Portland-based musician and vlogger David Rovics interviews CounterVortex editor Bill Weinberg for Fifth Estate Live. The two discuss Weinberg’s upcoming story for the anarchist journal Fifth Estate on the “two faces of fascism” the US confronts at this moment—a Trumpian dictatorship or a post-pandemic “new normality” of complete surveillance and social control. But the moment is also pregnant with possibility, witnessing the mainstreaming of anarchist ideas such as abolishing the police. Initiatives such as cannabis legalization as a first step toward this aim are gaining ground nationally. Looking back, they draw lessons for the current revolutionary moment from the Tompkins Square Park uprising on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1980s, and the rebellion of the Zapatistas in Mexico in the 1990s—who continue to hold liberated territory in the southern state of Chiapas even today. Watch the video archive on YouTube or listen to the audio version on SoundCloud.
In Episode 50 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes frightening advances toward a fascist world order amid the COVID-19 crisis. With police-state measures being imposed worldwide, Donald Trump is claiming “total” executive power and threatening to “adjourn” Congress. That he is doing so in the name of lifting rather than enforcing the lockdown is certainly an irony, but either way it represents exploitation of the crisis for a power-grab. Even under a best-case scenario of a post-pandemic return to “normality,” it will be in the context of an unprecedented totalizing surveillance state. Yet at this grim moment for humanity, there are utopian as well as apocalyptic potentialities. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo: Peruvian Ministry of Defense via Flickr)
It’s an irony that with police-state measures mounting worldwide to enforce lockdowns and contain COVID-19, Trump is now claiming sweeping executive power to lift lockdowns in the US in spite of the pandemic. Asserting his prerogative to override state governors and order economies open again, Trump stated: “When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total.” The media response has been to call this out as blatantly unconstitutional. While it is necessary to point out the illegitimacy of Trump’s pretended power-grab, it is also side-stepping the real threat here: of the pandemic being exploited to declare an actual “state of exception” in which constitutional restraints are suspended altogether—perhaps permanently. (Photo of protest outside “morgue truck” in New York City: Donna Aceto/Rise and Resist)
At least 10 detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, NJ, began a hunger strike and dozens more have agreed to join in, according to detainees, jailhouse advocates and attorneys. They are demanding to be released on bond, possibly with ankle bracelets to track their movements, and some even said they’re ready to be deported. Inside the jail, they have been following news reports on the COVID-19 pandemic, and say they’d rather die on the outside with family than locked in cells. They also say that if loved ones die, they want to be with them rather than hearing the bad news later. Essex County has a multi-million dollar contract with ICE to house detainees awaiting immigration proceedings. (Photo: Gothamist)
In Episode 48 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg speaks with Ernie Harburg, co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz? Yip Harburg, Lyricist, and Deena Rosenberg, author of Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin. Ernie and Deena are, respectively, son and daughter-in-law of the legendary Yip Harburg, who penned the lyrics to the beloved songs of The Wizard of Oz movie. Born to poverty on the Lower East Side, Yip’s breakthrough song was the Depression-era populist anthem “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Known as the social conscience of Broadway and Hollywood, he would be “blacklisted” in the McCarthy era—despite his antipathy to all forms of totalitarianism, fascist or communist. Ernie and Deena and their family are keeping his legacy alive today through the Yip Harburg Foundation and Yip Harburg Lyrics Foundation. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
In Episode 47 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg speaks with Punnag Tej Hazarika of the Brooklyn-based small-press imprint Coolgrove and affiliated BorderTalk blog, which explores questions of cultural intersection. Among Coolgrove’s recent titles is Winged Horse: 76 Assamese Songs, a collection of translated lyrics by Tej’s father, Bhupen Hazarika, the “Bard of Brahmaputra,” who campaigned through his music for a dignified place in India for the peoples of Assam and other minority ethnicities. Last year, Tej traveled to New Delhi to receive the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, on behalf of his late father. But the honor came with India—and especially Assam and the restive Northeast—on the cusp of exploding into protest over the Citizenship Amendment Act. The politics of the situation, and dilemmas of interculturality from Assam to New York, are discussed in a wide-ranging interview. Listen on SoundCloud, or via Patreon. (Photo via Time 8, Guwahati)
“Who is James Bay?” That’s the frequent reaction from New Yorkers when it is brought up—despite the fact that James Bay is not a “who” but a “where,” and a large portion of New York City’s electricity comes from there. In Episode 44 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s so-called “Green New Deal,” and how maybe it isn’t so green after all. The mayor’s plan is centered on new purchases of what is billed as “zero-emission Canadian hydro-electricity.” But supplying this power is predicated on expansion of the massive James Bay hydro-electric complex in Quebec’s far north, which has already taken a grave toll on the region’s ecology, and threatens the cultural survival of its indigenous peoples, the Cree and Inuit. And it isn’t even really “zero-emission.” Listen on SoundCloud,and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo: Orin Langelle)
New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio is aggressively touting his “Green New Deal,” boasting an aim of cutting the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions 40% of 2005 levels by 2030. Centerpiece of the plan is so-called “zero-emission Canadian hydroelectricity.” The city has entered into a deal to explore new power purchases from provincial utility Hydro-Quebec. But this power is predicated on expansion of the massive James Bay hydro-electric complex in Quebec’s far north, which has already taken a grave toll on the region’s ecology, and threatens the cultural survival of its indigenous peoples, the Cree and Inuit. And it isn’t even really “zero-emission.” (Map: Ottertooth.com)
In Episode 42 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Yoseph Leib Needelman-Ruiz (Ibn Mardachya), author of Cannabis Chassidis: The Ancient and Emerging Torah of Drugs. In a far-ranging meeting of the minds, the pair explore the dilemmas of Jewish identity in both Israel and the diaspora, Zionism and gentrification (with parallels from the West Bank to Williamsburg), nationalism and anarchism, and such contradictions as the embrace of cannabis by Israel’s right-wing political establishment. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo by Adam Gregory)
Hundreds of bicyclists staged a “die-in” in New York’s Washington Square Park, expressing outrage over the spate of killings of cyclists on the city’s streets. Three deaths came in a one-week period, finally prompting demands for public action: Robyn Hightman, a 20-year-old bicycle messenger and track racer, was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan. Ernest Askew, 57, riding an e-bike in Brooklyn, was hit and killed by a teen driver. And Devra Freelander, 28, an artist, was killed by a cement truck driver, also in Brooklyn. Hightman was the 12th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019; 10 were killed in all of 2018. (Photo: Streetsblog)
In Episode 35 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Emily Ramos, Pilar DeJesus and Kara Bhatti of the worker-owned marijuana consumer cooperative High Mi Madre, on their lobbying and activist efforts in support of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, still pending in the final countdown to the close of the New York State legislative session. They especially emphasize the demand for “Day One Equity” with cannabis legalization in the Empire State—reparative justice and reinvestment in the communities that had for generations been criminalized and oppressed by cannabis prohibition. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo via High Mi Madre)
In Episode 22 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg rants in anguish about how he has been deprived of phone and Internet access by Verizon's cynical design to let its copper network deteriorate and impose the transition to cellular, fiber and wireless on consumers against their will. There is no reason to believe this outage will be temporary. The illusions of freedom of choice and communications convenience has left the CounterVortex editor and main ranter with no choice and no ability to communicate—or to produce the journalism he needs to daily produce to make a living. Weinberg contends that his right to work—guaranteed by Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—is being violated with impunity. Verizon is in violation of international law, as well as New York state law. Weinberg calls upon the New York Public Service Commission to enforce the law on Verizon. He also calls upon the New York Public Utility Law Project to reach out to metro-area consumers similarly left without land-line service, and organize a class-action lawsuit against Verizon. Much more ambitiously, he calls for a public expropriation of Verizon, and the redirection of its technology, infrastructure and capital toward serving the social good rather than private profit. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo: IBEW)