Dream Defenders: superheroes for racial justice

by Granate Sosnoff on 7th August, 2013

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Written by Granate Sosnoff. Reposted from Oakland Local

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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

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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.

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.

Buying to make a difference

by Granate Sosnoff on 4th May, 2012

First of all, it is a great idea. And there are concrete examples of how corporate partnerships with products has raised a lot of money for organizations. But like many things that start out good, they reach a saturation point. I think we may be getting there, where marketing for a product, some kind of “proceeds for charity %” on the label, is more the focus than the actual dollars going to a good cause.

Kudos to Ben & Jerry’s who were early instigators of this, and it was always part of their business plan (1% for peace) as far as I can see. They stay current and hit well with “Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream” but also missed with “Taste the Lin-Sanity” with (choke) fortune cookie pieces and lychee (sorry Asian community).

Ben & Jerry’s does a lot of good through donations and their foundations. They are established players who give away ice cream a few times a year as well and served cones to early Occupiers in New York (back when everyone liked them). Their hearts and politics are in the right place.

But they are the exceptional ones. I can’t open the paper, go to the grocery store, or order online without being given the option to “buy for a good cause,” or “make a difference” la-tee-da look at me.

And though shopping is what Americans do best, have we really come to this? Where we won’t even do our “walk-a-thon” and raise funds – thus putting a dent in our own sedentary lives at the same time as raising money for a cause.

I’m pretty sure (Red) a product line to raise funds to eliminate AIDS raises a lot of money as well. But do we really want ending AIDS branded by a special Coke by (RED) or converse? And what does it say about ourselves when we buy, drink and wear this stuff? Are we doing something, do we understand anything?

I get it. When given the choice we might “buy to do good” and we all want to support what some are calling a “double” or even a “triple” bottom line:  where doing good for a cause or community AND the environment is considered AS (okay almost as) important as making money.

But when is it PR and when is it real?

And lastly I have to mention something along these same lines. I heard the head of GM (yes that GM – General Motors) on the radio (yes, NPR) say that they wanted to be “part of the solution” in regards to the very NPR-y subjects of global warming and fuel crises.

It was a bit weird. And sure, yeah, this of course needs to happen. Activists have implored from time immemorial that “if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” But it’s shocking to hear GM, the definition of corporate America, parrot it back.

So attention shoppers, be vigilant and smart. Don’t forget to “question authority” as well and ask if maybe corporations could just pay their own factory workers in China decently (Apple (Red) nano) or their farmworkers better (everyone) rather than give % somewhere in our name.

A Shout Out to Adbusters and the Occupy Movement

by Granate Sosnoff on 7th December, 2011

Just when you thought there was only single-issue protest left out there, the Occupy Wall Street 99% came on the scene to give us something real and compelling to respond to, talk about and support. Aside from some of the tactics and drum circles, this movement has been a breath of fresh air for many on the left and progressives. Thanks to the people out there we have a discourse that mentions “income disparity” in the daily paper. Ordinary and decent people who are angry at losing houses and jobs and need and want change are getting an audience. Fingers are getting pointed at the right institutions.

Kudos to Adbusters the Canadian magazine that launched this whole movement. An amazing thing to have a group like this that spoofs corporate advertising in a socially biting, lefty, sometimes ironic and usually intelligent way, be responsible for starting this surprising and important protest. Check them out at http://www.adbusters.org/

Social entrepreneurs haven’t solved everything yet.

by Granate Sosnoff on 7th November, 2011

We were very excited about it (ten+ years ago). Business smarts focused on the world’s problems like hunger and AIDs, I think Bill Gates said he would stop malaria and polio. The ebay guy, google, a bunch of others. And although I am all for this, I think that the focused attention of entrepreneurial thinking on the world’s problems didn’t do as much as they thought it would.

Turns out that deep-seated inequalities and historical roots of poverty and disease are hard to solve. Even with near-genius, out-of-the box thinkers. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against it. Just like I am okay with the sale of t-shirts to help a cause. And there’s nothing wrong with giving spare money to help someone with emergency food and some kind of item like a mosquito net. But it doesn’t fundamentally change conditions for anyone. And it doesn’t rattle any cages. In short, it’s safe help and sometimes that’s all you can do. But there’s a lot more to be done of course and not enough groups doing it.

People with the big money should at least fund it.

You can’t gloss over inequality and oppression that easy. Understanding the underlying issues apparently still has a value. Convincing policymakers and government to change course to uplift and support people like small farmers is hard work.

It takes more than a cape that says “winner” and a huge amount of money to get things done.

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