Category Archives: American Politics

Now Available! ~ Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence

Killing Trayvons

Skin privilege. When you’re black it seems the hardest thing to explain to whites. Even the most conscious or liberal whites sometimes don’t quite get it. Or as Langston Hughes once said, “A liberal is one who complains about segregated railroad cars but rides in the all white section.”

The killing of Trayvon Martin in February 2012 rang yet another alarm about the costs of that privilege. Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence tracks the case and explores why Trayvon’s name and George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict symbolized all the grieving, the injustice, the profiling and free passes based on white privilege and police power: the long list of Trayvons known and unknown.

With contributions from Robin D.G. Kelley, Rita Dove, Cornel West and Amy Goodman, Thandisizwe Chimurenga, Alexander Cockburn, Etan Thomas, Tara Skurtu, bell hooks and Quassan Castro, June Jordan, Jesse Jackson, Tim Wise, Patricia Williams, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Vijay Prashad, Rodolfo Acuna, Jesmyn Ward and more, Killing Trayvons is an essential addition to the literature on race, violence and resistance.

Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence is set to be released early Summer 2014.

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Editors:

Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike!: The Fundamentals of Black Politics.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the editor of CounterPunch. His books include Whiteout (with Alexander Cockburn), Grand Theft Pentagon, and Born Under a Bad Sky.

JoAnn Wypijewski regularly writes for The Nation and CounterPunch. Her books include Painting by Numbers.

Published by CounterPunch Books.

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The Surrender of America’s Liberals | Moyers & Company | BillMoyers.com

The Surrender of America’s Liberals | Moyers & Company | BillMoyers.com.

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Proud To Be

Watch the #BigGame commercial the NFL would never air. Get involved by contacting the Washington Professional Football Team, the NFL and the Washington Post.

DC Team@redskins
Facebook.com/redskins
http://www.redskins.com/footer/contac…

Roger Goodell & NFL

@NFL
@NFLcommish
https://www.facebook.com/NFL

Washington Post, DC’s hometown paper is still using the R-word in its coverage of the team.

@WashingtonPost
@PostSports
https://www.facebook.com/washingtonpost

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February 2, 2014 · 5:57 pm

After Trayvon: Revisiting MLK’s “Triple Evils” | Pamela Brown

In the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jr. defined the problem of America under the weight of the “triple evils” of racism, economic exploitation and war. In the 21st, the case of Trayvon Martin has created an existential crisis for black Americans and allies engaged in the struggle for racial justice. It underscores, again, that for many millions of people the “ism” felt as the greatest threat is not capitalism or militarism. Yet these effusions of persistent racism are enmeshed in a context: of growing inequality under neoliberal economic regimes and of wide-scale state-sponsored violence globally.  It is time for all people to revisit MLK’s “triple evils” in forming a strategy for resistance and a vision of the future — re-imagining what freedom might look like and how it might be achieved.

Pamela Brown

Pamela Brown

Kopkind’s 2013 Harvest Late Brunch fundraiser will be held Sunday, October 13, at 2 pm.  Our speaker is Pamela Brown.

Pam was deeply involved in Occupy Wall Street and has continued in its offshoot organizing and educational projects, at the convergence of race, class and debt. She is a columnist for Tidal Magazine and an organizer with the People’s Investigation of Wall Street. She was a founding member of Strike Debt and the Rolling Jubilee, and has been involved in campaigns and writing projects including the student debt pledge of refusal and the Debt Resistors Operations Manual. With a background in philosophy and media arts, Pam is currently a doctoral student in sociology at The New School.

Kopkind is a living memorial to the great radical journalist Andrew Kopkind. Each summer since 1999 it has been bringing together journalists, activists and filmmakers for week-long seminar/retreat sessions with the aim of thinking deeply, acting consciously, living expressively and extending the field for freedom, pleasure and imagination.

Out-of-towners, we have some rooms and cabins, so contact us if you’d like to stay the night.

Please Come! We Look Forward To Seeing You!

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LIVE AT THE ICE HOUSE: EPISODE 4 ~ “ROCK AND ROLE MODELS”

Judah 1

American roots-rock duo William Pilgrim & The All Grows Up return with a brand new episode of Live at the Ice House, the duo’s socially conscious ongoing music web series. In the latest installment, titled “Rock & Role Models,” Ishmael Herring, aka William Pilgrim, and his musical cohort PM Romero, take the show on the road to East West Studios in Hollywood, CA, where they are currently finishing a new record for Orange County-based label, Moonlight Graham Records that is scheduled for release in early 2014.


Exene Cervenka and Kevin Alexander Gray

Exene Cervenka and Kevin Alexander Gray

In this episode, William Pilgrim and PM Romero are joined by the legendary Blind Boys Of Alabama, and other friends from previous Live at the Ice House segments including Modern Poet and Renaissance Man David “Judah 1” Oliver from Episode 3, singer Lesedi Lo-Fi from Episode 2, and Exene Cervenka of the celebrated band X, who narrated the series’ debut episode that focused on teen homelessness. Social and political blogger/author Kevin Alexander Gray also stops by for a heated but good natured and insightful discussion with Pilgrim and Romero.

Blind Boys Of Alabama at East West Studios In Hollywood

PM Romero with the Blind Boys Of Alabama & friends at East West Studios In Hollywood

The Blind Boys of Alabama are notably featured on a track on William Pilgrim & The All Grows Up’s forthcoming sophomore release, titled Epic Endings. The five-time Grammy Award winning gospel group was in the process of cutting tracks at East West Studios and, drawn to the message of Live at the Ice House, asked to join in the roundtable discussions. The Blind Boys’ soulful style and spirituality prove an ideal complement to William Pilgrim’s haunting, bluesy vocals. X singer Exene Cervenka is also featured in a duet with William Pilgrim on the upcoming release and in this Live at the Ice House episode she speaks on the inspirations and meanings behind that song.

Ishmael Herring, aka William Pilgrim and Kevin Alexander Gray

Ishmael Herring, aka William Pilgrim and Kevin Alexander Gray

“Last episode we tried to demonstrate the power we all have with the words we choose and how we use them,” says William Pilgrim. “In this episode we move to focus more on music.  Music was an integral part of the 60′s fight for civil rights and it spoke out against our destruction of the people of Vietnam and to the tightening grip of American business over our government and public policy.  We believe music, performers and songwriters have a responsibility today to pick up where our 60′s predecessors left off.”

“Music is a tremendously powerful force for change and can inform and raise awareness but also impact people on a deeply emotional level, and this is where the seed for real social change must take root,” says PM Romero. “With no resonating voice within government or the media to challenge our misguided understandings of civics, economics and history, music and the artists that craft songs can become major influences to break through our corrupted common sense and reason.  Music can be the voice that unifies and organizes people around a common good.”

Live at the Ice House, “Rock & Role Models,”  is also available now on http://liveicehouse.com.

Live at the ICE HOUSE

Live at the ICE HOUSE

Additional information on William Pilgrim & The All Grows Up Is available at: https://www.facebook.com/williampilgrimmusic.

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Filed under American Culture, American Politics, Black Culture | United States, Movement & Message Music, Music History, Poetry, Political Ideology, R&B, Rock, Soul, Work of Comrades

Monique Reymond interviews Kevin Alexander Gray

So, I’m sitting on a bench outside the recording studio on Sunset and a woman dressed all in black rolls up on her bike and asks can she interview me… ~

Monique Reymond

Monique Reymond

The woman asking the questions is “Foley Artist” Monique Reymond.  Ms. Reymond is also a comedian.

 | July 13, 2013 ~ Why the Zimmerman Trial Made Me Ill ~ http://progressive.org/zimmerman-trial-made-me-ill

| July 17, 2013 ~ “No Rights That Any White Man is Bound to Respect” - http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/07/17/what-it-feels-like-to-be-black-in-america/

| July 17, 2013 ~ Why the Zimmerman verdict is more important that O.J. ~ http://progressive.org/zimmerman-verdict-more-important-than-oj

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The legal fight to protect white power | By Kevin Alexander Gray

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 struck down laws supporting Jim Crow segregation and other measures designed to disenfranchise or disempower black voters.  When Congress enacted the law in 1965, it determined that racial discrimination in voting was prevalent in certain areas of the country, particularly in the South.  It has been renewed four times.  In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize Section 5 for another twenty-five years. The vote was 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate.

Opponents of the Act say it’s outdated and no longer necessary.  That it infringes upon states’ rights or sovereignty, and the South is being unfairly punished for racial discrimination that no longer exists.  They argue that the country now has over 10,500 black elected officials including the president and is in effect – “post-racial” in voting practices.

The case that has the VRA in jeopardy is Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.  Shelby County, a predominately white suburb of Birmingham, wants the Supreme Court to declare a part of Section 4 and Section 5 of Act unconstitutional.  The Court began hearing the case in March of this year.  They will rule on whether Congress’ decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the 14th and 15th Amendments and thus violated the 10th Amendment and Article IV of the Constitution.

Shelby County attorneys argue, “The violence, intimidation and subterfuge that led Congress to pass Section 5 and this court to uphold it no longer remains.” “The children of today’s Alabama are not racist and neither is their government,” wrote Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange in USA Today.

Alabama has several supporters of its outlook on the high court.  In 2009, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “Things have changed in the South.”  He wrote: “The evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for pre-clearance.  The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.”  In opening oral arguments on the Shelby County case Justice Antonin Scalia called the Act a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” 

Yet the law’s intent is to protect against the entitlement of primarily white men calling the shots and legislatively protecting the unchecked ability to so.  It’s about a fair playing field and making sure biased, bigoted or prejudiced lawmakers are not able to fix the rules to empower their group over others.

Make no mistake about it – the fight over the VRA is about “power, access to power and representative.”  It’s about who makes the rules as to who can vote, when and where they vote and who and what they can vote for.  It is a fight about turnout – limiting some, enhancing others.  As civil rights attorney John Brittain puts: “It’s a fight over a defensive procedural tactic that puts the burden on jurisdictions to prove it is not their intent to discriminate.”   

Here’s a quick overview of the VRA:

  • Section 2 prohibits voting discrimination, and any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result.  It prohibits drawing election districts that improperly dilute minorities’ voting power. This section is permanent and does not require renewal.  
  • Section 3 is how jurisdiction come to fall under or “bail in” to federal scrutiny.  It’s the process by which jurisdictions found to have a ‘pocket’ of discrimination may be required to seek pre-clearance under Section 5.   Section 4 provides a formula to identify those areas and sets remedies.  The jurisdictions covered under the Act include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and most counties in Texas and Virginia.  Jurisdictions in California, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota, Michigan and sections of New York City are also covered under the Act.
  • Section 4 also guarantees the right to register and vote to those with limited English proficiency.  It also addresses the ability of members of language minority groups to get information about the electoral process.
  • Additionally, Section 4 provides “bailout” from coverage under the Act. To qualify a jurisdiction must show that for the past ten years, it has not violated the Act. Exceptions may be made for small, immediately corrected violations.  The bailout applicant must show that it has worked to eliminate discriminatory voting practices and it has improved minority access to the electoral process.
  • Section 5, or “pre-clearance” – the “heart of the VRA,” requires that areas of the country with a history of voter suppression and intimidation determined by Section 4 – must submit any changes in their election laws or attempt to change “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting…” in any “covered jurisdiction to the Department of Justice or a three-judge panel of the District Court of the District of Columbia for approval. 

VRA supporters oppose shifting the “burden of proof” to the people or “plaintiffs” as opposed to those covered jurisdictions that have shown time and again they will try to slip something unsavory and unfair pass the people.  

If opponents of the Act have their way, plaintiffs – be they private citizens or the United States Department of Justice, will have the burden of proving intent (to discriminate) which for a private citizen will be both costly and discouraging in most cases.

Conservative “post-racialists” pretend that colorblindness is now the order of the day. Yet in 2011 and 2012, 19 states passed more than two-dozen measures that would have made it harder to vote. The Brennan Center for Justice called these schemes “the biggest rollback in voting rights since the Jim Crow era.”  Those measures included voter ID laws, – which some argue, are the “modern day equivalent of poll taxes,” early-voting cutbacks, and curbs on community-based voter registration drives – all of which disproportionately impacted minority and Democratic Party voters.   Moreover, in the last decade or so, lawmakers have broken up majority-minority districts with questionable redistricting practices.  African-American and Latino voters’ names are routinely purged from voter lists under the pretext that “election officials were cleaning them up.”  There’s also been attempts to suppress voting (mostly Democratic) in states like Ohio and Florida that played politics with voting hours in predominately minority precincts.

Most of the states passing restrictive voter ID laws are in the south and covered under Section 5 pre-clearance coverage.  They include states like Texas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Florida in the South, and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the North, just to name a few.  Voter ID laws in Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin were suppressed by the courts prior to the 2012 elections.  A DOJ ruling on the S.C. case, prior to the election, led to a federal court ruling that upheld a modified version of the law. It goes into effect in 2013. Moreover, in Texas a federal court recently refused to pre-clear the state legislature’s redistricting plan, finding “the new lines intentionally discriminated against minorities.”  Because of Section 5, Texas was blocked from racial gerrymandering.

Back in June 2012, in the midst of a Presidential election year, Pennsylvania Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai let the “cat out of the bag” when he said at a Republican State Committee meeting that the voter ID law was “going to allow Governor (Mitt) Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”  A state judge blocked Pennsylvania from requiring voters to show photo identification in the November ’12 election but also ruled it could be implemented for future elections.

But don’t think its just Republicans who try to get around the Act.  Southern Democrats try to get around the law for pernicious reasons as well.  A couple of years back two white democratic legislators – a Senator and a House member from predominately black Fairfield County, tried to take over their local majority-black school board by successfully passing a measure in the State Legislature that would have given them the power to appoint school board members and gain control of the board’s budget.  The law, had it stood, would have put back in place the same Constitutional setup that existed in the early 1900s.  In those days white supremacy was the order of the day in South Carolina.  It was a time when politicians openly spoke about “fixing” the state’s Constitution after Reconstruction ended to keep black people from power in perpetuity. 

Luckily, the state legislature failed to have their school board takeover scheme pre-cleared by the Justice Department as required by Section 5.  Once a challenge was filed the law was rejected.  One of the legislators, former Representative Boyd Brown, is now a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Unsurprisingly, the two white legislators were educated at a predominately white, private academy set up in response to school desegregation in the 60s.  Coincidentally, Justices Roberts and Scalia’s early education were at private, religious schools.

Additionally, the Act doesn’t just protect African Americans.  It protects alternative political parties. South Carolina is one of only a few states that permit fusion voting, allowing multiple political parties to nominate the same candidate.  Here in South Carolina I was a plaintiff in a 2010 lawsuit against the State Election Commission when it tried to require that political candidates formally notify the state elections commission, in advance of the primary election, of each party that might choose to nominate them and whose nomination they may seek.  The law would have in effect barred electoral fusion because alternative parties, which often choose to cross-nominate the winner of a major political party’s primary, cannot know who the major party candidate in the general election will be before the primaries actually takes place, and cannot put a candidate who hasn’t filed multiple intention forms on its ballot.

A federal court blocked implementation of the state’s requirement after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit charging that the requirement violated Section 5 and that it “severely impairs alternative political parties’ ability to get their candidates on the ballot in violation of the free speech protections of U.S. Constitution.”

Doubtless, the Voting Rights Act has been a “necessary and effective tool” in safeguarding minority-voting rights.  It is also a double-edge sword because it has helped bolster Republican control of southern state legislatures.  In that regard, some opponents and critics of the Act argue that Section 5 is often interpreted to require “racial gerrymandering” in order to ensure minority representation.  Some critics, black and white, mainly libertarians and white democrats, point out that while there’s been an increase in black representation in state houses and congressional districts across the south that African Americans have seats but no real voting power.  Moreover, southern white democrats say that the cost has been a more racially polarized set up where blacks negotiate with white Republicans when it comes time to draw representational lines which in turn fuels the rise of blue- dog conservative democrats who believe they have to be “republican-lite” to stand a chance of getting elected to any office.  And, in some states, Republicans are now attempting to make party registration law in the South, which will most likely lead to a black party – Democrats, and a white party – Republicans.

Even so, “racial gerrymandering” to perpetuate white entitlement is what a town in Shelby County was accused of doing in 2008, when it drew up a City Council redistricting plan that eliminated the city’s sole majority-black district, which had elected black councilmen for 18 years.  And while Shelby County argues before the Court that widespread discrimination of the Jim Crow era had ended, and that “it is no longer constitutionally justifiable for Congress to arbitrarily impose” on the county and other covered jurisdictions the “disfavored treatment” – over the years the county has had more than 200 discriminatory voting irregularities blocked by Section 5 objections. Just last year Judge John D. Bates of Federal District Court, a George W. Bush appointee, rejected the Shelby County case including in his ruling “anecdotal examples of discrimination from the past 25 years, mentioning openly racist lawmakers and poll officials, (and) an episode in Alabama where the doors to polling places were shut early to keep blacks out in last decade. ”

To their credit Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan stated the obvious to Shelby County attorneys.  Sotomayor offered up,  “You may be the wrong party bringing this,” and “why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?”  Kagan followed  saying, “you’re objecting to a formula, but under any formula that Congress could devise, it would capture Alabama.”

Problems aside, to weaken or invalidate the VRA would be a setback for the protection of voting rights.   In light of recent efforts to restrict minority voters’ rights, more, not less, need to be done to protect and expand the right to vote – to include restoration of voting rights for both ex-felons and those in prison.  The progressive voting rights’ agenda has in times past been “no second-class citizenship.”

There’s ample evidence to validate the need to maintain Sections 4 and 5.  ‘Any formula would capture Alabama.’ And as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund argues; “Comprehensive studies of case by case litigation under Section 2 of the VRA (a section covering all states), which compare jurisdictions that are covered by Section 5 with those that are not, strongly support Congress’s conclusion that certain areas have worse records of voting discrimination than others…”

Scalia has made it clear why this case is before the Court – it’s about race and white “race entitlement.” 

The Voting Rights Act was passed because no group is going to “apportion themselves out of power.” If the Court rules in favor of Shelby County in the face of its racist record, it will be doing nothing more than validating white power and racism.

 

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Filed under American Politics, American Progressive Politics, Black Politics, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Obama Administration, The Obama Administration, white supremacy