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.
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."
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.