the Underground Railroad continued to thrive. Further, until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, for many slaves, this was their only pathway to freedom. There is no record of how many men, women, and children lost their lives during this perilous journey.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

People Taking Charge: The League of Women Voters


"To deny political equality is to rob the ostracized of all self respect." - Elizabeth Cady Stanton


        The League of Women Voters is an American civic organization that was formed to help women take a larger role in public affairs as they won the right to vote. Women justifiably wanted more say in the way that their nation was run. It was founded in 1920 by Carrie Chapman Catt. At the final meeting of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, approximately six months before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution gave women the right to vote, the organization was founded to continue the fight that had only just achieved one of many victories. The League of Women Voters, first, was considered a political experiment aimed to help newly enfranchised women exercise their responsibilities as voters. Originally, only women could join the league; but in 1973, the charter was modified to include men. It operates at the local, state, and national level with over one thousand local and fifty state leagues. The League of Women Voters is officially nonpartisan, though it supports a variety of progressive public policy positions, including campaign finance reform, universal health care, abortion rights, climate change action and environmental regulation, and gun control. Each of these issues involves the fate of women just as much as they do men, if not more.


        The League also sells itself as a watchdog of the voting rights of all peoples, not just women. As such, they sponsored the United States presidential election debates in 1976, 1980, and 1984. However, on October 2, 1988, their Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pull their support from the debates. Further, on October 3, they issued a press release condemning the demands of the major candidates' campaigns. Their President, Nancy Neuman, said that the debate format would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter and that the organization did not intend to become an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public. They were opposing legislative proposals that would limit the voting rights of certain groups. In 2012, the League helped to create National Voter Registration Day, a day when volunteers work to register voters and increase participation among traditionally inactive segments of the population. The League also sponsors voter’s guides like Smart Voter or Voter's Edge, which was launched in collaboration with MapLight, a non-profit organization that tracks the flow of money in Congress. The League lobbied for the establishment of the United Nations, and later became one of the first groups to receive status as a nongovernmental organization with the U.N. The League has also opposed voter ID laws and supported efforts at campaign finance reform in the United States. The League also opposed the decision in Citizens United v. FEC, and it very strongly endorses increased regulation of political spending.


        The League also pushed for adoption of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which requires states to offer voter registration at all driver's license agencies, at social service agencies, including those that provide public assistance, and through the mail. The League endorsed passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which banned soft money in federal elections and made other reforms in campaign finance laws. The League supports the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Kyoto Protocol, some of the most important pieces of modern environmental legislation. They also oppose the proposed Keystone Pipeline project. In January of 2013, the League urged President Obama to take action on global warming under his existing authority, the Clean Air Act of 1990, which the League supported. The League supports the abolition of the death penalty. It also supports universal health care and endorses both Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act. The League supports a general income tax increase to finance national health care reform. They are fighting for the inclusion of reproductive health care, including abortion, in any health benefits package that comes out of Congress. Conjointly, the League supports abortion rights and strongly opposed the passage of the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003; though, this did expose them to a great deal of criticism, even from members within the organization.


        As has been noted, the League of Women Voters was born out of the completed mission of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. This means that American women have been fighting for their rights since the nineteenth century. This parent organization was formed on February 18, 1890 to work for women's suffrage in the United States. It, itself, was created by the merger of two much older organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. Its membership, which was about seven thousand at the time it was formed, eventually increased to two million, making it the largest voluntary organization in the nation. Also, as has been noted, it played a pivotal role in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which in 1920 guaranteed women's right to vote. Susan B. Anthony, a long-time leader in the suffrage movement, was the dominant figure and first president of NAWSA.


        Carrie Chapman Catt, who became president after Anthony retired in 1900, implemented a strategy of recruiting wealthy members of the rapidly growing women's club movement. It was projected that their time, money, and experience could help build a stronger and more durable suffrage movement. Anna Howard Shaw, a physician, teacher, and pioneering Methodist minister witnessed this very thing. Her term of office began in 1904, and she oversaw strong growth in both the organization's membership and its public approval. Going back just a little bit into the past, after the Senate decisively rejected the first proposed, and solely, women's suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1887, the suffrage movement chose to limit its focus and most of its efforts to state suffrage campaigns. This remained the policy for some time, and they won the day in a strong way in places like Wyoming. However, in 1910, Alice Paul joined the NAWSA and played a major role in reviving interest in the national suffrage amendment. She, however, had a very narrow focus. She was interested solely in fighting for the right to vote at the national level. She felt that the NAWSA was wasting its time and resources on state campaigns. After continuing conflicts with the NAWSA leadership over tactics, Paul created a rival organization, the National Woman's Party. She focused all of her time and effort on working to influence politicians in Washington, DC. Her organization has since gone defunct.


        Carrie Chapman Catt was elected president of the NAWSA again in 1915. She was able to exercise pull on the board of trustees of the organization in ways that Paul was not. They adopted her plan to centralize the organization and work toward the suffrage amendment as its primary goal. This was done despite opposition from southern members who believed that a federal amendment would erode states' rights. With its large membership and the increasing number of women voters in states where suffrage had already been achieved, the NAWSA began to operate more as a political pressure group than an educational group, which was one of its primary missions at its foundation. It won additional sympathy for the suffrage cause by actively cooperating with the war effort during World War I. On February 14, 1920, several months prior to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, the NAWSA transformed itself into the League of Women Voters, as has been noted. The NAWSA, however, was not the first organization to fight for women's rights. It was actually born out of the merger of two older organizations.


        The National Woman Suffrage Association was formed on May 15, 1869 in New York City. The NWSA was created in response to a split in the American Equal Rights Association over whether the women's movement should support the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Its founders, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, opposed the Fifteenth Amendment unless it included the vote for women. Men were able to join the organization as members; however, women solely controlled the leadership of the group. The NWSA worked to secure women's enfranchisement through a federal constitutional amendment. The American Woman Suffrage Association was also formed in November of the same year in response to the same split in the American Equal Rights Association over the Fifteenth Amendment. Its founders, who supported the Fifteenth Amendment, included Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe, among others. The AWSA founders were staunch abolitionists, and strongly supported securing the right to vote for African American men. They believed that the Fifteenth Amendment would be in danger of failing to pass in Congress if it included the vote for women. The AWSA believed that success for women could be more easily achieved through campaigns conducted at the state level. As was just noted, these two organizations were still not the beginning of the fight for women's rights in the United States.


        The American Equal Rights Association was formed in 1866, following the conclusion of the US Civil War. According to its constitution, its purpose was to secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color, or sex. Some of the more prominent reform activists of that time were members, including women, men, European Americans and African Americans. Some of the of more prominent members included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass. The AERA was created by the Eleventh National Women's Rights Convention, which dissolved itself at its final meeting and formed itself into the new organization. Leaders of the women's movement had earlier suggested the creation of a similar equal rights organization through a merger of their movement with the American Anti-Slavery Society, but that organization did not accept their proposal. However, with the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the American Anti-Slavery Society was without a cause. Many of their members gravitated to the AERA.


        The AERA conducted two major campaigns in 1867. In New York, which was in the process of revising its state constitution, AERA workers collected petitions in support of women's suffrage and the removal of property requirements that discriminated specifically against African American voters. In Kansas, they campaigned for a referendum that would enfranchise African Americans and women. In both places, they encountered strong resistance against the campaign for women's suffrage. The resistance came mostly from former abolitionist allies, those who had not joined with them, who believed the measure to be a hindrance to the immediate goal of securing suffrage rights for African American men. The Kansas campaign ended in disarray and recrimination and created unfortunate divisions between those who worked primarily for the rights of African Americans and those who worked primarily for the rights of women. Worse, however, was the fact that it also created divisions within the women's movement itself. The AERA continued to hold annual meetings after the failure of the Kansas campaign, but growing differences made it difficult for its members to work together. Disagreements over the proposed Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would prohibit the denial of suffrage on the basis of race, was especially sharp because it did not also prohibit the denial of suffrage on the basis of sex. The final AERA meeting in 1869 signaled the end of the organization and led to the formation of the two competing women's suffrage organizations mentioned above. The bitter disagreements that led to the demise of the AERA continued to influence the women's movement in subsequent years, as has already been indicated.


        The National Women's Rights Convention was an annual series of meetings that was meant to increase the visibility of the early women's rights movement in the United States. Its first meeting was held in 1850 in Worcester, Massachusetts. The National Women's Rights Convention combined both male and female leadership and attracted a wide base of support including temperance advocates and abolitionists. Speeches were given on the subjects of equal wages, expanded education and career opportunities, women's property rights, marriage reform, and temperance. Chief among the concerns discussed at the convention, however, was the passage of laws that would give suffrage to women. In 1840, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton traveled with their husbands to London for the first World Anti-Slavery Convention, but the women were not allowed to participate. Mott and Stanton became friends, and together planned to organize their own convention to further the cause of women's rights. It wasn't until the summer of 1848 that Mott, Stanton, and three other women were able to call together the hastily organized Seneca Falls Convention. The Convention was attended by some 300 people over two days, including about forty men. The resolution on the subject of votes for women caused dissension amongst the attendees until Frederick Douglass took the platform and made an impassioned speech about freedom, equality, and the vote for women. The Convention's central committee was working on a Declaration of Sentiments, and it was his speech that got women's suffrage on the bill. One hundred of the attendees subsequently signed the Declaration.


        The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex. It was ratified on August 18, 1920. Until the 1910s, most states disenfranchised women. The amendment was the culmination of seventy plus years of work by the Women's Suffrage Movement in the United States, which fought at both the state and national levels to achieve the vote for women. It effectively overruled Minor v. Happersett, decided in 1875, in which a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give women the right to vote. Here is the sad part, the struggle for women in the United States is still not over. There are still glaring inequalities in areas like salary, rank and promotion, body autonomy, and many more, but the women struggling today should not be afraid; rather, they should take courage, for behind them, whispering in the wind, are the spirits of those women that came before them. These are the women who endured beatings in the streets at the hands of heartless police officers, who had dogs sicked on them during sit ins and marches, who were arrested and sacrificed their personal liberty even when others offered to help free them, who went on hunger strikes and were traumatically force fed by the police to keep them from giving up their lives for the cause, and who, against all odds, including the ravages of time, achieved what many had deemed impossible, the right for women to have a legitimate say in how they were governed. Though, there are many more battles still left to fight, one must observe that the war is looking better every day.

Friday, May 13, 2016

People Taking Charge: The Palestine Liberation Organization


Palestine National Security Forces

"It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinian Arabs much of what the Nazis did to the Jews." - Albert Einstein

"We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." - Nelson Mandela

"You can call me what you want, but I cannot act like nothing is going on." - Kent Allen Halliburton

       The Palestine Liberation Organization, or the PLO, was established in 1964 and has been the embodiment of the Palestinian nationalist movement ever since. At its first summit meeting in Cairo that same year, it was the Arab League that initiated the creation of an organization representing the Palestinian people. Not much later, the Palestinian National Council convened in Jerusalem on May 28, 1964. On June 2, 1964, at the conclusion of this meeting the PLO was formerly founded. Its stated goal was the liberation of Palestine through armed struggle. It was designed to be broad national front, or an umbrella organization, comprised of multiple organizations involved in the resistance movement, from political parties and popular social and military organizations to independent personalities and figures from all sectors of life. At the Arab Summit, in 1974, the PLO was recognized as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Since this time, the PLO has represented Palestine in organizations like the United Nations, the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, among many others. In addition to its broad national and political goals, the PLO has taken on many social responsibilities, such as the provision of public health services, public education, and family relocation services, among many others. However, the ultimate goal of the PLO is still declared to be the achievement of the national goals of the Palestinian people; which means, directly, it is their goal to achieve the independence of the State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.


        The ideology of the PLO was formulated in 1964, the same year, of course, as its founding. This ideology is outlined in the Palestinian National Covenant. The document is an intentionally combative and directly anti-Zionist statement dedicated to the restoration of the Palestinian homeland. Interestingly enough, the original document makes no reference to religion. In 1968, the covenant was replaced by a comprehensively revised version. The primary concept in the PLO's fundamental ideology is that foreign backed Zionists unjustly expelled the Palestinians from Palestine and established a Jewish state in its place without the consent of the people that they removed. Further, they justified this forced removal under the pretext of having historic and Jewish ties with Palestine, which the Palestinians did receive sufficient proof of. The PLO also demanded that all Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their ancestral homes. They expressed this in Article 2 of the Covenant, where they state, ″Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit." This meant for them, at the time that there is was place for a Jewish state in Palestine. Right up until 1993, the only promoted option was for the Palestinians was armed struggle. However, in 1993, the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement with Israel. This agreement was supposed to secure negotiation and diplomacy as the only methods of communication between Palestine and Israel. It has, obviously, not been successful.


         The PLO is constitutionally secular, as its dominating faction, the Fatah, but they are often individually contrasted to their more religious factions like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. All, however, represent a predominant Muslim population. The majority of Palestinians are Muslim. However, in the occupied territories, there are about fifty thousand Christian Palestinians and small percentage of Jews. This is among a population of about four million six hundred thousand total Palestinians in the occupied territories. There are roughly another half million Palestinian nationals dispersed around the world. This does not account for the descendants of exiles, who have since taken citizenship in other nations. The National Covenant, as mentioned, has no reference to religion because it was specifically intended that the PLO be secular. However, under President Arafat, the Fatah dominated Palestinian Authority, founded in 1994 to comply with the Oslo Accords, adopted the 2003 Amended Basic Law, which stipulates that Islam is the sole official religion in Palestine and that the principles of Islamic Sharia Law are basis of all legislation enacted by the PA. The constitution that was written up by the PA, but never adopted, contains the same provisions. At the time, the Palestinian Legislative Council, essentially the PA's Congress, did not include a single Hamas member, who many associate with the institution of Sharia Law. The draft Constitution was formulated by a Constitutional Committee, which was appointed with the tacit approval of the PLO. The 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords, however, deliberately detached the Palestinian population in the occupied territories from the PLO and the Palestinians in exile by creating a Palestinian Authority specifically for the territories. A separate parliament and government were even established. Mahmoud Abbas was one of the architects of the Oslo Accords. Many Palestinians, both at home and abroad, have question his actions since, even though he is the current President of the PA.


        Many in the PLO opposed the Oslo Accords, but both the executive committee and the central council approved the agreements, though by narrow margins. This marked the beginning of the PLO’s decline, as the PA came to replace the PLO as the primary Palestinian political institution. Political factions within the PLO that had opposed the Oslo process were marginalized. It was only after Hamas won the PA parliamentary elections in 2006 and 2007 that the PLO resurfaced. After Hamas took over the governing body Gaza in 2007, Abbas issued a decree suspending the PLC and some sections of the Palestinian Basic Law. He then appointed Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister. Traditionally, the PLO managed to overcome the separation by keeping the power of the PLO and the PA in one hand, Yasser Arafat. As of 2002, Arafat held the titles Chairman of the PLO, Chairman of Fatah, and President of the Palestinian National Authority. He also controlled the Palestinian National Security Forces. Abbas retains control of Palestine in a similar manner now, which is how he stopped Hamas from taking over the whole of the Palestinian government in 2007.


        The Palestinian Liberation Front was founded by Ahmed Jibril and Shafiq al-Hout in 1961, and enjoyed strong Syrian backing. In 1967 the PLF merged with two other groups, the Arab Nationalist Movement, also known as Heroes of the Return, and the Young Avengers, to form the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP was led by former ANM leader George Habash, but in April 1968 Jibril split from this group to form the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), which returned to the strongly pro-Syrian position of the former PLF. This eventually led to a reestablishment of the PLF because Jibril's PFLP-GC followed Syria into battle against the PLO in 1976 during the Lebanese Civil War. The two factions actually fought each other in open conflict. It was only after mediation by Yassir Arafat that the two organizations were able to reconcile. On April 24, 1977, survivors from both factions formed the new PLF. They chose Muhammad Zaidan, also known as Abu Abbas, and Tal'at Ya'qub as their new leaders. Sporadic fighting between members that did not wish to accept did continue. This included a bombing of the PLF headquarters in August of the same year. Unfortunately, two hundred people lost their lives.


        The leadership of the PLF was active in the PLO and Abu Abbas acted as their representative to the PLO's executive committee. Immediately following the PLO's signature of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which the PLF strongly opposed, Abu Abbas was convinced to abandon violence, and he acknowledged Israel's right to exist. The movement maintained offices in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, and Iraq, but its activities dwindled. The organization has not disappeared, but its home territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, its support has dwindled. The center of its strength lied in Lebanese refugee camps, where coordinated with the Fatah party of the Palestinian government to organize resistance fighters against the Syrian Regime and various Syrian backed militant bands. In November of 2001, fifteen members of a PLF cell were arrested by Israeli authorities. Some of those captured had received military training in Iraq. The cell had been planning attacks against Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Ben Gurion airport. The cell had already been involved in other violent activities including the murder of Israeli civilian Yuri Gushstein. During US bled, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Abu Abbas was captured in April of 2003, by US forces. He died, on March 9, 2004, reportedly of natural causes, while in US custody. It has been reported that some members of the PLF have since made their way into the ranks of ISIL.


        Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization  It has a social service wing, Dawah, and a military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and, since 2007, has been the governing authority of the Gaza Strip. Hamas was founded in 1987, soon after the First Intifada, a Palestinian revolt against Israeli occupation, broke out. It was as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and originally, did not hold an aggressive position against Israel. In fact, in the beginning, they were actually hostile with the PLO. Co-founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, stated in 1987, and the Hamas Charter later affirmed in 1988 that Hamas was founded to liberate Palestine, including all of modern day Israel, from Israeli occupation. They also vowed to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The group has stated in the past that it might accept a ten year truce deal, but this was only if Israel agreed to withdraw to the 1967 borders. They also had to allow all surviving Palestinian refugees from the 1948 expulsion, as well as any of their descendants who wished to, to return to what is now Israel. Hamas' military wing objected to the offer, even the agreement would not technically mean that they had formally recognized Israel or ceded ground in their fight for liberation. To this day, no such truce has been made, and it is quite clear that Hamas knows very well that the conditions of its truce offer will never be met by Israel. That is, perhaps, the point.


        The military wing of Hamas has launched attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. Tactics include suicide bombings, and since 2001, rocket attacks. Hamas's rocket arsenal, though mainly consisting of short-range homemade Qassam rockets, also includes long-range weapons that have reached major Israeli cities including Tel Aviv and Haifa. The attacks on civilians have been condemned as war crimes and crimes against humanity by human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch. In the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas won a decisive majority in the Palestinian Parliament, defeating the PLO-affiliated Fatah party. Following the elections, the Quartet (the United States, Russia, United Nations, and European Union) made future foreign assistance to the Palestinian Authority conditional upon the future government's commitment to non-violence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements. Hamas rejected those changes, which led to the Quartet suspending its foreign assistance program and Israel imposing economic sanctions on the Hamas-led administration.


        Having explored the present condition of the Palestinian cause, let us briefly review why they are in that condition. On May 14, 1948, in Tel Aviv, Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel, establishing the first Jewish state in 2,000 years. In an afternoon ceremony at the Tel Aviv Art Museum, Ben-Gurion pronounced the words “We hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, to be called Israel,” prompting applause and tears from the crowd gathered at the museum. Ben-Gurion became Israel’s first premier. Beginning in 1929, Arabs and Jews openly fought in Palestine, and Britain attempted to limit Jewish immigration as a means of appeasing the Arabs. As a result of the Holocaust in Europe, many Jews, fleeing the Nazis, illegally entered Palestine during World War II. Radical Jewish group, then, employed terrorism against British forces in Palestine, which they thought had betrayed the Zionist cause. At the end of World War II, in 1945, the United States took up the Zionist cause. Britain, unable to find a practical solution, referred the problem to the United Nations, which in November 1947 voted to partition Palestine, and asked the United States to lend military support. The Jews were to possess more than half of Palestine, although they made up less than half of Palestine’s population. The Palestinian Arabs, aided by volunteers from other countries, fought the Zionist forces, but by May 14, 1948, the Jews had secured full control of their U.N -allocated share of Palestine, as well as, some additional Palestinian Arab territory.


        So, here is what the Palestinians are faced with. A foreign international governing body, the United Nations, of which they were not a part, voted, in 1947, to arbitrarily partition their country. Further, the United Nations then handed half of the country over to European immigrants, next to none of whom knew the local language, Arabic, understood the local customs, or had ever even set foot in Palestine in their entire lifetimes. Then, the United Nations, backed by the United States and Great Britain, backed these foreign settlers with military might, and assisted them in the formation of a national government that did not involve the Palestinian people. This, however, was not the end of the situation for the Palestinians. Not only had a foreign power invaded their country and set up a foreign backed government, they now supported the expulsion of the local population from those towns and villages that were within the arbitrarily set boundaries established by those foreign powers, and this was done with the force of tanks, bombs, and guns. Those Palestinians that were not killed, either went into exile or were forced to settled in Gaza, the Golan Heights, or the West Bank. Since then, most of settlements in the Golan Heights and the West Bank have eliminated. Further, since 1948, nearly five and half million Palestinians have lost their lives and another seven million have been forced to abandon their homeland for destinations all over the world. Worse, the body count and refugee lists are still growing. How is this not an international human rights crisis?


        The very simple and quick answer is that the powers that be do not want it to be considered a human rights issue, so it isn't. The next question, then, is why is that? Let us take a stroll down history lane. In the middle of 1942, Adolf Hitler's Afrika Corps was on a dead run across North Africa. They were headed for the oil fields of the Middle East. In the north, they were trying to reach the oil of the Caspian Sea region. In Africa, Great Britain and the United States halted his advance. In the north, it was the Russians who did the job. Post World War II, a world hungry for oil looked upon the Middle East with greedy eyes. The now, Western Powers, decided to cooperate, but they needed an ally in the region. Hah! No one in this region was going to willingly help their former colonial masters! So, the Western Powers, with the United States and Great Britain leading the way, latched onto the Zionist Movement, and helped set up the State of Israel, which they, then, gave their full military and political backing. Before World War II, the governments the United States and the majority of the European nations did not give a damn about Jews or a State of Israel. They did not care until they needed it to help them get natural resources. Essentially, Israel has been nothing more than a tool of the Western economic powers. It serves as a buffer state to ensure that Western economic and military interests have a fall back point, just in case things get hairy elsewhere in the Middle East. Worse, it is the Palestinians that have had to suffer the consequences. Who, among us, would not be ready to go the same extremes, as have the Palestinians, if we were subjected to the same conditions with which they have had not contend for, now, nearly seventy years?


        So, considering the number of Palestinians that have lost their lives since 1948 and the outright theft of land that took place, this should be a serious international human rights issue! There is another reason, aside from the powers that be and oil arguments, why it is not, though. The arrow points straight at politics and propaganda. For the past, nearly, seventy years, anyone who has spoken out against the atrocities that have been committed against the Palestinians, has been labeled anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, or even a Holocaust denier or Conspiracy Theorist. For many years that has been enough for people to keep silent. Well, not so much anymore. First of all, lets dissolve the completely backwards assumption that calling out Israel for their actions in Palestine is Anti-Semitic. First, most of the Jews that suffered in the Holocaust, were European Jews, which means that their Semitic blood was actually drastically diluted. Studies have shown that only about ten percent of all European Jews were actual full blooded Semites. This basically just means most Jewish families mixed in with populations that they did business with, who were not Semitic. Second, the Palestinians are Arabs, and the Arabs are Semites just like the Jews, or Hebrews, as they originally called themselves. Further, most of the Jews presently in Israel come from these mixed families whose Semitic blood is drastically diluted, where as, the Palestinians are still living in their ancestral homeland. They are the true Semites in this situation. Who are the ones that are being truly anti-Semitic? That would be the Israelis. Look at the photos below. Which of these two men is actually a full blooded Semite from Palestine?


        If this makes a person anti-Israel that is a fair assessment, but that is not grounds to call them a Holocaust Denier or Conspiracy Theorist. It is a very distinct reality that the National Socialist German Workers Party, otherwise known as the Nazis, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, supervised the forced labor, starvation, and gruesome deaths of over six million European Jews. It is also known that the Jews were accompanied by the Roma, anyone of Slavic ancestry, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, the elderly, and many more. These people were funneled through over seventy facilities across Europe, the most notoriously famous facility being Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were forced to endure conditions that most people could not conjure up in their worst nightmares, let alone their waking hours. One's soul should cringe at the thought of the pains endured at the hands of the Nazi doctors who were conducting human experiments. This was a serious crime against humanity and anyone that tries to legitimately deny that it happened needs to dealt with harshly. Having said this, one must also very clearly state that the nearly seventy year long occupation of Palestine, by a foreign invader back by a foreign military power, has resulted in the very real deaths of over five million Palestinians and the forced exile of over seven million more of them. One must also note that the present condition of Gaza is like that of a massive outdoor prison, or Concentration Camp. The State of Israel is committing crimes against humanity on the same scale as was committed against them and their ancestors. The tragic irony in this situation is mentally painful, but it is a reality. To offer some final perspective, consider this last historical fact. Around five percent of the Palestinians that have been either killed or exiled since 1948, were religious Jews.