“Restorative Justice, Slavery, and the American Soul” . . . The Question of Reparations” l This Week on Our Common Ground

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

“Restorative Justice, Slavery, and the American Soul”
. . . The Question of Reparations”

February 23, 2013 10 pm ET

02-23 Blevins

OUR Guest: Michael BlevinsAuthor, Professor, Change and Justice Leader/Activist

 Founding Executive Director, NE Iowa Peace & Justice Center

ABOUT Michael Blevins

Mike Blevins fall.2012.Michael Blevins, JD, M.Div, LL.M (Intercultural Human Rights) works from Decorah, IA. He was a defense attorney for ten years in the state of Kansas and is an ordained pastor. He currently is a human rights advocate and activist who teaches Ethics and Philosophy at the college level and was recently the founding Executive Director of the NE Iowa Peace & Justice Center in Decorah, Iowa.

Mike is a Diversified Social Change and Non-Profit Professional with over twenty years experience in law, ministry, classroom teaching, community organizing, non-profit leadership, conflict resolution services, strategic planning, human rights advocacy and non-profit community development–including non-profit leadership, human rights education and advocacy.

He authored “Restorative Justice, Slavery, and the American Soul, A Policy-Oriented Approach to the Question of Reparations”, which was awarded the 2005 Institute of Policy Sciences Best Graduate Student Paper prize; the paper was presented by the author at the Annual Symposium of the Institute of Policy Sciences at Yale University Law School in October, 2005; Published by the Thurgood Marshall Law School Journal (Volume 31, No.2, pp. 253-322, Spring 2006.

Our discussion with Mike with focus on the following topics:

  • What is Restorative Justice and how might it apply to the evil of White Supremacy
  • Mass Incarceration and other aspects of the New Jim Crow
  • The Question of Reparations 
  • Reparations Initiatives including HR 40 (Conyers) and other proposals for approaching reparations 

Blevins, Michael F. (2005). Restorative Justice, Slavery, and the American Soul, A Policy-Oriented Intercultural Human Rights Approach to the Question of Reparations. Thurgood Marshall Law Review. 31:253-322. Summary by Restorative Justice.Org:
“Blevins provides an overview of how past slavery has an effect on present society; reparations have not been paid to the African American community and injustice remains. Reparations, Blevins states, should come in the form of aid, not charity, and that the United States owes reparations to both Africa and African-Americans. The current theories and laws addressing slavery reparations are centered on a litigation approach. This approach is ineffective and inhibits justice from being served. Blevins then discusses the Restorative Justice approach, briefly mentioning the Truth and Reconciliation processes in Africa, the Truth Commission established in Peru, and other Restorative Justice initiatives around the world. The article states that if nothing is done in the United States to address the past and present problems with slavery and racism, these problems will continue. To be successful, the reparations movement must occur within the academic, professional, civic, and religious sectors. Blevins suggests that an African American Redress Commission should be established by the House and Senate. Additionally, a commission would then be established in each district, with the purpose of conducting investigations and research, holding hearings, and holding community forums. The most important aspect of these commissions being the forums because the community would have a chance to be heard and to come up with solutions for the present problem. Each district would then submit a plan to the executive Commission, complete with legislative recommendations, entitled “America’s 21st Century Contract with African Americans.” Blevins ties this whole process to the commencement of slavery in Jamestown Virginia, comes up with an outline of a possible payment plan from the United States government to both African Americans and Africans, and challenges individual States to take action.”OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

“Speaking Truth to Power and Ourselves”

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theGrio’s 100: OUR COMMON GROUND Voice, Nina Turner

theGrio’s 100: Nina Turner, taking on voter suppression in Ohio

Senator Nina Turner (OhioSenate.gov)Senator Nina Turner (OhioSenate.gov)

Who is Nina Turner? 

The Ohio state senator emerged as one of the loudest voices in the country against controversial voting laws advanced by Republicans in her state, which was one of the most important battlegrounds in the 2012 campaign. Turner, 45, represents the Cleveland area, where she  grew up and and later served as a city councilman.

Why is she on theGrio’s 100? 

Ohio was one of the biggest flash points in the various controversies over voting laws and restrictions during the campaign. And Turner was a constant voice, insisting on making sure that it was as easy as possible for people both in Cleveland and throughout the state to vote. She made numerous appearances on MSNBC and other cable news outlets, as well as making her concerns known locally.

“Public officials at all levels have a moral obligation to make it easier to vote, but some of Ohio’s leaders have ignored this responsibility,” she said last year in the midst of the voting controversies.

Ohio state senator Nina Turner wears T-shirt: ‘GOP: Get out of my panties’

Her actions had impact. In the end, public attention and legal decisions forced Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, to abandon many controversial ideas that could have depressed the Obama vote in the Buckeye State, which the president won.

What’s next for Turner? 

Turner could eventually consider a run for the U.S. House or Senate or as Cleveland mayor. But more immediately, she is likely to continue playing a role in elections in 2014 and 2016 in battling Republicans on voting laws.

In 2014, Democrats want to win back the statehouse in Ohio, and Turner could help rally the party’s base to ensure reelection. And in 2016, Ohio is very likely to remain in the spotlight as a battleground state.

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theGrio’s 100: OUR COMMON GROUND Voice, Barbara Arnwine

theGrio’s 100: Barbara Arnwine, keeping civil rights front and center

Laywers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Executive Director Barbara Arnwine (2nd R) speaks during a news conference to voice opposition to state photo identification voter laws with the Rev. Jesse Jackson (C) and members of Congress at the U.S. Capitol July 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. In what the the committee calls 'vote supression legislation,' eight states require photo identification for people to vote and 22 others are considering similar legislation. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Laywers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Executive Director Barbara Arnwine (2nd R) speaks during a news conference to voice opposition to state photo identification voter laws with the Rev. Jesse Jackson (C) and members of Congress at the U.S. Capitol July 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. In what the the committee calls ‘vote supression legislation,’ eight states require photo identification for people to vote and 22 others are considering similar legislation. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Arnwine is president and executive director of theLawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law,which works on issues like racial profiling and voter protection.

Why is she on theGrio’s 100? 

Arnwine and her group were instrumental in battling controversial voting laws, such as ones requiring photo identification to vote, that were passed by Republican legislatures in 2011 and 2012. The committee joined lawsuits against many of the laws, helping lead to many of them being struck down by courts. The group also created a “Map of Shame” depicting which states had the most controversial voting laws and a hotline for people to report voting or registration problems in the months before Election Day.

“Voter suppression legislation that has been debated and passed across the nation since the 2010 mid-terms threatens to heighten voter confusion this November,” Arnwine said in the midst of the campaign.

The effort by Arnwine and others was successful, as Obama campaign aides said the voter laws had little impact on the 2012 election results.

What ‘s next for Arnwine? 

The battle over voter laws is likely to continue. While courts put aside many of the laws in 2012, Republican-led legislatures and governors are likely to propose them again in the future. And the 2014 and 2016 campaigns are not far away.



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7 Electoral Scenarios Most Likely to Trigger Armed Rebellion

 7 Electoral Scenarios Most Likely to Trigger Armed Rebellion

Or, you know, a total cable news freakout.


| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 2:03 AM PDT
Obama vs Romney

On November 6, the fate of the free world will be decided by a handful of voters in Iowa, Virginia, Ohio, and Colorado, many of whom will have made up their minds at the last minute after a frantic bout of Googling (“Mitt Romney” + “Gangnam style”). If all goes as planned, the losing candidate will call to graciously congratulate the winning candidate sometime before the East Coast has gone to bed, the losing party will begrudgingly accept the result, and the transfer of power will continue in peace, as it has without exception every four years since 1860.

Probably. But there’s another possible outcome: Instead of a smooth transition, the nation could be thrown into a constitutional crisis, or at the very least, a few more weeks of waiting. Here’s a look at what could happen, in no particular order of probability:

Unpopularly elected: President Obama wins the Electoral College by the narrowest of margins—but loses the popular vote to Mitt Romney. That could trigger a coordinated challenge to the legitimacy of the election. As CBS News’ Scott Conroy notes, “In the days before the 2000 election, George W. Bush’s campaign reportedly prepared talking points to dispute the democratic fairness of what was then seen as a more likely outcome—that Al Gore would win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.” (When the opposite scenario unfolded, Gore pushed wary Democrats to accept the outcome.) The New York Times‘ Nate Silver projects that there is a 5.2 percent chance of Obama winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote—and a 2 percent chance of the reverse.

Romney-Biden: Barack Obama wins the popular vote on November 6, winning every state John Kerry did in 2004, plus Iowa and Virginia, getting him every state he needs to clinch the election. But there’s a catch: Romney pulls off an upset in Maine’s second congressional district, the state’s most conservative (Todd Palin campaigned there in 2008). Maine is one of two states to split its electoral votes, and the victory would put Romney and Obama in a 269-269 Electoral College tie.

Or: Obama loses every swing state but Ohio.

Or: Obama wins Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, and New Hampshire. But he loses two blue states—Wisconsin and Iowa—along with Florida and Ohio.

Or: Obama peels off one congressional district in Nebraska (Omaha), wins Ohio and Virginia, but loses Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida, and Colorado.

The presidential tie then goes to the Republican House of Representatives. (Silver’s model gives this an 0.3 percent chance of happening.) Each state delegation gets one vote. Romney wins easily.

But it’s not that simple. In the event of an Electoral College tie, the Constitution stipulates that the vice president be chosen by the Senate—which is in Democratic hands until at least January. Even if a few Democrats peel off (we’re looking at you, Joe Manchin), a 50-50 tie would be settled by the vice president. Voting for yourself to be second-in-command to your ideological opposite? Sounds like the ultimate Biden move.

President Boehner: Thanks to a combination of lame-duck congressmen and turncoats, the House ends up in a 25–25 tie, making Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) president. He immediately breaks into tears.

Nader 2.0: Democrats fall flat on November 6. Romney wins the big three—Florida, Virginia, and Ohio—plus Iowa, and Obama falls below the 50 percent mark in Colorado and Nevada. But aided by disaffected Ron Paul supporters who feel they’ve been pushed around by the GOP one too many times (and a marijuana referendum in Colorado), Libertarian Gary Johnson has one of the best performances in his party’s short history, taking in 4 percent of the vote in both states. It’s enough—barely—to put Obama over the top.

Recount! With visions of hanging chads still fresh in everyone’s heads, the presidency once more comes down to one or two pivotal states. On November 7, it’s still too close to call. Likely candidates include Iowa, whose GOP caucus last January was marred by vote-counting troubles, or—perish the thought—Florida. In Colorado and Ohio, a recount is automatically triggered if the difference between the two candidates is half of 1 percent or smaller. In Virginia, a recount can be requested if the margin between the two candidates is less than 1 percent of the non-write-in vote. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken wasn’t seated until July of 2009, after an eight-month legal battle and recount process.

Going rogue: In September, the Associated Press reported that at least three Republican electors were considering not voting for Mitt Romney in the Electoral College should he win their state in November. (A fourth resigned his position in protest.) In a close race, those three votes—which would likely go to Ron Paul—could make all the difference. They could also lead to messy legal action, since Nevada, home to one of the potentially wayward electors, requires electors to abide by the popular vote result.

November surprise: Biblical prophesy guru and Michele Bachmann confidante Jan Markell has warned that this election would have “apocalyptic” consequences. And she was right. As the nation awaits the returns on election night, President Obama reveals that he is really one of the therion, a seven-headed, 10-horned sea beast prophesied in the Book of Revelation. The world immediately plunges into war, ending, after many years of violent upheaval, with the therion being thrown into the Lake of Fire. Interestingly, the Constitution makes no provisions for this kind of scenario, although presumably it will end with Virgil Goode seizing power.

OUR COMMON GROUND Opens 2013 Season with Political-Cultural-Social Commentator Playthell Benjamin

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

2013 Season Opening

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 Playthell Benjamin

February 2, 2013 10pm ET

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2013 Season Opening

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GUEST: Playthell Benjamin, Author, Commentator, Scholar and Broadcaster

Commentaries on The Times

“Praising Saints, Celebrating Heroes, Unmasking Charlatans, Defending the Defenseless and Chastising Scoundrel

“He characterized Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West as misdirected and Marvin X of Oakland, a recovering left coast crack head and shameless sophist with an alter-ego bearing the curious name of “Plato Negro;” a pompous wag who confuses mindless mumbo jumbo with profound wisdom, alas I have been dragged back into an ethnic kerfuffle of the sort they love to wallow in but I eschew.” He writes about all the great issues of our time, and he is interested in the whole world. From the issues of SandyHook to Syria, the White House and the UN, there is no argument that Playthell Benjamin is a learned scholar and street smart analyst.”

About Playthell Benjamin

Playthell George Benjamin is the producer of “Commentaries On the Times” which he writes and delivers on WBAI radio in New York City. He is a producer with The Midnight Ravers, a long running show exploring the world of art and politics which has won several radio awards for excellence in programming. He is an award winning journalist who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in two different categories: Explanatory Journalism, Village Voice 1988, and Distinguished Commentary, New York Daily News 1995. As part of the production team for The Midnight Ravers, Mr. Benjamin won a 2011 award for excellence in radio programming, given for The Curtis Mayfield Special.

playthell benjaminIn addition to major political current events, he has extensively written about the differences in political approach within the Black community on issues related to the Obama presidency, administration policies and achievement. Playthell has been an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice since the late 1980s and we welcome his voice back to our microphone. Our discussion will focus on issues related to Obama administration achievements, the inter-community discourse on Obama, and class struggle in America. His provocative, well-informed commentary is hard-hitting and sure to invite serious consideration of our positions and direction.

He characterized Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West as misdirected and Marvin X of Oakland, a recovering left coast crack head and shameless sophist with an alter-ego bearing the curious name of “Plato Negro;” a pompous wag who confuses mindless mumbo jumbo with profound wisdom, alas I have been dragged back into an ethnic kerfuffle of the sort they love to wallow in but I eschew.” He writes about all the great issues of our time, and he is interested in the whole world. From the issues of SandyHook to Syria, the White House and the UN, there is no argument that Playthell Benjamin is a learned scholar and street smart analyst.

He writes that he has spent “a half century chronicling the triumphs and studying the problems of the black world. Indeed I was a co-founder of the first free standing, degree granting, Black Studies Department in history – the W.E.B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Mass, Amherst. I also spent quite a few years as an activist trying to solve those problems, beginning with the explosion of the black student movement in the south during the spring of 1960. Since then my life story would make a spectacular read even by the standards of a romance novel.”

Playthell has won several prizes ranging from The Unity Award presented by the School of communications at Lincoln University in Missouri for distinguished commentary on race relations; the Griot Prize for excellence in covering a story requiring an exploration of African American history and culture: “Who is Listening to Louis Farrakhan?” It was awarded by the New York chapter of the Association of Black Journalist in December 1989. In 1991 Mr. Benjamin won the NYABJ Magazine Awards for Feature Stories, and in 1996 he won the first Annual Tom Forcade Award “for honesty and accuracy in drug reporting” awarded by High Times magazine for his columns on drug use and abuse in the New York Daily News.
From 1991 – 1996 Playthell was a regular contributor to the Guardian Observer of London, where he wrote on politics, culture and sports. He also wrote for the Sunday Times of London, particularly in the prestigious magazine, The Culture, which addresses cultural matters high and low. In the London Guardian he wrote feature stories ranging from the television coverage of the Los Angeles race riot sparked by the Rodney King incident, to the courtroom genius of the great First Amendment Lawyer Martin Garbus, as well as the O.J. Simpson Trial, The Mike Tyson Rape Case, The Inauguration of Bill Clinton, Concerts at Lincoln Center, and the Sista Souljah vs. Bill Clinton incident. Mr. Clinton’s saxophone playing was also subjected to serious critical evaluation in an essay titled “He may be the Leader of the Western World…But will he ever be President of the Saxophone? For The Sunday Times he wrote about the Youth Jazz festivals convened by the peerless jazz vocalist Betty Carter, Michael Douglass’ movie on the desperation of displaced white workers, Gangsta Rap, Jazz, etc.


OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

“Speaking Truth to Power and Ourselves”


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The Audacity of Fluff: A Critical Reading of Obama’s Inaugural Address l The Atlantic


The Audacity of Fluff: A Critical Reading of Obama’s Inaugural Address


 The president’s words elided inconvenient realities and too often lacked rigor.

Conor Friedersdorf

o inaug reuters.jpg


President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address is unlikely to be much remembered by future generations. Its authors have a talent for “rhetorical craftsmanship,” as James Fallows astutely noted. But to what end?

Were hard truths expressed? Were complicated concepts rendered in clarifying language? Were the disagreements that divide us insightfully characterized? Was an argument advanced? No, the craftsmanship was marshaled in place of substance rather than in support of it. The president expertly associated himself with certain ideas and evoked certain impressions.

He burnished his brand rather than acting like a leader.

I don’t mean to suggest a total dearth of ideas.

The speech’s theme: As Americans, we’re in this together. That’s a fine theme. Like the vast majority of Americans, I favor a social safety net to care for those who can’t care for themselves; I grant the wisdom of funding infrastructure projects through federal and state governments; I agree that “our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very
well and a growing many barely make it”; and I think the present generation has some obligations to posterity.

Of course, sharing those concerns needn’t mean accepting that any one related policy proposal would be effective or desirable. I often disagree with Obama’s proposed remedies. I am hardly alone. What did the second inaugural offer an American like me? Neither a serious, reasoned attempt to persuade me of his vision nor an acknowledgement that it is deeply contested.

As he often does, Obama proceeded as if leadership is an exercise in eliding disagreements; as if defeating a straw man in argument is persuasive; and sometimes even as if pretty lies are preferable to the truth. Certain passages met a basic threshold of substance. But they were surrounded by fluff: rhetoric so light, soft, and fuzzy it ought to be beneath a historical occasion. We now expect no better of our pols. So they meet our expectations.

What follows are passages I found particularly objectionable (for a variety of reasons).

Said Obama:

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.

Oh really?

Obama favors greater central authority in health care, energy, education, gun regulation, and occupational safety. His underlings have actively undermined state efforts to decentralize marijuana policy. And on national-security matters, he has worked to centralize authority in the executive branch. In what way has Obama’s supposed skepticism of central authority manifested itself in the last four years? I can think of no significant step he has taken to check it. This is phrased as a nod to ideological opponents, but the concession has no substance behind it.

Said Obama:

Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.

That apples-and-oranges comparison at the beginning reads like a passage from a Tom Friedman column. It’s trivially true that no single person can train all the math teachers we need, or build all the research labs. But it hardly follows that we need to do all those things together, “as one nation, and one people.” Some of the math teachers can be trained by Jesuit institutions that secular Americans are uninclined to support. Some of the research labs can be built with private money to conduct research that many wouldn’t care to fund, whether due to moral objections or because they don’t appreciate its value. A great strength of America is the fact that we don’t have to do everything collectively, “as one nation, and one people.” Individuals and diverse groups work alone or in private collaboration to pursue their own notions of the good, and everyone benefits from their greatest achievements. If we’re smart, we also benefit from the science teachers and research laboratories of other peoples and nations. In a pluralistic nation, actually doing anything as one is either a vapid illusion or creeping fascism. Progressives feel that way when they’re told opposing a particular war is un-American.

Said Obama:

America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together.

Our world is not without boundaries. And America’s capacity for risk is not “endless,” thank goodness.

Said Obama:

We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.

In America, it has never been true that a little girl born into the bleakest poverty “knows” she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she has never and does not currently have the same chance. Equality of opportunity is something to which America ought to keep aspiring. So I suppose I agree with what I take to be his point. What I don’t understand is why Obama would phrase things as if, when we’ve been true to ourselves, the destitute poor enjoyed that equality. They never have (though some of them have managed to “make it” anyway).

Said Obama:

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher.

This elides the reason for our woes. The tax code is flawed because it accommodates special interests as often as the general interest, among other reasons, not because it’s waiting for “new ideas” or “technology” to fix it. It isn’t “ideas” or “technology” that are going to fix our government or our schools either. Pretending as much is a frivolous evasion that serves no one.


We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.

Are today’s retirees “the” generation that built this country? No. Is there anyone arguing that America must choose between the binary options caring for the elderly and investing in the children?


There are people suggesting that the relative amounts flowing to those groups must be re-calibrated. Obama’s words create a straw man that is marshaled to elide the fact that society must decide how much the state spends on young and on old, and that the two decisions impact one another.

Said Obama:

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

It isn’t actually clear that the United States will respond to the threat of climate change, partly because most Americans can still mostly escape the impact of wildfires, droughts, and more powerful storms. The politics are difficult precisely because the costs are borne by other people.

Said Obama:

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries — we must claim its promise.

Actually, if Japan or Germany or Brazil invented an awesome new technology that made clean energy cheaply, without any American leadership, we’d still benefit from it, and there would be no danger of us “ceding” it, whatever that means. We’d adopt the technology, obviously. Again, Obama is trying to elide something: in this case, that “clean energy” is presently inferior, at least when you can ignore its externalities, and that the transition is being resisted for that reason. What purpose does it serve to frame controversies in a way that elides their core?

Said Obama:

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage.

Actually, America is presently engaged in a War on Terrorism, and no one, the president included, thinks it is going to end in the foreseeable future. Nor has he put forth any strategy or analytic framework under which it would end, or defined what a victory would mean. Also, there is no evidence for the belief that American soldiers are unmatched in their courage. There are almost certainly people of other nationalities as brave. Why pretend otherwise?

Said Obama, “We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.” But the last two presidents have repeatedly broken domestic and international law in the course of fighting the War on Terrorism. He continued, “No one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.” Actually, weaker nations have a greater stake in a peaceful world, because they’re unable to prevent violent aggressors from invading and killing their people.

“We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom,” Obama said, though neither our interests nor our conscience will cause him to support democracy in Saudi Arabia or Qatar.

Said Obama:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot
walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

But in his actions, he makes abundantly clear his belief that people in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, to name three countries where he approves drone strikes, are not to be treated as if their lives are equally valuable as American lives, or as if they enjoy the very same rights and liberties. If our freedom is “inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” when does the invasion of North Korea begin? Or are we actually quite free despite their living in tyranny? If Obama is being guided by the stars of Selma and Stonewall he’s an awful navigator.

So many passages in Obama’s second inaugural betrayed a predictable yet disappointing lack of rigor and forthrightness. But other than all the quoted passages above, the speech was okay. I’m sure Obama’s defenders will point out that many of the shortcomings I’ve detailed are no worse than what is found in most every politician’s speech. I concede the point, but encourage everyone to stop treating that as a good reason to withhold criticism.


 – Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

No reason to celebrate Tim Scott l Scholar Activist Bill Fletcher

No reason to celebrate Tim Scott



Bill Fletcher Jr.


(NNPA)—The polite side of me congratulates Tim Scott on being named Senator for the state of South Carolina.  Alright, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get down to business.
The appointment of Scott was a move that reminded me of the Republican choice to head the Republican National Committee—Michael Steele—in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s first election in 2008. The RNC seemed to want to go out of their way to demonstrate that they could put a Black person into a responsible position now that the country had elected an African-American. In the aftermath of the re-election of President Obama, and the increasing support he is receiving among people of color (as voting blocs), the Republicans seem to, once again, want to demonstrate that they are not the party of whiteness…well, sort of.
The concern for Black America on this appointment is that we fall into the trap of ignoring Scott’s politics in the name of supporting “another Black man.” This is a mistake that many of us have made over the years with one of the most egregious examples being the support gained by Clarence Thomas from too many African-Americans when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. Many of us, naively, seemed to believe that Thomas would “do the right thing” once he had the job security of a Supreme Court appointment. Instead we have been treated to an adamantly conservative justice. He has not only been of no help to Black America; he has been a hindrance.
Senator Tim Scott has not sided with the interests of Black America. His politics are not particularly different from outgoing Senator Jim DeMint. Scott essentially embraces the politics of the Tea Party. He happens to have Black skin.
For understandable reasons, we of Black America are frequently willing to give another Black person who achieves high office the benefit of the doubt. We are always concerned about double standards and the sorts of racist assaults that Black elected (and appointed) officials regularly experience. This reality, however, cannot lead us to ignore the actual “content of the character” of such individuals. Whether the person is Tim Scott, Clarence Thomas, or for that matter, Susan Rice and Barack Obama, we need to scrutinize their politics and their policies. This means being prepared to challenge those who, regardless of their face, smile, speeches, or place of birth, advance the interests of the 1 percent over the rest of us.
Happy New Year!
(Bill Fletcher Jr. is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us”—And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.)


The Personal Is Political: That’s the Challenge: Roe v. Wade and a Black Nationalist Womanist Writer

The Personal Is Political: That’s the Challenge: Roe v. Wade and a Black Nationalist Womanist Writer

Graphic by Imp Kerr

The editors asked for my views on a court decision handed down before I was born. What follows are reflections on Roe v. Wade by a black nationalist, womanist-leaning, hip-hop-generation writer with an unshakable belief in every woman’s right to control her reproductive life but an uneasy relationship with American history, politics, and the struggle attached to obtaining and maintaining that right.

In its June 1992 ruling on Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the central tenet of Roe v. Wade—that states can’t criminalize most abortions. At the same time, this lesser-known but arguably as important decision gave state lawmakers across the country more wiggle room to restrict abortion access on a piecemeal basis.

Because of my age and proximity, the state-based, anti-choice backlash symbolized by Caseyresonates much more than the sweeping feminist victory of Roe v. Wade.

I was a sixteen-year-old living in West Philadelphia during the Casey period. The defining reproductive health issues of my day were teen pregnancy and a new, deadly, sexually transmitted disease called AIDS. For my generation, The Pill was a given and Roe was an abstraction, the subject of an oversimplified historical narrative.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for my afterschool job teaching mostly black and Puerto Rican girls how to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, I wouldn’t have participated in post-Roe activism at all.

Peer education was a fitting gig for me, an idealistic twelfth grader weaned on the sex-positive children’s book Where Did I Come From?, steeped in my mother’s black feminism, and motivated by my household’s black nationalist values of self-determination and community concern. True, I was a virgin for most of my tenure, but what I lacked in sexual experience I made up for in stats and demonstrations with props including a rubber penis model, cervical cap, Today sponge and female condoms the circumference of soup cans.

Under the mentorship of a groovy young white organizer named Jacqueline Ambrosini, I even joined an ad hoc, Planned Parenthood–affiliated sexuality education advocacy group called Teenvoices. While our primary goal was to push Philadelphia public schools to implement the comprehensive sex education curriculum the district had designed, we also discussed the Supreme Court hearing of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. We Teenvoicers learned the pro-choice argument against the state’s 1982 Abortion Control Act, which required a twenty-four-hour waiting period, parental consent for most minors, and spousal notification prior to the procedure. These regulations, we learned, placed an undue burden on girls and women seeking to exercise their constitutionally protected right to undergo a safe, legal abortion. To humanize the lofty and wonky concept of undue burden, we discussed what it might mean for wives in abusive marriages, incest victims under age eighteen, working women for whom two trips to an abortion provider would jeopardize their employment, and rural women without reliable public transportation.

Even without the crash course in my state’s obstructive abortion policy, I was unapologetically pro-choice. Common sense told me that abortion fell squarely in the category of “doing what you had to do.” If you weren’t the person carrying the fertilized egg, and if you weren’t emotionally, socially, financially and legally required to raise or pay child support for the resulting baby, best practice was to mind your own damned business.

In fact, under the rubric of “the personal is political,” I’m going to tell you—with her permission—that my mother had an abortion. She and my father couldn’t support a third little Solomon, so they made the choice. My mom mentions her abortion with the same pragmatism she’s used to discuss her intra-uterine device and tubal ligation. “I’m just not ashamed of it,” she has said, without prompting, on more than one occasion. “I believe in a woman’s right to choose, and I think all women deserve equal access to this choice.”

Based on my inherited pragmatism and the outspokenness I displayed at Teenvoices meetings, Jacqui asked me to speak out against parental consent at a pre-Casey press conference.

I said no.

I was not press-shy. I had already co-written a Philadelphia Daily News op-ed about the failure of sexuality education in city public schools, been quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer about school violence and the devaluation of black life, and provoked television news coverage thanks to an anti-racism speakout my friends and I orchestrated at our school.

But I drew the line at publicly aligning myself with “the abortion issue,” Roe v. Wade, and the institutional white feminists popularly associated with the ruling. Doing so seemed like socio-political suicide in my highly segregated, decidedly African American slice of Philadelphia community life. I just couldn’t see myself standing up on the local news in my six-inch Yoruba headwrap spitting soundbites about teen abortion access, then returning to the Christian faithful in my high school gospel choir and the “conscious,” quasi-Muslim, Afrocentric, and decidedly un-feminist Caribbean boys I dated.

I drew the line at publicly aligning myself with “the abortion issue,” Roe v. Wade, and the institutional white feminists popularly associated with the ruling. Doing so seemed like socio-political suicide in my highly segregated, decidedly African American slice of Philadelphia community life.

Then there were certain “political” adults in my orbit for whom “Mississippi appendectomies,” coercive welfare policies, and the specter of black genocide were very real. I didn’t want them lecturing me about the white supremacist, anti-immigrant eugenics movement of the early twentieth century; about the forcible, secret sterilization of poor black women, including Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party leader Fannie Lou Hamer; or the forty-year-long “Tuskegee Experiment of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” a government-sponsored study that allowed hundreds of poor, black Alabama men infected with syphilis to believe that they were receiving medical care for “bad blood” when they were in, fact, being used as guinea pigs.

In her landmark essay “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex,” critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw describes “gender subordination” among black women as “ambivalence among Black women about the degree of political and social capital that ought to be expended toward challenging gender barriers, particularly when the challenges might conflict with the antiracism agenda.” Based on what I knew of it, mainstream feminism didn’t provide much of an incentive for me to expend my own limited capital.

From the outside looking in, early 1990s feminism had little to do with policies that impacted all women regardless of race, class, or location. As a high school student, I saw feminism as a movement dedicated to the advancement of individuals who just happened to be white, thin, able-bodied, and heterosexual. The questions posed by lipstick-feminist, white-women-centered magazines I flipped through were broad, behavioral, and marketable: “Can women have it all?” they’d ask. “Can you be strong and sexy at the same time?”

Even the Second Wave structural question of women working outside of the home seemed irrelevant, because the women in my family and community didn’t have a choice. Every single African American woman I knew worked a paying job, as did her mother and grandmother. In my grandmothers’ cases, they cleaned—floors at schools, floors at the electric company, and the floors of white women’s homes.

Given my uneasiness about mainstream feminism, I just didn’t have the capacity to take on a potentially controversial issue like abortion.

To convey how the dual influences of my mother’s womanism and our household’s black nationalism empowered me to advocate sexuality education but silenced me on Roe v. Wade, I need to give you more details about how I was raised. 

I lack the poetic acuity of childhood memoirist June Jordan or the structural analysis of a Haki Madhubuti, so it’s hard for me to pinpoint how individual tenets of either system shaped my worldview at sixteen or even now. I can only say that my fiercely loving mom and baba made a calculated effort to place ideas of black affirmation, activism, nation-building, cultural genius, and gender equality at the center of our everyday lives. They did so despite the wicked, wicked early 1980s backlash against black liberation politics and the enduring pan-movement silence about sexism.

Along with my grandmother, Mamie Nichols, a longtime South Philadelphia anti-gentrification activist, my parents modeled the necessity of organizing. Baba was an active member of a Philadelphia group called the Kwanzaa Cooperative. Mom was on the board of the Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Project and a founding member of Sisters Remember Malcolm, a group that honored and made contemporary the legacy of Malcolm X.

For my sister and me, this meant frequent trips to community programs where domestic revolution, South African apartheid, police brutality, the radical group MOVE, political prisoners, news media racism, and the devilish ways of Mayor Frank Rizzo were popular topics. This meant periodic visits by a non-criminal auntie who was nevertheless wanted in several states. It also meant being traumatized at age seven by an image of Emmett Till’s lynched and bloated corpse; mourning the murder of Malcolm X at age eight; and finding out the depressing facts of Reconstruction to counter the Hollywood version of black emancipation with at ten.

I learned the broad strokes of black feminism through my mother’s pronouncements and my baba’s cooperation. I remember her using Alice Walker’s “womanist” nomenclature to sum up her feminism rooted in black liberation struggles. I also recall her screaming at us about equal division of household labor and running down “full of shit, trifling brothers” who demanded the benefits of patriarchy without doing “manly” things like working a damn job. Pink wasn’t a sartorial option. Kwanzaa gifts for two little doll-loving girls included a Radio Shack math and science kit so we’d be ready to run a post-revolution world.

Now, all of this political thinking, activity—programming—was a blessing. But two ironies complicated my childhood and adolescence. First of all, “non-conscious” black people outnumbered us, and I lived in mortal fear of intra-racial ridicule of my nappy hair, Swahili name, homemade African-print dresses, and observance of Kwanzaa.

Second was that my parents, fed up with multiple school strikes, geographic exclusion from the city’s top magnet school, and a series of administrators playing loose and fast with young black minds, sent my sister and me to a predominantly white, rich, all-girl prep school in the suburbs. The plan was for us to acquire the skills we’d need to administer the revolution. For me, that meant a vicious triple consciousness. From third to eighth grade, I was, in turn, a nappy-headed new Afrikan unfamiliar with the rituals of bourgeois Afro-America; a proper-to-white-talking black girl afraid of betraying my parents; and a dark-skinned, working-class black girl navigating a world of extreme whiteness. After dealing with my own issues of racial and cultural identity, I just didn’t have the energy to take on gender.

In June 1992, a deflated, Nepal-bound Jacqui told us that for all intents and purposes, “we” had lost Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. The high court upheld parental consent for minors and the twenty-four-hour waiting period for adolescents and grown women. 

Technically speaking, the court used the “undue burden” standard for evaluating each chunk of the law. A provision was deemed an undue burden if, by design or in effect, it created major obstacles for a woman trying to get an abortion before the fetus reached “viability.” Spousal notification was the sole “undue burden.”

Although I wasn’t sophisticated enough to see it at the time—and email, blogs, online progressive media, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other forms of instant communication weren’t there for organizers to instantly ring the alarm—Planned Parenthood v. Casey provided legal and official reinforcement for an anti-abortion movement that appeared to be on the fringes of sanity.

From the early 1990s to the 2010 Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party, grassroots fanaticism served as the dominant image of the anti-abortion movement. If you weren’t in the trenches or paying close attention, it was easy to perceive radical anti-choice folks as a motley crew of clinic bombers and street-harassers; bait-and-switch crisis pregnancy counselors; demented fetus-doll-waving street preachers; and middle aged, white American terrorists, such as Scott Roeder, who in January 2009 walked into a Wichita, Kansas, church and shot late-term abortion doctor George Tiller to death.

At the risk of sounding overdramatic, I’m going to tell you that I regret my lack of involvement in the fight for reproductive rights. Maybe I would have made a different choice if I had known about Florynce “Flo” Kennedy, a civil rights and black liberation movement attorney and co-founder of the National Organization for Women. Perhaps my ambivalence would have dissipated if I’d learned about Reproductive Justice, a women-of-color-led, grassroots movement that decentralizes abortion and focuses on “the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments,” as the pioneering SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Coalition defines it. After all, the Reproductive Justice framework was born at a 1994 caucus of black women. Among other results, that framework helped Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice organize Vietnamese nail salon workers to protest toxic workplace chemicals. It led to the formation of Trust Black Women, a collective that gave laypeople and sympathetic legislators the language they needed to deconstruct racist billboards that equate black women’s reproductive health choices with black genocide. If I had known that radical women of color were fighting for reproductive rights and health care outside of traditional, white feminist pathways, I think I would have been all in.

While considering the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I’ve been thinking about Angela Davis’s 1988 essay “Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired.” In it, she wrote, “Politics do not stand in polar opposition to our lives. Whether we desire it or not, they permeate our existence, insinuating themselves into the most private spaces of our lives.” 

Given that about 40 percent of American pregnancies are unintended, that black and Latina women undergo abortions at a higher rate than white women, and that financial instability is the foremost reason women give for ending a pregnancy, I think it’s high time for more women of color to get loud about reproductive health rights and for traditional gatekeepers to listen. As my mother recently said, we’re at war. There’s simply no room for ambivalence,  queasiness, or fear.

Akiba Solomon is a freelance writer and editor. She writes about the intersection of gender and race for Colorlines.com.

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