(Copyright 2000 Al Aronowitz)


Taking Sides

(Copyright 1999 Richard Cammarieri)  

[Poet Richard Cammarieri, who had been studying American history, was inspired to write this poem after he finished reading Howard Zinn's A Peoples History of the United States.  When we heard him read the poem as one of a group of poets presented in April of 1999 by Ras Baraka at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, it was as if we were knocked over by a bulldozer.  Here, in concise form, is a history of the U.S. that they don't teach in our public schools.]        

"I believe it's a crime for anyone who is being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself "

     ---El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz

"When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure - there is no bloodshed - and Columbus Day is a celebration."

---Howard Zinn - A Peoples History of the United States        

celebrate what?  

ignorance deceit
conquest slavery death


that is what you are about
and I know - we know - 
what you are about

I believe nothing you say
tell me it is daytime
and I will find a window
and look for the sun
something even you cannot touch
and then I will make sure I can feel
the natural heat

I know what you are about
you lie
I know how crude
and how sophisticated you can be
the masks you wear

 but one face
ignorance deception
oppression exploitation accumulation

and you lie so well
so cleverly
so consistently
you live to make the truth a ghost
a shadow
a commodity for your manipulation

but the truth is not for sale
the truth
is not a shadow
or a ghost

don't tell me about Columbus Day
don't tell me about human progress
through discovery

          tell me about
              the accumulation of wealth through conquest
          tell me about
              the relationship of capitalism to carnage       

don't tell me about
Cortez, Jamestown, Puritans, Thanksgiving  

tell me about
    the Taino, the Arawak, the Pequot
tell me about
     conquest and blood, rivers of blood
     upon which float the untold acts of your history

don't tell me
only parts of the story  

tell me about
    encomiendas - concentration camps for Native Americans

tell me about
    the harvesting of hands chopped from those who returne

     without gold to the butchers who sailed from out of the sunrise
     under the shadow of the cross

don't tell me about
the revolution, constitution, democracy  

tell me about
     indentured servants - the relationship of  property to voting
    that you could not vote unless you owned property (and were male)
     unless you owned something

tell me about
    brown ships on blue water
    a path of bones across the sea
    a slave ship captain wrote the hymn Amazing Grace
     how sweet the name of Jesus
     in his retirement, belated attempt at self-redemption
    for the barbarism of his business trips

tell me about
    one nation under God

tell me about
    a nation where racism was cultivated and refined
    into a madness more engrained in psyche and economics
    than anyplace anytime

don't tell me about
Founding Fathers - ancestor worship disguised as history  

don't tell me about
Manifest Destiny  

tell me about
     the Cherokee, the Trail of Tears

tell me about

don't tell me about
the Civil War  

tell me about
    resistance and revolt
    Prosser, Vesey, Tubman, Walker, Turner, Truth, Brown

tell me about
    the economics of secession
    the Irish draft riots, the Copperheads

tell me about
    Frederick Douglas
    "The limits of tyrants are proscribed only
    by the endurance of those
    they would oppress."

don't tell me about
the rise of industrialism  

tell me about       
young women dying in Lowell textile mills
    the Chinese laying train tracks
    the Iron Horse running up their backs

tell me about
    the Robber Barons
     one of whom bragged
     "I can hire half the working class
     to kill the other half

tell me about
     the Ku Klux Klan  

don't tell me about
the Gilded Age

tell me about
  Haymarket Square, U.S. colonialism in Cuba
  and the Phillipines
  Southern Italian immigrants - steerage slime

don't tell me about
World War I

tell me about
  American Socialists, the massacre of workers in
  Montana, Joe Hill, Sacco and Vanzetti, 
  the Palmer Raids, Red Summer, Tulsa

don't tell me about
the New Deal  

tell me about
    the Depression - the whole story
    the Wobblies, the Veterans Bonus Army

don't tell me about
World War 11  

tell me about
    the roots of war, pacifists, Nisei, U.S. owned
    companies in Jew-exterminating Nazi Germany
    labor strikes, the Red Cross segregating
    blood by race;

don't tell me about
the American Century  

tell me about
    post-war American empire
    economic colonialism in Latin America
tell me about
    Jim Crow, the Rosenbergs, McCarthy
    The CIA in Greece, Italy, Iran, Guatemala

         tell me about
              Hoover's FBI
              a microphone under every bed
                 except his

         tell me about Dr. King
                 but not 'I have a dream', don't tell me that
              unless you've read the whole damn speech
              unless you've read Where do We Go from Here?
              his last book
              tell me about his opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam
              and to all imperialism; tell me about his call for
                  a "radical redistribution of economic power,
              tell me that
              not your sanitized, status quo symbol of bullshit brotherhood

tell me about
  recessions, urban disinvestment, planned obsolescence, the oil
  industry, assassinations - foreign and domestic,  Lumumba,
  Vietnam, Kent State and Jackson State, Cointelpro, Watergate,
  Allende. Angola, South Africa, union-busting, the flight of capital
  (what's good for America don't mean shit to multi-national
  capitalism), government scandals, savings and loan bailouts,
  corporate welfare, U.S. sponsored death squads, Contragate,
  supply-side trickledown voodoo economics, trumped up TV rating
  sweeps, Persian Gulf video war, Iraqgate, Yugoslavia (and still
  Iraq) - bomb now think of something intelligent to do later,
  permatemp job part-time economy, tolerating flags of treason
  and racism, the prison-industrial complex (stars and bars indeed)
  downsizing opportunity, profit over people, social stability and
  justice, downsizing democracy, the march of sleepy actors, tin
  soldiers, stuttering preppies, button-down bubbas, the contract on
  America mob collecting merit badges, conservative citizens
  councils, the subversion of democracy by pandering to fear and

don't tell me about
unless you tell the truth
the whole truth

don't tell us these things
your version of history
as if we have something in common with you
as if there is a singular national interest
as if there will not be
a taking of sides here

you cannot and never could
tell us anything  

your apologists cannot
because they are either ignorant or corrupt  

but you know it
you know the truth
even if you will not say it
because it is the truth
and we know that you lie to
stay alive

so know this

we will never stop fighting you

and when the day comes
we will dance on your graves
or maybe throw your ashes
out into space
where they might fall into that sun
even you cannot touch
a fire perhaps hot enough
to burn your evil out of existence

we will never stop
fighting you, exposing you, confronting you
one way or another
not until your memory is nothing
but a tale we tell our children
about a time when insane people
ruled the earth
who lived to conquer, enslave and kill
for insane things
like profit and privilege  


we'll never stop

you cannot tell us anything

you cannot tell me anything

                   I am in the pale city
                   there is blood on all the engines
                   there are nightmares in all the sleep
                   I feel your evil inside of me
                   and I kill it
                   at least once a day  


you have nothing to say to me
you cannot tell me anything

"You'll get freedom by letting your enemy know that you'll do anything to get your freedom; then you'll get it.  It's the only way you'll get it...... when you stay radical long enough and get enough people to be like you, you'll get your freedom."

---El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz

"All subject peoples are filled with hope at the prospect that an era of right and justice is opening for them ... in the struggle of civilization against barbarism."

---Ho Chi Minh  



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