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Robert Shetterly | Americans who tell the truth
in Essays, memoirs


Robert-Shetterly-for-webI’M AN ARTIST; a self-taught painter. But now I am also a writer, a teacher, a public speaker and an activist. I paint portraits of American citizens who courageously speak out to address issues of social, environmental, and economic fairness. I include narratives, and now I also travel and teach. All of these roles combine to help me be, hopefully, a better citizen of the world.

My work grew out of the sense of desperation I felt to find a meaningful and moral way to live in the wake of 9/11, when this country began the relentless drumbeat for war against Iraq. How to respond to this outrageous use of fear, jingoism, propaganda, racism and hypocrisy in any useful way? How to use the deep and justified anger against our government and media in a positive way? How to feel less alienated from my own country? How to live here and not feel complicit in crimes against humanity? How to get a voice?

In response to these questions I knew that if I used my talent as an artist to rant about our “leaders,” I would accomplish nothing good. In fact, I knew that to indulge that anger in that way could prove very destructive to myself, both physically and mentally. I had to find a way to use the energy of my anger in the service of love; to do something positive. I needed to combine defiance with compassion, resistance with respect.

I found my answer in the sense of shame I felt both for and about this country’s behavior. Instead of feeling oppressed and shamed by leaders I thought criminal and allowing them to have so much control over my life, why not begin to surround myself with figures from our history who inspire me with admiration for their courage, their perseverance, their insistence that we live up to our own ideals? My method of surrounding myself was to paint portraits and scratch quotes from the subjects into the surface of the portraits. I began with a goal of 50 portraits, with the total awareness that they might all end up in my basement, where only I would see them and feel better. I painted Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Mother Jones, Jane Addams, Sojourner Truth — and many other 19th Century figures who had demanded that we walk our own talk. I felt great. I was filled with admiration. They took on for me a far greater reality and presence than Cheney, Bush, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, Tenet, et cetera.

In order to paint the portraits, I had to learn a great deal about the lives and history of the people I was painting. I was thrilled with what I was learning. One portrait led me to another. It was clear that the issues of war, exploitation, racism, sexism, greed and environmental destruction were driven by the same forces 150 years ago as they are today. At first I thought, “I will paint these portraits for a while then go back to my real career as a surrealist painter, the career that had supported my family.” But after a couple of years I realized that this work was my career—not in the sense of a job but a calling. Now I mostly paint contemporary activists.

The main challenge facing me in embarking upon this work was that I had never before painted a portrait. I had to learn how to do it in a way that was about the subject, not about me as an artist. Also, the portraits had to be good art. I knew that the real ability of the paintings to communicate would depend on the quality of the art. Good art authenticates its message—a testament to the integrity of the effort. It demands to be taken seriously even if one disagrees with the message. For instance, if I paint an honest and respectful portrait of Wendell Berry with his words scratched into it, The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and wasteful, some people are going to take that seriously, even if they don’t agree. If I had sketched a magic marker cartoon of Berry and scrawled out his words, people might not take it seriously, or feel any obligation to respond.

Another challenge that has been with me since the beginning and is the same today—whom to paint? Whose stories are most likely to resonate with an audience today and inspire them to be engaged, to be good citizens, to give them permission to leave behind apathy, cynicism, denial and consumption to embrace action for the common good?

I have also had to learn to be a teacher and a public speaker. I have to study constantly to learn biography and history. I don’t have to know everything but enough to tell a good story and pose serious questions.

There’s another serious challenge that is the dark side of all this work. That is, the wars go on, the victims mount, the ramifications of global warming multiply, the grip of money on policy is unrelenting, denial is endemic, power everywhere has contempt for democracy, hypocrisy is saluted. How does one deal with the despair induced by that knowledge? Keep working. We can’t predict outcomes, or, at least, all of the outcomes.

A typical work day is more likely to be reading and writing than painting now, or traveling to speak in a school or give a presentation. The first few years I painted over 20 portraits a year. Now it’s more like ten. I’ve painted over 200 portraits and the logistics of moving them around is very time-consuming.

When I go to speak at a school, I stress to the students how important it is for each person to find the intersection of what he/she does best with what he/she cares most about. That intersection affords each of us our most meaningful and passionate learning and most persuasive form of communication. The portrait work is that place for me.

The most personally satisfying aspect of my work is that it allows me to think that I am doing something useful. It allows me to use what skills I have to the best of my ability. It brings me into contact with people I admire and allows me to work with them and then carry their messages to many others. It allows me to live with joy, gratitude and courage.

Its larger impact is hard to say. I hear constantly from people all over the world who are moved by the portraits. Many people tell me they now want to be like the people whose portraits I’ve painted—or will paint. They want a life dedicated to justice and meaning. But I am not really the right person to assess the impact. I’m simply one person doing what he can. The impact will be found in how my efforts become–or don’t—part of a much larger effort.

I’m 67 years old now; I was 55 when I began this. I will continue as long as I can. I hope at some point to take stock, write a book about all that this process has taught me. I talk a lot about the importance of local community-building. This work has given me less time for my own community. I would like to re-dedicate myself to my own community. I love to garden. I will keep doing that.

I would advise anyone who was inspired to follow in my footsteps to take the time to discover his or her own footsteps. The repertoire of actions necessary for resisting injustice and creating just alternatives is boundless—or only bound by the imagination of each individual. I would remind anyone that our deepest joys and meanings are found in community, in giving and creating, not in exploitation and greed and competition. And, it just so happens, our only chance of survival as a species on this planet depends on living for the common good of ourselves and all other species.

Editor’s Note: Portraits from Shetterly’s collection, “Americans Who Tell the Truth, can be seen in this month’s Gallery, and on Shetterly’s website. In the photo above, Shetterly begins a mural on a recent trip to Palestine.
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Charles Bowden Has Died, But His Voice Is Louder Than Ever
September 15, 2014

By Bill Conroy via Narco News

When I heard that he had passed, my eyes welled with tears. I’m of stoic Irish stock, so I don’t shed tears easily, but the news of Charles Bowden’s death (1945-2014) was not an easy thing to bear. He had been a mentor and a friend to me for a decade, and his leaving hurts.

He died peacefully, in his bed at his home in Las Cruces, N.M., after complaining of persistent flu-like symptoms that started in early August, according to his long-time companion and colleague Molly Molloy, a Latin American researcher, writer and librarian at New Mexico State University. A recent EKG also showed he had an irregular heartbeat, and he had an appointment scheduled with a cardiologist, she said.

But he never made that appointment. Molly found him at 5:15 p.m. after returning from work this past Saturday, Aug. 30, his life energy gone from his body.

“He was in bed and seemed sleeping, but I could not wake him.,” Molloy recounted in an email sent on Sunday informing Chuck’s friends and colleagues of his death. “I called 911 and did CPR until the police got here. There was nothing we could do.”

But in my mind and heart, Chuck can’t die, not in the eternal world of ideas. He accomplished what every writer dreams of, even if they are too humble, as he was in this sense, to admit it. His words, his reporting, his truth-telling, lives on, rippling through time on the pages of history. His name belongs among the ranks of the great American writers, certainly those yet to be christened in the 21st Century.

Bowden, 69 at the time of his death, was the author of dozens of books and essays, among them seminal works focused on the drug war, such as “Down by the River,” as well as more experimental projects like the graphic nonfiction “Dreamland: The Way out of Juarez.” To those who knew him, he was a genuine human being, who was loyal to those he trusted and open-hearted to those who demonstrated the same inclination.

For me, that meant he was there when I walked away from my mainstream editor’s job after 20 years when changes in management threatened my integrity. Chuck offered his services as a reference and previously wrote a letter of recommendation when I applied for a journalism fellowship. And he was a supporter of the Narco News project, and a regular reader who behind the scenes helped to inform a number of the stories published by the online newspaper about the drug war. He didn’t have to do that. He was extremely busy with his own projects, and there was no money in it for him. But that’s just the way Chuck was when he believed in something, or someone.

Chuck wielded a fierce weapon against the enemies of justice: The unflinching ability to tell the truth in unadorned, piercing prose. He used words like paint mixed on a master’s brush and no scene was beyond his reach. That talent, coupled with his keen reporting sense, made him a force to be reckoned with in the halls of power and a voice that commanded respect among his journalistic colleagues.

My first introduction to Chuck is marked with irony. I interviewed him by phone 10 years ago in reporting a story about the death of another journalism Bigfoot, Gary Webb (1953-2004). Chuck wrote a story for Esquire magazine in 1998 that supported the findings of Webb’s 1996 San Jose Mercury News exposé on the CIA/Nicaraguan Contra crack-cocaine connection. Chuck was one of the few journalists in Gary’s corner when he was assaulted by a media smear campaign in the wake of his investigative series — a feeding frenzy that ultimately led to Webb being blackballed by the mainstream media and arguably was a contributing factor in his decision to exit this world.

“In a daily newspaper sense, Gary was the best investigative reporter in the country,” Bowden said during our phone interview at the time. “And he was unemployable.

“That tells me all I need to know about this business I’m in. You can get a paycheck every two weeks, as long as you don’t draw blood.”

Gary Webb’s story will be told in the major motion picture, Killing the Messenger, played by Jeremy Renner, coming to theaters this October.

Chuck and I stayed in contact ever since that interview for the story on Webb via frequent email conversations centered on journalism and the drug war. Chuck would occasionally send me links to news articles, story leads or source contacts, saying I should “save them for my files.” I would return the favor when I could, but his reservoir was far deeper than mine. The best I can do now is to continue to follow the paths he pointed out to me.

Unfortunately, like Webb — a supporter of Narco News who also was a mentor to me — I never got the chance to meet Chuck in person, despite several attempts. Our schedules just didn’t line up when I was in his neck of the woods along the border. He was often on the move, chasing the story.

I will miss Chuck greatly. He’s not replaceable in my world, or the world at large. And I will always owe a great debt to him for what he taught me about journalism and life. In that sense, the best tribute I can make to Chuck is to let him speak one more time to you, to tell his truth.

Following are some excerpts from the many emails Chuck has sent me over the past 10 years. For those who know his work, you’ll recognize many of the themes, but his words are still to be cherished and lessons learned from them.

There are many things I can’t share now, because those stories are yet to be finished. Like I said, Chuck lives on in that sense and others.

But for now, take in what can be savored. Chuck would expect nothing less.

The Drug War

One last bit of worthless advice from me: Things in Mexico … make more sense if you realize no one can wear a white hat and survive.


Frankly I wish Mrs. Clinton and her fucking squeeze had inhaled. I suppose my anger comes from thirty thousand new corpses in Mexico but listening to this policy jargon bullshit is more than I can or will tolerate. Our policies are a death machine in Mexico, period.


Every time in a speech I explain that border security is a system for recruiting small town Americans and corrupting them by placing them in a hopeless situation where tidal waves of money wash over their lives, I am met with blank faces.


One of the realities of Mexico is that there a very few facts one can believe, except maybe one’s own death. Juarez now is well past seven hundred dead on the year [2008], and the pace is not slackening. 146 murdered in July, and a torrent of death so far this August….


You are right about shifting cards, etc., in the drug world. The Federation thing is an invention of DEA. We have a need for our enemies to be like us and so we create charts on the border….

In the case of Mexico, the structure is affinity groups constantly joining on deals and then shifting into other arrangements. … Actually, the structure DEA imagines was never that solid, but since the death of [“Juarez Cartel” leader] Amado Carrillo Fuentes, it has been a lot looser, just as the destruction of the Cali and Medellin cartels in Colombia led to sowing dragon’s teeth as many smaller outfits were able then to emerge.

… At any given moment, things happen based on internal shifts that are not readily apparent. The House of Death I think is best seen as a window into a criminal culture where cops, lawyers and members of the Juarez Cartel come into view and then vanish, but at any given moment in the house it is not clear whose deal is going down and for what reason. … So I guess I’m saying here is what I learned from listening to DEA: The organization of life in the drug world is never as clean and tidy as DEA thinks, and the people in the drug world are never as dumb as DEA imagines. I think the largest failure of DEA is racism — they could not imagine any ignorant brown guy ever being as sharp as Amado Carrillo. And this weakness persists to this day. When I was hanging around EPIC [the El Paso Intelligence Center] and looking at their giant computer, I told [then-DEA supervisory agent] Phil Jordan, “You know, none of this can see a thirteen-year-old boy crossing a K-Mart parking lot with a gun.”


I think I must smell the roses or something before I go toxic on my government. I was charmed to hear Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton use the word insurgency today in discussing Mexico. This is like lighting a match in a powder room. I can hear the boys in the Pentagon planning their new playground for a war game.


Mexican history is corruption (see Paul J. Vanderwoods work, especially “Disorder and Progress”) and US history is intervention in Mexico. What matters now I think is we are at a boiling point in Mexico. NAFTA failed. Shipping surplus humans to the US has hit a wall. And drugs keep creating and owning more of the infrastructure of the economy and of the state. Last weekend, I watched La Ley de Herodes on YouTube. It’s there in thirteen parts with subtitles. It was a massive hit in Mexico in ’99, and I think captures the mindset that is still Mexico.


Bill, I am not sure. I have a hunch there is no machine at the moment but many competing machines. As for price, well, the drug flow to the US by all reports (see yet one more story in the LA Times this morning) has not been impeded, nor is production under control. In short, no real cartel function is apparent. But I agree it is a new day in Mexico. It was about three years ago that [Mexican photographer] Julian Cardona told me what had changed: There was no one to call and there always had been. And he did not mean the mayor. I think everyone should back off from explaining the violence and first look at a few missing facts. We don’t know who is dying. We don’t know how many are dying. And we will never know because it is clear that Mexican agencies putting out the numbers keep no records, zero. What we do know is that each day the federal government controls less of the country.


I am weary of people confusing the income flow of a drug organization with the idea that it is organized like a US corporation. It is a kind of set of affinity cells … and his point about the poor (meaning independents rushing in to make money) I think is in part behind the rise in US home invasions and the violence in Juarez (and also the forbidden subject: the massive increase in Mexican consumption of drugs). The independents lack the reputation and muscle to insure payment and so must make a show of force. Of course, home invasions will always be part of the business since you cannot go to court for recovery.


Thanks for the kind words about “Down by the River,” but we both know it describes a kind of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm Mexico, one that now looks safe and sound compared to the present…. The very idea that the Mexican Army was a clean element thrust into the drug war was foolish, but I think now in a bid to centralize power and establish his dominance [Mexican President] Felipe Calderon has functionally decentralized power. The army becomes a set of regional gangs, the cartels continue to splinter (a fact that began with Carrillo’s death in July 1997) and violence grows.

But I have a hunch there no longer is an army in the old sense. It was always run as a set of baronies, but now I think the barons are rising. And also the units under their command are doing more and more freelancing.


I think it is in “Siren’s of Titan” [a Kurt Vonnegut novel] that much of human history results from a broken spaceship sending messages home and using the Earth as blank paper — think Great Wall of China, for example. …Sometimes, late at night, I think I am trying to understand a charade. Ah, well, the sun is out. And the day promises to get warm.

Ciudad Juarez

The email-conversation excerpts in this section took place, for the most part, around 2007 and 2008, just as the killings in Juarez were ramping up, the Mexican military then sent in, and as the US mainstream media was suddenly discovering the city.

You have wonder about a cartel war that does not kill cartel people, or about a war between the army and the cartel in which neither cartel people or army people die. If you go over the dead this year in Juarez, they are almost all nobodies. Clearly this is a war for drugs. …


I understand the problem and I share it, and I think it is this: What we are seeing in Juarez does not fit our old models (for one example, the model of cartels in “Down by the River”). It is something new and what makes us blind to it and what makes us terrified of it is simply that no one is really in control. Think Baghdad where all sides flounder in explaining the killing, including Al Qaeda with its vision of restoring an older world.


In the case of Juarez, one has to be struck by what the press says is a cartel war and yet one that does not touch federal and state police, one that kills hundreds in a few months and yet leaves the army unscathed while city cops die and flee.


One of the fantasies of Juarez is that the killings come and go. I don’t think they do. Bodies in public come and go. The death houses … operate all the time. But I did go over the dead list up to about 180, and it was striking who most of these people were…. They were local folk, guys with corner and little stores. The government estimates sixty percent of this killing spree is narco related. I don’t know, but there are a helluva lot of head-shot executions and the like.

But somehow I think something has changed, that the feel of the city under an Amado Carrillo is gone and that a new kind of order, one without a center, is emerging — a place where government pretends to govern at the same time it erodes. And what is emerging is ignored since it fails to sustain early notions of power and structure.

The gangs, the corners, all that, well hell, that is in New Orleans right now, and many other places. But something is changing in Juarez and thinking about the cartels is almost a barrier to seeing this change. And I don’t see how or why this uptick in violence will end. It seems a condition of a drug market without a real center. You know a recent study estimated 20,000 retail outlets in Tijuana for drugs. Juarez I think has more.

I was looking at murders in poor barrios where all the people were Maquila workers, and there were guys selling coke all around. Heroin, according the Azteca [gang member] I had a long lunch with, is now twenty-five pesos a hit.

Here is what I decided in February: If you had an explanation for what I was seeing, then you were likely to blind yourself to events and facts that did not fit that explanation, because none of the explanations seemed to cover a lot of the territory. But the reality is of violence woven into the fabric of a city. It is a comfort to think someone is in control, however evil they might be. But I lack the confidence to believe that at the moment.

Look into the schoolteacher woman wacked the other day. She is easy to explain away given her family (a couple killed in the last year or two, in executions) but somehow that explanation does not solve the questions in my head. As I understand here, her husband was taken from the car and children survived with these new memories.

Well, I am tired. Keep the faith. The New York Times does not seem to, or the El Paso Times and on and on.


Just as it is essential for major media for drug lords, etc., to be controlling this violence, the notion that the violence can come from many groups and have no real on-and-off button is, well, not conceivable to them. But it is to me. And what no one seems to talk about is the domestic drug consumption in Mexico. It is now large and worth a lot, and it hardly concerns major players since whoever sells on the corner is buying their product anyway. And the Mexican Army has been terrorizing cops in Juarez — they were in court I think two weeks ago asking the judge to stop the army from torturing them. But in the end, I don’t think the violence in Juarez can be understood unless it is seen as two-pronged — a battle for market share, and at least on the army’s part, it is also a demo, a piece of theater for the US in order to get that billion and a half of Plan Mexico.

But I don’t think any of it is about ending the drug business nor is it a threat to the cartels. As for cartels fighting for turf, I’m sure that happens, but it is difficult to go down the lists of dead in Juarez since January one and see much indication of such a battle. After all, when the Arellano Felix brother [from the Tijuana Cartel] was released this winter and crossed the bridge, he did not seem to be worried about a cartel war.


Does anyone go to Juarez? I doubt we will ever know the reason for the murders. We will get statements
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“Dying to Know” is an intimate portrait celebrating two very complex, controversial characters in an epic friendship that shaped a generation. In the early 1960s Harvard psychology professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert began probing the edges of consciousness through their experiments with psychedelics. Leary became the LSD guru, challenging convention, questioning authority and as a result spawned a global counter culture movement landing in prison after Nixon called him “the most dangerous man in America”. Alpert journeyed to the East becoming Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher for an entire generation who continues in his 80’s teaching service through compassion. With interviews spanning 50 years the film invites us into the future encouraging us to ponder questions about life, drugs & the biggest mystery of all: death.

In 1995 after years of estrangement Leary found out that he was dying of cancer. The first person he called was Ram Dass. In the 60s they had collaborated on a book entitled, ‘The Psychedelic Experience‘ which was based on The Tibetan Book of The Dead and explored the similarities of the psychedelic experience and the dying process. Each holding a remarkably different point of view about death they share their thoughts/perspectives and rekindle the love they have always felt for one another.

In this provocative film the viewer is a fly on the wall, observing an intimate conversation between Leary and Ram Dass just a few months before Leary’s death. It is a genuine exploration and an emotional respectful goodbye between two life long companions. We include subsequent interviews with Leary as he shares his dying process with us. Ram Dass who suffered a stroke himself not long after Tim’s passing shares his own perspective on death and dying. This story is much larger than a simple conversation between two old friends. It embraces the arcs of their entire lives helping us understand how two Harvard professors became counter – culture icons. We will explore their upbringing, early life and their fateful meeting at Harvard where together they ran fully sanctioned experiments into the nature and use of psilocybin and LSD before being fired in 1963. We follow them from Harvard to Millbrook where their experimentation continued and
ultimately their friendship was tested and fractured. They both went their own way becoming legends in their own right. These chapters are highlighted using archival footage and stills. This tale of taboos: sex, drugs and death includes interviews in 2012 with Dr. Andrew Weil, Huston Smith, Roshi Joan Halifax, Ralph Metzner, Joanna Harcourt-Smith, Lama Tsultrim Allione, John Perry Barlow, Peggy Hitchcock and Zach Leary.

Robert Redford’s iconic voice as narrator gives a classic American feel and tone. Dillingham, the Producer/Director has contributed on & off 17 years of her life to this labor of love. She uncovers the wisdom these two men have as they continue to guide us on the next revolution – a right to access our own consciousnesses and our own death.
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see link for full story


Last unknown 1971 Media FBI burglar goes public

Posted: Wednesday, October 8, 2014, 8:58 PM

Meet Judi Feingold. She's 63, lives in Oregon and currently volunteers as a hospice worker after a lifetime of moving around -- much of it necessitated by what happened one memorable night in March 1971, right here in Delaware County. You've surely never heard of Feingold, and I never heard of her before yesterday, but she is an American hero nonetheless.

You may remember that back in January, most of the surviving members of a team of anti-war activists who burglarized a small FBI office in the Delco county seat of Media (in the building pictured at top) and stole a treasure trove of documents some 43 years ago decided to go public with their identities. The group featured a couple of prominent Philadelphia-area academics, including Temple University prof John Raines, his wife Bonnie, and leader William Davidon, a Haverford College physics professor who died last year.

As I noted when I blogged about the revelations earlier this year, this type of burglary could be called an extreme act of civil disobedience, the kind of thing that could only be morally justified in extreme times. But that was the time that Judi Feingold and her cohorts found herselves in -- America in the Vietnam era. The FBI -- and other government agencies -- were engaged in their own massive campaign of unlawful surveillance, break-ins, and efforts to disrupt peaceful and legitimate dissent against the war, racial discrimination, and other types of injustice. The documents that the Media FBI burglars stole and funneled to journalists revealed the existence of the agency's illegal spying program called COINTELPRO, even an FBI effort to convince Dr. Martin Luther King to commit suicide.

But journalist Betty Medsger, who revealed the story behind the break-in in her best-selling book The Burglary (it's also subject of a newish documentary called, simply, 1971), was unable to find or divulge the identity of the last of the eight burglars, a woman who at age 19 had been the youngest of the group and who disappeared into the radical underground immediately afterward.

Feingold, remarkably, only learned that the others had gone public in a Google search related to her first planned visit to Philadelphia in four decades earlier this year. She decided to tell her story to Medsger after seeing the largely positive response for the others.

The article in The Nation notes of her 1971 actions:

Remaining in Philadelphia seemed dangerous, so she left town and headed west, moved into the underground and lived under an assumed name, moving from place to place west of the Rockies for years, owning only a sleeping bag and what she could carry in her knapsack. As she was about to detach herself from her past geography and her personal connections, she called her parents and told them she had committed a nonviolent direct action “and was possibly being pursued by the federal government. I told them I could not be in touch by phone, and I would do my best to let them know how I was, but not where I was.”

Feingold had grown up in New York City but she came to Philadelphia to work with the Quakers' American Friends Service Committee to advise current or would-be soldiers and ways to avoid military service, as the war still raged. She met Davidon and was taken with the idea of the FBI break-in:

To avoid harsh consequences from the government, she imposed harsh consequences on herself—going underground, cutting herself off from everyone she knew. Looking back, she says she has no regrets. She sees the burglary as a success that was more than worth the risk, and she sees her life in hiding afterward as involving nothing she did not choose to do. In fact, she regards parts of her post-Media decade in the underground as quite wonderful despite the difficult aspects.

Still, it was a remarkably bold decision, knowing this lone act would change her life forever. She moved constantly, and kept her secret even from those close to her. She lived what she came to realize was "a horizontal life" -- not driven by any plan but moving from one thing to another. But, like the other members of her team, she takes great pride in the knowledge that what they did closed the book on one dark period in American history. "I had made the right decision for me," she told Medsger. "My heart was breaking then over the deaths in Southeast Asia.”

I think a story like Feingold's resonates in 2014 because it's so rare in America that someone would risk everything for a belief (so rare that one man who did, Edward Snowden, is up this week for a Nobel Peace Prize). Back then, the threats were more immediate -- you or your next-door neighbor might die in an unjust war. Today, society's problems -- bought-and-paid-for legislators who perpetuate income inequality, for example -- are just as toxic but also a little
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Thanks to the many of you who contacted me with suggestions about the Dissent NewsWire I appreciate your input. We continue to make improvements to the website, and are constantly adding new articles.

"Here's a look at a few of the articles posted this week:"

*Ferguson Protests Inspire Innovative Legal Support* [ http://www.defendingdissent.org/now/news/ferguson-protests-inspire-innovative-legal-support/]
The Black youth-led protests have led to 150 arrests. They have also inspired innovative legal support work by lawyers, activists, and local residents. As organizers prepare for a weekend of actions against police violence, they have the support of established groups such as the National Lawyers Guild, ArchCity Defenders, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, and the ACLU, but also two new activist-led groups.

*Cops Testify Against Occupy Activist* [ http://www.defendingdissent.org/now/news/cops-testify-against-occupy-activist/]
To avoid being convicted on charges that could send her back to the city's Rikers Island prison for a year, Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan will likely have to prove her innocence. She was arrested earlier this year for filming the police in the act of arresting a Latino couple, and for telling them they had the right to remain silent.

*Federal Judge Enjoins Cops' '5-Second Rule' in Ferguson* [ http://www.defendingdissent.org/now/news/federal-judge-enjoins-cops-5-second-rule-in-ferguson/]
Police in Ferguson, Missouri can't order protesters to keep moving, a federal judge rules, saying the (unpublished) rule violates rights to freedom of assembly and due process of law.

*Political Protest or Jury Tampering?* [ http://www.defendingdissent.org/now/political-protest-or-jury-tampering/]
Prosecutors ask for jury anonymity, accuse supporters of jury tampering in the politically charged case of Rasmea Odeh. Supporters say the charges against Odeh are politically motivated and have demonstrated outside the courthouse and organized call-in campaigns (DDF participate in these campaigns). Prosecutors have named one of the protest organizers, Hatem Abudayyeh of "almost certainly criminal" in their motion asking for an anonymous jury.

*U.N. Will Hear Testimony on Chicago Police Violence [ http://www.defendingdissent.org/now/news/u-n-will-hear-testimony-on-chicago-police-violence/]*
Young activists with the police accountability group We Charge Genocide will fly to Geneva to tell their stories to a U.N. commission that is reviewing U.S. compliance with anti-torture treaties.

*Twitter Sues DOJ on Transparency * [ http://www.defendingdissent.org/now/twitter-sues-doj-on-transparency/]
Says the company's First Amendment rights are being violated because they are not allowed to tell us how many surveillance orders they get from the FBI.

"*Take Action:*"* USA Freedom Act, It's Now or Never * [ http://www.defendingdissent.org/now/news/usa-freedom-its-now-or-never/]
Time is running out for Congress to pass legislation to protect us from mass surveillance. We've engaged in street demonstrations, mass internet actions and meetings with members of Congress to push them toward reform. Earlier this week, the Defending Dissent Foundation joined with a diverse array of organizations in calling on Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act and immediately "and then immediately turn your attention to more meaningful and comprehensive reform of the [NSA's] overreaching and unconstitutional surveillance practices." Now it's your turn: send an email to your Senators telling them to pass the bill now. [ http://www.defendingdissent.org/now/news/usa-freedom-its-now-or-never/]

There is much more news in the pipeline, and new blogs in development, so be sure to check back often! Thank you for your support,
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Meryl Mass MD lives in Maine.
She had her home burnt down
by FBI agents in Freeport Maine
after exposing the dangers of Anthrax Vaccine
Ebola Alert
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see link for full story
Decriminalizing all drugs on the ballot in California


The George Soros-sponsored Yes on 47 committee and four other supporting campaigns reported collecting nearly $9 million by early Friday. That compares with $445,000 brought in by opponents, largely money from state police officer unions.

Spending follows the same unequal pattern: $459,000 by opponents while the supporting campaigns report writing checks for $4 million.

Prop. 47 would cut penalties for 1 in 5 criminals in Californi
Sahat is just what is on the main books now. In addition, the Yes on 47 campaigns report $70,000 in salaries for field workers from more than a dozen community organizing groups, churches and foundations across Southern California. There is more than $1 million in "accrued" expenses yet to be paid, or paid on behalf of the Yes on 47 campaign by others.

Proposition 47 would make possession of most drugs, including heroin and cocaine, a misdemeanor. It also would reduce petty theft, forgery and bad check and shoplifting charges to misdemeanors if the value of the goods stolen is $950 or less.

State Department of Justice records show the measure could potentially affect one out of five felony convictions in California, though under state laws that went into effect in 2011, most of those offenders already d
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New Smartphone App Creates Community Response Service

People are beginning to look to technology as a possible solution. We previously reported on an app called Sidekik, which was designed to make it as easy as possible to record the police and upload that recording offsite, also putting you in immediate contact with legal representation to help you navigate the encounter ... in real-time.

Now a new app called Peacekeeper goes even a step further, encouraging connectivity with your neighbors, family and friends in order to establish a response network filled with people who already have earned your trust. Please read their press release and see their video below. Tell us what you think - is this a viable decentralized solution that can restore self-reliance and community strength? Please leave your comments.
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Brooklyn Prosecutor Could Be Nominated Attorney General In Coming Day
Loretta Lynch has handled or supervised a wide range of cases including New York police brutality against a Haitian immigrant, a $45 million cybertheft involving ATMs and the ongoing fraud prosecution of Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York.

Loretta Lynch has handled or supervised a wide range of cases including New York police brutality against a Haitian[b][/b] immigrant, a $45 million cybertheft involving ATMs and the ongoing fraud prosecution of Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York.
see link for full story


November 6, 2014 — 5:10 PM

Two sources familiar with the process tell NPR that Loretta Lynch, the top prosecutor in Brooklyn, could be nominated by President Obama as attorney general in the coming days.

Lynch is the lead federal prosecutor in a district that serves 8 million people. But outside of law enforcement circles, this daughter of a preacher is not widely known. Friends say that's because Lynch prefers to let her cases speak for themselves.

And let's start with this one: a violent sexual assault against Haitian immigrant Abner Louima back in 1997. Prosecutors called that case one of the worst acts of police brutality in New York City history, and a central figure in the attack, Justin Volpe, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Lynch, a graduate of Harvard Law School, worked her way up the ladder in Brooklyn, a huge office that handles everything from old-school Mafia busts to new forms of cybercrime.

Here's Lynch talking last year about a $45 million ATM robbery. "This was a 21st century bank heist. But instead of guns and masks this cybercrime organization used laptops and malware," she said.

More recently, Lynch made a splash for indicting a Republican congressman from Staten Island on fraud charges. That lawmaker, Rep. Michael Grimm, once worked as an undercover FBI agent — an irony Lynch pointed out at a news conference.

"Michael Grimm made the choice to go from upholding the law to breaking it," she said.

Grimm, who was re-elected Tuesday, has pleaded not guilty.

That's not the only politically sensitive case on her docket. Brooklyn prosecutors are also investigating money-laundering allegations against an ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, the Wall Street Journal reported.

If she's selected by President Obama to lead the Justice Department, Lynch would become the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general. She was born in Greensboro, N.C., in 1959, a year before black students there sat down at a whites-only lunch counter and helped catalyze protests around the country.

Students like Ezell Blair Jr., who remembered that era with NPR.

"But I was prepared that if I was going to die, then I'm going to die here taking my stand for what I believe to be right and true," Blair told NPR's Tell Me More.

In a speech two years ago, Lynch said her father opened his church to students as they planned their boycotts. He carried her, a toddler, to those meetings "riding on his shoulders."

One of Lynch's brothers is a minister, carrying on a sort of family tradition. Another, she told the audience in New York in 2012, is a Navy SEAL "like no other."
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see link for full story

​Internet hacktivists hold global ‘hackathon’ in honor of Aaron Swartz’s birthday

Published time: November 08, 2014 21:55
Online hacktivists are holding a “hackathon” spanning two days to honor the would-have-been birthday of dead computer programmer and hacktivist Aaron Swartz.

The hackathon will be a global phenomenon, spanning 11 cities including Berlin, Boston, New York, Buenos Aires and Oxford, according to its affiliated website. However, its main location will be in San Francisco where programmers, developers, artists, researchers, and activists gather together, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

This year’s hackathon theme is “setting the record straight,” it announced. The day will feature seven speakers sharing recent developments in many Aaron-related projects and issues. On Saturday, a film is being shown – “the Internet’s Own Boy” – documenting his life.

A hackathon is an event in which computer programmers come together for a shared purpose to engage in intensive collaboration on software projects.

The hackathon will start Saturday and Sunday at 11am in the Great Room of the Internet Archive. Anything created in the time span will be considered completely open source.

“We’re excited that SecureDrop is one of the many projects being hacked on over the weekend. SecureDrop is an open-source whistleblower submission system managed by Freedom of the Press Foundation that media organizations use to securely accept documents from anonymous sources. The project was originally coded by Aaron,” the EFF website announced.

Swartz was a 26 year-old information transparency activist, who took his own life nearly two years ago, having faced a standoff with the government.

When he was just 14, tech prodigy Swartz helped launch the first RSS feeds. By the time he turned 19, his company had merged with Reddit, which would become one of the most popular websites in the world.

But instead of living a happy life of a Silicon Valley genius, Swartz went on to champion a free internet, becoming a political activist calling for others to join.

Swartz drew the FBI’s attention in 2008, when he downloaded and released about 2.7 million federal court documents from a restricted service. The government did not press charges because the documents were, in fact, public.

He was arrested in 2011, for downloading academic articles from a subscription-based research website JSTOR – at his university – with the intention of making them available to the public. Although, none of what he downloaded was classified, prosecutors wanted to put him in jail for 35 years.
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Mumia Abu-Jamal sues Pennsylvania over gag law

see link for full story


American political prisoner Mumia Abu-JamalAmerican political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal
American political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mon Nov 10, 2014 5:0PM
American political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has filed a lawsuit on the grounds that a new Pennsylvania law is aimed at silencing prisoners.

The Pennsylvania legislature rushed a bill last month that gives unlimited powers to district attorneys and crime victims to silence prisoner speech by claiming that such statements cause victims’ families “mental anguish.”

The "Revictimization Relief Act" was passed after Abu-Jamal delivered a pre-recorded speech to students at Vermont’s Goddard College, his alma mater, which calls him as "an award winning journalist who chronicles the human condition."

On Monday, 60-year-old Abu-Jamal and prisoner-rights groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the law, asking a judge to declare it unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed the measure into law on October 16 saying it's designed to curb the "obscene celebrity" cultivated by convicts like Abu-Jamal, who has drawn international support for claims he's the victim of a racist justice system.

Civil rights experts will challenge the law in court. “If the First Amendment means anything, it’s that government officials can’t silence people they don’t like,” Vic Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, told the Christian Science Monitor.

He added that the law would even apply to people who have served their sentence and been freed from prison.

“We think this law is pretty clearly unconstitutional and is just a result of election-year pandering,” Walczak noted.

Abu-Jamal was arrested and charged with murdering white police officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia in December 1981. One year later, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. But he was resentenced to life in prison in 2012.

Abu-Jamal, who was formerly a radio announcer and the president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, maintains that he is innocent and has submitted numerous appeal requests based on allegations of judicial bias, police brutality, and an inadequate defense during his arrest and trial 32 years ago.

After his controversial trial drew international attention, late South African leader Nelson Mandela, Amnesty International, the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, several members of Congress, and a number of celebrities expressed support for Abu-Jamal.

The African-American activist, who graduated from Goddard in 1996, said that his studies at the college provided him an opportunity to learn about important figures in far-off places.

Before his arrest, Abu-Jamal was known for his outspoken political views and commentary on racial injustice and police brutality.

Abu-Jamal joined the Black Panther Party at the age of 15 in May 1969 and helped form the Philadelphia branch of the party. He was a member of the Black Panther Party until October 1970 and was subject to FBI COINTELPRO surveillance from 1969 until about 1974.

The civil rights activist has written several books during his years in prison and continues to protest against his conviction on prisonradio.org
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FBI recruitment panel disrupted by FSU students
By Zachary Schultz | November 15, 2014

Participants in protest against FBI repression (Fight Back! News/Staff)
Tallahassee, FL - On Nov. 12, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) disrupted a FBI recruitment panel at Florida State University. Students distributed informational flyers outside of the event detailing the role of the FBI in repression against activists and violations of civil rights.

Shortly into the FBI talk, a determined group of FSU students disrupted the speaker by announcing their opposition to the FBI presence on campus. The students educated those present about the FBI use of intimidation, spying and raids to repress activism. Their signs read, “End illegal spying” and “No FBI on campus.”

The students continued their protest, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the FBI has got to go!” They got up and spoke in detail of the 2010 FBI raids on the homes and offices of anti-war and international solidarity activists in the Midwest. They also educated other students about the FBI spying and repression of the African American civil rights movement. Then the student activists chanted, “Justice for Rasmea!” in solidarity with the 67-year-old Palestinian activist who was jailed in Detroit earlier this week. After 15 minutes of continuous disruption, campus police officers removed the students from the event.

Regina Joseph, a leader in FSU Dream Defenders explains, “The FBI is a tool used to attack anyone who wants to raise political dissent. Its aim is not national security but upholding white supremacy.”

When questioned about the disruptive tactics used by the protestors, Maressa Simmons, an SDS member and leader in the F-Word, a feminist group on campus, answered, “There is no gray area as far as the FBI is concerned, you either are a murderer and support genocide and white supremacy, or you fight for the end of oppression.”

Asked about what she hoped the protest accomplished, SDS member Abby Cazel said, “I can only hope that these students will look more thoroughly into the literature that we gave out and begin to seek truth.” She added, “While I consider it a success to agitate the easily agitated, I consider it even more of a success to ignite questions in the minds of the curious. This is what I hope we achieved by shutting down this meeting.”

The disruption was recorded by a participant and is available at

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If you're on this page to get all the latest about Andrew Vachss,
you should know there are ways to receive that information directly.
Click here for more information.

Protect: America's first political lobby for child protectionIf, like us, you want to see lobbyists stalking the halls of Congress, pressuring politicians to practice crime prevention through child protection, then you'll want to be a part of the National Association to Protect Children. PROTECT, America's first political lobby for child protection, was founded in 2002. The organization has members in 50 states and nine nations, and can boast of achieving significant changes in the "child protective" laws in North Carolina, Arkansas, Illinois, Virginia, Tennessee, California, and New York. But there's a lot more work to be done. If, like us, you believe that blogging isn't behavior, and only behavior is the truth, and you live for the day when children have as strong a lobby as whales, or guns, or the oil industry, how about giving up dinner–and–a–movie once a year and joining us in the only "Holy War" truly worthy of the name?!?


The latest Vachss graphic novel -- Underground -- has just been released. It features an essay by PROTECT advisor and HERO Corps counselor, Zak Mucha, in which he eloquently explains the connection between the Underground stories and transcending child abuse.
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New Video: Charlie and Pauline Sullivan of C.U.R.E.
October 18, 2011 by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella 1 Comment
CURE–Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants–is an international organization that was founded in Texas in 1972, and became a national organization in 1985. Now nearly 40 years old, CURE has remained loyal to its original ideals, even as the politics of punishment brought about a shift in ideology and resources away from rehabilitation and toward retribution.
Working out of a small office in the belfry of St. Aloysius, a few blocks from the Capitol, Charlie and Pauline Sullivan, the husband-and-wife team who are the co-founders and co-directors of International CURE, run an inclusive group devoted to prison reform and prisoner support. It has chapters all over the country and worldwide: In 2001, the first International Conference took place; last February, the fifth such global conference was held in Nigeria.
CURE’s goals are described in its mission statement:
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Alice Rothchild in Blue Hill

Robert Shetterly to Unveil Portrait of Author-Activist

Alice Rothchild, physician, author, activist, and filmmaker, will be in Maine for the unveiling of her portrait by Rob Shetterly at 7pm, Sunday evening, December 7th, at the Blue Hill Library in Blue Hill. Dr. Rothchild will become the latest of over 200 prominent citizens whom Maine’s celebrated artist has selected for his gallery collection of “Americans Who Tell the Truth”.

Following Mr. Shetterly’s introduction, Rothchild will speak of her life’s journey and how it has shaped her perspectives on the Israel/Palestine conflict. As she writes in her book, On the Brink, a compilation of first-person experiences in Gaza and the West Bank, Rothchild was, “born in Boston and grew up in a Jewish family with a deep love of Israel and a profound understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust.” Through her student years in the 60’s and 70’s she developed an interest in progressive politics, beginning with the campus opposition to the Vietnam War and continuing with a commitment to the feminist and health reform movements while in medical school and through her residency in obstetrics.

Since 1997, a focus on understanding Israel and its relationship to U.S. foreign policy has led to her leading delegations to Israel and Palestine. She co-founded and co-chairs American Jews for a Just Peace Boston and co-organizes the AJJP Health and Human Rights Project and is on the coordinating committee of Jewish Voice for Peace Boston.

Dr. Rothchild also has written Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience and directed and produced the documentary film, Voices Across the Divide, an exploration of the Israeli/Palestinian dynamic and personal histories of those who live it.

A Q and A session will follow Dr. Rothchild’s presentation.
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New high school course: ‘How to deal with cops’
By Kate Briquelet
November 23, 2014 | 2:14am


New high school course: ‘How to deal with cops’
East Side Community High School is teaching its

It’s Cops 101.
The principal of East Side Community HS invited the New York Civil Liberties Union to give a two-day training session last week on interacting with police.
The 450 kids were coached on staying calm during NYPD encounters and given a “What To Do If You’re Stopped By The Police” pamphlet.
NYCLU representatives told kids to be polite and to keep their hands out of their pockets. But they also told students they don’t have to show ID or consent to searches, that it’s best to remain silent, and how to file a complaint against an officer.
Principal Mark Federman said he brought in the NYCLU because students told teachers they had bad experiences with being stopped by police. He said the training also was relevant to history classes studying the Ferguson, Mo., shooting.
“We’re not going to candy-coat things — we have a problem in our city that’s affecting young men of color and all of our students,” Federman told The Post.
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St. Louis police officers angered by Rams' 'hands up, don't shoot' pose
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The Myth of Accountability and the Death of Michael Brown

Submitted by robert shetterly on 29 November 2014 - 6:32pm
"The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free."

-- Henry David Thoreau

I remember the hilarity of popping birthday balloons when I was a kid -- that tiny, anxious hiatus between pressing some sharp object against the balloon’s skin and the sudden, irreversible explosion. Then racing around and retrieving the balloon scraps, stretching them out tightly in front of our eyes, and seeing the world and each other as pink, blue, yellow, green. It was all so funny and compelling. Each tinted lens offered a new explanation of the world. Another way to see.

The explosion in Ferguson has left us a lot of scraps of American culture through which to view what happened and what it means. It’s hard to see all the pieces at once, to make them fit into one narrative. One lens sees racism -- individual, historical, structural. Another sees police brutality and the militarization of the police. Another focuses on our gun culture and how for a large segment of this country to condemn any gun violence, no matter how outrageous, is to somehow restrict our freedoms. Another turns the killing inside out and treats Darren Wilson as the victim. Another sees power disparities, class disparities and economic disparities. Another sees media delight in all the titillating violence breeding more violence that stimulates product sales. Another promotes fear -- a different fear depending what race you are, but fear of the other, nevertheless. And another simply sees the grief of Michael Brown’s parents.

Race, power, violence, profit, fear, grief. What a flammable brew to fuel America’s fearsome engine! And if it keeps the motor humming, why substitute alternative energies?

However, the lens I want to look through is Accountability. President Obama has counselled us to let the legal system work. We are a nation of laws, he says. The intended implication is that whether you are (were) Michael Brown, or Darren Wilson, the President, the CEO of CitiGroup, the head of the NSA, the CIA, or Exxon-Mobil, or in any position that either has or protects wealth and power, the law is the same for you as it is for everyone else. Sadly, no more disingenuous remark could be made about this country. Could we find an adult in this country who believes we are a nation of equal laws? And yet, that notion of equal laws is one of the pillars that supports any pipe dream of democracy. Even while they work tirelessly to undermine it, people in power have to keep pretending equal accountability exists. Otherwise, they couldn’t pretend democracy exists.

We will probably never know what really happened between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown. Neither of the two would tell the same story, and, with one dead, it’s certainly not in the other’s interest to tell anything except what excuses his action. It’s the oldest technique in the world to demonize the victim to justify the violence that destroys him. It’s the oldest because it plays on fear and prejudice and creates just enough doubt that maybe the victim had it coming. However, I also remember as a kid, when I wasn’t popping balloons, watching the cowboy movies where the good cowboy defeated the bad guy by shooting the gun out of his hand, or shooting him in the shoulder, the leg, the foot. There was no need to kill him. The good cowboy was an expert at protecting people, even his opponent. When did the role of cop change from protector to killer?

But more importantly, if I were Darren Wilson and thinking about a nation of laws, I would be asking by what right should anyone hold me accountable? If a president can lie his country into war and be honored for it, if top CIA officers can lie about torture and be given raises, if Wall Street tycoons can defraud the nation, nearly destroy the economy, erase the savings of millions of people and be handed million dollar bonuses, if top executives at Exxon can lie about Global Warming, if it’s legal for political candidates to lie to voters in television ads, if the head of the NSA can lie to Congress, why should I, Darren Wilson, suffer for shooting a Black teenager? That would be hypocritical, wouldn’t it? Think of the massive violence inherent in those other lies! And, I, Darren, just did what lots of cops have done & paid no price.

When a country embraces a culture of unequal laws, to prosecute any person in a position of power is hypocritical. When people have fewer & fewer rights, rights belongto power. And power’s most exalted right is hypocrisy with impunity. So, whether Darren Wilson is guilty or not, his association with power will protect him. Justice is not an abstract, ideal concept, it’s what’s defined by those who own it.

And, of course, Darren Wilson can say he has a clean conscience! If Dick Cheney can say that, why can’t he?

Marian Wright Edelman, one of this country’s tireless advocates for poor, marginalized and neglected children, asks rhetorically, "What’s wrong with our children? Adults telling children to be honest while lying and cheating. Adults telling children to not be violent while marketing and glorifying violence… I believe that adult hypocrisy is the biggest problem children face in America." It’s not only the biggest problem children face in America, it’s the biggest problem America faces. Hidden behind that mask of righteous hypocrisy is a refusal to see who we are, what we have become, and where we are going.

A balloon has popped in Ferguson. Until they are cleaned up and hidden away, the scraps are everywhere. Each one provides a lens to help understand what happened there and why. Pick one up, stretch it tight, take a look.

When power chooses to hold no one accountable, it’s up to the people. As Thoreau said, only we can make the law free.
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couple of years ago I traveled to San Fransisco
with the artist Robert Shetterly to conduct interviews with people he has painted for his Americans Who Tell the Truth series

Ms Simon was one of the people interviewed


also see


Lateefah Simon: Youth advocate nominated as Visionary of the Year

Monday, January 5, 2015

Juvenile Hall on Friday Jan. 02, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. Simon is being recognized as a visionary of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Fierce debates over race, class, police and inequality may be raging across the U.S., but for Lateefah Simon, the discussion is all rather simple.
“Everyone’s talking about social justice. What is it? What does it look like? Well, it looks like less crime, less poverty, good schools, jobs we love. ... It looks like peace,” the civil rights advocate said last week at her office in San Francisco. “I think everyone wants the same things. It’s really pretty basic.”
Simon, 37, has been championing those principles since she was a teenager in San Francisco’s Western Addition housing projects. She’s fought for job training and child care for young women caught up in the criminal justice system, education and housing for parolees, and second chances for those least likely to get them.

And, colleagues say, she’s done it all with a smile that could melt even the harshest probation officer.
“People sometimes associate social justice with angry protests, but she does it with warmth, with depth, with love,” said Olis Simmons, director of Youth Uprising community center in East Oakland. “She’s consistently down-to-earth and humble. She’s truly a peaceful warrior.”
Simon’s work, which has led her to the top of numerous Bay Area civil rights organizations, has earned her a slew of accolades, including a MacArthur Foundation grant when she was just 26, a Levi Strauss Pioneer Award and a spot on O magazine’s first Power List.
But for her, the awards and fancy job titles are secondary to the rewards she reaps by helping the Bay Area’s young men and women who are trapped in a seemingly endless labyrinth of unemployment, jail, drug use and despair, she said.
Simon knows a bit about that cycle herself. A high-school dropout, she was working full time at Taco Bell as a teenager, had a baby at age 19 and was on probation for shoplifting before things started to turn around.
“I was the worst student at George Washington High. I was every teacher’s nightmare,” she said with a laugh at her office on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, with views of Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge and passing ferries. “I really had no idea what I was doing.”
What is Visionary of the Year?
New Chronicle award will honor top Bay Area visionary
James Kass: Visionary of the Year nominee takes poetry to schools
While on probation, she was referred to a nonprofit called the Center for Young Women’s Development, which provided jobs, training, classes, books and other services to girls and young women on the streets and in the criminal justice system.
Troubled young women
There, Simon met girls who were involved in sex trafficking, drug sales and myriad other problems, and, as part of the program, learned how to help them. As a teen not far from the streets herself, she would walk around the Western Addition and Tenderloin and hand out condoms, needles, bleach, candy bars, sandwiches and information about getting help.
“I saw a resilience in these young women,” she said. “These were people who had absolutely nothing, but were somehow able to make it through the day. And the next day. And the next. We developed real friendships and wonderful camaraderie.”
Simon became so involved and motivated by the plight of San Francisco’s struggling young women that she started going to Board of Supervisors meetings every Tuesday to ask what the city was doing to help young women on the fringes. Her passion and intelligence caught the attention of city leaders, including then-Supervisor Tom Ammiano and Kamala Harris, who at the time was a young attorney for the city.
The center’s board was so impressed by Simon’s efforts they named her executive director when Simon was just 19 years old. She was suddenly in charge of a staff of 10 and a $750,000 annual budget.
Harris helped guide her through those years, Simon said.
“She just changed my life. She was tough as nails. She said to me, 'You need to be excellent. ... So first off, you need to go to college,’ “ Simon recalled.
Getting education
Simon enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, taking classes nights and weekends while working full time at the center and raising her daughter. She eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public policy.
Meanwhile, Harris — who by then had become San Francisco’s district attorney — asked Simon to help start a program to help nonviolent, first-time, low-level drug offenders get jobs, enroll in school, attend parenting classes and otherwise improve their lives before they became embroiled in the revolving door of the criminal justice system.
“Our goal was to get people off the street. How do you do that? Turned out it was easy — you just ask them what they need,” Simon said. “Housing? A bank account? A job? Therapy? A gym membership, so you can take better care of yourself? We could help them get those things.”
Simon and her colleagues would go to court hearings and try to intercept young men and women as they met with a judge. In the one-year program, offered as an alternative to jail, offenders would take mandatory parenting classes, regular drug tests, job training workshops and other steps designed to help them “transition to a crime-free life,” Harris wrote in the Huffington Post.
If they completed the program, their felony charges would be dropped.
The program, called Back on Track, was immediately successful. Those who graduated from Back on Track had only a 10 percent recidivism rate, compared with 70 percent for those not enrolled in the program. It was also a bargain for taxpayers: The public pays about $5,000 for each participant, compared with the $50,000 or so it costs to keep a person incarcerated for a year.
The program has since been adopted in cities across the U.S., and was hailed as a model by outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Harris credited the program’s success to Simon’s energy and imagination.
“Lateefah Simon has devoted her life’s work to helping the poor, the disadvantaged, and those trapped in the cycle of our criminal justice system,” Harris said in an e-mail. “While working with me during my tenure as district attorney of San Francisco, she led my office’s work to create 'Back on Track,’ nationally recognized program that helped divert low-level offenders away from lives of crime and toward productive futures. She is a tremendous asset to the state of California and a champion for justice, equality and dignity.”
Civil rights causes
After several years with the city, Simon left to head the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the group formed at the request of President John F. Kennedy to push forward civil rights issues through the legal system. Simon was among the youngest heads of the group, and one of the only non-attorneys.
There, she worked on “ban the box” legislation to remove employment barriers for ex-prisoners, and helped formed a legal clinic to help ex-convicts find housing and jobs.
Since 2011, Simon has served as director of the Rosenberg Foundation’s California Future Initiative, which, among other things, gives grants to organizations helping formerly incarcerated women and children who’ve been exposed to violence and trauma.
But she still finds time to visit young women in jail, to help them find the services they need and serve as a personal role model when she can.
“I want people to know that a better life is possible,” she said. “This city is my soil. I know these people. I love these people. I want them to know that no matter who you are or what you’ve done, you are due a process of transformation. You deserve another chance.”
Simon’s personal life has seen some transformations, as well. Her older daughter is now in college, and Simon has a 3-year-old daughter. She has also moved from San Francisco to North Oakland, where she hopes to be involved with the incoming Libby Schaaf mayoral administration and other East Bay undertakings.
But the biggest change was the death in June of her husband, Kevin Weston, 45, a journalist who headed New American Media, Yo! Youth Outlook and other news outlets focusing on young people, people of color and others sometimes overlooked by the mainstream media.
Weston, who was also a Knight Fellow at Stanford, died of leukemia at their home after the couple launched a nationwide campaign to increase the number of African American bone marrow donors.
“Do I get sad? Yes. We all get sad,” Simon said. “I have friends still dying of AIDS. My dad lives in the Tenderloin. Trust me, it’s not all peachy. ... But what can I do? I keep going. There’s a lot to do, still.”
Colleagues say that Simon’s biggest contribution has been as a role model. Her warmth, optimism and resolve lift up everyone around her, from teenage girls selling drugs in the projects to the leaders in Sacramento, said Zachary Norris, director of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland.
“She’s helped make policies at the very top, and been a role model for those at the very bottom,” he said. “And for me, personally, she’s been an amazing mentor. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel she was a friend.”
Daniel Lee, executive director of the Levi Strauss Foundation, called Simon “one of the truly prophetic people in the Bay Area.”
“You look at what’s happening now in the youth justice system — she was doing that in her teens,” he said. “She’s accomplished so much, it’s like she’s lived six lifetimes. ... She’s so respected and loved and admired, she’s like a grandmother, and she’s not even 40.”
Wide-ranging impact
Simon’s approach has impacted almost every civil rights and social justice group in the region, colleagues said. Not only has she helped change policies, but she’s been personally involved with leaders as well as clients.
“She’s been a pioneer in flipping the youth justice system on its head,” Norris said. “She tells people, 'The people with fancy titles and degrees are not the experts on what your needs are. You are the expert on what you need.’ That approach has really changed everything, for the better.”
For all her accolades, Simon remains approachable and unpretentious. During an interview, she’s as interested in listening and having a conversation as she is in answering questions. Her stories are filled with smiles and laughter, and her enthusiasm never flags.
“My goal is to create a Bay Area that’s good to its people,” she said. “I figure I have 70 more years to pound the pavement and get that done. I know we can do it.”
Carolyn Jones is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: carolynjones@sfchronicle.com

Visionary of the Year award
This is one of 13 profiles of nominees for The Chronicle’s inaugural Visionary of the Year award, which is presented in collaboration with St. Mary’s College’s School of Economics and Business Administration. The honor salutes leaders who strive to make the world a better place and drive social and economic change by employing new, innovative business models and practices. Twelve of the finalists were selected by Laurene Powell Jobs, founder and chair of Emerson Collective and widow of Steve Jobs; Daniel Lurie, founder of the poverty-fighting organization Tipping Point; Ronnie Lott, the 49ers Hall of Fame cornerback; Anne Wilson, the chief executive officer of United Way Bay Area; and Zhan Li, the dean of the business school at St. Mary’s. The Chronicle will ask readers to nominate a 13th finalist.
Chronicle Publisher Jeff Johnson, President Kristine Shine, Managing Editor Audrey Cooper and Editorial Page Editor John Diaz will select the winner, who will receive a $10,000 grant. Additionally, a $10,000 scholarship will be established in his or her honor at St. Mary’s College for a graduate business student. The award will be presented during a ceremony in March.
To read more, go to http://www.sfgate.com/visionaryoftheyear.
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Hacker's List began its website several months after federal prosecutors and FBI agents in Los Angeles completed a two-year crackdown on the hacker-for-hire ...
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Protesters invoke MLK in early-morning rally at Oakland mayor's home
Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Bay Area
Protests in the San Francisco Bay Area on Monday invoked Martin Luther King Jr. on the holiday honoring his memory. (Karen Bleier
Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Day
Protesters gathered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day outside the home of Oakland's new mayor, asking her to put an end to police violence in the city.

The demonstrators sang “happy birthday” to the late civil rights leader as they stood outside Mayor Libby Schaaf’s house at about 5 a.m. as part of the #BlackLivesMatter and #ReclaimMLK campaigns.

“Dr. King made the connections between oppression in America and the imperialist wars carried out abroad. We follow in his footsteps,” activist Sarah O’Neal tweeted.

The group erected a lighted “Dream” sign, drew a chalk outline of a body in a neighborhood street and projected on the mayor's garage door an image of King, with the quote, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
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General Information
For 25 years, the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons (JPP) has been a prisoner written, academically oriented and peer reviewed, non-profit journal, based on the tradition of the penal press. It brings the knowledge produced by prison writers together with academic arguments to enlighten public discourse about the current state of carceral institutions. This is particularly important because with few exceptions, definitions of deviance and constructions of those participating in these defined acts are incompletely created by social scientists, media representatives, politicians and those in the legal community. These analyses most often promote self-serving interests, omit the voices of those most affected, and facilitate repressive and reactionary penal policies and practices. As a result, the JPP attempts to acknowledge the accounts, experiences, and criticisms of the criminalized by providing an educational forum that allows women and men to participate in the development of research that concerns them directly. In an age where `crime` has become lucrative and exploitable, the JPP exists as an important alternate source of information that competes with popularly held stereotypes and misconceptions about those who are currently, or those who have in the past, faced the deprivation of liberty
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