Swans Commentary » swans.com August 12, 2013  





by Michael Barker



"Celebrity charities can do a lot of good while at the same time covering up a great deal of bad. They provide camouflage for all sorts of things, from paedophilia to drug-taking to the hoarding of wealth."
David Runciman, 2012.


(Swans - August 12, 2013)   Recently stripped of his wardrobe crammed full of yellow jersey's, Lance Armstrong was a man who once had it all, courtesy of his being a world-class cheat; which he accomplished with aplomb by blood-doping "more creatively, more ruthlessly, [and] more fearlessly" than anyone else (on two wheels). With millions at stake, winning was everything for Armstrong, and his "take-no-prisoners approach to all aspects of competition made him devious, insensitive, and cruel. He bullied his teammates and then, when they showed signs of resistance, replaced them with someone more pliant."

Lest the truth of Armstrong's vile character be known to the world, he was always quick to shield himself from critical scrutiny by drawing much attention to his efforts to fight the spread of cancer through his much publicized Lance Armstrong Foundation (now known as the Livestrong Foundation). As Armstrong well knew, "attack him and you are attacking the good work he has done for sick people around the world." Such philanthropy, however, is no replacement for democratically-controlled public funding of cancer research; although it is good for deflecting flack, and provides a useful means of evading taxes to boot. It is therefore significant to recall that during the course of Armstrong's fifteen-year association with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, he only contributed 5% of his income to fighting cancer.

Another dubious individual who derives political cover through his good work on the board room of the Livestrong Foundation is master spin-doctor Mark McKinnon, whose biography observes that for past 25 years he "has been helping solve complex strategic challenges for causes, companies and candidates, including President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain... Lance Armstrong and Bono." Just last year Mr. McKinnon was counted among the leadership of political reform group called Americans Elect 2012, a "reform" group chaired by Dr. Peter Ackerman, who was also their primary financial backer and has another neat sideline in facilitating "the cultural reinvention of the military to justify and extend US imperialism."

Dr. Ackerman is also a board member of the New York-based upscale online shopping distributor FreshDirect, which is well-known for its commitment to union-busting, and is infamous for being "the largest nonunion grocery warehouse in New York City. " Through Dr. Ackerman's stellar contacts, FreshDirect has even recruited former environmental justice activist Majora Carter to their ranks -- an individual who is presently working against the interests of the residents of the Bronx who have spent many years committed to determined activism opposing the toxic activities of FreshDirect. The cynical exploitation of former environmental justice heroes like Majora Carter is par for the course for capitalists. This co-option is especially saddening in the case of the environmental justice movement, whose activists are typically far more radical in their politics than those residing within the larger environmental groups (the so-called "Big Green"), whose board rooms are usually dominated by executives from the military-industrial complex.

Here on the issue of cancer, one might note that one of the first books to explore the successful activism that working-class, often darker-skinned, citizens have had in fighting against the prevalence of cancer-inducing pollution in their local communities was Robert Bullard's Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots (1983). But more recent and critical examinations of the environmental justice movement have pointed out that sustainable progressive activism is not always forthcoming, and one of the proffered reasons to explain this problem results from the fact that all too many environmental justice groups fail to embody democratic means of organizing to affect social change.

This elitist trend is exemplified by Majora Carter, who has long worked closely with the corporate world to finance her activism, last year being named by Goldman Sachs as one of their "100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs." In recent years she has bolstered these corporate connections by serving as a member of the governing council of "Big Green" outfit The Wilderness Society. Carter had arrived at her fame by founding Sustainable South Bronx in 2001 -- while she was a fellow at George Soros's Open Society Institute -- which she ran as executive director until 2008. However, now even this group has turned against her, and has sided with South Bronx Unite, "which is leading the effort to block FreshDirect's [controversial] move [into the Bronx] and has emerged as her most vocal critic."

The Teamsters Local 805 is also turning up the heat on Dr. Ackerman and his cronies by "teaming up with community organizations and progressive political leaders to win living wages, affordable healthcare and union rights for 1,200 workers at online grocery giant FreshDirect." Such groups are demonstrating though their hard organizing efforts at the grassroots level that celebrity activism is not needed, and actually stands in the way of the type of effective political activism that is needed to solve the endless crisis caused by capitalism. Send messages of solidarity to Teamsters Local 805 and South Bronx Unite, and take inspiration from their activism to fight to make your own community a more democratic place.


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About the Author

Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work.   (back)


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Patterns which Connect

America the 'beautiful'

Activism under the Radar Screen

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art19/barker137.html
Published August 12, 2013