Rev. Sekou: Gas Mask or Clerical Collar in #Ferguson?

My brother in Christ, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou (video), has had guns aimed at him and has been tear gassed in Ferguson as he attempted to nonviolently de-escalate the violence in the aftermath of the waves of police-led domestic terrorism going on in Missouri.

Sekou, as he’s known, was interviewed this morning on Democracy Now!, saying, “It is a tragedy that as a clergyperson I need a tear gas mask more than I need a collar to be able to do the work that I feel called to do.”

Cornel West and Sekou at anti-war protest in D.C. in Sept. 2005. (Matthew Bradley, Creative Commons)
Cornel West and Sekou at anti-war protest in D.C. in Sept. 2005. (Matthew Bradley, Creative Commons)

Sekou and I have known each other since the early days of Boston’s Ten Point Coalition. We’ve been arrested together numerous times in anti-war demonstrations. (I was a few folks down from Sekou and Cornel in the photo to the left.)

He’s a pastor at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plains, MA, outside of Boston. He was dispatched to Ferguson by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (read more here). Ironically, he just returned from a six-week fellowship at Stanford University where he was studying in the Martin Luther King archives.–Rose

TransCanada: ‘Sorry for the Disruption. We’ll be Playing Gentle Music and Getting Bolt Cutters’


In the category of “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up,” anti-Keystone XL hero Ramsey Sprague chained himself to the sound equipment at a pipeline industry conference in Texas this week. He interrupted the speech of TransCanada’s manager of quality and compliance, Tom Hamilton.

Sprague used his bully pulpit to explain the colossal dangers represented by opening up the tar sands and transporting nontraditional bitumen crude to refineries and the world market. When security guards asked him for the keys to his chain lock, he said he didn’t have them.

This situation prompted the exchange that should go down in history (and thanks, once again, to Democracy Now! for covering it):

Official: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d just like to say I apologize for this disruption. We’ll be playing some gentle music and be getting some bolt cutters, and we will resume as soon as we can. Unfortunately, we can’t remove the speaker without shutting down the whole system. But we will be resuming as soon as possible. Thank you so much, and again we apologize for this.”

Ramsey Sprague: “I really apologize that TransCanada is a terrible actor stealing land from my friends in order to facilitate a toxic tar sands pipeline that is full of holes!”

Come to the National Mall on Feb. 17 to rally for presidential leadership on climate change and against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Read more about Ramsey’s work here.

South African Ambassador: Where’s the Climate Change Debate at Party Conventions?

This morning Amy Goodman conducted an excellent and informative interview with South African ambassador Ebrahim Rasool at the Democratic National Convention.

I traveled with Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool in 2011 on a civil rights tour of Alabama. He is a delightful and thoughtful man who spent time in a South African prison with Nelson Mandela. Rasool is a committed disciple of nonviolence, a member of the ANC, a Muslim, and currently South Africa’s ambassador to the United States.

Here’s an excerpt from Goodman’s interview regarding Obama and climate change:

AMY GOODMAN: We were just in Durban, South Africa, for the climate change conference. There is a group of donors to the Democratic Party that are now raising deep concerns that President Obama has not raised the issue of climate change in this convention through the various speakers. What about that? You’ve been observing this election, and you’ve been—you’ve been observing this convention, and you’ve been—of course, South Africa, just as the United States, is deeply affected by climate change.

AMBASSADOR EBRAHIM RASOOL: I think that that’s precisely the reason why someone like myself, representing a country like South Africa, can’t give any party a blank check. I think that there are global issues which are being subsumed by certain narrow discussions within the U.S., namely the desire to elect a president, that there is not the requisite leadership to say we need to make sure that the world is a better place, that it is a world that is freer of carbons than before. And what is amazing is that Tampa was threatened by a hurricane, that there are floods, there are fires, there are droughts, there are enorm—heat waves through the United States, and yet the elephant in the room is not being addressed. And that’s the shortcoming of conventions. If this had been an ANC convention in South Africa, it would have been rough. It would have been a rough policy debate. It would have been a rough electoral contest. But we expect that the U.S. is different, but it can be substantially out of step with the world. And so, part of what my job is, while South Africa is the president of COP17, it is to bring greater awareness to the challenges of climate, to the global warming situation, and to be able to assist in ways in which the United States can begin to face up to that debate.

Read or watch the whole interview.

Remembering Adrienne Rich

Poet Adrienne Rich (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

I’m taking time to savor the work of Adrienne Rich, one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century who died this week at the age of 82. She articulated what it means to be a woman in a man-made world, giving thousands a dictionary of images and phrases to describe our own experience. And more than any other poet I know, Rich was relentless in pursuing a balance between politics and art without ever sacrificing the essence of either.

On the Role of the Poet:

“We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.”–Adrienne Rich

On Poetry and the Capitalist Model:

“Poetry has the capacity to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom – that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the ‘free’ market.”–Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s 1997 letter to Jane Alexander, head of the National Endowment for the Arts:

Dear Jane Alexander, I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal.

Anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art’s social presence—as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright. In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country.

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored. I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don’t think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual which would feel so hypocritical to me. Sincerely, Adrienne Rich (See July 16, 1997 Democracy Now interview with Rich)

An excerpt from Rich’s poem “Natural Resources,” in The Dream of a Common Language:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

A passion to make, and make again
where such un-making reigns. …

Will The White House Go Solar … Again?

Balcony solar water heaters in Zhejiang, China

Karen Lattea over at Sojourners has got a nice post on whatever happened to those White House solar panels that Jimmy Carter installed in the 1970s. They didn’t sit well with subsequent oil-baron presidents and were removed. But … things are looking sunny again!

In 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter announced the installation of solar panels on the White House roof. Today, a group of students from Unity College in Unity, Maine, accompanied by 350.org founder and environmentalist Bill McKibben, will ask President Obama to re-install the panels on the roof of his home.

The story of how the solar panels got from the White House to Maine was covered yesterday morning on Democracy Now! as the student delegation passed through New York on its way to Washington, D.C. Democracy Now!, broadcast on WPFW every morning in the D.C. metro area, is the always-informative, often-disturbing, independent- and grassroots-focused news and interview program hosted by Amy Goodman. Yesterday, Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzalez covered a story that provided both a reminder of the importance of symbolic activism and insight into how the next generation of activists is being born.

Read Karen’s whole post here.

Where is Israel’s Pressure Point?: The Ethics and Morality of Boycotting Israel

On March 5, 2010, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia appeared on Democracy Now! with Palestinian human rights activist Omar Barghouti at U.C. Berkeley to discuss the whether the “Boycott, Divest and Sanction” campaign against Israel is the most effective way to bring justice and peace to Israel, Palestine, and the neighboring Arab countries.

It’s a fantastic discussion between two passionate, nonviolent grassroots activists, who are both pro-Palestinian, and who state clearly their different points of view.

Rabbi Waskow also discussed these issues in Sojourners back in 2005 in an article titled A Question of Tactics where he said, “My own assessment is that the way in which much of the divestment campaign has been conducted bespeaks an exercise in quasi-private purity rather than a serious effort to change public policy.”

Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

OMAR BARGHOUTI: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, campaign is a call by Palestinian civil society. It’s supported by almost the entire Palestinian civil society, political forces, NGOs, women’s organizations, unions, and so on.

It’s calling upon people of conscience around the world to boycott Israel and institutions that are complicit with Israel, including companies and so on, because of its three-tiered system of oppression against the Palestinian people: its occupation, 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and that includes East Jerusalem; as well as its system of racial discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens, the Palestinian citizens of Israel; and the third and foremost is its denial of the right of return for the refugees, Palestinian refugees, in accordance with UN Resolution 194. So these three forms of injustices are exactly what we’re targeting. We’re targeting Israel because we want to end its impunity, and we want to end complicity of the world in this system of injustice.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Rabbi Arthur Waskow, could you explain to us why you think this is a wrong approach to the problem?

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: So, first let me say shalom and salaam and peace to you, Amy and Juan, and to Mr. Barghouti, and to say, to begin with, that in a sense I think the question, yes or no on BDS, is the wrong question. The right question is, how do we bring about an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the blockade of Gaza, and of East Jerusalem? And it seems to me that when you put the question that way, BDS really becomes an ineffective and, in some ways, unethical way of going about it, that the major change that needs to happen is a profound change in the actions of the United States government, and that there were hints of that, more than hints, in the rhetoric of President Obama, but a total failure to carry through in policy on the rhetoric of the Cairo speech and some work since then.

The real question is, can the United States—will the United States—it can, for sure—will the United States use its enormous influence and power to end the occupation, to end the state of war between Israel and the entire Arab world except for Egypt and Jordan? Can the United States bring about a full-fledged peace treaty between a new state of Palestine, the state of Israel, and the Arab states. The Arab states have, in fact, proposed this. The Israeli government and the last US government, the Bush administration, totally ignored the proposal. There are hints that that’s what the Obama administration wants to bring about.

But it won’t happen unless there is a public movement in American society to demand that. It won’t happen otherwise. And when I ask the question, so what’s the most effective way of bringing that about, it seems to me an alliance of the three groups of people in America who care passionately about the peoples of the Middle East—Muslims, serious Christians and serious Jews—an alliance of those in those three camps who are committed to peace is now possible. In the Jewish community, there are now organizations and commitments and human beings ready to act on this, even though the classic, formal, institutional structure of the established Jewish institutional system doesn’t. But the Jews do, and among Muslims and among most Protestant and Catholic Christians—not some of the right-wing fundamentalist Christians, but the rest of the Christian community. But they have not come together in any way to make this happen. And that’s what needs to happen.

Goldman Sachs CEO “Richer than God” and Moving In on Deity’s Job

Lloyd Blankfein
Lloyd Blankfein

My ears perked up this morning when I heard talk on the radio about investment gurus doing “God’s work” and a journalist calling for Christians to rise up against usury and abuse of the poor. Wow!

In a London Times interview with John Arlidge, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, defended the bank’s massive profits, saying Goldman is, quote, “doing God’s work.”  The four largest firms—Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase—took in $22.5 billion in profits through September, according to MarketWatch. The top six banks set aside $112 billion for salaries and bonuses over the same period.

Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman interviewed former-LA Times journalist Robert Scheer this morning on this topic. Here’s quote from Scheer below:

It’s interesting that he should say he’s “doing God’s work,” Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs. And my goodness, if Scripture is clear on anything, it’s condemnation of those who take advantage of the poor. You know, after all, Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. Scripture is devastating in its condemnation of usury, the immorality of usury.

Robert Scheer
Robert Scheer

And yet, you mentioned Chris Dodd is trying to get a bill passed that would cap interest rates. You know, where is the Christian Right? Where are the Christians? Where are the Jews, for that matter? Or the Muslims? At least the Muslims, in their religious practice, don’t believe in interest as a principle, but the idea that we’re jacking up credit cards to 30, 35—this is loan sharking. And we can’t even get a bill passed through Congress that would cap interest payments.

The other thing is, their rationalization is they’re somehow saving the economy. It’s the old blackmail thing. They ruined the economy; they got the legislation, the radical deregulation they wanted, that permitted them to become too big to fail—Citigroup and these companies; and then they turn around and say, “If you don’t throw all this money at us, the economy is going to go into the Great Depression.”

But they haven’t solved the main problems. Mortgage foreclosures this month are higher than they’ve been in ten months. We have the commercial housing market exploding, you know, apartment building rentals exploding, going into mortgages. And so, you know, they are not dealing with the fundamentals. What has happened is an incredibly expensive band-aid was put on this. And these people don’t even have—they’re not even embarrassed.–TruthDig’s Robert Sheer

Robert Scheer is editor at Truthdig.com. His books include The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America and Playing President: My Close Encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Reagan, and Clinton–and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush. Scheer’s latest column is called Where Is the Community Organizer We Elected?

I was also interested to note that in John Arlidge’s London Times profile on Goldman Sachs that CEO Lloyd Blankfein said, “I know I could slit my wrists and people would cheer.” Another GS staffer said, “We don’t club baby seals. We club babies.”

Vincent Harding on Barack Obama

On election night, Democracy Now! interviewed one of my favorite people, Dr. Vincent Harding. Dr. Harding was a close friend and colleague of Dr. King.

I’ve interviewed Vincent a few times. But, in 2006, I interviewed him about his writing Dr. King’s major antiwar speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” the speech that Dr. King gave a year to the day before he was assassinated. The speech was given at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. I consider this one of my most important interviews and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity. You can read that interview here.

Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Harding’s comments to Democracy Now! on election night:

DR. VINCENT HARDING: I am much more deeply involved in the hopes for what we can do to help push him into the place that he needs to go. He is taking a good start at this point by winning this magnificent election, but he is not going to be out there as a messiah by himself. We who believe in freedom are going to have to stand around him, stand beneath him, stand in back of him, and do everything that we can to keep reminding him that what we need is to move towards the very thing that he’s been talking about: creating a more perfect union, creating a more just and peaceable society, creating a more democratic society. So my hopes are very much focused on him, but not on him alone. I see the energy that’s been built up over these two years of campaigns, and I see the possibility that we could gather ourselves together and begin to ask, in a very powerful way, not what should Barack Obama be doing next, but where do we go from here? What is our role as committed, progressive citizens to move to the next stages? …

For me, that question about the contradictions that would stand between seeing Barack as a second coming of Martin and seeing Martin as someone who clearly understood that militarism was not the way towards a solution of humanity’s problems. That’s why I said that those of us who believe in creating a more perfect union can only do it by standing around him, under him, behind him, pushing him to ask questions about what is the role of the military in a democratic society, by encouraging him to see the possibility that maybe he would be a better community-organizer-in-chief than commander-in-chief. Maybe a democracy needs community organizers more than it needs commanders.

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Our New Organizer-in-Chief

I caught indy journalist and Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman at D.C.’s Green Festival yesterday. She reminded the still-deliriously happy crowd that the work of rebuilding democracy is just beginning.

Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman
Democracy Now's Amy Goodman

Calling Obama our new “Organizer-in-Chief,” Goodman said the election was won by a combination of community organizing and unprecedented fund raising. But the jury’s still out, she said, on the lessons learned.

The answer is in who gets listened to in the new administration. Will it be the big dollar donors who find an ear? Or will it be a new day for community organizations and the people they represent?

Goodman made the point that Obama will need organizers pushing from the outside – both in times when community leaders genuinely disagree with him, but also for the added power it gives the president when he knows millions are ready to take him to task should he wander astray.

And to prove her point, Goodman lifted up two women as models for the kind of leadership that we now need:

Rosa Parks. Contrary to the watered-down history that portrays her as a tired seamstress too exhausted to give her bus seat to a white man, Parks was a trained community organizer – trained, in fact, at the Highlander Center with Myles Horton. Goodman called her a “first-class troublemaker” and pointed out that it was Rosa who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott that launched Dr. King into leadership of the civil rights movement.

Mamie Till. The mother of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched during a summer vacation to in Mississippi in 1955, Mamie Till made the strategic choice for an open casket at Emmett’s funeral. Because of a mother’s courage, photos in newspapers around the world showed the brutality of racism.

Our new Organizer-in-Chief needs a few “first-class troublemakers” like Rosa Parks and Mamie Till to lead from the grassroots. Tuesday’s victory was huge and necessary, but this campaign was won, not solely by Barack Obama, but by an electrified citizenry committed to change. To move this from a historic “moment” to a historic “era” will take ongoing commitment by that same citizenry..