Monthly Archives: May 2008

Al Shanker and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Strike


[h/t A.L.]

Al Shanker and the Strike of 1968

By Daniel Treiman / The FORWARD / Fri. May 23, 2008

Forty years ago this month, the new community-controlled school board in the largely black Ocean Hill-Brownsville section of Brooklyn summarily dismissed 18 white teachers and administrators. The school board’s action led to a series of citywide teacher strikes that roiled a city already on edge and strained traditional alliances — pitting liberals against labor and blacks against Jews.

At the center of the storm was Albert Shanker, leader of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers. Over the previous decade, the junior high school teacher-turned-labor leader had played a key role in organizing New York City’s fractious teachers into a cohesive force and winning them the right to bargain collectively, finally taking the UFT’s reins in 1964.

A social democrat and staunch supporter of the civil rights movement, Shanker took a tough line in demanding the reinstatement of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville educators. He led New York City teachers out on strike not once, not twice, but three times in the fall of 1968, shutting down the public schools for a total of 36 days. Shanker faced down threats, intimidation and occasional antisemitic rhetoric directed at him and his heavily Jewish union by supporters of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville board — as well as an often unsympathetic response from local officials and much of the city’s liberal intelligentsia. In the end, he emerged from the strike a figure of national prominence.

Over the next three decades, Shanker would become a giant of organized labor and one of the most important figures in American education. In 1974, he was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers. From this perch, he helped forge the nation’s teachers into a political powerhouse, vigorously fought conservative efforts to privatize public education through vouchers, and emerged as one of the country’s most influential voices on education policy, marshalling his members behind forward-looking school reforms.

Even as Shanker stood astride two pillars of American liberalism — the labor movement and public schools — the 1968 Ocean Hill-Brownsville battle presaged other fights for the union leader. In the years that followed, Shanker stood out as an outspoken critic of emerging left-wing (and, eventually, liberal) orthodoxies on foreign policy, affirmative action, bilingual education and multiculturalism — earning him the lasting enmity of many on the left.

In an admiring new biography, “Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy” (Columbia University Press, 2007), education scholar Richard Kahlenberg tries to write the late labor leader back into the history of American liberalism. Kahlenberg makes the case that whether Shanker was fighting the right on behalf of trade unions and public schools or tangling with the left over foreign policy and affirmative action, ultimately his positions were rooted in a consistent liberal commitment to the principle of democracy. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, spoke with the Forward about the 1968 school strike and why Albert Shanker’s brand of “tough liberalism” remains relevant today.

[read it all]

Democratiya 13 (Summer 2008)


Somewhat related to the post below, the current edition of Democratiya (13, Summer 2008 ) contains some articles revisiting May 1968. I have not had a chance to read it but here’s what you’ll find:

Editor’s Page

Letters to the Editor

Russell A. Berman
Dick Howard
Philip Spencer
Fred Siegel
Eric Chenoweth
Marko Attila Hoare
Neil Robinson
Jason Farago
Matthew Omolesky
Gabriel Noah Brahm Jr.
Carrie-Ann Biondi
Cathy Lowy
David Hirsh
Robert J. Lieber
Mark Gardner/Dave Rich
Donna Robinson Divine
Lyn Julius
Rayyan Al-Shawaf
David Zarnett
Michael Weiss
Carl Gershman
Lawrence J. Haas
Eric Lee
Kahn and Podhoretz

Interview with Matthias Küntzel / Jihad and Jew-Hatred

Chomsky on May 1968 or was that 1973?


[h/t Oliver Kamm]

Noam Chomsky recently penned a short article on the 1968 uprisings for the New Statesman. In this article, the events of 1968 are presented as the impetus for human rights, “an international global solidarity movement,” and even environmentalism. In short, the social movements that exist today are a direct result of the events of 1968. But, given that this is Chomsky, he focuses less on what he views as the positive developments of the moment than the nefarious political forces operating behind the scenes. In standard fashion, he focuses on the actions of the Trilateral Commission.

The main gist of the piece is something we’ve been reading from Chomsky for a long time. Unaccountable political and corporate elites were outraged by the urban riots of the late 1960s (in Chomsky’s parlance, “too much participation of the masses”) and so they bolstered the institutions of consensual domination “schools, churches” to keep us in our place, etc. etc. etc.

Never mind the fact that—as Kamm points out, and is easily found on the organization’s website—the Trilateral Commission was not formed until 1973. Never mind that it was American voters who wanted law and order in the face of the “participation” that Chomsky lauds. But what is the matter of inconvenient facts to intrude on Chomsky’s scholarly interpretation?

We also get a glimpse into the myopic mindset of the radical left and what they view as democracy. Faced with a failure of a mass anti-war movement to develop, Chomsky notes:

[W]ith the Iraq War, opposition was there from the very beginning, before an attack was even initiated. The Iraq War was the first conflict in western history in which an imperialist war was massively protested against before it had even been launched…In 1968, it was way out in the margins of society to even discuss the possibility of withdrawal from Vietnam. Now, every presidential candidate mentions withdrawal from Iraq as a real policy choice…There is also far greater opposition to oppression now than there was before [emphasis mine].

I see absolutely no proof of this. If there was, people like Chomsky and his ilk would be speaking out and writing more about the actual large-scale human rights violations taking place on this planet in places like Zimbabwe, Burma and Darfur. Sometimes I wonder if these people are simply delusional or if they are being manipulative. Maybe it’s a bit of both.


Hitchens, Hymowitz, Stern and others in the City Journal (Spring, Vol 18, No. 2).

Jean-Claude Guillebaud, “France’s Bright Shining Lie

Perhaps more than an ambiguity, it was an irony of history. The real legacy of May ’68, as we see in France today, is individualism, the rejection of civic sense and ideology, the rehabilitation of the idea that personal and financial success is a worthy pursuit — in short, a revival of capitalism. To borrow an expression of Lenin’s, we were useful idiots. Indeed, the uprising was more a counterrevolution than a revolution.

Remember Their Sacrifice


Memorial Day is generally recognized in the U.S. as the moment when the summer begins. Families go to parks, the beach, the river, to barbeque and enjoy the nice weather. I started grilling on Friday night and have not stopped.

Of course the real reason for the holiday is recognizing the sacrifices of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, traditionally those who have given their lives. But we should also honor and remember those who have been physically and psychically maimed, who have lost eyes, lost limbs, lost memories. In Iraq today, more and more soldiers are surviving violent incidences that would have left them dead in previous wars. When they come home they need intensive physical and mental therapy and this often falls on their families.

Here are some of their stories.

Picking Up the Pieces

How Family & Faith Are Healing Veterans Home From War

Remember their sacrifices…

And don’t forget our Prisoners of War (POWs) and those Missing in Action (MIA).

Centrist Evangelicals in the USA


Centrist evangelicals lift their political voice

In 1973, 40 evangelical leaders gathered at a YMCA in Chicago to call for a movement against poverty, racism, sexism and violence. Their declaration was drafted by a young urban ministry activist, Jim Wallis, and signed by such evangelical pillars as theologian Carl Henry, a close ally of Billy Graham.

Time Magazine and the Washington Post described it as the social awakening of evangelical America. But a few years later, the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s conservative lobby, the Moral Majority, had taken over as the political voice of evangelicals.

Mr. Wallis attributes the juggernaut rise of the Moral Majority in 1980 to a deal between powerful conservative Christians, led by Paul Weyrich, and Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. In return for the candidate’s commitment on a few issues, including abortion, they promised to deliver votes and created a machine to do so.

Moderate evangelicals appeared silent because the media wasn’t interested in them, said the Rev. John White, president emeritus of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, and a president of the National Association of Evangelicals in the 1980s.

He recalls being invited, then disinvited, to represent evangelical policy views on a major national news program. The Rev. Falwell appeared instead.

The National Association of Evangelicals “was too balanced for [the media] in its views, especially as those related to politics. There were many statements of the NAE throughout the years of deep concern about everything from ecology to poverty to civil rights,” he said.

It’s widely believed that GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain alienated evangelicals in 2000 when he called the Rev. Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson, “agents of intolerance,” but Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illinois, doubts it, saying many of them agreed with him.

[read it all]

There is a related article in the Christian Post (Scholar Foresees Major Shift to Evangelical Center). Another excerpt:

Among the list of evangelical centrists are the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC); the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE); Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; David Neff, executive editor of Christianity Today; and megachurch pastors Rick Warren and Joel Hunter.

Furthermore, most leaders in Christian higher education and many individuals and groups in the evangelical relief and development community are evangelical centrists, according to Gushee.

“I don’t think anything will be, in the long run, more significant in American politics than the shift you see evident here today,” said NAE’s Cizik. “In terms of the shift that is occurring, I describe it as a slow moving earthquake. It is slow moving at times so you don’t see the consequences, but you will feel it.

“Those of you who observe the evangelical movement or are part of it need to understand it,” said Cizik, who wrote the forward to Gushee’s book.

The NAE leader who has been championing creation care at the ire of Christian right leaders said Tuesday that evangelical centrists such as himself are “re-visioning” the movement and attempting to “recast” what they are called to do.

He also said the religious right “missed” the big picture by only seeing part of it and predicted the next issue that evangelicals will tackle is peacemaking in the “broadest of sense.”

“The strategy is completely different, it is moving from a zero sum game politics – where someone else has to lose in order for us to win – to a common good vision,” Cizik said.

NHCLC’s Rodriguez echoed the sentiments of the shift towards the evangelical center:

“The future of evangelicalism in America is brown and it is center,” he declared. “It is not right or left.”

Rodriguez, who has been highly courted by presidential candidates trying to reach Hispanic evangelicals, said that historically white evangelicals have focused on the issues of marriage and life, or “righteousness and piety” issues. Meanwhile, African-American evangelicals concentrate on social justice issues such as health care, education, and poverty.

“And you have brown evangelicals and they really want to reconcile and they don’t want to be either, or – but be right here in the middle,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a platform of both righteousness and justice…It’s life, it’s marriage, but it’s healthcare, it’s education, and the issue of poverty.”

There was also this article by Rebecca Trounson in the LA Times:

A group of prominent U.S. evangelical Christians is urging other evangelicals to step back from partisan politics and avoid becoming “useful idiots” for any political party.

In an often strongly worded statement released this week, more than 70 pastors, scholars and business leaders said faith and politics have become too closely intertwined and that evangelicals err when they use their religious beliefs for political purposes.

About a quarter of U.S. adults call themselves evangelical Christians, polls show, and for the last 30 years, the “religious right” has been a reliable base of support for the Republican Party. But Christians from both ends of the political spectrum have made the mistake of politicizing their faith, the group declares in the document, called “An Evangelical Manifesto.”

Greg Warner of the Associated Baptist News (“Will ‘evangelical center’ emerge to rival waning Christian Right?”) asks, “how many evangelical centrists are out there?.”

Political scientist John Green, the preeminent researcher on evangelical politics, concluded that 10.8 percent of American voters in 2004 were in the evangelical center, compared to 12.6 percent of voters on both the evangelical left and evangelical right. But that doesn’t include African-American and Latino evangelicals, about half of whom are centrists. And those numbers likely have swelled in recent years if Wallis and others are correct about the exodus on the right.

Read More:

An Evangelical Manifesto

WSJ: Centrist Evangelicals Find Their Voice

Brooklyn Bridge Turns 125!


Read about the history of the bridge here.

[ Workers scaling one of the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge, 1881. Image courtesy of PBS]

Read about working conditions here. This is a snippet:

Soon after ground was broken on January 3, 1870, work on the Manhattan and Brooklyn foundations. The 3,000-ton pneumatic caissons – large, airtight cylinders in which workers cleared away layers of silt in an atmosphere of compressed air underneath the riverbed – were dug 78½ feet below the river on the Manhattan side, and 44½ feet below the river on the Brooklyn side. To expedite the descent of the caissons, dynamite was used for the first time in bridge construction. The foundations took three years to construct.

Life in the caissons was miserable. Immigrant laborers worked in the subterranean foundations, paid $2.25 per day to work in hazardous conditions without electricity, telephones or other conveniences. E.F. Farrington, the master mechanic working under Washington Roebling, described the inner workings of the caissons as follows:

Inside the caisson everything wore an unreal, weird appearance. There was a confused sensation in the head, like “the rush of many waters.” The pulse was at first accelerated, then sometimes fell below the normal rate. The voice sounded faint unnatural, and it became a great effort to speak. What with the flaming lights, the deep shadows, the confusing noise of hammers, drills and chains, the half-naked forms flitting about, if of a poetic temperament, get a realizing sense of Dante’s inferno. One thing to me was noticeable – time passed quickly in the caisson.

List of workers killed in the construction of the bridge.

[Fireworks photos are from the NYT]