President Obama’s personal expression of support for same-sex marriage on ABC is sure to galvanize a new wave of gay rights activism across the country. It’s a heady moment — where might it lead?
The vibrant coalitions that developed this year in North Carolina, where activists fought simultaneously against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and against anti-immigrant and anti-worker legislation, offer a vision for a more expansive and radically engaged form of LGBT organizing than the narrower struggles for marriage equality that have dominated the activist landscape in recent years. It’s a model that I hope organizers in other states will look to in this moment of renewed energy.
Even though the majority of North Carolina voters cast ballots in favor of the anti-gay amendment, which was worded so broadly that it could threaten domestic partnership protections for all couples, the fight against the measure has offered a sense of the sort of multi-issue coalitions that, if replicated on a national scale, could bring about significant social transformations. Before writing off the North Carolina struggle as a total defeat, it’s worth watching this video of North Carolina activists discussing all that was built and won, despite the loss:
After years of watching Obama make strategic compromises rather than use his influential position to rally mass energy around the idea of health care as a human right or the wrongness of torture, it was heartening to watch him take a principled stand on this issue, despite the political dangers and risky timing. Regardless of whether marriage equality is the right goal for LGBT activists to be focusing on right now (rather than, say, an employment nondiscrimination act), Obama’s announcement feels meaningful on a symbolic level. So often the gay marriage debate seems to stand in for a more basic discussion about whether queer and transgender people deserve the same compassion and respect as heterosexuals and people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. In this context, it does feel new and meaningful for a president to refuse to cave to right-wing pressure to paint gay people as somehow monstrous or less than human. Not that we needed his approval, but still…
Videos of UC Berkeley police battering students with batons and dragging them by the hair to prevent them from setting up an Occupy Wall Street-style encampment have risen to national attention over the last few days, provoking statements of concern from the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild, and prompting comedian Stephen Colbert to call out the AP for its wildly euphemistic description of police officers “nudging” protesters with batons.
I’m glad that these disturbing videos have been distributed so widely. With all hope the public outrage over these scenes will open conversations about the excessive police force used not only against protesters on the Berkley campus but also in Oakland and beyond. But as is so often the case, these sensational images of pain and violence seem largely to have eclipsed another deeply important story of the day — a story of solidarity, hope, community, and political galvanization.
UC Berkeley students vote for a strike during a late-night general assembly on November 9.
The police violence that occurred during the afternoon on November 9 is only half the story. The other half took place later that night, when hundreds of students, community members, and professors poured into Sproul Plaza to hold a general assembly to discuss the subject of the students’ earlier protest: the extreme fee hikes that are making California’s public universities increasingly inaccessible to working-class students and saddling many students with a heavy burden of debt.
At 1 a.m., the general assembly voted to call for “a strike and day of action on Tuesday, November 15, in all sectors of higher education … We also call for simultaneous solidarity actions in workplaces and k-12 schools.” See the full proposal here.
A handful of images from Occupy Oakland’s general strike on Nov. 2 have already become iconic: aerial photos of people streaming up a bridge to shut down the Port of Oakland, the silhouettes of protesters standing atop a railroad scaffold at dusk, a masked protester shattering a window of a Wells Fargo bank, and the flaming garbage heap around which confrontations with the police occurred during the night. Though an abundance of other images are being posted and shared by protesters, these startling, dramatic scenes captured by photojournalists have become a favorite pick for news outlets looking for an attention-grabbing image.
Most of these sensational photos were not taken from the perspective of the mass of people who participated in the day’s protests. They were taken by news helicopters or by photographers who spent the day shadowing masked protesters in hopes of a perfect shot of breaking glass. They fail to convey a central embodied experience of the day: the intense sense of connection, warmth, and engagement experienced by the people who participated in the day’s mass nonviolent actions.
The photo essay below offers a vision of the general strike from the ground, from the perspective of participants who were listening to speeches in the plaza, chanting in the streets, and marching en masse to the port.
Buddhist monks in orange robes chant in one corner of the Occupy Oakland encampment. Across the plaza, a reverend in a rainbow stole reads Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Six Principles of Nonviolence” at an interfaith events tent, and a rabbi gives a Jewish blessing. A block away, candles burn on an unorthodox altar to the death of capitalism, and passers-by leave flowers and notes on the concrete bench that has become a vigil area for activist Scott Olsen, whose skull was fractured by a tear gas canister on Oct. 25. Nearby, a woman wearing a hijab talks about how a tentful of anarchists kindly lent her their rug when it came time for her to pray. There is a striking cheek-by-jowl feel to the interfaith interactions here — a spontaneity and intimacy so different from the stiff pageantry that can sometimes accompany carefully orchestrated interfaith events.
Click on any image below to open this photo essay from Occupy Oakland’s general strike on Nov. 2.
It’s almost midnight, and I just got home from a deeply inspiring fifteen hours of marching and gathering and coming together with thousands of people during Occupy Oakland’s daylong general strike. Tikkun was out in force all day, participating in the actions, shooting video, taking pictures, and conducting interviews, so we will have much more material for you soon. So much happened today, from the early afternoon protests to shut down local branches of the big banks that have profited from foreclosures on people’s homes, to the evening’s mass nonviolent action to close the Port of Oakland (the fifth-busiest shipping port in the country). Before heading to bed I wanted to offer this little taste of the warm community feeling at the port when news came that — after an arbitration process involving the International Longshore Workers Union — port officials had agreed to cancel the evening shift due to the protesters’ blocking of the gates. Many danced when they heard the news. I didn’t manage to catch on video the little riff that the whole crowd was singing along to the brass band’s song, so you’ll have to fill it in with your imagination: “We closed the port” (doo bee doo bee do wah)… “We closed the port!”
The image of a hand pressed against thick glass, fingers outstretched, made its way onto Evan Bissell’s canvas because it still haunts one of his collaborators, a young woman named Chey who saw it as a child visiting a jail.
“My dad used to do that when I’d visit him,” she wrote in a note to viewers of the “What Cannot Be Taken Away: Families and Prisons Project” at San Francisco’s SOMArts space. “The glass was so thick that you couldn’t feel any warmth.”
Chey chose to include a lotus flower because "the muddier and darker the lotus grows from, the more colorful and beautiful it will be when it blooms."
The collaborative art exhibition, which seeks to open our imaginations to new ideas about why harm happens and how harm can be repaired, is itself a hand pressed to the glass of the prison system, a warm-hearted attempt to create new flows of communication and empathy between people shut inside and people shut out.
Involuntary manslaughter. It is with great sadness and bitterness that those two words are echoing through California right now.
Protesters gather in downtown Oakland following involuntary manslaughter verdict in trial of the officer who killed Oscar Grant.
Protesters have massed in downtown Oakland in response to this disturbingly lenient verdict in the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the former transit police officer who shot and killed unarmed train rider Oscar Grant.
Involuntary manslaughter — it’s a verdict usually reserved for accidental killings such as car accidents. That conviction alone usually carries with it a maximum prison sentence of four years, but in this case the maximum sentence has been upped to fourteen years due to Mehserle’s use of a firearm in the killing.
I am deeply critical of our nation’s bloated and violent prison system (the United States locks up a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world, and this does not make us any “safer”) so it was strange to find myself hoping — along with so many others in the East Bay — for a stiffer verdict and therefore longer prison sentence for Mehserle. This is and is not about Mehserle. In truth, what I want is not revenge or punishment but rather an end to police brutality and racism in our society. But for various reasons, this particular trial has taken on an enormous symbolic significance.
For days we’ve been wondering: Will the verdict reinforce our sense that the justice system sees crimes by cops against people of color as somehow natural or forgivable? Or will it reassure us that our justice system is capable of seeing a white cop’s killing of a Black man as equally if not more criminal and disturbing than a Black man’s killing of a white cop?
The phones have been ringing off the hook here as word spreads of the threatening intrusion upon our editor’s home. It’s heartening to hear some empathetic voices after weathering the days of hate mail that followed Tikkun‘s decision to present an award to Judge Goldstone for standing up for human rights in Israel/Palestine.
Sometime late last night or in the wee hours of the morning, vandals glued threatening posters to Rabbi Lerner’s door and around his home. Some posters attacked Lerner personally; others targeted liberals and progressives more generally, accusing them of supporting terrorism and “Islamo-fascism.” Here’s an excerpt from the statement that he and his assistant Will Pasley sent out via email this afternoon:
UC Berkeley’s student senate is set to vote once more this Wednesday, April 28, on a bill to divest from two companies that materially and militarily support the Israeli government’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Yesterday Michael Lerner posted on the diversity of opinion among peace activists on this issue. Today I want to share a piece submitted to Tikkun Daily by Matthew A. Taylor, a Peace and Conflict Studies student and member of Jewish Voice for Peace who is currently on leave from UC Berkeley. As a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, the group that is promoting the bill on campus, Taylor argues with urgency and deep emotion for the bill and explains what those in support of the divestment effort can do to help before the vote tomorrow evening.
When Will the University of California Stop Funding War Crimes Against Palestinian Civilians?
“The soldiers came early on the morning of Sunday January 4th. [My husband] Atiyeh went to the door with his hands raised holding his ID but they shot him in the doorway,” said Zinad. “I shouted ‘children, children’ in Hebrew but they started shooting,” said Zinad’s nephew Faraj.
After the massacre, Israeli soldiers left messages for the dead Samounis on the walls of a neighbor’s house. The graffiti read: “Arabs need 2 die,” “Arabs are pieces of shit,” and “1 is DOWN 999,999 TO GO.”
A Palestinian woman cries in Gaza City's al-Zeitoun neighborhood (AFP).
When I was a child, my family celebrated Christian holidays in a fairly standard secular way, decorating a tree on Christmas and hunting eggs on Easter, not to mention joining in the customary consumption of marshmallow peeps, “jelly bird eggs” (whatever those are), and other foods invented by companies with a clever eye for turning a profit from a holiday.
My version of Easter lacks the radical Christian religiosity that Nichola laid out in her recent post about Good Friday as a time “to look at the crucifixions necessary to preserve the fiction of Pax Americana, or any false peace maintained by force, whether violent or hegemonic.” It lacks the progressive rethinking of the resurrection narrative that Rabbi Lerner highlighted in his spiritual wisdom of the week post with a quotation from Peter Rollins. But it’s still one of my favorite holidays of the year.
On its surface, the humanist Easter I grew up with may have seemed drained of meaning to religious onlookers, but it was actually highly ritualized and deep in its own way. I want to share my family’s three main rituals — an Easter eve afternoon of collaborative egg art, the collective reading aloud of a surprisingly feminist bunny book from the 1930s, and a morning of romping, outdoor egg hunts in bitter spring weather — as a resource for nonreligious families who want to celebrate a secular Easter that’s about more than just candy.