Thursday, May 9, 2013

The downfall of Occupy from a commoner's perspectives

On a mild Fall evening in a small public park in downtown Atlanta where a few major companies' headquarters are located a block or two away, my girlfriend, Canesha and I attended an Occupy protest event. The park had just been named after Troy Davis, the gentleman who many argue received an unfair trial and had just been executed by the State. We arrived hearing instructions shouted to attendees through a megaphone where there was a mass sea of predominantly young and old white people circled around the man. Some decided to bring their children to witness something exciting on the horizon. My anxiety was running high and really felt this was the dawn of a new day -- a beginning where ALL of us received the dignity and respect in the near future we deserve. Canesha took out her phone and turned on the video application, while I expressed my excitement for a historical moment in our lifetimes. It turned out to be a mere blip on the radar for America's collective consciousness.

We walked to an area under a few oak trees where signs had been made ranging from poster board to cardboard. It was touching to see a young, blonde haried girl who was around six pick a sign up that said: I DESERVE A VOICE. Canesha took a few pictures of the different signs on the ground and began moving our way to the mass of people huddled around in a circle.

The park was small. It probably couldn't hold more than 250 to 300 people at one time. We decided to sit on the wet grass, while we followed the instructions from the extremely short and scrawny guy with large glasses, an unshaven face, and ratty red T-shirt. "If you agree with......, wave your fingers". So, we began mimicking others with our hand gestures to agree on a proposed amendment for the assembly. Some time passed. We felt it was a pointless excursion even coming out, as there were probably 101 plus things we could've done to OCCUPY our time that would've been more satisfying.

As the seemingly endless and inane resolutions continued to be presented followed by hand gestures for agreeing or disagreeing to each one, an announcement suddenly sparked our attention. Civil Rights icon and Atlanta area Congressman John Lewis arrived and would like to speak for a few minutes. To our left, we saw Congressman Lewis with several people who appeared to be aides and/or staff members. The resolution was brought to our attention: "For all those who would like to hear Congressman Lewis speak..." He motioned with the silly hand gesture again to agree to have him speak. After a few minutes, he announced: "We don't have consensus. Does everyone agree to the resolution," he asked again.

To our shock, a middle aged woman approached and said Rep. Lewis has another event to attend. We never reached a 100 percent consensus. Rep. Lewis was shown interviewing with a local news organization and walked away. Canesha and I were outraged.

"What," she cried. He was a Civil Rights icon. Why?"

I sat there in stunned silence. Why do you all need 100 percent consensus? Clearly, the overwhelming majority supported having him speak. You all could learn a thing or two from what this man went through -- dozens of beatings, several arrests, and how to successfully be a group who practices civil disobedience. Nope. And really, this summed up the downfall of Occupy. Later that night, we saw Lewis' interview and one thing caught our attention, "They're still growing. They'll learn." Unfortunately, that never happened.

We decided to attend two more events. The first was also hosted by, a grassroots progressive organization that was created out of the absuridities of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to unnecessary time spent trying to impeach Clinton. Canesha and I marched with fellow protestors from Troy Davis Park for about a mile to the steps of our State Capitol. While walking, I was so inspired by others' reactions as we chanted, "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out."

Street vendors provided smiling approvals. Some of them nodded. A few of them said, "Go get 'em." As we continued our walk, there were even a few female police officers who yelled, "Yay." Wow! This seemed to really be gaining momentum and support from all walks of life. We reached the State Capitol and heard some very powerful testimonies from various oppressed individuals. One was a middle aged woman who was about to be laid off at an area hospital where she worked as a healthcare administrator.

"I'm also an employer. We are all employers. Our political leaders need to learn they are serving us as our employees."

She contined her testimonial where she provided some heartbreaking encounters with fellow staff members and administrators at her hospital. "I'm also a healthcare provider. They seem to forget that. Just because I don't physically heal someone doesn't mean I dont' also care for them." I was overwhelmed by her powerful convictions and emotions. Clearly, this was one of so many out there through no fault of her own was getting screwed all because of greed.

Canesha and I left a little after the testimony that still resonated with me. "I'm an employer." Yes, you should be doing what we tell you to do instead of answering to lobbyists, I thought to myself. We proudly held up our protest signs while walking back to the car. Overall, this whole Occupy movement thing seemed to be gaining ground with more people coming out and at a very rapid rate.

Sadly, city by city we saw massive police force used on peaceful assemblers at various public parks. A woman in her upper 80s was hit by a projectile fired off. Another Iraq War veteran suffered the same unnecessary near fate and thankfully, lived to tell about it as well. Last I saw of him, he was still active and courageously volunteering his time with Occupy to make a difference.

Work took up our time in the months that followed. We ended up attending a screening sponsored by MoveOn for the Academy Award winning documentary, Inside Job. It chronicled how the 2008 global economic collapse started in Iceland and the players behind the intentional misdeeds that led to countless housing foreclosures. It was there we met the so-called leader of Occupy Atlanta.

He was a wiry, scrawny guy who was a few inches shorter than me. While looking at all unfamiliar faces, I saw a bong in the kitchen. He said that we're going to wait for some others who were still planning to come to this thing. I see why he said it. A few moments later he began firing up the bong and taking a few hits off it. This is the leader of a historic movement for Atlanta, I asked myself. Good God.

After the film, we met a real nice guy who now is the head of The Green Party in Atlanta. He described how Occupy's stoner was well supported by a prominent area businessman and former Civil Rights activist. Yeah, but.... That's what I wanted to say. How can anyone take this soft spoken, pot smoking hipster seriously? Don't we need someone like Rev. Joseph Lowry to lead something like this? Just imagine Martin Luther King Jr. firing up a joint before addressing more than a million on the steps of the Washington Mall.

Today, you see Occupy lending its support to labor, students, and other causes. A few offshoots of Occupy, one in particular, helped to buy back the debt of over 1000 homeowners. So, they're obviously still doing great work. It's just on a very small scale. They tried to go big and failed. Here's why:

1.) Too much in fighting: You're rarely if ever are going to have ten or more people agree on any one topic and/or issue. Even one of the founders of Occupy acknowledged this in a rare interview with Cenk Uygur. The guy went on to say you have to open up the jail cell doors for the people to decide whether or not they should be let out. Bad analogy and terrible mindset. The doors have been open for more than 30 years now. The problem is how easily distracted they've become with talk radio and the 24 hour cable news network dedicated to reporting how the corporations decide they report.

If you're going to bitch about greed's influence in Washington, what you really need to bitch about is how we're the only country on the planet that needs a supermajority in the Senate to pass any bill. So, why the 100 percent consensus? Progressive minded bills were voted on and failed due to the supermajority. These were bills presented that were demanded by Occupy to help the poor and middle class. You would think this movement would also demand a simple majority from its participants.

2.) Cowardice to Police Force. The technology has vastly evolved since the late 1950s and through the 1960s. Yes, instead of firehoses we're now seeing tear gas and rubber bullets used by police. And yes, some instances are when there have been no justifiable reasons for their excessive usages. With that said, here's the elephant in the room and main difference between Occupy and Civil Rights movements -- skin color. 

During the Civil Rights movment, people felt like they had nothing to lose. And they didn't. Black individuals really had no rights, no fair access to public resources, etc. Today, it has slightly improved. You'll still see a dry cleaning store on just about every street corner in the suburbs compared to a liquor store on every street corner in the ghettos. White America occupied this land since 1492 and continues today to be fully invested in concentrating all the resources in their possession with no exceptions. They're still terrified of minorities. Sadly, the same movement was started by great, innovative people who are also white.
One could argue the majority of those who participated at Occupy rallies were young and white with much more to lose today than those who fought in the Civil Rights movement. If the average protestor faces one to three year prison sentences with our ever growing private prison complex, it's understandable why they'd want to stand down. There's college, a place in the workforce afterward, fear of losing his or her current job, etc. Those opportunities never existed for black people and if so, very few who were privileged.

3.) From Dictatorship to Democracy: After reading this post, I strongly encourage all of you to read Gene Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy. It's a short read with great brevity how all historical uprising whether done without firing a single bullet or not (Gandhi) was won when turning the people in power against each other. That's the ultimate goal today is to have say, the majority of the workforce at a Goldman Sachs turn against their leader, Lloyd Blankfein. It's up to all of us to pave a new path where we become less accustomed to a dictatorship in the workplace and more accustomed to a workplace where it runs like a co-op where employees are paid a living wage and have an ownership stake in the company. Until then as Gandhi once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Like Occupy's main message, it's leaderless. Movements have always been successful through persistence which often times mean several years before change is implemented. They're the unnamed and unnumbered who struggled long and hard to win their freedoms. Our actions will help determine our future.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ethnocentrism and attention whores: Answering to gun violence

For those who have just come out of underneath your rock, we had a mass shooting on Friday at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. There were 26 casualties, including 20 who were kindergarten age. Each time, two main factors are considered by our corporate owned media: mental health and gun control. The two are seemingly inseparable. Mental health is always an excuse the NRA latches onto so nothing gets done.

Since the NRA's inception which was a few years before the Ku Klux Klan, it has severely perverted the true intent of the 2nd Amendment. The Amendment does say an individual has a right to bear arms. It goes on to say that individual has the right within "a regulated militia." Let's keep in mind this was created during a time when America was at war with British Imperialism and fighting for its independence. At best, they had muskets and rifles which were very poor with their accuracy. One could be considered a sharpshooter with a musket if able to hit a target that was 100 yards away. So, was the NRA created by a group of people with all Americans' best intentions in mind?

Look at the time period. The NRA became an organization for worried gun owners. At the time, it was white men. More specific, they were predominantly white men from British descent. There were numerous slave and abolitionist rebellions, prompting this group to arm themselves. Translation: What might happen if the slaves come after us, the plantation owners?

After World War II, gun manufacturers began to create more sophisticated handguns and rifles in wholesale mass distribution. Gun ownership spiked. The NRA vigorously defended them and put on a front that every American has the right to bear arms. So, homicides and suicides naturally spiked in this country from the 1950s to the Present. Since that time, no country comes remotely close to us for gun violence and ownership.

Oh, the 1950s. We're told it was The Greatest Generation, most economically stable, and every family was like the Cleavers. Another myth. One needs to look no further than J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and dirty realism writings from the likes of Charles Bukowski and Hubert Selby Jr. to realize there were still plenty of people left out of the so-called American dream. Gun ownership primarily rose when white people again feared blacks would come into their neighborhoods. So, before many left to unoccupied lands now known as the suburbs and referred to as White Flight, they purchased guns to defend themselves against a race still viewed as inferior. This was also a time period when women, disabled, homosexuals, and other minorities that included other white ethnicities with the likes of Irish, Polish, and Jewish were turned away from businesses after trying to apply for gainful employment.

Since the '50s, we get the same excuses from overwhelmingly Republican politicians, a few Democrats, of course the NRA, and other gun right activist groups today each time a gun has been used to kill or injure another human being. Again, these are all white people with perhaps your typical token minority thrown in the mix. We're diverse, yay! The first common excuse: Well, if only someone else was armed, that person could've shot and killed the perpetrator. False. In fact, those armed at a mass shooting only made the number of casualties worse by firing their weapons into a crowd. The second excuse is more reasonable and logical: You're going to take away my guns after someone who was crazy killed a bunch of people. I'm a responsible gun owner and so are all the members of my hunting club. True. However, there's one problem: The weapons used in these mass shootings aren't meant for hunting deer. Why would you want one if you say you're a hunter? You must be a terrible hunter then, unless you're really wanting to use it for hunting other people you don't like or have some fear about.

Injuries and tragedies take place from these high powered weapons when kids don't know if they're real and decide to try and use them. And yes, there are times when these incidents are tragedies. The kid may have turned off the safety clip and accidentally turned the weapon on himself/herself. For the other cases, where was the training for the adults before purchasing the weapons? This becomes very costly on all of us when person after person visits our emergency rooms for gun related injuries.

Ultimately, this is another 99 percent problem. Forget the corporate owned media. They'll tie every mass shooting into how disturbed the mass shooter was. That's a scapegoat. Yes, we've been a very violent country. However, the same entertainment we have here is shown in other countries. And go one step further, have you seen some of the horror films from Germany, France, Japan, and Korea lately? They're hardcore while seemingly every American made horror movie these days is rated PG-13. So, you can't blame it on American entertainment. The main difference is how easy it is for an American to purchase a gun and reenact a scene out of a video game or film than the average citizen in another country.

The second main factor to consider is how little we value time spent with family. We say we do, but we don't. The average American worker is overworked and underpaid. The only Western country who works longer hours per week in the recent past is Italy. What are your kids doing? Well, it's hard to know what Johnny is up to when the average parent is constantly at his or her job to put a roof over the children's heads and food on the table. This is the main theme from the 99 percent and couldn't be spelled out any clearer: Increase wages and improve working conditions for the average non-supervisory worker where wages have flatlined since the '80s to meet the exponential spike from the average worker's productivity. And unfortunately, persistence died with the Occupy movement. Yes, we've seen Wal-Mart workers at various stores protesting and trying to unionize, but the Occupy movement allowed perhaps apathy and complacency to take over. While it's wonderful they've done smaller endeavors to help homeowners and students, we need the mass demonstrations back.

The third and final factor does pertain to race. We shed our tears when a tragedy typically takes place in an affluent suburb and yes, we should all mourn the loss of life no matter where it is. Why don't we do the same for a young, black adolescent or adult in Chicago where gun violence has spiked tremendously in the past few years? And while on the subject, where is the outrage from our drone strikes that have killed dozens of innocent children in areas like Pakistan? Are their lives less significant or should we dress it up as a loss of life due to an accident or mishap by the perpetrator? We've been conditioned to narrowly focus our grief on how and where we should all be living -- nice, two-story home where you still find stay-at-home moms. Today, that's not who and where the average American lives.

Is the true mass murderer the shooter or those who continue to denigrate average, hard working Americans and the most vulnerable among us? Both. Our media has been awfully silent on how unequal our wealth distribution is in this country. In other developed countries, the masses are intolerant to corporate greed. And if austerity measures are presented and like in Greece, passed, they're out in the streets. There's much more mutual respect for one another in these countries.

Watch the local news. The average program highlights a shooting and/or robbery just about every evening. Ridiculous and counterproductive for building a healthy society. Finally, mental health experts say there are a variety of factors that could've caused someone to act with such callousness and lack of empathy: sociopathy. Typically found in males, some human beings don't develop a conscience. Those can include many of the rip-off artists on Wall Street who just recently one firm, HSBC was revealed it actively pursued business and obtained it with drug cartels and al-Qaeda. Due to a contractual clause, they will only receive a fine and no executive will serve jail time. It's about perception for some of us out there. Their existence solely relies on how powerful others perceive them. That's it.

Today, we have just under 89 guns for every 100 Americans. It's too late. The time to act was 60 years ago when gun violence became prevalent. The NRA and gun manufacturers already have won. Even if legislation does pass, what can be done now to eliminate the guns already owned and that are out there in abundance? We have some smart people supposedly serving our interests in Washington, so we expect they can creatively draft legislation that hopefully could have a similar outcome to Australia, right? Over time, we know how this plays out -- Congress and the Obama administration will form a task force and/or committee, investigate, discuss, and after a few months, surprise, surprise -- nothing gets done. During that time, we may hear from the likes of a Louie Goemert or Paul Broun from the dying Tea Party Coalition making outlandish assertions like, "Only if we had God in all our schools, we then could've avoided all of this (Washington refusing to take communion, Jefferson, Madison, Virginia Statute for the Separation of Church and State, etc.?)." Perhaps, the Justice Department and intelligence communities can invest a little more time and money investigating who has lots of high powered weaponry and much less time worrying about those with brown skin, whether they should be deported, and/or black youth who wear casual clothing and might have a little hemp on his or her possession.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Inclusion and Understanding vs. Exclusion and Deceit

I was in disarray. Today, this could be the last day a loving, compassionate, and caring man may be on this Earth. I walked into the room where the first nurse told me to go. That's not him. Damn it. So, I went up to the nurse's station and asked which room is Dr. Charles Wilson in. They said I had just been in it. What? I walked back in the room and looked at who appeared to be a stranger who had taken over his body. This man was more gaunt, face unshaven for several days, and appeared to have aged 20 years to someone much more fragile than the man I first met seven years ago. I walked into the room.

He was sound asleep. I stood there and looked at the different machines. His arms had white wires with patches over them. A rhythmic beeping sound continued from one of the machines, as I looked at one monitoring his heart. O.k. Every thing appears normal with his heart rate. A few minutes passed before his sister and brother-in-law appeared. His sister gently grabbed his arm and patted it. After a few moments, he groggily woke up, eyes still half shut and slinted, as he positioned himself upright. She handed him a notepad, since his voice was still lost. His voice resounded from what he wrote down that I'll never forget: "I stood at a gate and a man approached me. He said, 'Don't worry. You don't have to hurt anymore.'" Immediately, I thought about that day when my life could've ended on a spring break family outing to Myrtle Beach. Yes, there is a God and he loves all of us. It was a warning for me that day. Stop. Your heart doesn't have to be filled with rage and hate. Let kindness and gentleness be your guide from this point forward. To this day, I'll never forget that day and those precious words my late friend wrote.

"You don't have to hurt anymore." This is what this election means to me and everyone I care about. Sure, our leader's nowhere near the progressive I am nor do I expect him to be these first four years. At the end of the day, politics is the art of compromising. When you have nuts who believe the Earth is only several thousand years old, one should sympathize with a leader who has more rational, level-headed thinking who may say to himself, "Damn. Do I have to talk to that idiot, Paul Broun again?"

When Barack was a community organizer and well described in his autobiography, Dreams from my Father, a Section 8 housing community didn't mean a damn thing to anyone who wasn't a friend or relative to these people. To the outside world, these people didn't exist, didn't matter, and might as well kill each other. They were a drain, burden, and considered the epitome of laziness. Nope. Some worked long hours, while others fell on hard times and had just lost their jobs. He observed their harsh features, glares, and weathered faces as if hope was abandoned. Yet, he helped them by saying each of you has a voice. We're going to the city to tell them about the lead in the paint. Many were cynical and said the city won't listen.

It took hard negotiations to bring the problem to light. Finally, after negative publicity shed light on the city, they agreed to make the paint safe at the housing community. Some of these people ended up becoming community organziers. They played prominent roles working with clergy members, businesses, and government officials to help build their communities.

To me, this defines who Barack is. On the other side, we have a candidate who has been taking bailouts from conception until now. That's a problem. No one has this fictitious class envy or despises his sucesses as a businessman. However, when he has an opportunity to make a buck, he has no reservations shipping a plant's jobs to China or somewhere else in Asia. The latest proof is a plant in Freeport, Illinois, Sensata. After the company made a record profit last quarter, now owned under Bain Capital, its employees had to train the newly hired Chinese workers with the Chinese flag put up in front of the plant. Insult to injury? Yeah, just a tad. Romney is expected to earn a few hundred thousand dollars off this deal at a minimum with still holding $8 million in shares with Bain.

He comes from a different world and one where it's impossible for him to empathize with people who live in areas like Section 8 housing. It's reflected in his attitude to provide more tax cuts to the wealthy with the promise he'll do the same for everyone else. What's the old adage: There are two certainties in life, death and taxes. It's the biggest lie of all. Government would shut down if it didn't tax someone. Someone has to pay, someone always pays. Unfortunately, the average American doesn't seem to understand this simple concept. Oh, he'll tax someone, but one can be assured it won't be on his friends or so-called job creators who don't need any more tax cuts. They'll say they pay the highest corporate tax rate of any other western country in the world. That's the other grand lie that's been spread all this time. After loopholes and deductions, the average American corporation pays a tax rate at 13.5 percent, not 29 percent. That's a huge difference and after all has been said and done, is one of the lowest tax rates in the world.

America still hasn't moved past its ethnocentrism. Yes, the majority of people in this country have white skin. Racism is still an ugly reality. Case in point, soon to be ousted Illinois Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh. At a campaign stop, he said we should just pat the President on the head and tell him how everything really should be done. Nice. Then, there's former New Hampshire Governor, walking scrotum, and Romney campaign adviser, John Sununu. Repeatedly, he's referred to Obama's race and despicably has said Obama's lazy. This, of course, is going back to the days when the "N-word" was acceptable when referring to African-Americans. Its true definition means someone who is slow and/or impaired in judgment. It was predominantly the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants or those affectionately known as WASPS who coined this offensive term to be applied to black people. The N-word certainly applies to Sununu other like-minded people. It's been Barack who has had to clean up their messes these past four years that they created in the last eight.

It goes beyond just our President. The New York City Police Department has a stop-and-frisk policy where anyone who looks suspicious of carrying narcotics will simply be stopped and frisked. And who overwhelmingly are the ones stopped and frisked? People of color -- Latinos and Blacks. Today, we have more African-Americans incarcerated per capita than the height of Jim Crow. If convicted of a misdemeanor for possessing marijuana, their prison sentences are still greatly disproportionate to those who are white. It's a sad fact and reality. It has been a growing epidemic since the Reagan administration, a time when unions were dismantled and funding for economic development moved out of the inner city areas. So, there has continued to be a vastly uneven playing field for an average African-American growing up in the inner city to a suburban white person to this day. This is something Obama needs to address if re-elected.

Finally, this is personal. My father and his siblings were able to attend college thanks to the G.I. Bill, a government funded program for veterans and their families. They grew up in a modest rural area of Nebraska. Hell, they didn't have thousands of dollars at the time to spend on college. That G.I. bill was the difference maker for my father and three siblings. Now, they're all college graduates and highly accomplished at their respective crafts -- business, teaching, and ranching. And yes, they vary in their political views. I love all of them on both sides the same -- Republican, Democrat, whatever.

Yet, we don't have our priorities straight. Obama mentioned we already spend exponentially more on our military, by about six times, than the second ranked country, China. That continues to be the elephant in the room. Shouldn't it be time we move that money into funding for college and healthcare? Make these two basic services free for all. There's always evil out there which is unpredictable and may strike. I think it shows cowardice to continually use it as an excuse for a few to gain (Pentagon, military contractors, medical supply, food and beverage industries, and oil contractors) while many innocent lives are lost. It's time to come home. As far as Afghanistan, that's been long overdue. Generals have repeatedly said our presence has led to more uprisings and creations of enemies. Gee, I wonder why? If someone just camped out in your backyard, after awhile wouldn't you get tired of that person staying there? It's common sense.

My girlfriend's father was one of the Civil Rights pioneers. He attended the public school in Birmingham where Colin Powell's uncle was the principal. One day, he and several classmates broke the chains off the door in an act of civil disobedience. They were arrested. In the same jail cell, they saw and heard the comical antics of legendary late comedian, Dick Gregory. On this night, Martin Luther King Jr. was in a nearby cell. He was drafting history while composing The Birmingham Letter. This wouldn't have been possible without so many unsung heroes who have always helped to reshape history like her dad.

Her dad went on to persistently knock on doors and try to get neighbors to vote against Ronald Reagan in 1980. He was disappointed in the responses. Basically, it's the it won't matter who is in charge anyway. Nothing's gonna' change. Well, it did change. Later that decade like what we saw with many manufacturing companies, the steel plant where he worked shut down. That plant provided solid pay with good benefits and potentially pensions. He went on to work with the local Housing Authority.

Canesha and Dr. Wilson are two of the most beautiful souls I've met during my time on Earth -- extremely loyal, compassionate, and always willing to help out those in need. Both were also mercilessly picked on growing up by bullies. Dr. Wilson had enough of it. At 15, he walked out of class one day and never turned back in his small, rural Tennessee town of Franklin. He served in the Navy, finished at the top of every technical school, and earned a Ph.D from Boston University. Eventually, he retired from the Navy as a Chief Petty Officer and went on to teach Economics courses at the university level. He was also one of the strongest progressives I've met with strong convictions and witty one-liners about some of these dopes who still can't get past their blissful ignorance. My favorites include, "All they need is enough for a hamburger, case of beer, and gas in their truck for the Friday night football game." And one more: "There's three things they know how to raise: chicken, children, and Hell. Unfortunately, that still seems to ring true today with too many in the rural South.

With Canesha, there's a stigma in the black community when one speaks correctly. She applied impeccable written and oratory communication with those around her. To her peers, she sounded white. I've reminded her how the average person spoke bumkin when I moved to Georgia. In the white community down South, it's pretty common to be considered a yuppie if using grammatically correct sentences.

There were horrible things she had to endure around her peers that included daily bullying mainly because she wasn't like them. That's still an epidemic today with kids and if anything with the inclusion of social media, it's gotten worse. Ultimately, like I endured periodically, she was able to overcome it all. She went on to attend a presigious magnet school where she received scholarships from colleges and universities around the country, including the country's top rated liberal arts college. It's still reflected today when she revises my resume and shows off how much of a master wordsmith she is.

I had to get on my soap box here. Everything is on the table -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, jobs, foreign intervention, and Obamacare. Don't worry, Republicans. You can still get screwed by the private insurance companies if and when they decide to jack up their rates for profits. It's a tiny bit of socialism and nowhere near Medicare for seniors which is where it should be by now. Under Romney and Ryan, they want to take all this away and possibly get us involved in another war. Seventeen of Romney's 24 foreign policy advisers come from the Bush administration. We know who they are -- Dan Senor, disgraced former U.N. amabassador John Bolton, .... This is about our safety and security moving forward. These guys were the architects for invading Iraq.

There are two consistent talking points my Republican friends use and am sick of it: Democrats want government to pay for all those lazy people on welfare i.e. code for black and colored people living in the ghettos. 2.) Obama and Democrats don't care about you. They want to take your job away and give it to the minorities. Racists. This self-entitled, they're unworthy people out there needs to stop. And for all these goddamn white people out there who still use these points as a crux, shame on you. Hopefully, there will be a time when you truly embrace diversity, not say oh, you don't know I work around minorities or I'm friends with some. Support them with unconditional love like you would anyone else especially those most in need who live in our ghettos.

The same goes for our black brothers and sisters. I was the only white person in my last apartment community in a not so savory area of Atlanta. After several months, we began seeing how some people began uncomfortably staring at us when coming home from work. I looked past it and joked that's probably just their way of saying hello. About a few weeks later, we came home to my door jam splintered and warped around the knob. We opened it and discovered all our technological belongings had been stolen along with my check book and a few of her purses. I guess she was right. Due to me being white, they automatically assumed I had money. At that time, I barely had enough to spend for a pot to piss in. However, I still forgive whoever may have done it. I don't know what they were thinking. Maybe, this was their way to put food on the table for their children or pay the rent. The important thing was Canesha's safety and mine. We weren't harmed, injured, or killed.

We have a long way to go. Barack was right when he was ridiculously criticized for saying change can't happen inside Washington. Yeah. It's all of us demanding it. If we do and the 99 percent (Occupy movement) can become relevant again, we can see the change we want. You're not going to get progressive change with Romney and Ryan. What we might see is a similar scenario to Nero playing the fiddle as everywhere around us burns. I wish I was exaggerating. As I'm reminded, "You don't have to hurt anymore." The late Christopher Hitchens also reminded me of our precious moments here when he said, "There will be plenty of time for silence in the grave." Let's make the most of our time caring for each other while we're here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

For my delusional progressive brothers and sisters

Dr. Jill Stein made an appearance last night on The Young Turks. When she broke down her policy positions, I agreed with every single one. She was critical of President Obama and obviously, she's much more progressive in her stances as a representative of The Green Party to our centrist President. She supports a Medicare-for-all system at the moment of conception, ending our occupations overseas by bringing our troops home, supports cracking down on corruption on Wall Street with much stricter regulations where she would nationalize our banks, and ending our drone surveillance programs that have tragically killed innocent civilians. I thought Dr. Stein appeared to be a very affable, personable, and thoughtful individual who has ideas that are desperately needed to shift our narrative and status quo. We need more Dr. Steins out there. Of course, there is a but to this. But.... Here's why:

Let's start with her Medicare-for-all system. Even if passed, we've seen in other European countries how their systems need continual improvement. It's not an end all, be all fix that could happen overnight. Dr. Stein can't sign an executive order for this, since Congress controls the purse. It would have to be approved by Congress. With this said, more than 20 million workers were excluded immediatley following the passage from The Social Security Act of 1935. Dr. Stein seems to believe she could've done better than President Obama with who he had to work with in Congress to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Look who he had. Max Baucus, Democratic Senator from Montana, was the number 1 recipient at the time for campaign contributions from the health insurance industry. Sen. Ben Nelson, known well by my extended family in Nebraska and should just be considered Republican, voted against this. We needed two moderate Republican (endangered) Senators from Maine to pass this bill with 60 votes to avoid another filibuster.

Is this a giveaway to the health insurance industry? Yes. However, this will also save millions and emphasize again, MILLIONS from paying out-of-pocket that could lead them to foreclosing on their homes and possibly living on the streets. It's still imperfect. I consider this an unprecedented civil rights law passed that was long overdue.

Just about every rational American has seen, read, and heard about the mass corruption on Wall Street and has denounced it. To say it's been run like a casino, is an understatement. We've seen a few mid-level executives charged with SEC violations. Yet to this day, no one leader from these major institutions who caused the economic meltdown has faced prosecution. It's tragic and inexcusable. I agree with Dr. Stein on this. The Obama administration receives a failing grade for not being tougher on Wall Street and using a very weak Dodd-Frank bill without reinstating Glass-Stegall that will do little to nothing in the days ahead. However, what's he supposed to do? Money doesn't grow on trees. His #1 campaign donor from 2008 was from what many feel is public enemy number 1, Goldman Sachs. With Obama on numerous occasions denouncing the Citizens United Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited amounts of money to be spent on elections, how else can he compete? One family, the heirs to Wal-Mart, have more net worth (combined six of them) than the bottom 30 percent of American income earners combined. In short, he still needs the banks to get re-elected. Will he go after these guys if re-elected? I'm confident he and the Justice Department will.

Goodbye, Magna Carta. On December 31, 2011, President Obama signed by executive order the controversial National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In this bill, there is a provision that states anyone who is deemed a foreign or domestic terrorist can be indefinitely detained. A federal judge lifted the ban, admonishing it for its unconstitutionality. Unfortunately, another judge reinstated this provision. This was a class action lawsuit brought by several litigants who most notably were Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky. I also agree with fellow progressives. There should be no excuse for indefinitely detaining anyone without the right to counsel. And yes, if this was under Bush, I would also call it abominable. As I've said, I realize the Justice Department has vigorously defended it, while I will continue to vigorously defend Hedges, Chomsky, and the rest of the plaintiffs. I don't think this one thing should be the deciding factor when we have so many other stark differences between Romney and Obama.
Specifically, let's look at something that coincides with NDAA as the drone strike surveillance program. Many progressives say this is used to indiscriminantly bomb innocent civilians and villages where strikes have already happened. I question who is giving the intelligence and has it been presented as if the people are an imminent threat who had been struck? After reading some articles on this, I've yet to see one answer to that question. Who are the players telling President Obama a strike is needed? O.k. He has these controversial meetings on Tuesdays. What has been said to him? If it was Dr. Stein, I wonder how she would react if say, an individual or group may strike a village and are deemed military and/or enemy combatants from intelligence.

All and all, progressives haven't gotten what they wanted. They blame Obama when they don't see the reality he has worked to build bridges with all Americans opposed to "47 percent of Americans believe they're entitled to everything" from his opponent. In a previous post, here are some things rarely if ever mentioned I'd love to see: re-introduce the Employee Free Choice Act, strengthen unions, introduce teachers' councils as a substitute for school boards, integrate our schools again with a focus on a humanistic philosophy where limited facilitation is provided to empower our youth in learning, high tax for all polluters to move towards clean energy, more investments in clean energy, and reallocating resources to our most vulnearable communities i.e. black urban areas where unemployment for our black brothers and sisters is over 14 percent. After taking several political litmus tests with popular historic and progressive names like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dalai Lama, and Mandela showing, the only one to my left was Mandela. Yes, I consider myself a strong progressive but not a fool. And to all those out there who may consider voting for a Rocky Anderson, Ralph Nader, or Dr. Jill Stein, I'd say you're a damn fool thinking Obama and Romney are one in the same. Still, what has been done from the ground up to legitimize these guys as candidates? It seems to be the same response every four years: very little to nothing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Does our need for self-worth become self-destructive?

We all have empathy in us. At some precise moment where it may be harrowing i.e. war, people will sacrifice themselves for their fellow human beings. My all-time favorite T.V. series was Lost; a captivating show that stirred the imagination where a host of random strangers who were stranded on an island seeking one common goal: How do we get out of here? Each episode showed the best and worst of our human actions.

By far, my favorite character was John Locke (played by Terry O'Quinn and a damn fine actor) who was a man who came from a deeply troubled past, as the viewer came to realize with many other characters. They were all flawed just like us. Before coming to the island, he was a supervisor for a box distribution company. He hated the mundane life, had difficulty settling in relationships, and often in his cubicle prison (same here) at work, he would study maps and show others his passions for safari adventures. His coworkers mocked him for wanting to venture out into the vast unknown, become a survivalist, and use all the skills he learned to be one with nature. Sadly, John was bound to a wheelchair after a heated argument with his father led to John being pushed multiple stories from a balcony onto the ground, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. After surviving a plane crash, he was one of the only survivors who visibly showed a miraculous feat. John could walk again. He could finally be the survivalist and lead a group through the vast wilderness sharing his knowledge with others. He also provided others individually with spiritual and philosophical guidance to overcome those lost moments they couldn't get past in the present. He was a healer.

We're all lost in several snapshots of our lives we wish we could have back. Myself, I wish it had been known by my parents beforehand how a shot said to prevent deadly infections could've also been contaminated with toxins that may have triggered a neurological disorder based on my genetic makeup. I live every day with Asperger's Syndrome. So, I commonly engage with others through awkwardness, being unintentionally blunt, demonstrating difficulties with my motor skills to fit a pin into a small keyhole, and a continous struggle with anxiety and depression. These are all commonly known symptoms that come with this disorder. It's a packaged deal. Take it or leave it. I could sulk in misery each day moping around trying to persuade others to feel sorry for me or do something to create and inspire others around me. I've chosen the latter.

I've had the misfortunes of working in several tough work environments where I was denegrated and humiliated among my peers for failing to understand a concept a superviser had asked me to comprehend. In one of those environments, I worked in what many may consider to be a legalized sweatshop. I look back on those moments and realize those who ostracized me may have been lost in their own moments. Perhaps, they were raised and conditioned differently. They, too, may have struggled with acceptance and a failure to understand what others perceive as simple. Do I look back on these moments? Hell, yes. This is what can happen when you work in a Right to Fire (Right to Hire) state. Bad things can happen to good people who each and every day bring their absolute best only to be told they're not good enough. There's no corrective action or constructive critcism offered. You're just brought into an office with your supervisor and a dopey looking H.R. manager as a witness to be told the litany of reasons why you're fired. This is why I'm adamant about bringing back unions, reintroducing legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act that the late, great Sen. Ted Kennedy co-sponsored, and playing even the most minute role in seeing it one day becomes settled law.

Today, I read a great op-ed written by Rebecca Solnit that was initially posted on TomDispatch and later shared on documentary filmmaker Michael Moore's Facebook page. She shares the same frustrations I do -- continued bullying by our country in areas they don't belong, the murder of innocent civilians that have included women and children from drone strikes, a phony drug war where today more African-Americans are incarcerated than the height of Jim Crow, reckless abandonment for economic development in our most vulnerable communities, continual political system dominated by two parties with corporate interests buying up votes, and a market system that carries the axiom: To the one percent, For the one percent, and By the one percent. With this said, it's understandable and natural who the fall guy is: President Obama.

She eloquently stated in her post, much better than myself, how although we haven't gotten everything we wanted, it's a start to more promising endeavors ahead. We can bicker and complain all we want about not getting everything. We can say we don't live in the utopia we have envisioned. We can act with blatant disregard for what this man has had to confront -- a radical right wing determined to defeat everything he proposes first and serve all of our interests second. Yeah, it's a cruel and unforgiving system. However, we can lose ourselves in those moments we want back or march ahead with our moral strength, courage, and humbled wisdom to continually perfect those mistakes from the past.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Turn off your mainstream t.v. news

Who, what, when, where, why, and how are all commonly posed question terms used for journalism. Each one needs to be answered every time. Next, craft the story in an inverted pyramid format which means sum everything up in the opening paragraph and follow that with details that led to said person, place, thing, or event's impact on a respective community. As a journalism student, journalist, and freelance writer, I was taught this is AP-style writing and warned the first few paragraphs written are the most crucial. Multiple studies revealed how the average reader's attention can quickly become distracted if my story doesn't catch the reader's attention. Are you still with me? Bueller, Bueller...? So, why should I respect a style of writing coming from an organization who overwhelmingly values access over truth?

My heavy set, butch editor called me into her office. It was in and around late July 2005 where I had just come back from an assignment in the unforgiving Georgia oppressive heat and humidity. I was still trying to catch my breath, as I grabbed my pen and notepad. With the glass window enclosed office and grainy brown and black spotted wooden door, I saw her intently looking at her desktop before entering. Without hesitation her face lit up and exclaimed, I just got off the phone and see Rev. Jesse Jackson will be coming here this Sunday. I want you to cover it. Will you be able to do it?

"Yes," I emphatically replied.

"Are you excited?"

"I'm humbled and honored to attend this event."

A few minutes later after being provided instructions for showing a press pass and how a photo for the story should be done with an action shot i.e. snap a photo when the Rev is shaking someone's hand (ended up being the photo), thoughts began wildly racing in seemingly every direction. Am I dreaming this? What did I do to deserve it? How should I approach a guy who many consider to be an icon? He's a former Democratic Presidential candidate who won the state of Michigan, stood alongside Martin Luther King Jr. to help pave the way for civil rights... How should I cover this and not offend him? Wait. Go back. How should I cover this and not WORRY ABOUT offending him? That was the problem.

On a muggy Sunday evening, I arrived at the historic church wearing a damn pair of slacks and buttoned up shirt and tie. I looked handsome but always prefer comfort. Is this the right place, I asked myself as I only saw a few people walking towards the church. I walked up a small set of concrete steps, opened one of the large, brown wooden doors, and saw a congregation of people in the atrium. Immediately, a burly man asked in a gruff tone, "You with the press?"

"Yes. I'm with the (said newspaper I worked at)," I quickly responded, wanting to bypass the plebian and move on to the big dawg himself.

"Come with me."

Hmmm. This wasn't the most pleasant reception, and frankly, the guy looks more suited for being a henchman in a mob than working for a formidable civil rights leader. He led me to the back of the church and said, "Wait in here. He should be here shortly."

There were a few other reporters quietly sitting in chairs next to a comfortable appearing cushion couch in front of a small window. Through the blinds, I darted my eyes to see if he arrived. Alright. Let's go. I still want to get back to playing a MLB game on my PS2, I thought to myself.

"He's already been to a few other places," one reporter said to another.

"Yeah. I can imagine he'll be tired when he gets here," the other responded.

Finally, the Rev arrived. After a few minutes, he shook the hand of an elderly woman. Snap. Click. Snap. Click. I took a few photos and was immediately attracted to how one came out. About 15 minutes passed before myself and the other reporters followed him inside the small room.

I was still awe-struck. He quickly began going into his spiel for the purpose of why he was there: provide awareness to all races and creeds to emphasize the importance of voting and the community's support to help Congress pass the Reauthorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. I could see the fatigue in his eyes. Out of respect, I didn't want to ask him that one question that lingered in my mind: How can you support the quality and improvement of life while disrespecting the decsion Terri Schiavo and her husband made to end her suffering? Yes. He might've had one of his mob-like guys take me out of the room and bar me from the event. However, that's a legit question.

"President Bush keeps saying, 'Don't worry, be happy,'" as he was referring to the unprovoked U.S. occupation in Iraq where no evidence for weapons of mass destruction were ever found. He continued, "Tom Delay is on a mission in Texas to redistrict his entire state...." 

About five minutes were used for questions. Predominantly, they were asked by a reporter from one of the state's largest newspapers. I tapped my foot impatiently. This guy was essentially throwing him softball questions pertaining to raising awareness for one's rights to vote and how to engage communities in knowing their rights to vote. The Rev stood up, invited us to watch different speeches by himself and other community leaders, and sluggishly walked out of the room and into the church.

This turned into more of a spectacle than anything else. There were a few, quick witty jabs rightfully directed at President Bush for being an abject failure. The rest was gospel singing, asking who in the audience hadn't registered yet to vote, having a few who raised their hands, approach the altar to sign up and become registered, and acknowledging the huge wealth disparity between a hotel worker in Chicago making several dollars more an hour than one in Atlanta with high ranking members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in attendance. So, what's changed?

Closing the rally, the Rev looked straight at me after making another snarky comment. "Print that in The Telegraph." Hahaha. Let's all poke fun at the white guy (one of three white people in the audience) who you all believe had ancestors who enslaved yours. Nope. First, I didn't work for that newspaper. Second, I empathize and understand after more than 400 years of enslavement by colonials that in general black people have a lot of justified resentment towards white people. Finally, some of my ancestors didn't come here for sport either despite them not being shackled and in chains. Yeah, the Rev pissed me off but ultimatley, it was my reluctance for job security reasons and awe-struck in a celebrity's presence not to ask the few questions that should've been raised. Today, I can honestly say along with many others in the black community that Rev. Jesse Jackson along with Rev. Al Sharpton are merely showmen. Where's a camera? They haven't seen one that they've shied away from.

About a month later, the paper fired me. There were heaven forbid a few mistakes I made that the dopey editor overlooked. Isn't that her job? No. I'm supposed to be perfect. Also, I didn't quite fit in with the newsroom, considering it seemed they all had known each other for years. Finally, I pissed off a well-known local by taking a Conservative position on how ridiculous it was for her to persistently interrupt a meeting held by a regional development authority official for planning a project that wouldn't take place at the earliest for another five years along a historic river area. Oh, well.

I was grateful for all the experiences I had along the way. Specifically, I was proud of a weekly feature I did on a senior citizen, comparing and contrasting how life was back in say the '20s to life today, and the contributions they all made to their family, friends, and neighbors. I was humbled to be at another event hosted by a summer youth group that featured one of the big tobacco whisteblowers from Philip Morris and on another occasion, meeting with an odd, mad scientist appearing man who developed foot inserts for those severely stricken with arthritis and well-renowned athletes. It was incredible watching before and after videos of some of his clients who could barely muster movement with their walkers to completely walking on their own with ease. In the end, yes, I selfishly look back on those moments speaking one-on-one with people and recognizing how much more in common we all have than we give ourselves credit for.

A few years later, my passion for writing and journalism returned. Ironically, one article that I accepted initially began as "Why do black people vote Democrat?" I had to negotiate with the paper's editor to change it to why young people, minorities, and low income vote Democrat (refused to accept a racially divisive headline and obvious answer on why a disadvantage and once enslaved race voted Democrat). So, I went to an event hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network at an Augusta church.

I walked into the event, feeling somewhat out of place like I did several years ago when I went to meet with Rev. Jesse Jackson. After a few minutes aimlessly walking to find a place to sit, a jovial, burly set man smiled and waved for me to join him. He introduced himself as the head of the Network's Washington, D.C. chapter. This event was focused on how George W. Bush changed the narrative for our bad economy, continued neglect for addressing economic needs in urban, heavily populated black communities, and continued occupation in Iraq by attacking homosexual Americans.

"People say we're militant, but we're not militant," Terry (can't recall his last name) said while leaning forward in a softer tone of voice.

Why would he mention "militant?" I jokingly responded, "Is it Fox News? They seem to think anyone's militant who isn't a Conservative."

He went on with his interpretation of the Bible. I respectfully disagreed with him when he mentioned the well known verse out of Leviticus, "Man shall not lieth with another man." Without taking away from the event, I challenged him on this notion and why their organization who many feel speaks for the black community would take a discriminatory position of their own.

He spent a few minutes defending his reasoning before finally succumbing to saying, "Do I adhere fully to the Bible? No," adding "Coretta Scott King supports equal rights for all." O.k. That's Dr. King's wife who if alive today, I'm sure Dr. King wouldn't support your position either.

Rev. Sharpton provided an equally amusing and witty speech to the one Rev. Jackson gave several years ago. However, his speech was greatly overshadowed by another minister who had two doctorate degrees and delivered one of the best speeches I've heard to this day. It mirrored Dr. King's Beyond Vietnam speech, provided clarity on the status of our society as a whole, and ultimately, what we needed to all do to better ourselves. Sharpton mainly did his usual Fox News and Bush bashing speeches (not to say there was anything wrong with either but suggestions, ideas, and action at the end of the day are all that matter).

The presentation ended. I respectfully asked for a business card from the gentleman who graciously offered for me to sit with him. He declined and quickly walked away. Why? I didn't think I pressed him that hard on their organization's hypocrisy, but they seemed to want to have it both ways -- liberate our group while discriminating against another because our interpretation of the Bible says so.

After covering the event, speaking to a few of the area's prominent Democrats, and spending several more hours of research, the content flow didn't meet the editor's expectations. This was the second attempt. The last time, the editor said it would be too divisive and cause too much controversy within the community. Strike three, I'm out. What? The story was canned and moved on to another assignment that to this day has been the one I've been most proud of crafting -- possible autism/vaccine injury connection. This was the most personal since my brother at the age of nine was diagnosed with severe autism.

I spoke with a grandmother, who was the main subject in the story along with her grandson to get started. Initially, I brushed off what she said: mercury in vaccines. Really? Other toxins like antifreeze and aluminum are also used as additives. Get outta' here. Yet, I looked at her intense stare and occasionally with swift, frantic-like movements her pointing to all the research she has done. Papers could've been stacked up to the ceiling, as they were neatly stacked in boxes. A three-shelved bookcase featured mainly books on autism.

She was extremely hospitable. I briefly interacted with her grandson and his friend he brought over. By the end of the interview, she handed me a book that transformed my thinking even more -- Evidence of Harm by a contributing health and science writer for The New York Times, David Kirby. Curious by the book's title, I wanted to begin reading it right away.

After I left her apartment, I flipped the book to the back cover and was alarmed by one statistic: 1 in 10,000 Americans were diagnosed with autism in 1987. Today, it's 1 in 150 (actually, that number today is closer to 1 in 100). Amazing and truly startling to see in only an 18 year span the numbers of kids being diagnosed have risen astronomically like that.

I read the book in a couple of days. There were some profoundly disturbing things in it starting with parents who said after early detections and extensive treatment and therapy programs that included chelation therapy, biomedical treatments, and glutein and starch free diets, their children literally were cured. One lady mentioned lives right here in Atlanta and was a significant source in the book.

Time after time, the CDC reported this phrase in their vaccine-autism link findings "no evidence of harm," adding there may be slight redness and swelling at the injection site. However, they slipped up a few times, most notably in a joint article sent to Congress in 1999. There have also been other instances where they've gone further and admitted that vaccines can lead to injury.

After it was published, I was surprised to see an immediate rebuttal to the piece by the Director of the National Immunication Coalition in San Francisco. He said the article was highly sensationalized and two sources I used who are vaccine researchers basically didn't know what they were doing. How did this piece ever reach this guy? Did someone in the local area tip him off? It's not exactly a New England Journal of Medicine or Time Magazine here. Perhaps, that's to be expected when power feels threatened.

I was agnostic and to this day, still believe there simply needs to be a balance in how an infant to toddler age is administered vaccines. However, it's proven to be unnecessary to administer Hep-B shots when an infant just comes out of the womb unless the mother has it or they're already having sex at one or two days old. I highly doubt the latter.

Today, I'm glad I sparingly write for a publication that might catch my attention and myself, theirs. Those questions I sought to address would still be forbidden or deemed too controversial today. When covering an economic development meeting where its only concern is bringing in new business and money, all questions pertaining to it are off limits. First, these meetings were very painful to observe since most time is spent using official speak and repeating several times what has already been covered. Second, this is the heart of any community or city's growth. Without new business, communities could die. So, it's an ultra-conservative, neoliberal mindset these guys on the board have. Finally, myself and other writers had their works heavily edited by the head of the development authority. In one article, I questioned him and my editor for why an old business in town may have levels of lead that could lead to lead poisoning. I was assured the EPA had already said the levels were too low for that type of exposure. So, just take him at his word when children who play in a field may not know better, eat grass, and uhoh, said child gets sick? That could've been a story and today, it would be handled the same way.

I was only in this field a brief time but still feel passionate about it, knowing I can never go back to the subservient racket it has become since the Vietnam War. The marketplace is responsible for answering to the press and not the other way around. Today, thanks to corporate messaging where companies and advertisers spend lengthy times using psychologists and sociologists to tap into our biggest fears to categorize what they're selling as a norm, it's accepted. This is why stories focusing on tragedies and macabre (car accidents with mangled vehicles on front pages) sell the most. The average reader has become conditioned.

Moving forward, I don't know what's in your local community. From experience, newspapers hate it when you hound them about covering a story. If they continually refuse to cover it, write a letter to the editor in a nearby competing publication to get your point across. If nobody covers it, start up your own blog and begin writing about your observations and experiences. We've learned over the past year some of the most revealing stories have come from handheld cell phone videos.

Our biggest problem is trying to teach all of the old dogs new tricks. We've become accustomed to reality T.V., video games, cell phones, talk radio, talk T.V., and the Internet. That's fine. Collectively, we can become something much greater. We all consume individually to some extent. Ideas always have a way of coming together at some point to benefit all of us. I recommend turning off the ad nausuem coverage of this upcoming election year filled with the usual GOP and/or Democrat rhetoric regurgitated and turning on truly independent-minded journalists like Amy Goodman with DemocracyNow!, Julian Assange, Matt Taibi with Rolling Stone, and Jeremy Scahil at The Nation magazine to find out what's truly going on around us. I'm sure I'm leaving out too many, but those are good for starters


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Power of One Audience Member

One day, the sky is blue, sun's rays are glistening on the concrete, and dogwoods are in bloom, as I walk inside an office building's two large glass doors. Behind an oval-shaped, marble counter is an attractive, 30s-something woman who smiles and waves when I enter. I wave back and walk into the plant. Inside the plant, I walk down a row of conveyor belts where each individual stops for a moment to acknowledge me as I acknowledge them back with the same friendly wave and smile. It's different this time, though.

There's no dress code where I'm required to wear a shirt and tie or a collared shirt with khakis. We come as we are with truly one mission in mind: service our customers and vendors to the absolute best of our abilities. Why is this day different? We all have an equal ownership with our firm.

It can't be sold to the highest bidder. We signed a contract. When any changes or adaptations arise, we all vote and  the majority wins out. We all earn a comfortable living wage where we can also spend adequate time away from work with friends and family along with a few weeks set aside to travelling. We sacrifice for each other. This is a small part of a broader vision for how I want to see the world around me.

Where do we begin? The late, great comedian George Carlin once said in a stand-up how politicans always say they're worried about our children's education, emphasizing the silliness when the regurgitated rhetoric comes out with things like, "We've got to invest in our kids' futures, more money in education, computers in classrooms, and improving test scores." It always sounds good and resonates. What do we have to do to make sure our kids will be fine? Each and every time, the solutions still produce the same end results -- a conditioned disregard for those who are perceived different and/or inferior. It's a byproduct of a capitalist society that tells us your wealth and/or status is ultimately all that matters.

Inevitably, divisions amongst each other transpire. We scoff at the slightest notion we're not worthy or unwelcome when it comes to access to an event, obtaining the latest and greatest product produced, place we want to visit than the next person, and how we're perceived on the hierarchal pyramid from entry level worker to CEO. This notion has been passed on from generation to generation since the beginning of civilizations.

Last night, I saw the 1999 blockbuster film Fight Club for the first time in years. The film's overriding theme is based on one man's inner conflict within a society where capatilist messaging surrounds him (and all of us)and how he is disillusioned by it. There is one quote from the film that resonated from the charismatic, anarchist character, "You don't own your possessions. Your possessions own you." Albeit all the silly explosions, fights taking place in a basement, and vandalism acts to businesses, I like this statement as a launching pad for putting down the distracting devices in exchange for interacting better with one another.

As someone who seriously considered teaching and choosing the wrong age group (middle school age), I was disillusioned during my student teaching by how distracted today's kids are. This is no exaggeration. Each day I walked into a given classroom before starting the class with the latest lesson, students were talking about what they had seen on T.V. last night, what's the latest on the big rap artist of the time, how far a friend made it on a recent X-Box game, and more outrageous, a kid no more than 12 texting on a cell phone. I'd respectfully in a gruff, loud tone (had to repeat myself a few times) ask for everyone to settle down and get started. There will be time to talk after class. Unfortunately, any given lesson was often disrupted by a few students who seemingly couldn't sit still for more than five minutes without wiggling in his or her chair. I could see that yearning to release energy. What's happened?

Physical education wasn't offered. You're kidding, I thought to myself. This is the time in these kids' lives when they're growing into their bodies faster than at any other point in their natural life span. So, kids were larger in size than I remembered when I was in school and more were taking some kind of medication for anxiety and/or Attendtion Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Legislators felt physical education was a drain on the economy, so it was cut a few years before I got there. And why? It's all for the wealthy to continue receiving their tax breaks. Nothing to see here in the classrooms. I'd say the capitalist messaging has done a damn good job convincing everyone it's o.k. to have a deficit on the backs of practically... well, everyone except a small few. When it has happened in other countries, we've called it fascism.

Ultimately, I parted ways with the public education system. There were a few other factors I considered. First, the parents I called about their kids' ongoing discipline problems acted indifferent. At most, they'd say, "Ooh, when he gets home, I'm gonna' whoop that child." It came across like these parents were more concerned about how their kids' actions would reflect on how people viewed them opposed to genuine concern for the child's academics. Others sounded tired. One literally said if you just encourage him, he won't act out anymore. Nope. That didn't happen.

Collegiality was another issue. It felt like I was surrounded by giddy adolescents who were meant to be my professional colleagues but were just too excited to see each other every day in the hallways. They couldn't wait to talk about their zumba class or what new furnishings they're going to place in their dining rooms. I was the third wheel shadowing the teacher who couldn't wait to exit stage left whenever that inevitable meeting with the same colleague would come up again.

Some of the other teachers expressed how they've been there awhile and just waiting for the day to become an administrator -- vice principal, principal, etc by working on a continuing education degree. The kids coming in each year were more and more out of control was the typical response. Really? The same could be said for the teachers. When you tried to engage with them, they seemed more interested in talking about what happened on last night's mind numbing Survivor episode. These aren't exactly your parents' teachers.

What was most disheartening was the feeling of being a babysitter each and every day. Yes, I had terrible classroom management. That was my downfall. I didn't envision having to play the role of a military drill instructor to just maintain a comfortable silence. It had been my outlook to pick apart what was in those bland textbooks. What did we just read that still affects all of us today? It was an integral, real life model where students engaged and shared their ideas I strived to see. I wanted to somehow be a part of a transformational model where teaching to a test was an afterthought. The prime purpose would be centered on each individual and what each one has to offer. Highlight those strengths and have them continue improving upon them. Unfortunately, it was a far cry from the raucous, easily distracted environment I walked into each day. Teachers only cared about what they were told by a bunch of housewives who sat on a school board and designed the curriculum. They merely followed it. I refused to accept this reality but knew there was nothing as one individual I could do to change it.

Recently, I read Finland ranks as one of the highest performers in the world for its education -- top five in every category which include reading, languages, science, and math. How did it get there? For one, there is complete integration in its public schools -- rich and poor commonly attend one school and the majority of both classes want it that way. Second, they don't teach to the test. Third, teachers are much better paid, respected, and trained to adapt to different learning skills each student possesses. Finally, each student's strengths are recognized and encouraged to pursue for the workplace at a younger age. This humanistic philosophy (emphasizes self-discovery learning and limited facilitation for students) where students are given more autonomy and limited facilitation in their development was what I had wanted to implement. What's stopping us from doing this? Clearly, we've shown how teaching to the test has bumped us out of being one of the top performing countries in the world to somewhere in the teens for just about every subject. It hasn't worked.

While I'm sure many of our parents taught us to respect our elders and authority figures, I've learned there are specific circumstances where disobedience is needed. This is where the 99 percent nonviolent, peaceful Political Action Committee has been introdued. While it's unclear where it originated whether it be an essay from an economist with 99 percent in the article's title to an anti-corporate Canadian ad agency Adbusters, it's ebbed and flowed. Others cite inspiration from revolutions happening in the Middle East known as The Arab Spring where it's most notorious revolution successfully had a tyrannical dictator removed in Egypt.

It's discouraging to see this concept seemingly hasn't affected minorities and hard hit communities to join. After attending a few protest rallies, the audience is overwhelmingly young and white. Why haven't more leaders from the Civil Rights movement come on board? Why has there been little to no impact on legislation from the federal to local level that has had a positive effect for the 99 percent?

Moving forward, it's understandable a movement like this may take years before significant change is achieved. My concern is that it might eventually succumb to hopelessness and eventually become a small fringe movement. There are many reasons why we've yet to see more people getting involved -- they face those same distractions of modern day technology that those students and teachers I was around perceived as everything that will fill their voids. Old habits die hard.

When I attended a screening for the Academy Award winning film Inside job, one of the attendees said, "I feel like I can only control what's going on around my block." Well, that's a start. Anytime I write, I'm grateful one individual takes the time to read what I've had to say. Never underestimate that impact. One individual can pass on ideas read to another then another.... Eventually, those who work to protect the mass murderers who represent the 1 percent turn against them, put down their arms, and join the rest of the 99 percent that will one day force them to change their business as usual approaches. We've learned capitalism and democracy can no longer co-exist. I think just about all of us choose the latter. It's just an ongoing struggle to achieve it and break the status quo we've accepted for far too long.