Who is Valerie Jarrett?
Part of Jarrett’s identification with the president is her international childhood and experience as an African-American growing up abroad. She was born in Shriaz, Iran, to a renowned physician father and spent the first five years of her life in Iran. There, she said, she was treated as an American, not an African-American. Her family lived in London for one year before s
ettling in Chicago’s elite neighborhood, Hyde Park, where she was teased for both her race and British accent. Chicago-based journalist Lynn Sweet reports, “In the manner of privileged Hyde Park-Kenwood children from smart families, Jarrett went to the exclusive University of Chicago Lab School before transferring to her mother’s alma mater, Northfield Mt. Hermon, in western Massachusetts for the last two years of high school.” After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, she went to work for Chicago’s first African-American mayor, Harold Washington, whose election many Sixties radicals attributed to themselves. After Washington’s death in 1987, she stayed on under his successor, Richard Daley. In City Hall, she and her colleague Susan Sher recruited Michelle Robinson, then engaged to Barack Obama, and Jarrett quickly melded her way into their lives.
After Daley administration in-fighting, Jarrett continued to serve Daley in a different capacity and found a job at Habitat, a real estate firm headed by Daniel Levin. (Daniel is the cousin of Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan.) Michelle Malkin has noted the tracts of public housing – including that bearing the name of her grandfather – have deteriorated after being run by Habitat. Although the New York Times lists the stint as “baggage,” it proved profitable, and she has gone on to sit on numerous corporate, civic, and academic boards.
Sweet noted to whom Jarrett owed much of her success: “Activist public affairs consultant with close ties to City Hall Marilyn Katz introduced Jarrett to Levin.”
With a Little Help from my (Radical) Friends
Who is this person to whom Jarrett is so indebted – and who, we shall see, she calls a personal friend? Marilyn Katz provided “security” for Students for a Democratic Society at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Undercover Chicago policeman William Frapolly told prosecutors that during the Days of Rage, Katz showed protesters a new weapon to use against the police: “a cluster of nails that were sharpened at both ends, and they were fastened in the center.” Police later reportedbeing hit by golf balls with nails through them, as well as excrement. Years later, Katz would insist her “guerrilla nails” were merely “a defensive weapon” to prevent “possible bad behavior by the police.”
The SDS soon imploded. Bill Ayers – whom Katz has knownsince he was 17 – helped create the terrorist Weather Underground from its ranks. In 1971-2, Katz would lead another remnant to form the New American Movement (NAM), a combined Old Left-New Left organization that includedCommunist Party USA members from the 1930s. Rabbi Michael Lerner was among its early founders, though he left to start his own organization. (His reaction when David Horowitz rebuffed his recruitment efforts is described in Radical Son, p. 274.) NAM’s primary political text, entitled Basic Marxism: What It Is & How to Use It, revealed the group’s devotion to Gramsci. For most of the Seventies, the organization’s local chapters ran socialist “schools” open to the public with little national structure. The L.A. school listed asthe first point in NAM’s “basic perspective”: its belief “that a socialist revolution will be necessary to solve the problems of the U.S.” NAMdeclared its “solidarity with the Third World grew out of a correct reaction to United States chauvinism.” A 1973 NAM manifesto declared: “We admire, and draw inspiration from, many accomplishments from the Russian, Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions…as representing, on balance, very positive steps forward in human history…we deeply value Lenin’s contributions to revolutionary theory and practice…We identify with Lenin’s revolutionary spirit and determination; we agree with his critique of mechanistic determinism and economism, his writings on the nature of the state, his approach to creating a ‘revolutionary alliance of the oppressed,’ and his treatment of nationalism and imperialism.” Katz, through NAM, founded the Reproductive Rights National Network in 1977-8. A sympathetic author summed up R2N2’s motivation: “The long-term goal was to develop an ‘offensive movement’ [against the pro-life movement] that could fight for a more comprehensive set of demands as the conditions for ‘free choice,’ including child care, national health-care, high-quality education, and guaranteed income.” Sound familiar?
NAM’s local chapters merged with Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) in 1983 to form the Democratic Socialists of America.
That year, Katz became an organizational entrepreneur herself, founding MK Communications, Inc., a public relations firm. Its clients include the ACLU, Amnesty International, Chicagoans Against War & Injustice, Harold Washington 1983-1987 Mayoral Campaign, Lloyd Doggett’s senate campaign, Human Rights Watch, Illinois Campaign for Choice, Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty, the socialist publication In These Times, the MacArthur Foundation, Mother Jones, National Community Development Initiative (for the Rockefeller Foundation), UAW Local 719, and numerous City of Chicago accounts. Katz did spin for the developers of the “Presidential Towers,” a HUD-financed yuppie-heaven which moved homeless out of Skid Row in hopes of moving the upper middle class into their place. The new Mayor Daley’s rapprochement with SDS nail-throwers became most conspicuous in 1996, when he, Katz, and the Chicago Seven did PR for the 1996 Democratic National Convention, which returned to Chicago. The Chicago Tribune’s John Kass reported, even as he laid off 1,000 city workers, he gave “Katz and other public relations firms five-year contracts that could pay them as much as $5 million each.” As part of Katz’s work for the city, she wrote press releases for the Chicago Transit Authority, then headed by Jarrett.
Katz had a few other noteworthy clients: Project Vote, the ACORN-affiliated voter registry that first brought Barack Obama to Chicago as a “communist organizer”; the Habitat Company; The Joyce Foundation, on whose board Obama sat; and History Makers, which interviewed Valerie Jarrett, her mother, and her father-in-law.
Katz called on her radical rolodex in 2002, when she and former national secretary Carl Davidsonstarted Chicagoans Against the War in Iraq. (He and and Tom Hayden founded the Venceremos Brigades, a joint triumph of Cuban intelligence and the KGB. In 1992, he joined the Committees of Correspondence, now known as Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He has also been active nationally withUnited for Peace and Justice. In December 2008, Katz was also elected to UFPJ’s national steering committee.) Katz and Bettylu Saltzman organized the 2002 antiwar demonstration where the little-known state senator Obama gave his famous speech opposing the Iraq war, calling it a “stupid” war, and a conspiracy by Karl Rove to “distract” from the (by then recovering) economy. This speech made Obama the choice of his party’s left-wing in 2008.
Katz knew of Obama politically and through Valerie Jarrett. Davidson, too, knew of Obama, writing on the Marxism Mailing List he had “known Obama from the time he came to the New Party to get our endorsement for his first race ever. I’ve been in his home, and as an IL legislator, he’s helped or community technology movement a number of times.” He later assessed an Obama economic speech, finding, “I probably couldn’t written a better one myself.” Together, he and Katz wrote the book Stopping War, Seeking Justice: Essays in a Time of Empire.
Now a longtime beneficiary of Democratic spoils, Katz put her new organization to work for the party. CAWI – which lists “allies” like MoveOn.org
, Code Pink, International ANSWER, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and the World Can’t Wait –trained 200 people to register voters in 2003. Katz and Davidson wrote an article, “From Protest to Politics,” urging radicals to support Democrat John Kerry. Four years later, in a blog entry adorned with a picture of Barack Obama, Davidson urged readers of the CAWI homepage to “[b]reak decisively with the ultraleft mindset, in order to deepen and broaden left-progressive unity.”
Davidson later attempted to defend Obama, writing:
Obama is a decent liberal out of the Alinksky [sic.] tradition of community organizers. Everyone knows there’s nothing Marxist about Alinsky. I’m simply an acquaintance of Obama, meeting him three times for a few minutes over 15 years…Harold Washington’s movement, for instance, was launched by Black nationalists and independent Black Democrats, hardly “connected” to the socialist left. Obama really does have mentors, but certainly not me…It’s two very tough, accomplished, influential and smart Black liberal women, Valerie Jarrett and Susan Rice.
If Katz’s tactics have changed, her underlying ideology has not. In the article, Katz and Davidson agreed: “it is true that the next president of the U.S. will represent one or another imperialist grouping…We should do this without illusions. The day after Bush’s defeat, the U.S. will still be an imperialist power.” (Emphasis added.)
Last August, Katz and her old SDS comrade Don Rose (who mentoredDavid Axelrod, another friend of Katz) met with In These Times to discuss the 40th anniversary of the Days of Rage. When asked if they learned anything from the violence, she first charged the FBI with having 28 Black Panthers “assassinated,” calling the mythical murders “a wakeup call where we saw the underbelly of our own country.” She then offered her takeaway from 40 years’ reflection on the rebellion she led: “I would have to say for me permanently, I would probably reject violence as a useful form of revolution.”
Asked whether she regretted her actions “in this age of terrorism,” she replied, “I regret nothing.”
Katz: Obamas’ Friend, Blagojevich’s Suppliant
Katz is not merely a friend of Jarrett’s but also both Obamas. The president met Katz through his first job at a law firm run by Judd Miner. The New York Times reportsKatz “gave him entry into another activist network: the foot soldiers of the white student and black power movements that helped define Chicago in the 1960s.” Michelle Obama has close social ties with her, as well. Biographer Liza Mundy quotesKatz as saying the moment Jarrett introduced Michelle Obama to her friends, Michelle “was recognized as brilliant and beautiful, and immediately accepted into a very sophisticated social circle.” Mundy writes Michelle “and Barack…enjoyed a range of relations with people who shared their lifestyle, as well as their progressive views and political involvement. ‘These are folks,’ says Marilyn Katz, a member of their social circle, ‘who talk to their friends a number of times a day.” Mundy describes a May 2008 fundraiser for DSA member Rep. Jan Schakowsky, which Katz attended and Michelle Obama addressed.
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