Living Without Shame is a Political Act

What we lost when we lost Fred Hampton

Every year on December 4th I tell people about what was done to the 21-year old revolutionary, Fred Hampton, by the government of America and his city of Chicago in 1969. But this year I wanted to talk about what Fred Hampton gave us before he was assassinated, and maybe what he could have given us if he’d lived.

The facts of the case are extensively stated elsewhere, and you can find them with ease. The simple version is this: Chicago police working with FBI went into the apartment he was in, and shot him repeatedly. They shot him until he was good and dead. But I don’t want to focus only on that, because it doesn’t do justice to Fred Hampton or what he was part of.

Hampton was a charismatic leader of the Black Panther Party in Chicago. The Black Panthers are a tough subject to this day, and there will most likely be people even in the comments of this article claiming that they were evil and violent and that their demise was justified. There’s a lot of reasons the greater portion of America would have hated and feared the BPP, and still does. The Black Panthers were communists at a time when communism was practically synonymous with Satanism in America. They were black liberationists at a time when much of white America was still freshly wounded by the loss of Jim Crow segregation. They refused to lay down tools of violence, originally constituting themselves as a party of self-defense particularly in areas where police brutality was killing black folk, and they frightened police with a promise that they’d shoot back.

But contrary to much of the narrative about them constructed in the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation against the BBP, the group wasn’t focused on violence. There were a few people unhinged, because there are always a few people unhinged. But on the whole the people who joined the BPP were utopian and revolutionary, and they spent more time, money, and energy building the society they wanted than shooting at the one that opposed them. They were politically astute and moral actors, setting up children’s breakfast programs and health clinics in cities across America. None more exemplified the hopeful and bright part of the Black Panthers than the brilliant Hampton, barely a grown man at the time. Think about what you were like at 20, and then think about a man without any advanced education, organizing in Chicago, coordinating aid, and uplifting people with speeches that would immortalize him and inspire generations.

Pretty good, right? He scared the living shit out of white people.

Whether Hoover and the other old guards of the white establishment were conscious of it or not, I believe the reason they hated the BPP so much, and Fred Hampton in particular, was that they refused to be ashamed. It was in everything Fred Hampton and many other panthers did. They didn’t dress in suits. They wore what they wanted to, groomed like they found themselves attractive as god made them. They spoke the English they used to communicate with each other, not the Ivy League dialect that helped make black activism easier to swallow for white folk. Their language was rich and evocative and brimmed with their emotions; a language that treated black people’s emotions as if they mattered. They celebrated themselves. Fred Hampton in particular thought so much of himself that he believed he had the right to be magnanimous to white people. He famously called for white power for white people, just one more category among many others, and invited us to be part of his vision for a socialist utopia.

He had no shame, he needed no shame. After hundreds of years of oppression he was happy to call all men his equals and companions, and afford to others the dignity he claimed for himself.

I don’t think it’s easy for most people to understand how much this would make powerful white people hate him. It is no mere repudiation of racism and capitalism. For people like Hoover, that old white establishment, it was an invalidation of reality, the order of things upended. It was worthy of any violence, any evil, to end that damned presumption, to put all the people back in their places. It was worth it to break all the laws and kill the motherfucker before he spoke another word to us, so that’s what they did. They took him away from the BPP, the black community, and the world. They tried to bury his name with him. They tried to bury his ideas and make them never matter, but in that, they failed.

Working in queer activism through the 90s, I started to understand the political mechanics of shame. As the co-president of my college’s LGBTSU, when the issue of what letters to add or subtract came up, I cut the conversation short by renaming our organization Pride. I wasn’t the first or only young queer activist to do this, the queer movement had learned the power of rejecting shame from black and feminist activism. Nothing about what was between our legs or what we did with our bodies was for you to judge. We rejected that judgement, and whether to talk about our bodies, our loves, and our sexy times, or not, became simply a personal choice.

I didn’t know about Fred Hampton, or the Black Panther Party, when I did that, but having learned my history, I don’t believe I would have had the tools to do it without them. I never became a communist or a socialist,and I don’t believe everything the BBP and Hampton did about the world. But I became a utopian, and I respect the heart it takes to be utopian. To act on being utopian makes you a revolutionary, and thus Hampton and the BPP were fated to live and die revolutionaries without their revolution. They paid terribly to give their ideas to the world. And none more than the brilliant, beautiful 21-year-old Hampton, assassinated in his sleep next to his pregnant partner, never to see his child in this world.

Every year I cry about that. Every damn year.

He’s good and dead now. I’m so sad that the old scared and twisted white men of power never let us hear him, see what he would have made. But we aren’t dead, and Hampton reaches across time to us through his speeches, through his particular utopianism, and charges us to speak our truths, without shame. To elevate each other in our endless varieties, without shame. To unashamedly fight for utopias and not settle for small lives. To believe without shame, to love without shame.


My work for Emptywheel is supported by my wonderful patrons on Patreon. You can find out more, and support my work, at Patreon.

Quinn Norton is a writer who likes to hang out in the dead end alleys and rough neighborhood of the Internet, where bad things can happen to defenseless little packets. She writes about hackers, humans, bodies, technologies, and internets.

“Useless in terms of… tactical details” -Stratfor

The Trump Trash Talking of Puerto Rico

This spot in our week here at Emptywheel is supposed to be a set aside for light hearted banter on sports, especially football and Formula One. That is what we have done since our beginning over a decade ago.

But I just cannot summon the enthusiasm for that right now any more than I could last weekend when the Trump racism and narcissism were already raging.

There are 3.5 million American citizens in the lurch in Puerto Rico, suffering from dehydration, starvation and death. Because of a fundamental lack of fuel to move, and communications to know, the full extent of the damage is still not really known.

So, what is the most powerful leader in the world doing? Tweeting a bunch of racially bigoted trash at the people and leaders of Puerto Rico. Here is what our disgrace of a President blasted off this morning:

That graphic was posted on Twitter by Josh Marshall of TPM, and his annotations are perfect.

Trump’s conduct is disgusting and unconscionable. From a man fiddling golfing while Rome burns Puerto Rico dies. What did the Mayor of San Juan, the largest population center and capitol hub of Puerto Rican government say? She begged for her people via a tearful plea to all of the federal government:

“We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy,”

That would be Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. She also had the temerity to call out Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke who made the horribly insensitive and asinine comment that Puerto Rico is a “good news story”. For seeking to keep her constituents from dying and calling bullshit on the actual bullshit of Elaine Duke, Trump now thinks Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz is the functional equivalent of Kim Jong-Un. Even insanity has rarely run this far amok.

Where will you find Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz? Perhaps there is a photo somewhere in an office, but since the Puerto Rican crisis began, I have never seen her portrayed by the press, or anybody else, as being anything other than tirelessly out in the streets and flooded destroyed neighborhoods with her devastated constituents. Like a real leader would be. This photo is indicative:

Remember General Russell Honore, who brought some long past due seriousness and reality to Katrina in NOLA? He is in San Juan now. Here is what he had to say when questioned on Trump’s attack on the Mayor:

“The mayor’s living on a cot and I hope the President has a good day at golf.”

Can’t argue with that. Maybe Trump can secretly meet with the Puerto Rican bondholders he so cherishes that put their craven investments ahead of the lives of American citizens, while he is relaxing at his fucking golf resort this weekend. It is simply who he, and they, are. It should NOT be who we are though. This country is better than that.

I would also like to, again, point out that the much ballyhooed by Sarah Sanders and Trump Administration “Jones Act Waiver was a complete fraud and sham on the press, public and, most of all, people of Puerto Rico. There are effectively little more than SEVEN days left on Trump’s bogus waiver and gift to craven bondholders and rapacious shippers. Trump insured he got good press for a news cycle and completely stiffed Puerto Rico of any meaningful assistance via relief from the hideously oppressive Jones Act. Heckuva job Trumpie.

If you want a couple of fantastic pieces of reportage on Puerto Rico today, go see the Washington Post piece “Lost weekend: How Trump’s time at his golf club hurt the response to Maria” as well as the superb interactive overview from the New York Times, “One Day in the Life of Battered Puerto Rico”. You will be better for having seen both.

As to the games. Eh, Pirate Mike Leach and Washington State pulled off a serious upset of USC last night. Leach had his usual awesome take. As to the NFL, the focus seems to be more on the pre-game than the real games. I will note that Tom Brady’s first start was 16 years ago today. The Patriots have since won 5 Super Bowls, 14 AFC East titles and 185 of his 238 starts. Kid can play ball. Also, this weekend is the Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit. Hamilton takes pole and Vettel starts at back of the grid due to a bad engine. That likely ends the Drivers’ Championship battle for yet another year.

That is it for today. Rock on, and put the thoughts of our fellow citizens of Puerto Rico in your hearts.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

Despite Bill Clinton’s famous catchphrase that he rode to two terms in the White House, and despite its echo in the 2016 campaign when Trump voters were described as acting out of “economic anxiety”, politics in the United States in my lifetime comes down, first and foremost, to racism. Yes, in Trump’s case and for most Republicans in office, there is a hefty dose of misogyny mixed in, but the animus against those who are not old, rich, white males unites their hatred.

Russia affected the 2016 contest. Clearly. But one of their primary tools was to stoke racial animus. Another huge impact on the actual outcome of the election was the outright suppression of minority votes by Republicans. It now appears that they may well have tipped the Wisconsin vote through suppression. And all those millions of votes for Trump, in the end, amount to nothing more than a huge endorsement of his outright racism. In the end, they came out on top with a little help from Republican policies expressly developed to prevent minorities from voting.

Trump is America’s racism unmasked and he would not be President if there weren’t a huge racist component to American culture today. The primary home for that racism is the Republican party.

The last few days have shown Trump revealing both his deep-seated racism and his cynical understanding that virtually his only support now is rooted in America’s racism. He tried his best to make his response to NFL protests be about the flag and patriotism. But that is most definitely NOT what Colin Kaepernick was protesting when he started this movement in August of 2016:

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has willingly immersed himself into controversy by refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem in protest of what he deems are wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States.

His latest refusal to stand for the anthem — he has done this in at least one other preseason game — came before the 49ers’ preseason loss to Green Bay at Levi’s Stadium on Friday night.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Making matters even worse, NFL teams and even billionaire NFL owners–the very parties responsible for Kaepernick still not being on a roster despite abysmal quarterback play on several teams–came out with what some folks saw as admirable statements and actions in response to Trump calling for owners to “fire the sons of bitches” who kneel during the national anthem. The best response to that development came from Shannon Sharpe. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the entire statement, it is a thing of beauty and something that every American needs to hear:

So what are we to do?

First, those of us who carry the advantage of being old, white males who are at least comfortable if not rich must speak up every time there is an instance of racial injustice. Especially at the local level, when the police treat minorities without respect, make it known that this will not stand. Support larger groups that are working to promote racial justice.

But perhaps it is also worth taking look at our own lives. What aspects of our own lives help to perpetuate racial injustice? Even simple actions can accumulate. The next time you reconcile a credit card statement, take a look at your choices. Do you only eat at faceless chain restaurants? When was the last time you had a meal at a locally owned restaurant with a minority owner? Those are likely some of the best eating establishments in your town if you take the time to look around and try some new cuisines.

How about schools? Do you send your kids to private schools, most of which have been established to get around integration? Worse yet, do you send them to charter schools, which are set up expressly to take money away from public schools?

How about your place of worship? Is it integrated? Does it have any activities or programs aimed at racial justice?

One small action that I’ve decided to take is that I won’t watch another down of NFL football until Colin Kaepernick has been signed by a team.

Trump is the poster child for American racism, but we could all benefit from spending a little time thinking about our own roles both in how he came to be President and what we can do to make sure his sort never gets there again.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.