Sunday, July 31, 2016

White People: What Will We Do To Change Our Legacy Of Violence?

Photo credit: Natania Kremer on Twitter during #MillionsMarchNYC on Dec. 13, 2014
Photo credit: Sass Linneken
You may remember this photo of rising 9th grader Laykenn Kurtzer in dialogue with an older man who was protesting her monthly vigil for racial justice in central Maine. Their body language struck me as interesting and I wanted to find out more about what they said, so I contacted Laykenn for an interview.

Laykenn said that they crossed the bridge because they wanted to ask what made him think that there was no racial tension in Lewiston. "He was kind and willing to talk to me; he was very civil about it," said Laykenn.

"I went over because I just wanted to talk, not argue."

Besides repeating "all lives matter" several times, Laykenn reports that the man's main point was that the vigil was in the wrong place.
"He said that we should be standing in front of a police station where cops have killed black people without getting in trouble, or having any charges brought against them. He said that cops aren't bad but they should be getting punished. He told me he would go with us and hold a Black Lives Matter sign to protest at a police station in another city."
I wondered if they asked him if he has gone to any of those protests (there have certainly been ample opportunities) but Laykenn said no.

Laykenn said, "I explained that we stand here because we are trying to get people to be aware of the Black Lives Matter movement."

Their discussion lasted about half an hour, with the man circling back to his main talking points several times.
Laykenn and mom Sass Linneken are regulars at the monthly vigil organized by the group Showing Up For Racial Justice, (SURJ) Central Maine chapter.
Here they are standing on the Auburn side of the bridge to Lewiston in May, 2016.
One possible effect of the counter protest was that people in many cars shouted "all lives matter" as they passed. Laykenn's impression was that there were slightly more negative responses than positive ones, while at most of the monthly vigils they've attended the reactions of those passing have been more positive than negative -- often in the form of beeps and thumbs up. (My thought is that this change could also be due to the Republican Party openly endorsing racism at their recent convention, or a response to recent news of police being killed in Dallas and in San Diego.)

One thing that clearly disturbed them was when "a big pickup truck got really, really close to the sidewalk where we [i.e. the SURJ vigilers] were standing and blew out black exhaust all along the bridge. That was scary."

Personally, I have seldom been at a demonstration for either racial justice or peace in central Maine without at least one large pickup truck aggressively creating noise and/or smoke in response to the messages displayed. I suppose the drivers think they are engaging in dialogue?

In response to my share of the photo of Laykenn's conversation I heard from Grace Braley, a peace organizer in southern Maine. She was reminded of the inscription on a statue of Melchior Ocampo she saw in Morelia, Mexico:

Es hablando no matandonos como habremos de entendernos. 
(It is with talking, not killing, that we have to understand each other.)

In case you're wondering why I didn't interview the man in the photo, too, I have a couple of reasons.

At first I did not know who he was (nor did Laykenn), then another SURJ member contacted me to say that he is a local minister who leads a group called the Jesus Party along with his wife. (Laykenn said there was a woman standing with him holding a sign that said something about god that they can't exactly remember. Laykenn did not speak with the woman.) After my sister Hope did some internet research I found that this man is often online complaining that no one listens to his "all lives matter" message.

Laykenn listened, but since my blog does not exist to promote hateful messages I decided not to attempt to interview him. That is one of the things I will do as a white person who wants to change our legacy of violence. What will you do?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Why Do People Post Online Comments If They Don't Want To Be Quoted?

Proud to stand with peace candidate Dr. Jill Stein in Portland, Maine.
I am being criticized all over the place this morning. My blog post about the alleged lack of racial tension in Lewiston has drawn lots of responses, including the demand from an online commenter that I remove her name and words from my blog. She has vowed never to comment on a post of mine again. As she is youngish, it's probably a good thing that she consider that once our words are out there on social media platforms like facebook, we should be prepared to stand by them. 

Which leads me to the words that I need to stand by this morning.

A political acquaintance in Maine, former ACLU executive director and Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, was offended by a comment I posted on her facebook share of a photo of herself with the Democratic Party's nominee for president. Here's the whole exchange:

The single issue of the racist wars the U.S. has engaged in for decades is only one of the many criticisms I would make of the Democrats' choice of a leader. There is ample evidence that it's not at all inaccurate to call her a warmonger, an epithet I would define as "a person who actively seeks opportunities to wage wars." And Shenna Bellows does not dispute this. She just doesn't like my choice of searingly truthful words.

I'm not sure that there is a more polite term for warmonger. Unless Democrats think it is Secretary of State? I am old enough to remember that this role in the executive branch of government used to be seen as that of the head of diplomacy. You know, someone who thinks that communicating and negotiating should be employed before killing selected dictators (formerly supported by the U.S.) that also lead to the "collateral damage" deaths of innocent children and other human beings.

Jeremy Scahill has coined the term "cruise missile liberals" for people who opposed war on Iraq when a Republican was in charge, but have given Democrats in the White House their approval for endless wars causing thousands of deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen.

The long list of other reasons I think the Democratic candidate is odious would include her support for Israel's crimes against humanity, her promotion of the climate crime of fracking the planet, her misuse of the office of Secretary of State to promote U.S. corporate interests abroad, and her slavish obedience to Wall St. Remember when banks got bailed out and we got sold out? Democrats were in power for that turning point toward the darkness that lies ahead for us all.

Honestly I am not super wound up about her election fraud during the primaries. The DNC is a club that plays dirty, in office or out. It may present the cruise missile liberal face of our corporate overlords but the other side (the racist, xenophobic face) has no monopoly on corruption.

Finally, I will confess that I am not excited much less tearing up over the prospect of a female warmonger in the White House. Feminist values would include caring for the children of the entire planet, not clawing your way to the top of a violent patriarchy. 

I am supporting a woman candidate for president, the Green Party's Dr. Jill Stein. She has values I actually believe in, and I think she would appoint a great cabinet and be a real force for the healing that needs to occur in our nation.

As to the charge of my lack of civility in calling a warmonger a warmonger, and expressing regret that a politician I used to admire is proud of supporting her, I can live with that. I'd far rather be truthful than polite as the ship of state sinks. Our nation is in deep trouble and the prospects of continued life on the planet along with it. I am a child of the resistance to the Vietnam war, I was inspired by the courage of civil rights activists, and this anthem by Malvina Reyonolds has stayed with me for life:

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Can A White Person Correctly Claim That There Is No Racial Tension In Lewiston? #mepolitics

This original post to facebook on July 26 caught my attention. I know the mom who posted it and have stood with Sass and her daughter kiddo on the bridge to Lewiston during their monthly Showing Up For Racial Justice, central Maine vigil. 

I re-posted the photo with these comments:

Love the body language in this conversation where a high school student crossed the street from a vigil for racial justice to talk with a counter protester. The man's sign reads: "There is no racial tension in Lewiston. Don't start any." My question: Can a white person know enough to make such a claim?

This reminded me of the controversy at Lewiston High School a couple of years ago when the principal took down a poster that said Black Lives Matter, plus the names of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others killed by police in other cities. 
"Lewiston students try to raise their voices, but protest interrupted" by Edward D. Murphy in the Portland Press Herald
 "This 2014 file photo shows Senior Kalgaal Issa, junior Chandler Clothier, junior Iman Abdalla and senior Muna Mohamed, who were among the Lewiston High School students who were asked to take down a protest poster inside the school in December 2014. John Patriquin/Staff Photographer"

I re-read the Portland Press Herald's coverage of that incident and found what had jogged my memory: the superintendent of schools, Bill Webster, claimed there were no "racial problems" at Lewiston High School.

A former student left this comment on the online version of the article:

This is white privilege in a nutshell: if a white person doesn't perceive racial problems, they don't have to. 

Nor, apparently, do they need to consult the people who might actually know from experience about racial problems in a school or city.

I know from experience that people will claim that another Maine high school where I teach has no racism because "everyone is white." This is not and never has been true. And there are plenty of incidents of overt racism. One student of color with an Arabic name saw bathroom scrawls such as "Kill the n-word (insert name of student here)." 

Another non-white student told a friend that he was called the n-word every day at school. Friend: "Why don't you punch them?" Student: "Because I would be punching someone every five minutes, and I would get in trouble." 

I overheard this conversation while eavesdropping during a field trip to a local posh college with visibly more students of color. Did that setting increase my student's comfort level enough to speak about it to a friend? Unknown.

And racism aimed at native people in Maine? Don't get me started, it would take all day to report on just the incidents I know of since I moved back to the state in 1988. Here's a very recent example from the facebook post of Maulian Smith who leads the campaign to retire the last "Indian" mascot in a Maine high school:

The rhetorical question in my re-post of Laykenn's conversation led to a long string of comments exchanged by a former student of mine, Rafik Kazikhanov, who has been the target of xenophobia many times himself, and a woman claiming there is racism in Lewiston -- against white people!

Michelle Luce wrote, "Somalians in Lewiston literally attack random white children, teens and adults walking down the street for no reason...the racial tension in Lewiston isn't between cops and black people. It's between Somalians who quite frankly act like animals and innocent white people. Cops aren't a part of it and it's not the black people of Lewiston fearing for their safety on a daily basis."

Her comment drew this response:

So Michelle is frightened. She feels this is an acceptable reason to claim that black people are not afraid. And that is white privilege in a nutshell.
My photo of Laykenn and mom at the vigil on May 23, 2016
I hope to interview Laykenn about her conversation with the man in the photo and I will report back on that if possible. If anyone reading this knows the man holding the sign with the outlandish claim that there is no racial tension in Lewiston, I would appreciate knowing how to contact him for an interview also.

My photo of vigil organized by SURJ, central Maine in May, 2016.
Banner by the Artists' Rapid Response Team (ARRT!) of the Maine Union of Visual Artists.

Monday, July 25, 2016

What The Brown Shirts Look Like This Time Around. Which Side Are You On?

I went to the bridge on Sunday, as I nearly always do. The usual crowd was there: three artists, a retired social worker who summers in Maine, my husband (woodworker) and I (teacher). Our messages were as follows: NO TO WAR, CREATE PEACE, DON'T BOMB SYRIA, KEEP THE OIL IN THE SOIL, NOBAMA DEPLETED URANIUM = WAR CRIME NONSANTO BIG OIL ENDLESS WAR and BLACK LIVES MATTER Duh. 

Our decade plus of standing on the bridge each Sunday for an hour at noon entered a new phase last week when we were joined by two young men who mounted an aggressive counter protest.

At first one of the young men, who appeared to be college age and was dressed in corporate logo jock-type attire, passed by us on foot. He looked up from his phone long enough to read our signs, then said, "What do you think you're doing here? None of this matters. You're not making a difference," angrily without breaking stride.

I didn't hear what my fellow bridge denizens said to him but I said, "We got your attention though, didn't we."

About ten minutes later he reappeared with a friend of similar appearance and age. He had a sign that said NONE OF THIS SHIT MATTERS  (the arrow was meant to be pointing to us) and his friend had a barely legible, probably hastily made sign that said WHITE LIVES MATTER T@#%P 2016.

The boys then began to engage passing cars by shouting slogans such as "Deport the immigrants" and "Vote for [the demagogue with the bad hair]" 

Abby, always one to engage in dialogue when people turn up on the bridge, began asking them questions related to their messages such as, "Do you want to deport all immigrants or just Mexicans?"

The boys skittered away as if we might infect them and they didn't want to stand next to us, but one replied, "All immigrants." Abby pointed out that immigrants picked the vegetables they ate but they did not seem interested in discussing this. They continued engaging with the people in the cars and ignored us until we began to depart as we always do around 1pm. 

"Ha! You're leaving!" they said, apparently pleased that they had driven us away.

"We always leave at 1," Abby said mildly. They gave no appearing of hearing her.

The first time I stood on the Margaret Chase Smith bridge in Skowhegan, Maine was 13 years ago during the cold days just prior to the "Shock and Awe" attacks on Iraq. I met my future husband there. The bridge was thronged with liberals holding candles protesting what was perceived as George W. Bush's impending war. During the remainder of Bush's term in office we stood there sporadically as well as marching and protesting U.S. wars in many different venues around the state and the nation.

When the photographs of detainees being abused at the notorious Abu Graib prison came out, I was deeply disturbed. (Little did I know at the time that similar abuses were going on at a secret prison in Chicago whose thousands of victims were predominately black men.) Besides writing letters to the editor and to my alleged representatives, I could think of nothing I might do to address my grief and horror. So, I returned to the bridge that Sunday. My husband came, too. 

We stood alone for a few weeks because it was now the Obama administration waging war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and supporting Israel's criminal attacks on Gaza, and Saudi Arabia's vicious attacks on Yemen. Eventually the core group of people opposed to U.S. wars of aggression whether waged by Democrats or Republicans reassembled and we have continued the Sunday protest to this day.
July 21, 2016 in Skowhegan, Maine
At times we gather on other days, too. Just recently on the National Day of Action called by Black Lives Matter organizers we stood with two of our family members plus a retired millworker who is a regular on Sundays, an antiwar activist who summers nearby, a reproductive justice organizer from a nearby town, and a father and daughter who only know me from facebook but had seen the event shared on the Not Your Mascot Maine chapter fb page. 

If all the people who have ever stood with on the bridge were to come next Sunday, we would fill the sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. The 300 or so vehicles that pass by in an hour, plus the pedestrians, would see us as numerous as they traversed the intersection of Route 201 and Route 2, major north-south and east-west highways through central Maine.

I suspect that if the two aggressive youths saw strength in numbers they would hesitate to harass us. Bullies are nearly always cowardly, seeking targets who appear to be isolated and lacking support. I also suspect that if we had left the BLACK LIVES MATTER sign home they wouldn't have responded. Let me just say this now: it will be there every week, from now on.

This is an open invitation to all who agree that black and brown lives matter, and that U.S. foreign policy is deadly, racist and immoral. Even those who believe in fighting "terror" but think bombing Syria is too expensive and would rather fix our crumbling infrastructure or build solar power with the money instead are entirely welcome.

This is what the brown shirts look like this time around. They are emboldened by the open racism of the demagogue with the bad hair being nominated by one of the big corporate parties as its presidential candidate. 

(How did this even happen? Ask the corporate press who promoted his name recognition and, eventually, candidacy relentlessly.)

Will you shelter in place as they come for your neighbors?

It's time to decide: which side are you on?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Black Lives Matter, Too. Period." Tanisha Wright #WNBA Activist

Image source: Fusion
The Women's National Basketball Association is attempting to silence the voices and gestures of its players who are using their prominence to say Black Lives Matter. They also seem to have said that police lives matter since the event that caused the WBNA to censure and then fine them and their teams was players appearing in shirts with the words seen above on the front, and the names of recent victims on the back: Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the Dallas Police Department.

More players followed suit and were also fined, even for wearing all black shirts to practice in (see photo above). Now many of the players have refused to be interviewed except about the movement for justice and accountability that insists that Black Lives Matter.

Tanisha Wright of the WBNA team ironically named Liberty responded to interviewers who were willing to question her on the issue: "We feel like America has a problem with the police brutality that's going on with black lives around here, and we just want to use our voices and our platform to advocate for that."

"Just because someone says 'Black Lives Matter' doesn't mean that other lives don't matter. People put out this imaginary 'black lives only matter' whenever people say, 'Black lives matter.' What we're saying is, 'Black lives matter, too.' Period."

The WBNA issued the usual euphemistic babble: of course our players can and should stand up for their principles -- but conforming to our dress code is more important.

The late Muhammad Ali used his fame as a platform to speak truth to power in unapologetic tones. His recent funeral was thronged with the kind of celebrity politicians and media personages who prefer dead activists whose historical words are somehow less threatening.

The threat of real, live black people speaking up is another matter.

The following post to facebook from Cambridge, Massachusetts actor + writer Jamie L. Davenport is one of the best explications ever of both white privilege and what it means to live as a young black man always on the verge of becoming a target:
Something entirely disturbing happened last night on my commute to rehearsal. Bear with me. It is a long tale. But one that is necessary to read and digest.  
I was sitting in the corner of the Red Line T closest to the conductor when a group of about 8 black kids from the ages of 12-16 entered.  
I automatically noticed their presence because of how absolutely loud and rowdy they were being.  
Smiling to myself, because of how crazy they were all acting, I turned up the music in my headphones and bounced along with the train.  
I noticed the boy sitting across from me. He entered the train with the other kids, and although also black and about their age, he clearly did not know them. From his body language it was obvious he had desperately wished he sat in another section.  
At around the South Station stop the conductor’s door swung open and through my oversized headphones I could tell she told the kids to quiet down. The kids mouthed off to her and she called the MBTA security.  
At this point my headphones were off and I am listening with full intent. The MBTA guard, a white man, walks on and within ten seconds announces that he is calling the police and that the train will not move until they come. He is greeted with a resounding, “Are you kidding me?” from just about everyone on the train.  
I automatically zone out and think about what I was doing from 12-16.
I think about breaking into my old elementary school and stealing ice cream.
I think about joyriding my boyfriend’s lifted, bright green, Chevy blazer without a permit or a license.
I think about getting caught drinking in a friend’s backyard.
I think about trespassing on private property and swimming.
I think about getting pulled over twice in the same month, on the same road, in the same place, by the same officer, in the same car, for the same reason, and waltzing away from the scene with nothing. And I mean nothing, but “a get home safe.”
I think about every single actually illegal thing I have ever done and realized one harrowing fact:
I have never been touched by a police officer.
I have never been handcuffed.
I have never been to jail.
I have never even gotten a ticket.
I have never left an interaction with the cops with anything other than a “have a nice night.” 
I wake up from my reverie and we are still parked at South Station. I tune into the conversation around me and hear the kids. Let me emphasize KIDS. 
Kids making a game plan for what they will do if the police start to shoot them. 
I glance up at the boy across from me. He is squirming. He wants off bad. He is texting fiercely. I’m assuming he’s telling someone what we are both observing. 
The girl next to me notices my presence and says,   
“Sorry for messing up your ride.”
I say,
“Don’t worry about it.”
My voice catches on the last word. My throat starts to sear. She asks,
“Are you upset?”
I respond,
“Yeah, I guess I am. I just don’t understand why they are calling the cops.”
She says,
“Because we are black.”
The 12-year-old turns to the group and quietly says,
“Black lives matter.”
They all murmur in agreement. 
The police arrive and everyone remains very calm. Eerily calm. Everyone is walking on eggshells. The cops step on the train and tell the kids if they get off quietly they can get on the next one and go home. The kids accept the offer and begin to clamor off. At long last the boy across from me and I are left alone.  
As I begin to put my headphones back on the police reenter the car. They look at the boy and say,
“We said everyone in the group has to get off.”
The boy says,
“I don’t know them.”
The police say,
“It’s an order. Everyone in the group has to get off.”
I collect my bags. The police looks at me and says,
“Not you. You’re not in the group.”
The police places his hand on the boys shoulder and guides him off the train. In a moment of temporary rage blindness I stand up and scream,
“He doesn’t fucking know those kids.”
The police looks at me and says,
“Is that true?”
To which I say,
“Yes, and it was true when he said it too.”
The police release the boy and he sits down across from me again. We share a moment of blankness and then tears well in both of our eyes. He waves me over to the seat next to him. He says,
“That was because I am black. Wasn’t it?”
I nod. He looks down sheepishly at his shirt and says quietly,
“I’m just happy they didn’t hurt me. That would kill my mom. And she is not someone you want to mess with.”
I say the only thing I can think,
“I’m so sorry.”
He says,
“With all that’s going on in the world I am so scared all the time.”  
We sit in silence for a moment and I decide to change the subject. I ask him about himself. He tells me he is is entering his junior year of high school and spending the summer working for an organization that aims to help people learn how to have healthy relationships. He says he wants to help stop domestic abuse. He tells me he is passionate about gender equality. He asks me if I know there is a difference between sex and gender. He says he wants to educate the public on that topic. 
The train rattles into my station and I shake his hand. He says,
I mumble,
“Don’t mention it.”
I exit the train and watch it pull away. And then I weep. I weep in a way I never have before. My breath shortens and I begin to crumble.
I weep for Trayvon Martin.
I weep for Mike Brown.
I weep for Sandra Bland.
I weep for Alton Sterling.
I weep for Eric Garner.
I weep for all of the names I do not know but should.
I weep for their families.
I weep for their friends.
I weep for the innocent blood shed all over this country.
I weep for that boy.
I weep that I cannot remember his name because it is not as familiar to me as James or Tim or Dave.
I weep for those kids.
I weep for all of those kids.
I spend the night replaying the whole scenario over and over again in my head. And realize that three words keep running through my mind. Three words that until I heard a 12-year-old black girl say aloud to her friends as they awaited the police I did not understand. Three words that are so little but mean so much. 
Black Lives Matter. 
I stop crying. I become resolute. I make a pact with myself to help the world become better for those kids.
I make a pact with myself to spread this story like wildfire.
I make a pact with myself to be an ally to that beautiful boy.
It starts here.
Before you read on make a pact with yourself to join me.
Before you read on commit yourself to this cause.
Before you read on openly admit that racism is alive and thriving in this country.
Before you read on promise yourself you will say the following three words ALOUD:
Black Lives Matter.
Didn’t do it? Here’s another chance:
Black Lives Matter.
Still can’t say it? Ask yourself why?
Black Lives Matter
Here’s another chance:
Black Lives Matter.
Here’s another chance:
Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Joining The Black Lives Matter National Day Of Action On July 21, 2016

by Luke Sekera
We are deep in crisis this summer in the U.S.

Currently, one of the corporate parties openly boasts of racism and xenophobia as if these were badges of honor.

The other corporate party kills people of color outside our borders with wild abandon while delivering no justice to victims of police execution. By the way, their party is supposed to be the lesser of the two evils.

Uniformed killers are supported by taxpayers no matter which corporate party is in power.

Idealistic types who become soldiers or police officers with the sincere (if misguided) intention to serve and protect find themselves in a jam. Witness the eloquent testimony of black police officer Montrell Jackson, one of those gunned down in Baton Rouge by black man angry over the killing of Alton Sterling there by police; the shooter who killed Jackson was an ex-Marine and a veteran of the U.S. long war in Iraq.

Jackson had posted online a week prior to his death: "In uniform I get hasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat."

This is aptly illustrated by the untenable position of Mark Hughes, a black man who was wrongly accused online as a suspect in Dallas police killings, and has yet to get his life back.

Apparently the photo police circulated before he turned himself in and was absolved of suspect status showed Hughes wearing an assault rifle as "he attended a peaceful protest co-organized by his brother, Cory Hughes," according to Seema Yasmin reporting in Dallas News. He has yet to return to his home or business due to death threats that included his wife and kids.

Why was he wearing an assault rifle to a peaceful protest? Maybe being armed with deadly weapons and trained in their use DOESN'T actually make a person safer.

What to do about the crisis unfolding?

Today, July 21, 2016, has been called as a National Day of Action by Black Lives Matter organizers. 

I'll be on the bridge in my nearest town with signs calling for justice for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, only the most recent victims of unprovoked murder by police. Many of the people passing us on two of Central Maine's busiest highways (Route 2 & Route 201) will be angered by our Black Lives Matter message and will not recognize the names of Sterling or Castile. Some may yell racist slogans as has happened in the past. Many actually believe that white people are the victims here, because their televisions and radios told them so.

In other places,  am sure that groups will shut down roads, as happened in Portland, Maine last week.
Photo: Portland Press Herald
Organizers released this statement explaining their decision to block a busy intersection in the tourist quarter for several hours:

Date: July 19, 2016

A Public Statement from Organizers for Racial Justice in Coalition with
the Portland Racial Justice Congress
We are proud to have peacefully joined thousands of people around the country and world who have taken to the streets in recent weeks to call attention to the national emergency of police killings, and vigilante violence against black people, following the state-sanctioned murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. We joined at least 70 other demonstrations and disruptive actions nationwide, from Baton Rouge to Minneapolis to New York. People have blocked highways, marched in the streets, and held silent vigils uniting around one key principle: Black Lives Matter.
Civil disobedience has a rich history in the United States, and we hope that our direct action offers an opportunity for those who feel challenged—those who felt inconvenienced—to learn about this history. Direct action, disruptive methodology, and protest are all integral to our democracy. Because we are aware that extrajudicial killings of black people are still prevalent, and normalized in our society to this day, we are proud to have peacefully followed in the footsteps of ancestors and elders in leadership roles within the Black Freedom struggle—who have blocked highways and roads, withstood police and white supremacist beatings, and sat-in at segregated counters in the ongoing struggle to drive out the scourge of racism in the United States.
We refuse to beg for a community that cares about our lives and fights for our collective safety. We demand it.
Our justifications for our action this past Friday are implicit in the responses to it. We have heard more outcry over the Old Port detours around high-end boutiques or ice cream shops than we have over the senseless acts of violence and spilled blood drying on streets in neighborhoods nationwide.
We have heard police, public officials, and news outlets rationalize that a white agitator was justified in putting our lives at risk by getting into his jeep and driving into a line of people standing peacefully with their hands clasped together, when he had the option of turning left where there was no obstruction.
We urge you to look at what your privileges allow you to pay attention to. To all those who can easily shout “Blue Lives Matter” or “All lives Matter” we ask that you do the work needed to unpack for yourselves why those statements are exclaimed with such pride, whilst reminders that Black Lives Matter elicit such immediate anger and dismissal.
We stand firm in our decision to disrupt “business as usual” during one of the busiest nights of the fiscal year, because we believe that police killings of black people constitute a national epidemic.
We remember our black siblings lost to these killings: Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Mike Brown, and so many others.
We refuse to yield to those who are invested in derailing conversations about accountability. We refuse to yield to those invested in controlling the narrative when black people are articulating their lived experiences. We will continue to stand for what is just and what is right.
We are proud to have created public space for black mourning and anger, in a world where our voices are censored, silenced and shouted over.
Ultimately, our freedom is bound together. For those willfully choosing not to pay attention to our linked humanity, we are seeking creative ways to urge you to listen.
--Organizers for Racial Justice in Coalition with the Portland Racial Justice Congress

Won't you join in wherever you are today? 

Because the problem of racial injustice isn't going away; it's getting bigger by the day.

Monday, July 11, 2016

#BlackLivesMatter Turns Over Rocks, Reveals Racist Haters In The Family

Baton Rouge police exhibit their fearful response to a woman's act of civil disobedience.
Protesters in the hundreds were arrested outside Baton Rouge police headquarters following
the recent execution by police of Alton Sterling, a black man who was a father of five.
So, I begin to understand how civil wars get started. Divisions that cleave families, friends and neighborhoods into separated, hostile camps.

A family member living in another state changed her Facebook profile picture this week:

She posted it with the comment that she had just donated to several organizations she recommended supporting.

 She works in the non-profit world and has an extra big heart so I appreciated hearing her recommendations. I changed my profile pic, too. Then, another family member shared the same image to his facebook page.

Two other members of the extended family in another state commented in ways that shocked us.

One of the family members claimed that Black Lives Matter is a hate group. This person didn't used to talk racist and has spent a lot of time in jail with black guys. He must watch Fox News now, I guess.

The other family member wrote:

That guy that was just killed was carrying a weapon and was a wanted suspect in an armed burglary. Oh and 3 days prior he and his gf were smoking out in their car with their child in the car. Stupid!
I believe the "he" she had in mind was not Alton Sterling, whose death by police fire led to the iconic photo at the head of this blog post, but Philandro Castile. 

Mr. Castile was executed in the passenger seat of a car in Falcon Heights, Minnesota last week in front of his young child and her mother, who had the presence of mind to livestream his gruesome death (video here if you have the stomach for it). She was the driver and had been pulled over ostensibly for a broken tail light. Mr. Castile worked in a school cafeteria and had no criminal record beyond traffic tickets.

Everyone in the country, it seems, is talking about the police brutality that finds its way onto social media so often these days. "I'm a black ex-cop, and this is the truth about race and policing" by Redditt Hudson in Vox explains why it's been happening all along, and what needs to be done to stop it. In a word: accountability. 

Big surprise. I'm old enough to remember the riots following the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King, one of the early on camera bits of evidence that white people had to confront.

A lot of people I know are also talking about how their extended family, former classmates and old friends are spewing racist garbage on social media. People are blocking some and unfriending others. So much for dialogue.

My usual online friends are posting about police brutality but also about how close NATO and the U.S. have moved to confronting Russia. Thousands of troops and weapons are massed on Russia's borders with Europe. An astute anarchist I know responded to an article about this by predicting that war with Russia would produce a draft, which would consist primarily of the enormous (disproportionately black) prison population. Conscripted prisoners would be hard to contact and thus hard to organize, he pointed out. 

Why aren't more people in the U.S. worried about provoking a war with nuclear armed Russia? They're not even aware of it, is the likely answer.

The focus is on fear that stalks the land: fear of driving while black or brown, fear of angry men with guns -- in uniform or out. 

Fear of serious illness, and the bankruptcy it causes. Fear of living with their parents for the rest of their lives, and still dying owing student loans. Fear of the next police murder which may light the fuse on the powder keg that is the U.S.A.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Live By The Sword, Die By The Sword Replaces E Pluribus Unum As U.S. Motto

I am so speechless with outrage and grief at the racist police state the U.S. reveals itself to be, I think it would be best for me to hold up the words of of some eloquent black sisters. See the above for Nakia Jones on what it should take to wear the blue, as she does. 

Here are a few others I read this morning: blogger Shay Stewart-Bouley on BlackgirlinMaine Here we are again and why we say black lives matter. She points out,

"We have been down this road many times before and the sad reality is that without systemic change that also involves accountability, we will go down this road again."

Blog post to My Life In Curves: "To my white friends, or any white people who have black friends."
"...have you ever worried about your husband, father, sons, brothers, nephews or cousins going about their day and possibly not coming home? 
Have you ever had to sit down and explain to your young male relatives how to conduct themselves when dealing with the police because he’s tall and muscular and would be perceived as a threat?"

And to this I have to say, no, I have not.  One of my sons had done foolish things, and has tangled with the police, many times. He is tall and muscular, but he looks and talks white and he has survived all of these encounters.

The mass shooting of police in Dallas by an enraged Army veteran is another tragedy we're reeling from. Who to hold accountable for this one? Police who gunned down innocent, unarmed black men and boys (Tamir Rice was 12 years old)? A violent foreign policy that consists mostly of killing non-white people around the globe, without accountability? Which is seen as the only viable job for many low income men, and often results in their complete mental deterioration.

A violent domestic policy that continues to arm everyone, everywhere, all the time so that when they inevitably do go a little crazy from life in the pressure cooker they can make sure to take many other people with them

According to USA Today's article:
individuals initially detained after the shooting — who police first characterized as possible suspects — were later determined to be fleeing protesters who were either armed or carrying ammunition gear.
Live by the sword, die by the sword has replaced E pluribus unum as our national motto. The legacy of racial violence that began with attacking native people in North America to steal their land and resources made a mockery of unity among people, as did the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans to build wealth for whites owners. 

Having made no reparations, the U.S. continues on its spree of violence -- spawning ISIS here, assassinating grandmothers with flying killer robots there. To say that we reap what we sow seems painfully obvious.

I'll still be standing up for racial justice as the empire is consumed in flames. How about you?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Poldark Was Right: All Wars A Waste Of Good Men

Reading some awesome real history of the war of independence this morning and admitting to myself that I have become somewhat obsessed with a Masterpiece Theater remake of Poldark. Its hero is presented as an egalitarian nonconformist whose idealism appeals to me even as I recognize that I'm having my consent manufactured and enjoying the process.

Maybe it's just that, at this moment in history, I relate to a middle class with a tenuous hold on property looking nervously over their shoulders at the starving peasants. The "rich peasant" class are problematic in any era. They're not the 1% but they are landlords and, generally, upholders of the status quo.

As my mother, a history major who made her way from dire poverty to the affluence built on ignoring the suffering of exploited labor and colonies, was fond of saying: "Comes the revolution, we'll be the first to go."

I'm also pondering the examination of the source of Poldark's relative prosperty, the original sin of mining, which rapes the Earth and destroys the health of workers in dismal conditions in order to produce metals and gems that become the wealth to fight over and the weapons with which to fight.

The series is based on a historical novel I have not read but probably will.

The first episode kicks off with British redcoats shaving and gambling in the primordial beauty of Virginia, forested as we imagine it before Europeans began cutting down the old growth trees. They are attacked, probably because their imperial splendor shows up like so many red flags to the colonist hiding behind trees. Poldark goes down and there is an eerily beautiful bird's eye view shot of him sprawled among the other wounded and dead. A painterly depiction of the human cost of empire.

Once he is patched up and returns to life in impoverished Cornwall, he faces the ignorant questions of those who stayed home partying while the British empire fought to keep its far flung colonies under control.

In one instance, he is asked how Britain could have lost the war and he replies, "By picking the wrong side, madam." In another a young lady aiming to snag him in matrimony asks how the war was in a tone you might use to ask your friend how the picnic was. Poldark: "Like all wars -- a waste of good men." Amen to that.

Remembering that Brexit was brought on by the massive refugee influx to Europe that was brought on by NATO's wars in Iraq and Syria, I reflect today on the chain of unintended consequences stemming from imperial hubris. 

Racism and hate language are on the rise across this continent and that, the government in Mexico is slaughtering and torturing people resisting the corporate takeover of their education system, and people think the solution is more weapons, more wars, and more walls.

Happy 4th of July, y'all.