Archive for the 'Economic crisis' Category

Fauxccupy: The Selling and Buying of the Venezuelan Opposition

March 15, 2014

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MARCH 13, 2014 BY 
EDITOR’S NOTE: Latino Rebels contributor Roberto Lovato visited Venezuela last week and wrote the following opinion piece. As of this morning, according to reports, the death toll resulting from the protests in Venezuela is at 25. The most recent violent events have occurredin San Cristóbal, near the Venezuela/Colombia border.

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CARACAS—Reports and imagery coming out of Venezuela in the past weeks would lead the casual observer to conclude that the country’s youthful opposition are “peaceful protesters” following a long line of global youth activism seen during the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement or in other parts of Latin America. Such a conclusion would be false, as the news from Venezuela’s protests contains journalistic practices that are very questionable and on an unprecedented scale.

Consider, for example, how both sides have killed people. The corporate media (both in English and in Spanish) have failed to cover the eight (or more) pro-Chavista victims of student and other opposition violence. No one is investigating claims that the majority of the killings were committed by the opposition. The radical erasure of pro-Chavista victims is astonishing. The following image, for instance, allegedly shows Venezuelan opposition students setting up barbed wire that beheaded an innocent cyclist, 29 year-old Elvis Rafael Durán de La Rosa, whose death eluded most global media.

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Another example used in the carefully curated Venezuela media reports pertains to the images of rock-bearing youth wearing Guy Fawkes masks, a popular symbol of anti-capitalist movements, thanks to a Hollywood movie and, more recently, the Occupy protests.

Last week, I conducted interviews with opposition members, including dozens of opposition youth. Amost all of the youth were middle- to upper-class university students living in middle-class to ultra-elite neighborhoods of Caracas, the wealthiest in the Americas. Asked it they identified with  ”anarchists,” “Marxists”  or any of the other oppositional ideologies that have historically and which still define most opposition movements in the region, these students uniformly responded in the negative, with some even throwing in a “para nada!” or other Spanish equivalents of “hell no!”

Some interviewed even told me they identified with military men like El Generalísimo Marcos Pérez Jiménez, a much reviled former dictator. They also identified with Venezuela’s opposition, led by three elites —Henrique Capriles, María Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez— all of whom have direct familial ties to either the owners or top executives of the most important corporate conglomerates in Venezuela and the entire continent.

So ask the following question: If the Venezuelan opposition is led by millionaires in a poor country and if instead of fighting multi-million dollar US policy initiatives (as do most Latin American opposition movements) the Venezuelan opposition is receiving million$ from US policy, how do we account for all those images of students wearing a symbol associated with and used by leftist movements?

The answer is threefold. One is that the mask-wearing is part of the very sophisticated media training the students (and the opposition) received from OTPOR/CANVAS and other consultants bought with millions of US dollars. Second, students engaging in violent acts or those who fear retribution need cover. Finally, there is the logic of the market—people buying the masks because they’re cool and because someone saw a chance to make a buck, which is what I mostly documented in the photos I took last week.

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(Photos: Roberto Lovato)

Without closely analyzing the imagery and careful curation of the Venezuelan opposition, one would conclude that this opposition is just like Che Guevara or Occupy or the Arab Spring. And with Venezuelan student opposition leaders like Yon Goicochea receiving the $500,000 Milton Friedman prize and other funding from private sources as well as from the U.S. government, there’s much more behind the Guy Fawkes masks in Venezuela than meets the media eye. And we may be witnessing the birth of something altogether new and radically different in the insurgent continent of América: Fauxccupy.

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Roberto Lovato is a writer and dissonant dude. You can read more at his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter @robvato.

 

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

July 6, 2013

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(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

 

DREAMers: Undocumented Youth Turn Images into Political Acts

December 20, 2012

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by Roberto Lovato

(A Creative Time Reports and Culture Strike collaboration)

On a recent Friday in the nation’s capital, visitors to the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and other white-walled centers of global power dotting the National Mall stood beneath sunny autumn skies papered with colorful dreams. Literally. Thanks to a collaboration between artists and DREAM Act activists (aka “DREAMers”), images of faces representing millions of undocumented youth gleamed on kites in the upper echelons of Washington. Their stories have come to the forefront of a national immigration debate that, until recently, excluded them.

Writing in the same unequivocal tone that forced President Obama to grant DREAMers a temporary, but historic, stay of deportation, the organizers of the Dream Kites project declared its simple objective: “to highlight a flawed system and request that we turn our attention onto the current state of inadequate immigration reform.” With the help of artist Miguel Luciano and Culture Strike, an organization bringing artists and activists together in the U.S. immigration debate, images of Dream Kites glided onto the front page of the Washington Post, along with the stories behind them.

The kite action reflects how the wings of artistic and political imagination are helping the immigrant rights movement grow beyond the multimillion-dollar policy designs of national immigrant rights groups. The latter have remained largely uncritical of President Obama, even as he has deported 1.4 million immigrants (including many DREAMers), a record for a single term in office. On the eve of another national debate about immigration reform, artist-enabled people power has found new ways to soar above the money-enabled Powers from Above.

My current understanding of the role of culture and cultural workers in immigrant rights and other social movements has its roots in Latin America, the source of most human and butterfly migration to the U.S. It was in El Salvador—the tropical, forested land of my parents—that, after graduating college, I first came to know the Tree of the (Cultural) Knowledge of Good and Evil. Slowly, my time in El Salvador withered away my former college radical’s cold aversion to protest songs, to poetry, to the delicate stencils of the talleres culturales (“cultural workshops”) there as no more than the work of revolucionarios de escritorio (“desktop revolutionaries”). I developed an altogether different sense of the political and the cultural—and the transformative, silken space between them. I learned how words could be liberating, but also dangerous. After government, media or right-wing civil society groups eviscerated the humanity of nuns, priests, peasants or students by labeling them comunistas or subversivos, they sometimes ended up being persecuted or killed.

Cultural struggles to preserve, protect and promote the humanity of all—like those of the butterfly-bearing activists—have been and remain paramount to disrupting the violence of state and non-state actors: psychological violence, physical violence and the violence of bad policy. In the face of such abuse, artists have often been the earliest adopters of the call by rights activists to see immigrants for what they are: human. It was novelist and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, a conservative, who gave the Central American refugee movement what became the international slogan of immigrant rights: “No Human Being Is Illegal.” Since he spoke these words, more left-leaning artists have reproduced “No Human Being Is Illegal” and other pro-migrant memes and messages in rap lyrics, digital images, t-shirts, posters, poems, films, chalk drawings and many other media.

Some 25 years and several local, national and global campaigns after I made the “hard” distinction between the “concrete” work of “real” political organizing and what I saw as the more ancillary work of artists, creative interventions like the kite action have turned me into a cultural believer. Of special note is the symbol of the butterfly, a new face for the immigrant rights movement. As a bearer of beauty symbolizing the life force (the Greek word for butterfly is “Psyche,” also meaning “soul”), the butterfly appeals to everyone’s humanity at a time when the dehumanization of immigrants fuels multimillion-dollar industries in lobbying, media, electoral politics, prison construction, border and other security industries.

I recently witnessed the symbolic flight of the political butterfly during a misty exam week at UC Berkeley. Students rushing in and out of the Life Sciences building were momentarily startled out of their concentration by an image of a blue and white butterfly with the word “MIGRANT,” and the phrases “All Humans Have a Right to Migrate” and “All Migrants Have Human Rights,” drawn in chalk. “Don’t step on it! It’s art,” said one student to her classmates. Another student, a 20-year-old political science major named Andrea Lahey, said: “You can’t really argue with the message because being human is not controversial—we’re all human.” Hours later, the DREAMer butterfly was washed away by evening rain. But, like the colored dust left by the pollen-covered wings of a butterfly, the DREAMers’ image had already made its mark, turning the prosaic activity of walking to and from science class into a poetico-political act.

Forcing the country to face social issues through cultural interventions is especially critical for a grassroots U.S. immigrant rights movement, given that none of the “leaders” of the Washington-based immigrant rights groups with national media clout is an immigrant. That’s right: none. This is one reason why it is so important to stage protests with powerful images of immigrants and symbols of migration: for example, displaying digitized DREAMer posters that depict butterflies yelling “Our Voices Will Not Go Unheard” into a megaphone, or more directly, getting undocumented writer José Antonio Vargas, undocumented artist Julio Salgado and other DREAMers on the cover of Time magazine under the heading “We Are Americans.”

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Artists will need precisely this kind of political imagination to confront the extraordinary and unprecedented challenges facing immigrants. By working together, artists and activists have exposed Barack Obama as the worst U.S. president ever in terms of persecuting, jailing and deporting—and, I would argue, terrorizing—mostly innocent immigrants, including children. Washington-based artist César Maxit’s powerful image of a sinister-looking Obama accompanying the message “1,000,000 Deportations. Ya Basta! No More! Obama: Stop the Deportations” took big risks that paid off. The image became iconic, appearing in national newscasts, mass protests, online videos and other media as it went viral, despite disapproval from Obama’s powerful allies within the immigrant rights movement. In the process of putting potent and uncompromising images before the public, DREAMer and other immigrant activists and artists have redefined the relationship between Latinos and both major parties.

As we enter a super storm of intersecting and rapidly growing global crises—economic decline, food shortages, climate change, etc.—that are leading migrants to embark on their often-breathtaking journeys, the truth-telling work of artists and cultural activists has taken a definitive turn. Foregrounding immigrant beauty, immigrant freedom and immigrant solidarity in order to disarticulate the myths manufactured by the anti-immigrant industries, as the Dream Kites and butterflies do, is still vitally important. But, because of the astonishing confluence and complexity of these crises, engaged artists must not only fight dehumanization but also craft a constructive path towards the social equilibrium necessary to decimate anti-immigrant hatred everywhere. Through the storm, the perilous flight to freedom continues.

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.

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%.

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.”

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.

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.

Occupy Wall Street Must End the Dictatorship – of Corporations

October 6, 2011


Our Berlin Wall is breaking. The furious waves of marchers in yesterday’s Occupy Wall Street mobilization have cracked the dark marble and teflon walls protecting the Dictator of our age: Big Corporations.

While baffled Teapartyers, Democrat-leaning progressives and most of the media ignored, ridiculed and then fought the nascent movement, the forces of Occupy Wall Street won a stunning ideological victory over the US Dictator. The history that allegedly ended after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marches on on Wall Street and on Main Streets throughout the United States- and the world- of 2011. The heavily-buttressed and beatified idea that Wall Street-the fortressed embodiment of Big Corporate Control of our land, our sea, our air, our country and even our DNA- is invincible just got Occupied.

Though the unprecedented popularizing of the “Wall-Street-as-US-Dictator” meme implicit in the movement’s message is growing and impressive, the real success of Occupy Wall Street, the great struggle of our crisis-ridden lives will be defined by one thing: definitively ending the Dictatorship of Big Corporations. Put another way, the real human beings that make up the citizenry will have to destroy the fake Citizenship of the non-persons that control Republican and Democrat, Obama and Boehner alike.

Failure to fundamentally alter Wall Street’s control of our political, economic and personal lives will lead to even greater devastation of real citizens. The good news is that we in the United States have finally started recognizing, naming and fighting back against the power behind a White House, a Congress, a Pentagon and an entire political and economic system beholden to fantastically rich and powerful corporations controlled by less than 1% of the population.

The history of the future will record how the Occupy Wall Street movement began informally after many of us stood by and watched as the great martyr of our times, Citizen Troy Davis, was denied his fundamental rights, was denied life itself; Historians will document how we watched and grew in anger as Corporate Citizens like the GEO group and other prison construction firms that profit from warehousing Davis and other Death Row inmates suck up all the rights of our citizenship- and none of the responsibility.

Whether they profit financially from the death penalty or from manufactured and unnecessary wars or whether they destroy the Gulf of Mexico or the earth’s climate, Corporate Citizens face no death penalty for their crimes. Only we human citizens do.

Like dictators, Big Corporations act with an unfettered arrogance and a dangerous impunity that profits from death, from war, from poverty and from the destruction of the planet itself. Many of us in the immigrant rights movement see the will to protect the powerful at the expense of the weak in how the Obama Administration jails more than 400,000 poor immigrants a year all the while not making a single banker serve serious time for what should be called ‘Economic Crimes Against Humanity.’

Occupy Wall Street represents a Great Awakening to the need to rescue our free speech and other democratic spaces humiliated by Big Corporations that the Supreme Court protects legally; that the police protect physically; that the media protects culturally and that White House and Congress protect politically.

Like the powerful social movements that are reshaping the Arab world, Latin America and even Israel, Occupy Wall Street must build enough power to avoid the multiple and often carefully disguised attempts by corporate interests to divert and water down our insurgent energy.

While the first line of Wall Street’s defense of its dictatorship is the more openly right wing, hard-line approach of trying to downplay and attack Occupy Wall Street thru any and all physical, political and media means, the next stage of defense will be subtler- and Democrat-led: try to divide and coopt the movement. Among the principal means will be the attempt to align and define the Occupy Wall Street movement by identifying it with the Democratic party and the Obama Administration. Already, the White House has started deploying Treasury Secretary -and Wall Street insider-Tim Geithner to create some sort of wedge between President Obama and Wall Street.

Obama allies in the progressive, immigrant rights, civil rights, environmental, labor and other movements are already trying to do what they did during the our last insurgent moment, the anti-Bush era: channel the insurgent energy into support for Democrats in the elections, in our case the 2012 elections. Failure to recognize these more subtle machinations of the corporate dictatorship will be fatal to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Key to recognizing these machinations is the urgent need and willingness to expose the disturbingly deep connections between the Obama Administration and the dictators of Wall Street. Any attempt to revive the thoroughly dead American Dream that does not detail how the Wall Street-heavy Obama Administration’s economic, military, immigration, environmental and other policies have destroyed the dreams of millions should be deemed questionable, at best.

Reviving Hope and Change will require nothing less than swiftly -and surgically-separating them from an electoral system corrupted by the Corporate Dictator that thoroughly controls both the Democrats and the Republicans. For the moment, real Hope and Change, (i.e. the kind that does not cost a billion dollars of Wall Street and other money to promote)-have returned to their rightful place in the streets and hearts of marchers and those hungry for justice.

Like those courageous souls who tore down the Berlin Wall or the wall of silence surrounding Tahrir Square, we must have the courage to confront the dictatorial menace of our time. In our case, the menace is neither communist nor a blatantly totalitarian dictator. Rather, it is a “Citizen” that none of us voted into office, but who all of us are becoming indebted to and imprisoned by. Before doing the urgently necessary work of (Re)Occupying -and redefining-our Citizenship, let us take a moment to Occupy our breath and take in our Great Awakening as we continue and expand the fight of and for our lives.

“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.

White Nationalist Anger and Violence: A Preview of Even Greater Anti-immigrant Violence?

August 10, 2009

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Though its primary subject is the rise of violent white nationalism, this important article by Eric Ward and our friends at Imagine 2050 has indirect and seriously bad implications for the not-so-distant immigrant future.

I say this because I think and fear that recent developments- the acidic anger seen during the Sotomayor hearings, the deadly absurdity of the “birther” frenzy in the media and the outbreak of violence seen in the health reform debate- preview what will likely be even greater levels violence we will see during the immigration debate, if and when Obama and the Democrats decide to move forward with their proposal.

Given what I believe anyone traveling throughout the country sees and hears-that immigrant violence grows exponentially- we should begin preparing on how to deal with the more open anti-migrant warfare that those invested in promoting false ideas of immigrant criminality are working towards.

I say “even greater levels of violence” only because the violent cat of anti-migrant violence has already been let out of the white nationalist bag: spikes in anti-Latino, anti-migrant hate crimes, increased murders and only God knows how many unreported cases there are; The overwhelming number of hate crimes, especially those targeting the most vulnerable, undocumented have been perpetrated without ever being documented. And we can only imagine what it’s like in most places in the country, places that have never created systems to document such crimes as in Los Angeles, where we will likely see those systems diminished by budget cuts. I fear that such a situation make the anecdotal descriptions of violence I encounter with unrelenting intensity throughout the country a preview of things to come.

Beyond building and saving existing hate crime reporting infrastructure, by far the most important thing the immigrant rights movement can do is stop the debate from including any more legislation that directly or implicitly reinforces the constitutionally dangerous notions of immigrant criminality.

In other words, in an environment in which visual, verbal and physical anti-migrant violence has gone viral, there should be a moratorium against ANY AND ALL LEGISLATION PREMISED ON DANGEROUSLY FALSE NOTIONS OF THE IMMIGRANT AS CRIMINAL NEEDING AND DESERVING PUNISHMENT FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Such notions only further legitimate similar notions proferred by pols -Republicans and Democrats-, mainstream media and the racial extremists whose ideas they give a platform to.

We no longer need to give extremists and their ideas a platform by legitimating them thru “tradeoffs”, “compromises” and with toxic talk of more enforcement and punishment. There has to and is another way: stop. Regardless of whether the messenger advocating for more punitive policy is Republican or Democrat, Minuteman or “immigrant advocate”, anyone promoting even more punitive legislation (don’t we have enough punitive laws as it stands?) should be called out for fomenting policies premised on dangerous ideas of immigrant criminality that enable further violence against immigrants and others.

If hate crimes are any indicator, the idea that comprehensive immigration reform will do anything to diminish hatred is proven painfully wrong by the broken bones, bruised faces and cracked ribs of the citizens and residents attacked for their appearance. Hate crimes against migrants are rapidly rising worldwide. Just imagine how vast the toxic sea of violence against migrants in the US is.

There is another way and it begins at the border between policies that equate immigrants with criminality and those that don’t.

What Kind of “Hope” is Obama Offering Honduras and Latin America?

July 10, 2009

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For a U.S. audience, to watch as the wet, pinkish-red jelly — the brains of Isis Odem Murillo, the young man killed last Sunday by the U.S.-trained Honduran military — spill onto those who carried the Christ-like victim was to watch another tragedy unfold in a far off land.

But for those of us familiar with countries in the region like Honduras and El Salvador, where in 1989 U.S.-trained troops literally shot out the brains of six Jesuit priests, their maid and her young daughter, we see reminders of the possible return of the terror that takes friends, family and colleagues.

Such traumatic memories inform the sense of the past in the Americas, the same past that President Barack Obama recently told his hemispheric audience that he wants to break with. We see this, for example, in repeated references to the “past” Obama made during his important speech before the Summit of the Americas meeting in April (“To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements.” Or: “I didn’t come here to debate the past — I came here to deal with the future.”)

Noticeably absent in the forward-looking Obama’s messages to Latin America is one of the two words we all identify him and his presidency with: hope.

Whatever the reasons for this omission, Obama would do well to remember that, in the bloodied streets of Honduras, and throughout the Americas, there exists a powerful political tradition in which esperanza (Spanish for “hope”) is often defined by overcoming the pro-military policies of the country that took as its own the name given to the entire continent — “America.”

Regardless of the outcome of negotiations to end the standoff in Honduras between the de facto military government and the only recognized leader of the country, President Manuel Zelaya, Obama must view the Honduran crisis as an opportunity to support and negotiate with the forces of esperanza on the continent.

He must do so if he is to overcome the past and move forward as he said in his summit speech: “We have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership.”

In the insurgent region of Central America, tiny Honduras is nothing less than ground zero for the first encounter in the hemisphere between the tradition of esperanza and Obama’s still-untested notions of “hope.”

Contrasted against Obama’s still-being-formulated-as-we-speak notions of “hope” and “change” in the region, the movements flying the ancient banner of esperanza have delivered historic shifts across the Americas, as can be seen in the leaders elected in recent years, leaders with no less startling and inspiring stories as Obama’s. Indigenous leaders such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales; socialist single mothers, and former torture victims, like Chile’s Michelle Bachelet; and former steelworkers like Brazil’s “Lula” — Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

In times of great crisis, times in which Obama has yet to consolidate a sense of “hope” about the U.S. system in terms of things like health care, banking and jobs, the U.S. president has little to offer Latin America in the way of an alternative to the strides toward universal health care as in Venezuela and Cuba, the nationalization oil and other wealth redistribution programs of Bolivia or the democratization efforts of the deposed Zelaya in Honduras.

Until “hope” has some heft besides military heft to back it up, “esperanza” of Latin America will reign supreme — and be defended ferociously.

Once called “America’s Backyard” by Obama’s predecessors, América the continent has torn down the fences of what political scientists call the “unipolar” power of the United States in the region as the forces of esperanza usher in a new, more multipolar moment.

For example, many Latin Americans were not just united in calling for an end to Obama’s continuation of the $42.5 million in economic and military aid for Honduras in 2009. (Obama’s just-announced cuts in Honduran military aid can be viewed as either the victory of esperanza or the negotiation between esperanza and hope). Polls show that Latin Americans are also fairly unified with regard to their skepticism about U.S. motives in the hemisphere.

According to a widely quoted poll by the respected Latinobarometro Corp. in November, Latin Americans have a more favorable opinion of Spain, Japan and the European Union than they do of the United States — an unprecedented development — and two-thirds of all Latin Americans say they “don’t believe that the change of leadership in that country (the U.S.) will change the attitude of that country towards the region (of Latin America).”

China, whose foreign aid is mostly non-military (U.S. foreign aid varies between about one-third to two-thirds mostly military aid, as in the case of Colombia), which makes it one of the most important providers of foreign assistance to the region, is tied with the U.S in popularity ratings (58 percent favorable rating) — and trending upward.

He Li, a political scientist at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., the rising popularity of China reflects a resurgent Latin American sovereignty and independence of action. Writing in the North American Congress on Latin America magazine, Li stated, “the Beijing consensus (in Latin America) represents an attractive alternative to its Washington counterpart, largely because Beijing respects the sovereignty of Latin American nations, not meddling in their affairs and certainly not dictating their policies.”

Plus, when compared with the fact that Latin American families who live and work in the U.S. send $50 billion to their families at home — exponentially more than what the U.S. government gives in aid — the fountain of U.S.-led “hope” in the Americas appears to have dried up in Washington.

In the land of esperanza, Obama must recognize that talk of “hope” that is accompanied by continued military funding for governments like those of Honduras or Colombia rings as hollow. And are as increasingly vapid as the political slogans, such as “Si Se Puede” (Yes We Can), deployed by politicians and corporations pilfering beer, burgers and bad foreign policy.

Although the diplomatic dance between the Obama administration and Latin America has just begun, the initial steps in tiny Honduras may not be taken to the tune of “hope,” but to that of esperanza.

(This article appeared originally in Alternet http://www.alternet.org)

Death, Detention and the Dream of Legalization: GritTV Panel on Immigration Reform

July 3, 2009

This show about the possibilities of immigration reform this year was deftly done by the folks at GriTV. Host Laura Flanders steered panelists in what I think is one of the better discussions on this topic I’ve seen. Check out show which includes Mallika Dutt, Executive Director of Breakthrough, Ravi Ragbir who spent two years in immigration detention and is a member of Families for Freedom, Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice and yours truly. Issues hidden away in the shadows of the debate are brought to light and the results are really infromative. So, check it out the clip below! And if you like it, then check out the full episode here.

Why Was Alex Sanchez Arrested? Uprising Radio Interview

June 27, 2009

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Interview by Sonali Kolhatkar with former Sanchez lawyer, Alan Diamante, and your truly. Hope it’s of interest:

Uprising Radio Interview

RED ALERT: Schumer, Dems and their Allies Ready to Support National ID Cards

June 25, 2009

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RED ALERT: Influential Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (NY), some Dems, some DC groups (I’ve interviewed a couple) and even the SEIU’s Mike Garcia appear ready and willing to support a NATIONAL ID CARD. According to the L.A.Times,

“As the immigration reform debate begins to heat up again, some observers expect that one of the biggest and most controversial new elements will be a proposed national worker identification card for all Americans.

A “forgery-proof” worker ID card, secured with biometric data such as fingerprints, is an idea favored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y), the new chairman of the immigration subcommittee. Schumer, who will lead the effort to craft the Senate’s comprehensive immigration overhaul legislation, called the card the best way to ensure that all workers were authorized.”

ACLU and others I’ve spoken with are already gearing up to condemn and fight this (if you want to understand why national ID’s are a big problem, see the ACLU’s “5 reasons” tip sheet). When I interviewed some, including national immigrant rights organizations in DC about this yesterday, their first tact was to prevaricate and confuse by saying something to the effect of “It’s not a national ID. it’s different.” Having covered the electronic surveillance beat when I first started doing journalism, I recognize when somebody’s BS’ing about these crucial, but complicated issues. Letting the DC operatives know that I know electronic surveillance caused a shift in the rhetorical strategy of folks like the person who told me, “Well, the bill is not out yet. So we can’t really argue about this now.” I truly hope that the “tradeoff” desperation of those who spent millions of dollars to get legalization for some undocumented is not so great that they are willing to lend themselves to support reactionary policies like the national ID proposals that’ve been rejected by people of many different political creeds time and time again. I really do.

This national ID move is either a labrynthine charade designed to give Obama and the Democrats a way out of their commitment to immigration reform-even the conservative, punitive “get tough approach of CIR”- or a very dangerous move to continue the Bush surveillance project under the guise “immigration reform.” Either way, this National ID proposal -and its supporters- must be roundly and rapidly condemned before they get Obama to back it with his wealth of political capital. And watch out for the MULTIBILLION dollar interests of Lockheed, Larry Ellison and Oracle, who have lobbied unsuccessfully for national ID cards for many years. It appears that the those eating and profiting at the anti-immigrant trough are now trying to turn a profit by denying fundamental rights to the non-migrant among us. Even many right wingers oppose national ID proposals as when Ellison shamelessly tried to promote his national ID project right after September 11th. He appeared to be “offering free of charge” the software to build such a national ID. But what he nor other backers of national ID didn’t and won’t tell you is that, like other open source software, Ellison and Oracle stand to make billions from upgrades to the national ID software. go figure.

In any case, some in DC will try to hide behind the “but there’s not even a proposal yet” logic that masks nefarious dealings in much the same way that that logic hid the disgusting parts of McCain-Kennedy. This stuff moves us beyond the neglect of detainee and deportee issues and into issues of state control of the entire populace. This needs a powerful push back , regardless of whether it’s backers speak Spanish or can say “Si Se Puede” to further eroding the fundamental rights of people in this country.

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.

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

Silencing the Breakers of Silence: UN Durban II Conference Threatened by Conflicts

April 21, 2009

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND Before asking him about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial speech here at the followup to the U.N.-sponsored World Conference Against Racism (Durban II), I first gave Nobel prize-winner, Elie Wiesel, my thanks. I thanked him not because of his condemnation of an opening speech in which the Iranian president called the holocaust a “dubious question”; I thanked holocaust survivor Wiesel because he provided us with one of the main slogans for combating past and recent racism in the United States: “No Human Being is Illegal.” After he shook my hand and after I offered, in the most Spanish-inflected French possible, my gratitude on behalf of the Central Americans who first launched the “No Human Being is Illegal” campaign back when the United States denied them political asylum and refugee status in the 1980’s, Wiesel smiled and reminisced,”Yes, I gave that term to the Sanctuary movement. It was wrong to deny them (Salvadorans and Guatemalans) (legal) status. I was happy to support the cause.”

As one who dedicated a significant part of his adult life to the cause of Central Americans, meeting Wiesel served as a deeply personal reminder of the profoundly serious issues being discussed here. But as one dedicated to the global movement for migrants rights, which has, in many countries, also adopted his elegantly simple coinage, I’m also gravely concerned about how the focus on Ahmadinejad and the boycott of the Geneva conference supported by Wiesel, the United States and the powerful minority of countries backing the Israeli government is distracting the world from one of its most urgent facts: the exponential rise in xenophobia, hatred and racism around the world, especially following the exponential decline in economic stability triggered by the global greed and corruption centered in the United States.

Were Iran, Israel and other players involved in this display of geopolitical drama not so viscerally divided, someone attending the conference might reach the conclusion that their high-profile conflicts are a subterfuge designed to mask over and disguise the most damaging and deadly racial and ethnic consequences brought on by the depredations and failures of western governments – and the “blue eyed bankers” in the U.S. and other countries recently denounced by Brazilian President Lula and others.

Speaking with some from among the thousands of passionately committed and very smart participants from around the globe attending Durban II, I couldn’t help but hear the grave disappointment and even anger at the damaging, even catastrophic effect that both the the boycott and President Ahmadinejad’s speech are having on issues discussed throughout the conference.  For example, lost in the global media’s almost exclusive focus on Ahmadinejad’s speech and on the walkout by a small minority of mostly white Western diplomats, are concerns of the overwhelmingly non-white majority attending the conference, attendees like Yousif Aboh.

“These conflicts (around the speech and the boycott) only help governments like Sudan’s to continue racist practices that push people out, that starve people and that attack and kill people,” said a very somber Aboh, who works with Darfur Peace and Development, a non-governmental organization which is the only Darfuri-led organization still operating in Darfur. “I’m here to get support for the people still living a great crisis in Darfur- people without food and water because of discrimination-and these kinds of controversies make my work difficult to impossible because many in the media don’t want to talk about anything else except Israel and Iran.”

Aboh and others attending Durban II also expressed deep disappointment at the Obama Administration’s decision not to attend the conference.  Non-attendance was roundly condemned as a very dangerous act that communicates the wrong message to racists, xenophobes and genocidal governments around the world. “Their (the Obama Administration) not attending tells governments like Sudan’s that their dangerous racist policies are not a priority,” said Aboh, who also condemned the government of Iran for its support of the Sudanese government.

For his part, Khalil Shahabi, an economist at the Tehran-based Insitute for Sceintific and Political Research, agreed with Aboh about the Obama Administration but also defended the Iranian government against Aboh, Wiesel and other critics, “Our President is the only head of state to come. It’s important that he tell the world about how Israeli racism kills innocent people in Gaza, including fifteen percent who were children.” When I asked him about the Iranian President’s statements about the situation in Palestine, Wiesel told me he thought Ahmadinejad had done “dishonor to his people, who have such a rich history. What arrogance he has to come here to a UN conference on racism only to express such hatred.”

Largely lost in the largely simplistic media coverage of both the conference and the speech by President Ahmadinejad were the more nuanced discussions taking place inside and outside the stately halls of the U.N. For example, Norway’s Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, delivered a speech indirectly criticizing Iran, Israel and the United States. “We who have made a point of defending freedom of expression cannot opt for non-attendance as a strategy, leaving the floor to precisely those who hold opposite views” said  Støre  “We will not surrender the floor of the United Nations to the extremists.The President of Iran has just exercised that human right. He did so – I believe – in a way that threatens the very focus of this conference.”

Such an inauspicious start to an event of such global import inspires fears; fears that the specific conflicts involving only a few of the world’s many actors may detract from communicating the powerful spirit motivating most of those attending the Durban II conference. This spirit was best captured by Wiesel, when he said many years ago, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”