Bigot of the Week Award: Mike Pence and Matt McLaughlin

27 Mar
No, I'm Not Gay!

No, I’m Not Gay!

Sadly, Republican Governor Mike Pence signed into law on Thursday the freedom to hate and discriminate. This law is fairly far-reaching in how it will impact many communities.

Yes, the obvious community it allows for hate and discrimination against is the LGBTQ community. I would also like to call attention to the fact that this “Religious Freedom” law also paves the way for police officers to refuse to defend mosques or synagogues because it may go against their Christian beliefs. This law now allows the refusal to help women experiencing domestic violence, as previous laws in place to advocate for women  may not apply to someone whose religion says someone may discipline their spouse and children however they deem proper. I presume this law also allows the medical profession to now legally deny women access to birth control.

Help me understand how this law is beneficial to anyone’s civil rights? How is this not about protecting the fear of white heterosexual Christian men?

Demonstrating his enormous privilege and horrific lack of reflection, Pence had the audacity to observe

This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it.

As icing on the one-man-one-woman-only wedding cake, he also signed the legislation in a private ceremony. Just a little shy about making your hate public, Governor?

In other atrocious news, a most dishonorable mention must go to Matt McLaughlin. McLaughlin is backing the bill in California called the Sodomite Suppression Act, which calls for the execution of gays with a bullet to the head. Goodness, McLaughlin certainly seems obsessed with anal sex! Gratefully, California Attorney General, Kamala Harris, is desperately trying to find a way to just dismiss this modern-day Nazi bill.

Enough awful news! I am in search of all of the many heroes that need celebrating.

Women’s History Month 2015: Women on 20s

20 Mar

Rosa20What a great movement to initiate during National Women’s History Month — getting women’s faces on our currency. How sad that while women make up more than half the population, we only see white men’s faces on our currency.

How might we look at this more equitably? How can we work together to put a woman’s face on the twenty dollar bill? Who should it be? I know Alice Paul is getting a lot of traction, as is the amazing Shirley Chisholm. I must confess, I am rather partial to seeing Rosa Parks on the twenty dollar bill, although I do love Eleanor Roosevelt.

 

A Call To Action: Click here to cast your vote! A Women’s Place is on the money!

Tom’s Treasonous Temper Tantrum

12 Mar

TraitorsThe Republicans in the U.S. Senate have hit a new low, which is pretty hard for a group that has dug such a deep, disgusting hole in which to dwell. Led by freshman Senator Tom (would you like a cup of Tea)  Cotton of Arkansas, a stunning 47 out of 54 Republican Senators have signed a letter to the leaders of Iran. The letter is a petulant rant warning that any agreement the Obama administration might reach with Iran over nuclear materials will become null and void as soon as a new President takes office.

Where do we start with something like this? It’s a clear violation of protocol — direct foreign relations are the purview of the Executive branch, not Congress. It’s a blatant slap in the face to a President who has seen nothing but racist obstruction and disrespect from the GOP members of the Senate. Under one of the oldest laws in the land, it probably qualifies as treason.

The Logan Act was passed in 1799 to restrict the ability of unauthorized citizens to act in a way that is intended to influence a foreign government on matters relating to an ongoing controversy or dispute. Iran’s nuclear program clearly qualifies. Senators have the authority to do many things, but negotiating foreign policy isn’t one of them. That power belongs entirely to the Executive Branch unless there is a formal treaty proposed; that would require a 2/3 vote of approval from the Senate (sorry to bother people with pesky facts).

Angry that the President isn’t just going to abdicate after the disastrous 2014 election, Cotton and his cronies decided to stamp their nasty feet and play a dangerous game. They may not like the direction the President takes, but it’s up to him. By acting independently, they show just how ugly they can be with the added bonus of making the country they are sworn to serve look foolish, confused, and inept. Of course those adjectives come up a lot with Republicans/Tea Partiers in Congress…

Cotton is new to the Senate, but that doesn’t excuse him — or the 11 other new Republican Senators who ALL signed his malicious missive — from learning and following protocol and obeying the laws of the land. Other signatories have even less of an excuse including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate President pro tempore Orrin Hatch, and omnipresent crazed, cranky, crackpot John McCain. When asked why he signed the letter, McCain responded with”…well I sign lots of letters.”  Oy! How on earth is he in office?

It’s unlikely the Logan Act will be invoked — that’s only happened once, in 1803. Attempting to prosecute 47 sitting Senators would grind the barely functioning government to a complete halt, and the President has been able to use this irresponsible act to highlight his own policies and strength. Getting away with it doesn’t make it right. Let’s hope that the people who can hold these ignorant, vicious men and women responsible — the voters — will take this matter seriously in years to come.

Do we need to issue a statement to the globe: “Nothing to see here folks, just keep moving.”

Women’s History Month 2015: Kathleen Saadat

9 Mar

ksaadatToday I would like to honor my dear friend Kathleen Saadat. I have known Kathleen now for seven years. I think I am more in love with her as each year passes. I am exceedingly grateful to have her as a mentor; how perfect to celebrate her during Women’s History Month. Kathleen is the commencement speaker this year at Reed College.

Kathleen is a tireless worker for social justice, equity, and equality. Kathleen constantly looks at issues of intersectionality and works to remove barriers for targeted populations. Born and raised in Missouri, Kathleen moved to Oregon in the 70s. She attended Reed College and received her BA in Psychology there. She held several managerial positions with the City of Portland’s CETA Job Training Programs in the 1970’s and 80’s and held the position of Executive Director for the Oregon State Commission on Black Affairs immediately prior to her appointment by the Governor as Oregon State Director of Affirmative Action in 1987.  She managed the Youth Services arm of the Portland Urban League during the 1980’s.

Kathleen has worked in a wide variety of government positions and as an independent contractor. From 1997 until 2001, she was the Strategic Plan Coordinator for Multnomah County Oregon’s Department of Community and Family Services.  During that time she also continued work as a private consultant and trainer in the areas of human diversity and organizational development and as a motivational speaker. She has served as a Commissioner on the City of Portland’s Human Rights Commission and should also be recognized for her amazing work to fight HIV and help those impacted by HIV.

Kathleen is a member of Class VI of the Oregon American Leadership Forum, a 1992 Fellow with the Advocacy Institute in Washington DC and recipient of fellowship to Hedgebrook Women’s Writers Retreat and a member of the 29thStreet Writers. Her list of awards and accomplishments is too long to enumerate here but includes being listed as one of 100 Who Lead in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine, a Harvey Milk Award, the Bayard Rustin Civil Rights Award, and a lifetime achievement award from the World Arts Foundation in recognition of her contributions to the efforts to “Keep Living the Dream” of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Kathleen is concerned with social and economic justice, what happens to our children, and with the issues related to world peace. More than just concerned, she lives and breathes social justice. She is both passionate and compassionate, willing and able to speak her mind clearly but also able to help people move along their own path towards understanding. Her desire for positive social change is only matched by her generosity of spirit. Although she has retired from the formal work force, her passion and presence continue to be felt in myriad ways as she channels her powerful voice through her own wishes and time. Truth be known, while she purports to be retired, I look forward to her next project towards social justice.

I am privileged to know and honor her. Kathleen continues to help me learn how to build coalitions and bring disparate groups together – thank you, Kathleen, with love and admiration!

Women’s History Month: 2015

1 Mar

Womens-History-Month-300x153Today marks the 29th year we celebrate National Women’s History Month. My dear friend Molly Murphy MacGregor led the pioneering effort to recognize how women have impacted, shaped, and influenced our world. Molly — always very humble — is the co-founder of the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) and a key force behind why we now celebrate Women’s History Month in the United States. The not insignificant move forward started in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week.  Finally in 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity.

Sadly, we still see enormous resistance to treating women equally and equitably. The Republican controlled house sent a very clear message when they voted no on the equal pay act. This past February we saw Representative LaVar Christensen and Representative Brian Greene trying to defend rape, a very sad echo of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock talking about “legitimate rape.” Yes, we continue to witness myriad vicious attacks on women and their bodies.  John Boehner and his ilk seem to want property rights to every vagina in America.

Over the course of the month we will look at women pioneers and women who fought for civil rights, while we also examine the continued hypocrisy and double standards that exist, as we witness right wing extremist policing women’s eggs.  Reproductive health is debated by men (Catholic Bishops? Darrel Issa‘s all-male birth control panel?) with paternalistic moralizing and no reference to women at all. Sadly, it is not just men that are trying to control women’s bodies, but a faction of self-loathing women — who have internalized male oppression — are also hurting women. Are you listening Susan G. Komen Foundation? Helping everyone learn Women’s History is the best preventative for creating any new Phyllis Schlaflys or Karen Handels.

We have much to celebrate and much work yet to accomplish.

Black History Month 2015: The Staple Singers

13 Feb

TheSlowDrag-TheStapleSingersToday we honor and celebrate a talented family whose distinctive approach to “Message Music” helped form the soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s America. The Staple Singers comprised father, singer, and guitarist Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his daughters, lead vocalist Mavis Staples and vocalist Cleotha Staples, with siblings Pervis and Yvonne joining as vocalists off and on through the years. Blending southern blues, traditional gospel, early rock era R&B, and protest folk, their powerful harmonies drove a message of tolerance, diversity, strength, and progress.

Roebuck Staples was born the youngest son of sharecroppers in Mississippi. He learned to play guitar listening to the blues greats in the region and played in a few joints in his youth. In the early 30s he moved to Chicago to seek out a better life for his family, gradually moving them all north. His interest in music continued moving into gospel singing. Soon the whole family was joining in. Their unique, instinctive harmonies, supported by Pops’ eerie, tremolo-drenched guitar work, gave them a sound that stood out even in Chicago’s talented gospel community.

The original core quartet (all but Yvonne) began playing gigs at a number of local churches and eventually landed a recording contract. For a while Pops continued to work a regular job, but as the Staple Singers began to tour he eventually committed to music full time. The group found themselves in an interesting musical position. Pops wanted to avoid pop love songs and dark blues themes, focusing on joy, hope, and inspiration. Unlike other Gospel acts, they incorporated some original material and a variety of songs that  fit their message. Unlike acts like local friend Sam Cooke, who fully embraced pop and soul and made successful career transitions, their adherence to their own vision kept their audience somewhat small.

Touring mostly the south in the 1950s was a tricky business for an African-American family. They had difficulty finding food and lodging in many places, relying heavily on an unofficial network of homes and boardinghouses that supported the Gospel community. Driving a large Cadillac through the rural south brought them plenty of grief from local law enforcement including a brief stint in jail because of the significant amount of money — their legitimate wages — found in the trunk of their car. These experiences honed their desire to empower the black community and to provide messages of hope and strength.

They became enmeshed in the growing civil rights movement, often performing in locations where black activists were speaking. Their Message Music merged perfectly with the push for equality and their personal experiences informed performances that were as passionate as the preachers’ and activists’ speeches. Pops became close friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Staples often adjusted their touring schedule to accompany his appearances.

While becoming a critical part of the movement, they began breaking down musical barriers as well. Already deeply connected to the soul and R&B communities — they were friends with singers Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, Aretha Franklin and many others as well as their families — their sound began expanding. They performed at the Newport Folk Festival, launching a long career of participating in folk events. They befriended Bob Dylan and the Band and their music informed the Rolling Stones’ early hit The Last Time. Pops’ guitar work was so famous that producer Jerry Wexler insisted that Joe South emulate it for his great guitar intro to Aretha Franklin’s smash Chain of Fools.

The Staples were famous and successful but limited in audience. Labels weren’t sure how to promote them — not just gospel but not fully folk, pop, or soul. They finally found their breakthrough, signing with Stax and recording at the famous Muscle Shoals studio. The blend of their Message Music with the earthy sound of the Shoals musicians — a bunch of young white men inspired by the rich musical culture around them — and caught fire. They began a string of hits that included the classic Respect Yourself and their signature song, the #1 pop and R&B hit I’ll Take You There. For awhile the Staple Singers were musical royalty, staying true to their Message Music and pushing for continued progress in civil rights.

By the late 70s, changing musical tastes and a long career of  performing resulted in a gradual reduction in Staples’ material. Pops was in his 60s and Mavis became interested in a solo career. They re-emerged in the 90s, with musicians like Ry Cooder and Bonnie Raitt championing their pivotal roles in music and activism. Pops recorded two acclaimed solo albums, winning a Grammy award in his 80s. He died in 2000 at the age of 85.

Mavis continues to record and perform today. She has grown comfortable with her role as a musical elder with an important message. Given the horrible racism that has surfaced in recent years, she wonders what happened to all the work the Staples and their contemporaries did. Activism is as important now as then, she observes.

It makes me think of my father’s song Why Am I Treated So Bad? I’m sixtey-seven years old and I was here the first time around and now I’m still here and it’s still not fixed. I’m here to let you all know that I’m still not pleased. … It’s the 21st Century. We should be ashamed of ourselves. We don’t teach enough black history in the schools. But I’m the history — I’ll be the history. The kids need to know.

Fifty years into an impressive career, the Staples family still has something to say. And it certainly still matters.

Black History Month 2015: Wendell Scott

9 Feb

WendellScottToday I would like to honor and pay tribute to Wendell Scott. Scott was the first full-tim African American race car driver in NASCAR and remained the only black race car driver for most of his career. No shock that Scott met with racial prejudice and problems with top-level NASCAR officials. Here are just two examples of the uphill battle of racism Scott would have to fight:

The next day, however, brought the first of many episodes of discrimination that would plague his racing career. Scott repaired his car and towed it to a NASCAR-sanctioned race in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. But the NASCAR officials refused to let him compete. Black drivers were not allowed, they said. As he drove home, Scott recalled, “I had tears in my eyes.” A few days later he went to another NASCAR event in High Point, North Carolina. Again, Scott said, the officials “just flat told me I couldn’t race.”

Scott’s determination and internal fortitude finally won out and earned him the historic position of being the first black man to be a NASCAR driver. With nearly 500 premiere league starts, he ranks in the Top 40 drivers of all time. Bravo, to Scott’s courage and strength. NASCAR remains today, 2015 a very white and very heteronormative institution.  If you are Black, or Queer, NASCAR is not a likely place one feels safe.

Fortunately, NASCAR has finally seen fit to celebrate this talented pioneer. Last week, Scott was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, its first African-American honoree. Accepting the award on his late father’s behalf, his son Franklin observed

The legacy of Wendell Scott depicts him as one of the great vanguards of the sport of NASCAR racing. Daddy was a man of great honor. He didn’t let his circumstances define who he was.

Thank you to my brother-in-law Scott for helping to inspire this story and pointing me to Wendell Scott.

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