(A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of the Lower East Side underground/alternative newspaper, “The Shadow”)
Bill de Blasio’s Cambridge, Massachusetts Roots and Polaroid Connection
During the years that de Blasio’s mother was apparently working for Land as a Polaroid Corporation public relations manager, the recipient of the National Education Association [NEA]’s 2012 Rosa Parks Memorial Award, Caroline Hunter, discovered that Land’s Polaroid Corporation was also collaborating with the apartheid regime in South Africa. As the NEA website recalled:
“At the age of 21, fresh out of
University, New Orleans, Hunter landed a good job as a
chemist at the Polaroid Corporation. Then one day, quite by chance, she spotted
in her workplace an enlarged South African photo identification card. The year
was 1970, decades before the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S. had gathered steam. But
Caroline Hunter knew the significance of that photo identification card. It was
part of what Nelson Mandela called `the hated document’— that is, the South
African passbook all Blacks in South
Africa were required to carry at all times. It
was an important link in the chain that the Apartheid regime used to control
and monitor the movement of Blacks.
“Polaroid had in fact been doing business with the apartheid government of
for years. Most important was its ID-2 system, which consisted of a camera,
instant processor and laminator. It could generate a photo identification card
in just two minutes and more than 200 in an hour—exactly the technology the
apartheid government needed to enforce its Pass Laws Act.
“After finding the mock passbook, Caroline Hunter and her colleague (and later husband) Ken Williams, a photographer at Polaroid, launched their campaign. They distributed fliers around the workplace, alerting their colleagues to Polaroid’s complicity with apartheid. They organized demonstrations outside the company’s headquarters, and they spoke out to the larger community. Up until this point, Polaroid had a reputation as a liberal company—`an equal opportunity’ employer. But the Polaroid management did not take well to the protests, and they fired Hunter and Williams…”
In his book Sharpville: An Apartheid Massacre and Its Consequences, Tom Lodge also wrote that “the formation of the Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement (PRWM) by black employees at Polaroid’s Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters signaled wider concerns with US-South African connections: the PRWM was formed to stop Polaroid’s processing of film for South Africa’s passbooks…” And according to Insisting On The Impossible:
“…Early in 1971, demonstrators protesting Polaroid’s involvement in South Africa and Land’s key role in defense nearly prevented Land from speaking about his color-view research at the American Physical Society in New York…In 1970 and 1971, employees and outsiders demanded that Polaroid cease selling its products in South Africa, including its photo-identification equipment…Some critics even took out large advertisements urging a boycott of Polaroid products. To meet the criticism, Polaroid sent a committee…to
South Africa. The committee…recommended
continuing sales through Polaroid’s South African dealer, which amounted to
$1.5 million a year…”
And Polaroid apparently did not stop selling its products in
Yet during de Blasio’s years as a teenage junior high school and high school student government politico in Cambridge during the 1970s (who was also profiled in the Boston Globe during the late 1970s) he apparently never questioned the morality of the political role his mother was apparently playing as a public relations manager for a corporation that was collaborating with the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Coincidentally, de Blasio joined some other local politicians in signing a Jan. 31, 2013 letter to Brooklyn College’s president which attempted to pressure the college’s Political Science Department to withdraw its sponsorship of a campus panel discussion about the non-violent BDS campaign to use economic divestment tactics (similar to those used by the anti-apartheid Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement in the 1970s against the Polaroid firm in whose public relations department his mother worked) to get the Israeli government to end its denial of Palestinian human rights; which led columnist Katha Pollit to criticize de Blasio and the other local politicians who signed this letter for setting “themselves up as micro-managers of campus programming, backed up by threats of financial punishment,” in her Feb. 5, 2013 column of The Nation magazine.
(end of part 7)