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.

Jul 18

Understanding the Significance of the Trayvon Martin Protests

By Jason Del Gandio, SpeakOut | Report

Protests are sweeping the nation in response to the George Zimmerman acquittal. New York, Philadelphia, DC, Miami, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, and LA are just some of the locations. But what is the nature and purpose of these protests and are they effective?

This brief essay is not intended to speak for anyone. People have their own reasons and motivations for protesting, and their responses to the acquittal are personal and their own. But making some general observations and delving into some of the root issues can correct some of the misinterpretations and clarify some of the occurrences.

Are these protests spontaneous? The answer is both yes and no. It might be more accurate to say that they are spontaneously organized. People did not simply take to the streets the moment the verdict was handed down. That might be true in some cases. But it is more nuanced for most.

The country has been following the trial for weeks. The deliberating process was long and laborious, which created emotional tension and drama. The verdict then came in and people felt a collective sense of grief and anguish. People are emotionally charged and that emotion needs to be released. They then receive a text or phone call or read online that a protest will begin later that night or the next day. People now have an outlet to act, release, and express. In doing so, a type of "eros effect" occurs (to borrow a phrase from critical theorist George Katsiaficas). An eros effect happens when enough people create a groundswell of attraction. A magnetic allure then emanates outward, and bodies beget bodies. At that point, people take to the streets en masse. The rapidity of this effect gives it a sense of "spontaneous action."

What is the purpose of these protests? The most basic purpose is to demand justice. An unarmed seventeen year old kid was shot and his assailant walks free. People are rightfully outraged. But these demands and protests are more complex, involving such issues as emotional catharsis and public disapproval.

Humans are social creatures. We live

While the rest of the country was celebrating our independence, House Dem. Rush Holt (NJ-12) was doing something about it — drafting legislation to repeal both the Patriot Act of 2001 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

If you click, be sure to check the legislative history. This was Obama's first major betrayal of an important campaign promise, and he was just a candidate at the time — a foretaste of many betrayals to come.

Rush Holt, writing in the Asbury Park Press in his native New Jersey, says this (my emphasis and some paragraphing):

Once again, our nation is grappling with a false choice being presented to us by the media and intelligence officials: In order to be safe, we must be willing — in President Barack Obama's words — to accept "modest encroachments" on our civil liberties. These claims are being advanced in the wake of the most sensational revelations about intrusive, and potentially illegal, government surveillance activities at home since the Watergate era. ...

Speakers at the picket line included a former president and current secretary of the ACLU in Marin County, Bob Harmon; the Northern California vice chair of the California Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus and president of the Sonoma County Latino Democratic Club, Caroline Banuelos; Santa Rosa City Council member Julie Combs; and Fairfax mayor and attorney Lawrence Bragman. Also speaking will be two co-chairs of the Coalition for Grassroots Progress: Alice Chan, who is a co-leader of Progressive Democrats Sonoma County and a delegate to the California Democratic Central Committee, and author/activist Norman Solomon.

Jul 17

White Privilege: Innocent, Trayvon Martin: Guilty

By Dennis Trainor Jr, AcronymTV | Video Report

I can't say I was surprised at the verdict. Because, to apply the famous words of George Zimmerman, these assholes always get away. There is a lot of blame to go around for the fact that there is no Justice for Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17- year old African American kid who was profiled, hunted, and killed. High on the list of what killed Trayvon and what allowed his murderer to go free is the white privilege and systems of racism and oppression that this country was built upon and executes (pun intended) with full force, in a slightly more nuanced form, today.

Before we go any further, I am aware I am white, and in many ways benefit from these systems of oppression that I am condemning. However, I am not- to preempt the comments that will take up some space on this topic, suffering from white guilt. I see the world as it is. This is not an opinion. The United States is a racist, sexist, oppressive country. If you disagree, you need to pull your head out of your rectal cavity, clean out your ears and your eyes, and work towards a place where you can see this fact. When you do, the world around you will start to become a better place. If you don't then, in my book at least, you are an asshole.

Jul 17

Abortions, Guns and Your Safety

By Hollis Phelps, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

The North Carolina House has approved a proposal to regulate the operations of abortion clinics in the state. The bill, which the Republican-controlled House tacked onto a motorcycle safety bill, would severely hamper abortion rights in NC. After a veto threat from the governor, the proposal is less restrictive than its previous incarnation, which was without notice tacked onto a so-called anti-Shariah law bill right before the July 4th holiday weekend. The whole process would be comical if so much weren't at stake. The bill would, among other things, force clinics that provide abortions to adopt some standards that apply to surgical clinics; require that a physician be present during the first administration of any abortion-inducing drug; allow any healthcare provider to opt out of providing abortion procedures; prohibit health plans offered in compliance with the Affordable Care Act from covering abortion procedures; and prohibit cities and counties from offering abortion coverage in their health plans.

Houston, The Economist "Secret government: America against democracy," is a compelling and scary analysis of secret government in America - a nation that has become a caricature of ithe open government President Obama promised when he came to office.

There is nothing new about broken campaign promises. Obama, however, has taken that many steps farther. He offered us a vision in 2008 of a nation of open government, democracy operating as it was designed to operate. Reality is now so stunningly different that his maintenance of the same vision has become virtually psychotic. When President Obama was running for office, he promised that his first acts in office would be to issue executive orders adopting a policy of transparency for his presidency, and ease of access to presidential documents. . He clearly identified the documents by which his intent on the subject was to be assessed.

No matter how many times I live through moments like these, it never gets any easier. Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, John T. Williams, Henry Glover, Juan Herera, Amadou Diallo, Iman Morales, Eleanor Bumpers, Vincent Chin, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, Emmett Till... There are so many more names to recall. There are so many names I don't know. And they number into the millions, over centuries as we are reminded over and over again that for people of color in this country, our lives are cheap.

I think my friend Dennis said it best when he observed that Trayvon was convicted of his own murder.

My heart goes out to Trayvon's family and all of us who are feeling the trauma and pain in this moment. It is wrong. It is an atrocity. There's no way this verdict would have gone down if Trayvon was white. The legal argument that led to this verdict, which is centuries old, could not exist without de facto acceptance of racism as legitimate motive and Blackness itself as life threatening.

Jul 16

A Memorial for a Failed Border Policy

By Tom Barry, The MIT Press | News Analysis

You can easily miss it. The steel fence towers over the small memorial for Chris Lamadrid, who the Border Patrol shot in the back as he climbed over the 18-foot steel-pillared fence. Under the Border Patrol's system of "threat assessment," the 19-year old resident of the Sonora border town of Agua Prieta was considered a member of a "Transnational Criminal Organization" since he was trafficking drugs across the border.

Standing at the memorial constructed by family and friends, looking over at the U.S. homeland through the massive fence that marks the line between Agua Prieta and the small Arizona town of Douglas, is as good a place as any to reflect on the $45-billion "border surge" that is the sine que non of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which recently passed the Senate with the support of 13 Republican senators.

Several months ago, there was a huge outcry that the Swedish furniture store IKEA was found using horsemeat in their meatballs and sausages. [1] Apparently they had been doing this for years, but only now did they get found out and shamed for it. Critics called this revelation, "disgusting", "an outrage", and even "immoral."[2] Apparently people don't like horses mixed in with their cows.

The last thirty years has shown a huge increase in the amount of children being used as soldiers in many conflicts around the world, but most notably in the Sudanese, Burmese, and Somalian conflicts. This unfortunate aspect of wartime culture has been brought to the forefront by many human rights groups and concerned individuals in the West, largely due to such movies as "Blood Diamond," "Invisible Children," and more recently "War Witch." It is estimated that over 300,000 children between the ages of seven and fifteen are currently engaged in military conflicts around the world, with more being "recruited" every day.[3]