In a windswept miners union cemetery north of Mount Olive, Illinois, stands a large monument, marking the burial site of Mary Harris Jones. Mother Jones, as she was popularly known, was a legendary labour activist from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She devoted herself to the cause of workers, from coal mines to garment mills, railing against abusive working conditions, against child labour, against poverty. Once, when rallying a group of unionized coal miners in West Virginia, she said, "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!" As this week's national day of mourning concludes in the United States with the funeral of George H.W. Bush, the country's 41st president, Mother Jones' words are worth remembering.
Bush's family, friends, all five living presidents -- his son, George W. Bush; Jimmy Carter; Bill Clinton; Barack Obama; and President Donald Trump -- gathered at the National Cathedral to honour him.
Commentators recalled Bush's escape from a burning bomber in the Second World War, parachuting into the Pacific Ocean. In obvious contrast to President Donald Trump, Bush was remembered as an old-style Republican, patrician and civil, able to reach across the aisle. He resigned from the National Rifle Association when the gun group railed against federal agents, and was praised for signing the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.
Ignored was Bush's role in violent U.S. interventions, from the 1989 invasion of Panama, which Bush ordered, killing an estimated 3,000 civilians, to the 1991 invasion of Iraq, also on his orders, which killed thousands of Iraqis. Just this week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the U.S. to pay reparations to the victims of the Panama invasion. As CIA director in 1976, Bush supported some of the most violent right-wing dictatorships in Latin America, including the junta in Argentina and dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile.
George H.W. Bush also pardoned six of the main conspirators in the Iran-Contra scandal. Iran-Contra involved the secret sale of arms to Iran and the illegal diversion of the proceeds to the anti-Sandinista Contras in Nicaragua. Thousands of civilians were killed as a result. Lawrence Walsh, the independent prosecutor in the case, said, after Bush issued the pardons, "the Iran-Contra cover-up … has now been completed." The use of the presidential pardon power to cover up a scandal was obstruction of justice then, just as it will be if Trump invokes it now to protect likely targets of the Mueller investigation, including himself.
Yes, Mother Jones would have us pray for George H.W. Bush, who died at age 94, but also for his victims, many of whom, children included, were buried without pomp, or were simply disappeared.
She also would admonish us to fight like hell for the living. One contemporary of George H.W. Bush is Noam Chomsky, who turns 90 this week. Chomsky, the founder of the modern linguistics, is also globally renowned as a dissident author and activist. From opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam and the Iraq invasions of both Presidents Bush, father and son, to fierce critiques of the Trump administration, Chomsky has informed and inspired people around the globe for over 60 years, authoring over 100 books on politics.
Among the burning issues he addresses today is climate change. "The world has maybe a decade or two to end its reliance on fossil fuels if we're to have any hope of controlling global warming below the level of utter disaster," he said recently on the Democracy Now! news hour, adding, "we have to make decisions now which will literally determine whether organized human life can survive in any decent form."
Negotiations to limit global climate change are underway now in Poland, at the United Nations' annual summit, dubbed "COP24." Ironically, the meeting is being held in Katowice, in the heart of Poland's coal country. The summit hopes to set rules governing the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the global accord that Trump pulled out of last year. The U.S. won't actually be out of the accord, formally, until 2020, so Trump has sent a delegation that is expected to tout coal and other fossil fuels. Trump's attempt to disrupt the global consensus on climate action is mirrored in his domestic policy. His acting EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, is rolling back one climate change regulation after another, almost as fast as wildfires, hurricanes and floods ravage the country.
As George H.W. Bush is laid to rest, and Noam Chomsky continues his work, refusing to rest, we are warming the planet faster than ever. Mother Jones, who died at the age of 93 in 1930, once chastised a speaker who introduced her as a humanitarian. "I'm a hellraiser," she shouted to the crowd. The challenges that face us are immense. Now, more than ever, we need hellraisers like Mother Jones and Noam Chomsky to fight like hell for the living.
Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Truthdig.
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