Dream Defenders: superheroes for racial justice

by Granate Sosnoff on 7th August, 2013


Written by Granate Sosnoff. Reposted from Oakland Local










There is something very impressive happening right now in Florida. A human rights organization of “Black and Brown youth confronting inequality and the criminalization of our generation with nonviolent direct action”… are doing that this minute, in Florida’s state Capitol, camping out on hard marble floors since the Trayvon Martin verdict.

This is day 22 of the Dream Defenders takeover of Florida’s Capitol, and each day they are there, the more authentic, far-reaching and motivating their actions become. They are also making progress and winning victories with their direct action. On August 2, after much pressure and constant presence at the Capitol, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford announced he will hold hearings on the state’s “stand your ground law” in the fall. Although short of what the Dream Defenders would like, which is a legislative hearing right now, Philip Agnew, executive director of the Dream Defenders stated that “It’s a critical first step, we’ve been here three weeks. We know Democracy takes time. Progress takes time.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, this politically savvy, committed group has emerged. Youth of color are standing tall and sitting-in, reminiscent of the sixties and impressive as hell.

Their well-thought-out campaign is one that demands justice by peaceful direct action, guided by strategy and intelligence. The Florida group, with chapters throughout the state, has captured the attention of the media, support of the NAACP and ColorOfChange.org and hearts of civil rights stalwarts like Jessie Jackson and Harry Belafonte. Jackson spent one night with the Dream Defenders and Belafonte met with them and endorsed their efforts with his elegant words of praise including:

“If they reject you, then the world will pay attention to what’s happening to you, and it is possible that Florida could become ungovernable,” Belafonte said. “By ungovernable, I don’t mean violent. But it could mean tens of thousand of people will join you. That’s not good for tourism.”

While police issued alerts around potential riots and violence after the Zimmerman verdict, Dream Defenders organized the opposite and called for an audience with Governor Rick Scott and a special session to repeal Florida’s stand your ground law. They were given a meeting with Gov. Scott but instead of a congressional session, he offered a “day of prayer” to deal with racial profiling.

In response, Dream Defenders organized their own hearings and are coming up with their own drafts of legislation and strategies to combat racial profiling — while still sitting in at the Capitol. Since July 16th, these young people have stayed committed and determined — a counter on their website marks each second of their protest. They have been 150+ strong with a wide range of visitors including an original Black Panther, university professors, and support people of all colors bringing food and and other items daily.

The not-guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial is sparking a new phase of young, persistent and effective civil rights activism.

One can only hope that Dream Defenders spreads to California. We could use some superhero energy. Currently Florida is “ground zero” for Dream Defenders as they are organizing freedom rides across the country to address racial profiling, dismantle the “school to prison pipeline” for youth of color, and repeal other existing state stand your ground laws.

More info here: Dreamdefenders.org

Their petition here.

Oscar Grant, Zimmerman trial and BART strike connected

by Granate Sosnoff on 14th July, 2013



Online with Oakland Local, Friday July 12.

When three related stories regarding race, labor and BART occur, you need to pay attention, especially in Oakland.

As “Fruitvale Station” opens and retells the story of Oscar Grant’s murder, we also brace for juror deliberations in the Zimmerman trial. Oakland gets angry when the judicial system betrays young black men. A backdrop to these two stories is that BART is in the middle of strike negotiations and if nothing changes soon, Fruitvale station, and all other BART stations will be closing for a while.

The Zimmerman trial has already been disappointing particularly in how Trayvon Martin and his young friend have been denigrated in the media. What seemed like an open and shut case against George Zimmerman, a man who stalked and killed a young African American youth, is now seeming less so.

Those of us who lived in Oakland during the BART police shooting of Oscar Grant by Johannes Mehserle are flashing back to a similar time and feeling of impending betrayal by the justice system and wondering if we will once again need to take to the streets to let the world know that a young black man’s life is worth as much as any other life.

Even if Zimmerman is found guilty, the murder still happened, in the name of security and safety, in a country filled with fear around race and thick with racism.

And as the Sundance award-winning movie “Fruitvale Station” opens, giving Oscar Grant back to Oakland for a moment and skillfully telling a one-day story till his tragic and preventable death, wounds will open up. This shameful, tragic BART incident, revisited in the shared-story format of film, will have an impact on many.

BART has apparently been very cooperative in the making of the film, even allowing movie posters at the Fruitvale Station. A BART liaison to filmmaker Ryan Coogler was quoted to say: “The film is really about humanizing Oscar Grant, and Ryan did a superb job.” (Thank you BART?)

In the real world of BART security we are being told that reforms at BART are underway. A few weeks prior to the film’s opening, in what might be viewed as a PR move, BART released that they’ve hired a retired police chief to review these new reforms.

The other BART story is about the strike (30-day stay ticking away…) and it seems that more than the coincidence of timing connects these.

The union has released a video stating that security and safety are of high priority for workers at BART but that management refuses to respond to that need.

Unfortunately, what “more security” usually means is historical racial profiling and the targeting of youth of color and in particular black men like Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin. The opportunity to make an important statement and connection seems lost on union organizers and begs the question of whether you can publicly make a request for added security without acknowledging the pain and public tragedy surrounding BART police.

It seems to me that this is the perfect intersection for union and worker concerns to build solidarity with social justice organizations. If you are going to make a demand for more security, in the same breath why not ask for public review of reforms and changes? What specifically is BART doing to prevent another tragedy like what happened to Oscar Grant?

BART workers are angry with management and have good cause I can imagine. They have a variety of demands but currently a focus on making visible the high pay of management and a need for more safety and security. They recently stated: “We will be prepared for the bloodiest, longest strike since the 1970′s.”

But will we, their natural allies, friends of labor, social justice workers and concerned community members be ready to stand in support of them?

The union is losing an important opportunity to link worker’s rights and social justice with this connection. In their primary (current) video they flash on a mural of Oscar Grant as if hoping the slight association and acknowledgment will say something. Similar to BART’s decision to cooperate fully with filmmaker Ryan Coogler and to allow “Fruitvale Station” posters in BART stations, it seems to lack authenticity and doesn’t say much of anything.

When the hometown hero’s a bad guy

by Granate Sosnoff on 17th April, 2013

We read about notorious incidents, not the least of which are recent cases involving the suicides of teenage girls from small towns who after being raped and shamed in social media, take their own lives.

We shake our heads at the inhumanity and awfulness of it all but also know that less broadcasted and personal hells are going on all the time.

I took a trip back to my hometown, a small city that still has an old-timely feel, but now also a few more malls, Pilates and micro-brews.

We met up with my sister’s friends including one who teaches math at our old high school. He told us about recently being granted the honor of introducing a local math and science teacher in a video project that played in the theatre.

It sounded like he gave a grand and appreciative speech for this teacher who played an important role in his life.

I remembered the teacher, not as a life-changer, but as someone who followed a friend’s progress in college, semi-stalked her via false impressions of scholastic interest and support and who later tried to convince/quasi-coerce her into having sex with him – much to her horror.

A gray area on the sexual abuse spectrum, for sure, but ON the spectrum I would say.

So in a held back tone fully expecting a “here she goes wrecking everything” stare I mentioned:

“You know that guy had a not-so-pretty flipside.”

A tense room change occurred. Two people responded with anxious defensiveness including a “we all have flaws” and some other similarly themed comment. I answered in my new calm way of arguing that I was well aware of being flawed myself but didn’t semi-stalk young people I knew in their teens.

One woman at the gathering spoke up and told the story of her friend who walked out of the theatre crying during the speech about this teacher. The woman was shaken and upset about the honoring of a man who had clearly done something “untoward” to her.

Even though there’s broader understanding that violence is often perpetrated by someone who knows their victim rather than a stranger, we are still caught in a mind loop of dismissing acquaintance-rape and abuse and amplifying stranger-rape.

Often it’s the case that many people know something is or has gone on when sexual abuse takes place. I don’t know if this math teacher was a rapist, I just know there was something very, very wrong with how he interacted with young women and girls.

So when I hear impassioned calls for ending “rape culture” I wonder at how we’ve all protected rather than spoken up or schooled someone when we had the chance – and hence participated in maintaining the status quo.

If this teacher was such a great guy deserved of accolades then why didn’t one of his fans let him know his “character flaw” (which many seemed to know about) could use some serious self-reflection and change.

Abusers are not usually one-dimensional creatures. Seemingly kind people do hideous things.

If we consider people part of our community – even in the broadest former-high-school teacher sense – then we have a role to play.

Too often we want to believe the best and do nothing, despite our hunches and intuition, until it’s too damn late.

Is feminism always going to feel like a white thing?

by Granate Sosnoff on 12th March, 2013

First of all: Action = Good. A drawback to social media is that it can seduce you into believing you’ve done something significant by using your powerful “like” or “share.” In addition to all our good work at the keyboard, we need to get out and participate at some point.

So… recently I volunteered for local efforts for the One Billion Rising V-Day protests/flashmob dance/events on the Communications Team and found myself reinvigorated with a shot of feminism that felt echo-y of the mid 80s.

The involvement also raised a few questions for me.

In addition to volunteering, my friend and I challenged ourselves to participate in a flashmob dance. We watched the youTube instructional video – predominantly African American young women from a Brooklyn school, choreographed by the prominent Debbie Allen, also African American. And we went to a rehearsal in Oakland where only a handful of people of color showed up. She’s Chicana, I’m mixed heritage Asian/Jewish, and there we were in Oakland, a tremendously racially diverse place surrounded by white people… weird and wrong.

I had two reactions, one was: this is awful, god what poor outreach, ugh, can we do this? And two: thank god for the goodness of good white people and their showing up … I know, weird too, but humor gets me through…

Because I had some insider knowledge, I know that people of color were involved but not in the majority for planning. I also know there wasn’t any money involved and many were working full-time jobs AND volunteering to get this thing off the ground.

Regardless, it was very retro in a bad way that a group of feminist events felt overly white. At the risk of sounding like a political Carrie Bradshaw: Is feminism always going to feel like a white thing?  Even when there are people of color involved?

Seems to me, it’s still the case that unless it is a people of color-defined organization, or maybe a youth group, activism around women’s issues (and other areas btw…) in America still has an 80s feel regarding race.

What was heartening was all the footage from around the world, New Delhi, City of Joy in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, all over Europe. Even seeing the celebrities come out and participate was a good thing. Because it’s a good idea – dancing and rising up all on one day to bring attention and a positive vibe to something so awful and in need of a world movement everyday… not THE solution, but part of all the work that needs to get done.

P.S. Not to be preachy, but action still does = good… back away from the keyboard, give your thumb a rest and try it (if you haven’t lately). Sometimes the action isn’t perfect, but if you’re not there you can’t engage to make it better.



Real world problems vs. first world problems

by Granate Sosnoff on 23rd October, 2012

We’ve all been there. Unhappy with something about our tech toy, new car, expensive meal, but somewhere deeply knowing that our whiny problems don’t amount to much compared with real concerns like clean water, food, housing and the like.

The division is blatant in the picky tech world and phone obsession.

Focused on the minutiae regarding screens, apps, agility with texting, talking, and finding a new restaurant, the idea that people actually make these phones is far away.

Even though we want the next one they are making, and very soon please.

Saturday Night Live brought this idea home recently with a hilarious and skewering skit on the iPhone 5. At a panel rant session, reviewers got a surprise visit by factory workers from China. Try not to be derailed by the Chinese accents (they’re trying hard to do this right):

Saturday Night Live – Tech Talk: iPhone 5 – YouTube.

This is about as close as we get to a class analysis these days.

When corporations like Apple are confronted their first move is to put the onus on consumers when they can. Will we pay more for their devices to ensure better wages and working conditions in China?

Because apparently Apple execs are not going to pay themselves less.

The bottom line for me is that I’d pay more for a phone (or other product) that integrates the well-being of the people involved making it over buying a product that donates a part of its sales to fight hunger or poverty — which is the dominant charity model.

That would be a first-world status symbol I would want and truly a revolution in technology.

Afternoon in the park

by Granate Sosnoff on 10th July, 2012

Every so often you witness something that reminds you that some of the education of children is largely invisible.

At the park today, reading the paper while a mostly white group of kids and their parents play kickball and a small group of Black people prepare for an afternoon barbecue. Cultural difference is everywhere in Oakland, and part of what makes it a beloved and interesting city, even in the parks… In the Hollywood version, the African Americans would be invited to play kickball and enjoy it. And the white folks would suddenly grow an appreciation for Black, urban music and dance.

Instead I watch two separate worlds stay separate. I notice a small, well-groomed Black child eating his lunch when I hear his mom come up and tell him (in an even voice) to move and to not “ever sit down next to an unattended purse.” He was about my daughter’s age, ten or so, and he responded nonchalantly and moved closer to their stuff.

Another weekend reminder of the difference out here and all the work still needing to get done.

Smalling your life

by Granate Sosnoff on 1st February, 2012

It’s a simple message. Most of the people I know have too large houses and too much stuff. I had/have too much stuff then moved from a large house into a 2 bedroom apartment with my daughter and am relieved and freed from many excess things. But it is hard to get away from things, because they are everywhere and people want to give them and get them and there are way too many places for them.

My mom was outlived by the glue sticks she bought at Costco. There was a lesson in there. She had clothes with the tags still on them. She had precious items she kept and kept and we ended up giving them to goodwill and throwing way too much away.

Luckily the tide seems to be turning — just in time as we are broker than usual anyway. There are too many tvs, computers, sweaters, jeans, boots, cds, objects in every room. And creative people are making it so we can share things like cars and bikes.

I’d like to share celery with about 4 people since there’s no way I can make it through a whole celery (don’t even know what they’re called) but need a few stalks for soup.

I’d also like to share a trip to Costco with about 4 people so that I can get cheap crackers.

In my newly freed-from-stuff state I took the interactive Slavery Footprint assessment (very complicated algorithm but explained in depth on their website) that measures how much “slave labor” goes into your life.

I tallied a disappointing 34 slaves to their average of 25 and hoped that this group they are measuring are largely in college without a kid, car, or mortgage.

But I remain disappointed in my count and want the ability to lobby more for a largely non meat-eating, sparse product-using, life. Turns out electronic equipment and clothes (really I don’t have that many) are big slave labor users.

What I like about Slavery Footprint is their non-finger pointing — information is power and leads to change and change in corporations — attitude. They are on to something, have a bloody-edge website, and you should check them out.

Especially if you think your footprint is small.

Sigh. The Internet Search Conundrum. (Or why it pays to have a common name in the Internet age.)

by Granate Sosnoff on 22nd November, 2011

I’m here to tell you, first-hand, that there’s a lot of crap out there and sometimes it’s hard to do anything about it.

I’m not talking about some bad photos that get posted on someone else’s Facebook, although I have been the recipient of those as well.

Two years ago a former client of mine was arrested for possible misuse of funds at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Program. I found out New Year’s Eve after getting a message on my work phone from the Sacramento Bee saying they were writing a story that involved me…

New Year’s day, curious, I did a search and saw that there was a full-blown online news story on my former client and at least three mentions of myself, unfounded allegations, and a bit of gay innuendo “we don’t know what the relationship was between them” kind of thing. It was a nightmare.

Not a good way to start the year. I called UC Davis, the police department, and on the advice of a friend who works with the press, did not call, the very conservative, Sacramento Bee.

Suffice it to say, that story has caused a lot of panicky moments and head shaking. Not to mention a grand f- up of any search results on my name.

There was of course no findings of wrongdoing but also never an ability to address my accusers/investigators – since UC Davis police never returned my calls even after I reached the Chief of Police who told me an investigator would call me back.

But here’s the thing, some conservative bloggers, intent on documenting government “waste” have reprinted the article, embellished it, and it is out there together with the original, flagrant article.

I don’t think there is any sense in engaging with conservative bloggers. It leads to bad things.

I do think that it makes sense to try and clear your name when you can and to “not believe everything you read” in the news and on the Internet.

If you did you would be like my daughter who when researching Kenya in the 3rd grade gleefully announced that: “Barack Obama was born in Kenya!”

This week I had the very small consolation of finding out that the UC Chief of Police, Annette Spicuzza, who told me “they would have someone call me back, and maybe clear this thing up in one phone call” has now been put on administrative leave for her role in pepper spraying peaceful demonstrators on campus. This time, of course, a much more harmful action, but part of a legacy of poor decision-making on her part.

Anti-Rage Against the Machine

by Granate Sosnoff on 21st November, 2011

The spitting mad activist spokesperson is annoying. Really annoying.*

As a participant, I lived through 80s Feminism on a progressive campus, so I’ve been inoculated for way-empowered, and fuming mad, but I think the booster is no longer effective.

I find myself liking the calm, lying corporate PR guy on NPR as he spars with an activist organizational head because the ED of (blank) organization has this extreme anger he can barely contain.

I wish there was some kind of anti-rage pill that could be taken before these debates since I am sure the nonprofit ED is the actual kind, smart individual, just trapped in a crazy world where they/we have to keep on reframing the debate.

But, it’s gotta be done. A former boss used to say that “responsible extremism” is how we move the agenda. And certainly there’s a lot of righteous anger, but the smart person, who keeps their cool up against the enemy, is our favorite hero.

The best of them, like The ED of the Oakland Institute, Anuradha Mittal, has seen first-hand how ugly the world can get for people who are kept in the dark while corporations tinker with their futures. She’s working hard to give a voice to hundreds of thousands, probably millions of people who are being adversely impacted by corporate land grabs in Africa

And still keeps her cool.

(I am not talking about protestors, fyi, and the Occupy people in particular, I support them, I was spitting mad after seeing recent video…)

We are a culture of extremists

by Granate Sosnoff on 18th November, 2011

Apparently they are running out of quinoa in the Andes. The super “not a grain, really a seed” eaten by local and ancient indigenous people like the Incas is now becoming scarce and prohibitively expensive due to the West’s obsession with new food. Many wanna-be and thin-elites have become afraid of regular grains and in particular of wheat even though fit Italians eat it every meal and are known to have washboard stomachs. The wheatists are leading us astray.

Places, outside of Bolivia, I have seen quinoa: shampoo ingredient in giveaway bottle, upstate NY hotel; non-wheat pizza dough, both coasts; numerous Whole Foods crackers.

What a shanda.

Other related news:

Our love of premium tequila has made agave (aka “blue gold”) a scarce commodity in Mexico.

India’s stores of yoga are rumored to be depleted.

So what to do?

Let’s advocate that only a portion of these items be made available for export while the remaining goods stay in the producing country at an affordable cost. (Leaving hamburgers from McDonalds not a fair exchange.)

Perhaps there could be a deal and a brand like “fair trade” coffee for items we don’t deplete. A mark that indicates: “we leave some behind.”

We don’t need all that quinoa.

Check out the UK’s Fairtrade Foundation: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/

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