Saturday, January 21, 2006

Martin Luther King Jr. day Part I

On Martin Luther King Jr. day, I spent several hours taking pictures. Only when I found the library closed did I realize that it was MLK day. With that in mind, I went over what had happened that day, and considered the correalition between the current reality, and the legacy of the civil rights movement.
MLK, individual, is not responsible for the relative gains that were made in the 1950's and 1960's. Rather, the pressure brought to bear on american capitalism by the continued struggles of masses of americans is what resulted in what changes were made. To read the eulogies on his birthday, though, will leave only two names in mind- primarily MLK, and possibly Rosa Parks. In addition, efforts towards economic equality are patently ignored, as if the fact that nearly the entire black population was condemed to hopeless poverty was not an issue. Instead, it is propogated that the civil rights movement was solely against racism and had nothing to do with class. These distortions are no accident- in these days of unprecedented social polarization and catastrophe, any broad understanding of previous mass movements is something the ruling class want destroyed. On top of all that, outright falsification is also heaped on for good measure. Hence, we get the New York Time's MLK day article, entitled "Globalizing King's Legacy."
"As Dr. King predicted, the civil rights movement liberated segregationists
themselves. The integrity of law enforcement rose with a stark decline in
racial terror."
Apparantely to this author, the Jackson State killings (where police fired on students protesting both the Kent State killings and Vietnam War) , the near elimination of the leadership of the Black Panthers by the FBI, and even the persecution of MLK himself by the FBI were not diversions from this integrity. Also, the continued police killings in the name of urban crime, strike busting manuevers, and the responsibility of the CIA in fostering death squads and dictatorship throughout the world all don't even rate mention, as if the integrity of law enforcement/racial terror is a situation unaffected by the last 35 years!
"the marchers from Selma turned rulers and subjects into fellow citizens. A
largely invisible people offered leadership in the role of modern founders. For
an incandescent decade, from 1955 to 1965, the heirs of slavery lifted the whole
world toward freedom. Weariness and war intruded. In the White House, President
Lyndon Johnson wrestled the political subtleties of sending soldiers to
guarantee liberty at home. "

According to this quote, one civil rights march eliminated inequality, the whole world was lifted towards freedom, and then, simply, weariness and war intruded. Of course, that war was to "garuantee liberty at home." From that viewpoint, it understandable that no mention is made of the anti-war character of the civil rights movement, nor is the current illegal Iraq war even mentioned.

MLK has been successfully interpreted to match today's requirements through an ignorance that the movement he led was also against the Vietnam war, and an intense focus on the (non-violent) fight for freedom that MLK called for. How convenient! The Iraq war is about freedom too!

" 'I say to you that our goal is freedom,' he said in his last Sunday sermon.
'And I believe we're going to get there because, however much she strays
from it, the goal of America is freedom.'And we must recognize that the
accepted tradeoff between freedom and security is misguided, because our
values are the essence of our strength. If dungeons, brute force and arbitrary rule were the keys to real power, Saudi Arabia would be a model for the future instead of the past."

This author is determined to make absolutely no useful reference to the current situation of the world- For millions upon millions of people, what country best defines dungeons, brute force, and arbitrary rule? And what does that say about the virtue of the sacred free-market economy?

Instead of platitudes, I would like present to how many contradictory, disturbing, and atrocious situations that can been unintentionally seen in a few hours. These will show clearly the contrast between this supposedly slightly skewed society that the New York Times, and other bourgeois press like to present, and the one that actually exists. The first few pictures will be less explicit in this respect than the next two posts.

Another of these sites that I caught occasionally glimpses of as a kid. All the while, I was hammered with "the U.S. is the richest nation in the world; the U.S. is the world's only superpower" etc. Now I know the U.S. is more accurately a capitalist economiy in decay, with a impossibly wealthy topmost layer, controlling some 40% of the wealth. This layer enrichs itself primarily though financial dealings, having found industries like this to be unprofitable.

Specifically, these industrys were: International Harvestor Warehouse, direct back with white doors, built 1912; back right, left and close right- Richmond Cold Storage, with the back built in 1912 and the foreground 1917. The cold Storage building to the left was reportedly used for fruit storage in the winter, and ice storage in summer.

The building barely visible in the left foreground was the Southland Wine Corporation Winery. Personally, I find this to be a rare example of relatively good planning and design. Two railroad tracks went curving towards this view, after splitting off from two that follow the edge of the building in the backround. Every foot of space was maximised by slanting the buildings towards the track and curving the loading docks. Even though three different companies owned these buildings, they are also all in the same very tasteful simple brick style, with such a nice uniform red color - curiously good looking for being nearly 100 years old, despite the tree growing out of the building to the left.

With the filthy mud of a long derelict canal nearby, this remarkable railroad viaduct continues in such a fashion for roughly two miles. Constructing and maintaining the two tracks on such a major work of engineering is an expensive task, one that is presumably warranted by importance of the structure to the railroad traffic. Seeing a train using it north of here is not to common though, as only 5-10 trains use that portion a day, sometimes even less. This is hardly enough to warrant the capacity of two tracks. Decades ago the situation might have been one of pushing capacity, as this city bustled with traffic from local industries, and served as a major stop on the continous flow of coal from West Virginia and Kentucky tipples to tidewater at Newport News, Virginia. The currently increasing demand for coal may slightly increase traffic, as domestic energy consumption, with reduced regulation, is allowed to use more and more appalachian high sulfur coal. On the one hand, this would provide more jobs to the economically devastated coal mining regions of appalachia; but as the Sago Mine incedent testifies, the pursuit of profit will only further erode safety standards.

This Amtrak service likely won't exist in a few years, as the ruling stratum of society continues with it's destruction of anything and everything that is not privately owned and operated. See

Friday, January 20, 2006

Martin Luther King Jr. day part II

The Civil Rights movement, the anti-vietnam war movement, and militant workers struggles were threatened american capitalism in the 1960's. That they remained seperate struggles was critical, and the democratic party was used yet again to bring leftward tendencies back into the framework of bourgeois politics. Suppressing the militant struggles of nearly the entire working class and youth, though, was not just a matter of channeling their politics back into the useless flow of american democracy; concessions needed to be made. Lyndon Johnson, as part of his "great society" reforms, created the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide low-cost housing. In some of the cities I've seen, many of these projects are already abandoned, boarded up, or demolished. Chicago's 22 massive public housing towers have almost or all been destroyed, because of the immense rate of crime and unemployment in them. Those problems have little to do with the housing, but now the land can be redeveloped for profit.
Here, many of the housing projects are still extent, in various conditions. This neighborhood looked like it was built within the last decade; others seem anywhere from 10-40 years old. Some areas are terribly undermaintained, and downright depressing to look at, owing to the horrendous economic and social situation of this city.
These houses struck me becuase they look quite well maintained, and even new. Yet, even in this condition bars cover the windows and doors, making this look more like a prison than a nice place to live.

Directly across the street from those white houses is this much more standard scene around this city. All four houses here are boarded up, and a fifth out of the picture is currently being gutted. Behind and around these buildings are empty lots, where houses in a similar situation have already been demolished. Such lots create a very confusing landscape in a city: as the city radiates out, one would expect development to gradually get thinner and thinner, with the most dense areas around the center and particulary important cultural and social areas. Instead, heading down a street filled with row houses, one is liable to take a turn and suddenly see a trash strewn, overgrown field, where houses have been destroyed. Sometimes, one or two rowhouses awkwardly remain in this unused open space.
Why so many abandoned houses? In part three of these posts, I quote a fellow I chatted with who demostratively shows the simplist reason: many cannot afford the rent, or mortgage. Why so little money? The economy of the area has been pratically wiped clean of any large scale industrial employment, with only an aluminum plant, and a few small paper mills/recycling centers. Meanwhile, most of the decent wages are from the financial sector, and that workforce has primarily deserted the city in fear of the social catastrophe that is gradually erupting from the previously mentioned job loss. Daily the evidence of this is provided, here is the intake I got on Martin Luther King jr. day:
A hallmate : “I’m not going to go running! I want to live! Not in Richmond man.”
Later, I'm riding my bike, a kid my age say's he should throw a rock at me, and then ask's his friend if he has one.
Soon afterwards, I get asked for the third time that day, in just as many places, if I have any money. I help out a little, and start talking to this guy. I tell him about those kids saying they'd throw a rock at me, he replies: "I got rocks thrown at me by some a those kids. I tried to get a brick and chuck in back, and then a cop says 'don’t you throw that brick!' Man, if their throwing rocks at me, I better be able to throw back!”
With this outmoded social system and it's devastating effects, hopeless discontent finds it's easiest path in doing things like throwing a brick at a homeless man or a student.

I feel like I find a disproportionate amount of irony of photo expeditions. Expert movers? Wouldn't expert movers want their trailer back so they can expertly move something else? Also, when something is moved, simply moving it to the moving device itself is generally a transitional step in the moving process...

This highway bridge starts next to the housing project pictured at the top of this post. It's really a quite remarkable bridge, as it seems a half-mile long, is 6 lanes wide, and is an elongated S-shape. Even more remarkable is that while I've wanted to illustrate the lack of traffic on the bridge, that wasn't in my mind when I took this shot, but regardless of my intentions the picture has no cars in it! Even though you have to jump a railing, cross that center barrier, and jump another railing to see the other side, I easily did that too, because roads can't be very dangerous cross without the critical aspect of traffic.

The lack of traffic is attributable to the previously mentioned exodus of those working in higher-income occupations to outlying suburban areas, where they need not fear, as a real example, nine people being murdered in the week after New Years. So, most of the day, and all of the night, this bridge is almost serene. At rush hours though, it's actually sometimes got cars in all 6 lanes... but just rush hour.

Nearby the above depicted bridge is another shorter, lower one lane highway bridge, and this is written on one girders that supports it. The area under the end of highway bridges is used by many homeless as shelter. This one was two small and out of the way for that, I suppose, but people had obviously visited, and this even seems to have been a meeting between father and son. It says: "I'll be back to see you stay out of trouble and pass on to the 9th grade" Another message, dated from 1985, says something similar too.

This really begs alot of questions- why is the writer leaving? Why does this meeting have to be in such a hidden place? Who wrote this? Did his (son?) even see it?

Just from that one sentence, alot is revealed. Apparantely, in the richest nation of the world, passing on to the last third of school, or merely the second half if you include college, is still not an absolute, and likely far from it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Martin Luther King jr. day Part III

I worked at a temp agency for 3 months, because I was curious about the nature of temporary work, and interested in doing an industrial job. The two jobs I had were both related to the pharmacuetical industry. They each aptly demonstrated how much of a leech these companies are upon world society, given that their aim is no alleviating humans, but profiting off of them.

The labor conditions of temporary work are atrocious. The wages were 2/3rds what full time employees were making at the same job. The jobs include no benefits, except possibly days off, which usually leads to losing the job anyway. The only hope at most of the jobs is that eventually you get hired full time, and get out of the horrible rut of temporary work. I met people who have been stuck in that rut for years, constantly getting dimissed and shuffled around. Dismissal is a one-sided affair, with management contacting the temp agency, and workers left to guess what might have happened to the person they'd only known for a week. Some assignments only last a day! To go day to day, with no security, and only hope of pulling in $60 for 8 hours work if you do get an assignment... undoubtably this puts an immense strain on the victim.

Temp employees were used in a divide and conquer fashion, as they threaten to take any existing positions if someone is declared unfit. More importantly, they represent a new lowering of labor conditions, and a fantastic workforce for any management that somehow doesn't need skilled labor. What boss could complain when he has an unorganized workforce, making low wage, without benefits, and dismissable at a whim?

Temporary labor represents another facet of the continuing erosion of living standards for the worldwide working class. In reference to MLK day, intense struggles were still being waged for labor conditions in his time. Worker's were gaining garuanteed pensions, health care, and other benefits. That these are all now being obliterated is a testament to the futility of such struggles within the outmoded capitalist system, if not based on a larger perspective for social revolution.

Daily work! Daily Pay! That's a way to live a life!

While I was taking these last three photos, a man wondered over, and kindly greeted me and asked why I was photographing the temp agency. He said he gets jobs there, and hoped there wasn't a problem that would close the place down, and therefore eliminate his job. I said, no, I've just worked at such places, and I wanted to try and show what they are and represent. He did it much better:

“man, I’ve heard so many sad tales… you have no idea. Some people have been fired from there before for talking about the conditions. I’m just making sure the place ain’t closing down, I got a job there, and I’m trying to stay clean. I got layed of after ten years, 2 weeks before Christmas! I just came from an AA meeting, I’ve been clean for 6 months, I’m trying real hard. On New Years though, I was feeling really lonely, I went into a hotel room and drank, but that was just one time...after I lost that job I got kicked out for not paying the rent, and whatuya gonna do? The people need the rent too, they need money, that’s their job. i got nowhere to sleep, becuase Salvation Army won’t open the shelter cause it’s not below 35! So people just gotta tough it then! I knew I guy been all up and down the east coast and this is the worst place he knows for that. It's sad this is how things have to be... I was just making sure that wasn't nothing wrong with this place, I know the conditions are bad, but I need my job."

This is what he said to the best of my recollection, though I also talked to him about a few other things. He summed up the day, and also provided a link to 40 years ago when, according to the bourgeois press, racial and social equality was acheived. This man was certainly alive at that time, and now he's stuggling to survive, without a place to sleep, with a precarious job, and perhaps alone. Talking to him though, I was not left with a feeling of desperation, because he didn't seem to be either. Regardless of the protracted crisis he's suffering, he seemed as if he knew his own immense humanity was repeated in others.

Looking at this again, I am reminded of this recent post from Annotated Life: Living in such a precarious financial situation, both miners and this temp worker I met can't, at least yet, see it feasible to oppose the conditions they labor in. Meanwhile:

Just what's needed: more luxury apartments. To be fair, though, I truly doubt this is anything but an optimistic sign. Luxury apartments don't tend to fare well directly next to an abandoned storefront....

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Steel Scraps

I had an art assignment last year, I forget what it was, but I do know I hated it's constrictions. I decided to be a to reply with an attempt to try to simply manufacture art, instead of creating it. I scooped some steel scrap out of a railroad, and then sifted though it for the best forms. Then I made about 30 little wooden bases, painted them white, and glued fitting pieces on. Certainly, these little peices were pretty dry and thoughtless, but amusingly, I have about 10 away because alot of people thought they were appealing. The rest are slowly falling apart.

The pieces of steel themselves are shavings from cutting and shaping steel forms, I'm told. 100 tons of this sutff was stuffed in that railcar.

The four above pictures are really misleading, this is actually the real environment of these sculptures.