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.
For the past few months, news feeds and timelines have filled up with opinions about the current #BlackLivesMatter movement gaining strength and solidarity across the country. The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Kajieme Powell, and the growing list of unarmed people of color killed at the hands of law enforcement have sparked an important conversation about targeted, aggressive, and racialized encounters between police and the black community. The increased militarization of the police force, use of mass incarceration and excessive sentencing and the prevalence of the politics of fear against communities of color so deeply embedded into our public consciousness are all being brought to the forefront of a national conversation about race and justice.
If you choose to engage with or participate in this growing conversation, you do not have to look very long or very hard to understand that Americans are not terribly comfortable with facing our nation's history of racial injustice and its legacy in modernity. It is truly astonishing to read the opinions so bravely put forth from behind the veil of anonymity and protection of a computer screen, where the vast majority of contributors enter online conversations confidently, armed with definitive and defensive conclusions about racialized policing. Yet this argumentative rhetoric is often just an echo of the opinions set forth on the nightly news cycle of one's choice, and it is obvious that we are much more comfortable challenging the reality of a difficult history than engaging with its consequences.
It couldn't be known until now.
A San Francisco Chronicle article on Jan. 1, 2015 has revealed that former US judges requested clemency for the Cuban Five in early 2014 by a letter hand-delivered to President Barack Obama.
Nine retired appellate court judges from California, Washington, Montana and Iowa submitted the Feb. 24, 2014 letter to Obama, urging clemency for the three remaining members of the Five, a deed that only became public after Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero were home.
Yusef Bunchy Shakur is a father, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, self-published author of three books (The Window 2 My Soul, Redemptive Soul and My Soul Looks Back), documentary filmmaker (Detroit's Native Son) and community leader. Every year, he organizes a Restoring the Neighbor Back to the Hood event which feeds hundreds of families, provides clothing and hands out backpacks to over 500 kids. He was also wrongfully convicted in 1992 for assault in an unarmed robbery case and sentenced to a five-to-fifteen year term. He was 19 at the time and would serve 9 years, released ultimately in January of 2001. Since then, he has been at the forefront of resistance and restoration in Detroit.
Shakur spoke to Truthout about how he came to be in that position.
More than half a century ago, Hannah Arendt made an observation about aspects of human nature most people fail to acknowledge or confront. Arendt, a Jew who fled Germany during the Nazi's rise to power, survived to witness the trial of German Nazi Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann. She pointed to wartime atrocities where dutiful administrators like Eichmann become mass murderers with neither regret nor even conscious recognition of the routine horror they inflicted. She called it the "banality of evil" - a systemic evil that had become "terrifyingly normal."
Fascism comes in all shapes and forms. The late comedian George Carlin once pointed out that fascism will not come to America in "brown and black shirts" or "jack boots," but in "Nike sneakers and smiley shirts." With NSA mass surveillance and the recent Senate CIA torture report evidencing murder of innocent people in offshore US prisons, a kind of systematic evil is semi-secretly being carried out within present day society.
The closing weeks of 2014 spelled disaster for US leadership and the rule of law.
During the last two weeks of December, the US countered three different efforts designed to affirm Palestinian rights. It was unfortunate since in doing so the US undercut its stated commitments to uphold the rule of law in international relations and to support a non-violent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The conflict in Ukraine has been to a large degree about history and how to interpret it. The marches held in honor of World War II Ukrainian leader Stepan Bandera this past Thursday, January 1, 2015, in Kiev marking 106 years to his birth, confirm that understanding the past is essential for making sense of the future. While some have argued there are no fascists in Ukraine and that protesters in Maidan came from a wide gamut of Ukraine's civil society, in the US Congress, difficult questions were asked about US support for the neo-Nazi Right Sector and in Russia, alarm was raised when pictures of protesters wearing Nazi insignia, and later Ukrainian army soldiers with fascist beliefs, were revealed.
The questions of what to make of modern-day Nazis and of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), Organization for Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and Stepan Bandera, suddenly became relevant and highlighted again the importance of understanding history in understanding the present. As one who lost people on both sides of my family to German and Ukrainian fascists, I was very interested in making sense of past as well as present events. To this end, I visited Lviv, Ukraine in December 2014 and read historical articles seeking to understand to what degree Ukrainain fascists were involved in World War II atrocities. This article is a culmination of these efforts.
A heavily redacted Senate Torture Report was released in December. The timing was political - Republican victories in the November election raised the prospect that the Report would not be released after 2014. But was there another political factor in the timing of the release? We know that politicians commonly issue problematic press releases on Friday afternoons to take advantage of the quieter end of the news cycle. In the case of the Torture Report, the pressurized frivolities of the Christmas Holiday and the annual catharsis of the New Year predictably distracted Americans from the details of the report and from their duty for a fundamental moral reckoning. These were not the only distractions.
News of the SONY hack and the absurd controversies that continue to swirl around it quickly refocused media attention and popular discussion from torture to an inane farce that (tortuously) attempts to wring humor from racism, xenophobia, and bodily functions.
In the aftermath of the 2014 mid-term Congressional elections in the United States, there was a widespread perception among the American chattering classes that the Obama administration, confronted by Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate, would become a lame duck in its final two years. Instead, the Republicans in recent weeks have had to confront a relaxed and reinvigorated President very focused upon ensuring that his legacy as a change agent in American politics would be solidified in American history.
On Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, US led forces formally ended the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. Some 18,000 foreign troops, and about 10,600 of them American, however, are staying under the terms of two security pacts the Afghan government signed with the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The war formally ended but the war informally continues. Fariba Nawa is an Afghan-American journalist and author of Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman’s Journey Through Afghanistan. She was interviewed by NAM editor, Andrew Lam.
I wanted to write a piece about the most powerful moments in Chicago activism this year, but as I reviewed my photos and thought through what I saw and experienced in 2014, I realized that I can’t quite qualify things in those terms. As an organizer, I have a number of biases that are both undeniable and unavoidable, so I’m going to go ahead and clarify from the start that this is simply a look back at actions that moved me, changed me, or burned themselves into my memory – and in some cases, all three.