Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’


Oaxaca Pride March Aims to Link Struggles

Oaxaca’ ninth annual Pride Parade set off from the Fountain of the Eight Regions at  about 5:30 PM yesterday, w
P7080733ith perhaps 100 people marching behind a rainbow banner and a marching band. Prior to the march, Jesús Yoshio Morales Ramírez read a statement explaining that two additional colors had been added to the flag.

A brown stripe represented the struggles of indigenous peoples, whose land and  communities are threatened by mega-projects, the new guise of colonialism and an expression of racism. The flag also bore a black stripe, marking the struggles against racism of peoples of AfricP7080744an descent.

Oppression is “a long chain whose links will never be broken if we continue to look at it in isolation, if we think that machismo, homophobia, transphobia, lesbophobia, and so on are not related to class struggle, misogyny, racism, discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities,” Morales said “It all forms part of a whole, it is the mortal alliance that puts us under and oppresses us and places us at the disposal of the elites and the dominant powers of the world.”


The march proceeded down the hill through a major intersection into the city center, eventually reaching the crowded tourist zone, swelled with people typical of a Saturday evening in July. Along the way, the band kept playing at the front of the march while another group at the rear banged on drums and shouted chants. Several P7080853 people passed out condoms and information about HIV prevention along the way. By the end the number of marchers had doubled.

Morales read his statement again at the march’s conclusion, in the always busy plaza near the Santo Domingo church and museum. It’s not enough for Oaxaca to be “gay friendly,” he said, if people’s rights are not actually protected. “All of the rights, all of the people,” everyone chanted.

P7080824 You can find the statement, in Spanish, at http://www.laondaoaxaca.com.mx/2017/07/invitan-a-9a-marcha-calenda-por-el-orgullo-de-la-diversidad-sexual-e-identidad-de-genero/

More photos:

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This article was first published in the Concord Monitor, January 15, 2015

When President Lyndon Johnson reached Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by phone on January 15, 1965, it wasn’t to offer birthday greetings. The president wanted to strategize about voting rights.

The two leaders were at the peak of their popularity. King had recently returned from Oslo with the Nobel Peace Prize and was gearing up a voting rights campaign centered in Selma, Alabama. Johnson, elected by a landslide two months earlier, had boldly called for “enforcement of the civil rights law and elimination of barriers to the right to vote” for African Americans in his January 7 “State of the Union” speech.

“We take the position that every person born in this country and when they reach a certain age, that he have a right to vote, just like he has a right to fight. And that we just extend it whether it’s a Negro or whether it’s a Mexican or who it is,” the president told Dr. King. “That’s right,” King responded.

But between the two leaders and realization of voting rights stood the power of southern politicians and the often violent enforcement of white supremacy that blocked blacks from the voting rolls in southern states. In Dallas County, Alabama, where Selma was the major city, only 335 blacks were registered to vote by fall, 1964, despite repeated efforts. Outside Selma, black majority rural counties had no black voters at all. Attempts to register could provoke beatings, firings, or worse.

Before the Selma-based campaign led to passage of the Voting Rights Act, hundreds of people would be arrested for peaceful protests, dozens would be beaten, and at least three – Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo– would be murdered by white supremacists. In Jackson’s case, the killer was a state trooper. (Jonathan Daniels, a seminary student from Keene, would be murdered three weeks after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.)

One Person, One Vote Principle is Under Attack

Fifty years later the principle of one person, one vote is again under attack, though the forces arrayed against democracy are less bloody.

For starters, federal election law been tilting toward the power of dollars and away from votes – just look at the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts. In a 2013 case, Shelby vs. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School calls “a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting.” Congress has power to rewrite the provision and restore this power to the Justice Department but has taken no action to date.

In its 2010 Citizens United decision, the Court famously affirmed the principles that corporations are people and money is speech, thus opening the gates for floods of corporate cash to pour into the election system. In 2014’s McCutcheon decision, the Court enabled donors to invest as much as $2.4 million in congressional candidates every two years. Then Congress piled on at year’s end with a last-minute amendment to the budget bill that raised the limits on contributions to political parties from $97,200 a year to $776,000.

Meanwhile the states have again become major battlegrounds for voting rights. According to the Brennan Center, 21 states, including New Hampshire, have approved measures to restrict voting since 2010. These include Voter ID requirements, laws making it harder to register, reduced voting hours, and measures making it harder for people with criminal records to regain their voting rights.

Race Still Drives Attacks on Voting Rights

“Race was also a significant factor,” the Brennan Center reports. “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions in place. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote. And nearly two-thirds of states — or 9 out of 15 — previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of a history of race discrimination in voting have new restrictions since the 2010 election.”

New Hampshire is likely to see further efforts to erode voting rights in 2015. Bills to restrict same-day registration and suppress student voting are on the legislature’s agenda.

It’s not like the country has a problem of too many people voting. Nationwide, only 35.9% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014. In New Hampshire, 47.6% of eligible voters went to the polls – hardly a figure to be proud of if we really believe in government of the people by the people and for the people.

Fortunately, lawmakers and voting rights advocates are taking action. In New Hampshire, bills are being proposed to make it easier to cast absentee ballots and to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 before the General Election.

A bi-partisan bill to put teeth back into the Voting Rights Act is likely to return to Congress. At the grassroots level, a growing nationwide movement is calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would establish clearly that the rights enumerated in the Constitution are intended for actual persons, not corporations, and that government regulation of campaign finance can be accomplished without infringing on political speech. In New Hampshire, more than 50 communities already have adopted resolutions backing such a measure.

The January 19 holiday marking Dr. King’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United decision on January 21 can be occasions for us to re-assert our commitment to democracy. Shall we overcome?

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Kevin Powell:  “Practice something ancient called ‘love’”

“Can you say ‘action steps?’” Kevin Powell asked the crowd at the beginning of his speech at the Manchester NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund dinner.

The popular writer, speaker, and activist held the attention of about 100 people at the Puritan Conference Center in Manchester, where he touched on his own family background, the need to “pass the baton” to a new generation of leaders, and the urgent need to end violence against women, which he called “the number one human rights issue” of our time. 

Powell delivered six action steps.

Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., he called for “a revolution of values,” based on the practice of “something ancient called ‘love.’”

Second, the elders deserve respect but need to get out of the way of a new generation of leaders.

Third, he stressed the importance of financial literacy.

Fourth, demand higher quality than what the culture industry is now peddling.

Next, we need to “take care of ourselves” through attention to diet and exercise.  Movement leaders need to set good examples, he said.

Finally, we need to pay attention to mental health, too.  “We’re no good to anybody if we’re not healthy and whole,” Powell emphasized.

Branch president Ernesto Pinder presented Excellence in Service Awards to Sandra Hicks, Rashida Mohammed, Caludette Williams, Bill Gillett, and the Rev. Bill Exner. 

The Manchester chapter of the nation’s oldest social justice organization will turn 50 years old next year.  For more information and to sign up as a member, visit their web page.

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Mel King is second inductee

When NH Public Radio asked me several years ago which Granite Staters had inspired me, the first person I named was Lionel Johnson. 

Here’s what I said:

As one of the founders of Manchester’s NAACP branch in 1964, Lionel was at the center of local and statewide civil rights activism until his death in 2004.  He understood the sting and oppression of racism, and dedicated his life to practical, sometimes slow steps toward achieving justice.  When the Martin Luther King Coalition gave him a special award in 1988, he told me, “You only have so much time on earth to live.  If you don’t produce something for humanity, what are you here for?” 

It was therefore an honor to be present on Saturday when Lionel was formally inducted as the tenth member of the NAACP’s New England Civil Rights Hall of Fame.  

Rev. Alan MacKillop, who now chairs the Manchester NAACP, described Lionel as the driving force behind the movement for New Hampshire recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and as the unofficial civil rights conscience of the state.  As Alan said, Lionel was especially devoted to the state’s youth, and served on legislative committees dealing with youth issues during his 8 terms in the NH House of Representatives.  

When Lionel and others started the Manchester NAACP in 1964, the organization was a moderate force within the growing civil rights movement at the national level.  For example, at a time of freedom rides and sit-ins, the NAACP shunned civil disobedience in favor of lawsuits to bring about change.  But in Manchester, where Union Leader publisher William Loeb ruled the city from his office on Amherst Street, the NAACP was seen as a dangerously radical outfit.  Inez Bishop, who was also involved at that time, told me Saturday that Lionel was one of the few men in the Black community who was willing to stand out and speak up.  

Mel King, a long-time community activist from Boston’s South end, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday.  Mel gave a good speech, and read a poem he had written which contrasts the “love of power” with the “power of love.”  His statement that there is “no such thing as an illegal person on this earth” was one of the biggest applause lines of the evening.  

Mel and Lionel join a pretty exclusive group.  The New England NAACP initiated its Hall of Fame in 2008.  The only other members so far are Senators Ed Brooke and Teddy Kennedy, Kivie Kaplan, Ermino Lisbon, Thomas Atkins, Gerald Talbot, Moorfield Story, and Dick Gregory. 

Perhaps the New England NAACP will realize by next year that there are also women deserving of recognition.  But as Lionel often said, people who work for social justice over a lifetime do it to support change, not to get awards. 


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