Monthly Archives: November 2019

Thanksgiving 2019: Still Finding Hope

the first detailed photograph of a black hole

Laurie and Debbie say:

Hope can feel hard to come by in these times, is why we think it’s so important to name and celebrate people and things we’re thankful for:

The U.S. impeachment proceedings against Donald J. Trump are in full swing, and the evidence for the narrow case the Democrats are mounting is very hard to refute (which is why the Republicans are doing everything they can to distract from the case and raise red herrings). Polls vary, but it does seem clear that more Americans support impeachment and removal than oppose it. Many other cases and lawsuits against the current presidency are in various stages, including the three emoluments lawsuits, all of which have been granted standing and are moving forward.

In other U.S. national politics issues:

The 2020 census is proceeding without a citizenship question. The controversy around this frightened many Latinx and other immigrants and will have somewhat of a chilling effect on voting, but Latin voting rights organizations are doing terrific work countering that issue.

The practice of “deplatforming” right-wing voices is having a real effect. Both Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones have more or less disappeared from the scene since they were removed from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in 2018. This year, after multiple mass-shooting “manifestos” were posted on the site, hate site 8chan was deplatformed and is still looking for a home.

In the realm of science, we have our first detailed photograph of a black hole (above), from the Event Horizon Telescope’s global network of radio dishes!

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved not one but two new drugs to treat sickle cell anemia, an extremely painful and often fatal condition largely found in people of African descent. (The rapper Prodigy died of sickle cell anemia in 2017.) These drugs are outrageously expensive; however, many drugs drop in price a year or two after approval, and some insurance companies will approve them now.

Like U.S. and U.K. politics, the global climate situation inspires a lot of hopelessness. So we’re thankful for Greta Thunberg and the Sunrise Movement, young people who care enough about the world they want to live in to mount an implacable assault on the powers-that-be. And knowing that the European Investment Bank is divesting quickly from fossil fuel investments helps too.

We’re thankful for Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the country’s Parliament, who knew how a state should react to a devastating mass shooting: change the laws quickly.

We appreciate the U.S. District Court ruling acquitting Scott Warren of “illegally harboring refugees” when in fact he was providing humanitarian aid to people in need.

One of the ways we survive in these times is through the work of investigative journalists — an imperiled profession. In that context, we want to name Julie K. Brown, who (mostly in 2018) dropped the hammer on Jeffrey Epstein, leading to his imprisonment.

Our home state of California has led the way in a number of important things to be thankful for:

  • The nation’s strongest law limiting police use of force: Officers may shoot only when lives are in immediate danger, not when they are “afraid for their lives.” The ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project is also doing great work in the area of police violence. And Laurie’s home city just elected Chesa Boudin, a superb progressive district attorney.
  • A law permitting (finally!) student athletes to make money from use of their names and images. This law, with similar ones passed by a few other states, has caused the NCAA to finally back down from it’s “we’re rich; you can’t make a dime” historic position, though details still have to be worked out.
  • Along with New York and several cities, a law protecting people whose hairstyles might otherwise be excuses to keep them from jobs and schooling. Of course, this has mostly been used against Black people, so this is an anti-racist trend.
  • A law making a roadmap for local public banks in the state. (Debbie was an organizer on this one.)

We want to mention our personal thanks for the work of Stacey Abrams, magnificent crusader for voting and human rights, and for the work of Ibram X. Kendi, a writer who is  reframing the conversation about racism. There are thousands more people whose work deserves thanks: this list from Bitch Magazine names 50 of them (only a couple of whom we named above). One person we found in the Bitch 50 list is Rebecca Alexander, whose AllGo app helps fat people find the places where the chairs and other furniture will work for them — a much-needed service.

We are grateful to every single person who is engaging in resistance here or in their own country: people doing the amazing work that needs to be done: all the thousands upon thousands of them.









Harvesting Strange Fruit: Humanizing the Victims of Lynching

Columns represent lynching victims at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Debbie says:

The Equal Justice Initiative opened The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2018. By all accounts, both are moving and memorable. The exhibit that seems to get the most coverage is the memorial structure on the center of the Memorial site, which …

… is constructed of over 800 corten steel monuments, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. The names of the lynching victims are engraved on the columns. The memorial is more than a static monument. In the six-acre park surrounding the memorial is a field of identical monuments, waiting to be claimed and installed in the counties they represent. Over time, the national memorial will serve as a report on which parts of the country have confronted the truth of this terror and which have not.

Perhaps because the Memorial is a fresh reminder of old and very tender wounds, I have recently heard the specific stories of two victims of lynching, Thomas Finch and Claude Neal: even though I’ve been aware of the history of lynching all my adult life, I don’t know that I had ever before heard the names and circumstances of any particular event.

Thomas Finch’s story was featured on Reveal. Finch was shot and killed in 1936 by an Atlanta police officer. Finch, who was an orderly at an Atlanta hospital, was accused of rape by a white female patient (not the story of every lynching, but it occurs again and again). The layout of the hospital makes this accusation very unlikely. Finch was arrested by the Atlanta police, but they killed him before they took him to the police station. The policeman who shot him became a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Atlanta has never acknowledged Finch’s death as a lynching, and the officer’s grandson (interviewed on the podcast) struggles with finding explanations for his grandfather’s behavior (“He was Grand Imperial Wizard for only a year to 18 months, so it wasn’t very long.”)

Claude Neal’s story was told on CodeSwitch. While lynching stories are potentially triggering by definition, be warned that this particular story is told in substantial and starkly horrifying detail. Neal was killed in Jackson County, Florida in 1934. He has the gruesome distinction of being the victim of one of the most well-attended lynchings in American history–somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 people were present at his death. This appears to be because he was arrested in Alabama, freed by a lynch mob, and brought back to Florida to be killed, which gave the killers the time to advertise his death rather like a concert or a race. Like Finch two years later, he was accused of raping and killing a white woman, though some people at the time believed the two had a consensual secret relationship.

Side note: the concept of “lynching” refers to taking prisoners out of formal police custody and due process to kill them rather than try them. Since the mid-1980s, some police departments have interpreted this to mean that pressuring the police at a demonstration or riot to keep arrests from happening can be called “lynching” and in fact people who tear themselves out of police custody can be charged with lynching … themselves. “the definition of “lynching” was broadened [in 1999] in the First District Court of Appeal’s decision in People v. Anthony J.: “We conclude that a person who takes part in a riot leading to his escape from custody can be convicted of his own lynching.” This is ridiculous in its own right and inexcusably trivializes the mob terror Black people suffered for decades.

Historically, we have heard more about the anti-lynching activists than about the victims: I could tell you a fair amount about Walter White and Ida B. Wells long before I ever heard of Thomas Finch and Claude Neal. For me, knowing about these men, being able to say their names, learn their stories, and recognize the suffering still alive in their descendants is an essential element of acknowledging the reality of this degrading American behavior.

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