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SOTU Antidote: Actual News (UPDATE)

5:32 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Yes, our fearless leader spoke yesterday. Wasn’t that exciting?

Bottle-feeding a kitten from a syringe.

A necessary inoculation against political pablum.

But here’s some news you might have missed.

Protesters Arrested Outside Monsanto Shareholders’ Meeting

The video above, via St. Louis’ KSDK, claims 10 arrests. But both Democracy Now! and RT put the total number of Occupy Monsanto arrests at 11:

At least 11 protesters were arrested outside of Monsanto’s headquarters on Tuesday as they rallied in favor of shareholder resolutions that would require the company to alter its approach to genetically-modified organisms.

More than two-dozen protesters, one of which was a Monsanto shareholder himself, endured cold temperatures in Creve Coeur, Missouri as they pushed the biotech company to work with the federal government towards efforts to label food featuring genetically-modified organisms (GMO). Another resolution, meanwhile, would have required Monsanto to provide a contamination report on non-GMO crops.

Both measures failed with less than 10 percent support after Monsanto’s board recommended shooting down the proposals. When the results came in, the atmosphere surrounding the rally became much more aggressive, with protesters using five cars to block the entrance to Monsanto’s building. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, some locked and chained themselves to cars, while police spent about an hour clearing the area and making arrests.

UPDATE: KSDK reporter Farrah Fazal tweeted me to clarify the number of arrests:

War On Women Everywhere

As the House demonstrated to their constituents how much they hate women by passing an anti-abortion bill with no hope of becoming law, the war on women’s rights continued to spread to other states. Andrea Grimes at RH Reality Check was one of just a few media sources sounding the alarm on secretive new regulations restricting abortion in Louisiana. A sudden burst of social media sunshine forced officials to back down:

Monday night, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals told RH Reality Check that it will ‘be rescinding the language regarding the 30-day period for blood tests,’ and that it intends to ‘clarify’ the building requirements for abortion facilities, saying that ‘the intent of the language on square footage in the rule is to cover prospective facilities or facilities undergoing renovations.’ Despite the department’s passage of the rules without input from providers and without a previous public hearing, DHH says it ‘has already received several public comments regarding the rule.’ A public hearing on the new rules has been moved to February 4 at DHH in Baton Rouge at 1 p.m.

But the attempt proves how determined the conservative right has become to roll-back abortion rights nationwide, and how unscientific and ill-intentioned these policies have become in the name of “protecting” women and children:

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Free Speech, Capitalist Dynasties

7:27 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Did you hear? Some rich filth on TV said he believes God hates fags.

V for Vendetta-style caped Guy Fawkes & a police photographer

The beginning of a new movement or the last gasp of unmediated free speech?

Now, TV personalities can spend even more days analyzing other TV personalities. Do they hate gays, black people, you? What color is Santa? All the usual, powerful swine are out for the right of other swine to say whatever they want on a profitable television program.

Conservatives like to believe that “freedom of speech” means “freedom from consequences” for intolerance. Meanwhile, actual violations of freedom of speech — like climate change activists being charged with a “terrorism hoax” – go unanswered by either the right or the left.

While this spectacle involves the right-wing puppets, both parties — the whole political spectrum, as far as Mainstream America is concerned — are intimately invested in this redefinition of free speech.

Free speech isn’t what happens in the streets, it’s corporate money at elections and pretty pictures on commercial television.

When Occupy drew thousands nationwide, it was Democratic mayors — and Obama’s Feds — that came down hardest on the movement. When thousands gathered at the Texas Capitol this past summer but before Wendy Davis’ much-lauded filibuster, Democratic party officials put the loudest, most influential grassroots organizers on a list of dangerous agitators that they passed around to rally organizers from multiple groups. One of them told me I shouldn’t lead crowds in chanting or disruptive behavior because it would “look crazy.” Not to worry, she told me, we’d vote them out in 2014.

Street posters of Snowden (labelled Patriot) & Rick Perry (labelled Dog Shit)

Speech without permits is terrorism.

On the night of the final vote while a hundred Texas State Troopers beat and dragged us for sitting in front of the Senate doors, the Texas Democrats led a march away from the Capitol so they could have a fund raiser in a park before their permit ran out. Whatever happens next November, the legislature won’t even meet till 2015 and at least 20,000 women won’t have access to safe abortion next year.

Free speech isn’t what happens on the Internet. We jail our whistle blowers and hacktivist heroes while the NSA stalks and catalogs us.

Free speech is freedom to create commercially profitable spectacle. The media disappearing yet again up its own asshole.

Homeless people — perhaps as many as half of whom are queer — are freezing to death in the richest part of the country. LGBTQ folk are being jailed and tortured in Greece and Russia but we applaud a few gay athletes.

Free speech is voting for a turkey while prisoners languish in solitary, poor people starve and our atmosphere burns.

But don’t look away for a minute. You might miss a heartfelt apology, before we all comb our folksy beards and shoot a few more ducks through the magic of mirror neurons.

The Mexicans and the Million Mask March had the right of it by surrounding the mainstream media bullshit factories and demanding to be heard by so-called journalists. They just didn’t go far enough.

Give it time. The disenfranchisement is there, we’re just waiting on enough anger.

People of America, put on your masks. Lift up your voices. And pick up your paintbrush, your smart phone, your chalk and your wheat paste and use them to smash the state.

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Manning Solidarity at Austin’s Queerbomb

3:51 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Free Chelsea Manning float rolling in a sea of queers at Queerbomb

The OccuQueers and CODEPINK represented Chelsea Manning at Austin’s Queerbomb.

This post has been updated to accurately reflect Chelsea Manning’s gender identity.

After the well-publicized cowardice of San Francisco’s Pride in the face of pressure to drop support for Chelsea Manning and with her trial beginning this week, several Austin queers and allies wanted to act in support.

Austin’s “official” Pride event (with heavy corporate sponsorship and organized by the Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce) takes place in September. For the fourth time, independent activists honored Pride Month with Queerbomb, a rally and street march last Saturday. Thanks to the Occupy Austin OccuQueers and CODE PINK Austin, Manning was well-represented.

A Queerbomb volunteer provided us with a wheeled platform and helped the first stage of float-making, which was the creation of a frame made from chicken-wire and egg-carton material in the shape of an oversized human torso and head. On Saturday, more of the OccuQueers gathered in my back yard to cover the frame in paper maché and then paint it. We were assisted by one of Occupy Austin’s talented artists, the same woman who helped us create and deploy the Fuck Hyatt banner for Pride 2012.

Joined by the Austin Audio Co-Op and their famous “Party Wagon” (#OATX’s mobile sound system), we arrived just in time for the parade, which was forced to leave early. As we took the Austin streets under police escort, many cheered for the Manning float. We were soon joined by representatives of CODE PINK Austin and the Manning Support Network. Many queers and spectators asked for more information, and we offered fliers and answers in return. Along one part of the route, a few spectators joined our “Free Manning” chants.

Since almost every time I’ve posted about Manning to Facebook I’ve attracted trolls (including repeated disruptive attempts by a known past or present Obama For America employee), it was disappointing but not surprising that our real life efforts attracted one too. As we rolled down Sixth Street, Austin’s night club district, a lithe blond woman aggressively approached a marcher who carried a large Manning banner. The situation became tense as she shouted “Manning should rot in hell!” but the pressure of a fast-moving parade and the intervention of many other supporters kept things from escalating further.

Overall the action was a success, bringing increased awareness of Manning’s case. At the end of the night when I parked the Manning float and took a rest on a bench at a nearby coffee shop, it was fun to watch people stop to pose with him for photos as they left Queerbomb.

Trouble Ahead for Queerbomb?

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3 Ways Movements Spread Nonviolent Civil Disobedience

6:26 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More: Kit’s social media & blogging slideshow.

Civil Disobedience Misconceptions

We have entered an age of protest. Social media tools allow new ways to mobilize activists into public and private spaces and also provide new avenues for amplifying their actions. The Internet, when used properly, can drive activists to an action — or a worldwide coalition of actions — and then make sure thousands more people see and hear about them afterwards. Using simple tools like hashtags, we can monitor the response to actions in real time in a way never possible before.

A large street march with an Idle No More banner

An #IdleNoMore street march in Victoria, British Columbia. Successful movements use modern social media tools while empowering everyday people to take the streets.

Social media buzz during and immediately after a direct action is an interesting measure of its success. Actions which capture the imagination of their viewers, or which take place in very visible ways can quickly multiply beyond their numbers. Less than a dozen people took part in planning and executing Austin’s Free Santa chalk action, but perfect timing and smart use of social media drew international attention.

Of course, the critics will flood onto social media too. In some ways, they are also a measure of success — a tiny action with little impact is unlikely to attract trolls. The more of your opponents (and their sock puppets) who respond, the more you are getting noticed. Successful movements also find themselves under fire from mainstream media propaganda, like the NYPD and New York Post after recent arrests unrelated to Occupy Wall St. Unfortunately, this propaganda quickly becomes accepted truth — I’d wager that more people can repeat police & media-spun myths about widespread public defecation and destruction at Occupy camps than can speak to the movement’s actual demands, however clearly members have articulated them.

When I glanced at the #IdleNoMore hashtag recently, I was disheartened to see someone suggesting that the movement should cease civil disobedience and instead organize around cleaning up trash on the roadways and beaches of Canada and the United States. Obviously, some statements like this come from a position of racism (or at least privilege) — there’s a long tradition of telling the oppressed to just settle down rather than engage in troublesome free speech. Even taken charitably, such statements are ridiculous — the Adopt-A-Highway campaign is hardly a hotbed of revolutionary change.

Yet some of these statements come from genuine ignorance about the effectiveness of direct action as part of a movement. The same mainstream media that happily spreads anti-activist propaganda is loathe to share stories of the effectiveness of mass movements; when they do show up at a protest they are notorious for highlighting the “weirdest” looking, least articulate protester they can find in their sound bytes. Before last year’s #NoNATO protests, police deliberately kindled fear of widespread disruption among the city’s people and business owners. Chicago peace activist Sue Basko told me that because she was a public organizer of the protests with her name on march permits, she fielded many calls and emails complaining about public transportation delays and disruption, even though most or all of this disruption was caused by the NATO conference and its security apparatus.

Some people will always be “inconvenienced” by civil disobedience, mass protest, and other forms of nonviolent direct action. It’s the job of the activist to educate the public about the necessity of free speech in all its forms, even when it makes some people late for work. What follows should not be taken as another white guy telling Idle No More or other new activist movements what to do, but rather highlighting some of what I think they are doing right.

Create Your Own Conversation

It is important to court the mainstream media and major alternatives by sending out press releases and cultivating relationships with sympathetic journalists. Yet even the most understanding of reporters can’t tell your story as well as you can tell it yourself. Make smart, consistent use of whatever tools you have available to start your own conversation. The true effectiveness of street movements is how they break through the mass media’s messages and make real people have real conversations. Don’t waste your time fighting with trolls, but instead look for opportunities to cultivate dialogue.

In my opinion, it’s better to master a few social networks rather than to push to be on them all. Idle No More has spread effectively onto Facebook, Twitter and beyond by playing to the strengths of each site. Pinterest may be the hottest new thing, but if all you’re going to do is cross-post links to your Facebook page then you might want to wait. Don’t overlook old fashioned methods like flyering or street art. Devote your resources to the areas where you can focus and then see if you can build coalitions with existing activist networks elsewhere that can spread your message along with their own.

Teach People To Take The Streets

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Rainbow Overboard: Carnival’s Faux Pas

12:21 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A controversy broke out in queer social media yesterday — and just as quickly died down again.

A travel agency called Al and Chuck Travel chartered a cruise on a Carnival ship with special performances by some of the popular drag queen stars of the Reality TV program Ru-Paul’s Drag Race. Six days before departure, ticket holders received a letter from Carnival Vice-President Vicky Rey informing them that passengers would not be permitted to dress in drag. Daily Kos was among the many popular outlets which began to report the story:

So, essentially, Carnival has decided they like collecting gay people’s money by marketing to the community. But, if the gays’ ‘behavior affects the comfort and enjoyment of other [heterosexual, bigoted] guests,’ they’re kicked off the ship.

One passenger is understandably confused by the vague directive on what is appropriate behavior that will not disturb ‘the comfort and enjoyment of other guests.’ The gay experience is heterosexual people can be very easily disturbed by relatively minor things, he asks: ‘I’m worried that holding my partner’s hand could get a rise out of some parents… Will I be kicked off for that? What about a romantic kiss at dinner? This is awful!’

A fabulous drag queen

Are drag queens harmful to children? One Carnival employee thought so.

Perhaps worst of all, both of those perennial scapegoats — the need for security and the need to ‘think of the children’ — are cited in attempts to spin the situation.

I posted about this on my Facebook wall, where a former Carnival passenger cautioned against reacting hastily — she recalled a male partner of hers who routinely cross-dressed on goth subculture-themed cruises. Sure enough, by the end of the day Carnival caved to the intense social media pressure. Gay South Florida reports:

Carnival Cruise Lines of Miami has apologized to gay passengers on an upcoming drag cruise who were told Monday they would be kicked off the liner Glory if they cross-dressed in public.

“Anyone who wishes to dress in drag may do so,” writes Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill, adding that any passengers who are still unhappy and choose not to travel will be given full refunds.

A mutual acquaintance brought Rogi Riverstone, the creator of the above video, to my attention because we were both talking about this story. Rogi makes the point that we need to hold Al and Chuck Travel responsible for how quickly they seemed willing to capitulate. Hours before the apology of Carnival’s president, Al and Chuck Travel were boasting of their gay activist cred in public statements (they’re strong supporters of Human Rights Campaign, those honored guests in Obama’s veal pen) and insisting that a ban on drag is necessary for security reasons in a “post 9-11 world.”

Riverstone retorts:

This has nothing to do with 9-11, it’s a load of crap. Genderqueers did not blow up any buildings. You may be a gay man, but you are obviously a cisgendered gay man, and identify with hetero binaries. In other words, Mary, you pass as one of them and you’re going to enforce an outdated, unhealthy and arbitrary dress code that requires people with penises to wear pants and people with vulvas to wear non-pants.

This is sick, this is toxic … Shove your Chick-Fil-A Cruise!

In the wake of the Chick-Fil-A controversy, there were calls to not just boycott that hateful brand but to organize days of appreciation for other corporate brands which were perceived as supportive. What began as Starbucks Appreciation Day ballooned into a day of support for other major corporations like Macy’s. It’s possible — even probable — that most of the employees and management of Carnival Cruise Lines are open-minded, queer-loving people but this incident reminds us that brand support is fragile. When corporations answer to their shareholders first and their ethics second, support for equality will only last as long as it is perceived to be profitable. After all, let’s not forget the example of Walter Mack and Pepsi.

The other lesson one might take away from this incident is a reminder that a segment of the LGBT population is still all too happy to throw the rest of the rainbow overboard to protect themselves.

Photo by Phillip Pessar under a Creative Commons license

Thursday Watercooler

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Tomorrow I’ll have an update on the Austin Overpass Light Brigade which returned successfully Monday night. Tonight I’m attending a community meeting about recent hate crimes in Austin. I took a step back from activism for a couple weeks to sort out some non-Occupy things I needed to do, but now I’m back and glad to be there.

It’s Thursday. How’s your week going? This is our latest open thread.

#Occupy Votes (Updated 2:25pm PST)

1:13 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Tuned Out Hippies?

Since the Occupy movement began, many have attempted to position the group in opposition to electoral politics. Occupy in its purest form is nonpartisan, and since the beginning of the movement this has been a source of criticism.

If we want to really make a difference, we were told time and again, we should organize similarly to the Tea Party and begin to field candidates for office. When occupiers protested Mitt Romney or other hyper-conservative politicians, they’d be accused of being in bed with Barack Obama. If the movement protested neo-liberals like Obama, we were accused of being traitors to all that was good in the world because we obviously wanted Romney to win (Carnacing is not limited to blogs). Most of all, occupiers got accused of being disconnected from what their critics perceive to be real politics — we were lazy hippies who didn’t understand how the world works and worst of all we don’t vote.

Spelled out in lights: DO MORE THAN VOTE

Austin Overpass Light Brigade on November 5, 2012

Occupy and many allied activist groups stand in opposition to the idea that electoral politics should be the focus of American political engagement. It is especially opposed to the idea that just voting out one plutocrat and replacing him with a new one will fix our problems — even if that new plutocrat is a woman, from a racial minority, or practices an alternative religion or sexuality. Its ranks are full of activists who supported Obama with hours of hard work in the run-up to the 2008 election, only to “wake the eff up” over the succeeding years and realize real change doesn’t come from far-away leaders.

It’s my experience that occupiers are far more engaged with mainstream politics than mainstream America, which for the most part unthinkingly abstains from participating at all. While the average American simply does not vote, the question of whether to vote and how was an important concern to OWS. Members of Occupy Chicago spent hours in a heated debate over whether it was ethical to burn voter registration cards as a form of protest. Occupiers created street theater around the election: Occupy Chicago members took coffins to the Obama headquarters and launched Revs4Romney. On election day, Occupy the Stage in New Orleans protested the fact that Louisiana is one of eight states which disallow write-in candidates for President by performing a puppet show about the 2-party system at a polling place then accepting symbolic write-in votes (I voted via Twitter for Vermin Supreme). Occupiers held public debate-watching parties, helped Anonymous trend the hashtag #StopNDAA and livetweeted the elections.

Occupy groups also became closely involved in local issues at multiple elections since last September. Here in Austin, one Occupier made an unsuccessful bid for city council, while others became involved in the successful bid to make the city council itself more accountable. Austin will change from one of the country’s only completely at-large city councils to one where each council member represents part of the city.  The Occupy AISD working group fought new in-district charter schools by, in part, helping to unseat charter-supporter Sam Guzman. His replacement, Dr. Rev. Jayme Mathias, will be the first openly gay member of Austin’s school board. One of the Gulf Port 7, Ronnie Garza, is featured in the video at the top of this post. Another, Remington Alessi, ran for sheriff as a Green Party candidate. San Antonio’s Meghan Owen took 1.5% of the vote for the Greens in a bid to unseat NDAA-supporting Democrat Representative Lloyd Doggett.

Of course, many see Elizabeth Warren as a massive win for the goals of Occupy Wall Street.

An Ethical Dilemma At the Voting Booth

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Watercooler: Global

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

An article on right-wing criticism of LGBTQ Pride events in Sweden, Tolerance with conditions is bigotry in disguise on Digital McGyver caught my attention:

This leads to something that I can only describe as a rant about how “these things” stigmatize LGBT people and makes “politics of private issues”. It boils down to a variation of “why do gays have to flaunt their sexuality in public” and paints the organization for Stockholm Pride as a “cultural leftist organization”. Then it goes on stating that it’s “the modern society’s lack of norms and fix points that has created mental ill health and social problems”.

What Skyttedal actually says here is that she can accept LGBT persons who aren’t “deviant with radical opinions”. I have to assume that “radical opinions” means having the same opinions as her.

It’s the usual bigotry disguised as moral panic and demands that gay people fall in line and act just like everyone else. That’s why this article caught my attention — not because the problems described are unique but because they are so familiar. The article could have easily been written about a conservative from the United States.

Recently, Occupy Austin had an activist visit from Barcelona, who was part of the revolutionary movements in Spain. The problems they face, and the issues they target were strikingly similar to our own, and his list of their top issues they’d compiled was similar to ours except perhaps in different order. Austerity, access to education, the corruption of the economy by the big banks …

Not only has the modern age of social media and citizen journalism connected movements worldwide, it also reflects the universality of our problems. Local issues matter, but they frequently boil down to the same root causes — and doesn’t it all come back to money and unequal distribution of wealth?

This is the latest myFDL open thread. What’s on your mind?

VIDEO: The Do Not Kill List (OATX Obama Unwelcome Notes)

11:45 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

On July 17, 2012, President Barack Obama visited Austin, Texas for a pair of fundraising events — one, a $250 event at the Austin Music Hall and later a $25,000 per plate fundraiser at a condominium over the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel owned by a Dell Computers executive. Occupy Austin was there to Unwelcome him — to demand he keep his promises and that he stop escalating warfare of all kinds; along the way, we hoped to educate a few of his supporters about the consequences of his policies.

The Do Not Kill List sketch was conceived during a meeting of the OccuQueers as a way to engage about the so-called ‘Kill List’ — Obama’s claim that he can kill anyone for any reason anywhere without due process – as well as the  rapidly growing domestic use of drones. Lisa Glick led the team with help from Brian Svaboda while I filmed; Comrade of the Peaceful Streets Project filmed at a distance to ensure we weren’t harassed by police. Brian created an official looking ‘Executive Voluntary Do Not Kill List’ form which contained talking points and a loyalty oath based on the one the government used on United States citizens of Japanese origins during World War II, as reported by Michelle Chen on myFDL in “Tule Lake: The Quiet Legacy of No.”

The Do Not Kill List action was just part of a full day in the hot Texas sun, protesting at multiple points along Obama’s route through downtown.

Banners, Mic Checks and Marching in Austin

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Watercooler: Closeted 1%

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

It’s nice to see the Wall Street Journaltouching on the growing number of openly gay CEOs especially when they are up front about the stakes of being open in the workplace:

Some top executives are tiptoeing out of the closet about their sexuality. Many describe their coming-out experiences as unexpectedly painless—and most say they were met with overwhelming support.

Being gay in the corporate world is still far from being a “nonissue,” said Deena Fidas, deputy director of corporate programs at Human Rights Campaign, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil-rights group in the U.S. Companies can still legally fire a worker for being gay in 29 states, for one, and many subtle biases remain in the workplace, according to the group.

Queer rights are of course really class rights. The top 1% of CEOs could undoubtedly survive being fired for queerness. Human Rights Campaign has sold out queer rights many times, acts like workplace rights themselves are a non-issue compared to marriage and certaily doesn’t deserve to be called a transgender civil-rights group.

What good is marriage if (some) worker can be fired for talking about your partner? That’s what’s on my mind tonight.

What’s on yours? This is the latest MyFDL open thread.