Volume 21, Number 1
2007 Anti-War Protests
Readers & writers
Left Electoral Campaign
Venezuela Referendum Lessons
Darfur PR Scam?
Homegrown Terrorism Act Factsheet
Center for constitutional rights
Wisconsin books to prisoners
Review: "The Bubble"
Words of Choice
Eleanor J. Bader
We Own The World
Largely About Oil
Trade & Ghana
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Lessons from Venezuela's Constitutional Referendum
On December 2, Venezuelan voters narrowly rejected 69 proposed changes to their constitution. Contrary to some reports, this does not mean that Chávez has been “defeated” or that the opposition has become the “new majority.” Roughly 4.5 million people voted against the referendum in 2007 and against Chávez in the 2006 presidential election. While the opposition vote has not changed much, many of the 7.3 million Venezuelans who voted for Chávez in 2006 stayed home for the referendum. Although millions more abstained, Chávez’s government remains in power with close to a 60 percent approval rating. Organized opposition groups have minority support and little political power.
So what does the referendum vote mean? What lessons does it offer for those committed to social justice and democracy? Here are four ideas.
(1) Deeply progressive social, economic, and political policies can be popular. Lost in most of the discussion on the referendum are the many inspiring policy proposals that generated broad support and relatively little opposition. The proposed changes to the constitution’s articles included gems such as:
- Article 21: Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and health.
- Article 64: Establish adequate housing as a right for all Venezuelans.
- Article 87: Create a social security fund for Venezuelans who are self-employed or employed in the informal sector.
- Article 90: Decrease the workweek from 44 hours to 36 hours.
- Article 103: Mandate that all public education, up to and including university, be free of charge.
- Article 272: Require the penitentiary system to orient its work towards the full rehabilitation of prisoners and to respect their human rights during incarceration.
(2) Politically embedded journalists produce skewed news. Much has been made of how reporters embedded in the U.S. military have produced inaccurate and biased media coverage. The referendum coverage shows how journalists embedded in political movements can be just as dangerous. As others have observed, coverage of Venezuela in the U.S. mainstream media has been atrocious. Most stories are dominated by unrepresentative interviews with Chávez critics or defectors, reports of opposition rallies, and anti-Chávez rhetoric. They have reduced the 69 proposed constitutional changes to only a few of the more contested proposals.
Why are the journalists so biased? Among other reasons, perhaps because they are embedded in the Venezuelan opposition. When I first visited Venezuela in 2006, I was shocked by the extreme political and economic segregation. Cities are largely divided into Chavista and anti-Chavista zones. The latter look not very different from Los Angeles, with shiny mega-malls, tree-lined boulevards, and gated villas. The former are often informally planned barrios with self-built homes, unfinished streets, and a surplus of trash, pollution, and violence. Guess where the mainstream journalists live, work, and play? With the salary of a foreign correspondent, they can afford to stay in the wealthier neighborhoods, where anti-Chavismo is nothing less than common sense. As long as Venezuela remains so polarized, mainstream journalists will circulate in a social world dominated by the opposition—unless media establishments or the Venezuelan government try more sincerely to put reporters in “fair and balanced” spaces.
(3) Solidarity does not mean unconditional support. Alongside the referendum’s progressive policy reforms were questionable proposals, such as unlimited presidential reelection, new presidential powers to declare states of emergency, and presidential discretion to create new local and state government bodies and appoint their leaders. These changes caused millions of Chavistas to vote no or to abstain. Despite their general support for Chávez and his government, dissenters showed that their loyalty has limits. As one voter said, “People who have been with Chávez do not support the reform. He wants a blank check, and that’s impossible. We’re not stupid….”
Many leftists and Venezuelan solidarity groups have been slower to come to this realization. With too few exceptions, they have responded to the mainstream media’s unabashed contempt of Chávez with unabashed defense of Chávez. Critiques of mainstream media coverage are important. Critical discussion of the pros and cons of government proposals would be more helpful, both to provide more constructive ideas and for communicating the complexities of the Venezuelan revolution to Northern audiences.
(4) Democracy is not a yes or no issue. The referendum largely failed because of fixed and conflicting assumptions about democracy. The government claimed that the proposed reforms were democratic, and opponents claimed that they were undemocratic. For critics, the possibility of unlimited presidential reelection might further consolidate power in one man’s hands, and the appointment of leaders to new government bodies would steal power from democratically elected mayors and governors. From the government’s perspective, the reforms would let Venezuelans choose their leader without constraints, while developing new venues for democratic participation.
Both sides were right. Democracy is no simple matter, and reducing it to a yes or no issue tends to exclude and inflame those with different views. This is exactly what the Venezuelan government did. At a rally before the vote, for example, Chávez proclaimed, “Whoever votes ‘Yes’ is voting for Chávez, and whoever votes ‘No’ is voting for George W. Bush.” Statements like this are nothing new—the government has a long history of asserting its vision of democracy as the only legitimate option (TINA, with a twist).
The referendum highlighted two questionable parts of this vision. First, assumptions about democratic leadership. For Chávez, a strong democratic leader is someone who is elected by a majority, who believes in democratic processes, and who has the power to make these beliefs reality. The proposals on presidential reelection, states of emergency, and political appointees all emerge from this vision.
The government has a valid argument, but the No vote has a stronger argument for a different kind a democratic leader. These voters assumed that democracy requires many different leaders, all chosen directly by the people, kept in check with strong limits, and forced to regularly cede power to new leaders. For Chávez to be a truly democratic leader, he would need to encourage other people to lead.
Second, the Yes and No votes had different assumptions about the time that democracy takes. For the government, democratic reforms are urgent and need to be passed as soon as possible. To its credit, the government opened up significant debate on the referendum—it organized over 9,000 public consultations and made several revisions based on this input. By the time of the vote, 78 percent of Venezuelans had read or been informed about the reforms.
For opponents, this debate was not enough. Chavistas and anti-Chavistas alike complained that they had too little time to study the proposals, and that many key ideas were underdeveloped. Citizens only had a few months to read, discuss, and revise the constitutional changes. After such abbreviated discussions, proposals for things such as “federal cities” and “functional districts” remained highly ambiguous. Democratic reforms are always urgently needed, but if the government wants to successfully pass and implement them, it will need broad public support. It takes many months of debate, adjustment, and compromise to forge such support.
As the U.S. presidential campaign marches on, these lessons are particularly relevant. What kind of democratic leader should citizens demand? How quickly should they expect big changes? How do assumptions about democracy limit what politicians and movements struggle for?
After the election, Chávez claimed that the vote was a step forward for democracy. He may be more right than he realizes. Not only did the referendum show that the government respects the democratic process, it also shook people up in a new way. Whereas in the past, Chávez shook people out of complacency and passivity, this time he may have shaken them out of unconditional support and fixed assumptions. More so than ever before, millions of Chávez supporters openly questioned and dissented from their leader’s wishes. Now that is democracy.
Josh Lerner is an activist and researcher based in New York. He is a PhD student at the New School for Social Research and co-coordinator of ParticipatoryBudgeting.org. For a more detailed analysis of the referendum’s proposals, see venezuelanalysis.com.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.