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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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Three Tricks from The Global 1% Playbook

8:00 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Protestors in gas masks in Gezi Park

Gas Masks in Gezi: This Is What Democracy Smells Like?

Many journalists and experts have cautioned against drawing too many parallels between the Occupy Gezi movement and Occupy Wall Street, or between the Turkish uprising and the uprisings of the Arab Spring, such as the one centered around Egypt’s Tahrir Square. It’s true that Turkey exists at a pivot point between secular and religious that is unique to its history, for all the superficial resemblances that may have to The Handmaid’s Tale fantasies of America’s Christian conservatives. Each people, each culture, is unique and so are its uprisings.

Yet the Turkish people have embraced the Occupy moniker, as well as solidarity with other global movement’s like Spain’s #15M. Likewise, occupiers and activists worldwide have marched and rallied in support of the Turks. Social media technologies enable a global connection and worldwide solidarity.

And whatever the cultural differences, Monday’s attack on the Gezi Park encampment underlines how the Global One Percent use a shared playbook when they suppress those pesky outbreaks of democracy:

1. Free Speech is Filthy

Much like the empty support voiced by Democratic mayors and politicians in the first days of Occupy Wall Street, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo infamously commented “This smells like free speech!” during an early visit to the Occupy encampment at City Hall. Months later, he was complaining to the press about the reek of urine and feces at the site. Occupiers were forced to dismantle the camp late at night, three times a week, for a power-washing that did irreparable damage to the beautiful tiles of the plaza. When it still wasn’t filthy enough, the formerly public bathrooms were permanently locked — even after occupiers cleaned them and painted over graffiti.

A similar scenario played out nationwide. By the end of the encampments, crackdowns were being justified by the “health hazard” camps posed. After police swept in and literally tore these temporary communities to shreds, mainstream media could point to footage of the piles of wreckage as evidence of how Occupy filled public spaces with tons of garbage.

It was no surprise to many of us when, as police massed outside Gezi Park last night, the announced purpose of this assembled army was merely to assist in “cleaning up” the space.

Other than “Get a Job!” the asinine comment occupiers heard shouted most often was “Take a shower!” Our rulers and their media puppets did nothing to discourage this. Modern culture is, if anything, overly neurotic about germs and body odor, so what better way to scare away support than to link free speech with filth? At least we have good company in every filthy peasant who dared to raise a pitchfork against serfdom throughout history.

2. Placate, Never Negotiate

The Democratic leaders of many cities claimed to love their Occupy encampments before using the “filth” excuse to see us evicted. Their support came during those brief moments when it seemed as if Occupy could be twisted in their favor as the Left’s answer to the Right’s Tea Party. That support soon vanished, but their initial statements helped save face, and more importantly, discourage anyone from looking too closely for the coordination behind the crackdowns — coordination now proven through FOIA requests and leaked documents.

Problems with hygiene? Regular use of public spaces is destroying the grass? Any real problem at an encampment could conceivably have been solved in a way other than by an invasion of riot police. Likewise, while leaders will voice their support for this expression of popular democracy, they’ll never take their demands seriously. No matter how many lists of demands Occupy issued, it was never enough — we were simply filthy, bored, worthless hippies.

This policy of placation goes all the way to the top. As long as your country isn’t in imminent danger of invasion by the United States or its allies, the worst thing you can expect when you inevitably crack down on your local version of the global revolution is a light finger-wagging reprimand.

From Reuters:

‘We continue to follow events in Turkey with concern, and our interest remains supporting freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest,’ White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.

‘We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security, and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and a free and independent media. Turkey is a close friend and ally of the United States, and we expect the Turkish authorities to uphold these fundamental freedoms,’ she said.

Our leaders will have plenty of statements about the importance of Democracy to keep them warm at night while the tear gas fills the streets.

Unless of course you’re keeping our warships safe in your harbors, like the repressive regime of Bahrain; put down this playbook, because you can already do whatever you want.

3. When In Doubt, Provoke Read the rest of this entry →

#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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#D12 Gulf Port 7 Interview: Questions Still Unanswered About Austin Police Infiltration

9:56 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A bearded undercover 'Butch' stands behind Natalie, whose mouth is taped at an NDAA protest.

Undercover APD Detective Shannon 'Butch' Dowell stands next to Natalie Atwater, a member of Occupy Austin facing felony charges in Houston because of using his lockboxes. (Photo: John Jack Anderson / Austin Chronicle, used with permission).

For more FDL coverage of the Gulf Port 7 case see Undercover Austin Detective Enables Houston Felonies and Judge Joan Campbell Is Not Amused.

Since I broke the story of Austin Police infiltration and provocation at Occupy Austin on Firedoglake, the story has become international news. To review, Austin Police Narcotics Detective Shannon G Dowell, along with two other still unidentified undercover agents, infiltrated Occupy Austin under orders that reach all the way to Chief Art Acevedo. While undercover, Dowell (known to activists ‘Butch’) built and delivered lockbox devices (a.k.a. sleeping dragons) to activists to use at the Houston Port Shutdown, resulting in 7 activists facing state felony charges.

Monday I was interviewed by Marlo Blue of 90.1 KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station. Below is a transcript, but you can also listen here. The interview begins at 1:55.

Marlo Blue, KPFT: The Occupy effort seems quiet these days but controversy continues to swirl around the group’s efforts and that of some of its members, also officers who allegedly infiltrated that camp. Well, back in December of last year, groups of Occupy members from Austin, Dallas and Houston took part in the National Port Shutdown Day of Action.

Seven activists blocked the main entrance into the Port of Houston by laying in the road and linking arms inside lockboxes (also known as sleeping dragons) which physically linked them together so that police [must] cut them apart. The use of these instruments resulted in these seven being charged with Unlawful Use Of A Criminal Instrument Or Device while others who merely linked arms and legs faced lesser misdemeanor charges.

One of those in attendance has followed the action through his blog and he joins us now. Kit O’Connell. Kit, thank you for joining us.

Kit O’Connell, myFDL Editor: Hi, thanks for having me.

KPFT: Your blog has quickly become one of my very favorites so I’m very pleased to have you on today.

Kit: Thank you!

KPFT: In your blog, you talk about how Austin undercover officers infiltrated this camp. What led you to suspect these officers or was it discovered after the arrests?

Kit: It was discovered after the arrests. Specifically, the arrests of course occurred on December 12 on the Port Shutdown Day. In the first days of February of 2012, the first inkling came in as an anonymous tip to Occupy Austin’s email saying specifically that a person a person who was known to us as Butch was an undercover officer. It didn’t give his full name so it took quite a bit of investigation to find him after that.

KPFT: Now your blog points to a key question in this incident: Why did undercover Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G Dowell provide material support for an activist protest that resulted in them being charged with a felony in Houston, Texas? Did you actually get an answer to that question?

Kit: We did not. It’s unclear to what degree the Austin Police Department knew about this. They’re admitting, even bragging about their use of undercover officers. The police chief has been talking on Twitter about how it kept the people safe to do this but they’re at the same time saying that they weren’t aware of Dowell buying the lockboxes. I find that hard to believe and I would still like some answers.

KPFT: And of course when the arrests took place, you know, in order I guess to keep everyone safe, they also droppped tents on the protesters to I guess to prevent other people from seeing the dangerous protesters inside or…?

Kit: I wish I had a good explanation for those tents. I was present when those went over people and it was one of the scariest moments of my life to see friends of mine vanish under an inflatable fire department tent.

KPFT: That must have been terrifying. I mean, because, you really don’t know what’s going to happen. There is no transparency when a big ‘ol tent is being dropped.

Kit: Exactly. And, I mean, there were no threats from the protesters. At that time, we were being corralled, even trampled Houston Police Department horses to be kept back, well back from the scene where they were, I guess, cutting the lockboxes apart under that tent.

KPFT: Now, you did mention at first of course, Austin Police Department Shannon G Dowell. Was he the only one who infiltrated the Occupy Austin group?

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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: Disrespect

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

I’m pretty exhausted from the action yesterday with Occupy Austin. We had fun protesting Obama’s policies and broken promises, while trying to educate some of his supporters and make them think a little bit more. We’re all well and free, even if I nearly got arrested by APD snapping a great photo. I’ll write more about it tomorrow when I am more recovered.

In the meantime did you hear about the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority? They recently raised rates on fares for the disabled, an act protested in the streets. In the meantime, adding insult to injury (in more way  than one), they released their own viral video of an unfortunate disabled woman’s accident as caught by their surveillance cameras. PrivacySOS reports:

Why on earth would the MBTA release this video to the public? And why would it assume that doing so bolsters its credibility vis a vis the utility of their expansive surveillance system, even in the slightest bit? We don’t know the answers to these questions or to many others, and so we need to shine a light on government surveillance. We know very little about how the MBTA’s camera system works and about what checks and balances are in place — if any — to prevent this kind of abuse or worse.

And the Chicagoist reports that Wisconsin lawmaker Glenn Grothman thinks single parenting (or parenting by nonmarried or gay couples) is actually child abuse:

Senate Bill 507 specifically requires “the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.”

A third of Wisconsin parents are single parents, but this law affects even more than that. The way the law refers to “nonmarital parenthood” also makes this applicable to non-married couples, including same-sex couples.

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

Watercooler: Speech

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Yo, everyone.

President Obama is coming to visit Austin, Texas tomorrow on an expensive visit. After stopping in San Antonio he’ll come to Austin for a $250/ticket fundraiser or a $25,000/plate dinner.

Of course, Occupy Austin is planning a protest. You’d think we were actually threatening to single-handedly hand the keys to the White House over to Mitt Romney the way some people react. When I was younger, I remember the clichéd phrase, “America Love It Or Leave It!” was short-hand for a certain kind of jingoistic, mindless right-wing thought. Activists who dare to speak out against policies of the current administration receive the same kind of reactionary thoughtlessness, only from so-called liberals. I think it’s a sign of how bankrupt electoral politics have become that we are told we must swallow every violent, unethical, or inhumane policy of our rulers without a peep or else we must be endorsing the Republicans.

To me, free speech means we have an obligation to speak out when we disagree with the policies of our leaders, even if you happen to be someone who might vote for them on election day. People say you’re wasting your voice if you don’t vote, but let’s flip it around — what good are you really doing if all you do is vote?

Speaking of speech, as a writer I was charmed by a blog post that a friend shared, reporting that children solved a 250-year old problem in the English language. Grammar Girl reports that some kids are now using the slang ‘yo’ as a gender-neutral pronoun:

To test the theory, Stotko and Troyer showed kids a cartoon with a goofy-looking person, but the kids couldn’t tell whether the person was male or female. Then they asked the kids to write a slang caption for the cartoon. Some of the kids wrote, “Yo crazy,” instead of “He or she crazy,” or “They crazy.” Follow-up research showed that kids definitely intended yo to mean “he or she.” They used yo as a pronoun.

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

Gay Crumbs From the Table of the Masters (by Daniel Edward Massoglia)

9:30 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

By Daniel Edward Massoglia (@jujueyeball). Originally published on the Occupied Chicago Tribune. For more MyFDL coverage of Occupied Pride events, see Why Occupy Pride and the watercooler posts Pride and Pride Revisited.

Protest Banner: Take Back Pride Queers Against Racism And Corporate Greed

OccuPride Banner in Chicago (Photo: Philip DeVon, used with permission)

If you had, at the time, asked a participant in the Stonewall Riots—whose occurrence annual LGBTQ Pride parades commemorate—whether they envisioned a future where their cause was vocally supported by JP Morgan, Doritos, and the President of the United States, chances are your answer would have been a swift and sure “No.” But, in 21st century America, this is the case, and, sadly, Pride has let itself be changed by this, with little thought given to the consequences and ramifications.

Let this be said: Chicago Pride was awesome. Hundreds of thousands (850,000 by the city of Chicago’s estimation) joined together in Chicago’s Lakeview and Wrigleyville neighborhoods in an exuberant celebration of humanity. People of all races, ages, sexual orientations and gender identities celebrated the wonder of life in all its forms. Gay cowboys line-danced. Dykes occupied their bikes. Even the handful of bigots ended up looking silly, flanked on either side by a sign directed at the preacher (“Secretly Gay”) and an honest to goodness “Gay Jesus” impersonator, fabulous from beard to sandals. It really was beautiful. In one interfaith segment, Mormons, Catholics, Buddhists, and other groups marched, carrying signs saying, “Gays are God’s People.” Even with all the upbeat, sun-driven joy, however, there were a number of troubling elements to the parade.

Underwritten by the 1%

Pride initially represented the cry, “We exist!” shouted from an ignored and stigmatized community to the larger population of the country. It was a celebration of the margins. While this is still the case in some ways, the LGBTQ community has now found itself underwritten by the most oppressive elements of American society—banks, politicians, and corporations, the ultimate ostracizers—and it has largely accepted this. It is a shift almost as dizzying in scope as the shift in mainstream consciousness towards LGBTQ rights. Decades ago, from the margins came a movement, one which has now, years later, unfortunately and almost unblinkingly accepted the subsidy of organizations and individuals that actively enable the perpetual, repressive “othering” of the powerless.

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Watercooler: Authority

6:25 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Who’s in charge here?

Can you remember a time when you thought someone was in charge serving all our best interests? I remember when I was a kid being fascinated by the idea of the United Nations, and the belief that they could hold any country in the world to task for bad behavior.

I had a brief moment of childlike pleasure reading recently about the United Nations criticism of human rights violations in police attacks on the Occupy Wall Street movement:

Frank La Rue, the UN’s special rapporteur for the protection of free expression, and Maina Kiai, the organization’s special rapporteur for freedom of peaceful assembly, will present their reports at this week’s meeting, the twentieth edition of the annual conference. Particularly in focus, though, will be how the United States government has failed to act on requests made by the two experts during the last year to address growing concerns over how law enforcement has acted towards the Occupy movement.

In one letter sent from the envoys to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the rapporteurs urge the Obama administration to “explain the behavior of police departments that violently disbanded some Occupy protests last fall.”Elsewhere they say that they’ve been concerned that excessive force waged on protesters “could have been related to [the protesters'] dissenting views, criticisms of economic policies, and their legitimate work in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

And against Canada for Quebec’s anti-protest Bill 78. Even though we all know these threats have no weight behind them, it’s a pleasure to see someone hold the West to the standards that we hold the rest of the world — even if the reality is that it’s more like the mafia are in charge.

That’s what’s on my mind tonight? What’s on yours?

This is tonight’s open thread.