Tag Archives: civil rights

900poundgorilla salutes the amazing ignorance about Black History month (Caution, Offensive Language)

What I know and what I don’t know defines me, and reveals everything about me. What each of us knows and does not know is the very definition of ignorance and betrays the limitations of knowledge. What we don’t know about ourselves is the breadth of either knowledge or ignorance, until it hits us squarely between the eyes. What we do know is the injustice we face. What redeems us is the effort we take to understand the injustice burdened upon others. This is the importance of Black history month.

It also helps to define the great gulf whites have about the black experience in this nation. Even that simple and well meaning phrase betrays ignorance, as there are Hispanic blacks, Caribbean blacks, African and Middle Eastern blacks newly arrived, people of mixed race and those whose lineage can be traced back to slavery and/or the founding of the nation. It is the image in your mind from that first sentence that begins to define the progress or lack of progress in coming to recognize the complex spectrum of humanity caricaturized in the all too simple phrase “black experience,” or “black community.”

As a child in an all white semi-rural community in the 1960s and 70s, the word “Nigger” was ubiquitous for blacks in that community. I grew up with it spoken regularly by adults. I used it, curiously not to describe blacks, whom I only knew from television, but to chide or deride other whites. I began school amid the tumult of the late 60s and the Vietnam War. Until the 4th grade I did not have a history class. It was all encompassed in “Social Studies.”

That year my first history teacher, Mr. Levine, whom parents called a hippy, for his long hair and bell-bottomed suits, a departure from the dull, straight-legged conservatism folks nowadays see on the Mad Men series. This in a town that chased out a black family one year, or whose police chased off black men fishing at the Des Plaines river just outside of town. He was the first teacher to ever talk about the Civil Rights movement. But even then it was hardly more than a suggestion.

A basic understanding of the Civil Rights movement is no understanding at all. ignorance is the enemy of all civil rights. Whereas in many things, the devil is in the details, here the blessing is in the details. Knowing a little about the struggle for Civil Rights by blacks, women and minorities in this country is like knowing nothing at all. The journey is perhaps more important than the destination.

Mr. Levine, with some daring at the time, told us about Rosa Parks. I was in my twenties before I learned that it was far more than simply the case of a quiet woman refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. I left school believe I knew enough. I’d circled the multiple choice question on tests about how the civil rights movement began that December Day in 1955 with Mrs. Parks. I’d heard of Emmet Till, killed in August of that year for talking to a white woman, but not much beyond that.

I never learned, was never told, and never sought to find out anything more about Parks or Till. I was courteous and respectful to blacks I met. I felt guilty when uttering the “N” word, even under my breath, even had a black girlfriend for a while. I was no racist, I told myself. That’s arguable, depending on my level of vulnerability and sensitivity on a given day, but I was ignorant. If I am honest, even a little, particularly in light of the definition above, I have to admit that much.

It took years after I’d left school to learn that Mrs. Parks was no quiet victim of unexpected racism, a meek exhausted stor clerk simply wanting to take the weight off as some Neanderthal bullied her. She had been active and aggressive in the struggle for civil rights. It took too large a portion of my life to learn a girlfriend of Parks had been abused and assaulted for sitting in the white part of a bus, and that another had been thrown from a bus and died.

She’d sat in so-called “white” seats before, and some bus drivers refused to stop for her because she was a “trouble maker.” the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, in part, found his rise to media prominence due to the Parks case, and that she preferred the politics and position of Malcolm X.

Now, working to help the homeless, report on violence and support victims of illegal foreclosure in some of the most troubled and neglected neighborhoods in the city, the ones you read about in the news, I am shocked. I am shocked not only of my ignorance of a comprehensive American history(I stopped myself from saying black history,)but of the current history. In that history we have a system, built upon the wreckage of slavery and still smouldering with racism, built on neglect and dysfunction that then makes the black community responsible for that neglect and dysfunction.

Each year during black history month comes a sudden avalanche of black history programs, books and stories, which are strangely absent the rest of the year. And I am drawn to them to assail that vast gulf of ignorance I bear. And each year I am shocked at the weight of that ignorance, and what I think I know and what I don’t know.

Update on American Political prisoner Jeremy Hammond

On December 3, attorneys for imprisoned activist Jeremy Hammond filed a motion in New York’s Southern District Court demanding that Judge Loretta Preska recuse herself following last week’s revelation that her husband, Thomas J Kaveler, as well as his firm, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, were among the government-named victims in the December, 2011 hack of Stratfor (to which Hammond is accused of participating).  The attorneys filed a motion for a new bail hearing.  During Hammond’s November 20 hearing Judge Preska notified Hammond that if convicted on all counts he faces 37 years-to-life in federal prison for his alleged role in the hack.

Thomas J Kaveler is an employee of Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, a current Stratfor client and associate, and moreover was himself a victim of the alleged hack (Kaveler’s Stratfor issued user ID is 234103). Court reporters have confirmed to The Sparrow Project that, Judge Preska was made aware of the published connection between her husband & Stratfor and that her husband’s Stratfor-related information was published by Wikileaks, they went on to indicate that Preska was aware of the connection long before the November 22nd communique. Moreover, Preska indicated that this personal connection to the Hammond case “would not effect her ability to be impartial.”   

For your use we have published a recap of Thursday’s press conference by Hammond’s supporters on our website http://www.sparrowmedia.net/2012/12/jeremy-hammond-press-conference-video/.  We have also published statements of support from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Christopher Hedges, Bhopal activist Saif Ansari, and Yes Men cofounder Andy Bichlbaum each of these are also available for excerpthttp://www.sparrowmedia.net/2012/12/jeremy-hammond-press-conference-video/  

The Sparrow Project will be collecting statements of support for Jeremy Hammond and posting them for free use below. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Chris Hedges, as well as other prominent activists and journalists have joined the call for a fair trial for Jeremy Hammond. Statements of support can be emailed to info@sparrowmedia.net


Send Jeremy a letter, postcard, or even a book (needs to be mailed directly from publisher or seller like Amazon) to help brighten his day while incarcerated. Letters & books can be mailed to…

Jeremy Hammond 18729-424
Metropolitan Correctional Center
150 Park Row
New York, New York, 10007

You can make a credit card donation to Jeremy’s legal defense fund (controlled by his family) via wepay.com at THIS LINK

With this simple online tool you can donate one tweet (or Facebook post) a day to our efforts. The Sparrow Project will publish statements of support for Jeremy (like the ones below) from influential figures. Your donated posts will help us widen the audience that is exposed to this important story. Simply visit THIS LINK and click donate!

Lastly, we have published a high-resolution video for your free use in television segments, audio excerpts, or for embed on your blogs & websites.  We would love for you to tweet, embed, or share this video with your audience!  Simply visit THIS LINK http://vimeo.com/54656359 or click on the image below.  A download of the full resolution (1920 x 1080) segment for use on TV is available HERE.
If you have any questions feel free to email me or give me a call at 631.291.3010
All the best,
Andy Stepanian

Burn it down: Occupy and the 2012 Election

As a writer it is imperative not to be beholden or completely devoted to any movement or cause. A writer must maintain some distance, as no other calling will exalt or condemn a writer like the revelations of an enlightened future.  I was passionate about the Occupy movement, and in the ranks throughout the NATO protests, because there was and remains common cause against the perversion that corporatized militarism represents. Particularly when military budgets are untouchable even as social programs are being eviscerated.

I still believe the movement, and those within it have the power and in many cases, the vision to transform the nation towards a more humane place consistent with the ideals of men like Martin Luther King jr. 

Which brings me to a critical point where I differ with the Occupy movement. I believe that it has lost sight somewhat of itself. It is poorly provisioned to combat a corporate and status quo media aligned quite purposely to denounce and destroy it. In Chicago, where it was bullied and bloodied by the media and authorities, it has retreated, lost focus and focused its energies more on imprisoned martyrs than on the sorts of challenges to authority and corruption for which it was originally enlivened. During NATO it was co-opted to a degree to personalities who drove policy and messaging and then abandoned the movement, and finally it is arriving before the elections with talk that fundamentally stands at odds with the original spirit and strength of this movement: diversity. 

Please be clear, this is not a conscious policy decision on the part of those still in the movement, and who still undertake work and protest in the purest heart within the community. But there is talk of opting out of the presidential elections, and of burning voter ID cards. Burn it down! Crash the system! If the powerful won’t concede, overturn it all! Raze society to the ground and rebuild it anew!

And while from a philosophical level, I can see their argument, I fear in reality the movement is marginalizing and isolating itself. A small group within the movement espouses that, but within the movement, much smaller than at its peak, when it conservatively sported hundreds of thousands of activists, and many times that who sympathized with the movement, that is a strongly influential cadre. The causes Occupy championed remain, but now remain un-championed by Occupy any longer.

The arguments for and against taking part in what have become money and media driven elections are substantial. Occupy had an opportunity to get out the vote and support substantial candidates from within its ranks, such as Ron Varesteh in California and Green party candidate Nancy Wade in Illinois. the sheer numbers they were able to rally last fall would have made them a force to contend with and would have won them the fullest attention of both parties. the poor and minorities found a partner in Occupy, and could have benefitted from joining in a substantial voting block powerful enough to overcome money interests and to maintain precious and hard-fought voting rights for those minorities. Sadly that hasn’t happened.

Perhaps no group in America understands the precious nature of the right to vote better than the African-American community. Certainly no other group in America, except perhaps hispanic and latino voters, is experiencing such a naked assault against those rights. The Republican party and the Right, tacitly and blindly enabled by a misinformed white majority, mean to interfere with or revoke in any under-handed, backdoor way it can the ability of Blacks and minorities to vote in this election. By burning their voter cards and refusing to take part in the election process Occupy is ignorantly supporting the white fear spread by the status-quo media, not maliciously or consciously, but most certainly. The Occupy of today is hardly as diverse as it once was, and that narrowed perspective is problematic.

This right was only part of a centuries-long struggle from the bonds of slavery. It was bought and paid for in untold lives, black and white-but mostly black-in blood and tears and lynching, and spirits eschewing defeat and oppression in hopes that one day those rights would be theirs, secure and protected by law. Despite any argument that might be offered, I think it is unlikely that the black community would ever easily relinquish or withdraw from that right. 

Occupy, in this short-sighted and narrowly focused potential action, is unconsciously playing to the status quo and putting itself directly at odds with those minority communities that should remain as allies and comrades towards common justice. It is not too late to chart a more productive path. We are still the 99%. We are still a force. rather than millions holding up burning voter cards is disdain for the process, those millions should raise those cards high and demand to be heard and properly represented in the loudest and most sustained voice possible.

The task of the writer: be bold and daring

The Last man is a big novel in a small package. As a reader told me recently, it begins introspectively, inside the Last Man’s head and then “it punches you right in the face.” This was the novel I was meant to write. It challenged me as no other novel I have written, assailing unexplored frontiers and realities, not just within my heart but those beyond my normal experience.

A couple of weeks ago I went to see  a theater piece by friends and former cast members of my play “Occupy My Heart” For the play my director cast a black woman, Donier (pronounced: Donyay) Tyler, in the role of  a ditsy girl, but in this new piece I recall watching her come to several parts with this amazing strength and confidence. The realization was instant and powerful; The Last Man could be, or should be a woman!

The whole point of the book, and the stage adaptation is to besiege paradigms on systems of power. I’d written the main character as a black man on trial for his life. Casting Donier in a dramatic reading for the stage and Youtube later this month revealed a whole new dimension to the story, one I exalt in realizing and lament for not realizing earlier.

And so, this past weekend I sat down to read the piece aloud with Donier. The piece is from the trial, in which the Last Man is arguing for his very life. Alone, with the court and odds stacked plainly against him, he remains defiant, if for no other reason that to show pride and disdain for his accusers and would-be executioners. She paused a moment, pulling herself into the part. Slapping her hand hard to the table she began, with all that strength and passion I’d glimpsed earlier. Her voice rose in the still of the livingroom. She was the Last Man.

“Kill that dog!” Her hand fell loudly against the table.  “If a man uses a dog to keep you from what is yours, kill that dog! Violence is the last domain of the downtrodden. Power concedes nothing without demand, said Frederick Douglas. There is an implicit power behind any demand, or it has no value. The only true power of the powerless is violence. Or the potential for violence. It must be a possibility when power is unbalanced. You must understand, that when your power overcomes reason and justice and mercy, that I may rise against you, and that our very existence becomes part of the negotiation…”

Against those who hold and abuse power, the words of the writer are violence, and are thus met with their ultimate rage. It is the reason that oppressive regimes and rulers single out the writer and artist first for destruction. and whether under benevolent or oppressive government, the writer has a responsibility to be bold, to dare to tell the truth that resides within the human heart, and which ultimately guides or rampages in human society. In that way, The Last Man might well be applied to the responsibility and the danger of writing and writing the truth.

“…I must justify my existence,” Donier continued. “Men must tolerate men by right of agreement. You must know that my rights are inviolable, and that no man may ‘give’ another man rights, for if you can give those rights then you may take them away.  No one gives me rights. They are mine, and if taken away then they are stolen, and that is the difference. Hence the words of Malcolm X; Kill that dog! I have done nothing. This right to exist is mine by virtue that I am, and if you remove that from me then it is you have committed the real crime!”

Occupy Nashville action highlights bank’s hypocrisy: Mobilizes effort to keep disabled grandmother and 78 year old Civil Rights activist in her home after JP Morgan Chase threatens foreclosure.

JP Morgan Chase & Co. recently unveiled, “Preserving the Inspiration and Sharing the Passion of Martin Luther King Jr,” designed to better the company’s image by attaching itself to the King Center. While it was promoting its own goodwill and “selfless” benevolence it was foreclosing on, among many others, 78-year-old Civil Rights activist, Hellen Bailey. The foreclosure date is set for February 15th.

But the story is not about JP Morgan Chase, accused in a lawsuit by New York Attorney General  Eric Schneiderman, along with Bank of America and Wells Fargo of deceptive and fraudulent mortgage practices. The story is about Miss Bailey who, on a fixed income, found a buyer that would allow Bailey to remain in her home freely until she dies, but Chase refused to negotiate on the deal, and opted instead to foreclose on her.

Occupy Nashville stepped in to help, collecting more 50,000 signatures and acting to keep Miss Bailey in her home. Kudos to ON. Can anyone think of a single effort by the so-called Tea Party to do anything to help their neighbor on anything approaching the scale of Occupy? 

Occupy My Heart: A revolutionary Christmas Carol, An Occupy Chicago theatrical event, which made national headlines this past Christmas, spoke to this very abuse and inhumanity on the part of TOO-POWERFUL-TO-EXIST banks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3pTBFNmijU

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