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Entries tagged "CIVIL RIGHTS"

Talking Outside the Bounds: "Strumpets," History, and White Privilege

August 21, 2013 ·

Tess Taylor Split This RockThe email called me “whorish” and the “strumpet of a carpetbagger.” It called my recent editorial about my grandfather “revolting.”

Hot damn. Really? I had just published a New York Times editorial about a painful incident during the Civil Rights movement in Danville, Virginia. My grandfather wrote a letter of protest to a judge who had doled out stiff sentences to Civil Rights protestors. Arrested for writing the letter, my grandfather served a bench warrant and was ridiculed and publicly humiliated in his small mill town. 

In my article, I retraced the events. I meditated on some of what had been at stake for my grandfather, a white man, to speak out against the brutal violence and stark injustices faced by black protesters (and black people). I meditated about how my grandfather’s action both was and was not adequate protest to the era's injustice. And I’d interviewed the minister who organized the protests, Lawrence Campbell, to see how he looked back on that time now.

My piece mostly got a warm reception. What surprised me was that this virulently sour note, in my inbox, had the power to make me feel—at least briefly— ill, angry, defensive, hurt, small. I felt singled out, threatened. Eventually I called some friends and laughed off the hurt. After all: The man was accusing me of tying Danville to this violent and unsavory history—yet he was the one calling me a carpbetbagger. Oh please. Dear sir, I regret to inform: It’s hard to escape history if you go around calling people strumpets.

As I thought about it more, however, it seemed to me that this reprimand – its unpleasantness, its rotten smell – was one of the mechanisms by which racism is maintained and one of the reasons white people stay quiet about racism. If we talk outside the bounds, we might get dinged.

Read the full post on Split This Rock's blog.


Tess Taylor currently reviews poetry for NPR’s All Things Considered and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Her first book of poems, The Forage House, was released this month by Red Hen Press. She lives in El Cerrito, California. Tess will be reading from The Forage House at Sunday Kind of Love, Split This Rock's series in collaboration with Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, January 19, 2014.

DOMA's Demise

June 26, 2013 ·

I arrived at the Supreme Court a half hour before decision time, only to wade into a sea of rainbow, red, white, and blue.

The last time I was here was in March. Bundled into my coat and scarf, I joined a demonstration outside the court as opening arguments were heard in Windsor vs. United States and Hollingsworth vs. Perry. They're also known as the anti-DOMA and Anti-Prop 8 cases.

This time, the crowd dripped with sweat as we waited in frenzied anticipation for the decisions to be handed down.

Signs ranged from admonishing, ("SCOTUS, Try to Be Less Wrong Today") to comically threatening, ("If I Can't Marry My Boyfriend, I'll Marry Your Daughter") to simply powerful ("Gay Rights ARE Human Rights" and "Love Conquers All," among others). One man carried an actual closet door on which he'd painted, "This Used to Oppress Me. Down with DOMA — No More Shut Doors."

Not all the demonstrators supported marriage equality. One man stood behind a giant "Repent or Perish" sign. Another booed us from a passing trolley.

But these bigoted voices were drowned out by honking cars and cheering people of all kinds: Ministers and rabbis, Democrats and Republicans alike held pro-marriage signs.

The sun beat down, minutes crept damply by, and we waited. When not being shooed off the courthouse steps by police, the crowd sang "God Bless America" and "Goin' to the Chapel," or chanted "Equality now!"

InPhoto by Kathleen Robin Joyce the shuffle of the crowd, I ended up next to a woman named Mary, who had driven down here the night before from New York, along with her partner, to be at the court to witness history.

Suddenly, a wave of cheering and screaming broke over the assembled masses. Like nearly everyone at the court, Mary's partner had SCOTUSblog on her phone, which was how I learned that DOMA was declared unconstitutional. Mary cried and kissed her partner. I got goosebumps and screamed my throat raw.

Mary's partner translated the legalese of the opinion into plain English for us — the Supreme Court has declared DOMA unconstitutional, by a ruling of 5 to 4, on the basis of the Fifth Amendment.

The majority opinion says, "DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty."

The crowd was ecstatic, and with good reason. Many feared that the decision would be drawn narrowly, striking down DOMA, but declaring marriage equality a state issue. But now, the justices actually recognized LGBT people as a minority being persecuted by hateful legislation.

We were hardly deflated when, as expected, the court also ruled that the plaintiffs in Perry didn't have standing to challenge Prop 8. Let it go back to the lower court! DOMA is dead!

Kathleen Robin Joyce is a student at Georgetown University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

Remarks at the Len Weinglass Memorial

May 16, 2011 ·

Below are Phyllis Bennis' remarks at the Len Weinglass Memorial. Weinglass, one othe U.S. leading political defense lawyers and civil rights activists, passed away on March 23rd, at the age of 77.

What an amazing celebration of such an amazing life.  Lenny was a gift to all of us.

I’m not sure how many of you heard the news, but yesterday the U.S. government announced they are declassifying the Pentagon Papers.  It’s been 40 years – how many hundreds of thousands of copies have been published, read, translated into other languages, studied, used to build opposition to new wars.  And still parts of it remain classified, remain redacted. Forty years.

I first met Len Weinglass during the Pentagon Papers trial. I was very young – one of the scores of students and sort-of students and not-quite students working as organizers on the Indochina Peace Campaign and its parallel organization the Pentagon Papers Peace Project. From the beginning, Len was like the WAY older brother I never had. He was ‘Lenny” from the start; for reasons I never quite understood he always called me a childhood nickname no one else but my family ever used.

Leonard Weinglass

We ran into each other pretty often, although we didn’t really work directly together. Until we did, starting in the mid-1970s. Lenny was in LA, I was in South Dakota learning how to investigate jurors while working on one of the Wounded Knee trials.  I came back to LA and started doing jury selection work with Len – the Skyhorse-Mohawk case, Bill & Emily Harris’ SLA trial, a bunch of trials of Vietnamese, Iranian and Palestinian protesters. Lenny's ability in a courtroom was legendary for good reason. After one trial of Iranian students protesting at the Beverly Hills home of the Shah's sister, Lenny not only won the acquittal, but had the jurors so won over to our side that one of them, an older white Jewish wealthy Beverly Hills resident, came over to me and one of the defendants after the verdict, put her arms around both of us, and said "good luck, girls, in the struggle in your country!"

(It was after one of those trials that Len urged me to “get a license, so we can get you appointed by the court and get you some money!”  “A license as what?" I wanted to know.  A licensed investigator, of course. So I did. And he did. And I kept my private eye license for 30 years.)

Lenny was a wonderful friend. I was house-sitting for him one summer, taking care of his great dog Kefir, the sort-of great-grandfather of his beloved Lucca. I remember, because it took me most of that summer to read Edward Said’s magisterial Orientalism – the book that transformed so profoundly how academics and eventually the rest of us understood the role of the U.S. in the Middle East. Lenny and I talked about it years later.

I worked with Lenny and an extraordinary team of lawyers for 21 years defending the LA 8 – the seven Palestinians and one Kenyan facing deportation for McCarthy-worthy guilt-by-association charges. My friend and trial colleague David Cole reminded me that Lenny invented the term “terrorologist” during the cross-examination of one of the government witnesses in that case.  And when every hearing began, if the whole legal team wasn’t in town yet, in this seemingly-endless trial that involved complicated constitutional issues of freedom of speech, freedom of association, the rights of non-citizens in the U.S., the one question from the judge was always “will Mr. Weinglass be participating?”

Lenny was the most luminous star of our movement – for many of us, as long as we can remember being political beings. He wasn’t always the brightest star on the biggest stage, or in front of the most intense spotlight, because he stood back, always urging others forward. But in the smaller rooms, where he would laugh and keep all of us laughing, where he would tell us stories that brought other countries other struggles other peoples to vivid life – that’s where he was the brightest star. And in the courtroom. That’s where he shone in a whole different way than everybody else.

At an early moment in the LA 8 case, a government attorney frustrated by the obligation to protect any rights for these ostensible terrorists, whined to journalists, “we didn’t expect the Weinglasses of the world” to show up in this case.

But Lenny did show up. He always showed up, to fight for people’s rights, to fight for justice. They say that history is made by those who show up. Lenny knew that movements are also built by those who show up. So he did, for all of us, over and over again, as we worked to build movements against wars, against occupation, for justice.

Lenny taught us all. Without even trying he led teams of wanna-be Weinglasses, Weinglasses-in-training, junior Weinglasses and every one of us became better lawyers, better investigators, better organizers, better activists, better people – for being on Lenny’s team.  It was a better team than the Giants any day.

Thanks, Lenny.  For showing up.

'Tis The Season For Gay Rights

December 22, 2010 ·

Let's celebrate this day, Dec 22 2010. It is the day President Barak Obama signs into the law the repeal of the onerous policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in which a person can be expelled from the U.S. military based on his or her sexual orientation. This policy was egregiously discriminatory and should never have been implemented. That the Senate was able to garner significant bipartisan support for its eleventh hour repeal this 111th Congress is remarkable and reason for celebrating indeed.

Finally, a victory.
Finally, a campaign promise fulfilled.
Finally, a long-overdue step forward for civil rights achieved.

Now, I don't want to diminish the victory nor dilute the champagne and I won't. But I do simply want also to point out that as a nation, and certainly as a human society globally, we have a long way to go toward advancing equal rights and equal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth and adults. And, as a nation and a global human society, we have a long way to go to transform from a militaristic, war-torn world into one in which governments and their militaries- gay, straight or otherwise- end war crimes and imperialistic ventures for profit, power and greed.

Its Christmas. Whatever your religion or lack thereof, its a good time to contemplate Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All. In that vein, celebrate the repeal of the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and rededicate yourselves to continuing the struggle for peace and equality at home and abroad.

Tis the Season.