On the Abolition of Political Parties

Organizations of scale: multinationals, trading houses, banks, political parties, maybe bigness itself is the problem?

Simone Weil, On the Abolition of Political Parties, trans. Simon Leys, with essays by Czesław Miłosz (“The Importance of Simone Weil”) and Simon Leys (“In the Light of Simone Weil: Miłosz and the Friendship of Camus”) (New York: New York Review of Books, 2013), 71 pp.

— from Common Knowledge, 21.3 (Fall 2015), 516-17.

“Political parties are a marvelous mechanism, which, on the national scale, ensures that not a single mind can attend to the effort of perceiving, in public affairs, what is good, what is just, what is true. As a result—barring a very small number of fortuitous coincidences—nothing is decided, nothing is executed, except measures that run contrary to the public interest, to justice and to truth.”

The relevance of these remarks of Weil’s, published in 1942, to contemporary political mischief is galvanizing. Her arguments are worthy of everyone’s serious consideration, in particular her philosophical account of those characteristics of a political party that lead to its becoming totalitarian—to the inevitable reversal, that is, from its being a means to its becoming an end. Since “a good tree can never bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree beautiful fruits” is for her a trustworthy biblical text, she focuses on whether political parties contain enough good to compensate for their evils. The only legitimate reason to conserve anything is, Common Knowledge Published by Duke University Press Little Reviews 517 for Weil, its goodness. Given that her criteria for goodness are truth, justice, and public interest, she concludes that the “institution of political parties appears to be an almost unmixed evil” and that its abolition “would prove almost wholly beneficial.” Today, the quantity of “bad fruit” produced by our political parties makes one yearn for ways to nourish a “good tree.” One propitious means of preparing the ground could be to cultivate a wide readership for this essay by Simone Weil, together with the related pieces by Czesław Miłosz and Simon Leys that accompany it in this succinct volume.

— E. Jane Doering is a professor and the executive coordinator of the Teachers as Scholars Program in the College of Arts and Letters, University of Notre Dame. She is the co-editor of The Christian Platonism of Simone Weil (University of Notre Dame Press, 2004).

doi 10.1215/0961754X-3131207


Is It So Hard to Mourn Black Women? And To Praise Them?

This will not be the first time this question is asked. But, it must be asked again, and again, as necessary — which is always.

For some different and some similar reasons to James Baldwin’s, Henry Miller also left America for mostly-good. Of the Americans he left — white, corporate, male, ambitious, good at looking honest on camera — he said this in America: The Airconditioned Nightmare:

Inside every smiling American beats the heart of a killer.

He meant the kind of American who isn’t much bothered by the river of blood that is our history, and our present. The kind that intentionally or blithely lets others suffer and die as along as the broadband stays up, the kind who would rather be “nice people” than good people.

These women are dead:

Take Aiyana Jones, 7, who was killed by a Detroit police officer as she slept on her father’s couch. Or Rekia Boyd, 22, whose life ended in Chicago when she was killed by a police officer. Or Yvette Smith, 48, who was unarmed when she was killed by a police officer in Texas. Or Pearlie Smith, 93, who was fatally shot in her home. Or Tarika Wilson, 26, whose one-year-old son was also injured when she was killed by a Ohio police officer. Or Tyisha Miller, 19, who was killed by a police officer in Los Angeles. Or Kathryn Johnson, 92, who was killed by a police officer in Atlanta. Or Gabriella Nevarez, 22, who was killed by a Sacramento police officer. Or Eleanor Bumpurs, 66, who was killed by a police officer in the Bronx.

(Read Evette Dione’s excellent piece in Bustle. It’s powerful writing.)

Their hands will never be mothered, or mother, or grandmother, or hold the shoulders of their sisters, or brush the lips of their lovers again. We have all been robbed of the chance ever to meet them, befriend them, share a joke during our morning commute or at the cafe or the corner store.

The same state sponsored (no metaphor) violence that took more famous men from us, that thinks for-profit prisons were ever compatible with human rights and community safety took these women from us. In my own comfortable county of Fairfax, Virginia, Natasha McKenna was tazed 4 times, while shackled, and it killed her. I’m sure that her resistance to being removed from her cell angered deputies charged with her care. So? Dealing with people disinclined to cooperate is The Job of Deputies.

Don’t want people mad at you on the daily?
Don’t be a cop.

There are no major protests in Fairfax County. One reason for this is that it’s a big place, and mostly very, very well-off if racially and culturally very, very mixed. But, more and more, people pushed out of DC by gentrification are finding themselves in a kind of diaspora along the bus and metro lines, and what was their community is gone from their lives — which means that our cops, who are used to trying to arrest diplomats for keeping trafficked house servants in their basements — are encountering new stresses on their beats. Still, Natasha McKenna was a woman. And we do not do big protests for dead black women.And by we, I mean all of us.

And by we, I mean America.


McKenna, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 12 years old, died Feb. 8 after a lieutenant at the Fairfax County, Va., Sheriff’s Department delivered four 50,000-volt shocks with a Taser to restrain her while she was having a psychotic episode in custody on Feb. 3. Why she was there in the first place reveals how ill-equipped law-enforcement officers are to effectively interact with and restrain people who have severe mental illness.

(from “When Will We Demand Justice for Natasha McKenna?” by Kristen West Savali, at, 4 May 2015 — it’s a great report, read it.)

Here’s a thing that all police need to know:
How to deal with people who
are not on their meds.
It’s not hard, and violence is not
on the list of best practices.

I like her face, her smile. I’m convinced I would have enjoyed knowing her, if I had the good luck to do so. Schizophrenia, at 12. All this young woman deserved was our collective love and support. She never, it seems, got it.

Aren’t we all tired of finding that we
miss people that we never met
because they ended at wrong
end of the law’s flailing arm?

Along with the men we are mourning so publically, along with that ideal of America whose never-being we continually mourn, in whose name we block traffic and shout poems and link arms, and sometimes set the world on fire, can we not also so publically mourn black women? Can we not say to our black sisters at least that your deaths matter to us, that we do not want to miss you, and that you are worth fire and rage?

Beyonce-Knowles-Met-Gala-2015No. We probably cannot do that.

And here’s why.

As a culture, even as black and white and feminist sub-cultures, we can’t make up our minds to just Jump For Joy that this kind of smart-talented-brave-strong-beauty exists. If the Met Gala red carpet is for any other purpose, I can’t imagine what it would be.

Beyonce’s public persona is a work of art. Her very body is a deliberate work of art. This dress is a work of such mindblowing art and physical discipline that most of the people freaking out about it could never, not even, imagine or create such a thing.

Read the comments on any article about this fancy dress for a fancy party for rich people, for instance, this one from which I lifted the picture. I even read one on Janet Mock’s Facebook page in which some yahoo claimed that Beyonce herself is the reason men can’t take women seriously — they too sexualites, he wrote. You can’t help Stupid, but Stupid here is making my point. We can’t praise black women, or mourn

You can’t help Stupid, but Stupid here is making my point. We can’t praise black women, or mourn them, because we can’t see them as people. Which, by the way, is entirely our own damn fault. Yes, WE, I say because we are way more interested in getting our judge on for Bey’s dress then in getting our justice on for Natasha.

I’m not even a Beyonce fan. I own not one of her songs, though I like them — just not as much as I like Green Day and Florence and the Machine — but I can say this: She is one of the most perfectly beautiful people ever to grace the surface of the Earth, and Givenchy decided to honor that beauty with a dress the lace of which was died to match her skin tone exactly. No one else can wear this thing. Her diet, her workout, her presence, her dress — all that made a real walking, talking, loving, momming, signing better than you ever work of art for one night (of what my inner socialist is mad was a 1% blowout of insulting proportions.)

I hope she takes That Dress and hangs out in the back yard with her daughter blowing bubbles and says to her, “Yes, baby, you can sit on my lap,” because that is the kind of Whole Woman Beyonce is trying to show us, in ways that will not and should not please everyone, is possible.

Black women. Praise them. Mourn them. Stop pretending they are not people. Right? Got it? Okay then.

Call for Proposals: 2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival

Workshops, Themed Readings, and Panel or Roundtable Discussions

DEADLINE: June 30, 2015


Submit online:


Split This Rock invites proposals for workshops, panel and roundtable discussions, and themed group readings for the fifth Split This Rock Poetry Festival, scheduled for April 14-17, 2016, in Washington, DC.

More and more, we understand the ways that issue areas converge: earth justice requires economic and racial justice; LGBT rights and gender equality intertwine; freedom is indivisible. We’re particularly interested this year in seeing proposals that address these intersections, examining the ways that poetry can help us understand the connections and build the alliances necessary to imagine and construct another world.

The festival prides itself on being a place for community building. Interactive proposals that open unique opportunities for participants to connect with one another are of particular interest. When proposing panel discussions and readings, we request that time be set aside for dialogue or a period of questions and answers.

Split This Rock is not an academic conference, but a gathering of individuals from many backgrounds. Please, no academic papers and avoid jargon of all kinds. Thank you!


DC Youth Slam Team: Shakazuun!

Young Poets Confront Racism, Homophobia, and Teen Pregnancy on D.C. Slam Team

Read the article. Believe in the young people.



Reginald Dwayne Betts’ Letter to Howard University on E. Ethelbert Miller’s Termination After 40 Years


The blog of Split This Rock

Dear Dr. Frederick:

A few days ago I was devastated to learn that Howard University is letting Ethelbert Miller go after a career and commitment to the institution that has lasted longer than the thirty-four years I’ve been alive.

It would be simple to just recount the impact that Ethelbert has had on Howard University graduates. Many of my friends recall Ethelbert changing their lives. Friends who graduated from Howard as recently as five years ago and as long as twenty. But such a recitation of honors would not suffice. Instead I will tell you a story. When I got out of prison just over ten years ago, I met Yao Glover. I had just been hired at Karibu Books, an African-American institution that started as a book cart near Howard University. Yao knew that I was a poet. He also knew that prison is a troubling place and that coming home a young man like myself would need support. Yao would send me to a man who had a huge influence on his development as a poet and man of the community: Ethelbert Miller.

I knew who Ethelbert Miller was. I’d been writing poetry for sometime and reading poetry for longer. Still, I did not know Ethelbert worked at Howard University. I’d been out of prison a little more than two months and had no sense of how the world of academia and arts worked. What I did know is the name Ethelbert. Years before he’d published my very first poem, a poem I typed on a prison type writer and mailed to Poet Lore with a stamp that bore the red mark of incarceration. I’ll never forget the day I received the acceptance letter and will never forget the day I went to meet Ethelbert.

Let me be frank, my affinity for Howard University as an institution begins with Ethelbert Miller. When I received a full tuition academic scholarship to attend Howard University, I wanted to go because I’d read Ethelbert’s memoir. And when the university rescinded my scholarship because I checked a box admitting that I have three felony convictions and spent time in prison, it crushed me. Not just because I wanted to be a Bison – but because the institution fundamentally seemed to respond to me in the exact opposite way that Ethelbert did. And I had always believed that Ethelbert represented all that was great about Howard University. In fact, in the face of that huge personal disappointment, it has only been Ethelbert’s connection to the institution that led to my continued support.

Probably, I should be able to think about this in a way that is not so personal. Probably, I should not think about the disservice that has been done to Ethelbert in a way that makes me talk about myself. But I can’t. At two very important moments of my life Ethelbert Miller was, in very real ways, the voice of the Black community that helped me understand and believe in my own worth. He did this with his presence. And I am fortunate that he did. Because as I have gone on to be accepted by a number largely white institutions, receiving a full tuition scholarship at the University of Maryland, a Radcliffe Fellowship at the Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, and being admitted into the Yale Law School – as I have gone on to do these things, I do them remembering Ethelbert’s voice asking me if I’ve talked to my dad lately. I remember Ethelbert’s voice talking to me about fatherhood. Helping me to develop myself in a way that I once believed Howard was dedicated to as an institution.

Sadly, it seems that I was mistaken about Howard.  There is a bitter irony that I write this letter from the Yale Law School, a legal institution that accepted me with all of my past failures and flaws. Here, they value their icons. The walls are littered with their faces. It saddens me that Howard does not do the same. I cannot bring myself to believe that financial concerns justify such a disservice.

Reginald Dwayne Betts
J.D. Candidate, 2016
Yale Law School

Split This Rock’s Two Weeks of — FY Poetry!!!

We have the goods,
and we’re sharing.


FREE: The intense and brilliant Sholeh Wolpé reads at Upshur Street Books at 7pm. Iranian-American poet, translator, and generous soul. The workshop she led at Split This Rock last night was a real eye-opener for the poets present. Details on tonight’s reader here (click).

Next Week

FREE: Tim Seibles is in the District!! He’ll lead a workshop on writing through the lens of race at the Tacoma Park Busboys & Poets, all are welcome. (click) And then give a reading (also $Free.99) at Upshur Street Books. (click) His visit is part of a series of readings and workshops in the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts series At War With Ourselves, which culminates in a huge program in September this year marking the beginning of the Civil War.

Freedom Plow Award for Poetry and Activism: Mark Nowak

April 2, 6-9 pm, at the Arts Club of Washington

Get Your Tickets Early
Poetry, Performance, Video, Music, Nosh
& Delightful Company to Refresh You
for the Great Work

What did Mark Nowak do to earn this tremendous honor? He rocks.

Mark Nowak’s work brings creative writing workshops to worker communities. He helps establish “poetry dialogues” among workers around the world, fostering free and open communication across nations. Most recently, he has led workshops for caregivers, with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. In this way, he unites workers around the world, supporting them as they resist global resistance to worker rights and dignity.

From the press release:

Split This Rock, the DC-based national organization dedicated to poetry of provocation and witness, is pleased to announce that Mark Nowak will receive the 2nd Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism on April 2, 6-9 pm, at the Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I Street, NW, Washington, DC. Tickets to the reception and award ceremony are $30 for general admission, $10 for students, and can be purchased via Split this Rock’s website. Light refreshments will be served. Made possible through the generosity of the CrossCurrents Foundation, the award recognizes and honors a poet who is doing innovative and transformative work at the intersection of poetry and social change. The event is co-sponsored by the Arts Club of Washington and FOLIO Magazine.

The Freedom Plow Award, judged this year by Sheila Black, Martha Collins, and E. Ethelbert Miller, carries a cash prize of $3,500. The judges were impressed with Mark Nowak’s work bringing creative writing workshops to worker communities. For many years, he has facilitated “poetry dialogues” among workers around the world, fostering free and open communication across nations. Most recently, he has led workshops for caregivers, with the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Finalists for the 2015 award are Black Poets Speak Out/Amanda Johnston, Mahogany Brown, Jonterri Gadson; Bob Holman; and John Lee Clark.

We are featuring work by the finalists at our blog. First up: here’s an interview with John Lee Clark. (click)

I adore working with these folks. Adore it. You’ll love the vibe here too, just come on out!! You don’t want to miss these world-moving poets.