Youth in Action

Racists given the boot in St. Paul

By ADAM RITSCHER

 

ST. PAUL, Minn.-Recently several Midwestern white supremacist groups, namely the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Minneapolis-based National Socialist Movement, announced their intention to hold a joint “White Unity” rally. The date they chose for this rally was Aug. 25, and the location was the steps of the Minnesota state capitol in St. Paul.

And so they came; proud of having accomplished this fiendish united front of racists, and anxious to flex their increased numerical muscles. When they arrived on the steps of the capitol though (all 32 of them, including two children), what they found was not a mass of whites thrilled to have been at last united under their leadership. Instead they encountered a loud and militant crowd of 2500 protesters of all ages and races.

Behind metal fences and a massive police escort, the Klan and their new neo-Nazi allies set up their podium and microphone, gave their speeches (which were inaudible over the chants of the crowd), and went home-leaving behind a victory not for racism but for its opponents.

The 2500 anti-racist protesters came from throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, with some coming from as far as New York. The largest contingent of protesters was made up of young people-especially college-age youth. Much of the organizing for the counter-protest, from leafleting on up, was also carried out by young people, a testimonial to our generation’s commitment against racism.

This positive fact, though, was greatly distorted by the local big-business media, who prior to the event predicted it was going to be a violent orgy of trouble-making “anarchists.” To this writer’s knowledge, no media outlet made the point of correcting itself when the protest proved to be a peaceful one, and one made up of people of numerous political persuasions.

As if to add injury to insult, one Duluth television station described the racist rally as one put on by the Ku Klux Klan and “socialists”! They conveniently neglected to make the distinction between socialism and “national socialism,” the term used by some fascists for their movement.

All told, the anti-racist protest on Aug. 25 proved to be a very powerful event. The turnout was far higher than most expected it to be, and the diversity of the protesters was much higher than similar protests have been in the past. Their message was heard far and wide.

The Ku Klux Klan has a long and wretched history in the Midwest. While today the Klan is a pale shadow of the mass movement of hate it was in the region in the 1920s, it is still alive, and still manages to propagate its racist, reactionary views to a certain layer of people.

For example, when Native Americans in the region successfully reasserted their right to spear fish on public lands in the 1980s and ’90s, the Klan was one of the players in the racist backlash that resulted in mob attacks on the boat landings.

The same is true of other right-wing fringe groups, such as the neo-Nazis. While these groups often come across as laughable caricatures of historic fascism, they are still too dangerous to ignore. The establishment of new neo-Nazi groups in Minnesota and Wisconsin in recent years (such as the Aryan Nations) are dire developments indeed.

In fact, it is in times of economic downturn, such as we see today, that such groups are sometimes able to catch some wind in their sails. Xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism-these are the scapegoating poisons that are the stock and trade of such groups. And as the ruling class increases its attacks on our standard of living and our democratic rights, all too often it will find the need to turn to groups such as the Ku Klux Klan to distract and divide us.

This is why it is important to mobilize in protest whenever racist groups attempt to raise their head. While some may argue that the best thing to do is to ignore them, and prevent their rallies from becoming newsworthy, it is a dangerous proposition to ignore fascism’s attempts to gain a foothold in our communities.

By mobilizing in opposition to the Klan and similar groups, we not only can block their efforts and send a message that they are not welcome, but we also can get an opportunity to politicize our peers by discussing the role of racism, and encouraging them to turn out in opposition to it. Let the Aug. 25 St. Paul protest be a model to follow.

New York unionists hold Charleston Five speakout

By MARTY GOODMAN

 

NEW YORK-On Aug. 23 labor leader Ken Riley addressed a lively solidarity speakout here to “Free the Charleston Five.” “It’s all-out war against the labor movement there,” said Riley, speaking of South Carolina.

The Charleston Five are members of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) who were framed on felony riot charges in Charleston, S.C., stemming from a cop attack on a peaceful picket against a ship using scab labor.

Ken Riley is President of ILA Local 1422 in Charleston. whose local sponsored the picket on Jan. 20, 2000. Four of the Charleston Five are members of Local 1422, which is 99 percent African American; the fifth is a white member of ILA Local 771.

The New York meeting was attended by some 200 supporters and was held at the hall of Transport Workers Union Local 100, the New York City subway and bus union. The event was sponsored by the New York City Charleston Five Defense Committee.

Riley explained to the audience how racism and union busting were central to the case. South Carolina is a “right-to-work” state in which union busting is legal. In the state capital of Columbia, the racist Confederate flag flies from the capitol building. Riley explained that just one week before the Charleston Five arrests, Local 1422 helped lead a march of 47,000 in Columbia against flying the flag.

At the dockworkers’ protest a week later, the 130 ILA picketers were met by some 600 cops in full riot gear with armored cars, dogs, helicopters, and concussion grenades.

Riley told the audience that tapes made during the picket clearly reveal the cops saying, “Bring it on, niggers, we’re gonna bust your heads tonight.” The police began their racist attack when cops singled out Riley, who is African American, and hit him in the forehead with a nightstick. An altercation ensued and five ILA members were arrested.

State Attorney General Charlie Condon has called for “jail, jail, and more jail” for the Charleston Five. The unionists have been under house arrest since the picket and face five years in jail. Their trial is expected sometime in November.

Since the arrests the Charleston Five have received support from the AFL-CIO, which helped sponsor a June 9 “Free the Charleston Five” rally of 5000 in Columbia. Riley reported that there will be an international day of action and protest on the first day of the trial.

Riley said, “There’s support around the world and in this country that is continuously building. We now have defense committees set up across the U.S.A. We came out of an international dockworkers solidarity conference called by the ILWU (International Longshoremen’s and Warehouse Union) two weeks ago in Los Angeles. There we had dockworkers from at least 18 different countries, with solidarity messages from even more countries than that. Represented were Brazil, Chile, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, France, Italy, Peru, Germany, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand.”

To loud applause Riley declared, “They’re saying that on the first day of the trial and during the trial there will be silence in those ports!”

To get your union or group involved in supporting the Charleston Five, call the Campaign for Worker’s Rights in South Carolina at (888) 716-7362. Send donations to the Dockworkers Defense Fund, attention Robert Ford, 910 Morrison Drive, Charleston, SC 29403. Website:www.charlestonfivedefense.org.