Truthout Stories Thu, 28 Jul 2016 12:17:45 -0400 en-gb Despite Clinton Endorsement, Bernie Lays Foundation to Carry on "Revolution"

2016.7.28.Bernie.mainBernie Sanders speaks at the Wells Fargo Center on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) may have officially endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after losing to the centrist in a bitterly-contested primary, but the senator is hoping to keep his "political revolution" alive.

Sanders has started a "social welfare" 501(c)(4) advocacy organization, to support progressive groups seeking to coach and vet those who want to run for office. He touted the group, called "Our Revolution," in an email sent to supporters earlier this week.

"The goal of this organization will be no different from the goal of our campaign: we must transform American politics to make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families," Sanders said.

In turning his campaign into a 501(c)(4), Sanders would be following in the footsteps of Democrats before him. Most notably, President Obama, used his campaign apparatus to create Organizing for Action; a group that supported his agenda.

Earlier this month, Sanders said he was moved, in part, to launch Our Revolution by "Democrats' loss of about 900 state legislative seats in nearly eight years," as USA Today reported.

He told the paper the group would seek to support races ranging from school board contests to Congressional elections. Sanders also said that candidates needn't be Democrats, as long as they're progressive.

"If you have some strong independents who would like to run, it would be my inclination to support them," he said. The senator noted that he particularly wants to involve young people and the working class.

During the primary, Sanders demonstrated that his network already has impressive fundraising prowess, as CNBC has reported. Two weeks after sending out an email touting Chris Pearson, a Vermont state senate candidate, Sanders campaign' reported that Pearson received 10,000 donations and that his campaign was fully-funded for the rest of the year.

News Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
RNC 2016 ]]> Art Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400 Leaks Show DNC Asked White House to Reward Donors With Slots on Boards and Commissions

Email exchanges involving top officials at the Democratic National Committee released along with private documents by WikiLeaks show that DNC officials hoped to reward top donors and insiders with appointments to federal boards and commissions in coordination with the White House.

The revelations give an inside look into how the Democratic Party attempted to leverage its access and influence with the White House to bring in cash.

In an April 20, 2016 email, DNC National Finance Director Jordan Kaplan canvassed what appears to be the committee's finance department -- its fundraising office -- for names of people (mainly donors) to reward with federal appointments on boards and commissions.

That email exchange yielded a list compiled by DNC Finance Chief of Staff Scott Comer and emailed to Kaplan on April 26 titled "Boards and Commissions Names_Final," which listed the names of twenty-three DNC donors and insiders.

Kaplan emailed the list to Amanda Moose, special assistant to the president for presidential personnel, later that day. In an email without a subject line, Kaplan wrote just one line: "For your review," seemingly referring to a previous conversation or exchange.

Then on April 28, Kaplan missed a call with Moose. He emailed Comer asking for Moose's number that afternoon, presumably to call her back. Comer sent Kaplan the number. It's unclear if Kaplan and Moose spoke.

But the two may have spoken several days later; a May 3 email from Comer to Kaplan shows that Moose wanted to set up a "20 minute conversation" with Kaplan.

None of the individuals on the list have been appointed to boards or commissions since the email exchanges took place almost three months ago. A few were named to slots in previous years.

The White House strongly denied any link between financial support for the party and appointments.

"Being a donor does not get you a role in this administration," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz in an email to OpenSecrets Blog, "nor does it preclude you from getting one. We've said this for many years now and there's nothing in the emails that have been released that contradicts that."

The people on the list weren't just hefty donors to the DNC; many also gave big money to Obama.

The practice of rewarding big donors with federal positions dates back to the times of the founding fathers.

Bob Biersack, who spent 30 years at the Federal Election Commission and is a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, said that "Big donors have always risen to the top of lists for appointment to plum ambassadorships and other boards and commissions around the federal landscape. This example shows that party fundraisers continue to see these appointments as an important tool in the donor maintenance process."

Most of the people on the list gave huge sums to the Democratic National Committee, as well as the party's primary fundraising arms for its congressional candidates: the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Here is the full breakdown of donations made by individuals on the list from the beginning of the 2008 cycle through the end of June 2016. We included donations to candidate committees, PACs, super PACs and joint-fundraising committees.

As the table shows, the people whose names were on the list for possible federal appointments are big donors to the DNC, hold important positions there, and/or are big donors to Obama.

Many on the list bundled for the Obama campaign and are bundlers for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Notably, the individuals on the list gave significant sums to Clinton and none to Bernie Sanders.

Wade Randlett, also who formed the Democratic PAC, was appointed to the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations in 2014. Another on the list -- Shekar Narasimhan -- was appointed to Obama's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2014. David Shapira, CEO of supermarket company Giant Eagle, was nominated to be on the board of governors of USPS by Obama in 2014, but the nomination was blocked by Congress.

In the emails leaked by WikiLeaks, Kaplan wrote "this is the last call for boards and commissions; if you have someone, send to Comer -- full name, city, state, email and phone number."

"Send as many as you want, just don't know how many people will get to," Kaplan wrote in an email sent April 20 to what appears to be the DNC's finance department.

Comer clarified in a later email, "Any folks who you'd like to be considered to be on the board of (for example) USPS, NEA, NEH. Basically anyone who has a niche interest and might like to serve on the board of one of these orgs."

These emails appear to show that DNC finance staffers -- the DNC's fundraising staff, in other words -- could suggest people they felt should be rewarded with federal appointments.

Responding to another question, Comer wrote "I should say, though, that the likelihood of landing a spot on ones as prestigious as NEA/USPS is unlikely. It's much more likely they'll get something like 'President's Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History.' (no shade to women)." In that same email, sent on April 21, Comer also said "when you submit your names, we don't need specific designations."

Comer's statements imply that the DNC could neither guarantee any specific position nor ensure that a person suggested would receive an appointment at all from the Obama administration.

Reached at her office in the White House, Moose said she was not authorized to comment. OpenSecrets Blog did manage to contact Kaplan, but he hung up after realizing it was a reporter. Comer directed our request for comment to a political consultant, who forwarded it to the DNC, which did not respond by press time.

The list was first reported on by the Daily Caller, a conservative news organization. The Caller article implied that the documents and emails showed Clinton traded appointments for donations. But the publication did not note the direct coordination with the Obama administration shown in the emails. 

News Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Police Incitement Against Black Lives Matter Is Putting Protesters in Danger

From the floor of the Republican National Convention to the online pages of the Blue Lives Matter Facebook community, it is now commonplace for public officials, police and first responders to openly declare war on Black Lives Matter -- the civil rights movement of our times.

In some cases, this climate has given way to overt intimidation, with the captain of the Columbia, South Carolina fire department fired earlier this month for threatening to run over Black Lives Matter protesters, followed by the termination of three other first responders for related offenses. According to the count of Sarah Kaplan, reporting for The Washington Post, those South Carolina officials "are among at least a dozen public employees who have lashed out against protesters on social media and been punished for it." Yet, many more appear to have faced no consequences at all.

Coming from the very people ostensibly entrusted with protecting public safety, smears and threats are fostering real violence against a movement that arose to counter the disproportionate state-sanctioned killing of black people, including extrajudicial executions by police. Unfortunately, the metropolitan area of Minneapolis has emerged as a case study in how police incitement endangers and criminalizes First-Amendment-protected protests organized by residents who have already endured police killings of at least two black men in the last eight months: Jamar Clark in November 2015 and Philando Castile earlier this month.

Mass Shooting Attack on Black Lives Matter

Lt. Bob Kroll, the head of the Minneapolis Police Officer's Federation, has ties to a white-power-linked biker gang called City Heat and a track record marred by accusations of racist violence, including a racial discrimination lawsuit filed in 2007 by five of his fellow African-American police officers. When community members organized protests last year demanding "Justice for Jamar," Kroll was not shy about his virulent opposition to the demonstrations taking place at all.

In late November, Kroll told a local media outlet of a weeks-long protest occupation outside the fourth precinct, "The cops feel like it's the local version of Benghazi. They are under siege, the mayor has directed the police chief to not help, these people need to be cleared out. Arrests need to be made. They need to be given an order to disperse."

According to Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP and civil rights attorney, while Kroll was issuing these public smears, white supremacists were taking to online platforms to threaten violence against protesters. "We were looking at different websites and threads from white supremacist and hate groups and saw threats constantly being issued against protesters at the fourth precinct occupation," said Levy-Pounds. In light of this environment, Levy-Pounds explained that protesters "had to create our own security teams to protect ourselves and monitor social media."

These grassroots efforts ultimately were not enough to stop four alleged white supremacist gunmen from opening fire on the protest on November 23, wounding five people -- two of them seriously. According to Sam Richards, founder and editor-in-chief of the North Star Post, the gunmen yelled, "race war" and "Trump 2016" before shooting. David Neiwert, writing for the Southern Poverty Law Center, confirmed that the shooters "left behind a trail of emails, chat rooms, websites, reveling in the extremist right."

Sumaya Moallin, who is 19 years old, was at the occupation outside of the fourth precinct when the shooting took place. She told AlterNet that she witnessed police refuse to help the wounded. "I ran back to the precinct door where police officers were standing in front," she said. "I asked, why isn't there an ambulance, why isn't anyone doing anything? I asked them what's going on, in tears."

"One of them looked at me and said, 'This is what you guys wanted.' And then the police retreated back behind the precinct doors," said Moallin. "I was in complete shock. I had just witnessed someone gun us down because of our skin tone and because of the way we look."

The police department claimed in a press statement that it responded promptly to the mass shooting, stating: "Dozens of officers responded almost immediately attending to victims and secured the scene." But every Black Lives Matter protester that AlterNet spoke to confirmed Moallin's account, which was reported in the Nation by George Joseph. Eye witnesses interviewed in the immediate aftermath said that the individual shot in the stomach was left lying on the ground for at least ten minutes.

Such denial of assistance would not be unheard of. As AlterNet senior editor Max Blumenthal recently reported, the Blue Lives Matter Facebook page has been filled with threats by police and their supporters to deny services to the public.

Protesters say police then proceeded to escalate violence toward protesters who were trying to tend to the wounded.

Jie Wronski-Riley, a 19-year-old organizer with Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis, told AlterNet: "There were 30 to 40 people who came up to help the people who had been shot. The police came out in riot gear and started pushing the crowd back and saying we won't let ambulances through unless you all leave." Several witnesses say that police then proceeded to escalate the situation, including by spraying chemical agents.

"They Really Don't Care That Much About Protesters"

"After the shooting, when they [the police] talked about the protest, they talked about how violent protesters were," Mica Grimm, organizer with Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis, told AlterNet. "They never talked about how five people were shot. No one will ever bring that up. They really don't care that much about protesters."

Indeed, police officers' public smears against the protesters appears to have only escalated since the mass shooting, with Kroll proclaiming in June that Black Lives Matter is a "terrorist organization." In February, a St. Paul police officer Jeff Rothecker was forced to resign after he was caught encouraging drivers to run over Black Lives Matter protesters slated to gather for a Martin Luther King Day mobilization.

Earlier this month, four officers walked out of a Minnesota Lynx women's basketball game because players wore warmup jerseys with the words "Black Lives Matter" and the names of two African Americans, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, who were recently shot to death by police. The officers, who were off duty and assisting with private security, staged the walkout despite the fact that the shirts also included the image of the Dallas police shield in tribute to the five members of the department who were recently killed by a sniper.

As recently as July 20, the Twin Cities Police Federations denounced members of the American Federation of Teachers for participating in a Black Lives Matter rally, declaring: "Educators should demonstrate more common sense than rushing to judgment along with radical activists hell-bent on destabilizing our communities."

In contrast to the mounting criticisms of Black Lives Matter, AlterNet has been unable to locate a single public official willing to openly condemn -- or even comment on -- Kroll's white power ties. While Kroll has come under increasing fire from the Minneapolis police chief and mayor for his inflammatory comments, these officials have fallen short of raising public concerns about his racist history.

"There is a certain dehumanization and a lack of care or concern about what happens to us when we are engaging in nonviolent demonstrations," said Levy-Pounds.

The Minneapolis police department is already dogged by complaints. According to Randy Furst, writing for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, between 2012 and 2013, 439 civilian complains were filed against police officers but none resulted in formal discipline. Between 2006 and 2012, the city paid out $14 million in settlements for police misconduct.

Inviting Violence

Even after coming under fire, protesters have continued to take to the streets in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, organizing a fresh resurgence of demonstrations after a St. Anthony police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop.

Those exercising their right to protest are forced to endure repeated acts of violence. Wronski-Riley reports having seen six separate occasions when cars intentionally drive into the crowd at Black Lives Matter-themed rallies and demonstrations.

"A car will stop, see people and decide to keep moving with their vehicle," explained Wronski-Riley. "How do you think it is okay to run people over? You have seen the people and made conscious decision to run us over with your giant car. Most of the time when cars come at me, I have been able to jump on the hood or windshield or just roll off to avoid getting run over."

"There is no accountability that I've seen for people who have endangered protesters," Wronski-Riley continued. "Instead of protecting protesters, police actually are protecting the property of the people threatening them."

St. Paul man Jeffrey Patrick Rice was found guilty of a single misdemeanor charge after he was captured on video hitting a 16 year old girl with his car in the fall of 2014 at a Black Lives Matter demonstration. The driver claimed that he was "attempting to flee from the mob," employing fear-mongering rhetoric that appears to mimic that used by police. The harrowing incident provoked public outcry after it was captured on video.

And then there are direct police attacks on protesters.  Witnesses say that, earlier this month, police sprayed mace in the faces of children who were on board a pickup truck attempting to leave the site of a direct action on Interstate 94 to get to safety. A reporter for the Pioneer Press confirmed that he saw someone who appeared to be a teenager covered in a chemical agent and vomiting.

"It's at this point where officers are escalating situations and then blaming protesters for their response to whatever they escalated," said Grimm. "It's got to the point where I'm watching children in pain and have to decide whether or not to help them or film them in pain because nobody is going to believe me."

Meanwhile, organizers say that white supremacists are still issuing threats against Black Lives Matter protesters, and they do not trust police to protect them from this real danger. "We keep getting messages from Bob Kroll about how heinous we are," Filiberto Nolasco Gomez, a participant in the Twin Cities Black Lives Matter demonstrations, told AlterNet. "He is basically inviting them to do this to us."

News Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Black Lives, Blue Lives and the Fight Over the Criminal Legal System in the US

Two people from Milwaukee took to the national stage at the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to present two very different perspectives on one of the most divisive issues of our time, the shootings of unarmed African Americans by police and civilians.

The conventions took place against a backdrop of traumatic news stories. The shooting death of Philando Castile and its dramatic aftermath, live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend, sparked national protests. At one protest in Dallas, Texas, five police officers were shot and killed by an African American military veteran who had served in Afghanistan. This was followed by the shootings of police in Baton Rouge. The very next week, Charles Kinsey, an African American caregiver for an autistic adult, was shot by police while he was on the ground with his arms raised.

While the terrible events and constant media churn left many wondering if the nation was coming apart at the seams, some fanned the flames of division.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, an African American and right-wing commenter for Fox News, who has blamed several of the victims of police killings, took to the floor in full dress uniform: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to make something very clear: Blue Lives Matter!"

The message was echoed by Donald Trump days later. Trump declared himself the nation's "law and order candidate" and stated: "I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: when I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country!"

The victims of police violence were not mentioned on the RNC stage. This, in a city where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed in an incident that resulted in the US Department of Justice putting the Cleveland police under a consent decree. The Cleveland police, the Secret Service, and 7,000 other officers imported from multiple states, turned Cleveland's Quicken Arena into an armed fortress, made more complicated by the fact that Ohio is an open carry state. The minor protests that did break out were instantly suppressed.

In the City of Brotherly Love, SEPTA Transit security were far more prevalent than city police or Secret Service.

On Tuesday, the DNC chose a different path, featuring mothers who have lost children to police or civilian violence or abuse. The mothers of Milwaukee's Dontre Hamilton, Florida's Trayvon Martin, New York's Eric Garner, St. Louis' Michael Brown, and Texas's Sandra Bland walked onto the floor to a standing ovation.

Taking a Different Path, Lifting Up Mothers of the Movement

The mother of Sandra Bland, Geneva Reed-Veal, spoke first. "One year ago we lived the worst nightmare a woman can imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into a coffin, on permanent leave from this earth. She was found hanging in a jail cell after an unlawful traffic stop and an unlawful arrest. Six other women died in custody that same month," she said, naming each one. "So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten."

"You don't stop being a parent when your child dies. I am still Jordan Davis's mother," said Lucia McBath. "His life ended the day he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn't. I still wake up every day thinking about how to parent him. How to protect him and his legacy. How to ensure his death doesn't overshadow his life." Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old high school student, was fatally shot by a white man who invoked Florida's "Stand Your Ground" at trial.

"I am an unwilling participant in this movement," said a somber Sybrina Fulton, the mother of murdered teenager Trayvon Martin. "I would not have signed up for this. None of us would have….I did not want this spotlight, but I will do everything can to focus some of this light on a path out of the darkness. Hillary Clinton has the compassion and understanding to support grieving mothers and fight for common sense gun legislation."

In 2012, the killing of Trayvon Martin acutely focused attention on so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws, which give criminal and civil immunity to a person who claims they use deadly force because they allege a reasonable fear of harm. Because of the law, Sanford Police initially declined to arrest the shooter George Zimmerman because they apparently agreed it was "reasonable" to feel threatened after stalking an unarmed African-American teenager returning from a trip to buy Skittles and iced tea.

In 2012, CMD exposed that "Stand Your Ground" was developed by the NRA in Florida and taken to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as a "model" bill. From there it spread throughout the nation. After Color of Change, NAACP, and a coalition of groups came together to fight the legislation, ALEC cancelled its criminal justice task force and disavowed its bills. But ALEC has not worked to repeal the laws still on the books.

Milwaukee's Maria Hamilton was also on the stage. On April 30, 2015, Milwaukee police received a call that a man, Dontre Hamilton, was sleeping in Red Arrow Park. Two police checks found Hamilton was doing nothing wrong. Apparently unaware of the previous checks, Officer Christopher Manney woke Hamilton up and tried to pat him down. Hamilton had a history of mental illness and had been treated for schizophrenia, but had no record of violence.

Manney claimed to have felt hard objects in Hamilton's waistband and pocket (though no weapons were later found), and that Hamilton resisted him and seized his baton. Manney shot Hamilton 14 times. Manney was later fired for not following department rules, but prosecutors declined to file charges against him.

Hamilton spoke to CMD about what needed to be done. "Police need to be held accountable for making the decision to kill people. They need to go to court like any other citizen in the United States," said Hamilton. "It is not discipline to put them on paid leave then give them their jobs back," she said. 

And the problem is not just a few high-profile names. In battling for justice in his own hometown of Chicago, the Rev. Jessie Jackson Sr. told CMD that Chicago is a "killing field" with some of the highest number of shootings by police in the nation. "If these were white victims it would be front page news," said Jackson.

Demand for Reforms Reflected in Democratic Party Platform

The major party platforms respond to the push for increased police accountability in dramatically different ways. The Republican Party's platform rejects calls for oversight as "politicized second-guessing" that undermines police. The Democratic Party's platform points in very different direction, with standards geared toward rebuilding the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

A "unity" amendment to the Democratic National Platform was put forward by former NAACP leader Ben Jealous, representing the Sanders campaign, standing shoulder to shoulder with Ben Crump, the head of the National Bar Association, representing the Clinton's side. At the platform committee meeting in Orlando earlier this month, Crump sported a "Black Lawyers Matter" t-shirt and the two spoke emotionally about the moment the nation was in.

"Last time we were together here in Orlando, we were fighting for justice for Trayvon Benjamin Martin about 40 miles from here," said Crump, who represented the family in their lawsuit against Zimmerman. "And Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the spirit of this goes directly to what happened in your own town in Ferguson, Missouri, when they came in with these weapons of war in our communities, and Cornel West and I were there fighting for the value of another teenager named Michael Brown."

"This amendment is the beginning of the revisiting of a brand new justice system. We don't have a justice system right today. We have a crime and punishment system. One that protects the profits and property of the wealthy and divides and controls the rest of us. It will divide you from your family and your wealth, will divide you from your breath," said another delegate at the platform committee.

The Amendment to the platform reads:

"We will work with police chiefs to invest in training for officers on issues such as de-escalation and the creation of national guidelines for the appropriate use of force. We will encourage better police-community relations, require the use of body cameras, and stop the use of weapons of war that have no place in our communities. We will end racial profiling that targets individuals solely on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, which is un-American and counterproductive.

"We should report national data on policing strategies and provide greater transparency and accountability. We will require the Department of Justice to investigate all questionable or suspicious police-involved shootings, and we will support states and localities who help make those investigations and prosecutions more transparent, including through reforming the grand jury process.

"We will assist states in providing a system of public defense that is adequately resourced and which meets American Bar Association standards. And we will reform the civil asset forfeiture system to protect people and remove perverse incentives for law enforcement to "police for a profit."

Page 16 of the platform is the Criminal Justice section.

Activists Keep the Pressure on Clinton and the Democratic Party

Activists with the Black Lives Matter movement have continually pushed Democratic candidates to address police violence from the first days of the campaign.

Last summer, protesters at the progressive Netroots Nation conference disrupted speeches by then-presidential candidates Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders.

In February, an activist confronted Clinton at a fundraiser with a sign quoting a speech from 1996, at the height of the "War on Crime" era. In the speech, Clinton referred to "the kinds of kids that are called 'super-predators,'" a discredited and racist theory about the causes of urban crime that helped justify the mass incarceration of young people of color.

Activists are not taking anything for granted. Hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters marched in the streets of Philadelphia on Tuesday to keep the pressure on Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party. Their demand for justice in every city and every town could not be more timely. The very next day, in the liberal town of Baltimore, charges were dropped against three officers implicated in Freddie Gray's death; three others had been acquitted earlier. 

News Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Convention Dissent: There's Less Than Meets the Eye

2016.7.28.DNC.mainSupporters of Bernie Sanders silently protest at the Wells Fargo Center on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016. (Photo: Josh Haner / The New York Times)

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Cast your memory back exactly eight years, to the opening night of the Democratic Convention in Denver: Aug. 25, 2008. The story that night was the threat of the "PUMA" which either stood for "People United Means Action" or Party Unity My Ass." According to Adam Nathaniel Peck writing in The New Republic, "PUMAs appeared dozens of times on cable news to defend Clinton and to promise mischief at the nominating convention and in the general election. Their anger epitomized a wider unrest that has been mostly forgotten as Obama went on to win two general elections."

Peck, writing in the spring of 2015, was seeking to make the point that even PUMAs are not that into Hillary Clinton anymore. But the real truth was, they were almost entirely a creation of a media desperate for a "Democratic disarray" narrative upon which to hang their quote-stringing, I mean reporting. Rebecca Traister did a long pre-convention bit of actual reporting for Salon on the alleged phenomenon and found approximately a dozen reasons some Clinton die-hards were reluctant to jump on the Obama bandwagon in June of that year. She followed up in Denver at the convention and found that their major event -- a protest made to order for MSNBC attracted maybe 50 people. I tried to report out the story in Denver by finding the people these protesters represented -- i.e., convention delegates who would refuse to vote for Barack Obama but would instead either stay home or support John McCain and Sarah Palin. Thing was, I couldn't find any. The PUMAs who Chris Matthews insisted were causing a "civil war" within the party were always all hat and no cattle.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

Sure, some of them gave great quote. There was Harriet Christian, who warned the DNC's rules committee that it was "throwing the election away" by awarding delegates to an "inadequate black male." And most famously, there was the incomparably named Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, who complained, "I got in trouble because I said in the newspaper I love my country more than my party." Poor thing. De Rothschild went on to become charmed by McCain's running mate that year. While she admitted that the two might "disagree on some issues," she announced: "I love Sarah Palin," adding, "I think she's pretty cool."

The numbers of people represented by die-hard Bernie Bros who booed their own hero yesterday and chanted "bulls–t" whenever the party's nominee was praised, might turn out to be more numerous than the PUMAs, whose existence soon came to manifest itself only as a metaphor for ridicule. But the signs are hardly encouraging. After all, going into the convention, polls showed that 90 percent of Sanders supporters were already on board with Clinton. One has to figure that the number will rise when:

  • They take a look at Donald Trump.
  • They ponder, even for a moment, Sanders and Elizabeth Warren's enormously eloquent speeches directed specifically at their particular complaints.
  • They realize, a la Sarah Silverman that they've become "ridiculous" even in the eyes of most enthusiastic Sanders supporters (like Silverman).
  • They get a few months older and more mature in time to actually vote in November.

In the meantime, thanks in part apparently to Russian hackers who may or may not have been trying to undermine our voting system on behalf of Putin Bro Trump, the media had its narrative going into the convention. It was all "party disunity" all the time. "Whatever you thought of Sanders, Warren or Obama, Day One was mostly a disaster. The heckling was loud and distracting for the party," explained the new PRAVDA, I mean Politico Playbook writers. It was a particularly delicious narrative because it came packaged as a counter-intuitive meme. "You thought the Republicans were mad at each other? Ha. Look that these darned Democrats."

In fact, all we learned yesterday was that extremists on the fringe of US political parties enjoy going to demonstrations where they can enthusiastically denounce those who hold some of their views but not all of them and without the requisite passion and focus that said extremists believe they deserve.

In Cleveland, this demonstration took place inside the hall and was led by the party's candidate: Trump. (I've been to a lot of demonstrations in my 56 years; I don't recall ever seeing an "Establishment Republican" at any of them. Golf courses, on the other hand….) In Philadelphia, they were mostly outside the hall, in front of the TV cameras and occasionally inside the hall, behaving rudely during excellent speeches by first lady Michelle Obama and America's two most important and potentially effective progressive politicians, Warren and Sanders. And as Silverman could not help but noting, while killing time before a Paul Simon performance, they were "ridiculous." By tomorrow they will be forgotten, save for the rudeness.

Now what about that Russian hack on behalf of Trump? Might there be a story in there somewhere? Maybe in between parties someone could look into that…

Opinion Thu, 28 Jul 2016 10:15:53 -0400
Who Would Trayvon Have Been? Becoming a Black Man in the United States

I tried to imagine who Trayvon would have been on February 26, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and beyond. The things he would have seen, the world he would have known, how he would have created himself. When you're introduced to a martyr as a result of their death, they aren't a whole person. They are a name and a story. They are a set of symbols and projections.

2016.7.28.Trayvon.mainA Trayvon Martin protest at the Criminal Justice Building in Sanford, Florida, March 19, 2012. (Photo: Werth Media / Flickr)

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching is a chronicle of Mychal Denzel Smith's political and personal education in a country and era defined by both the presidency of Barack Obama and the state-sanctioned murders of so many Black people. In this compelling mix of memoir and analysis, Smith questions our assumptions about race, masculinity, mental health, feminism and LGBTQ rights. Order your copy today by making a donation to Truthout!

The following is the introduction to Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching:

I don't remember what I was doing when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. I'm sure I was watching the All-Star game, as I had done since I was a kid even younger than Trayvon. I may have even made a snack run to 7-11. I almost certainly was tweeting, or at the very least reading Twitter. I may have been on deadline and convincing myself that watching the game wasn't procrastinating but all a part of my writing process. I was probably stressing about money. I probably wasn't thinking about dead black boys.

I've had the opportunity to do a number of things Trayvon will never have the chance to, and the guilt of that weighs heavily on me. Everything Trayvon did that supposedly justified his death -- wear hoodies, walk to the store at night, buy Skittles, have tattoos, smoke weed, be suspended from school -- I did. I could have been Trayvon. So many of us black boys trying to become black men in America could have been. Knowing that made his death that much harder to stomach.

One of the more pernicious effects of racism on the psyche is the constant questioning of one's worth and purpose. It can be almost as debilitating as death. Almost. I don't wish to make these things seem equivalent. I have my life; Trayvon does not. But the source of my guilt is understanding that American racism will take some of our lives while holding others of us up as exemplars of success, providing the illusion that there is an escape. It places us in the unenviable position of wishing that our martyrs could have survived to become tokens.

2016.7.28.InvisibleMan(Image: Nation Books)I tried to imagine who Trayvon would have been on February 26, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and beyond. The things he would have seen, the world he would have known, how he would have created himself. When you're introduced to a martyr as a result of their death, they aren't a whole person. They are a name and a story. They are a set of symbols and projections. Their lives are flattened for our consumption, and whatever attempts we make to remind ourselves of their humanity are no substitute for the face-to-face interactions we'll never have with them.

There's a particular pain in that realization when the martyrs are as young as Trayvon. I didn't get to know who Trayvon was, but as a seventeen year old he probably hardly knew himself. He liked football, Lil' Wayne, airplanes, and taking things apart to put them back together, but he never got the opportunity to ask himself why. He never had his assumptions challenged, never had his worldview shattered, his heroes humanized, or his morals questioned. He never had to confront his own bigotry or his complicity in different systems of oppression. To ask who he would have been on February 26, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and beyond is try to fill in the gaps where only experience can be the guide, and George Zimmerman took the opportunity for experience away from Trayvon on February 26, 2012.

Trayvon Martin was a seventeen-year-old black boy in America. White supremacy tells a lot of lies about seventeen-year-old black boys who grow up in America, but we can't escape the fact that those black boys absorb a culture of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, class-based elitism, self-hatred, violence, untreated mental illness, and a host of other American problems that translate differently when experienced through the lens of American racism.

I don't want to appear to be tarnishing the image of Trayvon Martin, a black boy I never knew. There's an almost instinctual desire to protect our martyrs, so many of them being young black men viciously maligned in life and unable to escape the barbs of racism in death. If we don't rescue their narratives, they'll forever be remembered only to the extent that white supremacy lends them any humanity. But we do a disservice to our martyrs by imposing perfection upon them. We do a greater disservice to ourselves, the survivors and potential tokens, by not honestly reckoning with who our martyrs were and who they could have been.

We resist this conversation because black men and the culture they create so easily become scapegoats. Without nuance, it very quickly turns toward a blaming of black men for the existence of misogyny, homophobia, etc., not a careful examination of how black men can experience or contribute to these forms of oppression. And the more the image of black men is connected to everything wrong with the world, the easier it is to justify killing us. Racism comes to be seen as a natural reaction to the existence of black monsters.

Who would Trayvon Martin have been on February 26, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and beyond? The short answer: he would have been a black man in America. The long answer involves figuring out exactly what that entails.

I was twenty-five years old when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. I hadn't prepared for life at twenty-five, having believed at different points of my life that I wouldn't make it that far. I could have been Trayvon, or any number of nameless, faceless black boys killed by police or vigilantes, by other black men or themselves. Twenty-five was a relief and a surprise and opportunity. I would be afforded the time to create myself that Trayvon wasn't.

I didn't know how to do that. Or, I didn't know how to do that and become a healthy and whole human being. It seemed that every black man I witnessed attempting to create himself came through to the other side broken. They walked through the culture of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, class-based elitism, self-hatred, violence, untreated mental illness, and other American problems and emerged as living proof of the lies white supremacy tells about black boys and men in America. I was doing the same, because I knew no other way.

Then George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. I looked at the face of the boy who became a symbol and wanted more. I wanted more for him than the choice between martyr and token. I wanted more him than eulogies and praise songs. I wanted more for him than just an opportunity to create himself. I wanted for him, for all the Trayvons in waiting, a world where they didn't have to grow up broken or not grow up at all.

I wanted to figure out how to create that world. I looked at my own life and asked how I made it to twenty-five. I asked who influenced me to think the way I did, what events had been most important in shaping my worldview, who and what challenged me to see it all differently. I asked myself: How did you learn to be a black man?

Then I wrote down some answers, for the martyrs and the tokens, for the Trayvons that could have been and are still waiting.

Copyright (2016) by Mychal Denzel Smith. Not to be reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Nation Books.

Opinion Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Trump's Nonvoter Strategy: Will It Work?

2016.7.28.Trump.mainDonald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, March 19, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

When Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, conventional wisdom had it that he would move to the political center and do more to appeal to moderate swing voters, who would likely be repelled if Trump continued to campaign on the racism, xenophobia and fear-mongering of his primary campaign.

Instead, the opposite has happened.

In the last few weeks, Trump has defended his decision to retweet an anti-Semitic meme, floated a few conspiracy theories about President Obama and gone off the deep end with a politics of fear at the Republican National Convention.

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

So what's going on? Is Trump self-destructing or is there a method to the recklessness?

Trump's success so far has been the result of his carefully constructed four identities: wall-builder, birther, economic nationalist and outsider anti-corruption crusader. And recently he has added one more, christening himself the "law-and-order candidate" by exploiting violent attacks like the Orlando massacre.

It is a widely held view on the left that this form of Trumpism will never have enough broad-based support within the traditional electorate to deliver Trump to the White House. But Trump's carefully constructed identities are not meant to shore up the base and pick off enough moderates to get to 270 electoral votes; nor are they meant for a so-called "rustbelt strategy," which is predicated on the idea that Trump's appeal to blue-collar workers could win him states like Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin in November. Rather, Trump is looking for new voters elsewhere.

The first place he's looking is the far-right fringe. White nationalists, right-wing anti-globalists and anti-government groups are all excited about the prospect of a Trump presidency -- and these aren't people who usually get excited about US elections. Trump's dog-whistle campaigning and extremist policies make clear that he cares about these constituencies and that he is making a strategic decision to court them in the hopes that they will vote in greater numbers than they did in 2012.

Since 2008, there has been an explosion of political activity on the far-right fringe. When President Obama was elected, there were 149 radical anti-government "patriot" groups in the United States, as identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). By 2012, there were 1,360. The Economist called this "the Obama Effect." The SPLC says that the "factors fueling the antigovernment movement in recent years include changing demographics driven by immigration, the struggling economy, and the election of the first African American president." Sound familiar? Whether or not these groups can impact the outcome of the election at this point is not as important as the fact that Trump's actions prove that he believes they can.

Then you have the forgotten -- the nonvoters. In a 2013 study, Ellen Shearer of Northwestern University grouped nonvoters into typologies based on their reason for not voting. The largest group -- more than 25 percent -- are characterized as "pessimists." They generally dislike both parties, are economically insecure, think the country is heading in the wrong direction and distrust government. Demographically, they are more likely to be white, older, poorer and less educated.

So, to put that into perspective: There are tens of millions of Americans who sound like natural Trump supporters. The only thing is that they haven't voted in a while.

Trump doesn't see the political landscape the same way a poll-obsessed Washington establishmentarian does. What he sees are angry white men all over the place -- in the Republican party, in the white nationalist movement, listening to conspiracy-oriented radio host Alex Jones and, crucially, among the nonvoters. His campaign appears to be based on a grand gamble that he can turn enough angry white men who haven't voted in a while into voters in 2016. He is ignoring the rules of the game and trying to find new supporters just like the ones he already has.

In true demagogic fashion, Trump began bragging that his candidacy was bringing "millions" of new voters into the Republican Party soon after the primaries began. In May 2016, Politico analyzed this claim using data from several early primary states. What they found was that although record numbers of Republicans were participating in primaries, there was not a significant number of new voters -- most of them had voted in previous elections. Combined with the fact that nonvoters as a whole are more likely to lean Democratic, this seemed to be enough to sideline any talk of Trump's nonvoter strategy.

It shouldn't have been. First of all, a political movement like the one Trump has created takes time to build. During the primaries, there was a persistent worry on the far-right fringe that Trump was just another "cuckservative" (the derogatory moniker white nationalists have for those they view as spineless Republicans not faithful to their cause). That they are now enthusiastically behind Trump indicates how Trump's image and movement have evolved.

As far as the data from the early primaries, it would be foolish to assume that just because Trump didn't attract many new voters then, he won't in the general election. Like midterm elections, far fewer people participate in primaries. Trump's movement is still evolving and if he's going to make headway with the low-information, disengaged nonvoters, he will do so when the majority of the country actually starts paying attention to the 2016 election: after Labor Day.

Lastly, while it is true that nonvoters as a whole lean Democratic, this election cycle Trump and Clinton have together created a toxic political climate that could ensure that the majority of nonvoters stay away from the polls, even as the far-right fringe inspired by Trump turns out in record numbers.

The curious thing about political revolutions is that they are rarely expected. Trump is trying to engineer one, and the fact that he believes his strategy could work should be enough to take it seriously. After all, Trump has defied all expectations so far. If he does so again, we shouldn't be surprised.

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Opinion Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Defending No Child Left Behind? Education Reform Hits the DNC

2016.7.28.EdReform.main"If Democratic education reformers really do believe they're fighting for civil rights, they should direct their blame not at teachers unions and economic justice activists, but at the devastating sight of an empty public school building up for sale to the highest bidder," writes Molly Knefel. (Photo: peoplesworld / Flickr)

Education reformers like to identify as civil rights advocates, but teachers, parents, students, union organizers and public school advocates argue that their emphasis needs to go beyond testing and school closures to addressing educational inequality.

2016.7.28.EdReform.main"If Democratic education reformers really do believe they're fighting for civil rights, they should direct their blame not at teachers unions and economic justice activists, but at the devastating sight of an empty public school building up for sale to the highest bidder," writes Molly Knefel. (Photo: peoplesworld / Flickr)

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A coalition of education reformers gathered on Monday this week at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia for a "Camp Philos" event hosted by Education Reform Now, a sister organization of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). They discussed the typical topics of the education reform movement -- accountability, school choice and so-called public charter schools -- but their event also throbbed with the recognition that policies have been met with increasing resistance in communities across the country. Together they strategized about what the education reform agenda in the Democratic Party should be, going forward.

The city of Philadelphia is a particularly appropriate setting for such a meeting -- it's been the site of budget cuts to public education, school closures and charter expansion, and subsequently, a resurgence of progressive union organizing. I walked past a shuttered public school building, now up for sale, to get to Camp Philos. I work as an after-school teacher in two public schools in New York City, and to me, the sight of the desolate building was gut-wrenching. Huge old school buildings are often the beacons of a neighborhood, their playgrounds overrun with kids of all ages all summer. This school, in contrast, was deserted and ghostly.

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

Just two weeks prior, DFER President Shavar Jeffries had called the finalized education platform "hijacked" and an "unfortunate departure from President Obama's historic education legacy," but now speakers were emphasizing the importance of uniting behind Hillary Clinton and working together with other stakeholders in education, including teachers unions.

Clinton had recently spoken to both the United Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, said Ann O'Leary, senior policy advisor to Hillary for America, and had told them that "we really need to make sure to end these so-called education wars and put our ideology aside and look at how we problem-solve." The group of education reformers at the DNC reluctantly cheered, and O'Leary added, "Yeah, you can clap for that!"

O'Leary called for unity between public school teachers -- "who oftentimes are being asked to do so much more than we ever asked teachers to do in the past" -- and reformers who "said it's not good enough." She argued that "great charters all over this country" are "laboratories" whose practices can be replicated at both charter schools and "traditional public schools."

Surprisingly, O'Leary, along with Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, defended the merits of the widely reviled No Child Left Behind education law and Clinton's early support of it. Both O'Leary and Coons painted the bill, which Clinton and Obama criticized during the 2008 presidential campaign, as a well-meaning bill that, despite its emphasis on testing, has had positive results for accountability. "For all of its problems, it exposed uncomfortable realities in America's classrooms," said Senator Coons. "It refused to lower our nation's expectations in any school, and demanded that every child in America [get] the education that he or she deserves."

"High expectations" and "accountability" are two of the fundamental premises of education reform, and they were both revisited throughout the day. One of the movement's primary mechanisms for "accountability" has been to test students and use the results to evaluate their teachers and their school. Under No Child Left Behind, schools with consistently low test scores were subject to mass teacher firings or a takeover by private management, but the new Democratic platform explicitly opposes using test scores to close schools. It even supports parents who choose to opt out of standardized tests entirely. With a platform that marks such a break from previous accountability measures, speakers at Camp Philos wondered whether that shift in language represented a rhetorical and political loss for reformers.

Early in the day, panel moderator Jonathan Alter asked how Clinton differs from Obama on education policy. Ben LaBolt, former National Press Secretary for Obama for America, replied: "The Clinton campaign has said they're going to have a seat at the table for everyone in the party who works in education. That means reformers will have a seat at the table, that means the unions will have a seat at the table." The important thing, he quipped, is that "the unions don't get all the seats at the table -- just one of the seats."

Later, LaBolt suggested that unions and reformers could work together where there's common ground, suggesting unions "can be a little less focused on protecting the handful of members who have fallen down on the job."

At the same time, panelists argued that many of the recent critiques of education reform policies, particularly the opt-out movement, come from conservatives, not progressives. New Jersey State Sen. Teresa Ruiz suggested that "education reform" is associated with enough negativity that it needs a rebranding toward "excellence" rather than "reform." Both Ruiz and Massachusetts State Representative Alice Peisch suggested that education reform had a PR problem. To fix that, they argued, reformers have to emphasize that they're not just about testing and closing schools, but about addressing educational inequality.

As the morning panel came to a close, Alter wondered whether reformers are ceding too much ground to the "social justice movement," referring to education historian and reform critic Diane Ravitch. "If it becomes a social justice movement, doesn't that in some ways let, for lack of a better word or expression, Diane Ravitch's argument win?" asked Alter. "Which is, 'don't blame any of us, don't focus on schools; if we don't solve poverty, nothing is going to get better.' Isn't there a danger of falling away from the focus on at least some responsibility on schools?"

Ravitch and other critics of the education reform movement argue that high-stakes testing and school closures are actually mechanisms to punish poor students, not help them, and that blaming teachers and their unions for the so-called "achievement gap" is to hold educators accountable for factors far beyond their control, like poverty and structural racism.

During the lunch break, interestingly enough, a DFER staffer asked me if I was with Ravitch or the unions. I don't believe Ravitch was at the gathering, so I have to assume that she meant "with" Ravitch in the ideological sense. I told her that I was attending the event as a member of the press. In addition to being an after-school teacher, I am a freelance journalist and regularly cover education. She suggested that I wasn't actually with the press, but there just to tweet. Just for the record, I had not tweeted or retweeted anything critical that day, and I said again that I was with the press. She replied that it was totally OK that I was there, but that I should just "be honest." The interaction betrayed the thinly veiled sentiment beneath the morning's oft-repeated message of harmony with unions. The assumption was that if I attended the event in a critical capacity it must be because of a secret union affiliation. I am definitely not a union member, but I was still unsure of how welcome I was at the proverbial table.

The afternoon panel attempted to take on "socioeconomic conditions affecting children" outside the classroom, focusing on gun violence, substance abuse, segregation and the school-to-prison pipeline. It was a nod that there are, indeed, many variables in a child's life that affect their academic performance, beyond their teacher. But there was no mention of the charter schools' own role in perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline, or the recent national study of charter school data which showed 374 of them had a suspension rate of 25 percent or higher. Suspensions profoundly disrupt a child's education, causing them to miss instruction time and fall behind academically. Moreover, students who are pushed out of the classroom are more likely to be referred to law enforcement, thus the phrase "school-to-prison pipeline." It's a fundamental problem in education and not one that charter schools are immune from. While there was an effort to discuss charters and segregation, there was no mention that twice as many Black charter school students attend "intensely segregated" schools than Black public school students. At one point, an audience member asked if integration should be forced, to which moderator Peter Cunningham responded:

Maybe the fight's not worth it. It's a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it's been a long fight, we've had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great. It's a good question.

At that point, Cunningham moved on and called on another audience member.

Education reformers often identify as fighters for the civil rights issue of our time, though ironically, New York, Massachusetts and Delaware have recently seen lawsuits alleging civil rights violations by charters. Monday was no exception. Many participants at the "Camp Philos" education reform event cheered at the sentiment that charter schools are public schools -- a sentiment challenged by data which shows that charters tend to serve lower numbers of students with disabilities than public schools in the same neighborhoods, and "public" implies the imperative to serve all populations. The reform movement has often shielded itself from criticism by effectively employing the rhetoric of civil rights and equality. After all, who doesn't want educational equality?

However, teachers, parents, students, union organizers and other public school advocates have had success in puncturing this rhetoric. They have consistently challenged the assertion that school closures and charter school expansions are unquestionably positive things for children and families. The success of this pushback has been most visible in the opt-out movement, where parents around the country have protested high-stakes testing by refusing to have their children take the tests. Anxiety around that pushback was palpable at Monday's gathering. While the discussion of socioeconomic influences outside the classroom may have been incomplete, it was a marked change from a conversation that used to start and stop with teacher accountability.

I walked out of Camp Philos directly into Bernie Sanders supporters marching down Broad Street. So far, this week in Philadelphia has been an illustration of how, as strange and discouraging and politically wild as 2016 has been, protest movements have been able to impact mainstream political discourse from the left. It has also illustrated how extraordinarily polarized this country is, and how people can be upset about the same problems but point the blame in completely different directions.

If Democratic education reformers really do believe they're fighting for civil rights, they should direct their blame not at teachers unions and economic justice activists, but at the devastating sight of an empty public school building up for sale to the highest bidder.

News Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Mumia Abu-Jamal Calls From Prison to Comment on DNC, Black Lives Matter and Mass Incarceration

As the Democratic National Convention enters its third day here in Philadelphia, one of the city's most famous native sons is observing and covering the proceedings from inside a state prison facility. Former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal is a well-known prisoner and also an award-winning journalist whose writing from his prison cell has reached a worldwide audience through his Prison Radio commentaries and many books. Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, but has always maintained his innocence. Amnesty International has found he was deprived of a fair trial. Mumia Abu-Jamal joins us on the phone from the SCIMahanoy state prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania, along with two of his supporters, actor Danny Glover and Larry Hamm, chair of the People's Organization for Progress.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, We are "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We're broadcasting from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, broadcasting outside that convention, so people who aren't credentialed can also join us on the set. We are broadcasting from PhillyCAM, from Philadelphia's public access TV station. Still with us, Larry Hamm, chair of the People's Organization for Progress, and actor, activist, director Danny Glover, as we turn now to a surprise guest who has just called in to Democracy Now! Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we are joined by radio from inside a state prison in Pennsylvania by Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former colleague of mine here in Philadelphia. We were both journalists together here in the 1970s, perhaps the most well-known political prisoner in the United States, an award-winning journalist, whose writing from his prison cell has reached a worldwide audience through his prison radio commentaries and many books. Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, but has always maintained his innocence. Amnesty International has found he was deprived of a fair trial. Mumia Abu-Jamal joins us now on the phone from SCI Mahanoy state prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mumia.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Hola, hola, Juan, everyone, Larry, everyone. On a move.

LARRY HAMM: Hey, Mumia. On a move.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: How you all doing?

DANNY GLOVER: All right, brother.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mumia, we're interested in your thoughts on the convention occurring right here in your hometown.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: It's a hell of a show. But it is a show. And, you know, I mean, it has writers and directors and stage managers. And it's a hell of a show. But never forget: It's just a show.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of not only what's happening on the inside -- I mean, we just broadcast today --

OPERATOR: This is a call from Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution Mahanoy. This call is subject to recording and monitoring.

AMY GOODMAN: That's the recording that comes on over the call. So, very quickly, Mumia, there's not only action on the floor of the Democratic convention, but thousands of people have been marching in the streets.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I think that's extraordinary. And I think that's where the real action is. While I said the convention is a show -- and who can doubt that? -- what's happening in the streets of Philadelphia, that's where the real story is, because those are the voices you won't hear throughout these four days of gala, extravaganza, lies and illusion, because you're hearing the pain of the people, the real concerns of the people, and, really, the desperation of the people to be heard by the rich and the powerful. You look inside, you'll see the powerful. You'll see millionaires, right? We have an incredible system right now -- millionaires running against billionaires. Well, who's not in that picture? And that's the 99 percent, the rest of us, you know.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mumia, I'm sure you also monitored the Republican convention that occurred last week and Donald Trump emphasizing that he is the law and order candidate. And I'm --

OPERATOR: This is a call from Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution Mahanoy. This call is subject to recording and monitoring.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I'm sure that it reminded you of a person that we were familiar with right here in Philadelphia, the mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo, who was the ultimate law and order candidate. For those of the younger generation who are not familiar with Rizzo, any similarities between some of the stuff that you remember from him and Donald Trump?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I mean, Frank Rizzo was authentically working-class. You know, he rose from the bottom of the police department to become its commissioner and then was elected mayor. And, you know, I thought about Frank Rizzo when I first heard that Donald Trump was running, and I had the same reaction when I heard that Frank Rizzo was running for mayor: I laughed. I'm like, here was a guy, high school dropout -- nothing personal, but it's true -- and here's a guy who is like dumb as rocks about everything other than making money -- or taking money, I should say. But, you know, I stopped laughing. You know, I thought about when Ronald Reagan ran for president, this grade-B actor. I laughed. I stopped laughing. And when you look at this guy, he's like Frank Rizzo with billions and billions of dollars in his pocket. But if you kind of turned off the screen and listened to the words, it's the same message: fear, fear, fear, fear of the other, fear of blacks. "And only I can save you." It's kind of a mixture of Frank Rizzo, Goldwater, Spiro Agnew, Dick Cheney, you know, and Hitler.

AMY GOODMAN: Mumia, you recently did a commentary on the killings of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas. Share your thoughts on this.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Well, I think one of the lines I used in that commentary is: Why should any of us be surprised? Whenever that happens, what you'll hear, especially among elite opinion on TV, is that this was a madman, this was a crazy person. If he was mad, how did he get accepted into the Army? How did he serve tours in Afghanistan or Iraq? Both of these men displayed military training that they acquired from the U.S. government and as they became killers in the Third World. When they came back to the United States and they saw their reality, do you think that drove them crazy? And, you know, something like 22 veterans commit suicide every day in America. And that's because of the horrible things they've been asked to do by empire abroad. And, you know, when you look at the condition of black people in America -- mass incarceration gone crazy, ghettos being policed as if it is Fallujah or a foreign nation -- why would you be surprised? They were trained by the state to do exactly what they did. And they did it.

AMY GOODMAN: Mumia, we are speaking to you from Mahanoy state prison. You used to be on death row for two decades. I think, ultimately, perhaps, though it was the judicial system, it was enormous international pressure that led to you being taken off of death rope. How is your health now? For a period of time, we didn't know what was happening -- diabetes, eczema. How are you being dealt with? How is healthcare there? What are you asking for?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Well, for a while there, I didn't know what was happening. I had diabetes. I had extreme high blood pressure. My skin was falling to my feet. I was itching in an insane degree. What we learned through this litigation is that I had hepatitis C, that to this date has not been treated. I've probably been given more treatment for my symptoms -- right? -- than perhaps any other prisoner in Pennsylvania. That's true. But I've yet to be treated for that disease.

And the state, in their latest brief to the court, said if the plaintiff prevails, it will cost the DOC over $600 million. I can't make this up. It's probably online. That's only because they claim there are some 6,000 men, and probably women, in the Pennsylvania system who have hepatitis C, and very few of them are treated, though, understand, we asked them -- the head of the DOC's medical division, Dr. Peter Noel, "How many people are being treated with these new antiviral medications?" And he said, "I don't know." We said, "Well, can you give us your best guess?" He said, "Hmm, five or six." Five or six out of 6,000.

What we also learned is they have a protocol. It was a secret protocol that we learned about at that hearing, that men and women who have hepatitis C must wait until something called esophageal varices are detected. That's when you're bleeding from your esophagus out of your mouth, which means, of course, that your liver is, for all intents and purposes, dead. That's why you're bleeding out of your mouth, because you can't process -- your liver can't process your blood. It's rejecting it. That's when you'll be considered to be put on a list for treatment. That's stage 4 liver disease.

AMY GOODMAN: Danny, any comments you want to share with Mumia Abu-Jamal?

DANNY GLOVER: Well, first of all, I was just thinking about his health. And essentially -- and I think, for us to be practical, they're trying to kill him, right there, before our eyes. Certainly, his analysis on what has happened and what is happening here is right on point.

I was at an event at a church on Broad Street, where men and women were there. Particularly women were there. And certainly, it was for them and the voices of women. One of the women who was there, her father had been a political prisoner for 42 years. So, that's the place where everything is happening. CodePink had a sign saying "feminism, not militarism." They were promoting that. That's where the real convention is. They were the people who are still fighting, who want their voices to be heard. And our responsibility, the work that Larry does and the work that we have to do as progressives, is about that.

I was just thinking also about what W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in his 1953 reissue of The Souls of Black Folk, after 50 years, when he talked about how his thinking at that time was that the question of the century was race. The question of the century, he said, is still race. But what he didn't know then is that how people would be able to manage to live and to go on with their lives, go on with their lives in the midst of all of the pain, in the midst of all -- in the midst of all the wars. That's the thing that we have to consume ourselves with, in terms of whether it's the war in our cities or the war abroad or the destabilization of governments, etc., etc.

AMY GOODMAN: Mumia Abu-Jamal, I know we just have 15 seconds. Do you believe the issue of the 21st century, the problem of the 21st century, is still the color line?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I think it's the color line, but it's also the class line. We've just experienced a black president. But black Americans, in the words of Young Jeezy, for the most part, are still living in hell.

OPERATOR: You have one minute left.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for joining us, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Your last 20 seconds that we have for this broadcast?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I would urge anyone who has a computer or a way to acquireThe Nation of February 10th, 2016, the article by Michelle Alexander entitled "Why Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote." It is incredible. I thank you all. I love you all. Larry, a pleasure hearing you again, brother.

LARRY HAMM: It's good to hear you, Mumia.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Everybody, I love you. Thank you for this time with you. On a move.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much. Imprisoned former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, speaking to us from prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Special thanks to Danny Glover and Larry Hamm and all the team that made this broadcast possible.

News Wed, 27 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400