Friday, November 28, 2014

White People Sure Do Get Angry About Racism...Their Own Racism

Photo by Becky Warthell from Portland, Maine the night following the Ferguson grand jury announcement.
It's been eye opening how many angry white people have crawled into view following the Mike Brown grand jury travesty of justice. They seem positively gleeful sharing the character assassination factoids repeated on Fox News and the like. It's getting hard to go anywhere in central Maine where I live without encountering gratuitous hate speech aimed at Brown and his community. How best to respond?

What I feel like saying when people are going on like this is some version of: Did you ever have an 18 year old son and did he ever do stupid stuff like walk down the middle of the street or talk back to cops, and did the police execute him without trial?

But what I actually said in response to racist spew the other day at a hair salon was: A black man is three times more likely to be killed by police than a white man. Three times. That's nationally.*

The spewers were extremely shocked that I, a white woman, spoke up and entered their loud public conversation. Conflict and political discussions are to be avoided at all times in polite society, and I think are viewed as inherently dangerous. I'm pretty sure if the women having the discussion had known that one of their listeners deeply disagreed, they would have not expressed themselves until I had departed.

I warned the woman washing my hair that I was about to say something. She became very nervous, conciliatory, and ratcheted up the inane chatter about any subject she could think of that didn't matter.

No one made any response to what I said, and the racist remarks ceased. In fact, it was downright silent for a good five minutes. Then, conversation turned to the neutral topics of cooking and shopping.

My first impulse was to decide never to go to that salon again. But I challenge myself on that impulse, because insulating myself from people who disagree with me is no way to learn. My impulse to do that is, I think, cowardly.

Since I'm not moving to an urban area anytime soon, there's not much danger of it happening anyway.

But I can feel people pulling away from each other along the divide of white supremacy versus equal rights. This is how civil wars get started. Later, people will report that they had lived with their neighbors in peace for generations, agreeing to disagree, until one day the powers that be wanted a civil war. The propaganda machine went into overdrive pumping out hateful invective at that point, and the mass violence it was designed to incite eventually ensued.

I like to look for patterns, and I believe history matters.
Source: Organizing Notes
Governor Dudley declared in 1704 a "General Thanksgiving" not to celebrate the brotherhood of man but for: 
[God’s] infinite Goodness to extend His Favors ... In defeating and disappointing ... the Expeditions of the Enemy [Indians] against us, And the good Success given us against them, by delivering so many of them into our hands...
Let me give another example. On Facebook this Thanksgiving there were a couple of good articles (here and here) about the true story behind the myth of a chummy dinner between Pilgrims and Native Americans. I shared them on my page as I went about collecting food, cooking, and looking forward gratefully to a warm meal with family and friends.

Apparently these articles offended some Facebook friends. (I define a fb friend as someone who gets my posts in their news feed. It has very little to do with friendship as practiced outside of cyberspace.)

One of them wrote:
Goodness people...let's repurpose Thanksgiving so that it is not associated with any historical event and is merely a day set aside for giving thanks. It's been done around the world for eons...after the harvest is in a feast is held and gratitude is expressed, end of story. It needs no politicizing. It's a traditional day to gather with family and friends to cook and eat and acknowledge that we have so much to be thankful for its almost overwhelming. Giving thanks is nourishment for the soul. It' strengthens family and community. It's necessary for human culture. We do not need to feel guilty about Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!
Can you tell this person is white? What was your first clue? Here's a comment a younger member of the same family added: "Growing up we might have been white, but we certainly were not privileged."

Wow. Just, wow.

People who claim that politics can be avoided are nearly always from the dominant group in society. It's a luxury they can afford. They are willing to be tone deaf when indigenous people object to celebrating events associated with genocide. They aren't very interested in listening to the truth of people who don't share their experience and/or their point of view.

I never understand how we're going to learn anything if we won't listen to others, especially others with whom we disagree.

So, I'll keep on marching with people like videographers Regis Tremblay
 and the very talented Lauren Kennedy.

I'll keep on listening and reading as much as I can. And I'll be thankful when another friend shares moving words from a woman of color, Lauryn Hill, who revised and covered "These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things" in this song entitled "Black Rage."

Listen, and you just might learn something.

*CORRECTION: I misquoted former ACLU of Maine and senatorial candidate Shenna Bellows. What she actually said at a rally way past my bedtime on Nov. 25 was that a black man is three times more likely to be arrested than a white man. That's nationally. In Portland, Maine the rate is 2.6 times more likely.

The actual data on the rate of black and white deaths by police shooting is not collected nationally. But for comparison here is a decade's worth of data on the NYPD:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Justice Or "Just Us" In #Ferguson Failure To Indict Darren Wilson ?

Portland, Maine Nov. 25, 2014
If Darren Wilson is innocent in the matter of Michael Brown's death, what is to be feared from bringing the matter to trial? A grand jury failed to indict Wilson this week, and the protest that has never stopped since the unarmed teenager was shot to death months ago erupted yet again. For centuries the African American community in this country has complained that when the white establishment talks about justice, it really means "just us" is to benefit from application of the rule of law.

People are fed up with racist policing. Mothers like Collette Flanagan who have lost their sons to abusive police repeat offenders are fed up and will march on Washington to demand justice. The National Bar Association is fed up with abuse of the grand jury system to protect racist police officers and is calling for federal prosecution of Wilson. Amen to that.

People fed up with abuse at the hands of unaccountable police force overthrew the regimes in Tunisia and in Egypt. The fact that they are back under the thumb of violent, oppressive governance following their Arab spring does not change the fact that once people have lost the will to continue being oppressed, they are a powerful force.

Rioting is the language of voiceless, so it is said. History tends to support this view.
WCSH Channel 6 t.v. news covered both the 5pm rally and the 9pm rally and march
From my personal vantage point, I have seldom carried a sign through the streets that got more interaction and attention than the one I held last night in Portland, Maine: BLACK LIVES MATTER.

As we left my friend's house to walk to Monument Square, we passed two young boys on the street. They seemed to be about twelve years old. One was black and one was brown, possibly Latino. He smiled broadly and said, "That's right!" as he gave me two thumbs up. That made my tiredness vanish and I felt glad to be there.

 Many more people affirmed the message: by honking, by thanking me, by affirmative replies like, "Yes, they do!"

Two college students fell into step along with us and reported the conversations that had erupted at their schools after the Ferguson grand jury fail. One of the young women was white, the other of east Indian descent. She said her schoolmates don't get that racism still exists. I said, "Because. Obama." and they erupted with laughter. They were excited that we were headed to a rally and they joined us, taking over our "Justice for Mike Brown" sign while Pat distributed candles.

Portland is very white for a city; it's far north, and even its large African diaspora populations from Somalia and Sudan don't move the demographic needle much toward diversity. Many of the white winos and junkies hanging in doorways reacted as we went by with the signs, too. More than one of them said petulantly, "White lives matter, too" or "All lives matter."

The power of false dichotomy is really phenomenal. Black men are 2.6 times more likely to die at the hands of police than are white men in Portland, Maine according to former ACLU director and senatorial candidate Shenna Bellows' remarks last night around 9:30pm in Monument Square. It's a national problem. But if I carry a sign saying their lives matter, I'm presumed to be saying white lives don't. Such is the power of propaganda which from infancy pushes consumers in the USA to pick a team and root for it.

If you're on the white ally team, here are some meaningful things you can do right now. And here's a link to sign the NAACP's petition demanding federal prosecution of Darren Wilson. Because. Ferguson.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Emperor: We Are Determined To Go To Our Grave In #Afghanistan

Bagram airfield, Parwan.  Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Of course President Barack Obama is not really an emperor. He is celebrity spokesman for an empire of oligarchs that spans the globe, makes all its big decisions in secret, and uses nation-states and their heads as puppets to effect control of the movement of people, resources and information.

But since he's the lame duck head of the empire, it's his lack of clothes I'll focus on today. The war in Afghanistan is over! Except, long live the 13+ year war in Afghanistan!
Post-Afghan presidential elections, Ambassador Cunningham and the new Afghan national security adviser, Hanif Atmar, congratulate each other after signing the Status of Forces Agreement that Hamid Karzai would not.
(Photo: Shah Marai/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
It's been way too long since I blogged about Afghanistan. It has been too dispiriting how the citizens of the empire have accepted bland announcements of the faux closure of that particular battlefield in the endless war on terror. Discouraging how they ignored the continued operation of Bagram Air Base and its state of the art torture prison. Demoralizing how they spouted the propaganda line about NATO upholding the rights of women and girls -- while security deteriorated with each passing day, and even Kabul became unsafe for an uncovered woman to walk out from home. Depressing how the standard of living and life expectancy and infant mortality rates continued to shame us, the imperial occupiers. Dubious how my fellow citizens continued to pretend to believe that "we" had brought "democracy" to a country that ought to be grateful. Grateful for a bumper opium crop!

Just this week I heard a 25 year old veteran bragging about how he never went outside the wire during his entire tour of duty in Afghanistan. But he was chock full of information about that country and its culture that he couldn't wait to share with teenagers. Imperial hubris in the flesh, with tormented eyes that made it difficult to meet his gaze.

I nearly blogged about the outcome of the recent presidential elections in Afghanistan, tragic as they were. Outgoing President Hamid Karzai was a man hard to admire, but damn if he didn't hold out until the bitter end in his refusal to sign the Status of Forces Agreement that the U.S. was trying to ram down his throat. Ok, maybe he did so out of fear of assassination rather than any kind of principled stand. But still, wasn't the refusal to submit to the SOFA one of the small victories in the Iraq debacle, a war that has been prematurely declared over several times, too? Because the SOFA we bully our subject nations into signing guarantees immunity from prosecution for military personnel and contractors: their impunity yet another stain on the USA's soul.

The election was long and drawn out, plagued by violence, racked by accusations of fraud. The future of SOFA was never really in doubt, because both candidates had already promised to do what the empire required. Here, in the empty words of the White House press office, is the visible part of the agreement:
Statement by the President on the Signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement and NATO Status of Forces Agreement in Afghanistan 
Today we mark an historic day in the U.S.-Afghan partnership that will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan. After nearly two years of hard work by negotiating teams on both sides, earlier today in Kabul the United States and the new Afghan Government of National Unity signed a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). This agreement represents an invitation from the Afghan Government to strengthen the relationship we have built over the past 13 years and provides our military service members the necessary legal framework to carry out two critical missions after 2014: targeting the remnants of Al Qaeda and training, advising, and assisting Afghan National Security Forces. The signing of the BSA also reflects the implementation of the Strategic Partnership Agreement our two governments signed in May 2012. 
Today, Afghan and NATO officials also signed the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, giving forces from Allied and partner countries the legal protections necessary to carry out the NATO Resolute Support mission when ISAF comes to an end later this year.
So, how surprised are we by news that Obama has secretly agreed to send more troops back into Afghanistan? Not that surprised, at all.
Obama paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan last May, receiving adulation from the military personnel stationed there.
Lest we become too discouraged to even contemplate the next decade(s) of war on the people of Afghanistan, here's tireless peaceworker Kathy Kelly on the view from Kabul:
I wish that NATO’s commander could have joined Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) Afghanistan as they visited an extraordinarily sustainable project, called “Emergency.” This Italy—based network of hospitals and clinics has been particularly remarkable for effectively saving and improving the lives of many Afghan people, over the past 13 years, while at the same time rejecting any form of war or use of weapons within its facilities.
Read the rest of her fine piece "Uncomplicated, in Afghanistan" to find more news about people making love, not war in Afghanistan. Then, you can donate to the Afghan Peace Volunteers' Duvet Project to provide warmth and employment to people who will try and survive yet another winter of war.
Seamstresses deliver finished duvets for distribution to those in need. Photo source: Voices for Creative Nonviolence website
As the emperor congratulates himself on wading ever deeper into the graveyard of empires.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dr. Mads Gilbert In Maine: #BDS Supports Palestinian Struggle To End Israeli Occupation

Maybe you remember the Norwegian doctor whose shocking reports from a hospital in Gaza City this past summer detailed the hundreds of children being wounded and killed in Israel's so-called "Operation Protective Edge" bombings. Dr. Mads Gilbert has been on a tour in the U.S. speaking to those he addressed as "you good people" concerned about human rights abuses in occupied Palestine, and I was lucky enough to be in the audience in Portland, Maine last night to hear him.

Lucky to hear one of the most difficult presentations I have ever sobbed through. Gilbert is a skillful presenter who speaks excellent English, and he eased us into his difficult material by presenting data and historical context. He has been a firsthand witness of the series of air wars on Gaza's trapped civilians because Tromsø, his hometown in Norway, is sister city to Gaza City, and his government subsidizes the work of medical caregivers who travel to Gaza.
Gaza, August, 2014  photo by Dr. Mads Gilbert
Gilbert described the samoud or steadfastness/resilience of his Palestinian colleagues at the hospital with great respect. Similarly, he shared his own photos of Gazans picking through the rubble of their homes, medical clinics and factories as evidence of the samoud that he observes characterizing Palestinian culture.

Only then did he show us the worst of the images he recorded during July and August, 2014. Photos of little children with ghastly shrapnel wounds, burned and panicked; Gilbert included the audio track of a child screaming in fright while doctors and nurses work on intubating him over a background of constant drone noise and massive explosions.

It was his third appearance of the day, having already come from Cambridge where he spoke at Harvard. He noted the sea change in public opinion turning against Israeli aggression: not a single Zionist screamed at him from the audience, and he was able to move around on the Harvard campus without police security protecting him. Unthinkable two years ago, he said. Things are changing. Keep contacting your government officials.

Meanwhile, not uncoincidentally, Gilbert has been banned from entering Gaza -- despite a valid visa and years of humanitarian work as an anesthesiologist and emergency room doctor at Al-Shifa Hospital. At his last attempt to cross into besieged Gaza from the Erez crossing in Israel, he was turned back; yet another blow to the health and well being of Gazan children and their families. He has also been turned back from Rafah, the only other entry point to Gaza, now controlled by the Sisi regime in Egypt.

Gilbert seriously objected to the narrative of Israel's "self-defense" in its repeated attacks on Gaza. If you missed him on his speaking tour, you can watch his testimony from Norway. 

A quote from the above video recorded back in Norway at the end of July, 2014 sums up what I heard Gilbert say in Portland last night:

"This is not a battle between terrorism and democracy. Hamas is not the enemy Israel is fighting. Israel is waging a war against the Palestinian people’s will to resist. The unbending determination not to submit to the occupation."
He also recommended we read the Gaza Initial Rapid Assessment  published August 27, 2014 by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Israel's fatalities during "Operation Protective Edge"

Gaza's fatalities during "Operation Protective Edge"
Gilbert ended by urging those of us living in the wealth and relative security of the U.S. to support the Palestinian struggle by contacting our government officials to stop enabling Israel's violence, and by engaging in boycott, divestment and sanctions work (BDS) to bring economic pressure on Israel. 

I note several BDS wins in recent weeks: blocking Zim ships from coming into port to unload in California; getting SodaStream to announce the closure of their factory located in a West Bank settlement; and getting online retailer GILT to drop Ahava cosmetics, which are made of pillaged materials taken from the occupied territory around the Dead Sea.

To find out more about BDS and how to get involved, go here. If you're in Maine, join us in the Maine BDS Coalition here. You can also like the Maine BDS Coalition on Facebook.

And starting this week, check out Codepink's latest campaign targeting RE/MAX realtors a company which brokers the sale of property confiscated from Palestinians. Send a message to Dave Liniger, Chairman of the Board of Directors of RE/MAX International, and tell him to stop RE/MAX Israel's illegal sales of Jewish-only settlement homes on Palestinian land.