Today on my show I had a phone interview with John Anthony Fairhurst, Alex Poucher, David Rodriquez, and Nicholas Jackson. They are activists who are taking part in many of the police brutality protests around the country and at the time of the call were in Ferguson, MO–having returned there a number of times. It was an interesting talk with on the ground activists in the middle of everything. Click the link to listen in to the live phone chat.
This Winter Solstice seems to be darker than any before it. It’s not just the persistent gray clouds that sucks the daylight out of this shortest day. There’s a heaviness on our collective minds and shoulders latley that are bringing everyone down lately since the Summer Solstice. America and its people have been on a steady diet of violence, hatred, bigotry, vitriol and bile. And I don’t mean only the events that have been building up since then—Eric Garner, John Crawford III, and Mike Brown shootings, immigrations standoffs, Ebola epidemic, the midterm elections, two grand jury non-indictments, more unarmed kids shot, and now two murdered policemen, as well as the general racism, patriarchy, rape culture, etc. I’m including the comment trolls, online fomentors, lying media personalities and all around haters that make all of the other stuff even harder to bear. Any of those incidenta are hard enough to bear. Add them all together, one on top of another, it’s a soul bending mess. Add to that every racist, hateful, ignorant comment about your opinions on each matter, and you wonder how any of us have not managed to hang themselves before today. I know we are getting more polarized as a nation in our opinions, but we are clutching at each others’ throats more viciously and more often than ever.
A friend today reminded me that today is a day to reset. With the earth heading back towards light, we have a chance to look inward and gather peace for yourself before the time comes to emerge from the darkness. Another friend of mine mentioned earlier in the month that it’s almost impossible to celebrate the winter holidays with the tonnage of injustice going on (“who can feel merry?” I think were his words). For a whhile I was feeling like the latter. Too many encounters with people who hated what I felt with a passion and made themselves known left me on edge; that I was writing my feelings to cope with what I was feeling when it was done hurt me; that some of these were friends stunned and infuriated me. I’ve been gnashig my teeth for the better part of the Fall because of all this. Thankfully through talking to the first friend, I feel like better. What she said helped to remind me what this time of darkness can be about.
I think that’s why there are a lot of rituals centered around the Winter Solstice. It reminds us that the loss of light is temporary and will return. Watching my daughter as an angel in our church “No Rehearsal Christmas Pageant” gave me a much needed boost of happiness. We need that hope of light in the darkness. Whatever we can use to recover that hope and lift that weight off of our soul is good. For me it’s having the community of friends that I have to revive the faith I may have lost in people from dealing with trolls and trash on a daily basis.
Things are rough now and it feels a lot to bear; some days worse than others. But the light will return. We need each other, good people of all faiths and no faiths, to keep each other alight until then. And stay away from trolls—stay on the bridges, not under them.
Today, Sunday December 15, is supposed to be a day of silence. Organizers are asking people to blacken their profile photos on Facebook and other social media and not post anythign for 24 hours to protest the recent deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island, Mike Brown in Fergson, and a number of other young black men at the hands of police. Total media silence for a day which would cost advertisers in lost click through revenue. However I was raised in a Quaker grade school. The hardest thing to do was to stay silent for a minute before classes when all I wanted to do was scream. So yeah, I’m going to say/post something (though luckily in the Quakers, you are asked to be quiet until the spirit moves you to talk, so technically I’m following tradition).
As moments of silences are great, this is one time inour lives to be shouting from the rooftops. While still trying to wrap our heads around the non-indictments of two separate grand juries in two deaths, the cycle continues with the deaths of more unarmed Black men at the hands of law enforcement still averaging one every seven days. Some of the tensions are boiling over because of the already strained relationship of some of the overpoliced areas to the police, as well as outside agitators—including undercover cops. The release of details on the CIA’s so called “enhanced interrogation techniques” brings us to an argument about our human values that should never be partisan but has become so. And the Congress and President are about to pass a “compromise” budget that allows big banks to go back to the irresponsible practices that nearly melted our own financial system with a sense of urgency. How can we be silent when we are being primed for the slaughter?
We need accountability. In the West in the 1860s, if a Marshal shot and/or killed someone on their watch, they would have to stand trial and prove their justification. I hate to think we have to rise to the challenge of the late 1800s, but if justice is so uneven these days, we may have to. Short term, we need to have federal indictments of the two officers in the most visible non-indictments happen; it’s the only way to prove to the people that they are taking the people seriously. We also need to start looking at new procedures with police involved deaths: investigations handled by a state police investigators or at least investigators not involved with the precinct being investigated; appointing special prosecutors instead of local DA’s; no paid leave for police under police involved officer deaths. These are simple fixes that can help alleviate the tension short term so we can focus on the major problems.
Long term solutions are not so simple. There is no one law that can solve all the structural problems that are causing the racism inherent in the system. It will take time and it is the fight of this generation. I am happy to see people in such large numbers mobilizing against real injustice. With the rallies soon after the Eric Garner non-indictment and the marches in DC and New York this past Saturday, it feels like we are at the point of a new civil rights movement. We helped push outright racism underground (more or less) in the 60s, but we never were truly able to fix the structural and institutional effects and defects of racism. Now we seem poised to take that on. It’s not just death and justice we are dealing with. It’s everything Occupy stood for AND the reform of the justice system all rolled into one. It seems as though the people have been attacked on all fronts and more hits are coming; but now people are ready to fight back.
And it won’t only be solved with people in the streets. The civil rights era worked its way towards the Voting Rights act as the legal capstone for the fight. One law or set of laws won’t fix this. It is trying to get back to an America we were promised but was never materialized (unless you’re a landowning white male over 21). In this time of marches and stopping traffic, we need to start to focus on what the society we want to live in looks like. We need to be able to encompass BOTH “BlackLivesMatter” AND “Justice4All” and move forward towards that goal. I’m not sure what that looks like at the moment but I hope the leaders of this current movement are thinking about that.
The trip to the SOA vigil came and went very well. The audio recording, not so much. Okay that’s oversimplifying things and inaccurate, but it makes for a great opening. 🙂
The trip was good and productive, garnering some good interviews, both sit down and man-on-the-street stuff. However I forgot how tough field recording could be. In good conditions it can be a challenge. I had a laptop with a ood field mike. I got stuff but I underestimated the quality I could get and how that would affect the post production. I’m working on fixing sound levels and making sure things are audible enough. It’s coming but at a slower pace than I thought. So I apologize for not having a show ready to air sooner than I had planned. I hope to have something to air soon and I will let people know in advance when it will air, but I’m not sure how long that will take. I’m only one man and have only so much time. All I ask for is a little patience and understanding.
This is something that might be worked into a sermon next year, so if any of my readers attend my church, be prepared; for those that don’t attend, here’s a work in progress.
In the civil rights protests of the 1960s, one of the most iconic slogans read “I Am A Man.” Black men would wear sandwich boards or hold signs with this written in big block lettering (and sometimes underlined). To me, this really struck home when seen in the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ strike in 1968—the protests that Martin Luther King spoke at when he was assassinated. I find it important because of the way the strike started.
Sanitation work might not seem to be high risk, but it is. Long shift hours, operating very heavy and dangerous equipment in all types of weather, sometimes working with hazardous materials—as part of the job or unintentionally. However, at the time Memphis was still part of the South and certain laws were in place dealing with white and black workers. In rainy weather, blacks were not allowed to shelter from the rain inside the cab of the truck; they were only allowed to go in the back of the compressor where the garbage was collected. And that is where Echol Cole call and Robert Walker, family men both, were forced lay to escape the weather when the compressor accidentally turned on.
As much as “I Am A Man” was a cry for acceptance of these workers’ human rights and dignity, it was equally as pointed a scream of “I don’t deserve to die this way.” Such is the meaning of the new hashtag slogan Black Lives Matter. With the public deaths of so many black men at the hands of police officers and the equally public unwillingness of the justice system to hold such officers accountable, we witness how cheap the lives of black people are considered. The countless stories—told and untold—of black people mistreated by the justice system, from initial police contact to trials and sentencing procedures, are disheartening and tragic and when internalized over decades or centuries is no wonder why people of color feel like their lives are disposable; they are proven that way over and over and repeated generation to generation.
I kind of get why white people have added to the slogan with the hashtag All Lives Matter: they want to remind us that everyone’s life matters including theirs’. TBut we all know this. Black people are not saying Black lives mean more, but they ARE saying we don’t matter less; and we ARE saying it because to the eyes of many people and institutions, we DO mean less. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is the same as saying “I Am A Man” for the same reason: to remind ourselves AS WELL AS society. We matter and we need to affirm that for ourselves and society.
This is a late World AIDS Day entry that I wanted to put out there. The FDA panel today recommended the one year deferment for gay men to donate blood. No votes were taken, but they will work to issue national guidelines in the future. This post was edited slightly to account for the lag in publishing.
I still remember the days that this was considered a gay disease—not the “that’s so gay”gay, I mean “the faggot deserved it”gay. All throughout high school, my mom would ask me what new gay/AIDS jokes I heard recently; they cheered her up from all the diagnoses and funerals of friends she knew. I walked in numerous AIDS walks (including one in the early 2000’s with my daughter in a stroller), donated money, I even helped design information brochures with the NYC Board of Health. Since those days as AIDS was a death sentence, I’ve seen it become a chronic disease for millions in the US and still a killer on other continents. While he medicinal treatments have evolved, the stigma hasn’t in many ways. I was reminded of this today on World AIDS Day.
On December 2, the Food and Drug Administration had a meeting where they heard testimony to consider a partial lift on banning homosexuals from donating blood. Since 1983—near the height of the epidemic—gay men were banned from donating blood for life. It makes less sense to keep that policy, so the proposal for the meeting tomorrow—endorsed by the American Red Cross among others—is to create a one year deferment of gay men before they can donate. This is a step in the right direction, but not enough.
When I was younger, I used to engage in risky sexual activity by visiting prostitutes (it was low risk but still risky for contracting HIV). With the old policy in place, that means that at my worst risk factor, I would be deferred for one year before I could donate blood, while a monogamous gay couple would be banned for life from donating. Changing the policy would put both of us on the same one year deferment. The problem here is that my risk factor is still higher going from hooker to hooker, than a gay couple practicing safe sex in a monogamous relationship, but the gay couple is treated as if they were the same risk. This is stigmatizing and problematic and wrong. In addition to assuming sexuality between homosexuals is wrong thus shunning it and the people for a certain behavior, you are actually barring life saving donations from people who have the same risk factors as any other sexually active couple engaged in safe sex.
The simple way to solve the issue is do do what Italy did in 2001, and switch from permanent deferment for “men who have sex with men” donating blood to an individual risk assessment of sexual behaviors of donors. According to a study in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the switch “did not significantly affect either the incidence or prevalence of HIV infection among blood donors.” This means it works as a screening tool minus the irrational stigmatizing of a potential blood donating population. This properly puts the onus of risk, correctly, on the individual behaviors instead of a blanket condemnation of a specific population. It’s also important to note that the majority of those contracting HIV in Italy did so through unprotected HETEROSEXUAL sex both before and after the switch to individual risk assessment.
For the US to switch to risk assessment of each donor instead of a completely barring gay men from donating would be a great stride in erasing the past stigma of this disease, and might even help educate the public about the true causes of contracting the disease. It will also save lives as more people will be able to donate blood and keep blood banks fully stocked.
While the original policy was instituted in a time of fear and ignorance about the disease itself, now that we are more enlightened about the nature of the disease, it is time to operate without fear. The one-year deferment is a decent start; switching to individual risk assessment models would be the best and more important step to take.