Archive for the 'human rights' Category

lunch counter protests – Civil Rights, Rand Paul and faces and actions to remember

Friday, May 21st, 2010

(via A Short and Incomplete Civil Rights History)

I’d never seen this image of students staging a sit-in at a lunch counter in 1960s Mississippi before today but it brought tears to my eyes – both at the gloating, self-satisfied glee of some of the people pouring food and drink on the protesters and at the protestors own calm, if pained, dignity (also the blond on the left looks striking like one of our former student interns).

This image was posted at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish as part of an on-going discussion of Rand Paul’s recent comments against the Civil Rights Act. As always, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ thoughts on the matter are well worth reading as well.

Like others I’m just staggered that someone who opposes the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Fair Housing Act has been elected in this country and has any place on the national stage. It’s easy to become disheartened and to look around and see the embrace of hates, prejudices and bigotries as a cancer in this country (and other countries) – to see the faces of those men in that picture pouring food and drink on other human beings (or just looking on) repeated in contemporary politics. I have to remember too the faces of those three protestors in that crowd – their incredible dignity and strength; their justness and their cause; their willingness to act for what they believe – and to remember that this exists now too.

Mandela and Biko (music and social justice)

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Last week was the 20th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela and so I found myself listening to the Special AKA song “Free Nelson Mandela” from 1984 quite a few times.

(Unfortunately I can’t find an embeddable version of the fantastic original video).

While that song is buoyant and energetic and new listens contain the additional joy of knowing Mandela was eventually freed and went on to have a strong and positive influence in South Africa it always makes me think of its mournful, (both in tone and in the story it tells), counterpart: Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” from 1980.

(some of the images in the above video are from the 1987 movie “Cry Freedom” with Denzel Washington. This video has the audio from the movie clips over the song. I recommend watching it as it gives an idea of how powerfully moving the movie was).

Steven Biko was a contemporary of Mandela’s and though both worked for the freedom of their country and the dignity of their people Biko supported non-violent measures of protest while Mandela supported an armed struggle (though Mandela was an advocate for peace and reconciliation after his release). Biko more the Martin Luther King to Mandela’s Malcolm X in a way. I remember watching “Cry Freedom” on TV and being stunned by Steven Biko’s story, his bravery and the realization that such conditions continued to exist at that time. I remember around that same time too the song “Sun City” by musicians who refused to play in apartheid South Africa. I know I owe a lot of my introduction to contemporary social justice to music and, oddly, MTV. I think it was a time of real social awakening for me, the realization that the struggle for justice and political action were ongoing, contemporary, active issues and not just a part of history like stories of Harriet Tubman, WWII or the American Civil Rights movement (how sheltered/ignorant was I, eh?).

Howard Zinn – a marvelous victory

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

I was very sorry to read that Howard Zinn died last week. He was a compassionate man with an immense passion for justice and fairness.

I remember in the days after the 2004 election feeling overwhelmed and full of despair. Zinn’s essay, the Optimism of Uncertainty, not only reassured me but spurred me to expect and act for change. It affected my life in a modest but very powerful way and over the years I have been repeatedly grateful for and tried to do my part to help to spread the message.

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

…it’s clear that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience–whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just….

Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope.

An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

The Optimism of Uncertainty

Things I read today (“I am compelled. I would turn away, if I could”)

Monday, August 17th, 2009

I am not fascinated. I am compelled. I would turn away, if I could.

– Ta-Nehisi Coates on his studies of the Civil War

This is how I feel. When I think about Iran, when I think about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, when I think about Katrina (my first post on this blog), this is how I feel.

serious, earnest and informative (Iran, humor and pumpkin pie)

Saturday, June 27th, 2009


(started on IRC):
I did it again – just totally couldn’t take the joke. I should be aware by now that the inclusion of the word “Iran” (or “Iraq”) in any conversation immediately shuts off any humor receptors in my brain.* My eyes go glassy, I sit up very straight, start spouting statistics and referencing web sites. I am serious, earnest and _painfully_ informative. I’ve got a disproportionate amount of data, passion and desire to talk about this (not just about videos of a young woman dying on the street or politics, but technology, humanity, connection, history, etc. etc) compared to just about anyone I speak to in my every day world (and I admit, it feels very lonely).

It occured to me after I launched into another unechoed allocution on the topic that I might need to come up with an equivalent code phrase to the one used by Summer Glau’s brother in Serenity when she hears a trigger word, goes nuts in the bar and starts wailing on everyone – which he says to make her fall asleep. Something like “pumpkin pie” maybe?

* ok, that’s not totally true. trevlix on twitter has been consistently awesome and pointed and funny.

* and I love that this gesture looks both “V for Victory” with small bits of the Brit “get stuffed” gesture

Things I read today (Pharyngula on torture/description of waterboarding)

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

From the science blog Pharyngula

When the US government announces it’s support for torture, they aren’t talking about intelligence gathering: they are simply saying “Fear us.” They are taking the first step on the road to tyranny.

The real problem is that fear isn’t a good tool to use in a democratic society. We are supposed to be shareholders in our government; when a process of oppression is endorsed by our legislators and president, we should recognize that they are trying to set themselves apart from the ordinary citizenry, and it’s time to rebel…before the goon squads come to your neighborhood. Anyone who supports torture is a traitor to the democratic form of government, and should be voted out of office, if not impeached.

Despite it’s tag line, Pharyngula is not just a science blog, it is one of the most consistently interesting of all the blogs I read; taking on, sometimes with humor sometimes with righteous anger, anyone who tries to dress up woolly-headededness, deliberate ignorance, lies or fabrications of any kind as truth.

Myers earlier cited a description of how water-boarding feels from Straight Dope’s message boards which is shocking and a telling refutation to any person or government who would try to twist words and phrases to suggest the practice is anything but deliberate and horrible torture.

I have never been more panicked in my whole life. Once your lungs are empty and collapsed and they start to draw fluid it is simply all over. You know you are dead and it’s too late. Involuntary and total panic…

So, is it torture?

I’ll put it this way. If I had the choice of being waterboarded by a third party or having my fingers smashed one at a time by a sledgehammer, I’d take the fingers, no question.

It’s horrible, terrible, inhuman torture. I can hardly imagine worse. I’d prefer permanent damage and disability to experiencing it again. I’d give up anything, say anything, do anything.

Irate thoughts on prisoner ‘news stories’

Monday, June 11th, 2007

At first I was just annoyed, I tried the theory that if people just stopped talking about her, she’d go away, but then slowly, the continuing media frenzy around spoiled, rich girl drunk-driver Paris Hilton, started to enrage me. Juan Cole offers a stinging reality check in his blog entry Paris Hilton & Iraqi Prisoners.

The US military is holding 19000 Iraqis, 16000 of them at Bucca. Although most are guerrillas or their helpers, a lot of them were picked up because they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once arrested, an inmate often cannot clear himself for months or years. I don’t think they have access to attorneys. No one cares if they are depressed. At Abu Ghraib earlier on, some inmates were systematically tortured. It is unclear if all such practices have ceased.

Some Iraqi women have been held in this way. Some were essentially hostages, taken to make them reveal where their husbands or fathers were or to guarantee their good behavior. Their reputations were shot, since Iraqis think Americans are sex fiends and wouldn’t trust the virtue of a woman who had been in their custody. The unmarried among them are likely doomed to be spinsters.

A Guardian article from 2004 gives even more brutal facts about female prisoners:

In Iraq, the existence of photographs of women detainees being abused has provoked revulsion and outrage, but little surprise. Some of the women involved may since have disappeared, according to human rights activists…

Honour killings are not unusual in Islamic society, where rape is often equated with shame and where the stigma of being raped by an American soldier would, according to one Islamic cleric, be “unbearable”. The prospects for rape victims in Iraq are grave; it is hardly surprising that no women have so far come forward to talk about their experiences in US-run jails where abuse was rife until early January.

It makes me sad, there just have to be more important things to discuss than someone famous for being so privileged.

See: Killing for Honour and

Things I read today (must-do list/letter to the Prime Minister)

Monday, March 5th, 2007

The NY Times has a powerful editorial “must-do list” for the new Democratic majority in Congress. The new Congress is challenged to correct the erosion of ‘founding principles of American democracy’ and ‘assaults on civil liberties.’

The list includes:

  • Restore Habeas Corpus
  • Stop Illegal Spying
  • Ban Torture, Really
  • Account for ‘Ghost Prisoners’
  • Ban Extraordinary Rendition
  • Ban Secret Evidence
  • Respect the Right to Counsel

* ————- *

Another heart-breaking story I read today was of a 9 year old Canadian boy who has been locked up in a Texas detention center with his family (seeking asylum from Iran where the father was arrested and tortured). He wrote a letter to the Prime Minister:

write to your Congressman | Amnesty International | Human Rights Watch

Worth knowing fact #192 – Hints for Wives (shirt-collar)

Sunday, November 12th, 2006

Worth knowing fact #192 – Hints for Wives:

If your husband occasionally looks a little troubled when he comes home, do not say to him, with an alarmed countenance, “What ails you, my dear?” Don’t bother him; he will tell you of his own accord, if need be. Don’t suppose whenever he is silent and thoughtful that you are of course the cause. Let him alone until he is inclined to talk; take up your book or your needlework (pleasantly, cheerfully; no pouting –no sullenness), and wait until he is inclined to be sociable. Don’t let him ever find a shirt-button missing. A shirt-button being off a collar or wrist-band has frequently produced the first hurricane in married life. Men’s shirt-collars never fit exactly –see that your husband’s are made as well as possible, and then, if he does fret a little about them, never mind it; men have a prescriptive right to fret about shirt-collars.

From the excellent “Inquire Within for Anything You Want To Know or Over Three Thousand Seven Hundred Facts Worth Knowing” of 1858.

flags, nations, people, football (4th of July)

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

In Put away the flags Howard Zinn writes:

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

I have thought, when I see “God Bless America” bumper-stickers, that America is fortunate in so many ways, that we have so much, in fact, that we should ask (if one believes in such things) for God’s blessings for other less fortunate countries as well (especially those countries for which we might be in some way involved in their misfortune). I’ve also thought: “there’s a sneezing joke in there somewhere” too, so take whatever I might say on this topic with a grain of salt.

A friend and I once had an interesting conversation about our respective national anthems. He was a bit surprised when I noted that the idea of attachment to the flag (and now that I consider it, something to do with violence or war) is probably largely unconscious but encouraged in the US since the American national anthem is about a flag during and after battle (with maybe the most stirring musical part occurring with lyrics about: ‘the rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air’).

I have a tendency to castigate myself personally on behalf of my country (reinforced at one point by lots of: “I hate the US and think Americans are scary, bible-thumping, jingoistic morons. Uhhh, not you, of course…” talk from people from other countries I was hanging out with at the time). And my instinct is still to think that while celebrating the things for which Americans might be proud that we should also remember the things for which we should, as a nation, be ashamed or outraged (Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Guantanamo, Katrina, etc).

Zinn goes on to note:

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

Another friend, while very much opposed to any kind of racism (except ‘those pommy bastards’), noted that the recent reading of statements against racism at the World Cup games is a bit odd when the whole notion of the games are nation against nation, ethnicity against ethnicity.

That article linked above has a great quote from South African civil rights activist Tokyo Sexwale:

Which football fan of sound mind would want to separate Eto’o and Beckham, Rooney and Drogba or Franz Beckenbauer and Pele?”

Though it is sports-talk, I love the succinctness of this notion that racism and nationalism ultimately fall away when considering that in humans which is wonderful, unique and awe-inspiring. I also love the quote because I thought for a while I’d painted myself in a corner in between Zinn and football and had no idea how to end the entry.