22: Kevin Cooper Live From Death Row

This week we interview Kevin Cooper, who has lived for more than three decades on death row in San Quentin prison for a quadruple homicide, despite clear evidence that he was framed by the San Bernadino Country Sherriff’s Department. 

Kevin talks to us about his long fight for freedom--including the darkest moments on February 9, 2004, when he came within four hours of being murdered by the state of California. He was saved that night by a last-minute court decision that was the result of a nationwide campaign of protests and “Live from Death Row” events in which Kevin spoke to thousands of people across the country. 

Listen to this interview and you’ll quickly understand why Kevin Cooper was able to inspire so many people to get involved in the fight for his life and, as he always insists, the life of every single person threatened by the death penalty. Kevin also talks to us about his intellectual and political awakening over the long course of his fight, and in particular the role played by comrades in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, a group we at Better Off Red worked closely with during those years.

It’s a moving, heartbreaking and inspiring conversation, and it didn’t seem right to follow our usual format of having an opening segment on an unrelated topic. Instead, we begin with a quick introduction to give context about Kevin’s work with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

If you like this episode as much as we hope you do, please spread the word to your friends on and offline and consider giving us a review on iTunes so that as many people as possible learn about Kevin Cooper and his case.

As always, if you want to make a financial contribution to help make Better Off Red sustainable, go to www.patreon.com/BetterOffRedPod.

Links for this episode

· Nicholas Kristof’s massive New York Times expose of Kevin’s case (http://bit.ly/KristofCooper)

· Socialist Worker’s 2004 account about the dramatic stay of execution (http://bit.ly/2004stay)

· Kevin’s essay “Occupy Death Row” (http://bit.ly/OccupyDeathRow)

· Visit savekevincooper.org to read Kevin’s essays, see his artwork and learn more about his case.

Music and audio for this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)

Stevie Wonder, “They Won’t Go When I Go”

Public Enemy, “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”

Gil Scott-Heron, “Lady Day And John Coltrane”

The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, “Pray For Me”

Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

21: Tariffs and racism: Héctor Rivera on AMLO's México

Jen is off this week so our producer Eric Ruder joins Danny to speak with Héctor Rivera about the momentous election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) as the new president of Mexico. Héctor is a California-based socialist who writes for Socialist Worker about protests and politics inside México, and this election gave us a lot to talk about. Not only did AMLO’s MORENA party destroy the country’s three main parties en route to winning power at the federal and local level, but his election is a historic victory for the longstanding democracy movement that has fought against one-party rule and rigged elections in México.

Héctor talks to us about the factors that led to this historic election, especially the devastating policies of privatization and “free” trade that enriched the Mexican elite while impoverishing millions, and then the catastrophic drug war, both of which have greatly accelerated longstanding patterns of Mexican migration to the U.S. 

We also talked about the contradictions in AMLO’s plans to take on what he calls the “Mafia of Power” and the important tasks facing Mexican socialists and activists. Héctor tells us about some of the social movements not often covered by the U.S. media, including a feminist movement that has touched all corners of Mexican society and that formed an important part of AMLO’s campaign, even as he partnered with reactionary evangelical forces.

In our opener, we continue a conversation started last week about how socialists should understand and counter the growth of the far right. This week we take a step back to look at the role that Trump’s MAGA nationalism has played in giving fascists a toxic sea in which to swim. 

We look at how tariffs and protectionism, which many in the labor and progressive movements wrongly favor, are a disastrous strategy for U.S. workers that undermine international solidarity and cede ground to xenophobes and far-right nationalists. And we make the case for why our approach to stopping fascism has to combine direct confrontation with the building of socialist and labor movements that can show the angry and alienated a different model of collective power.

Links for the interview with Héctor Rivera

•    Listen to the presentation given at Socialism 2018 by Héctor, Luis Rangel and Josie Chávez (http://bit.ly/MexicoSocialists)

•    Héctor’s Socialist Worker article about AMLO’s election (http://bit.ly/AMLOelection)

•    Héctor’s two-part interview with Mexican socialist Edgard Sánchez Ramírez: “The making of neoliberal México” Part 1 (http://bit.ly/NeolibMexico1) and Part 2 (http://bit.ly/NeolibMexico2)

Links for our opener on right-wing nationalism

•    Fortune article on how many Americans make less than $15 an hour (http://bit.ly/Fortune15)

•    Kim Moody’s book On New Terrain, which argues why globalization isn’t the main source of working class decline (http://bit.ly/OnNewTerrain)

•    Ahmed Shawki’s classic 1983 article against protectionism, “Don’t Buy ‘Buy American’” (http://bit.ly/DontBuyBA) 

Music

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Run The Jewels, “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”
Stevie Wonder, “Pastime Paradise”
Control Machete, “Sí Señor”
Calle 13, “Latinoamérica”
Control Machete, “Cumbia Sobre El Río”
Lila Downs, “Urge

20: Stop the far right; Danny Katch on American (un)democracy

This week we turn the tables on one of our co-hosts and interview Danny about his latest book, Why Bad Governments Happen to Good People, published by Haymarket Books. 

Danny talks about how Trump’s election shows the way U.S. democracy tilts rightward, blocking the moderate social democratic platform of Bernie Sanders while allowing an erratic racist who flirts with fascists to assume the most world’s most powerful position. From there we get into the larger contradictions of democracy and capitalism, and how in many ways democracy under capitalism is less about empowering the people than winning our consent to the way things are going to be.  

We then move on to the exciting success of socialist candidates since Bernie’s campaign, most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory in New York City. Danny talks about the way some of these campaigns have helped to popularize demands of Medicare for all and Abolish ICE, but also about the historic dangers socialists face when they start building their project inside a Democratic Party that is ultimately hostile to our interests.   

In our opener, we talk with Bay Area socialist Ragina Johnson about the horrific murder of Nia Wilson in Oakland and why so many people in the Bay are connecting her death with the growth of white supremacy in Trump’s America. She describes protest that took place on one day’s notice in response to the murder—which linked up with another protest against a plan by the far-right Proud Boys to meet up in a downtown Oakland bar. 

Ragina put Nia’s death and the rise of the far right in the context of continued police murders, relentless gentrification and the overall state of rising inequality and scapegoating—and stressed the importance of building the largest possible protest against the far right’s “No to Marxism” rally on August 5 in Berkeley. 

We encourage Better Off Red listeners to come out against the fascists that day—and those on the East Coast to join the mobilization against the disgusting “White Civil Rights” rally being held in Washington D.C. on August 12—the anniversary of last year’s horror in Charlottesville. See the links below for more information.

Links for this episode: 

•    Get a copy of Danny’s book Why Bad Governments Happen to Good People (http://bit.ly/WhyBadGovernments)

•    Danny’s Socialist Worker article on the potentials and pitfalls of electoral strategies for socialists (http://bit.ly/ElectoralIdeology)

Links for our intro on Nia Wilson and fighting the right:

•    Nicole Colson’s article on Nia’s murder and the subsequent protests (http://bit.ly/NiaWilsonMuder)

•    Alpana Mehta on why we need to fight the right (http://bit.ly/WhyFighttheRight)

•    Information on how to join with socialists in Berkeley protesting the far right on August 5 (http://bit.ly/AntiFascistBerkeley)

•    Information on how to join with socialists in Washington D.C. protesting the far right on August 12 (http://bit.ly/AntiNaziDC)

Music and Audio for this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Alicia Wilson, mother of Nia Wilson
Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit”
Josh White, “Freedom Road” (https://folkways.si.edu/anti-fascism-and-racial-struggle-in-song/music/playlist/smithsonian)
Rapsody, “Power” ft. Kendrick Lamar
Street Dogs, "Working Class Heroes

19: SCOTUS vs Roe; Sharon Smith on intersectionality

This week, Sharon Smith joins us to talk about a Marxist approach to intersectionality, why socialists should embrace the concept, and what Marxism has to offer activists who want to fight all forms of oppression and exploitation. Sharon is the author of Women and Socialism: Class, Race and Capital (http://bit.ly/WomenandSocialism) and Subterranean Fire: A History of Working Class Radicalism in the United States (http://bit.ly/SubteranneanFire).

Sharon begins her discussion with us by rooting the concept of intersectionality in the long history of Black feminism -- going back to Sojourner Truth -- and tracing its evolution through the Combahee River Collective. We go on to discuss the different theories that have deployed the concept of intersectionality -- contrasting postmodern politics of difference with the emerging politics of solidarity today.

We then talk about why Marxism is important for understanding where the power lies to challenge exploitation and oppression. Sharon also talks about how many working class struggles in recent years have directly addressed issues of oppression. She talks about how this new instinct towards solidarity is creating a potential for a much stronger working class and socialist movement. 

In our intro, we talk about the announcement by Justice Kennedy that he will be retiring from the Supreme Court and the threat that a new Trump appointment poses for Roe v. Wade and the fight for abortion rights. We talk about Trump’s top pick, Brett Kavanaugh, and how he has been endorsed by the Federalist Society. We talk about why it’s important to wage an all-out fight against any Trump nominee, but also why we need to rebuild a militant abortion rights movement regardless of who is on the Supreme Court. Finally, we discuss the history of how Roe was won in the first place -- under Nixon and with a Republican-dominated Supreme Court.

Links for this episode

Sharon’s article in Socialist Worker on the Marxist case for intersectionality (http://bit.ly/SharonSW)
Sharon’s talk at Socialism 2015 on Marxism and intersectionality (http://bit.ly/SharonSocialism)
Video of a panel at Socialism 2017 on the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective, featuring Demita Frazier, Barbara Ransby, Barbara Smith, Sharon Smith and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (http://bit.ly/CombaheeS17)
How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective (Haymarket Books), edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (http://bit.ly/HaymarketCombahee)

Links for our intro on the Supreme Court and Roe:
Socialist Worker article, Without struggle, there is no Roe by Michelle Farber and Elizabeth Schulte (http://bit.ly/RoeSW)
Report on plans for a protest to pressure Susan Collins to vote no on Kavanaugh (http://bit.ly/CollinsProtest)
Episode 13 of this podcast, on abortion without apology (http://bit.ly/AbortionNoApology)

Music for this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Cat Power, “Nude As The News”
Digable Planets, “La Femme Fetal”
Beyoncé, “Freedom” (International Day of the Girl)
Sam Dew, “Victor”
Queen Latifah, “U.N.I.T.Y.

18: Justin Akers Chacón on the violence of borders

With Jen out of town, Episode 3 guest Lupita Romero steps in to join Danny in a conversation with Justin Akers Chacón, a San Diego-based professor of U.S. History and Chicano Studies, and author of two new books: Radicals in the Barrio, about the history of Mexican and Mexican American working class revolutionaries; and an updated version of No One is Illegal, Justin’s important 2006 book with Mike Davis about fighting oppression in the American Southwest. 

On top of all that, Justin is a longtime organizer of cross-border solidarity efforts for workers in both Mexico and the U.S., so we ended up having not one but two conversations. We’ll release our discussion of Radicals in the Barrio in the coming weeks. This week, you’ll hear our conversation about the U.S.-Mexico border, which Justin describes to us as both “political theater” and an increasingly deadly reality. 

We also talk about immigration politics, and how the enforcement-heavy debates in Washington have generally taken place several steps to the right of where public sentiment actually stands—except in those moments like the enormous marches in 2006, when immigrants and their supporters forced themselves onto the public stage. 

Justin argues that today we might be seeing the rise of another such moment with the rapid spread of calls to abolish ICE and move past the dead-end negotiations for bipartisan “immigration reform.”

In our opening segment, our producer Eric joins Lupita and Danny for a conversation about socialism: the concept and the conference. Since the primary victory of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (which Jen and Eric discussed in Episode 17), a surge of people have gone online to look up definitions of socialism. We discuss what’s wrong with the definition they find in the dictionary, and how the recent Socialism 2018 conference showed signs of a U.S. left that’s taking steps toward becoming a force than help a new generation give socialism a better name.  


Links for this episode: 

•    Justin’s new book: Radicals in the Barrio: Magonistas, Socialists, Wobblies, and Communists in the Mexican-American Working Class (http://bit.ly/RadicalsBarrio) 
•    Justin’s updated version of No One is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border (http://bit.ly/NoOneIllegal)
•    Justin’s article written at the beginning of the Trump campaign, “Capitalism and the new brown scare” (http://bit.ly/NewBrownScare)
•    “Life and death on the border” (http://bit.ly/LifeDeathBorder), a series of Socialist Worker articles written in 2011 by Justin, our producer Eric Ruder and Nohelia Ramos as they travelled the border from California to Texas. 
•    “The new abolitionism” (http://bit.ly/AbolichICEDemand), Danny’s article on the importance of demand to abolish ICE. 

From our opening segment, here are a few audio and video links to sessions from the Socialism 2018 conference: 

•    Video from the evening plenary, “Workers Strike Back: Lessons of the Teachers’ Rebellion” (http://bit.ly/TeachersStrikePlenary)

•    Audio from “Future of the Socialist Left”, a discussion between Jen and Ella Mahony of DSA, moderated by Jason Farbman (http://bit.ly/FutureSocialistLeft)

•    Audio from Eva Maria’s talk: “Did Socialism Fail in Venezuela?” (http://bit.ly/SocialismVenezuela)


Music and Audio for this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Las Cafeteras, "Trabajador Trabajadora" 
La Santa Cecilia, “El Hielo (ICE)” 
Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land” 
Los Jornaleros Del Norte, "Serenata A Un Indocumentado" 
Los Tigres Del Norte, "Tres Veces Mojado" 

17: Ocasio-Cortez victory; Alex Vitale on the end of policing

In our intro, we talk about DSA member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ stunning defeat of Democratic incumbent and party boss Joseph Crowley in the June 26 NY primaries. We discuss how Cortez’ victory shows the desire for an alternative to the establishment Democrats as well as a tide of enthusiasm for socialism. We also talk about the challenges she’ll face as a socialist trying to navigate the shark-infested waters of the Democratic Party. We touch on some of the debates amongst socialists about how to approach the Democratic Party and how and whether we need to create our own party. Our intro ran longer than usual this week, but we hope that this will be the start to an ongoing discussion around the elections in the coming months.

In our interview, we talk to Alex Vitale about his book, The End of Policing (Verso Books) (http://bit.ly/VitaleBook). Vitale is a professor of sociology and coordinator of the policing and social justice project at Brooklyn College. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, NY Daily News, USA Today, the Nation and Vice News. For more information about his writings as well as his public appearances and other news, check out his website (http://bit.ly/VitaleWeb).

The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has produced widespread recognition of police abuse and prompted demands for reform. At the same time, groups like the Black Youth Project  http://bit.ly/BYPBOR) and the Movement for Black Lives (http://bit.ly/MBLBOR) have questioned the relationship between intensive policing, structural racism and deeper patterns of inequality. Vitale argues that we should question the very nature and purpose of the police as an instrument for social control. He suggests that the answer is not better policing, but an end to policing itself.

In our discussion, we talk about why the various reforms being proposed do not address the problems with policing. Vitale recounts the origins of the modern police as part of England’s colonial subjugation of Northern Ireland and the need to monitor the free movement of urban slaves in Charleston, South Carolina. We also talk about why policing has become even more intensive and violent in the last few decades as part of a bipartisan political project and in response to heightened levels of inequality. Vitale argues that if we want to address the real issues that policing purports to address, then we need large-scale structural reforms to address inequality and racism.

In the last part of our discussion, we get into the strategic questions about how to build a movement against the criminal injustice system, how calls for prison abolition fit into that, and the work and demands that some of the organizations leading around this issue are raising.

For additional reading related to our interview, check out:

*Alex Vitale in the NYT talking about the new super-predator myth (http://bit.ly/VitaleNYT)

*Alex Vitale in Jacobin on why body cameras and more training aren’t enough (http://bit.ly/VitaleJacobin)

*Episode 6 of this podcast, in which we talk about the intersection of mental health and policing

*The Movement for Black Lives Platform (http://bit.ly/MBLPlatform)

 

For additional related to our intro on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, check out:

*Socialist Worker article on How far can the left go in the Democratic Party? (http://bit.ly/AOCSW)

*Jacobin article on why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won (http://bit.ly/JacobinAOC)

*Lance Selfa’s The Democrats: A Critical History (Haymarket Books) (http://bit.ly/Selfa)

 

Music in this episode:

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)

Cardi B, “I Like It Like That”

Solange, “Mad” ft. Lil Wayne

KRS-One, “Sound Of Da Police”

Vic Mensa, “16 Shots”

Bruce Springsteen, “American Skin (41 Shots)”

N.W.A., “Fuck Tha Police”

 

16: Sherry Wolf on LGBT politics from ACT UP to Trump

We celebrate Pride month by sitting down with Sherry Wolf, organizer of the 2009 National Equality March and author of Sexuality and Socialism: Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation, to discuss the long strange journey for queer liberation. In the opener, we talk about the sudden emergence of national protests against the horrors of migrant family separation. 
 
Sherry started our conversation talking about the contradictions of queer life in 2018, with a barrage of anti-gay laws initiatives raining down on the state and federal level on one and, and on the other hand an unprecedented openness to sexual and gender fluidity, especially among people under 30. We discussed the continuing violence and oppression facing the queer population, particularly trans women and working class people of color, which threatens to get worse under the most right wing government in generations. But Sherry also argued why the genie of LGBT freedom can’t be put back in the bottle, and talked about her participation in the struggles to win those gains, from ACT Up to the National Equality March. 
 
In the opening segment, we eat some crow—quite happily--about our conversation last week bemoaning the lack of effective resistance to the White House terror policies against migrant families seeking asylum at the southern border. In just a few short days, protests have broken out from the border to ICE offices to any restaurant where a Trump administration official dares to dine. This is a decisive moment and we urge all our listeners to join in building the national day of action against family separation on June 30 (http://bit.ly/June30protests).

Links for this episode

On LGBT liberation and marriage equality: 
 
·     “We demand full equality” (http://bit.ly/NEMreport)
·     “A civil rights victory long in the making” (http://bit.ly/HistoryMarriageEquality) 
·     “The fight continues for the Black Pride 4” (http://bit.ly/BlackPrideFour)
·     “The Supreme Court says: Let them eat hate” (http://bit.ly/MasterpieceHate)
 
On the struggle against family separation: 
 
·     “Let them know: ¡Niños, no están solos!” (http://bit.ly/borderprotests)
·     “Who can stop the kidnapper-in-chief?” (http://bit.ly/Kidnapper-in-chief)
·     June 30 National protests against family separation (http://bit.ly/June30protests)
 

Music in this episode

The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Lance Canales, “Plane Wreck At Los Gatos” (Deportee) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zElJBsU5GKI)
M.I.A., “Paper Planes”
Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”
ANOHNI, “Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth?”
4 Non Blondes, “What’s Up?”

15: The Trump nightmare; Fighting the right with Mukund Rathi

 

After Trump’s election, Berkeley became the epicenter of far-right organizing and resistance to it. Mukund talks to us about that experience, the strategic debates and lessons learned. In our intro, we talk about why we can’t succumb to helplessness in the face of the Trump nightmare - and some ideas about how we build an alternative.

Mukund Rathi is a law student at UC Berkeley and an active socialist in the Bay Area. He has written for Socialist Worker, In These Times and the Daily Californian. In February 2017, Milo Yiannopoulos attempted to speak at Berkeley and was shut down by thousands of protesters. Mukund points out that nearly all the media coverage, including on the left, focused on a small core of antifa activists and ignored the 2,000 students who showed up to protest.

Mukund talks to us about the development of the fight against the right in Berkeley and nationally. He discusses the different strategic debates and argues both against a position of shutting the right down by any means necessary and against the argument to simply ignore the right. Instead, he argues, it has been mass mobilizations and coordinated organization and solidarity that have pushed back the right - in Charlottesville, Boston and in a later round of struggle in Berkeley. We talk about how the protests in Charlottesville, and the murder of Heather Heyer, were a turning point in galvanizing mass opposition.

 

However, Mukund also points out that the far-right is still organizing. They have continued to harass and threaten student and community activists in the Bay Area. This has had a chilling effect on protest. The liberal establishment in the Bay Area has refused to take this threat seriously and failed to protect activists while bending over to protect the “free speech” of the far-right. It will be up to activists to build solidarity and learn the lessons from last year’s battles.

 

Resources and links for this episode:

Mukund wrote an article for Socialist Worker on the protests that shut down Milo (http://bit.ly/MiloSW). And in this article he reflected on the lessons of the fight against the right (http://bit.ly/MukundLessonsSW).

Here, the Bay Area International Socialist Organization describes the attempt by the far-right to disrupt its meeting (http://bit.ly/BayISOStatement).

Eric Ruder and Francois Huges describes the “free speech week” fiasco, in which Berkeley spent a million dollars to defend Milo’s fantasy carnival of far-right speakers (which never materialized) while doing nothing to defend the rights of students. (http://bit.ly/FreeSpeechFiasco).

Mukund participated in a roundtable debate hosted by In These Times in which he defended the shutting down of Milo while arguing for a strategy of mass confrontation.

 

In this article for the International Socialist Review, Monique Dols discusses the debates around free speech and fighting the right on campus (http://bit.ly/ISRFightRight).

 

Music in This Episode:

A Tribe Called Quest - We the People

Patti Smith - People Have The Power

Death - Where Do We Go From Here?

The Clash - Know Your Rights

Elvis Costello - Night Rally

Sunflower Bean - Crisis Fest

Milva - Bella Ciao