Tuesday, June 30, 2009


originally posted on June 18, 2009.

The news of Iranian university student protesters being attacked in a dorm by riot police and militia cut me to my very core. Up to 150 students were arrested, according to witnesses, and at least one was killed. Students were beaten and shot, and one of the buildings caught fire. I just can’t stop watching this raw demonstration of oppression, anger and power unfolding before our very eyes. It’s so far away, yet feels so close when so many of the protestors are my age or younger. As I watch them take to the streets, using their voices and bodies to fight the regime, I am broken out of my dramatic thoughts and prayers by a jarring pop culture reminder: Twitter is a part of the movement.

On the surface, Twitter just doesn’t seem to fit with my mental images of protest and upheaval. But everywhere I turn I am reminded that many of the stories that I hear and news that I read is coming not from traditional news sources. The Iranian government has blocked journalists that work for international news organizations and the Iranian media is telling an incomplete, at times outright inaccurate story (like saying that the University students are taking finals when the campus has actually been shut down for days). No, the stories of the beatings, attacks, and killings are coming from young Iranians cracking the codes of internet barriers put up by their government, and tweeting the truth in defiance.

Twitter and I have a love hate relationship. I find it slightly burdensome and self-important to tweet my thoughts every minute and like skateboarding and MySpace, it got old to me once everyone else – especially celebrities - hopped on. But it is unquestionably useful for news - especially in an environment of suppression. Iran has made me again proud of my generation owning technological innovation and using it for more than games and gossip. We can use and are using it to change the world.

As the days go by and Western media learns more about the protests, we find that even though Twitter has been a vital tool, it has been used to supplement traditional word of mouth, peer to peer organizing and SMS, which is also being used in even larger quantities. The organizers are using every tool at their disposal – old school and new - to rebel.

And if what we are seeing through Twitter is only a glimpse of the real turmoil, when will we hear the rest? The stories from outside of Tehran and the University, from people without internet and no way to break the censorship codes, and no voice other than the one they use to shout? I can only imagine…

These stories, told and untold, are quenching the thirst of my political soul. They remind us all that you can’t block a movement. It warns those that doubt the ability of our generation to incorporate technology into new models of social change and action, that times they are a’changin.

Living in the sanitized world of watered down, pragmatic U.S. politics, a good, take to the streets protest is just what I need to believe that regardless of whether the revolution is televised, facebooked, tweeted, or simply shouted from the rooftops, when people are oppressed and suppressed long enough, humanity will find innovative ways to fight the powers that be and inevitably, whether fast or slow, revolution always happens.

Hey Conservatives - Where is the Love?

originally posted on Thursday, June 11, 2009.

Yesterday, shots rang out just blocks from my office
and reminded me that hate is alive and well. At the National Holocaust Museum, a shrine meant to commemorate lives lost to senseless violence and hate, a life was taken by senseless hate and violence. Security officer Stephen T. Johns was shot and killed by a white supremacist. This comes only weeks after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in the doorway of his church by an anti-abortion “activist”.

So what is the connection between these two tragedies and my assessment of the conservative movement? Ever heard the phrase “the freaks come out at night?” Well night has fallen on the Republican party and the freaks – racist, sexist, homophobic, intolerant right-wing loonies - are coming out all around us.

Back in April, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report drawing attention to right-wing extremism and warned that "White supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat…"

Call me paranoid, but as I look today for ways to channel my heartbreak over Stephen T. Johns death into action (I’m looking here and here), allow me to state the obvious: in a time when conservatives are feeling particularly cornered – outnumbered by progressives that have the will of the people on their side – the right wing extremists are losing their minds and have gone hate-mongering crazy sometimes with a talk show. Other times with guns.

It is often said that violent acts such as these go beyond politics. Tragedy and the loss of human life is something that all people with dignity – on both sides of the aisle – can condemn. But does that mean there shouldn’t be any exploration into the cause or at least the context for such acts? Absolutely not.

This is more than a random occurrence that would allow us to shake our heads, shed a tear, and go back to business as usual. Its time for conservatives to look within their political leadership, examine their rhetoric and recognize their own role, be it intentional or accidental, in advancing hate and intolerance.

If human identity is part nature and part nurture, let’s take a critical look at the entities and social systems that nurtured these natural-born nutjobs and made them feel welcome. Many of the people that commit these politically motivated crimes of intolerance identify with a set of principles and sentiments (anti-immigrant, anti-affirmative action, anti-choice, anti-gay, etc.) that are shared by the Republican party. Support for intolerant policies + leaders like Rush Limbaugh and Bobby Jindal making racist, divisive comments every chance they get, add water and voila! A recipe for marginalized, isolated, and already deranged people to feel justified.

The racist language espoused by conservative leadership and media about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, the sickening message sent by a press conference being held today that said that Dr. Tiller’s death will “help the anti-choice movement” makes the connection clear. Change has not yet come to the Republican party….and neither has the love.