Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

A Mother's Day Message From Trayvon Martin's Mother

Trayvon Martin was senselessly murdered this year, a victim of gun violence and the widely criticized “Stand Your Ground” laws that likely emboldened the teenager’s killer. In the wake of her tragedy, Martin’s mother is standing up in hopes of preventing what happened to her child from ever happening again. Watch the video, heed her call, sign her card, and then add your name to this national petition demanding that all Stand Your Ground laws be repealed. (Thanks to Ilyse Hogue for alerting me to the powerful video.)


Maurice Sendak's Cultural Influence

Maurice Sendak’s cultural influence was enormous. Generally considered the leading children’s book writer of the past century, his books were touchstones of youth for the generation born after 1960. His Nutshell Library was a staple of my childhood and is now savored by my children. Born in Brooklyn in 1928, the son of Polish Jewish immigrant parents, Sendak was most famous for a dozen picture books he both wrote and illustrated, most notably 1963’s Where the Wild Things Are and 1970’s In The Night Kitchen.

His books were frequently controversial, with critics complaining about the horrifying monsters in Wild Things and the nudity of the young hero of Night Kitchen, which was subjected to repeated efforts at censorship. But Sendak was undeterred, arguing that life is full of horrors and that children are not immune to the realities of loneliness and confusion.

Sendak's appearance on The Colbert Report last year shows what a treasure he was. On topics from sex to censorship to celebrity to Newt Gingrich, his cutting, common-sense sensibility makes clear why his work was so wildly popular and enduring. RIP.


Goodbye MCA

The Beastie Boys’s Adam Yauch, who went by the stage name MCA, died this morning at the terribly young age of 47. He had been battling cancer of the salivary gland since 2009.

For me, losing a Beastie Boy is like what losing a Beatle was to my father’s generation. Yauch was a visionary, a great musician, the group’s conscience and most politicized member and, possibly, the coolest guy in New York.

A practicing Buddhist, Yauch used his fame on behalf of countless peace and justice causes over the years, was heavily involved in the movement to free Tibet and co-organized the Tibetan Freedom Concerts of the late nineties. When the Beastie Boys accepted an award at the 1998 MTV Music Video Awards, Yauch presciently introduced millions of young viewers to Islamophobia: “Another thing that America really needs to think about is our racism….towards the Muslim people and towards Arabic people and that’s something that has to stop and the United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East.” Even with the onset of cancer in 2009, MCA kept up. As Occupy Wall Street just tweeted: “Adam Yauch marched w/us in Nov. over the Brooklyn Bridge. A visionary artist who never lost sight of his community. “

Yauch was born an only child in Brooklyn. While attending Edward R. Murrow High School, he taught himself to play the bass guitar, and formed the initial incarnation of the Beastie Boys with Mike Diamond (a k a Mike D. ) and, shortly thereafter, Adam Horovitz (a k a Ad-Rock.) They played their first show on Yauch’s seventeenth birthday. Yauch attended Bard College for two years before dropping out to focus on music. The rest is musical history. RIP.


May Day Protests in Europe

My colleague Allison Kilkenny offers details on May Day actions in the United States, where tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest economic inequality. Meanwhile, May Day across Europe brought out demonstrators, strikers and even some picnickers marking the labor movement celebration and demand an end to the austerity agenda sweeping the globe.

In Greece, transit workers engaged in a three-hour work stoppage bringing the capital to a standstill while tens of thousands gathered in Athens’s Syntagma Square. The protesters called for debt-ridden Greece to reject the terms of international bailout loans.

In Russia, there were more than 500 rallies nationwide and millions of people in the streets. President-elect Vladimir Putin and outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev even took part in Moscow’s May 1 Soviet-style procession for the first time.

In Turkey, tens of thousands of people gathering in Istanbul’s Taksim Square were met with a formidable police presence. Although the march was largely peaceful, a group of about 100 people wearing masks attacked shops in the city’s Mecidiyeköy district. The attackers targeted banks, coffee shops and restaurants, breaking shop windows and ATM machines.

In Germany, police broke up a march of tens of thousands at its halfway point as it wound its way from the center of Berlin into the Kreuzberg district—a traditional May Day hotspot. Organizers accused the police of using “unbelievable brutality” to break up the head of the demonstration, and resorted to the use of batons and teargas. Police spokesman Alexander Tönnies said there were some arrests and some demonstrators were injured, though he did not give any figures.

In Spain, which is suffering the industrialized world’s highest unemployment rate of 24.4 percent, organized labor called protests in eighty cities. Tens of thousands gathered in Madrid’s Neptuno Square, protesting new labor reforms that make it easier for companies to fire workers, and a budget cuts in healthcare and education.

In Portugal, which along with Ireland and Greece needed foreign funding to avoid bankruptcy and had to impose deep austerity in return, thousands rallied in Lisbon and other cities calling for “growth, jobs and social justice.”

In England, Occupy London which set up a protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral last October before being evicted in February, began the day with a demonstration at Liverpool Street station. Activists taking part in Occupy the Tube handed out flowers, and tents filled with balloons were flown across the station concourse to avoid laws against static demonstrations. After the station protest activists joined the main demonstration, in which approximately two thousand trade unionists and other campaigners gathered at Trafalgar Square.

Not far from Rome, in Rieti, Italy three leading trade unions organized a concert attended by 300,000 young people where labor leaders called for austerity policies to be scrapped in exchange for pro-growth measures.


A Guide to May Day

For nearly 150 years, May 1 has been an international occasion to celebrate and defend the rights of the working class. This year, with the Occupy movement taking full advantage of May Day’s historic significance, we’re likely to see the greatest explosion of outrage at the excesses of capital since the first mass May Day protest in the United States in 1886, when more than 300,000 workers nationwide walked off their jobs in solidarity with 120,000 laborers striking on behalf of an eight-hour workday.

In her new post, Allison Kilkenny reports on the hopes and ideas behind the day’s action, details the coalition-building that has gone into the many months of planning and preparation and usefully defines what Occupy activists mean when they talk of a “General Strike.”

In New York City, starting at 8 am, Bryant Park will be the site of a “Pop-up Occupation“ featuring free food, a free market, free services, skillshares, workshops, teach-ins, speak-outs, public art, performances, discussions and direct-action trainings. At noon, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello will lead a guitar workshop and rehearsal for the Occupy Guitarmy. At 2 o’clock, activists, led by Morello and the Occupy Guitarmy, are expected to march to Union Square Park. After a concert and rally at the historic site of so many past radical calls to action, participants will leave Union Square at 5:30 for a permitted march to Wall Street with a coalition of organized labor, immigrant rights groups and faith-based activists.

The most militant of the Occupy groups, Occupy Oakland, is planning to occupy the Golden Gate Bridge at 6 am followed by a series of direct actions facilitated at three announced strike stations: the anti-capitalist station at Snow Park, the anti-patriarchy station at 1st & Broadway and the anti-gentrification at 22nd & Telegraph. (There’s also a fourth station that is not being advertised.) All morning pickets, occupations and autonomous actions are expected to leave from these locations from 8:30 am until the reconvergence at noon. The Strike Stations should be active and will offer free sustenance like food, snacks, water, coffee and medical supplies. At 3 pm there’ll be a broad march starting at the Fruitvale BART station.

For a long time, May Day has been a big day for immigrants rights in Los Angeles. That history will color this year’s actions. Occupy Los Angeles is organizing around a “4 Winds” People’s Power Car and Bike Caravan through the urban sprawl of Los Angeles that will culminate with Direct Action in and around the downtown Financial District. The caravans will stop at flashpoints along the way. Flash occupations, food giveaways, and other direct actions targeting the foreclosure crisis and police brutality will be undertaken on a “slow, city-paralyzing, carnival-esque descent” into the center of the city. Check this map to find a “wind” near you.

In Boston, a major coalition will gather at noon at City Hall Plaza; Later people will mass at 7 pm at Copley Square Park to put on costumes, puppets and face-paint and receive instructions on their respective roles in the “funeral procession” that will proceed through areas of wealth and commerce

A major coalition will be assembling at Union Park in Chicago at noon for a march to Federal Plaza.

In Portland, a traditional ‘family-friendly’, permitted event will commence at 3:30 pm at South Park with a march at 4:30, while student activists are planning on rising early and massing at 7:30 am at the headquarters of the Portland Public Schools to protest budget cuts and the falling quality of our schools and to attempt to nonviolently shut down work for the day.

A 9 am march for immigrant rights in Tucson will move from Greyhound Park parking lot to Armory Park for a noon rally with speakers, music, entertainment and info booths.

The Occupy Denver group has created a nifty commercial detailing its plans for May Day in the Mile High City.

This comprehensive directory offers links and info on each of the 126 cities and towns currently planning May Day actions.

No matter where you are, check out The Media Consortium’s group site, mediaforthe99percent.com, on Tuesday. I think it’ll be the best place to turn for careful and comprehensive reporting on what should be the economic justice movement’s spring coming-out party. Featuring a live-stream of the day’s events from Free Speech TV, an interactive map of actions and curated social media coverage, the site will chronicle the day with color, verve and smarts.

Finally, don’t miss this May Day playlist!

Talib Kweli's Love Letter to #OWS

Check out “Distractions,” the first single on Talib Kweli’s new album Prisoner of Conscious, a work which the Brooklyn rapper called a “love letter to the Occupy Movement everywhere.” (Kweli explains his motivations and inspirations here.)

Now, read up on “Five Ways You Can Help Re-Occupy America.”

Top Ten May Day Songs

May Day

Demonstrators march down Broadway during a May Day rally in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

For nearly 150 years, May 1 has been an international day to celebrate and defend the rights of the working class. This year, with the Occupy movement taking full advantage of May Day's historic importance, May 1, 2012 could see one of the greatest explosions of outrage at the excesses of capital since the first mass May Day protest in the US in 1886, when more than 300,000 workers nationwide walked off their jobs on behalf of an eight-hour work day.

In tribute to all those planning actions for May 1, here’s my stab at the impossible task of naming the best songs ever written about working people. A playlist for May Day, if you will. Please use the comments field to let me know my most egregious omissions.

1. Florence Reese, "Which Side Are You On?"

2. Tennessee Ernie Ford, "Sixteen Tons"

3. Billy Bragg, "There is Power in a Union"

 4. Dolly Parton, "Working 9 to 5"

5. Bruce Springsteen, "Youngstown"

6. Pete Seeger, "Solidarity Forever"

7. Hazel Dickens, "Fire in the Hole"

8. Loretta Lynn, "Coal Miner's Daughter"

9. Gil Scott-Heron, "Three Miles Down"

10. The Clash, "Clampdown"


Read Next: Peter Rothberg on why we'll remember Lesley Gore

Levon Helm: The True Voice of America

The inimitable singer, songwriter and drummer Levon Helm died today at the untimely age of 71 in the wake of a long battle with throat cancer.

Helm rose to fame in a legendary rootsy rock group, The Band, that featured three extraordinary singers. But you could always tell which voice was his: he was the stern Southern preacher, the broken Confederate soldier and the dirt farmer at the end of his day.

In a beautiful remembrance, Charles Pierce called Helm the “true voice of America.” I agree.

“I want to thank him for the way he sang, and for the throb of his drums, and for the way he helped point the way home for all of us who thought we’d lost our country. He brought us back to what was really important: the fugitive grace of a young democracy, that America, for all its flaws and shortcomings, for all its loss of faith in itself and its stubborn self-delusions, was a country that was meant to rock. For that, I return his salute from long ago. Thank you, neighbor. And godspeed.”

Pierce also talked about Helm’s amazing generosity of spirit, which I was fortunate enough to experience once when, as a teenage Deadhead, I asked him a question after a show at the old Bottom Line in Greenwich Village, which quickly turned into an invitation into a cramped Green Room—and from there a crawl to a local bar and one of the best nights of my life. RIP.


The Green Festival in New York

For the first time, America's premiere sustainability event is coming to New York City. Bringing together more than 300 exhibitors, 125 speakers and tens of thousands of attendees for a two-day party, the Green Festival has a very serious objective: expanding popular support for policies aimed at ecological sustainability and social justice. It takes place all day on both April 21 and 22 at the Jacobs Javits Center.

Co-produced by Global Exchange and Co-Op America and co-sponsored by The Nation, among scores of left-leaning groups, organizations and publications, the GF offers one of the best forums for exploring what’s next on the horizon for renewable energy, socially responsible investing, eco-fashions, environmental tourism, green building, organic parenting and the non-industrial food system. There are also serious political sessions focusing on the struggle against environmental racism, the climate change fight, fracking and much more.

Arrive on a bike and get in free! Check out how to hitch a fun, free, eco-friendly ride to Javits Center North with Revolution Rickshaws Pedicabs.

The Nation will be at booth #703 throughout the Festival. Meet Nation writers and staffers and pick up free copies of the magazine and buttons! Don't miss a keynote by Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel at 1 pm on April 21 on the Main Stage as well as other featured speakers like Amy Goodman, Van Jones, Helen Caldicott, Russell Simmons and Frances Moore Lappé. Click here for a full schedule and to buy tickets and check out the GF website for info on webcasts.

There'll also be Green Fests later this year in Chicago, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Five Ways to Support Re-Occupation

Empowered by a federal court ruling that allows protesters to legally sleep on public sidewalks, as long as they don’t block building entrances or take up more than half of the available space, #SleepfulProtest is proving to be an effective new tactic helping speed Occupy Wall Street’s re-emergence into the streets and public spaces of the US. (My colleague Allison Kilkenny recently explained and explored this new strategy.)

It’s been so effective, in fact, that this morning at 6:00 am the NYPD, in direct defiance of the 2000 decision Metropolitan Council Inc. v. Safir, which held “public sleeping as a means of symbolic expression” to be constitutionally protected speech, raided the corner across from the New York Stock Exchange where Occupiers have been sleeping. A motion for an emergency injunction against NYPD disruption of the sidewalk protests was filed this morning.

In the meantime, here are five ways you can help support the Re-Occupation of America:

1. Go to Wall Street to join the Occupiers if you can. This is the epicenter of the movement and the inspiration for what has happened across the country. During the day, Occupiers distribute literature or hold meetings around Liberty Square, Union Square, and throughout the city. As many as one hundred people have been sleeping nightly on Wall Street—with only a few thousand more the entire length of Wall Street could be legally occupied.

2. Spread the word. Keep up with the latest developments from all of the Occupied media sources. The best way to receive current updates on new encampments and other events is to use social media. The Wall Street Occupiers use @SleepOnWallSt. For twenty-four-hour protests in other cities, check out #SleepfulProtest and #BankSleep. Like and share this Facebook page. Also follow and RT @occupywallstnyc and @occupycolleges.

3. Donate to Occupy Wall Street through its website. If you don´t have money to spare, another way to contribute is to follow the Twitter hashtag #NeedsOfTheOccupiers. Occupiers are often in need of donations of things like food, water, tarps and camping gear.

4. Get ready for the May 1 actions. This is expected to be a major day of resistance on many fronts and of many forms. Do something!

5. Help save Chicago’s Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic. Dozens of people who use Chicago’s mental health clinics along with other advocates have barricaded themselves into the Woodlawn Clinic at 6337 S. Woodlawn. This is one of six clinics slated for closure in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s austerity budget. They intend to remain there until the mayor agrees to keep all of Chicago’s direly needed public clinics open, fully funded and fully staffed. Check #SaveOurClinics for info on how to help. If you’re in Chicago, go to the clinic!

Please use the comments field below to let me know what I’ve missed.

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