Tag Archives: Occupy Movement

Happy Birthday, Joan Baez

9 Jan

Today is folk music and social justice pioneer Joan Baez’ 72nd birthday. Born on Staten Island to a Mexican Catholic and a Scots Anglican, Baez was heavily influenced by the pacifist messages delivered when the family converted to Quakerism. She demonstrated her musical talent early on, and began performing in the late 50s. Fluent in English and Spanish, she has recorded in both (as well as six other languages).

After moving to New York City in 1960, she began performing more protest-based music along with her other folk repertoire. She soon met a young Bob Dylan and recorded a number of his songs. The two regularly performed together and developed a strong shared commitment to social justice. They both performed at the 1963 March on Washington. Baez also performed at Woodstock, viewing the festival as a statement against government oppression.

Throughout her career, Baez has been an outspoken proponent of social justice. A strong feminist, she is also a staunch defender of LGBT rights. She regularly performs benefits to relieve poverty and homelessness–sounds like a great social worker to me!. The overview of her involvement looks like a directory of social causes, and she is energetic for each one. She isn’t slowing down, either. Despite her distate for political partisanship, she recognized the true dangers of the GOP platform and endoresed her first major candidate with Barack Obama. She also participated actively in the Occupy protests, singing to raise money to support the cause.

In March of last year, Amnesty International created the Joan Baez Award for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights. At the launching celebration, she was presented with the first award in recognition of her human rights work with Amnesty International and beyond, and the inspiration she has given activists around the world. In future years, the award is to be presented to an artist – music, film, sculpture, paint or other medium – who has similarly helped advance human rights. What a powerful and fitting legacy for this tireless worker for rights for all.

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Those Lazy Teachers in Chicago…

11 Sep

Thank goodness I have seen bits of the media coverage of the teacher’s strike in Chicago.  The media (shows like The Today Show, or what I call Fox News Lite) have taught me why it is important to vilify these glorified babysitters and why we should take the Paul Ryan and  Scott Walker approach to labor.

Let’s be honest, these teachers only work 10 months out of the year.  So what if they have to teach in over enrolled classes.  So what if they only earn on average 1/7th of the salary of the administrators.  So what if they have no school supplies and often pay for them out of their own pockets.  So what if they have to take on additional duties, thus working far more than 8 hours a day. So what if during their “time off” in the summer they have to take classes to keep their credentials.  So what if they are suddenly required to teach to tests that have no bearing on their teaching skills but are promoted and retained based on those tests. So what if they pay more in taxes than the 5% of the wealthiest of Americans. So what if they now have to parent as well as teach and then are criticized for not doing enough.

They are just labor.  What happened to the good old days when schools and companies ran easily and cheaply?  What happened to the days when we could just send children into factories and coal mines, or send immigrant women into hostile working conditions and they died in a fire? Those there the good old days. Good for Mayor Rahm Emanuel for taking us backwards in time and bullying these teachers into submission (You know, I loved him when he played Uncle Joe Stalin — he was very convincing).

Really? Really? What happened to our country? When did this dramatic shift occur that we no longer value labor? When did we start to vilify people who make little money? When will this perspective shift again, for these people like Rahm Emanuel and Scott Walker are on the wrong side of history.

I stand with the Teachers in Chicago! Ask me why if you want a lesson in history, economics, and social justice.

Bigot of the Week Award: August 24, Republican Party Platform

24 Aug

Bigot of the Week

This week’s bigot is no big surprise, but it helps to underscore the importance of the November election. Just a few weeks ago we gave the Hero of the Week to the committee that drafted the Democratic Party Platform. Sadly, the Republicans sank below expectations and easily won this week’s BWA. Much of the platform is standard right-wing talking points, protecting the wealthy, undermining the middle class, and avoiding equality and reality with shocking vigor. Two sections, however, are particularly loathsome.

On the matter of gay rights, the 2012 platform is even more aggressive than in 2008. This owes a great deal to the fact that Tony Perkins of the certified hate group the Family Research Council helped to draft the plank. It supports the adoption of a federal “one man one woman” amendment and explicity calls out for reversal of the strides forward made by the Obama administration, noting “its handling of immigration cases, in federal personnel benefits, in allowing a same-sex marriage at a military base, and in refusing to defend DOMA in the courts.” Professional self-loathing groups GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans weep and rend their garments while the party they irrationally support rages and rends our rights.

The platform stakes out a clear campaign in the War on Women as well. Despite the hypocritical outcry by party leaders when Rep. Todd Akin made his famous “legitimate rape” comments, the platform squares up pretty well with that Senate hopeful’s positions. It calls for a personhood amendment and the prohibition of all abortions regardless of circumstance, no exceptions. The Romneybot can dither and deceive all he wants, but when he accepts the nomination next week he’ll be the standard bearer of a party that demands that women be stripped of rights to reproductive choice. The plank includes:

Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.

This odious language is not just the party’s position; it has direct bearing on some key races as well. The connection to Akin’s effort to unseat Claire McCaskill (D – MO) is obvious. Akin also voted for a stalled House bill with similar intent; his colleague in the House, Rep. Paul Ryan, also voted for that bill. Whatever the official Romney – Ryan talking points may be, the VP hopeful’s position is clearly anti-woman. This year’s language is very similar to planks included since 2000. The anti-choice section from that year was written by Tommy Thompson, the man who hopes to be the next Senator from Wisconsin. He’s running against true progressive (and out lesbian) Tammy Baldwin. It’s clear that Thompson, Akin, and Ryan must be stopped.

GOP hacks talk a good game about jobs and the economy, but their elected officials have done less than nothing to solve those problems. In the meantime, the official position of the party and its leaders is to roll back rights, oppress minorities, and protect the privileged. The choice in November just keeps getting clearer…

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Singer, Peace Activist, Holly Near

21 Aug

Those of you that follow TSM already know what a huge fan I am of Holly Near, and what an inspiration she is to so many who work to make the world a better place for all.  I was fortunate enough to visit with Holly about her life and about the debut of her new album, Peace Becomes You, which is available today.

Your new album, Peace Becomes You, debuts on August 21, did you approach this album differently?  

I did inasmuch that I just took a two-year sabbatical. When I came back from that there was so much stored up in that, things I needed to write but also songs I wanted to use from other people. I set up four public rehearsals to hear the new material, so that I could feel their feedback, and what they were leaning into. Of course the band was a bit startled.  I wanted to allow people to feel the music.  Then I went straight into the studio.  While my voice is still so strong, I needed to do a double CD as one album.  It felt that this maybe the last time I do a project this big.

How did you decide on the title of the album?

I looked at all of the titles of the songs and Crazy just did not seem appropriate.  I have the song to John Fromer who is struggling with cancer right now and he wrote the melody for Peace Becomes You.  We made a bumper sticker reading “Peace Becomes You,” which you can only get at concerts.

How did you pick songs that might be considered canonical to go along with new, original songs?  

Over the last five years I did a lot of camping and listened to a lot of music. For example I listened to Johnny Mathis performing 99 Miles from LA, so it was that type of process, the music kind of found me.  In hindsight, one of the things I would have done differently, there was a song I worked so hard on but it did not make it to the CD and I am very sad about that.  I also wish I had spent more time writing to social activists and asking them to send me their material.  In the future I would like to highlight songs of social activism that are not getting the airplay they should be getting.

You work with another one of my absolute “sheroes” Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon.  How did you select a song from her catalogue? 

I have sung quite a few of her songs and I’ve known Dr. Reagon since 1979; we have been friends over thirty, forty years.  I always feel so grateful.  I listen to her writing a lot.  There are a lot of songs that I don’t feel have any right coming out of my mouth, which narrows it down quite a bit’ it is really personal what one sings.  My friend Bonnie Raitt  has to sing what is true to herself, which I love and appreciate.  We all have to understand our own history and cultural backgrounds. Nothing is just a song or just a dance, which I’m learning more and more as I take on the role of teacher.

I love how you are dedicated to issues of social justice and civil rights. Are there some areas in which you would encourage us all to focus our energies specifically? 

At one of the festivals I was just performing at, I saw this big burly man wearing a shirt that said no planet no party — I wanted that shirt.  I think one of the main focuses should be sustaining the planet, which is hard to do, but just because it is hard, does not mean we can’t do it.  We need some planet consciousness which is being modeled by poorer communities who are being dumped upon.

I know your upcoming tour will be your first tour in quite some time with a full band; how did you make that decision? 

Every moment we are alive, we are making choices, and as humans we hold the potential to be either amazing or horrific.  I can’t get into a conversation of what issue is worst and needs the most attention. We need to be vigilant and look at our choices.  Some people will just scoop up what others have made for them and others will be brick layers making things possible and building the road on which we will walk.  I walk on roads that people have paved all the time — there is an invisibility of “women’s music,” of women that do not get heard. There is always an invisible corridor that creates necessary bridges.  A company like Lady Slipper is cellurlarly embedded in the next generation of music, even if they are just living it.

I know you are wrapping up a tour of Folk Festivals.  What has the energy been like this year as opposed to years past?

It has been awhile since I have done festivals. I was invited to many of these festivals because it was on the heels of the Occupy Movement and so there was some intent to raise awareness of activism.  I did overhear that people were surprised and saddened that there was so little political music performed.  Now I think people really do want to hear music about what is going on.  I think there is a real desire to connect while simultaneously trying to escape.  It is always hard to write about torture, gay teen suicide, women being tortured, but I work very hard at it and I reflect back and think I’ve gotten better at it.  There is room for music about smash the state and for songs for striking nurses and for anti-war songs.

You have become an Elder-States woman and steward of music of social protest.  How does it feel to wear that mantle? 

I used to joke that I was an elder in training and now I think that time is up.  I have moved into that generation of elders.  Odetta is gone and Belafonte is not doing concerts anymore.  When I travel I am being treated as an elder and it is very nice.  I learned as I was an elder in training that I can be at peace at not being the center of attention and just happy to be of use.   My generation took everything out of the box and named it; it did not all get solved, but it can be talked about.   The line in the song We’re Still Here — we are here and present and here to be of use.

What or how do you see the future of protest music?  What advice might you have for artists that look at life through a social justice lens as you do?

I think people need to get better. I think people need to practice activism, whether they are artists, teachers, religious people — the more we practice the better we get.  I encourage people to become good writers.  What do people need locally to help support them to do the hard work?  It is not just about picking up a guitar and playing three chords and now who will book me?  There is no shortage of ideas. What I see is that there is a shortage of skills to bring those ideas together. There is a lot of great hard work involved.  Invite us to make us become our better selves.  Bring a friend to a concert—expose people to music about social justice—open the circle.

You can purchase Holly’s new album through CDBaby or at Amazon.com; it should be available through iTunes shortly.

To my loyal TSM readers, I will confess that I truly did try to be objective during this interview, but it is exceedingly impossible not to just fall in love with Holly!  The new album is tremendous (as this review will attest), and she is such an inspiration.  Holly, thank you for taking the time to visit with me.

Voting Rights Act of 1965–What Happened?

6 Aug

Today marks the 47th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The Voting Rights Act finally addressed the widespread discrimination African Americans faced when trying to cast their votes. Sadly, here we are in the 21st Century and there are still political factions trying to suppress minority voters (who vote overwhelmingly Democratic…). Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott and and Secretary of State Ken Detzner are trying to block voting rights for thousands of Latino Floridians.  These silly Republicans clearly either don’t know history, or feel they are above the law.

Now Republican Tom  Corbett is watching as the State of Pennsylvania tries to disenfranchise minority voters by imposing a “photo ID” requirement to vote.  Of course, this adversely and disproportionately affects people of color, young voters, older voters and those with low incomes — all people who traditionally vote Democratic. Sadly, there are 35 states that require photo ID to vote; all these laws have been pushed through by Republicans led legislatures.  Even my home state of Georgia practices this type of discrimination by requiring voters to present a photo ID. I would point out here that an estimated 21 million people do not have a current, government-issued photo ID. The numbers are even higher for black people, Hispanics and other minorities.

It is amazing to see how Republicans work hard to chip away bit by bit at fundamental rights like those in the 14th Amendment. It’s just like their efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade incrementally and to block marriage equality one state at a time. Clearly, being on the right doesn’t make one right about rights…

Bigot of the Week Award: August 3, House Democrats Opposing Tax Fairness

3 Aug

Bigot of the Week

This week 19 House Democrats put self-interest ahead of leadership and bailed on a key piece of legislation. Last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid exceeded all expectations and crafted a brilliant deal that allowed a great tax cut compromise to pass the Senate. The bill extended the cuts for taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year, protecting the middle class during the fragile economic recovery. By ending the cuts for those with higher incomes, it also introduced greater fairness into the tax system–truly a broken clock moment for our Harry Reid.

The bill was unlikely to pass in the House, of course, but it sent a strong message. The Republicans in the House shot it down on Wednesday — big shock. Sadly, 19 Democrats voted against the bill, joining the Republican chorus of class warfare. The majority of the 19 Representatives who crossed the aisle were so-called Blue Dog Democrats (or what I like to call Tea Bag Democrats), a loose caucus of “moderate and conservative” Democrats. Many are also in tight re-election contests or in badly gerrymandered new districts. These are not sufficient excuses.

It is a given that most Republicans will not vote for the Democrat. It is also true that the Senate approach to the tax cuts is very popular (polling at or above 60%), especially with independent voters and in swing states. What these 19 cowards have done is sold out the middle class and the most vulnerable for a callous political calculation. Why should Democratic voters in their districts care about showing up at the polls if they are offered a choice between two people who vote against them? Why should independent voters prefer a Democrat if that person voted against their preferences? Shame on you, Representatives! Bad dogs!

Personally, I am sad to see Rep. Kurt Schrader from Oregon’s 5th District on this list and grateful that the recent redistricting moved me into Rep. Blumenauer’s district. Oregonians are hurting, Rep. Schrader; why did you vote against 98% of them?

The Closing of Hull House: Sad Commentary on Our Times

28 Jan

Goodbye Hull House

Yesterday was a very sad day indeed. Hull House, founded by Social Work Pioneer Jane Addams, closed it’s doors.  In 1931, Addams was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Addams may well be best known for starting Hull House in Chicago.  Here is the mission statement of Hull House:

Jane Addams Hull House Association improves social conditions for underserved people and communities by providing creative, innovative programs and advocating for related public policy reforms.

Jane Addams Hull House Association provides child care, domestic violence counseling and prevention, economic development, family services, job training, literacy training, senior services, foster care, independent living, and housing assistance for 60,000 children, families and community members each year in communities in and around Chicago.

Hull House also advocates for social and public policy reforms and initiatives that impact the lives of the men, women, and children in the communities we serve.

Now after 120 years, Hull House is closed.  It would be delightful to say that Hull House closed because services were no longer needed–that poverty and discrimination had ended.  Alas, that is so far from the truth.  The truth is that the need for services continued to increase exponentially, but sadly funding for Hull House decreased at an even faster rate.

What doses this say about American Culture?  We are witnessing multi-millionaires spending millions and millions of dollars to run for President of the United States, but we as a culture put up no resistance to social services for the poor and disenfranchised being cut by 1% Republicans like John Boehner.  As someone who is currently getting his MSW, I am horrified that Americans no longer seem engaged in the battle against the inequitable  distribution of power and wealth.  We seem to have grown either amazingly stupid or apathetic  as our silence and non-action, or voting against our best interests supports an all white, heterosexual, Christian, male power structure.

I leave you with the words of Jane Addams:

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

Number 2 Hero of the Year Award 2011: Occupy Movement

30 Dec

Number 2 Hero of 2011

Thank you to the overwhelming number of TSM readers for nominating the Occupy Movement for Hero of the Year!  How I understand the Occupy Movement is that finally the 99% woke up and spoke truth to power–the absurd distribution of power and wealth in the United States must come to an end.  Of course, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission certainly brought home the point that America was officially for sale.  Extending the Bush tax cuts to the top 2% of Americans just added insult to injury.  We can thank the Fecal Five for selling out America.

While I only attended a dozen Occupy Portland demonstrations, I was consistently impressed that people were getting the message out about the maniacal distribution of wealth and power, despite the heroic efforts of the media to vilify the movement.  My heart was also warmed when many of my cohort of social workers withdrew their money from the big banks and put it credit unions–go social workers!

My hope is that the Occupy Movement will continue in its various incarnations and will eventually affect real change in how wealth and power are distributed–that humanity will prevail over greed.

Flashback 2010: Number 2 Hero of 2010 was Bernie Sanders.

Bigot of the Week Award: December 23, John Boehner

23 Dec

Bigot of the Week

Well, Boehner finally blinked!  Yes, after all of his self-righteousness and sanctimony over protecting the Bush tax cuts for the top 1% of Americans, he and his fellow 1%ers in the House were unwilling to extend Payroll tax cuts to the average American.  Hypocrisy’s Poster Child is John Boehner.

What caused Boehner to finally blink and agree to extending the Payroll tax cuts? Some type of Epiphany, some enlightenment, some type of moral decency breaking through? No, I fear not.  You know you are in trouble when the likes of Mitch McConnell and the “Bag of Crazy” John McCain are calling for cooperation from the Republicans.  Yes, Boehner did the right thing to save his posterior and for no other reason.  Kudos to President Obama for his response to the bellicose bigot, Boehner, during a phone call when Boehner told the President he would not compromise, “so what should we do,” to which President Obama responded, “pass the bill.” While $40. a paycheck is nothing to Boehner and his cronies, it is a matter of having enough food, or medication for many Americans.

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