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Peter Rothberg | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

Assault-Weapons Ban Expires

In addition to a few big things like reproductive choice, and maybe evolution there are lots of smaller differences between Bush and Kerry. One of these--their position on gun control--is highlighted by the September 13 expiration of the assault weapons ban.

Four presidents (Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton) passed and renewed the ban, which Kerry also supports, but Bush has successfully blocked the bill's renewal, despite its endorsement by every national police organization and the support of about 77 percent of the American voters, according to most polls. The only people who stand to gain from Bush's killing of the ban are terrorists, violent criminals, and, of course, the corporations behind the gun lobby.

The bill outlawed 19 types of military-style assault weapons. A clause directed that the ban expire unless Congress specifically reauthorized it. And now that Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert have announced that they won't even bring a vote on the matter, gun manufacturers are gearing up for the scheduled expiration by taking orders for semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines that may soon become legal again, according to the Washington Post.

Click here for info on how you can get involved in the gun-control movement and check out the Stop The NRA site for info on the assault ban and what may still be left to do to defend it.

The RNC in Retrospect

This week's Republican National Convention brought fake compassion, fire-and-brimstone, terrible hair-cuts and even worse music from inside Madison Square Garden; close to 1,800 or so arrests in the streets of New York; a raft of progressive film screenings, concerts, readings and panels and protest activity everywhere.

It's unclear how much of this filtered into the US consciousness as ratings numbers and polls showed most Americans turning away from convention coverage, even in this heated election year, in record numbers. Aside from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central's brilliant gift to the American polity and CSPAN's cinema verite coverage, TV offered little of value.

And, in the print and online worlds, there was lots of smart commentary, but, as usual, it was difficult to find, among the glut of decidedly insipid coverage. As is frequently the case, it sometimes helped to look abroad for the most incisive material. Below are links to some good articles from the last week.

S3 Wrap-Up; Jail Crisis by New York IMC, Sept. 3

Bush by Numbers by Graydon Carter, The Independent, Sept. 3

Vigor, Vitriolics but no Violence by Josh Robin, New York Newsday, Sept. 3

Protest Groups 'Empowered' by Large Turnout by Martha T. Moore and Charisse Jones, USA Today, Sept. 3

Flogging the Flag by Simon Schama, The Guardian, Sept. 2

NY Expressionism by David Segal, Washington Post, Sept. 2

The World Election by Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, Sept. 2

Don't Send More Kids to War by Michael Moore, USA Today, Sept. 2

On the Differences Between Kerry and Bush by Noam Chomsky, International Socialist Review, Sept. 1

And, though it's self-referential for me to point out, I want to take every opportunity to draw attention to The Nation's special RNC week weblog, New York Minutes, which dispatched a team of Nation writers to report on the protests through a revolving series of more than 15 dispatches over the course of the week.

Click here and scroll down to read pieces by Victor Navasky, Katha Pollitt, Liza Featherstone, Jennifer Block, Eyal Press, Esther Kaplan, Richard Kim, Ari Berman, Tom Gogola, Debbie Nathan, David Enders and Kristin Jones. Also check out Tom Engelhardt's valuable website, produced in concert with The Nation Institute, which published lots of valuable material during RNC week.

Finally, watch this space for info on urgent campaigns and projects being undertaken in the next two months to unseat George W. Bush on November 2.

Our Grief Is Not a Cry for War

The first few days of the RNC have brought fake compassion from inside Madison Square Garden, more than 1,500 arrests in the street, and protest activity everywhere. With the convention wrapping up tomorrow night, United for Peace and Justice--the antiwar coalition which brought us last Sunday's massive march--is asking New Yorkers and others who have come from around the country to protest the Bush Administration's policies to create a closing RNC protest event at Union Square Park tomorrow night as Bushaccepts his nomination.

UFPJ's call: "We encourage people to come to Union Square after 8:00 PM on Thursday, September 2, with candles or flashlights, flowers, photos and other offerings to create a living memorial to those who have died or will die as a result of the Bush Administration's policies. As we create the memorial, we will gather in small groups with family and friends or people we have not yet met to share our stories and speak our truth."

Click here for more info.

It's Only Just Begun

It's now official that there are far too many anti-RNC events in New York this week for any one calendar, guide, website or publication to keep up with. But you can generally stay abreast of the panoply of protests, demonstrations, panels, film screenings, readings, concerts and other, more unconventional expressions of a robust civil society with these online compilations:

The People's Guide

RNC Not Welcome

The Imagine Festival

CounterConvention.org

MediaChannel

The Village Voice also published a good guide, available online, to the week. Check New York IndyMedia for up-to-the-minute reports on protests, demonstrations and actions from the activist perspective. On the airwaves WBAI will be broadcasting live coverage of Sunday's United for Peace march (assemble at 10:00 between 15th and 22nd Streets, from 5th to 9th Avenues) and will devote more airtime to the protests this week than any other New York media outlet. RadioNation's Marc Cooper will also be posting audio interviews, speeches and interviews from both inside and outside the convention hall on The Nation's website all week.

Johnny Cash was NOT a Republican

The songs of Johnny Cash--"the Man in Black"--were beacons of light for those who were unjustly locked up, kicked down, and knocked around. He sang from his heart for the poor, the imprisoned, and the oppressed.

And, as John Nichols wrote in his Nation weblog after Cash's death last year, "Though he was not known as an expressly political artist, Cash waded into the controversies of his times with a passion. Like the US troops in Vietnam who idolized him, he questioned the wisdom of that war. And in the mid-1960s, at the height of his success, he released an album that challenged his country's treatment of Native Americans."

But it was his songs which really marked him as a man of the people. He took sides in his songs, and he preferred the side of those imprisoned by the law--and by poverty and hard luck.

Yet, this Tuesday the GOP and the American Gas Association, a network of 154 utility multinationals, are shamelessly trying to appropriate the singer-songwriter's legacy by hosting an exclusive "celebration" of Cash for the Republican delegation from Tennessee inside the elite corridors of Sotheby's auction house.

In response, an ad-hoc group of activists have created a website to honor Cash's memory (www.defendjohnnycash.org) and to express what is safe to say would be Cash's outrage over the Bush Administration's malign neglect of the poor in this country. Do you think Cash would be supporting the President's economic policies? How about the Iraq war? If you think the answer is "no," then come join other Johnny Cash defenders at 4:00pm (dressed in black if you'd like) on Tuesday, August 31st, at Sotheby's at 1334 York Avenue in Manhattan.

As the call to action reads: "Bring your black clothing, pompadour, guitars (real or cardboard), hair grease, singing voice, megaphones, jail-stripes, skeleton costumes, signs, art, posters, CD players, boom-boxes, musical instruments, Johnny posters and records, and, of course, your favorite political Cash lyrics as big as you can print 'em!"

Click here for more info, click here for a bio of Cash's life and click here to read some of the song lyrics that made Cash a legend.

And check out a Tennessee group that is doing work in Cash's tradition: Music Row Democrats, formed in December 2003 by a group of Nashville music industry leaders who were "fed up with feeling as if they had to apologize for being Democrats, particularly when they knew that Republican policies were negatively affecting the lives of the working class people who make up much of the audience for their music."

We'll continue to highlight some of the hundreds of anti-RNC protests, panels, presentations and parties as the RNC draws closer, so watch this space for details and let us know about any activities you think we should be featuring by clicking here.

'Courageous Resisters'

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, the Artists Network of Refuse & Resist! is presenting an evening of performance to honor "Courageous Resisters" this Thursday, August 26, at 7:30 PM, at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University in lower Manhattan.

Co-sponsored by The Nation and a host of other New York City-based progressive groups and organizations, the event will celebrate the courage of those resisting the conservative agenda sweeping the US today. Honorees include Aaron Lebowitz, a high school student in Darby, Montana who resisted a resolution to make creationism part of his school's curriculum; Toni Smith, the New York City college basketball player who refused to line up with her teammates during the national anthem as a symbol of her opposition to war in Iraq; Camilo Mejia, the first US soldier to go AWOL because of his antiwar stance (now in the brig); Juanita Young, a leader of the movement against police brutality in New York City whose son was killed by the police and Jason West, the mayor of New Paltz, New York, who was charged with 19 criminal counts after he married gay and lesbian couples. (Click here for a complete list of the honorees.)

Numerous artists--graphic, visual and musical--will present original work in honor of the Resisters, including Odetta, Steve Earle, Andre Gregory, Dan Bern, Blair Brown, Vijay Iyer, Martha Lavey, Mari Mariposa, Ellen McLaughlin, Omar Metwally, Tracie Morris, Mikel Paris and Beau Sia. Click here for tickets and info or call 212-992-8484.

The Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues and Ideas is another of the many creative responses to the RNC and the threat posed by a second Bush term. A gala of more than 125 events mixing artistic and educational activities through a series of concerts, performances, screenings, forums, town meetings and artwork, the Festival takes place all over New York City from August 28 to September 2. Click here for the full schedule and click here to see The People's Guide for a daily calendar of RNC-related events generally.

The People's Guide

Earlier this week, Mayor Bloomberg offered, among other inducements, a ten percent discount at participating New York City Applebee's to all RNC protesters who picked up and presented a powder-blue NYC "Peaceful Political Activist" button.

The location of these Applebee's are some of the few points of interest to protesters not chronicled in The People's Guide, a free compendium of events, directions, legal resources, restaurant recommendations, hospital locations, and other valuable RNC-related material. "Intended to standardize communication among event-planners, protesters, media, tourists, wanderers, monitors, hangers-on, and friends," the recently published guide offers a tremendous amount of info on the anticipated protests, panels, presentations, performances and parties that are expected to greet the GOP delegates when they hit New York City.

Click here to check out The People's Guide, click here for a daily calendar of RNC-related events and click here for a list of suggested ways you can help the anti-RNC efforts. We'll continue to highlight various events, protests and campaigns as the RNC draws closer, so watch this space for details and let us know about any activities you think we should be featuring by clicking here.

Life After Capitalism

As virtually all Nation readers know, there are literally hundreds of events being planned to greet the Republican delegates when the GOP arrives in New York City to convene at the end of August. Kicking off the anticipated protests, panels, presentations and parties is this Friday's Beyond Bush: A Night of Visionary Resistance, taking place at Hunter College in Manhattan.

The keynote event of the Life After Capitalism Festival, this evening features talks by some of the most inspiring dissident voices of the time, including Nation columnist and award-winning author Naomi Klein, Robin Kelley, Vijay Prashad and Michael Albert. The session will also include a special extended preview of the acclaimed documentary, The Fourth World War.

This all takes place at Hunter College's Assembly Hall this Friday, August 20, at 7:00pm. Click here or call 212-817-8215 for tickets, which are being sold on a sliding scale, and click here for directions to Hunter.

Taking place this coming weekend, the LAC Festival aims to provide space for activists to gather and reflect on the importance of long-term vision and strategy through a series of workshops, breakout sessions and informal networking. Panel discussions over the course of the weekend featureAdolph Reed, Michael Hardt, Lisa Fithian, Jason West, Lynne Stewart and Starhawk, among many others. Click here for more info.

The first-ever Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues and Ideas is another of the many creative responses to the RNC convention and the threat posed by a Bush victory in November. A gala of more than 125 events mixing artistic and educational activities through a series of concerts, performances, screenings, forums, town meetings and performance art, the Imagine Festival takes place all over New York City from August 28 to September 2. Click here for more details, event listings and ticket info.

And check out the CounterConvention website for information about the full range of planned protest, cultural and educational activities while the Republican Party meets in New York City. You can also find useful resources at RNCNotWelcome.Org, including info on housing and transportation, downloadable flyers and graphics to help get out the word, and a list of suggested ways you can help the anti-RNC efforts.

We'll continue to highlight various events, protests and campaigns as the RNC draws nearer, so watch this space for details and let us know about any activities you think we should be featuring by clicking here.

Fight for the Right to Rally

Nation readers are likely familiar with the way that New York City has been stonewalling the antiwar coalition United for Peace & Justice's efforts to obtain a legal permit for what will be the biggest rally of the Republican convention week on August 29.

UFP applied for a permit for a rally in Central Park last April. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused, citing concerns for the grass and offered an arid, treeless stretch of the West Side Highway, far from Madison Square Garden, as the only possible alternative. Yesterday, with the convention only three weeks away, United for Peace and Justice insisted it be allowed to protest in Central Park and said it will sue the city for the right to rally there, if necessary.

This insistence has received widespread support from local elected and civic officials, especially since the same space has held events--like an Elton John concert--with far more people than the rally will draw. And it's not unusual for things of this sort to be held in grassy areas. As New York Newsday columnist Ellis Henican asked today in his column: "What do the gardeners in Washington know that the gardeners in Central Park never learned?"

Mayor Bloomberg is willing to spend millions to subsidize the RNC, but isn't willing to consider any expense related to a protest. In any event UFPJ has even offered to put up a bond for restoration of the grass, if necessary, but the city won't discuss it.

A Quinnipiac University poll found that 75 percent of New Yorkers back the park protest. Even Rupert Murdoch's strongly pro-war New York Post has joined the chorus along with all of New York City's other dailies, in calling on Bloomberg to reverse his decision: "A gaggle of lefty agitators wants to convene in Central Park this summer to give President Bush a little grief. But the Parks Department says no, because they might bend the grass. Well, too bad. 'Keep Off The Grass' appears nowhere in the First Amendment."

UFPJ is asking people to call Bloomberg to politely protest the city's denial of the right to rally in Central Park on August 29. You can email the Mayor by clicking here or call his office at 212-788-3000. It may also help to let the Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe, know how you feel. His office can be reached at 212-360-1305 or by clicking here.

You can also click here to go to the UFPJ website for updates on this struggle to secure the right to protest, and click here for information about the full range of planned protest, cultural and educational activities while the Republican Party meets in New York City.

Labor Rights and the Olympics

Despite scant notice from the media, a potentially historic bill was recently introduced in Congress by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and George Miller (D-CA). The "Play Fair at the Olympics Act" requires companies under contract with the US Olympic Committee to observe international labor rights standards, including freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively as well as the elimination of child labor and discrimination in the workplace.

This bill could be a major step forward for the Play Fair at the Olympics Campaign and in the global struggle against sweatshop labor. Ensuring that a world-wide event such as the Olympics promote internationally-recognized workplace standards strengthens the struggle to expand and enforce those rights around the globe. As Rep. Miller stated, "Our bill says that no matter where products with the US Olympic logo are made, the fundamental human rights of the workers making those products must be respected. Just as we expect fair play from our Olympic athletes, the Olympic gear our athletes use should be made under fair conditions."

To promote support for the bill (H.R. 4988), organizers from the AFL-CIO and Oxfam America are trying to get the US Olympic Committee on board. Its endorsement could really help push Congress to do the right thing for workers' rights.

Please click here to join Oxfam America's petition to the US Olympic Committee, asking for support for the bill, click here for contact info for your elected rep to write them yourself and click here to read and circulate more info on the International Play Fair at the Olympics Campaign.

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