Archive for the 'Barbarianisms and Other Babel' Category

El Turno del Ofendido (The Offended’s Turn): Liberación Consciousness on 4th of July

July 6, 2013

corazon revolucionario

(NOTE: Best read while listening to the hope-filled song that, along with Roque Dalton’s El Turno del Ofendido & the ferocious spiritual and physical freedom fighting of all my Compañer@s de Lucha, inspired these lines, What You Say by Pete Rock & InI <Thanks, Ali!>

Liberacíon consciousness on 4th of July weekend: celebrate the absolutely undeniable, certifiably good and positively righteous fact that, despite the uber, techno-mediafied surveilling Big Mega Corporate-Military-Industrial Money domination of it all, despite the illusory psychological operation of this super duper f…n anti-terrorist-militarized-border-anti-human climate changing empire power, despite all that pointing at each and every single one of us, despite it all, liberation consciousness lives,  Liberacíon movements grow. Millions of us still really really feel “Venceremos” (Victory is Ours) as we fight thru the duration. So, rather than celebrate offensive  “freedom” on this Fourth of July,  “Independence Day” weekend, We, El Pueblo, We hold these truths to be self-evident and celebrate instead the Real Thump and Bump of that heart that still thuds & thunders divinely for the Better Day. Still strong -and living inside the Bestia! We have already torn down that border wall blocking our hearts. You cannot and will not divorce us from global liberation. Neither is global annihilation an option. Really. Lo siento pero, Global Liberacion still lives, it loves and we is fighting back to win.  Es el turno del ofendido. It’s the Offended’s Turn. Solamente, R

 

Thoughts On the Decline and Fall of That Most Ignoble of Terms, “Illegal immigrant”

April 2, 2013

AP NO MORE

Today’s stunning  announcement by the Associated Press that it dropped the racist term “Illegal immigrant” from its AP Stylebook, the BIble of  journalistic usage, marks a historic juncture. The history of the decline and fall of the term “illegal immigrant” and it’s derivatives (“Illegals”, “illegal alien” and the like) is one that should be recounted, IMHO.

Firstly, it’s important to understand the long how and the deep what of this collective accomplishment, this latest victory, because victories, including linguistic victories, are one of the defining characteristics of major social movements. One need look no further than  the social and linguistic change engendered by the movements of black power (“N” word, African American), women (“B” word & others), queer communities (“F’ word & others), disabled people (“C” word) and many others. Many, many did indeed work on this and we should all celebrate. In the words of Ivan Roman, former President of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which led the fight in the quiet of editorial rooms throughout the country since the late 90’s,

“Thanks to lots of work by a lot of people and more intense work more recently by a certain cluster of folks, it’s finally happened! Kudos!”

Journalists and the poc journalism orgs led and were the most consistent in this fight for many years and that needs to be underscored because it is less-known.

undocumented

Within that most recent “cluster” Ivan mentions, I identify and salute Jose Antonio Vargas & Define American, Oscar Chacon & NALACC, DREAMers, Presente.org, artists, linguists and lots of local, regional and national groups who mounted different initiatives with different outlets in different cities at different times in the past 3.5 years that defined that cluster moment. Of special note are Rinku Sen and the Applied Research Center (ARC) and their Drop the I  Word campaign for the money,  for the full and part-time staffing and for the consistency that, since 2010, carried the campaign to national scale and attention, far and beyond the polite (and sometimes impolite!) conversation of the editorial room.

And I know of no single person who spent more time thinking about, who worked more hours (slept fewer hours!) with more groups in more cities and with more media outlets to drop the I-Word than Monica Novoa, ARC’s former Drop the I-Word Coordinator, current Define American team member;  These facts I want not to be lost in the thrill and buzz of victory.

monica_novoa_CLdrop the i word

In terms of the deep what of what was accomplished, we should recall that the roots of the Associated Press’ decision-and the campaign that brought that decision- lie  in the history  and confluence of the Jewish and the Salvadoran experiences of violence- and the dehumanization that enables it. Unbeknownst to most is that the language activism of  Drop the I-Word and the immigrant rights movement that informed it was itself a continuation of the work begun- en Español-  by Salvadorans organizing the “Nigun Ser Humano Es Ilegal”campaign in the 1980’s. In support of the right of Salvadorans in the 1980’s to legal status in the U.S. under international political asylum statutes, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Elie Wiesel gave the Salvadoran sanctuary movement the now storied phrase, “No Human Being is Illegal.” “Yes, I gave that term to the Sanctuary movement, Wiesel told me some years ago. “It was wrong to deny them (Salvadorans and Guatemalans) (legal) status. I was happy to support the cause.” And there,  in the marriage of Jewish and Salvadoran dignities, was born the beginning of the end of the ignoble term “illegal immigrant.”

vallen_no_human_illegal

Speaking with Wiesel and with Salvadorans, Guatemalans and other victims of extreme violence, one thing about language becomes tragically obvious: violent, oppressive language is a necessary precursor to both violent, oppressive policy and violent, oppressive physical and psychological action; What also becomes clear is that eliminating such language does, in fact, make bad policy and violent behavior that much more difficult and avoidable. This alone is reason to celebrate.

Let us now add this ignoble term to the dustbin of dead and offensive language that includes “nigger”, “faggot”, “cripple”, “chink”, “jap”, “bitch” and too many others in a country born of a noxious blend of Biblical language and the language of exploitation and officially-sanctioned violence.

Let us rejoice that, over time, our children will learn you don’t refer to human beings as “illegals”, “illegal immigrants” and other dehumanizing (to referent and to speaker) terms.

Over time, we will all proudly remember that we held our own faith and were resolute in delivering the Word: Ningun Ser Humano Es Illegal.

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.

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.

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 Week: Sorry For the Inconvenience…

October 20, 2011

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.

Of América’s Anthem: Latinoamérica by Calle 13

September 30, 2011

 

For those of you that haven't heard it, this song by the ever-incisive 
Calle 13, speaks to the sensibilities-cultural, political, visionary- that 
inform this blog. Check out the lyrics (below) as you play the vid. One thing 
i would add: include those of us in the new country we're
giving birth to-the United States of América.

Latinoamérica

Soy,
Soy lo que dejaron,
soy toda la sobra de lo que se robaron.
Un pueblo escondido en la cima,
mi piel es de cuero por eso aguanta cualquier clima.
Soy una fábrica de humo,
mano de obra campesina para tu consumo
Frente de frio en el medio del verano,
el amor en los tiempos del cólera, mi hermano.
El sol que nace y el día que muere,
con los mejores atardeceres.
Soy el desarrollo en carne viva,
un discurso político sin saliva.
Las caras más bonitas que he conocido,
soy la fotografía de un desaparecido.
Soy la sangre dentro de tus venas,
soy un pedazo de tierra que vale la pena.
soy una canasta con frijoles ,
soy Maradona contra Inglaterra anotándote dos goles.
Soy lo que sostiene mi bandera,
la espina dorsal del planeta es mi cordillera.
Soy lo que me enseño mi padre,
el que no quiere a su patria no quiere a su madre.
Soy América latina,
un pueblo sin piernas pero que camina.

Tú no puedes comprar al viento.
Tú no puedes comprar al sol.
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia.
Tú no puedes comprar el calor.
Tú no puedes comprar las nubes.
Tú no puedes comprar los colores.
Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría.
Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.

Tengo los lagos, tengo los ríos.
Tengo mis dientes pa` cuando me sonrío.
La nieve que maquilla mis montañas.
Tengo el sol que me seca  y la lluvia que me baña.
Un desierto embriagado con bellos de un trago de pulque.
Para cantar con los coyotes, todo lo que necesito.
Tengo mis pulmones respirando azul clarito.
La altura que sofoca.
Soy las muelas de mi boca mascando coca.
El otoño con sus hojas desmalladas.
Los versos escritos bajo la noche estrellada.
Una viña repleta de uvas.
Un cañaveral bajo el sol en cuba.
Soy el mar Caribe que vigila las casitas,
Haciendo rituales de agua bendita.
El viento que peina mi cabello.
Soy todos los santos que cuelgan de mi cuello.
El jugo de mi lucha no es artificial,
Porque el abono de mi tierra es natural.

Tú no puedes comprar al viento.
Tú no puedes comprar al sol.
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia.
Tú no puedes comprar el calor.
Tú no puedes comprar las nubes.
Tú no puedes comprar los colores.
Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría.
Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.

Você não pode comprar o vento
Você não pode comprar o sol
Você não pode comprar chuva
Você não pode comprar o calor
Você não pode comprar as nuvens
Você não pode comprar as cores
Você não pode comprar minha felicidade
Você não pode comprar minha tristeza

Tú no puedes comprar al sol.
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia.
(Vamos dibujando el camino,
vamos caminando)
No puedes comprar mi vida.
MI TIERRA NO SE VENDE.

Trabajo en bruto pero con orgullo,
Aquí se comparte, lo mío es tuyo.
Este pueblo no se ahoga con marullos,
Y si se derrumba yo lo reconstruyo.
Tampoco pestañeo cuando te miro,
Para q te acuerdes de mi apellido.
La operación cóndor invadiendo mi nido,
¡Perdono pero nunca olvido!

(Vamos caminando)
Aquí se respira lucha.
(Vamos caminando)
Yo canto porque se escucha.

Aquí estamos de pie
¡Que viva Latinoamérica!

No puedes comprar mi vida.

“Send them (immigrants) home with a bullet in their head”: Health Reform Racists Encourage Attacks on Immigrants

August 12, 2009

Just hours after we posted about the possibility of the white nationalist violence spilling over into the immigration debate yesterday, this clip taken from a racist anti-Obama rally in New Hampshire makes the point more directly: “Send them home with a bullet in their head says a racist rallyer at aroud the 20 second mark of the video below.

Those of you in search of solutions can start by helping make sure that any discussion of “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” excludes the possibility of adding any more punitive policies to the vast cauldron of existing policies that are premised on a very false and extremely dangerous idea: immigrant=criminal that needs to be punished, enforced upon and jailed even further.

More concretely it means many things including monitoring the statements and proposals of the politicians and “immigrant rights advocates” who, in the past, have lent their support to legislative proposals containing a majority of policy proposals that would likely be supported by the extremists calling on people to “put a bullet intheir head before sending them home.”

See for yourself how, for example, much of this widely supported version of “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” legislation contains far, far more punitive policy than good policy. Sadly, tragically even, most media and most people shouting “Si Se Puede” for “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” have little to no idea that they’re supporting legislation that both legitimates extremist beliefs about immigrant criminality as it adds even more destructive,punishing enforcement policies under the guise of “necessary tradeoffs” and “compromises.

In the current climate, support for similar legislation means support for an escalation of punishment of a population already at dangerously high levels of vulnerability. More on this soon.

Act Now to Stop the Obama Administration’s Racist 287G Immigration Policy

July 24, 2009

https://i2.wp.com/images.news14.com/media/2009/2/18/images/police_ice1eb2a711-9b2c-4ca0-a7dd-6b92a9a42df6.jpg

Groups across the country are mobilizing to put pressure on Department
of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and President Obama to
end the devastation caused by the Obama Administration’s 287G program.

Denounced by l(some) police chiefs, several government officials and
many, many community groups, 287G is the program that allows local and
state law enforcement officials act as enforcers of federal
immigration law and provides the legal means for the racial profiling,
mass and arrests and other violations of the most basic civil and
human rights. The program enables the widespread and illegal practices
of notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Join the increasing numbers of Latinos, civil and immigrant rights
groups and others who are growing impatient about what they consider
the hypocrisy and duplicity of President Obama with regard to racial
profiling. In light of the massive amount of racial profiling taking
place under his recently expanded 287G program-a program Obama and
Napolitano recently expanded- many find lees-than-credible President
Obama’s statements concern about how the recent arrest Professor
Louis Gates reflects “a long history in this country of
African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement
disproportionately.”

The current target of what will be a series of actions to pressure the
Obama Administration is tonight’s appearance by Secretary Napolitano
on the Bill Maher show. Community groups are asking Maher to raise
racial profiling and other 287G issues during his interview

You can take several actions including:

Contact the Bill Maher Show on Facebook and ask them to raise the
issues with Napolitano- http://www.facebook.com/Maher?ref=t

And on twitter here: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23billmaher

Press release for the action (complete with lots of hyperlinks) is
here: http://jornaleronews.ndlon.org/?p=349

And those of you in Los Angeles can join the protest and press
conference at Bill Maher’s studio tonight (more information below_

For Immediate Release // Excuse Cross Postings // Please Forward

Contact (Engish y Español): Loyda Alvarado, (323) 434- 8115
What: Press Conference, Rally, and Demonstration
Why: To Urge Bill Maher to Ask Secretary Napolitano about DHS
Racial Profiling Practices, 287(g), Joe Arpaio
Where: 7800 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA (Near corner of Beverly
and Fairfax)
When: Friday, July 24, 2009
Time: 5:30 to 7 pm

(Los Angeles) Immigrant, civil, and labor rights advocates will hold
a rally and press conference outside the taping of Real Time with Bill
Maher on Friday at 5:30 pm. Protestors will urge Mr. Maher to ask
tough questions of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano about her
relationship with the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
Specifically, Secretary Napolitano should be asked why DHS has not
severed its contract with Arpaio (Napolitano’s hometown sheriff), and
why DHS opted last week to expand a failed experimental Bush
immigration enforcement policy that has demonstrably resulted in mass
racial profiling.

During his press conference yesterday, President Obama used very
strong language to denounce racial profiling practices by local
police. However, last week week, Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the expansion of the
widely-criticized 287(g) program, which outsources federal
immigration enforcement authority to local sheriffs. In recent
years, Joe Arpaio has become a symbol of the program’s failure, as his
use of 287g has resulted widespread allegations of racial profiling.
The Department of Justice recently launched a high-profile
investigation of Arpaio’s practices. Indeed, Sheriff Arpaio’s
relationship with neo-nazi’s has been noted by Phoenix Mayor Phil
Gordon; Arpaio himself has said it’s an honor to be called KKK; and he
has even posed for photos with high-profile neo-nazi’s. The New
York Times has published several editorials calling for the
termination of the 287(g) program in general and Arpaio’s contract in
particular. Those editorials are available here, here, here, and
most recently, here.

Salvador Reza, a community leader in Phoenix, issued the following
statement: “Secretary Napolitano has the legal authority and the
moral obligation to end Arpaio’s reign of terror in her hometown of
Phoenix. Instead, she is expanding the 287(g) program and intends to
make the country look like Maricopa County. We hope Bill Maher has
the courage to ask hard questions of Secretary Napolitano.”
###

Arrest of Gang Intervention Leader Alex Sanchez Raises Questions, Concerns in Community

June 25, 2009

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Today’s FBI arrest of Alex Sanchez, one of the most respected gang intervention leaders in the country, has raised major concerns in Los Angeles and around the country. As his wife and children watched, Sanchez, who leads Homies Unidos, a violence prevention and gang intervention organization with offices in Los Angeles and El Salvador, was arrested and taken away by FBI agents this morning at his home in Bellflower. The federal charges- being a “shotcaller (someone who manages narcotics operations) for Mara Salvatrucha (MS) and conspiring to kill Walter Lacinos, an MS member shot and killed in El Salvador in 2006- have raised fears and great concerns among the many who’ve known and worked with Sanchez over the years, including myself.

First and foremost among the concerns in the community are concerns for Alex’s immediate safety. As a former gang member who works to help others leave gang life, Alex faces great danger in whatever LA County facility he’s held in-even if he’s put under Protective Custody (PC). Law enforcement authorities have an axe of historic proportions (see Rampart scandal) to grind against Alex and some have demonstrated a lethal propensity towards retribution. Known as “Pecetas”, those held under PC are considered by many gang members to be informants and, therefore, legitimate targets for direct retribution from gang members -and direct and indirect retribution from police.

For more reasons than I have time to enumerate here, I for one do not believe the charges. Rather, I think that these recent accusations are but the most recent in the long, rotten chain of attempts by law enforcement officials to frame Alex, who was regularly beaten, framed, falsely arrested, deported and harassed by the Los Angeles Police Department since founding Homies Unidos in 1998. First and foremost, I spent the evening calling those who know and have worked most closely with him, and they ALL share that sense that, as one of his best friends told me, “He really is a good person.” I’ve known him for years and will be sending a strongly worded support letter like the many I’ve sent over the course of the many years and many frame-ups law enforcement has ravenously pursued. Those close to Homies and Alex know and are again feeling that cloud of anger and concern that comes with being harassed by authorities abusing the power delegated to them.

Also, Alex is alleged to have conspired to kill Walter Lacinos, who sources in the Salvadoran and gang communities tell me had, in the words of one gang expert interviewed, “many, many enemies in the U.S.-and El Salvador.” While most of charges levelled against most of the the 24 other plaintiffs point to physical acts and evidence, the one and most serious indictment (see full indictment here) naming Alex alleges that he participated in “a series of phone conversations” in which the possibility of killing Lacinos is discussed. No proof is offered to corroborate the charges relating to managing narcotics operations for MS.

Lastly, the sensationalistic judgements of many media and some law enforcement officials raise serious concerns, as well. Close scrutiny of the media coverage reveals an definite disposition to judge and convict Alex before his trial even begins. For example, almost all of the coverage follows uncritically the logic laid out in the indictment. No attempt is made to notice that, for example, Alex is not named in most of the 66-page indicment. Other plaintiff’s names appear throughout. Those reading reporting in the LA Times and other outlets might come away believing that Alex might be involved in the murder of seven people or in conspiring to kill another 8. Consider this note from today’s LA Times:

The arrests cap a three-year investigation into the gang and its cliques, which operated in the Lafayette Park area, west of downtown. Among the most serious allegations contained in a 16-count federal indictment unsealed today was the claim gang members conspired to murder veteran LAPD gang officer Frank Flores.

Those named in the indictment include Alex Sanchez, a nationally recognized anti-gang leader and executive director of Homies Unidos.

Notice how there’s zero attempt to clarify or give greater context to Alex’s story, even though he headlines most of these stories. Even worse is the way that law enforcement authorities like L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton, who the Times tells us has a big “I told you so” for the city, use Alex’s case to build the case for punitive-and failed-anti-gang policies,

LAPD Chief William J. Bratton said the Sanchez case reinforces the thinking behind the city’s efforts to consolidate and more strongly regulate anti-gang funding.

Bratton is no stranger to racially charged policing policies in New York or in Los Angeles (ie; Bratton was roundly repudiated when he first tried to apply the “terrorist” frame to L.A. gangs). Neither he nor any other L.A. official has accepted responsibility for helping create Mara Salvatrucha in L.A. and El Salvador, a country with no previous history of gangs before LAPD collaborated with immigration authorities to deport Mara members. Adding fuel to the fire burning to replace the anti-gang work of Homies Unidos with more punitive, law enforcement-centered approaches favored by Bratton and his, boss, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are reports like this one which have begun a non-profit and politico witch hunt even before Alex has seen a single day in court. Rather than look more deeply into the charges, media, political and police personalities appear bent on assuming Alex’s guilt and then waving this alleged guilt as if it’s a flag at the front of the contemporary equivalent of a witch hunt.

Although the story of Alex Sanchex touches upon people and issues-immigrants, gangs, Salvadorans- that are explained-and dealt with- simplistically, dangerously, the leadership of Los Angeles must speak out in defense not just of Alex, but of a fundamental principal of a just society: that you are innocent until proven otherwise.

Much more on this important issue in weeks and days to come.

Justicia!: Sotomayor and the Long March of Puerto Rican History

June 18, 2009

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NEW YORK — Inside the red brick walls of the Bronxdale housing projects, 24-year-old mother of two Geisha Sas says she still hears echoes of music from the 1950s, when her building’s most famous former resident, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, lived there. “Older people still listen to Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri inside their apartments,” said Sas, a salsa and hip-hop fan. Before morphing into the embodiment of urban decay that they became in the 60s and 70s, these public housing projects provided the young Sotomayor the new, lower-middle class housing that facilitated her early pursuit of justice. For Puerto Ricans of Sas’s generation living here, the Bronxdale experience of justice is quite different.

“I’ve also heard gunshots and saw a boy killed on that grass,” said Sas, looking at a large patch of grass surrounded by several seven-story buildings. Asked what expectations for justice she has from fellow Bronxdale Boricua (Puerto Rican) Sotomayor, Sas declared, “I hope she knows how to tell the difference between justicia and injusticia. I hope she does the right thing and that she doesn’t forget where she’s from.

Sas’s clamor for justice echoes the very particular concerns expressed by many Nuyoricans (Puerto Ricans in New York). Lost in debates about Sotomayor’s “ethnic allegiances” and what they consider the story of her rise from poverty, are the contributions of the silenced majority living in and beyond the Bronxdale projects: the Puerto Rican community whose political thought and action made Sotomayor’s rise possible.

“The media keeps telling us that she (Sotomayor) has a ‘one in a million’ story,” says Miriam Jimenez Roman, a visiting scholar in Africana Studies at NYU and director of the Afro-Latino Project. “But what they forget to tell us is how the million made the one possible. Many people struggled so that she might become the first Latina on the Supreme Court.” Roman notes that, for example, most news reports and commentaries about Sotomayor frame her life as an up-from-the-bootstraps story of individual accomplishment. This story, says Roman, is partial, at best, in that it excludes mention of the many and ongoing efforts of Puerto Ricans in the Bronx and other areas who fought to improve educational, health, employment, electoral, and other institutions.

Most importantly, says Roman, Sotomayor was very likely exposed to a broad spectrum of political thought about “justicia” that is not mentioned in the current national discussion surrounding her nomination. “I suspect that she heard and was influenced by the Puerto Ricans who were fighting for social justice,” said Roman. “We’re all glad about the nomination. But collapsing the story of an entire people into the story of a single individual is extremely problematic.”

Groups like United Bronx Parents, ASPIRA and the Puerto Rican Student Union organized for improved educational opportunities for young Puerto Ricans like Sotomayor, who herself was active in student access and curriculum issues while at Princeton. More militant groups like the the Young Lords, the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement and the Think Lincoln Committee took over Lincoln Hospital — one of the only health facilities in the Bronx — and forced it to provide better services and greater access to the community when 16-year-old Sotomayor lived in Coop City. A long line of Puerto Rican independistas (those who support ending what they consider the colonial status imposed on the island by the United States), from Pedro Albizu Campos and the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party to the activists who took over the Statue of Liberty, have kept the issue of Boricua identity in the minds of many like Sotomayor, who wrote her graduate thesis about Luis Muñoz Marin, the former nationalist who went on to become the island’s first elected governor. And the hometown associations that doubled as political organizations — fighting housing discrimination, racism and police brutality — were the first to organize the annual Puerto Rican Day parade that took place last weekend along Fifth Avenue.

Beneath the signs marchers in last Sunday’s parade were holding in support of Sotomayor was the long march of Puerto Rican political history, a history many believe helped raise the judge to the pinnacle of legal and political power as much as her much-lauded personal efforts. “There were many institutions that have helped her (Sotomayor) and many others,” said Angelo Falcon, director of the National Institute for Latino Policy.

“Different people took different routes to social justice,” said Falcon, who knows Sotomayor and supports her nomination. “She took the legal route, but is still a product of her community.”

Roman, who is around the same age as Sotomayor, agrees. She says she hears the workings of Puerto Rican political struggle in the music heard in Bronxdale since the 50s. “Back then,” said Roman, “even listening to booglaoo and salsa — Spanish language music created in the United States by the children of immigrants — was a statement, an assertion of our history and culture. It was normal for us to listen to it, but, in the larger context of an English-speaking country, it was radical in a way.”

Climate of Hate Means Immigrant Rights Organizations Should Commit to Excluding Punitive Policies in Any Reform Proposal

May 5, 2009

This post was inspired by another post by my friend, Alisa Valdez, who uses the MSM’s coverage of the Markoff “Craig’sList Killer” case to draw our attention to how twisted -and dangerous-the values of the media ecology we inhabit have become. Reading Alisa’s tight analysis alongside reports of that the racist killers of immigrant Luis Ramirez were declared innocent (and of course, the daily bread of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino hate found on radios, TV’s and websites everywhere), triggered concerns made even clearer during a recent visit to Europe to cover the UN conference on racism. More specifically, Alisa’s piece provided me with the spark to say something I’ve been mulling for while: the dangerous even murderous anti-migrant climate requires that immigrant advocates commit not to support any “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” (CIR) proposal containing punitive immigration policies.

The piece below floats the seemingly uncontroversial idea of a petition asking immigrant rights orgs-and their leaders- to commit
to excluding, not supporting any and all punitive policies in any “comprehensive immigration reform.” Seems pretty obvious,
but the absence of such accountability allows the noxious policies-and the immigrant=criminal logic undergirding them- to pass
with the apparent support of that segment of the “immigrant rights movement” that can afford media flaks, PR spinsters, bloggers
and others allowing them to speak for the entire immigrant rights movement. Hopefully, this is non-controversial, but let’s put it to a test.

Neither aggressive, nor hostile, such a petition simply commits its signatories to excluding policies that, in such a radically hateful
climate, enable further hatred, terror and death in immigrant communities. how could anyone purporting to be a defender of immigrants
not agree to something so basic?

I encourage any comments, suggestions or disagreements those of you reading this might have. Gracias, R

Here’s the response to Alisa’s piece:

That a crazed murderer would be described with such fawning language while maids, gardeners and immigrants and other Latinos are described in the harshest, most hateful language speaks powerfully to how perverted the “values” of this decadent “civilization” have become. Reinforces a theory I have about how we’ve moved beyond the rather stale notion that legalization or increases in the Latino vote will do anything to diminish the rise in hate towards Latinos.

Between radical demographic shifts (young, rapidly growing Latino population, aging, diminishing white population), editorial rooms chock full of old- and young- still mostly white “editors” who normalize lethal logics and the companies that capitalize and profit from “news”programs, talk shows premised on promoting Darwinian racial ideologies, what we have is the possible institutionalization of perpetual race war targeting Latinos, especially immigrant Latinos, who are suffering the brunt of hatred, death and devastation.

In such a lethally charged climate, at such a decadent moment in the history of this country, we need to raise the cost of promoting or enabling the radical racial logic of the newsrooms described so cogently by Alisa. This is why I propose, for example, that we start eviscerating any trace of the racially charged immigrant=criminal logic in our own “community.” We can start addressing this by developing and circulating a petition or some document demanding that any “immigrant rights organization” commit itself to excluding any and all punitive immigration proposals they might advocate in the name of “legalizing the 12 million” or whatever spin people come up with in their efforts to legitimize the now deadly immorality known in legislative circles as a “tradeoff” (legalization in exchange for more punitive policy). We can then extend the commitment to the Hispanic Caucus and other members of Congress and move forward into the editorial rooms with greater force and unity of purpose.

As the possibility of “comprehensive immigration reform” rears its head again, we might want to consider the possibilty that, in allowing or even supporting punitive policies, we in the “immigrant rights movement” are unconsciously accepting the logic of criminality by allowing or supporting laws premised on now extremely lethal notions of immigrant criminality manufactured in hate groups, “think tanks” and the news rooms Alisa aptly describes. Make no mistake, in times when hating immigrants is proven to yield daily profits for news organizations and their advertisers, times when you can kill an immigrant and go scott free (or even hailed as heroes as in the gross distortion that is the Compean case), “tradeoffs” mean we are willing to accept logic that kills, the same logic of the racists disguised as editors use. I also think that the institutions-news orgs, hate groups, political parties, including Democrats- invested and investing in this radical, deadly turn deserve the same treatment we used to give those who enabled the slaughter of innocents in El Salvador: pouring colored red liquid symbolizing the blood of the dead and maimed on their offices-or even their suits and dresses. Things, have, I believe, reached that point of urgency-but the “news” will not report it or, if they do, they’ll do so in the most banal terms possible. Such are the rotten fruits of decadent “civilization.”

Thanks again for your work on this, Alisa. Good writing should spark discussion and debate and you succeeded.

Best,

R

New Republic Attacks Judge Sotomayor With Sexist, Racist “Angry Latina” Meme

May 4, 2009

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It’s that time in the political year when, in addition to “swine flu” crisis, there’s also a sudden outbreak of another dreaded disease: expertise around Latino politics on the part of the fatally ignorant. Consider this specimen (handle such disguised hatred with extreme caution) from The New Republic’s (TNR) John Rosen, who makes the case against nomininating federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court:

“But despite the praise from some of her former clerks, and warm words from some of her Second Circuit colleagues, there are also many reservations about Sotomayor. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to a range of people who have worked with her, nearly all of them former law clerks for other judges on the Second Circuit or former federal prosecutors in New York. Most are Democrats and all of them want President Obama to appoint a judicial star of the highest intellectual caliber who has the potential to change the direction of the court. Nearly all of them acknowledged that Sotomayor is a presumptive front-runner, but nearly none of them raved about her. They expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.

This double sexist, racist whammy has an old, even ancient history, a very deadly history (yes, Latinos have history, despite their absence on the History Channel and other outlets, Mikey) Rosen seems to draw upon with ease. See the whole article here.

Lest we forget, this is the same New Republic that pushed the “Latinos-will-not-vote-for-a- black-candidate” meme during the elections, elections in which almost 70% of Latinos voted for Obama. What’s fascinating is how TNR and other liberal publications, media where Latinos, Latino issues, Latino writers brillan por su ausencia (shine for their absence), are suddenly demonstrating expertise on Latino issues, Latino pols, judges, etc.

This is ripe for powerful pushback. Time we started challenging and hitting sexists, racists of the liberal variety too. Right wing Jewish groups of the extreme and liberal varieties waste no time attacking some of us as “anti-Semitic” when, for example, we join the chorus of global denunciation (including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty Intl.) around the slaughter of Palestinian babies, using cluster bombs and other depredations and war crimes of the Israeli government. For those of you tempted to find an excuse to divert attention from the issues at hand, namely the racism and sexism of TNR, my statement means, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT AS OPPOSED TO JEWISH PEOPLE. so,please save it for Fox News watchers, the lobotomized or someone else with time to waste.

The opportunity here is to build out political space, political clout establishing that we will not tolerate such garbage from sexists, racists of the right wing or liberal variety.

Must See Moyers Interview: Mike Davis on “De-globalization,” the Socialist Option and the Role of the U.S. Left

March 22, 2009

Mike Davis, photo by Robin Holland

If we lived in a world in which depth of thought-regardless of political orientation- was publicly recognized and rewarded, my friend and companero (a word he loves), Mike Davis, would have a movie about him called “A Beautiful Mind” (hopefully a better-made, well-acted and ardently personal-is-political version.) One of less than a handful of inspirations for my own preferential option for the Militant Word, Mike is the author of more books than I have time to name here (Late Victorian Holocausts & City of Quartz are among my favorites).

I can think of few thinkers whose depth of analysis, way with words and serious conviction rise to the moment of crisis we face. This interview with Bill Moyers gives Mike the ample space needed for us to appreciate his thought, short of actually reading him.Trust me: you can’t leave listening to Mike without reconfiguring your synapses in some way. Besides introducing concepts like “de-globalizaton,” one of the most interesting things about the interview, which, BTW, Bill conducts nimbly, is that Mike let’s out the lesser-known optimism lurking in his socialist heart. Must Watch Television. Really. Enjoy.

R

Our (Still) Monumental Dream: Democracy

December 17, 2008

This pic taken at the Parthenon in Greece makes your day. In the face of the violence, corruption and other anti-democratic practices of the Greek government (including the shooting of a 15 year-old boy), students there are taking matters into their own hands by calling on all of us to resist-and they do so in 4 languages (Greek, Spanish German and English) no less!

3,000 years after this most sacred symbol of western democracy was built by slaves, prisoners and others denied citizenship (also known as ἰδιώτης, idiōtēs in Greek, the origin of our term “idiot”), we are, it seems, still searching for ways to realize the monumental dream of democracy. I find the image of these young descendants of ancient Greek citizens and “idiots” unfurling their multilingual calls for global “resistance” in front of the sublimely-proportioned arches and columns of the Parthenon most inspiring; Reminds me of how the heart of the student has always and forever provided us with the golden ratio of great change. Whatever your age, let the student in you rise to the urgent occasion of change in Greece, in the U.S. and across this troubled planet.

Obama and the Future of Immigration Reform

December 5, 2008

The Takeaway

This early morning interview with John Hockenberry of the WNYC’s The Takeaway program looks at the possibility of helping President-elect Obama put an end to the deadly workings of our miserable failure of an immigration system. Hope you like it!

Upload Real Change: What Activists Must Learn From the Obama Campaign

November 19, 2008

A cover story I wrote for this month’s issue of Colorlines Magazine highlights what the Obama campaign can teach us the urgent necessity of combining offline (actual streets, communities) with online organizing. While we may or may not want to support Obama’s policies, we should study closely the epoch-making deployment of technology to advance political ends. Hope you like it. R

Issue #47, Nov/Dec 2008

Upload Real Change

By Roberto Lovato

WHILE CRISSCROSSING CRACKED STREETS to knock on the rickety doors of rundown row houses in Philadelphia’s 14th Ward, Liza Sabater also found herself crossing the overlapping lines of political and technological history late last spring as she canvassed for Barack Obama’s campaign.

“I got to spend some time with these Puerto Rican mechanics—guys most people wouldn’t expect to have Internet access,” said Sabater, an Afro-Puerto Rican technologist who blogs at culturekitchen and The Daily Gotham. “But there—among the wrenches and jacks—were their cell phones and handheld devices they use to surf the Web.”

Sabater, who helps nonprofits use technology to further their missions, canvassed in Philadelphia with her two sons and coordinated work in the 14th Ward with three Latino volunteers from the Obama campaign. She saw in the mechanics’ mobile devices proof of her belief that “the ‘digital divide’ is a crock when we realize that laptops and desktops aren’t the only ways to access the Web.” But was the Obama campaign reaching these mechanics on their cells?
•••
As they write future narratives of Obama’s astounding rise, historians will likely foreground how skillfully the “change” candidate maneuvered around the racial, geopolitical and economic terrain of our crises-ridden time. Lost in the background of most of these narratives will be how Obama, the former community organizer, took what he learned about mobilizing working- and middle-class residents on Chicago’s South Side and combined it with the stuff that actually wins elections: money, organizing and technology.

Obama’s campaign for the White House deployed in unparalleled ways Web. 2.0 tools—the set of technological developments that turned the World Wide Web into the ubiquitous, mobile, wireless and interactive Web we use today. As this issue of ColorLines went to production in late August, Obama’s Web site, Mybarackobama.com, was as interactive as any online social networking site. More than 10 million people had signed up at the site, and the campaign had raised millions of dollars. The Web site was the centerpiece of an online and offline political strategy that defeated the Clintons—one of the most powerful Democratic political dynasties—and, in the process, Obama took community organizing to new territory as he redefined the practice of electoral politics in the United States. Whatever the election results, Obama’s campaign demonstrated that it’s possible—and necessary—to go online and move people to action offline.

Sabater, who was born in New York’s El Barrio
neighborhood and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, was one of the many who responded to the campaign’s appeal. She is still fascinated by how Obama’s team fused state-of-the-art media and technology with the community organizing that the candidate learned in poor communities. Yet while she thinks community-based organizations can learn from the online organizing methods innovated by the Obama campaign, she also sees reason for concern in the cracked streets of Philadelphia.
Sabater noted, for example, that although her fellow Obama campaign volunteers were by definition “Latinos,” it was a poor decision on the part of the campaign to send three middle-class Chicanos from the west coast to a predominantly working-class, Spanish-speaking, Puerto Rican neighborhood.

“When my colleagues told me ‘we don’t speak Spanish’ and couldn’t interact with the people, I saw the interface problem,” said Sabater, adding, “I saw the disconnect between the online and offline strategies, both of which are focused on middle-class people. Nobody’s reaching out and targeting these working-class communities of color with technology. They don’t think that the mechanics and maids use technology or vote.” The Obama campaign fell through the cultural cracks in the street, while members in the community fell through the technological cracks of the campaign’s Web strategy.

“The (Obama) campaign created a fantastic interface for people to join the campaign,” Sabater said. “But it didn’t do as well in reaching people who don’t have laptops and whose technology is primarily their cell phones. There’s an age and class and race gap.”

Sabater saw these gaps while trolling the same streets canvassed in a previous era by W.E.B. Du Bois, who went door-to-door documenting how railroad tracks in Jim Crow Philadelphia served as a wood-and-steel color line dividing poor, politically disenfranchised Black neighborhoods from wealthier white neighborhoods where electoral participation was encouraged and expected.

Today, Sabater and others concerned with poor communities must prepare for similar but perhaps more nuanced racial, political and economic divisions in the city of brotherly love and other urban areas. If left to the folks who ran the Obama campaign, equity and freedom may well depend on which side of the silicon and fiber optic tracks a person lives on. If activists take to heart the lessons of this last presidential campaign, though, we might just see what political changes can happen among poor people when we combine media and technology with street-level political organizing beyond elections.
•••
Anyone dealing with what are traditionally defined as “racial” or “social justice” issues (housing, labor, criminal justice, immigration, LGBT, women’s issues, etc.) will have to figure out the “interface” problems identified by Sabater and others like U.C. Berkeley’s danah boyd. A digital anthropologist, boyd caused considerable controversy when she wrote a paper in 2007 positing that MySpace was more working-class than Facebook, which she says tends to cater to older, more elite social networkers.

Whether we deploy MySpace or Facebook, those
of us committed to pursuing the possibility of bottom-up democracy in the digital age will also have to confront
the same kinds of issues Benjamin Franklin identified in Philadelphia. Back when newspapers began their long reign as the defining medium of politics, Franklin wrote: “Those who govern, having much business on their hands, do not generally like to take the trouble of considering and carrying into execution new projects. The best public measures are therefore seldom adopted from previous wisdom, but forced by the occasion.” But one definitive difference between Franklin’s age and ours is the degree to which our economy, our government and politics, and even our culture are for better and for worse being fundamentally reconfigured by media and digital technology.

The need to deploy media and technology as a force on those who govern is a daily concern for Chris Rabb, a Philadelphia resident, entrepreneur and founder of the popular political blog Afro-Netizen. Of particular concern to Rabb is the urgent need for Black, Latino and other communities to use media to flatten the deeply entrenched political pyramids built by the large national Black and Latino nonprofits born in the waning decades of the industrial age in the United States. Many of these nonprofits, he says, center power in Washington, D.C., at the expense of the majority of Blacks and Latinos who are far from the Beltway.

“Hierarchies in Black and brown communities are as bad as in any other community,” said Rabb, who also consults with nonprofit organizations about how to make media and technology a component of their core strategy. “There’s so little power that people hold on to power as long as they can. Blacks are the most urban, overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning community in the country, but we have the least democracy. Black politicians last forever, and lots of our [nonprofit] organizations tend to be run by people who stay there for life.”

Rabb thinks the stunning accomplishments of the Obama campaign mirror the ways in which technology gives communities the capacity to self-organize on a scale never before seen.

“We need to study the Obama movement,” he asserted. “They weren’t the first to use the media in this way, but he came along at that precise moment when the technology had matured, when the audience of media users had reached critical mass.”

To illustrate his point, Rabb mentions the Jena 6 movement, which, he said, used media and technology to alter the game of “ethnic” politics. Initially ignored by the mainstream media and major civil rights organizations, as well as by traditional leaders, bloggers concerned about the Jena 6 case, like Color of Change’s James Rucker and Rabb, took their case directly to the community by using the Web.

By combining Web 2.0 tools—blogs, MySpace, and other social networking sites and interactive websites— with traditional media like radio and newspapers, the more youthful organizers of the Jena 6 movement made it politically impossible for mainstream Black leaders like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and NAACP leaders to ignore the cause. The tech-savvy organizers gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Web, and in the process, they informed, engaged and activated constituents. Similar media and generational dynamics can be found in the immigrant rights movement.

Policy people at the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum and the majority of large Latino and immigrant rights organizations were in the throes of defensiveness before the onslaught of the Sensenbrenner immigration bill, which sought to criminalize the undocumented. One jaded policy analyst told me at that time that the Republicans “are going to push Sensenbrenner through—and there’s nothing we can do.” Apparently, someone forgot to communicate the analyst’s resignation to the local and regional grassroots groups who used media and technology to organize the largest simultaneous mass mobilizations in U.S. history in 2006.

Like those organizing the movement in support of the Jena 6, the local and regional networks at the core of the immigrant rights movement also deployed a number of media tools to bypass the lethargic hierarchies of the larger Washington-based groups. Many in the media focused their coverage on better-funded and (mainstream) media-savvy groups in the Beltway who rallied behind different versions of the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which, in its “bipartisan tradeoff” combined legalization with some of the most punitive immigration proposals in U.S. history. Left out of this coverage was the galaxy of organizations opposed to McCain-Kennedy.

In the face of such a limiting of the political debate around immigration, local and regional activists combined old-school media with a big “M” (television, radio, bullhorns and butcher paper) with new-school media with a small “m” (MySpace, text messaging, cell phones, radio, video and YouTube). Suddenly, mainstream media outlets were forced to cover the political messages that Latino teens were sending with their cell phones in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and in rural Oregon.

While the mainstream media’s immigration coverage remains in its default position of focusing on the larger, better-funded national immigrant groups in Washington, activists like Sabater are combining online and offline organizing to influence the political process around and coverage of immigration and other issues that strongly impact Latinos. Sabater joined other bloggers to form the Sanctuary, a bloggers’ hub that combines information-sharing with offline activism. Members of the Sanctuary developed a survey of the presidential candidates and received coverage by CNN and other media outlets who usually interview only the National Council of La Raza and other large Latino organizations when it comes to “Latino issues.” At a time when political theorists like Manuel Castells tell us that “media is the space of politics,” the old rules just don’t apply, and that can be good news for poor communities of all colors.
•••
Regardless of the election outcome, Rabb, Sabater and others see valuable lessons in how the Obama campaign positioned itself to benefit from the epic self-organizing movement enabled by Web 2.0. It’s especially critical for activists (and everyone else, for that matter) to learn how the Obama campaign used its Web site,
Mybarackobama.com. More than 10 million people signed up at the site, and 1.5 million of those donated money. At the site, the campaign provided volunteers and organizers with campaign literature, virtual meeting spaces and other resources. Even viewers who might have been skeptical of Obama as a candidate or those not interested in electoral politics couldn’t help but be a bit curious. At every turn, the site insisted on interactivity. In August, a huge banner on the site stated: “Who will be Barack’s VP? Be the First to Know. Sign Up Now.” Below it was the “make a difference” banner with ways to volunteer and find local events, and then, of course, there was the “Obama Map”—where a few clicks and the inputting of zip codes got Americans tuned in to groups supporting Obama in their neighborhoods. Indeed, by the time Obama’s party gave him the official nomination in August, journalists and historians were already pointing out how the multimedia-genic Obama fit well with the media of his time as did Kennedy at the dawn of the age of television.

“The next step of activism is for grassroots groups to connect online and offline organizing like Obama did, but targeting working-class people,” said Sabater. “And the first step is for us to learn how our communities use their media and to engage them on their own terms.”

Rabb agreed. “The big question is whether activists for social justice can make the leap from what an organizer candidate did in the presidential cycle to the kind of organizing needed at a time when media and technology are so central to the work of government and power,” he said.

Rabb believes that groups who are organizing communities need to prioritize breaking down the barriers that separate media from their programmatic work. “It’s the very nature of organizing to want to reach audiences on race, class, immigration and other issues” he said, adding, “People have to get with the fact that media’s not replacing but complementing and enhancing their ability to do more with less, to achieve better and greater outcomes.”

Roberto Lovato is a writer with New America Media based in New York City.