SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

My dream is to publish a memoir. A degree in investigative journalism led me on a non-linear path to directing and producing an internationally-acclaimed documentary instead. Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Ellen Page, ( focuses on the reasons why our prime pollinators are disappearing all over the world.

When the bees flew into my life in 2007, I was looking for purpose. I needed a change from working in Reality TV and for shallow productions devoid of substance. I was still recovering from the aftermath of my injuries after being hit by an SUV and dragged 50 feet. I'd broken several bones and had recently removed a titanium rod from my left femur. I could have died but I didn't.

Jul 23

Trayvon Is a Beautiful Thing

By Darryl Mitchell, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

My son is 39 years old at this writing. Travyon could have been my grandson.

My son will be 40 years old in November. He could feasibly have a 17 year old son, after all when I was 40 my son was 19 years old. Since I was 40 with a 19 year old son, this means to me my 40 year old son could have a 19 year old of his own.

The race and black thing is only the superficial issue. Trayvon Martin became an international cause not because of the color of his skin but because of the purity of his heart.

Jul 22

Why Boycotting Israel Harms the Palestinian Cause

By Daniel Wickham, SpeakOut | News Analysis

The campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel has often been the subject of ridicule and criticism, but rarely for the right reasons. The most common accusation is that the movement is inherently anti-semitic because it singles out Israel, the only democracy in a region ruled by Arab despots. Needless to say, no sensible person would make the claim that the decision to boycott white rule in South Africa but not the repressive black African regimes on its doorstep was racist. But you can imagine an apologist for apartheid saying exactly that: why single us out, when others are worse? We would know immediately what to think of such an argument, namely that it is a transparent attempt to avoid discussion of your own human rights violations by shifting attention onto the more serious human rights violations of others.

Nonetheless the charge of hypocrisy persists, with critics asking why BDS campaigners do not boycott worse regimes? But since when is it necessary to actively oppose every bigger injustice in order to justify campaigning against smaller ones? The Civil Rights Movement never called for a boycott of the US government for its wars in Indochina, but happily organised boycotts against segregation in the South. But you would of course just be laughed off any news programme and disregarded as a serious commentator for attacking, say, the Montgomery Bus Boycott on these grounds.

Victor San Miguel presents a proud and defiant image outside the entrance of Port San Antonio, formerly Kelly Air Force Base, site one of the nation's worst toxic contaminations. His leather biker vest, militant Chicano patches and tattoos, and dark sunglasses communicate an imperturbable intensity. Yet the tears that well up behind those glasses as he addresses a small crowd gathered for the twelfth anniversary of Kelly's closing on Saturday betray a deep suffering.

"On the block that I live in there are 13 houses. Out of those 13 houses there are 11 houses where people have died or are dying from cancer," he says. "That's too many people dying from cancer."

My future son-in-law is black. My daughter is white. And we live in the South where, despite their (possibly naive) idealism, interracial relationships still matter, often in negative ways.
I have been deeply concerned about race, class, and literacy for my 30-year career as a teacher, writer, and scholar, but I must confess that their relationship increases the poignancy of those issues for me because on the day the Trayvon Martin murder became the focus of the media, my future son-in-law left my house in a hoodie covering his dreadlocks. It was nighttime, and I wrestled with telling him to be careful in a way that had nothing to do with the perfunctory "be careful" people often use to say good-bye.

Paul Redd, former Oakland resident who grew up on the streets of Oakland, is now a resident of Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Dungeon Windowless Cells. He sent this statement to Truthout contributor Victoria Law after she sent him a copy of her 2012 Truthout article about the one-year anniversary of the 2011 Pelican Bay hunger strikes.

In 1976, Paul Redd was indicted by a San Francisco grand jury and convicted of killing another drug dealer over a dispute. I was sentenced to seven years to life with the possibility of parole. The 35+ years I spent in prison, at least 33 of these years have been spent in various Security Housing Units, known as SHU, and were based entirely on the words of confidential prison informants accusing me of being a high-ranking member of the Black Guerrilla Family. Nothing more.

Jul 19

Me the people: public good, private greed

By Rich Broderick, Ground Zero | Opinion

A few days ago, I decided to celebrate the beautiful summer morning by taking my dog, Chance, to the off-leash park at Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis.

The off-leash area is a well-planned and orderly place (or as orderly as a place can be where dogs gather in numbers). There are a handful of eminently reasonable rules and a scattering of clear, easy-to-understand signs outlining those rules and the more general "responsibilities of dog owners."

Jul 19

No, Really... You Are What You Eat

By Jeriah Bowser, The Hampton Institute | News Analysis

"Can you point to the radish?" I asked the group of kids gathered in front of my booth. Awkward silence ensues, each pair of inquisitive and curious eyes looking around at their peers, waiting for a brave soul to challenge the long-haired intruder into their part of neighborhood. Finally, a small boy timidly raises his hand and points to my right hand, which holds.... a tomato. I try to say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, "No, but you're really close, that's a tomato! You know, like tomato sauce and ketchup! Er, well, not really ketchup, that's just corn syrup and artificial flavoring, but um, you were really close!" Kids can smell a bullshitter quicker than a fart in an elevator, and I am quickly met with several frowns and a couple of longing glances at the chocolate vendor a few stalls down from me at the Downtown Cleveland Square farmers market.

We bought tickets to see Fruitvale Station, a film about Oscar Grant, a young black man shot dead by an Oakland transit cop when a text beeped my cell phone; it read – George Zimmerman acquitted. Waves of rage and grief rolled through me. Swaying on my feet, I stared at the phone.

Here I was about to see a film about twenty-two year old Grant, who was killed by Officer Johannes Mehserle, when another man, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for the murder of sixteen year old Trayvon Martin – who, like Grant, was just on his way home. Two black men, young, innocent and dead. I saw their faces float over each other in my mind and overlap.

Jul 18

A National Debate about Government Spying

By Lawrence Davidson, SpeakOut | News Analysis

Part I - The New York Times Takes a Stand (Sort Of)

On 8 July 2013 the New York Times (NYT) published an editorial on the issue of National Security Agency (NSA) spying on Americans. The editorial described the issue as one of “overwhelming importance” worthy of national debate, and noted that President Obama said that he welcomed such a debate. Then the NYT pointed to a core problem: “This is a debate in which almost none of us know what we’re talking about.” 

It turns out that everything about the NSA surveillance operation is “classified” and therefore done in secret. As a result there is no public access to the information needed for a debate. That is, until the “leaker” Edward Snowden risked all to tell the American public and, indeed, the whole world, about it. 

Thus, the public now finds out that all the legal justifications for NSA operations are themselves secret. For instance, there is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, originally created by Congress to judge the legitimacy of government requests for wiretaps. According to the NYT this court “has for years been developing a secret and unchallenged body of laws . . .” that now go far beyond its original mandate. Yet the process of the court’s runaway empowerment has been beyond contesting. As the NYT puts it, there is a “complete absence of any adversarial process” which is, after all, “the heart of our legal system.” To demonstrate this, the editorial tells us “the government in 2012 made 1,789 requests to conduct electronic surveillance; the court approved 1,788 (the government withdrew the other one). Were they all legitimate requests? It is impossible to know because “no one was allowed to make a counterargument.” In other words, the court is an ever more widely used rubber stamp for a part of the government which in its apparently addictive pursuit of information is now literally monitoring us all.  And, it is doing so completely in secret, with no checks and balances.