Eric Foner on 'Lincoln'- a history lesson, Struggles, New and Old, Emerge in Sandy's Wake
Why We Love Politics" (Op-Ed, Nov. 23):
By ERIC FONER
New York, Nov. 23, 2012
The writer, a history professor at Columbia University, won the 2011
Pulitzer Prize for history for "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and
David Brooks praises the new movie "Lincoln" for illuminating "the nobility
of politics" and, he hopes, inspiring Americans to reconsider their low
regard for politicians. The film depicts Abraham Lincoln's arm-twisting and
political maneuvering in January 1865 to secure approval of the 13th
Amendment, which, when ratified by three-quarters of the states, abolished
slavery throughout the nation.
This was indeed an important moment in political history. But Mr. Brooks,
and the film, offer a severely truncated view. Emancipation - like all
far-reaching political change - resulted from events at all levels of
society, including the efforts of social movements to change public
sentiment and of slaves themselves to acquire freedom.
The 13th Amendment originated not with Lincoln but with a petition campaign
early in 1864 organized by the Women's National Loyal League, an
organization of abolitionist feminists headed by Susan B. Anthony and
Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Moreover, from the beginning of the Civil War, by escaping to Union lines,
blacks forced the fate of slavery onto the national political agenda.
The film grossly exaggerates the possibility that by January 1865 the war
might have ended with slavery still intact. The Emancipation Proclamation
had already declared more than three million of the four million slaves
free, and Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia,
exempted in whole or part from the proclamation, had decreed abolition on
Even as the House debated, Sherman's army was marching into South Carolina,
and slaves were sacking plantation homes and seizing land. Slavery died on
the ground, not just in the White House and the House of Representatives.
That would be a dramatic story for Hollywood.
New York, Nov. 23, 2012
* * *
Struggles, New and Old, Emerge in Sandy's Wake
Nation of Change: 11/25/12
A month after Frankenstorm
w-the-1-created-a-monster> Sandy struck, battle lines are beginning to be
drawn in the wreckage along New York City's shores. The brewing struggles
are taking shape amidst the popular relief effort that sprung up immediately
after the storm, pitting organizers and thousands of newly-radicalized
activists against the effects of ongoing crises in health care, housing and
the environment. Alongside relief are the seeds of rebellion.
Veterans of the Occupy movement, calling themselves Occupy Sandy Relief
<http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/> , have been coordinating the delivery
of basic necessities to those in need, filling a void where establishment
first-responders - from city agencies to the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross - have fallen short. Michael Premo, who
began organizing with Occupy Sandy since the day of the storm, attributes
the campaign's ability to spread far and wide
<http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/occupy-sandy-map/> across the city to
activists' commitment to developing relationships with organizations already
embedded in neighborhoods where they operate.
"The focus from jump," Premo said, "has been how to identify local
leadership in collaboration community structures like churches in order to
build power citywide. Our lateral organizing structure has allowed us to be
nimble in a really dynamic way, to spread out across the city and connect
people." By rapidly turning new volunteers into volunteer organizers,
they've been able to grow quickly and inexpensively. But there are some
things that the Occupiers simply aren't equipped to provide.
Just a few blocks from where President Obama's helicopter touched
-the-rubble/> down in Staten Island last Thursday, an overturned hot dog
truck lay on its side at Robert Raimondi's front door, resting in sand from
the beach that used to be three hundred yards away. "Nobody's touching
anything," said Raimondi, "Insurance only covers foundation. They tell you
to go to FEMA. FEMA tells you to fill out a small business loan. So you get
nothing. You get no help other than volunteers."
On November 16, at a press conference on the steps of City Hall organized by
Healthcare for the 99% and other groups, medical professionals called for
city, state and federal authorities to step up relief efforts, rather than
continuing to outsource it to the improvised efforts of the Occupy movement.
Psychiatrist Sandra Turner with the group Physicians for a National Health
Program said, "Occupy Sandy has been out there from the very beginning
giving help. They've sent people out doing canvassing and trying to see what
the needs are of the people." But, she made clear, this is no substitute for
devoting the public resources necessary for meeting affected people's needs.
The speak-out on the steps of City Hall represents one of several pressure
campaigns that have begun sprouting up alongside relief efforts.
The debate in the Occupy movement around "demands
<http://wagingnonviolence.org/2011/09/the-demand-is-a-process/> ," once so
heated at the fall 2011 encampment in Zuccotti Park, has faded amidst so
many immediate and concrete demands that Occupy Sandy now confronts daily on
the front lines of the relief effort. The Occupy organizers in orange
fluorescent vests rushing around the relief hub in a church at 520 Clinton
Ave. in Brooklyn, or shoveling out sand from basements in the Rockaways, or
going door-to-door and delivering food to elderly residents on the upper
floors of the city's public housing complexes, are part of a maturing
resistance movement that is growing deep roots in communities across the
city. In some cases, they are even working closely with some of the same
people who conducted raids on Occupy's encampment in the Financial District
a year ago.
Occupy activist Yoni Miller described a recent meeting he attended in which
a representative of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office and the New York Police
Department were present, along with National Guardsmen and an aide to City
Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "It was really weird," said Miller. "They
were succumbing to meeting with Occupiers, this group they despise so much."
Join NationofChange today by <https://secure.nationofchange.org/?em=3>
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In the low-lying Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook, Occupy Sandy helped
reestablish the Adobo Family Health Center, providing generators and medical
equipment to the only clinic in the area. Occupiers then had to seek the
city's help to keep this medical lifeline going. City officials, Miller
recalled, "were harping on the different efforts that they were doing in the
Rockaways, medical-wise. But when we had very basic requests, like to have
one person to supervise 30 bed-bound patients, none of these power players
were able to meet that need."
A lack of basic health care for New York City residents existed before the
storm, and it is not the only crisis that Sandy has exacerbated. On November
4, Mayor Bloomberg told reporters that 40,000 people have been left without
shelter, nearly doubling the city's previous homeless population and
compounding an existing housing shortage. "We don't have a lot of empty
housing in this city," he said, "so it's really a problem to find housing
when we need it."
Kendall Jackman, an organizer with Picture the Homeless, wasn't convinced.
"We know there's vacant housing in the city, because here it is," Jackman
said, as she stood in front of a row of city-owned properties on 129th St.
in Harlem. Jackman pointed to the boarded-up doors with her cane. "They have
all these buildings that people could be living in," she said, "but instead
they're selling them to folks who are creating housing that we can't live
A study <http://picturethehomeless.org/blog/node/315> recently conducted by
Picture the Homeless and Hunter College revealed that there are enough
vacant properties in the five boroughs of New York City to house 71,707
people. What's more, the study only covers one third of the city; 39
districts remain to be surveyed. If vacant lots were to be factored into the
data, that would add potential housing for 199,981 more people. Picture the
Homeless is calling for the city to use the current crisis as an opportunity
to address the lack of basic housing that existed before the storm.
So far, according to Narlena Lunnon, the Bloomberg administration has been
putting "a band-aid on a band-aid." With three grandchildren at her side,
Lunnon, a resident of the city-owned development Red Hook Houses, addressed
those who were crowded into a classroom at Public School 27 in Red Hook on
November 14 - a meeting facilitated by Occupy activists. The New York City
Housing Authority (NYCHA) had been largely absent throughout the ordeal, but
recently representatives of the agency started to appear in the
neighborhood, posting rent slips to people's doors. The people in the room
were united and angry.
"Those temporary generators aren't going to do nothing," Lunnon said. "The
minute everybody plugs in the appliances they really need, the lights are
going to go right back out. Fire trucks are going by left and right. There
are sparks everywhere. I'm smelling gas all up and down the street. Nobody
will tell us nothing. Oh, but you want your rent though!"
After the applause died down, Lunnun continued. "I'm tired of the free
blankets. I'm tired of my grandchildren going to bed cold. I'm tired of old
people telling me they're hurting because they can't get up the stairs.
"If you can't get no officials down here," Lunnun told the Occupy Sandy
activists facilitating the meeting, "I got to go to City Hall and keep
It is in rooms like this that a push for a people's recovery is beginning to
emerge. At a follow-up meeting five days later, Red Hook residents put out a
call for November's rent to be waved and began plans for a rally to pressure
NYCHA into meeting their demands. While the effort is being spearheaded
largely by the Red Hook community, those living in public housing across the
city who lost power, heat and gas due to the storm are being encouraged to
That night, at a long table on the upper floor of Occupy Sandy's
distribution hub at 520 Clinton Ave., representatives of groups concerned
with the environment, housing, health care and other issues sat together
with people from several unions and Occupy Sandy. It was the first time that
many in the room had met one another. The meeting focused both on immediate,
on-the-ground needs and on laying out the basis for a recovery in which
workers are paid a prevailing wage and New Yorkers' essential needs are met.
The meeting was the first of its kind, but it will not be the last.
"There has to be some form of accountability," said Juan Carlos Ruiz, a
community organizer and pastor at St. Jacobi Church in Sunset Park,
Brooklyn, which became Occupy Sandy's first distribution center. He
expressed concerns that FEMA and the Red Cross would be withdrawing from
Coney Island and from other regions hit by the storm in the near future.
"They have all this money and resources but haven't been meeting basic
needs. We got folks out there without heat, without gas."
He raised other concerns as well, concerns which will surely be impacted by
how the city responds to this crisis: "What about renewable sources of
power? We can put solar panels on these roofs. We have an opportunity to
implement real solutions with a long-term vision."
Back in Staten Island, Robert Raimondi would have agreed. "Lets get some
solar, lets get some wind, lets get some help!" he said.
At the storm-ravaged YANA (You Are Never Alone) worker training center in
Queens, Occupy Sandy has already begun implementing
<http://www.localflux.net/PostView.aspx?id=211> the long-term vision Ruiz
spoke about. A week after it initially opened to serve the Rockaway
community, floodwaters from Sandy inundated the center's storefront
structure. YANA later reopened its doors as a relief center. Now, activists
have launched the "Restore YANA Project" and are rebuilding it as an example
of sustainable design that could be utilized across New York and New
Jersey's regions in recovery. They're treating the building for mold and
laying down copper pennies on the floor to trap heat. The lights are already
back on, thanks to solar power provided by Greenpeace.
Labor and environmental historian Jeremy Brecher suggests that the "social
self-defense" Occupy Sandy is currently engaged in is forging "a connection
between a set of values and political objectives and concrete daily life
problems that ordinary folks face."
Brecher tells a parable: A group of people are walking along a stream when a
drowning person floats their way. They pull him ashore and start delivering
artificial respiration when another body comes bobbing by. Just as they are
resuscitating that person, yet another body comes downstream. All of a
sudden one guy takes off sprinting upstream. "Hey where you going?" his
friends call out after him, "What if another body comes by?"
"I'm going to see who's pushing these people in," he replies.
While doing the hard work of resuscitating the city, Occupy Sandy is also
heading upstream toward City Hall and Wall Street, the forces it identifies
as having submerged the city in deprivation to begin with. Rather than
remaining splintered by the storm, communities are coming together to
support one another. These bonds forged through relief will be tested in the
struggle for a revitalized city ahead.
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