JFK Gave Baby Boomers Responsibility to Protect Our Freedom. They Failed.

Eternal_Flame_Next_generation

The Eternal Flame has burned continuously since Jackie Kennedy lit it in Arlington Cemetery on November 25, 1963 during her husband’s state funeral. Today, fifty years to the day after it was lit, hundreds have come to take photos of the flame flickering in a cold breeze, while others stand silently watching flowers laid at its granite base.

At his inauguration, President Kennedy spoke of a “torch” passed to a “new generation”:

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Fifty years after his assassination, this torch has been neglected, and the flame has nearly gone out.

Since JFK was killed, the Civil Rights movement has achieved important successes. But the present state of freedom and human rights in the U.S. is like a wound left unattended, and every day the hemorrhaging grows worse. Our government is systematically eviscerating our freedoms and those of people around the world. There are several signs of this: the police state, the huge numbers of citizens incarcerated, illegal NSA surveillance, and drone warfare. Continue reading

Miranda case shows, anti-terrorism laws used against us, not terrorists

Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was held on August 19 for nine hours of questioning at London’s Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. Although it was clear that Miranda posed no terrorist threat, his cell phone, laptop, game consoles and camera were confiscated. Under the UK’s controversial Terrorism Act, anyone can be detained for up to nine hours of questioning before they clear customs.

A spokesperson for the Guardian said, “We were dismayed that the partner of a Guardian journalist who has been writing about the security services was detained for nearly nine hours while passing through Heathrow airport. We are urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities.”

According to the UK’s Home Office, “The government and police have a duty to protect the public and our national security.”

Translation: “Protect the public,” “national security” and variation “keep you safe” is doublespeak for “we’re watching you.”

International Big Brother is usually more discreet, but the Snowden revelations have driven him out of the shadows. The security services of the US and our allies are driving us inexorably towards the dystopian society predicted in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The rationale for anti-terrorism laws is public safety, a trade-off between protection and rights. Yet the anti-terrorism laws which empower security authorities are being abused. The NSA often violates even the secret regime of law established by the FISA Court. GCHQ used the Terrorism Act as a pretense to detain David Miranda at Heathrow. Glenn Greenwald calls it “a failed attempt at intimidation.”

Disregard for the law is not only a betrayal of trust and principle, it nullifies hundreds of years of struggle to secure our civil rights. And what’s more, it’s not keeping us safe either.

In reality, protection and surveillance have little to do with each other. In the military, we learned that there is a difference between guarding and surveilling. Guarding is providing that no harm will come to who or whatever you’re protecting. Surveilling is watching, observing and recording.

The NSA and GCHQ maintain that surveillance is a tool to protect the people from terrorists, when in fact they watch the people like we are the enemy. The laws that our government has put into place serve more to shield itself from public scrutiny than to protect the public.

The question is, when will we recognize that laws disguised as protection from terrorists are actually being used to surveil, gather unlimited information and track us? Lost rights can’t be regained when those in power believe no one is willing to fight for them.

Message to DOJ: “Justice for Trayvon” means pursuing civil rights case

Light_brigade_angle

by John Zangas

Activists from the Light Brigade of Maryland, GetEqual, and Code Pink sent the Department of Justice an unmistakable blue light message tonight: “JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON”

The light display was set up just after dusk to tell the county’s leading law officials that George Zimmerman’s acquittal was not acceptable. Petitions have been circulating to demand that the DOJ charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations in the shooting death of the teenager.

Annell Mungo, 25, an activist with GetEqual, said, “The verdict of [the] George Zimmerman murder trial was sickening [and] a clear example of the miles and miles that our country has to go before we live up to our promise of liberty and justice for all.”

She spoke while other activists held the lettered light panels which spelled out their demand for justice for Trayvon Martin. “This week–from Sanford Florida to Austin Texas, and here in Washington, DC–has been a harsh reminder that this country is a dangerous place for people of color, for queer people, for youth and immigrants, for women, and for all those who continue to be devalued and dehumanized.”

“We have much work ahead of us to achieve a fully equal and inclusive America,” Mungo said, “and our commitment to a pathway to social justice for all continues.”

Dispatch from the steps of the Supreme Court: Outsiders asking to be let in

Family

On Wednesday, March 27, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Windsor v. United States, a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. With two hearings on successive days related to the polarizing issue of same-sex marriage, there has been a frenzy of activity outside the Court. John Zangas has been there to report.

by John Zangas

As the Supreme Court hears the DOMA arguments, I’m reflecting on the historic events outside the Court over the past few days. What has struck me most is the spirit and resolve of the families I met on the Court steps.

The voices of their children were especially moving to me. They just want their parents to be happy and to live like other families do. They said they are as ordinary, plain, and real as anyone. They got a moment to speak their truth, and I got to record and photograph it.

These families eclipsed the inequality embedded in laws like DOMA and Prop 8 just by their presence, compassion and humanity during two days of hearings.

Every element on the steps of the Court–the activists’ posters, the police, press, even the ugly hate slogans–was necessary to tell a story about this country. Right now it’s a story about being on the outside and knocking on the door to be let in.

The question is, will the Court finally let them into our house?

Interview with Kathy, Carey and their son:

Dispatch from the steps of the Supreme Court: High energy on Day 1

Qween2

by John Zangas

On March 26, oral arguments were presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in Hollingworth v. Perry, a case to reinstate Proposition 8, California’s ballot initiative declaring same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

A frigid day started at 5:30 a.m. with a cold group of sleepovers rising off the sidewalk. As the sun warmed them and more supporters arrived, they roared to life with a vibrant energy. Overwhelmingly for marriage equality, the crowd overpowered several small religious groups speaking against it. Anti-marriage equality folks created a tense situation with signs and slogans, but a colorful youth named Qween danced right in front of them with a pink cross. She joyfully galvanized everyone with dance and turned tension and hate into laughter and smiles. She certainly is a young hero.

I interviewed Qween last night, and she seemed hopeful that change would come. I also interviewed a young attorney; the Lambda legal team of Jon Davidson and Jennifer Pizer; a gay couple who had been together 26 years; and a boy named Leo Crampton whose mothers are to be wed today. I also interviewed a person who believes that marriage is between a man and woman only. They were all very positive and hopeful interviews.

In my view, I believe Justice Kennedy’s line of questioning regarding the impact of Prop 8 on children of same-sex parents is important to this case. How can one justify the negative effects that Prop 8 and DOMA have on these children?

It is impossible to say how the Court will rule. They may find that Prop 8’s defenders have no standing and discard it. Or they could rule on the pivotal issue of marriage equality directly.

The oral arguments of Hollingsworth v. Perry were insulated from the opinions expressed so passionately outside. But based on the sentiments I recorded on the Court’s steps, the time has come for the Justices to rule on this issue directly. This is a historic moment for this court, which probably wants to have its signature on the right side. A ruling for marriage equality will probably prove to be inevitable in light of the support of the President and changes in the U.S. military.

I’ll continue covering the people and stories outside the court as arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) go forward tomorrow.

Gay or straight, a historic Supreme Court moment

On March 26 and 27, the Supreme Court hears arguments on cases banning same-sex marriage. The hearings have become a flashpoint for opposing social movements, whose members clashed outside the Court this morning in a highly charged atmosphere. John Zangas of DC Media Group live-tweeted the events.

View the story “Gay or straight, a historic Supreme Court moment” on Storify

Cool Hero of the Day: Rosa Parks

Democracy Now interviews the author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks on what would have been her 100th birthday:

On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her act of resistance led to a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system that would help spark the civil rights movement…. Often described as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker, Parks was in fact a dedicated civil-rights activist involved with the movement long before and after her historic action on the Montgomery bus. “Here we have, in many ways, one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century, and yet treated as children’s book hero,” Theoharis says. “We diminish her legacy making it about a single day, a single act, as opposed to the rich and lifelong history of resistance that was actually who Rosa Parks was.”

Protestors critical of Obama policies, say he continues legacy of predecessor


While thousands filled the National Mall around the Capitol building where President Obama is sworn in for his second term, a smaller crowd gathering at Meridian Hill Park is largely critical of the president and his policies.

Dissent against the status quo and entrenched power emerged as the theme of the rally organized by the Arc of Justice Coalition (@arcofjustice13). Overall, there was a consensus that Martin Luther King’s birthday was more important than the Inauguration, and rally speakers often referred to him rather than the President as an example to follow.

Speaker Jean Athey of Peace Action advised listeners to ignore the “sanitized” version of King, and instead remember that King was a revolutionary and radical who made people angry. “He knew what he was doing was dangerous,” she said.

He took on the three major issues of the day: racism, capitalism, and militarism, she said. These goals closely resembled the issues raised by the protestors at the rally, which included drone warfare, military spending, loss of civil liberties, and the corrupt influence of corporation on the political system.

Protestors carried four full-size model drones down 14th Street as they made their way toward the White House.

Ladd Everitt, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Update: Not everyone had negative things to say about President Obama. Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence pleaded with ralliers to support the President’s new gun control legislation, proposed in the wake of the Newtown shooting.

“Whatever grievances you have, lay them down for a few months. Obama’s gun package is the most important initiative put forward in American history. Finally we are going to reduce gun violence in this country.”

He explained that the gun industry is combating declining sales by persuading people that they must arm themselves 24/7 and accumulate more and more weapons, including assault weapons.

“This is comprehensive reform to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” he said. “We have to seize this opportunity [while] the President is putting the full weight of the White House behind it.”

Fighting for a dream still unfulfilled

The shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. looms large over inaugural weekend. The holiday celebrating Dr. King happens to coincide with Inauguration Day. A new King memorial resides on the Tidal Basin on the opposing side of the National Mall from the spot where the 44th President will take the oath of office on King’s own Bible.

The Inauguration takes place of course in the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia. The residents of the majority-black District aren’t living the full-color version of King’s dream. The District’s license plates say, “Taxation without Representation,” and for many, obtaining statehood for DC is a campaign for full citizenship. “We have been a colony of the rest of the states of this country,” said a speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Walk, which celebrated the civil rights hero on January 19. “We need to become a state, the state of New Columbia.”

Statehood wasn’t the only thing on the minds of marchers remembering Dr. King. The event kicked off in Anacostia, an area of Southeast DC which suffers significant social and economic problems. With high unemployment, half of all its residents collect food assistance, and household income and wealth stagnate at the bottom of the pile in a city that ranks as one of the highest in wealth inequality.

It perpetually competes for resources. For example, the community is resisting the proposed closure of 15 schools in the District, which they claim disproportionately affects black residents.

Another speaker decried that, while the declining violent crime rate was a good trend, 88 murders in the District in 2012 “is still too many.” Several others assailed the high incarceration rate of young black men–one in three black men will do time in their lifetimes–as a devastating indicator of racial inequality.

Martin Luther King Jr said, “Let us be dissatisfied.” Black communities like Anacostia are communities is distress, not because of the moral failings of individuals or certain cultures, as conservatives claim. It’s because the structural edifice of our society remains racist.

Civil rights activist Dick Gregory: “I don’t deal in dreams” [VIDEO]

John Zangas interviews comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace March in Washington, DC. Gregory says he prefers accomplishments to dreams. He also thinks that the FBI and CIA pose an even greater threat to social movements today than they did in the 1960s.

JZ: So you feel the dream is still alive?

DG: I don’t deal in dreams. Dreams are dead…. All those trifling things, they never say dreams. The electric chair, that ain’t no dream. It’s real. The only thing I didn’t agree with, he said we should overcome “someday.”