Justice For Trayvon

As I stood on the Higgins Avenue Bridge Monday afternoon with friends and allies in the social justice movement in support of Trayvon Martin, I was horrified at the blatantly racist reactions from the passersby. My hope was that in participating in this demonstration on Monday, I would find some outlet for all the feelings the Zimmerman not-guilty verdict evoked in me as a young black man in America. I was heartened by the turnout for the event, and was moved that as a person of color I was not again forced to represent the whole of my race, but instead was supported by some wonderful allies who organized the event due to their own deeply felt feelings of injustice. During my participation in in the demonstration we received what in my activism in Missoula was a record number of negative responses to our presence and signs on the Higgins Bridge. We had people giving us the thumbs down, the middle finger, folks yelling racist tirades out their windows, etc. I had stood on that bridge for Choice, Healthcare, Marriage Equality, Peace, and many other issues, and never had I been so negatively received.

I had started my day on Monday lying in bed reading various news outlets and blogs discuss the emotional and moral responses to the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. Several of the “facts” surrounding the case I felt were totally irrelevant to this case. So I purposefully avoided any discussions of Trayvon’s past actions, Zimmerman’s level of security, whether or not people were going to riot in response to the ruling, and instead focused on the things I felt were important. How were black people being portrayed in the media? Was the victim of the crime being blamed for his murder? What did society see as an acceptable reason for killing a 17 year old child? I am an organizer for social justice, and have worked my entire career focusing on LGBT rights, racial justice, and women’s rights. This made my focus in this case not surprising…

After hours of anger, frustration, and fear in response to a constant slew of blatant racism disguised as social commentary, I found the outlet for my feelings. Some friends had decided to hold the demonstration in Missoula on the Higgins Bridge. As I prepared for this action, I found that I was having trouble expressing in a sound bite my complex thoughts. More disturbing was my trouble in finding a connection that I felt would resonate with people isolated from the case, thousands of miles away. I felt little distance from this case, as I was profiled, harassed, and threatened as a young black man living all over the country. I had spent several years of my life in FL, and had experienced much of the racism that exists there. But how was I to truncate these feelings and experiences that had created the late twenties black man that I was today? How was I to communicate the urgency and overwhelming despair that had caused me to cry in my kitchen only hours before? Was I allowed to reference explicitly my blackness? Would the mostly white population of Missoula resonate with me if I did?

In organizing we teach that when things get complicated, break them down to the most simple and identifiable elements. You can’t write a dissertation on a piece of foamcore board, even if your message is really important. So I landed on one of the familiar images of a black hoodie, “Justice 4 Trayvon,” and Black Skin + Black Hoodie Does not Equal Criminal. I did not want to attack Zimmerman, hash out the details of the case, or blame any of the players in the trial for a miscarriage of justice. I just wanted to express that I did not feel that the case ultimately ended in placing any responsibility with someone who had for whatever reason ended the life of a child, and that the constant attacks on the clothes that he was wearing, the language that he used, his alleged past indiscretions should all be irrelevant to the ending of his short life by a man who used bad judgment when he willfully exited his car with a firearm after following a child ultimately shooting him.

Many people around the country did not understand why so many of us saw race as an issue in this case. They didn’t understand why in this post-racial America, we need concern ourselves with the race of the perpetrator or the victim. The “unbiased facts” of the events of the evening should reveal the truth without any messy discussion of race relations. The only problem was that for many people of color, the case screamed racial motivation. Even before allegations of Zimmerman’s statements that night, or his passed activity on social networking sites; the narrative was familiar to us. Why? Because we live it all the time.

When I was young, a neighborhood friend of mine asked me to go to a Walgreens with him. He was an overweight white kid from a middle class background, and I a mixed skinny kid from a somewhat lower socioeconomic status. We had lived only a few blocks from each other for years in Rockford,IL. At the time the city’s population was around a quarter of a million people, and there was a definite race problem. I said sure, and we entered the Walgreens. As soon as we entered he said he had to go to the bathroom, and asked me to meet him in the toy aisle. As I walked toward the toy aisle I was immediately followed by the store clerk. I perused the toys, and then went to the candy aisle to grab a few packs of my favorite grape double bubble. My friend was already in the candy aisle, so once I had gathered my purchases, we went to the checkout line, the clerk eyeballing me the whole way. I paid for my gum, after turning out my pockets at the clerk’s request. My friend, who was standing next to me, said he had decided not to get anything, so after my purchase we left. When we got back home, my friend emptied his pockets to reveal his five finger discount purchases. He had liberated toys, cigarettes, and various kinds of his favorite candy. I was horrified, and asked him why he thought it was ok to steal. He replied that he had seen a dateline news episode on racial profiling, and wanted to see if it worked. Obviously it had. This is only one of my experiences with profiling. Since that day early on in my childhood in IL, I would be profiled by many more store clerks, I would be dismissed as stupid by teachers who were entrusted with my education, I would be assumed the assailant and not the victim when I called the police to ensure my safety, accused of stealing property by white friends when things went missing in their homes, ad nauseam.

I was a mouthy skinny black kid, fearless, and “entirely too smart for my britches” as my grandmother used to say. I really could have been Trayvon walking in a community, of mostly white people, with some “creepy ass cracker” following me. If I had been confronted by him, I would likely have responded with indignation at the attack on my basic human dignity, and the continued entitlement of those white people who assume that because I am black I somehow do not belong in the same places they do. And had I felt that my person was in danger, I likely would have fought back.

What saved me in my youth was that I was taught to expect racism, to trust the police but to always have witnesses, and to speak as eloquently as possible when interfacing with white people in authority so that they could identify with me. Growing up with mostly white relatives, I had watched them have positive experiences with the police, and get what they needed from government institutions. My uncles were all firefighters, and I learned early on to trust uniforms. When I was little my grandmother made me memorize the family telephone numbers, and she even sewed an old film canister into my coat to make sure that I would always have them with me. Had I been walking on a FL street I likely would have hung up with my friend, and dialed the police. Told them that there was a creepy dude following me. I might have even asked the dude what he was doing, and if I could help him find anything before I called the police.

What was different for me is that I grew up straddling two worlds. I know that for many black children, the narrative taught to them is not that the police are your friend. For many of them this is bolstered by profiling, harassment, and other barriers to justice. I remember the differences in narratives when I would visit my father’s family who is black, and hear all of the injustice and harassment they had experienced as a part of their daily lives. We did not want to see racism in this case, we couldn’t help but see it.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book some years ago called Blink, and as a student of Political Science, I was subject to pieces of it for years of my college education. In the book, much is made of Harvard’s Implicit Association Test, and for some it is quite the lightning rod. Some point to it to prove that Institutionalized Racism exists, and is alive and well.  For this discussion, the important part of this test is that those that hold these associations like black = bad are not consciously aware of this. It is important to note that this test does not claim to measure a person’s beliefs, only the associations they make about certain groups of people. Any class in the social sciences will likely have some reference to sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism. And without fail there will be students in the class who will deny the current existence of the bias, and state that in this day and age that we are beyond all that, and that “X” special interest group is just hypersensitive to their particular issue. For many, these biases are invisible. They are unaware of why having a jury of primarily white females who have been socialized in this country to fear black males might return a not guilty verdict when the defendant is a white male seen as the legitimate authority figure. And they are obliviously unconcerned as to why.

For many black Americans this case represented a great deal. It represented an opportunity to validate the existence of black people in society. It served as an indictment of profiling and harassment of black bodies. It served as a catalyst for discussion and change in our society about black people’s access to justice.

And when we heard the verdict, many of us felt disappointment, rage, frustration, all centered in our collective memories of oppression.

I found myself deeply saddened by the responses of my fellow Missoulians who I have lived alongside for close to seven years. I felt compelled to write something to express all the emotions and experiences that informed my participation in that demonstration. My dissertation that would not fit on foamcore board.

Many of us hope that the result of this case, and all the media attention it garnered will lead to momentum in our continued struggle to battle erasure, oppression, and lack of access to agency and justice for people of color. I hope that my fellow Missoulians and the greater Montana community will join me in engaging with empathy to ensure that we all can share this great state that we love.

Sincerely, John Blake

Student and Community Activist

John is a biracial, Montana transplant, twenty something, social change activist, agitator, and student. 

Christmas Eve

The snow covers the sins of the world,
some say,
and the light slowly returns to the hemisphere I live in.

But the guns are not silenced,
the hungry not satisfied,
the angry not loved-
despite the peaceful heart,
the plentiful harvest,
the need to be understood-
despite the gospel of childhood that springs to life about now.

Maybe it is spite, after all, that is the enemy of all we love-
that stands in the way of love.

Despite

 

~D Gregory Smith

History Lesson: Rachel Maddow Spotlights AIDS Activist Organization ACT UP

Rachel Maddow highlighted the group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) on its 25th birthday- and reveals that she was part of the work.

I remember ACT UP- and I remember the malaise and apathy they remedied. When the government and elected officials didn’t act, activists and mothers and lesbians held them accountable.  A healthy reminder of where we’ve been- may we never return.

GLAAD Announces ‘Commentator Accountability Project’ To Expose Anti-LGBT Voices

From AmericaBlog:

English: Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defama...

Image via Wikipedia

Sick of seeing the homophobes spewing their hate on tv? Most of us are. And, we wonder why so many media outlets are willing to give them face time. GLAAD is launching a project to make sure the media knows exactly who they are dealing with:

The GLAAD Commentator Accountability Project (CAP) aims to put critical information about frequent anti-gay interviewees into the hands of newsrooms, editors, hosts and reporters. Journalists or producers who are on deadline often don’t have the time to dig into the histories of a commentator. Audiences need to be aware that when they’re not talking to the mainstream media, these voices are comparing the LGBT people to Nazi Germany, predicting that equal treatment of LGBT people will lead to the total collapse of society, and even making accusations of satanic influence.

The Commentator Accountability Project is bringing all of these statements to light, while calling attention to the sentiments behind them. We will show that the commentators who are most often asked to opine on issues like marriage equality or non-discrimination protections do not accurately represent the “other side” of those issues. They represent nothing but extreme animus towards the entire LGBT community.

Have you seen these anti-LGBT voices in your local media? Let GLAAD know today.

It’s an excellent idea- and local human rights organizations are encouraged to participate. Any Montana candidates? Send them to me through the comments- I won’t publish them unless you give me permission.

Shut The (Bleep) Up

We watched a little bit of the VMA’s last night- just until the latest episode of Torchwood reran- and I was amazed at all the bleeps that were happening. It almost made the show unwatchable.

Not because I’m a prude, but because I have a hard time with interrupted continuity. I hate distractions.

Ask anybody who has ever sat next to me in a movie theater- or watched a movie with me in my living room; I hate talking, interruptions or distractions. Ken has learned to sit on the aisle, and, if he doesn’t remember, I remind him to use the restroom before the movie. I don’t like talking or noisy crowds in the theater, either. I paid my good money to watch a movie, not listen to your conversation and commentary. For me, a movie is like a roller coaster- I pay my money, I get in the car and I don’t get out until the ride is over.

And I don’t bring my colicky baby.

But when something is continually interrupted, it starts to concern me. I have a hard time tracking. Maybe it’s advancing age and/or deafness that’s making me less tolerant of distractions, but it seems to be having its own manifestation in politics. Candidates are actively interrupting scientific communication in this country. Blatantly standing up in the middle of the show and making factual inferences with fantastical statements. Distracting people from the reality hiding behind the curtain with a little folksy humor or superstitious nonsense.

And I’m annoyed.

Thank God that I’m not alone. Paul Krugman today has an excellent article about the trending GOP tendency to deny science, knowledge- and maybe, common sense- in favor of the popularly held beliefs of uneducated, superstitious people. My words, not his. These are his:

According to Public Policy Polling, only 21 percent of Republican voters in Iowa believe in global warming (and only 35 percent believe in evolution). Within the G.O.P., willful ignorance has become a litmus test for candidates, one that Mr. Romney is determined to pass at all costs.

So it’s now highly likely that the presidential candidate of one of our two major political parties will either be a man who believes what he wants to believe, even in the teeth of scientific evidence, or a man who pretends to believe whatever he thinks the party’s base wants him to believe.

And the deepening anti-intellectualism of the political right, both within and beyond the G.O.P., extends far beyond the issue of climate change.

Lately, for example, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has gone beyond its long-term preference for the economic ideas of “charlatans and cranks” — as one of former President George W. Bush’s chief economic advisers famously put it — to a general denigration of hard thinking about matters economic. Pay no attention to “fancy theories” that conflict with “common sense,” the Journal tells us. Because why should anyone imagine that you need more than gut feelings to analyze things like financial crises and recessions?

Now, we don’t know who will win next year’s presidential election. But the odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges — environmental, economic, and more — that’s a terrifying prospect.

And if you want more proof that the GOP is pandering to the uneducated you don’t have to look much farther than Michele Bachmann. Her blind-to-the-facts manner is starting to leak holy water as well:

Speaking to a crowd in Florida over the weekend, Bachmann said the historic earthquake and massive hurricane that rocked the East Coast last week was a message that God is upset with the way politicians in Washington have been doing things. The interview with the St. Petersburg Times…:

She hailed the tea party as being common-sense Americans who understand government shouldn’t spend more than it takes in, know they’re taxed enough already and want government to abide by the Constitution.

I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

Emphasis added. Bachmann’s comments put her closer to Pat Robertson’s take on the week than her most prominent rivals for the Republican nomination.

Part of me wants to yell “Shut the (bleep) up!” The same part of me that was annoyed in the theater during Schindler’s List when that woman with the whimpering and complaining kids (kids around 5, 6 and/or 7 from what I could tell), who kept telling them loudly to sit still, be quiet and stop whining throughout the whole movie- instead of taking them out the door and across the hall to watch Beethoven’s 2nd. In my frustration, I threw a dirty look and a kernel or two of popcorn her way.

It’s how I feel when people, jockeying to be the most powerful person in the world, blatantly disregard science in favor of folksyisms that appease- and get votes. This guy/gal is just like me. They should be president.

Huh? Whatever happened to the drive to be intelligent in our culture? When did it become evil? Haven’t we learned our lesson about folksy presidents from Texas?

I guess not. Just like the lady in the theater didn’t know-or didn’t care- that bringing small children to Schindler’s List would wreck the movie for almost everyone else in the room. But this time, I’m not going to just sit there, fuming. I’m not keeping my mouth shut.

Consider this the opening salvo.

Buttered.

Displaced Anger And Civility

Yesterday’s post ended rather snarkily on my part.

I dismissed the abuse suffered by Rep Kris Hansen (R) Havre with:

That’s nothing- we LGBT people have been putting up with this all our lives.  Wimp.

I admit, I was angered by her lack of understanding of the abuse this bill attempts to codify into law and her whining about some answering machine obscenities and impassioned people in public. That kind of stuff seems to be a part of a controversial person living a public life, and the deep reality of the anger that this bill provokes.

However, I don’t ever want to convey the impression that I believe that this kind of incivility is something that I condone. No human being should ever be subjected to threats because of a political position- even when that position infringes on the rights of other human beings to pursue safety, happiness and well-being.

Having said that, the anger and other strong emotions  elicited by this legislation should not be suppressed. That’s part of the process, too. But those strong emotions should never be used to intimidate, coerce and threaten. That’s fascism.

And we’re better than that.

McCarthyism In It’s Latest Manifestation: A Christian Minority Persecution Of Gay People

Guest Post
I am so angry. I am angry because I am tired of the relentless attacks by alleged Christians, who profess to belief and follow the precepts of their collective idealogical/theological standards as spelled out in the tenets of their “holy” book. They do not.
What I see, is yet another form of McCarthyism cloaked in pseudo religious form, being used to demonize, victimise, and ostracise the gay men, women, transgendered,bisexual, persons, who, according to their narrow interpretative beliefs and practise of Christianity are inherently evil.
Today, again, were two absolutely stunning examples displaying nothing but naked hatred for LGBTQ human beings. First from the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s listed hate group Family Research Council’s Peter Spriggs, an editorial in this morning’s Baltimore Sun newspaper railing against marriage equality in Maryland. This was followed by this afternoon’s vote by the Iowa House of Representatives on a proposed Iowan constitutional amendment to not only just ban same-sex marriage, but also nullify marriages that have already taken place in that state since equality rights were granted.
Here is an except from the editorial by FRC’s Spriggs:

“Opposite-sex relationships are the only type capable of producing children through natural intercourse and the only ones assured of providing children with both a mother and a father. Affirming only opposite-sex relationships as ‘marriage’ thus makes perfect sense. But affirming same-sex relationships as ‘marriages’ makes no sense. These relationships are incapable of producing children through their sexual union.

And while some homosexual couples do raise children (most of whom were conceived in previous heterosexual relationships), such arrangements by definition deprive a child of his or her birthright to be raised by both a biological mother and father. Maryland may choose to tolerate and even protect such unconventional childrearing by allowing adoption by homosexual partners or couples. But it has no obligation to actively affirm and celebrate (through ‘marriage’) the deliberate creation of permanently motherless or fatherless families.”

This bigot’s equating a civil marriage license to bearing children is fallacious. The divorce rate in the US is 54%. Every divorce in a marriage with children deprives a child of a full-time mother and father. The out-of-wedlock birthrate in the US is 40%. If Mr. Spriggs is so concerned about the children, why is he not working to make divorce more difficult, and removing children from single-parent households? The truth is, the divorce of 54% of American marriages does much more harm than the <3% of the population who are gay (and probably less than half of those want to get married and half of those that marry would want kids–so that’s less than 1% of the population.)
Marriage is about the uniting of two lives together. The state has no requirement and no expectations that a married couple will have children. A childless marriage is as valid in the eyes of the state as a marriage with 12 children. Couples who can’t have, or don’t want children don’t view their marriages as ‘fake’. People get married because they meet someone they want to spend the rest of their lives with. A person who divorces his/her spouse because the spouse is infertile would be seen as an arse.
Many people who grew up in abusive homes would attest that the simple fact of having a ‘natural’ mother and father present does not guarantee that a child will be loved and nurtured.

These are the same arguments that have been trotted out by the proponents of Proposition 8. It fails to account for centuries of family law that accord rights and responsibilities to siblings, grandparents, adopted parents, and many many many other people who have nothing to do with the actual procreation of the child, and, yes, even to same-sex parents of children. And if marriage were purely for procreation, why would childless couples allowed to married, or at least why a marriage certificate isn’t merely a “learner’s permit”, and no rights or responsibilities conferred until a child is produced?And also failing is to show how any mechanism barring same sex couples from marrying achieves this goal.

Is he really proposing that if homosexual couples were allowed to marry, that it heterosexuals would somehow fail to produce children? It’s akin to say that by allowing interracial couples to marry, that that would somehow hurt white couples? There is no mechanism which would cause either, and both are just grounded in irrational discrimination.

“The Constitution is meant to protect the freedoms and liberties of all Iowans,” she said after the bill passed. “It is inappropriate to use the political process to single out and deny a group of Iowans of their constitutional protections.” ~ Carolyn Jenison, Executive Director of the LGBT-rights group One Iowa.

Let’s leave the Maryland situation and Sprigg’s bull-feces for a moment and look at Iowa where a constitutional ban on gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships passed the Iowa House this afternoon in a 62-37 vote. Three democrats joined 59 Republicans in support of the measure. Thirty-seven Democrats voted “no,” and one Republican was absent.
The Iowa Independent reports:

After discussing his belief that marriage is about “responsible procreation,” state Rep. Rich Anderson (R-Clarinda) asked what could come next if the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage is allowed to stand. He concluded that it would lead to legalized polygamy and incest.

I could also cite the example of Dean Cannon, the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, who wants to return the ban on adoption by Gay & Lesbian couples.
Cannon discussed his views in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness news outlet, where he said that the Republican-controlled legislature would be prepared to attempt to resurrect the adoption ban depending on how the issue plays out in more court districts or the administration of Governor Rick Scott.

“Until we know how the governor and DCF secretary are going to apply it, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the Legislature should step in,” said Cannon. “If we think we should, we’re certainly prepared and willing to do so.”

Plus, add in the battles in New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, California and apparently also the District of Columbia as now a GOP lawmaker on the House committee that oversees matters pertaining to Washington wants to revisit the city’s same-sex marriage law.
Then there is the bullying in schools all over the United States specifically aimed at kids who are either Gay or “perceived” to be Gay.
What we have now is McCarthyism in its latest manifestation and without a doubt, even more ugly. This is state sanctioned persecutions of human beings based on beliefs that ought to be held separate from governmental operations and practise but aren’t due to the overwhelming need by a very small minority that are in a state of absolute lust  to be set in power over the majority.

McCarthyism n. The practice of publicizing accusations of political disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence.

In this case, the political being augmented by alleged theological disloyalty because after-all, homosexuality is a sin right?
What part of the U. S. IS NOT a Christian nation do these morons not get? I was speaking to a friend and whose principle work is as an LGBTQ activist in Utah. Brave fellow that eh? Utah is ground zero and he said and I believe him, until we find a practical way to counter the Mormons and their money, looking at the National Organization for Marriage as an example, and find a unified voice, then this form of McCarthyism will continue to roll over all of the equality rights of the LGBTQ people, not just the marriage ones either.

Harvey Milk once said that Gay people need to come out. Why? Simply because this is how the perceptions of evil and sick and any other twisted definition the Reich-wing comes up with targeting gays, lesbians, bis, trans, persons can be stripped away and exposed for the outright bigotry and lies they are. When people can relate to one another as human beings and not some form of vague ideological vitriol, then the humanity shines not the bigotry.

We need to target Mom, Pop, Apple pie, and Chevrolet driving folk because they are the ones we need to accept us, as ourselves…fellow human beings.
But, until the LGBTQ community gets its act together, gets its message across to those who really need to hear it and not the Christianazis like Spriggs, or those GOP extremists, or NOM, then we all will continue to lose and this nasty McCarthyism will continue to reign unchecked.