Archive for the 'ELECTIONS' Category

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.

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

May 4, 2009

https://i1.wp.com/1.bp.blogspot.com/_L6pDyjqqsvY/RyVmhzdSclI/AAAAAAAAIlI/_wM61fZ6XDI/s400/new%2Brepublic.jpg

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.

Mo(u)rning in El Salvador

March 26, 2009

The Nation.

A young supporter of FMLN presidential candidate, now president-elect, Mauricio Funes. RODRIGO ABD/AP

Roberto Lovato

March 26, 2009

In Izalco, El Salvador, an idyllic but very poor village nestled under the gaze of the great volcano of the same name, I asked Juliana Ama to help me understand how the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the guerrillas-turned-political-party, had managed to triumph over the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) in the presidential election on March 15, ending the right-wing party’s twenty-year reign. Ama guided me to a dusty, football field-size dirt lot adjacent to a church. The 61-year-old schoolteacher said nothing at first, staring meditatively at a round spot blackened by a campfire or some burnt offering. Then she said simply, “It’s our dead.”

Her explanation lacked the revolutionary bravado and the análisis político heard from chain-smoking former guerrilla commanders and Facebook-using radical students in San Salvador, the capital. Instead, she threw open her arms and said, “Most of the people killed in the Matanza [the Great Killing] are buried here.” Before us lay the remains of many of the 20,000 to 30,000 mostly indigenous Pipil-Nahuat killed in January 1932 on the orders of military dictator Maximiliano Hernández.

In slow, measured speech, Ama, one of a tiny fraction of Salvadorans who identify themselves as indigenous, explained how indigenous peasants like her great-great-granduncle, the peasant leader Feliciano Ama of Izalco, and others from the western coffee-growing part of El Salvador rose up against deadly poverty, stolen land and other abuses in Depression-era El Salvador, only to be brutally slaughtered.

“We’ve organized commemoration ceremonies on this spot since 2001,” said Ama, as she pointed at the darkened patch on the lot. “People who can’t remember and are silent are people who are submitted (sumisos). Those ceremonies made it normal and acceptable to be open about the loss of long ago, the loss that still lives with us. Nothing like this was ever possible before, and I think that the ceremony made it possible for people to start being more open about political feelings too.”

My initial reason for visiting Izalco during the country’s presidential election season was that I’d learned of ARENA’s defeat in the Izalco mayoral race in January–the party’s first defeat since it was founded in 1981 by Roberto D’Aubuisson, who also founded El Salvador’s notorious death squads. The death squads, backed by the right-wing military government, were responsible for killing many of the 80,000 people who died during the bloody civil war of 1980-92.

The FMLN’s recent victory in small, neglected Izalco–after campaigning on a message of change backed by a coalition of Catholics, students and evangelicals–had political analysts buzzing about how it might herald a national trend in the lead-up to the historic presidential election. Even some ARENA loyalists I interviewed quoted D’Aubuisson’s prophetic maxim: “The day we lose Izalco, that day will be the end of the party.”

In Izalco it became clear how Ama’s explanation of the FMLN’s victory aligned perfectly with the central lesson of revolutionary political warfare that some former Salvadoran guerrilla commanders told me they’d learned in Russia, Vietnam and other Communist-bloc countries in the 1960s and ’70s: the spirit of the people matters most. The power that broke the chain of oligarchies and military dictatorships that shackled El Salvador for 130 years was the will of the people to break their silence.

Few embody this will to break the silence like Mauricio Funes, the FMLN candidate and the first leftist elected president in the history of El Salvador.

Funes, a 49-year-old former journalist, rose to prominence in no small part thanks to the democratic space created by the signing of the peace accords ending the war in 1992. Until then, the seventy-year rule of oligarchs and dictators made freedom of expression a rarity. My first memories of Funes are as the talk-show host and commentator my family in San Salvador would listen to in the late ’80s as they huddled around a small, battered black-and-white television set during their lunch breaks.

As the grip of state military-run television loosened in the postwar period, Funes became the country’s most popular TV personality in his role as host of Entrevista al Dia (Interview of the Day), El Salvador’s equivalent of Meet the Press.

Hosting al Dia, on which he grilled and debated left- and right-leaning guests with his famously mercurial intelligence, helped to make Funes a symbol of the openness ushered in by the signing of the peace accords. After losing every presidential race since laying down its arms to become a political party in 1992, the FMLN embraced change. With the help of people like Funes’s mentor Hato Hasbun–a sociology professor who worked closely with the six Jesuit priests killed by the military during the FMLN offensive in 1989–the party finally recognized that putting up presidential candidates who were former guerrilla commanders or wartime opposition leaders might not be the best strategy for winning over an electorate trying to overcome the war’s painful legacy. The party chose Funes, who was neither a combatant nor a member of the FMLN during the war.

In doing so, the former guerrillas gave their party a much-needed upgrade that allowed them to use the FMLN’s legendary organizational capacity (during the war, the US State Department called the FMLN one of the “best organized” and “most effective” people’s movements in Latin America in the last fifty years) to meet the political requirements of the media age. And as a Jesuit-influenced intellectual, Funes also gave the FMLN–an organization with many leaders who were themselves profoundly influenced by liberation theology and first organized in Christian base communities–some ideological comfort.

When I interviewed Funes on the night of his victory, in the restaurant of a San Salvador hotel, the first thing he did was echo the thinking of one of those who courageously broke El Salvador’s silence. “Now we need a government like the one envisioned by [Archbishop of El Salvador] Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who, in his prophetic message, said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor. Paraphrasing Monseñor Romero, I would say that this government should have a preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions.”

Like almost every Salvadoran I spoke with after Funes’s victory, the candidate said he wished a deceased family member, in his case his brother killed during the war, was with him to share the moment.

And like Juliana Ama, he too rooted his victory in the legacy of silence and struggle from Izalco: “Our history–what happened in 1932, the poverty of the ’70s that caused the armed conflict in the ’80s and the state in which many in the countryside like Izalco still find themselves today–these can be explained fundamentally by the unjust distribution of wealth, the use of the government to support the process of concentrating wealth.”

After talking with Funes at the hotel, I went to the Escalon neighborhood, where those who have benefited from the concentration of the country’s wealth live and do business behind the big, heavily guarded walls of gated buildings and fortressed mansions. For reasons I don’t know, but imagine have something to do with poetic justice, the FMLN decided to hold its massive victory celebration that Sunday night on Escalon Boulevard.

The neighborhood was also where the FMLN launched its offensive on San Salvador in 1989. After the demise of Communism put in doubt the survival of Latin American revolutionary movements, including El Salvador’s, the FMLN made a strategic decision to bring its guerrilla army of young men and women and older adults, some of whom had little to no combat experience, into the capital, leading to some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

I walked along the crowded blocks of the Escalon with my good friend Joaquin Chávez, a fellow in the NYU history department, who founded the first Central American studies program in the United States with three other colleagues and me. Passing by Citibank and Scotiabank, OfficeMax, McDonald’s and other corporate buildings on the Escalon never felt so exhilarating. The major difference was the hundreds of thousands of boisterously happy, red-shirted, mostly poor children, youth and families waving homemade red-and-white FMLN flags.

For his part, my bookish, bespectacled historian friend Joaquin, who had lost many friends and family members during the war, was initially pretty academic about what the electoral victory meant.

“The origins of the war were not ideological. What brought on the armed struggle,” began Joaquin, whose current research looks at the role of intellectuals in the origins of the war, “was the reaction of various groups to the repression of the state. If the government had allowed fair elections in 1972 and 1977, there would have been no war.” His voice started to crack slightly with emotion. “And that’s what makes tonight so hope-inspiring: it makes possible a political transition through legal and electoral means.”

Watching the wave of thousands of mostly young FMLN supporters walk, sing and dance as they held handpainted signs with messages like Misión Cumplida: Compañeros Caídos en La Lucha (Mission Accomplished: Compañeros Who Fell in the Struggle), Joaquin reminisced, not as the accomplished historian but as the former guerrilla leader: “I remember being here on Seventy-fifth Street (during the 1989 offensive) to pick up the bodies of dead and injured young combatants. They were the ages of these kids walking here now.”

He continued: “Tonight I feel like they didn’t die for nothing. Spiritually, it feels like a weight has been taken off of you, where you feel the absence of those who initiated these processes. This is an explosion of happiness and a celebration of rebellion, a triumph of the 1932 rebellion of Feliciano Ama and the indigenous people.”

Back at the empty lot, near the blackened patch of dirt that is ground zero of revolutionary El Salvador, Juliana Ama pondered the escape from silence her country had begun. Despite the threats the commemoration ceremonies provoked, she said, “our ceremony is not intended as a political act. It is first and foremost a spiritual act. We have no choice; we can’t remain and suffer in silence.” Her eighth-grader son, Alex Oswaldo Calzadia Chille, stood solemnly nearby.

Asked what he thought the political turns in his country portended, the rather reticent, dark-skinned 14-year-old star student, soccer forward and drummer at the Mario Calvo school responded with an unexpected forcefulness. “I’m Pipil (Indian). Feliciano Ama, he’s my family and was killed defending the land against the government, like many people do today.” As if he’d been waiting for the opportunity to speak even more, he declared, “My family voted for the FMLN because they wanted change.” His intense brown eyes alive with the energy one imagines his rebellious ancestor had, Alex added, “When I’m old enough, so will I.”

Daring to Change: Exclusive Interview with El Salvador’s President-Elect, Mauricio Funes

March 18, 2009

A Conversation With Mauricio Funes

by Roberto Lovato & Josue Rojas

March 17, 2009

On March 15, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) became the first leftist party to clinch a presidential election in the history of El Salvador. By 10 pm, it became clear to Salvadorans and to the world that the former guerrillas had ended more than 130 years of oligarchy and military rule over this Central American nation of 7 million. In the streets, thousands of red-shirted sympathizers chanted “¡Si Se Pudo!” (Yes, We Could), while they celebrated the victory of the FMLN’s Mauricio Funes.

Funes captured 51 percent of the vote, to 49 percent cast for Rodrigo Avila of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party, which had been in power for twenty years. Though Funes, a former journalist, is the best-known Salvadoran on his country’s TV networks, he is little known outside the region. Thanks to a collaboration between The Nation and New America Media (NAM), reporters Roberto Lovato and Josue Rojas had the opportunity to interview El Salvador’s next president on the night of his election. What follows is an excerpt from this interview with Funes, who addressed numerous issues: the meaning of his presidency, El Salvador’s relationship with the United States, immigration and other domestic and foreign policy concerns.

Immigration has become one of the defining issues of the US-El Salvador relationship. How will your administration’s approach to this issue differ from that of the outgoing Saca administration?

The fact that we’re going to rebuild the democratic institutions–enforce the constitution and make of El Salvador a democratic state that respects the rule of law–is the best guarantee to the United States that we will significantly reduce the flows of out-migration. Salvadorans who leave to go the United States do so because of the institutional abandonment, the lack of employment and dignified ways to make a living. This forces them to leave in search of new possibilities in the US. It’s not the same for us to ask the US government to renew TPS [temporary legalization] without a Salvadoran effort to avoid further migration flows, as to do so from a position in which we have undertaken efforts to reduce the migration flows.

What’s the first message you’d like to send to President Obama?

The message that I would like to send to President Obama is that I will not seek alliances or accords with other heads of state from the southern part of the continent who will jeopardize my relationship with the government of the United States.

Opinion polls in El Salvador indicate that large majorities of its citizens reject key policies that define, in many ways, the relationship between El Salvador and the United States, specifically CAFTA, dollarization and the Iraq war. What will your approach be to these issues?

We can’t get mixed up in repealing CAFTA…nor can we reverse dollarization, because that would send a negative message to foreign investors, and then we’d be facing serious problems because we wouldn’t have enough investment to stimulate the national economy.

rl-funes1

What do you think the United States government should be concerned about with regard to El Salvador at this time?

To the degree that we do our part, which is to rebuild our productive capacity and to create a coherent social policy that improves the quality of life, there will be fewer reasons to leave for the US and we’ll reduce migration flows. And that should be a concern for the US.

Where will the effects of the transition in power be felt most immediately?

We’re going to change the way we make policy. And one of the most significant changes is that we will no longer have a government at the service of a privileged few. And we will no longer have a government that creates an economy of privileges for the privileged. Now, we need a government like the one envisioned by [Archbishop of El Salvador] Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who, in his prophetic message, said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor. Paraphrasing Monseñor Romero, I would say that this government should have preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions. This government implies a break from traditional policy-making. Now, what we’re going to do is put the government and the structure of the state at the service of the Salvadoran people–the totality of the Salvadoran people–but fundamentally, of that great majority who are oppressed and excluded from the country’s social and economic development. [The people who for] not just the last twenty years but for last 200 years or more have not had the possibility of participating in the formation of public policies. A government like the one I’m going to create will give them the protagonist’s role, which, until now, they have not ha

Democracy Now! Interview on FMLN Electoral Victory in El Salvador

March 16, 2009

Democracy Now!

You can find what will surely be my most cogent (estoy super cansadisimo, pero contento) interview on yesterday’s elections in El Salvador here at the DN website. Clips from a video interview with President-elect Funes will be forthcoming, depending on what editors tell me. Transcript of interview below. R

Amy Goodman: In El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, of the former rebel FMLN party, has won the country’s presidential election, ending two decades of conservative rule. Funes won 51 percent of the vote to 49 percent for Rodrigo Avila of the ruling right-wing ARENA party. He conceded defeat late on Sunday.

ARENA had won every presidential election since the end of El Salvador’s brutal civil war eighteen years ago. The FMLN was a coalition of rebel guerrillas who fought the U.S.-backed military government during almost two decades in which more than 70,000 people died. Tens of thousands, the majority of those people, died at the hands of the Salvadoran military or paramilitary forces.

Funes is a former television journalist who reported on the years of the conflict and is the first FMLN presidential candidate who is not a former combatant. In his victory speech, he stressed his moderate policies during his campaign and says he intends to maintain good relations with the United States.

President-elect Mauricio Funes: [translated] To strengthen international relations and implement an independent exterior policy based on protection and the boosting the national interest, the integration of Central America and the strengthening of relations with the United States will be aspects of priority on our foreign policy agenda.

Amy Goodman: The Obama government has assured Salvadorans it would work with any leader elected, a departure from the Bush administration, which in 2004 threatened to cut off aid to El Salvador if the FMLN won.

Close U.S. ties saw El Salvador keep troops in Iraq longer than any other Latin American country, with the last of its 6,000 soldiers returning last week. El Salvador had also become a hub of regional cooperation with Washington in the so-called drug war. The country’s economy depends on billions of dollars sent home by 2.5 million Salvadorans who live in the United States.

We go now to San Salvador to speak with Roberto Lovato. He is a contributing associate editor with New America Media and a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine. He blogs at ofamerica.wordpress.com. He met with the President-elect, Mauricio Funes, last night and interviewed him. Roberto Lovato joins us now via Democracy Now! video stream.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Roberto. Can you tell us the climate now in San Salvador?

Roberto Lovato: I would just say — I’ll just quote a song that says, “Y que venga la alegria a lavar el sufrimiento” — “Let the joy come and wash away the suffering.” It’s something on an order I’ve never seen in my life. As a child of Salvadoran immigrants and as someone who’s spent time here and as someone who saw the Obama experience, I really can’t tell you what this is like, when you’re talking about ending not just the ARENA party’s rule, but you’re talking about 130 years of oligarchy and military dictatorship, by and large, that’s just ended last night. You’re talking about $6 billion that the United States used to defeat the FMLN, as you mentioned earlier. You’re talking about one of the most formidable — a formerly political military, now political forces, in the hemisphere, showing the utter failure of not just the ARENA party but of somebody in particular, too, who has a special place in many of our hearts: Ronald Reagan. This is the defeat of Ronald Reagan, nothing less.

AG: Explain what you mean.

RL: Ronald Reagan — well, you mentioned those 70,000 dead. If there’s a single person responsible for the death squad apparatus that pursued many of our family members, that pursued some of us, that killed — according to the United Nations, 95 percent of all the 70,000 to 80,000 people killed were killed by their own government. Ronald Reagan really, really started us along the road to the — what’s even called in Iraq now “the Salvador Option.” And so, $6 billion — it cost Ronald Reagan and the US $6 billion to try to destroy the FMLN.

And now the streets are red, not with the FMLN’s blood, but with young children, boys, girls, elderly people, families dressed in red, joyously celebrating, singing revolutionary songs commemorating a victory that they’ve never known in their lives, coming out of a silence that this country has always known its whole life. And so, I mean, there were tears and not blood in the streets of San Salvador this morning and even now. It’s about 6:00 a.m. You guys got me up a little early, but it’s just something I’ve never seen in my life, and I’m so moved. I wish I had the words to tell you how moved many of us are here right now.

AG: Can you tell us who Mauricio Funes is? Tell us his background.

RL:
Mauricio Funes is, I would say, one of the great symbols of the aspects of democracy brought to El Salvador, thanks to the FMLN bringing the United States and El Salvador to the negotiating table. Freedom of expression was not a possibility under a military dictatorship. And so, the peace accords brought a modicum of political space, in the media, in particular. And so, Mauricio Funes was like a talk-show host who became the biggest media star in El Salvador, one who happened to lean left, who lost a brother during the war, and who is extremely smart, extremely smart.

You know, I interviewed him for about twenty-five minutes last night, and I find him to be a very, you know, smart guy, in terms of foreign, domestic policies, and speaks with great details and not the usual inanities and simplistic nonsense that most Salvadoran politicians I’ve spoken of — about for most of Salvadoran life. And so, he came as a breath of fresh air, to the point where even 46 percent of the evangelical vote in El Salvador — an extremely conservative evangelical vote, I might add — voted for him.

AG: Explain, finally, Roberto Lovato, speaking to us from San Salvador, the significance of this election of Mauricio Funes, of the FMLN party, for Latin America.

RL: Well, this is a continuation of the red and pink tide that’s taken hold in the hemisphere. The big difference is that it brings us even closer to the north. It brings us even closer to the border wall. Remember, there are more Salvadorans here than there are most — in the United States than there are any other South American country. So the Salvadoran population was here in force, as were many North Americans. People that — like, I’m sure many in your audience, Amy, have supported the people of El Salvador since the 1980s, doing solidarity work, doing sanctuary work. So all of those people’s hearts were moved last night. I’m sure a lot of people in the United States cried with joy. I’m sure a lot of people in United States know and are going to be committed to El Salvador. And so, you bring a tiny Latin American country with one of the most powerful solidarity movements in the United States right now. So, this is major.

This is major also because the Summit of the Americas is coming up, and now Barack Obama is going to have to deal with another Latin American country that has turned away from the United States agenda and that he’s going to have to try to woo somehow, to back into some conversation and not confrontation with the US.

AG: Roberto Lovato, we’re going to leave it there, though we will continue to cover these developments. Again, the FMLN presidential candidate of El Salvador has won. Mauricio Funes is his name. Roberto Lovato, our guest, contributing associate editor with New America Media, frequent contributor to The Nation magazine, blogs at ofamerica.wordpress.com, in San Salvador covering the elections.

War by Other Means: Media and the Elections in El Salvador

March 14, 2009

funes-media-crowd

In pre-electoral El Salvador, media is merely the continuation of war by other means.

No one in this tiny country of 6 million understands this better than Mauricio Funes. As the first candidate of the opposition Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) with a real possibility of winning the presidency (most recent polls show him with a 5-11 point lead), Funes, a former journalist, knows well the new ways of waging political war in the media age.

As a result of their success, Funes and the FMLN also find themselves at the center of what many local and international media analysts concur is the fiercest, most expensive and dirtiest media campaign in Salvadoran history, a media campaign run not by the right wing ARENA party and its candidate, Rodrigo Avila, but by the news media itself.

Surrounded at a recent press conference held in a posh hotel and organized by the small army of black-suited young (male and female) media professionals that’s replaced many of the older, former guerrillero cadre that managed previous FMLN presidential campaigns, Funes defended against attacks by one of his primary adversaries-El Salvador’s largest and oldest media outlets.

“Their dirty campaign will backfire,” said Funes, whose media operatives then backed up his statements using various weapons in their media arsenal: a slide show detailing what they call the “Government-Party in government-News Media” continuum that opposes the FMLN and a booklet titled “Record of a Dirty Campaign.” FMLN operatives also distributed a video containing more than a dozen examples of news reports they believe reflect the “bias and extremism” of the mainstream Salvadoran media: television and print media news reports of “possible” FMLN involvement in the distribution of M-16’s to the Mara 18 gang in prison; reports in major newspapers of Funes and the FMLN dissolving the armed forces in the event of a victory in Sunday’s elections; news reports that the Obama Administration “may deny legal status” to Salvadorans living in the United States if the FMLN wins.

(newspaper headline claiming Salvadorans will lose legal status with FMLN victory)

es-tps-piece

Once engaged in politico-military combat against the big agrarian interests defended by the Salvadoran military, the FMLN of the digital age now finds itself fighting the big financial interests at the heart of ARENA, interests that domestic and foreign observers say are defended by the country’s most powerful media outlets.

A report released last January by the more than 30 members of the Election Observer Mission of the European Union (EU) appeared to confirm the very political role of El Salvador’s news media. The report found “disproportionate disequilibrium in the amount of time or space assigned to the parties” in 11 of the 15 news media in monitored. Without naming the ARENA party by name, the Spaniard in charge of the EU mission, Luis Yáñez-Barnuevo said, “We are concerned that there exists in the campaign a very notorious disequilibrium in the support of the news media and the State towards one of the two candidates.”

For her part, Alexandra Bonilla, a reporter with La Prensa Grafica, one of El Salvador’s oldest newspapers, defends against reports critical of outlets like hers. “These reports are unfair” says Bonilla, who reports on the media. “The larger media here are owned by conservative interests, but we do try to uphold professional standards in our election coverage. We give equal time and coverage to both parties.”

funes-multimedia

While the concentration of big media power does present a major obstacle to Funes and the FMLN, the new age of Salvadoran media has also provided the left with the means to take power. Both the FMLN and ARENA have made extensive and effective use of the confluence of new media known as Web 2.0: Facebook, Youtube, blogs and other media. And the deployment of new media outside the formal and often rigid structures of political parties has also making a major debut.

This year’s elections also mark the first time internet-based independent media have played a serious role in the elections as well. Political blogging on all sides of the political spectrum has started taking hold in El Salvador. Internet news sites like El Faro, ContraPunto and Raices are among the most popular sites of their kind in the country and have seen exponential increases in traffic because of the intense interest in this year’s elections.

“Internet news sites are still an incipient political medium” said Juan Jose Dalton, founder and editor of ContraPunto. “But they are already a major force because of the demand for fast news, professional reporting and alternatives to the very compromised officialist media” declared Dalton, who is the son of Roque Dalton, El Salvador’s revered revolutionary poet and writer. “We bring a vision, a political space that has not existed for most of our history.”

(journalist Juan Jose Dalton listening to Mauricio Funes at press conference)

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One anonymous blogger interviewed for this story said that he thought that the ability of alternative media to compete with his country’s big media is, in no small part, rooted in the culture of political anonymity created by the successive strings of oligarchs and military dictatorships that dominated the country for more than 150 years. “Blogs and other alternative media give us a way to participate anonymously; they allow us to say what we can’t say publicly. We’re watching an explosion of new voices and new ways to express ourselves” said the bespectacled young blogger.

While attending the Funes news conference, the blogger had his hands full with the camera he uses for blogging and the tape recorder he uses in his day job: journalist at a magazine. “In a country where saying publicly that you supported the FMLN could get you killed, alternative media offers the best alternative to the multi-million dollar campaigns of the right. The media itself has become a field of battle-and we’re going to win!”

Izalco, El Salvador and the Way Beyond the Silence

March 12, 2009

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Mystical Izalco portends the end of Salvadoran silence.

To understand the current presidential elections in El Salvador, you have to understand the cities, towns and the campo, El Salvador’s countryside, located outside the capital of San Salvador. What follows is my attempt to provide further context for the media’s description of the horse race between the FMLN and the ARENA parties. A good starting point is the fact that both parties trace all or some of their political roots to Izalco, a relatively small town in the western, coffee-growing part of the country. Izalco is also home to one of the largest concentrations of El Salvador’s small (less than 1% of the population) indigenous population.

For strange, tragic, even mysterious reasons, Izalco, which in the racist popular national lore (ie; one way to call someone ugly is to say they look “indio”) is home to witches, is also home to what, in my opinion, is the ever-present, but unspoken political and cultural spirit of the country. And this region also concentrates large numbers of volcanos, some of which are also quite alive (see above) , as are the narrow and crowded streets of Izalco (below).

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If we want want to take the political pulse of a country as poor (50% of the population lives in poverty) as El Salvador, speaking with people who are not just poor, but a small, indigenous poor minority living in such an enchanting and dark land will give us a unique read. Not all people here in Izalco identify as native people, but all recognize and live indigenous reality like few other places in this country of 7 million.

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You can see the indigenous presence in the sublime faces of the kids here.

You can also find it in and on the nahuatl textbooks and notebooks:

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And you can find the indigenous presence in the deep, dark soil of Izalco’s history. Almost all of the children from Izalco’s Mario Calvo school pictured above are descendants-great, great and great, great, great, grandchildren- of the 20,000-30,000 indigenous people who rebelled against deadly poverty and abuse and were then slaughtered in 1932 by General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, the dictator who perpetrated what is known as “La Matanza” (the Great Killing). Martinez and his troops did all this in less than a month, according to scholars like my friend Aldo Lauria-Santiago, whose book is pictured below with a cover of the Izalco volcano.

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Recent research like Aldo’s and that of other scholars reveals that the idea that the rural insurrection in the west was led by urban communists of the period like Farabundo Marti is wrong. In fact, these scholars tell us, it was led by the ancestors (below) of the children pictured above. Below is the picture of the real leader of the insurrection, Jose Feliciano Ama.

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The spiritual reality behind images such as these inspired revolutionary Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton to say in his oft-quoted poem,

Todos nacimos mitad muertos en 1932

Sobrevivimos pero medio vivos

(we were all born half dead in 1932

we survived but half alive)

Despite recent research, many still blur the differences between the communists and the indigenous rebels of the period. Even many members of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) make the mistake as do members of the governing ARENA party, which was founded in Izalco by Roberto D’abuisson. D’abuisson also founded El Salvador’s notorious death squads, one of which was named for the old dictator, Hernandez Martinez.

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I actually have no idea who the group of Izalco Areneros pictured above are. I visited the office and spoke with the directores of Arena’s campaign in Izalco, who told me why their message of “democracy,” their message of “freedom” from the threat of El Salvador becoming a “Hugo Chavez satellite” moves Izalco’s voters.; The directores also lauded D’abuisson, whom they met, and Hernandez Martinez, whom they admire. The events of 1932, they said, saved the country from comunismo and laid the foundation for the later formation of the ARENA party. For these and other reasons, they said , ARENA always begins its presidential campaigns in Izalco, as they did when this year’s presidential candidate, private security mogul and former head of the national police, Rodrigo Avila, came here to kickoff his campaign.

The directores also showed me a copy of the ARENA anthem which hails El Salvador as the “tomb where the reds will be terminated.” I thought it odd that, rather than let me take their picture, the directores told the people pictured above to stand outside the ARENA office, where I took the picture. Less than half a small block to the right of the ARENA office is the large (1.5 blocks) field where most of the indigenous people killed in 1932 are buried in an anonymous mass grave (see picture of plaque and smoky Izalco volcano in background below) excavated by forensic scientists from Argentina in 2007.

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The fact that this is the only commemoration of La Matanza in El Salvador, a country where surveys tell us that 75% of the population knows nothing about the events of 1932, provides an object lesson in the dangers of institutional and political amnesia; It also tells us why ARENA has won every mayoral election in Izalco since it was founded here in 1981; Every mayoral election until this year, that is:

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Pictured above in the blue shirt is Roberto Alvarado, a member of the FMLN and Mayor-elect of Izalco whose stunning victory last January reflects the depths of the changes here and in the entire country. “They sang that stupid song about “the tomb of the reds,” Alvarado,a former teacher who was pursued by death squads, told me adding, “Now we are going turn Izalco, the cradle of ARENA, into the the political grave of the ARENA party.” Alvarado’s coalition-students, indigenous communities, Catholics and evangelicos– provided the FMLN with a major spiritual and political victory -and a model to be emulated across the country.

Streets reddened and silenced for several decades by the blood of the indigenous martyrs are now red with the hope voters are placing in the FMLN and its candidate , the multi-mediagenic former journalist, Mauricio Funes:

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The unprecedented openness expressed in the shoes, shops and streets of Izalco has many, many reasons and thousands of people to thank for it. Together, these forces ended the silence that cast a permanent cloud over Izalco -and El Salvador-after the events of 1932. One of today’s most vocal and effective breakers of the silence is Juliana Ama, director of the Calvo school that teaches nahuatl. She is also the great, great granddaughter of rebel leader, Jose Feliciano Ama (above). Since 2001, Juliana has organized commemoration ceremonies every January at the site of the mass grave near the ARENA office in Izalco, ceremonies that draw conflict and controversy.

Despite the tensions, despite the threats she has received, Ama soldiers on in what she defines first and foremost as a”spiritual act” because, she says, “we have no choice; we can’t remain and suffer in silence.” Juliana also believes that there is a direct link between the commemoration ceremonies and the defeat of the ARENA party. “Those ceremonies made it normal and acceptable to be open about the loss of long ago, the loss that still lives with us,” she said. “Nothing like this was ever possible before and I think that the ceremony made it possible for people to start being more open about political feelings too.

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Finally, as the son of the 10 year-old boy who witnessed and survived la Matanza and then went on to become my father, I want to thank Juliana and the people of Izalco for their example, their courage and their great wisdom.

R

Secretary of Labor Designate Hilda Solis: One to Celebrate

December 19, 2008

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In what will be the first progressive appointment of his administration, President-elect Barack Obama invited Southern California Congresswoman, Hilda Solis, to join his cabinet as the Secretary of Labor. This is especially welcome news to labor and immigrant rights groups who have constituted Solis’ primary base in her rise to national prominence. The daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrant laborers, Solis brings the most solid progressive credentials of any member of the Obama cabinet-including Obama himself. She has won abundant praise and wide support because of her positions on labor rights, immigration issues, environmental protection and women’s rights, to name a few. Her appointment reflects the growing power and influence of the labor and immigrant struggles of Southern California and across the country as her trajectory, like that of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, took rapid upward turn thanks to the political energy and power unleashed after the struggles against Proposition 187 in California. For those looking for hope in the great labor and immigration struggles we’re still engaged in, look no further at what your work has wrought: Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor.

(Full disclosure: I know and have worked on a number of issues with Hilda since we fought Proposition 187 in California in the early 90’s and have, since then, found her to be nothing, if not a smart and capable fighter and an upright person. In addition to celebrating Hilda’s political capabilities, I am also likely being moved by the fact that I’ve never seen someone whose extraction so closely resembled my own (Central American immigrant unionist household) enter the Star Chamber of global power, except maybe to clean it. May she enlighten it with the warmth and brilliance of Southern California and the Américas. In sum, I can say without reservation, that this really is one to celebrate as I am about to go do as soon as the this period in my sentence drops….

Grijalva Appointment to Interior Department Would Bring Ecological-and Political- Balance to Obama Cabinet

December 6, 2008

AlterNet

Anyone who has visited a national park or traversed the country’s diverse wilderness comes home with gorgeous, yet distressing images of it; those returning from a visit to one of the more than 562 tribes the federal government recognizes and is supposed to assist also bring back sad stories about it; and those of us who enjoy camping or fishing or hunting inevitably return home talking about it. “It” is the scenery and life found on the millions of acres of federal land left blemished and vulnerable by Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior (DOI).

As urbanization, economic restructuring and the insatiable lust for land and natural resources continue to threaten the still-astonishingly beautiful and rich land of this country, we should all care about whom President-elect Obama chooses to lead the DOI. The urgency of these issues came home twice this week as the Bush Administration delivered two parting gifts to big mining interests by rescinding two important regulations — one requiring the DOI to prevent mining companies from dumping waste near public streams and another protecting federal land near the Grand Canyon from mining and oil and gas development.

In order to deal with such challenges to the land and people under the purview of the Department, which is charged with managing most federally-owned land as well as with managing relationships with Native American peoples, the Obama Administration must appoint someone with the experience, expertise and political sophistication to lead nothing less than a New Deal for the land and people our government deals with.

Of all the candidates being vetted by the Obama transition team for this complex and challenging responsibility, none can match the unique qualifications of Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). Grijalva, who was the leading voice denouncing this week’s most recent giveaway to mining companies by the Bush Administration, will bring urgently needed balance and poise to a federal land management bureaucracy that has pushed we the people into dangerous disequilibrium with the land we live on- and love. Appointing Grijalva, who was elected Co-Chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will also bring more and much-needed political balance to the Obama cabinet than some of the Republican-lite Democrats also being considered for the DOI post like California Blue Dog Democrat, Mike Thompson.

Like almost all of the previous Secretaries of the Interior, Grijalva hails from the West, more specifically Arizona, where his 7th Congressional district seat has provided him with the kind of experience and leadership we will need in a DOI Secretary.

Grijalva’s willingness to reverse the values and practices instituted by the Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior are well-illustrated by his leadership of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee of the 110th Congress. Most recently, he spearheaded efforts to stop the planned re-mining of the Black Mesa, located in northern Arizona. In a recent letter to current DOI Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Grijalva called on the Bush Administration to restore some semblance of the natural balance between the diverse interests DOI must manage: “Mining at Black Mesa has caused springs on Hopi lands to dry up and jeopardized the sole source of drinking water for many Hopis and Navajos.”

This same will to balance informs the National Landscape Conservation System, and the Environment Congressional Task Force Co-Chair Grijalva’s efforts to craft urgently needed legislation to reform the very outdated General Mining Law of 1872. Environmentalists, scientists and other advocates believe this law must be changed if the wilderness of the west and of our national parks, forests and public lands systems are to return to sustainability. Such actions have secured very strong support for Grijalva’s DOI bid from environmental, scientific and other groups, including the National Conservation Association, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and the U.S. Humane Society, to name a few. A letter to President-elect Obama in support of Grijalva was signed by more than 50 prominent scholars specializing in biology, conservation and other disciplines. In the letter, the scholars called him a “broad thinker” and praised the Congressman’s “Report on the Bush Administration Assault on Our National Parks, Forests and Public Lands” as the work of “someone who understands and values science.”

No less effusive are the statements of support Grijalva is receiving from Native American leaders like Ned Norris, who as tribal Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation-one of 7 tribes in Grijalva’s district- says he has “enjoyed an extensive and extremely positive relationship with the Congressman for many years.” Asked what appeals most to tribes like his about a possibility of a Grijalva-led DOI, Norris answered “He has a deep understanding of and respect for relationship between tribes and U.S. government.” Norris also pointed to the Congressman’s sophistication and success in settling a 30 year-old water and resource dispute between the Tahono O’odham tribe and the federal government.

In his efforts to foster change and hope with regard to both the stewardship of federal land and the management of relations with Indian nations, President-elect Obama will bring urgency and much-needed balance to these important government functions by appointing Congressman Raul Grijalva Secretary of the Interior.


This piece was first published on Alternet.org

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.

Ahorra Votamos y Manana Militamos: Direct Actions Against ICE Preview Post-Electoral Militancy

November 4, 2008

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I know we’re all growing anxious and increasingly elated at the probable outcome of today’s elections, but I just caught wind of a very important development in the Bay Area. From San Francisco, my hometown, a preview of things to come.

A warm, powerful hug and shout out to the more than 600 young people and community-based organizations who organized and participated in this weekend’s Halloween actions against the terror wrought by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). As some of us have, for some time, been suggesting to the movement here and here, we will get nowhere without going on the offensive against ICE, without taking direct action against them. Young activists in San Francisco have taken a clear and hugely important step towards the more militant actions necessary to effect a change in the disastrous and devastating immigration policies; Drumming, marching and chanting “No More Raids!” students from San Francisco, Richmond, San Jose and other locations throughout the Bay Area delivered a powerful message to ICE -and to the community: we will start taking more direct and militant action to prevent the terror infliicted on families and children.

Not only will we undertake hunger strikes to stop the anti-immigrant madness; We will literally start shutting down ICE.

Activists temporarily closed the entrance into ICE offices by locking themselves down with 55-gallon drums on both ends of the ICE building’s driveway, where vans normally load and unload detainees. I can tell you that, though many, including more centrist, foundation & corporate-funded “immigrant rights” organizations and their “leaders”, will tell you that such actions are of little to no use, these more direct actions do much to communicate urgent messages to numerous sectors; Current and former ICE agents I’ve interviewed tell me that nothing throws agents off their game, nothing SCARES them like direct actions, especially those that political acts that target. Same with the politicos, including the Democrats, who need to start fearing us if we are to see any change in migration policy. Such proactive, offensive actions do much to take the psychological pressure off of our communities and put it where it belongs: on ICE; Such actions communicate to the community that it’s not just OK to be angry; it’s OK and necessary to be angry to the point of striking back at ICE in a direct and political way; Such actions make clearer the distinctions between those in the “immigrant rights community” willing to accommodate terror and those ready to fight it.

Along with ongoing fasts, vigils and other actions, these more militant actions allow us to re-take some of the integrity we lost in the perpetual psychlogical warfare inflicted on the group that’s the object of the most hate crimes according to the FBI: Latinos, especially immigrant Latinos. Given the promise of action inherent in the chants of “Ahorra Marchamos, manana votamos,” events in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other locales preview the coming militancy that will become clearer as the smoke, confetti and genuine joy inspired by the end of the elections clears. For more information check out alianzanews. Thank you, San Francisco.
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Infomercials, Hatemercials and the Multi-mediagenic Presidency: GRITtv Panel Analyzes Elections & Media

October 31, 2008

http://a5.vox.com/6a00cd970c86034cd500fa967c8fb50002-500pi

This was a fun and informative panel. Always-thoghtful host Laura Flanders gets her guests -the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg, Chris Rabb of Afronetizen and mois- to spill the media beans on this breathtaking political moment. Don’t miss a minute!

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Fast for Our Future: Massive Fast Seeks Justice for Immigrants

October 29, 2008

In what organizers say is one of the largest single fasts in U.S. history, over 100 people are engaging in a hunger strike to mobilize 1,000,000 people to sign their Pledge to vote and take action for immigrant rights. Seeking to “reignite” the somewhat slowed movement that brought us the largest mass mobilizations in U.S. history, fasters are currently engaged in locations across the country, with Los Angeles’ historic Plaza Olvera serving as its spiritual center.

Several friends of mine are participating and I encourage you to visit their website and sign the pledge. Though I think there need to be more such actions when the glare of the election lights dims, taking action now really is critical. Having recently interviewed some of the main movers and shakers on immigration policy, I can tell you that nobody, not the corporate-funded, DC-based Latino and immigrant rights groups, not the pols and, yes, not even Barack Obama are signalling anything except the possibility for legalization
(and recent statements by Pelosi put even that in serious question.)

None of these powerful interest are saying anything that will fundamentally alter the devastating immigration policies -and their tragic effects: thousands of raids terrorizing families and entire communities, hundreds of thousands (including families and children) jailed, thousands dead in the desert, detainees killed and dying in detention. Our silence this time around means that we too will be complicit with the Democrats and their allies. So, please do visit the Fast for Our Future site and sign the petition.

What to do Before and (If Necessary) After the Election is Stolen

October 27, 2008

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When I hear the fear of first-time voters like 21-year-old Bertha Barrios, I hear the voice of a generation raised beneath the specter of questions about our last two elections.

“This is my first presidential vote,” says Bertha, a Salvadoran American college student who was holding her 2-year-old son, Joshua, while we spoke. “But, sometimes, I don’t feel like voting. Last time, a lot of people voted and it was for nothing. Bush wasn’t supposed to win [in 2000]. I remember the whole Florida vote scandal … They stole that election and the news reports make it seem like they want to do it again.”

Harkening back to the stories she’s heard about elections held under the military dictatorship that ruled El Salvador in the 1980s, she said: “In El Salvador, the right wing somehow would miraculously always win, and that seems like what they want to do here.

“So, what’s the point of voting if it really doesn’t count at the end?” she asks, her voice taking on the tough tones of her Salvadoran-Watts accent.

I was at once startled and pleased at the healthy and unhealthy dose of cynical wisdom I heard coming from someone I’d known since she was an 11 year-old soccer dynamo. Her pointed question and comparison turned what was supposed to be my reported piece about youth fears of fraud and suppression into an opinion piece about something many of us are feeling increasing urgency about: the serious possibility that the presidential election may be stolen – and what to do before and (if necessary) after the election is stolen.

Recent polls showing a possible Obama landslide give Bertha and other voters some confidence. Me too. According to New York University media studies scholar Mark Crispin Miller – who is teaching a course this semester called “How to Steal an Election” – it’s harder to steal elections if there’s not a tight race.

But the flurry of reports coming out about numerous irregularities already seen in and around voting booths across the country leave open the possibility that millions of votes may not be counted in this presidential election. And John McCain and the GOP’s repeated attacks on voter-registration organization ACORN as a group that is “destroying the fabric of democracy,” seem to indicate that the diversionary BIG LIE required to cover-up and legitimate the illegitimate is in place.

A report in the New York Times found that in some states, including battleground states, for every new voter registered two other voters have been removed. Colorado, a state experiencing rapid and huge population increases, has seen more than 100,000 voters erased from its rolls. Reports from other states of suppression and fraud involving computerized voting systems, voter purges, unreasonable demands for voter documentation and other methods mean one thing: all of us must prepare to prevent and fight this.

Failure to fight voter suppression and fraud means more than just another lost election; it means that Bertha’s and other future generations may give in to the political resignation that the Salvadorization of our political system portends. And, so, given that the third strike of a questionable election will essentially institutionalize suppression and fraud, given that our inaction will communicate that we as a people are willing to accept whatever powerful interests impose on us, here are some things we must start planning—and doing—immediately:

1. Push for Major Turnout and Deliver a Historic Blowout: Experts say that large turnouts and a wide margin between candidates make fraud and suppression more difficult because of the number of votes that must be manipulated and erased. Large turnout and overwhelming victories also communicate to big political and economic interests our passionate desire to change our political system, including our maligned electoral process.

2. Monitoring on the Day of the Elections: Don’t just take your vote to the polls, take your cameras, notepads and cell phones so that you can document and report any irregularities you experience or see. Local and national election monitoring groups like Election Protection (1-866-OUR-VOTE), the country’s largest election monitoring operation, have set up systems for anyone to report irregularities.

3. Study Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004: Studying the irregularities of and responses to these two elections provide us with the best case studies of what to look for and, if necessary, how not to respond (i.e., just sit back and watch the election get stolen your TV set).

While we must work unceasingly to make sure that as many people as possible vote and that these votes are counted, we must also prepare for the possibility that irregularities seen in 2000 and 2004 (and already this year) will rear their ugly heads. Failure among all but a few of us to contest and protest the questionable results in 2000 communicated our willingness to accept not just stolen elections, but also anti-democratic behavior in the Executive Branch: the legitimation of torture, corporate and government secrecy coupled with decreased privacy and rights among the citizenry, the militarism in Iraq and, increasingly, within the borders of the country.

Given that we live in an era fraught with threats to democracy, we must, unfortunately, also prepare for the worst by responding with:

1. General Strike: History teaches us that nothing strikes fear into the hearts – and pocketbooks – of the powerful like people stopping business as usual. In the event of a stolen election, local and national work stoppages, school walkouts, protests, and other actions communicate to the government, to corporate interests, to Bertha and to the world that we will fight the decimation of democracy. If they haven’t already, labor unions, political organizers, bloggers and individuals should coordinate a global effort so that business stops, not just in the U.S., but also around the world. Even without a strong labor movement, the immigrant rights mobilization of 2006 – the largest simultaneous marches in U.S. history – proved that you can make a powerful statement simply by not showing up to work and marching instead.

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2. Study the Florida Experience and Learn: We should study how, with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats allowed themselves – and our political future – to be dragged into the abyss of illegitimacy.

3. Foment Any and All Non-Violent Action: – As our country starts taking on the economic and political characteristics of El Salvador and other “Third World” countries that protested U.S. policy, our colossal crisis means we may have to start emulating their methods of protesting electoral and malfeasance: vigils, protests, hunger strikes, office takeovers (ie; government buildings), boycotts and other non-violent means.

Viewed from the historical perspective running from 2000 to the present – the view of Bertha Barrios’ generation – this election may, indeed, actually fit that clichéd slogan about this being the “most important election of our lives” not because we may elect Barack Obama, but because we must restore some semblance of integrity to our political process- and to ourselves.

Waaaaassup! Then & Now: Tragicomic TV Ad Adds Political Riff to Old Budweiser Ad (Funny)

October 24, 2008

For full effect, check out this “classic” Budweiser ad and and then the one that follows:

After taking a moment to wipe the halcyon from your mental screen as you reminisce about them Good Ole days when down-to-earth multinational corporations simply exploited popular culture for profit, check out this video from the age of supra-national corporations exploiting EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE for SUPERPROFITS:

And, if you cannot access via youtube you can go to huffpost here to find it.

The Immigrant Vote & the Need to Denounce Nancy Pelosi

October 24, 2008

On the heels of Nancy Pelosi’s statement reversing the Democrats commitment to push immigration reform in the first 100 days of the next political year, this interview with the Bay Area’s Your Call show with Rose Aguilar was pitch perfect in its timing. Rose, her guests and I got to explore and discuss the historic role of the immigrant and Latino vote in this year’s Presidential election. And it was quite a good omen to be able to discuss Pelosi’s controversial statement – “maybe there never is a path to citizenship if you came here illegally”- on one of the most widely-heard public radio stations in her district. As I did during the show I will do now: If you live in the Bay Area and are incensed, concerned or angered at this naked betrayal by Pelosi and the Democrats, then go and give her office an earful; Those of you that can might even consider going and sitting in at her office until she retracts these statements (some of Pelosi’s DC-based friends in the nonprofit world are saying it was a “slip”). So, check out the show here!

Overwhelming Majority of Latino Newspapers-and Their Readers- Back Obama

October 22, 2008

Hispanic Newspapers and Magazines network

In another blow to the racial-myth-making machine that brought us the Latinos-won’t-vote-for-a-black-candidate farce, the country’s Latino media have come out overwhelmingly in favor of Democrat Barack Obama. Research conducted by the Latino Print Network, a trade association of magazines and newspapers, found that

“89% of the Hispanic publications that have announced who they will be supporting in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election have come out for Obama. 68 of the publications surveyed have come out for Obama – and their combined circulation is 3.3 million. Only 8 Hispanic publications have announced for McCain, and their combined circulation is 95,854 – a mere 3% of the circulation of the publications endorsing Obama.”

Further burying the myths perpetrated by an unholy alliance – the Clinton’s, their surrogates, the GOP, academics like Duke University’s Paula D. McClain, the New Yorker, CNN and dozens of other institutional interests- is the research about the readers of these Latino papers. According to the LPN report,

“Preliminary results from the 2008 National Hispanic Readership Study have found that 57% of the readers of Hispanic newspapers who will be voting this November will be voting for Barack Obama, 7% for John McCain and 36% are still undecided or declines to state.”

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And, the report also confirms suspicions that the same immigrants who chanted “Ahorra Marchamos, Manana Votamos!” are leading us into the Era of Latino Blowback against the GOP (hopefully, they’ll get to racist Dems soon). According to the report, “Research found that only 19% of the readers surveyed were born in the U.S.”

Who would’ve figured even 6 months ago that Latinos, the racist people most of our black and white pundits told us were unwilling to vote for a black candidate, would now be poised to deliver the death blow to the Republican party in key swing states by voting for Barack Obama, the black son of an immigrant? Either somebody’s gone through a mass change of racial attitudes or some smaller group inhabiting the country’s editorial rooms needs to go through just such a turn of mind and heart.

The Saints Have Spoken: San Martin de Obama Will Win By a Divine Landslide

October 21, 2008

This just in from the Great Beyond: Barack Obama has been hiding secretly in the heart and soul of Latino, African and Afro-Latino América all along. This most recent Good News bodes badly for the purveyors of the media’s urban legend about Latino’s near-genetic predisposition not to vote for a black person ; Speaking of our spiritual and genetic DNA, the Good News also reminds us that Latinos, millions of whom have more than a few drops of black blood, have black skin, dance to African-infused music, eat African foods, etc. have, after all, only been praying to black saints for centuries. In my childhood house, San Martin and San Judas were, from earliest times, there protecting us in almost every room of the house – and now they’re protecting the house of our planet from destruction.

Look, yee unbelievers, look with your own faithless eyes, for it is so

Though it may provide but another weak weapon to the army of fear and hate that is the McCain-Palin progrom, this breaking news from on high also portends bad things for those who look into the Big Blue Eyes of Jesus before bashing immigrants, black people, gays & lesbianas, Latinas and a host of other infidels. In the minds of the Saints and Gods that guide us, the hateful among us have already been defeated. Unfortunately for that other rotting temple of false and falling idols, el Partido Democrata, the divine winds will also smash the statue of that other False God, San Obama de Corporate America, whose other manifestation sometimes takes the form of ex-Clinton Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin. You need only believe. For it is written in the book of Eleggua; You can hear it in the coming thunder of Shango; It is done. Aché to my good friend Carlos Cordova for giving us the Good News from the Gods.

Move Over Tina Fey & SNL: It’s La Pequeña Sarah Palin!

October 19, 2008

Seems that Barack Obama’s not the only U.S.political figure to move the global imagination or tickle the foreign funny bone. Check out how Sarah Palin and Tina Fey have met their match in the race to realize the comic potential of our political process. Ladies, gentlemen and all you freaks and sinners booted out of Sarah Palin’s Pentecostal church, Of América is honored to introduce you to Chile’s proud contribution to the fast-growing and exciting field of Palintology: La Pequeña Sarah Palin!