Truthout Stories Fri, 28 Oct 2016 10:10:16 -0400 en-gb Drug Dependence Hasn't Been Stopped by 45 Years of the War on Drugs

Janine Jackson: "Police Arrest More People for Marijuana Use than for All Violent Crimes Combined" is the headline in the Washington Post. In the New York Times, it's "Marijuana Arrests Outnumber Those for Violent Crimes, Study Finds."

It's a blockbuster datum, all right, but one hopes people will read past those headlines, because there's a lot more in the new report."Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," a study from Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, is a multi-level, cradle-to-grave if you will, look at the myriad impacts of the criminalization -- selective criminalization -- of drug possession on the people caught up in the system.

We're joined now in studio by the report's lead author. Tess Borden is the Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union. Welcome to CounterSpin, Tess Borden.

Tess Borden: Thank you. Great to be here, Janine.

It is, as I say, a rich report. Give us a sense of the overall focus and intent. What's being pulled together here and toward what end?

So this is the result of a yearlong investigation by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU into how failed, and very ultimately flawed, the law enforcement approach to personal drug use is. And we wanted to bring to the public's attention, and to policymakers' attention, the magnitude of criminalization, but also the human impact. And so I interviewed more than 360 people. A hundred and fifty of those were prosecuted for their own drug use, or possession of drugs for personal use; 64 of them were in custody when I met them. I also spoke to mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, uncles, children -- adult children -- of those incarcerated, as well as prosecutors and police and judges and service providers. And so I think, really, there are some 60 stories in the report, and I really urge people to get to know those folks who are described in the report, and whose stories and lives have been really shaped by the drug laws.

I wonder if you could give us just an example, because media seem to have pulled out what the star datum is. And there's always a tension of methodology. Journalists tell you you have to tell a story, but then if you only tell stories, you're being anecdotal and you need data. So the report does both. But I wonder if you could just give a sense of a human impact of the sort that you're collecting here.

Of course. And you're right to highlight that. You know, every 25 seconds, someone is arrested for possessing drugs for their personal use, and that's a human being every 25 seconds.

So one of those people was someone I call Nicole in the report. Nicole was a mother of three young children. She was in school, pursuing a business administration degree in the Houston area. When I met her she was in the Harris County Jail, an infamous jail, charged with crack cocaine residue inside a straw and heroin residue in an empty baggie.

She was there, ultimately, for several months. She was separated from her youngest daughter as well as the other two children. The youngest was still nursing when she went inside. Her breasts were full, she told me, and she actually had to pump herself in the shower.

And she was unable to be the mother she wanted to be. The daughter came to visit her. There's glass between them, and so the little baby couldn't hear her mother's voice. She learned to sit up on her own when her mother was inside.

Nicole eventually pled guilty. It was her first felony conviction. She pled guilty to 0.01 grams of heroin. Her first felony could have been charged as misdemeanor drug paraphernalia instead.

And it meant she would do seven months in prison, and then she would get to go home to her children. But she said it meant, literally, beyond even the punishment of prison, she said, "My life is over, I will be punished for the rest of my life." Because with that felony conviction, it meant Nicole was going to have to drop out of school, she could no longer qualify for the financial aid that she was getting. It meant she would no longer be able to have her name on the lease of a home she rented, because people don't want to rent to, quote unquote, "felons." It meant she would no longer qualify in the state of Texas for food stamps, that she had relied on to feed her children and during her pregnancies.

And so what we're seeing is just these never-ending consequences of arresting and prosecuting someone every 25 seconds. And it's not just about mass incarceration. Of course, time behind bars for any crime can have consequences that are devastating to families, but it's the disproportionality of that heavy-handed enforcement, and then it's sometimes the lifelong consequences for individuals and families of what prosecution means.

So often we talk just about the law, first of all, when enforcement is key. That's one distinction that you've just brought up. And then there's the irreducibility of racism, also, which comes up in the report. It isn't that everything dissolves into that, but it does come up again and again as an important factor, doesn't it?

Absolutely. So as a matter of human rights, the right to privacy protects what I do to my body. We find it highly problematic, and even human rights -- violative, to arrest and incarcerate someone for what they do to themselves. A private action, right? And so even if there weren't racial discrimination implications, this would still be problematic.

But as it plays out, it's even more alarming. And so, yes, the data shows that although black and white people use drugs at the same rates, a black person around the country is two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for simple drug possession than a white person. In many states, that number's significantly higher. In Manhattan, where we are now, it's 11 to 1, a black person is 11 times more likely to be arrested.

And so how do those numbers play out? What it tells us is police have a lot of discretion about how they use their resources and where they police, and they're policing in such a way that this is who's getting picked up, because it's not who's using drugs, disproportionately. And I think as a country, we're looking at racial injustice, we're looking at policing, we're talking about these issues. We have to talk about drug possession laws and enforcement. The No. 1 arrest offense, we've got to talk about that if we're talking about race and policing.

I want to bring you back to, actually, the first part of that. Because of course it's important when we can show that a policy doesn't achieve its stated goal -- reducing drug use, for example. But sometimes one gets the idea that if we could show, you know, an X percent reduction in Y factor, then somehow the damage that's done to people's lives would be cancelled out, would be overridden. And what I really appreciate about this report is the way, first of all, that it centers human beings, but that it also says that the harms done to these people, of itself, are wrong. And I wonder, is that part of what's meant by a human rights case for decriminalization?

Absolutely, Janine. Absolutely. So the right to privacy is a basic human right. The principle of autonomy undergirds many human rights. And if you want a quick lesson in human rights law: Human rights, such as the right to privacy, can only be restricted, the government can only intervene in those rights, when necessary, proportionate and nondiscriminatory.

Governments may have legitimate interests in protecting people's health, making sure young children don't use drugs, etc. It is not necessary to achieve that legitimate purpose to criminalize. We can invest in education, we can invest in prevention, we can invest in the provision of voluntary, affordable treatment in the community in a noncoercive way. So it's not necessary to criminalize personal drug use to achieve those legitimate government interests.

Second, we know that it's not proportionate. When you are saddling someone with a criminal record that can follow them for the rest of their lives, when you are locking people up, in some of the jurisdictions I visited, for decades, for personal drug use and possession, it is not proportionate. When you are harming families in this way, it is not proportionate.

And, thirdly, we know it's not nondiscriminatory. I just gave you those figures. So it simply fails the human rights analysis.

Furthermore, all the harms that we document, in these 196 pages of the report, implicate other fundamental human rights, such as the right to family, the right to liberty, the right to participate in economic and social life of the society you live in. And so even if we could do this in a nondiscriminatory way, even if we could stop rates of drug dependence this way, we're saying this still implicates fundamental human rights, and we need to tackle the system because of it.

Let me just ask you, finally: It's not, of course, an insult to say that this is not completely untrodden ground, that folks have talked about this before. But I just wonder, in terms of media and perhaps the public conversation, what do we need besides evidence? How do we move it from lamentable to unacceptable?

Absolutely. You're right that much of this is well-known, in certain ways. I think, No. 1, the scope of the documentation is very new, and we really hope to contribute there. I think the human rights framework for decriminalization is new. Not new in the sense that it hasn't been there the whole time, but new in the sense that we're laying out those arguments. And, thirdly, I think our call, it's really a call that should be heard and attended to with utmost urgency right now.

And so we join the voices of a number of UN agencies -- the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the WHO, UNAIDS -- we join the call of a number of other advocacy organizations. But I think coming together, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, to say it is time to decriminalize possession for personal use of all illicit drugs, is very new, in fact.

And we hope that people can hear it today when we have marijuana reforms in the country, and so there are models already to look to, when we realize that the current system is broken on so many fronts -- again, the incarceration front, the policing front, the racial justice front -- and when we see that the opioid epidemic has shown that drug dependence hasn't been stopped by 45 years of the war on drugs. I think it's new, but I think people's ears are pricked for it.

We've been speaking with Tess Borden, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union. That report, Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States, can be found on both group's websites, and Tess Borden, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

 It's a pleasure, Janine.

News Fri, 28 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
El Salvador Lessons for the TPP Fight

The executives of a global mining corporation assumed it would be easy to get their way in Cabañas, a rural region of northern El Salvador. They were wrong.

What they wanted was to extract the rich veins of gold buried near the Lempa River, the water source for more than half of El Salvador's 6.2 million people. Instead, local farmers and others came together to fight the project over concerns that the toxic chemicals used in gold mining would poison their water. In time, they won over a strong majority of the public and rallied the Catholic Church, small businesses, and labor and environmental groups to successfully pressure the national government to oppose mining.

Then the company struck back. Pacific Rim (a Canadian firm later bought by Australia-based Oceana Gold) filed a lawsuit against the government of El Salvador in 2009, demanding $250 million in compensation for the loss of profits they'd expected to make from their mining project there. This is a staggering sum for a cash-strapped country, the equivalent of 40 percent of El Salvador's entire public health budget in 2015.

The mining company demanded $250 million, the equivalent of 40% of El Salvador's health budget.

After seven years of legal blackmail aimed at getting the Salvadoran government to back down and allow the mining to go ahead, an international tribunal that is part of the World Bank Group finally dismissed the lawsuit on October 14. They also ordered the company to pay $8 million of the government's legal expenses. For the Salvadoran anti-mining activists who have paid a painfully high price for their resistance, it was a measure of justice.

One of those activists is Miguel Angel Rivera. In June 2009, his brother Marcelo, a prominent cultural and environmental leader who opposed the mine, was tortured and assassinated. While questions remain, many activists believe that pro-mining forces -- including local politicians who stood to benefit if Pacific Rim started mining -- are ultimately responsible for his murder.

We first met Miguel in October 2009, when he and four others active in El Salvador's National Roundtable against Mining traveled to Washington to receive the Institute for Policy Studies' Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award, a prize that brought international recognition to this struggle. Then when we made our first trip to Cabañas in 2011 to learn more about the mining resistance, Miguel greeted us at the airport.

As he drove us through mountainous roads to the office of his employer, ADES (the Social and Economic Development Association), we asked him how he'd come to opposing mining. He pointed to our water bottle and said "Just like you, water is our priority."

In the years since, we've met hundreds of people in Cabañas who have risked their lives in the struggle against mining under the banner of "Water for Life." Miguel Rivera and his fellow roundtable members kept up resistance by constantly mobilizing the neighboring communities of Cabañas, frequently traveling to the capital to lobby policymakers and rally their allies, and keeping up the drumbeat through the press, including community radio. They also traveled internationally to spread the story of their struggle and build solidarity across borders.

Their perseverance was truly remarkable in a country where nearly a third of the population lives in poverty and activists face constant threats.

Their perseverance was truly remarkable in a country where nearly a third of the population is living under the national poverty line and where activists faced constant threats. The same year Marcelo Rivera was murdered, two other anti-mining activists, Ramiro Rivera and Dora Alicia Recenos, were also assassinated. And then in 2011, Juan Francisco Durán Ayala, a volunteer with the Cabañas Environmental Committee, was also murdered. And yet in the face of severe risk and economic hardship, people on the ground stood up and said "we would love jobs but not if they come at the cost of water."

On the day the tribunal ruled against the mining company, Miguel thanked all his international allies. "For the people who have suffered all kinds of indignities and had to overcome all kinds of difficulties and adverse situations to achieve this result, today reassures us that the ideals to which Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera, and Dora Alicia Recenos gave their lives are worthy. It fills us with joy and also gives us reason to believe that our struggle in defense of life is just."

Of course, the struggle is not completely over. The international allies that came together in solidarity with the anti-mining movement in El Salvador are committed to pressing the mining firm to pay what they owe and leave El Salvador for good so that efforts to build viable alternatives to mining can take root.

At the same time, we're drawing from this experiences to redouble our efforts on the trade front. We must stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade and investment agreements that give corporations the power to sue governments over actions that infringe on their profits. Although the ruling went the right way in the end, the people of El Salvador should've never had to go through this seven-year legal battle in the first place. Such "investor rights" are the most extreme example of excessive power granted to corporations through trade agreements.

And so while we continue to support our heroes in El Salvador, we must also work for a whole new approach to international trade and investment that respects democracy and puts people and planet first.

News Fri, 28 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Economic Update: Challenging Markets and Their Results

This episode discusses cutting vaccine costs, shameful Harvard economics, Icelandic women on strike and corporate merger mania. The show also covers major discussions of US medical care shortcomings despite Obamacare, a Harvard professor pays $2500 per ticket for Broadway show as proof markets are great, and how and why UPS drivers could convert it into a workers' co-op.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project,

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

News Fri, 28 Oct 2016 09:22:02 -0400
"We're Homeless and We Vote": Homeless People Want a Voice in This Election

James Cartmill, a veteran and resident of the occupation, in his tent on the grass median in the middle of Adeline Street. (Photo: David Bacon)James Cartmill, a veteran and resident of the occupation, in his tent on the grass median in the middle of Adeline Street. (Photo: David Bacon)

In the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area, homelessness, too, has been growing equally rapidly. Now homeless people in Berkeley have organized themselves into an intentional community with a political purpose -- to force homelessness into the public debate and defend the rights of unhoused people.

James Cartmill, a veteran and resident of the occupation, in his tent on the grass median in the middle of Adeline Street. (Photo: David Bacon)James Cartmill, a veteran and resident of the occupation, in his tent on the grass median in the middle of Adeline Street. (Photo: David Bacon)

Berkeley, California -- By the time you read this, Berkeley's intentional mobile homeless community will probably have been forced to migrate again, in yet one more forcible relocation.

A week ago, at five in morning, six city trucks and a U-Haul van pulled up at the tent encampment on a peaceful, leaf-covered median in the middle of south Berkeley's Adeline Street. Each truck had two municipal workers on board. Half a dozen police patrol cars accompanied them, red and blue lights flashing in the dark.

MuZiK, a resident of the occupation, in her tent in the middle of Adeline Street. (Photo: David Bacon)MuZiK, a resident of the occupation, in her tent in the middle of Adeline Street. (Photo: David Bacon)

Brad, one of the camp residents, sounded the warning. Sleepy tent-dwellers quickly began to text supporters, warning that the city was threatening once again to throw tents and belongings into trucks and force people to leave.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

"We went into delaying tactics while we got community support mobilized," recalls Mike Zint, one of the leaders of this homeless community. "That doesn't stop them, but every time this happens we get more support. So they sat there in their trucks for the next six hours -- a dozen city workers and a code compliance officer, all on overtime. They took seven cops off patrol. And in the end, after all the arguments, we only moved about 200 feet, across the street. And how much did that cost?"

The occupation on the grass median in the middle of Adeline Street. (Photo: Davif Bacon)The occupation on the grass median in the middle of Adeline Street. (Photo: Davif Bacon)

This homeless community is not just a group of people trying to find a place to live. They call themselves an "intentional community" with a political purpose -- forcing homelessness into public debate and defending the rights of homeless people. Homeless activists are fighting for the same things in many cities. Together, they are beginning to have an impact on local policies toward "unhoused people" (people who have no formal housing). Political participation by homeless communities is giving them a voice in the national debate over homelessness as well.

Several weeks ago a group of people in this community "popped tents," as they say, in front of the Impact HUB, an office where the city has decided to centralize most services for homeless people. They protested an intake process they say screens out applicants for housing. Writing in the local Street Spirit newspaper, Dan McMullan, who runs the Disabled People Outside Project, recalls, "I spent a week trying to get help for a disabled woman in a wheelchair and had to watch as she slept in front of the women's shelter one night, and the Harrison House the next. But she could not get in. I couldn't believe it." He goes on to say that a HUB employee said the woman didn't fit the intake criteria, and that she was denied reconsideration of her case.

Ronald Vargas sticks his hands out of the tent in the morning, looking for his shoes. (Photo: David Bacon)Ronald Vargas sticks his hands out of the tent in the morning, looking for his shoes. (Photo: David Bacon)

But the community's objections go beyond the immediate denial of services. They condemn the way the city treats homeless people as victims -- as passive recipients of services -- rather than people capable of governing themselves.

For weeks their camp has moved from place to place, in a peregrination Zint calls the Poor Tour. "It's a mobile occupation that can pop up anywhere," he explains. "We're exposing the fact that there is no solution -- nothing but exposure for the homeless. And exposure [the physical cost of sleeping outside] is killing a lot of people."

Banners at the Adeline Street occupation, including the banner for "First They Came for the Homeless." (Photo: David Bacon)Banners at the Adeline Street occupation, including the banner for "First They Came for the Homeless." (Photo: David Bacon)
A recent death was one of the reasons for launching the Poor Tour. On September 19, Roberto Benitas, a day laborer, died sleeping in a doorway. Benitas worked minimum wage jobs, standing in the bitter cold each morning in front of nearby lumberyards, trying to flag down contractors in their pickup trucks. Getting an occasional day's work was never enough to pay Berkeley's skyrocketing rents.

McMullan angrily charged, "Not a cent went into Social Security for the aging worker. When he died in a doorway of the defunct U-Haul rental shop at Allston Way and San Pablo Avenue, it took a day or so for anyone to even notice." McMullen and a progressive city council candidate organized a memorial for Benitas, and the Poor Tour started days later.

The occupation on the grass median in the middle of Adeline Street. (Photo: David Bacon)The occupation on the grass median in the middle of Adeline Street. (Photo: David Bacon)

Another reason for the tour is the November election, and an effort by this group of activists to use it to assert themselves politically. For over two years, homeless activists have been increasingly involved in Berkeley city politics.

The roots of this mobile occupation actually go back to Occupy San Francisco, and the decision by some of its residents to cross San Francisco Bay to Berkeley in the wake of Occupy's dispersal. At first, they lived for months in tents in front of a local Staples store. Then, two years ago, Zint and others set up an encampment in front of Berkeley's main post office.

Ronald Vargas begins to cry as he talks about the hard times in his life. (Photo: David Bacon)Ronald Vargas begins to cry as he talks about the hard times in his life. (Photo: David Bacon)

The Post Office occupation became a political weapon, the most visible part of a broader coalition that successfully fought the sale of the New Deal-era building to private developers. That coalition eventually included even the mayor and the city administration, which filed suit to block the sell-off.

The community of tents, tarps and literature tables on the steps lasted for over a year and a half, before the Post Office Police finally drove the tent dwellers away. Postal authorities then built an imposing fence of iron bars around the empty space where the tents had been, to keep anyone from ever setting foot again on that section of sidewalk.

Ronald Vargas, a Nicaraguan refugee, is the occupation's artist and makes many of the protest banners.  He calls himself Ronald Reagan as a sarcastic comment. Reagan was responsible for the "contra war" against Nicaragua's Sandinista government. (Photo: David Bacon)Ronald Vargas, a Nicaraguan refugee, is the occupation's artist and makes many of the protest banners. He calls himself Ronald Reagan as a sarcastic comment. Reagan was responsible for the "contra war" against Nicaragua's Sandinista government. (Photo: David Bacon)
That certainly felt like revenge to activists. While allied against the Post Office, the encampment's residents have increasingly criticized the current city administration. They charge that Berkeley has given developers a green light to build a wave of market-rate housing that is gentrifying the city, and at the same time creating more homelessness.

They point to a recent study by the San Francisco Planning Commission, which found that every set of 100 market-rate condominiums required the labor of about 43 working-class families to maintain them and support their residents. Not only don't the condos create housing for poorer residents, but they increase housing demand at the bottom of the market, without coming up with any places for people to live. The net result is the increasing displacement of low-income people.

After being forced by police to disband one camp on the grass median in the middle of Adeline Street, homeless community activists set up another across the street. (Photo: David Bacon)After being forced by police to disband one camp on the grass median in the middle of Adeline Street, homeless community activists set up another across the street. (Photo: David Bacon)
The Post Office coalition broke down entirely when conservative members of the city council, backed by the Downtown Business Association, pushed through an ordinance that restricts the space for the belongings of homeless people on public sidewalks. During the debate, the Post Office camp activists set up a new occupation, called Liberty City, in front of the old City Hall to make their opposition visible.

In an interview for Truthout, MuZiK, one of those displaced in the uprooting of the camp on Adeline Street, envisioned a growing use of occupations. MuZiK noted that, while it might make people uncomfortable, "if our protest is anything other than a short 'here today, gone tomorrow' sort of deal ... we got a lot of time on our hands, so don't hate it if we choose to spend it fighting for what's right!"

Mike Zint a leader of the homeless occupation, at an informal meeting outside his tent. (Photo: David Bacon)Mike Zint a leader of the homeless occupation, at an informal meeting outside his tent. (Photo: David Bacon)
In the wake of the sit-lie battle, another resident of the occupation, Mike Lee, declared himself a candidate for mayor. His campaign dramatizes the idea that homeless people should be given space to set up tents and create a self-governing community. At the Post Office and Liberty City, "What's being created is an intentional community," Lee explains, "where people come together and intentionally create an entity for mutual aid and voluntary cooperation, so that they can survive together and solve their own problems. Homeless people have always formed communities, whether we were considered 'hobos' or homeless people or just 'bums.' Homo sapiens are very social animals. We come together naturally."

At the Post Office encampment, voter registration forms appeared on the tables in front of the tents. "We're homeless and we vote!" Lee says. "There is a political purpose here, to change the way public policy is crafted and implemented. As homeless people we are the true experts. Organizing is the solution to homelessness, and the people responsible for solving homelessness are the homeless themselves." Lee has put forward detailed plans and budgets, showing how the city could use a vacant community center to house working homeless people, and establish areas where others could set up tents or build "tiny houses."

A homeless man sleeps across the street from the Post Office, where the homeless camp used to be.  It is now an empty space surrounded by iron bars - the people who used to live there sleep on the grass or elsewhere. (Photo: David Bacon)A homeless man sleeps across the street from the Post Office, where the homeless camp used to be. It is now an empty space surrounded by iron bars -- the people who used to live there sleep on the grass or elsewhere. (Photo: David Bacon)Meanwhile, city politics have become very sharply divided, which is reflected in the current mayoral election. The city's progressive bloc, a minority on the city council, has two candidates for mayor. Councilmember Jesse Arreguin is more heavily favored and is the city's first Latino elected official, endorsed by local unions and Bernie Sanders. Fellow Councilmember Kriss Worthington earned the loyalty of progressives by showing up on picket lines and at demonstrations for years.

Leading the conservative opposition is Laurie Capitelli, a real estate agent whose campaign is well funded by property owners and developers. By mid-October the "independent" National Association of Realtors PAC, having found a way around the city's $250 limit on direct campaign contributions, had channeled $60,382 into Capitelli campaign mailers.

Berkeley is one of many cities that has adopted ranked-choice voting in recent years. This helps the homeless political effort to reach out for allies. Arreguin and Worthington both ask supporters to vote for the other as their second choice in the ranked voting system. Now Lee has asked his constituency to vote for Arreguin as second choice, and Worthington as third choice. In this way, ranked choice voting allows people to support the political demands voiced by a candidate of homeless people, and then to support those progressive candidates who actually have the greatest chance of winning office.

After being expelled from the Post Office camp and Liberty City, many homeless people began living in Provo Park, across the street from City Hall.  The police later dispersed the people here also. (Photo: David Bacon)After being expelled from the Post Office camp and Liberty City, many homeless people began living in Provo Park, across the street from City Hall. The police later dispersed the people here also. (Photo: David Bacon)
At the height of a recent rainstorm, Arreguin came out to check on the welfare of the people in the tents, which earned him Lee's support. Worthington has come by the occupations several times in the past. Ultimately, Arreguin says, the city needs to hear from homeless people themselves and treat them as normal members of the body politic. "We do have a crisis, and all options should be on the table," he said in an interview last year. "Berkeley should consider a temporary encampment until we have more permanent housing. People need a place to go."

There is no question but that homelessness is an issue in Berkeley's city election. And while the presidential debates avoided it, homelessness has become a national issue as well. The explosion in the number of homeless people nationwide has led both to the passage of anti-homeless legislation in some cities and to the recognition of homeless encampments in others. That explosion has not led yet to a broad movement for building public housing on a massive scale to eliminate homelessness. But organized homeless people with a strong voice could help to create one. Such a movement would depend as well on alliances with the broader communities in which homeless people live.

Mike Lee and Mike Zint (in the tent) in the camp outside the Berkeley Post Office, originally established to protest the sale of the Main Post Office building.  The Post Office Police demolished the camp and evicted the residents a few weeks after the photo was taken. (Photo: David Bacon)Mike Lee and Mike Zint (in the tent) in the camp outside the Berkeley Post Office, originally established to protest the sale of the Main Post Office building. The Post Office Police demolished the camp and evicted the residents a few weeks after the photo was taken. (Photo: David Bacon)
Media depictions often portray neighbors incensed over the presence of homeless people. The experience of the Poor Tour, however, is different. Residents of the mobile occupation have been careful to reach out to the neighborhoods that surround the camps. "We're very fortunate that we have the support of the community -- we wouldn't be able to pull off this tour without them," Zint says. "The city is so corrupt -- sniffing around the developers' money. It's time that the community figures out what's going on, stands up and fights back with us."

To keep their support, the camp has set basic rules. "This is a community, not a drug camp," Zint emphasizes. "We don't have a Porta Potty, but we still manage to be sanitary. No drugs or alcohol. Treat each other with fairness and respect. Be mindful of the neighbors because they're the ones we draw our support from."

The activists and their umbrella organization, First They Came for the Homeless, have a website and a Facebook page. James Cartmill, who lives in the tents, and Sarah Menefee, a long-time homeless rights activist who is a near-constant presence at the camp, have taken and posted hundreds of photographs showing camp life from the inside, and the confrontations with the police and city.

The occupations are decorated with posters and banners created by Nicaraguan refugee Ronald Vargas Gonzalez, whose sarcastic camp nickname is Ronald Reagan (who was responsible for the "contra war" against Nicaragua's Sandinista government). "I use what I have inside me," he explains. "I analyze the society. I analyze being homeless. In each drawing I work to make society recognize that the homeless are human. Society says homeless means garbage, but homeless is human. Society has to give us respect."

Vargas credits the community he's found with fellow tent dwellers with keeping him alive. "The people here are like my roots, a connection to life. You can tell them everything - the good and the bad. What you've lost in this life, and what you've found."

News Fri, 28 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How to Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective

The Dakota Access pipeline route was shifted onto Indigenous treaty lands after the town of Bismarck objected to having it around their drinking water. In making #NoDAPL purely a climate justice issue, many people fail to acknowledge that Indigenous people have a right to defend ourselves and our land.

Stacey Alkire of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who has been at the campsite set up to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline for five weeks, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on October 8, 2016. (Photo: Kristina Barker / The New York Times) Stacey Alkire of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who has been at the campsite set up to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline for five weeks, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on October 8, 2016. (Photo: Kristina Barker / The New York Times)

An earlier version of this piece appeared on Transformative Spaces.

The public witnessed a new level of escalation on Thursday in the Native struggle at Standing Rock, as police swept through an encampment in the direct path of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). The resulting standoff with the National Guard, and police officers from various states, led to 117 arrests. Advancing authorities attacked Water Protectors with flash grenades, bean bag launchers, pepper spray and Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs). There were also numerous reports of police beating Water Protectors, and reports of live ammunition being used. 

Such developments were incredibly disturbing, both to those present and to Natives who were actively watching from a distance, but the raid itself was not unexpected. In fact, there was a great deal of suspicion that the police would close in the day before, which led me to reach out to a number of my friends on the frontlines Wednesday. Amid our conversations about their feelings and recent experiences at the camps, I asked my friends if there was anything they wanted shared in writing. What follows is grounded in the substance of those conversations. These ideas are obviously not representative of all Native perspectives on the subject, because our convictions are as diverse as that of any peoples. But it’s a perspective we thought was worthy of expression.

A Shared Reflection

It is crucial that people recognize that Standing Rock is part of an ongoing struggle against colonial violence. The Dakota Access pipeline (#NoDAPL) is a front of struggle in a long-erased war against Native peoples -- a war that has been active since first contact, and waged without interruption. Our efforts to survive the conditions of this anti-Native society have gone largely unnoticed because white supremacy is the law of the land, and because we, as Native people, have been pushed beyond the limits of public consciousness.

The fact that we are more likely to be killed by law enforcement than any other group speaks to the fact that Native erasure is ubiquitous, both culturally and literally, but pushed from public view. Our struggles intersect with numerous others, but are perpetrated with different motives and intentions. Anti-Blackness, for example, is a demonstration of power, whereas the violence against us is a matter of pragmatism. The struggle at Standing Rock is an effort to prevent the construction of a deadly, destructive mechanism, created by greed-driven people with no regard for our lives.

It has always been this way. We die, and have died, for the sake of expansion and white wealth, and for the maintenance of both.

The harms committed against us have long been relegated to the history books. This erasure has occurred for the sake of both white supremacy and US mythology, such as American exceptionalism. It has also been perpetuated to sustain the comfort of those who benefit from harms committed against us. Our struggles have been kept both out of sight and out of mind -- easily forgotten by those who aren't directly impacted.

It should be clear to everyone that we are not simply here in those rare moments when others bear witness.

To reiterate what should be obvious: We are not simply here when you see us.

We have always been here, fighting for our lives, surviving colonization, and that reality has rarely been acknowledged. Even people who believe in freedom frequently overlook our issues, as well as the intersections of their issues with our own.

It matters that more of the world is bearing witness in this historic moment. However, we feel the need to point out that the dialogue around #NoDAPL has become increasingly centered on climate change. Yes, there is an undeniable connectivity between this front of struggle and the larger fight to combat planetary warming. We fully recognize that all of humanity is at risk of extinction, whether they realize it or not. But intersectionality does not mean focusing exclusively on the intersections of our respective work. It sometimes means taking a journey well outside the bounds of those intersections.

In discussing #NoDAPL, too few people have started from a place of naming that we, as Indigenous people, have a right to defend our water and our lives, simply because we have a natural right to defend ourselves and our communities. When "climate justice," in a very broad sense, becomes the center of conversation, our fronts of struggle are often reduced to a staging ground for the messaging of NGOs.

Yes, everyone should be talking about climate change, but you should also be talking about the fact that Native communities deserve to survive, because our lives are worth defending in their own right -- not simply because "this affects us all."

So when you talk about Standing Rock, please begin by acknowledging that this pipeline was redirected from an area where it was most likely to impact the residents of Bismarck, North Dakota. When Bismarck's population -- which is over 90 percent white -- objected to the risks the pipeline posed to their drinking water, their concerns were accommodated, and the pipeline route was shifted into treaty lands. Please inform people of these facts, and remind them that our people are still struggling to survive the violence of colonization on many fronts. People should not simply engage with stories related to our struggles when they see a concrete connection to their own issues -- or a jumping off point to discuss their own issues. Our friends, allies and accomplices should be fighting alongside us because they value our humanity and right to live, in addition to whatever else they believe in.

Every Native at Standing Rock -- every Native on this continent -- has survived the genocide of 100 million of our people. That means that every Indigenous child born is a victory against colonialism, but we are all also born into a fight for our very existence. We need that to be named and centered.

This message is not a condemnation. It's a fundamentally reasonable ask.

We are asking that you help ensure that dialogue around this issue begins with and centers a discussion of anti-Native violence and policies, no matter what other connections you might ultimately make, because those discussions simply don't happen in this country. There obviously aren't enough people talking about climate change, but there are even fewer people -- and let's be real, far fewer people -- discussing the various forms of violence that Indigenous people are up against, and even fewer acting in solidarity with us. And while such discussions have always been deserved, we are living in a moment when Native Water Protectors and Water Warriors have more than earned both acknowledgement and solidarity.

If you have been with us in this fight, we appreciate you. But we are reaching out, right now, in these brave days for our people, to ask that you keep the aforementioned truths front and center as you discuss #NoDAPL. This moment is, first and foremost, about Native liberation, Native self-determination and Native survival.

Opinion Fri, 28 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Marked for Death by Trump When He Was 15

Yusef Salaam is one of the Central Park 5 -- five young men of color wrongfully convicted in 1989 of sexually assaulting Trisha Meili, a white woman jogging in Central Park. The "Central Park Jogger" case became national news, and the accused -- all between the ages of 14 and 16 -- were held up as examples of alleged "wilding" by "wolf packs" of Black and Latino youth.

Fanning the flames of the witch hunt was Donald Trump, who bought full-page ads in four New York City newspapers using the Central Park Jogger case to call for New York state to bring back the death penalty. The ad used the same bloodthirsty themes that became a staple of his "law and order" campaign speeches: "How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!"

In 2002, after four of the five defendants had completed their sentences, the Central Park 5 were exonerated when Matias Reyes confessed to the crime, and DNA evidence confirmed he was the lone attacker. Yet Trump insisted earlier this month that the five teenagers were guilty -- an outrageous statement, though it was quickly overshadowed in the media by the release of tapes of Trump bragging about committing sexual assault.

Yusef Salaam became an activist around issues of racism and the criminal justice system. He talked with Danny Katch about his own story and the larger fight for justice for victims of a racist legal system.

Danny Katch: Why do you think that Donald Trump, in 2016, went out of his way to say that the Central Park 5 were guilty when you've clearly been exonerated?

Yusef Salaam: It really is a sad situation when you have a person in that position -- who has the capacity and definitely the wherewithal to do his fact-checking, especially now that he's running to be president -- who still stays on the side of lies and falsehoods.

Part of the reason why I think he said it is because he took out the full-page ad that ran in New York City newspapers basically calling for our death -- I think he mentioned recently that that was received so positively.

If you think about the history of Black people in this country and the history of other folks, it's two different types of history. We have Black people who were supposed to be freed from slavery, and then immediately, the slave codes were instituted, and so forth and so on.

And so here it is -- four Blacks and one Latino, and we were immediately looked at as being guilty and had to prove ourselves innocent. Under the law, it says you're innocent until proven guilty. So for Donald Trump to take out those ads in such a big way, it was the worst thing in the world.

And the worst part about it is that there's an infallibility to a person like Donald Trump -- you know what I'm saying? He had to apologize about these comments that he made about those young ladies, but he was 60 years old at the time!

It's not like he was feeling his way through life and trying to understand things. He's a grown man, and this is the fiber in the fabric of who he is. And then he tries to chalk it up as "just locker room banter." But most people who hang out in the locker rooms don't talk like that. They don't talk about sexually assaulting women and thinking that it's okay, you know? That's a very, very sick way to be.

That takes me right into the next question: This person who we now know has a long history of being a sexual predator also has a long history of accusing people of color of rape. There's your case in 1989, and more recently, Trump has talked about Mexican immigrants being rapists. I just wondered if you have any thoughts about that.

That's the craziest thing about all this. We can't even talk about the pot calling the kettle black. We always say that "absolute power corrupts absolutely" -- well, here's an individual who's saying, "Hey, you know, I can do whatever I want to these women because they let me." They let you even more so because you're a celebrity.

That's the part that's sickening. Our children who were growing up in the Obama era knew that the great thing about this president was that he was a person of color. At least people stopped thinking that the highest aspiration they could have was to be a basketball player or to be a music artist. They now have the opportunity to even become the president of the United States, and if they fell short of that, that was a start at least, so they can go beyond the glass ceiling.

But now the conversation, even after Donald Trump doesn't become the president -- and I'm making a prediction here...

THE CONVERSATION now is going to be what this man represents for our young people -- this man who says that if you do it, I want you put to death, but if I do it, it's completely fine. Of course, there are a lot of people who don't accept Trump, but it's a really sad place to be.

I want to go back to 1989, which I'm sure is not pleasant for you. I think a lot of people who are younger or aren't from New York City don't necessarily understand that what happened to the Central Park 5 wasn't just a case of people being convicted for a crime they didn't commit. You guys became poster children for a national hysteria about this thing called "wilding" -- the latest craze about what dangerous young Black people were doing in the 1980s. What was it like to be 15 years old and suddenly be the face of this panic?

It's hard to say. If I used a word to describe it, it would be that we were the pariahs. But it's hard to explain that feeling and to give someone else realistic idea of what it meant, because reading about it is one thing, but going through it is something else.

In prison, we would write letters back to the people who live in the world, so to speak, and in almost every letter that was sent out, we started off saying something to the effect of "may this letter reach you spiritually, mentally and physically okay."

It wasn't until I got into the adult facilities that I bumped into some of the people who were members of Black liberation movement, who used to say to me, "You've got to add a fourth component to that." That fourth component is psychosocial, and what it means is the idea that the society validates you.

If you're seen as being okay in society, then you have the opportunity to be okay. But if you're seen as being not okay in society, then a lot of times, you tend to become your own worst enemy because of how the society views you, you know?

So in my case, we were trying to prove to the public -- and prove to maybe even some of our peers and family -- that we were innocent of this crime. But it's hard to prove that when you're a child, because they always say children lie all the time.

We didn't get that opportunity to prove ourselves innocent. We didn't get that opportunity to have the justice system work in terms of justice for us. It became a system of injustice. It became a system where the spiked wheels of justice ran down the hill and mowed us all down. That part was one of the most difficult things in the world.

Hillary Clinton doesn't have nearly the same record of personal racism or sexism that Donald Trump has, but as I'm sure you're aware, during Bill Clinton's presidency in the 1990s, that the era of mass incarceration really expanded, and Hillary Clinton herself did talk in a racist, Trump-like way about a dangerous underclass of "super-predators." Do you feel like that history from the 1990s still matters today?

It absolutely does. We've always said that even though racism doesn't seem as prevalent as it used to be, we know very well that racism is alive and well, that it's institutionalized, that we find it practiced no matter where we look.

Hillary Clinton has apologized about it since then, but to describe a whole race of people, of young people, as predisposed to this kind of behavior was really a sad thing coming from a person who was in power and can affect change. Every time we looked up, it was always somebody white directing things. Nobody ever included us in the process. But everybody always described us.

The same kind of thing happened to the Central Park 5 back in 1989. During the first few weeks, there was a picture of us that came out in the tsunami of hundreds of articles. We found our names and our addresses and our phone numbers in New York City newspapers. People were sending us hate mail and all kinds of death threats, and our families tried to shield us from that.

My mother used to always say that she was from the Jim Crow South, but here I was was experiencing Jim Crowism in the North. They were trying to make us modern Emmett Till, based on Donald Trump's ad.

Somebody would have probably taken it upon themselves to lynch us. Even more so now, if you look at the crowds that Donald Trump gets front of. Here you have a person who said, I can go on Fifth Avenue right now and shoot someone, and I won't lose any voters.

All that says to me is that history is something we need to learn from. Like I said, my mother said she was from the Jim Crow South, and here I was experiencing the same kind of thing they would tell us about that we thought was just a myth. She would talk about things to us, and we would be like, "Okay, Ma." But later, I was experiencing something that I'll tell my children about.

You and the other members of the Central Park 5 were victimized, but you aren't just victims. You've been a part of increasing awareness and understanding of the criminal justice system. You were on the national board of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) and got involved in cases like Troy Davis in Georgia. How did becoming involved in protesting other injustices affect you and your own understanding of what you had been through?

It definitely was an eye-opener because I never truly came to grips with the fact that what happened to me could very well have been a death sentence.

When we were given that five-to-10-year bid, it wasn't just a prison sentence. It was also something that was going to lead, if we survived the prison itself, to a social death. We were being branded as rapists, and you know that's the worst crime you can go to prison for.

So when I came home from prison and started involving myself in the CEDP, I plunged head on into the struggle of trying to liberate other people from the clutches of the criminal system of injustice. It gave me a sense of purpose, because on the one hand, I realized that I was a part of that history.

Part of the healing for me was to assist others who were going through something very similar -- to make sure that they got their just and fair due, opposed to what they were receiving.

It was hard, because a lot of people still lost their lives in that struggle. I think that one of the biggest letdowns that I experienced was the execution of Troy Davis in 2011.

But at the same time, this activity also gave me a voice. It began to allow me to share the story of the Central Park 5, and it allowed me to heal from the experience -- to heal from wanting to just disappear into anonymity and have a kind of hermit life. That's whole PTSD that happens as a result of being in prison, and not having any kind of connection with folks, because their lives have moved on, and you're still stuck back in the days.

It was tremendous. It still is tremendous. Whenever I look at the injustices going on around the country, I am happy that sometimes people re-tweet what I say -- that's definitely a powerful thing.

You and your mom were recently part of the Justice 4 the Wrongly Incarcerated march from New York City to Albany, right?

Absolutely. That was a tremendous thing to be a part of. In a way, we've gotten our lives back, and we're marching and seeking justice for individuals who are still waiting to get their lives back. They're languishing behind prison walls.

It's very telling the numbers of people who are being let go from prison, and not after doing a year or two. Some of these individuals have been doing decades in prison. And they've been found innocent of these crimes that they were in prison for, with the decades going past.

You're someone who has been in the struggle for a long time, and now, there has been the dramatic rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Are there any thoughts you'd like to impart to people who are just getting active?

I think that it's very important to get involved in the struggle to liberate our people. Because unfortunately, what I've learned in the process of being in the struggle is that there are countless people who really believe that the system is designed to assist and protect and serve and all of the good ideals they talk about.

If you look at the police cars in New York City -- and I've said this on numerous occasions -- they have these three words on them: Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect. But if you're a person of color, and you come into the clutches of the police departments of the world, a lot of times, especially in New York City, we don't even receive the CPR.

What I want to get out there is the idea that the system was built this way. If we look at architectural designs, sometimes, they look like they defy the laws of nature. Somebody built it that way. A lot of these structures are still standing today.

That's the same way we have to look at the criminal justice system. I call it the criminal system of injustice because they didn't give us the opportunity to be presumed innocent and found guilty. We were guilty, and we had to fight to prove ourselves innocent. In many ways, we still have to fight to prove ourselves innocent.

News Fri, 28 Oct 2016 09:22:45 -0400
The Empire Files: Inside Palestine's Refugee Camps

In her first on-the-ground report from Palestine, Abby Martin gives a first-hand look into two of the most attacked refugee camps in the West Bank: Balata and Aida camps. 

With millions of displaced Palestinians around the world, hundreds of thousands are refugees in their own country -- many have lived packed into these refugee camps after being ethnically cleansed from their villages just miles away. 

News Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Oakland's Honor Band Kneels in Protest of Police Violence

A group of middle and high school students in Oakland, California, recently made international news when they joined San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's silent protest against racism and police violence in the United States. The students, members of the Oakland Unified School District's Honour Band, knelt as they played the national anthem before a professional baseball game. 

The year 7 and 8 students spoke to Red Flag about their decision to "take the knee." Inspired by Kaepernick, high school members of the district's school band first proposed the idea. Right away, the middle schoolers knew that it would be controversial. From their first day of school, US children are taught to show extreme reverence for the national flag during the anthem. This includes standing with hats off and hands on their hearts. Anything else is seen as highly disrespectful.

Despite this, some of the students felt so passionately about the need to take a stand against recent police killings that they still wanted to do it.

One student, Mikayla, 14, delivered an impassioned speech to the others about the need to stand up against racism. "I wanted us to kneel because as a country we need to have a conversation about what is going on here," she said, explaining why she felt so strongly. "We have been turning our backs on murder and racism, and I was tired of not doing anything about it."

Before the game, band conductor Zack Pitt-Smith made it clear the decision to kneel would be each student's choice. Even as they took the field, no-one was sure who was going to do it.

Serena, 14, remembers, "I was scared to kneel because I wasn't sure if anyone else would join me. I was thinking, 'Should I kneel? I feel very strongly about this -- I'm going to do it.' But I was still shaking because I didn't know what everyone else would do."

Nearly all of the 155 band members knelt as they played. Everyone had their own reasons. "I'm learning about human rights in history class, and the number one human right -- the right to live -- is being violated right here," Serena said. "I wanted to show my dislike for our country's recent actions," Eden, 12, added. "I was trying to say 'I don't like our country the way it is right now!'''

The multiracial nature of their protest was very important to them. Griffin, 13, explained: "[It] shows that both people who are being discriminated against and people who are not are standing up together against mistreatment."

At the game itself, their action was met with applause. But soon after, they faced an onslaught of criticism in the news and on social media. Although they knew their act would be controversial, most band members were surprised at the number of negative comments accompanying online news stories. Still, most weren't fazed by the criticism. "Even though we have haters, we know we are fighting for what is right, so I ignore them," Griffin said.

Many commentators accused Pitt-Smith and other adults of manipulating them, claiming that the students didn't fully understand what they were doing. "A lot of people think that because we are kids, we aren't paying attention to what's happening in the news," Mikayla said, "but we notice a lot, and see who got shot."

As a group they discussed how best to defend their actions. "We had lots of debates every week," said Johnny, 12. One student who isn't African American was told that she shouldn't have done it because racism and racist police violence don't affect her. At the time she didn't know what to say, so she brought her question to the group. Someone remembered the words of Martin Niemoller's well-known poem about solidarity, "First they came for the communists."

Some of the students voiced frustration that the people who were criticising them were avoiding talking about the issue of racism and police violence. "We did this to make a point that bad things are happening," said Johnny. "People are ignoring what we are trying to say, and only saying it was disrespectful, without having the discussion."

So, what next? Elijah, 12, responded quickly to say, "My plan is to keep protesting until there is racial equality, and there are consequences for police officers who hurt people." Olivia, also 12, said, "I hope these protests show the world how much racism there is here. I will definitely continue my protests. I want to show that even though we are young we can still take a stand and change the world."

News Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Freedom to Oppress: Two Journalists Face the Power of Trump's Influence at a Green Bay Rally

Green Bay -- She jabbed me hard enough to make me drop my phone. A teenager, she was making it clear I was in her space. She gave me a second jab to the shoulder as her mother appeared at her side.

"You are not welcome here," the mother said as the daughter shoved me again. "Go back to where you came from."

I'm a Chicago journalist, and I wanted to see the lingering effects Donald Trump's supporters would have past election day. I had heard a Green Bay rally would be like walking into the devil's playground; hell for a black woman like me. It was a lesson my white colleague, Christen, and I would soon learn.

This was their playground.


When I first learned Trump was holding a rally in northern Wisconsin, I was hesitant to ask Jasmine, a fellow graduate student at Northwestern University, to join me. I knew about the bigotry at the Trump rallies. On the three-hour drive from Chicago, we talked about how everything would be fine. Maybe we were naive.

When the campaign denied our request for media credentials, we joined the 3,000-plus Trump supporters at the KI Convention Center and worked our way to the front, weaving through a sea of white faces, many clad in Republican red. In a crowd that was largely elderly and weathered, pink "Wisconsin women love Trump" signs were visible everywhere, in defiance of the 2005 Trump video and the allegations of assault made by several women.

Amid deafening chants of, "We want Trump! We want Trump!," we soon learned our very presence upset the supporters in our crowded corner of the hall.


Firing up the crowd, Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke called out twice, "It is pitchfork-and torches time in America!" The crowd answered with a powerful chant, "USA! USA!"

Supporters began to shake signs in front of our faces. One jeered, "We won't let you get any pictures or video." Others piled on, "How dare you stand in front of us" and "We've been fucking waiting here all day."

It wasn't a surprise that racial animosity was prevalent. I've known that my entire life. But the power it had in this moment -- in the heat of a campaign for the presidency of the United States -- shocked me.

I reminded myself of the job that had to be done. I was a journalist. No turning back.


"Go to the back of the bus!" I heard one of the Trump supporters yell not once, but twice.

Not until I heard those words, though, did I notice these people were looking at us differently. Not just at Jasmine but at me. Because I was with her.

I mentioned the comment to her later. To my surprise, Jasmine didn't hear it. It was impressive really; her ability to drown out verbal attackers around her.

As the anger built around us, I tapped Jasmine on the shoulder and said we should move back in the crowd for safety. My heart still pounding, I told Jasmine, "I'm sorry."

She put her arm around me and smiled.

"It's OK. It's expected."


It was an act I had spent 23 years perfecting. I knew we should move back in the crowd, but in my world there was nowhere to go. That came with the territory, growing up in a predominantly white suburb.

Be polite. Cordial even. Give a friendly smile with a diplomatic response. No matter what, do not react. Christen was surprised at my ability to stay in character. To be honest, I was, too.

That was until he called her "beautiful."

Donald Trump spotted a black child wearing pink in the crowd. We had seen her earlier, strolling into the rally with her white parents. She had silky ebony skin and big curly hair layered in highlights. He kept saying, "beautiful, beautiful" as he welcomed her on stage.

I looked in front of me to see the same two women who had shoved me, cheering with bright smiles on their faces. The teenage daughter jumped up and down as if NSYNC had just entered the room.

That little girl was nothing more than a prop for them. A bragging right.

I gasped as the candidate with the orange hair held her close to his chest before making two failed attempts of a sweet kiss on her cheek. The man next to me saw tears spill down my face. He began to clap even louder before asking mockingly if I wanted to hold up a Trump sign.

If only I were white, I thought, life would be easier.


In college, I wrote an article about a lynching near my small Indiana hometown that no one ever talks about anymore. Being in the Green Bay crowd made that image feel real, as if a piece of history I had studied came alive, right before my eyes.

I looked around to see a crowd that looked like me and yet contradicted everything I am. I wondered how it would be different had Jasmine not been standing next to me. It was a strange dichotomy when Trump brought that little girl on stage, highlighting the presence of only a few people of color in the room.

I don't know if it was shame or embarrassment that I felt, knowing people were watching Jasmine more closely. It became obvious when an older man took photos of her notebook and offered her a Trump sign as a joke that they didn't want her there.

I saw, really for the first time, this was her reality.

She had been there before.


When I was 11, my mama and I went to pick up milkshakes at a local Wendy's. While driving away, a white woman began screaming at our car. She thought we were about to hit her.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" she said. My mother just stayed silent, gave a head nod, and allowed the woman to safely cross the street. The woman kept screaming at us as we drove out of the parking lot.

On our way home, I asked my mother why she didn't say anything. Why didn't she cuss the woman out or put her in her place?

"Because there was nothing more to do."

Mama always knew not to fight hate with hate.


"He's fighting for you," Sandra Duckett, the Green Bay leader of Women for Trump told me in an interview after the rally, making me shake with anger. I couldn't bring myself to tell her how violent people at the rally had been. He's not fighting for me, until he will fight for Jasmine.

The next day, I cried.

Trump has given voice to racism, using the media to broadcast a message of hate and exclusion. Post-election, Trump's supporters will still feel emboldened by his ugly language and the racial solidarity that they felt at rallies like the one in Green Bay.

I wondered if an equally provocative candidate, with a slightly better strategy, will be able to resurrect the bigotry seen in 2016.

It is my job to be a watchdog for that kind of behavior. It is my job to stop it before it begins.


Leaving the rally, we interviewed Kyle Cropsey, a 23-year-old, who had been energized by the speech. Trump buttons covered the outer layer of his rose red T-shirt. To him, this was the America he always hoped for.

"Look at that crowd," Cropsey said. "It's as American as it's going to get."

But he was wrong. The playground he refused to surrender, a hell harnessed over time, was no longer his to dominate. While Trump has revealed the racism still rooted in America, its ideas and beliefs are being rejected by an ever-larger part of the country.

He is losing. And the gap between Clinton and Trump widens as Nov. 8 approaches.

As our country becomes browner and more diverse, there is hope of what we can be.

An America rid of racism. An America for me.

Opinion Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
It's Alive ]]> (Tom Tomorrow) Art Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400