After Alexander Cockburn's keynote address tonight, there is still another full day of radical political discussion to be had at the 5th Annual ICJPE Conference this weekend at the U-C Independent Media Center. Expect to hear more criticism of Obama's policies than you'd find on a given week of right-wing talk radio.
Paul Street (right), an activist and writer (he's written several books, including Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, and writes for Z Magazine and other outlets) who splits time between Chicago and Iowa City, will be an active participant in both of those days. I spoke with him on the phone on Wednesday, and after he inquired about whether I have a bit of a Southern drawl (probably) and I determined that he definitely had a Shee-cawgo accent, we got down to the business at hand.
Street's first appearance will be Saturday, when he participates in a breakout session with, among others, Jamie Kalven, Cristobal Cavazos, Barbara Kessel, Mike Griffin, and Catholic activist Kathy Kelly. "It's about activism in the age of Obama, and the need for people to not think that they've done a whole heckuva lot just by virtue of electing this guy," Street explained. "We tend to define politics in this country as just going into a voting booth every four years. I know a lot of liberals who are this way: 'I did that, I did my duty!' And it's like, wait a minute, politics is every day. It needs to be more than what Noam Chomsky calls the 'Quadrennial Electoral Extravaganza.'"
Then, on Sunday, Street will present a talk on the topic of "Holding Up a Mirror to U.S. Empire," and "whatever exactly that means — I think I know what it means," Street joked. It'll be "semi-prepared. I wish I was an orator who walked into a room and silver pearls came out of his mouth, but sadly that's not me. So, yeah, I wrote something up."
Street described himself thusly: "I'm kind of a left-Marxist, that's my background. I was a graduate of the Little Red Schoolhouse on the Prairie back in the day: the NIU History department in DeKalb, Illinois. Believe it or not, it was a stronghold of left-wing thought, once upon a time. I just happened come through there, and I've never been the same since. It's not that way anymore, the University's pretty conservative now, I'm afraid."
He isn't too impressed with the state of Leftist politics in universities as a whole, to be quite honest. "Leftist academia: Man, I didn't see it," Street said. "If there were such a thing as leftist academia, I think I might have a job offer once in a while. As it is, that never happens.
Although he exempted Champaign-Urbana from this group, he said, "I feel a lot of hostility being on the left in campus towns, from academics. Because they're all about Obama, and how much better that is, and blah blah blah. I don't know what happened to left-wing academics that I used to know, that I used to be one of, they just disappeared. It's a strange thing."
Continuing about UIUC, Street said, "You've got some good, progressive academics. When I say left-wing, I mean not just in the classroom, they'll give some good words about the working class or say something about Howard Zinn. The kids in their class are actually active and going into social-justice groups and anti-war groups."
And that should give you some flavor of what to expect from Street during the conference. The full schedule is below, and can also be viewed on the conference website.
Sat, April 10, 2010
Business Meeting followed by
Panel Presentations and Breakout sessions to feature:
I. Transforming The Land (Gary Cziko, Ken Dunn, Terra Brockman, Karen Hudson)
II. Transforming Social Relationships (Paul Street, Jamie Kalven, Cristobal Cavazos, Barbara Kessel, Mike Griffin)
III. Transforming Empire (Kathy Kelly, Aaron Hughes, Doug Rokke, the Rev. Geri Solomon, Representative(s) from the Zenko Peace movement in Japan)
Saturday Conference - $30 ($15 low income) Includes Lunch
Admission will also be available at the door on a space available basis.
Saturday Evening Concert at IMC
(funny songs about ignorance, war and greed)
$12 collected at the door
"Holding the Mirror Up To US Empire" / "The People Speak"
Graduate School for Library and Information Science (GSLIS), room 126 auditorium, 5th and Daniel, Champaign (UofI campus). Come up the stairs to the east-side door (or to accessible door facing SW parking lot).
Free -- open to all -- come to all or either part of it.
3-5 PM: panel discussion with two visiting speakers:
* Paul Street, independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist,
whose books include: "Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis:
A Living Black Chicago History" and "Barack Obama and the
Future of American Politics"
Street writes regularly for Z Magazine among others; see
* Kathy Kelly, three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, a
founding member of Voices in the Wilderness,
now co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
Author of "Other Lands Have Dreams: From Baghdad to Pekin Prison" and
"Prisoners on Purpose: a Peacemakers Guide to Jails and Prison."
5:00-6:30PM: special screening of Howard Zinn documentary,
"The People Speak"
narrated by Zinn and based on his People's History of the United States and
Voices of A People's History, this film uses dramatic musical performances of
the letters, diaries and speeches of everyday Americans who fought for equality
and justice from the bottom up.
Co-sponsored by AWARE, C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice, GSLIS-GEO, and the ISO (International Socialist Org.)