Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts

12.09.2018

this week, give 15 minutes of your time to defend human rights #write4rights

Are you writing for rights? I almost gave myself a pass this year. I'm living out of a hotel room and I don't have easy access to a printer, and... what the hell? I'm one of the most privileged people on the planet. Surely I won't skip Write For Rights because it's a bit inconvenient!

On December 10, 1948, the newly-formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first document of its kind in history.

Every year, on and around December 10, people who have human rights use them to help others whose human rights have been violated or negated.

Here are the 2018 Write For Rights cases. Notice anything different?

Join me and thousands of others.

Join the biggest human rights event on the planet.

By giving 15 or 30 minutes of your time, you can join thousands of others who believe that all humans have rights, no matter who they are, where they live, and what they believe.

The right to peaceful protest.

The right to inform others.

The right to be free from torture.

The right to not be arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned; the right to a fair trial.

The right to express their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The right to worship in any faith and the right to not worship.

The right to organize a union.

The right to refuse military service.

The right to live free from involuntary servitude (slavery).

The right to be free from sexual violence.

Read: Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What you can do.

Think you don't know how to write a letter defending human rights? Take a crash course.

Want to know more about Amnesty? Here you go.

Here are the 2018 Write For Rights cases.

Write because an issue resonates with you.

Write because you've been to a country and you feel solidarity with its people.

Write because you're angry.

Write because you're horrified.

Write because the world breaks your heart.

Write because you believe in something.

Write because it works.

Write because it feels good to help others.

2018 Write For Rights case are here.

This year, all the Write For Rights cases are women. Write because you are a woman, or because you love a woman, or because you believe in a woman, or all three.

6.30.2018

from the archives: for millions of american women, roe is already history

With the resignation of US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, it is very likely that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, will be overturned. I'm getting frustrated by the spate of stories about how abortion will now be illegal -- with no mention of how Roe has become meaningless for so many women.

I wrote this (below) on Common Dreams in 2005. I was off on the chronology -- it took longer to get to this point than I thought it would -- and the lack of access has undoubtedly gotten worse since then. This piece in The Guardian will bring you up to date.

* * * * *

January 23, 2005

For Millions of American Women, Roe Is Already History
By Laura Kaminker

Thirty-two years ago yesterday, American women gained greater control over their bodies - and therefore, over their lives - when Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, became the law of the land.

The choice community celebrates the Roe anniversary as a kind of emancipation day, but it is unlikely we will see too many more of those celebrations. Roe will almost certainly be reversed soon. Abortion will be legal in some states and not others. State laws will vary widely in the circumstances under which a pregnancy may be terminated - as is now the case, only more so.

However, those of us involved in abortion access know that for millions of American women, Roe is already irrelevant.

Money. For a few years after the Roe decision, Medicaid paid for abortions; anyone could get an abortion regardless of her age or ability to pay. Only four years later, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which banned payment for abortions unless the woman's life was endangered. (In 1993, after much struggle, those exceptions were broadened to include cases of rape and incest.)

In most states, Medicaid rarely covers abortion. Yet the cost of a first-trimester abortion can be more than a family on public assistance receives in a month. In our Walmart economy, many working women can't afford a procedure.

Low-income women and girls delay termination as they try to scrape together the money they need. These delays often force them to have second-trimester procedures, which are more complicated medically, more risky - and much more expensive. It is not uncommon for women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because they cannot afford a simple medical procedure.

Laws. Then there are the legal obstacles. With the Webster (1989) and Casey (1992) decisions, the Supreme Court upheld states' rights to restrict access to abortion in myriad ways. Women must jump through hoops and over hurdles before they can terminate a pregnancy. These laws run the gamut of idiocy, from 48-hour waiting periods, to parental consent and notification for minors, to mandatory "counseling," which often involves coercion.

These laws assume women are incompetent, irresponsible, and unable to make their own decisions. They also expose the anti-choice "abortion is murder" argument for the smokescreen that it is. If abortion was murder, these types of laws would be anathema to the anti-choice crowd: what good is delaying murder? However, if one's goal is to control women and punish them for having sex and getting pregnant, then these laws make perfect sense.

And then there's availability. In addition to the financial and legal barriers, there is one last, often insurmountable obstacle: availability.

Because of anti-choice terrorism and political action, thousands of doctors have stopped providing abortions and thousands of towns have stopped leasing space to abortion providers. Right now, nearly 80% of American women live in a county with no abortion provider. Obtaining an abortion often means traveling long distances, which in turn means finding child care and transportation, and even more funds. Imagine if the state also has a mandatory waiting period, so the entire trip has to be made twice. A baby should not be born because a woman could not afford the price of a bus ticket or had no one to watch her children.

When Roe is overturned, I will mourn. But in a very real sense, Roe is already history and has been for a long time. Without access, legal abortion is meaningless.

12.09.2017

why i write for rights and how you can too... redux #write4rights

Trying to compose my annual Write For Rights post, I thought I would recycle a good one from 2014... only to learn I had already recycled it in 2015! And here it is again -- slightly edited, with new cases linked below.

Tomorrow, December 10, is Human Rights Day. The date commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, the first document of its kind.

Every year on December 10, Amnesty International holds a global letter-writing event: Write For Rights (in Canada). Thousands of people around the world write letters and sign petitions calling for action for victims of human rights abuses, and offering comfort and support to political prisoners.

Here are 10 reasons you should participate in Write For Rights.

1. It's easy. Amnesty makes it really easy to participate. Read, type, send.

2. You can do do it from any device. No meetings to attend, no schedule to keep. Just more of something you do all the time anyway: typing.

3. It's free. No need to donate money. The most this will cost you is postage.

4. You'll feel good about yourself. You know that warm buzz you get from helping other people? Get more of it.

5. You can choose how much to participate. Write one letter, write two letters, write three. Spend 10 minutes writing or spend an hour. (This year I am challenging myself to take one action for each of the 11 cases.)

6. You can choose what to focus on. Write about an issue in your own country. Write about an issue in your country of origin. Write for children, or for women, or for LGBT people, or for workers, or for environmental activists, or for another issue that you care about.

7. You're busting stereotypes. We supposedly live in a selfish age where all we care about is entertaining ourselves and consuming. Prove them wrong.

8. It works globally. Every fight against injustice begins with someone shining a light in a dark place. Be that light.

9. It works locally. When political prisoners are released, they often attest to the difference letters from strangers made in their lives -- how knowing they were not forgotten helped them survive.

10. You enjoy your own human rights every day. You can use them to help someone who can't.

Here are 10 more reasons. They're not cute and cheery. They are why we write.

For each, I have linked to the online action. If you go here, you will find links to more information and instructions for a more significant action.

1. Homophobic murder without consequences in Bangladesh.

2. Torture and a life sentence for a Facebook post critical of government policies in Chad.

3. Beatings and other violent harassment of a defender of evicted people in China.

4. Imprisoned for searching for her husband, who was "disappeared" for political opposition in Egypt.

5. Humiliated and prohibited from gender expression in Finland.

6. Arrested and jailed for defending human rights in Turkey.

7. Violence and threats against people who defend land and water from private development in Honduras.

8. Harassment and arrests of peaceful protesters in Israel/Occupied Palestine.

9. Intimidation and harassment for speaking out about murder by police in Jamaica.

10. Arrested and jailed for defending the rainforest [video] in Madagascar.

It doesn't take much time. It's not difficult to do. And it works.

Spend 15 minutes of your day writing a letter or two.

Write like a life depends on it.

Write for Rights in Canada

Write for Rights in the US

Write for Rights internationally.

Twitter: #Write4Rights

7.23.2017

why do we need to say black lives matter? a brief and partial history lesson

The African American experience in Los Angeles County, California: a brief and selected timeline of sorts.*

From 1940-1960, thousands of African Americans migrated from Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, and other southern states to California, hoping to find decent jobs, affordable housing, and equality of opportunity.

California was not quite as welcoming as advertised. Housing was strictly segregated. The Los Angeles Police Department under the governance of Chief William Parker functioned as an occupying army in all-Black neighbourhoods. The only contacts between the all-white police force and the black residents of L.A. were roundups, traffic stops, arrests, humiliations, and beatings.

August 1965. With the community at a boiling point, a traffic stop gone awry precipitates the uprising known as the Watts Riots. During the riots, Parker says: "These people came in and flooded the community. We didn't ask these people to come here."

("These people" were Americans, who supposedly enjoy a Constitutional right to travel freely between states. Author Walter Mosely on the Watts Riots: "Someone asked me, did all blacks feel this way? I told him, 99% of us do, but the other 1% is really angry.")

1982. Under Police Chief Daryl Gates, the occupation expands. When the LAPD is questioned about the many African Americans who died in police chokeholds, Gates says that African Americans were more likely "to die from chokeholds because their veins or arteries do not open up as fast as they do on normal people."**

From 1987 to 1991, Gates uses "Operation Hammer" to supposedly clean up gang violence. With no attempt to speak with or involve the community, the LAPD deploys thousands of police to African American and Latino neighbourhoods. Families are rounded up, pushed face-down in the dirt, humiliated, demeaned, arrested, beaten, with little regard for evidence. Tens of thousands are arrested; but in the majority of cases, no charges are filed.

August 1, 1988. As part of Operation Hammer, police forcibly enter apartments at 39th Street and Dalton Avenue, holding residents at gunpoint while they vandalize and destroy everything in the homes. They smash appliances, mirrors, toilets; they shred clothes and children's toys; they rip up furniture and family photos. Police spray-paint "LAPD Rules" and other slogans on the apartment walls.

The raid nets six ounces of marijuana and less than one ounce of cocaine.**

March 3, 1991. A taxi driver named Rodney King is pulled over after leading LAPD on high-speed chase. A group of officers surround King, beat him with metal batons and kick him as he lay writhing on the ground. In an age before cell phones videos, a neighbour videotapes the beating and sends it to a local news station. The beating is shown continually on TV news. Four officers are charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. The defense claims that the beating was a function of the city's ban on police chokeholds.

Despite the irrefutable evidence that all of America had seen day in and day out, none of the four officers are convicted of anything.

It is often said that the 1992 uprising/riots followed the Rodney King beating. This is incorrect. The riots were in response to the Rodney King verdict. The African American community trusted in the judicial system, believing that this time, with incontrovertible proof, there would be justice. I think of the Rodney King case whenever I hear Bob Dylan's "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll": "Now is the time for your tears."

March 16, 1991. Soon Ja Du, a shopkeeper, incorrectly assumes that 15-year-old Latasha Harlins is stealing a bottle of orange juice. A scuffle ensues. As Latasha walks away, Du produces a gun and shoots the teenager in the back of the head, killing her.

Security footage captures the incident, leaving no doubt that Du's claims of self-defense were false.

Du is fined $500 and sentenced to 400 hours of community service.

This is just some context. Context before Oscar Grant, before Michael Brown, before Trayvon Martin, before Eric Garner, before Philando Castile. Before these people in 2015, and these people in 2016, and these people, so far this year. One American city, and a few famous incidents.

If you call the US a police state, you'll be accused of hyperbole. "Go live in [current hated country] and see what a real police state looks like!" Or closer to home, just be black or brown and live in the wrong zip code.

------

* This post was inspired by watching "OJ: Made In America," a five-part documentary series, part of ESPN's excellent "30 For 30" docs. I may write about the OJ movie another time. This post is not intended for discussion of anything OJ-related.

** One of the US war resisters in Canada recognized army raids on Iraqi homes as a version of the police raids that were a regular feature of his neighborhood in East L.A. From that similarity, he began to see the US as an occupying power.

*** Gates is often heralded for ushering in the era of SWAT policing and the DARE anti-drug program. The former has escalated police violence while failing to protect communities, while the latter was a colossal waste of money, finally discontinued in 2002 after all studies proved it was a total failure.

7.09.2017

a must-read if you're responding to ignorance and bigotry about omar khadr's settlement

In case everyone hasn't seen this yet, written by someone named Ben Feral Selinger.
July 6

Okay, I'm fucking sick of the idiocy and done with writing a diatribe every single time a friend posts about how they're upset that Trudeau is giving a terrorist $10m. You people are.... wilfully ignorant and hypocritical. Here's why. (And I thoroughly suggest reading the entire post. If you know me, you know I'm neither stupid, nor an apologist. I am pure fucking science, and this post is such. Read it before making an ass of yourself by posting about how we just gave a terrorist money).

The story (the facts we know).

* Canadian born Khadr was taken to Afghanistan at age 9, by his father. We don't know if he wanted to go, and we don't know why they went. There has been zero evidence put forth to suggest the trip had anything to do with terrorism. Regardless, as he was only 9, he had no choice in the matter.

* Khadr, aged 15, was found in critical condition following a firefight. The mission debrief report filed by the US troops stated that a middle aged man threw a grenade, which killed one US soldier. The grenadier was shot in the head and confirmed killed.

* Khadr was taken to Guantanamo Bay prison. No charges were filed against him at that time.

* Several years later, formal charges were filed. These charges were technically not even charges of war crimes, as if they were true, Khadr would be considered an enemy combatant during a time of war, and thus everything he was accused of doing, was legal under rules of engagement. He was denied access to a lawyer at this point and no trial date was set. He was held in detention and tortured for nearly 10 years.

* Nearly a decade later, an addendum to the original mission debrief was submitted, which identified the grenadier as Khadr by name. The original report was not rescinded. No one knows who made the addendum. No US personnel present during the firefight confirms the addendum. (at least I've not been able to find any).

* A week later, Khadr is offered a plea deal. The terms of the deal were to admit guilt to all charges and serve a few more years in a Canadian prison, or refuse to admit guilt and be denied trial indefinitely. (the latter portion is not confirmed by the US government, but let's be realistic here...)

* Khadr takes the plea deal, is transferred to Canada.

* Khadr sues the Canadian government for their involvement in his illegal detention, torture, and lack of a trial.

All of the above is true as far as anyone knows. That is the official story, from both the Canadian and US governments. They have said straight out that Khadr would not be offered a trial unless he took the plea deal. Just let that sink in for a moment.

Now let me ask you a question.

As a Canadian, what do you stand for? Do you believe that you, as a Canadian, have the right to be presumed innocent, until proven guilty, as well as the right to a fair and quick trial? I know this is hard for many of you to consider without jumping to "oh, but he's a terrorist, so fuck him, he's a traitor and doesn't deserve anything", but we'll get to that in a minute. Seriously consider this. Do you believe you have, as a Canadian, the inalienable right to everything laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

If you do, but still think Khadr does not, because he is a terrorist, let me ask you; "How do you know he is guilty?" There was no trial for 10 years, and he was only offered a trial on the condition that he plead guilty. How do we, as Canadians, determine guilt? Have you read and understood the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? It's entire purpose is precisely to ensure that what happened to Khadr, is not allowed to happen. Period.

Now I know many of you still can't get past the "but he's a traitor so he doesn't deserve a trial" even though neither you, nor me, nor the US or Canadian government were able to provide ANY evidence whatsoever, of his guilt (no evidence was submitted during his trial, presumably because none exists), but that doesn't matter. Let me explain the problem to you.

You are worried that terrorists are trying to take away your freedoms as a Canadian right? They're trying to force their way of life upon us and we as Canadians, won't stand for that right?

Do you see where I'm going here? Presuming Khadr's guilt, with no evidence and without trial, is precisely what the terrorists want to do to Canada. Isn't that your concern? Does it not strike you then, that by saying that Khadr doesn't deserve a fair trial because he is a terrorist, with absolutely no evidence, nor a trial to prove the charges, that you are doing precisely what you are worried the terrorists are trying to do do us? A presumption of guilt, no trial, a decade of detention and torture. Is that not EXACTLY what you are worried terrorists are trying to do to us?

At this point, I don't think any of us should even be concerned about Khadrs innocence or guilt. He is inconsequential at this point. The REAL concern for all Canadians, is that our government denied a Canadian citizen his inalienable rights, guaranteed to him under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They did EXACTLY what you are worried the terrorists are trying to do. If Khadr was guilty, a trial probably would have proven such, so why was he denied a trial?

For your information, the Canadian government did not simply offer up an apology and $10m for no reason. They were sued. Khadr filed a civil suit with the supreme court of Canada, and that court found in favour of Khadr, in that the Canadian government was in breach of Canadian and International law. Over half the money awarded will be going toward legal fees.

Think about it this way. Your government, was just successfully sued for war crimes. Crimes they committed not only against Khadr, but against the entire Canadian public. They assured us that we would all be given a fair trial, but now we know that is not true. They assured us that we will always be presumed innocent until proven guilty. We know that is not true. They took your money, money which could have been spent on building half a hospital or something, and spent it instead, on committing war crimes, and crimes directly against the Charter for which our country stands.

Now I don't know if Khadr is innocent or guilty and I don't know if that money will end up right back in the middle east, but before you get upset about that, I want you to consider this: Had the Canadian government offered Khadr a fair trial, regardless of his guilt, there would have been no civil suit and we'd have $10.5m more Canadian Pesos to spend on Moose shirts, or maple syrup flavoured hockey sticks.
All they had to do, was abide by our own legal doctrine, and this whole mess would have never happened.

In summation:

If you believe Khadr did not deserve a fair and quick trial, you are not Canadian. You do not stand for what Canada stands for. You are saying very clearly, that you don't care about evidence, treating people (who we presume are innocent until proven guilty) with basic decency, or your own or anyone else's right to a fair trial. You are, quite literally, openly supporting about half of Sharia law. You fuckwits.

Addendum: Hey guys. I had no intention of this post reaching such a wide audience. It was really just directed at my fellow redneck buddies (all very excellent folk but who I felt could benefit from the data). I've adjusted some of the language to suit a wider audience.

I appreciate the feedback (surprisingly generally positive), but bear in mind that with a post this widely shared, I cannot respond to the thousands of PM's flying at me. Feel free to re-share the post, or just copy/paste to your own feed to keep the conversation going. I absolutely do not need any personal attribution.
Thank you, Ben.

5.27.2017

what i'm reading: the new jim crow by michelle alexander

When I first heard the incarceration of African Americans in the United States referred to as a "new Jim Crow," I thought it must be hyperbole. So did Michelle Alexander, a fact she discloses in the introduction to her book. As Alexander researched the concept, the more she learned, the more she changed her mind. She changed my mind, too.

In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Alexander builds an unassailable case that mass incarceration through the (so-called) War on Drugs is the third large-scale caste system that holds Black Americans in a second-class status. This is true even in a society that includes Oprah Winfrey, Clarence Thomas, and, of course, Barack Obama.

The first caste system was slavery. The second was the laws and customs of segregation, discrimination, and terror known as Jim Crow. The third and current system is mass incarceration. This includes rules governing local policing, key court rulings, the court system itself, the parole and probation system, and laws that discriminate against former inmates.

* * * *

The numbers are staggering. More African Americans are under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850. A greater percentage of African Americans are under correctional control now than black South Africans were during apartheid.

The US is 5% of the world population and has 25% of world's prisoners. Black and Latino Americans comprise one-quarter of the US population, but almost 60% of the prison population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white Americans.

In terms of the War on Drugs, one might think these disparities could be explained by differences in rates of illegal activity. One would be wrong. The data shows that people of all colours use and sell illegal drugs at very similar rates. When there is a difference by skin colour, the numbers skew towards whites.
Thus, the very same year Human Rights Watch was reporting that African Americans were being arrested and imprisoned at unprecedented rates, government data revealed that blacks were no more likely to be guilty of drug crimes than whites and that white youth were actually the most likely of any racial or ethnic group to be guilty of illegal drug possession and sales.
The fact of incarceration alone is only one piece of the picture. Before incarceration, there is a series of court rulings that have gutted constitutional protections (especially the Fourth Amendment, the right to be free of unwarranted search and seizure), and make it impossible for citizens to argue racial bias in any criminal proceeding. There are draconian mandatory sentencing laws, which lead to the normalization of plea bargaining, in which people who have committed no crime plead guilty to some crime, in order to avoid a life sentence. There are huge financial incentives to municipalities to militarize their police forces, and to states for building -- and filling -- prisons.

After incarceration, the system prevents almost everyone who has been incarcerated from re-entering mainstream life. It is virtually impossible for anyone convicted of a felony to access housing, education loans, or jobs. In most states, formerly incarcerated people are stripped of voting rights and from jury rolls -- forever.

Former inmates, as Alexander writes, "will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.” Right now, about 30% of African American men are automatically banned from jury duty -- for life.

There is a terrible circular logic to the system. As a former US attorney general explained:
Law enforcement officials often point to the racial composition of our prisons and jails as a justification for targeting racial minorities, but the empirical evidence actually suggested the opposite conclusion was warranted. The disproportionate imprisonment of people of color was, in part, a product of racial profiling -- not a justification for it.

In the years following the release of the New Jersey and Maryland data, dozens of other studies of racial profiling have been conducted. A brief sampling:

• In Volusia County, Florida, a reporter obtained 148 hours of video footage documenting more than 1,000 highway stops conducted by state troopers. Only 5 percent of the drivers on the road were African American or Latino, but more than 80 percent of the people stopped and searched were minorities.

• In Illinois, the state police initiated a drug interdiction program known as Operation Valkyrie that targeted Latino motorists. While Latinos comprised less than 8 percent of the Illinois population and took fewer than 3 percent of the personal vehicle trips in Illinois, they comprised approximately 30 percent of the motorists stopped by drug interdiction officers for discretionary offenses, such as failure to signal a lane change. [These discretionary offenses are often an excuse to search vehicles or to arrest people for "resisting".] Latinos, however, were significantly less likely than whites to have illegal contraband in their vehicles.

• A racial profiling study in Oakland, California, in 2001 showed that African Americans were approximately twice as likely as whites to be stopped, and three times as likely to be searched.

Pedestrian stops, too, have been the subject of study and controversy. The New York Police Department released statistics in February 2007 showing that during the prior year its officers stopped an astounding 508,540 people -- an average of 1,393 per day -- who were walking down the street, perhaps on their way to the subway, grocery store, or bus stop. Often the stops included searches for illegal drugs or guns -- searches that frequently required people to lie face down on the pavement or stand spreadeagled against a wall while police officers aggressively groped all over their bodies while bystanders watched or walked by. The vast majority of those stopped and searched were racial minorities, and more than half were African American. . . . . 
Although the NYPD attempted to justify the stops on the grounds that they were designed to get guns off the street, stops by the Street Crime Unit -- the group of officers who supposedly are specially trained to identify gun-toting thugs -- yielded a weapon in only 2.5 percent of all stops. . . .

Rather than reducing reliance on stop-and-frisk tactics following the Diallo shooting* and the release of this disturbing data, the NYPD dramatically increased its number of pedestrian stops and continued to stop and frisk African Americans at grossly disproportionate rates. The NYPD stopped five times more people in 2005 than in 2002 -- the overwhelming majority of whom were African American or Latino.
Perhaps the most surprising portion of The New Jim Crow is Alexander's history of the War on Drugs. The "tough on crime" stance that began under President Nixon and intensified under Presidents Reagan and Clinton was born when rates of drug use and crime were low.

Today nearly one-third of African American men are likely to spend time in prison. Once released, they live in a state of permanent second-class citizenship. Alexander builds a case that the War on Drugs was not a response to higher crime rates, but a deliberate plan to dismantle the gains of the civil rights movement. If this sounds unlikely, I highly recommend reading this book.

Alexander has clearly done exhaustive research, but she doesn't exhaust the reader with statistics. Although the numbers are extremely convincing, they are woven into a compelling, readable narrative. It's a disturbing book, as it should be, and an excellent one.




-----
* Amadou Diallo was an African immigrant living in New York City. In 1999, when stopped by the police and asked for identification, he reached for his wallet. Police later said they thought the wallet was a gun. The police shot 41 times. Diallo was 22 years old, and unarmed.

* The คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019Wikipedia article about the Diallo murder contains this:
On March 13, 2015, Capital New York and other news organizations reported that 50 of the 15,000 IP addresses belonging to the NYPD were associated with edits, dating back to 2006, to English Wikipedia articles, including this article on the Amadou Diallo shooting. These IP addresses geolocate to NYPD headquarters at 1 Police Plaza. Detective Cheryl Crispin, a NYPD spokeswoman, said that "the matter is under internal review."

5.22.2017

arun gupta's perfect takedown of food-as-cultural-appropriation

I read this on Facebook and absolutely love it. The author, Arun Gupta, understands and acknowledges cultural appropriation as a fact and a legitimate concern (as do I). But he also believes the "reactionary left" spreading lists of ethnic restaurants run by white people
...essentializes the notion of culture as rooted in the very soil of a place and not something that can travel or transcend boundaries. This hints at fascistic notions of blood and soil as what constitutes the nation.

It is reactionary because the creators of this are implying there are timeless practices, rooted in a people, land and culture, that constitute only appropriate form of food. They want to fix all cultures as fossils in a museum, not allowing for adaptation, changing tastes, social roles, or fashion. It reminds me of how the National Front fetishizes a notion of the pure French nation.
He's unpacked the food-as-cultural-appropriation concept perfectly. Please go read the whole post.

I would be interested to know what wmtc readers who vehemently disagreed with my earlier posts think of Gupta's ideas.

5.18.2017

postscript: some clarifications and addenda to my recent post on cultural appropriation

Many people have been discussing my recent post about cultural appropriation on Facebook. I'm not surprised that many people disagree (that's why I wrote it, to put my countering opinion out there), but I have been surprised by how many progressive people do agree.

From the negative comments, I can see that I wasn't clear on a few important points.

1. The entire post refers to white, first-world people calling out other first-worlders with accusations of cultural appropriation -- not aboriginal people. I would not pass judgment or venture an opinion about a native person's judgment of appropriation of their own culture. I have no right to do so -- and I would not do so. I was referring what I see as a quite a large bandwagon, pointing self-righteous fingers at others -- by white people, and at white people.

2. The above might explain why I feel the words shaming and bullying are fair game. I wasn't suggesting that aboriginal people are bullying white people about appropriation. That would be absurd.

3. I do believe that on a personal, one-to-one level, we are all equals and must treat each other with mutual respect. I do not believe that membership in a historically marginalized group is a license to act disrespectfully. That's my belief, but it's not what the post is about.

4. My post was not in response to the Hal Niedzviecki controversy. I had been writing the post for a while. I have very little time to write, and I edit every post at least twice, so it can take quite a while for me to finish something and get it online.

5. The post was also not in response to me personally being taken to task for appropriation. The whole #fragilewhiteperson thing is not at issue here. Again, I was referring to white people criticizing other white people for what they have -- mistakenly, in my opinion -- labeled cultural appropriation.

6. Apparently some readers thought my post was in response to one comment I saw online. Believe me, I don't write 3,000 words about one random comment. I see this as a clear trend.

This postscript is meant for clarity only. It's not important to me whether readers agree with me or not. I just want to express myself clearly and stimulate discussion.

5.16.2017

accusations of cultural appropriation are a form of bullying -- and don't reduce racism

I'm increasingly dismayed by accusations of cultural appropriation that are used as weapons, rather than as a tool for raising awareness and educating. Accusations of appropriation have become a form of bullying, a weapon wielded to police and enforce a superficial obeisance to a behavioural code -- while doing nothing to address the underlying issues.

Cultural appropriation is real. It's a valid issue.

I'm not saying that cultural appropriation is not real. It is. I'm not saying claims of appropriation don't have merit. They do.

When I was a child in the 1960s, parents might dress their children as "Indians" for Halloween, without a second thought. Kids played "Cowboys and Indians," dressing up in hats or feathers, with toy guns or tomahawks. Can you imagine if someone had played "Nazis and Jews"? It's completely inappropriate to turn a history of genocide and oppression into costumes and games. That in the 21st century, people are still doing this... it's mind-boggling.

Racist names and logos of sports teams, the Disney version of stories like Pocahontas -- these images are demeaning, degrading, trivializing, and undeniably racist. They should never stand unchallenged. (When it comes to sports teams, names and images should be changed
immediately.)

It’s disturbing to see sacred images commodified and commercialized, reduced to merchandise, devoid of meaning. That's what our consumer society does -- to everything. Religious holidays become secular shopping marathons. Spiritual symbols are sold on infomercials. Leaders of movements who fought for radical change are re-packaged as icons with feel-good slogans.

Using objects of cultural significance in trivial (and usually commercial) ways is a hallmark of consumer culture. Everything is gobbled up by the giant maw of consumerism, then diluted and spit back, stripped of all meaning, in some mass-marketable form.

It can be depressing, and it can be enraging. But shaming people for their ignorance will not stop this dynamic. The proliferation of racialized language, the enforcement of racialized divisions, the policing of thought and expression -- all hallmarks of appropriation shaming -- do not increase understanding. They preclude it. The current opposition to cultural appropriation sounds a lot like calls for segregation.

The hyperbole is out of control. There is no doubt that dressing children in "Indian" costumes is racist. But it is not -- as I have seen it called -- genocidal. When everything is genocide, then nothing is genocide; the word ceases to have meaning. Perhaps this analogy works: racist costumes are to genocide as street harassment is to rape. They are related. They can be placed on the same continuum. But they are not the same thing.

The current climate of accusation is misguided and harmful. Some thoughts.

-- Who owns culture? Expression is not owned. Culture is not owned. It's not owned by Disney, and it's not owned by the Ojibway. The Ojibway people have a much greater claim to their own culture than Disney, but neither can restrict anyone else's use. No one owns cultural influences, and no one can stop anyone else from being influenced.

-- Who appoints the expression police? Freedom of expression is a human right. When that expression is harmful or offensive, then others must exercise their own freedom of expression in opposing it. But bullying people into silence is never OK. What's more, it doesn't even work! You might get the person to stop the behaviour, but is that the only goal? Submission and silence do not equal understanding.

-- The rhetoric has grown increasingly authoritarian. That alone should make it suspect. The accusations emphasize divisions. They create division.

-- Accusations of cultural appropriation trivialize racism. Calling a hairstyle, or food, or a dance "genocidal" is an insult to every culture that has experienced genocide.

-- Some accusers will say that using another culture's symbols is acceptable if one has engaged meaningfully with that culture. So who makes the call? How does the "appropriator" communicate their engagement, and to what tribunal do they submit their evidence?

-- Who decides? Do the self-appointed guardians of culture have the widespread support of the community they claim to represent?

-- The current rhetoric does nothing to bridge divides and promote understanding. Instead, it accuses, shames, and basks in self-righteousness.

-- The accusation of cultural appropriation is often based on assumptions. Are you sure the person you’re accusing has no “right” to wear her hair that way or to wear a First Nations insignia, or are you assuming based on physical appearance?

I recently learned that a co-worker of mine is First Nations. Had she not told me, I never would have known. Can she wear signifiers from her heritage culture without exposing herself to accusations and attacks? Why should she have to explain or justify her choices? And, it follows, why should anyone?

White women wearing African-derived hairstyles are a common source of outcry. What if we learn that the apparently white woman is actually a light-skinned African American? Is it then ok? Pretty soon we're back to the "one drop of blood" rule. We're DNA testing women to see if they were biologically female at birth. We're asking people to identify their heritage in order to be granted access to a culture. Why do we think this is OK?

The world is a heap of broken images

We live in a multicultural, mongrel world where cultures are constantly blending and shifting and taking on new forms. Almost everything in our common culture originated from some other culture, often from cultures that were once despised and marginalized.

Credit is important. Engagement is important. But even without it, no one has the right to police anyone else's culture.

We often hear that art is "stolen" from its sources. It's not that simple.

Artist Damien Hirst recently was accused of appropriating Nigerian art. Hirst admit the influence and credited it -- but apparently didn't say it loudly or often enough. I'm not a Hirst fan by any means, but here an artist is acknowledging an influence, and it's still not enough.

We can see the influence of African masks in Picasso's paintings, but Picasso did not steal the mask images. It is often said that Elvis Presley "stole" African American music and dance.* In fact, Presley was influenced as much by the music of his African American neighbours as the "hillbilly" music of his white neighbours (who were also poor, marginalized people). Those two influences came crashing together in the form of one (part-Native American) Elvis.

That’s often how art happens -- cultures clash, then give birth to something new. That may happen with or without exploitation -- but it can’t not happen. It will never stop happening, nor should we want it to.

Miley Cyrus was apparently lambasted for twerking onstage, a white woman performing a “black dance”. (I learned of this when researching this post. This "news" would not have been on my radar!) So some people are policing who does what dances, apparently ignorant of the way dance styles proliferate. First it's a strange, exotic movement used by an in-crowd, then it is seized on by the mainstream, at which point the in-crowd moves on to the next new thing. Surely we are not saying that some dance moves can only be made by people with dark skin? And if we are -- why is this OK??

Some responses to what's out there

Researching this post, I’ve read many thoughtful articles purporting to explain cultural appropriation, but I disagree with much of what I read.

In How to Explain Cultural Appropriation to Anyone Who Just Doesn’t Get It, I read --
for the first time -- about the supposed cultural appropriation of food. Nigerian jollof rice and Vietnamese pho have been given a supposedly hip twist by some famous chefs.

I don’t doubt that to some Nigerians (like the author) and to some Vietnamese people, this is offensive. To others, I’m willing to bet, it’s amusing. And still to others, it may be flattery. That is almost always the case. Does the writer speak for all Nigerians? Surely not. He speaks for himself and no doubt some Nigerians agree with him.

Jamie Oliver isn't hiding the fact that the dish is Nigerian in origin. He isn't trivializing Nigerian culture. He isn't using sacred symbols in a debased way. He has created some Nigerian food with his own twist.

Just about the last place we should look for cultural appropriation is the dinner table. Almost everything we first-worlders eat originated from some culture somewhere. Last week, I ate hummus, pizza, and sushi. Somehow I doubt the restaurant owners felt I was engaging in cultural appropriation. Can only Polish people eat pierogis? Should we demand that non-Polish people understand the historical struggles of the Polish people before eating kielbasa? Let's not even get into corn -- invented by the aboriginal people of what is now the Americas.

As ridiculous as it may seem to some to turn a simple dish like jollof rice or pho into upscale food, that is a part of our multicultural world that many people celebrate. It's not appropriation.

In this article in Jezebel, the writer wonders if it's all right for her to hang a dreamcatcher in her window. You do not need someone else's permission to decorate your home, nor should you be concerned that the art you love is originally from another culture. Find me some art that’s not.

This article from an aboriginal blog encourages us to learn about the cultures we borrow from, and asks us to stay away from images that are sacred and meaningful in their original culture. For me it was a welcome, compassionate voice in a sea of snark.

Many people are sharing this post from Everyday Feminism: What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm. I agree with a few of the writer’s points, but I find others very problematic. I'd like to respond to a few points in particular.

It Trivializes Violent Historical Oppression

Sometimes it does. And anything that does that is wrong. The racist team logos and nicknames do. The skirt depicting slave ships do. Decorating your room with a dreamcatcher or eating Jamie Oliver’s jollof does not.

It Lets People Show Love for the Culture, But Remain Prejudiced Against Its People

The writer uses the example of white people wanting to eat authentic Mexican food but not wanting to venture into "sketchy neighbourhoods" to get it. I get this. It can be maddening to run into that kind of classism and racism.

In our multicultural society, we can take what we like and avoid the rest. I think it's something we all do to an extent, including the people who complain about it. However, it is not appropriation. See above: the "yelpers" eating Mexican food are not using sacred symbols in a distorting or demeaning way.

The writer says:
So is every non-Mexican who enjoys a good burrito guilty of cultural appropriation? Say it ain’t so! That would include me and nearly everyone I know.

But now that you know that popularizing “ethnic” food can be one way to harm a group of people while taking from their traditions, you can think about ways to satisfy your international food cravings without participating in that harm.
I find this an enormous leap and assumption. I don't "know" this, I only know this writer thinks so. But more importantly, how can we tell if a burrito-phile is participating in harm or not? We can't. So let's not assume and render judgment.

It Lets Privileged People Profit from Oppressed People’s Labor

Show me one first-world person who is not doing this, every single day, no matter what their background. Is any first-worlder so naive or narcissistic or self-absorbed to think they're not doing this? Where does this woman shop, where does she buy her food? It's not only the privileged that engage in this. In our economy of precarious work, very few people can afford not to profit from the labour of oppressed people.

This is something all first-world activists and revolutionaries should own. We profit from the labour of oppressed people, every time we buy clothes and much of the time we buy food. Believing that this is something other people do -- that appropriators do -- is hypocritical. It's delusional.

It Perpetuates Racist Stereotypes

I am concerned with this. Challenging racist stereotypes is part of my life. It should be part of our daily work for justice. But this --
As Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations puts it, “You are pretending to be a race that you are not, and are drawing upon stereotypes to do so.”
-- made my flesh crawl. Pretending to be a race you are not? First, do the appropriators actually pretend to be something they are not? Is Miley Cyrus pretending to African American? And more importantly, I find the language here – race, instead of culture or background or ethnicity – creepily regressive.

White People Can Freely Do What People of Color Were Actively Punished for Doing

Here the writer reveals a fascinating bit of hidden history.
Did you know yoga was once banned in India as part of the “racist and orientalist narratives” that characterized Indian people as perverse heathens who had to conform to Western ways? The bands of yogis who resisted the ban rose up to challenge the oppressive British rule.

These days, it seems like yoga’s everywhere, and practitioners don’t have to challenge the rules of the government to reach it. It can bring up some sensitive feelings to say that non-South Asian people who do yoga are appropriating culture, because the practice benefits many people throughout the US.

But you know who’s not benefiting from the commercialization of yoga like middle class white women are? The South Asian people for whom yoga has a deep cultural and religious significance.
I ask: Do South Asian people oppose the popularization of yoga? There is evidence from one person. This may be the dominant thought in her culture, or it may not. I've heard my South Asian co-workers mention yoga with pride -- a positive piece of our common culture that originated from their original culture. This may or may not be the dominant thought of South Asian people. I wouldn’t presume to know. Neither should this writer or anyone else.

It Prioritizes the Feelings of Privileged People Over Justice for Marginalized People

Freedom of expression is not a feeling, it isn't trivial, and it doesn't only affect privileged people. Just the opposite. Marginalized people are always more affected by laws and customs that curtail freedom of expression. Freedom of expression cannot apply only to certain people and not others. Because again, who decides?

I understand the arguments about power imbalance. But when you police culture, you are appropriating power. What gives you the right?

Let's be honest: many of the accusers, many people happily calling out others on charges of appropriation, are not themselves members of marginalized cultures. Many members of the culture police I see on Facebook and Twitter are North American white folks.

So what do we do?

Almost everyone in our world has a background of mixed origins and cultures. Are we only allowed to use expressions from our original culture? Who decides when an attribute from another culture is now part of the mainstream? Three or four generations after my great-grandparents emigrated from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to the US, am I only allowed to use cultural references they would have recognized? We recognize that question as absurd. But we're willing to say that this white performer shouldn't dance a black-identified dance, and this artist shouldn't use African influences.

Researching for this post, I did find an article expressing the same ideas as I do here: The Dos and Don'ts of Cultural Appropriation, in The Atlantic. After describing how "getting dressed is a daily act of cultural appropriation," using and wearing items gleaned all over the world, Jenni Avins writes:
As I dress in the morning, I deeply appreciate the craftsmanship and design behind these items, as well as the adventures and people they recall. And while I hope I don’t offend anyone, I find the alternative — the idea that I ought to stay in the cultural lane I was born into — outrageous. No matter how much I love cable-knit sweaters and Gruyere cheese, I don’t want to live in a world where the only cultural inspiration I’m entitled to comes from my roots in Ireland, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe.

There are legitimate reasons to step carefully when dressing ourselves with the clothing, arts, artifacts, or ideas of other cultures. But please, let’s banish the idea that appropriating elements from one another’s cultures is in itself problematic.

Such borrowing is how we got treasures such as New York pizza and Japanese denim — not to mention how the West got democratic discourse, mathematics, and the calendar. Yet as wave upon wave of shrill accusations of cultural appropriation make their way through the Internet outrage cycle, the rhetoric ranges from earnest indignation to patronizing disrespect.

And as we watch artists and celebrities being pilloried and called racist, it’s hard not to fear the reach of the cultural-appropriation police, who jealously track who “owns” what and instantly jump on transgressors.

In the 21st century, cultural appropriation — like globalization — isn’t just inevitable; it’s potentially positive. We have to stop guarding cultures and subcultures in efforts to preserve them. It’s na?ve, paternalistic, and counterproductive. Plus, it’s just not how culture or creativity work. The exchange of ideas, styles, and traditions is one of the tenets and joys of a modern, multicultural society.

So how do we move past the finger pointing, and co-exist in a way that’s both creatively open and culturally sensitive? In a word, carefully.
Avins then lists her own take on the how to show this care, such as "Don’t Adopt Sacred Artifacts as Accessories," "Appropriation is not a substitute for diversity", "Engage With Other Cultures on More Than an Aesthetic Level," and "Treat a Cultural Exchange Like Any Other Creative Collaboration — Give Credit, and Consider Royalties".

This strikes me as sensitive, compassionate, and mindful of the rights of all parties involved. We have no way of knowing if the appropriator has sufficiently met this criteria or not. So let's not judge them.

------
* I am aware of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I know quite a bit about blues music and early rock-and-roll. They are not the same thing.

1.30.2017

10 things you can do to fight trump-era nazism

Like all good people, I am horrified by recent developments in the US, and like everyone who has been paying attention, not surprised. I take hope from the immediate and powerful resistance that has been set in motion. But also at the resistance, I am angry, too. What took you so long? Let's hope it's not too late.

Here are a few things you can do to fight back.

1. Donate to the American Civil Liberties Union. For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been fighting for the civil rights of people marginalized or targeted by the dominant culture. These are the people best equipped to fight back -- the best and the brightest of the resistance. Even a small one-time or monthly donation can make a difference.

2. Canadians, sign a petition calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen, demanding that they repeal the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, which would allow Canada to welcome people fleeing violence from Muslim-majority countries and/or deportation by the United States.

You've probably seen Trudeau's tweet saying that Canada welcomes those fleeing persecution "regardless of faith". Here's an opportunity for Trudeau to make good on that statement.

Currently, if an asylum seeker residing in the US tried to enter Canada to escape deportation, Canada would turn them away, based on the "Safe Third Country Agreement". Read more about it here. Please sign the petition and ask your contacts to do the same.

3. Call or email your MP and ask them to support the above. Say it is a matter of great importance to you, because this is the Canada you want to live in. You can คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019find your MP here by postal code.

4. Attend a demonstration against Trump's order and in solidarity with those it targets. In the Toronto area, it's this Saturday, February 4, 12:30-2:30 pm, outside the US Consulate on University Avenue. In cities across the US and Canada, it will not be difficult to find a demo. When you find this community, keep in touch.

5. Send a letter of support to a mosque or Islamic cultural group in your community. A simple act of solidarity goes a long way.

6. Share facts. I'm always surprised by what people know, and what they don't know. I've learned not to assume. Share what you learn with your faith group, your union, your spin class, your online community, your Facebook contacts. (This one comes with a caveat. Social media is great for many things, but it is not actually a form of protest. It can be the drug that keeps us docile and not protesting.)

Photo montage thanks to Dave Zirin
7. Write a letter to your local media outlet. These still matter. Keep it short and it's more likely to be published.

8. Pledge to register. If Muslims are ever required to register with the government, be prepared to register in solidarity. If you have doubts or fears about this, now is the time to discuss with your family and friends. Vow to yourself and to your community that you will do this. It would be very fitting if the first, say, 10,000 registrants were Jewish.

9. Delete Uber from your phone, and don't forget to tell them why in the "share details" box. On Saturday night, protesters streamed into airports around the US to protest Trump’s anti-Muslim executive order. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance posted this:


Uber did the opposite.


Lyft, Uber's principal competitor, has pledged to donate $1 million to the ACLU.

I heart NYC
I freely admit that this is another excuse to ask people to #DeleteUber and never use them again. Their abhorrent labour practises drag precarious work into new depths. More info here.

10. Check out Bustle. They're full of great ideas.

And a bonus: 11. Don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed. Each one, reach one. Take a small action. Then another. Eat, sleep, repeat.

1.18.2017

chelsea manning will be free!!!!

This is the best news I've seen in a long, long time.
Chelsea Manning, the US army soldier who became one of the most prominent whistleblowers of modern times when she exposed the nature of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who then went on to pay the price with a 35-year military prison sentence, is to be freed in May as a gift of outgoing president Barack Obama.

In the most audacious – and contentious – commutation decision to come from Obama yet, the sitting president used his constitutional power just three days before he leaves the White House to give Manning her freedom.

Manning, a transgender woman, will walk from a male military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on 17 May, almost seven years to the day since she was arrested at a base outside Baghdad for offenses relating to the leaking of a vast trove of US state secrets to the website WikiLeaks.

Nancy Hollander, Manning’s lawyer, spoke to the Guardian before she had even had the chance to pass on to the soldier the news of her release. “Oh my God!” was Hollander’s instant response to the news which she had just heard from the White House counsel. “I cannot believe it – in 120 days she will be free and it will all be over. It’s incredible.”

. . . Human rights groups welcomed Tuesday’s decision. Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said: “Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own human rights have been violated by the US government for years.

“President Obama was right to commute her sentence, but it is long overdue. It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven’t been brought to justice.”
I could post about a million more links. I'm relieved and overjoyed that Chelsea Manning will finally be free.

12.08.2016

librarians: celebrate human rights at your library #Write4Rights

December 10 is International Human Rights Day. The date commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the first global human rights document.

Every year on December 10, Amnesty International Canada holds Write For Rights. All over the country, Canadians use our own human rights to support people who don’t have them. We write letters in support of prisoners of conscience, and letters to prisoners to let them know they have not been forgotten. It’s a powerful experience, and very easy to do.

This year I will be writing letters, and I've invited our library system to join me. Library staff are always looking for display ideas. I compiled a list of materials, sent it out to all staff, and suggested a human rights themed display. Several people were interested, and I sent them each a poster template and Write For Rights bookmarks that I got from Amnesty.

If you create library displays, I invite you to try this! You can share photos of your displays on social media with the hashtag #Write4Rights. Here's my display, and my list.






Nonfiction
Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacob
A Woman Among Warlords, Malala Joya
Chasing the Flame, Samantha Power
Dead Man Walking, Helen Prejean
Infamy, Richard Reeves
Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
I Shall Not Hate, Izzeldin Abuelaish
A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah
Shake Hands with the Devil, Romeo Dallaire
Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown
An Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King
The Dark Side, Jane Mayer

Fiction
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden
Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Little Bee, Chris Cleave
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, Gil Courtemanche
Room, Emma Donoghue
Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Ford, Jamie Ford
Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
The Illegal, Lawrence Hill
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
The Known World, Edward Jones
The Cellist of Sarajevo, Annette Keen
The Afterlife of Stars, Joseph Kertes
The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
Prairie Ostrich, Tamai Kobayashi
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munroe
Anil's Ghost, Michael Ondaatje
The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
Ru, Kim Thúy
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
Mosquito, Roma Terme
Dogs at the Perimeter, Madeleine Thien
Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese
Native Son, Richard Wright
The Book Thief, Marcus Zusack
The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

Youth Fiction
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
The Giver, Lois Lowry

Documentary films
Devil's Knot
The Central Park Five
Waltz with Bashir

Movies
Amistad
The Book Thief
The Giver
Hotel Rwanda
Made In Dagenham
Pride
Selma
12 Years a Slave

Graphic Nonfiction
War Is Boring, David Axe
Martin Luther King, Michael Teitelbaum
Army of God, David Axe
Snowden, Ted Rall
Woman Rebel, Peter Bagge
The Imitation Game, Jim Ottaviani
Anne Frank, Sidney Jacobson
Maus, Art Spiegelman
Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, Harvey Pekar
Louis Riel, Chester Brown

I'm sure everyone reading this can think of more titles. My list was limited to what can be found in our library system. I hope it inspires you to add some of your own. And to Write For Rights on December 10.

10.29.2016

what i'm reading: the underground railroad by colson whitehead

Colson Whitehead is a literary genius. In The Underground Railroad, he has found a way to tell the story of 400-plus years of African-American oppression without delivering an awkward march through history, and without using characters as billboards for ideas.

Instead of linear time, Whitehead employs a geography of time: different eras, different historical moments, occur simultaneously but in different places, all the locations connected by an underground railroad.

At one stop is something very like the Tuskegee Experiment and the "Mississippi appendectomy". At another stop, minstrel shows, the mania of genocidal lynching, and the realities of Fugitive Slave Act. At another, the vision of Greenwood, Oklahoma and other all-black triumphs like it, and the spectre of its demise.

These simultaneous realities are linked, not by the Underground Railroad of myth and metaphor, but an underground railroad. As every reviewer of this book has pointed out, Whitehead imagines an actual railroad, at once a clandestine mode of transport, and a symbol of the subterranean struggle for freedom and justice.

Through his invented geography, Whitehead comes as close to the heart of the horror of slavery and its many legacies as anything I've ever read. The physical truth, the emotional truth, the psychological truth -- all are laid bare, revealing the United States' foundation of stolen land, human chattel, and brutal subjugation, and how that has played out over decades and centuries.

Whitehead doesn't sanitize slavery, but neither is this book a catalogue of grotesque violence. There's violence enough -- Whitehead doesn't flinch from it -- but he doesn't force the reader into torture porn, as graphically violent books often do.

To call The Underground Railroad historical fiction would be to diminish it. Whitehead is the consummate genre-shifter, never writing the same type of book twice; actually never writing a "type" at all. The Underground Railroad comprises elements of historical fiction, slave narratives, immigration stories, westerns, alternative histories, and magical realism. There's bits of Gulliver's Travels, of The Odyssey, of The Inferno. This review in The New York Times references one I hadn't thought of.
Throughout my reading, I was repeatedly reminded of a particular chapter from García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” to whose handling of time Whitehead seems to owe quite a bit. In that chapter, the infamous massacre of the banana plantation workers is denied by the official versions of history and soon forgotten. But one character knows what he saw — thousands of dead traveling toward the sea on a train — and goes around trying to find someone who will remember the story. He doesn’t: People always get things wrong. In a sense, “The Underground Railroad” is Whitehead’s own attempt at getting things right, not by telling us what we already know but by vindicating the powers of fiction to interpret the world. In its exploration of the foundational sins of America, it is a brave and necessary book.
In reviews and interviews, much has been made of Whitehead's imaginative invention of an actual underground railroad, but what sets this book apart is not fantasy. Whitehead uses this magical element to confront the reality of American slavery, inviting us to consider it anew. In The Globe and Mail, Andray Domise writes:
But other misunderstandings, stubborn and pernicious, have managed to warp much of white America’s perception of slavery – that it was a matter of wage theft, that slaves were mostly treated and fed well by benevolent masters, that the Irish were treated in a similar fashion to black people. Whitehead’s novel is both speculative fiction and an inversion of these comforting fables. One in which the United States’ crimes against the Black body are revealed and compressed into the narrative of a young woman’s escape from bondage.
The Underground Railroad is a powerful and beautifully written book. Of course it's deeply disturbing, but I hope that doesn't dissuade readers from picking it up. In this age when blatantly false histories spread virally, this is a book that needs to be read.

Also, it's Colson Whitehead. Here I am again, raving about another book by Colson Whitehead. Here are my posts on: Sag Harbor, Zone One, Apex Hides the Hurt, and John Henry Days. Turns out I didn't review Colossus of New York, I only quoted from it: here and here (this blog was two days old at the time). And I read his first novel, The Intuitionist before this blog existed.

6.05.2016

the greatest, forever. rest in power muhammad ali.

Revolutionary thought of the day, from a revolutionary American.
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.

But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…

If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.

Muhammad Ali, 1967

Two thoughts from my Facebook feed.
I was saddened to hear that War Resister Muhammad Ali has died.

His courageous refusal to fight in Viet Nam inspired and encouraged me in doing likewise. Nor was it simply a matter of his religious commitment. When he said "No Vietnamese ever called me "nigger"", he exposed the war for what it was, and African American life for what it was.

As a War Resister, Muhammad Ali was The Greatest.

Lee Zaslofsky, War Resisters Support Campaign

RIP peoples champ. And writer friends, could we please remember to mention Ali was a proud Muslim? Bold, yes. Brave, yes. Handsome, yes. But also a deeply spiritual person. That can't be forgotten today or ever. ‪#‎stopislamophobia‬

Joel H., Ottawa

Not all white people are racist?
There are many white people who mean right and in their hearts wanna do right. If 10,000 snakes were coming down that aisle now, and I had a door that I could shut, and in that 10,000, 1,000 meant right, 1,000 rattlesnakes didn’t want to bite me, I knew they were good... Should I let all these rattlesnakes come down, hoping that that thousand get together and form a shield? Or should I just close the door and stay safe?

Muhammad Ali, 1971

‘I Just Wanted to Be Free’: The Radical Reverberations of Muhammad Ali, Dave Zirin, The Nation

Muhammad Ali Risked It All When He Opposed The Vietnam War, Justin Block, HuffPo

Muhammad Ali: Worshipped. Misunderstood. Exploited., Ishamel Reed, New York Times Op-Ed

Official New York Times obituary, written by Robert Lipsyte, a steadfastly progressive voice in the overwhelmingly ultra-conservative field of sportswriting

If you haven't seen any of these movies, do yourself a favour. None is perfect, all are flawed, but all worth seeing.

When We Were Kings (1996)

The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013)

I Am Ali (2014)

5.15.2016

rest in power, daniel berrigan and michael ratner

The world lost two great fighters for peace and justice this past week.

Daniel Berrigan was a lifelong peace activist, a man who was ready and willing to put his body and soul on the line. He was a writer, a thinker, a pacifist, an idealist, a pragmatist, and a priest.

Berrigan was also a leader, someone who, early on, helped make visible the connections between racism, poverty, war, and capitalism. He became a leading figure in the peace movement during the Vietnam War. Naturally, he was on the FBI's "most wanted" list and served time in prison.

Later in his life, Berrigan founded the Plowshares Movement, which used daring acts of civil disobedience to draw a spotlight on the US's nuclear arsenal.

Here are two pieces from The New Yorker celebrating Berrigan.
James Carroll remembers his "dangerous friend".

Eric Schlosser remembers how "a handful of a handful of pacifists and nuns exposed the vulnerability of America’s nuclear-weapons sites": Break-In at Y-12.
Following in the giant footsteps of Dorothy Day, Berrigan's life and work demonstrates that religion can be a positive force for social change.

Michael Ratner's life and work also defies stereotype: he was a lawyer who spent his entire career defending the scorned, the falsely accused, the scapegoated. He was a trailblazer who pioneered the use of the law to champion human rights. Long ago, when I contemplated going to law school, I dreamt of Michael Ratner as my role model.

Democracy Now! devoted an entire program to the celebration of Ratner's life and work.
The trailblazing human rights attorney Michael Ratner has died at the age of 72. For over four decades, Michael Ratner defended, investigated and spoke up for victims of human rights abuses across the world. He served as the longtime head of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Attorney David Cole told The New York Times, "Under his leadership, the center grew from a small but scrappy civil rights organization into one of the leading human rights organizations in the world. He sued some of the most powerful people in the world on behalf of some of the least powerful."

In 2002, the center brought the first case against the George W. Bush administration for the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo. The Supreme Court eventually sided with the center in a landmark 2008 decision when it struck down the law that stripped Guantánamo prisoners of their habeas corpus rights. Ratner began working on Guantánamo in the 1990s, when he fought the first Bush administration’s use of the military base to house Haitian refugees.
I can't begin to do justice to either of these men, but I didn't want their deaths to go unnoticed on this blog. Their passing saddens me and their lives inspire me.

4.17.2016

a petition to exonerate ethel rosenberg

Of all the outrageously unjust moments in United States history - and dog knows there are many to choose from - the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg holds a special place in my political underpinnings. It was an event I learned about early on, one that came up in many different contexts throughout my childhood. That was partly because the Rosenbergs were Jewish, and their case was rife with anti-Semitism. It was partly because of my parents' thorough and utter disgust for McCarthyism. And it was partly because my parents had very clear, first-hand memories of the case, the execution occurring in the early years of their marriage. They remembered the media frenzy, the protests attempting to save their lives, and finally, the Rosenbergs' deaths.

My mother always mentioned thousands of people packing into New York City's Union Square on the night of the execution, pleading with the government to commute or stay the sentence. My mother and I both read The Book of Daniel, E. L. Doctorow's fictional imaginings of the Rosenberg orphans, and my mother bought (and gave to others as gifts) We Are Your Sons, written by the Rosenbergs' children, Robert and Michael Meeropol.

In recent years, declassified information showed that Julius Rosenberg had spied for the Soviet Union. He did not, however, pass secrets about the atom bomb, the crime of which he was accused and convicted. And no similar evidence came to light about Ethel Rosenberg. Despite these details, the US media was only too happy to declare the case closed.

When I saw the subject line in my inbox Sign the petition: Exonerate Ethel Rosenberg, I was very interested. But I was also wary. If we want Ethel Rosenberg to be exonerated, does that mean we are condoning Julius' conviction? If we say, "Ethel was not a spy and her execution was wrongful," do we imply that the execution of Julius Rosenberg was justified? Or that some executions may be justified?

I care about the Rosenbergs. I care about government-led persecution and witchhunts. But I also care about the death penalty: I am against it, for any reason, ever. (Don't Godwin me. Any reason ever.) I've known about the Rosenbergs my entire life. I wanted to sign this petition, but I wasn't sure I should.

I wasn't alone. This was forwarded to me by an activist friend who received the petition before I did.
Many people who’ve signed the petition to exonerate my grandmother, Ethel Rosenberg, have asked why the campaign doesn’t include my grandfather, Julius. My father Robert Meeropol answers that question in a blog, here.

My dad’s outlook on life and his drive to create something positive from the terrible tragedy of his early years continues to be inspiring, both for those who are new to his story and for those of us who know his journey well.

As you can imagine, my father’s life was profoundly affected by his parents’ execution. He was three years old when they were arrested, and six years old when they were killed. He visited his parents in prison and still remembers what that felt like. He also remembers the executions, and the trauma of being bounced from home to home, and in and out of an orphanage. Relatives were too scared to take in him and my uncle. They were even thrown out of school in New Jersey where sympathetic friends of the family had tried to give them shelter.

Luckily my father and uncle were eventually adopted by Anne and Abel Meeropol. This loving couple, who were teachers and artists, provided a nurturing home and shielded them from the public. And thousands of people who had tried to save my grandparents donated funds to pay for my father and uncle’s education, therapy, art and drama programs, and other services to help them grow up healthy and happy.

Decades later, my father started the Rosenberg Fund for Children to assist kids in this country who are experiencing similar nightmares to what he endured. This organization I now lead aids the children of today’s targeted activists. Their parents are being attacked because they’re struggling to combat racism, wage peace, preserve civil liberties, safeguard the environment, organize on behalf of workers, prisoners, and LGBTQI people, and more. . . .
Incidentally, the children of US war resister Kimberly Rivera received some assistance from The Rosenberg Fund for Children. I'm proud that some part of my life intersects with some part of the Rosenbergs'.

I signed the petition with a clear conscience and I hope you will, too.

If you are interested in both a progressive and factual reading of the executions, I recommend this long piece by Robert Wilbur, writing in Truthout: The True Crime of the Rosenberg Execution.
Federal District Judge Irving R. Kaufman was a pious man. He visited his synagogue to commune with whatever god he believed in before making up his mind to condemn Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to die in the electric chair, making orphans of their two young boys. That, however, was not the full reach of his piety. Under pressure from the Justice Department to end the Rosenberg case quickly, after two years of delays in the courts, Kaufman set their death for a Friday. This created an unanticipated complication, as Sam Roberts recounts in his grisly description of the execution in "The Brother": New York State traditionally carried out its executions at 11:00 PM. But this would mean the Rosenbergs would burn several hours into the Sabbath - the Jewish holy day. What to do? Kaufman sought the advice of a rabbi to ascertain the exact time when the Sabbath began, then ordered the executions moved up to a more comfortable hour.

The judge must have gotten satisfactory advice, for there were no complaints from organized Jewry in America. Julius died from the traditional three jolts of electricity; Ethel required an additional two jolts, perhaps the only shred of evidence that she was really the tougher member of the spying duo.

And, while the evidence remains much disputed, the preponderance suggests that spies they were. Eventually, even the Rosenberg's journalistic cheerleaders, Walter and Miriam Schneir, acknowledged that Julius Rosenberg was ringmaster of a busy espionage collective that was passing electronic and aeronautical intelligence to the Soviets during the Second World War. Julius himself - unlike the nerd depicted in photographs - was a brazen cowboy who scored a daring espionage coup by stealing the proximity fuse from its plant of manufacture piece by piece: this device uses an electromagnetic wave guide to identify a nearby aircraft, vastly increasing the efficacy of anti-aircraft batteries.

Schneir acknowledged that Julius was a spy - but not an atomic spy. And, so, the case has dragged on to this very day, and two important questions remain unanswered:

- Were the Rosenbergs framed to break up their spy ring in a distinctly conclusive manner (and, relatedly, what was Ethel's role in the ring)?

- If the death penalty is ever appropriate, was it called for in this case?

. . . .

But when everything seems to be tied up in a neat package, Schneir has a quote from Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and one-time death penalty battler turned post-9/11 advocate of torture, citing a conversation with Rosenberg prosecutor and mob lawyer Roy Cohn:
"Roy Cohn ... proudly told me shortly before his death [in 1986] that the government had 'manufactured 'evidence against the Rosenbergs, because they knew Julius was the head of a spy ring. They had learned this from bugging a foreign embassy, but they could not disclose any information learned from the bug, so they made up some evidence in order to prove what they already knew. In the process, they also made up the case against Ethel Rosenberg." ["America on Trial" (NY: Warner Books,2004.p/323)]
In right-wing quarters, especially those where "kike" and "yid" are words of currency, the Rosenberg case is still considered the crime of the century, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. . . .

So, while the Rosenbergs probably did break a law that was passed amid the hysteria of an earlier world war by passing non-atomic intelligence on to the Russians, the statesmen committed a monumental blunder in underestimating the Soviet Union's imperialistic intentions. The Rosenberg's crime was probably to break the 1917 Espionage Act; by far the greater crime was to kill husband and wife on June 19, 58 years ago. The execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg is the true crime of the century - an abomination that casts an ineradicable black mark on the American criminal justice system and on the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose own crime was a failure to grant mercy.
This story on the World Socialist website sees the Rosenbergs' persecution clearly, through a present-day lens.
June 19 [2013] marks the 50th anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Many of the Rosenbergs’ contemporaries, for whom their persecution and state murder was the most searing episode in one of the darkest chapters in US history, have passed from the scene. Yet still today, for millions of people around the world, the name of the young couple evokes the Cold War, the McCarthyite witch-hunt in the United States and all of the crimes associated with Washington’s global crusade against communism. The execution of the father and mother of two young children, residents of New York City’s Lower East Side — he 35 years old and she 37 at the time of their deaths — is testimony to the savagery of which the American ruling establishment is capable when it perceives its vital interests to be at stake.

Despite the passing of five decades, the issues surrounding the Rosenberg case are in many ways posed more sharply today than at any time since the execution itself. Once again, a US administration is seeking to terrorize the entire population as a means of suppressing dissent and exercising control on behalf of a wealthy elite. Under the guise of a global “war on terrorism,” it has rammed through the USA Patriot Act — modeled in part on the anti-communist McCarran Internal Security Act of 50 years ago — assuming vast unconstitutional powers to arrest without charges, detain without trial and conduct unrestricted police surveillance.

Today, as then, the government’s fear-mongering and attacks on democratic rights are aimed at suppressing widespread opposition to American military aggression abroad.
You can sign a petition to exonerate Ethel Rosenberg here.