Remembering: Jenny Barrett

Emma Goldman, anarcho-syndicalist, union organizer and general hellraiser, once affirmed, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Though she was arguably a gentler soul than Goldman, these words nevertheless apply well to Jenny Barrett, a woman who somehow combined a lifelong engagement in social justice work with a quite literal passion for dancing, for gourmet cooking and for baking, as well as a capacity for capturing the subtle colors of the world in her artwork. Continue reading

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Remembering: Anne Feeney

She carried a business card that read: “Performer, Producer, Hellraiser.” And that is who Anne Feeney was throughout her time as a traveling troubadour on behalf of social justice. Born July 1, 1951 just outside of Pittsburgh into an Irish-American family with a long tradition of union activism, she bought a Martin guitar in high school in 1967 and made her first public appearance singing Phil Ochs songs at an anti-war rally in 1969. Three years later she was arrested at the Republican National Convention protesting the nomination of Richard Nixon. After earning a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1978, she worked twelve years as a trial lawyer, and continued to perform in local venues in her spare time. During this same period she co-founded Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and was president of the local National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter. Continue reading

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Remembering: Claire Szoke

We were very saddened by the passing of our friend and dedicated worker for social justice, Claire Szoke. Claire grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a major in Spanish and journalism. In 1959, she came to Champaign-Urbana to do graduate work. She received her Ph.D in 1969 in Spanish Language and Literature. Continue reading

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The 2021 Illinois Police and Criminal Justice Reform Bill

Representative Ammons and Governor Pritzker speak about the reform bill at the U of I College of Law on February 25

On February 22, Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 3653. This bill, rather a composite omnibus of many bills, was sponsored by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in both the Illinois House and Senate. Several of the individual bills were sponsored by our own Representative Carol Ammons. The provisions do not take effect immediately. Over the next couple of years, implementation commissions or task forces will study how the different provisions can be implemented. It is a very long bill, so I just want to cover what I think are some of the highlights. Continue reading

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Bail Systems as Wealth-Based Incarceration, or “No Money, No Justice”


Champaign County Bail Coalition members help those arrested at the Marketplace Mall post bail in June, 2020, reducing their possible exposure to COVID at the jail. Photo by CCBC

The Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits “excessive” bail, a prohibition that dates back to English common law, and is largely honored in the breach.

In Champaign County Jail, on any given day this past winter, there were several hundred prisoners, most of whom were awaiting trial or sentencing rather than serving time. And this is typical. The Prison Policy Initiative estimated in a 2020 report that “Every year, over 600,000 people enter prison gates [to serve sentences], but people go to jail 10.6 million times each year,” largely to await bail or trial. Mass incarceration starts in county jails. Continue reading

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Shamar Betts: Caught in a Legal Drama that Started Before He was Born

Shamar Betts plans on continuing his education as soon as possible

No one wants to be the poster child for a Supreme Court challenge. However, finding his case before the Supreme Court could not only help Urbana resident Shamar Betts resolve his own situation, but it could redraw the legal lines designed to limit opposition voices since 1968. Betts is a very young man caught up in a legal drama that started long before he was born.

Betts is currently in the Champaign County Jail awaiting sentencing on the charge of having incited the wave of anger that swept through the North Prospect area the night of May 31, 2020, causing more than $100,000 of property damage. The damage happened, the anger was certainly real, but Shamar’s placement at the crosshairs of the Federal government’s campaign to attribute the outrage that followed Floyd’s murder to shadowy “violent radicals” is not so simple. Betts’ situation is an unfortunate product of two colliding timelines: a new civil rights struggle and election-year demonization of the opposition. Continue reading

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The Haters Among Them

The number is thirty so far, thirty police officers charged with the act of participating in the Capitol insurrection last January. Many, many Americans felt shock, and media analysts expressed particular outrage, to find men in blue—perhaps even waving blue-line, “support the police” flags—willing to overturn 2020 election results and threaten lawmakers, Democratic and Republican alike, pillage federal property, and assault other police defending the Capitol.

But why exactly the surprise? The problems of racist policing have been acutely obvious in the wake of the merciless murder of George Floyd and other unarmed people of color in recent years and in the aggressive police responses to many of the protests that followed. Talk of reforms to address unconscious racism within police ranks have followed or are currently under discussion. But the problem highlighted on January 6 is about conscious racism and how it may be both a pathway to and interconnected with violently anti-democratic extremism. Continue reading

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Counting the Costs of War

“The refugee crisis” is a big and scary concept, but to many of us it is just that, conceptual. However, a September 2020 study has found that between 37 and 59 million people from 12 different countries have been displaced since September 11, 2001, as a consequence of the US Global War on Terror. To repeat: 37–59 million lives disrupted as a consequence of US military choices.

The report (“Creating Refugees: Displacement caused by the United States’ Post 9/11 Wars”) is one of many research projects undertaken by the Brown University–affiliated Costs of War Project. The project brings together scholars, physicians, human rights and legal experts to draw attention to the underacknowledged metrics of US military actions, but even publishing the staggering numbers of those displaced as a result of US policies has elicited little reaction from Americans. The troubling fact is that the Western media’s response to this human crisis has been led mainly by a fear of taking in refugees. Unfortunately, the report on displacement provoked little soul-searching in the US, perhaps in part because we are creating a world where displacement becomes almost a fact of life. Continue reading

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Africa and COVID-19 Vaccines: The Politics Surrounding Equitable Access to Vaccines

Street scene in The Gambia. Mask-wearing is not common, and social distancing is difficult. Photo by author

Global North countries, including France, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, are hoarding COVID-19 vaccines, leaving countries of the Global South behind in equitable access to vaccines. As COVID-19 vaccines become available, many Global North countries have already purchased half of the available vaccines. Some of them have already purchased more doses than they need for their citizens. The European Union announced a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech for 300 million additional doses, giving the EU nearly half of the firms’ global output for 2021. Furthermore, Canada has struck deals that would enable it to immunize 505 percent of its population; the US has secured enough doses to vaccinate 200 percent of its population. This brute behavior leaves countries in the Global South far behind in the vaccine queue, or not in it at all. The delay in access to vaccines for citizens of Global South countries is ultimately more costly for all, as the pandemic will continue, further destroying lives worldwide. African countries are yet again behind in acquiring the needed vaccines, even though some of the clinical trials for these vaccines were carried out in Africa. This replicates the painful history of the 1990s, when many Africans participated in trials for the antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV, but Africans were among the last people to receive treatments. Many African countries rely on the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative to receive COVID-19 vaccines to vaccinate its population. Continue reading

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A Tale of Two Elections


This article was first published in The Raw Story on December 21, 2020, under the title “Trump’s Coup is Failing—But a Similar Effort Backed by the US has Already Succeeded.” It has been amended to note the inauguration’s having happened. Reprinted with permission.


In recent weeks, Donald Trump has been ridiculed, slathered with contempt, and repeatedly branded a “liar,” as well as an existential threat to democracy in the United States, by the biggest media outlets in the country. This is in response to his attempts to reverse the results of the US presidential election, and claiming—without evidence—that it was stolen. He still clings to these allegations, but he left the White House on January 20th.


But just over a year ago, a similar effort was launched in Bolivia, and it actually prevailed. The country’s democratically elected president, Evo Morales, was toppled three weeks after the October 20 [2019] vote, before his term was finished. He left the country after the military “asked” him to resign. Continue reading

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The C-U Independent Media Center, in collaboration with its Public i Working Group, presents a panel on “Grassroots Journalism in Our Community: Past, Present and Future,” with Belden Fields and Janice Jayes, Public i Editorial Collective; Phalonna Stewart, Public i Disinformation Project Associate; and James Corbin II, WRFU Radio.  The Zoom event will be broadcast on April 17, from 10 am to 11:30 am. To join, go to


Meet the New Public i Social Media Coordinator and IMC Countering Disinformation Project Associate

Phalonna “CiCi” Stewart is a writer, vocalist, and art ambassador for the C-U area. Her mission is to cultivate an air of unity in all mediums and to use the lessons she has learned to help others.


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An Indymedia Genesis Story

Indymedia is a wide-ranging phenomenon: its genesis in opposition to dominant powers; its constituency spanning numerous public interest movements; and its continuing success creating a proving ground for a next generation of leaders who today, 20 years later, are scattered globally, yet ascending into positions of power and influence.

The Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (UCIMC) is, and always has been, a relative outlier in the Indymedia landscape. But it rose quickly to become a dominant nexus for local social and economic justice organizing, and, as it happened, the legal headquarters for Global Indymedia. This local IMC incubated scores of projects that, for the half-decade before ubiquitous smartphones, were important in bringing documentation resources in some way to the front lines of nearly every major global justice and pro-democracy protest on the planet. Continue reading

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Turn Off the Spigot: Money vs. Med4All

The COVID pandemic has exposed the flaws in the US health care system as never before, reinforcing longstanding arguments for creating an expanded Medicare for All system in the country. The Public i has previously published articles (see June, November and December 2019 and April 2020 issues) exposing the flaws in arguments against this policy and clarifying how its implementation can reduce the overall costs of health care delivery by as much as $5 trillion over a ten-year period and to family budgets by as much as $3000 per year.

In a context where 69 percent of Americans support expanding Medicare, the will of the majority has been consistently disregarded in Washington. Again and again the major roadblock to reform has proved to be the enormous amounts of money the health care industry pours into the legislative process. Continue reading

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Thank the Suffragists: Celebrating the Women’s Rights History of Champaign County

The exhibit at Museum of the Grand Prairie

Ever wondered why March is Women’s History Month? We at the Museum of the Grand Prairie invite you to answer that question with a visit to our latest exhibit celebrating the centennial of women’s voting rights, “How Long Must Women Wait? Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights in Champaign County.” While this exhibit opened in 2020, we’re holding it over because of our previous COVID-related closures. On March 1 we will reopen our doors to the public just in time for you to join us in celebrating Women’s History Month.

You can thank the suffragists for Women’s History Month. Concurrent with their struggle for the vote, the first Women’s History Day happened in March, 1909. Presidential proclamations stretched that into a week in the 1970s and a month in the 1990s, but the question remains, why March? Continue reading

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If You Could Save a Million Lives, Would You Do It?

This article was first published in The Hill on October 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

If you had the opportunity to save a million people from preventable death, would you do it? These are people who would otherwise fall victim to the global pandemic and deep recession that most of the world is experiencing. This is not merely a rhetorical question, but one that members of the Congress will have to answer in the present.

In an interview with The Economist last month, Bill Gates stated that millions of people in developing countries would die before the COVID-19 pandemic was over. He noted, importantly, that 90 percent of the deaths would not result from the virus itself, but from “indirect” effects. These include most prominently the economic impact of the pandemic, as well as other causes such as the overwhelming of medical and public health resources, which increases fatalities from other diseases. Continue reading

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COVID-19: Coming to a Jail Near You

This article was first published in The Progressive on January 4, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

Wayne Colson, Sr. recalls he felt “helpless” with his son sitting in jail as news of the COVID-19 pandemic was breaking. A loyal father, Colson had attended visitation every Sunday to see his son. “I didn’t want him to feel like nobody was there, I was never too busy to show him love.” Visitations at the jail were cancelled when COVID hit. Worried his son would catch this deadly, invisible disease, he felt he was in a “whirlwind.”

Colson and his son live in Champaign-Urbana. Many Black youth, like Colson’s son, have little prospect of attending the state’s flagship campus, the University of Illinois, and get funneled into the criminal legal system.

Jails have become petri dishes for COVID-19. The majority of people in jail have not been convicted of a crime, yet they are being exposed to COVID. Those who cycle in and out of jails are taking COVID back into their homes, infecting Black, brown, and poor white communities. Continue reading

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“Congo to the Mississippi”: Recent Socially Conscious Music from Africa and the Americas

Sahari (2019), by Aziza Brahim

It is wonderful that so much music from around the world is now easily available to us, especially through the Internet and radio. My main source is Songlines magazine, a monthly published in print and online in London. Every print issue comes with one or two CDs, which are also available by download online. Almost all of this music is available through Apple Music or other similar sources.

75,000 Strong

In 1980, during the worst days of apartheid in South Africa, renowned activist and exiled musicians Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba flew into the small independent kingdom of Lesotho (entirely surrounded by South Africa) and gave a free concert for 75,000 freedom-loving people, most crossing the nearby border for the event. Due to technical problems, the recording was lost except for one video, but six of Masekela’s songs were recorded at a hotel performance the following night. That recording, Live in Lesotho, was finally rereleased in 2019. The great surviving video is of “Stimela,” the “Coal Train,” that carried migrant workers from across the region to work in the gold mines of Johannesburg. Continue reading

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Art is a Revolution


The author at an art show

Art is a revolution, a melting pot of ideas, hopes, dreams, and wishes, not always welcomed, but ever the adventure. My love for the arts affords me the opportunity to let people into the “me” that I sometimes hide away. It’s hard for artists in many communities to open up and expose themselves. Yet I have found that right in our own backyard of Champaign and Urbana we are welcomed, loved, and, dare I say it, celebrated. It’s a rich and diverse cultural climate that enriches any who dare to step into it. Here I indulge in several aspects of the arts, from dance to poetry, recycled art, fashion, and design, and each one gives me a unique sense of power. Sharing that empowerment with others is part of my artistic journey as well. Continue reading

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FRIDAY FORUM – Spring 2021

The Digital Mis(shaping) of the World

In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, many of us are using technology more than ever before. The world of technology opens many doors for global connection, but does it also come with consequences? With growing digital interactions, there is a greater need to more deeply understand the intersections between technology and race, class, privacy, education, faith and public health. How these intersections impact our everyday experiences, as well as what might happen within these intersections looking forward, are critical for us to consider. Join us as we take a look into how technology is not only shaping but also misshaping our world.

Speakers and topics for the spring series will include:

  • February 12th – #DigitalFaith – Keeping the Faith Remotely – Sable Manson
  • February 19th – Miriam Larson, Tanya Parker and Maurice Hayes – topic TBD
  • February 26th – Technology and Data for Positive Social Impact – Lauren Haynes
  • March 5th – The Intersection of Black Culture and Technology – Lamont Holden
  • March 12th – Safiya Noble – topic TBD
  • March 19th – Daniel Gonzalez – topic TBD
  • March 26th – Exploring Equity and Power in Online Learning Environments – Virginia Byrne
  • April 2nd – U.S. Youth and Media Migration – Aimee Rickman


All Friday Forums are on Fridays at 12:00pm online via Zoom. For links, go to

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Public i Job Announcement

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