Truthout Stories Tue, 30 Jun 2015 08:45:27 -0400 en-gb Supreme Court Ties EPA's Hands, Forbidding Emissions Rules

With 2015 on a trajectory to become the hottest year on record and studies revealing the imminent collapse of Antarctica ice sheets, the Supreme Court has issued an alarming ruling against pollution regulations for power plants.






Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky., June 2, 2014. The Supreme Court on June 29, 2015, blocked one of the Obama administration’s most ambitious environmental initiatives, one meant to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. Industry groups and some 20 states challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to regulate the emissions, saying the agency had failed to take into account the punishing costs its regulations would impose. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times)Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Kentucky, June 2, 2014. The Supreme Court on June 29, 2015, blocked one of the Obama administration's most ambitious environmental initiatives, one meant to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times)

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Given that 2015 is already on a trajectory to become the hottest year on record, and recent studies revealed the "imminent" collapse of the Larsen B and Larsen C ice sheets in Antarctica, today's US Supreme Court ruling against Environmental Protection Agency pollution rules for power plants is alarming, to say the least.

The pace of human-caused climate disruption is accelerating by the day. One would think that, if those in power had any hope of mitigating the impacts of our super-saturation of the planet's atmosphere with record levels of CO2, the EPA's attempts to curb power plant emissions would be given priority.

To see more stories like this, visit "Planet or Profit?"

For the record, the EPA rules meant to regulate hazardous air pollution and mercury releases from coal- and oil-fired power plants were not exactly strict. Given that industrial civilization is in the process of literally pushing record numbers of species - possibly even our own - into extinction, "lowering" pollution levels emitted from power plants is no miracle solution. Shutting down the polluters entirely and mandating renewable energy on a global level might seem a little more appropriate.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court neglected to affirm even the tepid EPA rules. The court voted 5-4 against the EPA, in a decision that prevents the agency from enacting new rules aimed at reducing the amount of dangerous mercury and other toxic pollutants in the air over the United States. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the fossil fuel industry on this one, writing, "EPA must consider cost - including cost of compliance - before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary. It will be up to the agency to decide (as always, within the limits of reasonable interpretation) how to account for cost."

Hence, by Scalia's logic (and, of course, that of the fossil fuel industry), the only "cost" that matters in terms of power plants is how their bottom line might be impacted. Other "costs," like the fact that the summer ice pack in the Arctic will likely begin seeing ice-free periods starting as soon as next summer, or that planetary species are going extinct at rates beyond those of the "Great Dying" Permian Mass Extinction event, which wiped out over 90 percent of life on earth, are clearly not as important.

Instead, the country's utility industry argued, and will continue to argue, EPA rules meant to regulate their pollutants cost them too much money. The industry, now backed by the US Supreme Court, believes that any regulations over hazardous air pollution belching out of power plants are no longer "appropriate and necessary."

Perhaps the next question for the fossil fuel industry and the US Supreme Court will be this: When Miami is underwater from sea level rise, California can no longer grow fruit and vegetables due to its mega-drought, and interstate water battles over what is left of the drying Colorado River plague the Southwest, will regulating pollutants then become "appropriate and necessary?"

News Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Freedom Flotilla III Exposes Anti-Democratic Extremism of the Israeli "Center"

9 October, 2009: Activists hold a Freedomo Flotilla banner. (Photo: Free Gaza Movement)Activists hold a Freedom Flotilla banner, October 9, 2009. (Photo: Free Gaza Movement)

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Supporters of continuing the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem would like global public opinion to believe that the occupation can be maintained and yet Israel can be considered a democracy. A central challenge of occupation opponents is to expose and exacerbate the contradiction between democracy and occupation in mainstream international political discourse.

The Freedom Flotilla III sailing to challenge the Gaza blockade is providing an excellent opportunity to expose the true face of anti-democratic, pro-occupation political actors in international media.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid on Saturday denounced those taking part in the flotilla to Gaza as "a gang of supporters of terrorism" and a "despicable flotilla that needs to be stopped."

The former finance minister spoke to a town hall meeting in Holon. He ridiculed the idea that the flotilla was aimed at highlighting the plight of Gaza and advancing Palestinian human rights.

"This flotilla is a kind of provocation against the State of Israel," he said. "This is a provocation by people who are anything but defenders of human rights."

"People are trying to portray this flotilla as one that seeks to promote human rights," Lapid said. "The last thing that you can say about this flotilla is that it has anything to do with human rights. This is a flotilla run by a gang of terrorism supporters, a despicable flotilla that needs to be stopped."

"Israel needs to deal with this flotilla like it would if it was trying to disperse a violent protest," he said. "And all of these folks on the flotilla need to be arrested."

In US media descriptions of Israeli politics, Lapid is routinely described as an Israeli "centrist." For example, in this June 22 Politico article:

Multiple Israeli officials also condemned Oren's essay. Former Finance Minister and leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid told an Israeli news source that Oren's piece was "pseudo-psychological analysis based on nothing" and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Walla! News that his article "does not represent Israeli policy."

Who are the people that the "centrist" Lapid called "a gang of terrorism supporters" that Israel needs to "deal with" as if it were "trying to disperse a violent protest"?

Participants in the Freedom Flotilla III include the former president of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki; Israeli knesset member Basel Ghattas; Spanish member of the European Parliament Ana Miranda; Jordanian member of Parliament Yahya Abo Soud; and Moroccan member of Parliament Abouzaid El Mokrie El Idrissi.

Responding to the attacks of right-wing Israeli politicians on the participation of MK Ghattas, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz editorialized:

MKs are elected to represent the positions of their parties and the public that elected them... All MKs must remember that Ghattas is entitled to convey his views in a nonviolent manner, whether by defiant expression or through protest activities like the flotilla... it is important to remember that the purpose of the flotilla is to break the blockade that Israel has imposed on Gaza, which continues an unacceptable situation in which nearly two million people are closed up as if in a cage. Instead of "killing the messenger," who is trying to increase awareness of an ongoing injustice, it would behoove the State of Israel to remove the blockade and help rebuild the Gaza Strip.

Retired IDF Major General Shlomo Gazit, who was head of IDF military intelligence, has called on the Netanyahu government to leave the flotilla alone. He wrote in Haaretz:

The ship that is currently making its way toward Gaza ... isn't carrying military cargo. It is seeking to focus world attention on the blockade that Israel is imposing on the 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip ... The world is accusing us of still maintaining Gaza under military occupation. We, in turn, are seeking to prove that we have withdrawn, but we haven't disengaged. We continue to control everything going in and out, and that is a continuation of an occupation government.

It is in our hands to decide and determine if the goal of the new ship will be achieved or not. It is in our hands to decide whether we will be smart and "weak" and simply ignore the ship, letting it reach Gaza. Then all the fuss over its trip here will dissipate. Or we can play into the hands of the activists on board and be "heroes," but foolish ones. We will take over the ship and show the entire world that indeed it is not carrying weapons.

If you think that Secretary of State Kerry should side with Haaretz and Major General Gazit rather than with Lapid, and press to avert any Israeli military attack on the flotilla, you can tell Secretary Kerry so here.

Opinion Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Bree Newsome Scales Flagpole, Removes South Carolina Capitol Confederate Flag

UPDATE: Democracy Now! has confirmed Bree Newsome and James Tyson have been released.

Cornell William Brooks, NAACP President and CEO released this statement:

For 15 years, the NAACP has called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag and has maintained economic sanctions against the state of South Carolina. The NAACP, Governor Nikki Haley, a bipartisan coalition of policymakers, an expanding number of American businesses, and a courageous young woman named Bree Newsome are all united in opposition to the Confederate flag. Ms. Newsome temporarily removed the flag flying in front of South Carolina's state house. As well as supporting the permanent removal of the flag legislatively, we commend the courage and moral impulse of Ms. Newsome as she stands for justice like many NAACP activists including Henry David Thoreau, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and numerous Americans who have engaged in civil disobedience. The NAACP calls on state prosecutors to consider the moral inspiration behind the civil disobedience of this young practitioner of democracy. Prosecutors should treat Ms. Newsome with the same large-hearted measure of justice that inspired her actions. The NAACP stands with our youth and behind the multigenerational band of activists fighting the substance and symbols of bigotry, hatred and intolerance."

Around 5:30am this morning Bree Newsome climbed to the top of the flagpole flying the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol, unhooked the flag, and brought it down as police waited to arrest her.

Calls to remove the flag intensified after last week's mass shooting of nine African-American worshipers at the historic Emanuel AME Church. The flag has been the source of controversy for decades in South Carolina, but a growing number of politicians, including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, are calling for its removal after photos were published online showing the accused gunman, Dylann Roof, posing with the flag.

Newsome and others calling themselves "concerned citizens" released a statement explaining, "Deciding to do what the SC Legislature has thus far neglected to do, the group took down the symbol of white supremacy that inspired the massacre, continued to fly at full mast in defiance of South Carolina's grief, and flew in defiance of everyone working to actualize a more equitable Carolinian future."

The state Bureau of Protective Services confirmed Newsome and one other person were arrested. They are charged with defacing a monument, which is a violation of state law 10-11-315. The law has not been used since it was passed in 2000 during another push to remove the flag from the capitol. They face three years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Local newspaper, The State reports:

"At about 7:45 a.m., a maintenance worker and a state security officer, neither of whom would give their names or comment, raised a new banner after removing it from a plastic sheet. The two state employees who arrived on the State House grounds to put the flag back up were African-Americans."

Watch all of Democracy Now!'s coverage of the Charleston church shooting and push to remove the confederate flag.

In the interview below, Kevin Alexander Gray, a South Carolina civil rights activist and community organizer says, "People's tax dollars ought not go into supporting the idea of the Confederate States of America." As former president of the state ACLU, he argued, "the flag flying on the statehouse dome was compelled speech. You were compelling people to support an ideology of white supremacy."

News Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Four Decades After Burning Confederate Flag, Activist Says the Struggle Continues

In Charleston, South Carolina, we speak with Brett Bursey, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, who calls himself the oldest living Confederate prisoner of war. He says he is still out on bond after he burned the Confederate flag in 1969. Bursey knew Rev. Clementa Pinckney and says, "I feel a responsibility to Clementa to take advantage of the sacrifice he made to challenge the hypocrisy and bigotry" of Governor Nikki Haley and Republican lawmakers who backed voter ID legislation and blocked the expansion of Medicaid eligibility in the state.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Brett Bursey is with us right now, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network. He burned the Confederate flag in 1969. He calls himself the oldest living Confederate prisoner of war. Brett Bursey is head of the South Carolina progressive coalition.

Brett, welcome to Democracy Now! Your thoughts, as just behind us, the body of Reverend Pinckney, in the hearse now, as it is taken slowly around the corner to College of Charleston?

BRETT BURSEY: Well, Amy, first, let me say that I was a good friend of Clementa's. And when he came to the state House, he was 23, 24 years old. The Progressive Network does a lot of policy work and for the Black Caucus, and Clementa was one of our sponsors for a clean elections bill, and he was our spokesperson about the corrupting influence of money on politics for several years. I knew the wife, the kids.

And it's just - it's been such an impactful thing that I feel a responsibility to Clementa, and the other people that are dead, to take advantage of the opportunities their sacrifices made to challenge the hypocrisy and the cynicism that fuels the bigotry, that will still be there if they take the flag down. I mean, the governor has come out and said, "Take the flag down." She wouldn't have done that if this hadn't happened. I mean, she has a little understanding of how negative her policies impact people, refusing to take the Medicaid expansion money. We've knocked on doors in South Carolina to talk to people about - that didn't get any healthcare. And when we told them that the governor said they didn't want it, we don't need it, they wanted to know why. And we told them, "Well, you'll have to call the governor. I can't explain why she would deny you healthcare." And so, it's disingenuous and hypocritical, what we're seeing, all these politicians coming out an decrying -

AMY GOODMAN: And the voting rights?

BRETT BURSEY: - decrying racism. Where have they been?

AMY GOODMAN: Voting rights?

BRETT BURSEY: Nikki was a big champion of photo ID bills that would have kept people from voting. And we found a dozen people and had a successful case, Section 5 case, in the Department of Justice to block the bill. And they rewrote the bill in Washington, D.C., in court, and the court said you don't need a photo ID under the new photo ID law. So it was just tremendous kabuki theater that disenfranchises people. We have the lowest - least competitive elections in the nation, that 75 percent of our legislators are elected with no opposition. And that the idea that the people that are championing our democracy have shut the process down, we have profound problems. And I really do feel that some of this energy that's coming from this terrible tragedy is going to help direct some energy toward solving some of these longer institutional problems that we have.

AMY GOODMAN: Brett Bursey, can you talk about what you did in 1969?

BRETT BURSEY: Well, it's kind of like what I just said. I mean, I was raised in the South. I graduated from Beaufort High School 1966, a segregated high school, and came up to the University of South Carolina, then got involved with the Southern Student Organizing Committee, which was a civil rights group that was formed when the white people left SNCC. And I was a state traveler for SSOC in '68 and '69. The occasion of the flag burning at the university was on the anniversary of the Orangeburg massacre, when in 1968 students at State University, which is the school's historic black college in Orangeburg, were gunned down by highway patrolmen. Three of them were killed, 29 injured. And no one -

AMY GOODMAN: You're talking Orangeburg, the Orangeburg massacre.

BRETT BURSEY: Orangeburg, the Orangeburg massacre.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain it very quickly. You're talking about February of?

BRETT BURSEY: February 8, 1968.

AMY GOODMAN: Right before Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis.

BRETT BURSEY: That was in April. And so, the event where the flag was burned was the first anniversary, in '69, of the Orangeburg massacre. And I put on an event called - we were going to call it Black Awareness Week, but we called it White Awareness Week.

AMY GOODMAN: But Orangeburg is so important. I remember when President Obama was first running for president -

BRETT BURSEY: He mentioned it.

AMY GOODMAN: - and he went bowling, and he gutterballed, and everyone was making fun of him. But what was so significant is he's an African-American man bowling, because Orangeburg was about a bowling alley, is that right?

BRETT BURSEY: It was about a bowling alley.

AMY GOODMAN: About integrating a bowling alley. And the police, without warning, opened fire on the students who were fighting for that integration of the alley.

BRETT BURSEY: Yes, and no one was ever punished for that killing. Cleve Sellers, one of the organizers - he was working with SNCC - ended up spending, I think, a year in jail.

But the flag was burned, in part because the university was using the flag, the Confederate flag, and playing "Dixie" at sporting events, a sea of Confederate flags. And we marched up to the president's house and demanded they quit doing that, and he said, "OK." And we felt all empowered. We marched up to the Legislature, which was across the street from the university, and that was the first time I realized that all 170 legislators were white, and there hadn't been a black legislator since the end of Reconstruction in the 1890s. We went back to the campus. This is now - the flag was on the dome at the time. The flag went up April 12th, 1961, on the anniversary, 100th anniversary, of the start of the Civil War, which of course was brought to you by people here in Charleston, South Carolina. And we burned the flag. And I was arrested five days later for defacing or defiling or casting contempt by word or deed upon flags of the Confederacy.

AMY GOODMAN: So you burned the flag where?

BRETT BURSEY: On the university campus, in front of the president's house.

AMY GOODMAN: You were arrested.

BRETT BURSEY: Yeah. Yeah, I was arrested, and -

AMY GOODMAN: Did you go to jail?

BRETT BURSEY: I went to jail, paid my bond, got out, and I'm still awaiting trial.

AMY GOODMAN: So you call yourself?

BRETT BURSEY: Well, it's - yeah, it's a partially humorous term that I feel I've earned, in being the oldest living Confederate prisoner of war. I had - it's one of the worst things, clearly, I ever did in the eyes of authorities in South Carolina. I've been identified as someone that did that, and beaten up in police custody because of that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Brett Bursey, for joining us. The hearse has just moved on. Brett Bursey, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, burned the Confederate flag back in 1969. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back here in front of the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina, in a minute.

News Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
LGBTQ Activism Continues for Bias Protections and Overlooked Trans Issues

After the Supreme Court's historic ruling on marriage equality, many LGBTQ leaders are now redirecting their attention to obtaining federal, state and local legal protections in areas of employment, housing and commerce. Nationwide, anti-discrimination laws for gay people are inconsistent and unequal with only 22 states barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Human Rights Campaign is now advocating for a broad federal shield that would protect people of all sexual orientations and gender identities under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Meanwhile, grassroots LGBTQ activists are calling for large, national organizations to also focus their attention and resources on other pressing issues, including lesbian and gay refugees and asylum seekers, the plight of homeless youth ostracized by their families, and the disproportionately high levels of violence experienced by transgender people. We are joined by Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented trans activist from Mexico who recently made national headlines when she interrupted President Obama to say "No more deportations!" at a White House event. Gutiérrez is a founding member of Familia: TQLM, established to advocate for LGBTQ immigrants often excluded in the immigration debate. We are also joined by Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry and author of "Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits - and Won."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the Supreme Court delivered an historic ruling on marriage equality Friday, we turn to the future of the LGBTQ movement. Many gay rights leaders are now redirecting their attention to obtaining federal, state and local legal protections in areas of employment, housing and commerce. Nationwide, anti-discrimination laws for gay people are inconsistent and unequal with only 22 states barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Human Rights Campaign is now advocating for a broad federal shield that would protect people of all sexual orientations and gender identities under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Meanwhile, grassroots LGBTQ activists are calling for large, national organizations to also focus their attention and resources on other pressing issues, including lesbian and gay refugees and asylum seekers, the plight of homeless youth ostracized by their families, and the disproportionately high levels of violence experienced by transgender people. During the first two months of this year, transgender women of color were murdered at a rate of almost one per week in the United States. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, transgender women of color are among the groups most victimized by hate violence in the country.

For more, we go to Los Angeles, California, where we're joined by Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented trans activist from Mexico. Last week, she made national headlines when she interrupted President Obama at the White House to say, "No more deportation!" Gutiérrez was a founding member of Familia: TQLM, established to advocate for LGBTQ immigrants often excluded in the immigration debate. And we're here in New York with Marc Solomon still, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jennicet, your reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling on Friday?

JENNICET GUTIÉRREZ: Good morning, and thank you for having me again. I do believe the US Supreme Court made the right decision, and this is a huge victory for the LGBT community and for justice in this country. However, you know, many people in the LGBTQ, especially people of color, marriage is not a priority. So we're facing many challenges.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about those challenges and what you think needs to be the focus of LGBTQ activism today?

JENNICET GUTIÉRREZ: Yes. Well, personally, as an undocumented trans woman of color, and, you know, my community is facing a lot of incarceration, police brutality and deportation. So I do believe that we are at a point where we have to - you know, the mainstream LGBT community can come and get behind the transgender community and include all the voices and listen to the struggles that we are facing. And hopefully we can move in the right direction and make progress for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Marc Solomon, you're the national campaign director of Freedom to Marry. What happens with this organization now?

MARC SOLOMON: So, our organization, as we have always promised, will shut down in the next few months. But the fight for equality for LGBT people must continue. And there are some crucial items on the agenda that - I believe we can harness all of the momentum and all of the conversations and all of the goodwill that's come out of this marriage ruling to make steady and actually rapid progress.

AMY GOODMAN: Your book is called Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits - and Won. Do you have any strategy suggestions for all that you have won, for all you've learned in this victory, for how people organize effectively?

MARC SOLOMON: Absolutely. I think - I mean, I have a number of them. And of course people can look at the book if they want the full picture. But I think a couple are having a powerful vision of what you want to accomplish, which I think motivated so many people in our community and so many of our allies to get motivated, and then it's, you know, really looking strategically at the map and where we can put wins on the board and build momentum every single day towards that, towards that end.

AMY GOODMAN: Jennicet Gutiérrez, if you could talk specifically about the experience of immigrants, you, yourself, an undocumented trans activist from Mexico? I mean, it's quite astounding. I want to go back to that moment. You know, we had you on when you interrupted President Obama Wednesday as he spoke to a gathering celebrating LGBT Pride Month at the White House. You got in. This is what happened.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want to thank all of you - advocates, organizers, friends, families - for being here today. And over the years, we've gathered to celebrate Pride Month, and I've told you that I'm so hopeful about what we can accomplish. I've told you that the civil rights of LGBT Americans -


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yeah, hold on a second.

JENNICET GUTIÉRREZ: Release all LGBTQ detention centers! President Obama, stop the torture and abuse of trans women in detention centers! President Obama, I am a trans woman. I'm tired of the abuse. I'm tired of [inaudible] -

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Listen, you're in my house. ... As a general rule, I am just fine with a few hecklers, but not when I'm up in the house.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama and Jennicet Gutiérrez last Wednesday at the White House. If you had the microphone for longer, Jennicet, if you could talk about the plight of undocumented trans immigrants - a six-month Fusion investigation found some 75 transgender detainees are detained by immigration authorities every day?

JENNICET GUTIÉRREZ: Yes, that is correct. And I have been involved, especially in the last two months, with this community, in particular, that has been affected. And I have spoken to specifically two transgender women from Guatemala who came to the US in hope of a better treatment and a better future. And they turned themselves in to the immigration officials, and only to be put into these detention centers. So they shared their horrific stories, the abuse, the torture, that they're being - going through in these facilities. And, you know, the abuse that they're facing is like sexual abuse. They're being harassed. When they need to take showers, the officials say, like, "Turn around. Let me see your breasts." And they want to touch them. And other people detained, they're sexually abusing them. So, to me, that was very heartbreaking to hear. And I connected with her - you know, with that, because I am an undocumented woman, and I am potentially at risk to be put in one of these detention centers. So it is very important for the mainstream LGBT community to listen to these struggles and to unite and do something that will benefit us all and move us in the right direction.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of housing?

JENNICET GUTIÉRREZ: Yes, housing is a huge issue that we face, as well. And, you know, I have known people, transgender people, who I've been coming in contact to through the last year or so, and they have employment, and they transition during the work, and they - once they transition, they get fired, because they don't support it, and then they have to be demoted with the risk of losing housing. So that is another very critical issue that we have to come together and face this and get behind our community and, you know, do see something productive and positive in the struggles that we're facing.

AMY GOODMAN: US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning has a new piece in The Guardian. It's called "Same-sex marriage isn't equality for all LGBT people. Our movement can't end," she wrote. In it, Chelsea Manning writes, "I worry that, with full marriage equality, much of the queer community will be left wondering how else to engage with a society that still wants to define who we are - and who in our community will be left to push for full equality for all transgender and queer people, now that this one fight has been won. I fear that our precious movements for social justice and all the remarkable advancements we have made are now vulnerable to being taken over by monied people and institutions, and that those of us for whom same-sex marriage rights brings no equality will be slowly erased from our movement and our history." She wrote this in prison. Chelsea Manning, of course, is the whistleblower who was an Iraq intelligence officer, released documents to WikiLeaks revealing US killings in Iraq, and has been sentenced to decades in prison. As you hear Chelsea's words, Marc Solomon, your response?

MARC SOLOMON: I am much more positive or much more optimistic than that. I think that with this tremendous win nationwide for equality and dignity for so many people, I believe that Americans now see a much more multidimensional aspect of who our entire community is, and I think that they are - I mean, they are fully behind protections on employment, on housing, on public accommodations. And I think, you know, we also now have a huge amount of power, that we've harnessed through the marriage conversation, with all of these companies that are behind us, you know, and I think we just need to take that power and move it and drive it towards nondiscrimination protections. And I think we can - we can do it. I think we can do it with a Republican Congress. I think we can do it in red states. We just need to move, you know, forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, here in New York City, the Stonewall Inn, the site of the uprising that helped launch the modern LGBT movement, has been granted landmark status by a city commission. The Stonewall uprising began the morning of June 28th, 1969, when members of the gay community decided to fight back against yet another New York City police raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar. Stacy Lentz, co-owner of the Stonewall Inn, praised its new landmark status.

STACY LENTZ: On that particular night, they had enough. They were fed up. And it was the first time that people from LBGT backgrounds actually stood up and kind of said, "We're queer, we're here, get used to it," shut the police outside and started throwing pennies and that thing. They call it a riot, but it was pretty peaceful, for the most part, you know, a few cars overturned and those kind of things and throwing things. But for the most part, though, people gathered for three days after that. And the next year, there was actually the first LBGT pride parade.

AMY GOODMAN: Jennicet Gutiérrez, it was trans activists the led that uprising, is that right? Sylvia Rivera.

JENNICET GUTIÉRREZ: Yes, that is correct. And that is something that we must not forget. You know, transgender women of color were at the frontlines of this current LGBTQ movement, and we need to give them credit. And we also need to be listening to the concerns that these people were bringing up to the community and that were still trying to be ignored. So now I think we are at a critical moment where our mainstream LGBTQ community can reach out to organizations who have been advocating for transgender people, and to start providing funds and to start opening up resources so that more members of our community do see the benefit and are treated with respect and dignity.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Cathy Marino-Thomas of Marriage Equality USA.

CATHY MARINO-THOMAS: No, no, no. You know, we're not fully equal. We have still some of our brothers and sisters that suffer. Our transgender brothers and sisters have virtually no legal protection. We have over 5,000 LGBT homeless youth in Manhattan alone every night. We have to fix those problems. We have to be able to move freely around the world as equal and supported citizens. But this is a significant step. For today, we enjoy the win.

AMY GOODMAN: Cathy Marino-Thomas of Marriage Equality USA. As we wrap up, final comments, Jennicet?

JENNICET GUTIÉRREZ: I just want to say, you know, my mainstream community, it was heartbreaking, and it really - I felt betrayed when they turned their back on me. So I believe now they are in a position to do the right thing and to reach out to us and to include us in the conversation and listen to our struggles.

AMY GOODMAN: Jennicet Gutiérrez, I want to thank you for being back with us, undocumented trans activist from Mexico, founding member of Familia: TQLM, established to advocate for LGBTQ immigrants often excluded in the immigration debate. And again, thank you to Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, the author of Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits - and Won. Marc just wrote an article for the New York Daily News headlined "A field guide to making history," and we'll link to it at

When we come back, speaking of making history, Bree Newsome scales the flagpole in Columbia, South Carolina, on the Capitol grounds and takes down the Confederate battle flag. Stay with us.

News Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Senators Vote for Fast Track on Trade Deals, and More

In today's On the News segment: Congress members can no longer change or amend trade agreements; Pope Francis speaks out against those who make and invest in weapons of war; American Federation of Teachers interns form the very first nonmedical intern bargaining group in our nation; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. If you don't like any part of the upcoming trade deals, too bad. As of last Wednesday our elected members of Congress can no longer change or amend those agreements thanks to the 60 Senators who gave President Obama the sole authority to decide the details. And, that power extends to whoever gets elected as our next president. Despite overwhelming public pressure against so-called "fast-track" legislation and the trade deals currently being negotiated, 13 Democrats sided with Republicans and said that it's just fine for corporate trade lobbyists to determine the economic future of our nation. And that future doesn't look very bright for US workers. Just like we saw in the run-up to NAFTA, the president and his trade representatives promise that these agreements will increase exports and force our trading partners to address issues like climate change and slave labor. And, just like those previous deals, those promises are nothing but hype. We know that when corporations have their way, they will always put profit over people. We know that without fair trade, US workers will never be able to compete with slave wages in foreign nations. Corporations don't care about livable wages or climate change or the safety of our food supply, but they do care about lowering costs and increasing profits. And, those are the only things they'll be worrying about as they decide on the details of these massive trade agreements. The only thing standing in their way now is President Obama - the very same man who has been touting the benefits of free trade. Call the White House and call Congress and tell them to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) while we still have a chance.

Less than a week after Pope Francis dismantled the Republican talking points on climate change, the Holy Father spoke out against those who make and invest in weapons of war. Last week, while speaking to a crowd of young people in Turin, Italy, Pope Francis said "people, managers, businessmen who call themselves Christian and they manufacture weapons... That leads to a bit of distrust, doesn't it?" In other words, the Pope said that it's hypocritical to call yourself a Christian while manufacturing or funding instruments of death. While it isn't the first time that the Pontiff spoke out against the weapons industry, these recent comments could be his harshest words yet for the individuals who he previously called "merchants of death." These are the people who make, sell and invest in weapons of war while calling themselves "pro-life." Pope Francis said, "duplicity is the currency of today... they say one thing and do another." That hypocrisy is nothing new in our country, but it's nice to see that someone is willing to call out the gun makers for being an industry of death.

Donald Trump can bankrupt as many businesses as he'd like, but students aren't entitled to that same luxury - even when they're living on disability benefits. Last week, the Think Progress Blog told the story of Monica Stitt, who doesn't quality for debt cancellation because a federal judge thinks she isn't facing "undue hardship." Considering that Monica lives only on disability benefits and public assistance, it's unclear how much harder her life must be before she's eligible for debt forgiveness. And, the story makes clear that it is nearly impossible to escape the burden of student loans, while corporations and billionaires can get out of their debts without much more than a stroke of a pen. Something is seriously wrong with this system. Student loan debt in this country has topped one trillion dollars, and more and more students fall into default every day. High quality education should be a right in our nation, not a privilege, and no one should be burdened with a lifetime of debt for going to college. We need to change the laws to help people like Monica, and we need to keep fighting until all students can attend a public university free of charge.

Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), so, she knows a thing or two about unions. That's why she says it's time for interns to form a labor group of their own. Last week, Weingarten wrote an article for AlterNet about the value of the work done by interns and the injustice of their low, or non-existent pay. In addition to being unfair to these interns, this practice has also allowed many companies to use unpaid labor as a replacement for full-time employees. Randi wrote, "Now, thanks to the organizing work of one savvy group of union interns, the tide might be about to turn." Paid interns at AFT recently held a groundbreaking vote to be represented by a local union, and formed the very first nonmedical intern bargaining group in our nation. And, President Weingarten called on other groups to do the same. She said, "At the ATF, we are simply practicing what we preach." Congratulations to those interns for forming their new union and for inspiring all of us to continue the fight for fair pay.

And finally... California just got another big reason to legalize pot. In fact, that state just got about a half a billion reasons. According to California's Legislative Analysis Office (LAO), legalizing cannabis could provide that state with as much as $500 million in net revenue every year. That agency is responsible for the financial analysis of legislation, but the LAO takes no position on policy. Their analysis found that law enforcement in the Golden State could save $100 million or more by avoiding the costs associated with arrests and prosecution for pot. And, that savings would be complimented by "several hundred millions of dollars" in new cannabis taxes. In a huge state like California, half a billion dollars won't solve all budget woes, but it's one heck of a step in the right direction. Between medical benefits and economic gains, it's a wonder that California - and every other state - hasn't come around to the positive side of legal pot. But, with numbers like these, it's only a matter of time before all state, local and federal governments will have to recognize that it's time to legalize cannabis once and for all.

And that's the way it is - for the week of June 29, 2015 - I'm Thom Hartmann - on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Justice Delivered: A Week That Changed a Nation

In a small space of days, this nation's highest court confirmed that everyone can keep their health insurance for a fee, tore a large chunk out of the federal "three strikes" criminal sentencing law, saved the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and gifted all the people of this nation, which prides itself on freedom, the actual freedom to marry as they wish.

Demonstrators react after the ruling in the case of King v. Burwell was announced, outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, June 25, 2015. The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that President Obama’s health care law may provide nationwide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)Demonstrators react after the ruling in the case of King v. Burwell was announced, outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, June 25, 2015. The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Obama's health-care law may provide nationwide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

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"And Lord, we lifted over the delta, feelin' alright,
carried together on the broad, unbroken back of the blues."
—Rebecca Meredith

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a planet called Earth, a citizen of the United States, and a prisoner of sorry judgments levied by fools whose political existence is funded through the extravagant largesse of those who sup on hate and greed.

That was my Earth, and my country, and if I despised the manner in which the pieces of what passes for "culture" and "justice" and "government" came together like a jigsaw puzzle left out in the rain, at least I recognized it. It was familiar.

...and then something like last week happens, and all of a sudden, I don't know what planet I'm on anymore. In a small space of days, this nation's highest court confirmed that everyone can keep their health insurance for a fee, tore a large chunk out of the federal "three strikes" criminal sentencing law, saved the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and gifted all the people of this nation, which prides itself on freedom, the actual freedom to marry as they wish. This particular portion of a long-enduring prohibition that finds its justification in Bronze-Age Biblical morality, and presumes upon that dusty premise to dictate the letter of the law, was ended before noon on Friday.

It didn't go over easy. After the ACA ruling, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, both of whom are GOP presidential candidates, each erupted with spittle-flecked rants about the "tyranny" of "un-elected judges" making decisions on cases brought through due process of law to the bench. Justice Antonin Scalia was so despondent over the ruling that he declared words no longer have meaning, and the governor of Mississippi accused the whole thing of being a "socialist takeover" of the United States.

The "un-elected judges" bit deserves some attention, because we're all going to be hearing more of it. When the Supreme Court decreed that comprehensive political bribery and corruption by way of unfettered campaign contributions was the law of the land, via their Citizens United decision, no one puled about "un-elected judges." When minority voting rights were eviscerated, there was nary a peep about "un-elected judges." Now that gay people can legally bind in love and commitment, however, those "un-elected judges" are suddenly intolerable.

"In order to provide the people themselves with a constitutional remedy to the problem of judicial activism and the means for throwing off judicial tyrants," wrote Ted Cruz in the National Review, "I am proposing an amendment to the United States Constitution that would subject the justices of the Supreme Court to periodic judicial-retention elections." Bobby Jindal, for his part, actually managed to out-fail Mr Cruz. "If we want to save some money," he said, "let's just get rid of the court."

Talk about temper tantrums.

This mealy-mouthed duplicity even reaches the heady atmosphere of that high bench, evidenced by none other than Chief Justice Roberts, hero to ACA advocates and scourge of those who wanted that law struck down. Roberts voted against legalizing gay marriage, and in his dissent, he went Full Frontal Scalia: "Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept."

Or in other words, "Those damned un-elected judges ... oh, wait a minute ... where am I again?"

You're an "un-elected judge" wearing a black robe in an august chamber you reached after being nominated, thoroughly vetted, grilled by a committee on national television, and ultimately approved for the gig by a majority vote. You have astonishing responsibilities to perform.

Pro tip: Don't poop where you eat. The Supreme Court is not only vital, it is embedded in the DNA of our national structure. If you think the whole shop is unjust, Mr. Chief Justice, feel free to quit. Your vacant chair will be filled at speed.

Make no mistake whatsoever: All that ails us as a nation has hardly been cured. The oppression endured by the LGBTQ community has not been undone by this ruling. Also, the president is still pushing the ruinous Trans-Pacific Partnership with full vigor, and will likely get his way, even as "assistance" for workers who will be "trade adjusted" out of their jobs has yet to come to a vote, and thanks to Mitch McConnell could be permanently shelved.

The filthy bomb-in-waiting Keystone XL pipeline looms, even as fracking pollutes the aquifers. The business of making war still dominates a federal budget that would be better spent on infrastructure and education. The Wall Street and banker brigands who robbed us blind walk free, as do the torturers from the previous administration. People - men, women and especially children - die before the barrels of guns every single day.

The Supreme Court, on Monday morning, veered back into the right lane by limiting the EPA's ability to restrict the spewing of mercury and other deadly pollutants into the environment. "Writing for the court," reported the Associated Press, "Justice Antonin Scalia said it is not appropriate to impose billions of dollars of economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits." Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself.

In another Monday morning decision, the Court ruled that midazolam - part of the cocktail that delivered several death-condemned prisoners to a tortured, horrifying end in three states - is just fine and dandy. Not everyone agreed. "Under the court’s new rule," wrote Justice Sotomayor in dissent, "it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake."

The screamers will scream, and the stompers will stomp, and it will all be unrepentantly ugly. For whatever reasons, there has always existed a certain permutation of human who must have theirs, and take yours, and deprive more even as they scorn those others for that deprivation. Living that way is lucrative, clearly, but certainly not moral in any sense I have ever been given to understand.

... but despite it all, it feels as if the Earth I thought I knew tilted a tiny bit on its axis last week, just a wee bit closer to the healing light of the sun. Case in point: A woman named Bree Newsome climbed the 30-foot steel pole that flies the Confederate flag on the grounds outside the South Carolina capitol building. When she was halfway up, police ordered her to stop, but she refused, and kept climbing. She pulled down that flag, returned to Earth, and was arrested. The flag was eventually restored, for now.

Even so, that happened.

Heroes exist. You may even be one of them.

Opinion Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
How a Law That Failed to Protect Eagles Could Offer a Lesson to Save Honeybees

The Bald Eagle Protection Act, signed into law 75 years ago on June 8, 1940, was well-intended. A multi-pronged assault on the raptors was taking its toll - habitat loss, lead-shot poisoning, and bounty-hunting by ranchers and fishermen all contributed to a growing threat. (Click here to see how this played out in Alaska.)

Congress passed, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed, the act to outlaw the "taking" of eagles and their eggs, disruption of their nests, or sale or possession of eagle feathers or parts.

It didn't work. Bald eagle populations accelerated their decline, for reasons that Congress, wildlife officials, and FDR couldn't possibly anticipate.

Throughout the late 1930's Swiss chemist Paul Müller labored to find the right mix of synthetic chemicals to control moths. Not only did dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane do the trick, but Müller's lab work found it was effective against lice, houseflies, beetles, and the dreaded mosquito. Müller's employers, J.R. Geigy AG, applied for the first DDT permit about two months before the Eagle Act passed.

But bald eagles continued to decline. So did hummingbirds, robins, ospreys, pelicans and peregrine falcons. Years of science, met with serious blowback from the chemical industry, eventually proved that DDT was thinning birds' eggshells, not to mention causing impacts in fish, humans, and other mammals. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring drew international attention to the threat, and in the US, DDT was outlawed on the last day of 1972. Bald eagles, ospreys, brown pelicans and peregrine falcons have all since staged remarkable comebacks from the Endangered Species list.The rest is natural and human history. Cheap to produce and an effective defense against lice-borne typhus and mosquito-borne malaria, DDT quickly became a fixture in farm fields, living rooms, and World War II battle theaters. Müller became a science rock star, garnering a Nobel in 1948 and - wait for it - membership in the Pest Management Professional Hall of Fame in 2004.

Which brings us to today's threat to other ecologically priceless wildlife - pollinators. Honeybee populations have been in freefall for more than a decade. Like the threats to eagles, the potential causes are multiple: loss of habitat and native plants, parasites, and a mix of insecticides and fungicides. Newest, and most notable among the suspects, are neonicotinoid pesticides. Like DDT, neonics were developed in the 1980's and 1990's and welcomed as a step forward, since they were thought to be effective on insect pests but relatively benign on non-target wildlife and ecosystems. Today they are a billion-dollar agricultural product, ubiquitous on common crops like corn and soybeans.

In 2014, President Obama ordered the creation of a federal pollinator strategy. Its first draft came out last month, calling for everything from creating bee-friendly habitat to further study on neonics and other agricultural chemicals. The first edition of the strategy, issued in May, outlines a multi-year process for re-examining use of neonics.But mounting evidence shows that neonicotinoids may be part of the frontal assault on bees and other pollinators. In 2013, the European Union banned the use of three of the most contentious types of neonicotinoids, citing a clear and immediate risk.

If the EPA and other federal agencies concur with other studies on the potential harm of neonicotinoids, the US will issue assessments for neonics in 2016 and 2017, and may or may not take action until 2018 to 2020. All of this will take place under a new president who may or may not take interest in protecting bees.

That timetable may work. Or not. Or, with a president with little more than a year left in office and a hostile Congress, it may be a moot point.

But perhaps a more important point is that in 1940, the President and Congress took action on the known threats to eagles. They didn't know about the chemical risk from DDT. If neonics are as big a threat as the science suggests, the current president and Congress won't have ignorance as an excuse for waiting.

Opinion Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
States Are Fighting to Keep Towns From Offering Their Own Broadband

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission voted to ease the way for cities to become Internet service providers. So-called municipal broadband is already a reality in a few towns, often providing Internet access and faster service to rural communities that cable companies don't serve.

The cable and telecommunications industry have long lobbied against city-run broadband, arguing that taxpayer money should not fund potential competitors to private companies.

The telecom companies have what may seem like an unlikely ally: states. Roughly 20 states have restrictions against municipal broadband.

And the attorneys general in North Carolina and Tennessee have recently filed lawsuits in an attempt to overrule the FCC and block towns in these states from expanding publicly funded Internet service.

North Carolina's attorney general argued in a suit filed last month that the "FCC unlawfully inserted itself between the State and the State's political subdivisions." Tennessee's attorney general filed a similar suit in March.

Tennessee has hired one of the country's largest telecom lobbying and law firms, Wiley Rein, to represent the state in its suit. The firm, founded by a former FCC chairman, has represented AT&T, Verizon and Qwest, among others.

James Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School, said it is not unusual for attorneys general to seek outside counsel for specialized cases that they view as a priority.

Asked about the suit, the Tennessee attorney general's office told ProPublica, "This is a question of the state's sovereign ability to define the role of its local governmental units." North Carolina Attorney General's office said in a statement that the "legal defense of state laws by the Attorney General's office is a statutory requirement."

As the New York Times detailed last year, state attorneys general have become a major target of corporate lobbyists and contributors including AT&T, Comcast and T-Mobile.

North Carolina is no exception. The state's Attorney General Roy Cooper received roughly $35,000 from the telecommunications industry in his 2012 run for office. Only the state's retail industry gave more.

The donations are just a small part of contributions the industry has made in the states. In North Carolina's 2014 elections, the telecommunications industry gave a combined $870,000 to candidates in both parties, which made it one of the top industries to contribute that year. Candidates in Tennessee received nearly $921,000 from AT&T and other industry players in 2014.

The FCC's decision came after two towns - City of Wilson in North Carolina and Chattanooga in Tennessee - appealed to the agency to be able to expand their networks.

The vote has rattled some companies. In a government filing earlier this year, Comcast cited the FCC's decision as a risk to the company's business: "Any changes to the regulatory framework applicable to any of our services or businesses could have a negative impact on our businesses and results of operations."

If the court upholds the FCC's authority to preempt restrictions in North Carolina and Tennessee, it may embolden other cities to file petitions with the agency, according to lawyer Jim Baller, who represents Wilson and the Chattanooga Electric Power Board. "A victory by the FCC would be a very welcome result for many communities across America," said Baller.

For some residents in and outside of Chattanooga, clearing the way to city-run broadband would mean the sort of faster Internet access that others might take for granted.

For 12 years, Eva VanHook, 39, of Georgetown, Tennessee, lived with a satellite broadband connection so slow that she'd read a book while waiting for a web page to load. In order for her son to access online materials for his school assignments, she'd drive him 12 miles to their church parking lot, where he could access faster WiFi.

Charter, the local Internet service provider, declined several requests by her husband to build lines out to her home. Only last month did Charter connect her home to the Internet. "Even the possibility to jump on [the local utility's] gigabit network would blow our minds right now," VanHook said. "There is nothing faster than Chattanooga. Just through meeting them and hearing them speak and having them understand what's going on, that's the kind of place I want to do business."

News Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Interrupting Pride for Black Lives

Members of the trans and Black communities are treated as wholly disposable in this country, as are the Indigenous, marriage or no marriage. A group of Black youth in Chicago did right Sunday by the memory of those whose actions the day is meant to honor.


Participants in the #BlackOutPride contingent rally the crowd as they march toward the site of their action. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)Participants in the #BlackOutPride contingent rally the crowd as they march toward the site of their action. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Make a tax-deductible donation today.

In 1969, drag queen and transgender activist Sylvia Rivera threw a bottle and launched a movement. A raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City brought a criminalized community to its breaking point, and a rebellion began.

The Stonewall Rioters brought political energy to the gay community and fiercely asserted the value of those whose lives and bodies did not conform to mainstream normativity. Sunday, on the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, I saw a bottle fly through the air once again, but it wasn't thrown by a trans woman of color, defending her community against police violence. It was thrown by a reveler at Chicago's gay Pride Parade, who was apparently unhappy that a Black Lives Matter demonstration had briefly halted the parade with a die-in and speak-out. 

The delay had stretched on for about 15 minutes.

I was of course concerned about backlash for some time before that bottle was thrown. Negative attitudes toward young people of color are common enough in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, and Chicago's Pride Parade has, for years, brought out the kind of gay-for-a-day drunk revelers that could leave a person feeling unsafe, regardless of whether or not they had drawn any attention to themselves. "It's not even the cops I'm worried about," I explained to my friends who were organizing the action. "It's the bros."

Shortly before reaching the site of the action, participants put on shirts bearing the hashtag of the event. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)Shortly before reaching the site of the action, participants put on shirts bearing the hashtag of the event. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
But with the Supreme Court's decision on Friday, declaring marriage a constitutional right that could not be denied to same-sex couples, my concerns heightened. I imagined a scenario where tempers would flare and no one would actually hear the messaging that these brave young people were formulating.

Black, queer, trans, criminalized - the young people who put together Sunday's event are living on the front lines of struggle in this country. They are to our times what the early trailblazers of the gay rights movement were to theirs. They have been deemed disposable. The abuse they endure is largely invisibilized. And in the face of state-sanctioned violence, they are not looking to embrace salvation through respectability. They are defending their identities and their communities as having inherent worth, and demanding visibility in a culture that would turn a blind eye to their destruction.

As Jason Tompkins, one of the event's organizers stated after the action, "I want it to be mundane and unremarkable that black queer and trans folk prioritize their own healing, knowledge production and legacy building in the organizing and mobilizing that we do."

In their public statement, the organizers of Sunday's #BlackOutPride event in Chicago noted that, within a few years of the Stonewall Riots, the legacy of the gay rights struggle was already being rewritten with an eye toward assimilation. "By 1973," the organizers wrote, "only three years after the first march in honor of Stonewall, organization of Pride events around the country were taken over largely by wealthy cisgender gays and lesbians, looking to transform the march that began in New York from political protest to an opportunity for mainstream visibility. That same year - coinciding with homosexuality being removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of Mental Disorders and Conditions - trans and gender non-conforming people saw themselves banned from parades and gatherings around the nation." 
Organizer Nic Kay reads the group's statement as the action begins. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)Organizer Nic Kay reads the group's statement as the action begins. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

In a struggle to assimilate, there are always leftovers. The organizers of #BlackOutPride argue that the pursuit of a mainstream gay culture led those with greater privilege to effectively banish those who would not or could not conform. Many of those who now occupy a polished neighborhood here in Chicago, where youth of color are increasingly unwelcome, would scoff at - or even throw drinks in the faces of - those who are living the legacy of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. This was to be expected, but there was no way to know how many of those present would act in such a way and how many might actually show support.

When we approached the appointed intersection, eight participants who had committed to taking an arrest at the action staged a die-in to dramatize the violence that queer Black community members face. They were surrounded by Black organizers holding signs that highlighted the action's messaging, with non-black allies holding space in a wider circle around them all. A statement was read, explaining the radical history of the day, and why, as more than one sign declared, "Marriage is not enough":

Queer youth experiencing homelessness, and the plight of trans and queer communities of color, is not merely an issue of transphobia and homophobia in Black and Brown communities; it is equally about classism, racism and gentrification. It is about the draconian measures of austerity that push our people onto the street, refuse us reentrance into real estate and the job market, and the police and prison systems which work together to ensure we stay locked out. Young, Black, Brown, Native, trans, poor, working, immigrant and disabled people are suffering because every system of governance in this country is geared to destroy us.

Members of the trans and Black communities are treated as wholly disposable in this country, as are the Indigenous, marriage or no marriage. This demands action, and it demands that each of us assess where we are standing in relation to the structures that perpetuate oppression and social death. 

Non-black allies form a supportive circle around the event's Black organizers. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)Non-black allies form a supportive circle around the event's Black organizers. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)Resistance to Black death and racially motivated state violence is one of the greatest social struggles of our time, but the Pride Parade itself includes not only a police float, but also a team of workers, courtesy of the prison industrial complex, to clean up after the revelers. That's right - if you partied in the streets on Sunday in Chicago, leaving behind bottles and wrappers and beads, workers from Sheriff's Work Alternative Program (SWAP), who paid for the privilege of picking up your trash rather than spending the day in a cell, undoubtedly cleaned up after you. That's how far we've come from the riotous beginnings of what #BlackOutPride organizer Hannah Baptiste has called "a movement that was born in the spirit of abolition and in pursuit of liberation."

Righteous upheaval has given way to a roving party with a slave-labor clean-up crew.

I stress this because I think it's important to be honest about what was interrupted on Sunday. A group of Black youth didn't interrupt a gay wedding. They walked into an event that is supposed to mark the anniversary of a moment when the queer community swung back against police violence - an event that is now a celebration of everything from big banks to Budweiser and the police themselves. They entered that space with radical intentions, and did right by the memory of those whose actions the day is actually meant to honor. They called out the names of those who came before and laid out the struggle ahead. And they were heard. Amid the ugliness launched at them by some, there were also numerous cries of love and support.

Eight participants were arrested at the action. They have since been released. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)Eight participants were arrested at the action. They have since been released. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)As we exited the scene, after the eight arrestees had been taken and the action had closed, I was rattled by the aggressiveness of some members of the crowd, but I was also deeply touched by those who took a different attitude. Non-black allies tried to surround and protect our Black organizers as we left, with love and also as a demonstration of the care we should show to those most marginalized in our communities. As I saw a few members of the crowd begin to throw their drinks at us, I threw my hands up to try to protect the young Black person in front of me. I didn't want any harm to come to them because they had chosen to be brave and to say unpopular truths on a day when people wanted to forget them.

As we emerged from the crowd, I lowered my hands, and a young Black woman who had watched the action unfold approached us. As she expressed her gratitude, I began to understand what it meant for her, as a young Black woman, to have come to see the parade and to have witnessed this action. As over a million people gathered, her liberation had been called for in a moment of struggle, on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. That's what I will try to carry with me as I look forward, and contemplate my role in an intersectional movement for queer liberation.

Opinion Mon, 29 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400