Archive for the 'LATINO POLITICS' Category

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

July 6, 2013

corazon revolucionario

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

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

 

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

April 2, 2013

AP NO MORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

monica_novoa_CLdrop the i word

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

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

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

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

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

DREAMers: Undocumented Youth Turn Images into Political Acts

December 20, 2012

butterfly_inline

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.

Anaheim Protesters Are Not to Blame, Police Are

July 26, 2012

Anaheim Protesters Are Not to Blame, Police Are

Roberto Lovato

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

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

But then there’s the community perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

July 6, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

Roberto Lovato

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

November 3, 2011

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

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

November 1, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 28, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we still yearn to be free.

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

October 19, 2011

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

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

Guilty before proven human

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

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

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

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

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

October 18, 2011

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

October 15, 2011

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

 

 

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

El tiempo está a favor de buenos sueños

y se pronuncia a golpes apurados.

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

October 14, 2011

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

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

“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.

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

July 24, 2009

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

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

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

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

You can take several actions including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigrant Rights Leaders Issue Unprecedented Statement “Condemning the Obama Administration’s Expansion” of Racist 287G Policy

July 17, 2009

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More groups and individuals going against the “Washington Consensus” -legalization in exchange for even more enforcement-on immigration.

Please distribute this far and wide as President Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano are trying to cover their political a..ses by announcing their continuation and expansion of the radical and racist 287G policy below the clouds-and some fog- of excitement around the Sotomayor confirmation hearings. Rather than announce it at a time when it would draw attention to iteself, the Obama Administration chose to announce it last Friday, as the country and media buzz prepared for this week’s Sotomayor hearings. The Obama Administration would prefer we gaze at the smiling visage of soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor instead of the scowling face of the greatest benefactor to date of the infamous 287g program: rabidly racist, anti-immigrant Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

This statement by a host of groups including the Detention Watch Network, National Immigration Law Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and many others, (see list below) “Condemning the Obama Administration’s Expansion” is the clearest statement to date of the growing disapproval of Obama’s willingness to support racist, dangerous and ultimately failed immigration policy. That some of these groups have not previously made statements against Obama and that they waste no time using language still unheard of in the echo chamber of Washington (ie;”Condemning”) provides, I think, an interesting preview of where and how Obama’s credibility may rapidly drop in immigrants rights and Latino communities. It also indicates that, more and more, the monopoly of groups sanctioned and bankrolled by powerful liberal interests- the big Democratic party, big foundations, big media and, in some cases, big corporate interests- to be the official Latino and immigrant “voice” is starting to crumble.

Contrary to what you may or may not be hearing from your Latino aides and others of a more institutionally pliant bent in Washington, there are, Mr. Obama, limits to how much deadly garbage policy some of us are willing to swallow silently. You’re committing a strategic error if you believe that you can count on our unconditional support in the name of both giving you cover and securing legalization for the most desperate among us.

Our failure to follow Detention Watch Network and other groups in their condemnation will communicate that we too are willing to go along with what his recent actions-continuing racist control policies like those institutionalized by 287g while waving the affirmative action flag embodied by the nomination of centrists of color like former corporate lawyer and prosecutor, Sonia Sotomayor-do. And that President Obama then goes on to deliver what the reliably uncritical MSM calls a “stirring” civil rights speech to the NAACP says much about 2 things: the analytical and political abyss we inhabit and how utterly commodified conceptions of civil rights have become.

So, again, please do distribute this important statement by these courageous groups, as the media and those with access to the mainstream will do nothing to
echo this important statement by so many important groups. Having run an organization like those making the statement, I can tell you that it’s not easy to make such statements when you have to worry about alienating Democratic Congress members, big foundations and others who can hurt you by cutting your funding, politically isolating you and other repressive measures taken by the powerful of a more liberal bent.

R

ADVOCATES ISSUE STATEMENT CONDEMNING OBAMA ADMINISTRATION’S

EXPANSION OF DHS’S FAILED 287(g) PROGRAM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 17, 2009

Media Contacts:

Adela de la Torre, Communication Specialist, National Immigration Law
Center, 213.674.2832 (office), 213.400.7822 (cell)

Andrea Black, Coordinator, Detention Watch Network, 202-393-1044 ext.
227 (office), 520-240-3726 (cell)

Judith Greene, Director, Justice Strategies, 718-857-3316,
jgreene@justicestrategies.net

Civil rights and community groups across the country denounce
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano’s
plans to expand the highly criticized 287(g) program to eleven new
jurisdictions around the country. The program, authorized in 1996 and
widely implemented under the Bush Administration, relinquishes, with
no meaningful oversight, immigration enforcement power to local law
enforcement and corrections agencies.

Since its inception the program has drawn sharp criticism from federal
officials, law enforcement, advocates and local community groups. A
February 2009 report by Justice Strategies, a nonpartisan research
firm, found widespread use of pretextual traffic stops, racially
motivated questioning, and unconstitutional searches and seizures by
local law enforcement agencies granted 287(g) powers. Justice
Strategies recommended the program be suspended. “We found evidence
that growth of the 287(g) program has been driven more by racial
animus than by concerns about public safety. The expansion of this
deeply flawed program cannot be justified before a thorough test of
corrective actions shows solid proof that they have been effective,”
reports Judy Greene, Director of Justice Strategies. A March 2009
Government Accountability Agency (GAO) report, criticized DHS for
insufficient oversight of the controversial program.

Also in March, the United States Department of Justice launched an
investigation into Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, to
determine whether Arpaio is using his 287(g) power to target Latinos
and Spanish-speaking people. In Davidson County, Tennessee, the
Sheriff’s Office has used its 287(g) power to apprehend undocumented
immigrants driving to work, standing at day labor sites, or while
fishing off piers. One pregnant woman—charged with driving without a
license—was forced to give birth while shackled to her bed during
labor. Preliminary data indicate that in some jurisdictions the
majority of individuals arrested under 287(g) are accused of public
nuisance or traffic offenses: driving without a seatbelt, driving
without a license, broken taillights, and similar offences. Such a
pattern of arrests suggest that local sheriff’s deputies are
improperly using their 287(g) powers to rid their counties of
immigrants, by making pretextual arrests that are then used to
forcefully deport people. “We need only look at the example of
Maricopa County to understand the devastating effects the increased
287(g) program will have on our communities,” said Chris Newman, Legal
Programs Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
“The Obama administration must recognize that the 287(g) program is
predatory and ripe for corruption and profiling that will harm
community stability and safety for everyone.”

The Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of
Police, and the Major Chiefs Association have expressed concerns that
deputizing local law enforcement officers to enforce civil federal
immigration law undermine the trust and cooperation of immigrant
communities, overburdens cities’ already reduced resources, and leaves
cities vulnerable to civil liability claims. “When victims and
witnesses of crime are afraid to contact police for fear of being
jailed or deported, public safety suffers,” said Marielena Hincapie,
Executive Director, National Immigration Law Center.

Napolitano’s July 10 announcement that DHS has granted 11 new
jurisdictions 287(g) powers stunned advocates who had been expecting a
major overhaul of – or end to – this failed program. “DHS is fully
aware that the abusive misuse of the 287(g) program by its current
slate of agencies has rendered it not only ineffective, but dangerous
to community safety. It is surprising Napolitano did not simply shut
this program down. Expanding this failed program is not in line with
the reform the administration has promised,” said Andrea Black,
Coordinator of the Detention Watch Network.

Signatory Organizations:

A Better Way Foundation, New Haven, CT

All of Us or None, San Francisco, CA

Border Action Network, Tucson, AZ

Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, NY

Center for Media Justice, Oakland, CA

Detention Watch Network, Washington, DC

Families for Freedom, New York, NY

Florida Immigrant Coalition, Miami, FL

Grassroots Leadership, Austin, Texas

Homies Unidos, Los Angeles, CA

Immigrant Defense Project, New York, NY

Immigrant Justice Network

Immigration Law Clinic, UC Davis School of Law, Davis, CA

Immigrant Legal Resource Center, San Francisco, CA

Judson Memorial Church, New York, NY

Justice Strategies, New York, NY

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, San Francisco, CA

Main Street Project, Minneapolis, MN

Media Action Grassroots Network, Oakland, CA

National Day Laborer Organizing Network

National Immigration Law Center, Los Angeles, CA

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Boston, MA

Partnership for Safety and Justice, Portland, Oregon

Project Rethink

Southern Center for Human Rights, Atlanta, GA

A Voice of Reason & Courage in the Wilderness of Immigration Reform: Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO)

July 16, 2009

Amidst a toxic, confusing climate of a Washington on the verge of “immigration reform”, a climate in which some “immigration reformers” find themselves pondering the possibility of supporting national identification cards, increased enforcement and very punitive approaches to legalization, the voice of Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) sounds, well,…. strange. This is the same climate in which President Obama and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano just announced the “Si Se Puede” of their continued and increased support for one of the most heinous Bush-era immigration policies: 287G, the program that facilitates the racism, humiliation, profiling and generalized injustice of local law enforcement officials like Arizona’s nototorious Joe Arpaio.

Announced in the late Friday haze and buzz preceding the confirmation hearings of centrist former corporate lawyer and ex-prosecutor Sonia Sotomayor, the Obama Administration’s continuation of the dreaded program heard nary a complaint from most immigration reformers. Such silence around programs that will jail more migrants provide an empty echo chamber amplifying the voice of Polis. A member of Congress calling for the reform of an immigration detention system that’s killing, sickening and unjustly jailing tens upon tens of thousands of people? Yes, it’s true. See for your self

Polis should be commended-commended loudly for his courage in saying things most of his Congressional peers, most “reformers” and the Obama Administration are unwilling to include as part of the the legalization and enforcement-centric approaches that some call “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” There are tens of thousands of detainees for whom CIR will only mean more crowded, filthy and deadly living conditions as even more and more enforcement measures are added to a immigration system that has caused the exponential rise in Latino detention, to the point where the number of Latinos-mostly immigrant Latinos- has surpassed the number of African Americans in federal prison:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/19/us/19immig.html

So, given the lack of political will do anything around detention except support a CIR that will jail even MORE migrants,Polis’ John the
Baptist-like lonely voice in the wilderness of Washington is refreshing. His gumption and character are to be commended. Visiting detention facilities should be mandatory for any and all “reformers”. I think that if we could have some people become “detainees for a day” as part of their in service training, some would push as vociferously for real detention reform as they do for legalization and the increased enforcement that will jail more of those families, more of those children that Polis is concerned about.

If you appreciate Polis’ courage and honesty with regard to immigration reform, please show that appreciation by calling his office:

202-225-2161

Gracias!

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)