Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In Hope of Peace in The Gaza Strip

by Rose Crockett Davis
June 27, 2009

I recently returned from The Gaza Strip on June 7th, 2009. I was allowed to
enter the heavily guarded Egyptian Rafah border crossing into Gaza as part of
a 66-person International Delegation organized by Code Pink—an active U.S.
based anti-war group, by the invitation of the United Nations Relief and Works
Agency of Gaza. We went as witnesses to the horrors of the slaughter which
left 1400 Palestinians dead and 6000 injured at the hands of the Israeli
military this past December and January. With an arsenal of American made
bombs, the Israeli military first struck by air 300 times, bombing mosques,
schools, hospitals, government and UN buildings, homes, and infrastructure,
and then engaged in a ground attack.

One of our main focuses was to promote peace in this war-torn coastal region
in the middle of the Sinai Desert, one of the most densely populated areas on
earth. Our delegation included men and women, ranging in ages from 20 to
70, consisting of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, etc. Most in the group
were journalists, photojournalists, reporters, relief workers, and one political
scientist. We were all there in solidarity with the people of Gaza. We focused
on the children, as 55 % of the 1.5 million population are under 18 years old,
the leaders of the future. Some of us helped set up 3 pink playgrounds, and
gave the children some toys, small gestures, mostly symbolic, to show them
we care. We all had the opportunity to meet with directors of hospitals,
schools, libraries, universities, and organizations including The Palestine Save
The Children’s Foundation, The Palestine Right to Life Foundation, The
Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, Jabalia Rehabilitation Society, Palestine
Center for Human Rights, the list goes on and on. Because of the two year
Siege and Blockade imposed by the Israeli government, resulting in having no
private or government funding coming in, every agency and organization is in
dire need of aid.

Every Gazan’s life is in peril. Because of the blockade, the once thriving port of
entry for goods, is closed off. The Israeli government has only been allowing
30% of the food and supplies needed for survival to enter Gaza. Last week it
was lowered to 20%. The farmers are not allowed to farm on the most fertile
land close to the northern border with Israel. The fishermen are not allowed
to fish freely in the Mediterranean Sea. No building supplies are allowed to
enter, resulting in no reconstruction. Most of their goods must be smuggled
through tunnels along the Egyptian border.

Envision the state of having nowhere to hide, with no safe place to go, being
trapped with no way out. This is what is playing out in The Gaza Strip with the
closing of it’s borders two years ago—these people live in the largest prison on
earth.

The war torn area and people of Gaza need to heal. They can forgive, but they
will never forget. Each citizen has been traumatized by the massacre of what
the Gazans call "The Last War." They will never forget the 500 innocent
children who were slaughtered. The surviving children, along with many
adults suffer from malnutrition, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,
and various physical illnesses. All of them know intimately what the carnage
of war can do.

At the heart of the Israel/Palestine conflict lies the question of land and who
rules it, deepened by the tragedies of the Holocaust and of the dispossession
and occupation of Palestine. The UN’s partition of the land in 1947, in an
effort to resolve the conflict, did not result in a lasting settlement. The land
dispute has increasingly been focused on Israel’s occupation of the territories
of the West Bank, Gaza strip and East Jerusalem. The war of 1967 was fought
over the disputed land. The Oslo Accords in 1993 and the Road Map of 2003
failed to reach a land agreement between the parties or to bring Israeli
withdrawal. Since 2002, the Israeli government has been building a wall that
winds deep into Palestinian territory, and is increasing its settlement
expansion. The International Court of Justice has ruled that Israel’s barriers
violate international law. The unequal struggle over the land of Palestine
continues, causing a barrier to a peaceful solution. Disputed land. It reminds
me of what happened with the colonization of the Americas and the
continuing effects it has had on the Indian Nations. They believe they belong
to the Earth, the Earth does not belong to them. If we all could come to the
universal truth that we are all citizens of the Earth and need to be stewards of
the Earth, if we could think as one, and act as one, we would be able to settle
all of these land disputes, and we would have a perfect peace.

Please write, fax or call your Senators and Congressmen and tell them to stop
the U.S. funding of the assaults made by the Israeli government toward the
people of Palestine.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Nashville Peace Festival Draws Hundreds


On Sunday, June 14th hundreds of peace loving folks turned out for the first annual Nashville Peace Festival in Centennial Park. Among those attending was Cindy Sheehan, Nobel Peace nominee, Singer/Songwriter David Rovics and a host of musicians, poets, speakers, and dancers.

Cindy Sheehan Video


Reports from the Peace Festival of attendees were generally positive include the following from CH "There was a wide variety of people there, much more than I had anticipated. I definately would like to say the festival was a "success". It was hot, but there were plenty of food/drink vendors to choose from as well as merchandise vendors. It was really neat and I hope that we can do it again. "

Second Part of Cindy Sheehan Speech

Another report from a coordinator of the event had the following to say, "With all of your help, we took on an very very ambitious undertaking, and, considering the approximately 300 people who showed up, the news coverage that we got, the very nice articles in The Tennessean and the Nashville Free Press, Cindy's very enlightening interview on channel 5's morning show, I would say that we succeeded enormously. Judging from the reports that I have gotten so far, it was a very energizing, motivating and inspiring event, which of course was our intent."

Rose Davis Speaking About Her Trip to Gaza



The number of people who attended was a matter of some dispute, according to one report, "The only thing I would quarrel with for now is the attendance estimate. I think the 300 number was put out by Chris Lugo. JK, who was handling security, estimated that about 1,000 people had come through during the day. I am told that DS, who was helping with the sound equipment, estimated the attendance at 900, and Eliz estimated it at 700. The average of these figures is 725. If you were to take the two extreme figures, throw them out, then average the remaining two, that would be 800. I would be more comfortable saying that between 700 and 800 people attended."

David Rovics performing at the Peace Festival


Regardless of the number, it was agreed that the event was a generally positive event that raised some awareness about the current wars in Iraq, Aghanistan and Pakistan and the need for an end to war and a call for peace. Some peace coalition coordinators even suggested holding the event again next year, hopefully celebrating an end to war and the creation of a department of peace.


The Emancipators Performing at the Peace Festival


Submitted by Chris Lugo of the Nashville Peace Coalition

Killing Afghan Villagers in Florida

Iraq, Afghanistan Wars Coordinated from afar
by Michel Moutot Michel Moutot

TAMPA, Florida (AFP) – The target may be in Iraq or Afghanistan, but if a US air attack risks killing civilians the decision to strike is taken by leaders at this military base in sunny Tampa, Florida. In a windowless room at the sprawling MacDill Air Force Base, home to the US Central Command (CENTCOM), several dozen officers monitor developments across the Middle East, the Gulf and Central Asia 24 hours a day.

They also watch events in the pirate-infested waters off Somalia's shores.

During a tour granted to an AFP reporter and other journalists on Tuesday, the screens only showed film taken in Iraq more than four years ago.

A huge flat screen monitor on the left broadcasts live images caught by cameras aboard unmanned aerial vehicles, both spy planes and drones. Reconnaissance video streams and attacks are also tracked in real time.

On the right, another screen broadcasts Al-Jazeera English, the sister channel of the controversial Arabic-language news network that often angered the George W. Bush administration for its reporting of the Afghan and Iraq wars and airing tapes of Al-Qaeda leaders.

In the center of the room, another monitor continuously shows updated summaries of key data and information. Digital clocks on the wall gives the time in Tampa, Qatar, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and "Zulu" (GMT).

"From this room," said Joint Operations Center (JOC) commander Todd Schappler, "we do all the operational reporting all over our zone of responsibility. We issue orders, we can assist with targeting. We collect information, repackage it for our boss, General (David) Petraeus," an architect of US counterinsurgency strategy.

Among the computer screens sit two powerful Sun workstations.

"Their job is to use picture and imagery to calculate what weapon to use," said Schappler, adding that the calculations at CENTCOM are completed simultaneously with others in the field.

"They discuss it and find a common ground. But if they still disagree, it goes to the higher level. So, the decision is taken here. But often, in the meantime, the target is gone."

Despite all the high-level coordination, there are sometimes mistakes -- mistakes that often prove costly in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the US air strikes are deeply unpopular.

US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have their own command posts and operations centers, but personnel at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas, in the western US state of Nevada, maneuver the pilotless Predator and Reaper drones that fly over Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Schappler said CENTCOM does its absolute best to avoid any "collateral damage" and to "keep it absolutely as small as possible."

"If we find a bad person, a terrorist, we assign a priority to that person. We try to asses where he lives, who he is associated with, where does he go," Schappler said.

"If he lives in a tent, in the desert, that would make an easy decision for the commander in the field. But if he lives in a compound with women and children, or near a mosque, a historic place, we perform a collateral damage assessment."

If the risk of civilian deaths is too high, Schappler said, the operation is canceled.

And if there is an important development at any time, night or day, the JOC chief contacts a top aide to Petraeus. "We wake him up a dozen times a month," said Schappler.

CENTCOM also hosts military representatives from 55 countries that responded to Washington's call to join the "war on terror" following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

"The countries who joigned us in this fight wanted to have their people involved, to better understand what was going on," said Lieutenant Colonel Mark Hickman.

Located in a nondescript building on the military base, the Coalition Coordination Center is a military Tower of Babel, where officers of all ranks and uniforms play their part in maintaining a high-stakes balance.

"Our role is to be the interface between the ... Central Command and our countries," said Air Force Brigadier General Gilles Lemoine, head of the French detachment.

"We are the eyes and ears of our chiefs of defense on what is going on here, so they can take informed decisions," said a European colonel, who declined to be named because he had not been authorized to speak on the matter.

"Our job goes from the smallest details, like when are the vehicles going to be shipped to the highest level of political issues," the colonel said.

Citizens Face Prosecution for Antiwar Speech

On January 6, 2009, the first day of the 111th Congress, seventy people came to Washington D.C. from all over the United States to participate in the MARCH OF THE DEAD. Their goal was to stage a peaceful protest displaying the ever-increasing death toll due to the AUDACITY OF WAR CRIMES committed by our government. Their right to assemble and petition our government for redress of grievances was disrupted when the Capitol Police stopped the reading of the names of the dead from the illegal wars and occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. Seventeen of them were arrested.

The question must be asked, especially, in light of the release of "torture memos" and all the other mounting evidence of crimes committed by the Bush administration: Why are people being prosecuted for speaking against crimes committed by government officials who remain free from prosecution themselves?

Four of the people featured in this report by Bill Moyers' Journal in January http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/01092009/watch3.html faced prosecution for disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly on Monday, June 22, 2009, 9:00 a.m. ET.
before Judge Richard H. Ringell in the Superior Court of The District of Columbia Criminal Division, Courtroom 120.

MoveOn Resumes Anti-War Stance

By Tom Hayden

MoveOn resumed its historical anti-war stance this week, symbolically breaking with the Obama administration for the first time.

After being criticized for abandoning the anti-war stance that won it millions of activist supporters, the organization sent targeted mailings supporting the demand for an Obama administration exit strategy report contained in HR 2404, by Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.

The measure, which requires the Pentagon to outline an exit strategy from Afghanistan by December 31, had only 84 co-sponsors last week, and was blocked by the House Democratic leadership from consideration as part of the supplemental military appropriation of $100 million. Currently it is pending in the House, still opposed by the Obama administration.

The bill represents an uncertain trumpet for Democrats who were willing to impose exit deadlines from Iraq on the outgoing Bush administration. Both President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have spoken in favor of an Afghanistan exit strategy in the past, which means their opposition to the McGovern legislation reflects a deep-running struggle between the executive and legislative branches over war-making powers. The White House was extremely active in lobbying Democrats to vote for the war supplemental without conditions. Only 32 Democrats were willing to stand up against the administration.

The refusal of MoveOn to engage in the supplemental fight, or oppose the escalation in Afghanistan, meant a reduction of grass-roots anti-war pressure on wavering Congressional members. Until last week, Congressional anti-war leaders were questioning where MoveOn, with its five million members, stood on the vote.

Despite its modest nature, MoveOn’s entry into the debate could be an important factor in legitimizing anti-war criticism of the Obama policies among Democrats. Anti-war sentiment at the grass roots is smothered by the unwillingness of several organizations to openly oppose the war escalation, despite their roots in the anti-war movement against Iraq.

The silent organizations thus far include Democracy for America and its founder, Howard Dean, Ben Cohen’s True Majority, and the Obama campaign’s offshoot Organizing for America. The Feminist Majority even supported the $80 billion war supplemental with an amendment supporting women’s programs in Afghanistan. The Feminist Majority argued against another anti-war organization, Win Without War, taking an oppositional stand on the supplemental. National Peace Action, while opposing the supplemental, also supported the Feminist Majority’s amendment to the supplemental, which failed anyway in the end.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Senate Stalls Election Reform Delay

A New Hero Enters Tennessee's History Books
by Bernie Ellis

Every Tennessee school child learns early on that our state has been blessed with heroes throughout its history. Davy Crockett at the Alamo, Alvin York in the trenches of World War I Europe – we continue to revere the honorable people who sprang from our hills and hollows with the in-borne courage to do the next right thing when they were called on to do so. There are three other heroes – two long-gone now and one who is still very much alive – who helped expand our franchise and, in the process, helped save our democracy. The two deceased heroes were Harry Burn and Ben West. The third hero, the one who still walks among us, is Senator Tim Burchett of Knoxville.

Harry Burn was a first-term Republican state representative from McMinn county, the youngest Tennessee state legislator serving in 1920 when women's suffrage hung in the balance in our state. Back then, only one more state was needed to ratify the Nineteenth amendment to the US Constitution, an amendment that would give women the right to vote. Like many legislators at the time, Representative Burn was under extreme pressure from sexist politicians back home to oppose the amendment, to keep women "in their place". Some even believed that Rep. Burn was a safe bet to vote against suffrage, since he wore a red rose on his lapel, a color then (and now) that represented exclusion and disenfranchisement. But as the pivotal vote approached, the opponents of inclusion did not know that Representative Burn carried in his coat pocket a letter from his widowed mother urging him to vote for ratification. When his name was called, Harry Burn voted "yes", the single deciding vote that ratified – for our entire nation – the Nineteenth Amendment.

Ben West was the Mayor of Nashville in 1960, when Black college students began a series of lunch-counter sit-ins in segregated department stores that were among the many pillars of the Jim Crow South. For months, those students had been arrested and hauled off to jail. As a result, the Black community had boycotted Nashville stores and Whites had also stayed away, crippling the downtown Nashville economy. Tensions had risen to the point where the home and church of Reverend Alexander Looby, a civil rights leader, had been bombed, sending him to the hospital. Responding to that violence, thousands of Nashvillians marched to City Hall where Mayor West met them. One young Fisk student, Diane Nash, spoke quietly that day to Mayor West and pleaded with him to use the prestige of his office to end racial segregation at the lunch-counters. Mayor West's response was simple and direct: "Yes, young lady, I will do that." Years later, Ben West said that, at that moment, he had said the only thing that any moral person could say – that he had answered as a God-fearing man, and not as a politician. The next day, the Nashville Banner's headline said it all "INTEGRATE COUNTERS – MAYOR". Within a month, all Nashville lunch-counters were integrated and, with that positive role-model in the heart of the South, Jim Crow's racist days were numbered.

That brings us to Senator Tim Burchett, a Knoxville Republican and the bravest and most patriotic man I know in our fair state today. For the past three years, Tennessee voters have been working hard to correct a serious error in how we conduct our elections here. In 2006, Tennessee wasted over $30 million in federal funds to purchase touch-screen voting machines (also called Direct Record Electronic machines, or DREs), voting machines that are slow, expensive and – worst of all – incapable of being audited or recounted. These machines have been implicated in a plethora of election fraud incidents across our country, and state after state has made the decision to ban these machines in favor of paper ballots. Tennessee was one of those states when we passed the TN Voter Confidence Act last year on a 92-3 vote in our House and a 32-0 vote in our Senate to replace those non-verifiable machines with paper ballots by the 2010 elections.

But when the Republican Party unexpectedly took control of our state legislature in 2008, one of the first things their leaders announced was that they intended to weaken, delay or repeal the Voter Confidence Act. For the past five months, a small band of Tennessee voters has traveled daily to our legislature and has witnessed a highly partisan and divided legislature, with most Democrats in favor of implementing the Voter Confidence Act as intended and most Republicans in favor of our continuing to vote on insecure and untrustworthy DREs. Since Republicans now control our General Assembly (for the first time since Reconstruction), we knew that the prospects for protecting our franchise were in peril.

Yesterday evening, as our Senate debated long and hard about a bill to delay implementation of the Voter Confidence Act until 2012 and to gut the law's election audit provisions, it was clear that the vote would be close and split along party lines. When the final vote was cast, the tally was 16-14 to delay democracy by postponing the implementation of the Voter Confidence Act until 2012. At first, we were crest-fallen, thinking that we had lost. But then one of us remembered that it takes 17 votes in the Senate for a law to pass, and with only 16 votes, the measure had failed. When we looked up at the vote board, we could see that all Democrats had voted to keep the Voter Confidence Act on-track for 2010 (except one, who had abstained) and all Republicans had voted to delay and weaken democracy. All of them, that is, except one. Senator Tim Burchett, a man who has been steadfast and vocal in his support for free, fair and verifiable elections for the past three years; and whose singular vote last night in opposition to the rest of his party allowed democracy to prevail in our state.

Thank you, Senator Burchett. Your intelligence, courage and sense of honor and fairness are what this country was built on, and what we must have in order for this nation to survive. Like Atticus Finch in "To Kill A Mockingbird", your singular bravery has helped keep us free. And like the Black citizens who filled the courtroom gallery in that long-ago movie, I will, from this day forward, stand up when you enter a room. Because I will know that I am in the presence of a modern-day patriot, the latest in a long line of American heroes who sprang from the hills of our Tennessee when they were needed to help keep our nation strong and safe -- and free. Yesterday, you saved our democracy.

Bernie Ellis, Organizer
Gathering To Save Our Democracy

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tennessee General Assembly Adjourns

Late last night, Thursday, June 18, 2009, the 1st Session of the 106th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned. During the session, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) tracked 97 bills and was active lobbying on a number of issues.

Education: TTPC worked against a bill which would have banned public school teachers from discussing sexual diversity. The House K-12 Subcommittee sent the bill to the Tennessee State Board of Education for study. The Board must report back to the General Assembly by March 2010. TTPC was part of a broad coalition of opponents which included the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Tennessee Education Association, and the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP). TTPC also supported Safe School and anti-gang bills and which should provide more protection for LGBT youth against harassment and bullying.

Employment: Although there was no specific bill introduced that would ban discrimination in hiring based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, TTPC continued to educate legislators about the need for such legislation.

Family Issues: TTPC vigorously opposed a bill which would ban unmarried, cohabiting couples in a sexual relationship from adopting children in 2009. TTPC viewed this bill as moralizing and discriminatory. We were joined by many groups including the ACLU, Davidson County Democratic Women, TEP, and virtually every child advocacy, family planning, and medical group in the state. We will continue to monitor this issue and will oppose any efforts to limit the rights of LGBT people to adopt.

Hate Crimes: TTPC had a bill introduced in 2009, SB253 by Senators Beverly Marrero and Ophelia Ford, and HB335 by Representative Jeanne Richardson and 21 others, which would add gender identity or expression to the Hate Crimes Penalty Enhancement Act of 2000. We have rolled this bill until January 2010 to continue building support. We already have a long list of allies for this bill, including the NAACP and NOW, and we anticipate finding more support across the state.

Health Care: TTPC continued to educate legislators on the need to expand health care coverage and resources to all Tennesseans, and to ensure that the coverage was not denied to anyone based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Personal Documents: TTPC supported several bills expressing opposition to the Federal Real ID Act of 2005. TTPC also opposed several bills with would require new Photo Identification to vote, because we believe this legislation will disfranchise transgender voters. This legislation was also opposed by the ACLU, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and TEP. One bill passed in the Senate, but was defeated in the House. We will continue to oppose any such legislation in the future.

Birth Certificates: TTPC had two bills introduced which would repeal Tennessee's one-of-a-kind ban on gender changes on birth certificates. These bills were sponsored by Senator Beverly Marrero (D-Memphis), Representative Michael Kernell (D-Memphis), and Representative Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis). We will continue working with our sponsors to get this important legislation passed in 2010.

Relationships: The House Republican Caucus announced in late 2008 that they would push a bill to ban recognition of civil unions. No such bill was introduced in 2009, but we do anticipate seeing it in 2010. TTPC previously opposed this legislation in 2004, and is prepared to oppose any such bill in the future.

The 2nd Session of the 106th General Assembly will convene at 12 Noon CST, on Tuesday, January 12, 2009. TTPC will continue to work for equal rights legislation including transgender persons, and will continue to oppose any legislation denying equal rights to all.

If you do not know the names of your state legislators, go to http://www.capitol.tn.gov.

In addition, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition urges swift passage in the United States Senate of S.909, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The House of Representatives has already passed this legislation by a vote of 249 to 175. We anticipate a vote on this long overdue legislation before the end of July.

Please contact both of Tennessee's Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and tell them you want to them to support S.909. With the recent rash of hate crimes across the nation, and with new statistics from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs showing a sharp increase in hate crimes against LGBT people across the nation, and similar statistics from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation showing a sharp increase in hate crimes as well in Tennessee, there must be federal legislation to protect all LGBT people when local authorities refuse to act.

We also ask everyone to continue talking to both U.S. Representatives and Senators about the importance of the fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We have heard that the fully inclusive ENDA will be introduced soon, possibly as early as next week. Such legislation was introduced for the first time in 2007, but it never came up for a vote. It is time to end job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. If LGBT people can find, and hold, decent paying jobs, then we are less likely to end up on the streets where we become vulnerable to hate crimes.

Marisa Richmond
President

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Project Censored Coming to Nashville

Media Democracy Lecture with Dr Peter Phillips of Project Censored

Nashville, TN: Dr. Peter Phillips of Project Censored will be presenting a lecture at the First Unitarian Universalist Church at 1808 Woodmont Avenue in Nashville on June 26th at 7:30pm. The title of the lecture will be 'Media Democracy in a Time of Truth Emergency.' Project Censored is a media democracy project which has been highlighting the 25 most important stories ignored by the mainstream media through an annual publication and the website www.projectcensored.org.

Whether it is NATOs consideration of a "First Strike" Nuclear Option, Cruelty and Death in America's Juvenile Detention Centers or the Seizing of War Protesters' Assets, Project Censored has been there to highlight the investigative journalism that the mainstream media has failed to present to the general public.

According to Project Censored the top most underreported story of 2009 has been the violent deaths of over one million Iraqis since the beginning of the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq. "Over one million Iraqis have met violent deaths as a result of the 2003 invasion . . .These numbers suggest that the invasion and occupation of Iraq rivals the mass killings of the last century—the human toll exceeds the 800,000 to 900,000 believed killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and is approaching the number (1.7 million) who died in Cambodia’s infamous “Killing Fields” during the Khmer Rouge era of the 1970s."

Founded by Carl Jensen in 1976, Project Censored is a media research program working in cooperation with numerous independent media groups in the US. Project Censored’s principle objective is training of SSU students in media research and First Amendment issues and the advocacy for, and protection of, free press rights in the United States. Project Censored has trained over 1,500 students in investigative research in the past three decades.
Through a partnership of faculty, students, and the community, Project Censored conducts research on important national news stories that are underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored by the US corporate media. Each year, Project Censored publishes a ranking of the top 25 most censored nationally important news stories in the yearbook, Censored: Media Democracy in Action, which is released in September. Recent Censored books have been published in Spanish, Italian and Arabic. According to Walter Kronkite, "Project Censored is one of the organizations that we should listen to, to be assured that our newspapers and our broadcasting outlets are practicing throrough and ethical journalism."

Peter Phillips is the director of Project Censored since 1996 and co-editor with Dennis Loo of Impeach the President. He is the recipient of the 2009 Dallas Smythe Award from the Union for Democratic Communications. Dr. Phillips is a Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University in Sonoma, California. Introducing Dr. Phillips will be nationally known peace activist Bob Bowman. Admission is free.

Media Democracy Lecture with Dr Peter Phillips of Project Censored
June 26th Nashville
First Unitarian Universalist Church
1808 Woodmont 7:30pm

For More Information Contact:
Dan Tyler, dantyler@comcast.net, 615 297 3637
Chris Lugo, christopherlugo@aol.com, 615 593 0304

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2009 Ghandi King Conference

The Gandhi-King Conference on Peacemaking is a three day conference bringing together modern visionaries on nonviolence and social change with community leaders, activists, academics and organizers to train, learn, plan and organize to create a culture of liberation and justice for all. Speakers, workshops, working groups, panel discussions, paper presentations, and performance will help create this open environment of learning and action.


2009 Speakers Include:
Rev. CT Vivian, lifelong civil rights activist
Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Mubarak Awad, Nonviolence InternationalBarbara Love, United to End Racism
Rudy Balles, PeaceJam Foundation
Michael Nagler, Metta Center

****Proposals are still being accepted until July 1. Visit our website to read the Call and to submit proposals online.****

The 2009 Youth Conference, aimed at high school students, will be our most exciting yet, as we partner with PeaceJam to bring students an innovative and interactive experience from which students will leave with concrete skills to immediately begin implementing nonviolence in their daily lives.

For more information, please visit our website, www.GandhiKingConference.org, or call (901)725-4990. Registration will open July 1. Please help spread the word!

Monday, June 15, 2009

El Salvador Rising

by TOM HAYDEN

Tom Hayden has traveled to El Salvador three times, has written extensively about cross-border street gang issues and, as a California state senator, passed legislation authorizing creation of the first Central American studies program on an American campus, California State Northridge, in 1999. His writings can be found at tomhayden.com. Research, translation and photographic assistance for this article came from Jessica Levy and Jason Cross in San Salvador.


With the election of Mauricio Funes, El Salvador has its first elected progressive government in 188 years.

The 'very small club' falters

The woman in the brown pantsuit looked flustered as she ordered pastries, pulling her young daughter by the hand, in the upscale San Salvador restaurant. Recognizing the two Salvadoran journalists I was sitting with, she began describing in rapid English her meeting with Hillary Clinton about women's issues the day before. She kept looking out the window, twice interrupting her Hillary vignette to note that her husband was waiting in the car, impatient. The little girl looked stranded on her mother's hand. Suddenly the husband rushed through the door, gesturing angrily that she should hurry up.
The likely reason for the tension was that just two hours before, this woman, Marisol Argueta, was the foreign minister of El Salvador. The former television journalist Mauricio Funes, candidate of the Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (FMLN), was now the Salvadoran president, the first progressive left government elected in the 188 years since the country's independence, and now Marisol Argueta was on the street.

Back on September 18, 2008, Argueta had spoken to a neoconservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), in Washington, where she was introduced by Roger Noriega, an AEI fellow and former top Bush administration official in Latin America, as "part of a very elite and, unfortunately, very small club; we call them allies."

As evidence of this small elite club at work, Noriega could mention El Salvador's being the first country to join the Central America Free Trade Area (CAFTA), or its basing a secret Forward Operating Location for US counterinsurgency, counter-narcotics, and counterintelligence operations. Noriega, formerly a senior staffer for the late, ferociously conservative Sen. Jesse Helms, chose to celebrate the fact that 300 soldiers in El Salvador's Battalion Cuzcatlan were the only Latin Americans fighting on the American side in Iraq.

Noriega was one of the many conservative hawks who came to power in the Central American wars, which now were ending in progressive political victories for the FMLN and the Sandinistas, and changes in Guatemala and Honduras and across Latin America. Their grip on policy has been a long one, however, and casts a shadow on the future. Current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, for example, was the CIA official who secretly advised in 1984 that "negotiations only allow communists to further entrench themselves," and that it was time to overthrow the elected Nicaraguan regime, because "the fact is that the Western Hemisphere is the sphere of influence of the United States," and who worried about domestic opposition in the United States. Elliott Abrams, who lobbied heavily for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, once lied to Ted Koppel that "there were no massacres in El Salvador in 1984," and pleaded guilty in 1991 to having withheld facts from Congress in 1986 about the Iran/Contra affair. Admiral John Poindexter, another figure in Iran/Contra, was shaping the shadowy Total Information Awareness program in 2002.

Col. James Steele, who trained the ruthless paramilitaries in Iraq, was the Special Forces officer who fielded the discredited Salvadoran paramilitaries in the 1980s and collaborated with Oliver North to smuggle weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras. Just this week, The Nation published an interview with the current head of the American secret operations command in Iraq, who said he was "very proud of what was done in El Salvador," where he trained their special forces decades ago.

The long list of recycled neocon diplomats and secret warfare specialists from El Salvador to the present justifies historian Greg Grandin's view that Central America has long been "the empire's workshop." Now, as I watched El Salvador's former foreign minister rush off, I waved to her little girl and wondered if the bloody wars finally were coming to an end, in this place where 75,000 to 90,000 people died, today's equivalent of 10 million Americans, the vast majority of them killed at the hands of US-backed security forces, and what the future might hold for the living.

Inauguration Day, June 1

The New York Times account of inauguration day described El Salvador as a pawn in global power politics, not as a democracy emerging from years of interventions, bloodbaths and death squads. The United States, according to the Times's story, is trying "to reclaim influence in Latin America where Iran has made inroads." Hillary Clinton asserted that Iran's influence in the region is "quite disturbing." In her September AEI speech, Arguetas also railed against the spectre of Iranian influence. It took fourteen paragraphs for the Times account of inauguration day to acknowledge that "Iran is not known to have a big presence in El Salvador and it was not represented at Mr. Funes' inauguration."

Instead of seeing El Salvador as a pawn, the Obama administration needs new eyes. Inauguration Day revealed an El Salvador finally becoming itself, a center-left country with a devastating legacy of war, a $1 billion debt, 50 percent of its population making less than two dollars per day, and the reality of 2 million people--fully one-third of its entire population--now living a hybrid identity in the United States and sending back remittances. America, like a violent intruder, wrecked the place, and it will never be the same.

To list El Salvador on the scorecard of Latin American politics today is to reinvent cold war thinking and worse, to practice avoidance about the shameful rise of the US neoconservatives during the Reagan wars in Central America. The Obama adminstration needs to apologize for the past, respect El Salvador's right to self-determination and forgo the repetition of past patterns of low-visibility, high-casualty warfare that began in Central America and continues today across Colombia, Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In his inaugural speech, President Mauricio Funes said his "reference points" were Lula and Barack Obama, and his spiritual guide the martyred Monsignor Óscar Romero, at whose monument he paid his respects that morning. In an editorial the following day, El Mundo described him as emblematic of "moderation without extravagant ideologies." Inaugural day passed with notable calm, as had election day on March 15, despite the depth of political fissures in the country. The public expectation seemed to lie in what Funes called "reinventing hope." He promised 100,000 new jobs, an expansion of healthcare, education and housing, an aggressive program of redirecting public subsidies away from privileged interests, and a crackdown on a pervasive culture of institutional corruption. Instead of the mano duro (tough-fisted) repression of any young people with tattoos, there will be a greater emphasis on rehabilitation, jobs and partnership with gang intervention groups such as Homies Unidos. (See "Gato and Alex--No Safe Place," in The Nation, July 10, 2000.) Underlying these policy priorities will be the theme of liberation theology--a special preference for the poor--advocated by Romero and a generation of 1960s theologians.

This will be a huge project of radical reform, endangered by powerful right-wing opposition and hardly helped by policies like CAFTA, whose privatization measures have made the lives of the poor even more precarious. The FMLN, with Funes's support, led a successful street campaign against privatizing health services in 2007, the largest mobilization since the war ended in 1992.

El Salvador will benefit from the progressive continental nationalism sweeping Latin America. Some elites try dividing the continent into a "bad" populist bloc (led by Venezuela) versus a "good" left that collaborates with the US (led by Brazil's Lula). This reductionism places Funes in the ranks of the "good," but the distinction is not so simplistic. In his inaugural remarks, Funes announced his first foreign policy initiative, the recognition of Cuba, to a long standing ovation. He was in Venezuela the previous week, successfully seeking the expansion of Venezuela's discounted oil program from local FMLN municipalities to his new national government.

Then there is Funes's alliance with the FMLN itself, considered the "bad" left by the national security hawks. FMLN leaders in the Funes cabinet will include the elected vice president and minister of education, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, key ministers for health and educational expansion, and a former commandante in charge of the intelligence services (all discussed below). None of the economic portfolios, on the other hand, went to FMLN representatives, perhaps as a signal to investors.

According to one independent supporter of the FMLN I interviewed, "the government of Mauricio Funes and the government of the FMLN are two separate entities, and will be negotiating the terms of their coalition."

Funes benefited hugely from the rapid growth of Los Amigos de Mauricio, a formidable fund-raising and outreach network, somewhat like Barack Obama's vast independent volunteer structure, with the potential of becoming a political party of its own. While Los Amigos includes former members of the FMLN, its principle founders include members of a modern business elite like Carlos Caceres, later named Funes's treasury minister, and Alex Segovia, his chief of staff. This rising elite tends to be composed of businessmen in technology, banking and real estate development, more than the narrow and notorious "fourteen families" of coffee barons who controlled the country for more than a century. This new class will have to construct a new social contract with the FMLN and social movements rooted among rural campesinos, urban workers, those who toil in the informal economy and the left-wing intellectual class.

This said, it is true that Funes is not part of the movement towards "twenty-first-century socialism" embodied by Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba, does not seek an ideological confrontation with the United States, and is not a favorite of the Latin American left. It is true that Funes is extremely close to Lula. Funes's wife, Vanda Pignato, is a native Brazilian who met him when she was working as the embassy representative of Brazil's Workers Party in San Salvador. Brazil is loaning El Salvador $500 million, currently more than the European Union, and other forms of Brazilian assistance will follow.

But the new Latin America, despite contradictions, has more in common than not. Besides the unity about Cuba, the continent has rejected the failed neoliberal policies of the Bush years, and seeks to negotiate far better trade, energy and diplomatic deals with Obama. Lula, widely labeled a moderate, recently faulted the Wall Street meltdown on "white-skinned people with blue eyes." The Brazilian-led, southern-tier common market (Mercosur) is compatible with Venezuela's sponsorship of the Andean development project.

Both counties are deeply engaged in Unasur, the twelve-nation initiative to resolve South American disputes among Latin Americans. As Brazil's foreign minister puts it, these projects represent "countries of all ideological strands harboring the common desire of integrating Latin America and the Caribbean as their common space." This Latin America is a completely different continent than the one ripped apart by coordinated death squads, police repression and right-wing dictatorships only decades ago.

If the Funes-FMLN coalition holds together, it will be a microcosm of the political currents already evolving, both in unity as well as tension, across Latin America.

Hillary Clinton must have sensed all this in as she sat quietly amidst other diplomats while one Latin American president after another ascended above her to the inaugural stage. Not only did she sit through the huge applause for the new FMLN vice president (Sánchez Cerén), but for Cuba, and the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Ecuador, Brazil and Chile, interrupted by periodic ¡que viva!s for Venezuela, Vietnam, Palestine, and Monsignor Romero. "¿Quienes aqui?" rippled across the well-dressed crowd of dignitaries, professionals and diplomatic observers, and the answer was shouted back, "el Frente Farabundo Martí."

This will be a rowdy coalition.

At a press conference during the inauguration, Clinton turned from the cold war paradigm to more constructive thoughts on the occasion: "Some of the difficulties that we've had historically in forging strong and lasting relationships in our hemisphere are a result of our perhaps not listening, perhaps not paying close enough attention."

How the March election was won

It was very, very close. The final figures for the March 15 national election gave Funes and the FMLN 51.32 percent, versus 48.7 percent for ARENA (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista), the party of the Salvadoran right that had won every presidential election since the 1992 peace accords. In the national assembly, the FMLN won thirty-five seats, ARENA thirty-two and traditional parties the remaining twenty.

The victory was caused primarily by internal factors, but external ones like the Wall Street crisis and the neutrality of the Obama administration played important parts as well.

The ARENA campaign plan was about front-loading, trying first to win January's election in the FMLN-controlled capital of San Salvador, then exploiting that momentum to capture the presidential election in mid-March. They would emphasize the themes of mano duro, free trade and public fear that an FMLN victory would threaten remittances and the temporary protective status (TPS) of many Salvadorans in the United States, and turn the country into a haven for terrorism. Continuous television spots were run associating Funes with the FMLN, Hugo Chávez and narco-terrorism.

ARENA's initial move was successful. The FMLN was vulnerable to charges of mismanagement and crime after a decade in power in San Salvador, and was driven out of office in the January elections. But Funes and the FMLN launched a political counter-offensive.

Funes could portray himself as a genuine independent. His older brother Roberto was an FMLN member killed by the police on August 14, 1980, but he himself had never joined. Instead, he became the country's best-known television newscaster and commentator, periodically harassed by the ARENA and corporate media owners. He was considered a tough questioner, fair-minded, willing to disagree at times with the FMLN, while describing himself as a reporter indignant at structural injustices. Five years ago, Funes expressed an interest in the presidency, but the FMLN chose its Marxist founder and commandante, Schafik Handal, whose candidacy never reached beyond the organization's hardcore base of approximately one-third of voters. The FMLN seemed doomed to perpetuate the pattern, unless something changed internally.

To learn what happened in 2009, I interviewed a longtime contact and renowned FMLN commandante, Eduardo Linares, known as Commandante Douglas Santamaria during his years in the mountains of Chalatanango. Under the 1992 peace accords, Linares became the police chief of San Salvador, and later a member of the capital's city FMLN council bloc, which had been defeated in January. On the day Hillary Clinton was arriving, Linares was directing security preparations for the inauguration and an FMLN rally of 50,000 people. The following day he would be named chief of intelligence for the government.

Linares's description of the FMLN strategy was as methodical of any of his guerrillas campaigns.

The hardest strategic decision was whether to support Funes in an effort to win, or to once again put forward a commandante candidate destined to lose.

Paying close attention to their popular base, Linares said, the party heard a massive call for a strategy to finally defeat ARENA, its police and free-market policies. A majority of the party's militants also concurred, that they needed "a plan to take the right out of power," to "start believing in themselves as a party strong enough to win," and put forward Funes, the only candidate who "would not make the people afraid and the right afraid."

Not everyone on the left was in agreement, and the possibility of a long fratricidal primary loomed, with the FMLN's factional disunity on public display. Therefore, Linares said, the party adopted a plan to pre-empt other candidates and unify early around Funes. "We became verticalist," he said. "Internal democracy wouldn't work in the primaries, but at least we had the advantage of knowing what the people wanted and the party members too."

The FMLN cemented a pact with Funes by choosing its national coordinator, Sánchez Cerén--"my jefe in the montanas," Linares called him--as the vice-presidential nominee. They also negotiated a platform agreement that included such guarantees as an increase in health spending from 3 percent to 5 percent of the country's gross economic product. The campaign was on.

Other domestic factors helped the FMLN coalition along. ARENA and the Salvadoran right were splintering among themselves. In a bizarre twist, a faction of evangelicals blessed the Funes-FMLN ticket in the final days. But the most important issue factor was the Wall Street meltdown, whose social impact brought back deep historical memories. The FMLN had risen from such a crisis eighty years before; according to a recent Lonely Planet guide, "the stock market crash in the US...led to the collapse of coffee prices in 1929. Thereafter, the circumstances of the working classes, and in particular the indigenous Salvadorans, became that much more difficult." The 1932 rebellion led by Farabundo Martí in response to capitalism's collapse was crushed but gave rise to the Front that still bears his name. The next great Wall Street crash, in 2008, according to observers, was decisive in the FMLN's victory in 2009.

The other critical external factor was the role of the new Obama administration, which, under pressure from solidarity activists, made clear its neutrality as the election approached, thus deflating the ARENA claim that protective status and remittances would be repealed with an FMLN victory. According to Linares, "the Obama win (in November 2008) was a big hit against ARENA." The theme of change was in the air. An FMLN delegation had been invited by the National Democratic Institute--considered a hawkish conduit of campaign assistance--to attend the August 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, where they held discussions with party leaders. Obama's declared new diplomacy of dialogue implied the end of the wars, hot and cold, against the FMLN.

But FMLN supporters were deeply worried about a repeat of 2004, when ARENA and US Republicans generated a fear of sanctions if the FMLN won. This time the FMLN, and a strong Salvadoran-American lobby, pressured the administration to dissociate from television ads quoting an Obama senior adviser, Dan Restrepo, and a spiritual adviser, Antonio Bolainez, which warned of disaster if the FMLN succeeded. The ads were a false depiction of Obama's stand on the election. After a torrent of pressure, the State Department's Thomas Shannon issued a statement two days before the election denying an American tilt, dissociating from the commercials and pledging to work with the winner. In an election decided by less than two percent of the votes, the US position became a critical factor.

Four thousand people descended on El Salvador as international observers, most of them longtime participants in the solidarity movements of the 1980s. Fear of a stolen election kept the observers, along with thousands of FMLN activists, on high alert for fraud, including the ARENA tactic of busing in illegal voters from Honduras and Nicaragua. "People became more suspicious and started watching the borders and highways, thinking they had to protect the election for the good of the country," Linares said. Popular radio stations began broadcasting warnings about potential ARENA schemes. Fearing that democracy would be stolen, many Salvadorans took spontaneous direct actions, at one point attacking a bus they believed to be full of illegal voters.

On election night, amid a sea of red banners, red shirts and red posters, Funes proclaimed victory in the name of Monsignor Romero.

How will they govern?

The new Salvadoran government may be the most complex of the new arrangements in Central and Latin America. The majority is slender. Funes is a television commentator, not an executive. The FMLN has a relatively weak record of governance. The unity that was achieved in the electoral campaign may break down on the terrain of governing. The right-wing, like the Republicans here, relishes a nasty oppositional role. The outgoing ARENA government left a $1 billion debt, its corrupt extravagance symbolized by the outgoing president taking 300 people on a goodbye tour of the Middle East.

For answers, I turned to the case of healthcare and the role to be played by another FMLN revolutionary from the war period, Eduardo Espinoza, vice-minister of health in the Funes government. During the war he was "Felipe Dubón," the FMLN's specialist in "battlefield medicine," charged with tending to wounded fighters as well as civilian populations living in zones controlled by the FMLN, all under conditions of aerial assault and guerrilla war. When President José Napoleón Duarte's daughter was kidnapped and held hostage by the FMLN in 1985, Dubón's name was number two on the list of prisoners the FMLN demanded released, an exchange that took place forty-four days later.

I interviewed Espinoza in a leafy open-air coffee shop at the Sheraton Hotel, near the spot where two American labor attachés were killed along with a Salvadoran land reform official, in January 1981. Shocked as a young man by police murders of students at his university in 1975, he felt that "the 1970s started the dream just being realized now," as he prepared to address El Salvador's healthcare crisis in the role of top adviser to the new health minister, the FMLN's María Rodríguez.

I wondered if addressing the institutional healthcare crisis would be harder in some respects than the battlefield medicine he improvised in the jungle. Espinoza certainly was prepared. After the war, he returned to teaching and became dean of medicine at the national university, where his boss, Rodríguez, served as president. During the campaign, Funes promised to expand the share of economic resources going to healthcare from 3 percent to 5, so Espinoza was gearing up.

Dominating the public health crisis are poverty and institutional corruption. Espinosa's research reveals that El Salvador has the highest prices for medicines in all of Latin America and among the highest in the world, adjusted for purchasing power. "It takes $30 to give birth in a hospital, which is impossible when you make a dollar a day. It can mean thirty days without feeding your family, so you don't go to the hospital," he said.

Every year there are fewer doctors per person, so young doctors have to become unemployed or leave for the exclusive private sector of medicine. "It's not a question of having enough doctors, it's a problem of not having enough employment for them in the public sector," he added.

Espinoza said he shows Michael Moore's movie Sicko--chuckling and savoring the pronunciation of the word--to his medical students as the best overview of the current crisis.

Of the four main distributors of medicines, those who broker between manufacturers, hospitals and pharmacies, three are owned by a cousin of the outgoing president, Antonio Saca, and the other by the family of a former president, Alfredo Cristiani. It gets worse: sometimes the system purchases medicines, including cancer and HIV medications, just before they expire and can no longer be given to patients.

Funding for increased access therefore will have to come from wringing efficiencies out of a system in which power is both bloated and maldistributed, a very difficult task. CAFTA worsens the crisis by extending patents, fostering market prices and "not considering healthcare a human right but a service." There still is room for negotiations over CAFTA, according to Espinoza, but it's a long way to his dream of a national healthcare system for Central America as a whole. As a leader of the recent battles against further privatization, he believes a greater social movement will be necessary "to address the social determinants of health." As for the public, he says it wants "total" and "radical reform" in the direction of universal care, and that its voice will be heard.

Now that relations with Cuba are being affirmed after fifty years, might Cuban doctors and medical schools help the transition in El Salvador? "They could be a good resource now that we are trying to revamp everything, because they have a different perspective," Espinoza replied; but the problem remains a Salvadoran one, of the power of social movements and former revolutionaries to change a system still designed to benefit a few.

The role of solidarity movements

They came on foot, or often in the trunks of cars, separated violently from their families, often in the hands of uncaring coyotes who took the little money they carried. One-tenth of the Salvadoran people became war refugees living in Los Angeles alone. "The solidarity movement had a huge role in this victory," Linares reflects. "Our dreams are the dreams of the solidarity movement."

It is important to remember this movement in its many forgotten strands, for its tenacity, variety, duration and lasting effects. Refugees, most of them undocumented, beginning without material resources, eventually formed service and advocacy organizations such as the Central American Resource Center (CARACEN) El Rescate (the Rescue) and the Salvadoran-American Leadership and Education Fund (SALEF), which became extremely influential.

Carlos Hernandez Vaquerano is the leader of SALEF, which has provided hundreds of scholarships to Salvadoran youth and carried on voter education campaigns. He was in El Salvador with a delegation of longtime allies. His seemingly exceptional profile is like many others. He was born in El Salvador in 1960, and three of his brothers--Marciel, Numan and Osmini--were kidnapped, murdered or disappeared by death squads in the 1980s. Encouraged by his family to leave before he himself was killed, Carlos made his way to Mexico in October 1980 and crossed the Tijuana border while lying face down on an engine block under the hood of a GMC truck. He was 20 years old, leaving behind a mother and several siblings. His father died of alcoholism when Carlos was 4.

He immediately joined the Los Angeles branch of the FMLN, whose offices were on Bonnie Brae street adjacent to MacArthur Park, as a volunteer, supporting himself as a day laborer and factory worker. On Sunday mornings he and his friends made and sold tamales door-to-door to raise money for El Salvador, handing out political leaflets at the same time. Soon he began working with the sanctuary movement, a vast underground railroad established mainly by religious organizations to shield and harbor escaping Salvadoran and other Central American refugees. More than 300 churches and synagogues nationally declared themselves safe havens, and at least 100,000 Americans signed pledges of active support. After years of solidarity work, he went on to lead SALEF, and became a prominent supporter of the Funes campaign.

Another exile was Rosanna Perez, who came to the United States in the 1980s after the authorities repressed the university student movement, disappeared her husband, and kidnapped and tortured her in prison for two years. She crossed the border on foot; her daughter, Sara, 2 years old, was being smuggled ahead. For years afterward, the daughter dreamed about hiding Rosanna in a closed room while a man was trying to abduct her; only many years later, when she was a UCLA student, did Sara call Rosanna to ask what happened. Both started crying.

Once in LA, Rosanna adopted the alias "Sara Martínez," and began working with the Comite Santana Chirino Amaya, named after a Salvadoran deportee who was tortured and killed, and also with El Rescate and a clinic named for Monsignor Romero. At first she thought the war would end in a couple of years and she could return home. Instead, she found herself joining the sanctuary movement, learning English, and speaking before audiences of ignorant but sympathetic church-goers. "Believe me, those were days of meetings, meetings and endless meetings. My kids would fall asleep under the tables." Her son, Tonatiuh, now 22, "learned to walk and talk at meetings, being passed from arm to arm." The process, she says today, was something like community organizing when she was back in the university, going out into the countryside, asking what was needed, and talking with people about how to achieve their goals. It took several years, but a US Circuit Court ruled in favor of the refugees' cause in 1988, and the movement achieved temporary protection status in 1990, allowing Salvadorans facing persecution if deported to gain residential and employment rights in the United States. What was simple asylum for millions of anti-Castro Cubans was a much harder struggle for Salvadorans fleeing persecution from the right.

Other veterans of the US civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements formed groups like the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), which prompted the FBI to open a five-year investigation on some 2,000 individuals in 1,000 groups. Others formed Medical Aid to El Salvador to send medical supplies into the war zones. Also targeted by the Reagan administration was the North American Committee on Latin America (NACLA), an anti-imperialist think tank that grew from the 1960s.

According to the historian Walter Le Feber, "not a single shred of wrongdoing on CISPES' part could be shown." But the goal, according to an internal FBI memo, was to "formulate some plan of attack against CISPES and specifically against individuals who definitely display their contempt for the US government by making speeches and propagandizing their cause." According to Le Feber, over 60,000 Americans signed a pledge in the mid-eighties to commit civil disobedience if the United States invaded Nicaragua.

It was a moment of simmering public antiwar sentiment that the national security elites deeply feared. The sentiment even was reaching into the American religious hierarchy. The Robert F. Kennedy family became engaged with Salvadoran women's groups. Congress, still influenced by the Vietnam experience, began asking questions and formulating proposals to cut military aid. Even the ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, began speaking out against the atrocities. Marjorie Tabankin, now a top Democratic progressive, who worked for the Arca Foundation at the time, began organizing trips to refugee camps on the Salvadoran border with actor-activists like Mike Farrell, among many others. Deeply struck by liberation theology priests she encountered, she traveled to El Salvador with delegations five times, spending eight years on solidarity work through the foundation she directed. An offshoot of that work was grassroots pressure in numerous congressional districts to stop military aid, as well as dialogue with Beltway opinion leaders.

"The Salvadorans then had two amazing qualities, a driving individual spirit and a grace and joy about their whole personalities," despite all the carnage, Tabankin recalls. "But the killing of the nuns (in December 1980) made it an American issue," she believes. And Congress in those times, she adds, was far more progressive and activist than the current Democratic majority when confronted with evidence of US-backed death squads.

At the time, Pentagon strategists still viewed El Salvador as "an experiment, an attempt to reverse the record of American failure in waging small wars, an effort to defeat an insurgency by providing training and material support without committing American troops to combat." On the home front, however, a majority of Americans were souring on the Central American counterinsurgencies, and were flatly against sending American ground troops. The US was forced to accept a negotiated peace accord in 1992, having failed to defeat the FMLN after spending $6 billion and contributing to 90,000 deaths over a twelve-year war. Besides that failure on the battlefield, it had become idiotic to accuse the FMLN of being agents of a Soviet Union which no longer existed.

Now "Los Angeles is the second capital of El Salvador," Rosanna Perez says of the place she lives. Carlos Vaquarano was in El Salvador for countless meetings during the inauguration along with leaders of CARACEN and El Rescate. CARECEN in LA today services 65,000 immigrants with legal aid and advocacy, and has fifteen sister organizations in cities like San Francisco; Houston; Washington, DC; New York; and Boston. Salvadorans are experts at multiplying organizations; one of CARECEN's founders, Angela Sambrano, how heads the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean communities.

The irony is that in the 1980s White House communications director Pat Buchanan was promoting low-intensity warfare in Central America, while today he is a vociferous opponent of the "flood" of Central American immigrants, never acknowledging that his own administration caused their exodus.

"This country became our home in a way," says Rosanna, "but I still don't feel it is. At the end of this, we are trying to make sense of all the history. The idea of the solidarity movement was maybe a layout of something bigger, a visionary thing, preparing the path for a change to happen." She herself never sought asylum or TPS. "I refused. It was ridiculous to have to prove my husband was disappeared and I was in jail or tortured, it was inhuman to ask those questions." For the sake of her children, she decided to marry an American, the first time in 1986, for a combination of love and legal protection, and later a second time to build a family. (Her husband is a landscape architect and a friend of mine, currently advising me on pruning roses.)

Rosanna became a student, then a lecturer, at Cal State Northridge, home of the country's first Institute of Central American Studies, which serves hundreds of Salvadoran immigrants. She aspires to a master's degree in comparative literature, Spanish and English. "I have this idea of a book, always cooking in my mind, based on my strong mother and grandmother, of an indigenous woman telling a story in the 1800s, speaking in Nahuatl, Spanish and English. It's about how the conquerors altered the production of literature in El Salvador. It's about identity," she says.

While Carlos and Rosanna were being exiled in America, Leslie Schuld is an example of a solidarity activist who emigrated permanently to El Salvador. From her days in the Dayton, Ohio, CISPES chapter twenty-eight years ago, her commitment has been steadfast. It started when she was shaken while studying for her university finals during the massacres of 1981. Having seen the film Revolution or Death and heard the radical priest Father Roy Bourgeois on campus, Leslie started having serious questions about her priorities. She became a full-time CISPES organizer, including two years in Washington, DC, then moved to El Salvador after the 1992 peace accords, along with her mentor Angela Sambrano. She has lived there for sixteen years, and today directs the Center for Interchange and Solidarity (CIS), a San Salvador-based outgrowth of CISPES, which offers education, scholarships, support for women's enterprises, and continuing delegations to El Salvador. CIS, which is supported by numerous American churches and humanitarian groups, promoted the coming of hundreds of observers during the March election. When I asked Leslie to sum up the decades of solidarity work, she was quick to answer:

"We curbed any possibility of a larger escalation involving ground troops.

"We saved many lives with our urgent telexes to US and Salvadoran officials.

"We raised up awareness of human rights as a core policy issue; we ended funding for the military dictatorship; and we told who the FMLN was and what they represented, bringing up speakers and sending so many delegations here."

She had learned firsthand that social action can mean a lifetime, not a short stint on the picket lines. "It's gonna be tough," she says of the future, shrugging off the challenges. "Funes and the FMLN will need the social movements."

About Tom Hayden
Tom Hayden is the author of The Other Side (1966, with Staughton Lynd), The Love of Possession Is a Disease With Them (1972), Ending the War in Iraq (2007) and Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader (2008).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Shooter in Memphis Court

Shooter in Court in Memphis on Monday

Monday, June 15, Terron Taylor, who admitted shooting a transgender woman in Memphis on May 27, will appear in General Sessions Court, Division 9, Docket #09120477, to face a charge of Attempted Murder in the Second Degree.

While Taylor is currently being held on a $500,000 bond, Shelby County authorities have a poor track record when it comes to addressing anti-transgender violence.

D'Andre Blake was released on a mere $20,000 bond for the February 2006 murder of Tiffany Berry. After walking the streets a free man for two and a half years, he killed his own two year daughter, Dre-Ona Blake, in July 2008. There has still been no trial date set for the original murder charge.

The Office of the Shelby County District Attorney has refused to file charges against Memphis Police Officer Bridges McRae for the February 2008 beating of Duanna Johnson. To its credit, the U.S. Department of Justice did so in November 2008, but local authorities will not. The District Attorney of Shelby County, Bill Gibbons, is running for Governor of Tennessee on an "anti-crime" platform.

There have been no arrests in the July 2008 murder of Ebony Whitaker, the November 2008 murder of Duanna Johnson, or the December 2008 shooting of Leeneshia Edwards.

The violence against transgender people in Memphis must stop immediately, and it begins with acknowledgement of the humanity of transgender people, aggressive prosecution of those who commit such violent acts, and rejection of any attempt to use the trans-panic defense.

In addition, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition urges swift passage in the United States Senate of S.909, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The House of Representatives has already passed this legislation, which is supported by President Obama, by a vote of 249 to 175.

Please contact both of Tennessee's Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and tell them you want to them to support S.909. With the recent rash of hate crimes across the nation, and with new statistics from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation showing a sharp increase in hate crimes in Tennessee, there must be federal legislation to protect all LGBT people when local authorities refuse to act.

We also urge members of the Tennessee General Assembly to pass HB0335 by Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) and 21 others, and SB0253 by Sens. Beverly Marrero (D-Memphis) and Ophelia Ford (D-Memphis), as soon as they return in January. This bill would add "gender identity or expression" as a hate crimes sentencing enhancement factor to Tennessee Code Annotated 40-35-114. Passage of this bill will make it easier for state and local authorities to track and prosecute hate crimes against all LGBT Tennesseans.

If you do not know the names of your state legislators, go to http://www.capitol.tn.gov.

We also ask everyone to continue talking to both U.S. Representatives and Senators about the importance of the fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We anticipate that ENDA will be introduced in the coming weeks. It is time to end job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. If LGBT people can find, and hold, decent paying jobs, then we are less likely to end up on the streets where we become vulnerable to hate crimes.

Marisa Richmond
President

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Courts Rule in Favor of LPFM

Court vindicates FCC's effort to save small stations from loss of channels

On June 5, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and against the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), affirming the December 2007 Federal Communications Commission decision to protect low power FM (LPFM) stations against “encroachment” by full power radio stations. Had the FCC not intervened, these low power stations would have been forced off the air by full power stations wanting to change their broadcasting location.The Prometheus Radio Project, represented by Media Access Project attorney Parul Desai, was an intervenor in the case on behalf of the FCC and the threatened LPFM stations.

In the lawsuit, the NAB alleged that the FCC defied the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act when it granted waivers to keep LPFM stations on the air. The court denied some of the NAB's claims as lacking merit, and dismissed others as being unripe for review at this time. Thus, the FCC is free to continue balancing the interests of LPFM stations and full power stations that want to change their facilities.

The Prometheus Radio Project, on behalf of hundreds of low power radio stations across the country, thanks the D.C. Circuit Court for their decision vindicating the FCC's new procedures regarding low power stations threatened with encroachment.

"This is terrific news for the low power radio community," said Sakura Saunders, a board member of the Prometheus Radio Project. "The few protections offered to these small stations were threatened by this lawsuit. Now, these stations can focus on serving their local communities, rather than live in fear of displacement due to the whims of their full-powered neighbors."

Prometheus would like to acknowledge the outstanding work of the low power radio stations across the country, whose public service has won them a measure of protection in the face of full power encroachment. According to Pete Tridish of the Prometheus Radio Project, "Many lesser organizations would have folded in the face of the sheer financial and legal resources of the National Association of Broadcasters. However, the dedication of the volunteers at low power stations to their mission – to serve their communities with local content and democratize the airwaves – has proven so great that they will endure any challenge in their work to free the electromagnetic spectrum from corporate dominance."

Prometheus would like to thank the Judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals for their careful attention to this complex case. We would also like to thank the attorneys in the office of General Counsel at the FCC for their sophisticated handling of the issues. We also credit the team at the Media Bureau for their thoughtful solutions to the problem of encroachment that have now been borne out by the court. We also commend the Chairman, Commissioners and their staff at the FCC, who have given much time in recent years to defending their service of the public interest from the private trade associations that seek to undermine it.

Prometheus also thanks the attorneys at Media Access Project, Parul Desai and Andrew Schwartzman, for their tireless support in Prometheus' intervention in the case. Also, we would like to thank radio engineer Mike Brown, attorney Michael Couzens and Senior Policy Advisor to Senator Maria Cantwell, Michael Daum, who against great odds first defended the low-powered radio station KYRS in Spokane, Washington.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Chance for Moveon.org

A CHANCE FOR MOVE.ON and LIBERAL HAWKS TO BREAK THEIR SILENCE
By Tom Hayden

Progressives who have been silent towards the escalating wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan have a new opportunity to change their stance now that the $100 billion Congressional war supplemental [HR 2346] authorizes suppression of hundreds of torture photographs held by the Pentagon.

The amendment by senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham is designed to bar the release of photos revealing torture at military prisons during the Bush administration, by exempting them from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
Democrats are in disarray over the issue. According to Congressional reports, Speaker Nancy Pelosi at first approved the Lieberman-Graham amendment, then backtracked after hearing complaints from Rep. Barney Frank, Louise Slaughter and others from the Democrats’ liberal wing. In the meantime, Hillary Clinton was dutifully making phone calls to pick off votes from the 51 Democrats’ who opposed the House version in May.

Groups like MoveOn, with millions of members and campaign dollars, become crucial during close Congressional votes, either by their presence or by their absence.

When I recently posted a blog questioning MoveOn’s silence towards the escalating wars, the response of MoveOn’s leadership was to question its accuracy and demand corrections from anyone publishing the piece.

I never meant to suggest that MoveOn’s executive director explicitly or verbally promised President Obama at a White House meeting that MoveOn would keep silent about the war escalations. What I did write is that MoveOn told Obama they were supporting his domestic agenda which, in Beltway culture, was a clear message that this former anti-war group would not be opposing the President’s military escalation, nor his Predator strikes, nor the civilian casualties, not even his backtracking on torture promises. At that point, MoveOn had not even polled its membership on Afghanistan, Pakistan or torture.

Move.On’s continuing silence only speaks for itself. While their internal discussion of Afghanistan and Pakistan considers, they at least could express strong opposition to the administration’s non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, as well as support for Rep. Jim McGovern’s amendment calling for an exit strategy by December.

But now with the amendment pending to suppress the torture photos, the moral pressure to break the silence is increasing. The administration added to its policies of secrecy yesterday by urging a federal court to suppress documents detailing the CIA’s videotaped interrogations at secret prisons.

The Obama argument for suppressing the torture photos is specious. The administration claims that their release will inflame greater insurgent hatred against American troops. But the Abu Graeb torture photos already have served that inflammatory purpose and the current cover up will undermine confidence that America’s secret policies are changing.

This is an administration which once pledged no more supplementals, spending bills that avoid the scrutiny of hearings. Having reneged on that procedural promise, they now are loading the war appropriation measure with the FOIA exemption amendment, not to mention funds for swine flu and the International Monetary Fund. These administration approaches undermine the deliberative process and weaken the role of the legislative branch.

The real effect of Obama’s censorship decision is to dampen any resurgence of anti-war sentiment and public support for an investigation of past crimes. Silence in the face of the censorship means collaborating in the cover-up of torture. The political effect is to leave anti-war Democrats under greater pressure to yield than to stand their ground. #

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Join a Convoy to Gaza

Join a Convoy to Gaza
By David Swanson

Kevin Ovenden contacted me. He works with British MP George Galloway -- yes, this hero. Ovenden is currently in the United States helping to put together a convoy of, hopefully, hundreds of vehicles and people to bring medical aid to the besieged people of Gaza.

Americans are invited to take part. Please contact Kevin and join the convoy yourself. Here's what he says about the trip:


We will fly out from the US to Cairo on July 4 (message being that Palestinian independence is as worthy as US independence) where we will cohere the convoy, aid and vehicles and head off aiming to enter Gaza on July 12. We organized a similar operation from Britain in February - driving for 23 days with 107 vehicles, 255 people and approx $2 million worth of aid through France and Spain, and then across the Maghreb.

Support for the convoy is already taking off. Ron Kovic is the co-leader of the convoy alongside George. As in Britain, the climate post the December/January offensive against the people of Gaza has turned markedly. There is a renewed confidence around this issue - notwithstanding the shocking verdict and sentencing in the retrial of the Holy Land Foundation people.

We are taking strictly medical aid and have gone to great lengths to meet the stringent requirements of the US authorities on charitable contacts with organizations operating in Gaza. We want the convoy to show the world - particularly the Middle East - a different face of the US, that something other than the US Marine Corps can come from these shores.

We hope that it will play a part in continuing to shift US public opinion on the issues surrounding Israel/Palestine and the wider region. A changed public opinion is a precondition for a changed and more just foreign policy.

We also hope that the sight of many hundreds of US citizens brining aid to the people of Gaza will have an impact throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds - demonstrating that the US population is not congruent with the policies pursued for the last eight years and longer. That can only be of benefit to all those who want the US to be seen to play a different role in the world.

It would be possible for you to fly in to Cairo on 11/12 July, meet up with the convoy, enter Gaza and be back on a flight to the US on Thursday 16 July.

There is, naturally, a great deal of support for the initiative among particularly the Arab and Muslim communities in the US. But we want the convoy to reflect also the breadth of US support for justice for the Palestinians. So American figures who are widely known in the US or abroad will have a disporportionate impact.

The convoy delegates are leaving from JFK on July 4 to Cairo and thence, a week later to Gaza. Given the pressures of time some people will be flying out on the weekend of July 11 and 12 to join us on the final push to the Rafah crossing - scheduled for July 12 or 13.

You can find further information about the US convoy at
http://www.vivapalestina-us.org

and on the British at
http://www.vivapalestina.org

Best wishes,
Kevin Ovenden
312 493 4630
Kevin.Ovenden@gmail.com




I encourage you to contact Kevin and inquire about taking part. The cost of a plane ticket, a hotel for two nights in Egypt, and other expenses is required. I told Ovenden I'd like to go if I can raise the money. If you'd like to read, hear, and see my reports from Gaza at http://AfterDowningStreet.org please go to that site and contribute. If $2,000 comes in, I'll go. If that total isn't reached, I'll use your contributions in our work for peace and justice. You can also contribute to the convoy at http://www.vivapalestina.org

Please also read this article:



Don't Carp, Organize: Our Convoy to Gaza
By GEORGE GALLOWAY, CounterPunch

"Where is the ummah; where is this Arab world they tell us about in school.”

Those words will forever remain etched on my brain. They were spoken by a 10 year old girl in a bombed out ruin in Gaza in March. She had lost almost her entire family in the 22-day Israeli bombardment earlier this year. The second time she spoke, it was to the back of my head. I had to turn away; what answer could you give her?

While Hugo Chavez expelled the Israeli ambassador to Venezuela, the leaders of the Arab League, with a handful of exceptions, spent those murderous weeks in December and January scarcely summoning even the synthetic indignation that has so often attended previous bloody episodes in the Palestinian tragedy.

But that was not so of public opinion, not only in the Muslim world, but mobilized on the streets of Western capitals. In Britain, over 100,000 people took to the streets and night after night we blockaded the Israeli embassy. Above all, the Gaza onslaught produced in the US an unprecedented outpouring. There have, for sure, been protests before, but this has turned out to be more than an ephemeral release of impotent rage. Something is changing.

That has become more and more apparent to me over the last two months as I’ve spoken on Palestine at packed meetings and fundraisers across the US. The opinion polls in January showed a plurality of Americans against the Israeli onslaught. It may not have been a surprise to those of us who witnessed Ariel Sharon’s leveling of Beirut in the late summer of 1982, but the sight of white phosphorous – which forms a gaseous cloud – being used against civilians in Gaza stunned the senses of millions or people who had up to that point been led to believe that it was somehow the Palestinians who were occupying Israeli land rather than the other way round.

Seasoned activists in the Palestinian cause confirm that there is now a window of opportunity to take this case beyond the ghetto and into the mainstream of political life – in the US and in Britain, which between them bear the heaviest responsibility for the suffering in Palestine: the US as the cashier for Israeli colonization; Britain, as the author of the tragedy in 1917, when a leader of one people, British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour (an anti-Semite), gave to the purported leaders of another people, the Zionist movement, the land belonging to a third people, the Palestinians. And all without asking any of the people, which even by the standards of British imperialism is quite a triumph.

How then to bring to the cause of Palestine the kind of political movement that helped shatter apartheid, between the hammer of the ANC resistance and the anvil of international solidarity? This is the question that has led to me flitting backwards and forwards across the Atlantic, between lectures and fundraisers here, and the unfolding of an extraordinary political crisis at home. It was the question we asked ourselves as we marched past the Israeli embassy on those cold days in January.

The demonstrations were important. Anyone who doubts that should listen to those living under siege whose capacity to resist was strengthened every time they saw those protests on Al Jazeera and Press TV. But they were not enough, nor were the speeches, though they too have their place. It is actions that speak louder than words. That’s why on January 10 I announced at the big London demonstration that I would be leading a convoy of humanitarian aid from Britain to Gaza.

We decided to head off just five weeks later and to go through a difficult route – down to Spain, cross to Morocco and then driving across the Maghreb. We hoped to take a dozen or so vehicles. In the end, we left Hyde Park on February14 with 107 vehicles, 255 people and around $2 million of aid. Some 23 days and 5,500 miles later we entered Gaza. And now, we’re doing it all again, this time from the US.

On July 4, the Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, myself and hundreds of US citizens will fly out from JFK to Cairo where we will form up a convoy of hundreds of vehicles carrying medical aid and head into Gaza. We will be in Egypt exactly one month to the day from when President Obama delivered his historic speech offering a new and more egalitarian relationship between the US and the Muslim world. And that speech makes it all the more imperative that anyone and everyone gets on board this convoy.

For Obama’s speech, like his election campaign and presidency, can be looked at two ways. There were the expressions of general support for Israel and continuity in foreign policy which it would be naïve not to expect from any US president. How easy it would be to slump into the cynical and knowing snorting that has been such an unappealing trait of too much of the left for far too long. Because at the same time, his skilful appeal for a more respectful East-West dialogue opens up many roads for friends of Palestine and the Arab cause. If you doubt that, look at the frenzied reaction of the Israeli right who, in their usual understated way, are likening opposition to the settlement program to genocidal murder.

Our case is that Obama is right to identify that if the US wants to drain the swamp of hatred against it, then it needs a radical change in policy. The road he marked out in Cairo points in the right direction. But he stopped short. Literally. The road leads a couple of hundred dusty desert miles further from the Nile Delta, across the Sinai and to the Rafah crossing into Gaza. Hence the convoy, whose aims are manifold.

First, it is to take much-needed aid to a people subsisting under siege. We are a link in the supply chain that others who have sent delegations to Gaza have also helped establish.

Second, it is to take people – lots of American people. No one should underestimate the impact that will have on the Palestinian people. It was emphasized by our hosts in March that the presence of so many Britishers was even more valuable than the aid we brought. It meant hundreds of people going back as ambassadors for Palestine in towns and cities across the country. For the people of the Gaza Strip it was proof positive, in front of their very eyes, that they had not been forgotten.

Third, it is to contribute to the mighty process of changing US public opinion on this issue. And where public opinion changes, public policy follows – even if the mechanism is complex and difficult. The eight dark years of the Bush era saw, in effect, the criminalization of solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Whole organization, Muslim and Arab, were closed down, their leaders disappeared and deported or imprisoned, witness the appalling trial and verdict of the Holy Land Foundation organizers. This convoy is about ending that. We want a cross-section of US society, including prominent figures, to take part and demonstrate that this is no longer a no go area; that Palestine is the issue and nobody is going to turn us around.

In Gaza, Ron Kovic will hand over wheelchairs to Palestinian amputees. That’s the image the world’s media will carry. Let the rabid supporters of the Netanyahu-Lieberman regime raise their voices against that. That’s a public relations battle we should relish.

There’s no point passively bewailing what this presidency might be failing to do. If we make an impact in July and beyond, it can help shift the balance, throwing the die-hard defenders of Israeli aggression on the defensive and making it more politically attractive for President Obama to move further down the dusty road.

In a sense George W Bush had an excuse for the mayhem he unleashed: he was a complete and utter imbecile. Barack Obama does not have that excuse. He’s highly intelligent and cultured. He met the sorely missed Edward Said. He doesn’t just know who the President of Pakistan is, he can pronounce the name of the country.

If the new sentiment for Palestine in this country is roused and made politically effective, there will be no excuse for anyone not to do the right thing.

Go to www.vivapalestina-us.org for information on the US to Gaza convoy or phone 773 226 2742

George Galloway is the Respect Party Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow.






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David Swanson is the author of the upcoming book "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" by Seven Stories Press.

Friday, June 5, 2009

School Systems Unblock LGBT Web Sites

This week, in response to a recent lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Knox County School Board and the Metro Nashville School Board agreed to lift the filter being used to block access to websites on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender themes. These sites were of an informative nature and positive in theme.

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition applauds the work of the ACLU in bringing the lawsuit to stop school systems from limiting students' right to learn accurate infomation. We are pleased that students who seek accurate information about LGBT issues and concerns will now have access restored. Sadly, the filters did permit access to anti-LGBT sites, including those promoting widely discredited conversion therapies.

Ironically, in 2005, the Knox County School Board became the first school system in the state to adopt an anti-bullying policy that explicitly included sexual orientation and gender identity, while the Metro Nashville School Board followed suit in 2008 with both a fully inclusive anti-bullying policy and the first fully inclusive non-discrimination policy.


Hate Crimes:

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition is continuing the monitor details surrounding the May 27 shooting in Memphis of a person who appears to be transgender. At last report, the victim, shot at least twice in the face, remains in the hospital in critical condition.

The shooter, Terron Taylor, remains in jail on a $500,000 bond. We urge Shelby County authorities to prosecute Taylor aggressively and not permit the use of the trans-panic defense.

This latest incident is one in a long line of anti-trans violent crimes that have plagued Memphis recently.

We still await the trial of D'Andre Blake for the February 2006 murder of Tiffany Berry.

We still await the filing of assault charges by the Shelby County District Attorney for the February 2008 beating of Duanna Johnson by a Memphis Police officer.

We still await arrests in the July 2008 murder of Ebony Whitaker and the November 2008 murder of Duanna Johnson, as well as the December 2008 shooting of Leneeshia Edwards.

The violence against transgender people in Memphis must stop immediately, and it begins with acknowledgement of the humanity of transgender people and aggressive prosecution of those who commit such violent acts.

We also urge members of the Tennessee General Assembly to pass HB0335 by Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) and 21 others, and SB0253 by Sens. Beverly Marrero (D-Memphis) and Ophelia Ford (D-Memphis), as soon as they return in January. This bill would add "gender identity or expression" as a hate crimes sentencing enhancement factor to Tennessee Code Annotated 40-35-114. Passage of this bill will make it easier for state and local authorities to track and prosecute hate crimes against all LGBT Tennesseans.

If you do not know the names of your state legislators, go to http://www.capitol.tn.gov.

In addition, we urge members of the United States Senate to pass S.909, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The House of Representatives has already passed this legislation, which is supported by President Obama, by a vote of 249 to 175.

Please contact both of Tennessee's Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and tell them you want to them to support S.909.

We also ask everyone to continue talking to both Representatives and Senators about the importance of the fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We anticipate that ENDA will be introduced in the coming weeks. It is time to end job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. If LGBT people can find, and hold, decent paying jobs, then we are less likely to end up on the streets where we become vulnerable to hate crimes.


Marisa Richmond