Sunday, January 25, 2015

FERGUSON: The Black Persistence of Rebellion Against All Odds

In Ferguson

By Darryl Pinckney, The New York Review of Books | Op-Ed
2015.1.20.Ferguson.mainProtesters of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, join with participants in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in St. Louis, January 19, 2015. (Photo: Whitney Curtis / The New York Times)

Saturday, 24 January 2015 --Forty years ago, in the days of "white flight" from American cities to the suburbs, Ferguson, Missouri was a "sundowner town" - black people did not drive through it at night because they knew they would be harassed by the white police force. Ferguson is now 65 percent black and low-income, but its police force is still predominantly white and working-class, approximately 53 white officers and three black officers. Although black people no longer sneak through town, the police treat young black men as either trespassers or ex- and future prisoners. The hip-hop artist T-Dubb-O said that black males throughout the St. Louis area know how old they are from the tone of the police. "When you're 8 or 9, it's, 'yo, where are you going?' and when it's 'get down on the ground,' you know you've turned 15."

The St. Louis city limits encompass a small area, and Ferguson is one of 90 incorporated municipalities that immediately surround the "Gateway to the West," each with its own mayor or manager. These local authorities raise money in significant part from fines levied against motorists. A police officer citing someone for a petty infraction is in reality a municipal worker trying to get paid. In addition to the municipalities, suburban St. Louis has a county government, with a council and a county executive. The outgoing county executive, Charlie A. Dooley, is black and a Democrat.

Voter turnout in Ferguson itself is low, but the remainder of North County (one of the four sections of St. Louis County) outvotes St. Louis city. (The city has a population of around 300,000; the county nearly 1 million.) Hazel Erby, the only black member of the seven-member county council, said that the city manager of Ferguson and its city council appoint the chief of police, and therefore voting is critical, but the complicated structure of municipal government is one reason many people have been uninterested in local politics.

A North County resident of middle-class University City for almost 50 years, Erby said that she hadn't discussed what Ferguson was like with her children when they were teenagers 20 years ago. Her son and two daughters told her not long ago, "We did, Mom." Her district, which she has represented for 10 years, is made up of 38 municipalities, including Ferguson. She said that she never had "that conversation" with her son about how to compose himself when confronted by the police, but her husband recently told her, "I did."

For the first time in U.S. history, more poor people live in the suburbs than in the cities. In St. Louis County, the "Delmar Divide" (at Delmar Boulevard) separates the mostly white South County from North County, where the black towns are. The Ferguson police do not live in Ferguson, and some even live outside the county, in rural areas.

A county council member's stipend of $11,500 is not enough to live on, but because of her husband's support Erby has been able to be active in her hometown's politics. She founded the Fannie Lou Hamer Democratic Coalition, a group of 34 black elected officials who endorsed the Republican candidate for county executive in the last election. She was feeling betrayed by the state Democratic leadership over issues such as their failure to help a black high school in her district keep its accreditation or support a bill she sponsored that would give minority contractors in St. Louis County a share of construction business.

Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights organizer who caught the nation's attention when her Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party attempted to unseat the all-white regular delegation at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. The daughter of sharecroppers, Hamer brought a folk eloquence to her testimony before the party's credentials committee about the campaign of intimidation and violence that was daily life for black people in the South. Erby said the trouble she has had in politics has come more from her being a woman than from her being black, serving alongside white businessmen and attorneys who mistake her good manners for weakness.

In the run-up to the Aug. 5 primary in St. Louis, the white Democratic candidate for county executive, Steve Stenger, joined with the prosecutor of 23 years, Bob McCulloch, who was up for re-election, in saying that they would clean up North County and they did not need the black vote. They won, if not by much. Erby speculates that the arrogance of their position created a sense of "empowerment" among the police that may have contributed to the tragic events of Aug. 9, when a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager, whose body was then left untended for 4 1/2 hours in the street.

People engaged in the movement that has grown in protest against Darren Wilson's killing of Michael Brown on Aug. 9 often invoke Martin Luther King Jr.'s name. 

Cornel West & Rev. Osagyefo Sekou
Through Cornel West, I met Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, the pastor "for formation and justice" at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Boston. A native of St. Louis, Sekou is currently a fellow at the Martin Luther King Papers Project at Stanford and was in residence there when the Brown killing happened. Six days later, Sekou was in St. Louis to support the young who are, as he sees them, the leaders in the Ferguson protest. Also associated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a group that has done peace work in Israel, Sekou told me that the movement that has coalesced around Ferguson looks especially to Bayard Rustin and Ella Baker, a gay guy and a woman, because as civil rights figures of the 1960s they "incarnate a theology of resistance of the historically othered."

Rustin, who was a liability in the eyes of traditional black leaders, put emphasis on building coalitions among black groups, white liberals, labor unions and religious progressives. Ella Baker's long career as an organizer took her from tenants' rights in the 1930s and voter registration for the NAACP in the 1940s to setting up the offices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the late 1950s and then to urging the youth of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s to broaden their goals beyond lunch-counter integration. She warned them not to let themselves be controlled by established civil rights organizations, arguing that strong people didn't need strong leaders. She was also ambivalent about nonviolence.

The story of the Aug. 9 police killing of Michael Brown had stayed in the news because people had refused to leave the streets. Sekou stressed that although the protest was one of the broadest coalitions in ages, the protesters themselves were largely young, black, queer, poor, working-class, "unchurched" or secular and women. We were about 10 miles from Ferguson on the largely white South Side, in MoKaBe's Coffeehouse, an informal meeting place for organizers, journalists and protesters owned by a courageous white woman. It was Monday morning, Nov. 24, and the St. Louis police were no doubt preparing for the announcement of the grand jury's decision. Since the summer the police had been raiding safe houses and churches where organizers were known to work from. Sekou had already been arrested three times. The Ferguson movement gathers mostly under an umbrella group, the Don't Shoot Coalition. It includes tested groups, such as the Organization for Black Struggle, founded in 1980. Four years ago, Montague Simmons left an investment brokerage firm to become OBS head. Two very beautiful young black women, one with a crown of braids, stopped at Sekou's table for hugs.

Brittany Ferrell & Alexis Templeton of Millennial Activists United

"Young people will not bow down," he said of them, and introduced Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton. They started Millennial Activists United in the days after Michael Brown's death. In a British documentary about the Ferguson protest, Ferrell and Templeton can be heard discussing how they were going to "change the narrative" of one evening's action, reminding their peers not to drink, not to play music and to stay focused. In photographs and news footage, Templeton is the young black woman with a bullhorn, emblematic of protest at the Ferguson Police Department.

Sekou - everyone was calling him simply "Sekou" - observed that as of the 107th day of protests in Ferguson, these young people had sustained the second-longest civil rights campaign in postwar U.S. history. "Ferguson has worn out my shoes." They were a third of their way to equaling the Montgomery Bus Boycott in its duration. The young knew the history, he went on, and to know your history is to become politicized. But in Sekou's view, too much black political capital has been spent in electoral politics. Elections are thermometers, social movements the thermostats, he said, echoing King. They set the agenda, whereas elections merely monitor them.

To Sekou, it matters how we define political participation. "If it's only the ballot box, then we're finished." He sees voting as "an insider strategy," one without much relevance to a town like Ferguson, where two-thirds of the adult population have arrest warrants out against them. Things don't come down to the vote, they come down to the level of harassment as people get ready to vote, he added. Sekou ventured that given the little black people have got for it, voting fits the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and each time expecting a different result.

Then, too, the young are distant from "the prosperity theology" of an already beleaguered black church, Sekou continued. Its social safety net - by which it offers a place to go, food, education, adult guidance and prayer - is not something they have grown up with; it's another pillar many young black people have had to do without, like having fathers in jail. Black churches "have become hostile to youth." But this also means that the young are remote from the politics of respectability and black piety. At previous meetings about Ferguson, the young booed, for different reasons, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and NAACP President Cornell William Brooks. But perhaps the most crucial factor in what Sekou called the "holy trinity of disfranchisement and dispossession" is the economic catastrophe of the past decade and the ongoing deindustrialization of urban centers.
For Sekou, Obama traffics in the language of the movement while betraying it. "Shame on him." I wanted to say that Clarence Thomas is the race traitor, not Obama. Sekou is 43 years old, a short, dark, charismatic man with thick, long dreadlocks like those of early reggae stars. He rejected what he called the Beltway strategy of appeasing forces on the right of center in favor of what he sees as the political possibility that has come from the street. He, like the young he counsels, feels that the system hasn't worked and now needs to be born again. The young demonstrating in Ferguson had faced tear gas and assault rifles. "There isn't any political terrain for them to engage in other than putting their bodies on the line."

Older people were going out of their way to defer to the young in the Ferguson movement, just as I would hear the sort of white people who had no reason to chastise themselves confess to being beneficiaries of "white privilege." But while Sekou pointed to the young adults who have, he said, discovered something extraordinary in themselves, it was clear what he himself stood for in their eyes. They trusted him and he showed them the affection and approval they needed.

"We are," he said, "at a critical moment in American democracy whereby the blood of Michael Brown has wiped away the veneer and at the same time seeded a great revolution. In a situation like St. Louis, where there has been a cowardly elite, an ineffectual black church and a dominant liberal class afraid of black rage and public discourse about white anxiety, we have to repent for not being here."

Sekou sees the Ferguson movement and the Don't Shoot Coalition as an answer to the call made at the National Hip-Hop Political Convention of 2004 against police brutality. But this was not the hip-hop culture that celebrated Malcolm X as the black man who refused to turn the other cheek. If anything, Sekou was talking more like the radicalized, antiwar Martin Luther King Jr., whom people tend to forget. The important differences were "attitudinal," not generational, Sekou said. He identified what he thought was the real issue at stake in Brown's murder: "What do you fundamentally believe about black people?"

Hey hey ho ho
These killer cops have got to go.

Few in the chanting, placard-carrying crowd across from the police department on South Florissant Road in Ferguson that evening of Nov. 24 expected the grand jury to hand down an indictment. Many expressed the feeling that whereas a grand jury usually takes from five to 10 days in its deliberations, this one used up three months so that everyone could say they'd been thorough before arriving at the decision that they had been going to make in the first place: to protect the police. The uncertainty all day long about the time when the announcement would be made was taken as further indication of Bob McCulloch's manipulation of the whole process. Local news stations were reporting that the prosecutor wanted to wait to make the grand jury's findings public until after schoolchildren were home.

But the darkness played into McCulloch's hands as well. The upscale, white shopping centers like Frontenac Plaza were guarded by police before McCulloch addressed the press. There was no police protection in the strip malls where blacks shopped along West Florissant Avenue, which had been a main trouble spot over the summer. These facts suggest that the authorities wanted the nation and the world - the international press waited in parking lots behind the protesters - to see what a lawless community young black Ferguson would be without a firm hand.

The police came out of their Ferguson station gradually, a few at a time, in blue riot helmets and wielding transparent shields. I heard people say that even after a sensational case like Brown's, the police killing of black youth was going on as if unchecked, in the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, who had an air gun on a playground, in the murder of 28-year-old Akai Gurley in a darkened stairway of a Brooklyn housing project. I heard someone say that we should not forget Eric Garner, killed by Staten Island police last July. (In early December, a grand jury declined to indict the officer who choked Garner to death though the choking had been caught on video.)

I saw Templeton leading the chant-dancing in the crowd, the young black woman with the bullhorn, and a blond youth chant-danced back at her in response.

But it was not a party. Solemn young faces peered out from hoodies and more and more handkerchiefs over mouths and noses. I saw masks. The glow of phones was everywhere. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be tweeted, Keiller MacDuff, Sekou's tireless volunteer communications director, told me people were saying. The night of the grand jury's announcement, the Ferguson movement did seem to move with the speed of Twitter, but I pressed with others around a car radio in front of the police station. Templeton shifted her bullhorn and helped Leslie McSpadden, Brown's mother, up onto the car where we were listening. The group on top of the car held on to her. She had been told the outcome already. As she broke down, it was clear to the crowd what the decision was. I stopped trying to hear what McCulloch was saying as McSpadden said to the line of policemen in front of the station, "It's not right."

"We're going to barbecue tonight," I heard from somewhere behind me.

While Sekou was giving a television interview in the parking lot across from the police station, where the crowd had begun to press angrily against the police line, we heard gunfire. Sekou swept me along with Keiller MacDuff - she's from New Zealand - and three young white volunteers from Faith and Reconciliation. More gunfire sounded behind us as we reached the Wellspring Church, where Sekou had been a guest before, and we were buzzed in. Sekou and one of the volunteers decided they'd no choice but to get his car parked on the other side of the police station.

From the steps of the church, I heard glass breaking and saw hundreds of people fleeing down South Florissant. The women in charge of the church in the Wellspring pastor's absence had instructions to lock the doors, turn off the lights and not admit anyone else. MacDuff was offended that no more protesters would be let in, because there were young people falling in the street, cowering under the church wall.

In the church sanctuary, we watched on a laptop the violence a few hundred yards away. Citizen journalists who streamed what they saw live from their smartphones and iPads had stayed on the street. They have a mixed reputation. Some can say inflammatory things and put protesters in danger or become aggressive, while others understand what it means to have such power in your pocket. People around the world have been glued to live streams from Ferguson ever since the killing. The police have targeted live streamers, who can save lives by keeping the spotlight on police activity when traditional media have pulled back from hot spots. A white girl appeared at my shoulder to watch also. I didn't realize at first that she'd pulled off a gas mask.

As we left the church, once again, Sekou included me in his group, though there was really no room for me in the car. Out on West Florissant, I saw black youths running out of Walgreens, their legs pumping like marionettes'. I didn't see them carrying anything, but that does not mean they hadn't entered the drugstore with the intention of grabbing stuff. A young white volunteer was at the wheel and black youths shouted from the meridian at the driver's window at every stoplight.

Sekou refused to go inside the MSNBC compound on West Florissant to do an interview if we, his people, couldn't come in, too. At the sound of gunfire, the MSNBC guards dropped to the pavement with us. Sekou didn't wait to be turned down by MSNBC again, and walked us to a parking lot in the rear where we remained for two hours, hiding in the dark behind a brick shed. I recall a fire truck coming at one point, but it went away, maybe driven off by gunfire. Buildings burned on either side of us, huge boxes of acrid flame, and what really confused me was the honking. It sounded like a football victory at times. Except for the gunfire.

I was afraid of what the police helicopters with searchlights might mistake us for. And then I was wary of two black youths who seemed to be loping in our direction. They weren't loping, they were making their way along the sides of the parking lot, looking for shelter from the smoke and overhead buzzing. The one with dreadlocks turned out to be a grandson of a pastor whom Sekou knew. I had to ask myself, When did I become afraid of black youth? How had I, a black man, internalized white fear?
Eventually, a loudspeaker voice told people they had to move onto the sidewalk or else they would be subject to arrest. They had to disperse; they needed to get out of the street. They had to get back into their cars. It had taken the police a while to take back territory. "Riots are the voice of the unheard," Sekou said, quoting King. I heard many deplore the attacks on black businesses, but those felt random. Glass smashed along a route of panic and retreat. The feeling was that young rioters weren't after mobile phones; they wanted to burn police cars.

In the days since, people have been blocking highways, shutting down shopping malls, lying in the streets and walking out of classrooms around the world. Hands up; don't shoot. The Missouri National Guard stood behind the line of Ferguson police at the station on Florissant the next night and the night after that, the temperature dropping and the crowd thinning. But nonviolent direct action has won out as the defining tactic of the Ferguson movement.
I felt a bond with everyone in St. Louis I talked to about what was happening, and that in itself seemed odd. I met people who had been moved somehow to come and bear witness: the young rabbi from Newton, Mass.; the black single mother who works downtown as a food scientist; the white women of a certain age up from their lesbian commune in Arkansas; the black taxi driver who got from his dispatcher, before it was on Twitter, which highways had been blocked; the white middle-aged clergyman from Illinois who normally worked in hospital trauma units; the Japanese-born campaign director of the Right to Vote Initiative who was beaten up a lot as a kid in New Jersey in the 1970s because white neighbors thought his family was Vietnamese; the owner of MoKaBe's Coffeehouse who opened for business Tuesday morning after having been tear gassed twice Monday night.

"Just for the record, I am so over being tear gassed," Sekou said. "That's what tear gas is, it's just tacky." This from the man who when the police returned Tuesday night got everyone in the coffeehouse to lock arms and told the police that he knew they weren't getting everything they wanted either. He'd read their contract. "This is about a heartbeat," he told them. He got the people inside MoKaBe's to strike their breasts.

The police went away.
Back up back up
We want freedom freedom
All these racist ass cops
We don't need 'em need 'em.

Following the release of the grand jury testimony, many have argued that McCulloch acted more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor. There have been mutterings about his own history, and a possible connection between the Michael Brown case and McCulloch's personal tragedy of his police officer father having been killed by a black suspect back in 1964. But what in some ways was even more troubling was Wilson's ABC interview on the evening after the verdict, for which he seemed to have been well-coached, including the galling statement that his conscience was clear. An attorney for Brown's family observed that this was a poor response to his having taken the life of a young man. In his testimony, Wilson "deployed," as Sekou called it, every racist trope in order to assert that he was in fear of his life. Brown, Wilson said, looked "like a demon."

After the Civil War, thousands of black men were on the roads, looking for new starts, but mostly looking for loved ones sold away. Vagrancy laws were passed that said if you couldn't say where you lived or worked you could be picked up and put on the chain gang. America has always felt the necessity of keeping its black male population under control. Behind every failure to make the police accountable in such killings is an almost gloating confidence that the majority of white Americans support the idea that the police are the thin blue line between them and social chaos. Indeed, part of the problem in several such cases has been the alarmist phone calls from third parties to police dispatchers, reporting any situation involving a black male in a stereotypical and therefore usually false fashion - the police aren't the only ones to engage in racial profiling. If you are a black man, be careful what you shop for in Walmart.

There is a chance that the federal government may vigorously investigate the Michael Brown case. "Please help us fight these monsters," the hip-hop artist Tef Poe asked the president in a recent open letter. But for decades Congress resisted passing any legislation making lynching illegal. The Congress we have now is not going to convene hearings on our police culture or pass a comprehensive public works bill.
Yet the Ferguson movement has promised that the situation cannot go back to normal, to the way things have been. Everybody knows what racism is. The problems needn't be explained over and over. They can't be deflected by saying that Michael Brown took some cigars from a store, that he broke the law and therefore it was proper to kill him with six bullets, although he had no weapon. This is the kind of thinking that racism hides behind. Ferguson feels like a turning point. For so many, Brown's death was the last straw. Black youth are fed up with being branded criminals at birth.

Ferguson was the country stepping back in time or exposing the fact that change hasn't happened where most needed, that most of us don't live in the age of Obama.

"It's a myth that we're a fair society," Sekou said. "We have to take that needle out of our arms."

Darryl Pinckney

Darryl Pinckney's new book is Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Trans Pacific Partnership: Obama's WestCoast Imperialism

Trans Pacific Partnership: Obama ready to defy Democrats to push secretive trade deal

by Siri Srinivas

A protester holds a placard during a rally against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Tokyo. 

The TPP has drawn the ire of Democrats including Elizabeth Warren who object it will destroy jobs, limit online freedom, increase outsourcing and derail climate agreements. Ironically, it has made allies of his GOP rivals TPP

A protester holds a placard during a rally against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Tokyo. Photograph: Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

The Trans Pacific Partnership is a trade agreement so significant and important, its details can't be disclosed.

The TPP, sure to make an appearance during tonight's State of the Union, is a 21st-century trade agreement involving 11 Asian countries along the Pacific Rim, and said to cover 40% of the world's economy.

The TPP is a subject close to the heart – and the economic plans – of President Obama. In a November trip to Beijing, he urged other world leaders to finalize the agreement, calling it a "high priority" that would strengthen American leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and lead to growth, investment and job prospects for more workers.

The administration has argued that the deal will allow lower tariffs for American exports, in an environment of increasing competition, especially from China. Obama is also touting the deal as a boon for small businesses. When 98% of the US's exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships will help them create even more jobs, he proclaimed in last year's State of the Union address. "Listen, China and Europe are not standing on the sidelines. Neither should we."

Right now, American citizens will have to take those promises about the impact of the TPP on faith.

The TPP is one of the largest international trade agreements the US will sign, yet most of it is mired in secrecy. Congress won't have access to the TPP before it is signed, and the terms won't be publicly disclosed – ironic since the negotiations include 600 corporate advisers, including representatives of Halliburton and Caterpillar.

A chunk of the trade deal was leaked most recently by a Wikileaks release. "Everything we know about it are from document leaks," says Maira Sutton, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

That sets light to the anger of Senator Bernie Sanders, who has called the TPP "disastrous" and "written behind closed doors by the corporate world". He denounced its purpose "to protect the interests of the largest multinational corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy."

It's not just Sanders, who is among the most progressive in Congress. Democrats have long expressed their opposition to the deal, even though 14 unions and consumer groups and environmental groups are also involved in the negotiations.

No matter: the president says he is ready to defy his fellow Democrats to push through the TPP. In a case of odd bedfellows, Obama has found new Republican allies in pursuing the deal.

US trade representative Michael Froman promised that the Trans Pacific Partnership was on course and due in as little as two months.

Obama's State of the Union address should give the TPP another push – even as public interest groups, trade experts and digital freedom advocates voice their criticism of the agreement, particularly its secrecy. 'Don't fight the last war' Obama Facebook Twitter Pinterest The US vice-president, Joe Biden, and House speaker John Boehner of Ohio listen as President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, claiming that the TPP will lead to more small business job creation. Photograph: Charles Dharapak/AP

What makes the TPP distasteful to experts is its resemblance to the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), signed in 1994 between the US, Canada and Mexico. Advertisement

Post-Nafta, the US saw a mass exodus of jobs, with nearly 700,000 jobs offshored, 60.8% of them in manufacturing.
Now as the Obama administration uses the same verbiage as the Clinton administration used two decades ago, trade experts are alarmed at what is to come. The incentives of the Trans Pacific Partnership are going to cause millions of additional jobs to be lost, says Lori Wallach, the director of Global Trade Watch.

Wallach quotes the Department of Labor statistics to show that the workers in the US who lose their jobs to trade agreements in the manufacturing sector when re-employed earn only three-quarters of their original earnings, in three out of five cases.

"The opposition to the trade agreement comprises unions, environmental, consumer groups – in other words, the entire Democratic base," says Wallach.

Wallach says that the agreement is based on the terms of the US-Korea free-trade agreement, which were derived from Nafta. The complications include limits on food safety and a ban on the export of gas derived from fracking – which "would limit our ability to have energy policies to combat the climate crisis", Wallach says.

Another complication: the terms of the TPP won't be open to debate. A fast-track treatment is likely, with Congress implementing the deal without changes.

"The president wants the authority to railroad through Congress to sign the agreement even before Congress," explains Wallach, saying it delegates congressional authority to the president.

Yet Obama insists that the TPP's terms are new and improved. The president's only advice to critics: "Don't fight the last war."

'It copies and pastes US law into international law'

The Trans Pacific Partnership, although billed as a trade agreement, includes provisions on intellectual property and copyright that are usually outside the boundaries of trade, critics say.

For instance, there is a scuffle around the TPP's rumored treatment of Digital Rights Management tools, which corporations use to limit access to digital devices – often to prevent piracy.

TPP has provisions that make it a crime to break these locks, and to do things that aren't even copyright infringement.

"These DRM laws prevent us from doing that research legally," says Maira Sutton, a policy analyst at Electronic Frontier Foundation. "That's our main concern."

Sutton objects that the TPP will extend problematic US laws into international law. One example: the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prosecutors used to hound open-web advocate Aaron Swartz.

"Similar provisions in the TPP that will prevent whistleblowers and journalists from accessing or 'disclosing' trade secrets through a computer system," Sutton says. aaron swartz Facebook Twitter Pinterest Information access advocate Aaron Swartz speaks to a crowd. Photograph: Daniel J. Sieradski/dpa/Corbis

Sutton adds that the recent Sony hacks would not be reported freely under the provisions of the TPP, says Sutton.

The third issue the EFF is concerned with is that of intermediary liability, which burdens ISPs and websites with stricter copyright infringement laws in a way that is veiled censorship, cautions Sutton. Climate activists up in arms

Climate activists have been the most vociferous in opposing the TPP's many terms. As John Fullerton wrote in the Guardian: "What few seem to realize is that this agreement, if approved as is, could make it virtually impossible for the United States to meet its current and future climate pledges."

Elizabeth Warren too has come out against the deal. In a letter to Froman last year, Warren and two other Senators objected that the TPP "could make it harder for Congress and regulatory agencies to prevent future financial crises". Warren Facebook Twitter Pinterest Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wrote to Michael Froman, objecting to the TPP's terms that undermine major Wall Street reform. Photograph: Jose Luis Magana/AP

Warren and others have raised concern over a provision called "investor-state dispute settlement" which gives foreign corporations the political power to challenge US laws in front of a small private group of attorneys that answers to no country.

"If the foreign country prevails, the panel can order compensation from American taxpayers without any review by American courts," Warren warned. One such panel in 2006 forced the Czech Republic to pay $236m to a Dutch bank for not providing it with a bailout, Warren wrote.

Even though dissent is plenty, the means for these public advocates to get involved in the TPP are few.

Public interest groups that want to be on trade advisory committees in order to participate in the negotiations are required to sign non-disclosure agreements, which robs them of the voice to object.

Sutton, of the EFF, says it is the organization's responsibility to share information with the public and to do public advocacy.

"If we were to sign on to this trade advisory committee to influence the text, then we tie our hands behind our backs to do the work that we need to do," she tells the Guardian.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Charlie Hebdo: A Celebration of Western Hypocrisy

The Charlie Hebdo White Power Rally in Paris

A Celebration of Western Hypocrisy
The “civilized” have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their “vital interests” are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death; these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the “sanctity” of human life, or the conscience of civilized world. — James Baldwin
I have witnessed the spectacle of Eurocentric arrogance many times over my long years of struggle and resistance to colonial/capitalist domination and dehumanization. The grotesque, 21st Century version of the “white man’s burden,” which asserts that the international community (meaning the West) has a moral and legal “responsibility to protect,” is one current example; the generalized acceptance by many in the West that their governments have a right to wage permanent war against the global “others” to maintain international order is another.

Yet, when I think I have seen it all, along comes the response to the attack at the racist, Islamophobic publication Charlie Hebdo. Even though I shouldn’t be surprised, I am still left in complete wonderment at the West’s unmitigated self-centeredness and self-righteous arrogance.

The millions who turned out on Sunday claimed to be marching in solidarity with the victims at Charlie Hebdo and against terrorism. They were joined by political leaders from across Europe, Israel and other parts of the world – on the same weekend reports were emerging that 2,000 Nigerians may have lost their lives at the hands of Boko Haram, another Muslim extremist group.

Surely there would be expressions of solidarity with the survivors in Nigeria at a gathering ostensibly to oppose terrorism and uphold the sanctity  of life. But the expressions of solidarity never came. In fact, based on the attention the massacre received from the Western press, it was if the massacre had never happened.

It is clear that there was a different agenda for the march and a different set of concerns for Europe. The people of France mobilized themselves to defend what they saw as an attack against Western civilization. However, the events in Paris did not have to be framed as an existential attack on the imagined values of the liberal white West. Providing some context and making some political links may have been beneficial for attempting to understand what happened in the country and a political way forward beyond the appeal to racial jingoism.

The attack could have sparked an honest conversation about how many Muslims experience life in contemporary France and viewed French policies in various Muslim and Arab nations. It could have examined the relationship between the rise of radical Islam and the connection of that rise to the activities of various branches of the French intelligence services. An open discussion might have framed it as a classic blowback operation resulting from the weaponization of radical Wahhabism as a tool of Western power from the late 1970s to its current assignment in Syria. But those ideas were not allowed a forum on that massive stage.

Je Suis Charlie: European lives have always mattered more than others
A lost African Soul.
The Je Suis Charlie slogan like one of those mindless advertising themes meant to appeal to the unconscious and the irrational, nevertheless,  has to have cultural reference points, culturally embedded meanings that evoke the desire to want to buy a product, or in this case to identify with an imagined civilization. It does not matter that the supposed superiority of Western civilization and its values is based on constructed lies and myths, it is still the basis of a cross-class, transnational white identity.

The white identity is so powerfully inculcated while simultaneously invisibalized that identification is not seen as the essentialized identity politics that people of color supposedly engage in, instead it is just being “human.” And as we witnessed this weekend and throughout the colonial world, identification with whiteness is not limited by one’s racial or national assignment.

It is not necessary in this short essay to even address the contradictory nature of the European self-understanding, how that self-perception is utterly disconnected from its practice, and how many people in the world see the 500-years European hegemony as an interminable nightmare.

However, for those folks who believe the simple assertion that black lives matter and that “racial progress” will be realized through progressive legislative reform derived from a better understanding of the harmful  impact of racially discriminatory practices, the unfiltered expressions of white solidarity and the privileging of white life should be a wake-up call.

The humanity and cultures of Arabs and Muslims have been denigrated in France for decades. Full recognition of the humanity of Arabs and Muslims has always come at a cost – Arabs and Muslims are required to “assimilate,” to mimic French lifestyles, embrace the language, adopt the values and worldview of their cosmopolitan patrons. Older generations of fully colonized individuals subjected themselves to that degrading ritual, but later generations see this requirement as the colonial assault on their being that it is and have resisted.

It is the arrogant lack of respect for the ideas and culture of non-European peoples that drove the French ban on the wearing of the niqab and other traditional veiling clothing for Muslim women, just one example of the generalized discriminatory treatment of Arabs and Muslims in France. In this lager context, Charlie Hebdo’s blatant disregard and disrespect for another religion, shielded by an absolute commitment to freedom of  speech that gives them blanket immunity, is now compounded by the “Je Suis Charlie campaign,” orchestrated in the name of upholding the values of liberal, Western civilization.
France's National Front racist anti-islam/anti-immigration movement grows in France to such an extent that it head- Marine Le Pen -may become the next Head of France.
 What it means for many of us in the Black community is that Je Suis Charlie has become a sound bite to justify the erasure of non-Europeans, and for ignoring the sentiments, values and views of the racialized “other.” In short, Je Suis Charlie has become an arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy that was echoed at the white power march on Sunday in Paris and in the popularity of the new issue of Charlie Hebdo.

A shared ethical framework under the system of capitalist/colonial white supremacy is impossible. Deeply grounded in the European psyche and in the contradictions of its “humanist” traditions, who was considered fully human always had qualifications, and equality was always a nuanced concept.

The contradictory ethical framework that informs the world view of Parisians is grounded in the colonial division of humanity that emerged out of the liberal humanist movement of the 18th Century. This tradition allowed for humanity to be divided into those people who were considered fully human with rights that should be respected and those peoples consigned to non-being. Those non-beings became eligible to have their lands taken, to be enslaved and murdered at will.

The valuation of white life over everyone else is a fundamental component of white supremacy and not limited to those people that might be defined as white.

That is why no one cares about the families that weep for their love ones in Nigeria and no one marches for them.

That is why anti-Muslim and anti-Arab violence has exploded across France but the only mention in the Western press is the supposed fear in the Jewish community.

And that is why that after the attack in Baga, Nigerian authorities were largely silent until  Nigerian President Goodluck  finally issued a statement on terrorism where he forcefully condemned the attack in Paris!

Ajamu Baraka is a long-time human rights activist and veteran of the Black Liberation, anti-war, anti-apartheid and Central American solidarity Movements in the United States. Read other articles by Ajamu, or visit Ajamu's website.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Ferguson: Lessons Learned for Education for Liberation

Education in the Age of Ferguson

By Independent Commission On Public Education (ICOPE)
December 21, 2014-

What happened in Ferguson, Missouri –and most recently right here in New York City with the Eric Garner police killing- is evidence of massive failures in many sectors of our society, from the policing of communities of color, the criminal justice and the court systems, to the very way this country educates its youngest and most impressionable citizens and residents.

In this article we present some thoughts on how transforming our education system through a human rights framework could, over time, positively change our social system.

The Mis-education of The American Citizen Breeds Racism

Like so many in deadly positions of authority, Darren Wilson lacked the intellectual and emotional tools to navigate an encounter with a Black teenager. For their part, Black youth are also unprepared to navigate their way in a racist society that condemns them for everything from the color of their skin, to their dress, music, language, behavior and mere presence, when no crime has been committed. The pervasive mindset that permits the racist hostility, beatings and, too often, loss of life at the hands of the police indicates the extent of the problem. The violation of human rights is completely unacceptable.

We must act swiftly to rid the nation of the terrorism enacted upon Black/Brown people. The frustration of living in a police state, rather than a democracy is compounded by our president repeating  as he did recently, the myth that we are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. This completely distorts the true nature of the United States by erasing the millions of indigenous Native Americans and tens of millions of us who were forced to endure the horrors of the Middle Passage and slavery.

It is the nation’s education system with its lack of cultural knowledge, understanding of history, empathy, human caring and concern that ought to be on trial. Its failure to teach the historical realities of this nation along with the capacities for self-awareness and critical thinking  is what produces individuals like Darren Wilson, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo (who used the illegal chokehold to kill Eric Garner) and those who sat on both grand juries.

We need only to reflect upon the nature of lies told to children about Christopher Columbus discovering America, the erasure or glossing over in our history books of the genocide committed upon Native Americans, the omission of the barbaric Middle Passage and enslavement over hundreds of years and generations of kidnapping human beings from Africa, to understand where we are today. We need only to see the historic connection between the blood, sweat and tears of Black men, women and children held captive in the past- and still trapped today by poverty, foster care, homelessness, ghettos, unemployment, miseducation and prisons -to understand that this nation's racist foundation of oppression and supremacy remains intact.

The Mis-education of The American Citizen Breeds Ignorance of Our Human Rights and Our Power

Our schools have failed miserably to teach and practice human rights and democracy so that young people are prepared to live, work, and thrive in a multicultural and antiracist society.

Racism is historically imbedded and perpetuated in the societal fabric of this land. It is with this lens and along with the failure to properly educate the next generation that we view the situation in Ferguson-- a city like many in this country, where white people police, judge, incarcerate and execute young Black/Brown men (and women) in alarming numbers and get away with it. Ferguson is also like many other cities where Black children go to substandard, severely under-resourced schools, white children go to private schools, parochial schools or schools outside the district, and families whose children attend the public schools have little or no voice in how these schools are run or financed.

What and How We Teach and Who Has the Power Are Key For Educational Excellence

If we are committed to racial justice, equity, and democracy over the long haul, we need to be making radical changes in what we teach our children, how we teach our children, how we structure the system, and who has power to make these decisions.

We have to learn about each other and each other’s histories. We need to understand and find pleasure in each other’s music, art, literature, and other cultural ways.  We need to appreciate the contributions and understand each other’s struggles against oppression and for dignity and respect. We should all understand the conflicts and struggles which have contributed to the advances that have ever so slowly so far been ‘bending’ this nation towards equity and justice.

We need to teach our young people more civics so they can learn how to access the levers of power; the arts so they can find comfort and express themselves in positive ways as well as appreciate different styles; social/emotional education so they can manage their emotions and handle conflicts nonviolently; history so they can understand the forces at work around them; and health and physical education so they can learn habits of health, teamwork, and good sportsmanship. When education is limited to math and reading, as it is currently in our test-driven education environment, our young people are stunted.

Teachers need to know their students and their cultures well if they are going to teach them well.  This is because students connecting what they already know to something new is the richest form of learning.  A teacher who doesn’t understand his or her students can’t help them make these connections. This is a clear finding in education research.

Black scholars such as Lisa Delpit, Joyce King, Gloria Ladson-Billings, and Theresa Perry, provide more than ample evidence that if you want to teach Black students well, you need to know about their lives and

interests, their families, and their culture. You need to understand them and truly respect them.  As Gloria Ladson-Billing says, “culturally responsive teaching is just good teaching.”

Research has also found that teachers generally have lower expectations of Black and Brown students. There is much work to do, especially when so many of our teachers are white while an increasing majority of students in our cities are of color.

But the problem of mis-education can’t be solved purely at the classroom level.  The education system as a whole needs to be transformed so that education actually empowers the children and their communities.  It matters to an education system who has voice and who makes the decisions regarding who gets to be a teacher, and what they need to know to be able to teach young people well, particularly those different from themselves.  It matters who makes decisions about the curriculum and how these decisions take place.

Since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the NYC schools in 2002, the people of this city, particularly parents, have been outside the decision making process. There has been little dialogue, little working together, as decisions are simply handed down from on high.  Parents are treated like consumers while the children are treated like products.  It has been dehumanizing and undemocratic.

Mayoral control ushered in changes centering around privatization, high stakes tests, common core standards and curriculum developed mainly by the private sector, in this case, Pearson. Legislators and state and city departments of education have been lobbied and bought off, in the interests of maximizing private profit.

What Can We Learn and Do About These Tragedies?

Ferguson Children avidly go to the library today. The Ferguson library was a "liberated zone" during the height of the rebellion and all were welcome to come and Study for Struggle.
One of the things we can learn from Ferguson and the Eric Garner travesties of justice is that we the people must take charge. Our schools and the education of our children must fundamentally change so we have police who respect the humanity of Black teenagers and Black teenagers who feel connected and proud of their cultural roots. Ultimately we need a shift of power that will allow us to work across race, culture, and class to develop a common vision for our schools that include the full human development of each one of us within a framework of dignity and respect for all of us. This is what a human rights approach to education means.

The tragedy and horrors of both the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner along with the twisted and biased work of both the Ferguson and Staten Island grand juries SHOULD BE a wake up call for deep reflection, antiracist education, increased organizing, and action for racial justice in the United States.  We need to take control of our schools and our school systems so their potential for transforming our society can be realized.

The Independent Commission On Public Education (ICOPE) is a New York City-based organization of educators and parent activists who advocate for a human rights based approach to education.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Selma@50: The Historical Reality of Bottom Up Black Freedom Fighters

The Selma Voting Rights Struggle: 15 Key Points from Bottom-Up History and Why It Matters Today

By Emilye Crosby
On this 50th anniversary year of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act it helped inspire, national attention is centered on the iconic images of “Bloody Sunday,” the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the interracial marchers, and President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act. This version of history, emphasizing a top-down narrative and isolated events, reinforces the master narrative that civil rights activists describe as “Rosa sat down, Martin stood up, and the white folks came south to save the day.”
Today, issues of racial equity and voting rights are front and center in the lives of young people. There is much they can learn from an accurate telling of the Selma (Dallas County) voting rights campaign and the larger Civil Rights Movement. We owe it to students on this anniversary to share the history that can help equip them to carry on the struggle today.
A march of 15,000 in Harlem in solidarity with Selma voting rights struggle. World Telegram & Sun photo by Stanley Wolfson. Library of Congress.
A march of 15,000 in Harlem in solidarity with the Selma voting rights struggle. World Telegram & Sun photo by Stanley Wolfson. Library of Congress.

1. The Selma voting rights campaign started long before the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Amelia Boynton Robinson as a teen in the 1920s.  Courtesy of Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson.
Amelia Boynton Robinson in the 1920s.
Mrs. Amelia Platts Boynton, her husband Samuel William Boynton, and other African American activists founded the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) in the 1930s. The DCVL became the base for a group of activists who pursued voting rights and economic independence.
The Boyntons’ son Bruce Boynton, a Howard University law student, was the plaintiff in Boynton v. Virginia, a 1960 U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled segregated facilities serving interstate travel—such as bus and train stations—unconstitutional. This case helped inspire the freedom rides organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1961.

2. Selma was one of the communities where the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began organizing in the early 1960s.

In 1963, seasoned activists Colia (Liddell) and Bernard Lafayette came to Selma as field staff for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), known as “Snick.” Founded by the young people who initiated the 1960 sit-in movement, SNCC had moved into Deep South, majority-black communities doing the dangerous work of organizing with local residents around voter registration.
Working with the Boyntons and other DCVL members, the Lafayettes held Citizenship School classes focused on the literacy test required for voter registration and canvassed door-to-door, encouraging African Americans to try to register to vote. (Learn more about the day-to-day work of SNCC in Selma from field reports by Colia and Bernard Lafayette. Here is an April 6, 1963, report by Colia Lafayette. Also read one by Bernard Lafayette in “Selma: Diary of a Freedom Fighter” by James Forman in The Making of Black Revolutionaries.)
Prathia Hall, a SNCC field secretary who came to Selma in the fall of 1963, explained:
“The 1965 Selma Movement could never have happened if SNCC hadn’t been there opening up Selma in 1962 and 1963. The later nationally known movement was the product of more than two years of very careful, very slow work.” –Prathia Hall in Hands on the Freedom Plow (Read more of her account here.)

3. The white power structure used economic, “legal,” and extra-legal means, including violence, to prevent African Americans from accessing their constitutional right to vote.

Alabama Literacy Test. Click image for details.
SNCC’s organizing was necessary and extremely challenging because African Americans in Selma, despite being a majority in the community, were systematically disfranchised by the white elite who used literacy tests, economic intimidation, and violence to maintain the status quo.
According to a 1961 Civil Rights Commission report, only 130 of 15,115 eligible Dallas County Blacks were registered to vote. The situation was even worse in neighboring Wilcox and Lowndes counties. There were virtually no Blacks on the voting rolls in these rural counties that were roughly 80 percent Black. Ironically, in some Alabama counties, more than 100% of the eligible white population was registered. See point #6 below for more examples.

4. White terrorism created a climate of fear that impeded organizing efforts.

Alabama Governor George Wallace, holding photograph of alleged "known agitators", while speaking to Citizens' Council group in Atlanta in 1963. Library of Congress.
Alabama Governor George Wallace, holding photograph of “agitators” while speaking to Citizens’ Council group in Atlanta in 1963. Library of Congress.
Although many people are aware of the violent attacks during Bloody Sunday, white repression in Selma was systematic and long-standing. Selma was home to Sheriff Jim Clark, a violent racist, and one of Alabama’s strongest white Citizens’ Councils—made up of the community’s white elite and dedicated to preserving segregation and white supremacy. The threat of violence and retaliation was so strong that most African Americans were afraid to attend a mass meeting. Most of the Lafayettes’ first recruits were high school students. Too young to vote, they canvassed and taught classes to adults.
“Alabama was extremely dangerous. For instance, in Gadsden, the police used cattle prods on the torn feet [of young protesters] and stuck the prods into the groins of boys. Selma was just brutal. Civil rights workers came into town under the cover of darkness.” —Prathia Hall.
To encourage attendance at a mass meeting, the Lafayettes combined a May 14, 1963, memorial service for Mr. Boynton with a voting workshop and rally. SNCC leader James Forman spoke and 350 people participated. Whites first tried to intimidate the minister into rescinding use of the church and then gathered in an armed, threatening crowd circling the church. Since the mob included Sheriff Jim Clark and other local lawmen, SNCC workers sought help (unsuccessfully) from federal officials and ultimately remained inside—singing freedom songs to bolster their courage—until 1 a.m. when the armed crowd had dispersed.

5. Though civil rights activists typically used nonviolent tactics in public demonstrations, at home and in their own communities they consistently used weapons to defend themselves.

Bernard Lafayette after 1963 beating.
Self-defense in Lowndes County. Library of Congress.
Self-defense in Lowndes County. Library of Congress.
On June 12, 1963, the night Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi, whites viciously attacked Bernard Lafayette outside his apartment in Selma in what many believe was a coordinated effort to suppress Black activism.
Lafayette believed in the philosophy of nonviolence, but his life was probably saved by a neighbor who shot into the air to scare away the white attackers.
This practice of armed self-defense was woven into the Movementand, because neither local nor federal law enforcement offered sufficient protection, it was essential for keeping nonviolent activists alive. (More in article by Charles E. Cobb Jr.)

6. Local, state, and federal institutions conspired and were complicit in preventing black voting.

Even with the persistent work of SNCC and the Dallas County Voters League, it was almost impossible for African Americans to register to vote. The registrar’s office was only open twice a month on the first and third Monday and potential applicants were routinely and arbitrarily rejected, even when they were well-educated. Some were physically attacked and others were fired from their jobs. Howard Zinn, who visited Selma in fall 1963 as a SNCC advisor, offers a glimpse of the repression, noting that white officials had fired teachers for trying to register and regularly arrested SNCC workers, sometimes beating them in jail. In one instance, a police officer knocked a 19-year-old girl unconscious and brutalized her with a cattle prod.
Young boy in front of Dallas County courthouse in Selma on July 8, 1964. He was arrested. Photo by Matt Herron/Take Stock Photos. (Click for photographer's site.)Deputies approach child demonstrator in front of the Dallas County courthouse in Selma, Alabama, July 8, 1964. Photography by Matt Herron.
Photos: A brave young boy demonstrates for freedom in front of the Dallas County courthouse in Selma on July 8, 1964. Selma sheriff deputies approach and arrest him. Photos used by permission of Matt Herron/Take Stock Photos.
In another example, in summer 1964, Judge James Hare issued an injunction making it illegal for three or more people to congregate. This made demonstrations and voter registration work almost impossible while SNCC pursued the slow appeals process. Although the Justice Department was pursuing its own legal action to address discrimination against Black voters, its attorneys offered no protection and did nothing to intervene when local officials openly flaunted the 1957 Civil Rights Act.
The FBI was even worse. In addition to refusing to protect civil rights workers attacked in front of agents, the FBI spied on and tried to discredit movement activists. In 1964, the FBI sent King an anonymous and threatening note urging him to commit suicide and later smeared white activist Viola Liuzzo, who was murdered after coming from Detroit to participate in the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

7. SNCC developed creative tactics to highlight Black demand for the vote and the raw violence at the heart of Jim Crow.

To highlight African Americans’ desire to vote and encourage a sense of collective struggle, SNCC organized a Freedom Day on Monday, Oct. 7, 1963, one of the monthly registration days. They invited Black celebrities, like James Baldwin and Dick Gregory, so Blacks in Selma would know they weren’t alone.
Over the course of the day, 350 African Americans stood in line to register, but the registrar processed only 40 applications and white lawmen refused to allow people to leave the line and return. Lawmen also arrested three SNCC workers who stood on federal property holding signs promoting voter registration.
Howard Zinn and James Baldwin speak with the media on Freedom Day in October, 1963.
Howard Zinn, James Baldwin, and a journalist on Freedom Day in October 1963.
SNCC volunteers beaten for attempting to  bring water and sandwiches to people (many elderly) waiting in hot sun for hours to register to vote. Photo by John Kouns.
SNCC volunteers beaten for attempting to bring water to people (many elderly) waiting in the hot sun for hours to register to vote. © John Kouns.
By mid-afternoon SNCC was so concerned about those who had been standing all day in the bright sun, that two field secretaries loaded up their arms with water and sandwiches and approached the would-be voters.
Highway patrolmen immediately attacked and arrested the two men, while three FBI agents and two Justice Department attorneys refused to intervene. (Read an account of the day by Howard Zinn here.)
This federal inaction was typical, even though Southern white officials persistently and openly defied both the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and constitutional protections of free assembly and speech. The FBI insisted it had no authority to act because these were local police matters, but consistently ignored such constraints to arrest bank robbers and others violating federal law.

8. SNCC’s grassroots organizing around voter registration educated Justice Department attorneys about the need for additional voting rights legislation. 

In Selma, as in parts of Mississippi, SNCC organizers played a key role in demonstrating the pervasive, unrelenting discrimination that prospective Black voters faced.
"Freedom Day" in Selma, October 1963. Blacks line up at the courthouse to apply to register to vote. (c) John Kouns.
Freedom Day” in Selma, October 1963. Blacks line up at the courthouse to apply to register to vote. © John Kouns.
This helped Justice Department officials (including John Doar and Burke Marshall) document discrimination in their own voting rights lawsuits filed against recalcitrant white registrars in the Deep South. Over time, the slow pace and piecemeal nature of these cases helped convince the Justice Department that a more systematic solution was necessary.
Doar, speaking at the 50th anniversary for the founding of the Civil Rights division at the Justice Department, asserted that
“the Selma and voting rights success was built on the preceding but more obscure work of SNCC and the dirt farmers in Greenwood, Mississippi, which first prompted the department’s development of a comprehensive new approach to voting rights protection, that became the template for the department’s interventions in Selma.”

9. Selma activists invited Dr. King to join an active Movement with a long history. 

By late 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were looking for a local community where they could launch a campaign to force the country to confront the Southern white power structure’s persistent and widespread discrimination against prospective Black voters.
SCLCNewsletterAt the same time, Mrs. Boynton, the long-time leader of the Dallas County Voters League, wanted to escalate the struggle in Selma and invited SCLC in. SCLC saw Selma as ideal because: (1) the ongoing work of SNCC and the DCVL provided a strong base of organizers and people who could be counted on to attend mass meetings, march in demonstrations, attempt to register, and canvass prospective registrants; (2) Sheriff Jim Clark’s volatile white supremacy led King to believe he was likely to attack peaceful protesters in public, drawing national attention to the white violence underlying Black disfranchisement; and finally, (3) the Justice Department’s own lawsuit charging racial discrimination in Dallas County voter registration reinforced the need for action.
Because SNCC and SCLC had different priorities in how they organized for change, SCLC’s entry into Selma created some tension between the two groups. SNCC used what activist Bob Moses calls “the community organizing” method, which was a slow, long-term approach focused on developing and supporting local leaders to demand access to full citizenship.
In contrast, SCLC sought to quickly mobilize large numbers of people for short-term demonstrations and goals. SCLC’s model relied on creating a crisis that would rally public opinion and force federal intervention. Read more about these differences here.

10. Youth and teachers played a significant role in the Selma Movement. 

Bettie Mae Fikes.
“I find it so strange now that people are writing stories just as if they were there from the beginning. The Movement was on its final stages by the time they stepped out, yet they’ve taken all the credit. All the young people, like my classmate Cleophus Hobbs, have been written out of the Selma Movement.” — Bettie Mae Fikes in Hands on the Freedom Plow
An important breakthrough in the Selma Movement came when schoolteachers, angered by a physical attack on Mrs. Boynton, marched collectively to the courthouse on Jan. 22, 1965. Despite the prominence of King and a handful of ministers in our history books, throughout the South most teachers and ministers stayed on the sidelines during the movement. Hired and paid by white school boards and superintendents, teachers who joined the Civil Rights Movement faced almost certain job loss.
Rachel West and Sheyann Webb, 1965. (c) Univ-Ala. Press
In Selma, the “teachers’ march” was particularly important to the young activists at the heart of the Selma movement. One of them, Sheyann Webb, was just 8 and a regular participant in the marches. She reflects,
“What impressed me most about the day that the teachers marched was just the idea of them being there. Prior to their marching, I used to have to go to school and it was like a report, you know. They were just as afraid as my parents were, because they could lose their jobs. It was amazing to see how many teachers participated. They follow[ed] us that day. It was just a thrill.” —Sheyann Webb, in Voices of Freedom
Too young to register themselves, the young activists took heart from their teachers’ courage and determination. In general, the Civil Rights Movement was dominated by people we might call “unexpected actors.”
High school students sing freedom songs in Browns Chapel. Photo by John Kouns.
High school students sing freedom songs in Brown Chapel. (c) John Kouns, 1965
Photo by John Kouns.
Young students marching for voting rights are placed under arrest. (c) John Kouns, 1965
Though the top-down approach to the Civil Rights Movement focuses on King, presidents, and the Supreme Court, at the grassroots level, the Movement was dominated by young people, women, and others with limited formal education and scarce economic resources.

11. Women were central to the movement, but they were sometimes pushed to the side and today their contributions are often overlooked.

Amelia Boynton
Mrs. Amelia Boynton.
In Selma, for example, Mrs. Amelia Boynton was a stalwart with the DCVL and played a critical role for decades in nurturing African American efforts to register to vote. She welcomed SNCC to town and helped support the younger activists and their work. When Judge Hare’s injunction slowed the grassroots organizing, she initiated the invitation to King and SCLC.
Marie Foster was another significant local activist, teaching Citizenship classes even before SNCC arrived and remaining steadfast through the slow, brutal work of building a movement in the context of extreme repression. In early 1965 when SCLC began escalating the confrontation in Selma, Mrs. Boynton and Foster were both in the thick of things, inspiring others and putting their own bodies on the line. They were leaders on Bloody Sunday and the subsequent march to Montgomery. Whether working behind the scenes when the movement was just a handful of people or near the front of the line when the entire nation was watching Selma, they were courageous and unwavering.
Though Colia Liddell Lafayette worked side by side with her husband Bernard, recruiting student workers and doing the painstaking work of building a grassroots movement in Selma, she has become almost invisible and typically mentioned only in passing, as his wife.
Her father and grandfather worked with the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union and she was a strong organizer in her own right, founding an important NAACP Youth Branch in Jackson, Mississippi, and working for Medgar Evers before moving to Selma to organize with her new husband. She remained there until, at the request of SNCC Executive Secretary James Forman, she relocated to nearby Birmingham to help organize the spring 1963 demonstrations. In Birmingham, being pregnant offered no protection and she was badly injured when white officials used fire hoses to attack demonstrators.
Colia Lafayette Clark.
Colia Liddell Lafayette Clark, 2005.
Prathia Hall, 1964, Alabama. (c) Danny Lyon
Prathia Hall, 1964, Alabama. (c) Danny Lyon
Diane Nash
Diane Nash, 1960.
Prathia Hall, a Philadelphia native who began working with SNCC in Southwest Georgia, joined the Selma effort in the fall of 1963 when the Lafayettes moved on to Nashville. Philosophically nonviolent, she was a brilliant organizer and orator who later became an ordained minister. She returned to Selma after Bloody Sunday to help SNCC and local activists figure out how to move forward.
Diane Nash, whose plan for a nonviolent war on Montgomery inspired the initial Selma march, was already a seasoned veteran, leading the Nashville sit-ins, helping found SNCC, and taking decisive action to carry the freedom rides forward. In 1961 she married Jim Bevel and then followed him out of SNCC and into SCLC. According to SCLC insider Andrew Young, “No small measure of what we saw as Jim’s brilliance was due to Diane’s rational thinking and influence.”
Young women singing freedom songs in a Selma church. 7/8/1964. Photo by Matt Herron/Take Stock Photos.
Young women singing freedom songs in a Selma church, 7/8/1964. (c) Matt Herron/Take Stock Photos.
These are just a few of the many women who were critical to the movement’s success—in Selma and across the country. Like their male co-workers, they organized, demonstrated, taught, preached, and strategized. They also cooked and housed workers, tried to register, and recruited friends and neighbors. And, like men, they were threatened, attacked, beaten, and fired. Through it all they stood up for themselves and their communities, insisting on their “freedom rights.”
12. The Selma march was triggered by official white terrorism. 
Selma_JLJWhite highway patrolman James Fowler murdered Jimmie Lee Jackson while he and his mother were participating in a night march organized by SCLC in Marion, Alabama. Jackson was shot point blank as he tried to intervene and protect his mother who was being beaten. White lawmen shot out street lights and targeted the news media to obscure this attack on peaceful marchers. In response to Jackson’s murder, SCLC activists wanted to bring Jackson’s body to Gov. George Wallace in Montgomery to emphasize his culpability in the continuing violence.
The idea originated with a proposal for action that SNCC founder and SCLC staffer Diane Nash wrote (with her then husband SCLC staffer Jim Bevel) after the Birmingham church bombing. Nash had suggested an all-out nonviolent campaign targeting Alabama’s capitol, Montgomery.

13. Although the mass violence of Bloody Sunday generated national outrage, the majority of whites still did not understand how deeply embedded racism is in our country’s institutions. 

Although the Selma march drew national attention to black disfranchisement and white violence, long before Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon Johnson, the Justice Department, and members of Congress knew African Americans were being denied voting rights. The nation responded less to this outrage than to the public violence inflicted by out-of-control lawmen and later to the presence of white people of goodwill, including celebrities, who came from across the country at King’s invitation.
Edmund Pettus Bridge.
At the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 9, 1965, a federal marshal reads an injunction to Andrew Young (arms crossed), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other marchers. AP Photo.
This set up what became known as Turn-around Tuesday. After King invited people to come join another march, Federal District Judge Frank Johnson issued a temporary injunction blocking the march and Lyndon Johnson convinced King to observe it. Rather than admit this publicly, King led the march to the bridge, then prayed and turned back, much to the chagrin of SNCC workers and many who had come to join and bear witness.
When Rev. James Reeb, one of those who answered King’s call, was subsequently murdered by white thugs on the streets of Selma, his death was noted by President Johnson in his famous “We Shall Overcome” speech calling for the legislation that became the Voting Rights Act. There was considerably more national outcry over Reeb’s death, than Jimmie Lee Jackson’s a couple weeks earlier. (Rita Schwerner Bender addressed this in relation to the murder of her then husband Mickey Schwerner and two other civil rights workers at the beginning of the 1964 Freedom Summer project in Mississippi.) Charles Payne’s “Rough Draft of History” is an excellent analysis of how media coverage of the Civil Rights Movement perpetuated a top-down, normative understanding of the issues. Hasan Kwame Jeffries’ essay on cartoons from Barack Obama’s first campaign for president shows how these normative understandings of the Movement continue today.

14. Though President Lyndon Johnson is typically credited with passage of the Voting Rights Act, the Movement forced the issue and made it happen. 

The Selma Campaign is considered a major success for the Civil Rights Movement, largely because it was an immediate catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Aug. 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act guaranteed active federal protection of Southern African Americans’ right to vote.
Protest at White House of Bloody Sunday. By Warren K. Leffler, LOC.
Protest at White House of Bloody Sunday. By Warren K. Leffler, Library of Congress.
Although Johnson did support the Voting Rights Act, the critical push for the legislation came from the Movement itself. SNCC’s community organizing of rural African Americans, especially in Mississippi, made it increasingly difficult for the country to ignore the pervasive, violent, and official white opposition to Black voting and African American demands for full citizenship. This, in conjunction with the demonstrations organized by SCLC, generated public support for voting rights legislation. Scholar Charles Payne warns us that it is easy to focus on major legislation when, in fact, what may be more significant is the groundswell that made it necessary or subsequent action that made it meaningful.

15. The Voting Rights Act was not an end to the Movement.

Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Ture) canvassing in Lowndes County. Library of Congress.
Although many people see the Voting Rights Act as the end of the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act was actually an inspiration for new organizing and a new tool for rejuvenating existing local movements. This is especially clear in rural Lowndes County, Alabama, located between Selma and Montgomery. Although SNCC organizers had originally opposed the Selma march, they decided that rather than speak out against it, they would use it to develop contacts in Lowndes County, known as “Bloody Lowndes,” which was 80 percent Black and had only one Black registered voter at the time.
LCFO brochure. Click for source and text.
LCFO brochure. 
SNCC worked with local African Americans under the premise that voting was, to quote SNCC’s Courtland Cox, “necessary but not sufficient.” Cox’s rhetorical question, “What would it profit a man (person) to gain the vote and not be able to control it?,” guided SNCC’s approach to working with local African Americans to organize the independent Lowndes County Freedom Party (LCFP). Together they organized the LCFP, known for its Black Panther emblem, and for a brief period, practiced what historian Hasan Kwame Jeffries calls “freedom politics.” Although Black access to the vote was not a panacea, its significance became tangible when movement activist John Hulett was elected sheriff and immediately eliminated the police brutality that had plagued the community since the end of Reconstruction.

Lessons for Today

This brief introduction to Selma’s bottom up history can help students and others learn valuable lessons for today. As SNCC veteran and filmmaker Judy Richardson said,
If we don’t learn that it was people just like us—our mothers, our uncles, our classmates, our clergy—who made and sustained the modern Civil Rights Movement, then we won’t know we can do it again. And then the other side wins—even before we ever begin the fight.

Federal protection for voting rights is still necessary.

In July 2013, the deeply divided United States Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder, a case coming out of Alabama. Arguing in part that it is arbitrary and no longer necessary to focus exclusively on the former Confederacy, the court’s majority eliminated the pre-clearance requirement for nine Southern states. This means that the Justice Department is no longer responsible for (or allowed to) check new laws for racial bias. Given widespread efforts to block voting access, it may well be arbitrary to hold the former Confederate states to a different standard. But the response of those states—along with other forms of voter suppression throughout the country—makes it crystal clear that we still need robust, proactive tools to protect voting rights for all citizens, but particularly African Americans and others who are still targeted. Rather than being curtailed, the Voting Rights Act should be extended. No doubt future historians will look back at today’s voter ID laws and other forms of voter suppression (including Jim Crow voting booths) as a 21st century version of the literacy tests, poll tax, and grandfather clause of the 20th-century.

The Civil Rights Movement made important gains, but the struggle continues.

admin_selma-trayvonCurrent protests over police brutality and the disregard for Black lives; the persistence of extreme economic and racial segregation; and the tenacity of separate and unequal schools clearly demonstrate that although voting is necessary, it is not sufficient for addressing white supremacy and oppression of people of color. Unfortunately, the words of Ella Baker, one of the most important figures in the black freedom struggle, still echo today. In 1964 she asserted, “until the killing of black men, black mother’s sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.” Baker’s words were captured in “Ella’s Song,” by Bernice Johnson Reagon, a SNCC field secretary and founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Although the context has changed, there are many direct links between the freedom struggle of the 1950s and 1960s and today’s issues. And millennial activists are creating a new movement that builds on the work of previous generations.

SNCC’s voter registration campaigns offer an important model for effective community organizing today. 

Profoundly influenced by Ella Baker, SNCC workers put their bodies on the line to demand desegregation, refused to back down in the face of violence, and joined hands to work alongside an older generation, organizing around voter registration and community empowerment. Working with and learning from people who had long been marginalized, SNCC helped develop and support new leadership while challenging our country to move closer to its democratic ideals.

References and Suggested Resources


pPBS3-7247194dtEyes on the PrizeAmerica’s Civil Rights Movement from 1954-1985.


Stokely Carmichael, with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) (New York: Scribner: 2003).
FORMAKJames Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997, orig. pub. 1972).
Karlyn Forner, “If Selma Were Heaven: 
Economic Transformation and Black Freedom Struggles in the Alabama Black Belt, 1901–2000” (Phd diss., Duke University, 2014).
David Garrow, Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978).
 Voices9780553352320Henry Hampton, Steve Fayer, and Sarah Flynn, ed., Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement From the 1950s through the 1980s (New York: Bantom, 1991).
manymindsoneheartWesley Hogan, Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).
freedom_plow-264x400Faith Holsaert, Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, Judy Richardson, Betty Garman Robinson, Jean Smith Young, and Dorothy Zellner, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012).
9780814743317_DetailHasan Kwame Jeffries, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in the Alabama Black Belt (New York: New York University Press, 2009).
Debating_9780742551091Steven F. Lawson and Charles M. Payne, Debating the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1968 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006). Especially relevant is Payne’s “View from the Trenches.”
Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, 2006).
Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2005).
 easyburdenAndrew Young, An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America (New York: Harper, 1998).​
Howard Zinn, SNCC: The New Abolitionists. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964).
Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994).


massmtg2Civil Rights Movement Veterans. The website provides resources on the Southern Freedom Movement compiled by those who lived it. It includes a wealth of primary documents, photos, interviews, and reflections. Here is the section on Selma.

justice1One Person, One Vote — The Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights. Duke University and the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Legacy Project have formed a partnership to chronicle the historic struggles for voting rights and to develop ongoing programs that contribute to a more civil and inclusive democracy in the 21st century. The website will launch in March 2015.


Emilye Crosby is professor of history and coordinator of Black Studies at SUNY Geneseo. She is author of A Little Taste of Freedom (University of North Carolina Press, 2005) and editor of Civil Rights History from the Ground Up (University of Georgia Press, 2011). She is currently a fellow at the National Humanities Center where she is working on a history of women and gender in SNCC.
Deborah Menkart collaborated on the development of the list of 15 points, editing, and layout. Liz Dierenfield provided extensive research. Valuable feedback was provided by Sarah C. CampbellKathleen ConnellyJulian Hipkins III, Wesley HoganHasan Kwame Jeffries, and more.
Permission to reprint photos and text was generously provided by Matt Herron/Take Stock PhotosHolly Jansen, Charles M. Payne (author of I’ve Got the Light of Freedom), and the Howard Zinn Trust. The Lowndes County photos credited to the Library of Congress are from the Prints and Photographs Division, LOOK Magazine Collection, LC Look-Job 65-2434.