Interview with Bryton Mellott, Flag-Burner  

Last year, on July 4, 2016, Bryton Mellot was arrested by Urbana police for burning a US flag and posting the photos on Facebook. The protest was in response to the mass shooting in June at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. His post went viral, and the case eventually made it to NPR, ABC News, and CNN. The charges against him were dropped, and the ACLU filed a civil suit on Mellot’s behalf in federal court. In September, a settlement was reached awarding $15,000 to Mellott, with the Urbana police admitting no guilt. After the original incident, the Public i published a statement in solidarity with Mellott and his right to free speech. Here we are honored to publish the first public interview granted by Mellott after his settlement.

Your original July post apparently hit a nerve among many people. Were you surprised that it went viral? Why do you think that happened?

I was actually pretty surprised that it had gone viral, I didn’t expect it to have an impact reaching further than the community I had built around myself in Chambana. But at that point I was still friends with many of the people I had attended high school with, so I would guess that this is how it ended up being spread so far. While there wasn’t really an “intended audience” for my post, it was understandably more upsetting to the people following me who had never left the mildly racist comfort of Mendota, Illinois.

How has Trump’s election made a difference? Have you seen over the last year that patriotism/nationalism/white supremacy/homophobia have gotten measurably worse?

I think that Trump’s election has caused an increase in events of intolerance towards marginalized communities, but I don’t think this is because people are any more bigoted than they always have been. Trump gave them permission to bring their intolerance out of the closet and onto the streets, and I think it’s crucial that we crush this intolerance while we can all see it (or at least beat it back into the closet where its impact is minimized).

Why did you settle the lawsuit and not take it any further? Do you feel like the $15,000 was fair? Do you think this will cause the Urbana police to think twice next time?

Throughout the process of filing a lawsuit, I was operating under the advice of the ACLU. It was my understanding that taking the lawsuit any further wouldn’t guarantee any sort of ruling in my favor or consequence for the Urbana Police Department. At that point, it became a matter of bringing an immediate monetary penalty to the police department responsible for my arrest. To be completely honest, I have no idea whether or not the $15,000 was fair. I think very often in cases of police brutality/rights violations, the victim is already in a position of poverty and an ideological victory isn’t the most pressing concern for them. You can’t survive by eating “justice,” and the sentencing of a corrupt individual will never pay your bills. I think police departments use this to their advantage because they can provide immediate financial relief to the victim or their families by putting them in a position where they’re made to feel okay with surrendering their personal beliefs, letting the department off the hook. I think if we really want any police department to think twice next time they want to subjugate an individual, we need to focus on defunding them and creating a situation in which monetary awards are handed to the victim in conjunction with sentencing that matches the crime the officer has committed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Free Speech | Comments Off on  Interview with Bryton Mellott, Flag-Burner  

4th Annual Welcome Awards Ceremony Celebrates What Makes America Great

By David Cisneros.

State, national, and international news media have brought us a daily barrage of tragic or infuriating news stories. And national rhetoric increasingly features voices of nativism, racism, and hatred. In the face of all of this, it is easy to lose focus on the unsung hard work done by ordinary people to combat hate and make our nation and our community more just and welcoming. Thankfully, the 4th Annual Welcome Awards Ceremony and Celebration, held on Saturday, September 23 at the Muslim American Society Center in Urbana, was a welcome reminder of the many efforts within our own community to make Champaign-Urbana a more welcoming and diverse place. It was a testament to the fact that it is our diversity, hospitality, kindness, and commitment to justice that make America great.

The Annual Welcome Awards were a part of 2017 Welcoming Week, a national week of events that brought together immigrants and U.S.-born residents in a spirit of better understanding and unity. The Awards Ceremony, the culmination of Welcome Week, was co-sponsored by the Cities of Champaign and Urbana, the CU Immigration Forum, the Muslim American Society of Urbana-Champaign, and the Urbana Free Library. Four individuals and two local organizations were honored for their contributions to creating a welcoming Champaign-Urbana.

Nancy M. Ramirez Blancas, a U of I student at the forefront of activism around issues such as the Student ACCESS Bill (allowing financial aid for undocumented students) and support for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students like herself, was awarded the Student Leadership Award. Karyl Wackerlin, a local professional photographer who uses her camera to find and spread joy across the globe during mission trips, was awarded the Human Rights Award for work creating, organizing, and documenting (in word and film) mission trips to the God’s Littlest Angels orphanage in Haiti. Samuel Smith received the Humanitarian Relief Award for his leadership in the building of a clean water well in the Koyagbema community of Kenama, Sierra Leone, near a school operated by the Sierra Leone YMCA. Finally, the Distinguished Leadership Service Award went to Charles Larenas for over a decade of work as director of the Summer Migrant Education Program, a summer educational program at Parkland that provides high-quality and comprehensive educational programs for migrant children.

In addition to the individuals honored, two local organizations also received a Community Impact Award. The Immigration Project, a nonprofit organization providing immigration legal assistance to the 100,000 immigrants residing in Central and Southern Illinois, was honored for its efforts to help the immigrant community. The Education Justice Project (EJP), a college-in-prison program, was also honored for addressing the increasing threats facing immigrants today under the new administration of the United States through its Ripple Effect program, helping incarcerated people facing immigration and those who get deported.

Although the awards were the centerpiece of the afternoon, those in attendance were also treated to international food, music, and dancing. Refreshments were provided by local businesses Rick’s Bakery, the Red Herring Restaurant, and Ortelia’s Healthy Choices Catering. Urbana Free Library sponsored children’s activities, and the Angola Capoeira Center treated those in attendance to a demonstration of the Afro-Brazilian art form capoeira, a hybrid of dance and martial arts. In the spirit of celebrating international connections in Champaign-Urbana, Champaign Mayor Deborah Feinen and City Council Member Beck also honored a visiting Haitian delegation from Kenscoff, Haiti by giving them a key to the city of Champaign.

The Welcome Awards provided an opportunity to celebrate efforts to make Champaign-Urbana a welcoming place, and, just as important, it recognized the contributions of immigrants, refugees, and international residents to our community. Each of these winners showed the impact one individual can make toward a better and more just community. In light of so much national news that highlights divisions, the Welcome Awards served to remind us all of the hard work done everyday in our community to bring people together. In spite of rhetoric that maligns immigrants and refugees, the event honored the positive and necessary contributions of immigrants to our community and the nation. As Susan Ogwal, one of the afternoon’s emcees stated at the close of the ceremony, the 4th Annual Welcome Awards Ceremony and Celebration reminded us all that hospitality, kindness, and diversity of voices – “this is what makes this country great.”

 

Bio: David has lived in Champaign since 2013. He writes about immigration issues and has been involved with various community groups, including the CU Immigration Forum, CU SURJ, and Sanctuary For the People.

Posted in Human Rights, Immigration, Justice | Comments Off on 4th Annual Welcome Awards Ceremony Celebrates What Makes America Great

GEO Rally for Fair Contract

On Wednesday, Oct. 4, the Graduate Employees’ Organization held a rally for a fair contract. The union had been without a contract for 50 days.

 

Posted in labor, Labor/Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | Comments Off on GEO Rally for Fair Contract

A SMALL STEP FOR HEALTHCARE, A GIANT LEAP FOR A MOVEMENT

On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a single-payer/expanded and improved Medicare for All health care bill (Senate Bill 1804) in the U.S. Senate. At a press conference that day, Senator Sanders stated, “The American people want to know what we are going to do to fix a dysfunctional health care system that costs twice as much per person as [that of] any other country in the world and still leaves 28 million people uninsured and an even larger number under-insured because of the high cost of deductibles, co-pays, and other out-of-pocket expenses.” Sanders continued, “the crisis we are facing today in health care is not really about health care, it is a political crisis which speaks to the incredible power of the insurance companies, the drug companies, and all of those who make billions of dollars off of the current system. Over the years these entities have done everything they possibly can to prevent us from having lower-priced prescription drugs and universal health care.”

From a Fringe Movement to a People’s Movement

Although Senator Sanders has introduced a single-payer health care bill in the U.S. Senate every year since he was elected in 2007, until a few days before the September 13 press conference, not one U.S. Senator would co-sponsor his bill. As of September 13 there were 16 co-sponsors. What changed? One explanation is that, because Bernie Sanders brought up the topic during the 2016 Democratic Party presidential debates with his opponent Hillary Clinton, who steadfastly opposes single payer, that more people became aware of the issue. Others contend that the only reason Sanders suddenly had 16 co-sponsors–over 1/3 of Senate Democrats–is because of the tremendous grassroots organizing and activism during 2017. This phenomenon caught almost every corporate media pundit and politician off guard. Most of them thought the single-payer issue had vanished after the Democratic primary. Most of the 2017 activism came from organizations that have been fighting for single-payer Medicare for All for years, like Healthcare NOW, Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), National Labor Campaign for Single Payer, the Green Party, and the National Nurses Union. But other, more recently formed organizations like Our Revolution and Health over Profit also added to the momentum of the “health care is a human right” movement.

What Sanders’ Single-Payer Medicare for All Bill Will Do

Sanders’ Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act will give everybody living in the U.S., including undocumented immigrants, an enhanced version of Medicare with no out-of-pocket expenses for health care needs, generic drugs, and dental, vision, and hearing aid coverage. It will eliminate all insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles, non-coverage of procedures, and restrictive doctor and hospital choices currently mandated by corporate health insurance companies, and end lifetime spending caps that currently cause over one million people in the U.S. each year to declare bankruptcy and/or lose their homes in foreclosure due to medical debts. In essence, Sander’s healthcare bill will more or less eliminate corporate health insurance companies, and give the federal government the power to negotiate health care and pharmaceutical drug prices as a single payer, resulting in significantly lower costs. Under Sander’s bill, nobody will be denied healthcare or the drugs they need, a system that has successfully existed in every advanced industrialized country in the world except the U.S. for decades–since the late 1940s, for most of these counties.

To finance health care coverage for every U.S. resident, Sanders’ bill proposes a  6% tax on employers and a 1 to 4% payroll tax on employees, based on their income level, as well as a 1% tax on the richest 1% of Americans (billionaires) and a 1% tax on large banks and financial institutions. A 2013 study provided by Healthcare NOW has shown that even with a 10% tax on a self-employed person, who has to pay both the 6% employer and the 4% employee tax, those who earn less than $400,000 per year as an individual will save money and receive better coverage than they currently do with corporate health insurance.

The Battle Has Just Begun

Although the introduction of Sanders’ health care bill in the U.S. Senate is a major step forward, the campaign to get it passed into law will not happen overnight. There are very powerful corporate special interests that make tens of billions of dollars every year off the suffering of the American people that will fight this bill with every resource they have. Corporate health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and corporate hospital chains will pour billions of dollars into television, radio, newspaper and billboard advertising to try to convince Americans that Medicare for All is not the solution. Corporate media pundits on all of the corporate-owned (or corporate-financed, in the case of PBS and NPR) television and radio stations, newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, small town corporate-owned newspapers, and even so called “liberal” and “progressive” outlets like The Nation, The Atlantic, and others will have one supposed “expert” after another that will join in the same scripted chorus, saying that “Medicare for All will not work,” that it is “too expensive,” that “there will be long waiting lines for healthcare,” and other lies and distortions. In some cases the “expert” interviewed or the writer of a new article will proclaim that they are personally in favor of Medicare for All, and then will devote the entire article/interview to creating confusion and doubt as to its viability. This was recently done by Joshua Holland in The Nation magazine, and we will probably see an explosion in the number of such writers/commentators, since defending the corporate agenda is always more advantagous for a journalist’s career and financial well-being than speaking the truth and advocating what is in the best interests of ordinary people. They will all propagate the same corporate party line, that only corporate health care or taxpayer-subsidized corporate health care as with the ACA (Obamacare), will work. The decades-long success of universal health care in Canada, the U.K., Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and dozens of other countries proves otherwise.

No person in a country with a single-payer fully funded public health care system is denied the health care they need–unlike in the U.S. where 40,000-plus people die every year from treatable illnesses–nor are they forced into bankruptcy and/or losing their homes in foreclosure because of medical debt, as happens here in the U.S..

We cannot allow corporate special interests and their bought-and-paid-for politicians and media pundits to divide, distract, deceive, distort the truth, and lie to us in an effort to prevent us from getting what we desperately need: UNIVERSAL PUBLIC HEALTH CARE, a.k.a. Single-Payer Medicare for All. As of this writing, Illinois U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (217-492-4062) and Tammy Duckworth (217-528-6124) have refused to co-sponsor Senator Bernie Sanders’ healthcare bill. Call them and DEMAND that they co-sponsor Sanders’ bill (Senate Bill 1804).

David Johnson hosts the World Labor Hour radio program, which broadcasts and webcasts live worldwide every Saturday morning from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on WRFU – Radio Free Urbana , 104.5 FM and at www.wrfu.net.

Posted in health care | Comments Off on A SMALL STEP FOR HEALTHCARE, A GIANT LEAP FOR A MOVEMENT

Insurgent Midwest: The Constructing Solidarities Symposium

by Ken Salo, Zsuzsa Gille and Efadul Huq

 

[Editor’s note: the Public i requested contributions on this important conference from both organizers and academic attendees; these perspectives have been integrated into this article.]

On September 8-10, delegates from grassroots movements-in-resistance to evictions in Cape Town and Chicago gathered in Urbana-Champaign. This encounter was the latest phase of a two-year project to construct trans-local solidarities through building networks of shared local praxis. Convened by UIUC’s Humanities Without Walls – Insurgent Midwest project, about 10 delegates from three grassroots organizations—the Housing Assembly and Pathways to Free Education from Cape Town, South Africa, and the Chicago-based Autonomous Tenants Union—gathered to recommit to their shared vision for creating a more humane urbanism, to share organizing experiences, to express solidarity with the different struggles and to formulate common projects and future actions.

Before moving on to share the diverse issues, themes and perspectives that this gathering produced, we would like to say a few words about the title of our project. Its central aim is to provoke a series of insurgent epistemological encounters between active and activist scholars who are differently situated in struggles for more humane socio-spatial changes; between those with academic and those with territorialized commitments; and between ethnographic knowledge and the experiential worldviews of subaltern actors. Moreover, we use the language of insurgency not only in its usual meaning of forceful intervention but to suggest a clearing of different pathways for radically destabilizing authorized forms of power, knowledge and territorial organization. These clearings, we argue, are the sites where activists envision, experiment and construct their desired new socio-spatial relations out of the ruins of older realties rooted in relations of unequal exchange.

Transnational Dialogue for a Humane Urbanism

At the public symposium, the room was packed, with many only able to stand for both the kick-off event on Saturday evening and the all-day Sunday session. The talks were thought-provoking and the discussions passionate.

Scholars usually only study activists and their organizations, and it is unusual and frowned upon to give them a more active role than that of a research subject. Here the goal of the faculty, mostly in UIUC’s Urban and Regional Planning Department, was to understand the similarities and links among cities’ recent experiences with urban development, the privatization of public space, the mortgage crisis, and the attendant evictions and disenfranchisement of residents on the margins of society. Prior research and activist experience has shown the benefits of two types of collaboration: that between grassroots groups focused on different single issues, mostly labor and housing, and that between organizations in different countries. These cross-sectional and transnational ties are becoming ever denser, but they have not actually been documented and analyzed by scholars who equally see the need for political solutions to urban inequalities.

The task was thus to understand what forms of resistance and community organization work in similar situations in different parts of the world, and not just with the goal of learning from each other but also to explore how transnational alliances among these movements and organizations might help their cause. It is to the credit of the University of Illinois that its Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities funded this collaboration through the Global Midwest program.

The presentations by activists actually revealed even broader and richer synergies among issues than previously expected. The Autonomous Tenant Union, for example, mobilizes against multiple displacements—not just exclusion from low-rental housing due to gentrification and evictions, but also against deportations. Johnae Strong, representing the Grassroots Education Movement and Black Youth Project 100 in Chicago, told how organizing on one issue inevitably made activists “stumble” onto another and recognize the need to articulate their connections. For example, Black Lives Matter and the sanctuary cities movement both shed light on state violence and thus reveal the urgent need for safe spaces. However, as more and more public schools are shut down in South Chicago and as this same area is lacking a trauma center, one quickly recognizes how the state withholds its protective shield from certain undesirable citizens. While thus connecting racial inequality, health care and education, seemingly separate policy arenas, community organizers (that much ridiculed term in the 2008 elections) are finally allowed a glimpse of the Right’s long-term and broad vision for the city. Interestingly a Palestinian activist found many similarities between Palestine and “Chiraq” [using a controversial term that mashes up ‘Chicago’ and ‘Iraq’ to indicate a veritable war zone in parts of the city].

Lest one thinks this sounds like some conspiracy theory, we need to heed urban sociologist Michael Goldman, who came down from the University of Minnesota. He explained how the many seemingly unique and contradictory tendencies in big cities are tied together by the strategic maneuvering of finance capital, whose ever more sophisticated investment practices dictate what gets built where, quite independently of not only what is needed but also of what there is a market demand for. Building luxury apartments is not more profitable than building low-cost housing, but the former can more easily be securitized into globally circulating bonds. Thus even if these buildings are not even half filled, they still bring in billions in profits.

This of course raised the question of the time horizon of these movements. Are they forever stuck in reactive rear-guard action and caught up in protecting their communities in small battles day-in and day-out, or can they take a step back, allowing them to see the forest from the trees and articulate alternative visions?

Most did indeed articulate alternatives, but for some this was a concrete political strategy, while for others a whole new way of looking. The Autonomous Tenant Union argued against collaborating with elected officials or indeed even with the liberal cultural elite, and claimed that if it were up to them they would move directly to call for expropriation of private housing. Others stressed education and exploring indigenous ways of being and new ways of connecting class and race inequalities.

Field Notes on a Local Convergence of Grassroots Movements in Insurgent Motion

Grassroots movements of poor people are resisting their brutal evictions from public and private urban land and shelter in ways distinct from liberal struggles for individual citizenship rights. Despite the different realities of living in the peripheries and centers of our historically unequal, diverse and urbanizing world-system, emerging practices of collective resistance possess familiar features as responses to the devastating social problems wrought by new, global rounds of capital “accumulation by dispossession.”

A key common characteristic is territorial rootedness in spaces reclaimed through disruptive, insurgent and often illegal occupations of public and private land and housing. These occupations, often episodic, sometimes endure as collective “takeovers,” or the taking back and transformation of formally authorized places into informal and unauthorized territories for asserting new subjectivities, socio-political actions and reciprocal social relations.

A second common characteristic is autonomy from neoliberal corporate state formation, its political parties, labor and religious allies. This autonomy rests on reviving popular democratic cultures of decision making via self-organized people’s assemblies, and increasing the capacity for producing independent means of material subsistence. This model seeks self-sufficiency, usually via waste reuse and recycling, and producers’ familiarity and involvement with all phases of production.

A third common feature is increasing the capacity for self-educating and training members, families and children through active, performative and democratic education practices that build on lived experiences of resistance practices. The educational space is the whole occupied territory, and every resident is trained as an organizer and teacher; campaign slogans include “each one teach one” and “everyone an organizer.”

A fourth feature is the role of women and extended families as the mainstay of movement activities to extend existing networks of care, health and well-being beyond their biological families. Groups of families often shelter under the same roof, working community herb and produce gardens in Cape Town’s occupied territories.

These brief observations are not conclusions and represent only tentative aspirations, flows and movements in worlds that are constantly in motion. Nevertheless they are a barometer from which we can sense the profoundly humane quality of the social bonds among supposedly dehumanized activists forced to occupy territories from where, we think, the anti-systemic solidarities necessary to transform our present exploitative world will most likely arise.

To find out more about the project, go to insurgentmidwest.wordpress.com/.

 

Ken Salo is an activist scholar who works to support struggles of racially oppressed, exploited and excluded poor people for dignified livelihoods in the urban peripheries of segregated Cape Town, Champaign and Chicago.

Zsuzsa Gille is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Global Studies Program at UIUC.

Efadul Huq is a doctoral student in urban and regional planning at UIUC. He studies environmental governance and urban informalities in Bangladesh.

Posted in homeless, Justice, South Africa | Comments Off on Insurgent Midwest: The Constructing Solidarities Symposium

UI Bans “War Chant”

On February 21, 2007 the University of Illinois got rid of the Chief Illiniwek mascot.

On August 24, 2017 they got rid of the “war chant.”

The “war chant,” separate from but related to the so-called “3-in-1,” was created during the 1980-1981 basketball season by Beth Nuss, leader of the pep band saxophone section. “Back in those days, the NCAA allowed the pep bands to play quick ‘vamps’ whenever the home team was on offense.” The band director “always encouraged section leaders to be creatively involved in the band, offering tunes, cheers and ideas to be played…At this one particular game, our band director had been distracted in conversation with someone… Illinois suddenly got the ball and the game was pretty exciting. I turned to the sax section…. I asked the alto saxophones to play the simple melody and made up a harmony for the tenor saxophones to play along with… At that point, the saxophone section, combined with the baritone section, began our first ‘war chant.'”

As Nuss says explicitly, the “war chant” “was not an original melody. It was something I recalled hearing back in my youth, perhaps from a movie or cartoon. I had no recollection of where the melody came from; it just came to me.” In other words, it came from Nuss’s store of cultural memory; it was among the collective cultural representations she imbibedwhile growing up. “It was made up by ear from thoughts that came to me from something I could vaguely remember from an old movie or perhaps an old cartoon.”

“War Chant” from Old Captain Kangaroo Cartoon

In fact, it was from an old cartoon. broadcast on “Captain Kangaroo.” The music was from a song called “Pow Wow the Indian Boy.”

Pow Wow, the Indian boy,
Loved all the animals and the woods…
Pow Wow was a friend
Of all the animals in the woods;
If there was any trouble,
He would help them if he could;
If Pow Wow couldn’t help them,
He would go to the Medicine Man,
And he would tell them stories
Just how it all began, all began, all began …

The song introduced a black-and-white cartoon called “Adventures of Pow Wow.” One episode, “The Magic Spigot,” for example, features besides Pow Wow, Chief Kick-a-Shin, and is set in Wahoo Valley.

You can’t get more fake Indian than that.

Key is that what became the “war chant” was part of a shared cultural memory from 1950s and 1960s America, so that it is not surprising that others responded to it when the pep band played it, and that it caught on. “We played it again my senior year,” Nuss says. “The crowd response was good from it.”

You cannot draw a straighter, more direct line than this from a white caricature of native Americans to the music and dance associated with the Chief Illiniwek mascot. The “war chant” was literally a cartoon.

The vamp indeed pumped “up the crowd.” That is, fans filled this vessel of cultural memory literally with themselves – their dim recollections, unarticulated remembrances, their feelings growing up transferred from a cartoon caricature to a cartoon mascot.

Fans, however, either don’t know or don’t care that the “war chant” originated in a racist, Indian caricature; few, if any, think about how they are reproducing a racial stereotype when they unreflectively repeat the “war chant.” Nuss certainly does not. Quite the opposite. Disappointed to see the “war chant” banned, she did not want to see Chief Illiniwek done away with either.

“It is a subject that goes deep to my heart. Only those who have been involved in things     such as Illini athletics, the band, cheerleaders, etc., truly understand the traditions and pride of the Illini. It’s something I cannot explain.

This is why there is such a passion revolving around this subject. To some outsiders, it’s ‘just a stupid mascot,’ and they scream for us to move on already. To those of us who understand, who’ve lived on campus, upholding the great traditions, this runs deep within us.”

Talk about cultural memory. Doing away with the “war chant” brought back to life, zombie-like, all the barely repressed feelings and memories about getting rid of, “retiring” the Chief Illiniwek mascot 10 years previously. The same old arguments, claims, jeers, snark, criticisms were heard yet again, and again and again.

1) “They keep chipping away” at everything having to do with the mascot.

2) “The evil NCAA made us do it.”

3) “FSU has the Seminoles, but we can’t have the Chief.”

4) “The Chief elicited excitement, pride: how can that be bad?”

5) “Not all Indians are opposed” to the mascot.

6) “It was the distant, out of touch administration at the big U that did this.”

7) “None of this would ever have happened were it not for (Jay) Rosenstein and (Steven) Kauffman (and Nancy Cantor).”

8) “Josh Whitman betrayed us”

9) “This whole thing should be decided by majority vote, we outnumber them, this is tyranny by a very small minority.”

10) “Those opposed don’t even go to the games”

11) “After the ‘war chant,’ they say they won’t ban the ‘3-in-1,’ but we don’t believe them, we don’t trust them.”

12) “They didn’t tell us beforehand, they didn’t come out and say they were going to do it, they were sneaky.”

13) “How stupid: how can music be racist?”

14) “How unhistorical: the music came much later than the Chief.”

15) “This is another example of pc run amok — where does it stop?”

16) “The only ones offended are liberal snowflakes. Suck it up. Get a life.”

But who exactly is the snowflake here? Answer: it is overwhelmingly the pro-Chiefers who are whining, playing the victim.

Yet between banning the mascot in 2007 and eliminating the “war chant” in 2017, nothing has been learned. There are no new arguments.

All of this is, however, no longer funny, or cute. Not after Trump, not after Charlottesville.

“Illini Nation” Resembles Trump Nation

In many ways, Illini Nation resembles Trump Nation, the base he plays to. Both are exclusive rather than inclusive. Trump Nation may be populist, but the dark side of populism is its authoritarian tendency. While in some respects inclusive – and disproportionately white – it simultaneously excludes other people — disproportionately minorities.

Like Trump Nation, not everyone is included in Illini Nation. Fans like Nuss say, in effect, if you don’t get it, then you’re not one of us, you’re not really part of, a member of “Illini Nation.” Truly, “I bleed orange and blue,” as the bumper sticker said.

Anti-Chiefers say the mascot, the dance, the 3-in-1, and the war chant are all based on racist stereotypes that have nothing to do with native Americans. Grow up, get over it. Those others, the anti-Chiefers, are not viewed as real, bona fide, card-carrying members of Illini Nation. As a numerical minority who oppose the mascot, moreover, they literally do not count. Exactly the same argument is made by Trump Nation authoritarians. The true believers bleed orange and blue, they exclude everyone else as ‘other,’ different, not one of us, not like us, who don’t feel things like we do.

Those who support Chief Illiniwek and the war chant claim to be honoring native Americans, that Chief Illiniwek is a positive symbol. Yet the online comments to the News-Gazette’s wall-to-wall coverage of the war chant ban include several explicitly racist anti-native American ones, as well as racist anti-Chinese posts.

“You’re so right, CallSaul, representation and imagery should be correct. 

Perhaps a dancing slot machine or bingo card is more appropriate?”

“I find those means of Native American “fundraising” offensive yet it’s allowed because these areas have tribal sovereignty, states have limited ability to forbid gambling there, as codified by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

Apparently preying upon people with gambling weaknesses in the name of profit is fine.  Good to know “safe spaces” exist for people to lose their money, compromise families as a result of lost finances, and feed an addiction.”

So true. Slot machines and casino bells pay homage to the Illini more than Chief Illiniwek and the war chant.”

Yes, lets replace “Illini” with Drunken Gamblers.   That would be clearly more appropriate and current.”

“Maybe change our name to the University of Illinois Chinese Commandos.  Because that’s all that is going to be left to fund this nonsense.”

Coming soon— University of Beijing-Champaign Campus”

It got so bad that one poster, conservative on every other social issue, called for others to stop the anti-Chinese posts.

“I hope all the posters here will stop with the anti-Chinese comments because they are truly ugly and painful, particularly in light of the still missing Yingyang Zhang and her family and friends. The Chinese students here are just that: students. Just as are the Korean students, the Japanese students, the Israeli students, the Lebanese students, the Iranian students, the students from France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Haiti, Chile, Peru, Indiana, Iowa, California, New York…..and so on. Stop with that xenophobic, provincial nonsense.”

Both Illini Nation and Trump Nation appeal to “tradition,” even if fake, unhistorical, or invented. After Charlottesville, News-Gazette sports writer Loren Tate wrote, “As we see all over the country, right or wrong, people are passionate about their traditions. Can’t blame them.” If this isn’t a racist dog whistle, I don’t know what is. Since Trump demands to be able to be an overt racist, white supremacist nationally, it gives license in effect to be unapologetic racists locally.

Instead of representing the broader Champaign/Urbana community, the News-Gazette represents – and gives an open mike to – the exclusive Illini Nation. Yet C/U is larger than Illini Nation, and a lot more diverse.

When it comes to the Chief Illiniwek mascot and the war chant, the News-Gazette practices what I call “push journalism,” entirely analogous to “push polling.” Not content with reporting, the paper manufactures “news.”  After the war chant was banned August 25, every day until mid-September the paper ran at least one story, editorial, or column, plus hundreds of online comments and numerous letters to the editor.

Newspaper Run By Jocks

The paper is run by jocks.  Managing editor Jim Rossow, former sports writer. News editor Jeff D’Alessio, former sports writer. Forty-year sports columnist Loren Tate. Opinions editor writer Jim Dey. Tate and the others running the News-Gazette are acting like petulant adolescents, just like Trump. They should move their offices down the street to the Marajen Stevick Senior Daycare Center.

Yet despite the paper’s wall-to-wall coverage of everything Chief and the war chant, there are huge blind spots in their sports coverage.

In the ugly spat between Trump and NFL players protesting police brutality, photos of Champaign-based Flex-n-Gate owner Shahid Khan linking arms with his Jacksonville Jaguars players appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among other places. In the News-Gazette there was no mention whatsoever; Khan had suddenly become a non-person. This is the same Khan whom the paper fawns over as a local billionaire, a Republican, and Trump supporter. The same person who when he was put up for a UI honorary degree, the paper defended from critics who argued he was undeserving because of his multiple OSHA workplace violations and fines. Oh, that’s right, he’s Muslim. I get it.

Where’s the News-Gazette? It’s AWOL. The exact same place Republicans are on gun control. On climate change. Its idea of “reporting” is all too often non-reporting.

Trump tweets about the “beautiful hits” football players sustain. But it’s left up to homeboy George Will to discuss chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and comparing football to bear baiting. “The Puritans banned bear baiting…not because it gave pain to bears but because it gave pleasure to Puritans.” They “understood that there are degrading enjoyments. Football is becoming one.”

Politics infuse sports. Those running the News-Gazette know it, but they are in such deep denial that they cannot and will not acknowledge it. The fans don’t go to see politics, the jocks say, they go to watch bear baiting, er… football.

The News-Gazette is the mouthpiece of Illini Nation. It disserves the broader, more diverse C/U community. Complicit in aiding and abetting racism, the paper makes things worse instead of better. If you’re going to continue with this Chief stuff 28 years after Charlene Teters began protesting in 1989, 10 years after the mascot was banned in 2007, in the 2017 aftermath of national, bipartisan criticism of  divider-in-chief, white supremacist Trump on Charlottesville, and you still don’t get it, then you are clearly, unapologetically racist. The stench from your jockstraps is unmistakable.

In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal (and I’m purposely not mentioning all the Bill O’Reilly’s here), not even harassment defender Jim Dey dares write yet another of his many editorial columns attacking “microaggressions,” which, after all, are another form sexual harassment takes. (In the aftermath of the clearly fraudulent, lying Republican “repeal-and-replace” sham, Dey has also stopped his many, egregious editorial attacks on Obamacare. Who would have thought?)

All Too Many Americans Cannot – Or Refuse To – Deal With History

All too many Americans cannot — or refuse – to deal with history. They cannot, they refuse to engage the past, work through it, come to resolution, and move on. They cannot, they refuse to learn from the past, to come to terms with it. They’re stuck. Thus, they condemn themselves to reliving it, reenacting it again… and again and again. Confederate monuments to slavery. Burns and Novick’s Vietnam paean resurrecting and reliving the war but not resolving it, drawing lessons from it, or moving on from it. Football halftime reenactments of Indians and white settlers.

One clear sign of this refusal to engage and move on is the high proportion of war chant commenters acting like adolescents rather than adults. To the point where other commenters commented on these whining whiners. What adults do with children throwing a temper tantrum is put them in timeout. Pro-Chiefers are like Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up.

With the Chief Illiniwek mascot, and now the war chant, there is no resolution, no closure. There is only indefinite deferral, reproducing the same old tired arguments over and over. Like Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice vainly swabbing up the floor over and over in that other 1950s cartoon, Fantasia.

We can now see that UI made a grave mistake in 2007 by not rapidly replacing the Chief mascot. When Stanford got rid of its Indian mascot in 1972, they replaced it immediately with the Stanford Tree, and soon after with today’s Cardinal.

In contrast with Stanford, Illini Nation still thinks the mascot is real. The Chief Illiniwek mascot controversy is all about anthropomorphism, about making a person out of an inanimate mascot. “Of course, you love him. You created him,” Charlene Teters observed years ago. In In Whose honor? directed by Jay Rosenstein, whom the pro-Chiefers love to hate, Indian activist Michael Haney plays a native drum piece followed by the war chant — “That’s Hollywood.”

But getting people to see the Noble Savage mascot as a stereotype, getting people to hear the war chant as fake Hollywood music — that’s been the whole problem all along, hasn’t it?

So, like a Jack-In-The-Box zombie, the controversy keeps coming back again and again. The continued anthropomorphizing, the personal investment in the fake Indian means that even talking about talking about a mascot replacement creates a firestorm.

The UI administration no doubt wants to move on, to be rid of the whole thing. Equally, the UI administration has consistently, systematically failed to take a stand, make a clean break. In not doing so, it has produced and reproduced, over and over that which it claims it does not want – for the controversy to continue. Here the Chief supporters are absolutely correct. The administration is and has been spineless throughout this whole sorry saga.

It’s déjà-vu all over again, as another player used to say.

 

Posted in Indigenous, News-Gazette, Trump | Comments Off on UI Bans “War Chant”

The YWCA: We Are on a Mission

Since opening on campus in 1884 as a women’s residence hall, the YWCA of the University of Illinois has served as an organization on a mission to promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. We recognize the powerful potential of young women to harness their skills and abilities to effect change in the community and beyond. Being on campus allows us to mobilize students and assist them in learning how to navigate the societal, political, and professional spheres.

Our goal is to develop the next generation of women leaders who will come to situations fully aware of their power to effect positive change. We take our history of being the oldest continuously operating, student-affiliated YWCA seriously. Everything we do reflects the responsibility and promise of that legacy. It is imperative that we realize how important it is to not only pass the baton to the next generation, but also to train them to run well. This is an active process, and we can all be a part in some way, but be a part we must to ensure that the struggle for social justice is always advancing.

The YWCA of the University of Illinois is excited to continue our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women this upcoming school year. Through various programs and events, we are inviting students and the community to engage in discussions and causes related to social justice.

As with past years, this year we are again implementing our Women in Leadership (WIL) program: an intensive, two-semester leadership and project management internship. Structured as a group consulting project, the internship allows undergraduate women to work directly with local human services agencies to learn about the nonprofit sector, identify organizational challenges, and research, propose and implement solutions over the course of a school year. The YWCA supplements interns’ work with additional training focusing on professional development, leadership skills and building a working team, all of which are applied to team projects.

Interns are guided through this process by mentors drawn from Urbana-Champaign’s excellent professional and graduate student pools. Past WIL teams have worked with the Champaign-Urbana Area Project, MakerGirl, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. We are proud that this program continues to grow with each passing year and provides students with beneficial leadership experience and the community with skillful individuals that are passionate to help.

October will see the kick-off of our annual Community Read, working with the Asian American Cultural Center around the powerful and insightful book When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka. The Community Read is a multi-week literature and arts program that invites University of Illinois students and the greater Urbana-Champaign community to learn about and explore the experiences of girls of color through reading, dialogue and creative expression. Participants come together weekly for conversations and arts and cultural events around the stories that resonate with them most. Through these, readers build relationships across social identity and a greater appreciation for the diverse individuals and groups living in Urbana-Champaign.

Throughout the series, the YWCA encourages participants to explore intersectional dialogue skills and social justice. This fall’s book choice details the experiences of a family with the Japanese internment camps set up by the U.S. government following Pearl Harbor. We chose this book because it challenges us to think more deeply about the lives of Japanese Americans, our own American history and today’s politically charged atmosphere of xenophobia and fear.

The events we will be holding in conjunction with the Big Read include one of the first screenings of Matthew Hashiguchi’s documentary Good Luck Soup. In this film, we join Matthew on a journey to discover his family’s experiences as Japanese Americans within the Black and White surroundings of the Midwest. Along the way, we will learn of his life and the lives of his grandmother and family members. For them, what does it mean to be Japanese American? And how has that identity and experience changed over time? We will also be hosting book discussions, a family-centered craft event, and closing the series with keynote speakers: author Karen Su and internment survivor Yuki Llewellyn. The Champaign Public Library and Urbana Free Library will serve as host spaces for this Read.

Along with these events, we will be continuously working on advocating for the causes closest to us – one of them being the abuse-to-prison pipeline. An issue that overwhelmingly affects girls of color, the proverbial pipeline reinforces punishing victims of abuse by criminalizing their behavioral reactions from the trauma they have experienced. This includes suspending students for truancy, arresting runaway youth, and punishing the sexually exploited instead of their abusers. Unfortunately, the trauma is inadequately – if at all – addressed in the criminal justice system, leading to a continuous cycle. As a local organization, we feel it necessary to confront this issue in our own community. We are hoping to shed light on this issue in order to improve the quality of our community response, and connect girls who have experienced trauma with the resources that they need.

As the year moves along, the YWCA will provide more opportunities to engage the community and address social justice issues. To stay updated on what we are doing, subscribe to our newsletters, take a look at our website at ywcauofi.org, or connect with us through social media. We welcome all men and women to join with us in any way you can, to pay it forward, to envision and work towards a world that values everyone’s contribution regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. We all have something to contribute.

 

Andrea Rundell is the Executive Director of the YWCA of the University of Illinois, and is unabashedly in love with the mission of “eliminating racism and empowering women.” She has been there for four years now, so she thinks she’s getting the hang of it.

Posted in University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Women, wonen's rights | Comments Off on The YWCA: We Are on a Mission

“Not Here, Not in My Town”: Charlottesville Black Lives Matter on Why We Must All Resist Fascism

Communities in Charlottesville, Va., are reeling from a murderous Nazi and white supremacist march on their town—one that stole the life of anti-Nazi protester Heather Heyer and wounded many more. I spoke with Lisa Woolfork, a member of Charlottesville’s Black Lives Matter chapter, about what solidarity and anti-racist organizing looks like in this moment.

She explained that Charlottesville’s Black Lives Matter chapter formed in June as “committed Black folks coming together from a variety of walks of life, to stand up for preservation of Black lives, to stand up and make sure Black issues are not forgotten.” Woolfork, who is an associate professor at the University of Virginia (UVA), underscored that she is proud of everyone in her community who rallied together to resist organized white supremacists. “This is what community defense looks like,” she said. “You say, ‘Not here, not in my town.’”

Sarah Lazare: How are you, your community and Black Lives Matter holding up after a harrowing few days?

Lisa Woolfork: I believe we are resilient. All the actions that took place that day were about defending Charlottesville as a community, standing up for our city, and saying no to the racists who wanted to invade and take over. I feel we did that very successfully. It was wonderful to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with a variety of people. It was Black folks joining in with folks from many different walks of life. I was moved by that.

At the vigil last night for Heather Heyer, the woman who was murdered, I saw it again. The same resolve for Black self-determination. For what Black Lives Matter stands for. To stand up and to say, “You might come armed—our community is willing to stand up against that.” The alt-right comes armed with assault weapons. They came to do damage. This was about the liberation of Black lives as well as criticizing white supremacy.

White supremacists are not just marching in the street, but they seem to be endorsed at the highest levels. What Charlottesville let the world see is that there is a connection between racist ideas and racist action. The reason the alt-right came to Charlottesville is that they were terrified to lose their Civil War participation trophy, their confederate monument to Robert E. Lee—who fought to maintain a white-supremacist republic. That’s why the alt-right was here. Principles of white supremacy and Black subjection still appeal to them.

Sarah: How can people across the country and the world show solidarity right now?

Lisa: There are a variety of ways people can stand up. Support Black Lives Matter—not just in Charlottesville, but all around the country. Get tapped into local organizations. Have uncomfortable and difficult conversations that can open the door to greater understanding. Be willing to be uncomfortable. Don’t just go along with racism and casual white supremacy. That just normalizes white supremacy.

There is a reason white supremacy is the air we breathe in this country. White supremacy is not just the Nazis and alt-right. It’s also very casual and subtle. It’s saying things like, “You’re pretty for a Black girl.”

Trump cannot reprimand that alt-right, because they are his base. There were a lot of people out there with “Make America Great Again” hats. The rise of Trump has coincided with a spike in hate crimes during the first months of his presidency. After he was confirmed by electoral college, there were tons of acts and incidents that very day. This is something we might want to think about.

I’ve never heard of a sore winner. They won [the election], and they are acting as if they lost. They are beating people in the streets. If you won, why are you beating up Muslims and immigrants? They are the party of the aggrieved white people, and we saw them marching through our streets and our city, throwing up Nazi gang signs. They were right near the library where I take my kids, right across the street where my son gets his hair cut.

Sarah: What do you want people to know about what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend?

Lisa: This is what community defense looks like. You say, “Not here, not in my town.” You come out, speak out. That’s what Charlottesville Black Lives Matter came out to do. We are pleased we were able to do that and fortify our community, fortify ourselves, stand up against this violent tide of white hatred that should not be allowed to go unchecked.

I believe that can happen in overt and covert ways. All across the country, there were solidarity rallies: in New York, Atlanta. People all over the country stood in solidarity with Charlottesville. This is the opportunity and this is the time. If not now, when?

Sarah: What is your response to people who say we should just ignore fascists?

Lisa: I believe that claim is problematic. The alt-right is not out there because they want attention; they are out there because they want to promote white supremacy. They have tons of followers on Instagram, Facebook, Reddit. They have a strong social media presence. They have a global following. They are everywhere. They are trying to maintain white supremacy. That’s what they’re fighting for. To say they are out there for attention is to treat them like they’re naughty toddlers, not dangerous terrorists.

It’s a tacit and silent endorsement of white supremacy to say it can be tolerated or that everyone has a right to their opinions. It belies the fact that racist thought and racist action are connected. The symbol of Lee is a magnet for racists and white supremacists. We are inviting them by maintaining that negative hatred at the center of our city. We create hospitable conditions for them.

Sarah: Is there anything you want our readers to know about what local organizing looks like from here?

Lisa: As we move forward, we have a lot of issues we are working to promote. We want awareness of some of the inequities and issues of injustice in our city. Nearly 80 percent of stop-and-frisks in Charlottesville are of African Americans, even though we only comprise 19 percent of the population. We want people to pay attention to the court case about the Confederate monument. We call on Charlottesville city council to remove confederate monuments from public spaces, so we’re a less hospitable place for Nazis, white supremacists and racists. There is the case of a missing transgender women, whose disappearances are overlooked nationally.

I would advise people to look forward, look within, and look locally. What can you do to challenge white supremacy in your daily life? We have to stop believing white supremacy is someone else’s problem. Because we live in America, which has white supremacy at its base, it lurks in all of us. Challenge things, ask questions, intervene if you see someone harmed.

Look locally. See what’s happening right in your town where you can help. What is the poverty rate in your city? How is public education? Do you have a public education system that fails Black and Brown students? What kind of steps can you take to remedy that? What about hunger? How does that work in your town? The problems with Charlottesville are problems with every city in America.

Sarah: What is your response to politicians and pundits who are demonizing people who are resisting fascism?

Lisa: I believe there should be a diversity of tactics in order to fight white supremacy. I believe that these fascists came to invade our town and to terrorize. They came with weapons, with bats. They create a false equivalency when they say Nazis are equal to anti-racist activists. By demonizing the anti-fascists, it makes fascism look as if it’s a viable social position. There were people out there Saturday in khaki pants and white polo shirts who marched to where I teach at UVA and shouted, “Death to the Jews, we will not be replaced.”

I am of the belief that everyone out there in the spirit of community defense was acting in robust and muscular love. Love for humanity and justice, against the tide of white supremacy and all sorts of things being normalized.

This article was originally published at In These Times on Aug. 14, 2017. It is reprinted with permission.

Posted in African Americans, Antisemitism, Trump | Comments Off on “Not Here, Not in My Town”: Charlottesville Black Lives Matter on Why We Must All Resist Fascism

Interview with Marlon Mitchell from FirstFollowers

. 
The local group FirstFollowers is only two years old, but it is already making in impact in our community.  In this interview Marlon Mitchell talks with Carol Inskeep about their mission and the ambitious range of projects the group is working on.  Marlon Mitchell is the founder and co-director of FirstFollowers. He is currently pursuing his PhD in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana. His work with FirstFollowers inspired him to pursue an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Policy Analysis at Northwestern University, which he recently completed
Who are the FirstFollowers?
Founded in 2015, FirstFollowers is a volunteer-run, mentoring program. “We provide services to individuals that are either returning to the community from incarceration or who have felony convictions. They may be finding barriers and challenges to getting back into school or employment or housing or other issues that many of us in society take for granted. We have plenty of goals but one of them is to just get people encouraged and motivated, and to provide opportunities to move past that felony conviction.” 
 
“You’re welcome here” – Drop-In Center
A core FirstFollowers program is the Drop-In Center at Bethel AME Church (401 E. Park St., Champaign) which is open Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m. “We provide individual mentoring and assistance with employment searches, acquiring ID, family reconnect, finding education and training opportunities and more.” Mitchell says that the peer mentor model is key to what they do: “The mentors down at FirstFollowers are all volunteers who have been through those challenges. They’ve been through the system. They’ve had that transition back to their community, back to their families, so they fully have a front seat to what that challenge can look like.” Too often stigma and stereotypes keep people with a record isolated. “One of the things we pride ourselves on here at FirstFollowers – we provide an opportunity for a person to feel welcome. It shows a person that you truly care, that you fully understand what they’re going through. And it also provides that opportunity to encourage.”
 
Build Programs, Not Jails
Mitchell – and others in FirstFollowers – have been vocal opponents of the proposed multi-million dollar Champaign County Jail expansion project. “It blew my mind,” says Mitchell, to see a proposal to invest millions in incarceration instead of education and community programs, “just to see the human capital – the abilities of communities – to see a mass amount of people being snatched out of their communities and to see all the human capital that is lost through mass incarceration. And then to see them come home where there’s nothing that gets them back into the economy for their community or their family. One of the platforms that we really run on…is to build people, not jails; to build up people and not prisons.”
 
It’s not just about Individual Stories – Understanding Mass Incarceration
Though their work at the Drop-In Center helps many individuals, Mitchell says an important part of the work is “connecting the dots” to understand mass incarceration as a system of social oppression and social control. Me, myself personally, I didn’t know exactly how all this worked,” says Mitchell. “I knew it was a social phenomenon that I saw in my community. I saw it in my own family. It’s something bigger than this, because there are so many black and brown and low income communities that are being ravaged by mass incarceration and by recidivism.” Community organizing is a key part of the work, he says, so that people “understand the history and inter-relation of issues. A system like this is not just built overnight,” and it takes real organizing to “redress that momentum” and “get people on board to connect the dots.” 
 
FirstFollowers asked the Community: 90% say Access to Employment is Key
Last summer members of FirstFollowers reached out to the community with a survey asking about the barriers and unmet needs of those reentering Champaign Urbana. 90% of people identified the lack of access to good jobs that pay a living wage and provide opportunity as a top issue. 
 
FirstFollowers has worked on this issue in a number of ways. They’ve reached out to employers, encouraging them to consider the skills and potential of individuals, even if they have a record. Building trust and relationships with employers can create more opportunities. FirstFollowers is especially interested in helping more people move into the trades – skilled work that pays well and provides a career path. 
 
Mitchell says FirstFollowers mentors also work with people to “build their skill sets.” This may mean helping someone overcome a fear of technology. Mentors use laptops at the Drop-In Center to teach people how to search for jobs, complete applications, and upload resumes. But there may be a more fundamental need to build basic literacy skills. Mitchell likens illiteracy and under-education of people who have been incarcerated to the history of African Americans being shut out of educational opportunities. The goal, says Mitchell, is to help people identify their goals, get the skills and education they need, and then have opportunities to succeed. 
 
Susan Burton’s new book Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women offers a “Blueprint” for Community Organizing.
Mentors recently read the book Becoming Miss Burton and they shared their reactions to it at a well-attended event at the Independent Media Center in July. Mitchell has had a chance to talk with Susan Burton on a couple occasions. “I had an idea about a reentry program before I even met her,” but Mitchell says she’s given FirstFollowers good advice and a “blueprint for training our mentors and addressing the underlying political issues.” Her reentry work moves beyond “one-off, one person’s experience to building a movement that has a strategic approach” for ending mass incarceration.   
 
A Roadmap to Local Resources: A Resource Guide to Reentry in Champaign County
FirstFollowers has just begun distributing a clear and concise guide that helps people link to the most important resources they need upon reentry – including current, practical information about how to obtain an ID and where to access housing, health care, food, clothing and other services. (The guide was produced in collaboration with University of Illinois professor Ken Salo and his Urban and Regional Planning class.) They have begun distributing the guide to local social service organizations, libraries, religious institutions, and even to the Champaign County Jail. You can request copies of the guide by contacting FirstFollowers.
 

They Want to Stay Grounded in the Community

FirstFollowers is committed to this combination of community education, mentoring and political organizing. You’ll see FirstFollowers speaking out against tax dollars being used to expand the jail, giving out back-to-school backpacks at community events, and educating the public on mass incarceration at public events. Mitchell says an important part of the FirstFollowers mission is “getting back into the community, giving back to the community in a positive way, and being an advocate for the community.” 
 
You can support their work
Come out to hear FirstFollowers September 30th at 4pm at the Champaign Public Library. A focus of the event will be fees and fines in the criminal justice system. You can also check out the FirstFollowers website (http://www.firstfollowersreentry.com) or follow them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/firstfollowersreentry) to see personal testimonies, photos from their events, resources and links to other information and other reentry programs, or to donate to their work. 
Carol Inskeep is a local librarian and community member.
 
 
Posted in Community, Justice, Prisoners | Comments Off on Interview with Marlon Mitchell from FirstFollowers

Israel Anti-Boycott Act a Threat to Free Speech

This article is about a bill introduced in both the U.S. Senate (S.720) and the House of Representatives (H.R.1697). These identical bills are both very complex and very dangerous to our civil liberties.

They would outlaw “requests to impose restrictive trade practices or boycotts by any foreign country…against a country friendly to the United States or against any U.S. person” (2i). They also outlaw “requests to impose restrictive trade practices or boycotts by any international governmental organization against Israel” (2ii). Note the word “requests.” This means advocacy, i.e,, speech.

Historical Background

 This is not a stand-alone bill. It is actually an amendment to the 1979 Export Administration Act. That act placed rules and regulations upon businesses or corporations that are involved in international trade. It was mainly concerned with corporations or individuals selling technology that could be useful to a foreign country’s military or intelligence abilities. A corporation or business that did not follow the rules would be liable to a fine of not more than five times the exports involved, or one million dollars, whichever is greater. But an individual who breaks the rules would be fined up to $250,000 and/or up to a five-year prison term. What the new proposed bill does is take its anti-Israel boycott provisions, and apply them to the criminal penalties of the 1979 bill that dealt more generally with export restrictions. If one only reads the new S.720, one would never realize that that there are such harsh criminal penalties attached to advocacy.

Indeed, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim contacted some of the bill’s congressional co-sponsors and they had no idea that the bill contained such restrictions on free speech (https://theintercept.com/2017/07/19/u-s-lawmakerss-seek-to-criminally-outlaw-support-for-boucott-campaign-against-israel).

A second historical touchstone was the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that began in 2005. This was initiated by Palestinians and became world-wide. It urged governments, businesses, and the U.N. to boycott Israel and its settlements in the occupied territories. It advocated for an economic boycott, but also included the arts and education. Israel and its U.S. supporters have become especially concerned about the support it has gotten on U.S. college campuses, where students have pressured their institutions to divest themselves of Israeli investments. The Illinois legislature has prohibited such divestiture by our state universities.

The third historical touchstone has been two recent actions by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). These are specifically referenced in the bill. The bill states that “on March 24, 2016 [the UNHCR] targeted Israel with a commercial boycott, calling for the establishment of a database, such as a ‘blacklist,’ of companies that operate, or have business relations with entities that operate, beyond Israel’s 1949 Armistice lines, including East Jerusalem (Sec 2(3)).” The bill further asserts that “at its 32nd session in March 2017, the UNHCR is considering a resolution pursuant to agenda item 7 to withhold assistance from and prevent trade with territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, stating that businesses that engage in economic activity in those areas could face civil or criminal action.”

Who Is Behind This Act?

The main inspiration for this act came from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). It came together with Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland. Cardin has been very close to AIPAC. He and Lindsay Graham (Republican from South Carolina) kicked off the first session of the annual AIPAC policy conference in March 2015. Of all of the groups that lobby Congress on behalf of a foreign government, AIPAC is undoubtedly the most successful. It gives uncritical support to Israeli policy. In terms of influence AIPAC is the foreign policy equivalent of the domestic National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby. It hangs like the sword of Damocles over American elected officials. Offending AIPAC and the Israeli government carries with it the threats of loss of contributions and electoral defeat. It also carries the threat of being branded as anti-Semitic. AIPAC now shows itself willing to sacrifice freedom of speech and association of Americans in its support of Israel. In helping to draft and giving support to these two bills, AIPAC shows itself willing to sacrifice the fundamental right of Americans to freedom of speech. For this reason, on July 17, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter to U.S. Senators asking them to oppose S.720.

Those of us living in Illinois should take note that the House version of the bill (H.R.1697) was sponsored by Congressman Peter Roskam from Illinois’s 6th congressional district in the Chicago suburbs. A co-sponsor of the bill is Congressman Rodney Davis of our own 13th Congressional district. The support for the bills in both houses has been bi-partisan.

But, as we said before, it is doubtful that many of the supporters actually know what is in the bill. It suffices that the bill is pro-Israel. When I called into Congressman Davis’s phonathon and stated the name of the bill that I wanted to discuss, the staffer who filters the call for him immediately asked me, in a hopeful voice, “Are you pro-Israel?” I said, “why are you asking me that? That’s not the issue. I am pro-free speech and association.” He then replied “Of course, of course.” Unfortunately, I could not stay on the phone long enough to talk to Representative Davis, if indeed I would have passed the filtering process at all. That’s perhaps a clue as to why Rep. Davis prefers phonathons to actual town hall meetings. I also subsequently received a letter from Congressman Davis assuring me that he was staunchly pro-Israel. No wonder that he refuses to hold town hall meetings!

What We Can Do About It

We in Champaign-Urbana are not strangers to the power of those who would stifle free speech that is critical of Israel and its policies. We have lived through the disgraceful firing of Professor Steven Salaita, a Palestinian-American whose angry tweets concerning the use of force against Palestinians not only resulted in his firing from the U of I, but also an international boycott that forced him out of academia entirely. (C/U News-Gazette, 25 July 2017, pp. A1-6.) If he used a swear word in his angry denunciation of bombs raining down on Gaza, it paled beside the gratuitous vulgarity of our present President and his associates in the White House. Given our own local experience with such uncritical pro-Israel lobbying and deprivation of the rights of free speech, it is especially incumbent upon us to let Congressmen Rodney Davis and Peter Roskam, and Senators Ben Cardin, Dick Durbin, and Tammy Duckworth that we will not tolerate the violation of basic rights that are in House Bill 1697 and Senate Bill 7.

Posted in Boycott, Foreign Policy, Israel | Comments Off on Israel Anti-Boycott Act a Threat to Free Speech