The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Issue no. 1063 — August 20 - September 3, 2018

Afghanistan Aflame

Aug 20, 2018

The U.S. war in Afghanistan has been raging for almost 17 years, the longest war in U.S. history. But this war is far from over. Look at what the news reported for just one day, August 15.

In Kabul, the capital, a suicide bomber detonated explosives hidden in his vest inside a classroom at a university preparatory course. The bomb killed 48 teenagers and wounded 67 more. This bombing is part of a wider campaign. With more than 1,000 schools destroyed and thousands of students killed, this is a war that has engulfed the entire Afghan population.

On that same day, 100 miles from Kabul, Afghan Army units, along with U.S. Special Forces and the U.S. Air Force, fought to take control of the city of Ghazni, an important urban center with 280,000 people. The insurgents had held the city for almost a week, a victory for them. In the battle, both sides destroyed big parts of the city. Hundreds of bodies rotted in the streets for a week or were thrown in the river. After the battle, most insurgents did not leave. They melted back into the population, ready to fight again.

Finally, in the north of the country, other insurgent forces destroyed an Afghan Army base and a police checkpoint. Out of a base force of more than 100 soldiers and police, only 22 survived.

And that’s just one day! Even U.S. government officials admit the war is getting worse, more violent and bloody, with more of the country aflame.

This war is stamped “Made in the USA.”

The U.S. military started this war in October 2001, when it decided to invade Afghanistan. U.S. officials picked Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries on earth, because it seemed like a convenient target to demonstrate U.S. military power, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks six weeks before.

But this invasion lit the fuse to a powder keg. It shattered an already war-torn country. It allowed warlords and gangsters on all sides, who hide their greed behind a thin veil of religious fanaticism, to tear the country apart.

Worst of all, this violence was fueled by outside powers, with the U.S. in the lead. The U.S. government has poured more than a trillion dollars into this war. That buys a lot of bombs and bullets. It also buys warlords and their armies ... at least for a while. Moreover, such U.S. allies as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as well as their rivals, like Iran, have gotten into the action, using Afghanistan as a proxy for their own power struggles.

How many times have we heard a U.S. president declare that they have achieved peace in Afghanistan? Bush did it at the beginning of the war. When Obama took office in 2009, he proclaimed that a U.S. military surge of 100,000 soldiers would do the trick.

Now it’s Trump’s turn. In August 2017, Trump announced that he was deepening U.S. involvement in the war – boasting that he will supposedly achieve peace through victory – and other nonsense.

Under Trump, the U.S. military dropped the most powerful conventional weapon in the U.S. arsenal. But even the U.S. military’s biggest bombs haven’t stopped the insurgents from gaining control over more of the country than ever before. On the contrary, the death and destruction of the U.S. war pushes more people to join the insurgents.

This war is not a mistake or an accident. The proof is all the other horrible wars in the region that the U.S. is involved in, such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, to name a few. These wars were started and continued by the U.S. and the other big imperial powers trying to impose their domination over an oil-rich and strategic region.

These wars are a cancer eating away at the entire world, including in this country. More generations will pay the price for this barbaric system until the working class mobilizes its forces to get rid of it.

Pages 2-3

“Bait Truck” Outrage in Chicago

Aug 20, 2018

Early in August, Norfolk Southern Railroad left an unlocked truck full of gym shoes on a neighborhood street in Englewood on Chicago’s South Side. It was a “bait truck” operation.

Subsequently, three men were arrested, two for breaking into the truck; the third was a deaf man who said he went into the open truck to find food.

Community activists caught on, and followed the truck, asking questions of the police who were hanging around nearby in unmarked SUVs. The activists asked questions that many in the community were thinking, like: “Why would you all do that in the hood, though?” Yes, why? Unemployment runs almost 50% for black men in neighborhoods like Englewood.

The activists’ video went viral on the internet, forcing the police and the railroad to shut down the operation. And, in face of that anger, the attorney general dropped charges against the three men who were arrested.

What Is a “Sanctuary City” Worth?

Aug 20, 2018

On August 1st, 15 police vehicles and 25 cops descended on a mini-mart in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, looking for counterfeit t-shirts, jerseys, hats, and other goods. In the process, ICE snatched up the uninvolved store clerk, a mother of three U.S. citizens who had been in the country for more than 20 years. Now she is scheduled to be deported.

Chicago politicians spoke out about her arrest. Even the mayor said that deporting this woman was wrong.

But in spite of their words, she is still being deported. And it seems like the CPD did not even break Chicago’s “sanctuary city” law. ICE routinely gets involved in counterfeit goods investigations as part of its “custom patrol” actions, working with local forces like the CPD. So ICE was already on the scene to arrest the woman, and CPD didn’t have to get its hands dirty directly.

Chicago is a “sanctuary city” – but what does that mean when the reality is, CPD works with ICE? Politicians like Mayor Emanuel pose as friends of “the Latino community.” Democrats speak out about how different things should be. But in real life – the deportations go on.

Yachts Trump Schools

Aug 20, 2018

Late in July, the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' $40 million yacht was vandalized at an Ohio dock. The crew of the 163-foot luxury vessel SeaQuest prevented further damage. Considering that DeVos and her husband are reported to be worth $5.1 billion, this damage, estimated at less than $10,000, is only “pocket change.”

Also, she does not have to worry about whether she will be able to sail while her boat is being repaired. She has nine more yachts and a yacht scheduler who apparently helps her to manage. She has two helicopters and several jets, in case she wants to fly instead of sail to a destination of pleasure. A gift buyer and a toy repairer help her in her daily chores.

DeVos is in Trump’s cabinet, appointed to head the Department of Education for the entire U.S. When interviewed by 60 Minutes, she acknowledged that she has "not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming," in her home state of Michigan.

Yes, why should Secretary of Education DeVos be worried about schools and students? Such filthy rich people have more important preoccupations such as yachts, jets, mansions, luxury cars and a lavish lifestyle comforted by important staff members like yacht schedulers, gift buyers and toy repairers.

The “Golden Years” Are More Like Lead

Aug 20, 2018

Newspaper headlines indicate that the economy is booming. But thousands of older people in the U.S. must not have seen the memo! According to a recent study, done looking at data on the age of bankruptcy filers going back to 1991, older people in the U.S. are filing for bankruptcy in record numbers.

Yes, some people are living longer and so their incomes have to stretch longer. But the main reasons for seniors’ financial problems are skyrocketing medical costs, pension reductions and no cost of living increases. Often seniors support both children and grandchildren financially, not only with housing, but with higher education costs.

And for thousands of people, there is no such thing as retirement. People are working all their lives only to find themselves poorer, and working into their 70s to make ends meet.

They say that the treatment of the elderly is a barometer of the overall health in any society. The U.S. is clearly in the intensive care unit!

We’re Always Told to Wait

Aug 20, 2018

A lot of attention has been put on the election primaries lately – much more than usual for mid-term primaries. News outlets and pundits – and, of course, Democrats – have pushed hard on the idea that voting this fall is absolutely necessary to see change, or to block Trump, or both.

And turnout has been higher than usual. In Michigan’s primary on August 7, for example, the turnout broke the previous record, set in 1982. Both total numbers and percentage are records: more than 2.1 million people voted, for a turnout of 29.7 percent. That is not very high, but it is a record for a primary. It’s been a similar pattern across the country – so clearly, the push has seen a response.

But it’s the same message we’ve always been given: Wait, now, until November. Vote for these new faces. Wait for them to take office, then wait for them to do something, and change will follow ... someday.

But the change never comes, whether Democrats are in control or Republicans are.

It’s a losing game for working class people. Elections don’t change things for the Working Class; waiting on politicians to do something won’t bring change – because both the Republicans and the Democrats support this system run by and for the rich. BOTH are parties of our enemies.

The ONLY thing that truly changes things has been when the Working Class has organized itself, and has moved massively, flooding the streets and shutting things down – factories, companies, whole cities. The only force the Working Class can depend on is ... itself, its own forces, its own organizations.

The Working Class needs its own party. We need to organize our own forces, to defend our own interests. Anything else is a distraction.

Trump's Space Force:
Star Wars Sequel

Aug 20, 2018

Early in August, Vice President Pence announced that the Trump administration is planning to create a military command dedicated to space under the title "Space Force," as the sixth branch of the U.S. military, as soon as 2020.

This announcement was immediately ridiculed among the media, becoming a rich source of jokes among comedians.

Such space age plans are not new. President Ronald Reagan started a program in 1983, under the title Strategic Defense Initiative, which was dubbed as Star Wars following the popular space fantasy movies. The fantastic sounding weapons, X-ray lasers, chemical lasers, neutral particle beams, hypervelocity railguns, etc. were purportedly developed by companies. More than $400 billion spending in today's dollars, and 10 years later, the Star Wars program was canned.

Trump's Space Force is apparently an attempt to raise the Star Wars program from the grave.

But, the jokes aside, this program would increase the tensions between countries and possibility of a widespread war. And the working class would dearly pay for it through their taxes and potentially through their lives, and the rich will get richer.

Los Angeles:
Officials Starve Schools of Money

Aug 20, 2018

Los Angeles public school teachers have been working without a contract for more than a year. Negotiations between the teachers’ union, UTLA, and the school district stalled once again last month, with union leaders talking about the possibility of a strike in October.

UTLA is demanding a 6.5 percent annual pay raise retroactive to July 2017, while the district is offering 2 percent – an effective pay cut in view of inflation. But besides pay, the teachers’ union is raising a series of other issues. UTLA says it wants to get rid of a section in the current contract, which allows the district to ignore class size limits. In L.A.’s working-class neighborhoods, high school classes with 40 or more students have long become a common sight. UTLA also points to a grave shortage of librarians, counselors and nurses.

Add to this a shortage of other school workers not represented by UTLA – classroom aides, custodians, maintenance and office workers – and it’s obvious that L.A.’s schools, especially those in working-class neighborhoods, deprive most of their students not only of an education, but even a safe environment.

Only 40 percent of L.A.’s high school graduates met the English proficiency level required by public colleges, and only 30 percent met the requirements in math. In other words, a large majority of Los Angeles public school students enter the work force without the most basic skills necessary in today’s society.

District officials’ response to all this is to plead poverty – despite a surplus of 548 million dollars, and 1.7 billion dollars in cash reserves!

Pages 4-5

A Catastrophe and a Warning

Aug 20, 2018

The following article was translated from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

The collapse of a highway bridge on August 14 outside the Italian city of Genoa killed dozens of people. It sparked outrage and raised many questions. How could they let a bridge that carries 25 million vehicles each year degrade to that point? Are the other bridges around Genoa in the same state of disrepair? What about in the rest of the country, and in other similar countries?

Opened to big fanfare in 1967 because it helped reduce congestion in Genoa, the bridge was known for its structural defects. Two years ago, an engineering expert on reinforced concrete said that the bridge needed to be demolished and replaced. The trust Benetton was the principal investor in the private company that managed the bridge, Autostrade per l’Italia. It finally put out a call for bids to repair the bridge, it certainly did not hurry to get the work started. This did not keep its directors, a little after the accident, from declaring that they did all the necessary maintenance and safety controls, and, in sum, that there was nothing they could be reproached for.

The Benetton empire, one of the biggest financial groups in Italy, doesn’t invest in highways for fun, obviously, but in order to make profits. To seriously maintain the bridge or replace it would interrupt the circulation of cars and the flow of money. But the Italian Minister of the Interior, Salvini, did not say this, and instead blamed the bridge collapse on the cutbacks imposed by the European Union. This is a way to protect the interests of this financial group and clear his Italian allies.

The public authorities at every level, from the city to the central government, had many warnings, for many years. As in every country, they are responsible for maintaining public works and protecting the safety of the population. And, as in every country, from Germany and France to the United States, they have devoted public money more to giving gifts to the capitalists than to the general interests of the population.

The collapse of this bridge in Genoa illustrates the state of the capitalist world: monstrous parasitism by a few financial groups helped by the state produces rot and social degradation that leads to catastrophe.

Demonstrations against the Apartheid Law

Aug 20, 2018

Tens of thousands of Arabic-speaking Israelis protested in Tel Aviv on August 11 against the segregationist “nation-state law” making Israel an exclusively Jewish state.

One-fifth of Israel’s citizens speak Arabic. They were promised equality in the Declaration of Independence in 1948 but that was a lie. They are still considered second class citizens. Now this law passed in July authorizes segregation and discrimination against them. Hebrew is now the only official language, where before Arabic was also used. The law also allows building cities reserved only for Jewish citizens.

Protestors held signs in Hebrew and in Arabic calling for equality. There have been weeks of rallies, including by members of the Muslim Druze community who used to have more rights than Israeli Arabs.

Israel's right-wing path shows brutally how much all people living there – including Jews – suffer from the most backwards and racist ideas.

Hooray for Chinese Workers’ Struggles!

Aug 20, 2018

China Labor Watch recently reported on its study of 7,000 working class mobilizations in China from 2015 to 2017. These class struggles broke out both in heavily industrialized areas and in less industrialized areas, where the bosses impose lower pay. The most strikes were in the middle of China in Henan, in construction, transport, and distribution.

Chinese workers fight against exploitation in spite of repression, militants being arrested, and organizations being outlawed. Class struggle knows no borders!

A Barbaric World with 40 Million in Slavery

Aug 20, 2018

Almost 40 million people, in the world’s poorest countries, live in forced marriages or work in conditions of slavery, according to an Australian non-profit. The report issued in July denounces rich countries for their responsibility in these forms of slavery.

In the last 5 years, about 90 million people have faced these forms of slavery, some only for a few weeks but some for years. Some fishermen must remain on boats working off their supposed debts; some women doing domestic work in homes must remain because their employers have taken away their documents. People in all kinds of work are in this situation, both in industry and in agriculture.

Poor countries like Eritrea, Libya, Sudan, and North Korea are blamed for this barbaric treatment of their workers by rich countries. The corporations and their executives blame these labor conditions on the poor countries, though the employers are the ones actually responsible for allowing such working conditions.

Cell phones, computers, clothing, fishing – these are among the many sectors of world production that use such slave labor. The companies make enormous profits on such goods, estimated at a value of 300 billion dollars a year.

Capitalism also inflicts wage slavery on billions of workers – it’s a system that thrives by sucking the blood of its laborers, slave or not.

This slavery is not a survival from the past. It is the revolting world made by capitalism today.

The Fall of the Lira, Paid for by the Population

Aug 20, 2018

The following article is translated from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

Turkish president Erdogan habitually turns his back when he finds himself faced with difficulties. This is how he chose to respond to the pressures of the U.S., to the point of risking the bankruptcy of the whole Turkish economy.

A crisis of confidence swept the markets and caused a 20 percent drop in the value of the Turkish currency, the lira, in one day, and of 40% since the beginning of the year. It was sparked by a difference between Erdogan and the U.S. president. Trump wants Turkey to free an American pastor, Brunson, who has been jailed in Turkey for working with the clan of Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan claims Gülen was the inspirer of the attempted coup of July 2016, and wants the U.S. to extradite him to Turkey.

For Trump, an Uncertain Ally

But the conflict obviously has deeper causes. Under the direction of Erdogan, even though it is a member of NATO, Turkey has become a weak ally for the U.S. In Syria, Turkey has long supported jihadists and ISIS, while the U.S. has helped Kurdish militias. To assert his independence, Erdogan has improved relations with Russia, to the point of buying Russian weapons. Erdogan has also often bypassed the U.S. embargo against Iran, and, now that this embargo is again supposed to be vigorously enforced, he has announced his intention to maintain economic relations with Iran, which are essential for the Turkish economy.

These are things Trump cannot tolerate and that incited him to demonstrate to Erdogan that U.S. imperialism is still in command. Trump decided to double the taxes imposed on Turkish steel and aluminum imported into the U.S. Erdogan, in trying to assert the independence of Turkey, wants to show that he can play at Trump’s level, but the current crisis reveals his weakness. He has hardened the regime, intensified the repression, modified the constitution to reinforce his personal power and that of his clan, and practically imposed a dictatorship. He has launched giant construction projects including building a giant new mosque, a tunnel under the Bosphorus, and a third bridge over the straits, a new presidential palace and a third airport for Istanbul. But all this has a cost, and it’s being financed with foreign debt. And the banks, especially those in Western Europe and the United States, must be paid in euros or in dollars. In fact, U.S. investors own almost 25 percent of Turkish bonds and more than half of publicly traded Turkish stocks.

The success of the Turkish economy has been built on credit, and on the banks’ confidence in Turkey’s capacity to pay back its debts. Now this confidence is collapsing. For weeks, western capital has been fleeing the country, causing the fall in the value of the currency, an acceleration of inflation, and a decline in the buying power of the population, who find themselves less and less able to pay back their loans to the banks. The small and medium-sized businesses, who were credited with driving the Turkish economic boom, are also highly indebted and they must pay their debts with dollars or euros. They are at risk of bankruptcy with the fall of the lira.

Confidence Collapses, and the Population Pays

Erdogan might continue to insist that the whole crisis is nothing but a vast conspiracy organized by “the interest rate lobby,” and behind them, the enemies of Turkey, allies of Fethullah Gülen and “terrorists,” the term Erdogan uses for his opponents. Turkish media, which is totally controlled by the Erdogan clan, repeats that the economy is doing well. Erdogan threatens the U.S. that he might change his alliance. “They have the dollar, but we have Allah,” as he said in one speech. And he continues to call on the population to demonstrate its confidence by using its gold and foreign currency to buy Turkish lira. But it is not likely that this will work. In Turkey, you can find a foreign currency exchange on every corner, listing the growing value of the euro and the dollar in comparison to the Turkish lira, and therefore inciting people to sell their lira and cause the currency to drop even faster.

The crisis can be seen developing every day in the rise of prices in the stores and the growing poverty. The population started paying a long time ago, not only for the fight between Trump and Erdogan, but for the useless construction projects, for the disastrous military adventures, for the war in Kurdistan, for the corruption and outrageous living expenses of those close to the president. The Turkish people are at risk of paying even more dearly to reimburse the western banks. It is not clear how much longer Erdogan will be able to hide the fragility of his economy, and of his regime.

Pennsylvania Priest Scandal

Aug 20, 2018

For the first time ever in the U.S., a state-wide government investigation of the Catholic Church hierarchy was just completed in Pennsylvania. Two dioceses previously were looked at and now the remaining six dioceses have been investigated.

Survivors testified and mountains of church documents were reviewed. In the words of the grand jury report, “Individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability. Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”

The church hierarchy – these so-called “Godly men” – acted only to protect the reputation of the church. Pedophile priests were put on “sick leave” but later moved around. At the new parish, the abuse of children continued. According to the detailed records kept by the church, 300 priests abused over 1,000 children.

The report contained a mountain of atrocities, including priests who gave their male victims special gold crosses to wear so that they could be recognized by other abusers!

The Pennsylvania grand jury report is the latest in a decades-long series of cover-ups by the Catholic Church that came to light both across the U.S. and around the world. Victims have organized together to speak out.

What is being exposed in the Catholic Church is not just a problem within the Catholic Church. It happens in other religions and in other institutions. In capitalist society, the sanctity of institutions and their authority figures is the top priority.

In all of these abuse cases, the survivors are brave to speak up, young and old. The most recent grand jury report showed how church leaders discouraged victims from reporting the abuse, which caused a delay in victims coming forward.

Abuse survivors and supporters in Pennsylvania have announced a campaign to begin in September. They will begin a fight to have the statute of limitations on criminal and civil cases extended, so that their cases can be tried.

Pages 6-7

Rising Temperatures
– Catastrophic Weather

Aug 20, 2018

California, having lived through unseasonably hot and dry months, is today besieged by rapidly expanding wildfires.

The mid-Atlantic states have been hit by wave after wave of rain, saturating the ground, overflowing river banks, and destroying parts of some towns.

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Wisconsin were hit by storms with winds reaching near hurricane strength.

Crops in other parts of the Midwest were scorched, when temperatures ran 20 degrees above normal and the ground, starved for rain, was parched.

All these extreme weather events have one thing in common: they are related in one way or another to the steady rise of global temperatures.

Higher temperatures don’t create the same conditions everywhere, what happens depends also on the underlying conditions of any area, and the vagaries of the way that weather develops across a continent. In areas that tend to be dry anyway – like large parts of California – the increasing heat can dry out vegetation, creating conditions ripe for fire. In areas whose weather is directly affected by the Canadian jet stream, heat can cause large fluctuations in the jet stream, creating rapidly changing bands of weather, dropping monsoons over some areas, and scorching others.

There can be no doubt that temperatures are increasing. Decade after decade, annual measurements have shown the world’s temperature on the rise.

The increase may have been slow, and not very big – only a fraction of a degree in any single year. But the temperatures have been rising for many decades now. The total increase comes to not quite two degrees in the last hundred years.

Two degrees may not sound like much. But two degrees is enough to set California on fire, to send flash floods into Maryland and Pennsylvania, to dry out the Midwest corn crop – not to mention, to melt the polar ice cap and to raise ocean levels.

Two degrees on a thermometer translates into weather extremes and human catastrophe.

Capitalist Profit
– A Catastrophic Calculation

Aug 20, 2018

Large industries, which create the pollution that helps to increase the world’s temperatures, spend a lot of money to spread this foolish idea: “Pollution is the price we have to pay to live in the modern world.”

They want us to believe we can’t have steel and glass and plastics and smart phones unless we have pollution. They pretend that in order to have modern transportation – whether it be cars, planes or ships – we have to accept the toxic emissions that today come with them. They would tell us that all the modern appliances that make our lives easier – from washing machines to smart pots to coffee pots – can’t run without electricity, and electricity can’t be produced without the simultaneous production of toxic emissions. They tell us, we can’t have food without the use of fertilizers that damage the earth, run into waterways and turn parts of the oceans into dead zones.

That’s nonsense.

Modern life isn’t what creates the problem. Capitalism does. The very mechanisms of this capitalist system put the drive for profit before all else.

Why do people still die in factories? Almost every machine, every organization of work could have safeguards able to prevent so-called “accidents.” Why aren’t they installed? Some are. But only those that cost less to install than what would be paid out over time in medical payments and death benefits in case of “accidents.” If it costs the owners of a factory less to pay your family when they kill you than to guarantee your safety, they won’t pay to keep you alive.

Every capitalist enterprise has accountants who make calculations just like this.

They make the same calculation about the environment they are polluting. Which costs less: to scrub the fumes produced in steel production, or to settle a class-action suit? Underneath every calculation, lurks their real concern: how it will affect their profit.

The warming of the globe – produced by a century of pollution – is only a problem of cost for the capitalists. But their calculation of cost is a catastrophe for most of humanity.

East Coast Governors’ Finger Pointing on Pollution

Aug 20, 2018

The east coast storms had not even died away before millions of pounds of debris and sewage washed into the waterways that feed the Chesapeake Bay. For decades, the seven states surrounding the bay have been ordered to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus running into the water, pollutants that have led to dead zones and dead fish.

The governor of Maryland was quick to point the finger at the governors of Pennsylvania and New York. He argued the debris pouring through from a dam to the north of the state came from the states further north, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York. But Baltimore, Maryland is so far behind on fixing its water and sewer system that, after every big rain storm, millions of gallons of sewage-tainted water pours into the Jones Falls, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay.

The governor of Pennsylvania, admitting they were far behind in removing nitrogen and phosphorus from their rivers, pointed the finger at small farmers in the state. But he doesn't mention what fracking, a big industry in the state, does to pollute. He doesn't mention energy companies or DuPont, whose Teflon manufacturing plant released a known carcinogen into waterways around Horsham, PA.

The governor of New York talks about his state's clean water feeding the huge New York City area, which is true thanks to geography. But he does not talk about the clean-up of the Hudson River, polluted with deadly toxins from GE manufacturing nearby.

Finger-pointing is so much cheaper than making polluters clean up toxins and debris running into the waterways all over the country. And so convenient at election time when all three governors are up for re-election!

Page 8

Aretha Franklin – Artist and Voice for Freedom

Aug 20, 2018

Tributes are pouring in for the late legendary singer Aretha Franklin. Many certainly came from those in official positions and celebrities, but most came from people she grew up with and from all of the neighborhoods around the country. The strength of people’s feelings stems from the fact Aretha expressed, not only through her music but also through what she stood for politically, their feelings at a time of engagement and determination to fight for social change in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Aretha’s first hit single, her remake of Otis Redding’s song, “Respect,” hit the charts almost simultaneously with the eruption of the urban rebellion that occurred in Detroit in 1967. Like several of her records, “Respect” became an anthem, for black people and for women. Aretha transformed the point of view of Redding’s lyrics about a man expecting respect from his wife to that of a woman demanding respect from her man. Aretha’s spelling out of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and insistent phrases like “Give me my propers!” reflected women’s growing militancy and beyond it, the attitudes of the larger community demanding change.

Similarly, her hit “Think!,” was direct and to the point “You’d better think, about what you’re trying to do to me,” ending in a chorus of “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” It became an outcry of the wider population, shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Finally, in “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” she expressed an honesty and directness about the right of a woman to enjoy sex and life in general that was emerging following the stifling era of the ‘50s.

Aretha physically participated in the fight for civil rights. Her association with King alongside her father in marches is filmed and recorded. She gave benefit concerts and raised money to help out the movement. But her political involvement went beyond the King experience.

She had grown up and gained a training for both music and politics in the church of her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.

Reverend Franklin opened his church up for activists of many stripes to hold meetings there. Aretha absorbed the political feelings being expressed around her. Later, when Angela Davis was arrested, Aretha offered to post up to a $250,000 bond. She said, “Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free ... not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a black woman and she wants freedom for black people. I have the money; I got it from black people ... And I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”

Aretha Franklin was an extraordinary artist, one with a fabulous range of talents. Brought up in gospel which she put to use in singing R&B, she learned to sing opera, and performed with rock ‘n’ rollers as well.

To the end, Aretha never felt there was any place she went where she couldn’t be with ordinary people. She remained an advocate for her hometown of Detroit, where she grew up on the North End, with the likes of her friend Smokey Robinson.

Every generation has its music, but the music of Aretha resonates across generations and across countries because it came out of a deep and determined mass mobilization. It spoke to and of the masses engaged in a struggle in which they demanded respect, insisted on their freedom, and refused to be pushed back.

C.L. Franklin’s Stand for Justice
– A Piece of History

Aug 20, 2018

In 1969, The Republic of New Africa (RNA) held its first anniversary celebration at C.L. Franklin’s New Bethel Baptist Church. Armed guards were posted at the doors. When people were leaving, two Detroit cops pulled up, and according to RNA members, drew their weapons and started shooting because they were refused entrance. In the melee, one of the cops was killed and another injured.

The cops arrested nearly 150 people and held them incommunicado. When Reverend Franklin found out, he called in Judge George Crockett, a black judge respected in the community. Crockett first made a name for himself legally defending communists, including Coleman Young, during the McCarthy Period. Crockett immediately set up court at the police precinct, which led to all but a few of the RNA members being released the next day. It made Crockett a target for official recrimination, but it made him and Franklin respected representatives of the community into the future.