Southern LGBT Activists’ Call: Marry the Movement

Southern LGBT Activists' Call: Marry the Movement

The day after the Supreme Court cleared the way for marriage equality, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an Atlanta-based LGBTQ organization, made this love letter to members of their community and allies. 

Also: Read more about how SONG and the Applied Research Center are working in partnership on the Better Together Southern Leadership Cohort.

Rza Talks Wu-Tang Reunion Album and Ol’ Dirty Bastard Hologram

Rza Talks Wu-Tang Reunion Album and Ol' Dirty Bastard Hologram

Watch this wide-ranging interview in which Rza talks about everything from the type of student he was in the classroom to his thoughts on the recent hologram of Ol’ Dirty Bastard that took the stage at Rock the Bells.

(H/T Okayplayer)


Texas Kills Kimberley McCarthy, Its 500th Execution Since ‘82

Texas Kills Kimberley McCarthy, Its 500th Execution Since '82

Texas carried out its 500th execution since capital punishment was re-instated back in 1982. The condemned woman was Kimberly McCarthy, a 52-year old black woman who was the country’s first female inmate to die by lethal injection in nearly three years. McCarthy was sentenced to Texas’ death row after being convicted of the robbery and murder of a college professor in 1997.

Her death marks a grim milestone in a state that kills more people than any other in the country. Texas has carried out more than 40 percent of the roughly 1,300 executions that have taken place in the United States since the Supreme Court re-instated capital punishment in 1976. A 2011 study found that 92 percent of men sentenced to die in Texas were black.

As Texas got ready to kill its 500th person, Associated Press reporter Michael Graczyk reflected at the Huffington Post on what it’s like to witness so much state sanctioned death. Graczyk writes that he’s seen roughly one execution each week in Texas since he arrived at the AP in 1984. He goes on to describe in heartbreaking detail the scenes he’s witnessed. Read an excerpt after the jump. Trigger warning: these scenes are graphic.


Get a Glimpse of Walter Mosley’s Los Angeles

Get a Glimpse of Walter Mosley's Los Angeles

I’m always intrigued by how writers navigate their hometowns — in writing and in real life. Few authors have as visceral a connection with the places that raised them as Walter Mosley, who’s writing almost always centers on South Central Los Angeles.  NPR’s Code Switch recently caught up with Mosley in the lead up to his new book, “Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery.”

“One of the reasons that I left Los Angeles is because I was oppressed by the feeling that how I lived — who I lived with, where — was going to define my entire life,” Mosley says.


“My understanding of LA has always been like this: Even if you don’t move out of your house, everybody around you will have moved within three years. And in essence, you have moved, because you’re not in the same neighborhood, because you’re not around the same people.”


Paula Deen Hires Real-Life Olivia Pope, but the Supreme Court is the Fixer

Paula Deen Hires Real-Life Olivia Pope, but the Supreme Court is the Fixer

Paula Deen got some help from two unexpected sources this week.

After admitting to using the n-word in a legal deposition for a case in which she’s accused of discriminatory hiring practices, Deen has been at the center of a public firestorm. She was booted from her well known cooking show on the Food Network and lost a host of endorsements from companies that no longer want to be associated with her.

Olivia Pope to the rescue.

Well, actually it’s Judy Smith, the real-life inspiration for Kerry Washington’s character on Shonda Grimes’s hit ABC series “Scandal.” Shadow and Act is reporting that Deen hired Smith & Co. to help clean up her public relations mess. 

While Smith certainly has her work cut out for her, the ultimate fixer this week turned out to be the Supreme Court, which just made it easier to get away with workplace discrimination.

First, it’s important to point out that Deen’s individual bias has dwarfed any real discussion of the institutional racism that’s really at work. Yes, Paula Deen has used the n-word. But what’s arguably more important is the fact that she’s at the center of a lawsuit over workplace discrimination. Even though race and sex are federally protected categories, racial bias at work still happens all too often. There were more than 150 lawsuits filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2012, the vast majority of which — 122 — centered on allegations of workplace discrimination based on race. 

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court made it a lot harder to prove that discrimination takes place. In one ruling, the court narrowed the definition of what constitutes a supervisor in racial and sexual harassment cases. And in another, the justices decided to adopt a tougher standard for workers to prove that they had faced retaliation for speaking up about discrimination. In one of her now infamous dissents, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the majority decision is “blind to the realities of the workplace.”

Black Louisiana Senator ‘Excited’ That Voting Rights Act Was Gutted

Black Louisiana Senator 'Excited' That Voting Rights Act Was Gutted

State Sen. Elbert Lee Guillory, an African American legislator for Louisiana, was elated yesterday that the Supreme Court neutralized the Section Five provision of the Voting Rights Act. In a message sent last evening from his Facebook account, Sen. Guillory said he was “excited to read about the Supreme Court’s decision today striking down provisions of the Voting Rights Act.”


Guillory changed parties from Democratic to Republican in recent months. Now he’s joined a league of a new black conservative world order that includes Herman Cain, E. W. Jackson, and Rev. C. L. Bryant. Among Guillory’s other Tweets yesterday were messages attacking President Barack Obama and calling global warming a “hoax,” despite his own state dealing with some of the worst impacts of climate change of the past decade. 

In the video below, where Guillory explains why he became a Republican, he falsely identifies the party as the one that fought for voting rights for African Americans when it was Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Voting Rights Act bill that began a solid-anti civil rights legacy for Republicans that was cemented just a few years later with Republican’s Southern Strategy. He ends the video by claiming that Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican even though this has been widely disproven

A recent interview Guillory did with Herman Cain, who the Louisiana legislator called his “hero” :

What the DOMA Ruling Means for LGBT Families of Color

What the DOMA Ruling Means for LGBT Families of Color

The Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act decision Wednesday is a major victory for the economic justice of LGBT Americans of color. That’s because LGBT couples of color have higher rates of poverty and are more likely to have children in their household than white LGBT couples. Consequently, LGBT couples need the financial shot in the arm that the legal recognition of marriage can give. Today’s ruling will help to ensure that some of America’s neediest couples receive it.

Marriage—through over 1,000 legal benefits—provides couples recognized by the law key economic benefits. The New York Times calculates that these can total close to $500,000 over the course of a couple’s lifetime. These include more than $200,000 in health benefits and almost $100,000 in social security benefits. LGBT couples need these economic advantages more than almost anyone else.

Why? Well for one, as demographer Gary Gates told the New York Times, “Black and Latino gay couples are twice as likely as whites to be raising children.” But they are dramatically more likely to be doing so in economic hardship. 

According to the last census, “African American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate of any children in any household type.” LGBT Latino households with children are also poorer than LGBT white households. Shockingly, the poorest LBGT households of color are those with children under the age of five.

Therefore, with people of color more likely to identify as gay, be in couples and have children than whites, today’s ruling is a badly needed boost for this group of Americans largely overlooked by the mainstream.

As I have written before, “extreme bigotry has dire economic consequences.” Today’s DOMA decision is an important step towards alleviating those disparities. But it’s probably not enough.

After celebrating this historic legal victory, it might be just as important to tackle the root causes of poverty amongst LGBT people of color—namely job and education discrimination—which makes the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier so important in the first place.

Aaron Hernandez Has His Day in Court, But We’ve Already Ruled Him Guilty

Aaron Hernandez Has His Day in Court, But We've Already Ruled Him Guilty

Embattled pro football player Aaron Hernandez has been charged with murder. The former tight end for the New England Patriots was arrested at his home this morning, shortly before his team announced that it was severing its ties with the star player. for more than a week he’s been implicated in a police investigation into the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd. The victim was found dead in an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez’s home on June 17.

No one really knows what happened. But the media’s filled with lots of speculation, most of it centered on reports that Hernandez failed multiple drug tests while playing collegiate football at the University of Florida and that NFL coaches were worried that his hometown friends from Bristol, Conn. were bad influences. Plenty of media reports have surfaced saying, in effect, that we should’ve seen this coming. And some of the worst analysis has said that a troubled, tattooed, Latino athlete represents a departure from the Patriots’ all-American way.

It’s the same sort of reductive analysis that we see time and again when people of color are involved in criminal cases. Instead of letting a case run its course, the media’s first instinct is to try to pathologize the person who’s involved. In a smart piece at’s crime blog this week, Justin Peter’s writes about why this sort of reasoning is so problematic:

These stories are Monday morning quarterbacking of the worst sort. Hernandez’s alleged pre-draft character issues have no bearing on this current murder investigation. You can’t legitimately look back at them and say, “Yep, we should have known.” Every single NFL roster is stacked with players who’ve used drugs in the past, or have short tempers or “shadowy friends.” And you know what? Every single neighborhood in America is filled with people with these exact same characteristics. That doesn’t make all of these people murderers-in-waiting.

It is dishonest and irrelevant to claim that these are “ominous” signs. Or, at least, they’re no more ominous than the character flaws exhibited by other Patriots players: like Rob Gronkowski, who appears to really, really, really enjoy drinking to excess; Tom Brady, who started dating Gisele Bundchen while Bridget Moynahan was pregnant with his child; Vince Wilfork, who allegedly received $50,000 in under-the-table benefits from disgraced booster Nevin Shapiro while enrolled at the University of Miami; Mark Harrison, who allegedly trashed a hotel room while attending the NFL Scouting Combine (“The mess included urine and feces left throughout the bathroom, toothpaste on the mirror and garbage left throughout the room”); Brandon Spikes, who attempted to gouge an opponent’s eyes while playing at Florida, and whose brother is serving a life sentence for murder; and Sebastian Vollmer, who is from Germany. The list goes on.

(H/T Deadspin)


The Sights and Sounds of Love: Celebrating Gay Marriage

The Sights and Sounds of Love: Celebrating Gay Marriage

The Defense of Marriage Act is done. The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday to overturn the federal ban on same sex marriage and effectively clear the way for gay marriage in California, marking an important milestone in the fight for marriage equality. We’ve spent lots of time looking at the intersection of racial justice and marriage equality, and while the fight for LGBT equity is far from over (cue Imara Jones’s great piece on the need for job safety), today’s ruling is cause for celebration.

After the jump, check out the scenes in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

DOMA Ruling Clears Path for Binational Couples

DOMA Ruling Clears Path for Binational Couples

Among the legal barriers that today’s dramatic Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage sends tumbling down is the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage-based immigration benefits. As Congress debates immigration reform, the rights of LGBT immigrants and their U.S. citizen partners have been a central sticking point, with Republicans threatening to kill the immigration bill if Democrats insist on legislating LGBT rights. Today’s historic decision, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, largely puts that debate to rest, by allowing gay and lesbian U.S. citizens to apply for legal residency for their partners. 

“DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision. “The federal statute is invalid.”

Immigration through marriage has long been a core component of U.S. citizenship policy. Under existing law, U.S. citizens in opposite-sex marriages can sponsor their immigrant husband or wife to come to the U.S. or remain here with legal authorization. But same-sex couples have been excluded and countless partnerships have been thrown into limbo. 

Twelve states currently have laws that permit same-sex marriage. This limits the reach of the court’s decision, because the remaining 38 states retain heterosexist marriage laws. The decision does not create a constitutional right to marriage and thus does not immediately impact laws in those states. But the decision is likely to have a ripple effect, as states may now move to pass marriage equality laws. And the court’s DOMA decision means that marriages performed in one of the 12 states that recognize same-sex unions will be considered valid for federal benefits, even if couples reside in another state. 

The rights of gay and lesbian couples to sponsor non-citizen partners for immigration visas became a central area of debate in the ongoing immigration reform deliberations. For several years, Democrats in Congress have introduced stand-alone legislation that would allow U.S. citizens to petition for a green card for their same-sex partners, married or not. That legislation, which gained small Republican support, never made it far, but many hoped that immigration reform would include LGBT rights provisions.

Earlier this year, President Obama urged Congress to include same-sex couples in immigration reform legislation. And the White House’s own outline on immigration reform recommends “[treating] same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”

But when the bi-partisan group of eight senators introduced their immigration reform bill into the Senate Judiciary Committee in April, it included no such measure. And despite broad stated support from Democrats to amend the bill to include LGBT provisions, Democrats agreed to scrap those commitments when key Republicans said they’d bail on the bill if the committee included equality proposals. “You will threaten the entire product,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said at the time.

After making the decision to table his same-sex couple amendment, Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, proposed the same-sex marriage amendment last week on the Senate floor. Few observers think that provision has a chance of passage in the current effort to garner Republican support for the bill. Instead, advocates of equal rights for all couples took to watching the court for a remedy. The Supreme Court decision today changes the calculus for Democrats like Leahy, basically making the decision for lawmakers. Whether conservative elected officials like it or not, married same-sex couples will have the same rights as opposite-sex couples to sponsor non-citizen husbands and wives for green cards.


State Attorney Generals Vow Immediate Voter ID Implementation

State Attorney Generals Vow Immediate Voter ID Implementation

This morning we provided a short list of states that had pending laws that could burden voters’ access to the ballot — laws that might immediately go into effect if the Supreme Court struck Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. Looking at the reaction quotes from the attorney generals in some of those states, it looks like they’ve wasted no time in moving forward with photo voter ID laws, laws that cut early voting, and other restrictive measures. Here are some of those quotes:

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, whose photo voter ID law was modified last year after a Section Five review and ensuing court trial found lawmakers who wanted to intentionally discriminate against black voters:

“For nearly 50 years, Sections 4 and 5 have imposed an extraordinary intrusion into state sovereignty in certain states, including South Carolina. Over time, great strides have been made and Sections 4 and 5 have become obsolete. Today’s decision means the voting rights of all citizens will continue to be protected under the Voting Rights Act without requiring a different formula for states wishing to implement reasonable election reforms, such as voter ID laws similar to South Carolina’s. This is a victory for all voters as all states can now act equally without some having to ask for permission or being required to jump through the extraordinary hoops demanded by federal bureaucracy.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose state passed a voter ID law that could have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Latino-Americans had not Section Five court reviews blocked it:

“The U.S. Constitution establishes one United States — not a divided nation with different laws applying to different states. Laws that apply unequally to just some states have no place in our nation. Today’s ruling ensures that Texas is no longer one of just a few states that must seek approval from the federal government before its election laws can take effect. With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, whose photo voter ID law is more likely to disenfranchise black voters than white voters :

“The United States Supreme Court placed Mississippi on equal footing with every other State. The Court’s decision removes requirements for Mississippi to travel through the expensive and time consuming Federal application process for any change to state, county, or municipal voting law. Mississippi citizens have earned the right to determine our voting processes. Our relationships and trust in each other have matured. This chapter is closed.”

Alabama attorney General Luther Strange, who pulled its voter ID law from federal Section Five review just a month ago:

“My office will continue to review the opinion and its implications. At this time, our initial conclusion is that Alabama is no longer subject to the preclearance requirements under Section 5. We expect significant savings for Alabama taxpayers because neither the State nor local governments will have to expend time, money and effort on submitting routine changes to voting laws to Washington, D.C., for approval. Alabama will only be subject to the preclearance process if Congress adopts a new coverage formula that includes Alabama. But let me be clear, I do not believe Alabama should be included under any new coverage formula that Congress might adopt. As the Court rightly points out, minority participation in voting is in fact higher in Alabama and many other covered jurisdictions than it is in many non-covered jurisdictions. “

Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg couldn’t disagree more about Alabama. As she noted in her dissent today:

“The Court does not contest that Alabama’s history of racial discrim­ination provides a sufficient basis for Congress to require Alabama and its political subdivisions to preclear electoral changes. Nevertheless, the Court asserts that Shelby County may prevail on its facial chal­lenge to [Section Four’s] coverage formula because it is subject to [Section Five’s] preclearance requirement by virtue of that formula. …This misses the reality that Congress decided to subject Alabama to preclearance based on evidence of continuing constitutional violations in that State.”

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who filed an amicus brief in support of upholding Voting Rights Act’s Section Five:

“Section 4 establishes the criteria to determine whether a state or part of a state must seek review of any changes to its election laws by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a process known as preclearance. Until Congress sets new criteria, no state or part of a state will be subject to preclearance under Section 5. The North Carolina General Assembly is now considering legislation that among other changes would limit early voting and require voter I.D.


Justice Ginsburg Quotes King and Shakespeare in Shelby Dissent

Justice Ginsburg Quotes King and Shakespeare in Shelby Dissent

Justice Ruth Ginsburg reached far beyond traditional legal arguments in her dissent to her Supreme Court peers’ ruling gutting the Voting Rights Act — a rhetorical style at which Justice Samuel Alito reportedly rolled his eyes. Ginsburg’s rebuttal is a comprehensive and categorical takedown of Chief Justice John Roberts opinion, which was joined by Justices Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy and Alito. In summary, it says that the majority’s opinion, which declared the Section Four coverage formula unconstitutional, completely dodged the actual question before the Court, which was whether Congress had the power to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006, and if Congress acted “rationally” when doing so. Ginsburg argued that Congress most certainly did on both questions, and that more importantly, VRA has worked where it’s supposed to work.

“Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness,” wrote Ginsburg. “The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today. The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story. One would expect more from an opinion striking at the heart of the Nation’s signal piece of civil-rights legislation.”

Driving her point further, Ginsburg wrote, “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA” and “throwing out preclearance [the Section Four formula] when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Usually SCOTUS opinions draw heavily from past court decisions, and Ginsburg’s is no exception. But she also reminded the court of the “Bloody Sunday” campaign for voting rights in Selma, Ala., and quoted Martin Luther King’s hopeful determination when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Ginsburg also quoted Shakespeare, telling the Court that “what’s past is prologue,” and the Spanish-American poet and philosopher George Santayana who said ”[t]hose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  

Finally, Ginsburg recognized that today’s ruling seems to negate a ruling the Supreme Court made just a week ago, in the Arizona v. Inter  Tribal Council of Arizona case, where they struck Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law as unconstitutional. As we explored in Colorlines last week (“Does the SCOTUS Arizona Ruling Impact the Voting Rights Act Case?”) Ginsburg stated that Congress has broad powers to address voting rights issues and said, “When confronting the most constitutionally invid­ious form of discrimination, and the most fundamental right in our democratic system, Congress’ power to act is at its height.”

In her footnotes, Ginsburg cited the Arizona case and said at least five constitutional amendments “are in line with the special role assigned to Congress in protecting the integrity of the democratic process in federal elections.”

For more on today’s ruling read: ”Supreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act” and “OK, Congress, Time to Get Your (Voting Rights) Act Together

Watch Teach for America’s New DREAM Act Video

Watch Teach for America's New DREAM Act Video

Education and immigration reform united. I guess?

Oprah Really, Really Loves Her Some Tyler Perry

Oprah Really, Really Loves Her Some Tyler Perry

Because her OWN network just doubled its episode order for Perry’s “The Haves and the Have Nots.” Details at Shadow and Act

OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network announced today via press release that it has ordered an additional 16 episodes of the its freshman drama series from Tyler Perry, The Haves and the Have Nots, bringing the total season order to 32 episodes.

Sorry guys. It looks like the show’s a hit!

The show’s current cycle will air through September 3, with the new episodes premiering in early 2014.

Its May 28 premiere was the highest rated series premiere in OWN history (then again, OWN is still very young, and hasn’t exactly had many original series of its own to compare this one to). 

Since its launch, the series has averaged over 1.5 million total viewers. 

They’re taking over. Seriously.

Venus X Talks About the NYC Party That’s ‘Black, White, Gay, Straight, Trans, Thoroughly Lawless’

Venus X Talks About the NYC Party That's 'Black, White, Gay, Straight, Trans, Thoroughly Lawless'

Venus X has been one of the most talked about New York City DJ’s since a high-profile Twitter beef with Diplo about the latter’s rumored exploitation of artists of color put her on folks’ radars a couple years ago.  A twenty-something, queer, Dominican DJ from Washington Heights, she’s mostly known for the party she helped start back in 2009 called GHE20G0TH1KIn a recent interview with Sex Magazine, Venus X reminisces about the party’s beginnings, and how it became a melting pot of queer and sexy.

So you were kind of rebelling against hip hop culture?
It didn’t even coincide with what I was learning. I was learning about militancy, gender, feminism. I was learning about all these things that were basically saying hip hop is whack. So I was a little punk girl. I wore Doc Martens and baby doll dresses. I wore a big jean jacket that my grandma had from the ’80s. I wouldn’t have fit in at any hip hop venues.

Who was going to GHE20G0TH1K at the beginning?
It was just a mix of all the people I was hanging out with already:Radical black lesbians from Bed-Stuy who I went to school with; skaters that I knew from being a teenager in Union Square; art students I knew from Cooper Union and from New School; downtown kids from the LES. It was a hodgepodge of people. We invited everybody.

Read the rest over at Sex Magazine. 

A Must-Read Take on What’s Missing From OWN’s ‘Dark Girls’

A Must-Read Take on What's Missing From OWN's 'Dark Girls'

The documentary “Dark Girls” made its debut on Oprah’s OWN Network over the weekend. The film, which explores colorism in the black community, generated lots of discussion, both leading up to and after its debut. Some praised its candid exploration of such a painful topic, while others wished that it had been more nuanced. Here’s a powerful opinion piece from Yaba Blay at Clutch Magazine who argues that what was really missing were the voices of confident, dark-skinned women:

For nearly two hours, I watched dark-skinned women, faces tear-stained and emotions raw, testify about all the many and painful ways that colorism has damaged their beings. Unfortunately what I didn’t see were any of the myriad ways that the conversation could have and should have been nuanced. Yes, I am a dark-skinned woman, who was once a dark-skinned little girl who grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and therefore knows all too well how colorism can break you if you let it. But I didn’t let it. And what Dark Girls was missing was that voice. The voice of the confident, assured, self-affirming, self-loving, “I wish you would tell me I’m not the ish” sister, who although she can relate to the pain refuses to stay stuck in it and has somehow figured out how to find beauty in her reflection. We needed that voice, not to distract from or to negate the experiences of pain, but rather to balance them with the capacity for triumph, if the purpose of the dialogue is in fact our healing. If we truly want to heal, we have to stop talking at each other and start talking with each other. And to do that, we need all voices at the table - dark, light, and every shade in-between - without the “vs.” While not with equal measure, colorism does impact us all. I’m not sure that those of us on the darker-end of the spectrum really need to maintain a monopoly on the pain. I think there’s room for other voices and other experiences. We needed the voice of the light-skinned sister to tell us what it’s like to walk into a room and have women who know nothing about her throw daggers with their eyes, or the light-skinned sister who stays in the sun and has either loc’ed her hair or cut it very close because she’s down for her people and doesn’t want anything about her presence to cause the browner-skinned women she considers her sisters to question their value. We needed that balance, if in fact the purpose of the dialogue is healing.

For more, visit the film’s website.

South Asian Artists Come Together to Support Rana Plaza Victims


It’s been months since a devastating building collapse in Bangladesh killed more than 1,100 garment workers and injured more than 2,500 others. In the aftermath of 

the collapse, which is the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern history, there’s been a push to move from the individual devastation to an institutional analysis, namely by holding Western companies (Wal-Mart, Gap, JC Penny’s, among many others) accountable for turning a blind eye to the deficiencies of its Bangladeshi contractors.

In the midst of such discussion, a new U.S.-based fundraising effort has sprung up to help support the victims and their families. Beats for Bangladesh is a benefit album in solidarity with the workers in Rana Plaza. The album brings together South Asian artists from within and beyond the United States’ borders. You can listen to the album’s 26 tracks at Bandcamp. Proceeds from the album go to Bangladeshi Center for Worker Solidarity, which provides on-the-ground support to those impacted by the tragedy.

TAGS: Bangladesh

You Can Have Your Own Community Radio Station — Here’s Where to Start

You Can Have Your Own Community Radio Station -- Here's Where to Start

We talk often about the oversights of corporate-driven media, how it underrepresents communities of color or misrepresents them entirely. But after a long 15-year battle at the Federal Communications Commission, non-profit organizations and community groups may be on the verge of putting a dent in that corporate agenda. 

Two years ago, President Obama signed the Local Community Radio Act into law. The legislation effectively opened the airwaves to hundreds of new low power FM radio stations. But in order to be among those hundreds of new radio station hosts, you need a license. Applications can only be submitted October 15-29, but prospective applicants can begin preparing for the process by looking at the website on the FCC’s website, which you can access here.

The possibilities that this new opportunity represents isn’t lost on the activists who helped make it happen. Jeff Rousset, an organizer with Philadelphia-based Prometheus Radio Project, explained the significance on Democracy Now.

“This is a historic opportunity for communities all over the country to have a voice over their airwaves,” Rousset said. “The airwaves are supposed to belong to the public. And now this is a chance for groups to actually own and control their own media outlets all over the country.”

Perhaps most importantly, this opening up of the airwaves provides an opportunity for local grassroots groups to take power of the news that’s heard in their communities. 

Ramón Ramírez, president of Oregon’s largest Latino organization, Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, told Democracy Now that his group started their own station with the help of the Prometheus Radio Project and the results have been a crucial part of their organizing work. 

“We’ve been able to use it as an organizing tool, not only to organize farmworkers—we are the farmworker union of Oregon—but also to provide information and give people that never had a voice,” Ramirez said. “For example, we’re broadcasting in four indigenous languages from Mexico and Central America, and we’re giving those folks a voice in the community that they never had.” has also been waging a campaign to spread the word about Low Power FM radio stations, and you can get some good background by reading up on their efforts.

 If you’d like to start your own station, Prometheus is holding a free online training this week. You can visit their website and register for free.

A Hard Blow to Tribal Sovereignty

A Hard Blow to Tribal Sovereignty

Update: June 25, 2012, 2pm ET

The ruling does not necessarily mean that Baby Veronica will be placed back with the Copabianocos. The case is being bounced back to the lower South Carolina court. If it rules to terminate Dusten Brown’s parental rights, the grandparents and the Cherokee Nation may still have a say in the child’s placement. 


In a 5 to 4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) does not block termination of a Native father’s parental rights. The court appears to have ruled as if it was deciding the issue based on race—when a better lens to understand the case, called Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, is through tribal sovereignty.

First, some quick background on the case and on ICWA itself (fuller background here). Christy Maldonado gave birth to a baby in 2009 whose father, Dusten Brown, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Because of self-determination, the Cherokee Nation decides who its citizens are—and because Dusten Brown is Cherokee, his baby, named Veronica, is Cherokee as well. Maldonado and Brown lost touch by the time the baby was born, and Brown was never informed of the baby’s birth. Maldonado decided to put the baby up for adoption, and a white couple named Melanie and Matt Capobianco took Veronica into pre-adoptive care.

Just to be clear, although the case is called Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, the Copabiancos never adopted Veronica. When Brown was served with Maldonado’s intention to place the baby up for adoption, he immediately fought the decision. A South Carolina court agreed that a non-custodial Native father was, indeed a father for the purpose of the case, under ICWA.

So what does ICWA do? The act was created because of incredibly high rates of white parents adopting Native children; in states like Minnesota, that have large Native populations, non-Natives raised 90 percent of Native babies and children put up for adoption. Those adoptions sever ties to Native tribes and communities, endangering the very existence of these tribes and nations. In short, if enough Native babies are adopted out, there will literally not be enough citizens to compose a nation. ICWA sought to stem that practice by creating a policy that keeps Native adoptees with their extended families, or within their tribes and nations. The policy speaks to the core point of tribal sovereignty: Native tribes and nations use it to determine their future, especially the right to keep their tribes and nations together. 

But leave it to the Supreme Court to miss the point altogether this morning. The prevailing justices failed to honor tribal sovereignty in today’s ruling. In writing for the court’s majority, Justice Samuel Alito opened his delivery on the ruling with these words:

This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.

What Alito (along with Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer) is perhaps willfully missing is that the Cherokee Nation does not classify its citizens in that way. Baby Veronica is not a certain percentage Cherokee—she is Cherokee, as determined by her nation. The high court’s first sentence, based in the colonial practice of blood quantum instead of the way that citizenship is determined by the Cherokee Nation, illustrates that the justices made this case about race—in their mind—and not about tribal sovereignty in the law. By this flawed logic, the high court ruled that Baby Veronica is somehow not Native enough to be protected by ICWA.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissenting opinion, and was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan—and, in part, by Justice Scalia. In honoring the spirit in which ICWA was created, Sotomayor wrote:

Unlike the majority, I cannot adopt a reading of ICWA that is contrary to both its text and its stated purpose.

Baby Veronica has been in her father’s care, and will now be ripped apart from her nation in Oklahoma, and taken to South Carolina, where she will be adopted by a white couple—continuing a practice that tears Native tribes and nations apart. And while this is very much a heartbreaking day for Dusten Brown, the Cherokee Nation, and all Native tribes and nations whose right to a future has been put in peril through adoptions, it’s also a sad day for tribal sovereignty, which is clearly under attack in the high court in the land.

OK, Congress, Time to Get Your (Voting Rights) Act Together

OK, Congress, Time to Get Your (Voting Rights) Act Together

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Section Four coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because the logic used the last time it was updated—the early 1970s—doesn’t apply to present-day challenges involving voting discrimination. Section Four creates the critieria for which jurisdictions can be covered by Section Five. 

This is definitely a devastating blow to the Voting Rights Act, but it could have been way worse. The Supreme Court could have ruled that Section Five itself was unconstitutional, but it didn’t do that (though, Justice Clarence Thomas said in his written opinion he wanted Section Five ruled unconstitutional). It only ruled that the coverage formula that makes Section Five possible needs to be re-jiggered by Congress. Had Section Five been ruled unconstitutional, that would mean no state or jurisdiction would ever have to be subjected to federal review of new election laws for possible discrimination. 

Now it’s on to Congress. It is Congress that created the formula for Section Five and only Congress can fix it. In their last re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, they did not make changes to the formula, mainly because their evidence—15,000 pages worth of evidence—illustrated that voting rights problems still occurred in the areas identified in the prevailing coverage formula.

What happened this morning is that the Supreme Court positioned itself as the evidence-gathering body to determine the Voting Rights Act’s validity, and substituted its own opinion for that of Congress—even though Congress overwhelmingly re-authorized the Act in 2006; not one vote was placed against it in the Senate.

The Section Four coverage formula that is in dispute judged jurisdictions by their record of discrimination against voters of color and against those who speak English as their second language. It mostly led to coverage of areas in the old Confederate South, including Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and parts of Florida. But it also covered areas in New York, Alaska, New Hampshire and California. Those areas have been required to submit new election law changes to the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court in D.C. for “preclearance”—or, a review to determine if any racial discrimination could result from the change. 

Wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his opinion:

In 1966, the coverage formula was “rational in both practice and theory.” It looked to cause (discriminatory tests) and effect (low voter registration and turnout), and tailored the remedy (preclearance) to those jurisdictions exhibiting both. By 2009, however, the “coverage formula raise[d] serious constitutional questions.’ Coverage today
is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices. The formula captures States by reference to literacy tests and low voter registration and turnout in the 1960s and early 1970s. But such tests have been banned for over 40 years. And voter registration and turnout numbers in covered States have risen dramatically. In 1965, the States could be divided into those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.

Congress will now have to go back into the act and find a new way to identify areas that deserve federal oversight. This will be a tough sell politically. It’s hard to imagine anything passing through Congress in this day and age. It’s even harder to fathom that a senator or representative from a previously uncovered state would self-indict his or her state—basically, confess that the state has voting problems that the federal government should address—and act on that by creating a law to have itself policed.

Some of the uncovered states that had major voting problems in 2008 and 2012: Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Only five counties in Florida are covered, but there were problems all over the state. What’s needed is a universal right to vote, constitutionally protected, as civil rights advocates have argued. But for that also, Congress will have to get its act together. 

For more explanation on Section 4 and Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, read our comprehensive past coverage:

North Carolina: A Case for the Voting Rights Act’s Modern Relevance” — February 27, 2013

What is Alabama’s Problem With the Voting Rights Act?” — February 26, 2013

Voting Rights Icon Lawrence Guyot’s Death Animates Fight Over Future” — December 6, 2012

Why the Voting Rights Act Likely Won’t Survive Supreme Court Review” — November 14, 2012

Today’s the Voting Rights Act’s Birthday. What’s It to You?” — August 6, 2012; Julianne Hing

Texas vs. Voting Rights Act, 1944 to 2012” [Infographic] — July 12, 2012; Hatty Lee

Texas Wants to Say Adios to the Voting Rights Act’s Authority” — July 10, 2012; Aura Bogado

The Growing Debate Over the Voting Rights Act” — May 24, 2012 

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