Anaheim and the Disneyfication of Death

August 3, 2012

“We’ve been protesting here at Disneyland for weeks,” Theresa Smith told me. “Because of the recent shootings, now everybody’s starting to pay attention to what’s happening here in Anaheim.”

Smith, a longtime Anaheim resident whose son, Caesar Cruz, was shot and killed by police in a 2009 incident that she still demands answers about, persists in peacefully protesting before the Magic Kingdom because she has to. Thanks, in no small part, to living just a short drive from the vast entertainment empire symbolically centered on Harbor Boulevard, Smith and other Anaheim parents know what what the world outside of Anaheim will soon come to realize: that if they are to protect their children from further extreme violence from the police, Latinos here and across the United States will literally have to defend themselves from Mickey Mouse and his militarized minions.

The current crisis in Anaheim began following a surreal and shocking incident in which Anaheim police unleashed a K9 police dog on and shot rubber bullets at a crowd of local small children, mothers with babies and terrified parents protesting against the police who shot and killed their unarmed neighbor, Manuel Diaz. In the wake of these violent incidents, street-level reality and Disneyesque fantasy are fusing in uniquely dangerous and strange ways. The response to the situation by both the Anaheim police and the media has magically moved reports of violence away from the concerns of Smith and other residents and on to the “violence” of “outside protesters”—kicking police cars, burning garbage cans, vandalism.

When viewed from outside of the very poor, overwhelmingly Latino community in Anaheim, Disneyland itself initially looked and felt like a funny foil for jokes that lightened the gravity of the bloodshed in the tiny city, where a militarized police department has killed three men in less than a week. But in a span of days, all this changed.

The spectacular contrast between the image of police “protecting” children in Disneyland and the images of those same police shooting rubber bullets at Latino children in Anaheim have made more obvious the lesser-known, local role of the “Happiest Place on Earth:” Creating a Disneyfied image of a city in which huge swaths live in deep poverty and under constant harassment of the Anaheim police and other security forces.

In the aftermath of the shooting of Manuel Diaz, Anaheim has, for many Latinos, come to symbolize the institutionalization of official police efforts and extra-official corporate efforts to distract, distort and deny the bloody on-the-ground realities that Smith and other local residents are desperately trying to keep in the public mind.

Just when we thought that the images coming out of Southern California could not get any more bizarre, Anaheim police decided to engage in their own imagineering. After more than a week of protests, theAnaheim police deployed officers dressed in military outfits and wielding military equipment, including what appeared to be hand-held rocket launchers capable of launching either rockets or beanbags. The military fatigues, camouflage, boots and heavy weaponry caused many to wonder were we watching a repeat of the images of national guardsmen deployed during L.A.’s social explosion in 1992.

Though the display of militarized police power ran the risk of moving the situation in Anaheim to tragic-comic proportions, the move by controversy-ridden Anaheim police Chief John Welton served multiple and very strategic functions. Consider how, for example, the deployment instilled fear among local community members. Gabriel San Roman, a reporter with the Orange County Weekly and Anaheim native who still lives in the affected community, told me he thought the operation resembled a “military psyop,” or psychological operations like those used in Afghanistan and other counterinsurgency settings across the world. Other Anaheim residents report increased fear of protest, as well.

At the same time, the deployment of the militarized-police deflected from the true source of deadly violence in Anaheim—the Anaheim police. By positioning themselves in front of Disneyland for all the local, national and global media to see, Anaheim PD is trying to divert media coverage away from images of a department shooting at a crowd of children and toward those of brave troops protecting the Happiest Place on Earth from marauding Latinos. And the local media, including media owned by Disney, appear more than willing to join them, as much of the reporting in Southern California includes images and stories about police “clashing” with “violent” “outsiders” described in the city’s press releases.

Though the roots of the Anaheim conflicts lie in little-covered police violence taking place in working-class Latino neighborhoods, the media treatment of the violence and protests there resemble more the frames and reportage that were eventually applied to Occupy: police-military “cleaning up” after the violent acts of unruly, dirty and anonymous subversives threatening the public good, in this case the public good embodied by Disneyland.

Though Disney remains officially silent about violence and protests (except for a tweet dispelling rumors that visitors were forced to remain behind the gated confines of the Kingdom), Disney and its multiple and intersecting media businesses wield direct institutional power in the life of Anaheim.

Disneyland—the motor of the local tourism and entertainment economy—is the digital age equivalent of the all-controlling Octopus in the classic California novel by Frank Norris. It controls (and owns) or profoundly influences local media, the land, the city council and, of course, the local police of this small city. On the ground, the ginormous power of the company is on display nowhere better than in its successful effort to block 1,500 units of affordable housing near the hallowed area known as “the Resort Area.” Whatever disturbs the flow of the local entertainment economy centered around the Resort Area is deserving of whatever police deem necessary, a mandate readily boosted by local media.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait has invited the president of Disneyland to lead the Anaheim business community in taking “a leadership role” in moving the city out of the current crisis. The effort may well become Anaheim’s own “Rebuild L.A.,” the largely forgotten and failed effort led by Disney and other corporations that were supposed to “rebuild” South Central Los Angeles and the rest of the city after the LAPD’s violence sparked a social explosion.

But there is good news in all this: The Latino community is losing its fear of the violent police in Anaheim and across the country, a theme not reported or commented on. Among the less-reported themes and images coming out of Anaheim are those of Latinos clamoring for justice. Powerful images of Latino children, youth and families standing defiantly before the police capture the only force that can bring an end to the official violence: protest and people power.

Roberto Lovato is a writer and commentator with New America Media and a regular contributor to Colorlines.com.


Anaheim Protesters Are Not to Blame, Police Are

July 26, 2012

Anaheim Protesters Are Not to Blame, Police Are

Roberto Lovato

Violence is eating away the moral core of Anaheim. For their part, local authorities are spending most of their time denouncing “outsiders” they say are a threat to the community.

“They chose violence and vandalism over respectful communications” Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said at news conference following recent violence in his city, claiming most protesters are not from Anaheim. He denounced those trying to “create chaos in our downtown neighborhoods.” Anaheim Police Chief John Welter reinforced the anti-violence message: “We will not allow riotous, dangerous violations of the law by anyone…” Such statements appear to indicate that Latino protesters pose an urgent threat to stability in Anaheim.

But then there’s the community perspective.

“There were pieces of brain on the … darn grass, in front of all these children, in front of all these people,” Anaheim resident Theresa Smith told a news outlet after walking by her neighbor’s home, where Anaheim police shot Manuel Diaz, an unarmed man, in the back of the head. Smith knows well the pain of her neighbors. Her own son was killed by Anaheim police officers in 2009 in another highly controversial incident. “This traumatizes people, and these people (protesters) are angry.”

For her part, Genevieve Huizar, the mother of the Manuel Diaz, also feels deeply the violence that is destabilizing her community.

“I watched as my son took his last breath. I watched as his heart stopped beating for the last time.” When the community demanded answers about the violence that killed Diaz, police responded with more shooting rubber bullets and unleashing a police dog into a crowd that included children.

“They just started shooting everyone. They shot at little kids too!” a screaming Susan Lopez told a local news outlet following Saturday’s shooting.

What is most striking about these statements by local official and community members are the polar opposite messages they are sending. Anaheim officials have denounced violence from “outsiders,” not the police violence against residents. The officials are most passionate about “violence” – kicking police cars, throwing bottles, burning garbage cans – in the streets. Smith, Huizar and most community members locate the most destabilizing violence at 425 S. Harbor Blvd., the headquarters of the Anaheim police department. When it comes to violence, officials appear to be spending more time on the Disneyland side of Harbor boulevard than on the reality side of the street.

This extreme difference in perspectives points not just to the moral and political bankruptcy of the Mayor Tait and Chief Welter, it also points to the urgent need for “outsiders” to protect Anaheim residents from the police. In the face of the inability of Tait and Welter to rein in the escalating police violence that endangers Anaheim residents, these same residents are ironically calling on outside law enforcement, namely California State Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, to step in and protect them from the spiral of violence that is even impacting Anaheim children.

In a matter of days, more than 17,000 people California and the entire country have signed a petition from Presente.org calling on Attorney General Harris to protect the people of Anaheim by conducting a deep investigation into the killing of Diaz, the police violence against crowds that Tait, Welter and other ‘insiders’ have shown themselves incapable of investigating and acting on. While Tait’s recent moves to ask for an external investigation are encouraging and welcome, there are no confirmed reports of a thorough investigation. None. Also, these calls for assistance are very new and need to be amplified and followed through if there is ever to be true peace and safety in Anaheim.

The officer-involved killing of Diaz and another man killed by police, also under circumstances the community finds questionable, follow a growing number of Latino bodies impacted by the excessive and deadly force used by Anaheim Police. Attorneys General Harris and Holder must step in to investigate and deliver justice before this epidemic of killings, beating  and other abuses that Tait and, especially, Welter lack the political will to stop.

The cancer of excessive and deadly force by Anaheim Police against Latinos is profoundly disturbing. In the last year alone, there’ve been six officer-involved shootings (five of whom are Latino). Smith and other victims’ families have held weekly protests outside police headquarters for many, many weeks.

Rather than try to avert attention away from police violence, rather making passionate denunciations of “outsiders”, Tate, Welter and other Anaheim officials need to show passion -and compassion-for the families and communities suffering under the rotten boot of police violence. These officials must assert their roles and do everything in their power to encourage and enable Harris and Holder to clean up the bloody mess left not by violent “outsiders” but by those that eat away the moral core of Anaheim: the violent insiders of the Anaheim Police department.

 

Roberto Lovato, Writer, Co-Founder of Presente.org.


Open Letter to Ruben Navarrette: Why the “I-Word” Must Go

July 6, 2012

(This is a response to this article by Ruben Navarrette, who defends use of the term “illegal immigrant.)

Ruben Navarrette, we agree on more than a few things, but not on this one. There are multiple reasons to stop using this “illegal immigrant” term, not least of which are grammar and usage, and basic respect for people who don’t like being called “illegal immigrants.”

If, as your article states, you really “also prefer not to degrade the English language”, then you need to stop using the term “illegal immigrant.” The term is grammatically incorrect and illogical. I too make a living by using words. We don’t say “illegal jay walker,” we don’t refer to people as “illegal pot smokers,” we don’t call someone who doesn’t pay their taxes an “illegal taxpayer.” There are no other instances where the term “illegal” is used to designate a person in this way, except “illegal immigrant.” None. And then there’s the issue of degrading not just the language, but actual flesh and blood and feeling people.

I’ve spoken with and interviewed linguists like Otto Santana, Ana Maria Zentella and other lovers of language, including those who were involved in helping remove sexist, homophobic and other racist language from usage. ALL of them agree: the term “Illegal immigrant” is dehumanizing, racist language.

President Jimmy Carter removed the term “illegal immigrant” from official use by the US government precisely because his administration deemed the term problematic, as have governments around the world, many of whom use some variant of the French term “sans papier,” meaning “without papers.” Journalistic organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, UNITY Journalists of color (largest journalist organization in the U.S.) and even Fox News Latino have joined journalist organizations and individual across the country in rejecting the I-word and adopting other, more appropriate language. Many have also joined the Drop the I-Word campaign.

As a writer, you must be aware that language use is a choice, often a political choice laden with power relations and other influences. The “I-word” falls squarely into this category as growing numbers of immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, demanding journalists and policymakers and other public figures stop using language they feel dehumanizes and diminishes them.
As a journalist, you are, no doubt, also aware that extremist, anti-immigrant foundations have invested millions of dollars to mainstream the term “illegal immigrant” and its variants. Given these and other facts, use of this racist, dehumanizing term is simply indefensible; Defending its use as some unpalatable “truth” does not, imho, reflect well on you, and I say this as someone who often agrees with and defends you.

You’ve also noted, I’m sure, how terms like “illegals,” “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrants” show up on the placards and in the beatings of racists I know you oppose. There have not been any “illegal immigrant”placards at any immigrant rights march I know of in all my experience. Most of us who defend immigrants defend them on the linguistic front as well.

Lastly, I don’t know a single undocumented person who likes the term. As with the “N” word, or the “F” word in the queer community or the “C” word in the disabled community, when a group of people impacted negatively by a term deems it time to end the use of such language, then people of conscience should rally behind them. So, I implore you to Drop the I-word.

Respectfully,

Roberto Lovato


Revolutionary Mexico Bringing the “Continent of Light” Closer to US Darkness

June 30, 2012

Todos somos Mexico.

Imagining that US elites are none too comfortable having thousands upon thousands of brown youth chanting, “Si hay imposicion habra revolucion!” (If there’s an imposition, there’ll be revolution) just a migration, a phone call, a familia member away.

The sparks of what Jose Marti called “el continente de la luz” (the continent of light) are starting to spill over onto the darkness of these United States, exposing Obama and US elite’s anemic “hope” in all its deathly falsity. Let us shine forth with the rest of América.


BLOG BLACKOUT: STOP SOPA NOW

January 17, 2012

This site  and I are committed to blacking out for a day in protest against attempts by Democrats and Republicans to further censor the Internet. President Obama is signaling a veto, but don’t be fooled as you were around the Defense Authorization act that fundamentally destroyed multiple freedoms after President Obama revealed that he would, in fact, sign it. Don’t be fooled. Join us by clicking here. Thank you.


On the Imminent Danger of Anybody-But-a-Republican(ism)

December 16, 2011

Does anybody remember “Anybody but Bush” (or “Anyone-but-Bush)? As we ramp up into the next election cycle, many are beginning to rally around the “Anybody-but-a Republican” flag, and as we do so amidst an epic mix of multiple and intertwined and uncharted crises, some of us are asking ‘What did Anybody-but-Bushism get us?’

A quick review reveals that it got us such “progressive victories” as 3 wars, the deportation of 1 million migrants, the secret transfer of $7.7 TRILLION in loans to failed banks, the shredding of the US Constitution, a sharp acceleration of the police state-militarization within the US borders,not to mention a continuation of many of the worst policies of the Bush era.

War, militarism, anti-immigrant policies, enabling corporate greed and corporate domination of our lives, destroying basic rights,building a police state-this is the essence of Bushism, Republicanism and other isms that constitute the worst of our time. Obama did not just “inherit” these failed Bush policies; He’s expanding and perfecting them to protect the citizens that selected Bush and “elected” Obama, corporate citizens.

There’s no better foreshadowing of the perceived need of the 1% minority to close ranks and “protect” their interests from the 99% majority than Obama’s shocking reversal of his stated intention to veto the  defense bill authorizing for the first time in US history, the possibility and likelihood of the secret and indefinite detention of US citizens on US soil.

Already, recent developments in England may preview the ways in which the same federal and local authorities trying to destroy Occupy Wall Street will start the process of morphing an Occupy rally or action into a “belligerent act” of “terrorism” resulting in the swift arrest and disappearance of US citizens by the Pentagon.

In the face of the “disaster” and drastic crisis of civil liberties we face, it’s important to consider how, in our desperation to defeat Bush, we may have created the very conditions for the distortion or even the destruction of the enterprise of “Hope.” Beware: the election year siren’s song of “Anybody-but-a Republican”ism is beginning anew, and ringing louder than the sound cannons at an Occupy rally.

Before the breathtakingly “dangerous” announcement of measures that will, in the words of Human Rights Watch (HRW) President Ken Roth, turn Obama into “the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law,” (Roth and HRW also called Obama’s decision a “A Historic Tragedy for Rights“), we should interrogate and undertand the imminent danger posed by Anybody-but-a-Republican(ism); Doing so is urgent, especially when consider that constitutional law professor Obama’s savaging of the Constitution reflects how national and global elites are feverishly preparing for the serious possibility of the Great Depression signalled by International Monetary Fund President Christine Lagarde’s rather stunning statement that our current global economic situation resembles “exactly the description of what happened in the 1930s, and what followed is not something we are looking forward to.”

As should be obvious to all but the “party faithful”, Obama, the”leader of the free world” and the 1%er interests that define him are doing in the US what more nakedly repressive “leaders” and 1%ers across the planet are doing:  preparing,arming themselves legally, politically (i.e. the Obama deception) and militarily (as in arming against your own citizenry ala Egypt, Greece, Chile, India, China, Mexico, Russia, ad infinitum) for the crisis that looms, the crisis that Obama and other global corporate and military elite know is coming much better and far deeper than the rest of us do.

Given this situation, we must look soberly at whatever value is left in our degraded vote, our increasingly hollowed-out citizenship after the  unholy alliance of corporations, the Supreme Court, the corporate media and other powers ate them. For what little it’s worth (i.e. the vote of corporate citizens matters billion$ more than yours) your vote should be backed up by a moral force greater, a justification smarter than the new Anybody-but-Bushism: “voting for the lesser of two evils.”

If that’s all you’re basing your vote on, then maybe you need a break from living in that 1%er-ruled electoral sewer  and should instead try climbing up and marching onto the dignity of the streets, meeting people, organizing people, Occupying, and, most importantly, looking for less polluted political horizons as if your , our future depends on it-because it does.

Those horizons are there if you allow yourself to end the  indignity of forcing your wild mind and big heart into the solitary political confinement controlled by corporate overseers; the indignity of a mental dungeon that tortures you by making you lie to yourself, forcing you to repeat mantra-like the words “the second term will be better,”; the indignity that reduces you to creating fantastic, mythological excuses for why Obama is not heralding a newer, friendlier-faced equivalent-or worsening- of the very policy evils you fear and loath in Republicans.

Hope is still there-if you put your mind and heart to work without ceasing to find them beyond your current political horizons. Seek and ye shall find…


Move Your Money, Save the World

November 5, 2011

If you travel the world and spend even a little time among the world’s poor majority, and if you witness or, God forbid, if you are touched by the ravages-massified death, barbaric suffering, destruction of culture, fantastic levels of inequality and poverty-you cannot but reach the diamond hard conclusion that will save us from further devastation: that those responsible for this epic calamity-namely Big Global Finance as symbolized in “Wall Street” -are guilty of genocide and the greatest crimes against humanity. Viewed from this perspective, the rapid and, now, inevitable decline of the United States and the “American Dream” is a pulling away Oz-like of the curtain and smoke disguising this greatest evil of our time.

What more reason than this to take from the hyper-rich and give back to the poor? Here’s how.

 


The #Occupy Anthem: “The System is About to Die, Hella Hella Occupy!”

November 3, 2011

Video captures Oakland youth , majority of whom are working class, non-white students chanting what is the national anthem of the black, latino and asian and other youth that are, indeed, in the movement that executed the historic shutdown of the Port of Oakland. Share or sing this with someone next time they say that “there are no “people of color involved in the Occupy movement.”


Bank of America’s Fee Cancellation: Major Victory Signals Maturing of #Occupy Movement

November 1, 2011

Today’s announcement by Bank of America that it would drop its $5 debit card fee represents nothing less than a victory for the #Occupy movement, a victory on many fronts and on many levels. This is especially important when we consider that one of the primary  criteria defining movements is the ability to define and secure victories.

First and foremost, the Bank of America debit fee announcement represents a victory for the communities and groups that have been organizing around banking issues for some time. Groups like Alliance for a Just Society, and organizers behind both the online petition demanding BofA rescind the fee and the “Bank Transfer Day” scheduled for later this week got a major boost and channeled popular energy to secure this win for us all.

Today’s announcement is also critical because it shows the power people really do have over even the most powerful among us-namely the banks and financial institutions that dominate life as we know it. They are vulnerable to us. The fact that Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, SunTrust and Regions banks also announced that they were canceling their plans to increase debit fees is nothing if not a testament to the people power taking hold in the U.S. Not only are we saving ourselves millions of dollars in another unnecessary display of super greed, but we are also starting to show that we may be able to save the country-and the world- from the workings of the super greedy financial institutions.

Another development, perhaps the most critical, reflected in today’s announcement by BofA has to do with how the #Occupy movement is growing into a sea of movement-building that simultaneously feeds and draws from the streams and rivers of other movements, in this case the economic justice movement. In addition to powering and pushing the work of groups fighting the bank fees, the #Occupy movement is also nourishing the work planned or envisioned by other groups. For example, those behind the “Move Your Money” campaign to get people to take their banking out of the big banks and into credit unions and other, more community-oriented financial institutions are getting a major boost from the zeitgeist of the #Occupy moment.

Bank of America and the other banks capitulation to popular demands offers a small, but important example proving to ourselves that we can fight and win against the most powerful, that we can discipline the banks and other institutions and align them with the needs of the majority. We have taken a step towards reaching what Clausewitz called the “culminating point of victory.” As in war, the spiritual value of winning in political activism will be determinant in ending the class warfare against the poor, the war against the 99% by the 1%.


The Greatest Threat to Liberty on Its 125th Anniversary: Corporate Tyranny

October 28, 2011

Liberty turned 125 years today. The Statue of Liberty, that is. As we watch the celebrations of the anniversary of  the iconic statue symbolizing  Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, we should all take at least a moment to reflect on the state of citizenship and freedom -and unfreedom-in the United States.

In a word, freedom is in grave danger because of the most powerful Tyrant of our time: Corporations. There is no greater symbol of the destruction of freedom than Wall Street, which profits from all that has defined tyrants of previous eras: war, poverty, control of government, the lack of free speech, surveillance,  the denial of basic human and civil rights and even the the possible destruction of the planet itself.

The good news is that we are also witnessing an unprecedented global movement that’s trying to define freedom in the age of corporate tyranny. Movements like Occupy Wall Street, Spain’s “Indignados”, the Arab Spring and other movements are directly confronting the corporate control of everything from the culture, land, sea, air we inhabit to  our genetic code and the food we eat. Occupy Wall Street is nothing if not a reflection of the threat to freedom posed by the ways in which corporations dominate the Congress, the electoral system, the economy and the Presidency itself.

The duplicity and threat of corporate-controlled freedom can be found on the Statue of Liberty itself. Much is being made in the media about the “live web cams” that are part of the high-tech makeover of the Statue. Less (or not) reported are the dozens of infrared surveillance cameras, vibration sensors, experimental facial recognition monitors, and other now ubiquitous electronic surveillance devices that capture the image of visitors and send them to databases of national security agencies. The profits from this kind of multi-million dollar makeover of Liberty go to corporations invested in redefining freedom.

The same will to profit from the decimation of Liberty can be found in today’s naturalization ceremony being presided over by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. While Salazar is leading the naturalization ceremony of a small group of citizens at the foot of the statue, the Obama Administration is feeding the multi-billion dollar industry that persecutes and jails, surveills and deports more than a million immigrants since Salazar and the Obama Administration took the reigns of executive power. Such a situation has in essence has rendered meaningless the “New Colossus,” the poem by Emma Lazarus engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the monument in 1903. The anniversary of “Lady Liberty” should give us pause to reflect on these words in the Obama era:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The golden door has become an iron cage; the masses are being huddled into private prisons whose stocks and profits now light the lamp of Liberty brighter with each new immigrant prisoner; The language of the “wretched refuse” on the “teeming shore has morphed an “anchor baby” that corporate-sponsored Republicans and even Democrats decry.

Such a situation points to how non-citizens, especially undocumented immigrants, are being used to divert from and disguise and the sad fact about citizenship in our age: corporate citizenship has humiliated and practically destroyed human citizenship. The buying of politicians by corporations has become synonymous with “democracy” in this New Gilded Age. But, instead of putting responsibility for the death of citizenship on the Corporate Colossus, there is a huge industry invested in blaming the “huddled masses” described in the New Colossus poem.

In the New Gilded Age, freedom and citizenship have become commodities that can be bought and sold.Freedom has become synonymous with “Free Trade”; “Freedom of the press”, to quote the great journalist AJ Liebling, “is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Religious freedom is centered at the altar of quick profits in a society forced to worship Wall Street.

If we are to alter this humiliation of Liberty, we have no choice to look not at the technofied torch and eyes of Liberty, which are monitoring us even as the torch shines forth the false image of “freedom”, but at the invisible chains that shackle the feet of Liberty. At the moment,  bottom-up, street level movements like the Occupy Wall Street movement stand at the feet of Liberty, trying to unshackle us from the chains of corporate tyranny.

May we still yearn to be free.


#OWS Pic of the Day: How #OccupySF & #OccupyOakland Are Feeling About the Police and Police Violence

October 27, 2011

The general feeling towards the violent behavior of the Oakland and other Bay Area police departments is captured clearly in this pic from my friend, Michael Sierra.


Occupy Oakland and the “Post-Racial” Repression of the Obama Era

October 26, 2011

While President Obama was telling the small crowd at a $7500-a-plate fundraiser in San Francisco that “Change is possible,” Pooda Miller was across the bay trying to get her plate back from the Oakland Police Department. “They came, pulled out rifles, shot us up with tear gas and took all our stuff,” said Miller, at an afternoon rally condemning the violent evacuation of more than 170 peaceful, unarmed Occupy Oaklanders by 500 heavily-armed members of the Oakland Police Department and other local departments yesterday morning.

With a long metal police fence separating Miller and other members of Occupy Oakland from their confiscated items—tents, water, food, clothes, medicine, plates—and now possessed by the police, Miller grabbed a big blue and white bullhorn that looked like it was almost half of her 4-foot, 5-inch frame. “Give us our stuff back! It don’t belong to you!” yelled Miller, who also expressed relief that her baby was not camped out with her that morning.

The sound of Miller’s ire shot across the protective masks of all of the officers standing at alert on the other side of the metal police fence, but her loudest, most acidic anger was saved for the baton-wielding officer who, like herself and other officers, was a young African-American woman.

“Who are you serving?” screamed Miller at the top of her high pitched voice, turned raspy from hours of denouncing. “You’re being used. You’re getting paid with our tax money to put down your own people! Why are you doing this to your own people?”

Miller’s questions about the role of race in the policing of Occupy Oakland points to what is and will continue to be the larger question in Oakland and other U.S. cities where former “minorities” are becoming majorities: What does it mean when those charged with defending elite interests against multi-racial and increasingly non-white activists are themselves multiracial and non-white? The ongoing protests, mayor recall, phone calls, emails and other pressure and pushback of Occupy Oakland are no longer aimed at cigar-smoking white men. They are aimed at a power structure in Oakland whose public face looks more like Miller and other non-white protesters.

Miller and others are calling for the recall of Jean Quan, who made history as Oakland’s first Asian-American mayor (full disclosure: Quan’s daughter is my Facebook friend); and they are complaining about the use of excessive police violence authorized by Interim Chief Howard Jordan, an African American. Such conflicts between former minorities are becoming the norm in what more conservative commentators call the “post-racial” era ushered in by the election of Obama.

Quan and Jordan are in the throes of dealing with a police department plagued by officer-involved shootings and killings, corruption and other crimes—crimes that have forced a federal consent decree to reform the department, after officers were convicted of planting evidence and beating suspects in West Oakland. Taking her cue from the Obama campaign of 2008, Quan announced Jordan’s appointment at a public safety forum titled “Creating Hope in the Community.”

Many like Miller and other Occupy Oaklanders are having second thoughts about what feels like the affirmative actioning of policing and state violence. Others, like Ofelia Cuevas of the University of California’s Center for New Racial Studies, see the workings of a not-so-21st-century pattern of policing and power.

“Having people of color policing people of color is not new,” said Cuevas. “This was part of policing history in California from the beginning. In the 1940s, while the federal government was interning Japanese Americans in camps, officials in Los Angeles were starting to recruit black police officers as a way to decrease police brutality.”

Cuevas noted that big city mayors like Quan or Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are, by electoral and structural necessity, required to act like any of their predecessors, who headed up police forces that attacked, surveilled and even killed those perceived as a threat to the establishment. The Bay Area police’s violent modern history stretches from OPD’s assault on the Black Panther Party—which was founded just blocks from the center of Occupy Oakland, re-named Oscar Grant Plaza—to the killing of Grant, a young black man shot in the back by a transit police officer at a nearby train station.

“Being mayor is being pro-police. They perceive that it’s their job to crush what they consider threats to the status quo,” said Cuevas.

Regardless of who is Mayor or police chief, keeping the status quo is the last thing that Gaston Lau, a 21 year-old english major at University of California, Berkeley, sees as an option. “[Quan’s] support for this amount of police brutality here is ridiculous,” said Lau, who held a placard that said “Down, Down with Jean Quan.”

“The future power struggles are not just going to be about fights between one race and another,” said Lau. “They’re mostly going to be about class, which is a big part about what the whole Occupy movement is about.”

Lau is hopeful that the movement will inspire younger Asian Pacific Islanders to engage with the issues of the Occupy moment, but worries about the generational conflict such a political engagement entails. “Some older Chinese might see having one of our own as mayor as a source of pride, but we need to help them understand how Quan and police act against us.”

Despite the internal and external challenges posed by multicultural powers putting down multicultural movements, Lau is, like his Occupy Oakland peers, undeterred. Clashes between Occupiers and Oakland police continued into last night as protesters tried to reclaim the park and police met them with tear gas. The movement has vowed to continue attempting to return to the space. “Whether or not the mayor is Asian,” Lau said, “when she acts against the people, then we will respond as the people.”


Healing the Hurt of War and Violence: Guatemalan Government Apologizes for US-Sponsored Coup of 1954

October 21, 2011

Huge spiritual news from Guatemala. Today’s New York Times reports that

More than a half-century after Guatemala’s elected president Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was overthrown in a coup planned by the C.I.A. and forced into a wandering exile, President Alvaro Colom apologized on Thursday for what he called a “great crime.”

While much of the media adopted the ‘too little, too late’ theme in their headlines ( NYT-An Apology for a Guatemalan Coup, 57 Years Later, BBC’-Guatemala ‘sorry’ for Arbenz coup) I actually saw this story and thought “What a colossally great thing!”  “Great” because, for anyone that has some sense of the staying power of violence-induced trauma in Guatemala and other Central American countries during the wars of the 1980’s, it’s obvious that today’s apology represents a colossal contribution to the necessary  healing of the collective psychic wounds of war & violence. The apology institutionalizes and attacks directly the erasure of memory that keeps these psychic wounds of war and violence perpetually festering. Makes one look (momentarily) past the political calculations that likely inform this move by the failed left (allegedly) government of President Colom.

Nonetheless, this is psychically huge for un pais tan sufrido like Guatemala.

As important is that the United States respond to former President Jacobo Arbenz, who, after the coup, declared “Here started the injustice and I [call on] the United States to recognize their errors.” The US sponsored the military and deployed the CIA in the political and human tragedy that followed the coup:systematic assassinations, disappearances, torture and other crimes against humanity. The US government should follow the lead of the Guatemalan government with a formal apology to the Guatemalan people for its Definitive role in the 54 coup-and its bloody laundry list of crimes against humanity in Guatemala (and throughout the world) One Fine Day.

Still, I join my Guatemalan friends in celebrating this victory of Truth over Amnesia…


#OWS Pic of the Week: Sorry For the Inconvenience…

October 20, 2011


Gracias for Teaching Me to Love the Bad Magical Words, Piri Thomas

October 19, 2011

Very sad to hear of the passing of Piri, a genuinely sweet man whose first book, Down These Means Streets, was definitive during my youth.Back when we were called “minorities,” the stories in that book legitimized our lives in literature.

As a curious  kid who grew up down the mean street from housing projects like those Piri wrote about, I had to walk secretly to get a chair that raised me high enough to reach the shelf where Piri’s book and the Autobiography of Malcolm X were hidden. These books were placed high on the shelf by my siblings and parents, who didn’t want 11 year-old me learning those  “malas palabras” (bad words) filling those pages.

My siblings and parents got it wrong: Piri’s words pulled and raised us up like the chair so that we could see the Good, and have some sense of our true stature; His words  were magical words written by a writer and committed soul whose journey from the grit & soul of Down These Mean Streets to the mellifluously sweet play captured in Every Child is Born a Poet touched this Word Wanderer Child forever. Gracias, Piri. Gracias, Companero. Piri Thomas, Presente!


To Protect & Defend or to Report Honestly?: Media Responses to Obama’s Radical Deportation Program Deportation Vary

October 19, 2011

The Big Media had a broad set of responses to yesterday’s conflict between the Obama Administration, which announced a new record -400,000- on deportations and those of us that are calling for an end to SCOMM (cynically named “Secure Communities”), the mass racial profiling program that is one of the main drivers of deportations and other failed immigration policies.

Some of the reporting opted to uncritically accept the Obama Administration’s claims that most of the 400,000 deportees were the “serious criminals” that President Obama’s top Latino Advisor on immigration,Cecilia Munoz, has been in the habit of repeating ad nauseum lately. Among the more banal and dangerous because banal is this piece in USA Today. The title, “Most illegal immigrants deported last year were criminals” reads like it was written by the White House press office.

Guilty before proven human

The USA Today article fails to note, for example, that, of the 400,000 “criminals”  deported in 2010, a little over 50,000 were people that allegedly committed murder (1,100), sexual and or drug offenses (whatever the Obama Administration means by “drug offenses”). Nobody asked, what are the alleged “crimes” of these 350,000 other “criminals”? Had USA Today or other uncritical media outlets attended yesterday’s anti-SCOMM actions in 10 cities, they would have found the answer: women who call the police to report domestic violence and end up in one of the Obama Administration’s immigrant gulag’s, that’s who; men who drive without a license and are deported, that’s who; women stopped for a broken traffic light and then get put into “detention” where they are raped, that’s who the Obama Administration is labeling and treating like “criminals”.

CBS News: Checking facts, reporting without White House talking points

What USA Today and other uncritical outlets missed in yesterday’s botched opportunity is all laid out in serious journalistic colors in Lost in Detention. And this piece by Stephanie Condon at CBS News is by far the best in terms of connecting the Obama deportation announcement and yesterday’s national day of action against SCOMM. and to do so within the context of the 2012 elections,where, as Condon notes, Candidate Obama faces an electoral crisis precisely because of his immigration policies.The CBS article also managed to inform readers about the Obama Administration’s radical racial profiling of Latinos. Citing an important report released today by the Cardozo law school, Condon states that, “The (Cardozo) report also found that 93 percent of individuals arrested through Secure Communities were Latino, even though Latinos make up 77 percent of the undocumented population.” 93 percent Latino. This difference of 16% proves clearly that looking “Latino” (whatever that looks like) means looking “criminal” in the eyes of the Administration. These little facts matter, but somehow continue to be under-reported  and ignored by most of the Big Media.

Whether the Obama Administration decides to do the right thing and abolish SCOMM of whether he continues his current path-deny wrongs,  divert attention and have surrogates try to silence oppostion remains to be seen. Either way, we need to watch the media and hold them accountable to tell the truth about immigrants and about Obama.


To (Re)Gain Latino Voter Trust, Obama Must End SCOMM

October 18, 2011

A piece I wrote about the record-breaking, family-breaking pace of the imprisonment and deportation regime that is the Obama Administration’s preferred policy.

 

 

 

Last Sunday, during a speech made at the dedication of the monument honoring the Reverend Martin Luther King, President Obama declared, in King-like cadences, that the slain civil rights leader “stirred our conscience.”

The president, who is desperately trying to win back Latino votes lost since 2008, went on in the speech to say that King reminds us “to show compassion to the immigrant family, with the knowledge that most of are just a few generations removed from similar hardships.” He has also taken to engaging in high-profile appointments and meetings with Latino media executives, like Univision’s president, César Conde, and Latino superstars like Shakira.

While Obama’s meetings and his words of compassion for immigrant families are most welcome, the president’s deeds – and their effects on immigrant families – provide a stunning and tragic contrast.

As documented in Tuesday’s broadcast of PBS Frontline’s ‘Lost in Detention‘ documentary, President Obama’s policies have led to the record and heart-breaking deportation of more than 1 million immigrants, the separation of thousands of families, and the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands forced to live in subhuman conditions in what some of us are calling “Obama’s Immigrant Gulag.” Detainees fall victim to rape and sexual abuse, racism, having to eat worm-infested and rotten food, physical and psychological abuse, the denial of basic rights and other humiliating conditions.

At the heart of this immigrant tragedy is a radical racial profiling program known as “Secure Communities,” or S-COMM, which turns local and state law enforcement officers into immigration officers who are beginning to ask everyone – citizen and non-citizen – for their papers simply because they look a certain way.

By the tens of thousands, Latinos, one of the groups most profiled under S-COMM, will watch the documentary, which will speak to the concerns about the president’s immigration policies and about which an increasing numbers of us are growing angry and impatient.

Polls, like the Latino Decisions-ImpreMedia, conducted in August 2011, tell us definitively that most Latino voters know one of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Presente.org and its allies in 10 cities will call on the Obama Administration to do away with the rotten fruits of S-COMM and other immigration policies he promised to either alter or abolish altogether. The absolute failure and damage of these immigration policies have been thoroughly documented by lawyers, immigrant rights groups and, increasingly, journalists like those responsible for tonight’s unprecedented documentary.

Trying to cover up and divert the attention of the public, especially the now very fed up Latino voter public, will not work. Trying to blame the failure of S-COMM, a program of the executive branch of government, by handing over responsibility to Congress, the legislative branch, as Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s top advisor on immigration, has done repeatedly, will not work.

Latinos are not stupid. We will not accept the false statements and diversionary tactics of apologists for the abominable immigration policies of the administration.

To (re)gain trust of Latino voters, Obama must make fundamental changes to the immigration laws he can change at will, as he proved on August 18, when he announced slight changes to immigration policy after groups across the country protested his campaign offices, including his campaign headquarters.

Until President Obama makes more fundamental changes to his dangerous immigration policies, we will take back the slogan that Obama the candidate borrowed from Latinos – “Sí Se Puede/Yes We Can” – and use it for our efforts to both stop S-COMM and abolish Obama’s Immigrant Gulag.

Roberto Lovato is Co-Founder and Strategist at Presente.org.

 


Obama’s King Memorial Speech Calls for “Compassion to the Immigrant Family”, Obama’s Actions Don’t

October 16, 2011
“Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed.” Mohandas K.Gandhi
During a speech made at dedication of the monument honoring the Reverend Martin Luther King today,President Obama declared in King-like cadences that slain civil rights leader “stirred our conscience.” Obama, who is desperately trying to win back Latino votes lost since 2008, went on in the speech to say that King reminds us “to show compassion to the immigrant family, with the knowledge that most of are just a few generations removed from similar hardships”

While Obama’s words about compassion for immigrant families are most welcome, Obama’s deeds and their effects on immigrants provide an astonishing contrast. As documented in Tuesday’s upcoming broadcast of Frontline’s Lost in  Detention, President Obama’s policies have led to the record-and-heart-breaking deportation of more than 1 million immigrants, the separation of thousands of families and the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands more. Lost in Detention documents how President Obama is exposing human beings, immigrant families held in immigrant prisons to rape and sexual abuse, racism, having to eat worm-infested and rotten food, the denial of basic rights and other subhuman and humiliating conditions.

You can the difference between immigrant fact and immigrant fiction, between words of change and deeds of degradation in the video clip we at Presente.org put together (see below). And don’t forget to watch Lost in Detention on Tuesday night and see for yourself.


El tiempo está a favor de buenos sueños (Time is on the Side of Good Dreams)

October 15, 2011

Gazing @ the bright red map that is today’s #Occupiedworld, mobilizing w millions of like-spirited humans, breathing in the sigh of gratitude for our heroines & their children, I am reminded that we would not be here were it not for the parents, the teachers, the mentors and, most especially, the martyrs whose breath still inspires (as in “take in spirit”) that which many had already relinquished to the Powers That Be , Real Hope.

 

 

El tiempo está a favor de los pequeñosde los desnudos, de los olvidados.

El tiempo está a favor de buenos sueños

y se pronuncia a golpes apurados.


Interview: Occupy Wall Street, an Open Source (ing) of US Politics?

October 14, 2011

This interview with Sonali Kolhatkar of Uprising Radio is quite fresh. Seasoned and most wise activist-writer-thinker, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and I had the better part of an hour to anayze and explore the history, strategies and potential of the #OccupyWallstreet movement. I especially enjoyed delving into the fresh ground linking open source technology, anarchist thought and practice and the great traditions of left organizing and thought. As always, Sonali’s breezy-smart interview style succeeds in drawing out the marrow of the OWS matter. This is one of the better interviews I’ve been involved with on this issue. Check it out!

(you can also click listen to it directly right here )


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