Activists call for closure of Guantanamo, end to force feedings

Former military officials, prisoners and activists gathered in front of the White House today to protest the ongoing detention of prisoners at Guantanamo.  They also drew attention to the force-feeding of 30 detainees on hunger strike at the facility, a practice that human rights groups consider torture.  FSRN’s Noelle Galos reports.

Surrounded by supporters wearing orange jumpsuits, human rights activist Andrés Thomas Conteris underwent a voluntary force feeding Friday in front of the White House.  He has been fasting for 61 days in solidarity with prisoners in Guantánamo and Pelican Bay Prison in California.  Pelican Bay hunger strikers ended their protest on Thursday. Today’s action aimed to raise awareness about the indefinite detention of Guantanamo detainees.  Protesters demand the prison’s closure.  Eric Montalvo is the attorney of former Guantanamo detainee Mohammad Jawad:

“I’m not here to say they are innocent or guilty, but they deserve a trial.  And when you start trying to do a trial 10 years after the fact, that undermines the entire justice system and the rule of law, which is what it’s all about.”

Last week, the Obama administration transferred two detainees to their home country of Algeria, the first release from Guantanamo in more than a year.  One-hundred sixty-four detainees remain, 84 of whom are already cleared for release.  Noelle Galos, FSRN, Washington, DC.

Download or listen to the full piece here.

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Wal-Mart workers protest retaliation across United States

Today, Wal-Mart workers in 15 cities across the US are gathering to protest low wages, poor working conditions, and alleged retaliation by the company against workers who participated in federally-protected strikes.  FSRN’s Noelle Galos reports from Washington, DC.

Walmart protest sign in Chicago courtesy of @changewalmart

Walmart protest sign in Chicago courtesy of @changewalmart

Wal-Mart employees began walking off the job in protest last year, culminating in a Black Friday action that drew thousands of workers and their supporters.  But organizers say the multi-national company has retaliated.

Former Wal-Mark associate Tonya C., who asked that her last name be withheld because of an unrelated legal matter, was fired from her position at a Laurel, Maryland location.

“They retaliated against me and fired me illegally, to keep me from speaking and telling stories.”

To date, Wal-Mart has denied that it behaved inappropriately.

In June, Wal-Mart workers gathered at the company headquarters in DC.  Protesters carried more than 180,000 petitions, but were blocked from entering the building, leading to a sit-in and the arrest of 10 people.

Organizers with OUR Wal-Mart are billing today’s national action as the largest since Black Friday.  They say police arrested three workers in New York City this morning.  Noelle Galos, FSRN, Washington, DC.

Listen to or download audio file here.

Voices and Sounds of the 2013 March on Washington

As March on Washington marks 50 years, youth call for equality and justice in ongoing struggle

August 26, 2013 | Washington, DC — At the national program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Representative John Lewis, the youngest speaker at the original March on Washington in 1963, put out a call to action for youth to stand up for voting rights, immigration reform and equality.

“Back in 1963 we didn’t have a cellular telephone, iPad, iPod, but we used what we had to bring about a non-violent revolution. And I said to all of the young people, you must get out there and push and pull and make America what America should be for all of us.”

The crowds in Washington Saturday were filled with many youth activists. FSRN’s Noelle Galos spoke to some of them about what the gathering meant to them and their dreams for the future.

Those are the voices of Howard University students, Chelsi Davis, Charissa More, Debra Samuel, Ashley Washington, and Asia Quick; Loyala University student Theda Tann; Amuche Nwafor, senior at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, MD; Mackenzie Williams, student at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, VA; Tyla Goodridge, Teen President of the Greater New Haven Youth Council; and Avery Steck, a DC-area high school student.

Read more or listen to the audiocast here (via Free Speech Radio News)

Local DC activists draw attention to racial profiling, incarceration ahead of March on Washington anniversary

August 23, 2013 | Washington, DC — Events marking the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington are taking place across the country.  Illinois State University students are organizing a series of performances to pay tribute to Bayard Rustin, an organizer of the 1963 march. In Detroit, where Martin Luther King, Jr. originally delivered a version of his “I Have a Dream” speech, thousands gathered for a march earlier this summer. Now, that energy is coming to Washington, DC, site of the historic march and rally. Several days of events kick off this weekend. Marchers will gather Saturday at the Lincoln Memorial to protest against a number of civil rights issues that persist: the attack on voter rights, racial profiling, poverty and discrimination. Local activists are organizing to have a share in the weekend’s events, and they hope to address racial profiling within DC law enforcement, which they say is part of the “New Jim Crow.” They are planning two feeder marches from opposite ends of the city, and hope to bring national attention to racial inequalities in the Nation’s Capital. Laura Lising, one of the group’s organizers, explained to FSRN why the group was formed and how they are plugging in their campaign to the March…

Read more or listen to the audiocast here (via Free Speech Radio News)

July/August News Compilation

Communities United for Immigrant Rights,” (8/19/2013 // GrassrootsDC.org)

Unity March Event OrganizersOn August 17, a coalition of organizations held a unity rally for immigrant rights in front of the White House, calling for Congress to act on immigration reform and put an end to deportations. Organizers of the rally included WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend), DMV LOLA (Latinas Organized for Leadership and Advocacy), and NAPAWF-DC (National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum), joined by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). Speakers at the event discussed the misrepresentation of immigrant rights as an exclusively “Latino issue,” instead demonstrating that the movement for immigrant rights is part of the movements for women’s rights, workers’ rights, and human rights. A running theme of the rally was that whether we like it or not, the hijacking of immigration reform at the national level has devastating consequences for all our families, economies, and communities

“Mayor Gray Must Understand, Our Language is Our Right,” (7/27/2013 // GrassrootsDC.org)

Washington, DC – On July 22, 2013 Mayor Vincent Gray, along with a handful of aides and scores of reporters, paid a visit to Petworth with the intention of cracking down on synthetic marijuana and drug paraphernalia being sold at small businesses in the neighborhood. “That’s illegal, man. Can’t do that. That’s drug paraphernalia,” warned the Mayor. This isn’t the first time that Mayor Gray has posed as a law enforcement official in order to bust local shops, in his effort with the group Advocates for Drug-free Youth.

DC Government-Issued The visit took an unexpected turn, however, when Gray encountered an Ethiopian clerk who had trouble understanding English. “You don’t understand? How do you sell anything if you don’t understand? If somebody asks you for something, do you know what they’re asking you for?” Mayor Gray chided. At one point, visibly frustrated by the language barrier, the Mayor told the clerk “I don’t even, I really don’t know how you are working here if you can’t communicate with the people who come in here.” Despite criticism from NBC4 reporter Mark Segrave, the Mayor denied that his remarks could be considered insensitive and said that the language barrier was “irrelevant.”

“A Lesson in Systemic Racism, Part II: ALEC, School Closures, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” (7/23/2013 // GrassrootsDC.org)

The previous post, entitled “A Lesson in Systematic Racism: Stand Your Ground, the NRA, and the American Legislative Council (ALEC),” examined the connection between the untimely death of Trayvon Martin and the powerful lobbying groups that made laws like “Stand Your Ground” possible. This post expands on the previous one by highlighting ALEC’s connection to school closures and the privatization of education.

That’s How You Win Campaigns: What DC’s Progressive Community Did Right in the Final Legislative Session of 2013,” (7/15/2013 // GrassrootsDC.org)

walmart-400x281Last week, the District’s most vulnerable residents organized to win two major victories in the City Council: the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which would require big box stores to pay their employees a living wage, and which effectively prevented the expansion of six Walmart stores within the District; and the Driver Safety Amendment Act (DSAA), which grants the City’s 25,000 undocumented residents the ability to obtain a driver’s license without a mark indicating their undocumented status.

Continuing the i-word debate: “illegals” vs. economic refugees

As a grad student and media worker, many nights I find myself motionless for hours at a time.  I’ll read a chapter for class, eventually get distracted by Twitter, Facebook or blogging, go back to reading, and repeat.  Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of garbage out there and you don’t always find substantive, meaningful dialogue on important social issues.  Well, not this time. This one deserves its own blog post:

Having studied migration from the perspective of anthropology and linguistics, and the language used to talk about immigrants (language ideologies, narrative, metaphor, etc) in public discourse, this reminds me of the way linguists stood behind and advocated for California students in the so-called “Ebonics” debate in the 90s.  A proponent of what the late Dr. Ron Scollon called activist sociolinguistics, I wondered what this decade’s parallel academic intervention might look like.

I think we may have found it. Below are a few helpful links to navigate this conversation:

1) For more information on the Drop the I-Word Campaign spearheaded by Colorlines Magazine and the Applied Research Center, a Bay area social justice think tank.

2) The official statement from 24 linguists who call for an end to the I-word in journalism, endorsed by the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) Committee for Human Rights.

3) A great 4-part MSNBC video from Up with Chris Hayes which featured an excellent conversation about the i-word debate. Guests included John McWhorter, professor of linguistics and American studies at Columbia University, Maria Hinojosa, journalist, anchor and executive producer of NPR’s “Latino USA,” Brooke Gladstone, co-host and managing editor of WNYC’s “On the Media,” and Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and founder of Define American.

4) Great update on the i-word debate in Colleen Cotter’s op-ed to the AAA blog, “Challenging terms of reference” (10/10/2012)

5) “Illegal versus undocumented: Semantics or more?” HuffPo video on panel discussion, proposing the term economic refugee to replace illegal immigrant.

This is only a partial list — part of the ongoing public conversation being had by linguists, journalists, and others about the appropriateness of using the term “illegal” as a personal descriptor.  I’ll be following eagerly to see how this develops and hope to one day read more accurate language across news organizations, not just those with a Latino focus (ABC/Univision, Fox Latino, but not Fox News in general) as many others have noted. I also applaud all the linguists that are taking a stand for justice — you are my heroes!

Social Media Shoutout Sunday

Now that I’m maintaining two other blogs in addition to this one — one for a social media discourse class and another for a non-profit organization — it’s harder to make time for updates. So to keep that from happening, and connect what I’m learning in class to my interests outside of it, I thought I’d start a “Social Media Shoutout Sunday.” The orgs and/or causes I spotlight are all making great use of (low-cost) digital media to further social justice missions and advance dialogue on important social issues.

This week: LaPalabraDC on Tumblr. 

LaPalabraDC is a new(-ish) online radio Tumblr that covers issues that affect DC residents, elevating their voices, and the sounds of the city. The design aspect is simple, but their conversations are deep and meaningful. Here are some of my favorites, with a short description for your convenience:

1) The Florida Avenue Flea Market Gives People Hope (EPISODE 15)

“As frequent customers of the Florida Avenue Flea Market, La Palabra was disappointed to hear that the market will soon be forced out of its longtime spot at the corner of 9th St and Florida Ave. Located in the middle of rapidly-gentirfying U St, the market is one of the lingering spots that primarily serves low- and moderate-income people. We spoke to market regulars Kwasi and Dantes about why the market has to move and how the changing neighborhood affects the flea market.”

2) The Ella Jo Baker Co-Op Family (EPISODE 13)

“The Ella Jo Baker Intentional Community Cooperative recently had a back to school celebration with the young people from the co-op. We ate, we partied, and we heard from the youth about their perspective on living in a co-op. Trust us: it’s better than living in an apartment.”

3) Wind me up, cause there’s no summer without Chuck Brown (EPISODE 11)

“La Palabra attended Chuck Brown’s viewing at the Howard Theater last Tuesday, May 29. We spoke with old and young folks, transplants and DC natives, and all had a special place in their heart for Chuck. Check out their powerful stories and memories.”

4) Cuts Hurt Kids (Episode 9)

“On Monday April 9th, La Palabra was present at the Washington Teachers Union: FY13 DCPS Budget Cuts Hurt Kid demonstration at the John A. Wilson BuildingWe spoke with folks about how the Mayor’s proposed FY13 budget will hurt the Districts young people and our community as a whole.  Listen to what they had to say and what we need to do to fight these cuts.”

Be sure to listen out for more episodes, and let me know if you enjoyed these as much as I did.

Building Civic Engagement and Reframing Movements: For Youth, By Youth

Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. As a result, they shape the goals we seek, plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of our actions. In politics our frames shape our social policies. To change our frames is to change all of this. Reframing is social change” – Don’t Think of an Elephant!, George Lakoff 

Referencing George Lakoff’s work on conceptual metaphors, East LA Nancy recently put out a call on the blogosphere for  immigrants to start reframing their own movements, messages, and struggles.  She expresses her skepticism of the seemingly pro-immigrant language heard at the DNC in Charlotte — foreign terms like “Aspiring” or “New Americans” — and points out the hypocrisy in how the cries (and arrests) of peacefully protesting DREAMERs outside were ignored.

Nancy describes 2 prominent frames in the messaging of the DREAMER movement:

  • polarities, like the “good/bad immigrant” frame (DREAMERs = good / parents, criminals = bad); commonly used in the earlier years of the movement; whose effect is divisive rather than unifying
  • values-based or humanistic frames (key works: rights, dignity, respect, equality); used more recently by DREAMERs; inclusive, unifying rather than dividing

So she asks, “Do we continue with the current framing and messaging around immigration or do we challenge ourselves as a movement to truly reflect and redefine our values and ourselves?”

I know both aims can be achieved: communities/members acting as their own spokespersons AND exercising the right to frame their own message.  The best example I can find is the work of an organization called Many Languages, One Voice (MLOV) based here in the District of Columbia.  Part of their hard-earned successes are the result of community organizing.  [If you aren’t entirely sure what I mean by organizing, think about this quote: “If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.”]

Getting back to the point, how does ELL organizing in DC relate to the DREAMERs? MLOV’s student-led youth organizing body— S.M.A.R.T. (Student Multi-Ethnic Action Research Team)— is comprised of high school students who have one thing in common: English is not their primary language. Nevertheless, they have worked collectively to bring their voices to the deciding table when it comes to school reform, creating student groups and dialoging with key government agencies and officials. In the end, MLOV believes the students themselves are experts in the issues they face, yet disproportionately represented in the decision-making process.  Their visions for ELL-friendly schools in the future are grounded in student-led (thus, participatory action) research and methodology. 

Furthermore, MLOV and S.M.A.R.T.’s messaging includes many examples of the humanistic frame now being used by the DREAMERs. Their “ELL Student Bill of Rights,” for example, promotes the message that ” “language is a right” and that students deserve “equal opportunities” (echoing the words of the DC Language Access Act).   Click here for the PDF doc on their website.

Like the DREAMERs, these ELL organizers are learning a lesson that can’t be taught in the classroom: civic engagement and building community power.  

Plus, these youth are quite savvy media users and producers — definitely worth following. For a preview, check out a fun clay-mation video made by  S.M.A.R.T. talking about a common issue ELL students face in school and how adults can effectively act as allies.