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News and reports

April 22, 2005 | Pages 10 and 11

Columbia University
Ban Coca-Cola on campus
Marriage is a right

Global Left Forum
By Nagesh Rao

NEW YORK--Nearly 1,000 scholars, activists and academics attended the Global Left Forum, which brought together left-wing figures to address a range of social and political issues. The task, as author Frances Fox Piven put it, was to figure out how to "throw sand in the gears of the American machine."

There were well-attended workshops and panels on the occupation of Iraq, the crisis of the labor movement, ecology, the social forum movement and a host of other topics. But the liveliest sessions were those that focused on Iraq, imperialism and the nature of the Iraqi resistance.

The opening plenary featured Barbara Ehrenreich, Frances Fox Piven, Tariq Ali and Robin D.G. Kelley. While all four speakers agreed on the need to oppose the occupation of Iraq, call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, and link antiwar sentiment to growing inequality in the U.S., they disagreed on the nature of the Iraqi resistance and on the attitude that the left should take towards it.

Tariq Ali rightly argued that the Iraqi resistance should be supported. It has "created a new mood across the world," he said. But Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, vehemently disagreed. "If the resistance to empire is going to be of the form of Islamic fundamentalism...I am for pushing some of that down," she said.

The debate continued the following day, at a panel featuring Ali and Anthony Arnove on one side and Joanne Landy and Stephen Shalom on the other. When Landy argued that the left should not support "terrorism," Ali pointed out that her argument follows the lead of the corporate media, which focuses exclusively on figures like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But Zarqawi represents "a tiny organization," pointed out Ali, while the resistance is much broader.

In the final plenary debate on third-party politics, Medea Benjamin, a founder of the antiwar group Code Pink, called for working within the Democratic Party as well as outside it. In response, Green Party representative Howie Hawkins argued, "The inside-outside strategy is one genus of the species of lesser-evilism." "The best way to defeat the hard right is to build an independent left," said Hawkins.

Peter Lamphere contributed to this report.

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Columbia University
By Dylan Stillwood

NEW YORK--About 400 people at Columbia University came to an April 4 teach-in where professors defended their colleagues against a McCarthyite campaign to silence left-wing and pro-Palestinian voices.

The meeting happened just days after the release of a final report by a university committee specially created to investigate claims that Middle Eastern studies professors intimidated Zionist students. The report rejected the most outrageous claims, but set up Joseph Massad, an untenured Palestinian professor, as a scapegoat--saying it was "credible" that he told a pro-Israel student to leave his class.

Two dozen professors spoke at the teach-in, including ones who have come under attack, like Rashid Khalidi, George Saliba and Massad himself. They exposed the nationwide campaign against left-wing professors--and how Columbia's administration has played into it.

Bashir Abu-Manneh ridiculed the idea that the right-wing students are victims. "A small number of Zionist students" effortlessly found politicians and newspapers to whip up "a worldwide campaign...yet they claim that their voices have not been heard," said Abu-Manneh. In fact, as many speakers explained, the right is actually defending the powerful--the U.S. ruling class and its allies like Israel--by attacking anyone who dares to question U.S. empire.

Massad responded to the committee's report, showing that its conclusions were based on hearsay, not evidence, and that it only gave legitimacy to the right-wing campaign. While the committee "acknowledges that there has been an ongoing organized effort at intimidation...[it] fails to see how its very establishment...makes it part of this campaign of intimidation," Massad pointed out.

The event was an amazing show of solidarity. The professors showed that they would not let even a single professor fall victim to the new McCarthyism, and many students came out of the meeting inspired to help organize.

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Ban Coca-Cola on campus
By Elizabeth Wrigley-Field

NEW YORK--Twenty New York University (NYU) students and staff staged a funeral procession and die-in April 14, as part of a campaign to ban Coca-Cola products on campus until the company agrees to an independent investigation of its plants in Colombia.

SINALTRAINAL, the Colombian food and beverage workers' union, says that Coke is complicit in numerous human rights abuses, including the murder of trade union activists. Coke has consistently refused to allow any independent investigation of the charges.

At NYU, a resolution banning Coke sales passed through several stages of student government before failing in the University Senate, which instead decided to send Coke a letter urging it to allow the investigation. This isn't surprising, given that one of NYU's trustees, Barry Diller, is also the chairperson of Coca-Cola's Board of Directors!

NYU activists are planning a series of mobilizations to step up pressure on the Senate to change its vote. "We want to be respectful of the fact that this is about people's lives," said Kristin Campbell, one of the die-in's organizers. "That's why our banner lists all the names of those people who have died from this in Colombia."

For more information, visit or for the national campaign.

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Marriage is a right
By Noah Centenero

SEATTLE--As last-minute tax filers crowded the busy downtown sidewalks, 40 people braved the cold and rain to bring attention to gay and lesbian couples who pay taxes but can't enjoy the tax benefits given to married couples. The picket outside the downtown post office was small and spirited, with boisterous chants.

The event, organized by a broad spectrum of gay rights organizations, was organized around the slogan "No taxation with discrimination." In all, there are 1,049 benefits of marriage that are denied daily to gay and lesbian couples.

The Washington State Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments about whether to legalize gay marriage. "[For us to win, it] will not only take gay people, but gays and straights," said Michael Domini, a member of Marriage Equality Now. "Whether you want to get married or not, it doesn't matter. This is about rights."

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