7th Annual Trans March
Friday, June 25, 2010
Dolores Park, 18th and Dolores
Stage at 3:30 pm
March at 7:00 pm
I’ve been angry and in denial every day since we learned that oil was gushing into the gulf of mexico a mile down on the ocean floor. The early reports were unsettling but unclear, on April 20th 11 workers were lost (presumed killed) in an explosion on an off shore deep water oil drilling platform, two days later the platform sank and the oil spill started spreading and we learn that as a result of the explosion an uncapped and uncontrolled exploratory oil well was gushing oil into the gulf. Like any other spring, sea turtles, bluefin tuna, piping plovers, sperm whales and many other species are drawn to the Gulf waters, rich wetlands, and beaches to spawn, migrate, and feed.
Some people watch in horror and others are able to funnel their anger into lawsuits, press releases, and blogs dissecting the history of corporate arrogance and the agency so captured by industry that it approved this deepwater drilling without environmental review, without an emergency plan, just accepting the oil company’s bald conclusion that disaster was highly unlikely
The dispersants that the company is dumping into the gulf are also untested and were approved with unquestioning submission by another agency sucking up to corporate desires. In May more than 600,000 gallons of dispersant (Corexit 9527A) was dumped and sprayed into the gulf to break up the oil. This toxic soup pose risks to all living things in the gulf and contains (among other things) the toxin 2-Butoxyethanol which “may cause injury to red blood cells (hemolysis), kidney or the liver” with “repeated or excessive exposure,” according to the manufacturer’s own “safety” data sheet.
As my anger rises along with the tar balls and the company’s layers of lies are unraveled, my need to ignore the enormity of the disaster acts as a dispersant breaking up the anger into smaller globules – a vast under water plume of anger hiding in the ocean of my day. 10-15 miles long and 4-5 miles wide – still spreading and flowing throughout the gulf on the deep water currents as hurricane season approaches to stir all the waters again. While calling for resignations and dreaming of dismemberment, I watch with disgust the arrogant posturing of the corporate talking heads explaining away their ignorance —a bell, a straw, a top hat, a junk shot, back to the cap and the straw, the last best hope is the slowest to emerge, a relief well that takes a month or more to drill. Eventually they will get it right? Talk about learning on the job!
Weeks pass, now six weeks and more, as large black oil slicks wash up on the beaches and wetlands of mississippi, louisiana, alabama, and florida coating pelicans, fish, and all living things the anger threatens to rise up and break free from my throat in a howl. The Mississippi River delta includes about 25 percent of the wetlands in the country and provides habitat for over 200 species of nesting seabirds and migratory birds including pelicans and piping plover. The Gulf waters are home to fish, shrimp, crabs, squid, whales, dolphins and sea turtles all at risk of being coated with heavy oil and poisoned with chemical dispersants.
Most post-apocalyptic tales presume a moment of disaster that changes the world as we know it in a flash —a nuclear war, a giant asteroid. This disaster is fast and slow: fast gushing oil and seemingly slow motion as the oil is spreading through the living ocean and the coating the beaches and wetlands choking off air and light from the web of life.
Even if BP pays for the “clean up” the damage is done.
With all the environmental activists and lawyers and a democratic congress and president, why can’t we stop these and other disasters before they start? Perhaps because the democrats are just as tied to big business as the republicans? Even the judges are tied to big oil with a new report showing that more than half of the federal judges in districts where the bulk of Gulf oil spill-related lawsuits are pending have financial connections to the oil and gas industry. Thirty-seven of the 64 active or senior judges in key Gulf Coast districts in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida have links to the oil and gas industry, including owning stocks or bonds in BP, Halliburton or Transocean. Other judges regularly list receiving royalties from oil and gas production wells.
Another big reason is because the current system puts the burden of proving that something bad will happen on the people who want to protect the earth and human health. It is not enough to show that something bad might happen, the corporate interests have stacked the deck so that you need to show that something bad will happen. In other words, if you can’t prove something bad will happen then you can’t restrict on corporate proposals or restrict their profits. Even if you can prove some damage is absolutely going to occur, companies get around the risks by posting bonds and taking out insurance to cover some portion of the eventual clean-up. But in the vast majority of cases even where the risks are known, the corporate projects will go forward in the name of profit.
In contrast, the precautionary principle is a simple idea, if you don’t know what might happen err on the side of caution. It is the opposite of arrogance. When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken to prevent that occuring even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity (the corporate interests), rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.
Would applying the precautionary principle or requiring even minimal environmental review have avoided this oil spill disaster? Possibly. Could it help us avoid future disasters? Absolutely. But the arrogant corporate interests and the government agencies and congress that suck from the well of big corporate money will keep fighting against precaution in favor of profit.
The disaster keeps spreading and I’m looking for some clean sand to bury my head in and forget. The buck may stop with Obama but where will the oil slick end?
So called health care
reform (deform) passed after an extremely vitriolic smear campaign by the racist
right-wing, who called the paltry
attempt to ameliorate the abomination that passes for health care in this
country such absurdities as liberalism or socialism.
The new bill ushered in a strange and deep malaise and cynicism in the
health care struggle. Fighting against a new hypocrisy filled health care deform is
worse than fighting the old system. Some
people insist that gains have been
made and that it is better than nothing. However when the
so called gains are analyzed even they are really a bust.
For example the parameters for medicaid
( medi-cal in California) have changed allowing more people to qualify( an
undeniably good thing), until you
realize that scharwartzenegger is trying to drastically limit services to save
the state money. More people would get much less coverage.
Another much touted improvement is the measure to end insurance denial
based on pre-existing conditions. But with this there are many built in
loopholes to benefit the insurance companies.
They can increase charges based on age,
Insurances companies can give better rates to people who follow certain
life style changes (code for if you are fat or smoke cigarettes you would have
to pay more). Another improvement
is that the bill increases the age
that dependent young adults can be claimed on their parent’s insurance to
twenty-six years old..
But we at LAGAI
don’t believe in privatization of health care ( or utilities, water,
transportation, education) or much of anything for that matter.
This is why we support universal single payer health care.
The most egregious and cynical thing about this bill is that it is boon
for the evil insurance companies. Because insurance will now be mandated, a
whole new population of people have to buy insurance.
It is no wonder that the insurance companies themselves were
orchestrating this so called reform as they stand to win big time financially.
The impact on the
public hospitals is also likely to be bad..
There will continue to be a large number of uninsured people because the
cost of private insurance will leave people either uninsured or under insured.
People may lose their insurance even if mandated because they cannot
afford it, pushing them back into the public health system.
Some employers may find that is cheaper to pay penalties for not insuring
their employees than pay for the insurance.
The increase in medicaid enrollees may leave states unable to keep up
with the costs of medicaid. The
federal money, called medicaid disproportionate hospital share (DSH funds),
earmarked for public hospitals is expected to be
decreased. Public hospitals
depend on this money to stay open. We
will need the public hospitals as an estimated 23 million people will remain
uninsured nine years into the program.
Of course it should
come as no surprise that nothing about the reform will keep health care costs
under control. Bulk negotiating for
pharmaceuticals and durable medical groups was not included in the bill.
The basic notion of the system is make profits for insurance companies,
which precludes containing the costs of health care
Direct Action for
Single Payer continues to make actions to struggle for real quality universal
single payer coverage for all people. Last
October several hundred people vigorously creatively demonstrated at Blue
Shield, with forty people blocking entrances to the Blue Shield offices risking
arrest. November 3rd
Direct Action for Single Payer activists joined with California Nurses
Association and California School Employees’
Association in a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office to urge her to vote
for a Kucinich amendment which, had it been included, would have made it easier
for individual states to set up a single payer system.
Eleven people were arrested. Last
December Single Payer for Direct Action did a fabulous Die-in at the Embarcadero
pier highlighting the miserable concessions that were being made in regard to
women’s reproductive rights in order to get the health care deform passed.
We also recently demonstrated outside anthem blue cross with the
Billionaires for Wealthcare trying to make a citizens arrest of angela braley
the slimey ceo .
It is hard to keep
plugging away at making actions during this time so rife with hatred and
cynicism. But we still need a
single payer system and during the raging health care debate a lot more people
heard about the idea. SB810 the
California single payer bill, which has been passed twice but was always vetoed
by the governor, comes out of committee and will probably be passed sometime in
August. Single Payer for Direct
Action is circulating a day after pledge to have a militant action to pressure
the governor to sign the bill. There
is also a plan to have statewide actions in many locations, San Francisco, when
schwartzenegger vetoes the bill. I
am again reminded how important it is to keep making actions and demos.
Just image a world with no resistance.
Health Care is a
On Saturday May 8th 2010, about 100 LGBTQ folks wandered into the lobby of the Westin St. Francis Hotel and “spontaneously” burst into song just as the daily check-ins were beginning. After about 15 minutes, the singing, dancing protesters made their way to Union Square and then took the lobby of the Grand Hyatt, to show solidarity for the hotel workers who have been forced to work without a contract since August 2009. Workers at the hotels, including the security guards, appeared delighted with the show of support for their struggle.
The demonstration was aimed partly at letting queers who might be planning to visit SF for Pride know which hotels to avoid on Priceline or whatever. The following hotels are currently being boycotted; Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf, Grand Hyatt, Le Meridien, The Palace, Westin St. Francis, the Hilton @ O'Farrell street, and the W hotel. This list is subject to change. The protest was organized by One Struggle One Fight http://www.onestruggleonefight.com and SF Pride at Work/HAVOQ http://www.sfprideatwork.com
Within a couple of days, the video on youtube had racked up over 100,000 views. If you haven’t seen it, check out http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/05/09/18647475.php. It’s guaranteed to make your day.
And if you’re coming to San Francisco, make sure you don’t get caught in a bad hotel.
The israeli government just made the job of QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Apartheid) and QAIA (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid) a whole lot easier.
Until a couple weeks ago, we were sitting around developing spin to counter a sophisticated and well-funded propaganda machine that has set its sights on the LGBTQ community. Now we figure one word will do it: FLOTILLA.
Over the Rainbow: israel’s Gay PR Campaign
As we narrated at length in the last issue of UV, israel and its international spin doctors have recently launched a “Brand Israel” campaign aimed at (1) dispelling the notion that israel is only a place of conflict, and (2) promoting identification with israel among Western progressives by emphasizing its “progressive” “Western” values. Chief among these? liberal pro-gay policies.
This attempt to co-opt “imperial queers” began with the hype around World Pride Israel, although it is worth noting that one of the chief organizers of that event, Haneen Maikey, then of Jerusalem Open House, is now one of the foremost critics of international queers who allow themselves to be used by israel. (See the excellent article, “Israel, Palestine and Queers,” by Haneen Maikey and Jason Ritchie, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2009/mr280409.html). That aside, we all know how World Pride turned out: a pathetic dribble hidden away in a stadium while israeli bombs rained down on Lebanon and Orthodox Jews lit garbage cans in the streets of Mea Shearim to protest the fact that their government allowed these abominations to meet in the Holy City.
Then in April of 2009, the israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that a “new campaign, to be overseen by the Foreign Ministry, … plans to recruit the international gay community, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed in 2007 when he said there were no homosexuals living in his country.” As part of that campaign, israel sent gay and lesbian (and presumably bisexual) emissaries to a number of cities, including the SF Bay Area, to sell the image of israel as the gay paradise of the Middle East. Another part of that campaign was the Jewish Community Relations Council’s recruitment of gay leaders to go on all-expense paid trips to israel, as SF supervisor Bevan Dufty did, and the solicitation of right-wing gay journalists like James Kirchik to write articles for the Advocate and elsewhere promoting the myth that israel was a mecca, not only for gay Jews but for Palestinian queers fleeing the repression of their own society. In all of this, they were always helped along by the gay-owned zionist PR firm Blue Star PR, which created the ad campaign featuring two hunky israeli soldiers and the line, “Where can gay officers openly serve their country? In Israel.”
One of the most recent salvos in this culture war – though one not (yet) officially endorsed by the israeli government - has been the production of a series of gay porn movies by ultra-Zionist israeli-american gay porn king Michael Lucas. Lucas calls his productions, “Men of Israel,” and “Inside Israel,” as well as his guided tours for gays, his “stimulus plan for Israel.” “’Nobody goes to Israel for Golda Meir, I’m so sorry,’” Lucas told a reporter from the Jewish Daily Forward. “’People don’t care that you have a great orchestra, and they’re not particularly interested in the Holocaust museum. …Israel shouldn’t be mistaken about why people go there. They need me.’” The author mentioned that neither the israeli consulate nor the ministry of tourism returned his calls for comment.
A few years ago, israel appointed a gay cultural attaché to its San Francisco consulate. That person made it a priority to host gay israeli authors, dancers, artists, filmmakers, not a tough task when you’re selling free trips to San Francisco. They forged a tight relationship with Frameline, which presents the SF International LGBT Film Festival, and every year, apparently without being asked, would offer to pay for filmmakers to come for Q&As after their films. Even QUIT’s minor disruption of pseudo-leftist producer Gal Uchofsky AND the gay attaché himself at the 2003 screening of “Yossi & Jagger” didn’t deter either Frameline or the consulate from continuing their unholy alliance.
Three years ago, however, QUIT and some members of SWANABAQ (SouthWest Asian Bay Area Queers) started a petition campaign to get Frameline to drop the consulate as a sponsor. The board met to consider the demand and unanimously decided to continue the relationship with israel. But when a reporter for the BAR asked the directors about it, they said they would like to “dialogue” with us. So several people from QUIT and a representative of SWANABAQ went to meet with them, including a couple of Frameline members. They looked kind of pained and said a lot of stuff about wanting to be inclusive, and the Palestinian queers talked about how they felt excluded when they had to see the logo of the israeli consulate up on the screen while they waited for their movies to start. That resulted in them looking more pained. We walked out not feeling that optimistic.
So the next year, we got about 500 people to send post cards to Frameline – color picture post cards with various occupation scenes on them, and lo and behold! when we opened up the festival guide the next June, there was no mention of the israeli consulate. There were still israeli films, of course, but they were copresented by Jewish (Zionist) organizations. We thought it might be a fluke, and waited nervously for the next year to tell the tale. Last year’s program came out, and I dutifully flipped every page and again, no peep from mr. cultural attaché. Much to our surprise, it seemed that a small group of determined queers had actually gotten the israeli government out of our festival.
But before we could start celebrating, along came the assault on Gaza and the massacre of 1400 people, and the resulting upsurge in activism around the world. Europeans started divesting billions from Elbit Systems because of its partnership with the israeli military (see last UV for details on this), and colleges around the u.s. started following the example set by Hampshire and passing weak but nevertheless dangerous-precedent resolutions calling for divestment from companies profiting from occupation. The israeli cultural machine is feeling so embattled, apparently, that when the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra String Quartet recently came to the Bay Area, all three events they played were in private homes, and you could only get the address after buying an expensive ticket, and no doubt also being cleared by the FBI, the CIA and Interpol.
So the embattled israelis launched their Delegitimize the Delegitimizers campaign, documented in our last issue, and apparently one of the first things on their agenda was reingratiating themselves with local queer establishments.
In Toronto, the Zionist organizations B’nai Brith and Canadian Jewish Congress got the City Council to tell the Pride Committee that if they allowed the words “Israeli Apartheid” to be used by any group in their parade, they would lose all city funding for their festival. The Toronto Pride Committee, in a SHAMEFUL display of sold-out spinelessness, caved in and told Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, our sibling group there, that they could not carry any signs with their name on them in the parade, effectively banning them from marching.
QAIA responded with a flurry of organizing and media work, and succeeded in mobilizing an impressive display of support. As of this writing, a grand marshal has declined to participate, author-broadcaster Jane Farrow rescinded her acceptance of the title of “Most Honoured Dyke,” ten founders of Toronto Pride wrote an open letter of condemnation to the Pride Committee, and hundreds demonstrated at the press conference where Pride announced its decision to ban QAIA. And all the Pride Committee spokeswoman could come up with to say was, “They’re only a couple hundred people.” Really, you can watch it on queersagainstapartheid.org.
Given all that, we were not that surprised to hear through the grapevine that our local israeli consulate and probably some of the local Zionist leadership as well, had pressured cum threatened Frameline into welcoming them back into the hallowed halls of the Castro Theater. Apparently Frameline staff are still quite traumatized from our “Yossi & Jagger” escapade and dread another post card campaign, so they hoped they could “stay neutral,” but the consulate said some version of you can’t be neutral on a gravy train and they decided to go for the gravy. So for QUIT, SWANABAQ and our allies at the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, that is an invitation to show them just how much more costly it can be to ally oneself with racists and murderers. The fact that Israel just murdered 9 international peace activists at sea should make it clear to everyone why we are saying DON’T PINKWASH ISRAEL’S CRIMES.
We’re calling a picket of the opening night gala at the Castro, which is June 17. It’s a Victorian lesbian romance, sorry for those of you who would have liked to see it, but then again, it costs $75, so maybe you’d just as soon wait for the video. We expect the Zionists to be there with their flags and megaphones, to defend the festival organizers, who probably would just as soon they stayed home. We need everyone to come out and make it a night to remember for the Frameline decision makers. This is one we can win, and we really need to win one. So if you can only do one thing this Pride season, make it this one.
The movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions on arizona has been growing since az governor jan brewer signed the declaration of war against immigrants and people of color on April 23. Boycott resolutions have been passed across the nation by local governments including Berkeley, Boston, Boulder, Columbus (OH), El Paso (city and county) Gallup (NM), Hartford, Los Angeles, Oakland, Richmond (CA) San Pablo (CA), St. Paul, Santa Monica, San Francisco, Seattle, West Hollywood, and the LA and San Diego school districts. Cook County voted to boycott az at the same meeting they awarded a contract for red-light running cameras to az-based american traffic solutions. Boycotts have also been announced of az-based u.s. airways and the diamondbacks baseball team.
The law, originally SB 1070, the “support our law enforcement and safe neighborhoods act” was signed on April23. It was amended a week later as HB 2162. The final version still makes it a crime for a non-u.s. citizen to be in arizona without required federal documents, and requires local police during any “legal stop, detention or arrest” to make a determination regarding the person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is undocumented. The “alien” can be arrested if there is “probable cause” to believe the person is undocumented, and can not be released without proof of legal status. State, county and local governments are required to enforce immigration laws to the fullest extent permitted by federal law (i.e. no sanctuary cities in az). It also makes it illegal to hire someone by picking them up from the road (i.e. day laborers) where it may impede traffic. It is also a crime to encourage “illegal” immigration, or to give shelter or to transport “illegal” immigrants. The law is scheduled to take effect July 28, 2010.
Not surprisingly, on April 23, immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) agents approached a u.s. born Mexican-american truck driver, Abdon, while he was stopped at a Phoenix weigh station. They ordered him to produce identity papers, and despite his showing them his commercial drivers license and providing his social security number, he was handcuffed, taken to a detention center, and held until his wife Jackie, also u.s. born, left work, retrieved their birth certificates and other i.d., and brought them to ICE.
It’s been a busy spring for the fascists in az – in addition to the immigration law, the house delighted the anti-Obama “birthers” by passing a bill requiring presidential candidates to show their birth certificates. (The bill did not pass the az senate, so is not law yet.) However gov. brewer did sign a bill outlawing ethnic studies. Although arizona’s english-only law was ruled unconstitutional in 1998, in May of this year, az passed an english language law that stated that az law did not require businesses, even in health care, to provide competent interpreters for people who spoke languages other than english.
And just to make it clear they are not single-issue fascists, the az legislature passed a ban on abortion coverage in state employee health plans. They will also prevent state sponsored health plans under the new federal health reform act from covering abortion.
There have been almost continuous protests in the u.s. and world-wide against az’s immigration bill, including coordinated protests on Mayday. Many organizations have also announced boycotts of events and/or travel to az, including the Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, National Council of La Raza, Asian American Justice Center, Center for Community Change, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Puerto Rican Coalition, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, American Educational Research Assn., World Boxing Council, Sociologists Without Borders, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, and, of course LAGAI – Queer Insurrection. Several conferences and meetings have already been cancelled.
Meanwhile, the anti-immigrant ante has been upped with the implementation of the “secure communities” program in san francisco starting June 8. This program automatically sends fingerprints from county jails to ICE so that they can locate people to deport. These prints are uploaded without any finding of guilt by a court or anyone else. SF sheriff michael hennessey attempted to opt-out of the program because it violates the sanctuary city law. But beloved attorney general and soon to be democratic nominee for governor jerry brown turned down the request, saying “Because I think this program serves both public safety and the interest of justice, I am declining your request.” The SF law currently allows local officials to report people’s immigration status if they are charged with or convicted of a felony.
In May obama announced that he would send 1200 national guard troops to the border with Mexico, while he continues to make no plans for amnesty or true immigration reform. The administration stated that the troops would not be used on the “front line” but to support the increased enforcement already there. Perhaps they will be checking drivers licenses at weigh stations. As discussed in a May 19 interchange between a second-grade student in silver springs, maryland and Michele Obama, the u.s. continues to deport people based solely on their lack of papers. The u.s. is likely to deport over 400,000 people in 2010, more than in any year in the bush administration. 70 percent of those deported did not involve any criminal charges.
This past May I received a post-graduate research travel grant from the Maine College of Art to work with the folks at Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) in Johannesburg South Africa. I was familiar with some of their work from their website as well as a few major publications they produced over the last few years and I was struck by the way they positioned queer and trans histories as integral to our present day understanding of pride. Having worked with queer and trans archival ephemera as fodder for my own work as an activist artist/archivist/historiographer, I was elated to have the opportunity to share and learn from the folks at GALA.
Over my week long stay in Johannesburg I met with the small staff and a handful of volunteers that described to me how they were able to build a grassroots documentation center, volunteer run community lending library, historical archive, numerous archive based museum exhibitions and a diverse array of programming focused on even the most marginalized of queer issues and identities.
I was totally exhausted arriving in Johannesburg, or Jozi as it is more affectionately called, after surviving two days of air travel over three continents. While everyone else descending on the city was preparing for World Cup Soccer madness I was quietly preparing myself for a week-long, headfirst dive into queer and trans South African history, culture and activism. But my trip from the airport to the stranger’s couch I was sleeping on in the northern suburbs was dream like. Was I in Los Angeles? This sprawling city felt so similar to southern California I almost thought I hadn’t really gone anywhere. But sure enough my time at GALA would prove I was in a very different, but at times very similar place. This was queer Jozi and I was in for a treat…
My first day at GALA was highlighted by a walking tour of downtown Jozi with archivist and soon to be friend Kamohelo. We strolled the downtown streets of Constitution Hill together as he activated the city’s queer history lying just beneath the surface of all the concrete walls around us. The site of the first gay pride march on the African continent, prisons where anti-apartheid activists were held, the constitutional court which upholds the constitution’s equality clause as it relates to LGBT rights and much more. As we walked and talked we related similarities and differences between the queer world’s we come from and how our communities have and have not made progress around certain issues. The historically racist, classist mainstream gay and lesbian organizations in South Africa were sadly similar to the ones I knew all to well back at home in the States.
After the walking tour Kamohelo brought me, along with another international activist/researcher from Ireland named Michael, to the archives at the McCullen Library on the Wits University Campus. It is here where all of GALA’s materials are archived and stored along side the South Africa History Archives. Kamohelo quickly walked us through the unending stacks of archival boxes filled with personal affects and ephemera. We briefly looked through a few collections before spending a bit of time looking through the absolutely amazing political poster collection GALA has accumulated over the years. Queer performance artist Steven Cohen’s “Sucking for Equality” stuck out as particularly amazing, but even more so, I would love to have seen the sassy and sarcastic controversial banner he carried in the 1996 pride march that read “GIVE US YOUR CHILDREN WHAT WE CANT FUCK WE EAT!” I’m sure it was in the archive somewhere, but we had more to see and do…!
In the following days I would be working with Kamohelo troubleshooting GALA’s new online project QueerJozi, a grassroots interactive historical mapping project, as well as giving input on GALA’s upcoming exhibition on anti-queer violence at Museum Africa during the World Cup. The QueerJozi project makes use of google’s interactive mapping tools to allow anyone in the world upload images and stories about queer and trans history to a digital map of Johannesburg featured on the website. It is almost like a queer Johannesburg Wikipedia page, but cartographic, temporal, visual and ever-evolving. The exhibition at Museum Africa during the World Cup focuses on the death of lesbian soccer player and LGBT activist Eudy Simelan, who was raped and murdered in 2008 as well as the deaths of two other women in 2007, Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa who’s murder sparked the 7-7-7 campaign to stop anti-queer violence. Museum Africa is expecting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the museum during the World Cup and QueerJozi is set to launch in the coming months.
After putting in some good old volunteer hours scanning images and sharing my skill set around technology and website building/design with Kamohelo we set off for the Apartheid Museum with Michael and his lover Jaime. I already spent five hours at the museum the previous weekend with my wonderful couch-surfing host Allan, but only got about half way through the overwhelmingly thorough exhibitions. This time I would make a point to get to the small space within the Apartheid Museum that was designed by GALA to represent other marginalized people (queers, women and the disabled) within the anti-apartheid struggle fighting to be recognized within the country’s new constitution. Although small in size and scope, the fact that GALA had even gotten it’s foot in the door to the country’s most well known and well attended museums to represent other marginalized people in the permanent collection is an admirable achievement.
Over the next few days I would meet with Anzio, a volunteer form the community library, and Anthony, the director of GALA. In addition to learning about the community lending library at GALA, Anzio and I talked at length about student organizing at universities as well as sharing best practices around working with young people in grade school and high school. Anthony graciously spent time with me describing the organization’s history, structure, programming and funding. Having grown to a staff of five, published seven major books as well as numerous smaller pamphlets, produced four documentary videos, developed and showed numerous major exhibitions, and maintained a commitment to the Deaf community by spearheading a unique Deaf queer history project, I can only imagine what is next for GALA.
Unfortunately, as the global economy has come crashing down on the Western world, our queer comrades in the post-colonial global south have experienced the recession in unique acute ways we can’t understand. South Africa remains largely a queer and trans safe(r) haven (although not without it’s problems as noted above) and is a far cry from the violent anti-queer state repression now infamous in nearby neighboring countries like Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe. But South Africa as a queer safe(r) haven and home to many queer/trans African refugees depends on the work done by organizations like GALA. Without our solidarity, both in spirit and financially, organizations like GALA will have difficulty continuing to do the amazing work they do to the degree of excellence they have achieved. Our queer comrades in the global south need our support, and if you want to do something simple to support them, check out GALA’s work, send a note of support, and if you can, send a donation to GALA, P.O. Box 31719, Braamfontein 2017, South Africa (www.gala.co.za).
I left Jozi with new friends, fresh ideas about activating queer histories in the present, and a deepening sense of commitment to my queer comrades in the global south. Like they say at GALA, “there is no queer pride, without queer history” and without genuine, meaningful queer solidarity, there is no global queer and trans community.
See you in the archives…
On March 4th, thousands of teachers, students,
parents and community members stood up for adequate funding for public education
just as schwarzenegger was announcing budget cuts that would destroy public
education. “Stand Up for Schools” was the day’s theme as many local
unions including ones from Oakland, Hayward, and San Francisco joined together
to protest the threat of larger class sizes, lay offs, and the elimination of
programs vital to our students’ lives. In San Francisco, independent of the
official union rally, a march of several thousand was organized by educators and
community groups. The march went through the Mission District and met the main
rally at SF Civic Center. It galvanized many people who’d never taken any
direct action before to march in support of this fight for publicly supported
education. Several fourth grade students led this march, leading chants along
The community colleges, including the Peralta Community Colleges, Berkeley Community College and Chabot, joined with CAL State students and staff to create a coalition called AGAINST CUTS. A website “againstcuts.org” was set up to include information about the budget process and organizing tips.
The budget crisis has only exacerbated an already dire situation that involves chronic under funding of public education in conjunction with attacks on the unions, and a push toward privatization of public school. Many districts in the Bay Area face the threat of financial insolvency and a state fiscal takeover, as Oakland had for many years. Unions are being forced to accept pay cuts, furlough days, and a loss of health benefits at the same time that working conditions worsen. Teachers are subsequently blamed for the failures of public schools. This cycle of under funding and blame is leading Californians to believe that the public schools are failing due to teacher ineffectiveness rather than from an unwillingness to fund improvements in public education.
Senate Bill 955 (Huff) is one outcome of this belief system. SB 955 specifically attacks seniority rights in lay offs, a ploy designed to undermine the union as well as destroy our schools by enabling the firing of our most experienced teachers. The people who support this bill say that “teacher ineffectiveness” is the cause of the schools’ failures. Yet in California, a far larger problem is teacher retention. It would be better to fully fund education and have no
lay offs, than to create a divide between experienced and new teachers. The bill scapegoats teachers rather than addressing the real problems in public education.
The loss of seniority rights would lead to more experienced teachers being laid off simply because they make too much money, to the loss of a core of experienced teachers to mentor new teachers, and to the loss of a community of educators who have knowledge of and a commitment to the communities in which they have worked for years. Teachers can also be targeted by districts and principals for speaking out against budget cuts and defending the students’ right to an education. There is already a process for eliminating ineffective teachers, and SB 955 is not really about improving public education.
Two democrats voted the bill out of committee. Without their support the bill would have died a welcome death. One of these democrats, Gloria Romero, is running for Superintendent of Public Instruction, the other is Elaine Alquist from San Jose.
What options are there for improved schools in California? Those people who were educated in California prior to Prop. 13 will tell you that they received an excellent education which allowed them to go on to study at the best, often public, universities. Today our students suffer from “deprivation education:” they have few art or music classes, little job training or vocation education, little exposure to computers and technology at school, few classroom supplies, and aging school facilities. Many school districts will no longer have summer school to help students who are struggling in schools.
Californians, and people in the U.S., must commit to the full funding of public education by closing corporate loopholes and raising revenues. Students in California will never recover from the budget cuts now proposed by the governor. There is nothing left to cut.
schwarzennegger’s current budget proposal, the “may revise” includes $19 billion dollars in spending cuts and no tax increases. Well, it will result in increased tuition at public universities, but that isn’t a tax, now, is it?
No opportunist he, schwarzennegger refrained using the current anger at oil companies to propose a fee on oil companies for the oil they remove from the ground. California remains the only state, and according to NPR, the only government on the planet, that does not charge a “severance ” tax. The modest fee proposed by democrats in the last budget would have provided at least $1 billion dollars per year in additional revenue. schwarzennegger also does not propose “sharing the pain” (as he feels public workers should do) by postponing the $2.1 billion in tax cuts for corporations and the rich that he got as part of last year’s budget “compromises.”
Instead, he will get that $3 billion, and an additional $9 billion, from cuts to Medi-Cal, Healthy Families, mental health programs, In-Home Support Services, CalWORKs, childcare programs, SSI, and the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI). He also proposes new or increased co-pays for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families. (Co-pays save the programs money because people to drop out of the programs or limit their medical visits because they can’t afford them.) Some of the cuts he proposed in January to K-12 education have been rescinded, or shifted down to the local level. He proposes cutting prison health care, despite the reports by the federal court- appointed receiver that maintaining the constitutionally mandated level of services will require more funds, not less. The UC and state university systems have already proposed or passed tuition increases for this year. He is also planning to cut state employee’s wages, “shift” [read: steal] money from state disability insurance, and a few other maneuvers.
From May 21-25 disabled people protested the cuts by establishing the “Arnie-ville” encampment on the traffic island at Adeline and Russell in Berkeley. They have announced they will be back on June 22 unless an acceptable budget is passed.
As in past years, the assembly and senate democrats have proposed more humane budgets, with fewer cuts. One or the other caucus is proposing the oil severance tax (assembly), delaying the corporate tax breaks (both houses), and restoring the upper income tax brackets (senate).
Meanwhile, people in the know are saying that there won’t be a budget until November (after the election). Particularly good news for state workers who have been told their pay will be cut to the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, and for contracting service providers who don’t get paid until there’s a budget.
On June 4th,
the Alameda County Superior Court approved the so called Oakland gang injunction
against 15 members of a North Oakland street gang. The goal of the injunction is
to prevent criminal activities of the NSO--North Side Oakland--gang, whose
members are alleged drug dealers, robbers, and gang members.
This is the
first time Oakland has asked for a gang injunction since the 1990s; the request
was--and is--highly controversial, as many Oaklanders feel the ruling will
support racial profiling.
Bushrod Community Center coalition spoke of how the courtroom had no
representation of the community, despite the city attorney saying they represent
“the people.” No community declarations were filed, the audience was told to
keep completely silent, and the judge had decided to pass the injunction before
the hearing even started and wanted to hear nothing about merits or whether or
not it should be passed. Without our protest, agitations, and outreach,
this injunction would have passed quietly and behind closed doors.
the Coalition continues to build community, strategize real solutions to safety,
and meets every Tuesday, 6-8 pm, at Bushrod Park. As Oakland is planning
on putting these all over the city, we have to be ready to show that this was
never community driven, that it harms our community, and will not create safety.
By Chaya and Deni with waggles from Sparky
The Ghost Writer. Director Roman Polanski has been on the lam in Europe since 1977, after his arrest for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson’s house in L.A. (Since January 2010 he has been under house arrest and now must return to the U.S. to be sentenced.) Polanski has made many interesting, award-winning films. So when The Ghost Writer was released, we had to wonder, should we see it or not? Well, we’ll save that discussion for another day … but we saw it. And it was very good. It has strong performances by Ewan MacGregor as a writer who gets a big break to ghostwrite the memoirs of the former British prime minister, and Pierce Brosnan as the P.M. Also excellent were Olivia Williams as the P.M.’s wife and Kim Cattrall as his assistant. Tony Blair, oops we mean Pierce Brosnan, is charged by the World Court for war crimes, in conjunction with his dirty dealings with the U.S. in Iraq. The CIA is involved, and an evil corporation that sounds a lot like Blackwater. We enjoyed the humor and the understated but pointed politics that went perfectly with the understated but ominous tone throughout. See it.
La Mission (review by Deni). I really wanted to like this movie, starring and produced by Benjamin Bratt and directed by his brother Peter. The film pays cinematic homage to San Francisco’s Mission District. Benjamin gives a fine performance as a Latino father dealing with his homophobia (interestingly linked with violence against women) when he discovers his son (played by Jeremy Ray Valdez) is gay. But the film was disappointing. The writing was weak with trite dialogue; too many scenes with long, lingering, “meaningful” looks; stereotypical characters; and predictable plot lines. The film worked hard at delivering a message, but the movie’s weaknesses made the message simplistic. I was also disappointed in the gay plot line. As the movie focused on the father’s internal struggle, the gay characters became more one-dimensional and seemed like a foil for the theme of overcoming homophobia. They also became less sexual as the movie went on – the initial gay sex scenes ended up feeling like they were there to shock us as they would shock the dad. But then, as we were supposed to feel more sympathetic to the gay characters in order to balance Bratt’s homophobia, the gay sexuality had to be toned down. Meanwhile, the heterosexual sex got toned way up - perhaps to let us know that dad could still be a real man even if he ended up accepting his gay son. Also, except for this one gay couple (son and boyfriend) in one gay bar, there was NO other gay culture and certainly no gay culture of color, and we are talking San Francisco here! Even one quick glance from the son to another queer Latino somewhere in the city could have contextualized his life within the queer world. As it was, he was stuck with his clueless, vapid, arrogant white boyfriend.
I’ve heard a number of young queer Latinos say how important the movie was for them in giving them voice. See the movie to support what it’s trying to do, but keep your expectations low.
Letters to Juliet. Not even Vanessa Redgrave and the Italian countryside could save this predictable, annoying mess. But we wanted to see it anyway. Vanessa is, after all, a superb actress and a long-time anti-zionist activist. When Vanessa was nominated for an Oscar for “Julia” in 1978, the Jewish Defense League and Rabbi Meir Kahane burned effigies of her and picketed the Academy Awards in protest of Redgrave and her support of Palestine. Some of you may remember Vanessa’s speech when she won the Oscar. She said that neither she nor the Academy would be intimidated by "a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums — whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world, and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression." Go Vanessa! But go for better movies!
City Island. A bunch of us went to see this movie and were pleasantly surprised by how good it was. Good writing, good acting by Julianna Margulies, Andy Garcia, Alan Arkin and an excellent ensemble cast, and generally very well done. Set in the Bronx, the storyline revolves around the secrets and subterfuges of married couple Margulies and Garcia and their children. We thought it was hilarious and entertaining. See it.
Robin Hood (review by Chaya). There have
been many good versions of Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen (you
older baby boomers may have watched the Richard Greene tv series of days gone
by, and then there's the well written/well acted Erroll Flynn/Olivia de
Havilland/Basil Rathbone/Claude Rains 1938 movie, one of my favorites). Ok, I
expected it to be very violent and male-oriented, but this latest collaboration
from director/producer Ridley Scott and his muse Russell Crowe lacked other
elements that might have elevated it to the level of Gladiator, their best work
together. The prequel storyline, a departure from the usual legend, was
predictable and trite at times, and went on forever. And ever. On the plus side,
Cate Blanchett as Marion was feisty for a woman of that (or any) time, there
were lots of dogs (one sweet scene had Russell Crowe snuggling in the straw with
a deerhound), and the cast also included good performances by Max von Sydow and
William Hurt. To quote Vern, who thought the depiction of life circa 1200 was
pretty accurate, "the peasants worked the fields, waited on the master,
drank mead and wenched." But there was too much bloody bashing, a lot of
fake looking CGI (computer generated images), poor writing, and it never found
its core. Skip it.
Green Zone (guest
review by Cole). Ever
the optimist, the film's publicity somehow created my anticipation of a
movie with a clear anti-war message aimed at a popular audience. My hopes,
alas, were crushed ten minutes into the movie. Matt Damon (who's a little
too butch for my tastes, anyway) plays a member of a special military unit
deployed to find those WMDs. It's not until after 30 minutes of shoot 'em
up scenes that there's any real dialog. The plot predictably reveals Matt's
discovery that there were no WMDs -- their existence was fabricated by the
government with the assistance of a complicit media. Somehow I found this
revelation to be less than cutting edge. As our hero leaves Iraq having
left a media splash with his expose, a refinery is seen in the distance. Given
the movie's shallow politics, the symbolism seemed a tad too subtle. Skip
The World Unseen (guest review by
was greatly disappointed to learn that the filmmaker declined to withdraw her
work from the Tel Aviv Film Festival and would certainly not advise you to rent
the dvd. However, if the movie shows up on Logo or some other source where
your viewing won't financially benefit the director, by all means see it. Amina
is a South Asian lesbian living in South Africa during the early years of
apartheid; of necessity, she challenges a host of restrictions. What
elevates the movie from an enjoyable but unremarkable love story is the setting. Apartheid
hasn't been in place for long, and South Africans of color are testing its
boundaries in a variety of fashions. My favorite line was the beginning of
the protagonist's coming out statement to her father. In response to her
statement that she must tell him something, her father wearily responds that the
neighbors have already told him everything. Good acting and very likeable
Lemon Tree (guest
review by Cole). I
hope it's forgivable to violate the Israeli film boycott when the movie has a
clear anti-Zionist message. The film illustrates the damages Israel's
political philosophy inflicts on Palestinians by way of an individual's
story. To my mind, this approach can be - and in this instance is -
quite effective. The lemon grove that generates Salma's living is located
immediately adjacent to the Israel-defined border. Her neighbor, a
government official, perceives the trees to be a security threat and issues
an order to destroy the grove. Salma desperately searches for assistance
and secures the services of a Palestinian attorney. Although Salma
organizes popular support and international publicity, the movie demonstrates
the limitations of working through conventional channels. The filmmaker
included an annoying and unnecessary romantic sub-plot - but don't let that
scare you away; the film is worth seeing.
BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions): Well, John Greyson’s done it again! Yes, that John Greyson, the stunningly talented queer filmmaker who withdrew his film from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival because of TIFF’s spotlight on films from Tel Aviv. Greyson has created a video called “Hey, Elton John” which urges Elton John to cancel his June 17 concert in Israel and support the cultural boycott. The video is brilliant: fabulous parody, humor, great information, compelling production – you can see it on many sites, but the one below also links to “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid,” the Toronto activist group.
And yes, Virginia, there is a local angle: watch the Greyson video carefully for two QUIT members carrying a sign made by one of your very own MOCHA columnists!
No email address is available for Elton John. To pressure him, contact:
Elton John’s Management: Twenty-First Artists, London – Phone: 44-207-348-4800
Elton John’s Agent: Howard Rose, Los Angeles – Phone: 310-858-3838
Elton John’s Publicist: Fran Curtis, Los Angeles – Phone: 310-854-8100
The Hour That the Ship Comes In?: And as for the news of a probable Bob Dylan concert in Tel Aviv in late May, well, it doesn’t seem to have happened. Hmmm, perhaps he changed his mind just as the flotilla was being attacked? He did go on to play his scheduled concerts in Greece and Turkey after the attacks occurred, even including Masters of War in his Turkey playlist. Bob-lovers among us (who also believe in Tinker Bell) will of course conclude from this that Bob has changed his position from his 1983 zionist diatribe song “Neighborhood Bully,” and has now made the connection to Israeli apartheid and the displacement of Palestinians by remembering his “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” line that said “relocation to phony homelands.” No doubt, he will soon be signing on to the BDS statement. (Clap your hands with us and say: I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies…)
Speaking of the Ties Between Israel and Apartheid:
Let’s not forget the news that broke just before the attack on the flotilla:
secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear
warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary
evidence of Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. The "top secret"
minutes of meetings from 1975 show that South Africa's defense minister, PW
Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel's defense minister
and now its president, responded by offering them "in three sizes."
We’re resisting the cheap shot on that one…
Oy Vey, Maria!: A high school student in Everett, Washington wanted to play an instrumental version of Ave Maria at her graduation in 2006. School officials said no, citing complaints about a gospel song performed at graduation the year before, and stating that graduation should be a secular event (they did allow it to be played at a winter concert, but felt that was different than commencement). She appealed all the way up to those godless commies on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said it was reasonable for a school official to prohibit the performance of an obviously religious piece. Not content with that decision, she petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently declined to hear the case. So the ruling of the 9th Circuit prohibiting her from playing Ave Maria stands. Hey – that’s one for the separation of church and state!
Freedom to Present Christmas Music in Public School Classrooms Act - Update: In related news, last issue we reported on this proposed ballot initiative. It failed to turn in the required signatures by the petition drive deadline in March, and will not be on the November 2010 ballot. Will this mean cadres of Xmas-music-singing children being forced to secretly gather in home-school basements away from the godless public schools? We’ll keep you posted!
WOOF WOOF WOOF SPARKY SPARKY SPARKY SPARKY WOOF WOOF WOOF
If the attack on the Free Gaza flotilla proved one thing, it is that the israeli government knows how to control spin. Not that that was something we were wondering about, but clearly seizing and destroying all possible sources of countervailing narratives was part of the plan from the beginning. To that end, the warships jammed the communications signals in advance of sending the armed commandos rappelling down from the helicopter onto the ships. After carrying out their deadly raid, they forced all the passengers off the ships without any of their property except their passports, so that they could make sure that there was no video, audio or photos in anyone’s possession except theirs. Even after the activists were deported, at least 16 journalists from all over the world were held in israeli prison, presumably to keep them from issuing reports that contradicted the israeli narrative.
By the time any of the activists or journalists were able to tell their story, the israeli position had been reported over and over and over for two solid days. Even left-wing media, such as KPFA news and Democracy Now!, played the statements of the israeli defense minister and broadcast the video released by the israelis – you know, the one with the circles telling us what they wanted us to see, with nothing of equal weight to counter them. Now that the journalists have been deported, they are demanding the footage they shot be returned to them. In fact, they say that the very footage that israel posted on YouTube, which was broadcast on a near non-stop loop day after day all over the world, was shot by some of these journalists. Israel’s response? “Army spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said there was ‘a certain chance’ the footage was filmed by journalists, but that most was filmed by activists. She said no material was confiscated. She said it was found on the vessel after activists were cleared off by the army.”
Okay, so just in case you missed the irony of that last statement, the activists were forced off the boats, at gunpoint or with kicks to the head or dragged by their hair or on stretchers having already been shot, and not allowed to take anything with them. Their property then was “found” and thus could be considered abandoned. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s exactly what happened to the Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes in 1948, leaving their houses and personal property to be “found” by israeli settlers.
So we know that UV readers are savvy and not likely to be taken in by israel’s claims of self-defense and love of peace, but just in case you have been hearing arguments from others that you’re not sure how to respond to, here are a few salient facts:
“They attacked us first.” Hard to see how they can make that one, when even their own video shows them sliding down ropes onto the boat at 3:00 a.m. Obviously, you don’t bring a helicopter and 300 commandos unless you’re planning to attack. But what you might not know is (1) the Free Gaza ships had decided to move further out into international waters in order to avoid having the confrontation during the night, and (2) everyone agrees that the israeli fired something – whether guns, tear gas or concussion grenades – before they landed on the ships, wounding and/or killing people.
“We had no choice; we had to prevent this group of terrorists and haters from bringing missiles to Gaza.” Leaving aside the fact that the Free Gaza Movement and the Free Palestine Movement are open, legal and nonviolent movements, and the Mavi Marmara’s cargo was inspected by the Turkish government to ensure that included no weapons, there have been eight previous convoys, although none as large as this one. Of these, six have been stopped by the israelis, one was disabled and nearly destroyed, several were sabotaged (as were some of the boats that were supposed to be in this flotilla), and several were boarded, towed to israeli ports and the people on board arrested. But never before has the israeli government used night commando raids dropping from the sky. And never before have activists been killed, nor have soldiers been injured. So obviously, they had decided to respond to this one differently, and the likeliest reason for that is that the people on board were predominantly dark-skinned and Muslim, whereas previous missions have been primarily European.
“We were only armed with paintball guns.” Okay, this is the one that I really can’t believe they are saying with a straight face. First of all, they did not kill 9 people and seriously injure dozens more with paintball guns. And second, paintball guns are intended to mark people who are likely to run away, so you can apprehend them later. What would be the value of them at sea? The only way that anyone on those boats was going to run away was by jumping overboard, as local hero Paul Larudee apparently did, and once someone jumped into the sea, the paint would probably wash off, and even if it didn’t, they were unlikely to get very far.
“We have the right to blockade Gaza.” Well no, you just don’t. Absolutely nothing gives israel the right to subject the people living in territory it occupies to a brutal siege. In fact, international law, which israel clearly cares so much about, mandates the opposite: under the Fourth Geneva Convention, the occupying power is responsible for ensuring the welfare of the people in its occupied territories. This is a responsibility israel has consistently shirked. Moreover, the creeps that counter-demonstrate at all our demonstrations constantly use the argument, “Gaza is unoccupied. Israel left Gaza three years ago. Everything bad happening in Gaza is Hamas’s doing now.” Just because you don’t have settlements and military bases there, does not mean it’s unoccupied. As long as israel controls Gaza’s borders, and as long as it reserves (and exercises) the right to attack Gaza from air, land and sea whenever it wants, it is responsible for the welfare of the people, and its blockade is in direct contravention of its obligations.
“There’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We allow 15,000 tons of aid a week into Gaza.” In an August 2009 report, United Nations' human rights chief Navi Pillay called the blockade devastating and said it constituted collective punishment, illegal under international law. According to an al Jazeera article published last week, “Israel usually allows 81 items into Gaza, a list which is subject to revision on a near-daily basis. It is riddled with contradictions: Zaatar, a mix of dried spices, is allowed into the territory; coriander and cumin are not. Chick peas are allowed, while tahini was barred until March 2010. ‘Luxury goods,’ things like chocolate, are prohibited altogether.
“The United Nations refugee agency has resorted to constructing houses out of mud because other building material are unavailable…In January 2007, Gaza received more than 10,000 truckloads of goods each month; by January 2009, that number was down to roughly 3,000.”
Adding insult to injury, the israeli foreign minister contended that there is no humanitarian aid crisis in Gaza because “The tunnels [built by Palestinians to smuggle materials from Egypt] have become so efficient that Gaza is bursting with goods.” So israel is using the tunnels, which are the alleged justification for the blockade itself, as well as the 100-foot underground steel wall Egypt is building on the Gaza border, to prove that the blockade is not a problem. One rationale for not allowing cement and other construction materials is that concrete is used to line the tunnels, which israel says are smuggling weapons.
“Hamas is the problem.” The lie most frequently repeated in the u.s. press, not only the mainstream but even the very far left press, is that “Hamas militants seized control of the Gaza Strip three years ago.” Go ahead and Google it, and you’ll find it on msnbc and Democracy Now, I’ve heard it on KPFA news, it even appears on miftah.org, the website run by Hanan Ashrawi. But it’s not true.
What happened is that a political party called “Change and Reform” won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006. Change and Reform was initiated by Hamas, but not all the candidates it ran were actually members of Hamas. They looked for candidates who had integrity and were seen as independent of the existing leadership, which was associated with the Fatah movement founded by Arafat. They won without actually winning a majority of the votes cast in most districts because the way that the elections worked was that the candidate getting the most votes was the winner. Hamas ran one candidate in each district, while Fatah was so factionalized and arrogant that they couldn’t resolve their internal conflicts and ran several candidates for most seats. So in nearly every district, more votes were cast for candidates associated with Fatah, but the single Hamas/Change and Reform candidate got more votes. And that led to Change and Reform being declared the winner and asked to form a government.
This was a fiasco for the bush government, which had insisted that the elections take place, and they set about remedying it by funding and fomenting a Fatah-led coup against the Hamas-led government. Don’t take my word for this. Check out the astonishing documentation of this coup by journalist David Rose in the April 2008 issue of Vanity Fair (http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/04/gaza200804).
This destabilization campaign was quite successful and led to the most intense civil strife Palestine has ever seen. More than 100 people were killed, and many believed that civil war was imminent. Then, says Rose’s article, “Unwilling to preside over a Palestinian civil war, Abbas blinked. For weeks, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had been trying to persuade him to meet with Hamas in Mecca and formally establish a national unity government.… Once again, the Bush administration had been taken by surprise. According to a State Department official, “Condi was apoplectic.” … The State Department quickly drew up an alternative to the new unity government, known as Plan B.…Plan B called for Abbas to “collapse the government” if Hamas refused to alter its attitude toward Israel. From there, Abbas could call early elections or impose an emergency government.”
After a Jordanian newspaper leaked details of the plot in June, the Hamas-led government arrested much of Fatah’s leadership throughout the territory.
It might seem like calling the elected government of Palestine, “Hamas,” or “militants” who “seized control” of Gaza is just short-hand to avoid going into a long-winded complicated story. But as the assault on Gaza last January and the flotilla raid amply demonstrate, the road to ethnic cleansing is paved with inaccurate shorthand.