The tangible evidence that the change
promised had indeed arrived in Washington came two days before the president was inaugurated, when
stepped off the blacklist to which some would still consign him and serenaded Obama. Seeger, the unrepentant radical who once directed the song “Dear Mr. President” to
, still gets redbaited now and again. But the 89-year-old singer has outlasted the members of Congress who called him before the
House Un-American Activities Committee
(where, famously, he asserted his freedom-of-association right to refuse to answer questions about the
) and the entertainment industry executives who refused him microphones for decades.
It helped that Seeger appeared with a kid named
and that the song they sang,
‘s “This Land Is Your Land,” is darn near the progressive national anthem. But for all the talk of Obama’s centrist inclinations and cautious messaging, he began his inaugural celebration by singing and clapping along with an old lefty who remembered Depression-era verses of the song that took a class-conscious swipe at those whose Private Property signs turned away union organizers, hobos and banjo players. JOHN NICHOLS
FREE THE ALAMO:
San Antonio may become the first major US city in which only those who can afford to pay for the right to march can exercise it. Members of the
San Antonio Free Speech Coalition
(SAFSC), a broad-based and fast-growing alliance of local groups, are organizing against a parade ordinance passed by the mayor and city council in November 2007 that would require permitted protesters to pay for traffic control, barricading and cleanup.
Critics fear that if the ordinance is allowed to stand–it is under a court injunction–only those events sponsored by the powerful military and tourism industries, which dominate San Antonio’s economic and political landscape, will be seen on its streets–streets with a long history of protests like the massive immigrants’ rights marches of 2006. Events like a recent pro-Palestine protest outside the
will, coalition members say, become prohibitively costly endeavors setting organizers back thousands of dollars for expenses that are free or very inexpensive in other cities: costs for police traffic control, overtime pay for the officers who may arrest and beat protesters, and barricades that limit space in which marchers can march. An even greater threat, locals like
say, is the assault on their First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly.
“This [ordinance] pushes people to internalize the official antagonism to dissent,” said Sánchez, who directs the community-based
Esperanza Peace and Justice Center
and is one of the leaders of the SAFSC, which has sued to stop the parade ordinance. “The police and bureaucrats are using the ordinance to discourage protests and make the city more hospitable to tourism and investment. They believe that downtown marches against police brutality or protests against the Israeli government in front of the Alamo are bad for business, especially in difficult economic times.”
Sánchez and other critics see in the parade ordinance the workings of the same combination of military and industrial interests that have transformed the economies and streets of Mexico and the United States since
was approved by trade ministers in 1992 at a hotel just a few blocks from the Alamo. “Neoliberal economic policies require a policing component that quiets dissent against these same policies,” Sánchez says. “We’ve lost a lot of jobs and are experiencing tensions because of NAFTA and other policies. This [ordinance] is dangerous and goes against our history.” ROBERTO LOVATO
took his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” a tad more seriously than did his predecessor. Government lawyers acted while the inaugural celebrations were still going on to halt the Guantánamo Bay military commission trials. Obama, in one of his first official acts, ordered a suspension of the trials, which had been adjourned in anticipation of the transition of authority from former President
George W. Bush
The motion filed by Obama’s lawyers called for a 120-day moratorium on legal proceedings so that “the newly inaugurated president and his administration [can] review the military commissions process, generally, and the cases currently pending before military commissions, specifically.” Defense Secretary
, a holdover from the Bush administration, which initiated the controversial trials, joined in the motion. The order to halt the tribunals was issued “in the interests of justice,” according to the official request to the military judges.
“The suspension of military commissions so soon after President Obama took office is an indication of the sense of urgency he feels about reversing the destructive course that the previous administration was taking in fighting terrorism,” declared
, the international director of
Human Rights First.
“It’s a great first step,” Rona notes, “but it is only a first step.” Lawyer
Clive Stafford Smith
, who has represented Guantánamo suspects, told
BBC Radio 4
: “It’s going to take some work, but what he [Obama] is looking at I think here is a very clear-cut distinction between this administration and the last.” JOHN NICHOLS
Last October our inbox was peppered with letters protesting a glossy, multipage advertising insert for American Spirit cigarettes. “Shocked!” “Purveyors of death!” “Tobacco blood money!” readers exclaimed. Well, a similar ad is back in this week’s issue. By no means does this magazine editorially endorse cigarette companies or their products. In fact, we’ve run more than a few critical articles (see
‘s 2002 “Big Tobacco” exposé, for example). But advertising and editorial content are different, and we begin with “the presumption that we will accept advertising even if the views expressed are repugnant to those of the editors.” We also assume that our readers “will have sufficient knowledge to judge for themselves the merits of commonly known products (such as cigarettes).” For our full ad policy, see thenation.com/mediakit/policy.