WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 20...Can a man who has been honored by the Queen of England, given a TED award for social activism, named a Time Magazine Person of the Year, nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Grammy and a Nobel Peace Prize be all bad?
Leah Schildkraut thinks he can.
Bono, lead singer of U2, billionaire financier and globetrotting philanthropist, has devoted much time and energy to raising money for African causes.
But Schildkraut, Emerging Economies Specialist, with the Anarcho-Feminist Alliance, thinks he and other celebrities are doing more harm than good.
"Africa doesn't need handouts," she said. "It needs a level playing field."
On the eve of President-elect Obama's inauguration, she traveled to Washington with a delegation of African entrepreneurs to expose what she called the "cult of celebrity charity," and to lobby officials of the incoming administration for free trade agreements with Africa, investment initiatives and aid to local businesses.
They stood in the happily milling crush near the Lincoln Memorial holding signs, demanding "Independence, not Dependence," and "Trade Not Aid for Africa." Schildkraut had set up a table with a selection of African exports--Ghanaian grapefruit, Nigerian prints, Ugandan coffee--and a colorful leaflet explaining the wide range of products and services that Africa offers. Holding a portable mike she harangued the crowd. "Africa is being kept in a state of colonial subservience by capitalist donor fronts, the World Bank and the IMF. The same people who give them a useless pittance are holding them back from real prosperity..." Hundreds of TV News people, photographers and You Tubers walked by, but no one stopped. All eyes were on the Memorial where a troupe of A- list performers were entertaining the star struck crowd.
"Maybe this was not a good time, Leah," Edward, a free press advocate from Zimbabwe said gently. "Nobody wants controversy today."
"U2 ," someone shouted excitedly and the crowd surged forward for a better look.
At the top of the steps, Bono was being cheered on as he sang "Pride...In the name of Love", the song U2 wrote in honor of Martin Luther King.
"U2 is the problem, not the solution," Schildkraut shouted. She erased the "Trade not Aid" sign and hurriedly printed "BONO IS A HYPOCRITE" in black block letters.
"That is a little strong, Leah," said Miriam, an anti-slavery activist from Niger.
People paused for a moment, but then moved on as Schildkraut grabbed a hand mike. "Bono and Geldof and all the celebrity dilettantes present a distorted picture of Africa..."
A tall man in a colorful dashiki fixed her with a scornful look. "What do you know about Africa, lady?" And moved on before Schildkraut answered:
"Don't listen to me. Listen to Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda. He says that the celebrity charities offer 'a portrayal of Africans as unable to think, empty...' He says that Africa has been stripped of self-initiative...That giving money to governments makes them accountable to the donors, the World bank, the IMF, the celebrities and not their own people...He says that the billions donated to corrupt governments are used to pay off political allies and bolster police forces that maintain repressive rule."
Humanity flowed around them. Only one person stopped and watched in indignant disbelief. He was carrying a sign that read: U2 MEETUPS and identified himself as Efraim Durg, head of the Brooklyn chapter.
"Listen to Professor William Easterly," Schildkraut said. "He says that the typical African is a long way from being a starving AIDS victim at the mercy of child soldiers. He says that between 1/2 and 1 per cent of Africans died of AIDS in 2007. That only one out of 10,800 died as a result of armed conflict..."
"That's because people like Bono are making a difference," Durg said.
"Easterly says that in 2006 Sub-Saharan Africa registered its third straight year of GDP growth above 6%, better than most western countries," Schildkraut said. "Economist Michael Clemens says that Africa has expanded elementary school enrollment at more than twice the rate of western economies, which kept peasants and workers functionally illiterate for centuries..."
"No one is lis-ten-ing," Durg jeered.
Schildkraut climbed a chair and turned up her mike. "At a recent conference Mwenda, who was imprisoned twice in Uganda for criticizing the government, challenged the G8 countries to liberalize trade rules so African products could compete in the world market. 'Did any country ever become rich by holding out the begging bowl?' Mwenda asked...And Bono..." She gulped, speechless with rage.."Bono heckled him. Said what he was saying was 'bollocks.'"
Durg blinked in puzzlement. "What's bollocks?"
"Bono was angry because Mwenda was upstaging him," Schildkraut said.
"Oh yeah, can he sing?" Durg asked.
"Professor Easterly says he wonders if Africa is saving celebrity careers more than celebrities are saving Africa."
This was too much for Durg. "Bono runs himself ragged trying to raise money for poor, sick people and this is the thanks he gets...He gets billions of dollars of debts forgiven..."
"So the corrupt rulers don't have to repay money they used to buy limos, pay off cronies and strengthen their police forces," Schildkraut said. "And meanwhile the G8 is keeping African cotton, sugar and produce out of the world market..."
"Bono started the "Red" products campaign," Durg said.
"Which is a complete flop," Schildkraut said, her voice breaking. "After a $100 million marketing campaign only $18 million has been raised..."
"It's just getting started," Durg said.
"And it's the typical shallow consumerist meliorism that the Africans object to," Schildkraut scoffed. "Buy an iPod nano and provide 83 treatments to relieve the risk of AIDS transmission. Buy a billion nanos and wipe out AIDS. Buy a trillion and wipe out world poverty... Meanwhile, the nano is manufactured at factories in Longhua and Suzhou, China where the workers put in 15 hour days for $50 a month..."
"That's not Bono's fault," Durg said." He can't solve all the world's problems."
"Let him start with his own company, Elevation Partners," Schildkraut said. "They own a piece of Palm electronics, whose products are manufactured in Guanzhou, China by Casio where four thousand workers walked off the job in protest at low wages and poor conditions and the riot police were called in to force them back to work and 20 were injured. They own BioWare/Pandemic game producers whose components are manufactured by Atari at factories in Guangdong where workers are made to stand for hours at a time..."
"You couldn't afford any of those products if they were made in the US," Durg said.
Schildkraut sagged and stepped off the chair. "I know," she said. "I'm the contradiction. I'm the problem..."
"Look Leah, there's Stevie Wonder," Miriam said.
Durg pointed to Obama who was smiling benignly from behind a glass shield.
"You should try to lighten up," he said. "Today's a great day."
"I know," Schildkraut said. She gave him a bag of Good African Coffee. "Try this," she said. "It's really good."
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Ca, March 5...At the age of 102, blacklisted screenwriter Art Ostrovsky says he is witnessing something he never thought he would live to see--the overthrow of Capitalism.
His rheumy eyes brighten, his crabbed fingers tremble around a glass of vodka. "I waited 80 years for the Revolution to come to America," he says. "Now I can feel it in the wind..."
In this rundown garden apartment complex off Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood, Ostrovsky is a puzzle to his neighbors, mostly new arrivals from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. They call him "el viejito" in humorous reference to a popular brand of Tequila and know him as the skeletal old man teetering on his walker in a daily promenade around the courtyard, with a stoic West Indian home care worker in attendance. They occasionally look in on him in the cluttered apartment where along with floating dust devils, spider webs and the resident mouse scurrying in the crawl space he has lived for sixty-two years, among fading photos of the authors, politicians, actors and directors he knew in the "Movement."
Ostrovsky is convinced that the economic crisis and the new administration of President Obama provide an opportunity to change the world. He urges his neighbors to participate in "bourgeois" politics. "Marx said that capital is reckless to the health and length of life of the laborer unless under compulsion from society," he says. "I warn them not to let the bosses pit them against each other the way the studios did to us." He fishes a bent Marlboro out of a crumpled box..."The old ones smile behind their hands, but the young ones hear me. They will carry the torch."
Ostrovsky may be the last surviving founder of the Screenwriter's Guild. No one knows...
"In the movie business sentiment is reserved for the successful," he says. "Lawson, Cole and Ornitz were the stars because they wrote the major features. I was just a laborer in the vineyards. I licked the envelopes and ran the mimeograph..."
Blacklisted in 1953 for his refusal to testify about his Communist affiliations he has stayed faithful to the Marxist view of history.
"Marx predicted that the capitalists would be the agents of their own destruction," he says with a triumphant gleam. "Now the financiers are pleading for the nationalization of the banks and major industries as the only way to save their personal wealth. The parasite is begging the host to keep it alive."
Born in Harlem in New York City in 1907, Ostrovsky was raised in an orthodox Communist family. His father was a founder of the Fur and Leather Worker's Union. His mother was a leader of a historic 1909 strike against the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, which won union representation for seamstresses.
"When I was nine years old a little boy named Serge was brought home to play with me," Ostrovsky says. "He was very serious and said his father was going to make a big revolution in Russia and chase out the Czar. I laughed at him, but my mother pulled my ear until I cried and said his father was Trotsky, a great man..
"That serious little boy became an engineer and returned to help rebuild Russia," Ostrovsky says. "He was arrested and shot during Stalin's purges of the '30's."
On September 16, 1920, a horse cart loaded with 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron slugs exploded across from the J.P. Morgan headquarters on Wall St., killing 30.
In the crackdown on Communists and Anarchists that followed Ostrovsky's parents were deported to Russia and he was sent to live with an aunt in Coney Island.
"My parents became political commissars in charge of collecting grain from collective farms," Ostrovsky says. "During the Great Famine of the 1933, they were killed by a mob of starving Ukrainians."
Ostrovsky grew up to become a loyal member of the Communist Party.
"We believed in the words of Nicola Sacco that every human life is connected to every other life through threads that you cannot see," he said. "We fought for the rights of the workers against the bosses and their gangster goons," he said. "For the martyrs who were framed by the corrupt judicial servants of the exploiters."
In 1931, Ostrovsky rode the rails to Scottsboro, Alabama to support the defense of a group of black teenagers who were accused of gang raping two white women.
"When everyone else abandoned them the Communist party came to their defense," Ostrovsky says.
During the 1932 presidential campaign he traveled to Los Angeles with the Communist candidate William Z. Foster. They were arrested on charges of "criminal syndicalism."
"I tell the young people that Obama is not the first black man to run in a presidential election," he says. "In 1932, the Communist Party nominated James W. Ford as Foster's running mate. The Party came in fourth with 102,000 votes that year."
When they were released, Ostrovsky was instructed by cultural Commissar V.J. Jerome to stay in Hollywood. "Movies were seen as a tremendous vehicle for propaganda," he says. " A comrade got me a job writing comedy shorts for Vitagraph. My job was to try to portray the class struggle, the nobility of the workers and the essential shallowness of the bourgeoisie."
Ostrovsky remembers the short unit as the purest expression of collective unity.
"Writers, actors, directors, technicians all worked together in solidarity," he says. "We were the proletarians of the studio system and were united against a common enemy--the bosses."
His proudest achievement was a short in which a young Glenda Farrell, playing a shopgirl, is promised a promotion by her lecherous boss, Guy Kibbee, but fights him off and returns to her poor but honest carpenter boyfriend, Dick Foran.
"We were positive that the Depression would raise the collective consciousness of the working class and lead to world revolution," Ostrovsky says. "But FDR and his band of left meliorists kept the people in check."
The Party viewed the Spanish Civil War as a proxy battle between the Soviet Union and the Fascist powers.. Ostrovsky was working on a serial in which the hero had to capture a dangerous secret weapon. The Cultural Commissar instructed him to make all his villains Germans or Italians. But Warner Brothers wanted to sell movies abroad and was loath to offend such good customers.
"We compromised and made our villains American neo-fascist plutocrats," Ostrovsky says. "My bad guys were modeled on Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller. Our subliminal message reached millions of kids in Saturday matinees..."
During the war he worked in an Army Air Corps film unit commanded by Lieutenant Ronald Reagan. "We made morale boosting films for the troops," he says. "I managed to slip in some pro-Soviet messages...Ronnie never caught on."
After the war Ostrovsky says "the bourgeois democracies were confronted by the sudden emergence of the Revolution, spreading from Eastern Europe and Asia toward the West."
"The reaction set in," Osotrovsky says. "Communists were demonized. At the same time a suffocating blanket of prosperous conformity settled over the land."
Ostrovsky refused to testify against his comrades and was blacklisted. "The famous writers, the Hollywood Ten, all worked under pseudonyms," he says. "But the B-writers were finished."
In the late '50's he was given a few pseudonymous scripts on the TV series Robin Hood. "I enjoyed writing stories about a defender of the oppressed. But the series didn't last."
After that, Ostrovsky never worked again. His fourth wife supported him with her earnings as an official of the Los Angeles teacher's union. Now he lives on her small pension and Social Security. He admits he despaired of ever seeing the Revolution. "In the '60's they stifled collective action with drugs and false philosophies of self-realization," he says. "For the last twenty years they deadened the oppressed with easy credit. Now it's over." He turns with grim satisfaction to the photos of Paul Robeson, Jules Dassin, Dalton Trumbo, Zero Mostel and The Weavers. "Our time has come.."
After a restorative gulp of vodka Ostrovsky grips his walker and pushes open his screen door. In the courtyard some kids are kicking around a soccer ball. Closing his eyes and harking back to a time when he addressed public meetings Ostrovsky calls to them with sudden strength.
"You must grab the moment," he shouts. "Capital has exhausted the consumer market it created. In a last gasp it commodified itself. It created a world wide market in which capital was the only product. But now the house of cards has collapsed. Capital is like an animal, gnawing at its limbs to extricate itself from a trap that it set for others...
"Obama's humane democracy will change the economic relations between people. It will open the door for a socialism of equality and eventually for a classless society...."
Steadying himself with one hand, Ostrovsky raises his fist.
"I believe in the ultimate victory of the Fourth International," he cries
The kids stop their game and applaud.
"Bravo Art," they shout. "Ole..."
THE DAILY EVENT Every day brings a crush of momentous events. Mainstream media, depleted by budget cuts and early stage obsolescence, is overwhelmed. Important stories go unnoticed. The Event will work to bring these stories to public attention.