Protesters use umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas at Hong Kong’s Occupy Central.
Will the Climate Change March Make a Difference to the Elites Who Run the World?
On Sunday, more than 300,000 people came out for the People’s Climate March in Manhattan. Easily the largest environmental rally in history, the spectacle was a diverse and frenetic show of force, and in that sense was a spectacular success. The lingering question that was hanging over the proceedings still remains, however: Is all of that sound and fury going to make a difference to the global elites meeting across town at the United Nations for the latest Very Important Climate Change Summit on Tuesday?
Led by a procession of indigenous peoples, activists got things started just before 11:30 AM. In addition to your typical flower-adorned hippie types, there were black and Hispanic kids from around the country. The summer of police brutality punctuated by the death of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri was never far from the surface, their names intermittently chanted by the legions of protesters.
The event was essentially a giant party. Elaborate floats coasted slowly down the street surrounded by activists with signs demanding action and marching bands. Inside the crowd was a smattering of radicals convinced that the environmental movement’s leaders are kidding themselves if they think carbon emissions can be reduced—and global warming’s worst effects averted—without dramatically reshaping the global economy.
China, the Climate and the Fate of the Planet
Everything Wrong with Police Has Been on Display in Ferguson
After Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, the cops’ reaction provided a neat snapshot of just about every dangerous aspect of policing in modern America.
For starters, there’s the reliable archetype of the racist cop. Brown, though he allegedly stole cigarellos from a convenience store not long before he died, was not stopped over a theft report. The weak jaywalking excuse for a police stop adds a flavor of profiling which angers people further, and makes the racial element of the shooting more pronounced. In Ferguson, the numbers suggest that black individuals are targeted for police stops more than whites. A few of their cops also once beat a 52-year-old man, then charged him for damaging their uniforms with his blood. Brown himself may have been a dumbass teenager who committed a petty crime, but now he can never grow up to be better than that.
The police showed up like an army, thereby antagonizing the mostly peaceful crowds, both before and after looting began on August 10. This reaction, where store owners often got screwed by the mob but the peaceful, pissed off folks got their First Amendment rights violated, underlined another major problem with the police: Aren’t they violating Posse Comitatus by now? Men in SWAT gear that resembles paramilitary garb may bust down the doors of various suspected drug criminals at night, but that mostly goes without video evidence (when there are exceptions to that,people tend to be shocked, even when it’s a normal drug raid). Seeing a roadblock that belonged in the Middle East during a weekday afternoon in Missouri was jarring to people just starting to grasp its new normalcy.
Yet another strike against the Ferguson Police was their incredible opacity after one of their own killed. They initiated a curfew, and then took six days to release the name of Wilson. They did everything they could to block media attention. On Sunday night, a SWAT officer screamed “Turn off that light! Get down!” and then “Get the fuck out of here!” at a student who was broadcasting live radio. The officer, allegedly pointing a gun, also yelled what sounds like: “Get that light out of here, or you’re getting shot with this.” Some outlets—including Mediaite—thought the cop yelled “or you’re getting shot in the face.” Others say the cop might have been yelling “getting shelled with this” instead of “shot.” Regardless, it was bad.
Eric Garner and the Plague of Police Brutality Against Black Men
If you haven’t heard about Eric Garner yet, let me fill you in. He was a 43-year-old father of six who lived in Staten Island, and he died in the street on Thursday after as many as four New York police officers choked him and slammed his head on the ground. The NYPD told the Associated Press that they stopped Garner because he was selling untaxed cigarettes, something he’d been arrested for before. However, witnesses who spoke with local news website Staten Island Live have basically said that’s bullshit. Ramsey Orta, who was on the scene and shot a now infamous video that is making the rounds, can be heard in the clip saying that all Garner had done to get bothered by the police was break up a fight.
In the video, Garner denies any wrongdoing and asks why he’s being hassled. “Every time you see me you want to mess with me,” he says in an exasperated tone that most men of color across this country can relate to. Garner, who was 400 pounds and has been described by people who knew him as a “gentle giant,” suffered from chronic asthma and police claim his death was the result of a heart attack suffered during the arrest.
Police say that Garner made a “fighting stance” and resisted arrest. Which, based on the video clip, is complete nonsense, considering we can see him pleading to the officers, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” before going completely silent as several officers pile on him.
The video of Garner’s death is disgusting, but I can’t say I was shocked or even outraged the first time I watched it. At this point, as someone who’s read and written about some of these stories time and time again—and who’s had firsthand experiences with the way cops treat black males—this kind of reprehensible shit is not surprising at all. After so many cases like Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, you start to feel desensitized by the seemingly insurmountable injustice that plagues communities of color.
Thursday’s Supreme Court decision didn’t do much to alter access to clinics, but rather laid what we already know about the abortion debate in America: Being cornered by strangers who want to talk about your uterus and pray for your unborn child is obviously horrifying and invasive, but it’s not illegal. Because while you may have the right to get an abortion, someone else has the right to make you feel terrible about it.
Activists Couldn’t Stop 10,000 Dogs from Being Eaten in China Last Weekend
Over the last week, there’s been some pretty intense media coverage of China’s Dog Meat Festival, which has become something of a tradition over the last two decades. As the name suggests—and much to the dismay of all the people who see dogs as friends rather than food—tens of thousands of dogs are slaughtered and eaten each year at the event, which takes place in the city of Yulin, Guangxi province.
I was in Yulin on Saturday, when locals once again raised glasses loaded with lychee wine to the heavens and tucked into bowls full of freshly roasted, fried and boiled dog.
Pet-lovers across China and the rest of the world have been quick to lament Yulin’s apparently boundless appetite for puppy flesh, and several Chinese celebrities have made online pleas to bring the festival to a halt. However, locals are reluctant to give up their annual gathering. When I spoke to one female vendor in the downtown Dong Kou meat market, she told me she’d lost count of the number of dogs she’d sold in the last week but guessed it was well over a hundred a day—business has rarely been better.
Shandai, from animal protection group the Guangdong Shoushan Volunteer Center, reckoned that previous estimations of 10,000 dogs being sacrificed for the festival are too low, claiming the figure is more like 40,000. (Plus 10,000 cats, in case you’re not really a “dog person”)
Walking around the city, the presence of animal rights protesters seemed to have resulted in an unapologetic backlash. Locals filling their baskets with freshly chopped paws and tails were defensive over their dog-eating customs, one woman in the market declaring indignantly, “I’m not forcing them to eat dog, so they can’t force me to stop.”
“Even more people are eating dog this year,” complained Pian Shan Kong, an animal activist from Guizhou who has been observing the festival for three years. “As outsiders come to protest, locals are spurred on to resist.” Kong is currently holding four rescued pups in his Yulin hotel room—the guy who sold him them reportedly got angry when he realized they weren’t destined for the dinner plate, and threatened to slice all four open on the spot if Kong couldn’t match his inflated asking price.
A growing wave of grassroots activists is forcing universities to take a stronger stand against sexual abuse—and now the Obama administration is joining the fight.
California Prisons Are Making It Harder for Inmates to Organize and Protest by Banning ‘Obscene’ Reading Material
In February 2013 a group of inmates in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison called for a statewide hunger strike to protest the widespread and sometimes capricious use of special housing units (SHUs, a burreaucratic term for solitary confinement). Germinated in a small collective that included representatives from four different gangs, the call quickly spread throughout the state’s lockups, and on July 8, 30,000 men in 25 prisons refused their meals, attracting national and international media attention. At the end of the two-month protest the state legislature promised to hold hearings to look into the use of SHUs, and some reforms have resulted, including a “step-down” program that may hasten some inmates’ transfers out of solitary.
The strike represented a feat of communication that defeated barriers of concrete, steel, and distance, and it had relied, in part, on the newspapers, magazines, and prison newsletters that had spread the word about the protest.
“The access to the media—from mainstream newspapers to more prison-specific publications—empowered these prisoners to strike,” said Oakland attorney Anne Weills, who represents a group of prisoners suing the state for keeping them in solitary for over a decade. “It gave them a sense of individual and collective empowerment.”
But Weills wasn’t the only person who noticed how the prisoners’ use of the media had facilitated a stunning denunciation of SHUs. The prison authorities also took note—and now the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is proposing a ban on publications that address prison concerns under the guise of clamping down on “obscene materials.”
In California prisons, “obscene materials” has traditionally referred to a fairly narrow realm of images and written material, including photos or drawings of nude people or sexual penetration and pornography involving minors. Since the CDCR first adopted these prohibitions in 1995, there have been no updates, modifications, or additions to the list of contraband publications—until now. In April, the CDCR announced that it would change the rules to prohibit any publication that has an association with a “Security Threat Group” (STG, the new term of art for gang) or any material that might “indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society.”
Offline Activism Is the Tricky Part for #YesAllWomen
As with every mass shooting in the last decade, Elliot Rodger sparked a clash of ideologies. This being a misogyny-fueled massacre, instead of the usual gun debate, it provoked a nationwide Twitter war between anti-patriarchy feminists and a bunch of apologist white guys, with most tweets focusing on the fact that while not all men denigrate women, all women are denigrated by men, and culminating in the latest clicktivist hashtag #YesAllWomen. It’s a strong hashtag, and it has staying power, but does it have the potential to inspire people offline?
When a branch of the American Revolutionary Communist Party concerned with banning pornography for the benefit of women, called StopPatriarchy.com, organized a series of #YesAllWomen rallies in Seattle, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, and San Francisco, it meant another attempt at turning global social media awareness into community activism, in the hopes that the effort is broadcast somewhere, anywhere. Best case - recursively on social media; worst case - word of mouth. This cyclical advocacy happens fair often with little effect, #BringackOurGirls and #Kony2012 come to mind. Ralph Nader was right, “the Internet doesn’t do a very good job of motivating action.”