Category Archives: activism

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In His Own Words: Julian Bond (1940-2015)

By Arturo R. García

The American social justice movement mourned the loss of pioneer and lawmaker Julian Bond on Saturday, after he passed away at the age of 75.

The Nashville native was at the center of two of the Civil Rights Movement’s most pivotal groups, helping to found both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center, while also serving as the first president of the latter. From there he served 20 years as a lawmaker in the Georgia House and Senate, and another 12 atop the NAACP.

But as The Root reported, there was a moment in time when he almost added another superlative to his record: presidential candidate. The executive council National Black Political Assembly approved a resolution calling for Bond to represent its party. However, Bond declined the nomination shortly before the group’s 1976 convention.

“Ironically, key elements of the NBPA’s platform were strikingly similar to the political agenda of Barack Obama, the man who became this nation’s first black president,” The Root stated. “Among other things, the assembly’s platform called for national health insurance and a livable minimum wage.”
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The Netroots Nation Files: An Interview With Jose Antonio Vargas

By Arturo R. García

Not long after the #BlackLivesMatter protest during Saturday’s town hall event at the Netroots Nation conference, I interviewed journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who moderated the event, and talked about his experience being — literally — in the middle of the demonstration, as well as his views on how both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley handled their responses.

Were you prepared for [the protest]?
JAV: I was up all night trying to figure out a great mix of questions. For Senator Sanders, it was about immigration, because many people feel that’s something that he hasn’t talked about specifically. Gun control was a big one. Senator Sanders had talked about marching for civil rights in the March on Washington. That’s why I asked that question of, “Is there a specific bill you can point to” that had benefited the African-American community. So I’m just frustrated and disappointed that we weren’t able to ask this variety of questions.

But, having said that, the urgency that people of color — that Black people, that brown people in this country — feel about not only race but immigration, about policies that criminalize and dehumanize people in this country. It’s an emergency, somebody said, and it is. That’s what we saw. And I wasn’t about to stop that. As a person of color, as a gay man, as an undocumented person, I wasn’t about to stop that. You can’t silence people who have been silenced for far too long. I was just trying to figure out how I could keep the conversation going. I kept thinking to myself, “Man, handle this with as much grace as you can.”

I cannot overstate the importance of #BlackLivesMatter and the intersection of these issues. Remember, when [Phoenix activist Tia Oso] got up there, she talked about immigration, she talked about LGBT rights, she talked about civil rights. That’s the kind of conversation that we’re not seeing nationally. And that’s why it’s imperative that they get to hold that state. I just wish we could have known about it ahead of time, because I could have maybe found a better way to facilitate it, just so we could have had more questions and not just platitudes. So I was disappointed in myself for that.
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The Netroots Nation Files: #BlackLivesMatter Makes Its Presence Felt

By Arturo R. García

The Netroots Nation progressive conference in Phoenix was marked this past Saturday by a powerful show of solidarity from #BlackLivesMatter activists, who effectively forced both the attendees and Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and ex-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to talk about police violence against communities of color.

I’ve included a Storify under the cut with notes and images from the demonstration, as well as a follow-up discussion hosted by This Week in Blackness featuring, among others, the movement’s co-founder Patrisse Cullors. You can also read a synopsis of some of the day’s events from me at The Raw Story.

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Art as Remembrance and Creative Resistance: John Sims’ Flag Funerals

By Guest Contributor John Sims

We live in troubled times. This story started many scores of years ago with the founding fathers, some of whom may have recognized the toxic contradictions that would poison the future of this great land. Our history reveals constant resistance to social justice and respect: the sabotage/abandonment of Reconstruction, the compromised Civil Rights Movement, thwarted Black Power, silenced affirmative action, with countless lynchings, injustices, and instances of police and state brutality along the way. We are in haunted times, where race and Blackness are debated and presented with sleight of hand, tricking our best minds to think we are in a post-Black/racial epoch. We are in war times: white supremacy, privilege and denial on one side, black poverty, mass incarceration, double-consciousness on the other. Welcome to an American Civil War that started long before General Lee was born.

The wounds of the Civil War continue to sting after 150 years, along the lines of geography, race, and regional heritage, compromising national healing and sometimes civility. In the late 1990s in South Carolina, tensions flared over the placement of the Confederate flag on the capitol dome. Mass demonstrations and counter-demonstrations across the South revealed deep rifts in the reading of the Civil War and its aftermath, how greatly divided we really are as a country, and how this war continues.

In war, flags are important signifiers that mark social, cultural and historical space. While some may believe the Confederate flag is about heritage and not hate, its history and present reality speak otherwise. This flag can never represent the rich diversity and dynamic heritage of Southern folk, where the African American experience has played a central role. To continue to fly this flag is more than passive-aggressive and disrespectful; it promotes visual terrorism. If Black people and sympathetic allies are not in constant resistance and protest of such symbols, we run the risk of sending the wrong signal: that everything is fine and that we don’t matter. So we protest.

If we cannot resolve the issue of the Confederate flag, something we can see and touch, how can we as a nation process the complex things we cannot see? There are cemeteries for Confederates soldiers; where are the national memorials to the victims of slavery, to descendants of African slaves who built the economy that made this country a world power? What can we make of the fact that in WWII, white American soldiers often treated Nazi prisoners of war better than their African American compatriots? The Confederate flag flying, the Fergusons, the Eric Gardners, and the Freddie Grays of America are forceful reminders of this nation’s consistent lack of respect for Black people. And where there is no respect, there is no justice, and there can be no peace.

“Recoloration Proclamation” and “#BuryBuryFlag Artist John Sims.

To mark both the 150th anniversary of the end of Civil War and the conclusion of Recoloration Proclamation (my fifteen-year multi-media art project concerned with the Confederate flag, visual terrorism and the ownership of Southern heritage), I organized The Confederate Flag: 13 Flag Funerals. This was a funeral/burial group performance in each of the 13 states represented by the 13 stars on the Confederate flag. These events, held on Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, were intended to create a space of ceremonial reflection on the desire for the death, burial, and perhaps the burning of all the Confederate flag represents: a symbol of terror, treason, supremacy, a bearer of the message that history is rewriteable, visual terrorism is sustainable and Black Lives Don’t Matter.

Then weeks later, South Carolina happened.

Contrary to much media reporting, this incident is far from unbelievable. It is a product of American racism. The time is now for the Confederate flag to come down in South Carolina, Mississippi, and other places where it flies high. The time is now for federal law prohibiting the use of the Confederate flag in state flags or on governmental property. The time is now to demand that taking the flag down be more than a mere consolation prize, for the time is now to address head on the foundational issues that undermine social justice and respect for all Americans.

The Confederate Flag: A Call to Burn and Bury. Courtesy John Sims.

The Confederate Flag: A Call to Burn and Bury. Courtesy John Sims.

So in response to Charleston as an artist and concerned citizen, I am extending the 13 Flag Funerals Memorial Day project to a countrywide call for the collective burning and burying of the Confederate flag on July 4th, 2015. I am asking all Americans to join together on Independence Day to demonstrate that this symbol of slavery, segregation, subjugation, and a lost war will not divide us further and that the this great American Civil War must come to an end.


John Sims is a multi-media political math artist who creates projects spanning the areas of mathematics, art, text, performance, and political-media activism.  #BurnBuryFlag

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Black Lives Matter Minneapolis activist: Authorities ‘sent cops to our houses’

By Guest Contributor Karĩ Mugo

Civil disobedience is what America is created on. It’s the foundation of our country so the fact that someone is trying to persecute us for performing civil disobedience just shows that they don’t know their own history and they don’t know how history is going to remember them in the future.
— Mica Grimm

When I first saw Mica Grimm, she was an unrepentant head of curly hair with a bull ringed nose and an alluring husky voice that forced you to lean in. Her slight slouch lead you to believe that she was both at ease and staggered by the agenda before her, as she and the other Black Lives Matter (BLM) Minneapolis organizers took to the floor. Over 100 people were gathered on a dusty floor in South Minneapolis to prep for an anti-police brutality demonstration by the group at the Mall of America (MOA). Weeks after the 1,500+ strong protest, I sat down for an interview with Mica. By then, her and 10 other members of Black Lives Matter were facing criminal charges for their role in organizing the protest.

The protest, but more so the law enforcement response to it, resulted in a partial shutdown of the largest North American mall on one of the busiest shopping days; the Saturday before Christmas. Though largely peaceful and carried out in the public eye, the criminal case brought against the organizers revealed an uncomfortable degree of collaboration between the Mall’s corporate owners, the Bloomington City Attorney (where the mall is located), and law enforcement in the lead up to the protest and after.
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‘Hey Adam … Let’s Talk': The #NotYourHollywoodIndian Q&A

By Arturo R. García

Earlier this week we covered the burgeoning campaign against Adam Sandler, Netflix, and their Ridiculous 6 project.

During our coverage, we caught up to Megan Red-Shirt Shaw, who devised the #NotYourHollywoodIndian tag in the wake of the mass walkout by a group of Native American performers, and talked about how the tag came together, how she feels about the defense of the film as “satire,” and where the campaign goes from here.

Let’s start at the beginning: describe, if you would, the moments when you first heard about the actors walking off the Sandler set. How did you go from there to getting the tag together?

Megan Red-Shirt Shaw: I was definitely upset, but also empowered by their decision to take a stand. It’s really difficult to hear that people within our communities are being dishonored – especially in ways that seem like “vintage” issues — the old Western and “Cowboys and Indians” films we’ve come to know really well. I went on Twitter to see what different voices were talking about and realized there wasn’t a hashtag consolidating the ideas. I looked through the original article by Vince Schilling and saw the quotation by Allie Young about being a “Hollywood Indian.” I knew that was what we had to get trending.
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