Chesa on KLAW

January 22, 2021

An interesting take on this moment

January 22, 2021

Democracy and Education

January 22, 2021

“The Hill We Climb”

January 20, 2021

Amanda Gorman Inauguration Poem TRANSCRIPT (uncorrected)

At Joe Biden’s Inauguration: “The Hill We Climb”

When day comes we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. In the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice. And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one.

And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose. To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried that will forever be tied together victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. If we’re to live up to her own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare. It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a forest that would shatter our nation rather than share it. Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. This effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us. This is the era of just redemption. We feared it at its inception. We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves so while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe? Now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be a country that is bruised, but whole, benevolent, but bold, fierce, and free. We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. Our blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain, if we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country better than one we were left with. Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the West. We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. We will rise from the Lake Rim cities of the Midwestern states. We will rise from the sun-baked South. We will rebuild, reconcile and recover in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful. When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.


January 20, 2021

By Robert C. Koehler

Normalcy and tradition held sway as — for the first time in my life — I watched a presidential inauguration live, listening to Lady Gaga sing the national anthem and, then, Joe Biden take the oath of office, becoming the 46th president of the United States.

As I write these words, I find myself swimming in a complex stew of emotions, more moved by what I have just watched than I expected to be.

“. . . if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts . . .”

And then Garth Brooks sang “Amazing Grace,: urging everyone — including the folks at home — to join him. And I did, quietly saying to myself: You’ve got to be kidding me.

I watched the inauguration for one reason only. I wanted to be certain that it happened, that it wasn’t interrupted. Is the country in a state of permanent fissure? Will the absent Donald Trump continue to pretend he’s the leader of an armed-white-guy movement and will this movement continue to pretend it has launched a civil war? Will racism continue to bubble up from the nation’s depths and seek to influence the present moment, the way it did in the good old days? Is fascism still brewing, or is it over and done with — whisked into oblivion as the Marine Band played its patriotic oldies?

And then the questions, as President Joe takes office, turn increasingly paradoxical: Is a coup, and resulting fascism, the nation’s biggest worry? What about the return to normalcy? I fear the latter as much as I fear the former.

Here’s how Noam Chomsky put it during a recent interview with Truthout. Addressing the Jan. 6 insurrection at the capitol, he said:

“That it was an attempted coup is not in question. It was openly and proudly proclaimed as just that. It was an attempt to overturn an elected government.” But, he goes on: It “was not the kind of coup regularly backed by Washington in its dependencies, a military takeover with ample bloodshed, torture, ‘disappearance.’. . .  the perpetrators regarded themselves as defending the legitimate government, but that’s the norm, even for the most vicious and murderous coups, like the U.S.-backed coup in Chile on the first 9/11 — which was actually much worse in virtually every dimension than the second one, the one that we remember and commemorate.”

He refers, of course, to Augusto Pinochet’s military takeover, with the help of the CIA, of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973, the possible murder (or suicide) of Allende and nearly two decades of fascist grip on Chile, with thousands of imprisonments, executions and “disappearances” of Pinochet’s opponents.

Supporting someone like Pinochet is part of the good old American normal, just as waging endless war, just as avoiding taking serious action to address climate change, are part of the American normal. And this is why the symbols and traditions of the inauguration feel so hollow to me, even when it’s someone other than Trump who is being inaugurated.

Yet I was moved by it all in spite of myself.

Maybe . . . maybe . . . the American center is beginning to shift, thanks to Trump and the theatrical fascism that has emerged on his watch. Some of the fun and games since Trump’s election loss, beyond the temporary takeover of the national capitol, include: “A guillotine outside the state capitol in Arizona. A Democratic governor burned in effigy in Oregon. Lawmakers evacuated as pro-Trump crowds gathered at state capitols in Georgia and New Mexico. Cheers in Idaho as a crowd was told fellow citizens were ‘taking the Capitol’ and ‘taking out’ Mike Pence, the vice-president,” reports The Guardian.

And in Los Angeles, the article goes on: “white Trump supporters assaulted and ripped the wig off the head of a young black woman who happened to pass their 6 January protest, the Los Angeles Times reported. A white woman was captured on video holding the wig and shouting, ‘Fuck BLM!’ and, ‘I did the first scalping of the new civil war.’”

Perhaps the racism and craziness are stunning enough for Biden to realize that centrist cliches and corporate obeisance are no longer adequate counters. They no longer hold their own against the possibility of fascism to come.

Timothy Snyder puts it this way in the New York Times: “For a coup to work in 2024, the breakers will require something that Trump never quite had: an angry minority, organized for nationwide violence, ready to add intimidation to an election. Four years of amplifying a big lie just might get them this. To claim that the other side stole an election is to promise to steal one yourself. It is also to claim that the other side deserves to be punished.

“Informed observers inside and outside government agree that right-wing white supremacism is the greatest terrorist threat to the United States. Gun sales in 2020 hit an astonishing high. History shows that political violence follows when prominent leaders of major political parties openly embrace paranoia.

“Our big lie is typically American, wrapped in our odd electoral system, depending upon our particular traditions of racism. Yet our big lie is also structurally fascist, with its extreme mendacity, its conspiratorial thinking, its reversal of perpetrators and victims and its implication that the world is divided into us and them. To keep it going for four years courts terrorism and assassination.”

Countering such a lie requires courageous governance: addressing the pandemic and so much more. What if Biden opened up, for instance, the possibility of global nuclear disarmament? What if he maintained compassionate intelligence for the whole planet as he governed?

What if it meant something when he said we should “open our souls instead of hardening our hearts”?

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is available. Contact him or visit his website at

FBI Assassins

January 19, 2021

Recently released FBI documents shed new light on the 1969 conspiracy to assassinate Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by Flint Taylor and Jeff Haas—Truthout

Under the Tree Podcast: Episode #20

January 19, 2021

20) Goodbye to All That!

A new year provides a formal opportunity for a practice we ought to engage in every day: looking backward and leaping forward. Rather than make hollow resolutions that we will likely break soon enough, we encourage sustained reflection as we walk on two legs toward a new multi-racial and participatory democracy. We’re reminded of the words of  the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci: “The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” Malik Alim and Bill Ayers begin the new year in dialogue about learning, growing, and dreaming big.

Ari Paul making sense:

January 14, 2021

Ari Paul

I co-wrote an article with the late Michael Brooks about how charges of hypocrisy are unhelpful in political discourse. Of course, one would want to rob their opponent of a tool that they would gladly keep for themselves. When Mitch McConnell rushes through a court nomination under a Republican president but blocks one under a Democrat, he’s not being hypocritical, because he is a political solider tasked with consolidating power at all costs.

I’m reminded of this fixation on contradictions in the wake of a failed fascist insurrection at the US Capitol – the Bud Lite Putsch, as journalist Arun Gupta calls it. The Left receives some finger-waving from the establishment Right: “Oh, it’s okay to riot over George Floyd but it’s bad when Trump’s people think the election’s been stolen?” And the Right gets the same treatment when they spent years saying, “Blue Lives Matter,” while the Make America Great Again movement just ended up killing two Capitol Hill Police officers.

For the Left, let’s keep in mind that insurrectionary tactics are morally neutral on their own, it’s the goal of an insurrection that we need to judge. The American, French, Haitian and Russian Revolutions were emancipatory insurrections against old orders, rebellions against colonialism and monarchy meant to move human society forward. Then there can be insurrections against state power that are darker – think the beginning days of the Nazis or the failed military campaign of the Confederacy. These were racist movements meant to preserve hierarchies and undo historical progress, in full defiance of state power and bourgeois democracy. The confederates were rebels in the face of US power, but their crime wasn’t taking on the Union. Their crime was that their singular purpose was the continuation of keeping Black people as property to enrich their ruling class.

For the Right, let’s keep in mind that knee-jerk defenses of police power have always been selective. When Black Lives Matter demonstrates against police violence, the Right’s quick defense of the police rests not on their inherent love of policing but the police’s role in maintaining white supremacy and defending property rights. The police can be an enemy of the Right if the police are standing in the way of its aims, like protecting the validation of an election in which a fascist movement’s spiritual leader, Donald Trump, lost. Hence why it shouldn’t seem like a contradiction that the Right can hate the Bureau of Land Management when it goes after the Bundys or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms when it instigated the stand-off at Ruby Ridge, and then just as easily fly a Blue Lives Matter flag when a white cop in Staten Island strangles a Black man to death for allegedly selling cigarettes unlawfully or support a fully militarized Immigration and Customs Enforcement as those agents toss migrant children into concentration camps.

These fixations on contradictions and tactics distract us from the real differences that are the source of political division. Do you believe that one should have equal access to rights, society’s wealth and enjoyment of life regardless of one’s race, nationality, gender, sexuality, religion, ability and what not? Or do you believe in a rigidly enforced hierarchy based on these categorizations? That’s the division, not what we generally think of police or storming a government building.

It is just better for us to be honest about this. Yes, I’m going to oppose an insurrection by white nationalists in the Capitol, but support disability activists who get evicted by Capitol Hill Police for protesting Medicaid cuts, because one is in defense of humanity and the other is not. Likewise, yes, I will be with Black Lives Matter the next time a white cop shoots an unarmed Black person, but if a federal agent has a neo-Nazi militiaman crossed up in his scope I’m not going to yell “hold your fire.” You may think, “Ah-ha! I’ve caught Ari in a contradiction!” But we all have contradictions. Ask why I have this contradiction.

Trump’s putsch failed, but we are likely to see more spasms of conflict. It’s going to be tempting to assert that our enemies are acting hypocritically, but that charge really says little about them. When we see these contradictions, we have to ask why these contradictions exist. The more honest we are about that, the more likely a movement that is universal and emancipatory wins over one that is reactionary, anti-democratic and cruelly hierarchical.

And one more thing: Rest in Power, Michael Brooks.

White Riot

January 10, 2021

A mob of the MAGA persuasion 
Conducted a Capitol Invasion 
Though many were armed 
They departed unharmed 
And that’s how you know they’re Caucasian 

January 7, 2021

Under the Tree: A Seminar on Freedom

January 6, 2021

Episode # 19: “A Word on Statistics”

The idea of a “seminar” provides us a vast metaphor, offering infinite roads to travel and pathways to pursue: Poems and Free-writes, Language Arts and Current Events, History and Geography, and much much more. Today, we’ll get to something we’ve been missing up until now: the wide and wonderful world of Mathematics. Of course, everything we humans produce is created in context, and the stuttering cliche that math is just the objective truth neither explains nor justifies the manipulation, deception, damage, and fraud as well as the beauty and power that flies at us from every direction in the name of facts and figures—the mantle of math. Numbers don’t express the gospel—they can easily hide injustices and conceal reality. We’re joined in conversation today with Kari Kokka, an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Pittsburgh, and one of the most thoughtful people working today to rescue math from the many myths and misunderstandings that seem to cling to it like a tangle of ugly barnacles.