In This Issue

GMC Layoffs Spark Flaccid Economy
Hank Wilson
NJ4 Update
Support Prisoners with Disabilities
Marriage and Racism and Queers, Oh My
Revolutionary Wedding Party
What Obama’s Victory Means To Me As A Voluntary Immigrant In The u.s.
No More Death Penalty
Bay Area Activist Kidnapped by Israeli Navy
The MOCHA Column
Alameda County Threatens HIV Cuts
Post-Election Blues

GMC Layoffs Spark Flaccid Economy

San Francisco—California's economy appears to be heading into depression, says a new study by Dr. Phill. Following passage of Proposition 8, Roger Smythe, CEO of GMC (Gay Marriage Chapels), Inc. announced a halt to production and plans to reduce its workforce by 10%.

Rising to the occasion, makers of Prozac and Viagra are releasing a new combination therapy to combat the depression. Analists have been studying the economy's deep hole for months. The state's poor performance, caused by the largest transfer of money from working people to rich people in history, had people hoping that all the rich gays would save California's jobs. GMC's chapel construction had been the only bright light in the construction industry. Adam Smithee, spokesman for Capitalism, reports that he is encouraged by the recent upswing in shares for the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts, where the gay marriage is allowed. But he fears that more of California's jobs may be outsourced to foreign countries which also permit the gay marriage. Hundreds of angry white voters, whose support of Prop.8 made passage possible, are picketing outside the governor's mansion in Sacramento. They say, "by not waffling enough on this issue he has not looked out for the interests of the people who voted for him." Unfortunately for the astounded owner, there is no governor's mansion in California. Ebay is seeing a slight increase in activity. It appears that some holders of the gay marriage certificate are already disenchanted with their situations, and are attempting to sell their certificates on Ebay. The price for one has reached a reported $35.00.

Jews Against Public Menorahs
And Everyone Who Is For The Separation of Church and State (EWIFTSOCS)
Sunday, December 21 (the annual "lighting" of the fake menorah)
Union Square, San Francisco
A Good Time Will Be Had By All




Hank Wilson

Longtime LGBT and AIDS activist Hank Wilson died of lung cancer on November 9 in San Francisco.  He was 61.  The Bay Area Reporter noted that for “over more than 30 years, he played a pivotal role in San Francisco’s LGBT history.”

Hank grew up in Sacramento, and graduated with a B.A. in education from the University of Wisconsin in 1971.

With Tom Ammiano and Ron Lanza, he co-founded the Gay Teachers Coalition in 1975 and lobbied to stop discrimination against gay teachers in the San Francisco schools. He became a leader in the 1977 anti-Briggs Initiative (No on 6) campaign, and served on the Gay Youth Advocacy Council which founded Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC). He served on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s Youth and Education Committee and also launched with Ammiano a gay speakers bureau to educate San Francisco high school and middle school students about gay and lesbian issues. In 1976 he helped found the Butterfly Brigade, Castro Street Safety Patrol, and Carry a Whistle Defense Campaign. Wilson was a founder of the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club.

In 1978, he started a business partnership with fellow activist Ron Lanza, which led to leasing four Tenderloin Hotels. He operated the Ambassador Hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin through 1996 and it became a model of harm reduction services housing PWAs. In 1982, Lanza and Wilson created the Valencia Rose Cafe, an influential gay cabaret and performance venue, which featured musicians and comedians such as Marga Gomez, Whoopi Goldberg, Lea DeLaria, and Ammiano. With Glenda Hope and Dennis Conkin he founded Tenderloin AIDS Network that led to the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center (TARC). Wilson managed the TARC drop-in center providing support to homeless PWAs. He was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma in 1987. He continued his activism in the AIDS movement and participating in many demonstrations.

He took part in the May 1979 White Night riot to protest Dan White’s lenient manslaughter conviction, and he later regaled younger activists with tales of throwing flaming newspapers into unoccupied police cruisers outside City Hall.

In 1981 Hank founded the Committee to Monitor Poppers to educate the gay community about the hazards of using poppers. In 1986, he co-authored a book with John Lauritsen entitled Death Rush: Poppers and AIDS, in which they alleged a connection between poppers and HIV infection. He also served several terms on the SF HIV Prevention Planning Council and the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) Community Advisory Board.  Hank helped form the PWA Coalition and Mobilization Against AIDS, and organized the city’s first AIDS memorial candlelight march in 1983.  He was an early member of ACT UP/San Francisco and participated in countless actions, including an early demonstration against Burroughs Wellcome demanding a lower price for AZT. Over the years, he advocated for alternative therapies, expanded access to experimental drugs, needle exchange, and medical marijuana.  He was a founder and integral member of ACT UP/Golden Gate when it split off from ACT UP/San Francisco in 1990, and he remained active through the group’s evolution to Survive AIDS in 2000 until it folded four years later.

Hank’s activism extended beyond HIV/AIDS to encompass a broader view of community health, and he attended several gay men’s and LGBT health summits starting in the late 1990s.

In 1999 Hank initiated the write-in campaign that led to Tom Ammiano’s unlikely run for mayor against incumbent Willie Brown. Ammiano’s unsuccessful mayoral bid paved the way for the reinstitution of district elections and election of a progressive slate to the Board of Supervisors a year later.  In 2001, Hank ran unsuccessfully for the District Six seat on the Board of Supervisors.

We in LAGAI had political differences with Hank at times, and would not necessarily concur with Tom Ammiano’s assessment that he “had a very very small ego.” But we well remember and honor his tireless energy for social justice and the fact that there was nothing closety about him.  He made a big contribution to our movements.


NJ4 Update

Patreese Johnson, one of the four Black lesbians who were tried for the August 16, 2006 incident in which seven Black lesbians from Newark NJ were arrested for defending themselves against an attack by Dwayne Buckle in the New York’s West Village, remains in prison in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Seven lesbians were originally charged, three pled out rather than face trial, and four, Patreese Johnson, Renata Hill, Terrain Dandridge and Venice Brown  were tried and convicted in June 2007.

Since that time, Terrain’s conviction was completely overturned, and a new trial was ordered for Renata on the gang assault charge. Renata was released on bail at the end of August, and she, Terrain, and Kimma Walker (Terrain’s mother) spoke at a workshop on the case at the CR10 conference in September. Renata’s new trial has been postponed twice (most recently she was scheduled for trial on November 20). We have been conducting a letter writing campaign to Robert Morgenthau, the NYC district attorney, urging him to drop further prosecution in her case. (Send letters to: Robert M. Morgenthau, District Attorney, New York County, 1 Hogan Place, New York, NY 10013. A sample letter is available at the free NJ4 website, which is maintained by activists in Champaign IL,  Please remember to put a return address on the letter and on the envelope.) After her release, Renata stayed with Kimma and Terrain, but the building management has forced her to move out, so Renata is looking for a place to stay, and activists are raising move-in money.

Activists around the country were able to raise the money to get Venice out on appeal bond in September. On November 14, her appeal, and the appeal of Patreese Johnson were heard. Patreese had received the harshest sentence, 11 years, and so far the court has not set an appeal bond for her. So she remains in prison in Bedford Hills, NY. It may be several months before the court announces a decision on their appeals. There is some chance that the NY district attorneys office will try to consolidate any retrials, which may be why Renata’s trial keeps being put off.

 In the meantime, support efforts continue. Naughty North, a queer activist collective in Maine, raised over $300 at a benefit in October. The Midwest NJ7 Solidarity Collective and CRAAC! also held a film showing and benefit in October. A revolutionary ball is planned in Chicago on December 11, for more info contact A martial arts benefit for women of color is planned for December 18 in San Francisco (see notice, page 1). The case was also mentioned at a rally in Australia to support Aboriginal political prisoner, Lex Wotton. More information on all of this is available at

Also in October, Bay NJ4 Solidarity showed the documentary about the murder of Sakia Gunn in Newark. Sakia was a 15 year old Black lesbian who was murdered in Newark in 2003. If you’re interested in working on this case in the Bay Area, please contact us at

Women of Color & Friends
Martial Arts Benefit for the New Jersey 4
Thursday, Dec 18 doors open 6pm; show 6:30-8pm
Oakland Asian Cultural Center
388 8th St. (between Webster and Franklin) sliding scale $10-20, kids under 12 free
with Skim and Robbie Clark emcee’ing and DJ Edaj spinning
e-mail to reserve tickets and for info
Wheelchair accessible
co-sponsored by Vibe Lounge


Support Prisoners with Disabilities

Anyone who has ever been in prison or supported someone inside knows that prisons in the US are inhumane and often profoundly disabling. Whether due to no healthcare or bad healthcare, violence, stress, poor food and housing conditions, or aging inside, many people become disabled while in prison. Others who go in with a chronic illness or disability get worse…or do not survive prison at all.

What is the CRPD?

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international treaty defining the human and civil rights of people with disabilities. Prisoners with disabilities are denied access to prison programs and health care, are forcibly restrained and medicated against their will, among other human rights violations. We, former prisoners and prison activists, ask you to support efforts to get the US Government to ratify this new convention. It can be an important tool for protecting prisoners’ human rights. Sign and distribute the petition to the US Ambassador to the United Nations.

For more information:  UN Convention:
 CCWP, 1540 Market Street #490, SF, CA 94102. 415-255-7036 ext.4
Stop Force, c/o Hazen, 340 Hudson Ave., Albany NY 12210.  315-528-3385


Marriage and Racism and Queers, Oh My

It is no secret that we in LAGAI – Queer Insurrection, like many other grassroots queer activists, are not big advocates of gay marriage. As with queers in the military, we think the overall political institution is wrong, and therefore we should not be struggling to have an equal place in it. Through legal marriage, the state coerces people into nuclear families, statistically the most dangerous place in the country, using a system of rewards and punishments. People’s rights in society, whether to health care or immigration should not be affected by the type of relationship they are or are not in. We wish the energy that goes into gay marriage could instead go into the other issues that affect us, like making queer youth safe in schools and on the streets, providing economic support for queers and all people, and building a society where people’s needs are met, and we are free to live and love as we choose.

However, we opposed proposition 8. Proposition 8 wasn’t about the de-establishment of marriage, it was plain and simple about homophobia, or the maintenance of heterosexual privilege, however you want to call it.  It was about religion controlling access to benefits of what is supposed to be a secular state. So we were appalled to see the No on 8 ads put on by the “Human Rights Campaign” (HRC) and other mainstream gay groups, that at best missed the point and were ineffective, and at worst were racist. No On 8 never showed the diversity of gay people who wanted to be married and they never talked about the impact of denying these rights on how queers perceive themselves and their place in society.

The last ads were, instead, appropriative of the history of people of color in the u.s. They equated the history of slavery and the fight for civil rights for African Americans, the internment of Japanese residents and citizens, and the struggle for justice for Latino workers with the struggle for legal recognition of gay marriage. White Europeans exterminated millions of Native Americans, and killed at least two million Africans who were abducted and thrown in the holds of ships to be sold as slaves. Slavery was legally maintained for over 200 years. White supremacy was maintained through terrorism (including lynching), as well as law. Legally enforced segregation persisted until the 1960’s. Although nominally able to vote after the Civil War, African Americans were effectively disenfranchised everywhere in the u.s., and legally disenfrancised in much of the south. The Civil Rights movement was about overturning this systematic legal oppression of African Americans, and thousands of people were injured and hundreds of people lost their lives in that struggle.

It is absurd to casually equate this experience with the experience of not getting state recognition for a marriage.

Racism is Not Over

Starting in the 1960’s pollsters have been asking white and Black americans about their views on racism in America. For example, in December 2006, a CNN poll found that 49 percent of Black respondents said that racism is a serious problem, and an additional 35 percent said it was “somewhat serious.” Compare that to 18 percent of whites who thought it was a serious problem, (while 48 percent at least thought it was “somewhat serious”). This only a year after the federal government abandoned tens of thousands of Black people in Louisiana and Mississippi to die in flood waters, or to beg for help by the side of the road or in a filthy and and overcrowded sports arena.

It is beyond the ability of this statement to address all of the forms and examples of racism against people of color in this country. We just want to say that racism is not over. It is still the very root and core of u.s. society, as is the heterosexual nuclear family.

Perhaps one of the most offensive manifestations of racism in the Prop 8 aftermath is the statement, seen on signs, and now as the front page of the Advocate, “Gay is the New Black.” It is amazing how much wrong can be put into five words. It seems to imply that either Black people are gone, or possibly that Black people are no longer oppressed, because otherwise how could anyone be the “new” Black? It clearly negates the existence, and certainly the oppression of Black gay people. As we said above, it appropriates African American history.

Let’s get it clear, it wasn’t Black people who created Prop 8, it wasn’t Black people who funded Prop 8, and it wasn’t Black people who made Prop 8 win. The vast majority of people who voted for Prop 8 were white. Black people make up only 6 to 10 percent of the California electorate. The CNN exit poll on which the media built the idea that African Americans were responsible for Prop 8 winning was based on 154 Black voters.

The media, including the left media, is titillated by the “conflict between Black people and gays” just as they have been by the “conflict” between Jewish and Black people for decades. Democracy Now has had more gay content since Prop 8 than perhaps in its entire history. We hear on KPFA and Public Radio that white gay people have never done anything to support struggles against racism, and we know that isn’t true. We hear that no queer people of color support gay marriage, and we know that isn’t true either. The impression is given that the people of color who voted for Prop 8 weren’t doing it because they were homophobic, but because they were angry at the racism of the No on 8 ads or because they are generally anti-marriage, and we think that’s not true either. Because there are better ways of handling this contradiction than by participating in a vote that brings out the homophobia in all communities, and particularly places queer people of color at risk.

The mainstream gay organizations, particularly the HRC, waged this campaign as they have waged all others, completely divorced from the community they claim to represent, hiring ad agencies and conducting focus groups, putting out single message bullet points (“It’s unfair. It’s wrong”). We have heard that ads were made and not used with diverse gay couples explaining why they wanted to be married. Probably some of those ads would have been more persuasive, but we will never know.

We still oppose Prop 8, and we are glad that the mainstream civil rights organizations, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Equal Justice Society, California NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. filed a petition on November 14 seeking to overturn Prop 8 on the basis that permitting a majority vote to eliminate rights for any group of people threatens the rights of every minority. “We would be making a grave mistake to view Proposition 8 as just affecting the LGBT community,” said Eva Paterson, president of the Equal Justice Society. “If the Supreme Court allows Proposition 8 to take effect, it would represent a threat to the rights of people of color and all minorities.”

Unfortunately, queer liberationists, and other progressive queers have a very low profile in both the mainstream and left media. On most issues, on any day, KPFA would rather put on the HRC than LAGAI or Gay Shame. Even though the HRC supports sweatshops, and sold out trannies on ENDA. But it is not fair to impute the history of the HRC to the many queers -- queers of color and white queers -- who fought in the civil rights movement, and continue to fight racism in our communities and elsewhere.

The campaign against 8 will move forward into the courts, and we can only hope the courts overturn it, because frankly we were sick of the gay marriage issue 10 years ago. But no matter how the court case goes, it is important that queer communities address the racism that has boiled to the surface in the Prop 8 aftermath.

We will never achieve equality as LGBT people until we join all the struggles for justice and liberation and against racism and class oppression. We need to honor and name the unique histories of queer people of color, not write them out of history, and out of the present for that matter.


Revolutionary Wedding Party

by George

The “join the impact” demonstration on November 15 in San Francisco was bad enough. Thousands of queers  demonstrating for the most appalling of causes – marriage. And if the sheer heteronormality of it weren’t enough, there were the racist signs and the message of some of the demonstrators  – that somehow the election of Obama had eliminated the last 400 years of racism here, and the only remaining oppressed were the gays who couldn’t marry.

What could make it worse? Enter the Revolutionary Communist Party. Yes, the party who, for two decades declared  “homosexuality, especially male homosexuality, to be a manifestation of bourgeois decadence,” had arrived to provide leadership in the form of two huge green banners, a bullhorn, and of course, many copies of revolution newspaper. One of the banners sported a quote from party chairman, and notorious homophobe, Bob Avakian. None mentioned an apology. So how did the last “leftist” organization to openly persecute queers turn into the proletarian leadership for the heteronormative agenda?

As any Revolution newspaper seller will tell you the RCP has changed. In 2000, they published a “draft programme” that pretty much changed their position on gay men and lesbians (they are still thinking about transgender), and in 2001 the RCP published a much (much) longer position paper, explaining that they no long quite believed that homosexuality in and of itself, caused the oppression of women. And on that basis, we should, the newspaper distributor explained, be ready, even happy, to accept their leadership of our struggle.

The new draft programme, has this to say about homosexuality, “Under socialism people will not be stigmatized because they are homosexuals or because of their sexual orientation. Discrimination will not be tolerated, and the repression and violence against homosexuals that has been so prevalent in capitalist society will be firmly opposed and dealt with.

“At the same time, it is important to grasp that same sex relations do not escape and do not exist outside of the prevailing family and sexual relations and the corresponding ideology of male supremacy that oppress women in this society. In many ways the outlook that characterizes male gay culture in bourgeois society is not a departure from – and in fact there are elements in which it is a concentration of – male right. Lesbianism is in many ways a response to the oppression of women in class society, but in and of itself it is not a fundamental solution to this oppression.”

The 2001 position paper admits they previously believed that “male homosexuality in particular, in and of itself, represented a concentrated expression of misogyny which therefore stood as an obstacle to the emancipation of women and in general to the socialist transformation of society.” After 20 years of maintaining what they refuse to call a homophobic position in the movement, defending it against all comers, they now believe that “we do not see a homosexual orientation or the practice of homosexuality per se as something that constitutes an impediment to the emancipation of women and the abolition of all oppressive and exploitative relations.”

Whew! That is a load off my mind.

It’s the rest of the stuff in the 35 page paper that gives me pause. For example, they go though a brief discussion of historical homosexual practices in other societies. They cite only two examples for gay men, both of which involve what they call “pederasty,” i.e. relationships between men and boys. Fortunately, they could find no historic precedents for lesbians, except the beloved Sappho, 95% of whose poetry, they proclaim, was destroyed by the christians. They also devote several pages to discussions of why people become homosexuals, devoting little space to the question I ponder far more frequently, “what is it that straight women see in straight men, and why do they remain with them?”

Nor can they, even at this late date, let the “male homosexuals” completely off the hook. “The predominant culture surrounding male gay life is not a break with this society’s obsession with the commodification of the most intimate of social relations and the sexual objectification of people (even if, in this case, men are the sexual object) including an obsession with the aesthetics of youth and “beauty”--where one’s self worth is reduced to and centered on being a successful sexual commodity. Another example is the pursuit or preference for casual anonymous sex--which is a highly touted pursuit of the “American male” (“gay” or “straight”). While certainly not a universal characteristic of homosexual men, there is a trend in the gay community for such pursuits and preferences to go to great extremes. And explicit reviling of women (and/or the female body) and other expressions of misogyny are not exactly rare in some quarters. Such practices and sentiments are far from a departure from male right!”

Fortunately, lesbians don’t seem to be frequently committing the political counter-revolutionary error of the pursuit of pleasure.  “Lesbianism too is a diverse phenomenon, and while there may be some current trends and tendencies among some lesbians that verge on celebrating the hedonistic we would argue that the following more characterizes the phenomena than not: Lesbianism is in many ways a response to the oppression of women in class society, but in and of itself it is not a fundamental solution to this oppression...” Did I miss the part where they proved that heterosexuality solved the oppression of women? .

Being a Marxist means never having to say you’re sorry?

It would be impossible in this article to convey the condescension and heterosexism of the RCP’s latest position paper. What is particularly galling is that for 20 years, the RCP supported the most anti-gay position on the left – that bourgeois decadence created homosexuality and that one way or another, homosexuality would go away in a socialist society. When the party adopted their anti-gay line, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members (aka cadre) faced a barrage of revolutionary criticism-self criticism, causing them to leave the group they had helped to create, or leave their social support networks, and even attempt heterosexuality.

During the ensuing decades, queer people rejected by, and rejecting, the oppressive u.s. capitalist, racist, sexist and homophobic society found that they weren’t good enough for “the revolution.” When we were criticizing Cuba for imprisoning young queers before the international youth festival, the RCP was upholding the position that homosexuality was bourgeois decadence. 

Yes, buried in the 2001 paper, is a small paragraph acknowledging the harm that heterosexism causes to queer people, “U.S. society has been marked not only by overt persecution of lesbians and gay men, but also by the estrangement of many homosexuals from their families, general social isolation, and the closeting of homosexuality --all of which gives rise to a great deal of personal pain and torment, as reflected, for instance, in the extremely high rates of suicide among gay teenagers in the U.S. today.”

But never do they acknowledge the pain that the RCP created. In fact, in discussing why it took so long for them to change their position (and believe me we and other queer groups around the country were “struggling” with them over it), they place part of the blame on their “base” in the “masses” who, having been imprisoned, are against gay people because they are reacting to same sex rape in prisons (though they do mention that such rape is predominantly committed by heterosexually identified men). 

As to the rest of the delay in correcting their little homophobia problem?  “To those who would argue that we took too long to review this question, we would say: while there may be some truth to this, it takes time to unravel what is right from what is wrong, and also to recognize aspects about which too little is known to take a clear position... Part of the art of revolution is recognizing that you can never do everything that objectively cries out to be done at any given time, or do all things equally well or with the same degree of attention... The point here is that it is important to keep all this in mind and to understand that, even if a given question (such as homosexuality) is objectively important, there are always many other questions which are objectively at least as pressing and important to overall revolutionary advance.” In other words, it just wasn’t a priority for them to stop oppressing queers.


What Obama’s Victory Means To Me As A Voluntary Immigrant In The u.s.

by Preeti

Three days before I left for a trip to South Africa, Barack Obama made his historic acceptance speech to the American Presidency. I was at a No On Prop 8 party that evening where there was a sense of historic euphoria for Obama’s campaign victory and at the same time, obvious disillusionment that Prop 8 was winning. Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco – cities that I call home now as a Bay area resident, were jubilant – as were indeed thousands of cities and small towns across the US – many that even a few months ago, were red blips on the political map. The rest of the world too watched this election with bated breath. And heaved a sigh of relief when McCain conceded the elections.

Here when I arrived in Cape Town South Africa, the news and editorials were brimming with some delightful Obama-mania and how much this would change how America is perceived in the world. Obama, with his “American mother, African father and an Asian upbringing,” as a cartoon put it quite rightly, is seen as someone representing a little bit of everyone while at the same time taking over the most powerful office in the world. To the world at large, Obama is heralded as a miracle-maker – but there is the reality that he now has the uphill task of  cleaning up eight years of mess by the current government. The South African English press and television celebrated Obama’s victory with endless talk shows and news opinion. There was also a strand of post-racial euphoria (more by White writers/journalists) that was disturbing though.

Political parties everywhere are taking a lesson from Obama’s historic presidential campaign that harnessed the Internet in a phenomenal way. For me, as an immigrant journalist, who watched the whole campaign from the sidelines, it was a fascinating-perplexing experience. Fascinating because Obama’s meteoric rise to presidency, no matter how much it perhaps plays into the false reality of meritocracy, was testament to how even the watered down democracy that we currently have, does make room for the underdog to rise to power justly and rightfully.

I also happened to attend and cover the Democratic National Convention held this August and that was a remarkable experience in itself – particularly Obama’s speech. Watching it with over 80,000 people live in a packed stadium was exhilarating. Emotions and tears were on a free flow and the most sullen observer would have been moved by what Obama and his landmark speech that night represented – the first African American to run for office representing a major political party.

It has also been perplexing experience for me because no progressive analysis or concern for immigrant rights made it to the table in the presidential debates or in any of the issues Obama spoke about in his rally. The few times they did, it was more to address the concern for retaining and creating jobs for “Americans” – a valid concern but one that excluded immigrants or sees immigration as the problem. In an economy facing a global crisis, every country is likely to be worried more about its citizens’ access to jobs than its immigrants. But what happens to the millions of us who are immigrants in other countries, yet pay our taxes as workers, and abide by the laws of the land?

And these are much larger issues I realize – there are immigrants everywhere – Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa, Bangladeshis who call India home now or Indian immigrants in the US. Some of us who are voluntary immigrants – or those of us with the option to go back to our countries of citizenship occupy an interesting marginal position that can be felt acutely during election time. But I feel I really shouldn’t complain about being disenfranchised because I can always go back home when I choose to.

But it felt disempowering that I couldn’t vote, especially for local and state propositions that were closely tied and a progressive vote could make a difference. I did help campaign for some local propositions – no on 4 and 8, and also joined in the joie de vivre of Obama-mania from time to time and urged people to vote for change! I am deeply disturbed though when I read about Obama building his cabinet. The foreign policy front looks dismal with the hiring of Rahm Emmanuel at the helm. More progressive and leftie democrats warn that Obama’s victory is a symbolic victory for sure but it could be a re-mimicking of the Clinton years when some serious damage was done –  spending cuts in social services and some foreign policy mess-ups in Africa to name a couple.

But no matter what the buzz, there is a strong sense of optimism and hope in a long time that is infectious even to the most pessimistic. Those of us who are activists, organizers, work in the progressive media now have more work to do to not sit still but work harder and stand on the shoulders of this government to take it to its promised new heights before it becomes complacent and grows too big and starts crushing the already marginalized in favor of the rich and the powerful. This is a chance for all of us to re-read histories and then work forward.


No More Death Penalty

After a 4 year study, the independent, non-partisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice published their findings on the death penalty system in CA. It concluded that the “system is plagued with excessive delays in the appointments of counsel for direct appeals and habeas corpus petitions…and that the failures in the administration of California’s death penalty law create cynicism and disrespect for the rule of law, increase the duration and costs of confining death row inmates, weaken any possible deterrent benefits of capital punishment, increase the emotional trauma experienced by murder victims’ families and delay the resolution of meritorious capital appeals…” The Commission outlined 4 alternatives: $137.7 million to maintain the current dysfunctional system, $216.8 million to reduce the length of the process to 12 years, $121 million for a more narrow death penalty or $11.4 million to replace the death penalty with ‘terminal confinement’. [Seems like an obvious choice to us]. 10 of the commissioners filed supplemental statements calling for an outright repeal of the death penalty. Recently New Jersey undertook the same kind of examination and ended up abolishing its whole death penalty system. The time has come for California to end the death penalty once and for all. For more info: Death Penalty Focus, 870 Market St. #859, San Francisco CA 941…….


Bay Area Activist Kidnapped by Israeli Navy

On Tuesday, November 18, fifteen Palestinian fishermen and three international Human Rights Observers (HRO’s) were surrounded by the Israeli Navy and taken from their boats 7 miles off the coast of Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip.  One of the internationals is Darlene Wallach of San Jose, a longtime activist and good friend of LAGAI and QUIT.

The fishermen and the internationals were transferred from 3 separate boats to the Israeli warships. Other Palestinian fishermen reported that the 3 boats were seen being taken north by the Israeli Navy.  The other two internationals are Andrew Muncie, a Scottish British citizen and Vittorio Arrigoni from Italy. They have been volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) since they entered Gaza on ships with the first Free Gaza Movement voyage on the 23rd August 2008. All internationals have previous experience working with the ISM in the West Bank.

Since arriving in Gaza, Darlene and the other activists had been accompanying Palestinian fishermen who are regularly attacked by Israeli navy vessels from as little as 3km from shore. They have regularly filmed Israeli forces using live ammunition, shells and water cannons against unarmed fishermen.

When confronted by the Israeli Navy, the boats were 7 nautical miles from the shore of Deir al Balah, well within the fishing limit detailed in the Oslo Accords of 1994.  The Israeli government is holding the three in Masyahu Immigration Prison and intends to deport them, despite their not having set foot in israel until they were forcibly taken there.

While the Israeli government claims it has ‘disengaged’ from Gaza, these patrols and attacks from the Israeli navy, regularly occurring from as little as 3 miles from shore, represent a clear signal of the continuation of occupation of Gazan territory.

Over 40,000 people in Gaza make a living from the fishing industry, yet this community has been decimated by Israeli restrictions on fishing rights and the prevention of fuel from reaching the Gaza Strip.

According to the Fishing Syndicate in Gaza, fishermen need 40,000 litres of fuel and 40,000 litres of natural gas each day to operate throughout the high fishing season.

Starting in April each year, there is a migration of fish from the Nile Delta to Turkish waters which Palestinian fishermen have traditionally relied upon. Yet Israel limits fishing 6 miles from the Gaza shore and regularly attacks those who venture further than 3 miles - over 70 fishermen were arrested last year by the Israeli forces. The large schools that form the migration are usually found 10 miles from shore. The average catch of fish was over 3000 tons a year in the 1990’s, now it is around 500 tons directly due to the Israeli siege of Gaza.

Also, the water in which the fishermen of Gaza sail in is now receiving 50 million litres of sewage per day because the people of Gaza have no alternative due to the lack of power supplies to sewage treatment facilities.

The 15 fishermen were released after a campaign of international pressure, including a two-day hunger strike by the imprisoned internationals.  Their boats, however, have not been returned.  Darlene and Andrew have begun another hunger strike to protest their detention, as well as the seizure of the boats.

Darlene is willing to be deported to Gaza or to London (where the Free Gaza Movement is holding a meeting), but the israeli government is insisting on deporting her to the u.s.  Her attorney, Lea Tsemel, believes that the israeli government could be convinced to send her to London if pressured by the embassy.  To find out the latest and how you can help, visit  Darlene gave an excellent interview on Democracy Now on Friday, November 21.  You can hear it on their archives.


The MOCHA Column

By Chaya and Deni with waggles from Sparky


Burn After Reading The Coen Brothers like to alternate comedies with dramas; this follow-up to their Oscar winner No Country for Old Men is a romp for a high-powered cast (George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt). CIA administrator J.K. Simmons (Kyra Sedgwick’s boss on the Closer) gives a deadpan delivery of a lot of the funniest lines. It’s very entertaining, not deep, and pokes fun at government bureaucracy in a not-very-political way. It was good for a laugh when we needed one.

Tell No One A lot of fun French thrillers have been released in the U.S. lately, and this is an outstanding one. Director Guillaume Canet (who also co-wrote the screenplay based on U.S. author Harlan Coben’s novel) uses just the right touch for the many zigs and zags of this suspenseful, gripping film. The plot revolves around a doctor (extremely well acted by Francois Cluzet) whose wife was murdered 8 years previously. Or was she? Is anything what it seems? Kristin Scott Thomas has a small role as a lesbian. Who knew she’s fluent in French and lives in France? (see below). Now out on DVD – see it.

I’ve Loved You So Long Yet another excellent French movie. This is a very non-Hollywood drama from first-time director/writer Philippe Claudel about a woman’s reintegration into life after 15 years in prison for killing her young son. Brilliant acting by Kristin Scott Thomas (now married to a French guy in real life) and Elsa Zylberstein as her estranged sister who takes her in. The relationship between the 2 sisters is central to the story, but the movie has other interesting characters, too. Good script and direction allowed the focus to stay on Scott Thomas without overplaying or exploiting. When it’s finally revealed at the end why Scott Thomas’ character murdered her son we thought it was a bit too pat. But then we’re so very hard to please. The film is well worth it -- see it. Better yet, get it along with Tell No One and have your own French film festival.

Secret Life of Bees (guest review by Cynthia)

Poignant in many ways. Good acting -- Queen Latifah’s always hot, Jennifer Hudson was good and so was Dakota Fanning. But why do black people always have to take care of the white people?

Battle in Seattle (review by Deni) Irish actor turned director Stuart Townsend’s film about the 1999 WTO (World Trade Organization) protests in Seattle was a big disappointment: a contrived plot with badly developed, melodramatic characters and not even a thorough explanation of some of the main political points. For a better understanding of what it was really about, see the article Kate wrote about her WTO experience at

 Also informative and very moving is the 2000 documentary “This Is What Democracy Looks Like,” from Big Noise Films.

MILK (pre-review) Sean Penn looks a lot like Harvey; Castro Street looks a lot like the 1970s; and no police cars were harmed in the filming of MILK. Will there be any lesbians the film? Will we have to watch the DiFi we already hated poignantly taking the reins? Will we make it through the advertising taglines? (“His life changed history. His courage changed lives.”) Will America embrace director Gus Van Sant’s MILK the way it did Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain? Stay tuned…


The Obama Dog: Now that the Secret Service has revealed that the code names for the First Family all start with R (He’s “Renegade,” Michelle is “Renaissance,” Malia is “Radiance” and Sasha is “Rosebud,”) Sparky assumes the new Obama puppy will be Rover. We are still trying to figure out why they reveal the code names, and what the real code names are…

Oh Johnny: We understood when (long ago) Johnny Depp rejected Hollywood’s commodification of him, but must he be on the fast track now to make up for lost time? Not only will Johnny make a 4th Pirates of the Caribbean movie for Disney (gag), he will be playing Tonto in the new Lone Ranger movie being made. We remember that racist characterization of an American Indian on 1950’s TV, and it really boggles the mind that now they’re having a white person play the part. Boo. Check out writer Sherman Alexie’s thoughts on growing up with stereotype movie Indians [“i hated tonto (still do)”] at

Gardasil Roars Ahead: In 2006, the FDA approved Gardasil, a vaccination for girls and young women ages 9 to 26, to prevent infection of 2 HPVs (human papilloma viruses) that cause most cervical cancers. Made by Merck, Gardasil has brought that pharmaceutical giant more than a billion dollars in revenue. But is it effective? Is it safe? And what about the social controversy? (conservatives fear it will promote sex). Plans to make it mandatory, supported by Merck, have been opposed in more than 20 states. Meanwhile, in 2007, the CDC added Gardasil to its list of recommended vaccines for Americans. Any vaccine that’s recommended for Americans becomes required for green card applicants due to immigration law. Gardasil became mandatory for immigrants on August 1, 2008. The chair of the CDC immunization advisory committee says it was not their intention to require mandatory vaccination of immigrants: “I am stunned. If we had known about it, we would have said it’s not a good idea.” The standard 3-dose regimen of Gardasil costs $360 (!!!); the single dose required of female immigrants 11 to 26 is still a huge cost -- which the woman must pay for. Merck is smiling all the way to the bank. Whichever bank is still standing…

At the Risk of Seeming Ridiculous: Benicio del Toro won Best Actor at the Cannes film festival last May for playing Ernesto “Che” Guevara in director Steven Soderbergh’s new film on Che. Rather than releasing it as a 4-hour epic, the two films “The Argentine” and “Guerrilla” will be released separately. “The Argentine” will be released on January 9, and has already generated many rave reviews (“revolutionary” and “levitational”) and some controversy.  Soderbergh’s own words are interesting: “It’s not a typical biographical film. That’s not what I was interested in making. I knew the approach was going to be one that some people would really take to and some people would be angered by. And that’s fine. Soderbergh also said, “I was making a mental list of all the things I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to have the scene where the guy goes, ‘Why do they call you Che?’ Or his hat flies off in a battle and somebody offers him a beret. I just didn’t want to do that stuff…I was interested in making a procedural about guerrilla warfare.” That sounds good to us - how many times will we have to see it to get that procedure down?

Peter Buchman, screenwriter on both films, says, “I think a lot of people know the T-shirt but don’t really know that many facts about Che.” So until the film opens and you can get some Che facts, why not while away your hours by checking out this website: [Get it? the Che store] The site says that it’s “For All Your Revolutionary Needs” – really, it says that – we can’t invent stuff this good. Who knew there was such a world of merchandise beyond the T-shirt and the beret? Capitalism and Che – a match made in heaven.

Lesbians Topple in Prime Time: The newly out character of Dr. Erica Hahn has been cut from Grey’s Anatomy. There are so many annoying characters on this show, if only they had been less anti-lesbian and axed someone else!

Lesbians Come Out In Real Time: Wanda Sykes, author, actress, but most well known as a funny stand-up comedian, recently came out in response to the passage of prop 8.  Her often riotous bit about gay marriage can be seen on YouTube.



Alameda County Threatens HIV Cuts

by Tory

In September the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC) announced plans to lay off health care workers at John George Psychiatric Pavilion (JGPP) and in the HIV clinics.  They did so without abiding by the labor contract negotiated by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which specifies advance notice to the union of layoffs, so that negotiation can occur and seniority rules can be followed.  Several demonstrations organized by SEIU Local 1021 took place, first at JGPP and then at Highland.  Union members also went to a joint meeting of the Board of Trustees of ACMC and the Alameda County board of stupervisors (b.o.s.) on October 14.

I went first to the John George demonstration.  While being the usual somewhat canned sea of SEIU purple people bused in from elsewhere, there were also on hand a number of very upset and articulate workers.  The story they told was appalling.  The medical center was planning to lay off psychiatric technicians and LVNs with no thought to the enormous problem of staff and patient safety.  Apparently the institutional memory has faded of the death of Dr Ursua a few years ago.  Dr. Ursua was killed by a very psychotic patient during a History and Physical Exam, a death which could have been prevented had another staff member been present during the exam.   The front line workers have not forgotten, however, and they are very clear that adequate staffing levels on psychiatric units is the best way to keep staff and patients safe.  Cutting staff makes increased disorganization and problems covering shifts so the misbegotten management brings in registry workers and traveling nurses, who don’t know the hospital or the regular patients.  More chaos ensues and continuity of care and safety go out the window.

The next week I went to the Highland demonstration, speaking on behalf of Vote Health against the proposed layoffs.  The again predictable, if not poorly thought out, demonstration talked in generic SEIU rhetoric about management and bosses with less than inspiring speeches by the President and Vice president of Local 1021.  But then a young African American social worker from HIV Services who had received a pink slip that week gave one of the most brilliant political speeches I think I have ever heard.  Deena Fisher talked about what the HIV case management work meant to her and outlined the harm this “restructuring” as the medical center is euphemistically calling their plan, would do to the mostly people of color and poor patient population who depend on the HIV services at Highland and Fairmont Hospitals. The plan calls for drastically scaling back the clinics at Highland, closing the clinic at Fairmont, moving some services to Eastmont Mall and to the Winton clinic sites.  The medical center is disingenuously trying to paint a picture of expanding services, while actually, as Deena so clearly described, laying off 40% of the staff in HIV services.  Already RN case managers and social workers have been cut, most either leaving or getting placed in other jobs at the medical center.  Deena pointed out in her speech that this reduction in services makes no sense in an age when Barbara Lee is declaring Alameda County a state-of-emergency because of the high rate of HIV infection.  Deena ended by quoting Audre Lorde  “When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid”.  When was the last time you heard Audre Lorde quoted at a rally?

LAGAI decided to agitate a bit about this drastic situation to support the fight that Deena had started.  Deeg and I attended the strategic planning committee of Board of Trustees of the medical center.  Various suit types were presenting a document full of lofty, vaguely couched ideas sounding suspiciously like more restructuring.  For example, it seems they plan on doing away with translators in favor of using telephone translation services.  No mention was made of AIDS services during the presentation

During the public comment, Deeg politely but forcefully asked about the proposed (but already in progress) reduction in services.  At first the Board of trustees said this wasn’t the correct time to discuss this subject because they were just reviewing the strategic planning document, but they looked ever so worried and fidgety that Deeg had dared to bring this up.  When we left, giving up on the endless rhetoric, several of the suit people rushed out to talk to Deeg with reassurances that there were no real cuts just expansion of services.  “Don’t worry your pretty little heads” was the suit attitude.

Cuts in staff and reduction in services were to be fixed by the passage of Measure A in 2004, which gave the medical center dedicated funds from a half cent sales tax increase.  The medical center should now have enough money to maintain and improve a full service hospital.  Before measure A passed, the county called itself loaning money to medical center to keep it afloat.  This of course is a nonsensical idea because the county is responsible for funding the medical center, so it is lending money to itself.  Since the establishment of the Hospital Authority, the county has always felt that the medical center should somehow turn a profit on the medical care for poor and uninsured people, leaving them with lots of money to spend on the sheriff’s department.

Now the county is demanding that the medical center pay back this so-called loan.  The medical center has been paying back $10 million a year plus $7 million in interest.  For the next two years this increases to $15 million plus $7 million in interest and then increases to $20 million plus $7 million in interest the third year.  Meanwhile the population is aging and a nasty depression with many people losing jobs and health coverage is just beginning.  The medical center is going to need more money, not less!!

The problem has always been and remains that the board of stupervisors has never seen health care as a priority in this county and has allowed the county hospital languish into disrepair, despite the mandate by the voters to fund the hospital.

As luck would have it, SEIU Local 1021 decided it was in their interest to get back to paying attention to the politics of the medical center.  During the merger of the locals in to one big public sector worker union, much specific political work has been lost.  This of course coincides with contract negotiations coming up at the medical center, with rumors of draconian takebacks being put on the table by ACMC.  Vote Health has also gotten involved and both organizations have written letters to the b.o.s. decrying these layoffs and cuts to HIV services and demanding a Beilenson hearing – a public hearing mandated for any county department before it can cut services.  East Bay Community Law Center is also pressuring the county to set up hearings.  The medical center has been trying to do an end run on the matter of public hearings by pretending they are expanding services, all the while cutting positions and hours in the HIV clinics.

HIV services at Highland and Fairmont were hard won by many AIDS activists.  Now in this time when health care provided by public hospitals is going to be more crucial than ever services must not be cut.

We must demand Beilenson hearings immediately to prevent the scaling back of HIV services

We want adequate staffing at John George to prevent injury to both staff and patients.

We want Fairmont hospital to be included in the rebuild plans for the medical center.

Most of all we  demand that the “so-called loan” be forgiven so that the medical center has money to deal with the coming storm.




Post-Election Blues

by Kate

It’s been nearly three weeks since election night, and the left is having morning-after sickness.

With everyone who has suffered through the last eight years (not a tenth as much as the Iraqis and Afghans and Palestinians and Zimbabweans and Cubans have suffered), we breathed sighs of relief and inhaled the joy in the street on November 4.  We put our cynicism to bed for the night and watched the spectacle in Grant Park with teary eyes.

A few days later, despair began to set in as reality caught up with iconography.  The appointment of Rahm Emmanuel as chief of staff set off a flurry of emails branding him a “Zionist hard liner,” which impression was made much worse by the racist comments of Emmanuel’s israeli father.  It took James Zogby, a prominent centrist Arab American, to quell some of the rumors flying around about Emmanuel’s alleged ties to the israeli army, the mossad, monica lewinsky and the devil.  I was a little annoyed because there was never any question that Obama was going to be extremely pro-israel, and the chief of staff’s job is not primarily to set middle east policy.  I had to scrounge around to find out other things about Emmanuel, but when I did, none of what I found –notably his strong ties to the investment banks and hedge funds - gave me cause for much hope.  On the other hand, a friend who works in harm reduction wrote, “I am fond of Rahm Emanuel cuz he’s been the first to sign on to lift the federal syringe exchange funding ban twice this year”

When Eric Holder was named attorney general, the left media struck up a similar one-note chorus. This time it was about Holder’s defense, as a partner in a corporate law firm, of chiquita in relation to its funding of death squads in Colombia.  Once again, the remarkable tree seemed to obscure the forest.  Not that the prosecution of chiquita isn’t important, and not that Holder’s connection to the company, or the fact that he’s a partner in a corporate law firm in the first place, doesn’t tell us something about his values, but let’s not forget that we stand to get an attorney general who is opposed to the death penalty!  And when has that happened?

So let’s look a little deeper at these two appointments.  Here’s what the League of Women Voters has on Emmanuel’s congressional voting record:  Rated 100% by NARAL, indicating a pro-choice voting record.  Rated 94% by the NAACP, indicating a pro-affirmative-action stance.  Voted YES on revitalizing severely distressed public housing and on regulating the subprime mortgage industry.  Voted YES on prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation and NO on constitutionally defining marriage as one-man-one-woman. Voted YES on giving mental health full equity with physical health and NO on denying non-emergency treatment for lack of Medicare co-pay. (Feb 2006)  Rated 95% by the League of Conservation Voters, indicating pro-environment votes.  Voted YES on promoting free trade with Peru, YES on assisting workers who lose jobs due to globalization, NO on implementing Central America Free Trade (CAFTA).

In other words, he is pretty much a corporate liberal, much like Obama.  Oh, and what he’s most famous for in terms of israel/palestine is organizing the 1993 signing ceremony between rabin and arafat that led to the oslo negotiations.  Not that good, certainly didn’t work out well for the Palestinians, but not exactly a hard-liner.

Here’s what we know about Holder from his days as deputy attorney general under clinton:  Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder opened an Interagency Working Group meeting of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders hosted by the Department of Justice on October 18, 2000.  While mainstream media has pounced on his involvement in pardoning financier Mark Rich, he also recommended the pardons of the Puerto Rican political prisoners and POWs, as well as white political prisoners Susan Rosenberg and Linda Evans.  Since leaving government service, he voiced opposition to the bush administration’s implementation of the PATRIOT Act and he criticized the US torture policy and the NSA warrantless surveillance program.

Mainstream media reports of Obama’s cabinet and transition team have used the words “post-partisan,” referring to his inclusion of republikkkans like robert gates, and “team of rivals” (borrowed from a book on Abe Lincoln) because of his bows to Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson.  The word that keeps coming into my head is one that is used much more in other countries, especially “developing” countries: technocrats.  When Hamas took power in Palestine after the March 2006 elections, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announced that he was going to appoint technocrats rather than ideologues.  Ahmedinejad in Iran and Carlos Salinas in Mexico sought to use the rule of experts to resolve economic and political crises in their countries.  The appointment of “technocrats” to lead government is a tool of leaders who are seen, or see themselves, as embattled politically, and it’s meant to allay the fears of people who might otherwise be tempted to overthrow them.  It’s telling that Obama is taking this approach.

The problem is that there is no such thing as a technocrat.  It helps to have people who know what they are doing, but government is a political process.  You cannot reduce social problems like inequality, dwindling resources, stolen resources and racism to technical problems.  Ultimately, people voted for Obama because he promised Change We Can Believe In and Change We Need.  There are the masses of people who want to see change, and then there are the people who don’t want to see change.  There’s no magic formula that is going to make it possible for Obama & Co. to keep both groups happy.

Frances Fox Piven wrote in The Nation, “Sometimes, encouraged by electoral shifts and campaign promises, the ordinary people who are typically given short shrift in political calculation become volatile and unruly, impatient with the same old promises and ruses, and they refuse to cooperate in the institutional routines that depend on their cooperation. When that happens, their issues acquire a white-hot urgency, and politicians have to respond, because they are politicians. … FDR became a great president because the mass protests among the unemployed, the aged, farmers and workers forced him to make choices he would otherwise have avoided. He did not set out to initiate big new policies. The Democratic platform of 1932 was not much different from that of 1924 or 1928. But the rise of protest movements forced the new president and the Democratic Congress to become bold reformers.”

It’s hard to see where that kind of social movement could come from.  The white left seems pretty silenced right now, partly because we correctly understand that pressure on Obama from a primarily white movement is going to be perceived as actions of a racist fringe.  For progressive movements to demand accountability from Obama, they’re going to need strong Black leadership, and most of the Black left has been pretty demobilized for years.

The other problem is the internet, or more precisely, the internet-driven nonprofit networks.  I looked around to see what left groups are organizing.  I couldn’t find anything much.  When you go to “Take Action” on the Ella Baker Center’s website, your options are:  E campaigns, Volunteer/Intern, Donate.

Women of Color Resource Center is promoting a Women Count campaign: “Women Count is a group of netroots organizers that are working hard to build a broad coalition of women, and get our political voices heard. One of their main projects is a campaign for a Presidential Commission on Women, as a way to start the conversation on the status and future of women in the country, and to bring as many women as possible into that conversation.  You can sign their petition here:”

Center for Constitutional Rights has announced a 100 Days to Restore the Constitution campaign, which sounds great, but when you go to get involved, your choices are “Spread the Word, Donate, Receive CCR Emails.”

The only group that seems to be planning anything active before March is Witness Against Torture, which announces a 100 Days of action starting with a nine-day fast beginning on January 11, the seventh anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo prison.

Most of what the left seems to be doing is writing things for other leftists to read, and that’s okay, I mean, look what we’re doing.  But in the end we are going to have to stop talking to ourselves, tear ourselves away from our computers, stop imagining that voting is ever going to create more than a slight opening, and go out and make alliances with other groups to make The Change real.

Obama’s transition team is inviting Americans from every walk of life to share their stories, experiences, and ideas.  Do it at