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.
For me, and most of us, last week was a dizzying one. It found the Supreme Court of the United States doing away with the Defense of Marriage Act, upholding the right to same-sex marriage in California, gutting a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and leaving affirmative action intact, even while cautioning the courts and universities that strict scrutiny would be applied to all cases on that subject - affirmative action would have to constantly justify its existence. That week also found Nelson Mandela, 94 years-old, on his deathbed. Finally, it was also the week that we had Albie Sachs as a visitor to our summer intensive series on Human Rights. His visit was a particularly auspicious one.
Albert Sachs's career in human rights activism started when he was 17 years-old, continued through college and into his law practice in Cape Town. In defending people charged under the state's racist statutes, he attracted the displeasure of the authorities and was initially subjected to "banning laws" restricting his activities, then arrested, and finally put into solitary confinement. Upon release from prison, he went into voluntary exile, but never discontinued his human rights work.
I was a really shy kid. In middle school, I tried to get through class without saying anything. But by high school it got so bad that at a parent-teacher conference my English teacher told my mom,"I know the wheels are turning and that she is paying attention, but she never says anything."
"Just call on her," my mom replied. "Even if she isn't raising her hand."
After that, Ms. Jira would call on me whenever our eyes met. Heart banging, palms sweating, I was able to contribute. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. With my mom's encouragement, I told all my teachers to call on me, even if my hand wasn't raised, and I made it through high school.
Tony Rotondo has taught English in West Chester, Pennsylvania since 1964 at every level ranging from 7th grade to Graduate School. He served as President of the Teachers Association for the West Chester Area School District and left a legacy of worker solidarity while constantly fighting for fair pay, resources and proper treatment of teachers and students. Tony is a decorated master teacher and for years excelled with a disarming sense of humor. In a historic West Chester Schools strike of 2003, Rotondo bravely articulated that "the contract year has been a shift from reason and compromise to intimidation and ultimatum." The news media called his tone, "defiant." Rotondo would happily agree. Rotondo is currently a teacher preparation professor at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pennsylvania.
Edward Snowden's leaks of top-secret NSA documents has unleashed a wave of very strong feelings of anger and betrayal – of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable and unwarranted searches and seizures as well as of President Obama's promise of more transparency. The stories in the Guardian and the Washington Post have played on the fears of those who understand that our democracy cannot function properly in a climate of excessive secrecy, with overzealous prosecution of leakers, journalists, and others who are fighting to keep information accessible adding to their concerns. Throw in an utterly dysfunctional Congress, a lingeringly unsteady economy and an increasingly acrimonious political atmosphere, and we have nothing short of a serious crisis of confidence on our hands.
Two recent stories of climate change disasters mark the transition from spring to summer of 2013. The recent Black Forest fire in Colorado destroyed more than 500 homes and has been called, "the most destructive fire in Colorado history." On the other side of the globe, last week, intense rain and flash floods brought massive destruction in Uttarakhand in northern India that has been called, the "Himalayan tsunami." According to government estimates the death toll may cross 1,000, and thousands are still missing and tens of thousands stranded. Extreme weather events—floods, fires, droughts and hurricanes—in our time—are manifestations of climate change. Two recent studies, one published in the Geophysical Research Letters and the other conductedby the National Atmospheric Research Laboratory in Tirupati, India—have linked climate change to the recent increase in the frequency of very heavy rain and floods in India. And for sometime now scientists have been connecting the dots of climate change to the mega drought and the intense wildfires in the American southwest.
We continue to live through the 'WikiLeaks' moment. At present, British police continue their round-the-clock vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, England. At a cost of $19,000 a day, police have been stationed out-front of the Knightsbridge building for almost a year on the off chance that Julian Assange, founder of the online whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks, attempts to leave the building. While Ecuador has granted Assange political asylum, the British government will not guarantee him safe passage. If he leaves the Embassy, we will be arrested. The embassy has become his de facto prison. Across the Atlantic, Private Bradley Manning, the source of material leaked by WikiLeaks has been held for over three years in a military prison. Finally, after prolonged detainment and harsh, punitive and even unlawful pre-trial punishment, Bradley Manning's court martial is now under way in Fort Meade, Maryland.
A little over a year ago, I found myself sitting in a newly-opened kitchen-café space in the Petralona area of Athens, sharing reflections on Occupy Wall Street with Greeks from the neighborhood's Popular Assembly. Popular Assemblies sprang up all across the city during the 2008 uprising sparked by the police murder of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos. As the country's economy spiraled, with international financial institutions pouring gas on the proverbial fire (a fact to which said institutions have owned up in recent weeks), the Assemblies took on functions in almost direct competition with the State, serving as a sort community self-organized triage. Social needs were administered, barter economies established, local electricians dispatched to restore power to homes that had gone dark after tax increases pegged to electricity bills made utilities unaffordable. Today, these assemblies operate medical and eye clinics, youth arts programs, low-scale agriculture, and popular education.
Last week, for the first time ever, an international body asked questions about the Vatican's handling of widespread and systemic rape and sexual violence. Last Wednesday, survivors of rape and sexual violence by Catholic priests met with members of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Geneva, calling the Vatican to account for its ongoing failure to abide by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a U.N. treaty that the Vatican long ago signed but, like the children it is designed to protect, has systematically neglected.
Wednesday's historic meeting is the latest sign that a growing global movement is closing in on that day when Vatican officials will be held accountable for their systemic enabling of rape and sexual abuse. In March, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), submitted a report to the UN Committee outlining the myriad ways the Vatican is in perpetual violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.