(River Smith’s The Long & Painful Death of Chief Wahoo-drum & poetry video with archival footage)

I used to feel like I was born with a baseball in my left hand, a shortstop’s glove on the other. Sudden Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant, Sonny Siebert set my blood rushing. What fun it was to watch Thunder Thornton, Frank Robinson, Bobby Bonds, Charlie Spikes, and Joe Carter. There is no ballet I enjoyed more than Omar going into the hole, leaping, spinning, and releasing; Kenny running, running, propelling himself in the air, cleat on the fence, reaching high as the ball slammed into his glove. Wow.

I love baseball. Love playing it. Love watching it. Oh, I enjoy Lebron, Kyrie and the guys a lot, and can get excited for a moment as a browns runner slides and twists his way through defenders, but I love baseball.

So it’s Springtime in Cleveland again. Time for blooming buds, lakefront picnics, buzzing lawnmowers, dreams of a pennant winning season, and Cleveland’s own special pastime, racism. For over twenty years our video collective has documented the demonstrations outside Fort Progressive (Fort Jacobs) to protest the demeaning Chief Wahoo emblem and the baseball team’s nickname, Indians.

Native Americans from around the country come most years to help educate fans about how the nickname and the wahoo serve to stereotype American tribal peoples; how the use of face paint and feather headdresses mock their religion; how the comments about the warpath and scalping totally misrepresent Native American history and culture. Incidentally, if you do your research you’ll find that probably far more Euro-Americans scalped Indians, than vice versa.

While isolated tribes and occasional individuals have indicated that they don’t mind the usurpation of their native images and words, every major national Native American organization has made it clear that sports team names and emblems are racist and foster unhealthy and misleading stereotypes of their people. After scores of high schools and colleges, and a few professional teams changed their nicknames, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) declared around ten years ago that they will not allow any team nicknames or mascots “hostile and abusive” to Indians to be displayed on team uniforms at any NCAA postseason tournament. American students all over the country and their advisors are getting it. Why can’t we?

How long do you think a team named the Cleveland Jews with a caricatured image for an emblem or the Euclid Negroes with caricatured Uncle Ben or Aunt Jemima would last? Somehow we can get that this is not okay when it comes to these groups. If we just open our hearts and widen our understanding a little more, we can see that it’s also not really innocent fun if our behavior causes young Indian girls and boys to have to grow up with distorted images and stereotypes of themselves and their families promoted all around them.

I have loved Cleveland baseball all my life. How does changing the name of the team harm my memories? How does it harm the actual tradition of playing the game? Bob Feller still played for Cleveland. Rocky Colavito still played for Cleveland. Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez still played for Cleveland. Changing the nickname of the team doesn’t change the joy that fans have had watching these extraordinary players. It does, however, reduce the pain and discomfort for thousands of our brothers and sisters. Surely we can delight in a Santana homerun or a diving Brantley catch whether the team is called the Rockers, the Steelmakers, or the Spiders. The cartoonish character on the player’s sleeve doesn’t make the play any more exciting or better.

I want to watch Yan Gomes and Cory Kluber. I want to cheer on Francisco Linder, and Urshela when he gets here, but neither I nor many other fans with conscience will ever feel comfortable paying to attend a Cleveland baseball game as long as it means insulting our Indian brothers and sisters, and their children.

River Smith is co-producer at Liberation Brew TV
and author of A Conspiracy to Love: Living A Life of Joy, Generosity and Power

# # #

As a childhood sexual abuse survivor, a workplace sexual harassment survivor (fired for reporting my incident), and as a teen and young adult male who was almost certainly guilty of sexually abusive behavior toward some of the girls and women in my life, I am really encouraged by the “Me, too” movement sweeping the world. My individual accountability is important, but unfortunately, it is not enough.

Awareness of a problem is crucial to solving it. And the “Me,Too” campaign is acknowledging and increasing that awareness. However, avoidance, denial, rationalization, minimization all contribute to our institutions not producing a comprehensive problem-solving response to sexual abuse and harassment. In part, that’s because there is no solution to it as an isolated problem. We are perpetuating the denial if we operate as if there actually is one. Unless we address this as just one bar, of the many, that keeps us in the male supremacy cage that author Marilyn Frye described many years ago, we are unlikely to ever solve this problem. Girls and women lack the right over their own bodies, their right to reproductive freedom, their right to equality under the law, their right to education, their right to control of property and money, their right to not be considered property, their right to equal pay, their right to authority over their children, and any other rights we can think of. These are all bars in that cage.

All this is a natural outgrowth of a patriarchal living system–A Dominator System, as Riane Eisler calls it, rather than A Partnership System.

As I worked for over twenty years coordinating a program to help hold men accountable for battering their partners, while I volunteered for, and sat on the local rape crisis center board, as I spent years on an anti-violence task force, and co-leading a Men Against Rape group, presenting trainings to school systems to prevent sexual harassment, according to FBI statistics, the violent crime rate in The United states steadily declined in all but two areas: domestic violence and sexual assault.  This is not a coincidence.  It is also not a coincidence that well over 90% of all violent crimes against women and men are committed by men. We are the problem—as long as we allow ourselves to be. To use an appropriate metaphor, our trained-in violence is just the tip of the spear. Boys are trained to be served by women. We are taught that we are better than women.  We are the ones that matter. We are the family of Man. Not long ago a survey showed that when boys were asked what they would do if they were suddenly turned into a girl, some said they would kill themselves.

In study after study, we find that when a work product is being identified as created by a woman, both women and men rate it as inferior to one identified as created by a man. We know that every major institution in our society is shaped by men and the values that have been perpetuated for at least 3500 years. We know that the orthodox form of all current major religions on the earth were shaped and developed in patriarchal, male dominated cultures, and they reflect those values.  These are the bars of that cage. If we want to fix the problem, we must identify it.

The sexual objectification of women, the use of women as tools for sexual gratification, the coerced or forced cooperation for that gratification, are just bars in that cage. If we want to eliminate them as a problem, men everywhere must face our own culpability, recognize and challenge the institutions that shape our attitudes and actions, make a commitment to be accountable, learn to listen to, and join with our sisters, the feminist wombin who are, and have been, leading the struggle to dismantle and transform the cage into a great table where we can all share the feast that life has to offer us.

Through this process we will gain the genuine opportunity to solve the problem of sexual harassment and assault.

River Smith is still the same troublemaking eco-feminist punk he’s always been.

Dyana Ross approached me, smiling, speaking playfully, with some attitude, “You’re a little young to be in here, aren’t you?”  A couple stools further down the bar, my cousin engaged in an animated discussion with two mean looking guys.

I told Dyana that I was old enough, and man enough to handle her, forgetting two things for the moment. Dyana wasn’t a “her” but a knockout drag queen look alike, and, as far as I knew, I was not “queer.”

My cousin grabbed me, saying we had to get going.  Many of the guys seemed quite angry at him for bringing an under aged kid into the bar, knowing they were facing frequent police raids.  If I got nailed there with no I.D., that was all the authorities would need to shut this important social center down. Joann’s was a little out of the way place on Payne Avenue in Cleveland. Like so many “queer” bars, they always had to be on the lookout for police. Sometimes, they could go for weeks with no trouble; sometimes they could expect police harassment almost every night.

I’ve been reminded of this story, over a half century old, as I’ve listened to the news from Chechnya the last few months, regarding the systematic torture, imprisonment, and murder happening today in their country, where men are regularly arrested for being gay. One of Russia’s republics, this government recently encouraged the abduction and detention of 100 gay and bisexual men. Up to twenty of them have been reported killed or missing; the rest, beaten and tortured. Human Rights Watch and other rights organizations are seeking worldwide action as Chechnyan families are encouraged to commit honor killings against gay men, to rid the family of the stain of gayness. There are even reports of gay prisoners being released from prison early, so their families can then kill them.  The homophobia permeates the entire society.

While there were rarely these kind of honor killings in the early 1960’s, when my “queer” cousin took me to Joann’s, America was still a dangerous place for him. When they were bored, some of the teen guys from my neighborhood all those years ago, would go downtown and hang on The Mall, where “queers” who either didn’t feel comfortable going to the few bars that existed in town, or were virtually isolated in their lives, would cruise, looking for guys to pick up.  My heterosexual friends took great pleasure in bragging about “rolling a queer,”  which meant beating up and robbing a man who was seeking a sexual partner in a society that made his basic identity and orientation illegal.  This “f-g fishing,” as it was later called, provided easy money, and a way to get their aggression out, knowing that the victim would almost never go to the police.

As we condemn the Chechnyan hate campaign and the many other countries where homophobia and discrimination are commonplace, we must face that, even in our country, the insults, threats, and assaults are not ancient history. It’s been less than twenty years since Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered, just one year since the Pulse nightclub massacre claimed fifty lives. According to The Southern Poverty Law Center, hundreds of hate crimes are committed against Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer community members every year.

There are still many states with no anti-discrimination laws for employment, housing, and public accommodations, and we are not many years removed from various state efforts to bar gay and lesbian teachers from elementary school classrooms. Gay, lesbian, and transgender children are frequent victims of bullying in the schools. Now we have a president who has declared that our transgender brothers and sisters can no longer serve our country in the armed forces.  At the same time, this president’s justice dept has declared that The Civil Rights Act does not cover sexual orientation.  In the meantime, three days before this writing, a local transgender resident, after months of harassment, was attacked with a brick, a plank, and a helmet by a group that then posted a video of the attack on snapchat.

My cousin was nineteen years old when he came out to our family in about 1960, at a time when the medical community considered homosexuality a mental illness. He and his partner died in an accident over a decade later, likely never dreaming that they could have one day legally married in Ohio.

While there has been a dramatic shift in general attitudes over the past thirty years here, and in nations around the world, if we truly want to give all children a chance to be free, we must continue to challenge the homophobia, and the sexist oppression that fuels it, wherever we find them, including in ourselves.


River Smith is a psychologist, social justice educator/activist, and author of four books, including the soon to be published, Healing Handbook.


I am seeking folks who are willing to read the manuscript of my new novel, and give me critical feedback.
Informed by my clinical background in post-traumatic stress healing, my work with both sexual abuse survivors and perpetrators, my twenty years coordinating a feminist based, domestic violence program for male offenders, and my own life as a sexual abuse survivor, this book address-es these issues, along with racism, classism, homophobia, the Iraq War, and the struggles of growing up in a marginalized working class family, while telling a painful but hopeful personal story.
The format of the book is inspired by Alice Walker’s, The Color Purple. The story is told through the journal of fifteen year old, Zachary (in his vernacular), as he moves through the spring and summer of 2004, as victim and perpetrator. The journal is interspersed with a running commentary being written in 2008 by his eighteen year old younger sister, Angie.
I’m an experienced writer, and I feel pretty good about what I’ve done, but I’d really like to hear how it works for readers.
Below is the text of a query letter I’m sending to agents. If you decide you’re interested, contact me at

Zachary Parker is a basically a good kid. This fifteen year old has some amazing qualities, some serious problems, and he also has a secret. In THE TRAGIC CRASH OF THE INCREDIBLE FLYING BOY, the reader soon discovers both the secret and the harm it does to Zach and his family.
Set in a working class suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, the story unfolds through Zach’s personal journal during five months of 2004. As it unfolds, readers get a picture of a dysfunctional but loving family that has experienced tragedy, abandonment, poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, and abusive incest. The readers also watch the struggles and growth of this tragically flawed teen who helps and hurts so many who cross his path. You see, Zachary is both a survivor and an abuser; a victim and a victimizer. As readers witness the often frustrating and extraordinarily difficult journey Zach takes from denial to accountability, the story is given added perspective by Angie, Zach’s younger sister, who, writing from 2008, both introduces the reader to the journal, and makes important comments about her experience throughout the book. And, yes, if you can believe the newspapers, the flying boy really does fly.
As a psychologist who has worked extensively with both sex offenders and survivors, I was inspired to bring a story forward that more accurately depicts the tragedy of incest and other related family issues, than what is usually presented in the media. As a former weekly commentator for the local NPR affiliate, a feature writer for The City News, an occasional guest columnist for The Plain Dealer, and a widely published poet, I have written extensively on social issues relevant to this work.
Reality can be a frustrating, painful crash, but it can also be an enriching, inspiring, hopeful experience. Let Zach and Angie show you how. I hope this unique tale of a couple of working class kids in a much too common situation will interest you. The manuscript is available for immediate re-view. Thank you for your time.

Source: ap-indians-wahoo-protest-baseball_001.jpg (1000×1350)

Featured Image -- 57I don’t even remember his name. I was pretty sure he didn’t like me much. He hardly spoke to me. This was the early 1970’s, and we were involved in numerous political actions on the Tri-c metro campus at the time. He was most focused on what was being called the Black Power movement. I think he was a veteran, but I’m not sure. One time, as I conversed with other members of his group, he walked away, saying loudly, “I don’t trust white people. Just stay away from me, Man.”

He wasn’t pleasant around me, but when I heard him speak in groups, I knew he cared as much about justice as I did. He expressed a passion for fairness, and didn’t seem intimidated by the authorities during the occasional confrontations.

He was a Black man in a country where white people had kidnapped and enslaved his people for centuries, and then, through many decades, had engaged in hundreds of lynchings and systematic discrimination in all areas of public life. I knew he had no good reason to trust a white guy. In spite of that, though he had told me to stay away from him, I was convinced that if he just got to know me, we could be friends or at least active allies.  I approached him again one day during a demonstration, and to my surprise, instead of walking away, this time he turned and got right in my face. “I told you; stay the f–k away from me!”

I took his advice.

A couple months later, there was a demonstration in the commons. I don’t remember what it was about. It could have been the school administration, police brutality, the war, Black rights, or whatever. There were always good issues. I was late, and when I got to a balcony overlooking the commons, I saw that the police were present, and there were a couple scuffles going on. It looked like one of them involved three or four officers and him, but I couldn’t see for sure because the police were blocking access to the commons. Not able to get any clear information about what had happened, I moved on after a while. I had to get to work anyway.

A few days later, as I perused the newspaper, I saw a small article that reported that a county jail inmate had committed suicide.  As I read further I realized the inmate was my would-be friend.  According to the report he had somehow hanged himself.

Now, maybe he really did kill himself, but nobody I knew believed that.  We knew he would have fought the police with all the rage inside him.  He would have made life miserable for those trying to arrest and book him.  And I knew from my time on the street that many officers made sure that anybody resisting at all, paid a price. We believed that a proud, rage-filled Black man like him would be in real danger.

All these years later, maybe Sandra Bland really did kill herself in that Texas jail cell, but when I heard her story, I immediately thought of that courageous, righteously angry man. A proud, “uppity” Black woman, outraged by police behavior and the charges brought against her, arrested for assaulting an officer, would not go quietly. Given what many us know through our experience of what some individuals with unfettered police authority are capable of doing, it has to be proven to us that she was not murdered in that cell, not proven that she was. Unfortunately, American jails have always been dangerous places for Black citizens.

I don’t know how many people have been murdered while in police custody–maybe not as many as I imagine–maybe a lot more.  And that’s the problem with authority.  How do we trust those in power? Anyone who knows the history of racism and classism in this country knows that those with unchecked power can do whatever they want to you, regardless of your supposed rights. Sometimes they suffer consequences; most times they don’t. There are thousands of union organizers, rights workers, civil disobedience activists, or just people with the “wrong” attitude that can attest to that.

As we discuss current police violence, these deaths and others like them are a reminder that all aspects of state control in a democratic society must be scrutinized and monitored by a vigilant public committed to justice and liberty. The current conversation must name racism and racist violence. It must also lead us to methods to ensure all citizens protection from arbitrary violence from those delegated to serve us. We all deserve that.

River Smith is a psychologist and social justice educator.

cosby2Hey, hey, Hey!  Fat Albert must be doing back flips in his video grave.  America’s 1980’s safe Black man, Dr. Cliff Huxtable, has turned out to be the creep that women have to fear. Finally, Bill Cosby’s sworn testimony that he drugged women to have sex with (Rape) them has been released.

That’s the inconvenient thing about heroes and celebrities; they’re just people. Some of them are mean spirited; some unethical; some vindictive; some violent; some also victimizers, in about the same numbers that we in the rest of the population are. They are also subject to the same misogynist, sexually oppressive training almost all of us get.

Growing up as a pre-teen in the Cudell neighborhood of Cleveland half a century ago I used to hang at the corner sometimes with the older boys.  There I heard the legends about Spanish Fly from these fourteen to sixteen year olds.  It was considered the magic bullet for achieving sexual success. Though nobody that any of us actually knew seemed to know anyone who had utilized it themselves in their efforts to “get some,” there were always the stories of some girl, after drinking a coke secretly dosed with fly, getting so excited that she hurt herself on a gear shift knob.  Really.  This is what they talked about.

The lesson I learned as a ten year old was that I was supposed to use any way I could to get a girl to have sex. Of course without online video pornography available, I wasn’t exactly clear what having sex actually was. Nevertheless, the initiation into manhood was successfully “scoring,” even if that meant using a prostitute. Women were seemingly a foreign species that wanted us to overcome their defenses. The theory was that girls really wanted the sex, but had to act like they didn’t. “No” really meant “please try harder.” I imagine Bill Cosby received similar training, including the fantastic tales of Spanish Fly.

As I grew older and overcame the misinformation, gradually learned more about my sisters, life, and the meaning of consent, like many males, I reduced my abusive male behaviors.  Bill Cosby became a thoughtful humorist, and, evidently, a serial rapist like many other men of various backgrounds, committing repeated crimes against women. Due to statute of limitations provisions, he cannot be held criminally responsible. He is just one more of the countless acquaintance rapists who goes unpunished under the law.

In my twenty-plus years as a psychologist specializing in post-traumatic stress, I have heard many stories of rape and sexual assault, and witnessed the life altering wounds. I also have heard dozens of stories of men coercing partners into sex, and women on dates being pressured into sexual situations.  As recently as the 1990’s I saw studies that showed that 40% of college aged men approved of “rape behaviors” as long as they weren’t labeled “rape.”  Nicholas Syrett documents in his new book, The Company He Keeps, how fraternity culture presently promotes rape attitudes among their members. Of the scores of men I worked with in batterers groups in recent years, a substantial minority believed it was their partner’s duty to have sex with them. It’s only been about twenty-five years since Ohio finally changed the law so that a man can be charged with the rape of his wife. Until then, a man physically forcing sex on his wife was not considered a criminal.

Over the last three decades violent crime rates have steadily declined in all categories except rape and battering. Our culture is only now beginning to face the epidemic of campus rapes.

We know the cause of this scourge. It’s not about some unique male monsters. Many people have named it. It’s male training. Unfortunately, that training is shaped by the sexist, woman hating, toxic, patriarchal culture in which we live. In this culture where men dominate the politics, the financial marketplace, the education system, the media, and the arts, it is a dysfunctional male structured vision that defines the function and focus of manhood. That includes the accepted attitudes toward women. This also causes many women to suffer from an internalized oppression which trains them to accept these conditions.

So, when we suggest that male training must be changed to stop this violence against women, we must ask ourselves how we will help our communities to do the extraordinary work to raise their consciousness and awareness enough to transform oppression into liberation. Only then will we change masculinity in the fundamental ways needed to really stop this male insanity.

No more rape. No more battering. No more intimidation. Let’s try living in a free world.

River Smith is a psychologist, social justice educator, former co-chair of The National Organization for Men Against Sexism, and author of A Conspiracy to Love: Living A Life of Joy, Generosity, and Power (revised edition), 2012, Satyagraha Publishing Collective, Cleveland, OH.cosby2

America does not torture! That was one of the absolutes that I learned growing up. We stand for freedom. We stand for justice. We only go to war when we are attacked. We fight fair. And, we don’t torture.
It turns out, we do interrogate in an enhanced way, however.

According to the thousands of pages in the 2014 Senate Report, we do simulate drowning over and over again. We do put people for hours on end in little boxes the size of coffins. We do strip Orthodox, modest men down to nakedness in the presence of women. We do put people in physical positions of extreme pain for extended periods. We do practice something called rectal “feeding,” a practice which would be considered criminal rape by almost every state in the union, and every developed democracy in the world. We do chain naked men to cold concrete floors and allow them to die there. We do detain innocent men and do any and all of the above to them, virtually destroying their lives, and not even apologize afterwards in any way. But we don’t torture. At least that’s what Dick Cheney says. And I’ve been told Dick Cheney is an honorable man.

Mr. Cheney does practice a seemingly time honored behavior in our American history. He apparently lies about it. Just as the pilgrims in a 1637 war burned down an Indian village, not allowing a single man, woman, or child to escape, and then reported that they had fought a great battle which they won; Just as we called the Indians savages as our own colonial, and later, state governments paid bounties for the scalps of native men, women, and children; just as we repeatedly violated flags of truce and slaughtered women, children, and old men at Sand Creek, Wounded Knee, and scores of other scenes; just as we eventually violated treaty after treaty that we made with Native Americans; just as we tolerated the forced labor and imprisonment of generations of men, women, and children forcibly imported from Africa, and lied about it all, Dick Cheney appears to do it now.

It was The United States armed forces that raised the water torture to practically an art against the Filipino rebels over a hundred years ago. It was called the water cure then, and according to soldiers’ congressional testimonies, it ended up killing hundreds of those tortured. Many American leaders claimed at the time that the “cure” did not seriously harm anyone. Sound familiar? In just the last generation The Phoenix Program against the Vietnamese, which included the torture of hundreds of suspected Viet Cong, hardly received any attention, and plenty of denial that it had not seriously harmed anyone. Dick Cheney is only following the tradition.

We aspire to a noble goal in international affairs. It is one that we should hold high. The United States has for decades been a primary force behind international no torture agreements. All signatories to the agreements have sworn to not use torture under any circumstances because the world community has concluded that torture is morally repugnant, and should no more be accepted than murder or rape as acts of war. Those that sanction, order, or perform these acts can be prosecuted by The World Court, and many have.

Given our media’s willingness to accept the Cheney-Bush rationalizations and euphemisms for their torture policy, we have to wonder whether the two psychologists, paid $81 million to design and evaluate the torture program for the CIA, will ever be prosecuted. Will Dick Cheney, George Bush, and their CIA executives and operatives who carried out their program ever be prosecuted here or in The World Court?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is, Maybe. In December our ally, Germany, allowed war crime charges to be filed against the Bush administration people who developed and enforced their torture policies. Other nations have already done this. Just because our media is accepting the cover stories the torturers supply, doesn’t mean the rest of the world will. Of course Dick Cheney says he would do it all again in a second. Perhaps he wouldn’t be so eager if he knew humanity would hold him accountable.

River Smith is a psychologist, social justice educator, former co-chair of The National Organization for Men Against Sexism, and author of A Conspiracy to Love: Living A Life of Joy, Generosity, and Power (revised edition), 2012, Satyagraha Publishing Collective, Cleveland, Ohio.

(A shorter version of this piece appeared on and in the July 26th edition of The Plain Dealer.)

Rabbi Joseph Raksin was walking to temple in the Miami area three weeks ago when two strangers walked up and shot him down. All over the world in the last couple weeks, people have engaged in anti-Semitic attacks. Of course, unfortunately, that’s not particularly unusual. Jews have faced discrimination and unprovoked attacks throughout the last two thousand years. In countries the world over, scores of generations of Jews have lived and died with that fact of life always looming near. In fact, The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there are hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks every year, right here in this country.
It’s been over twenty years now, since the program director of a local radio station called me into his office to tell me that as long as he was there, I would never be allowed on the air again. As a substitute talk show host I had to come up with controversial topics to get listeners to call the show. On that day I’d elected to ask the question, Should we consider withholding part of our foreign aid to Israel until they agree to negotiate with the Palestinian Liberation Organization?
I thought I had a unique perspective, having been denied my Jewish heritage as a result of the virulent anti-Semitism led by American hero Henry Ford earlier in the century. My mother and her siblings spent their formative years living with their ailing Jewish immigrant mother and their Italian immigrant father in Detroit during the time that Mr. Ford funded The Dearborn Independent, a scurrilous weekly rag that spewed anti-Jewish rhetoric. The fear and shame generated in my family by the anti-Semitism was so poweful, that when their mother died at an early age, my mother and her siblings buried our Jewish heritage along with my grandmother. Thirty plus years later, when, as a child, I asked my mother what nationality we were, she replied, “I’ll tell you what my mother told me. You tell them you’re American.”
I didn’t learn of my Jewish heritage until, as an adult, I did genealogical research. Even then, the fear and self-hatred was so deeply imbedded that my mother’s youngest brother refused to accept that he had been born Jewish. Given this history, I believed I could manage a thoughtful discussion about Israel’s safety, anti-Semitism, and fairness for the Palestinians. I guess my boss didn’t think so. It was just a year or so later that the Israelis did finally agree to negotiate with the Palestinians’ chosen representatives.
Now here we are over two decades later and still Israel occupies Palestinian lands. A strong right wing movement has grown up in Israel that believes all of Palestine should belong to an exclusively Jewish state. Tens of thousands of Israelis have moved into the territory and established “settlements,” using all kinds of legal bureaucratic mechanisms to claim land and water. Successive Israeli governments have supported the settler (colonizing) movement, while officially paying lip service to a two state solution, which the movement opposes.
There was a time, during about the first thirty-five years of Israel’s existence, when Israelis genuinely had to worry about invasion from multiple Arab armies, and the total extinction of the nation. In fact, along with many other Americans, before the Six Days War, I was willing to go help Israel defend itself. Now, objective observers agree, there is no current government in the Arab or Muslim world that would seriously consider invading Israel. Why? At least partially because the heavily militarized Israel would easily destroy their armies, their economies, and their cities. Would Egypt invade? Saudi Arabia? Syria? Iraq? Iran? Don’t bet on it. It is the military-industrial complex of Israel and right wing politicians, along with American politicians of all stripes, which keeps this paranoia of invasion as the op-erating principle behind most Israeli policy. This aura of fear shapes the worldview of the majority of the Israeli public, and makes it possible to justify the actions of their government.
So, once more as some shortsighted Palestinian militants use violence to justifiably fight for their independence and statehood, Israel uses its overwhelming firepow-er to not only attack the militants, but to kill hundreds of innocent civilians. At this writing, the Israeli army has shelled hospitals, schools, countless neighborhoods, and the main power station supplying electricity and clean water to most Gaza residents. Approximately two thousand non-combatant, innocent men, women, and children have been murdered by the bombs and guns of our closest ally. This asymmetrical battle is a repeat of a battle from a few years ago when the Israeli military killed over one thousand innocent civilians. Fewer than one in five of the casualties in that fight were armed fighters. It looks like Israeli guns have produced an even worse result this time around. There have been about nineteen innocent lives snuffed out for every confirmed armed fighter killed. Under no standards of war is this anywhere near an acceptable rate of civilian casualties.
So, what is the context for all this mayhem? To understand the dynamics at work here, we must acknowledge history. The Jewish people have been a targeted group in Euro-based cultures in nations around the world in century after century. There are still many people alive who witnessed or experienced the holocaust, a systematic effort to exterminate the whole people. This took place while many people around the world stood by, not lifting a hand to stop the slaughter, some even blaming the Jews for the genocide.
Immediately after Israel was established as a Jewish state, against the will of the majority of the population of Palestine, a half dozen Arab nations attacked Israel, with the goal of wiping it out. Less than three years after the holocaust ended, this reinforced the Jewish nation’s perception that they were in an eternal fight for the very existence of their people. Although Israel was the aggressor in the 1956 war, The Six Days War in 1967, when again a half dozen Arab countries initiated hostilities with the declaration to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, reinforced the deep fear of extermination, and the rationale for all kinds of outrageous Israeli government actions against the Palestinian people. It is a painful fact that a sickening anti-Semitism is still rampant throughout the world as I write this. There regularly seems to be an anti-Jewish slur ready, just below the surface of almost any conversation. So, it is understandable that a half century after the last serious military threat, the majority of the Israeli public and a like majority of Jews around the world live in a distorted state of fear, not reflected in current reality. To support that perception, selective history is presented, out of context reports, and outrageous claims are put forward by the Israeli war machine. All the while, the Palestinian people live the simple, harsh reality that they are an occupied people, seemingly paying the price for the unremitting anti-Semitism that feeds Israeli paranoia.
Israel has been in violation of international law for over half a century, since the occupation began. International human rights organizations have time and again found their occupation forces guilty of torturing imprisoned (often illegally) Pales-tinians. Rather than leading the UN Security Council in condemning Israel’s behaviors, our government provides justification for the invasion and inevitable results.
Isn’t it about time we change the rules of our relationship with our dear friends? Can we continue to accept them doing things that we would not accept from any other nation? It’s one thing to accept a democratic Israel defending its citizens within the approximate 1967 borders, and to commit our lives and our fortune protecting our trusted ally’s right to exist, free from the aggression of any other nation. It’s another, to continue to support Israel as an occupying military power that withholds the same freedoms its people cherish, from Palestinian families. And it’s still another to accept the needless slaughter of those families, as Israel’s military commits war crimes, and then blames the people they are trying to kill for somehow causing the Israeli war crimes.
The question remains, will The United States government begin to challenge our friends when they are wrong, and stand for freedom and democracy for all, everywhere, or only where it’s convenient? The occupation must end now. And we must continue to fight anti-Semitism wherever we find it. The hearts of free people everywhere demand both.

River Smith is a social justice educator/activist, psychologist, author, and co-producer of the public access cable TV shows Liberation Brew and The Love and Justice Report.

I read the other day that after all the public discussion of the prevalence of rape and sexual assault on campus, colleges still have consistently failed to develop a system to hold sex abusers accountable. This is very disturbing, but not surprising. There is a natural tension between justice for the person victimized, and fairness for an accused victimizer. That tension will likely continue to inhibit the development of procedural remedies.
I believe there is something much deeper that we must consider when we look to change the reality of sexual assault on campus. Below is an excerpt from an essay in my 2010 book, Like She Is In Him: Selected Work from A Troublemaking Eco-feminist Punk.

Sparks Everywhere and The Struggle to Transform CAPSS

The most important event in my life to date took place in my early adulthood when I met Judy Wildwater Beckman, a radical feminist thinker and activist. She has been teaching me since. She introduced me to Andrea Dworkin, The Red Stocking Brigade, Mary Daly, Alice Walker, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Marilyn Frye, Barbara Smith, Marilyn French, Carol J. Adams, and countless other feminist/womanist thinkers who have helped shape my view of the universe since then. Her expectations, demands, tolerance, and generosity have led me to become a powerful, loving man who I hope is getting better and better at challenging my sexism, racism, and other issues of oppression.

For nineteen years I have coordinated a community based, feminist oriented, volunteer run program to address domestic violence against women. Over twenty-five years ago I helped coordinate the child care for the first Take Back The Night March in Cleveland. In the early 1980’s I volunteered for the local rape crisis center. In 1985 I connected with the National Organization For Men Against Sexism, and became part of its leadership collective. I was communications coordinator for the first International Brotherpeace Day in 1986. I co-founded Cleveland Men Against Rape twenty years ago. As a teacher, a radio commentator, a columnist, an alternative TV producer, and a therapist, I have focused attention over and over again on sexist oppression, and I’ve done scores of other activities supporting women’s causes through the years.

I am proud of those things I’ve done, but does all of that make me not sexist in my daily life, make me a safe companion to women? I like to think it demonstrates a certain widening of consciousness, but I am a member of a privileged group who has been taught from the day I was born by almost every institution in my experience to engage in the oppression of over half the human race. I have been informed in thousands of ways, day in and day out about what my attitude is supposed to be towards members of the other group, and what my behavior as a member of the privileged group is supposed to look like. I learned early to enjoy that privilege–Enjoy that privilege, to experience that privilege as if it is natural.

Two of my closest friends belong to oppressed groups over which I hold privilege. No matter how close we feel to each other, I work to always stay aware that, in spite of being a victim of classism and adultism, and to a lesser extent, heterosexism, I can never fully relate to my friends’ conditions, and as long as we live together in the patriarchal, white male system, can never expect them to fully trust that I wont use my privilege consciously or unconsciously against them.

Recently, Judy Wildwater and I playfully came up with the term, CAPSS. It stands for Chronic–Acute Penile Supremacy Syndrome. Everyone in the culture is victimized by this insidious patriarchal illness. As I recall, Z Budapest said that comparing the cost of sexism for men to that of women, was like comparing a hangnail to an atomic bomb. While I agree with the sentiment, I believe that as this infectious dis-ease (CAPSS) has destroyed or virtually crushed hundreds of millions of women’s lives, it has contorted the very meaning of existence for boys and men. It has made us traitors to our own species, the biosphere, and by extension, ourselves.

Oppression has no logic–just a self-fulfilling prophecy,
justified by a self-perpetuating system. Gloria Steinem

It is gynocide that gives rise to genocide. Mary Daly

For we have, built in to all of us, old blueprints of expectation and
response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at
the same time we alter the living conditions which are a result of
those structures…. Audre Lorde

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were
not made for humans any more than black people were made for
whites or women for men. Alice Walker

Thanks to the insights of a number of brilliant, generous women, for many years I have grown in the conviction that we live in a culture that is infected by patriarchy (CAPSS?) and speciesism. I believe that the domestication of animals for more than occasional “use” established the normalization of creating an other whom we had the right to control, to make to exist for our purposes. It is at least partially out of this process that the patriarchal illness has developed. I’m certainly willing to entertain other hypotheses, but this is one from which I currently draw much of my sense of the world.

All systems developed within that larger infected system also carry the infection within them. So, whether we are talking about family systems, government systems, corporate systems, knowledge organizing systems, culture generating systems, culture or government disrupting systems, or other relational systems, they are all distorted by, and suffer from, these life eating infections. Corporate capitalism, Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist interpretations of communism, most religious hierarchies are all particularly painful and damaging manifestations of this.

The dis-ease has infected and affected just about anyone within the reach of these words. Unlike many other diseases, an integral part of this dis-ease is the inability to identify that we are infected or even when the infection is affecting our thinking or behavior. From the beginning of this affliction, it directly affected men, and has since served to confuse at least that half of the species regarding the nature of power and the value of intimacy, comity, community, and balance. This confusion distorts not only our view of the world, but our experience in relation to it. The very nature of what constitutes threat, what constitutes safety and security, what constitutes emotional connection, what constitutes accomplishment, what is essentially important to our wellbeing, is distorted. This distortion creates an insecurity and paranoia so deep that most men live in an almost always scary unreality where there is constantly a dangerous other, separate, disconnected. Whether that other is identified as a part of ourselves, another individual human, another group, another species, the natural world, pain, or death, there is an assumption that it is natural that we must fight against, compete with, degrade, or fear that other. With this unrelenting fear of, and imbalance in, our world, there is an overwhelming, often pressing, need to find stasis through some level of control of, and power over this dangerous environment and those others in it. The fist must be formed, the walls built, the missiles manufactured, and the weapons aimed; the ropes fashioned, the chains shaped and linked.

The first victim is the estranged alienated self of every boy child born into this infected environment. As the infection grows, it increases the boy’s capacity to victimize others, to numb oneself to the internal distress and the external results, and to cooperate in a comprehensive process of denial. Women, and by extension, the issue of their great power, children, are the first others within the species to be victimized. This victimization continues in an ongoing spiral that results in such an alienation from the real world that we end up soiling our own nest and endangering the whole biosphere. Simultaneously, the boys and men within the group are rated and forced into the hierarchy under the threat of being labeled one of those others.

Since men are born into a system created and reinforced by the men who came before us and their self-hating women subordinates–a system within which we are alienated from women, children, our environment, our bodies, and ourselves, it feels better for men to belong, even within the tenuous conspiracy of oppression and control over others. It feels better to be accepted as a part of the group called men. Also, because of the all encompassing indoctrination, it not only is terrifying to not be considered a man, it is hard to conceive that there is anything else worth being. In fact, that feeling is so prized that often men will do the most hurtful or insane things to continue to be considered part of that group.

Sex abuse, battery, war, the norm of violence between men, the epidemic of addictions, most anxiety, most depression, heterosexism, racism, classism, and most other oppressions are symptoms of the dis-ease. The general society’s behavioral and cognitive responses to them are severely limited because the systems we have in place are so infected by the dis-ease themselves. As a result, most “good” works are at least partially sabotaged by the infected systems in which they take place.

Whether we’re executives, anarchists working in the streets, community activists, workers at the plant, small business owners, urban farmers, or social service workers, unless we are consciously challenging the messages we have been fed about the need to control the others (that there are really others) and the need to numb ourselves, our success at experiencing happiness or love in our lives, and our power to liberate ourselves and the planet will be limited.

Beyond that, not only have men oppressed women, but members of our group have spent millennia trying to convince women and girls and boys that the unreality stemming from the dis-ease is actually real life. That the world is really a naturally dangerous place filled with dangerous others. If a woman or girl or a man or boy openly refuses to acknowledge that distorted reality, an effort will be made to somehow make them or their ideas invisible, irrelevant, or some way unacceptable. Unfortunately, as a natural response to fear, many members of the men group will also do almost anything to prevent disruption of the tenuous security we feel. Some strategies include the mass murder of women, the systematic degradation of what is identified as the feminine, the societal wide acceptance of dominance and control. There is the always looming intimidation of rape and battering if women (or male allies) in any way threaten to disturb our stasis or confuse our unreality. When these methods are not effective, the system may create space to address individual violence, harassment, even discrimination within certain confines, as it continues to resist full awareness of the unreality and the actual illness that causes it.

This, for instance, results in the grudging acceptance of the push for women’s equality within the sick, dysfunctional system. This keeps us from uniting to pull the chains from the wall, to stretch, to reach for women’s liberation (and men’s) and the healing of this horrid dis-ease that has plagued us for so long.

And, now when four hundred generations of half the species have attempted to control what you do, what you believe, what you think, what you feel, it is hard to resist that. When you’ve been so exposed to the illness, some version of the sickness is bound to manifest itself within you. The fear, alone, is an extraordinarily powerful mystifier and indoctrinator. Yet, amazingly, in spite of some symptoms, many women and some male comrades have somehow passed down through the generations the knowledge of the actual reality in which our species lives. (This is the natural harmony with itself and the other species and eco-systems of our existence.) For many generations now women and their allies have been finding more and more ways to develop an immunity to, and a natural cure for the dis-ease. They are finding methods to resist it. As I write, we continue to develop strategies to reduce the symptoms as we strive toward strategies to wash it out of our system.

So Lyn or Jane or Dee, or Cousin Jeanie, or my mother spent or spend their lives paying the profound cost for my illness and privilege. The crazy dis-ease continues to rage on the TV or radio I will turn on tonight, in the book any of us may pick up at the library or the bookstore tomorrow, in a million places on the internet. In my brain. My training was just about as complete as most men’s in most societies on our earth. So was yours.

My minimum commitment to my clients as a feminist systems therapist is to bear witness and to help them redevelop a narrative that is true to their essence, that will help them heal and hold those who harm them accountable for their actions. My minimum commitment to the rest of the women of the world is to challenge myself and my brothers every single day, and to be open to account to every woman who comes my way.

PARTING RIFF: Boat Rocking, Trouble Finding, Bean Spilling

I believe that the concepts of father and warrior are artificial constructs–symptoms and enablers of the patriarchal illness, that lead to further symptoms and enablers. When we were living in the natural harmony within our species and with the rest of the species of our biosphere, there were no warriors. Even as the dis-ease developed over thousands of years, the construct of warrior was late in developing. The concept only exists as an eventual result of our dis-ease. I’m not interested in being a Warrior for peace or justice. I will strive with every ounce of my energy and blood to help heal and transform us.

More importantly, for most of the history of humanity, there was no father role, partially because there was no direct association of men with pregnancy. The role appears to not be natural to humans. We are all nurturers to our group. All mothers. All part of the caregiver family. Some with the blood-baby magic. Some without. How’s that for trouble finding? What do you think? Oops, I hear the music. Gotta go. I’ll leave you with this poem…..

Biogliding In America***

Invitation to investigation, indigestion, introspection,
instigation of an imitation of light–
Boys lying about the birth of Earth,
Birth of birth
of each and every notion–the motion rocked in the ocean when there was love in the water with the sharks,
when the Chalice wasn’t christian,
when mohammed had no mission,
when an angel could still pin the lying son of a son.
Those were the days when being Human was good enough,
when being buddha wasn’t such a hot idea—
No need to hide from half the race,
No need to control the gates,
because there were none.

Not that there wasn’t trouble.
Not that we didn’t create some rubble.
Not that we didn’t rumble, didn’t stumble,
But it was okay because we could make every movement
A Dance,
Every moment a chance to be music:
Biogliding, slipping, sliding, kissing Sweet Mother Eternity–
Long before the fraternity–
Just family flubs, occasional snubs and stubs,
Just cubs seeking manna from their mama.

I feel like dancing when I sing this song,
Feel like moving and jiggling free,
Feel like dancing, while we’re romancing
this splendendant ecology.

Watch me now…… fufupapadu papadu fufupapadu papadu…papadu fufupapadu………

River Smith is a poet, psychologist, and former co-chair of The National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS).

I almost set fire to the American flag a half dozen times as I spoke to my Liberation Brew TV audience year after year, asking the question, ”Why would someone want to burn the American Flag?” As I dangled the miniature flag in my hand, just out of reach of a candle flame, I would list the dozens of good reasons why someone might like to destroy this symbol of American power. I would also speak of the many reasons that people want to honor it. The United States represents a beacon of hope and perceived freedom to many around the world. Unfortunately, it also represents some of the worst oppression and genocide in the history of the planet.

How many millions have we enslaved? How many hundreds of thousands have we slaughtered? How many countries have we threatened or invaded? How many governments have we overthrown? Ask the Africans, the Native Americans, the Latin Americans, the Iraqis, The Haitians, the Cubans, The Iranians, and all the others our government and military have violated. They may be able to tell you.

Though I still have the TV show on local cable, I haven’t done a threatened burning in a while now. In part, that’s because I haven’t been inspired to. Perhaps a little history is in order here. Beginning in the late nineteenth century states passed anti-desecration laws primarily in response to the over commercialization of the flag. All kinds of companies were using it to link their products to patriotism, and a lot of people who considered themselves real patriots, didn’t like it.

There was little trouble and there were few incidents regarding desecrating the flag until 1963 when a man responding to the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers was arrested for burning a flag. In the years following, as the Vietnam War unfolded, flag burning incidents and arrests became a common feature on the TV news, and were occasionally reported after that. Finally, in I989 the Supreme Court, citing the First Amendment, declared all laws against desecrating the flag unconstitutional. Even though local governments have found ways to charge people who burn the flag with public safety violations, that’s not been good enough. Between 1990 and 2006 our congress tried seven times to pass a constitutional amendment that would make desecrating the flag no longer protected speech.
While my little flag burning theatre was in response to these misguided legislative efforts, I am still tired of the reflexive flag waving that goes on now. I know it feels good to experience ourselves as a community. “USA! USA! We’re number one! We’re Number One!” It’s natural for people to want to belong, but nationalism is a sick concept that divides the world community. And the principle of “American Exceptionalism” which leads us to believe that The USA is always right and good is sicker still. Come on, shout it with me, “USA! USA!”

So, when are we going to face the truth: The United States is not the greatest country in the World. It certainly has the most powerful military, and at present, it is still the mightiest economic powerhouse. That sounds good, but what does it mean to the average American citizen, and how does their life compare to the life of citizens living in any one of the other industrialized democracies of the world?
Somehow, all the other industrialized democracies, outside the old soviet sphere, have managed to develop national cradle to grave health care systems that provide superior affordable health care to virtually all their citizens. And guess what? It has not destroyed their economies.

The United States may be the greatest country in the world for the wealthiest 1% of the population. It may be the greatest country for a handful of fossil fuel energy companies, corporate farmers, and hedge fund managers, who all get major tax breaks. However, according to The Social Security Administration nearly 40 percent of all workers in the country made less than $20,000 last year. That’s below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four and close to the line for a family of three. On average, these workers earned under $18,000. According to U.S. census data, half our population lives in poverty.

The old myth of the American Dream has been revealed for what it is. International surveys show that over a half dozen countries make it easier for a citizen to rise up economically than our nation does. In fact, studies show that in this country the greatest predictor for what economic class a person will be in when they die, is what class they were in when they were born. A survey by The Associated Press reports that four out of five adults struggle with joblessness and near poverty at some point during their lives. “USA! USA!”

On average, according to The World Health Organization, The United States has a homicide rates about seven times higher than the other industrialized countries. No country in the world locks up as many of its citizens as ours does. We have the highest documented incarceration rate, and we have the most people locked up. That’s about one in every one hundred adults—three times the rate of the next highest country. Come on, shout it with me “We’re number one! We’re number one!”
We are the only developed nation that doesn’t have legally mandated paid vacation. Our country is one of only five countries in the industrialized world that have no mandated paid family leave.

As we have been celebrating our political independence, driving over roads and bridges that are in greater disrepair than at any time during the last half century, can we face that we are not looked upon by international election observers as a model of democracy either? They all know that the presidential election of 2000 was stolen. That is not a “liberal” or “conservative” observation; it’s an objective one by independent observers. Come on, “USA! USA!” They know too that state and congressional districts have been gerrymandered to deliberately avoid having a simple one person one vote democracy, and that racist restrictions are being renewed to discourage large segments of our population from voting. “Okay, all together now, “We’re number one! We’re number one! USA! USA!”

Does anybody have a spare flag? I think I’ve got a lighter around here somewhere.

River Smith has been co-producer and co-host of Liberation Brew, a satirical news show in Northeast Ohio for about 20 years. A former local NPR commentator and talk radio show host, he also ran in the only all vegan democratic congressional primary, with Dennis Kucinich in 1998.