SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.
“…the Gates Foundation agrees with those who’ve decided that assessment results should not be taken into account in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation or student promotion for the next two years, during this transition.”
- Vicki Phillips, director of the U.S. education program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
How do you know the United States is currently experiencing the largest revolt against high-stakes standardized testing in history?
Part I - Something Disturbing
There is something disturbing about the Republican response to just about everything President Obama does. It has a knee-jerk yet patterned nature. It displays a meanness that is acted out with a certain gloating quality as well. Take for instance Republican Representative Joe Wilson shouting “You Lie!” during Obama’s speech to Congress on health care. Wilson’s anger was displayed with the malicious satisfaction of a nasty child. Subsequently, Republican politicians have called President Obama a “tar baby,” a socialist, lazy, Hitler, and perhaps most tellingly, un-American. None these epithets are accurate, yet apparently they are believed to be true not only by the persons who said them, but many others among the Republican base.
What is the reason for this?
Washington, DC - Today, working mothers employed by food service and cleaning contractors at federal buildings declared that the President’s $10.10 Executive Order isn’t enough to support their families. The workers called on President Obama to use his executive powers to give them collective bargaining rights so they don’t have to keep striking to win living wages, health care benefits, paid time off and the other things they need to care for their kids.
“I’m grateful to the President for raising my wage to ten dollars an hour, but it’s not enough to care for my son,” says Rodelma Acosta, a McDonald’s worker at the Pentagon. “As a single mom, I still have to rely on food stamps and Medicaid because there’s nothing left after paying the rent. Most of my coworkers are like me – we’re single moms and barely making it. We need more than the minimum wage, we need a union to win the living wages and benefits necessary to take care of our families and give our kids a chance to succeed in the world.”
Not only has healthcare for too long been at the service of the politically elite and wealthy in the United States, but it – along with medicines – have yet to be realized as rights for all citizens.
Now that the spotlight is again on a healthcare system that has even failed its veterans—widespread scheduling abuses, data falsification, long waiting times at hospitals and lengthy delays leading to dozens of deaths, the same abuses which permeate public and private healthcare institutions—perhaps Americans will work to include healthcare as a social and economic right.
Port-de-Paix, Haiti, June 3, 2014: Cholera victims and their relatives reacted with boundless rejoicing throughout Haiti to last week's announcement by the United Nations of the First Meeting of the High-Level Committee for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti.
Jocelyne Augustin, 36, paused briefly as she pranced through the streets of Port-de-Paix, a wide smile across her face. Augustin lost her husband and two children to the cholera epidemic, introduced to Haiti in 2010 from a UN military base that deposited its human wastes into Haiti's Meille River. "We have been through a lot, that's true, but it all seems worth it now. We have a Committee!"
Her son Sadrac, 10, one of Augustin's three surviving children, all unable to attend school in three years because of funeral expenses and the loss of their father's income, added "not just a Committee, a High-Level Committee!"
Every three months for over twenty years, legendary NYC literary agent and activist Frances Goldin would take a two-day trip to a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania to visit her client and friend on death row—black scholar, author, and freedom fighter, Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Over the decades, Goldin has not only served as Abu-Jamal's literary agent, but as one of the most vocal and relentless advocates for his release based on both his innocence and the denial of a fair trial in his case, the facts of which are well documented in a report by Amnesty International.
June 6th came once more. D-day was a long time ago and I didn't intend to make anything of it. I was surprised by the emotional turmoil I felt, by how I felt about that day in my gut. I realized that while I was born after the war was over, D-day and World War II were a real and tangible part of my childhood. It was part of my family's life, my teachers lives, my friends parent's lives. It wasn't just old men who remembered it, every adult in my youth had stories from that war. It was amputees on street corners selling pencils and people all around me still dealing with it. It was part of my life and it played a role in my enlistment for Vietnam. Of course I felt this day in my guts. Why did I think it would be otherwise?
The stories were part of the world I grew up in; stories of D-day, of every counter-espionage agent for a year saying the first attack will be a feint, of the phantom 1st Army with decoy tanks, fake radio chatter and empty tents looking like an army poised for an imminent invasion, of Omaha Beach, of Utah Beach. The death, the military blunders, the maimed, the successes, the "discovery" of the concentration camps, the Battle of the Bulge, these stories were tangible and a part of my childhood. Many of the stories were told after I was in bed, at breakfast they were alluded to quietly by my parents, and we children were told never to ask the adults about them.
Solidarity was being sung on Capitol Hill this week as activists from 31 countries lobbied for the freedom of the Cuban Five. Members of Parliament from Latin America and Europe came to the nation's capital to urge immediate action towards the release of the remaining three Cuban Five who are still behind bars. Rounding out the last two days of the 3rd annual "5 days for the Cuban 5," the international delegation met with 9 congress men and women, 25 Senate staffers and more than 30 congressional aids in a campaign demanding a remedy to the miscarriage of justice which has left innocent men imprisoned for last 16 years.
Actor Danny Glover - who has been involved in the "5 days for the 5" for the last three years - shared his optimism that the international solidarity effort was yielding results. "After the first five days of action, Rene was set free; after the 2nd annual 5 days of action; Fernando was set free and we need to keep up hope that after this 3rd annual day of action, the three remaining Cuban Five will also be set free."
If there's one thing we love, it's visualizing data. And if there's one piece of data that people across the country have been talking (and arguing) about lately, it's the minimum wage .For months, President Obama has been pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, without much success. The issue, however, is picking up steam at the state, city and county level. Four states have increased their minimum wage to at least $10.10 - Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland and Vermont. This week, Seattle approved an increase in minimum wage to $15 an hour. Closer to home, a group of Chicago's aldermen have been pushing an increase to a $15 wage. By the time these laws have come into effect, these changes will create some very real differences across the country, which we've illustrated with the infographic below.
McDonald's (headquartered a stones throw away from our Chicago office, in Oak Brook, IL), have been a major target for those protesting the current minimum wage. McDonald's CEO Don Thompson this week suggested his company would support an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, however protesting McDonald's workers continue to demand $15 an hour. However, there's more to the use of Big Macs as a visual aid for understanding what's really being debated here. Big Macs have been used as an index for purchasing power since the conception of the 'Big Mac Index' in the 1980s. What's more people are surprisingly bad at grappling with money in the abstract.
The concept of "animal rights" is used quite convincingly with respect to dogs and cats; clearly, it's a message that resonates with most folks. Yet more often than not the sentimentality ends there. As a society we are highly selective in terms of the animals that we deem worthy of respect and humane treatment. We are appalled by the mere mention of a dog or a cat being neglected or abused – in many instances it will make national headlines and at times international headlines. This was certainly evident with the venomous reaction that the Michael Vick case generated a few years back. Or, most recently, with the killing (and public dissection) of a young giraffe at a Copenhagen zoo.
These actions were deplorable and the collective sense of outrage that emerged was certainly warranted. Yet it is also glaringly evident that the CEOs of Smithfield, Tyson, Perdue, etc. are held to a vastly different moral standard. The dichotomy at play highlights a cultural hypocrisy that is beyond staggering. It's a widely known fact that the chickens, pigs, and cows held captive on industrialized farms are forced to live under heinous conditions and are slaughtered in a particularly cruel and violent manner. One can simply watch a YouTube video to witness their business practices firsthand. Incidentally, the industry is now attempting to pass sweeping laws to ban such videos in an attempt to protect their cleverly crafted images as benevolent "old fashioned" farmers and stay ahead of the curve as the number of socially / environmentally minded consumers increases in size (take note of how McDonald's is currently marketing itself on mainstream media outlets.) These so called "AG GAG" laws have been proposed in a number of states and have passed in Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, and Utah with the clear intent to criminalize investigative journalism.