Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.
(The verdict is in! Scroll below for an update on the St. Patrick's Day Four trial.)
Tens of thousands of protesters rallied on Saturday in Washington and other US and European cities to demand the withdrawal of US troops in some of the largest antiwar protests since the invasion of Iraq more than two years ago.
In DC, protest organizers estimated a crowd of about 200,000 rallied at the Ellipse, then marched around the White House and along Pennsylvania Avenue. Police put the crowd count at about 150,000. Elsewhere, marches took place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Paul, Florence, and Madrid. In London, British police said around 10,000 people took to the streets, while organizers put the figure at nearer 100,000. A small rally was held in Paris, and in Rome dozens of demonstrators held up peace flags outside the US Embassy.
Among the rally speakers in Washington was the Rev. Jesse Jackson who compared Cindy Sheehan to such icons as Rosa Parks and Helen Keller and urged the audience to follow her example and stay involved in the peace movement, saying: "When you march, things happen. We'll change the Congress in 2006 and take back the White House in 2008." (Thanks to BradBlog, you can click here to hear Jackson as well as other rally speeches by Sheehan, George Galloway and Cynthia McKinney.)
For live reporting from DC, listen to Laura Flanders's Air America radio show. (Also listen to Flanders interview poet Sharon Olds who declined Laura Bush's invitation to join her at a book fair and explained why in a Nation magazine article.) Link TV is also running re-broadcasts of the rally and subsequent concert on the mall. And click here to support United for Peace and Justice's ability to keep up the antiwar momentum of the moment. Finally, watch TheNation.com for reporting from the DC march coming soon and use the comments section below to let us know about any antiwar events that took place outside of Washington.
Saint Patrick's Day Four Acquitted of Conspiracy; Guilty of Lesser Charges
Members of the Saint Patrick's Day Four--Clare and Teresa Grady, Peter DeMott and Daniel Burns--were acquitted in federal court in Binghamton, NY today on their most serious charge of "conspiracy to impede an officer of the United States" after more than seven hours of jury deliberations. The jury found them guilty of lesser charges including damaging government property and trespassing, both misdemeanors.
The courtroom erupted in applause as the verdicts were read. Representatives of the defendants said later they consider it a victory that they were acquitted of the conspiracy charge. Jurors deliberated about 90 minutes this morning, after deliberating for about six hours Friday. Sentencing for all four is set for January, 2006.
Scroll down for a new update on the St. Patrick's Day Four Trial.
As antiwar sentiment keeps broadening and calls for withdrawal become more and more mainstream, this weekend's antiwar activities in Washington could be the US's largest Iraq war protest yet. With Congressional initiatives for withdrawal beginning to take shape, we could be coming to one of those tipping point moments everyone is so fond of citing these days.
Here's the official schedule for Saturday's antiwar march and rally, organized by United for Peace and Justice. It's a full day that starts with a late morning rally, a march through downtown Washington and an antiwar fair on the grounds of the Washington Monument, capped off by a concert featuring Le Tigre, Ted Leo, Jello Biafra and Steve Earle, among many others.
10:00am, Peace & Justice Festival Begins, Washington Monument Grounds
11:30am, Rally at Ellipse
12:30pm, March begins
3:00pm, Operation Ceasefire concert
Saturday's events will be followed by a UFPJ-organized day of training for two concurrent, complementary actions on Monday: personal lobbying of Congressional reps and civil disobedience outside the White House. (The CD training is particularly useful for those who've never taken part in similar protests before.)
UFPJ's goal for the lobbying is to have more than 600 people from around the country meet with more than 100 members of Congress and their aides. The delegations will include Cindy Sheehan and fellow members of Gold Star Families for Peace on the Bring them Home Now Tour. (Click here to join them.)
There are still lots of ways you can help. First, if you can, come to Washington! If you're coming from NYC, taking one of the UFPJ buses is the cheapest (only $35/roundtrip!) and probably easiest way to go. There are also UFPJ buses leaving from many other places. Click here for departure locations and to buy tickets. If you're driving, leave early (or the night before) or the traffic will kill you, and click here and read the good advice, which includes parking info for when you arrive in the District. You can also consult this housing board for rides nationwide.
Other ways to help:
If you have a website, add a UFPJ banner.
The Green Festival
This weekend is going to be a busy one in the Washington, DC area. In addition to the antiwar protests, there's also the annual Green Festival which The Nation is proud to be co-sponsoring. If you'll be in the area next Saturday or Sunday, please stop by the Washington Convention Center (Mt. Vernon metro stop) to check out the Festival.
Co-produced by Global Exchange and Co-Op America, the GF brings together socially responsible businesses, environmental groups, leading thinkers, and thousands of attendees for a two-day party with a very serious objective: expanding popular support for policies aimed at ecological sustainability and social justice. Check out the more than 125 speakers and 350 exhibitors. Speakers this year include Dennis Kucinich, Jim Hightower, Greg Palast, Dolores Huerta, Medea Benjamin, Van Jones and many others. You can also meet Nation staffers, pick up free copies of the mag, buy discounted shirts and caps and participate in a special Nation raffle--at booth #1021 all weekend.
You're also invited to a special Friday night benefit party hosted by Jim Hightower on Sept. 23 starting at 7:00pm at the Convention Center. Guests receive free organic food and wine plus two free tickets to the entire Green Festival weekend. Click here for info and tickets.
St. Patrick's Day Four Trial Update--Sept. 22
In the first federal prosecution of civilian war protesters on conspiracy charges since Vietnam, the prosecutor rested his case yesterday, Sept. 21, against four antiwar activists after calling just four witnesses over three days.
The four protesters, longtime members of the militantly pacifist group Catholic Worker who spilled drops of their blood at a recruiting center before the invasion of Iraq two years ago, were portrayed by a federal prosecutor as religious zealots who routinely destroy government property yet have mostly evaded consequences.
Now the four on trial, who are defending themselves, take their turn to make their case, arguing that the illegality of the US invasion of Iraq renders their actions in nonviolent protest justifiable, maybe even necessary. As they wrote in a recent article published on Common Dreams, "We were compelled to act by the Nuremburg Principles of international law, which state that citizens have individual rights and duties to prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity which supersede our obligations to obey domestic law. And we were inspired by our nation's rich history of nonviolent action for justice."
On March 17, 2003, two days before the US invasion of Iraq commenced, four protesters--now known as the "Saint Patrick's Four"--entered a military recruiting center near Ithaca, New York, and poured small amounts of their own blood around the building's vestibule in a symbolic protest against the coming invasion. By their own account, they were alone in the vestibule and no one was prevented from entering or leaving the center.
For this act of non-violent civil disobedience, the longtime Catholic peace activists--sisters Clare and Teresa Grady, Daniel Burns, and Peter DeMott--are now charged with conspiracy to impede "by force, intimidation and threat" an officer of the United States along with three lesser offenses. If convicted of federal conspiracy in a trial starting this Monday, September 19, they face up to six years in prison, a period of probation and $275,000 in fines.
The trial is the first time the Federal government has pressed conspiracy charges against civilian Iraq war protesters and comes after a previous trial last year in county court on charges of criminal mischief and trespassing which resulted in a hung jury, with nine of twelve members favoring acquittal. As public interest lawyer and law professor Bill Quigley who is acting as legal advisor to the defendants, says, "Federal intervention in this case represents a blatant act of government intimidation and will have a chilling effect on expression of the first amendment rights of any citizen to protest or speak out against their government." Which is, of course, the idea.
To counter the chilling effect, and turn up the heat, supporters of the Saint Patrick's Four have organized a Citizen's Tribunal in Binghamton the first week of the trial, to address the legal, historical and moral defense for civil resistance to the Iraq war. Scheduled speakers include Medea Benjamin, John Bonifaz, Camilo E. Mejia, Ray McGovern, James Petras and many others and the public is heartily invited to attend.Supporting the Tribunal is one good way to help. And check out other suggestions below for supporting the St. Patrick's Day Four and the rights of all Americans to engage in non-violent civil disobedience.
** Join 50,000 others and sign the letter in support of the St. Patrick's Day Four.
** Donate to the St. Patrick's Day Four's Legal Defense Fund.
** Help spread the word about the trial.
** Support the Citizens' Tribunal on Iraq.
Also, make sure to make plans to be in Washington, DC next weekend for what United for Peace and Justice and other activist groups are expecting will be a massive series of protests against the war in Iraq. Click here for info. (And watch this space for more on these activities.)
In the first few days of John G. Roberts, Jr.'s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, most Senators have focused their questions on his views of privacy, precedent and free speech. So far, only Sen. Russell Feingold has asked Roberts about national security and civil liberties, a critical area of jurisprudence in this post 9/11 age.
As Raj Purohit writes today in TomPaine.com, a Chief Justice Roberts would guide the court's decisions on cases that test the Bush Administration's determination to emphasize the prevention of terrorism over both the rights of Americans and the rule of law. If the recent past is any guide, the Supreme Court could soon rule on the White House's efforts to wordsmith its definition of torture; the rendition of suspected terrorists to countries that openly employ torture; the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial; the Pentagon's Guantanamo tribunals, the scope of US obligations under treaties like Geneva, and various Constitutionally shaky provisions of the Patriot Act. And Roberts' record suggests he'll be strongly inclined to vote in favor of ever-expanding executive branch powers.
Unfortunately, the Democrats appear completely unable to stop or even slow Roberts, who seems to have obtained reasonable, nice-guy status by virtue of his John Edwards-like smile and his measured manner. Consequently, wrote The Nation's David Corn in his Capital Games blog, they can only have one political objective: to boost the number of "no" votes to Bush's nominee for Supreme Court Chief Justice. This would allow the Democrats to claim their party is the one that cares about privacy rights and could help lay the groundwork for opposition to Bush's next Supreme Court pick, in the likely instance of an extremist nominee.
This is where you can still help. If our legislators can be convinced that the political price of supporting Roberts is at least as great as that of opposing him, then we may yet see some backbone. Click here to send a letter to your elected reps imploring them to oppose Roberts' nomination. And find resources at the Alliance for Justice's Supreme Court Watch site detailing exactly why he's the wrong choice for Chief Justice. (The site has a running podCast of the senate hearings, too.) People for the American Way has also put out an excellent fact-sheet on Roberts's record as well as a campus activism toolkit.
Hurricane Katrina Relief
Click here to see a list of progressive, grassroots organizations, collected by Adam Howard, that we think are worthy recipients of hurricane relief donations. These groups are already on the ground and are dedicated to delivering aid to those who need it most.
The Moving Ideas Network has also just published a Hurricane Katrina progressive policy and action guide which is well worth checking out. It features a collection of articles and media coverage on the disaster as well as a call to support an independent Katrina Commission that would fully assess why it took so long for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to respond and how we can improve preparedness for future natural disasters.
Good for Shaq!
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Shaquille O'Neal provided an assist to police over the weekend, trailing a man who allegedly assaulted a gay couple before alerting an arresting officer.
The 7-foot-1 Miami Heat center, who is in the process of becoming a Miami Beach reserve officer, was driving on South Beach around 3 a.m. Sunday. He saw a passenger in a car yell anti-gay slurs at the couple, who were walking, said Bobby Hernandez, a spokesman for the Miami Beach Police Department.
The man then got out of the car and threw a bottle, hitting one of the pedestrians, who was not seriously hurt. The man got back in the car, which sped off. O'Neal followed, flagging down an officer who made an arrest.
Numerous Nation readers have written us asking for suggestions on where they can send funds to help those devastated by Hurricane Katrina. For straight donations, the American Red Cross is probably as good an outfit as any in the field currently taking contributions. ARC volunteers have been deployed to the hardest hit areas of Katrina's destruction, supplying hundreds of thousands of victims left homeless with critical necessities. Click here to make a dedicated donation to this relief effort.
The Mercy Corps has also assembled a team of relief experts in Louisiana to assist in immediate humanitarian efforts and to plan a long-term strategy to help the most vulnerable survivors of Hurricane Katrina rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Click here to help this longtime progressive relief agency respond effectively to the short-and long-term needs of hurricane survivors.
Our friends at MoveOn.org have spearheaded another innovative way to help. HurricaneHousing.org encourages people to donate a short-term place to stay for those made homeless by the disaster. Already, more than 50,000 beds have been offered to our new American refugees. Places in the Southeast are most useful but people anywhere in the US can participate.
It's also worth supporting a group of progressive congressional Democrats who have introduced legislation to protect the thousands of people left financially devastated by Hurricane Katrina from being penalized by anti-debtor provisions contained in the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. This unfair law, designed to protect the rich at the expense of the poor, is scheduled to take effect on October 17, 2005. Click here to let your own elected reps know that you expect them to support this bill.
Finally, for a sense of the magnitude of the tragedy, listen to an incredible radio interview with Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans, who pulls absolutely no punches. This is as real, and raw, and as heartbreaking as it gets.
With this post, I depart for my summer vacation. I'll be back in this space on Saturday, September 10. In the meantime, my colleague Joan Connell will update this post, if necessary, to ensure that we're highlighting the most effective relief efforts underway.
In the new issue of The Nation, Karen Houppert investigates how the US military has gone beyond trying to recruit tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders and is now actively chasing children as young as eleven years old. Growing desperate amid repeated failures to meet recruitment quotas and empowered by provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, military recruiters are working the schools like never before.
Houppert shows how many parents are increasingly resisting these efforts. "A lot of people are concerned," she quotes one Los Angeles parent as saying, "but don't know what to do about it." But now there's a new coalition designed to aid parents--and all concerned citizens--alarmed by the military's increasingly predatory efforts to woo teenagers into the armed forces.
Spearheaded by Working Assets, Mainstream Moms and ACORN, the Leave My Child Alone coalition is trying to raise awareness of the military's often stealthy recruiting ploys and make sure that all parents know that the Pentagon has established a database with the names of 30 million 16 to 25 year olds as a recruitment tool and that their children can opt out of their school's military recruitment lists and the Pentagon's database.
The LMCA site offers a step-by-step account on how to opt-out as as well as a raft of educational and activist resources. Check it out and circulate word about this new coalition. (The Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities also offers good ideas on how to "demilitarize our schools.")
What You Wear Does Matter
These days, with the AFL-CIO weaker than at any time since the inception of the labor federation, would seem an unlikely period to witness the growth of a sophisticated, anti-sweatshop movement. But thanks to the steadfast work of numerous grassroots groups, the dedication of student activists with organizations like United Students Against Sweatshops, and perhaps a little protectionist China-bashing, there's a greater awareness of the actual "cost" of the clothes most Americans wear.
The Campaign for Labor Rights (CLR) is one of the most effective independent organizations working to inform and mobilize grassroots activists in solidarity with international anti-sweatshop struggles. Considered the "grassroots mobilizing department" of the anti-sweatshop movement, CLR has worked with more than 500 communities in the US in support of both local and overseas labor struggles. A current campaign calls on Dole to desist in actively engaging in anti-union activity aimed at Colombian flower workers who have successfully organized themselves into an independent union. Click here for more info on CLR and click here to support the group's efforts.
Creating Your Own Reality
Regular posters to the Comments section of our blogs will notice a new feature: "Ignore this person," a simple function that allows participants in online discussions to render invisible posts that they find offensive or off-topic.
How best to moderate a free-wheeling online discussion is a question which has bedeviled scores of webmasters. At The Nation, we're particularly disinclined to ever censor anyone based on political perspectives, especially those we abhor. But it can be disruptive when, as happened recently, someone decides to paste dozens of versions of the same Ann Coulter piece to all five of our weblogs in an obvious effort to disrupt the conversation. Or when someone simply unleashes an obscene tirade with no argument being made.
So what we've come up with is a way for readers to create their own realities by offering the option of "ignoring" a given poster.
We hope that everyone will employ this option sparingly and will use it only as a last-resort to rid themselves of those few posters explicitly trying to prevent the free and feisty exchange of ideas. We strongly discourage anyone using it to shield themselves from unwelcome points of view.
Candlelight vigils calling for an end to the war in Iraq got underway Wednesday night in a national effort spurred by one mother's antiwar demonstration in Crawford, Texas, outside President Bush's ranch.
The vigils were urged by Cindy Sheehan, who has become the icon of the antiwar movement since she started a protest on August 6 in memory of her son Casey, who died in Iraq last year. Sheehan says she will remain outside the president's ranch until he meets with her and other grieving families, or until his monthlong vacation there ends.
More than 1,600 vigils took place nationwide, according to the organizers, MoveOn.org Political Action, TrueMajority and Democracy for America. A large vigil at Paris' Peace Wall, a glass monument near the Eiffel Tower, also drew thousands of people. And in Crawford itself, an estimated 200 protesters lit candles and gathered around a wooden, flag-draped coffin at Sheehan's growing camp, about a mile from the Bush compound.
One woman has touched the hearts of people coast to coast, moving many to take action themselves, and in the process has reinvigorated the antiwar movement virtually singlehandedly. There are numerous ways you can support Sheehan's protest.
Flood the White House with phone calls. Let them know that you support Sheehan and want Bush to take the time out of his vacation to meet with her. The number for the White House comment line is 202-456-1111.
Send Sheehan a Pink Rose. For five dollars, you can send a pink rose to beautify her arid camp, and a message of support to bolster her spirit. Pink roses traditionally symbolize grace and gratitude.
Add your name to the People's Petition for a Way Out of Iraq. The petition lays out a way to get out of Iraq and will be presented to Congress in September.
Heed the the call from United for Peace and Justice and other activist groups to come to Washington, DC from September 24 to 26 to join what they expect will be a massive weekend of protests against the war in Iraq. Click here for info.
Check out a new website--MeetWithCindy.Org--which makes it easy to help support Sheehan's efforts. The Crawford Peace House is also mobilizing support for Sheehan and assisting visiting activists with logistics support.
We could be close to a tipping-point moment with new polls showing a majority of Americans opposed to the continued occupation of Iraq. So anything you can do at this potentially momentous time could make a real difference.
There are many reasons why Cindy Sheehan is attracting a flood of media attention. The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, Sheehan is camping out near President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas and says she won't leave until Bush agrees to meet with her to discuss the war. With a compelling personal narrative, an articulate voice and an obvious mainstream pedigree, Sheehan is tapping into a growing popular feeling that the Bush Administration is out of touch with the realities of the Iraq war.
This past Saturday, Bush's national security adviser and the White House deputy chief of staff were dispatched to meet with Sheehan beside a road a few miles from Bush's ranch, but she is still insisting on a meeting with the president before she will end her vigil. So far, the White House has adamantly refused but this refusal is starting to exact major public relations costs. With what Maureen Dowd called the "absolute" moral authority of a mother who has lost her son to war, Sheehan's protest is giving voice to a question more and more Americans are--finally--asking: Why did we invade Iraq?
Sen. George Allen (Republican, Va.) has publicly encouraged the President to meet with Sheehan and answer her questions. Click here and urge your elected reps to make the same public call. There's also a new website--MeetWithCindy.Org--which makes it easy to help support Sheehan's efforts, whether you want to make plans to go to Crawford or whether you want to make it possible for others to do the same. The Crawford Peace House is also mobilizing support for Sheehan.
As Sheehan herself wrote last month in a piece posted on the Common Dreams site, "I want to hear the sound of our children getting off planes and boats from Iraq to the joyful squealing of their children and the deep sighs of relief from their spouses, parents, and other loved ones. I want to hear our citizenry lifting up their voices in chorus and singing, 'We will never let this happen again.'"
Help make her vision a reality.
Bonus Link:Read Cindy Sheehan's report on why she's protesting in Crawford, published yesterday on The Huffington Post.
Saturday, August 6, marks the fortieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's signing into law of the Voting Rights Act, considered by many to be the most comprehensive civil rights law ever passed. The act provides protection for voters against actions taken by states to limit participation in the electoral process, actions most often targeted toward black, Hispanic, and low-income citizens. The law banned literacy tests and the other barriers that southern states had erected since blacks won the vote in 1870. And in the three years after it passed, more than a million new nonwhite voters cast ballots in southern states.
As The Nation's unsigned editorial said this week, "By tearing down the barriers to equal opportunity at the ballot box, the act removed the essential political mechanisms that maintained segregation and white supremacy." Several key provisions of the act expire in 2007, however, and Rev. Jackson, the NAACP and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition are taking the lead in campaigning for their renewal.
These days, with each of the last two presidential elections marred by accounts of black voters being intentionally disenfranchised, the renewal--and strengthening--of the Voting Rights Act is more critical than ever. So let's honor the proud anniversary of this act by extending its promise forty years later.
NAACP Convention SpeechRev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.July 12, 2005
To Chairman Julian Bond, a legendary force in the last half of the 20th century, whose work, vision and sacrifice, and whose call to conscience lifted a generation - we thank you. Of our generation of activists who survived the bullets and the lynchings, there is no brighter light, no keener mind, than Julian Bond.
To Bruce Gordon who now assumes the awesome responsibility to guide our civil rights mother ship - we share with you in your daunting task. You have the integrity, the intelligence and the strength of reasoning to take us another rung up freedom's ladder. Be assured that the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition stands with you. The entire civil rights community will be served well to rally, close ranks and join with you in partnership.
To my lifelong friend Nelson Rivers, a giant of a man who continues to grow and serve selflessly - we are all in your debt and your mother's debt for your unswerving faith and commitment to shared justice and security for all.
To Hillary Shelton, you are our 101st Senator and, even at a young age, in the best tradition of Clarence Mitchell - you serve us well.
To the Board of Directors - your strength, no matter the weather, keeps the ship afloat.
We meet today in the face of unusually chilly winds, when 20 US Senators wrapped in faith symbols and moral values - wearing Jesus clothes - cannot show contrition by voting to apologize for the Senate's historic failure to oppose lynching - acts of state sponsored terror - for fear their constituents would reject them. And when there is such a cold silence from the White House when this "failure to act" occurred - chilly winds.
It is a chilly wind when the head of another country - Vicente Fox - can make a demeaning statement about Americans, and then seek to justify demeaning racial stereotypes and caricatures in the postage stamp. Even as we pay taxes at home and shed blood on foreign battlefields, the silence of the White House and Secretary of State on this is chilling.
Our Voting Rights are under attack, coupled with a growing lack of government enforcement. The silence of the Attorney General and the closed-door policy of the Department of Justice are chilling.
There is this urban chill of first-class jails for profit and second-class schools, marked by a jail drug culture that is destroying families and taking away voters. We must look anew at this international drug war in which our cities play the most minor role and pay the most major price. When I talked with New York and Chicago police chiefs, both acknowledged that the purchases are mainly suburban. The gun shops are mainly suburban, propped up by NRA policies. The coke comes from Columbia and South America; the heroin comes from Afghanistan under US occupation, brought in to the ports by ships and by trucks at known border points. The drug-gun industry attacks our cities like insurgents. We offer little defense. As we dump billions into Iraq to stop terror, the drug and gun terrorists are ravaging us at home.
It is in the face of these chilly winds that I greet you today.
I want to thank you for my upbringing and my liberated consciousness, for removing the veil from my eyes as a child. Unsung heroes like Rev. I.D. Quincy Newman in South Carolina, and a little known auto mechanic named AJ Whittenberg, and Rev. James Hall of Springfield Baptist Church, who led a demonstration on the Greenville airport because Jackie Robinson could not get off of the plane to use the toilet. These men kept talking about this "freedom thing."
On July 17, 1960, along with seven students, I was arrested trying to use a public library, as a member of the NAACP youth chapter. We were directed to jail, and then bailed out, by the NAACP... but we helped change the course of South Carolina in very fundamental ways.
On July 17, 1984, 24 years to the day, I gave my speech at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco as a presidential candidate, having defeated US Senator and former South Carolina Governor Ernest Hollings, Senator Glenn, and others, in the primary process.
With your help I saw the light and joined the freedom train. During that season, we changed America's direction, but not irreversibly. We defeated Goliath, but his sons and daughters have come roaring back.
So this Sunday in Greenville we will celebrate 45 years since being jailed in Greenville, and 21 since the historic run for the presidency in 1984.
Just this past year, Rainbow and NAACP - in coalition - were able to gain recognition of the King holiday in Greenville for the first time, against fierce opposition from Bob Jones University and the right wing. They sought to discredit Dr. King beyond the grave, and yet we prevailed. The struggle continues.
In this the year of our Lord 2005 the civil rights movement must declare this to be the Martin Luther King-Lyndon Johnson year. Under their leadership 40 years ago, promises made in 1865 were honored in some measure. Under their leadership 40 years ago, 346 years of voter denial ended. Under their leadership, and the tremendous legal work of the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall, the laws of Jim Crow - a creature of the Supreme Court in 1896 - came tumbling down. Under their leadership, America was transformed in fundamental ways.
But the gains achieved during that period are now under attack. The vision of state's righters and Confederates is again challenging the Union. Their vision is not merely of racial and gender inequality, and worker exploitation; it's a fundamental conflict of North v. South not unlike a century ago. Two competing views of the American Dream.
The glorious vision of the war on poverty has shifted to a war of choice in Iraq and a war on the poor. The war in Iraq is costing lives, money ($345 billion so far, and $5 billion a month) and honor. We are shooting ourselves into global isolation, built upon lies and deception. A war without moral foundation can have no good outcome. Yet our sons and daughters, for whom we have such love and such high regard, are caught up in this madness.
The ethic of Jesus the Christ is lifting up the poor, healing the broken hearted, feeding the hungry, providing adequate housing for every American. That gospel of liberation is giving way to a gospel of prosperity - a gospel of the rich young ruler. There now is a driving force for a "Mansion-Down" view where the rich are enhanced with tax cuts and privileges, rather than a "Manger-UP" for the poor to break the shackles of their deprivation and denied rights.
Wolves dressed up and appearing to be sheep, dressed up in Jesus' clothes. They are deceptive as they turned the tenets of our faith on its head. Christianity at its best is a revolutionary gospel for inclusion, for the poor, for the downtrodden.
Today we call to stop this trend. Both parties seem to have more in common on critical matters with each other, than with our needs. We must reassess the need for a course of independence and action - I refer to it as the third rail.
In Chicago, in the elevated train system, there are two tracks for the wheels, but the third rail has the electricity, the power to propel the train forward or backwards. If that rail is not on and alive, the other two rails settle to the status quo - they stay as they are. When we are acting, litigating, legislating, demonstrating for a moral cause, we shake up and energize the whole system for the good of all. That's how change comes about.
Civil rights struggle is not synonymous with Democrats or Republicans, and they are not synonymous with the civil rights struggle. We turn up the voltage of the third rail; we move both, but we must not be captive of either.
Historically, both parties found common ground in the status quo. We always needed the third rail of sacrifice and action.
In the time of slavery, conservatives said "treat them as you want, they are your property." The Supreme Court of that era blessed this trend of thought.
Liberals said, "Be generous and patient toward them."
The abolitionists said, "End the whole system." The third rail.
It was John Brown and Frederick Douglas and Dred Scott, and the runaway slaves. It was neither party, nor the compliant ones who adjusted to the system that created the dynamic for change.
In resisting Jim Crow and faith-based lynchings - I say faith-based because most lynchings were not abductions at night with men hiding their faces behind sheets and hoods. They were rituals after church on Sunday. We were lynched in the name of God. Out of your theology - your view of God - comes your view of people, your view of politics, of laws, of economics, of culture. This theology that chose race supremacy over love, and distorted the very essence and message of Jesus, has been a rat in the well of our quest to make this a more perfect union.
In resisting Jim Crow and lynching laws, and a perverse cultural theology, the NAACP, in its formation, had to build a course of action outside of the political norm. The third rail.
In the quest for women's right to vote, men on both sides of the aisle railed against women's rights. The women's suffrage movement was independent of the parties - third rail.
In the 1930, labor fought for the right to organize. Both parties supported right to work laws and too often they still do. Labor faced struggles at the plant gates. Workers were martyred. It was a third rail struggle. Out of it came a middle class. The 8-hour day. The NLRB. Dignity for workers.
The struggle to de-segregate the military took place over the objection of both parties. The struggle that led to the 1954 decision was independent. It came from Thurgood Marshall and Houston and the NAACP "to" the Supreme Court.
The struggle for the 1964 and 1965 civil rights acts came from Emmit Till, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney -- the marching feet in Selma and Montgomery, not from Pennsylvania Avenue nor Capitol Hill. They were independent, Third Rail struggles.
The fight to recognize the United Farm Workers Union came from Cesar Chavez's Leadership, from the blood, sweat and toil of workers in the fields of California and Texas, not from the halls of Congress.
The third rail can relate to both parties, but must maintain its own identity and not be captive of either. We must be the voice of conscience; we must march to the beat of a different drummer. Elected officials too often represent the cultural norms, we must be the creative minority with a majority vision, and like a powerful tugboat we must pull the ship of state toward the safe landing of peace and justice.
We are not happy with the Democratic Party; we are not afraid of Republicans. 40 years after Dr. King and Lyndon Johnson, and the martyrs of our modern day struggle, we will pledge to not let them down. We cannot let Washington or Wall Street co-opt our identity - our electric rail for change - and wear down our will for equality. They are both central to the problem.
The Senate filibuster compromise was a cave in, a collapse. It protected the rights of minorities IN the Senate, but did not protect the right of minorities, women or labor OUTSIDE of the Senate. It was a charmed move for the club, but had no real value for civil rights, workers rights and social justice. It opened the door to the rightwing to take over our courts.
So the battle for the soul of the Supreme Court today - with the retirement of Justice O'Connor and the expected resignation of Justice Rehnquist, and possibly Justice Ginsburg - defines this era of civil rights struggle. Will the Court follow the tradition of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Court and strike down racial segregation and inequality and uphold civil rights? Or will it turn its back? That's why we must do everything in our power to fight for an independent, fair Supreme Court that upholds the constitution, and prevent Bush from stacking our Courts with rightwing ideologues who would define the laws of our lands for the next 40 years.
The alliance of both parties against class action lawsuits, denying workers and consumers a voice, the bankruptcy laws, lack of concerted action on predatory exploitation, the will to write off the South by the Democrats in the last election - the largest region with the most needs - make it clear that we must form a third rail independent labor-civil rights action agenda.
And negotiate with whoever chooses to appreciate the legitimacy of our interests and needs.
We have the power to change the course of our nation - by the margin of our unregistered Black voters in the South:
North Carolina: 483,000
South Carolina: 210,000
We have not earned the right to do less than our best. We are losing too many battles by the margin of cynicism and feigned effort. We must go home with a burning desire to target registration for the 2006 campaigns.
We need New Constitutional Rights and New Vehicles.
In this quest we must build in new Constitutional rights and pick up where the 13, 14th and 15th amendments - which passed by only two votes - left off. We must fight for new rights and new vehicles to achieve these rights, to move from civil rights, to universal human and constitutional rights. We cannot just fight for grants and programs, and new faces in high places. We need new protections:
50 million Americans are now without health care insurance, a deepening crisis in a land of plenty that threatens our security. The health care system is broken, treated like a privilege, and leaving more and more families in the gap.
So we need a Constitutional Amendment for equal, high quality health care for all Americans. Constitutional rights are a vision for a more perfect union, not a program or a grant.
Public education in America continues to leave too many of our children behind. Schools suffer from unequal funding, with schools in poor and urban areas receiving inadequate resources relative to their suburban counterparts. Teachers are not properly compensated. This administration has not provided the required funding for its "No Child Left Behind Act." Flawed policy. It's flawed because it raises the ceiling without evening the floor.
I spoke at Little Rock Central High School last week, only to be reminded of the funding gap today between urban schools and suburban schools - which is greater today than in 1957. Chicago inner city schools spend around $5500 per child. Suburbs ten miles away spend over $17,000 per child. Educational inequality and segregation has moved from "race based" to tax based, but the results are the same.
So we must support the NEA lawsuit challenging the under-funding of No Child Left Behind, and work together to achieve a Constitutional Right to equal, high quality education for all Americans.
We are exporting capital and jobs, and importing cheap labor and products. Wages are down, unemployment is up. Right to work means right to exploit.
Hotel workers in New York earn $17 per hour, with health benefits and retirement plans. Hotel workers in Louisiana or Atlanta make $7 per hour with no benefits or retirement plan. Bally's workers in Las Vegas make $40,000; yet in Tunica, MS, just $20,000. That's the difference between right to work v. right to organize and be protected and represented by unions.
So we must support the Employee Choice Act, and a constitutional right for workers to organize.
We have won the vote in the last two elections; but we lost the count. We still have 50 separate and unequal elections; voter suppression and fraud taint our system.
So we support the Conyers-Dodd comprehensive voter reform bill, the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, and a constitutional amendment affirming the individual, federally protected right to vote.
The Congressional Black Caucus met with president Bush a few months ago. Congressman Jackson asked President Bush if he would support voting rights act extension with Section 203 and Section 5. He said he didn't know anything about it.
That's an incredible response when you consider that Texas was under Voting Rights Act supervision. He knew very well what the question of voting rights enforcement was about. His constituency resists Section 203 and Section 5. They want to use tricky language, like "make it national and permanent" - they know full well the Voting Rights Act is narrowly tailored and would not survive strict scrutiny and would be declared unconstitutional. Another wolves in sheep's clothing maneuver.
Already we see the ugly heads of voter restriction being raised. A lawsuit in Indiana. The Schwarzenegger redistricting plan in California. Tom DeLay in Texas. Perdue in Georgia. Georgia passed voter identification legislation, which requires you to have a state-issued ID to validate your registration and vote. So if you go to Georgia Tech or University of Georgia, you can use your student ID - they are "state" schools. But if you go to Morehouse, Spelman or Emory, your student ID is not valid - they are "private" schools. 100 counties in Georgia do not offer state ID's, making it more difficult to register and vote. But to vote by absentee ballot no ID is required.
This voter restriction bill in Georgia revives a de facto poll tax, and Attorney General Gonzales must enforce the Voting Rights Act and prevent it from being implemented. But just as Ashcroft would not act on Tom DeLay's manipulation of congressional districts in Texas, Attorney General Gonzales will not respond to our request to meet on Perdue's voter manipulation and disenfranchising plan in Georgia. We need this administration to enforce - not ignore - the Voting Rights Act NOW.
I urge us this August 6, on the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, to have a massive march in Atlanta, Georgia. A pro-Democracy rally. A rally for Voting Rights Act reauthorization. For workers' right to organize. For the end to the Iraq war. For a fair, independent and impartial Supreme Court.
40 years later we must focus anew on the threats to our gains over the last 40 years. Likewise we must continue looking at the 4th stage of our struggle - beyond slavery and segregation and the right to vote - to access to capital, industry and technology - our next phase.
What does it means when the government spends millions on bankruptcy proceedings but we are locked out? What does it mean when United Airlines spends millions on bankruptcy proceedings, but we are locked out. In effect, United Airlines boycotted our talented financial services firms.
We must intensify our presence at shareholders meetings, demanding greater accountability in the use of pension funds. For too long, we have spent our energy knocking to open up closed doors. We must look at new alliances and rather than just knocking on closed doors, we must build our own doors and build bridges with new partners.
I want to make a bold proposal today, to look anew at a strategic alliance between African Americans and Latinos. We cannot allow even the racial tensions within Mexico, the erroneous insulting statement of President Fox and the Memin Penguin stamp, to divert our attention away from the ultimate alliance between struggling workers of Mexico and of the US, and the African factor within the Mexican cultural experience.
African Americans and Latinos combined make up more than a majority of the populations in this country's 100 largest cities. When we work together we can finish the unfinished business of our movement: the constitutional right to vote; the constitutional rights to health care and education, the right to organize and breathe free.
African Americans and Mexican Americans share the lowest paying jobs.
We share the schools that have the least investment and resources. We have the highest infant mortality rates and the shortest life expectancies.
We face the most predatory exploitation, whether it be the auto, insurance or financial services industries. We share the most jail cells. Dr. King in his last staff meeting convened Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Jews, and labor to focus on a coalition - a working poor people's campaign to lift all boats at the bottom and leave no one behind. That insight was brilliant
Yet we share our blood disproportionately for our country in times of war. We are the most likely to be profiled and suspected. We face the same racial inequities on a daily basis. Our profile is that we work harder and get paid less, we pay more for less, live under stress and don't live as long. We must reassess our relationship and have a summit to build on our common goals and needs, and to work on a shared destiny.
The victory of Villaraigosa, like the victory of Tom Bradley that preceded him, is a manifestation of our coalition. The victory of Harold Washington in Chicago, Brown in Houston, Webb or Pena in Denver, Dave Dinkins in New York, were all examples of what happens when our coalition finds common ground. We must unite our coalition around these 10 points:
1. Teach our children to be bilingual.2. Teach our children nonviolence and to avoid gang warfare.3. We must conduct trade missions.4. We must conduct cultural exchanges.5. We must have a conference with our religious leaders.6. We must merge our quest to join corporate boards and upper levels of management.7. Our labor and consumer patterns drive the companies; we are denied the road to inclusion.8. We must fight for affirmative actions laws and strong enforcement by the EEOC and OFCCP.9. We must fight for comprehensive immigration reform.10. We must connect with Africans and Mexicans whom we share common history and challenges. They are our family in the diaspora.
Mexico is next door, not back door. Mexico is older than the United States. We must view Mexico as a hemispheric partner in progress. It is the largest trading partner in this hemisphere, and second in the world. The U.S. does more trade with Mexico than Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the UK combined.
Two-thirds of our neighbors speak Spanish. We have the more telephone traffic than anywhere in the world. One million people come back and forth across the border each day. 1000 people are deported. Africans in Mexico were the first freed in this hemisphere, before the Untied States, Cuba or Brazil. We must build upon that tradition.
We must work for comprehensive immigration reform, and the McCain-Kennedy bill, and actively work together to expand the road to opportunity in our nations, and peace between our nations.
It occurred to me in 1984 - the reason why we named ourselves the "Rainbow" - is that I observed there were more people OUTSIDE of the convention, than IN the convention. African Americans were having a rally. Latinos were having a rally. Women were having a rally. Asian Americans were having a rally. Peace activists were having a rally. Environmentalists were having a rally.
So I said why don't we pull all of that together and form a third force. And it was that action that elected new mayors and city council members from New York to Chicago, Cleveland to Los Angeles. It was that action that increased the most Black and Latino and Asian elected officials in history. It was that action of voter registration that led to US Senate victories in the South. It was the Rainbow base that enabled Bill Clinton to win. And even in 2000 and 2004 we won the vote, but lost the count - which remains even another challenge.
But be encouraged. Don't let this foul wind of rightwing zealotry break your spirit. We have more capacity to fight back and make this a more perfect union than ever before. We have strategic partners. We have valued skills. We have a will to work. If we have a made up mind and will to fight. we will prevail. This is not dusk moving toward midnight; it is dawn moving toward daylight. They have thrown their hardest blows, and yet we stand.
It is this faith that will carry us to a more perfect union.
It is this faith that will build more schools and fewer jails. It is with this faith that we will live longer and be stronger. It is with this faith that we will end the madness of the war in Iraq, and stop the genocide in Darfur.
It is with this faith that we will move beyond diversity toward real equity and parity. We have the most diverse Supreme Court in history, but it is devoid of the content of social justice and historical context. And now its fundamental direction lies in the balance.
It is with this faith that 2006 will be a year with a great surge in political empowerment and growth. It is with this faith that we will become healers of nations and builders of a more perfect union.
It is with this faith that we will march in Atlanta on August 6. It is with this faith that we will win the battle to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then God will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal our land.
Thank you very much. Keep Hope Alive.