August 28, 2021—Remembering Malik

August 28, 2021

This is a time of tears for those of us who knew and loved Malik Alim.

He’s gone, and a gaping, irreparable hole has been ripped in our hearts.

We’re stabbed, assaulted.

And we cannot stop the tears.

I knew and admired Malik for years as an organizer and an activist, a thinker and a doer, a reliable presence in the Movement—we said hello and chatted at demonstrations; we greeted one another with a hug at Movement gatherings. But something changed qualitatively a year ago when we began collaborating to create our little back-room podcast about freedom (Gratitude to Damon and Daniel for thinking that Malik and I could become a team). We may have looked—on several dimensions—like an odd couple, but we clicked, and somehow we found a unique synergy across our vast differences of age and race and background, and within our common dreams of a world that could be and should be, but is not yet. I learned from him every day—where to hold the mic and how to create studio conditions in a closet, for example, but also when to shut up and listen, and how to make our messages more educational and compelling. We mentored one another, and I learned from him and grew with him inch by inch.

We didn’t need a reminder—certainly not this unwelcome prompt—to tell us that life is fragile—precious—hanging by a thread. But, even so, there it is: a boisterous declaration that our moment in the sun is brief. Malik knew it too: his was a short life, true, too short, but a rich life nonetheless because he lived it fully and fiercely—with purpose and at full attention. He got up each morning, took care of his kids, connected with friends, did his good work, and loved his family and his community passionately. Day by day. Every day.

Malik’s passing is entirely upside down, out of order: no parent should be required to grieve their son; no young child should have their Papi torn away in a flash. 

So the tears keep coming, but not tears alone—no—it’s also been a time of intense remembering, of intimate laughter and fervent embraces. Death took his life, but death did not end our relationships—with him or with one another. No matter how far back you go in memory, it’s in the work of his hands, in his curious and impatient mind, in his family and in each of us that we find Malik again. Those things are still unfolding, still in the making, still drawing from the deep well of his life. The past is done; and life is still unfolding.

The pain we share now is a measure of Malik’s impact and value in our lives, but we’re not broken—as long as we have not lost his place among us. We will always miss him, of course, but we can all choose to live deeper and more intentional and more committed lives—in honor of him.

I’m sending laser beams of Light and Love to Malik’s parents and siblings, to Kristiana, and to the mighty Ori and Yari—for their sake, we rise again.

Governor Cuomo Grants Clemency to David Gilbert!

August 24, 2021

David Gilbert was granted clemency by Governor Cuomo in one of his last acts, and the right, then, to go before the parole board!Chesa released this statement:I am overcome with emotion. On the eve of my first child’s birth, my father, David Gilbert, has been granted clemency. He served 40 years in prison—nearly my entire life. I am so grateful for this moment and am reminded of the many other families praying for their loved ones’ return.My heart is bursting, and it also aches for the families of the three victims. Although he never used a gun or intended for anyone to get hurt, my father’s crime caused unspeakable harm and devastated the lives of many separate families. I will continue to keep those families in my heart; I know they can never get their loved ones back.

Malik Alim

August 22, 2021

Malik Alim, my friend and comrade, and for the last year my co-conspirator on the Under the Tree podcast, died Friday morning in a boating accident at Fox Lake, Illinois. We join his family and his comrades at the #LetUsBreathe collective, Chicago Votes, the Chicago Community Bond Fund, and the larger BLM and progressive movement in mourning this tragic loss to our community and the world. 

Some details are sketchy, but this is what I think I know at this moment: The accident occurred August 20 around 10 am. His two small children were with him on a tube being towed by a power boat when the tube flipped over. The kids had life jackets on and popped up—and they weren’t physically hurt. Malik never surfaced. Kristiana Colon, his partner,  was in the boat and went into the water for the kids. Malik’s body was recovered Sunday morning.

Malik, 28-years-old, was an inspirational organizer and activist, a spark of energy and hope. 

I wanted you to know.

I am completely heart-broken.

Rest in power, dear Malik Alim.

Light and Love, and hold one another closer tonight, Bill

~~Under the Tree is, of course, suspended for now. We will plant a tree in Chicago in his memory as a gathering place to reflect on the work he did, and the work ahead. You can hear Malik Alim on most Episodes, but Episode # 38 (“Haiti on my Mind”) is the one we co-authored, and the inspiration for a lot of planning, including future Episodes and a trip to Haiti with Walter Riley. Listen to that one. Also listen to Episode # 15 (“Revolution is a Curatorial Act”) featuring Kristiana Rae Colon.

Federico García Lorca

August 19, 2021
“As I have not worried to be born, I do not worry to die.” 
~~Federico García Lorca, Spanish poet and playwright, assassinated on this day in 1936 by far-right thugs near Granada. 

Addendum I

August 18, 2021


George Bush is “heart-broken” witnessing the “tragic events.”

Liberal commentators urge us to “learn the lessons.”

OK, what are the lessons? “An illiterate population—no matter how well-trained—cannot mount a technologically advanced fighting force;” “Our mission [sic] to bring democracy [sic] to a backward [sic] country was overly optimistic [sic].”

The Exception and the Rule

August 18, 2021

Addendum II:

It’s difficult to listen to the self-assured reporters and the self-righteous pundits “analyzing” the situation in Afghanistan—often wrong (for decades now), but never in doubt. And not a moment of either self-criticism or serious reflection.

“The Taliban says the press will be free to criticize the government, but there’s reason to doubt those assurances…”—pair that with the fate of people who got on the wrong side of the US government for telling the straight and simple truth, like Daniel Hale, Reality Winner, and Julian Assange.

“The children are suffering under the Taliban…”—wonder for a moment about the fact that in the richest country in the world 15% of people under 18 live in poverty, including 35% of Black children and 40% of Latinx children, and that millions go hungry and have no access to excellent health care.

“The Taliban are unlikely to allow free and fair elections…”—consider the hundreds of recently proposed laws restricting access to the ballot in the US, and add at least a nod to the distortions wrought by the pillars of minority rule: the Electoral College, the Senate, and the Supreme Court.

“The progress made by women and girls is sure to be set back…”—think about the backward motion of women’s liberation, and read the legal and scholarly writings concerning women’s roles and rights by Barrett, Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, and  Gorsuch.

The reporters and pundits keep on talking, assuming (without deep reflection, serious inquiry, or critical thought) that the US is the exceptional nation, the greatest country on earth, the oldest and best democracy ever conceived—there are problems, of course, but they are the exception and not the rule.

How It Got In

August 17, 2021

Rather Than Focus on How the US Got out of Afghanistan, Focus on How It Got In

By Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Washington Post

17 August 21

hile politicians and pundits debate “who lost Afghanistan,” that question will likely seem very distant from many Americans’ lives. Indeed, more than two-thirds supported the decision to withdraw. If anything, most Americans might wonder how the United States came to be in the position to “lose” Afghanistan in the first place?

There should be a serious accounting for the Afghanistan debacle. The United States waged its longest war in a distant, impoverished country of only minimal strategic importance. After two decades, more than 775,000 troops deployed, far more than $1 trillion spent, more than 2,300 U.S. deaths and 20,500 wounded in action, tens of thousands of Afghani civilian deaths, the United States managed to create little more than a kleptocracy, whose swift collapse culminated in the death and panic seen at the Kabul airport on Monday.

Rather than focusing on how we got out, it would be far wiser to focus on how we got in. The accounting can draw from the official record exposed by The Post’s Afghanistan Papers project. The papers come from an internal investigation by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, based on interviews with hundreds of officials who guided the mission. Their words are a savage and telling indictment.

Under President George W. Bush, the early mission — to defeat al-Qaeda and get Osama bin Laden in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — quickly turned to nation-building. The United States would seek to build a democratic state in an impoverished country with entrenched divisions and cultural, language and religious traditions of which U.S. national security managers and military officials remained utterly ignorant.

That mission was an abject failure from the beginning. Adjusted for inflation, the United States spent more money developing Afghan institutions than it had spent to help all of Western Europe after World War II. Yet as Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan concluded, the “single biggest project” stemming from the flood of dollars “may have been the development of mass corruption.” Decades and millions of dollars devoted to building up the Afghanistan military produced forces that U.S. military trainers described as incompetent and unmotivated, with commanders making off with millions from the salaries of tens of thousands of “ghost soldiers.”

The effort to build a “flourishing market economy” led to, as Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the White House’s Afghan war czar under Bush and President Barack Obama, reported, “a flourishing drug trade — the only part of the market that’s working.” Nearly $10 billion was spent to eradicate poppy production but as of 2018, Afghan farmers produced more than 80 percent of the global opium supply. The reality, Lute admitted, was that “we didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

To sustain the fiasco, presidents, generals, civilians and uniformed military up and down the line reported “progress” in a war that they knew was not being won. While avoiding enemy body counts after Vietnam, they puffed up figures — schools built, troops trained, women educated, roads laid — that were both exaggerated and irrelevant. Each commander claimed that his objectives were met on his watch. Each president offered a new strategy that would make a difference.

Even now, at the end, hawks such as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) tout a new strategy, claiming aggressive U.S. air power plus a small number of U.S. troops could fend off the Taliban for years or decades at little cost and little controversy. To what end? So the corruption could continue, the casualties mount up, the fraud be sustained? To his credit, President Biden knew better, saying Monday in perhaps the most powerful and clear-eyed speech he’s ever given that “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”

Now, partisan politicians, reporters, pundits and armchair strategists have begun to issue dark warnings about a blow to U.S. credibility, another echo of Vietnam. But surely U.S. credibility suffered more from sustaining the debacle for years than it will from ending it. Ruinous and wrongheaded interventions — destabilizing the Middle East in Iraq, discrediting humanitarian intervention in Libya — erode our credibility far more.

Progressive activists often call for “speaking truth to power.” The Afghanistan Papers show however that those in power often know the truth, but hide it from the American people. Accountability and truth-telling could begin with the media. Why are those who have consistently lied to the American people populating news talk shows as supposed experts? Why are those who got it right, such as Andrew BacevichMatthew HohPhyllis Bennis or Danny Sjursen, largely shunned? Why are networks — not just Fox News, but CNN, MSNBC and others — part of the culture of misleading Americans?

We also need accountability and truth-telling in Congress. As Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) has proposed, it’s time for public hearings to probe the bureaucracy about its pattern of lying, while strengthening the War Powers Act and congressional oversight. A special committee should investigate the abject failure of Congress to do its job. Having had the courage to end the war, Biden could launch an internal investigation of the national security bureaucracies to figure out how to root out the culture of lying and end the promotion of buck-passing officers pretending to achieve fanciful goals. At the very least, Biden might ensure that those who promoted, defended and lied about the Afghanistan folly have the opportunity in private life to reflect on their failures.

Rats and Monsters

August 16, 2021

The US generals and politicians, the war profiteers and the military contractors are running for cover and squeezing through the cracks like rats—the monsters are retreating to their crypts. Shame on all of them.

American carnage at a bloody pause. Death and deception.

You’ll now hear a steady drum-beat from the US war-mongers and the fascists: “We could have prevailed in Afghanistan if the politicians hadn’t tied our hands;” “This proves once more that we need more resources for the Pentagon;” “We were stabbed in the back by the liberals and their buddies in the media.”

The liberals will babble and blither and clear their throats as they rattle on in response: “We knew it couldn’t be won on the battlefield, but the rapid collapse of Afghan forces was a complete surprise;” “We should have invested in a smaller, stronger, more coherent, and better-trained force, linked to a search for some more sustainable political outcome;” “Our intentions were good, our forces stepped up when the call of duty sounded and always acted nobly, but the political will of the Afghanis themselves was sorely lacking.”

For the fascists, the liberals are the problem; for the liberals, the US puppets—whether in Viet Nam or Iraq or Afghanistan—are always the problem.

What you will not hear from the liberals or the reactionaries is the simple truth: the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was a classic imperial adventure. You won’t hear it because they all agree: the US has the right (even the duty) to invade other countries at will—“We are the exceptional nation.” The arrogance and the assumed superiority are breath-taking.

Like every other adventure, the imperial architects will claim that this time was unique, that we came only to civilize and enlighten (to “save the women and the girls” in this case), that we wanted nothing more than to install democracy and bring prosperity and progress, and that the death and destruction were an unintended and unhappy by-product. It’s all demonstrably false, and it makes me want to holler: If you export democracy—US style—please take the electoral college and the senate and leave them there; if you invade on behalf of women and girls against fundamentalist religious zealots, why not Saudi Arabia, or better yet, invade the US Supreme Court. 

Thousands of US troops dead and injured, and we know that the suffering will be ongoing, tens of thousands of Afghani people thrown into the furnace of war, hundreds of thousands of lives disrupted and destroyed—there is no adequate reparations the US war-makers can offer.

And as for the trillions of US dollars that went up in smoke, the powerful will remind you not to be confused—we still can’t afford universal health care in this country, full employment, housing the unhoused, canceling student debt, or fully funded public schools.

There will be finger-pointing, and there will be rationalizing as “considered judgments” are offered up by the war criminals themselves—the politicians and generals who created and managed this 20-year catastrophe—and barely a word in the for-profit press from Phyllis Bennis or Rashid Khalidi or Ajamu Baraka or Medea Benjamin, smart and principled thinkers and scholars who opposed the war from the start. These dangerous folks might ask the real questions: What is the rank of the US in military spending worldwide? What percentage of the federal budget goes to the military-industrial complex? How much tax money—your money—went to private military contractors last year? How many US military installations are there in foreign countries? How many foreign countries have military installations on US soil? How should we make sense of these facts?

~~Close all military bases.

~~Defund the police

~~End the aggression against Cuba

~~Abolish war

Mike Rose , Rest in Power

August 16, 2021

The great teacher and education writer Mike Rose has died. I echo the words of Shirin Vossoughi:

it’s hard to find the words this morning to do justice to this giant of a person and teacher. Mike’s imprint on the work so many of us are doing to build spaces and systems of educational dignity is immeasurable. And he lived those values powerfully in every generous and gentle exchange. Here he is skyping with our SLI students, conveying a deeply palpable joy and seriousness about their minds and ideas and questions. He did this every year, making the Mike Rose visit a staple highlight of the program.

He is with me in every pedagogical moment, one of the people I reach for in my mind and heart to ground in the ethics and beauty of learning. Every piece of feedback I have written on a student’s writing carries his way. He nurtured and watered the flourishing of so many young writers, holding our vulnerabilities with care, powerfully drawing us into the craft, and showing us how to change it. His writing and storytelling did this too, incisive, searching, rhetorically capacious, and always pedagogical. Centering the deep intelligence and ingenuity of labor that others choose not to see.

The ripples from his work and spirit of being extend far beyond the people he taught directly. They live in the deep sense of presence, listening, sharpness, humor and love he practiced daily.

What a profound blessing to have known you in this life dear professor. I am heartbroken, and miss you mightily. If we had had the chance to say goodbye to you, I know we would have filled it with our deepest gratitude and esteem, and wicked stories of laughter. Love you Mike Rose.

HAITI Needs You

August 15, 2021