I was talking to my son today about the current news out of Baltimore. He is young still and taking history in high school, which is to say he is in an environment where (at last) some effort is being made to tie current events to their precedents. His high school experience is significant in that it is situated in the city, not in the suburbs. There is a racial divide in our town like there is in so many others, and it is reflected in the make-up of his school. I think he is aware of the impact Baltimore is having on a number of his classmates, but he is only dimly aware of the broader pattern.

So tonight, I walked him through what I could remember about similar events. A sense of scope and scale helps.

There were the Watts Riots of 1967. Lasted a week.

There were riots in 1968 in Louisville, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Chicago, Wilmington DE & Detroit as well as Baltimore after MLK was assassinated. They lasted at least four days. I recalled only they were wide-spread, but I had to look-up how much so.

There were the Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles in 1992 which lasted six days following the acquittal of the officers. I looked up the tape of the beating and showed it to my son. I let him make his own assessment of what the police did.  I pointed out to him that some states and municipalities tried shortly after that to make it a criminal offense to photograph police on duty. I remember that incident being the proximal cause.

We have now had the Ferguson unrest which has run a protracted period from August 9 to August 25 in 2014, and again in November 24 to December 2.

And now back to Baltimore, April 19 through April 25, and possibly beyond because the indictments brought down on six police officers are not verdicts. My sense of the situation is this: two years from now there will be at least four if not six acquittals—plus one more riot.

I don’t know about the media in your area, or the scuttle-butt at your local diner, but I know I have not seen a single article or news report that dares put these events into a single account, and I think there is a reason for that. I am only hoping that the teachers in high school make an effort to bring the headlines into the broader context it deserves, but I do not have to look far to see the resistance forming.

Friday morning, my wife showed me a flyer she had received in the mail. “Free-Tuition” for an online curriculum. Quality Education! Come to our free introductory seminar! Carolina Connections Academy, it said, and all the meeting locations were in the suburbs. I then turned to something I had read this past summer, Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error, page 185 to be specific.  Connections Academy is a vehicle of ALEC, not just here but in many states–New York, Tennessee, Connecticut, Florida.  You know ALEC, don’t you? (Ravitch lays it all out and I urge you to read it.

That same day, I read this in the Raleigh News & Observer, the paper of record for my general area:

State high school social studies teachers would be encouraged to use curriculum materials prepared by an institute funded by the conservative Koch family, under a proposal the Department of Public Instruction presented Wednesday. The Bill of Rights Institute, based in Virginia, had a $100,000, sole-source contract with the state to help develop materials for teachers to use in a course on founding principles that the state requires students to take. The institute was founded in 1999 and receives grants from David H. Koch, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, according to a website on Koch family philanthropies. The state Department of Public Instruction decision to “highly recommend” that school districts use the Bill of Rights Institute material comes as the state is embroiled in a controversy over teaching history – whether schools have students study the founding principles as the law requires, whether AP U.S. History meets those requirements and whether the college-level course developed by the College Board has a liberal bias. The 390-page founding principles curriculum includes readings, activities, questions students should discuss and references to online resources for the 10 principles described in a 2011 law inspired by proposed legislation promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group backed by major corporations.  (Read more here:

In the past week, I have listened to Chris Hedges speak about the tinderbox he perceives.  I have read Ian Welch who points out it only takes a few uprisings to realize that burning down your own neighborhood accomplishes nothing.  Martin Luther King was smart enough to lead his marches out from the ghettos, not march around in them.

Will history come alive?  If not now, when?




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  •    I think that the riots – like much of what occupies the news and our attention – is more a matter of symptom than cause. The impoverishment of the underclass, the under-education and mis-education of the populace the control of Mass Media, burgeoning attempts to control alternate media, total surveillance, the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a very few (well serviced by a professional ‘mandarin’ class), the exploitation of both the natural world and of people is not accidental. It is deliberate, and for very good reason.
       While one is often left wondering how some on the Right can be so ignorant (“Keep your hands off my Medicare!), the .1% are not stupid or ignorant. They know quite well the shit is going to hit the fan eventually and they are trying to do two things: delay the inevitable as long as possible and provide for their own security when it happens (by monopolizing wealth and power). It is no accident that the police have been militarized – it’s the ounce of prevention model.
       Recent centuries of plundering the world has led to severe overpopulation of the planet. When it comes to homo sapiens, the Earth is way beyond its carrying capacity and has been for some time. As Thomas Hardy’s character says in his murder/sucicide note, “Done because we are too menny”. The problem is not limited to the demise of cheap energy and won’t be solved by ‘going solar’ or more high-tech agriculture (with higher energy rerquirements) or ‘greener living’. To quote Steven Vincent Benet, “You will not be saved.”
       There will be a massive die-off of our species. It won’t happen in one massive catastrophe. Ecological niches collapse piecemeal, degrading in quality a little bit at a time until they are no longer sustainable. It’s not like all the dinosaurs woke up dead one morning. What we are seeing (and have been seeing for decades) is the beginning of the end of our economics, our society, our polity. This is what an economy looks like when it is collapsing, how a society acts when it’s failing, what what an empire looks like when the wheels come off.
       A text-book example of the process is what happened on Easter Island. Once discovered, the Polynesians established a culture appropriate to the time and conditions and the population prospered and grew. Eventually, they outgrew the island’s carrying capacity for humans. The soil was overworked as more land was farmed to support the growing population. When things got bad – one bad crop, one change in fish abundance, whatever the trigger – the society dissolved in violence and the population was severely reduced to small, warring bands.
       From ancient times to modern, empires have risen and fallen and in every instance the fall entailed violence. And the people at the time were probably convinced of the causes of the violence and failed to attribute it to it’s real cause.
       Eliot was mistaken to say “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper”.
    It ends with violence.

  • In a habitat that was not growing any larger, the continuing increase in either our numbers, our activities, or our equipment would ultimately induce more and more antagonism. Our routine pursuit of legitimate aspirations as individual human beings [ ] would increasingly entail mutual interference.

    Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolulutionary Change
     – William R Catton, Jr.

  • I want to press on a bit with this subject. I ran across these links which I believe would be pertinent to any discussion of the subject in a high school classroom, or a church or community meeting for that matter.

    They are essentially the same story with slightly different photographic evidence. If you Google “White people rioting” you get a larger selection, but the point is made dramatically enough without too much effort.

    Why is it, one author asks, white juveniles destroying public property and ransacking neighborhoods are considered celebrating by overly-exuberant sports fans while Black people who do the same thing in the name of seeking justice and a fair-hearing are considered “dangerous thugs”? Why does the media sensationalize fear in one and not the other?

    Every kid in school and every college administration should be confronted with these photos placed side-by-side with footage of Baltimore or Ferguson. If people really see a difference, they should talk about it. Out loud. With one another.

    • Rioting college kids or sports fans are not a threat to The Establishment.
      Rioting blacks are a not really a threat to the PTB, although they might be to low-level local cops and bureaucrats. IMHO, to a large extent the anti-rioting bullshit is just an excuse to justify their racism.
      Note that when whites rioted or even peacefully protested for political goals or unions, they were often seen as a threat and were similarly beaten, shot, suppressed. If the underclass – of any race, religion or ethic makeup – rioted for higher pay, more equitable income, prosecuting corporate and war criminals. you’d see the same suppression. It just hits blacks harder because of the racism. In other parts of the country, Native Americans or Asians might be the targeted victims.

  • An amazingly prescient Stephen Vincent Benet
    Nightmare With Angels – 1935

    This one was quietly but appropriately dressed in cellophane, synthetic rubber and stainless steel,
    But his mask was the blind mask of Ares, snouted for gas-masks.
    He was neither soldier, sailor, farmer, dictator nor munitions-manufacturer.
    Nor did he have much conversation, except to say,
    “You will not be saved by General Motors or the pre-fabricated house.
    You will not be saved by dialectic materialism or the Lambeth Conference.
    You will not be saved by Vitamin D or the expanding universe.
    In fact, you will not be saved.”
    Then he showed his hand:
    In his hand was a woven, wire basket, full of seeds, small metallic and shining like the seeds of portulaca;
    Where he sowed them, the green vine withered, and the smoke and the armies sprang up.

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