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Thu02222018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Donald Trump had the audacity to attend the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson last Saturday, Dec. 9.

“I knew a little before everybody else, but I’ll simply say this without even referencing Trump himself,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told me when the visit was announced. “The opening of the Civil Rights Museum is an important moment of a recognition of struggle, and out of that struggle, we’ve seen people historically rescue themselves in a state that has been known for some of the most negativity that the world has ever seen.”

Lumumba took Trump’s election last year with a certain level of equanimity, saying that on the day after the election, “I woke up in Mississippi, which means whether it is Obama, Clinton or Bush, Mississippi is still at the bottom.”

But Trump’s refusal to condemn the white supremacists in Charlottesville caused many civil rights leaders, including Rep. John Lewis, to threaten to boycott the opening if the president attended. But it wasn’t just about Charlottesville: White supremacy may be the only consistent ideology of the Trump administration.

“We have to observe this corrosion of integrity and this erosion of people’s human and civil rights and identify what role or what steps we’re willing to take,” Lumumba said. “It’s important that we recognize that struggle. But any celebration of struggle, any recognition of struggle, must consider what the next step forward is.”

Trump, being Trump, made the controversy worse by seeming to support a justification of slavery. Days before the presidential visit to the first state-sponsored civil rights museum, Roy Moore, the Alabama senate candidate who is supported by the president despite allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior with minors, went viral, saying that America “was great at the time when families were united—even though we had slavery, they cared for one another.”

Just in case there was any question about what Trump thought of this definition of his “Make America Great Again” catch phrase, the very next day he tweeted: “LAST thing the Make America Great Again Agenda needs is a Liberal Democrat in Senate where we have so little margin for victory already. The Pelosi/Schumer Puppet Jones would vote against us 100% of the time. He’s bad on Crime, Life, Border, Vets, Guns & Military. VOTE ROY MOORE!”

When he finally got to Jackson, Trump—who was invited by the state’s white Republican governor—spoke to a small crowd, primarily reading from a script, and not at the main event. “The fight to end slavery, to break down Jim Crow, to end segregation, to gain the right to vote, and to achieve the sacred birthright of equality—that’s big stuff,” Trump said. “Those are very big phrases, very big words.”

Lumumba has some more big words for Trump. He wants Jackson—a city in deeply red Mississippi, with a long history of racism and white supremacy—to be the “most radical city” in the world.

“Ultimately, what I mean by being the most radical city on the planet is giving people more access,” he told my colleague Jaisal Noor. “We do this through the … movement of people’s assemblies that allow people to speak to their conditions, and so that is very important to us.”

People’s assemblies are “vehicles of Black self-determination and autonomous political authority of the oppressed peoples’ and communities in Jackson,” according to the Jackson-Kush Plan, a document produced by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and the Jackson People’s Assembly. “The assemblies are organized as expressions of participatory or direct democracy, wherein there is guided facilitation and agenda setting provided by the committees that compose the people’s task force, but no preordained hierarchy.”

The movement grew out of a collaboration of black activist groups forming in the Mississippi River Delta in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, and quickly managed to take over the city of Jackson, when Lumumba’s father won the mayorship in 2012.

“Free the land” was a common refrain in the elder Lumumba’s first campaign. It came from his trip to Mississippi in 1971 to start an autonomous black nation in that state with the “Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika.” To get to their land, Lumumba and his comrades had to face down the Ku Klux Klan. This weekend, with the president’s visit, his son, who succeeded him as mayor, had to take a similar stand. 

The younger Lumumba had resisted repeated calls to run for office. But after his father died in 2014, he decided to run. He won a decisive victory earlier this year, giving some hope as to what a city can do, outside of larger national trends. Lumumba and the People’s Assemblies offer a serious alternative to Trumpian authoritarianism.

“A radical is a person who seeks change,” he said. “A radical is a person who does not accept the conditions as they see them. But we look at the conditions of our community, and we see a need for change. Then the reality is we need to be as radical as the circumstances dictate we should be.”

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

(Reuters)—A U.S. appeals court, for the first time ever, ruled earlier this week that federal civil rights law protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace.

The ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago represents a major legal victory for the gay rights movement.

In its 8-3 decision, the court bucked decades of rulings that gay people are not protected by the milestone civil rights law, because they are not specifically mentioned in it.

“For many years, the courts of appeals of this country understood the prohibition against sex discrimination to exclude discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation,” Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote for the majority. “We conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.”

The ruling also allows a lawsuit to go forward in Indiana, where plaintiff Kimberly Hively said she lost her community college teaching job because she is lesbian.

“I have been saying all this time that what happened to me wasn’t right and was illegal,” Hively said in a statement released by the gay rights legal organization Lambda Legal, which represents her.

In its decision to reinstate Hively’s 2014 lawsuit, which was thrown out at the local level in Indiana, the Court of Appeals ruled that protections against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect people from job discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

In so doing, the full appeals court overruled a decision by a smaller panel of its judges to uphold the district court’s decision in the college’s favor.

To reach its conclusion, the court examined 20 years of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court on issues related to gay rights, including the high court’s 2015 ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry, Wood wrote.

The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the question of whether the Civil Rights Act protects gays and lesbians, she wrote.

The three dissenting judges said the majority had inappropriately used its own power to change the civil rights law, which does not explicitly protect people on the basis of sexual orientation, and which for decades has been interpreted as excluding that protection.

“Today the court jettisons the prevailing interpretation and installs the polar opposite,” Judge Diane Sykes wrote in dissent.

In her lawsuit, Hively said that Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend passed her over for a permanent position and refused to renew her contract as an adjunct professor after school administrators learned she is a lesbian.

On Tuesday, Ivy Tech spokesman Jeff Fanter said the college had not done that.

“Ivy Tech Community College rejects discrimination of all types,” Fanter said in a statement emailed to Reuters. “Sexual orientation discrimination is specifically barred by our policies.”

The college would not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, Fanter said, but instead would argue in District Court that it had not discriminated against Hively as the lawsuit goes forward.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; writing by Sharon Bernstein; editing by G Crosse and Leslie Adler)

Published in National/International

We’ve seen lots of reminders of 1964 this year—partly because it was 50 years ago, a nice milestone, and partly because we are facing issues today that eerily echo the issues of that year.

Maybe history does always repeat itself. Maybe we just keep making the same mistakes.

I recently watched a documentary about 1964’s Freedom Summer project, when college students volunteered to register black voters in Mississippi, an effort that got three young volunteers—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner—killed. That summer’s activity broke the back of Jim Crow laws in the South, but only after 35 shooting incidents, six activists murdered, 80 beatings, and 65 houses and churches burned.

It was also the year Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, originally proposed by President Kennedy and signed by President Johnson. It abolished racial segregation in education, workplaces and public accommodations, and outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The following year, Johnson signed the companion Voting Rights Act, sections of which were last year judged as unconstitutional by a conservative majority on our current Supreme Court. Hey, 50 years later, with a black president, voting issues based on discrimination no longer need oversight from the federal government. Hadn’t you heard that we’re now “post-racial”?

That momentous year, 1964, was the year Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in South Africa for “sabotage and subversion.” He was not released until 1990, and then went on to become head of his country and a renowned world leader—amazingly calling for reconciliation despite all that had happened during Apartheid. Even now, we see countries where there is no orderly turnover of power and where those who disagree are said to be inciting violence and silenced, jailed or worse. Will a new movement toward peace and reconciliation in the Middle East or Africa, led by someone we cannot now recognize, result? One can at least hope.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution was passed by Congress in 1964. It gave President Johnson the power to take “take whatever actions he deems necessary” to defend Southeast Asia, on the premise that a “domino theory” meant if Vietnam fell to Communism. then all of Southeast Asia would fall as well. Similar authority was granted to President George W. Bush regarding Iraq, based on the threat of “weapons of mass destruction” and the instability that could be caused among other nations in the Middle East. That resulted in the second-longest war in our history. The only longer war was in Bush’s post-Sept. 11 response in Afghanistan, from which we are still extracting ourselves.

The War on Poverty was declared in 1964, in the words of President Johnson, “because it is right, because it is wise, and because for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty.” That war has now surpassed all wars we have waged and is still not “won.”

That pivotal year also saw the beginning of the Student Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley, which led to the May 2nd Movement, when more than 1,000 student demonstrators gathered in New York, along with others in San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and other cities, to protest the Vietnam War, ultimately contributing to the end of Johnson’s presidency. Fifty years later, the role of students was instrumental in the election and re-election of President Obama, and, not unlike with the protesters of the 1960s, questions persist as to whether young people will stay involved when they face the reality of the difficulty involved in changing national policy.

In September 1964, the Warren Commission released its report indicating the belief that President Kennedy was killed by a sole assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, a judgment that many still don’t find credible. Compare that with our current investigations into the killing of four Americans in Benghazi, where even with military testimony that no “stand down” order was ever given, the issue is being used as a political football.

It was in 1964 when the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed, declaring Israel an illegal state, the ramifications of which are being acted out to this day.

There were other events to remember about 1964 as well. The Mustang was introduced by Ford. The first Pink Panther cartoon short debuted, winning that year’s Academy Award for Short Film. Kitty Genovese, 28, was stabbed to death on the streets of New York without any of the 38 people who heard her screams even calling the police. 

At the 1964 Republican convention, moderate Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was booed when he denounced “extremism,” and Sen. Barry Goldwater won his party’s nomination for president on the first ballot in what was called a “revolution from the right.” Wasn’t that just last week?

In 1964, the Vatican condemned the use of the contraceptive pill for females.

As for me, 1964 was the year I got divorced and needed to support 2-year old twins on my own, although I yearned to get on one of those buses to Mississippi. I wanted to participate in the attempt to erase the vestiges of racism, and influence American society to fulfill its promise for everyone.

Fast-forward 50 years, and I’m still motivated by that same yearning—and unfortunately, we’re still fighting some of the same battles.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Published in Know Your Neighbors