Tag Archives: activism

Harnessing the Power of Pop Culture

by Latoya Peterson, originally published at Feministe

In the first 45 seconds of the trailer for Clueless, Cher Horowitz (played by Alicia Silverstone) gives one of the best rebuttals I have ever heard to opponents of providing asylum on our shores for oppressed people.

Yes, I’m serious.

Let’s reexamine the language (excerpted from Paul’s Ultimate Clueless Script):



Should all oppressed people be allowed refuge in America? Amber will take the con position. Cher will be pro. Cher, two minutes.


So, OK, like right now, for example, the Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all “What about the strain on our resources?” But it’s like, when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday right? I said R.S.V.P. because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that like, did not R.S.V.P. so I was like, totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings, but by the end of the day it was like, the more the merrier! And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion, may I please remind you that it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty?

(Class breaks into applause)

This segment was designed for us to laugh at the ridiculousness of Cher’s logic and her mispronunciation of Haitians (Haiti-ins!). But there is some truth in what she says.

Haitians need to come to America = Amnesty.

But some people are all “What about the strain on our resources?” = Opposition Arguments

And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen = Survey the situation

Rearrange some things = Reprioritize and reexamine how we use resources and we admit new entrants

We could certainly party with the Haitians = Grant amnesty, fix our selective and fractured policy.

And this line is classic: may I please remind you that it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty?

It totally does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty. It actually says:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name,
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And yet, for the last few years, we’ve been having a debate around immigration which boils down to “everyone has to RSVP, we’ve got a velvet rope, and most of you aren’t invited to the party.” The tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free? Fuck ’em!

Where are all the other voices in this debate? We’re left out. So many conversations around public policy and theory are couched in a language that makes them inaccessible to the average person with a limited understanding of the issues. And if the language that we as progressives and feminists use is inaccessible to the average reader/listener/viewer, we lose out. This is the void that has been filled by regressive interest groups – they dominate the dialogue by using very simplistic messages to summarize their position. Messages like “they are evil” or “they hate our freedom.” These messages may not even be true – but they are easy to remember. And that’s the problem. A complex, nuanced message is harder to grasp than a simple catchy statement, and thus, less likely to stick.

So, in order to reach more people, progressives need to critically examine the messages we send, what we say, and how we present them.

To this end, we need to learn to harness the power of pop culture – taking a message, shortening it, adding some spin, and preparing it for mass consumption.

Back in May, the New York Times published an article describing the efforts of U.S. Campaign for Burma to sell their cause using celebrities like Ellen Page, Jennifer Aniston, and Will Ferrell. And yet, somehow, they are still having problems getting their message to catch on. Continue reading

In Defense of Community Organizers

by Guest Contributor Tariq Nelson, originally published at TariqNelson.com

Presidential Vice-Presidential Candidate Governor Palin and former Presidential candidate Rudolph Guiliani lampooned community organizers and the important work they do in their communities. Are they so out of touch that they do not realize that teachers, PTA members, football coaches and non-profit volunteers also have “actual responsibilities” too? Do they not realize – in their desire to smear – that these people have families as well? These people have love for their communities and strive to improve their own lives by improving the lives of others.

Well, community organizers across the country are upset at these snide attacks on them and their work and some have written on this issue. The Palin Campaign can continue to attack community volunteers and organizers at their own peril.

Community organizers across America, taken aback by a series of attacks from Republican leaders at the GOP convention in St. Paul, came together today to defend their work organizing Americans who have been left behind by unemployment, lack of health insurance and the national housing crisis. The organizers demanded an apology from Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for her statement that community organizers have no “actual responsibilities” and launched a web site to defend themselves against Republican attacks.

Community organizers work in neighborhoods that have been hit hardest by the failing economy,” said John Raskin, founder of Community Organizers of America and a community organizer on the West Side of Manhattan. “The last thing we need is for Republican officials to mock us on television when we’re trying to rebuild the neighborhoods they have destroyed. Maybe if everyone had more houses than they can count, we wouldn’t need community organizers. But I work with people who are getting evicted from their only home. If John McCain and the Republicans understood that, maybe they wouldn’t be so quick to make fun of community organizers like me.”

Though many people are unfamiliar with community organizing, the job is both straightforward and vital: community organizers work with families who are struggling–because of low wages, poor health coverage, unaffordable housing, and other community problems–so that collectively, they can fix those problems and make government respond to their day-to-day concerns. Organizers knock on doors, attend community meetings, visit churches and synagogues and mosques, and work with unions and civic groups and block associations to help ordinary people build power and counter the influence of self-interested insiders and highly paid lobbyists at all levels of government.

Continue reading

M.I.A, DeLon, and the Tamil Tigers

by Guest Contributor Joanna Eng, originally published at DJ Jojo

I heard from Sepia Mutiny’s post about M.I.A. getting “dissed” by DeLon, a new rapper of Sri Lankan descent. DeLon took M.I.A.’s most popular song, “Paper Planes,” called out her politics and support of the Tamil Tigers, and shows the “terrorist” side of that group. (You can see the disturbing video here.) [Ed. Note – Not safe for work. Or lunch. – LDP]

I don’t know enough about the situation in Sri Lanka to really make judgments. But DeLon’s video bothered me because he is employing exactly the same strategy that the Bush administration does: creating a dichotomy of good and evil, and using the word “terrorist” like it’s not subjective.

That said, I have always been a bit skeptical of M.I.A’s politics. Is she just projecting an irresistible (lucrative) image, or is she actually doing anything? When I went to her show at McCarren Pool in June, it made me a bit uncomfortable to be dancing around with a bunch of hipsters in Brooklyn while she has images of children from developing countries flashing across the back of the stage as her visual aids. Continue reading

Action Alert: Incite! Needs Help Evacuating Women in New Orleans

Renee dropped me an email to forward this message from Incite! Women of Color Against Violence:

Dear INCITE! friends and supporters,

On the eve of the 3 year anniversary of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and subsequent government criminal negligence and assaults on the low income people of color on the Gulf Coast, our sisters from INCITE! projects in New Orleans (including the local chapter, the Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, and the New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic) are bracing for the potential landfall of Hurricane Gustav, which is currently projected to hit the Louisiana coast on Monday or Tuesday at a category 4 or 5. Voluntary evacuation of New Orleans has already begun, and mandatory evacuation could be declared as early as today. INCITE! organizers in New Orleans have made over 700 phone calls to women of color and their families that make up the constituency of the New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic, working to prepare and implement evacuation and safety plans.

Your assistance is urgently needed to help the low-income women of color and their families evacuate safely if need be, stay safe for the duration of the evacuation, and return to the city as soon as possible so as not to fall prey to the pushout that has kept so many folks from being able to return to New Orleans since Katrina. Local organizers are using whatever resources and funds at their disposal to help women and their families evacuate, bond people being held in Orleans Parish Prison out, and support those who make the choice to stay in whatever way they can.

Your support is urgently needed: financial donations of any size are needed and would be greatly appreciated.

Donations online are preferred because we can more quickly send the funds to our folks in New Orleans .
You can send your donation to INCITE online by going to this website:

Click the Donation button
Put New Orleans in the “Purpose” line

Or you can write a check directly to WHJI and send it to:
PO Box 51325
New Orleans , LA 70151

This money will go directly to supporting the hundreds of low income women of color that are the constituency of the New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic.

Once again, the particular vulnerability of low-income women of color and single female-headed households (including folks with disabilities, seniors, undocumented immigrant women, and incarcerated women) has been erased in the face of disaster and overlooked in the days leading up to the storm. With few resources, facing challenges and concerns for their families of their own, INCITE! New Orleans and WHJI have stepped in to fill the gap. Please send all your support, solidarity, sisterhood and strength their way, and join us in hoping for the safety and well-bein g of the people who are already suffering from Gustav in Cuba , Jamaica , and Haiti , and willing the storm to subside or veer off safely before it strikes the Gulf Coast .

We will keep you posted as things develop.


Related Posts:

WoC, PHD – The Original Announcement

The Unapologetic Mexican – Change in the Weather

Brownfemipower – A Question of Who Really Needs Help

PeTA and Oppression on the Border

by Guest Contributor Marisol LeBron, originally published at Post Pomo Nuyorican Homo

People who know me know that few things on this planet irk to the extent that PETA does. The tactics that PETA deploy to get their point across are dubious at best and some are downright deplorable. I wrote off PETA after a campaign they ran called “Animal Liberation” where they juxtaposed images of animals in captivity and images of the racial terror that people of African decent in this country faced including chattel slavery and lynching.

A few years prior they ran a series of ads that they had to publicly apologize for that juxtaposed farm animals and Holocaust victims. People of color and Jews have fought to be recognized as humans with dignity after centuries of being compared to animals and PETA has repeatedly disregarded those efforts. PETA has continuously trivialized the effects of racism on people of color and Jews by comparing it to the experience of farm animals.

Instead of talking about the ways that the food processing industry exploits and dehumanizes the people of color and im/migrants who work in plants, PETA chose instead to go the media publicity route and ask the US Border Patrol if they can advertise on the Wall.


Continue reading

Why We Want Our Kids Back Too

by Guest Contributor Black Canseco

I grew up in the inner cities of Chicago—places where buses hate to stop, and cabs hate to come. My parents worked hard. Most of our neighbors worked hard. Some people tried. Some people just gave up. Others gave up while they tried and vice versa.

When there was violence, we cried and tried to stop it. When there was death we cried, wondered why and tried to deal with it. But we had to do these things alone.

There were no crush of grief counselors when our 11 year olds got shot by strays or on purpose. There were no pundits filling column space and air time when our girls got raped or became pregnant too soon. And when our children came up missing… when our children came up missing…

When our children came up missing there was silence. Silence and indifference. There still is.

I saw enough missing and dead black kids coming up that it taught me something about black folks, or at least the way black folks are perceived:

Black children are disposable expectations.

Black girls are expected to become mothers too soon. Black kids are expected to be dead too soon. Black boys are expected to become criminals. Black students are expected to dropout of school. Black youth are expected to grow into the lesser-thans that we fear and secretly prefer they become.

When people have those sorts of expectations of you, an attitude of disposability follows. It has to.

When my neighbor’s kid Brandon got hit by an unforeseen and still unidentified car she didn’t talk to anyone for 6 months. Not a word for anyone. One day she came over to mom’s house and said, “I’m still a mother, I’m just the mother of a dead child now.”

I’ve lost track of the number of black girls and boys under 21 that got abducted, vanished, or killed. I’ve lost track of the number of mothers, husbands, and children that have screamed for help from police and media and other communities only to be ignored. Outside of our blocks and neighborhoods no one cares. Continue reading

The Debut of One Day as a Lion

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

As the U.S. launched its specious war on terrorism, George Bush wrangled away another presidential election, a stunned nation took in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and miraculously a biracial senator from Illinois rose to prominence, the absence of one of the music scene’s most influential voices has been sorely missed. Nasal but vitriolic, guttural but lucid, that voice taught me that “anger is a gift” and to cry to the powers that be, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.”

If you’re still in the dark about the voice in question, it belongs to former Rage Against the Machine front man Zack de la Rocha.

The group, a rap-rock hybrid with socially conscious lyrics, split in 2000 over musical and personal differences. Guitarist Tom Morello, whose life parallels Barack Obama’s in a way that’s uncanny,* wanted to take the group in a more rock-oriented direction, while de la Rocha sought to explore hip-hop, electronica and other music styles. For fans of de la Rocha, the past eight years have left a tremendous void.

The remaining members of Rage Against the Machine went on to form Audioslave with former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, but, with the exception of a single called “March of Death,” we’ve heard little from de la Rocha. There were rumors that he’d recorded hundreds of tracks, but perfectionism kept him from releasing them. Other rumors indicated that de la Rocha had become a recluse or—gasp!—had been fatally gunned down. When Rage Against the Machine reunited at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California last year, the second bunch of rumors were obviously put to bed. But, because none of the dozens of tracks de la Rocha had supposedly recorded on his own were being released, questions lingered about his solo project. Was it ever to be released? Was there really a solo project at all? Continue reading

Did the NAACP Finally Get Something Right?

by Guest Contributor Average Bro, originally published on AverageBro.com

Not that anyone’s really noticed, but the NAACP’s been asleep at the wheel since they ran off their most recent President, Bruce Gordon over a year ago. This weekend, the organization quietly introduced their new President, the oddly named Carlos Solis[1] Ben Jealous.

A 35-year-old human rights activist on Saturday was chosen to become the NAACP’s new president and chief executive. Benjamin Todd Jealous, a graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes scholar, will become the youngest leader in the 99-year history of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. Continue reading