Archive for the ‘civil rights movement’ Tag

A Testament of Hope

Take Responsibility

Take Responsibility

” Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail (April, 1963)


A Sad Night for the United States of America

IMG_2156Many black families woke up this morning (November 25, 2014) knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America. The deep distrust of law enforcement in their own communities that so many African Americans feel just got deeper last night — 108 days since the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown — when the prosecuting attorney announced the decision not to subject the police officer who killed Brown to a trial where all the facts could be publically known and examined.

We now all have the chance to examine the evidence — released last night — in the grand jury’s decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson, who fired multiple bullets into Michael Brown. But the verdict on America’s criminal justice system is already in for many Americans: guilty, for treating young black men differently than young white men.

According to veteran prosecutors and defense attorneys, many things were unusual about the grand jury that ultimately decided not to indict Wilson. But most unusual may have been the decision to hold the news until after dark — as anxiety rose and hundreds gathered on the street. The decision was reportedly in by 2 p.m., so why did authorities wait seven hours to announce it? Why did they wait until people were off work and anxious young crowds had gathered outside police headquarters in Ferguson? Focus quickly turned from the grand jury’s decision to the response in the streets. While most protestors remained peaceful, the media naturally focused on the very unfortunate violence.

Other large questions remain …


Posted November 25, 2014 by allanbaker in Politics

Tagged with , , , ,

Unbearable Pain, Startling Hope – by Jennifer Henry

Pete Seeger – and David Suzuki

David Suzuki Foundation

Pete Seeger: “From way up here the Earth looks very small”

Photo Credit: wfuv

“This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

– Words painted on Pete Seeger’s banjo

A man with a banjo can be a powerful force for good. Pete Seeger, who died January 27 at the age of 94, inspired generations of political and environmental activists with songs ranging from “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” to “Sailing Down My Golden River”.

From the late 1930s until his death, Seeger brought his music to union halls, churches, schools, migrant camps, nightclubs, TV studios, marches and rallies – always inviting audiences to join in. His calling took him from being hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955 to being invited to perform at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

Like me, he was inspired by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring to become a strong defender of the environment as well as human rights. In both social justice and environmental causes, he believed in the strength of grassroots efforts. As he told the CBC Radio program Ideas, “The powers that be can break up any big thing they want. They can attack it from the outside. They can infiltrate it and corrupt it from the inside – or co-opt it. But what are they going to do about 10 million little things? They don’t know where to start. Break up three of them and four more like it start up.”

Seeger and his wife, Toshi, devoted a lot of time to protecting the Hudson River near their home in Beacon, New York. To save the polluted waterway, they raised money to build a sloop, the Clearwater, to take children, teachers and parents sailing. The boat and cleanup efforts have since spawned a science-based environmental education organization and music festival – and led to progress in restoring the river and ridding it of toxic PCBs, pesticides and other chemicals.

Seeger was also involved in anti-fracking efforts, adding the line, “This land was made to be frack-free” to his late friend Woody Guthrie’s anthem, “This Land Is Your Land”, when he joined Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews at a Farm Aid benefit last year.

Like all of us who devote our lives to trying to make the world better, Seeger made mistakes along the way. But he was willing to admit when he was wrong and to change his views.

As a geneticist, I’m fascinated by the built-in need we have for music; it reaches deep within us. The power of a good song to touch us emotionally and rally us to action is nothing short of extraordinary.

And musicians are often the first to donate their time and music to worthy causes. It’s why I’ve had such deep admiration for musicians I’ve worked with and often been lucky enough to call my friends, from Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot to Neil Young and Sarah Harmer and the members of Blue Rodeo. Musicians have inspired millions of people with powerful anthems, from Seeger’s rendition of “We Shall Overcome” to John Lennon’s “Imagine.” In recognition of the power of song, the David Suzuki Foundation invited musicians from across the country to contribute to a recording called Playlist for the Planet in 2011.

I recently had the pleasure of joining Neil Young and Diana Krall on their Honour the Treaties tour to raise money and awareness for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal battle to protect their traditional lands and rights guaranteed under Treaty 8. As “just a musician”, Young was criticized for having the nerve to speak out and for his harsh words about rampant tar sands development. But, as much as it would be better if the media, public and government paid far more attention to First Nations and their spokespeople, a celebrity with conviction and the ability to communicate through the powerful medium of song – or other forms of artistic expression – can often highlight a struggle in ways few others can.

Like Nelson Mandela, who died in December at age 95, Pete Seeger was a great communicator for whom principles mattered more than anything else. He was a true American and world citizen and we’re better off for the contributions he made during his long life.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington 

“Free thinking” in democracies

 In this column Jim Taylor argues that:

“National security and personal security are closely linked. A nation cannot be secure if it systematically undermines the security of its citizens. Citizens are not just a nation’s means to an end; they are the nation.”


By Jim Taylor – Sunday December 15, 2013

Let’s take a purely hypothetical case. Suppose I hid in the bushes outside a neighbour’s house, hoping to catch a glimpse of her disrobing in her bedroom.
I’d be what’s commonly called a “peeping Tom.” I could be, and probably should be, arrested, convicted, and punished.
Under the law, it makes no difference whether I do my spying from the bushes directly outside her bedroom, or set up a powerful telescope several kilometres away. I don’t even have to be there. I’m just as guilty if I set up a hidden camera to take pictures that I can drool over later.
So why is it apparently legal for the state to do the same kind of surreptitious snooping?
IMG_0922Thanks to defector Edward Snowden, we know now that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been tapping the private communications of not only its own citizens, but those of other countries as well.
And a CBC investigation found documents proving that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has actively collaborated with the NSA. During the 2010 G-20 economic summit in Toronto, the two agencies worked together to intercept the communications of visiting diplomats. In about 20 countries where Canada is more welcome than the U.S., CSEC even did NSA’s dirty work — peering into the lives of individuals and corporations.

Voyeurism is considered a psychological disorder — mainly male, although not always — where the victim is usually unaware of being observed.
In the U.S., the laws against voyeurism (quoting Wikipedia) specifically refer to “surreptitious surveillance without consent, and unlawful recordings… involving places and times when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy…”
Voyeurism sounds to me like a perfect description of NSA’s activities.
Pierre Trudeau once declared, “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”
But does the state have any business peeping into the minds of the nation? The NSA/CSEC’s voyeurism does not seek sexual titillation. Does that make it acceptable?
I suggest that a woman’s thoughts have as much right to privacy as her body. Ditto for men. Electronic surveillance is utterly egalitarian; it ignores gender. And every other distinction, too.
The systems that NSA and CSEC use to gather information act like the gigantic trawl nets used by some fishing nations to scoop up everything in the sea, whether it’s valuable or not, for later sorting and discarding. We condemn indiscriminate harvesting that destroys dolphins and tuna while attempting to gather scallops; we should be equally outraged at indiscriminate electronic harvesting.

National security and personal security are closely linked. A nation cannot be secure if it systematically undermines the security of its citizens. Citizens are not just a nation’s means to an end; they are the nation.
Security comes from the unity of a shared vision, a common purpose. It does not come from lurking in the bushes, hoping to catch an indiscretion.
In previous columns, I have argued that in today’s world, there is no such thing as privacy anymore. (Especially if you’re the mayor of Toronto.) Surveillance cameras monitor your car in traffic. Closed circuit video records your passage in shopping malls and corporate offices. Airport security scanners examine you inside and out. Cell phones capture your actions when you least expect it.
But how much of yourself you choose to expose is still a matter of choice. You don’t have to strip naked in front of a shopping mall cameras. You don’t have to bare your political ideology before you go into a bank.
CSEC and NSA strip away that element of choice.
It’s like a priest broadcasting your words from the confessional. Or a lawyer entering your privileged discussions as evidence against you.

But this is not just about privacy. It’s about intrusion. What the spy agencies are doing is akin to a home invasion. It might even be considered intellectual rape. It’s about busting into “places and times when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
It seems to me that the NSA and CSEC may still believe in the divine right of kings. Once upon a time it was taken for granted that monarchs had absolute authority over their subjects. They could make laws, or break them. They could raise taxes, launch wars, seize property, and execute opponents, at their sole discretion.
When a woman married, the king or lord often had first rights to bed her.
Few would endorse such practices today. But the state still presumes it has a divine right to insert itself into its subjects’ private lives.
As I write this, I hear that the Harper government in Ottawa has embedded new rules about snooping into an omnibus bill supposedly intended to protect young people from cyber-bullying. But only four of the bill’s 70 pages deal with that subject. All the rest make it easier for the peeping Toms in government agencies to snoop on private conversations and e-mails.
I object.
Copyright © 2013 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Taking Liberties: Why do we jail women who choose to live?

By Matthew Behrens, November 25, 2013

Photo: banlon1964/flickr

Trigger alert, this story contains disturbing reports of assault.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization released a comprehensive study that found more than a third of all women worldwide — 35.6 per cent — will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The great majority of this violence is committed by intimate male partners in acts that can only be described as domestic or home-grown terrorism. It’s the latest in an endless stream of similar reports on this form of domestic terror, but Canada and other governments refuse to both recognize the extent of the crisis and respond accordingly.

When the report was released, WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan declared, “These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions. We also see that the world’s health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence.” The report found that of the women who experience direct attacks, 42 per cent require some form of hospitalization.

In confirming what more than half of the population already knows is a daily reality, the WHO report did not exactly produce a firestorm of response and calls for urgent action from government leaders. Instead, their “war on terrorism” focuses on racial and religious profiling, the jailing of innocents, the closing of borders to refugees, extra-judicial assassination by Canadian-made drones, and continuation of indefinite detention and rendition-to-torture programs. There are no massive interventions that address the greatest purveyors of fear and violence in Canada and around the world: the men in women’s lives.

As of April 2010, there were an astounding 593 women’s shelters in Canada. Earlier this month, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses released its annual Femicide report, a grim reminder of women’s lives snuffed out by men in Ontario during 2013. And despite a United Nations call for Canada to develop a comprehensive national review to end violence against aboriginal women, Canada’s envoy to the UN in Geneva rejected the idea. Similarly, in 2010, Canada adopted a National Action Plan for the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security which included supporting the rights of girls and women abroad, but it is unclear if anything has been done because it has failed to deliver on its promise of annual and midterm reports.

Perhaps that is due in part to the fact that Canada’s rhetoric about supporting women’s rights (a mainstay of its justification for the occupation of Afghanistan) rings hollow. In Afghanistan, Canada’s presence does not appear to have moved things forward for women. Indeed, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported last December that women who flee rapists and abusive husbands are regularly jailed by the hundreds for alleged “moral crimes.” Among those jailed are those who have defended themselves against and, in the process, wounded or killed rapists.

Lest one conclude that Afghanistan is just “behind the times,” it is worth noting that here in North America, women who choose to live by defending themselves are similarly jailed in alarming numbers. In the U.S., the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project, found: “The average prison sentence for men who kill their intimate partners is 2 to 6 years. Women who kill their partners are sentenced, on average, to 15 years.

The case of Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander, an African-American mother of three, did not kill her abusive ex-partner when he physically attacked her and threatened her with death only nine days after she gave birth. She fired a warning shot into the ceiling to scare him off, and as a result is serving 20 years of hard time in Florida. During her trial — one in which the judge rejected her “stand your ground” defence, the same rationale used by the state of Florida for failing to arrest the man who murdered Trayvon Martin — Alexander recounted numerous incidents of severe physical abuse including choking, attempted strangulation, and other incidents that required hospitalization. She lost the ability to swallow as a result of her injuries and lost 10 pounds. She subsequently obtained a domestic violence injunction against her ex. In 2010, when she was five months pregnant, she was “head-butted” twice, her clothes torn, and she was also thrown to the ground. During all these episodes — and at other times, as well — he threatened to kill her. At trial, numerous witnesses testified about seeing Alexander’s injuries, while in-laws of her abusive husband testified about his reputation for violence. One witness confirmed that Marissa Alexander met the criteria for “battered person’s syndrome.”

On top of this, her abusive husband admitted in a sworn affidavit, “The way I was with women… they never knew what I was thinking or what I might do. Hit them, push them. … I honestly think [Marissa] just didn’t want me to put my hands on her anymore, so she did what she feel like she have to do to make sure she wouldn’t get hurt, you know. … The gun was never actually pointed at me.

While an appeals court recently rejected her contention that she should have been granted immunity from prosecution under “stand your ground” (under which an individual can use deadly force if “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm”, it did find, in granting her a new trial, that the jury was given the wrong instructions. The original judge essentially placed the burden of proof on Marissa Alexander when it came to showing that she was about to be attacked and needed to act in self-defence. The appeals court confirmed that Alexander “was charged with aggravated assault but — under any possible review of the evidence — inflicted no injury.”

While a new trial was a breakthrough, Alexander’s supporters called on the state to drop the charges and let her go free. Unfortunately, the state of Florida is pursuing the trial option, and a hearing to determine whether Marissa will be freed on bond and returned to her children (she has not seen her youngest child in three years) took place earlier this month, with a decision expected by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the man who continually assaulted her and threatened to take her life walks free.

I have had the privilege of corresponding with Alexander while she has been in jail. She is a compassionate and insightful person who recognized immediately upon going behind bars how many women were also in her shoes: they too were in jail because they chose to live, and the judicial system simply could not understand the terror that constituted their daily lives.

The case of Ashley White

Closer to home is the case of Ottawa’s Ashley White, 25, who earlier this year was found guilty of aggravated assault (and acquitted of attempted murder) for stabbing her abusive former boyfriend. She faces a possible maximum of 14 years behind bars for defending herself. According to press reports on her trial, White’s former boyfriend, Patrick Halcro, aged 36, a veteran of the Afghanistan occupation who suffers PTSD, often went into fits of rage and jealousy. He admitted in court to punching her and smashing her head into a doorframe. As QMI News reported, he claimed, “I used proportional force. I felt threatened.”

White suffered a shattered nose and cheekbone, requiring facial reconstruction surgery, in addition to post-concussion syndrome and a diagnosis of PTSD. The Ottawa Sun reported, “Medical evidence suggested her head trauma and the shock of seeing her face bathed in blood could have placed her in a state where she wouldn’t have known what she was doing when she stabbed Halcro. As for Halcro, the knife blade nicked his lung but a trauma surgeon said the injury was relatively minor.

At one point in the trial, White’s lawyer noted that after pummeling her, Mr. Halcro stepped over her bloodied body to retrieve his luggage. “Your luggage was more important to you than checking on Ashley,” the lawyer said. According to QMI News, “He said he didn’t realize the extent to which he’d hurt her until he got his bag and noticed a lot of blood where White had collapsed.”

The Ottawa Sun reported that White “remembers being pummeled on the floor as he loomed over her until she could no longer see and felt like she was going to die. He said: ‘I am trained to kill you and I will kill you’ or something like that, White said.”

Four years after his horrific beating, White remains out on restrictive bail, while her ex was never charged. A community of friends has come together to try and assist her with her massive legal bills, both for the trial and an expected appeal. That group has formed a Facebook page, on which they write: “We strongly believe [Ashley] was wrongly convicted of aggravated assault for stabbing her abusive ex-military boyfriend. After being beaten so badly she would later require reconstructive surgery and in a state of near unconsciousness, Ashley fended off the attack with a kitchen knife. It has never been explained why he was never charged and why the lead detective never testified in court, yet Ashley’s life is changed forever. Ashley’s friends and supporters are planning a fund-raising event to help her cover the $90,000 accumulated costs to date and $50,000+ she is facing in future legal fees.” To join that Facebook page, where you can leave messages of support and donate to her costs, visit here.

In the meantime, Marissa Alexander’s supporters ask that you contact this email address and visit this Facebook page and website.

As Canada marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, it is a reminder of how much work remains to be done, not simply on symbolic days, but every day as the war against women grinds mercilessly on.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream

Many people feel inspired by reading the “I Have A Dream” speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

More challenging is the letter that he wrote to clergy in Birmingham during the time that King was incarcerated there. A summary can be found in Wikipedia at:

It was in this letter that King wrote about how we are all interconnected in this world; wisdom that those who are concerned about our environment have learned from the civil rights movement. King wrote:

 “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Trayvon Martin could have been me – Obama

By:  Washington Bureau, Published on Fri Jul 19 2013

WASHINGTON—You can be black. You can be candid about the pain of race in America. You can be the president of the United States.

But if you’re Barack Obama, combining each of those conditions at the same time has been the electrified third rail of his historic presidency.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks candidly Friday about race in America in unscripted remarks prompted by the George Zimmerman acquittal in the the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Photo credit: LARRY DOWNING / REUTERS  U.S. President Barack Obama speaks candidly Friday about race in America in unscripted remarks prompted by the George Zimmerman acquittal in the the Trayvon Martin shooting.

America’s first ever African-American leader built two victories on inclusivity: “hope and change” in the star-struck fall of 2008, which gave way to a much messier campaign in 2012 seized with class, not race, when No-Drama Obama claimed Mitt Romney’s 47 per cent — and many others besides — with colour-blind messaging in what proved to be a cakewalk.

Then came Friday afternoon. After a week of mounting pressure to offer more than a written statement on last week’s George Zimmerman acquittal, Obama stepped up with 20 stunning, unscripted minutes on race.

Read more of Mitch Potter’s column at:

Posted July 20, 2013 by allanbaker in Politics

Tagged with , , ,

Lent 2013 – day 9

What is one to DO in Lent?

If one is to update one’s theology, why not look for where God’s Spirit is active in God’s world today?

The image above is from a demonstration in Washington, D.C. on February 17, 2013. Thousands upon thousands of people attended. The numbers vary, and are in contrast to what one may have read in the corporate media. The demonstration had a spirit about it that reminds one of the Spirit that was alive during similar demonstrations for civil rights in the U.S.A.

There is a possibility that God’s Spirit is active in these actions that call the political elite to make decisions that respect God’s creation! After all, we know that life on God’s earth is being  diminished by a religion dedicated to consumerism and growth at all costs. This is called econotheism.

God’s Spirit has never been constrained by “organized” religion. It is always moving through God’s world where it will, not necessarily where the Christian church wills it to be. 

If we are to update our theology, we ought to be looking for where God’s Spirit of health and wholeness for all creation, and God’s dream of people living with respect IN creation, is present in God’s world.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

King in 1964

January 21, 2013 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States of America.

In his “Letter From Birmingham Jail”, King offers wisdom that might be appropriate for those who raise questions about the tactics of the Idle No More movement.

Some of those comments, as I see it, are below, concluding with a reflection on the role of the Christian church. One wonders if this quotation from King is also applicable in today’s circumstances where Christian communities that proclaim justice as their mission are not involved with the Idle No More movement. At the same time, given the past involvement of churches in residential schools, maybe reconciliation between churches and First Nations needs to happen first.

  • “We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

  • “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

  • “The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”