John Nichols on Pete Seeger, Roberto Lovato on censorship in San Antonio.



The tangible evidence that the change

Barack Obama

promised had indeed arrived in Washington came two days before the president was inaugurated, when

Pete Seeger

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

Franklin Roosevelt

, 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

Communist Party

) and the entertainment industry executives who refused him microphones for decades.

It helped that Seeger appeared with a kid named

Bruce Springsteen

and that the song they sang,

Woody Guthrie

‘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


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

Graciela Sánchez

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



Barack Obama

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

Robert Gates

, 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

Gabor Rona

, 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


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