Saturday, April 29, 2006

HR 4437 and the LGBT community

Youth Eastside Services runs a support groups for immigrant gay, lesbian and bisexual teens.

By now most people know that the "immigration reform" bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, HR 4437, would call for building a 700 mile wall along the boarder with Mexico and would criminalize all undocumented persons found in this country.

In addition to these provisions, the bill is full of more obscure tweaks to immigration, refugee and asylum procedures, all of which will make it harder for newcomers to stay in compliance with the law, as well as often separating families and creating arbitrary inequities. Not surprisingly given the right-wing Republican origins of the bill, many of these regulations not only give force to a racist fear of the browning of the U.S., but also will work to hurt the opportunities available to gay and lesbian would-be immigrants.

In consequence, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force denounces the Sensenbrenner bill as

"mean-spirited election-year pandering to the ‘send them home’ crowd and scapegoating of yet another group in our country perceived to be unpopular and powerless."

Gay fears about HR 4437 fall into several major categories (information from an FAQ by Immigration Equality):
  • Asylum and refugee status. Under present law, in some circumstances, LGBT persons are eligible for asylum in the U.S. if they would experience persecution in their country of origin. The new law creates a lot more hurdles for asylum seekers and thereby increases the practical likelihood that LGBT people will have their claims denied by low level immigration officers, often without any chance of appeal.
  • Non-recognition of gay partnerships. Because LGBT partnerships are not recognized by U.S. law, citizen partners cannot sponsor their non-citizen spouses for legal residency. In fact, under HR 4437, citizen partners might technically fall under the new class of persons "harboring aliens," becoming criminals for assisting their undocumented partners who would also be declared felons.
  • Arbitrary, moralistic exclusions. HR 4437 states that immigrants must be of "good moral character" as determined by an immigration judge. The group Immigration Equality notes "throughout the history of U.S. immigration policy, gay and lesbian immigrants have been controlled within and excluded from U.S. immigration policy through moral character determinations. Gay and lesbian immigrants have been labeled sexual deviants, persons of psychopathic inferiority, possessing a mental defect, and charged with many other moral derisions because they were considered undesirable."
No wonder many organized gay groups oppose this law. Oh sure, there are probably a few white, male gay bar owners who think a harsh immigration reform will help them control any uppity bus boys. But most of the gay community gets that any law that makes some people less equal than others is sure to be used against LGBT people.

Gay legal immigrants and gay people of color especially recognize that HR 4437 is bad news. Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York spearheaded a protest letter that pointed out that already "many Muslim, South Asian, and Southeast Asian Americans have been improperly racially profiled and have not been afforded constitutional due process protections."

Marta Donayre, a U.S. citizen of Panamanian origin, who is also a lesbian, has shared on her blog how the "immigration issue" can leave her feeling she has nowhere to stand, but also has reminded her who is there with her.

As an LGBTQ immigrant, I always face having to explain to others the fact that I am a human being. To the immigrant community I am the unwanted dyke. To the LGBTQ community, I am the unwanted foreigner… that is, unless I have an American partner. Only then do I kinda count. ...

Which brings me back to the issue of "the law." A few years ago, Leslie and I broke the law in the State of Virginia. We stayed at a Virginia hotel while on a business trip to Washington D.C. At the time, it was against the law to engage in sexual relations with a person of the same sex in that state. We broke "the law" by becoming intimate with each other in the privacy of our hotel room.

In the eyes of many conservatives, Leslie and I still break "the law" simply because we exist. This "law" of course is their moral or so-called "natural law." Our struggle for basic equality, then is tagged as being a "special right" because we are not deserving due to our actions.

I am ashamed to admit that it took me a little while to understand that the same logic applies to undocumented immigrants. I too used to think of them as non-deserving "law breakers." ...

Just like someone arbitrarily made a law banning sex with partners of the same sex, someone made a law banning people from seeking the American Dream through the creation of a border. ... Oppression of LGBTQ people is caused by people who think they are not deserving. Oppression of poor people is caused by people who think they are not deserving. Laws are passed to ensure that LGBTQ people stay in their place (the closet). Laws are passed to ensure that poor people stay in their place (the other side of the border and starve to death).

Go read the whole post. Thanks to Out for Democracy for pointing to Marta's argument.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Stirrings in the 'hood

An early morning walk along Mission St. in San Francisco this morning left no doubt that excitement is rising about "El Gran Paro," next Monday's boycott, strike, and protests against proposed "immigration reform" legislation that would criminalize undocumented people. The printed poster above lays out the day's program of rallies and marches.

Many businesses have already posted signs explaining why they'll be closed. Very likely owners and workers alike will be on the streets.

"This establishment supports the rights of immigrants and will be closed on May 1st, 2006."

Some businesses wrote their own signs.

This one is in the window of a jewelry store.

An enterprising (and excellent) taqueria added its own advertising to a call for the marches. When the movement inserts itself into business as usual, it begins to take on the characteristics of a true civil rights movement.

This shopkeeper is selling a special t-shirt for the occasion. "We're united -- we're staying, together."

Monday's boycott and protests look to be large, militant and possibly ground-breaking, at least in this immigrant neighborhood.


She is not going to be moved. Oakland, CA; April 17, 2006

Congratulations to the 18 Grannies for Peace acquitted of blocking a military recruiting office in New York City.

"I was sure we were sunk," said Lillian Rydell, 86, a defendant who testified during the trial that she went to "the school of hard knocks," instead of college.

"I love everybody," she said. The defendants called themselves "grannies" because they are all old enough to be grandmothers, even if some of them are not, and because in their view, grandmothers are a core American value, as patriotic as mom and apple pie....

When it was over, the grannies seemed ready to do it again. "The decision today says the First Amendment protects you to protest peacefully," Mr. Siegel [the grandmothers' attorney] said, addressing his clients outside the courthouse after the verdict. "So — go do it!"

And the grannies cheered.

I bet they'll all be out at the march in New York tomorrow.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

"Foreign policy" rant

Bumping around the blogosphere the other day, I found myself at a place called Democracy Arsenal reading a post called 10 Foreign Policy Questions Progressives Ought to Be Thinking About How to Answer. The author is Suzanne Nossel, the blog founder, whose biography seems to be that of a credible Democratic policy intellectual. Sadly, I was reminded why, if we ever get rid of the current Neolithic regime, we'll then have to struggle with the Neanderthals who will populate the halls of power under a run of the mill Democrat.

Here are Nossel's "foreign policy" questions (in boldface type) with my comments:

1. Should the US Military Be Enlarged? What kind of mind puts that question first among "foreign policy questions"? There's a bad case of cart before horse here. It would seem a far more plausible first question would be "what do we need a U.S. military for?" Having answered that, (and I am not saying we don't need one) we could sensibly discuss Nossel's question.

2. Is the Fight Against Terror the #1 priority or simply a top priority? Again Nossel avoids the real question: just what is this necessary effort 9/11 has forced on us? We don't want our country and the world paralyzed by terrorism. The current regime has misnamed this effort "a war." Terrorism will continue to be the weapon of the weak. Preventing it is a law enforcement problem. Raising it to the status of a "war," amounts to letting terrorists define how our society lives. That's surrender, not a solution.

3. What is our position on free trade? What is this "free trade"? From what we have seen via NAFTA and the WTO, it amounts to untrammeled freedom for those who have to exploit those who have not. The world doesn't need any more "free trade." Technological progress has connected us all; now let's figure out how to use our new connections to increase the quality of lives all over the world. Now there's a project.

4. What are the primary lessons of Iraq for American foreign policy? Don't invade countries that present no threat? Pre-emptive wars may bite your butt, unexpectedly? Elect a president who values human lives other than his own? Words fail me.

6. What will we do to revive global nuclear non-proliferation? We could start by abiding by the terms of the non-proliferation treaty we signed and work to reduce our own nuclear arsenal. As long as we are scofflaws, we can't very well expect others to take the treaty seriously. And if we go in for pre-emptive wars, no wonder nations that feel threatened want nukes.

7. How will we deal with global development and poverty? How about we make Bono a special adviser to the Secretary of State and pay our U.N. assessment? Dealing with global development and poverty is something all the countries of the world have to do together.

8. What are our big new ideas? We didn't have any memorable ones in 2004 and cannot afford a similar void again. I don't know -- if people with the outlook of Ms. Nossel are developing big ideas, I suspect we are better off without any. Though I can easily come up with a suggestion that doesn't seem to be on Nossel's radar: use the riches of this country to help the nations of the world substitute sustainable economies for a system of greedy, cancerous growth.

9. What More Needs to Be Done to Straighten Out the Gathering and Use of Intelligence? This one brings to mind Gandhi on what he thought of western civilization: he suggested "it would be a good idea." Intelligence would be a good idea, and obviously I don't exactly mean the products of our spooks. A government functioning to promote the general welfare and ensure tranquility (that's from the Constitution in case it seems familiar) needs to know what threats face it and what is going on. And it will find ways to know, with the enthusiastic cooperation of most of its citizens. Our problems with "intelligence" arise from the unrealism of our government.

10. What needs to be done to shore up American superpowerdom? Get over it. U.S. superpower was the product of a series of historical, geographical, and economic accidents, combined with momentary good management (mostly under FDR.) We live in a different, differently threatening, world. THE policy question of the 21st century is how to create a more stable, multi-polar world that offers substantial equity to all without rendering the planet uninhabitable. When security wonks start working on that one, they'll earn their keep. Until then, they are just jerking off.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Immigrants organize amid excitement and fear

Members of the organization Mujeres Unidas y Activas listen to speakers.

Excitement, tinged with fear, is growing in immigrant communities as people prepare for the boycott, general strike, and rallies that have been called for Monday, May 1 to protest any "immigration reform" that criminalizes the undocumented. San Francisco Bay Area immigrant groups held a press conference in Oakland's Fruitvale Village today to counteract rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents had been patrolling the neighborhoods in white vans, probably aiming to intimidate people planning to join the protests.

Mariana Bustamante of the ACLU-Immigrant Rights Project explained to the crowd in Spanish and English what what rights people have if stopped by the migra. She emphasized especially that the ACLU has materials about what schools are legally allowed to do if students walk out to protest.

But the following speakers emphasized that, in truth, immigrants would not be protected by the law, but by the commitment and audacity of their political movement.

Maria Reyes of Mujeres Unidas y Activas challenged the crowd colorfully to find their courage: drawing on Revelations 3:16, she reminded them that God "spits out" the lukewarm. According to Reyes, immigrants must bravely show their numbers and power through the strike and rallies next Monday.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The want-to-be bishops and the immigrants

The prize, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Last month I wrote optimistically that the eruption of immigrant protest against the terrible HR4437, the migrant criminalization bill, might signal a "new civil rights movement." Last night's session at which the seven candidates seeking election as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California met with about 350 of their potential sheep left me all the more convinced that something powerful has been sparked by the specter of an unjust "immigration reform."

First, I should explain something about this bishop election process. Episcopalians would be the first to admit the denomination has a strange and wonderful polity, a hybrid of popular democracy and authority. We believe we need bishops to serve as foci of unity -- God's church has to be bigger than just our little local congregation. On the other, having come into being as an early and rebellious split from the monarchical Church of England, we evolved a process of choosing those bishops through exhaustive consultation with members and clergy followed by election by congregational delegates. Then a person elected bishop has to be approved either by the other existing bishops or by the General Convention where bishops, clergy and lay people meet every three years to govern the denomination.

For the first time in 25 years, the Diocese of California (the immediate San Francisco Bay Area -- more history embedded in those boundaries) is selecting a new bishop; the previous one is retiring. Several months ago the candidates, winnowed down through exhaustive meeting, greeting, writing, talking and more talking, were announced. And the world got interested because three of the seven are gay, a couple of men and a lesbian. In fact, only two of the seven are conventional bishop types: straight white men. Two are women; another is African American; two have extensive experience with the Anglican churches of Africa, some of which think the U.S. body is heretical for its inclusion of lesbians and gays; one is an immigrant himself. This is an interesting bunch of people. The media flogs the gay angle, but all of the nominees seem interesting, somewhat unconventional people. And for none of them is the gay issue paramount.

This week the want-to-be bishops are being subjected to ordeal by polite interrogation and courteous conversation. For five days, open meetings in various areas of the diocese are providing opportunities for any interested clergy and laity to question the candidates.

THE question

You know you are in the midst of a vigorous civic movement when the movement's imperatives break into apparently unrelated "business as usual." And last night, the immigrant movement broke into the ever-so-carefully-choreographed bishop search process. Gloria del Castillo, a priest in the San Francisco Mission District, demanded that each candidate tell us where the Episcopal Church ought to stand on immigration issues. Moderators were a little taken aback, but quickly got with the program, feeling strong approval from the assembled Episcopalians.

So the candidates did tell us. I'm happy to say that every one of them insisted that the church's stance must begin with extending welcome to the stranger. And most of them went on to express in various ways that the church's mission had to include justice for those who do the work. There were nuances. One who is embedded in official Washington mentioned "border security" which rang wrongly in this state, though he certainly seemed to be on the side of migrants. The one who is an immigrant himself (political refugee from apartheid South Africa) shared his terror when the I.N.S. once declared him "out of status" and threatened deportation. He told us that his lawyer reassured him that, being white, he'd be able to work it out -- and this was true, but he knew well that such an option would not have been so available to an immigrant of a darker race. Two candidates said simply that the church's place was in the streets with the people and, if need be, in jail.

This is not anyone's grandparents' Episcopal Church and the immigrant civil rights struggle is reaching right into the most process-oriented fastnesses of church life. That's how these things should work.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

"All eighteen of them want to testify"

Do you think they are dangerous?

"I feel we are in a good position. I haven't heard anything that has made me concerned," said Marie Runyon, 91, the oldest of the defendants....

"I did it because of that miserable, illegal war. That son-of-a-b---- never should have started it," Runyon said, referring to President Bush. "I would say it to his face."

In honor of grandmothers on trial in New York for protesting the Iraq war, here are some more pictures of San Francisco Bay Area Grandmothers against the War rallying outside the Oakland Federal building, Monday April 17.

I suppose we have to do this...

Sungroper solar car team with their satellite dish and the world's most remote internet site. Photographer: David Hancock. © SkyScans.

The internet (and its blog subset) has democratized information exchange to an extent that any of us who once reeled out leaflets and published alternative papers could have fantasized about.

Not surprisingly, the corporate vendors of information want to rein in the proles on the loose out there -- or at least find a better way to make money on the internet.

They are proposing, with Congressional help, to introduce a tiered system of net use that will guarantee that the mediocrity of cable television is replicated -- and we'll be nudged over into a "public access" slow lane.

Go learn more and take action here. And if you are feeling creative and want to do more, check this contest out.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

In praise of seemingly futile antiwar vigils

The U.S. antiwar movement is and has been, ineffectual. I write that as someone who helped found War Times/Tiempo de Guerras in 2002 and worked distributing the newspaper through 2004. I write that full of respect for all the many folks who have worked long and hard to cajole, encourage, and rally whatever sanity survives in a United States panic stricken about terrorism. I write that while still encouraging everyone who can to turn out for the April 29 mobilization in New York City. Ineffectual or not, we still have a job to do and even a majority on our side whose voices have not been heeded by our rulers.

But today I want to celebrate the little mobilizations -- the tiny little weekly vigils that have created a steady, continuing antiwar presence in cities across the country. The movement has waxed and waned, but some folks have simply stood their ground, week after week, at intersections, in front of post offices, outside recruiting offices, carrying the message that "peace is the right way; peace is possible."

Helena Cobban recently described how years of taking part in such a vigil gave her hope:

It's been an interesting experience, standing there throughout the years, seeing the seasons turn....

I would say that throughout 2006 so far, the amount of anti-war honking has increased in an almost linear way, week by week.

On several occasions throughout the past couple of years, my friend and co-vigiller Heather has said to me, "Helena, I can't believe we're still here. Don't tell me we'll still be here this time next year!" And I've always said to her, "Heather, expect to be here for the very long haul." Heather wasn't there yesterday. But as I peered into every car that passed trying to establish eye contact and see who all these people were who were honking for us, I suddenly thought, "Hey, maybe we won't have to be here this time next year. ..."

I don't know if Helena is right. She'd be the first to say she doesn't know either. The Bushies' saber rattling toward Iran suggests she may be horribly wrong.

But I think she catches what these persistent little demonstrations do for the peace movement: they provide a focus for our need for hope in our work for peace. Since 2001, the U.S. peace movement has been in a bind: it is easy and appropriate to name the United States as an international villain, a rogue elephant. But with who or what can the peace movement claim to stand? Certainly not with the current official enemy state, Iran. Not with the fundamentalist-ruled client governments we've imposed on Iraq and Afghanistan. Not with Muqtada al-Sadr or Mahmood Ahmadinejad, or even most of the Iraqi "resistance." Maybe some peace activists can stand with the emerging populisms in Latin America, but those countries are far from where the U.S. is currently throwing its military might around.

The persistent little vigils are an attempt to locate that vital "something to be for" in our own communities, as vigillers together with each other and as parts of the larger web of life that characterizes our towns and cities. Regularity creates familiarity and, gradually, disarms some hostility. Mere tenacity draws attention to alternative visions. The vigil becomes a part of the landscape, not only of the vigillers, but also for the whole community. This is not dramatic, but it keeps the possibility of peace on the agenda. That is a lot in these difficult times.

For a pretty extensive list of local vigils (93), see the United for Peace and Justice events calendar.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday bird blogging:
Crissy Field, San Francisco

After months of rain, Northern California is beginning to dry out. So is this cormorant.

The marsh is a little delicate. It requires a lot of human intervention to keep it a marsh. I remember when it was a vacant lot, sometimes used for parking. As I walk by, I think about global warming -- this won't be a marsh in 50 years if climate change predictions are correct. It will be underwater.

This guy just needs to keep his feet on the bottom as he stalks by.

Perhaps she needs land to nest? I should learn more about herons.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Crashing the Gate:
Remembering how the Dems matter

This is a good book. For those of us who hang around liberal political blogs like MyDD and DailyKos, a lot of what Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga have to say may seem old news. Yeah, we know that Republicans are smart, determined, fully funded, unscrupulous, corrupt liars who manipulate fundamentalist suckers to gain power, that the bought-off and bought-up mainstream media let them get away with it, that the Democratic Party is in thrall to loser political consultants and Beltway bubble-dwellers. ...Yadayadayada. ... Nothing new to see here. But, of course, there are lots of folks for whom this diagnosis of our political woes, cogently explained, is news. So hooray for Jerome and Markos.

What Crashing the Gate did for me was not so much teach me anything new as remind me of things I've learned in long years of activism. A few follow.

Ordinary politics, power politics, and ideological politics
Ordinary Politics is an unpleasant necessity that many citizens will only stick a toe into in the hope that this will enable them to go back to the real business of living -- family, love and leisure -- enjoying a modicum of peace and security. Ordinary Politics people think those of us who live and breathe activism are nuts, irritating nuts. They are at least 85 percent of everyone in a stable society. It takes something close to disaster to get them engaged; George W. Bush's regime might just do that.

Then there are power politics people. Power politics people love the mechanics of getting and holding power. These days, Karl Rove is the prototypical power politics guy, but a decade ago the guy was Dick Morris or James Carville. Lots of us on the blogs are power politics people. We want to rebuild a Democratic Party and we get our rocks off sticking it to the other side. We enjoy jostling for position in party committees and campaign organizations. Jerome and Markos seem to me to be representative of a new generation of power politics people whose mission at this time is to replace previous generations of Democratic movers and shakers. Goodness knows, it's time for Bob Shrum et al. to go -- give'em a good kick guys. Power politics folks are probably 5-7 percent of everyone, rare birds indeed.

Just as rare, also maybe 5-7 percent of everybody, are ideological politics people. These folks want power, but unlike the power politics people, they focus on what that power is for, often to the detriment of being smart about how to get it. Ideological politics people give the Dems their values. They are the conscience of the party, demanding that it stand for economic, racial and gender equity, that its policies contribute to building international law and planetary sustainability.

To the power politics people, the ideological politics people are often a damn nuisance. Jerome and Markos take this line, labeling them obstructive "special interests." This is over doing it, repeating a staple of right wing spin (something these authors are quick to criticize when others do it.) Women and working people are not "special interests"; along with (and as members of) the racial minority communities, they are the Democratic Party. Some of the policy positions that the institutions of the women's movement and the labor movement elaborated back when Democrats were the party of government may need some reframing to suit current (abysmal) social conditions. But without the progressive ideological orientation brought by the ideological types, there is no good reason for most people to put any energy into the hard struggle to win power from the Republicans. The ideological politics people don't give a damn about the Democratic Party as such, they just want their policy aims enacted. If Democrats aren't there for them, they go home or wander off and become Greens.

(For a cautionary tale of what happens when the power politics people completely remake a formerly progressive party solely to create a vehicle to win and hold power, have a look at Tony Blair and New Labour over in Britain. Sure they keep winning Parliamentary majorities, but to what end? To do away with democracy, civil liberties and the social safety net? To act the part of Bush' poodle? Try reading "Hollowing out of the Labour Party" to get a taste of this.)

Obviously, my sympathies are with the ideological politics folks, though since I actually work in campaigns, I can think of many moments when I wanted wring the necks of my more purist comrades. No, I don't think taking out the recycling is as important as getting the phone bank started. Real world politics is a messy business.

A Democrat by default only
Above all, Crashing the Gate reminded me that I am only a Democrat by necessity. One of the surreal by-products of out current proto-fascist situation is that all oppositionists have had to hang together, the potential cost of wandering apart looking too great to risk. In 2004 we even had antiwar activists working to elect Kerry, while Kerry was prescribing "more troops to Iraq." In the midst of such insanity, it is all too easy to start thinking that the Democratic Party is a real entity to which one has a real allegiance. But that's simply not the case for most of the political actors I just described. The power politics people will usually hold the reins of a big tent outfit like the Dems. But what they value is the reins, not the party itself. The rest of us have other interests.

That's not a bad thing, just a reality. In our current political straits we have no choice but to try to rebuild the Democratic Party as vehicle for change. It is an odd vocation for about 87 percent of us, but there it is. Thanks to CTG for some useful ideas on how to get it done.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

They want to go to college

Recently I spend a couple of pleasant hours reading entries in the Save Me a Spot in College contest organized by the Campaign for College Opportunity.

The Campaign, run by my friend Abdi Soltani, wants the public to know that higher education is in trouble. It aims to get the state to recognize that the goal, adopted in the 1960 California Master Plan for Education, of providing a path to college for every qualified student is about to crash off a cliff. Unless something is done, over the next decade 1.8 million young people will be turned away by the state's overburdened higher education system. One million three hundred thousand of those potential students will be locked out of the community colleges that were supposed to accommodate all high school graduates. Already the situation is pretty dire: even if a kid can make or raise the money to pay for tuition, books and fees, she may not be able to get into the classes she needs or even have a chance to meet with an over-booked counselor for help in navigating the maze.

The Campaign seeks to encourage efficiency at the colleges, but, as importantly, asks the legislature for a predictable, reliable funding stream, and the schools for predictable tuition schedules. They trust young people will find a way, but only if given a clear path.

The contest offered students in grades 6-12 a chance to win scholarship money by answering the question, "why should California leaders save you and your peers a spot in college?" Entries could take the form of written work, posters or TV ads. The response was overwhelming: the Campaign received 6000 written entries.

Somebody had to read all these papers -- that's where a cadre of readers, including me, came in. Every entry got at least one full reading. I'm sure the winners will get multiple passes by different readers.

My batch of 50 was fascinating: these kids all believe firmly that college is the way out of poverty and very unpleasant employment, if any. Their picture of the bad job awaiting the chump who doesn't go to college is "flipping burgers." Many speak of wanting to make their parents, often immigrants who didn't have a chance at college, proud of them. They also want not to have to work as hard as their parents -- college is a way to escape the deadening round of multiple, minimum wage jobs that they see the adults in their families working.

Their interest in college seems to be entirely vocational -- only one of the 50 suggested that college would be "fun" and only one suggested that by going to college he'd be able to give more to the state as a citizen. Perhaps my batch was skewed; it seemed to me that a majority of their career plans seemed to be in medical or health related fields. Three wanted to be veterinarians. Three others, one a girl, hoped that college would enable them to become professional soccer players. Apparently we are not raising linebackers and shortstops these days.

Let's hope we adults can give them the opportunities they want so much.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Odds and ends: alternative possibilities

Grandmothers Against the War carry their message to the Oakland federal building, April 17

Despite wars and rumors of wars, all is not lost. This post touches on a few hints at saner potential futures, in the spirit of the little local demonstration pictured above.
  • The forced pregnancy forces may have over-reached by passing their abortion ban in South Dakota. In addition to facing a referendum there, the strong negative popular reaction has legislators elsewhere trying to duck the issue. Talk to Action has a round up.
  • I'm always interested in juries. I've seen serving on them bring out good stuff in quite ordinary people. A recent study suggests that jurors deliberate more carefully and thoughtfully when the panel contains persons of different races.

    "I think the traditional perception about diversity is that [it] is going to be a good thing because African Americans will bring something novel to the table," said Sam Sommers, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Tufts University and the study's author. Although that's true, he said, "a lot of the results of this study come from white jurors acting differently when they were in diverse groups."

    In short, Sommers said, diversity appears to help members of a group think more deeply and clearly.

    "I think the argument could be made that in a homogeneous group, where everyone is like us, it's easy to be a little lazier, and take those cognitive shortcuts," he said. "Diversity seems to be one potential way to shake us out of that, and to attend more carefully to our surroundings."

    How's that for a quick way to make people smarter? Stick 'em in with people of other races. I wish the study had also examined how juries with more than two races worked, but hey, not everywhere can yet enjoy the demographic mix we do here on the Left Coast. California, and all the other increasingly diverse states, can be expected to thrive.
  • Some may find this obvious, but I hadn't thought of it: Lester R. Brown proposes that, instead of taxing income, we should be taxing environmentally destructive activities, like burning coal and, yes, driving cars. As it stands, we have a very poor understanding of what our current lifestyle actually costs society. If the social cost of smoking were included in the price of cigarettes, a pack would run $7.18. A gallon of gas, taxed so as to cover the social cost of burning it, would run $11. On the other hand, our income taxes would drop dramatically as social burdens would be paid for at the point of consumption. I know -- driving addicts would never stand for it. But opponents should think about this:

    Accounting systems that do not tell the truth can be costly. Faulty corporate accounting systems that leave costs off the books have driven some of the world's largest corporations into bankruptcy. The risk with our faulty global economic accounting system is that it so distorts the economy that it could one day lead to economic decline and collapse.

    If we can get the market to tell the truth, then the world can avoid being blindsided by faulty accounting systems that lead to bankruptcy. As Oystein Dahle, former Vice President of Exxon for Norway and the North Sea, has pointed out: "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth."

    Something to think about.
  • Meanwhile, our idiot President may be considering nuking Iran's idiot president (and a lot of other people) thereby plunging us all into WWIII, but it is nice to read something moderately sensible about Iranian nuclear plans coming from an Israeli source, Zvi Bar'el in Ha'aretz. According to Bar'el, after a life spent trying to prevent proliferation of nukes, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has concluded it can't be done. Apparently he has concluded that

    nearly any country, of any size, that wants to be a nuclear power can become one.

    [ElBaradei proposes] to create a bank of fissionable material that can be internationally monitored and from which "worthy" countries can withdraw what they need for peaceful purposes. ... ElBaradei's proposal is, in effect, "anti-sanctions," and an attempt to encourage cooperation instead of threats. One can almost imagine the finger at the temple, turning in the internationally recognizable sign for a crazy idea. After all, how can one offer Iran "positive incentives" after it has already fired the opening shot in the nuclear arms race, and particularly while it is headed by a "zealous," "illogical," leader who might be crazy and uncontrolled?

    The answer to this is simple: The United States has already begun negotiating with Iran about Iraq.... it is not semantic logic that will decide, but rather the understanding that there is nobody right now who can attack Iran, and provide reasonable solutions to the dilemmas that such an attack would awaken.

    I'm not at all sure ANY country ought to be trying to manage "peaceful" fissionable material, but the world does need a way out of the trap its mad men are leaving us into.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Neil Lewis mentions the unmentionable

From the New York Times today:

As the jury considered whether Mr. Moussaoui, the only person to be charged in an American courtroom with the Sept. 11 plot, was involved in it enough to serve as a proxy for the 19 hijackers who died that day, no one mentioned an obvious issue. What about the involvement of those who gave testimony about the plot who are in American custody? Why aren't they on trial?

The answer, not shared with the jury, is that those Qaeda officials, who include another financier and the man who was supposed to be the 20th hijacker, are being held overseas in the Central Intelligence Agency's secret prison system and have been subjected to interrogation techniques that would make it difficult to bring them to trial.

How are "we" any different from "they," if our "legal" rituals permit torture and unverified "evidence"? Not that different, just slower, more punctilious, at least in public.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Earthquake story:
Dorothy Day recalled "a great noise that became louder and louder"

Dorothy Day with her daughter, circa 1932. From the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University .
Dorothy Day (1897-1980), along with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933. As Laurence Downes recently summarized the tenets of this enduring human experiment in the New York Times:

Members still dedicate themselves to voluntary poverty, nonviolence and hard work. They make soup, give away coats, visit prisoners and the sick, protest against war and publish a newspaper that sells, as it did in the 1930's, for a penny.

Before converting to Catholicism, Dorothy was a journalist and something of a leftist, campaigning against U.S. participation in the great "capitalist war," (World War I) and for women's votes. Her subsequent writings in books and the Catholic Worker newspaper had as a primary aim, always, to share the delight and freedom she found in her encounter with the Christ; what made her such an engaging writer and thinker was that her evangelism was always embodied in vivid descriptions of mundane practicalities.

Dorothy was also the only person I knew well who lived through the 1906 earthquake, in her case as an eight year old in Oakland. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the quake, it seems right to share her story. This autobiographical account appears in The Long Loneliness, still in print and available.

We did not search for God when we were children. We took Him for granted....

[As a young child,] as soon as I closed my eyes at night the blackness of death surrounded me, I believed and yet was afraid of nothingness. What would it be like to sink into that immensity? If I fell asleep God became in my ears a great noise that became louder and louder, and approached nearer and nearer to me until I woke up sweating with fear and shrieking for my mother. ...

Even as I write this, I am wondering if I had these nightmares before the San Francisco earthquake or afterward. The very remembrance of the noise which kept getting louder and louder, and the keen fear of death, makes me think now that it might have been due to the earthquake. And yet we left Oakland almost at once afterward, since my father's newspaper job was gone when the plant went up in flames...I remember these dreams only in connection with California....

Another thing I remember about California was the joy of doing good, of sharing whatever we had with others after the earthquake, an event that threw us out of our complacent happiness into a world of catastrophe.

It happened early in the morning and it lasted two minutes and twenty seconds, as I heard everyone say afterward. My father was a sports editor of one of the San Francisco papers. There was a racetrack near our bungalow and stables where my father kept a horse. He said that the night before had been a sultry one and the horses were restless, neighing and stamping in their stalls, becoming increasingly nervous and panicky.

The earthquake started with a deep rumbling and the convulsions of the earth started afterward, so that the earth became a sea that rocked our house in a most tumultuous manner. There was a large windmill and water tank in back of the house and I can remember the splashing of the water from the tank on the top of the roof.

My father took my brothers from their beds and rushed to the front door, where my mother stood with my sister, whom she had snatched from beside me. I was left in a big brass bed, which rolled back and forth on a polished floor. ...

When the earth settled, the house was a shambles, dishes broken all over the floor, books out of their bookcases, chandeliers down, chimneys fallen, the house cracked from the roof to ground. But there was no fire in Oakland. The flames and cloudbank of smoke could be seen across the bay and all the next day the refugees poured over by ferry and boat. Idora Park and the racetrack made camping grounds for them. All the neighbors joined my mother in serving the homeless. Every stitch of available clothes was given away.

All the day following the disaster there were more tremblings of the earth and there was fear in the air. ...As soon as possible we pulled out for the East.

Dorothy's account of the terror of that shaker does unsettle my complacent expectation that the earth will always sit solidly, doing its job of holding the city upright. One day it may not, but there is no knowing when. I find I can't hold the thought. I'm glad I don't have a professional responsibility for trying to get people to prepare for the unimaginable.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Stations of the Cross
From the Castro to the Mission

Many Christians mark Good Friday, the commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus, by meditating and praying over the events of his last day alive, a ritual referred to as "the stations of the cross." Members of Most Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church, St. Francis Lutheran Church, and the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist joined in a "stations" walk yesterday from San Francisco's very gay Castro district to the heavily Latino Mission district. They stopped to pray and give thanks in front of a series of community serving institutions and monuments. It was an interesting walk between cultures.

Across the street from Most Holy Redeemer, Coming Home Hospice opened in 1987 to serve the casualties of the AIDS epidemic when HIV infection was still very much a "gay disease." Though today drug treatments keep many AIDS patients alive longer, the facility still is deeply embedded in the gay community.

The next stop was outside the office of the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC) where we got a salutary reality check. No one had alerted LYRIC that the Christians were coming! Staff emerged nervously, wondering if they were confronting fundamentalist exorcists. Not exactly, in this very gay Christian crowd. Nonetheless, the nervous smiles of the LYRIC staff should not have been a surprise to us, as we LGBT folks do still sometimes have to bear being treated as agents of pollution.

After a few more, cautious, stops in the Castro, we walked downhill into the Mission. Fr. John Kirkley of St. Johns remarked: "now we'll get to where people don't think we have horns."

He was right. I alerted the bored security person, a young Latino guy, at the Women's Building that we would be out front. He didn't bat an eye; processing Christians were fine with him. There was a time when our reception might not have been so casual. In the 1980s, someone threatened by the founding of a women's building bombed the front entrance.

Soon we worked our way down Valencia Street, past the Mission police station, Centro Del Pueblo, and the new Valencia Gardens housing project, finishing at St. Johns. Here, a Good Friday procession might look odd to the young Anglo migrants who flock to the cheap housing. But to the homeless, we were just some plausible potential marks to panhandle. And to local Latinos steeped in the observances of Semana Santa, we were simply an appropriate sign of spring.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Aliens on the land

We asked the young man carrying the cross at the immigrant march last Monday who the person named on it was. He explained softly: "Marco Antonio Villaseñor died crossing the desert."

Although no one really knows for sure, the LA Times reports that the toll of persons dying out there keeps rising. Militarization of the border does not stem the flow of people, but it does increase the human and monetary cost to migrants.

The cost of a coyote, or human smuggler, to bring people into the U.S. has risen from $143 in 1993 to more than $2,000 today. Deaths during crossings soared to a record 460 last year.

Meanwhile, the number of Mexican-born residents living in the U.S. jumped sharply after the border buildup began, census data show.

Felix Lopez's experience shows why. The Phoenix construction worker easily entered the United States illegally in 1995, and didn't go back to Mexico until his mother died last year. After a harrowing three-day crossing through the Arizona desert — during which he said he heard voices of people who had died on earlier treks — he vowed never to return to Mexico. "I'm not doing it again," Lopez said of the journey.

And so militarization accomplishes the contradictory result of forcing persons who might go back to Mexico to stay in the U.S.

In Tucson, the religious and humanitarian campaign No More Deaths is concluding a 40 day Lenten and Passover fast for justice "in remembrance of the lives claimed along our border and in protest of the policies that cause these deaths."

Two No More Deaths volunteers, Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz, are being prosecuted by the U.S. Border Patrol for medically evacuating 3 people in critical condition from the 105-degree Arizona desert in July 2005.

During this Holy Week, I am reading The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, a day by day account of Jesus' final days. It is a wonderful book -- a reminder of how radically subversive Jesus' good news is for us, and for all principalities and powers.

But in today's context, the authors' reference to a Hebrew bible text jumped out at me. In Leviticus 25:23, God says:

...for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.

How dare we who merely have short term tenancy on some of the land deny it to others who are also aliens along with us?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Family seder

A commenter at Street Prophets observed that the Passover seder is a ritual of "freedom, family, and food." That seems a good concise description of this celebration of the journey from slavery to liberation.

Last night I once again had the privilege of attending a seder with much of my lesbian family. We're a pretty mixed bag in some ways -- and in other ways not mixed at all. We're all white, middle aged, economically comfortable. Though a majority are Jewish, only a bare majority grew up with much religious practice in their homes. Several of us are Christians, but we too are family.

Our opening song, sung to the tune of "Take me out to the ballgame," sets a rollicking tone.

Take me out to the Seder
Take me out with the crowd.
Feed me on matzah and chicken legs,
I don't care for the hard-boiled eggs....
And lets, root, root, root for the leader
That [s]he will finish [her] spiel
So we can nosh, nosh, nosh and by-gosh
Let's eat the meal!!!

But the seder is also a serious matter. Some of our members are among the brave women who have worked long and hard to move an appreciation of women's full equality into more mainstream Jewish practice. They are comfortable mixing old and new. The new rituals are there, including an orange placed on the seder plate and setting out Miriam's cup as well as Elijah's.

The elements of the tradition are also there: the lighting of the candles, the Hebrew blessings of the symbolic foods and drink, the retelling of the Exodus story: how God, through Moses, led the Hebrews out of Egypt and out of slavery. This group of women knows we've experienced more liberation ourselves than we once imagined possible -- and we try to remember that the struggle for freedom is never altogether won. The Haggadah reminds us:

Of the generation who left Egypt, only two of them lived to enter the land of Israel. The process of liberation takes time -- we are still working on it.

Not only was it necessary to take the Jews out of Egypt; it was also necessary to take Egypt out of the Jews.

Rabbi Hanoch of Alexandria said:
The real exile of Israel in Egypt was that they learned to endure it.

We are conscious of the many who still languish in various forms of bondage, this week especially immigrant workers in our land. For many of us, the most poignant moment of this ritual is when we remember the women, family, friends and mentors, who have come before us.

And then to food and drink; this crowd is amicably split between California red wine imbibers, Manischewitz traditionalists, and grape juice fanciers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Good riddance

Sign at immigration march, April 10, 2006

In all the excitement about the immigrant marches in the U.S. cities this week, there has often been no clear statement of what was wrong with the "reform" legislation that died in the Senate last Friday. The House bill, HR4437, is clearly a punitive nativist wet dream, criminalizing all the undocumented and even those who assist them. But the Senate bill was a more complicated animal.

Harold Meyerson describes the Senate effort succinctly in the Washington Post:

Indeed, the deterioration last week of the workable and balanced bill that emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee was so rapid that it left the immigrant, business and labor groups that had supported the committee's bill confused and divided over how to proceed. Where the committee's bill had established a clear path to legalization for America's undocumented, the bill that was coming to a vote on the floor was unworkable and nearly incomprehensible. Illegal immigrants here for more than five years could stay and become citizens; those in the States for between two and five years would have to return to a designated border checkpoint to be recertified and readmitted by the Citizenship and Immigration Services; those here for less than two years would have to go.

For this system to work, immigrants would have to produce employment records from employers many of whom hired them partly to avoid having to keep employment records. They would have to produce utility bills for apartments they shared with a dozen co-workers. And the CIS would have to perform at a level of efficiency it has never even contemplated. In the end, millions of immigrants now underground would remain underground....

If these guys had written the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they would have tried to preserve segregation.

That is, the bill was becoming a recipe for going from bad to worse, creating incomprehensible and unenforceable multiple tiers of "legality," and very likely leading to more intimidation and exploitation of workers. It deserved to die and let's hope Ted Kennedy does not help resurrect some terrible "compromise."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


On the march for immigrant rights and dignity, April 10, 2006

"A community that had essentially been trying to remain invisible suddenly concluded that their invisibility was only making them more vulnerable."

Frank Sharry
Executive director of the National Immigration Forum, April 8, 2006


"We have Arab men disappearing from the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. No one hears from them. No one hears about them. They're arrested and they disappear. Is it secret evidence? Whose secret is this? Why? What's going on? We'd like to know."

Samia Halaby
from Al-Awda (Palestinian Right to Return Coalition), 2001


"Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you've lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices. It isn't happening to them. They're walking the streets as though we weren't living through some sort of nightmare. And only you can hear the screams of the people who are dying and their cries for help. No one else seems to be noticing."

Vito Russo
ACT-UP co-founder, 1988


"It was a theme repeated often by marchers and speakers at the afternoon parade and rally, which capped weeks of dialogue and vehement opposition to the march.

Parade organizers estimated the crowd at about 10,000, although others said that the crowd looked significantly smaller. About 25 protesters showed up at the end of the parade route, still in their Sunday church clothes. As they chanted 'Repent' and waved Bibles high in the air, the marchers chanted back:

'We're here. We're queer. Get used to it.'"

Winston Salem Journal, 1996


"A boisterous, mostly Hispanic crowd of almost 400 added Mount Vernon to the list of cities nationwide where people rallied Monday against proposed immigration reforms.

'Aqui estamos y no nos vamos!' the crowd chanted in Spanish at passing traffic on the corner of Kincaid and S. Third streets, in front of the Skagit County administrative campus.

Translated, it means, 'Here we are, and we're not leaving!'"

The Herald, Washington State April 11, 2006

Also marching for immigrant rights and dignity, April 10, 2006

Monday, April 10, 2006

Immigrant Unity Press Conference, San Francisco

Today at noon, while so many thousands marched in other cities, the Deporten La Migra Coalition invited the press to 24th and Mission, the heart of immigrant San Francisco. Our march is tonight, after work. Meanwhile, the folks who led the immigrant hunger strike against HR4437 had a message: UNITY.
  • Unity in opposition to any partial legalization legislation that would create different tiers of rights for immigrants.
  • Unity in demanding a path to citizenship for all who want it and the same rights and protections enjoyed by anyone else in the country.
  • Unity between the various communities of immigrants.
The various communities were certainly represented.
2juanvaldivida 3NienkeSchou

4jayjasperpugao 5eloiseLee

6charlene- 7bisharaconstandi

The need for unity is great. N.C. Aizenman wrote a perceptive article in the Sunday Washington Post on the emerging immigrant civil rights movement that raised some important issues:

They face the challenge of appealing to a population that is divided economically, racially and by national origin, a fact that has perplexed marketing and political strategists alike....

[Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum] said activism could be undermined if legislation similar to the Senate proposal ever finds its way into law. "I suspect a lot people will start busying themselves with getting on the path to legal permanent residence, and that could take the political momentum out of [the movement]." ...

"Without a Dr. King-like figure, we lack the capacity to create that personal connection, not just within our own community but with folks on the outside," said Cecilia Munoz, vice president of policy for National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group. "Someone with that kind of visibility is really useful in terms of educating people."...

Although there is no identifiable leader to reconcile the inevitable fractures that have emerged as so many groups try to harmonize their activities, [Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles] said the decentralized nature of the movement also has an advantage.

"There's no one leader who could disappear and affect the movement," she said. "Instead, you have all these local communities with their own independent local leaders."

Today's press conference certainly showcased the local leadership and diversity of local Bay Area immigrant communities. The speakers pictured above were Latino, Filipino, Palestinian, African-descended, and European (Dutch).

U.S. citizens who have been here awhile can forget what newcomers bring with them: the ones who come are tough survivors. They are often quite sophisticated members of their home societies. Many have experience of hard, dangerous political struggle under authoritarian regimes. We are enriched, over and over, by their determination and moral clarity.

And as the speakers today reminded any who could hear: the young people of these communities are our future.
8childclapping 9child,peru!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Phone banking's future
Using an online database to call voters

The other night I was talking with someone I mentored into election work. I was bloviating about how web-hosted databases were going to change all of what we do field campaigns, how the lists would be much more accurate (having been cross-referenced with commercial data) and we'd do our phone banks from lists on computer screens. Why we might be able to use volunteers from home....

"Have you done it?" she asked.

"Well, no..." So this afternoon I spent a short time phoning for Francine Busby, a Democrat running for Congress in a special election in southern California, via Political Action.

This technology requires uninterrupted web access (almost certainly broadband) and the concurrent ability to dial phone numbers.

I signed up online with Move-On to make 15 calls and immediately got a confirmation email. (Click on any of these images to see a large screen shot.)

When I "clicked to start calling" I arrived at a script training screen on which I could pretend that I had made the call and click through the various options so I knew what to do if the phone number was wrong, if there was an answering machine, or (hip hip hooray!) I "reached a voter."

I also had access to an online video of someone using the script (didn't watch it) and a full written page of instructions:

Although Move-On's recruitment had been for GOTV calls to identified Busby supporters, those easy calls had all been done, so the phoning had reverted to ID calls to voters whose preference was unknown. That is, we were trying to find more Busby voters so they could be reminded to turn out on Tuesday.

The first call screen provided a number to call -- and a lot of options if you didn't reach the voter (the normal experience in most election phoning). I've obscured voter identities on these screen shots.

If I reached a voter, I saw this:

If the voter's choice was anyone but Busby or they had already voted, I was to thank them and end the call.

If the person reached was a Busby voter, I clicked to this screen:

After holding the conversation, I was to give the voter their polling place information

I made my 15 calls very quickly -- it helps to have long ago learned that if you don't ever put the receiver down, you get through faster. Somewhat to my astonishment, I had only one definite wrong number and one answering machine that led me to believe I had another. I made 5 actual contacts and found 1 Busby voter, 1 Roach voter, 2 already voted, 1 decline to state. These voters must not be experiencing a deluge of phone calls; they didn't seem annoyed and replied to my politeness with their politeness.

Another, clickable Move-On screen let me know how we phoners were doing:

At the end, Move-On signed me out by trying to sign me up for another shift and collecting my demographics: sex, age, and race.

It was a very pleasant experience. I particularly liked that every screen gave me the easily read name of the person I was talking with; that can get to be a problem for punch-drunk callers using paper lists. I'm sure I'll be doing something very like it again, not as a test of the technology, but in the heat of a campaign battle.