Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Guest Post: Heroes of the Day

Guest post by Ryan Wherley
Photo by Pam Robson
Closing down the building singing truth to power for an hour, after consecutive weekday noon-hour Solidarity Sing Along #624, Tuesday, July 30, 2013, day #4 of the illegal mass arrests of peaceably assembled singers and sign holders. Thirty more brave heroes were arrested today, and after being taken to the Capitol basement in cuffs, were threatened that they wouldn't be processed until they stopped singing, which has become the norm.

So they did the only logical thing: they started singing and didn't stop for an hour and fifteen minutes, even though they were all still handcuffed and their songbooks had been confiscated as "evidence" of their participation in the unlawfully declared "Unlawful" Assembly.

Video courtesy of Leslie Amsterdam

Around 5, I ascended the wide marble steps up to the first floor and recited Article 1, Section 4, of the Wisconsin State Constitution:
The right of the people, peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.
I had made the decision today to read off the names of the courageous freedom fighters who have had their rights violated and been arrested singing out for our rights over the past four days of the Crackdown, reading many names more than once. I wanted the Capitol Police and all passersby to know these are real people, with families and jobs and friends and an extraordinary amount of courage and determination.

As I progressed through the list, an amazing thing happened. As I paused after finishing up with the names of those arrested through Friday, a man who had entered the Rotunda minutes earlier and taken a seat on a bench in the outer ring along with his two children, stood up and yelled, "Heroes!!" I was taken aback, made eye contact and began to read off the list of those arrested for civil disobedience today. Bill Dunn ... "Hero!" Jerry McDonough ... "Hero!" Dennis Andersen ... "Hero!" Paul Sopko Jr. ... "Hero!" Craig Spaulding ... "Hero!" Jackson Foote ... "Hero!"

On and on it went, with him delivering the same response to each and every one of the 25 names I read off. I finished, and he slowly walked off with his kids. I will probably never know who this man was, but he left a powerful impact on me that I can never thank him enough for. I'm in tears just thinking about such an incredible moment of empowering beauty. I can only hope he realized and felt how much that meant to me ... and to the heroes by proxy.

I didn't think I'd even make it through "We Shall Overcome" after I started choking up almost as soon as I began. Fortunately, I was joined almost immediately by Mary Watrud shortly after I began singing, and a young gentleman walked underneath on the ground floor, giving us a solidarity fist on his way by, which Mary and I were more than happy to return. Minutes later, he came up to us smiling from behind Fighting Bob's bust and stood beside us along the first floor balustrade.

After we finished our song, he asked if he'd be arrested if he joined in. I answered, "Not today, you're all good." How sad and telling that such a question should even have to be legitimately asked in the People's House. He asked me what part I sang and he confirmed that he was a baritone like me. We passed him a songbook and he joyously harmonized for the next 40 minutes with Mary, Gloria Marquardt, and myself, finally thanking us and going along his way during "How Can I Keep From Singing?"

Frieda Schowalter, who was arrested and forced to humiliatingly and painfully limp to the elevator after having her crutch confiscated by the Palace Guard last Thursday, joined us for "Solidarity Forever," and we left the building ringing with our voices.

The Solidarity Sing Along will return to peaceably assemble and sing their hearts out tomorrow, brave individuals staying to risk arrest yet again in the face of fascism. Yet again, millions around the country will be singing in Solidarity with them from afar. Like clockwork, the singing will start up, the police will respond, and the proud and peaceful citizens will lift their voices to heights once deemed unfathomable just three years ago. Heroes of the day.

Forever Forward, Wisconsin Winter Soldiers.

# # #
You can help arrestees by contributing to and taking every opportunity to share the link for the First Amendment Protection Fund. We will be needing major funds to cover the court costs for all of these arrests! Our citizens being arrested are paying a great enough price without adding a financial burden on top. Many thanks!

Guest Post: Singing from the Soul Under the Solidari-tree

Guest post by Ryan Wherley
I was lucky enough to have a late, extended lunch today that afforded me the opportunity to make it down to the Capitol for today's outdoor Solidarity Sing Along for about the final half hour. I could already hear the singing and instrumentalists as I got out of my car two blocks away and ran all the way to the Square.

As soon as I got within seeing distance, I saw an amazingly beautiful sight: hundreds of people gathered and singing near the Solidari-tree on the Capitol lawn, easily the most people I've seen there for an SSA since the gut-wrenching night of the Recall election. I found it to be an excellent karmic sign that they had just started my favorite song from the book, "I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister," as I bound across the street to join the peaceably assembled Winter Soldiers.

Looking around and seeing so many friends and faces that I hadn't seen in months, plus scores of people I'd never seen before showing up from around the state to stand shoulder to shoulder in song, was absolutely beautiful. We didn't let the Tea Party instigators affect what we were doing, and the entire gathering just went about our business, joyously and respectfully, as we always do.

I'm so grateful that Daithi Wolfe heeded my request to play "How Can I Keep From Singing?" Hearing nearly 300 people and dozens of Learning Curve musicians soulfully unleashing that tune was an unforgettable moment, as that song has come to define the spirit of the Solidarity Sing Along for me.

I don't know how many more opportunities I'll have to participate in the SSA, singing songs of labor, resistance, peace, justice, Wisconsin and our struggle to save our state, so I'm not taking any of these rare occasions for granted. After attending hundreds of Sing Alongs during what was the most difficult stretch of my life, it developed a healing power over me that never fails to lift my spirits. Being able to stand and contribute my voice for just half an hour in support of the people who are bravely standing up to the heavy-handed police tactics of the Walker regime, risking arrest for expressing their rights, certainly won't change anything in the big picture. But being able to bear witness to such an incredible moment in the Movement's history gave me hope and provided me with the inspiration I need to keep telling the stories of those on the front lines who simply refuse to stop fighting for what is right and just.

"The real emergency is my governEr's austerity plan
and the appalling suppression of 1st Amendment rights"

It kills me to not be there with them, staring fascism in the face as it assuredly drags one peaceful citizen away in handcuffs after another when the Solidarity Sing Along goes inside again tomorrow. But I will continue to show up every day after work and sing with my entire being until the building closes, taking every opportunity to remind the Fitzwalkerstanis that no matter what they try to do to us, we'll be here until Wisconsin gets better.

Goddamn, I love the Sing Along. No matter how many people show up tomorrow, and I'm hoping it will be hundreds upon hundreds more, know that you are singing for millions of people around the country and we've got your backs. Peace, love and Solidarity, my friends.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Guest Post: The Story of My Arrest Wednesday by the Capitol Police

Guest post by Linda Roberson
In July of 2013, I officially became a senior citizen, celebrating birthday number 66 and receiving my first Social Security check after nearly 50 years in the work force and still counting. I also was arrested for the first time, for singing a song titled “We Are A Gentle Angry People” in the Wisconsin State Capitol building over the noon hour.

The convention has developed in Madison over the past two-plus years that people who oppose the present administration’s union busting tactics, or rape of our natural resources with the country’s largest open-pit iron ore mine, or gutting of Wisconsin’s historically excellent public school system, or trampling of women’s reproductive rights, or any of a host of other atrocities perpetrated on this great state by Governor Scott Walker and his legislative cronies, gather at the noon hour (when the Capitol building is not open for business) and peacefully sing songs of opposition to the repressive Walker regime.

I have lived in Wisconsin since 1969—essentially all of my adult life—and I am horrified at Walker’s systematic destruction of the Wisconsin infrastructure that persuaded me to choose to build my career and bring up my family here. Thus, when I can—though I travel frequently and am a business owner, wife, mother, and grandmother so have many demands on my time—I have enjoyed the opportunity to sing peacefully for an hour with people of like mind, to remind the Governor that while he may have the power now to do what he will, he does not have the people of Wisconsin on his side.

I do not belong to any group, nor (to my knowledge) is there any group to which I could belong, associated with the singing. Rather, the singing is a practice that grew spontaneously out of the 2011 uprising and has continued every week day at noon since that time without organization or leadership.

On July 24, I finished with my last morning commitment at work at a little after noon and decided to stroll up to the Capitol building and sing for half an hour or so, intending to return to my office in time for a 1:00 telephone conference. I arrived at the rotunda at about 12:20. Apparently the Capitol Police had made an announcement that the group there constituted an unlawful assembly but I did not arrive in time to hear that announcement. The Police had also posted a sandwich board in the center of the rotunda (in violation of the DOA administrative rule on the size of signs) stating that the assembly was unlawful.

I looked at the situation carefully. As far as I could tell, none of the requirements for “unlawful assembly” under DOA Adm. Ch. 2.14 were met. The group was relatively small, and got smaller as people departed, intimidated by the police presence. Entrances and exits to the building and to the rotunda were fully accessible. There was no disruption of business because the Capitol offices are closed during the noon hour. About 30 people were standing in a circle and singing protest songs. I found myself a place in front of a pillar so I was not blocking any egress to the rotunda and joined in.

The Capitol Police Converge on Linda. Photo by Leslie Amsterdam.

After approximately five minutes, I was surrounded by four Capitol Police officers. They separated me from the people I was standing with. One stood on either side of me and two attempted to block cameras from recording what was to ensue. It is intimidating when a lone middle-aged woman is surrounded by uniformed, armed cops. One of them asked me – respectfully – to leave. I asked why he thought the group constituted an “unlawful” assembly since as far as I could tell it did not. They all declined to answer. They asked me again to leave. I asked what I was doing that would cause them to evict me from the building. They declined to answer. They asked if I was going to leave and I said I was not.

They then handcuffed me (fortunately, loosely – I did not have marks on my wrists as so many others did). I asked what I was being charged with. They declined to answer. An officer took each of my arms and they escorted me out of the rotunda. I asked if I could use the railing on the stairway going down to the booking area; they refused to let me, and fortunately I did not fall. I asked for my water bottle (I have very limited saliva production as a result of radiation therapy for cancer some years ago) and they declined to give it to me despite repeated requests, though Officer Miller did try to offer me a drink from the bottle at one point. He was also courteous in that he explained to me what he was going to do and what would happen next.

My mug shot was taken, I was thoroughly patted down by two officers, and I was required to give not only my name and address but also identifying information such as eye and hair color, height and weight. I was asked these questions by multiple officials multiple times. Eventually I was given a pink ticket that said “no permit.” I asked the officer what I had done specifically to violate any law or administrative rule and he said, “This is not the time to discuss that.” My handcuffs were removed and I was permitted to retrieve my water bottle and leave the booking area.

I was never informed, despite repeated requests, about what exactly I was doing that they thought I should not have been doing, or what provision of the administrative code I had ostensibly violated. I had the clear impression that the arresting and booking officers had no knowledge or understanding of the law and were simply—in some cases reluctantly—following orders.

I wanted to file a complaint but could not find an officer who would give me a complaint form and the office where such forms are routinely available and are to be turned in was closed and locked. (The following day I filled out a complaint form and left it at my State Representative’s office since the police office was still [or again] closed.)

I went up to the rotunda and started to sing again.

Which Side Are You On? An Open Letter to the Democratic Lawmakers of Wisconsin

Dear Democratic Lawmakers of Wisconsin,
I'm writing to urge you to do whatever you can to strongly support the exercise of free speech in the State Capitol. The arrests of citizens this past week was a shameful display altogether contrary to the Wisconsin way and a terrible deterrent to citizens petitioning their government, which is their right. I was happy to see Senators Cullen and Jauch and Representatives Taylor, Sargent, Hesselbein, Pope, and Kolste present in the rotunda at noon on Thursday. Support from our elected officials is essential.

I see that Senator Risser and Representative Taylor have requested a meeting with DOA Secretary Huebsch. Please request to be involved in that meeting, if it ever takes place, and advocate for a peaceful and reasonable solution to the escalating conflict.

Given that participants in the Solidarity Sing Along routinely go outside, regardless of the weather, when there is a permitted event in the rotunda, and that the sing along takes place during nonworking hours, some understanding should be possible. It does not make sense for participants to get a permit, in part because the Sing Along is an activity—after more than two years, it is a tradition! It is not an organized group. The participants are peaceful citizens who believe that our right to free speech should never be abridged, and we honor and respect the rights of others to use the space as well, regardless of how the DOA and the media spin it.

I myself received a citation for my participation in the Solidarity Sing Along on October 31, 2012, and my trial has been postponed several times now (it's currently scheduled for next month). Being ticketed for singing over the noon hour in the rotunda, which was built precisely for the purpose of peaceable assembly, the right to which is enshrined in both our state and federal constitutions, is beyond ridiculous, not to mention being a complete waste of taxpayer money and the courts' time and resources.

The increased aggression from the Capitol Police is very alarming. We need our elected officials to step up and speak out. Please do all you can on our behalf.

Respectfully submitted,
Mary Ray Worley

Friday, July 26, 2013

How Can We Keep from Singing?!?!

Guest post by Ryan Wherley
Scott Walker and Mike Huebsch made a HUGE mistake. They should have just let us be, shouting at the top of our lungs, a few dozen strong and begging people to wake up and take action. Things are not only as bad as they were when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Solidarity in 2011; they are significantly worse, as the GOP quietly ramped up their attacks while their "reforms" from the past two years are now on the books and wreaking havoc on our state's citizens.

I have between waiting for 14 months for them to make the egregious overreach against the rights of the people of this state that finally drove people to stand up and say, “NO FUCKING MORE." Well, it happened.

Photo from Overpass Light Brigade

You started arresting peacefully assembled citizens for singing and being and holding a sign; working journalists; veterans quietly holding the American flag; women coming off major surgery while denying them their necessary crutches to get around without pain; senior citizens, including a brave married couple of octogenarians. You cowardly targeted select individuals for "enforcement" from your perch high above the ground floor because you don't like how often and how truthfully and forcefully they speak and sing truth to power. Well... one could understatedly say you may have crossed the line one too many times. You may have just reawakened the sleeping giant in Wisconsin, and I say bring it on.

Video: Rebecca Kemble

After rushing up to the Capitol for ten minutes on my lunch break, I walked into that glorious building today at 11:58. It was sheer electricity mixed with nervous tension, as everyone knew what was about to go down after 22 people were arrested on Wednesday by a rabid horde of fifty officers summoned from the Capitol Police, State Patrol and DNR. Hundreds upon hundreds of citizens sang out in defiance as the LRAD was brought out and yet another illegal Unlawful Assembly was called. Virtually nobody left, everyone risking arrest... and the beautiful singing only intensified.

It felt like the Uprising of February 2011 all over again, with one major difference. Two years ago, we were a disparate group of individuals marching for a similar cause, but unknown to each other. But now, we're friends and family. Everywhere I looked were people who've stood alongside each other on the front lines in the fight against a tyrannical leadership for the past 29 months. If people were afraid, they didn't show it, because they knew their brothers and sisters surrounding them had their backs.

They should have just left us to our own devices. They should have let 15 of us exercise our First Amendment Rights by singing for an hour. Instead, I think they may have just sparked the new Uprising, this one with endless rhythmic chants replaced by endless harmonic songs. Hell yea. Feel the thunder.

Athough my new job and life circumstances prevent me from getting to the noon hour Solidarity Sing Along these days, I still have an hour or so after work every night before the building closes. As long as this soulless, unconstitutional and outrageously fascist crackdown on peaceful expression of dissent continues, I will continue to show up and sing as loudly, proudly and powerfully as I'm physically capable of mustering every single day. Every night they lock that building down, I want them to hear my voice echoing off the soaring marble dome as a reminder that we will not be silenced, we're still singing, we shall not be moved and we're sure as hell not going away. You're welcome to join me. I hope the Capitol Police like my voice by now, because they're going to keep hearing a lot of it until Walker calls off the dogs.

Video: Leslie Amsterdam

To the nearly fifty individuals who have been arrested as peaceful dissidents, some multiple times, for standing up for the rights of all of us in the past two days in Madison, you are all my heroes. Someday we will be victorious. After all, how can we keep from singing?!?

Solidarity, Winter Soldiers. Forever Forward!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Singing Truth to Pissed-Off Power

If you are unfamiliar with what transpired yesterday at the Wisconsin State Capitol, here is a firsthand account from Giles Goat Boy on Daily Kos with lots of photos and videos. About 25 arrests were made.

As I was getting ready this morning, I was thinking about my friends who were arrested yesterday and those who would be arrested today and grieving for the erosion of our rights, our freedom of speech, in what was once a bastion of openness to and respect for dissent. It was for times like these that the Wisconsin State Constitution was crafted. It may not have the force or the respect that it should have, but our right to free speech is even more firmly ensconced in our state constitution than it is in the U.S. Constitution. It is a comfort to have this passage memorized:
Article I, section 4: The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, to petition the government or any department thereof shall NEVER be abridged.
I made two signs to bring with me: "NEVER means NEVER" and "What part of NEVER do you not understand?"

Photo courtesy of Leslie Amsterdam

When I got there I was greeted by old friends I hadn't seen for weeks, not since before I came down with pneumonia a few weeks ago. The building was already a hive of activity. There were well over a hundred people there at noon, and at the peak there were more than three hundred or so I think. It was an odd combination of family reunion and preparing for confrontation.

My friend Lars was standing in the middle of the rotunda with a gag over his mouth to signify the loss of freedom of speech. Former marine that he is, he cuts a powerful figure, standing defiantly in the center of the rotunda. He was later arrested, and while handcuffing him his flag fell to the floor. As they hauled him away, the officers stepped on it. Think about that. Let it sink in. They walked over the American flag while arresting a veteran.

Video courtesy of Leslie Amsterdam

It was not more than five or so minutes into the noon hour that you could hear that an announcement was being made, although what was being said was altogether unintelligible because people were singing loudly (bless them!). Then they brought their little sandwich board into the center of the rotunda.

I had thought I might leave once an unlawful assembly was announced, but I was situated toward the outer part of the rotunda, behind Senators Bob Jauch and Tim Cullen, who were alternately talking to each other and—get this—singing! As a matter of fact, there were quite a few state legislators present: In addition to Senators Jauch and Cullen, Representatives Chris Taylor, Melissa Sargent, Dianne Hesselbein, Sondy Pope, and Debra Kolste—unsurprisingly, they're all Democrats!

Since I was safely positioned behind the senators, it just didn't seem likely that the police would arrest me, although if they did, I was prepared. In fact, it seemed like the police were targeting individuals, and they never even came near the part of the Rotunda I was in, as far as I could tell. It was very hard to see, especially because the Rotunda was so crowded and everyone else was standing up, whereas I was seated on my scoot. But I hear tell the feeling was quite different today. The Capitol Police were more aggressive, using more officers per arrest, and many people's wrists were cut or rubbed raw by the twist ties. But it also seemed that there were fewer arrests.

Four people were taken to jail, I hear tell. And one of them was arrested right in front of me. Here I was feeling all safely cocooned behind the senators, and then all of a sudden they seemed to just disappear. There was a woman standing right in front of me, and the next thing I knew she was surrounded by cops. They removed her backpack and fastened the twist ties around her wrists. The next thing I saw was that she went limp, so they had to drag her away, which amounts to resisting arrest.

So tomorrow is Friday, which usually means that the sing along is outside, on the Carroll St. side of the Capitol, across from Grace Church. There's not likely to be any police interference tomorrow, so it will be a good day for us to unwind and just enjoy singing with our peeps. Then we—and they—can gear up for next week. Please consider coming to join us. You're free to leave if/when an unlawful assembly is declared, but your presence and your witness helps a lot.

You can also help by donating to the First Amendment Protection Fund, which goes toward defraying legal expenses. And please share the link so that others know how to help too.

The last word is really just this: we have drawn the line. We're singing truth to power, because we have to, no matter how much it irritates them. We can't let them continue to decimate our once-great state without even a note of protest. If we were silent, we could not live with ourselves. So we will not be silent, and we will not submissively hand over our rights that are so clearly spelled out in the state and federal constitutions. This is far, far, far from over. And we are not. going. away.

Update: It is my understanding that there were 29 arrests made today: 26 no permits and three misdemeanors, so there were actually more today than yesterday.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sing Loud!

If you haven't heard yet about what happened today in the Wisconsin State Capitol, here is a firsthand account from Giles Goat Boy on Daily Kos with lots of photos and videos. About 25 arrests were made.

ACLU statement on Capitol arrests: "Judge never ordered police to ticket or arrest peaceful protesters."

From Michael Kissick:
People speaking for the DOA are misrepresenting the ruling to you. The judge did not say the rules are constitutional or that they have been applying them constitutionally. On p. 45 of the ruling the judge says,

"Two aspects of the Access Policy's current permitting scheme are unconstitutional: (1) the preference for cause-promoting speech in the Capitol is an unjustified, contentbased restriction; and (2) the permitting requirement for 'events' involving as few as one person is an unjustified time, place and manner restriction. The invalidity of these provisions raises the question of whether the rest of the Access Policy can be salvaged by severing or giving a limiting construction to the invalid parts." The last line of page 45 states "This is not a final Judgement of facial constitutionality."

So this is not a final ruling. All the judge did was say that there are some things that were unconstitutional. On p. 46 of the ruling he states it's not a final ruling on severance of the unconstitutional parts mentioned above. That means they cannot simply rewrite those parts of the rules now. They may have to rewrite all the rules. It has not been decided. Constitutionality has not been decided.

Want to Help?
Come sing with us! If you don't want to be arrested, you can opt to leave if the Capitol Police declare an unlawful assembly. Take pictures. Witness what's happening.And if you do want to get arrested, there'll be plenty of support from an amazing community of activists.

Another way to help is to donate to the First Amendment Protection Fund which goes toward defraying legal expenses. And share the link so that others know how to help too.

The reason Michael felt the need to issue the above statement is that the Wisconsin Department of Administration is misrepresenting what Judge Conley said in the injunction, and the mainstream media are just repeating whatever the DOA tells them without investigating any further. Please help us to dispel the misinformation that the DOA is generating and let people know what's happening.

In whatever way you help, please know that we are all extremely grateful. Thank you for supporting free speech in Wisconsin!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dear Langston

Langston Hughes
I, Too, Sing America

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Langston Hughes
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes.

I feel quite audacious, to answer one of America's greatest poets with a poem of my own. But for words to become poetry, they must be audacious. I'm sure others have answered, but I must answer too.

Dear Langston

Dear Langston,
Please, please come,
come sit at the table.
We see, now, how beautiful,
how beautiful you are,
how wretched are we.
We are ashamed.
You are, you are our very own.
Please, come sit.
Without you we cannot sing,
we cannot be

—Mary Ray Worley

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Freedom Is Never Free: It's Our Turn

In the last few days I have been so damn tired and discouraged and overwhelmed with sadness. I know I'm not alone. There was no justice for Trayvon, and there's not likely to be any. In the struggles for racial justice and reproductive rights, it feels like we're sliding backwards—and we are. A bit. Because freedom is never free, it's never safe, it's always under threat. If we are less than vigilant, our precious freedoms are eroded.

The events of the last few weeks drive home the reality that our freedoms are under threat. But this is nothing new. They are always under threat.

Many lives were utterly transformed by the civil rights and women's movements of the twentieth century. The work of those lovers of justice, their sacrifices, were not in vain. They accomplished so much. The recent Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act, the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, the NSA spying on Americans, the erosion of reproductive rights in states all over the country—none of these diminish the accomplishments of the brave freedom fighters who went before us.

Some of the best gave up their lives, went to prison, suffered horribly. Their sacrifices and dedication were not for naught. Many of us experience and remember the transformative power of those sacrifices. We have read and heard about them, studied and sung about them. We have ridden on the waves of those sacrifices to experience previously unimaginable freedoms.

Now those freedoms have been not only imagined but lived. We have lived them and tasted them and breathed them in, made them a part of the very fabric of our being. But we have also taken them for granted. We have fallen prey to wishful thinking that those wars were fought and won once and for all, that those battles are behind us, that those freedoms are secure. Sometimes we even forget the high price that was paid for them.

We naively thought that because we ourselves had been transformed by those freedoms, so too had the rest of the country. We failed to recognize the power and determination of the untransformed, the unconverted, the recalcitrant, the small-minded and mean-spirited. We failed to recognize that although progress has been made, our lives are still permeated by systemic injustice—it poisons and plagues our every breath, every step. No one is free of it.

It's time for us to step up and build on and strengthen the progress made by the freedom fighters who came before us. Although it may seem like a heavy burden, although we may have had other plans for our lives that didn't involve struggle and sacrifice, and although it may seem that the obstacles before us are insurmountable, in actuality, this work is a privilege. It's a high and sacred calling. It is the very stuff of life to build communities and networks of activists. We march arm-in-arm with all who have fought for justice throughout history and with all who fight for justice today all over the world. Not only are we not alone, we are in mighty, illustrious company.

For much of my adult life, I have felt wistful that I missed the glory days of the civil rights movement. I would have given just about anything to march with the throng to Montgomery and sing with the Freedom Singers. Silly me. I didn't miss my chance. My voice, my work, my presence are needed. Now. Not only is it not too late, but now is exactly the right time.

It will never be too late to walk in the footsteps of Harry T. Moore, Rosa Parks, Dr. King, Margaret Sanger, Mahatma Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Nelson Mandela, and Susan B. Anthony. We still have so much to learn from them. It will never be too late to follow their example, to add our voices to theirs and our sacrifice to theirs. Not only is it not too late, but now is the time. It's our turn. The baton has been passed, and we must not fail to take hold of it. They are counting us, that mighty company, to continue their work and pay the price for freedom. Because God knows it's never free.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Freedom Never Dies: Songs for Days of Grief

Since I heard the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial Saturday night, two Sweet Honey in the Rock songs have been going through my head over and over again. One is "Ella's Song," by Bernice Johnson Reagon. It echoes the words of civil rights activist Ella Baker, who said this in 1964:
Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.

Saturday's verdict is a body blow to every mother, every parent, everyone who ever held a child in her arms. Some were surprised by it, but many were not. The unsurprised are the ones who confront racial hostility every day, who send their black children out into the world and every day fear the worst.

We failed Trayvon, just as we failed Emmett and so many, many others. On Friday I had dinner with a precious three-year-old black boy and his family. I pray to God we don't fail him too. I fear for him, and I grieve that he must make his way through the racial morass of fear and ignorance that continues to plague us.

The other song I can't get out of my head this week is the "Ballad of Harry Moore," based on a poem written by Langston Hughes. Like Trayvon Martin, Harry Moore lost his life because of Florida's—and the U.S.'s—entrenched racism.

From Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns:
May we never forget the history of Sanford, Florida. How could so much happen in one place? It was in Sanford that Harry T. Moore, pictured here, the NAACP's lone man in Florida and the first casualty of the modern civil rights movement, took his last breath after his home was firebombed in 1951.

Moore, a teacher by training, risked his life in the 1930s and '40s, long before Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks came on the scene. He investigated lynchings, protested segregated schools and taught black people how to vote in a state where the NAACP was a banned organization, where, according to his biographer, "no restaurant would serve him, no motel would house him, and some gas stations wouldn't let him fill his tank, empty his bladder or even use the phone."

On Christmas night, 1951, a bomb exploded under Moore's bed at his home in Mims, Fla. It was his and his wife's 25th wedding anniversary. The closest hospital was 35 miles away—in Sanford. There was a delay in getting the couple there. Then there was a delay in getting a black doctor to attend to them. They both died in Sanford. No one spent a day in jail for their murders.

One of Moore's recruits was George Starling, a citrus picker who led strikes in the groves for better working conditions; the work was dangerous and the pay was nickels for a day's labor. It was in Sanford that Starling had a final standoff with a grove owner that set in motion plans to lynch him. He fled to New York for his life.

Decades later, it was in Sanford that 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was walking home in the rain, while being followed by George Zimmerman. Harry T. Moore and George Starling would have been deeply saddened by the Zimmerman verdict, but not surprised. The scenario, to them, would be all too familiar. History is with us always. May we learn and gather strength from it and be inspired by the courage of men like Harry T. Moore. May their sacrifices not have been in vain.
Amen. And amen. Again I say, amen!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

An Open Letter to Tammy Baldwin: Save Postal Service

As I said to you at the bloggers’ meeting at the Wisconsin Democratic Convention in June, the US Postal Service is destroying its ability to serve the people of Wisconsin and the rest of the country by decimating its infrastructure: stopping some or all mail processing at plants in Madison, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau, Oshkosh, as well as Kenosha, Portage, Rhinelander, Rockford IL, Duluth and Rochester MN, and Kingsford MI. Of 14 processing plants in and adjacent to Wisconsin, the USPS wants to continue full service at only two: Milwaukee and Green Bay.  And the Milwaukee plant is a leased building; the lease is up in 2015; the building is flimsy and not designed for heavy equipment. It shakes alarmingly whenever a train goes by.

USPS is destroying its entire mail-processing infrastructure.

At the same time, private presort houses such as Pitney-Bowes are expanding: building new plants and moving to larger plants.

Your constituents and the American people need your help to stop the destruction of the US Postal Service.

The leadership of the USPS itself wants to self-destruct. Why? Management has been captured by profiteers: the big advertising mailers like Val-Pak coupons—who don’t need first-class service; the big contractors like Pitney Bowes; and competitors like UPS.

If you don’t help to stop them, these profiteers will drive USPS to destruction and insolvency.

USPS is rushing toward privatization of all mail-processing operations.

Once Pitney-Bowes and others have been hired to do all of the mail processing USPS once did (1) the revenue will be gone: taxpayers will again have to pay for letter carriers to deliver mail; (2) there will be no service such as first-class service used to be.

This is not theoretical. It is happening as we speak. There were roughly 500 processing plants just a very few years ago. About half of them have already been closed or are in the process of being closed. The regions that used to be served by the now-closed plants no longer have what we grew up thinking of as first-class mail service. Instead of one-day service to a nearby town, it now takes several days to mail a letter across town.

The “savings” are a fiction. Destroying the service will give the revenue to private operators. Then there will be no revenue to pay for “last mile” delivery.

The purported “savings”—although more than offset by payments to trucking companies and private sorters—are money taken from the postal workers in Madison and other Wisconsin cities (and all across the country) who will lose their livelihoods.

This is the main thrust of the privatizers’ plan: to replace union jobs in the USPS with nonunion jobs at profiteers’ plants: replace living-wage jobs with non-living-wage jobs; replace jobs that offer benefits with jobs without benefits.

Senator Baldwin, what kind of America will you help create?

Will you help the plunderers, privatizers, and profiteers destroy the nation’s infrastructure, in order to destroy the last remaining living-wage, union jobs?

Or will you stand up for the Wisconsin and American people, fight to preserve their post office and to preserve at least a little of the middle class?

When I said to you in June that USPS is being destroyed in the service of the big mailers, what you said to me was, “Some of those mailers are in Wisconsin.”

The implication is that you may be willing to see the permanent destruction of essential American infrastructure; the permanent dismantling of the ability to provide first-class service, so that a Wisconsin corporation can reap more profit.

Who are your constituents? The big mailers? Or the Wisconsin people? You can’t serve both.

You must choose.

Choose to side with the people of Wisconsin and the rest of the country. Choose the middle class. Choose rural communities. Choose people without broadband Internet. Choose the small businesses for whom receiving checks today rather than 2 to 3 business days from now means quick enough cash flow to stay in business.

Privatized mail service, coming to the U.S. with blistering speed, has already happened to Europe, with dire results.

Likewise, closing post offices especially in rural areas devastates the rural communities and saves essentially nothing.

I see that you have not yet signed on as a sponsor of S.316, the Postal Protection Act of 2013. Will you take this first crucial step? Not only sign on, but persuade your colleagues to do so also. Even the Republican ones. Postal service should not be a partisan issue. We all need it. A world without postal service is a poorer world.

S.316 would undo some of the financial damage inflicted by the 2006 PAEA, and would reiterate USPS’s obligation to maintain current levels of service.

Much more must be done to remove the vultures from the postal eagle’s nest. 

For now, will you co-sponsor S.316.

Can I count on your leadership on this crucial issue?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Heartfelt Thank-You to the Solidarity Sing Along

Today Amy Goodman posted a perfect Fourth of July piece called "This Independence Day, Thank a Protester."
Independence Day should serve not as a blind celebration of the government, but as a moment to reflect on the central place in our history of grass-roots democracy movements, which have preserved and expanded the rights proclaimed in the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Musical agitator Tom Morello, friend of protesters everywhere and especially of the Solidarity Sing Along, echoes Goodman's sentiment:
I am enormously proud to be an American. I would say that the things that our corporate-controlled government has done at best are shameful and at worst genocidal—but there’s an incredible and a permanent culture of resistance in this country that I’m very proud to be a part of. It’s not the tradition of slave-owning founding fathers, it’s the tradition of the Frederick Douglasses, the Underground Railroads, the Chief Josephs, the Joe Hills, and the Huey P. Newtons. There’s so much to be proud of when you’re American that’s hidden from you. The incredible courage and bravery of the union organizers in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s—that’s amazing. People of get tricked into going overseas and fighting Uncle Sam’s Wall Street wars, but these are people who knew what they were fighting for here at home. I think that that’s so much more courageous and brave.

So this Independence Day, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the most freedom-loving, determined people I know, a community of activists I'm enormously proud to be a part of, the Solidarity Sing Along. Thank you for showing up more than 700 consecutive weekdays to sing your outrage. Thank you for singing in the bitter cold, in the pouring rain, in the blazing heat.

Thank you for coming armed with creativity and solidarity and perseverance. Thank you for not backing down, for not being intimidated, for still being there. With every fiber of my being, I thank you, not only for all that you do but for who you are. You will never know how much you inspire me, how much hope you give me, how much you have energized me and transformed my life. I will never be the same, thanks to you.

# # #
Many thanks to Rebecca Kemble for the outstanding video.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What's Next in the Fight for Women's Reproductive Rights?

Some practical suggestions about stepping up active involvement in the fight for women's reproductive rights.

Join, get involved in, and donate to local and state organizations such as the following (I'm listing Wisconsin organizations, but you get the idea.)

Planned Parenthood Action
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin
NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin
League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
Emerge Wisconsin, which identifies, trains, and encourages women to run for office, to get elected, and to seek higher office.

Stay informed about what's happening.

Talk to others, especially other women, about what you're doing and discovering. Develop your own network of activist friends and then invite others into that network.

Show up! Whenever you can. When there's a meeting or an action, be there. And bring a friend.

Well before the next election season, sign up to learn how to help others register to vote. We will need to mobilize like never before.

Take good care of yourself and have fun. We're in this for the long run.

From Texas writer and women’s rights activist Katie Sherrod:
On the eve of the Fourth of July, we all need to remember that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance" (usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but which Jefferson probably got from the statement "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance" by the Irish statesman John Philpot Curran.)

Remember, we all knew from the beginning that nothing will stop this draconian anti-abortion legislation from eventually passing in the Texas Legislature because the Rs have a majority in the House and the Rs in the Senate will not enforce the 2/3s rule in the Special Session. (I love the way the pundits keep pointing that out, as if we hadn't noticed. We women just need so much help, don't we?).The point of the protests is to fight back as hard as we can to put the Rs on notice that there will be a cost extracted for what they are doing to women.

So what happens after it passes?

Court challenges in the short term, and expanding voter registration, voter education, voter turnout in the long term. The numbers of young women and men who have been galvanized by this issue are important, and now the job is to keep them involved, engaged, and turning out. This is especially true in the Hispanic community, in which young people are much more progressive than parents and grandparents.

So Texans have their work cut out for them.

What can an outsider do? Donate to groups who are organizing this. Donate to Planned Parenthood. Donate to the Texas Democratic Party.

And pray. Pray that we have the necessary strength, courage, and stamina this will take. We can do this. We will do this.
Yes, we will.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Something in the Air

I'm still recovering from pneumonia (not fun, I assure you!), but I just have to write a short note to tell you that I feel something amazing in the air, ripples in the space-time continuum, awesome mojo from the universe. Women are waking up. Waking up to their power. Waking up to their voice.

Texas is only the beginning. Senator Wendy R. Davis and the women of Texas and the men who stand with them are pointing the way. The misogynistic laws Perry et al. intend to pass in Texas look just like laws being pushed and passed (sounds like a not-very-pleasant bodily function, doesn't it? how apt!) in states all over the country, including right here in Wisconsin. Women standing up to misogynists in power are sending a clear message: we're going to clean up this mess. We will no longer tolerate the intolerable.

I don't think, once we get going, that we'll be content to stop with restored reproductive freedom. There are plenty of other messes that need the attention of fierce, determined women and their allies willing to roll up their collective sleeves. The Supreme Court just made a huge mess of voting rights. Our environment is groaning under the weight of corporate greed. Wall Street is regulating Washington instead of the other way 'round. Big money has corrupted our government and shredded the democratic process. There's work to do, and we are the ones to do it. One inexorable step at a time.

There's a change in the air. Can you feel it? I swear I can smell it. It smells like spring, like a freshly cleaned house with all the windows open and a lovely spring breeze drifting through. We're done with misogyny. We're done with patriarchy. We're done with hate. We're done with political bullies. You've way overstepped your bounds, and we're putting you on notice. Get the hell out of the way. We are the ones we've been waiting for, and we're here to clean up the gigantic mess you've made.

Don't Blame the School

Rebecca Strauss of the Council on Foreign Relations Renewing America initiative tells us how lavishly the federal and local governments fund education for the rich, and how little for the poor.
On the plus side, the Obama administration has pushed for more cost and quality accountability for education providers. ...

At the postsecondary level, for the first time vocational college programs could soon be held directly accountable for a “gainful employment rule,” where they will lose federal accreditation if the programs’ costs outweigh labor market benefits for their graduates. In other words, programs would shut down if their graduates don’t land good jobs.
Couple this with (1) manufacturers’ efforts to get community colleges to “teach to the job,” so that each graduating class will supply more skilled workers than there are jobs available—so the manufacturer can pick the best, pay bottom wages, and leave many without work; (2) enrollment rises when jobs are scarce. Now we’re going to shut down the school because it didn’t give the graduates a leg up. So they can go directly into the unskilled workforce, with no postsecondary education. Not a good plan.

And of course, no school for the rich will be shut down. Those grads get jobs because Daddy has pull. "Accountability" is just another word for taking from the poor.