Despite scorching heat, tens of thousands march for justice against SB1070

From the Restore Fairness blog.

 

On Saturday, May 29th, while the hot Arizona sun seared with temperatures in the high 90s, Phoenix saw the largest demonstration against SB1070 since Gov. Brewer signed the controversial bill into law on April 23rd. Ten of thousands of protesters marched down a five mile stretch in central Phoenix, wearing white shirts, waving American flags, chanting, singing, beating drums and carrying umbrellas to shield them from the unrelenting sun.

The diverse crowd of marchers who had flown in from states as far as Rhode Island and Louisiana, as well as Wisconsin, Texas, Illinois, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego, made do with whatever sleeping arrangements they could find. Justin Akers Chacon, for example, a college professor from San Diego who, with 100 other people, reached Phoenix on Friday night, slept on sleeping bags provided by the organizers at a warehouse in downtown Phoenix. “There is a seriousness and confidence that we’re all here for the right reasons,” he said.

Just before 10am on Saturday morning, the marchers set off from Steele Indian School Park, with the first group of protesters reaching the Capitol at 12. 30pm. Along the way, organizers handed out bottles of water while people chanted and held up signs that read “We are not criminals, we are humans,”"Si Se Puede,”"Heroes against racism,”"We are all Arizona,”"Legalization or no re-election,” and the ubiquitous “Do I look Illegal.”While a number of people took breaks along the way to get some shelter from the heat, there were no arrests or untoward encounters with the police. Although police declined to give an official estimate of the size of the march, organizer’s estimates ranged from 50,000 to a 100,000 people.

A Los Angeles Times article covering the May 29th National Day of Action mentions the diversity of the crowd of protesters that included families and people of all ages. 68 year old Dennis DuVall, a retired bus driver, drove 100 miles from Prescott, Arizona to be there and show his support. He said-

It’s my civic duty. It shows commitment. People are willing to come out and walk five miles in 100 degrees. It’s important.

The Baez family, including Juan and Guadalupe Baez, their six children between age 2 and 18, and Guadalupe’s mother had driven down from San Diego the previous night. They all wore T-shirts that said-

We are hard workers, not criminals! We believe in USA justice. Arizona’s SB 1070 is not justice.

At the rally, Rev. Warren Stewart of the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix called upon President Obama saying, “”God put you in the White House. You are a person of color. Stand with us.” Echoing the basic asks that Alto Arizona had listed before the National Day of Action, most of the speeches at the rally were directed at President Obama, demanding that he reassert the Federal Government’s control over immigration law by revoking all partnerships between local law enforcement and ICE, and put an immediate end to Arizona’s law, SB1070, which effectively makes it a crime to be undocumented, and, by allowing police to question anyone who looks “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, effectively mandates racial profiling.

While the thousands of opponents of the harsh new law marched down Phoenix’s avenues in the height of the day’s heat, those in favor of the law waited till the sun had gone down to hold a smaller rally at a stadium in the suburbs. Predictably, this crowd was mostly middle-aged and white, holding signs saying “Illegals out of America,” while speakers repeatedly insisted that there was nothing racist about their rhetoric. This rally had been organized by Tea Party groups from St. Louis and Dallas who aimed to support the state against boycotts protesting the law by states like San Francisco and Seattle.

As it stands, the law is slated to come into effect on July 29th, unless it is overturned in the courts before that. At the moment, the state is expecting a possible litigation from the United States Justice Department, which, under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, is considering challenging the law on the grounds that it has “pre-empted” Federal powers, and violated Federal civil rights statutes. In preparation for this, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has made it very clear that she does not want Arizona attorney general, Terry Goddard (who is a Democrat that has expressed his opposition to SB1070) to be defending the state in the event of the lawsuit from the Justice Department. She has made her decision to remove the attorney general from this case, and said that the legislature has given her the power to use outside counsel “because of its lack of confidence in the Attorney General’s willingness to vigorously defend” the law. Terry Goddard, who is a possible challenger in Gov. Brewer’s bid for re-election, told the New York Times that he was “definitely defending the state” in any legal challenges to the law.

We can only hope that the commitment and determination of all the students, workers, families and activists who showed up to protest the draconian SB1070, pays off, and that by channeling all our frustration and anger at the inhumanity of this law, the events on May 29th are translated into direct action against the implementation of such a harsh measure.

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

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Improving Farmer Livelihoods and Wildlife Conservation

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Earlier this week, we highlighted Nicholas Kristof's OP-ED in the New York Times about Gabon, a country in West-Central Africa where the rights of farmers are frequently in conflict with wildlife conservation efforts. One young village chief and farmer, Evelyn Kinga explained that she doesn't like elephants because they eat her cassava plants-a crop her livelihood depends on-because she doesn't benefit from rich foreigners who come to Gabon for eco-tourism.

But it doesn't have to be this way, says Raol du Toit, Director of the Rhino Conservation Trust in Zimbabwe. His organization works closely with farmers on the ground to help communities realize that protecting wildlife can be in their own best interest.

du Toit promotes "landscape-level planning" that takes into account the needs of wildlife, the environment, and farming communities. Rather than relying on development agencies and governments to decide where cattle fences should go or where farmers should plant their crops, local communities and stakeholders need to be part of the process. Development aid, says du Toit, should follow what local stakeholders need and perceive, not the other way around. Additionally, the Rhino Conservation Trust provides classroom materials for schools so that students may learn the connections between sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation at an early age. (See also Helping Farmers Benefit Economically from Wildlife Conservation)

And du Toit is not alone in his effort to improve the lives of farmers, as well as protect wildlife.

In Tanzania, the Jane Goodall Instutite (JGI) started as a center to research and protect wild chimpanzee populations in what is now, thanks to their efforts, Gombe National Park. But by the early 1990's the organization realized that in order to be successful it would have to start addressing the needs of the communities surrounding the park. JGI was planting trees to rebuild the forest but members of the community were chopping them down-not because they wanted to damage the work but because they needed them for fuel and to make charcoal.

In response, JGI started working with communities to develop government- mandated land use plans, helping them develop soil erosion prevention practices, agroforestry, and production of value-added products, such as coffee and palm oil. "These are services," says Pancras Ngalason Executive Director of JGI Tanzania, "people require in order to appreciate the environment" and that will ultimately help not only protect the chimps and other wildlife, but also to build healthy and economically viable communities. (See also: Rebuilding Roots in Environmental Education)

In Botswana, the Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve is doing more than just teaching students and the community about conserving and protecting wildlife and the environment, they're also educating students about permaculture. By growing indigenous vegetables, recycling water for irrigation, and using organic fertilizers-including elephant dung-the Reserve's Education Center is demonstrating how to grow nutritious food with very little water or chemical inputs.

When school groups come to learn about the animals, the reserve also teaches them about sustainable agriculture. Using the garden as a classroom in which to teach students about composting, intercropping, water harvesting, and organic agriculture practices, the Wildlife Reserve helps draw the connection between the importance of environmentally sustainable agriculture practices and the conservation of elephants, giraffes, impala, and various other animals and birds living in the area.(See also: Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture Conservation)

To read more about innovative ways to protect agriculture and the surrounding wildlife, read: From Alligator to Zebra: Wild Animals Find Sanctuary in the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Kigoma, Tanzania, Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods, Helping Conserve Wildlife-and Agriculture-in Mozambique,  Honoring the Farmers that Nourish their Communities and the Planet, and Investing in Projects that Protect Both Agriculture and Wildlife

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.
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Undocumented students risk deportation for their dreams

 

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Yesterday, on the 65th anniversary of the landmark civil rights case, Brown vs. Board of Education, five courageous students staged a sit-in at Senator John McCain’s office in Tuscon, Arizona, to demand his support for the passage of the DREAM Act, a legislation that will set up a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. when they were very young. At 6pm last evening, four of those young immigration activists, three of whom are undocumented, were arrested on misdemeanor trespass charges when they refused to leave the office after closing. The three undocumented students, Yahira, Lizbeth and Mohammad, have been detained and are “expected to face deportation proceedings.” According to the New York Times, “It was the first time students have directly risked deportation in an effort to prompt Congress to take up a bill that would benefit illegal immigrant youths.”

Spurred on by Arizona’s new anti-immigrant legislation, SB1070, the students staged the peaceful sit-in as a challenge to local and federal law, hoping to garner the attention of grassroots organizations and media outlets and highlight the urgency for Congress action on the DREAM Act. Dressed in caps and gowns, the students began the sit-in at lunchtime on May 17th, with a group of supporters cheering for them outside McCain’s office. Four of them, Lizbeth Mateo of Los Angeles, California, Mohammed Abdollahi of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Yahaira Carillo of Kansas City, Missouri and Raul Alcaraz, from Arizona remained in the office till 6pm, when they were arrested. The fifth young activist, Tania Unzueta of Chicago, Illinois voluntarily stepped outside to be the spokesperson for the group before the others were arrested. When asked why she would risk such an act given her undocumented status, Tania told a journalist-

Precisely because we feel that undocumented people need to be at the forefront of our movement think we are tired of not speaking for ourselves and not being able to tell our story…This is my country. This is where I’ve grown up. This is where I’ve learned everything. How to write, how to love, how to be with my community. I feel like where you’re from isn’t always where you’re born it’s the country you learn to love and this is the country that I love.

The DREAM Activists chose Senator McCain’s office as he had initially supported the bipartisan legislation, and only recently, reflective of his new hard-line stance on immigration, had withdrawn his support from it. Although Senator McCain’s office offered the students a meeting to talk about the DREAM Act, they refused it, saying that this late into the debate, they would not take anything short of a statement of support from him. Speaking to the local news, Lizbeth Mateo said-

We’re not going to move, we’re not going to move until Senator McCain cosponsors the Dream Act, so whatever it takes, we’re going to stay here.

Her fellow activist Mohammad, originally from Iran, expressed confidence in garnering a response from John McCain-

We’re here, knowing that he will support the DREAM Act, knowing that he has supported it in the past, ask him to step up and cosponsor the DREAM Act and so we’re waiting at the office until he cosponsors the DREAM Act and writes us a written statement…

Even after a vigil outside the detention center that is holding the three students, there was no statement from Senator McCain’s office. 24 year old Mohammad, who co-founded Dreamactivist.org and led the sit-in, has lived in the United States since he was 3, and feels like fighting for the passage of the DREAM Act is definitely worth his life. For Mohammad, who is openly gay, the repercussions of being sent back to his country of origin, Iran, are frightening. Profiling Mohammad’s story for the Michigan Messenger, Todd Heywood writes-

His action, however, is far from just an act of civil disobedience. As a young gay man, he faces deportation to a country where he knows neither the language nor the culture — and worse, where homosexuality is punished with torture and executions. His supporters say he is literally putting his life on the line by “coming out” as an undocumented, gay youth.

These students risked everything to stage the sit-in yesterday, but the truth is that for them, and the thousands of undocumented students that they represent, the stakes are high regardless. Every year, 65,000 youth graduate from high schools after spending most of their childhoods in the U.S., but are unable to pursue their dreams for higher education and careers because of their undocumented status. According to the College Board, the passage of the DREAM Act would provide about 350,000 undocumented high school graduates with the “legal means to work and attend college,” allowing them to capitalize on their education and contribute to the economy of the country.

Until the DREAM Act is passed, legislation like that passed in Arizona, which allows local law enforcement to question people about their citizenship status based on “reasonable suspicion,” is highly dangerous for the thousands of undocumented youth who were brought to the country when they were children, and have fully assimilated into American culture. With young people taking the lead on demanding immigration reform, there is a silver lining to the dark cloud that Arizona’s SB1070 has brought with it. The good news is that it is the American youth, across racial, ethnic, geography and class lines, that are showing support and positivity on issues of diversity and immigration.

A New York Times article published today finds that there is a glaring generational gap when it comes to the immigration debate. While older Americans, including the baby boomer generation, take a conservative stance on immigration enforcement and reform, polls show that Americans below the age of 45 are much more agreeable to a “welcome all” approach. The article attributes this to the vastly different environments that these generations grew up in. It says-

Those born after the civil rights era lived in a country of high rates of legal and illegal immigration. In their neighborhoods and schools, the presence of immigrants was as hard to miss as a Starbucks today. In contrast, baby boomers and older Americans — even those who fought for integration — came of age in one of the most homogenous moments in the country’s history….In 1970, only 4.7 percent of the country was foreign born, and most of those immigrants were older Europeans, often unnoticed by the boomer generation born from 1946 to 1964. Boomers and their parents also spent their formative years away from the cities, where newer immigrants tended to gather — unlike today’s young people who have become more involved with immigrants, through college, or by moving to urban areas.

While this polarization complicates the movement on policy when it comes to issues like immigration, it is heartening to know that with the future belonging to these optimistic and open young Americans, the future is sure to be brighter than the present. In the meanwhile, we salute the courage of these brave young activists, and ask you to take a moment to think about two leaders of the DREAM Act movement, Tam Ngoc Tran and Cinthya Felix, who we lost in a tragic accident this past weekend.

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Blankenship To Testify Before Congress: The Dark Saga Continues

Its been over a month since the Upper Big Branch Mine, a Massey Energy owned and operated mine, faced a disaster due to a methane related explosion that took 29 miners lives. It was a dark day for the state of West Virginia, the coal industry, and the entire country. To West Virginians, and even those not from the state, these fallen miners will be in our hearts forever.

Don Blankenship is the current Chairman, CEO, and head right-wing gun-toting thug in charge of Massey Energy. Massey is currently the 6th largest coal company in the United States by production. Blankenship, to most people, is seen as cold, dark, and very mysterious. If you need further convincing, watch this ABC News video of one of their correspondents attempting to evoke an interview from Blankenship. The video shows the ABC News rep wanting to ask Blankenship about pictures published in the New York Times of him with Former WV State Supreme Court Judge and Current Republican nominee for WV 3rd Congressional District Eliot "Spike" Maynard. Maynard was elected to the Supreme Court in WV.

Several news outlets have begun to report that Don Blankenship will testify this Thursday before the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee regarding the April 5, 2010 mine explosion in Raleigh County, West Virginia .

Mine blast: Don Blankenship, the head of Massey Energy Co., testifies before a Senate panel investigating the explosion that killed 29 workers at his company’s coal mine in West Virginia.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle’s SF Gate

Blankenship, 60, plans to appear before the Labor and Health and Human Services subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on May 20 in Washington, his first appearance before Congress since the explosion.

Massey said last month that it expects a second-quarter charge of as much as $212 million for the accident, more than twice its 2009 earnings.

The costs will include $80 million to $150 million for benefits for families of the miners, rescue and recovery efforts, insurance deductibles, legal and other contingencies, Massey said. The value of the damaged equipment, development and mineral rights is an additional $62 million.

Source: Businessweek.com

With the pieces still being picked up in rural West Virginia, Blankenship has a slew of problems on his hands. Massey Energy has seen its stock slump since the disaster (big shocker there) and he is constantly being questioned about the incident and his lack of care for safety violations and hazardous working conditions. It has seen a -21.7% change YTD with their stocks recently plummeting 10% after a possibility of a criminal investigation was mentioned, and 40% since the disaster.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Shares of Massey Energy plunged about 10% Monday after a report surfaced over the weekend indicated the coal mining company may face a criminal investigation.

Federal prosecutors are investigating possible "willful criminal activity" by "directors, officers and agents" of Massey subsidiary Performance Coal at the Upper Big Branch coal mine where an explosion killed 29 workers last month, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

A Bloomberg report on Monday claimed that some large Massey shareholders will seek to block the re-election of three company board members at the meeting.

Another report by the Wall Street Journal on Monday said a congressional committee will vote on Wednesday on whether to give the House Education and Labor Committee deposition power to call witnesses in for questioning on the case.

Massey shares have fallen about 40% since the mine explosion on April 5.

Source: CNN Money

More interesting news for Massey Energy, in what seems to be an effort to obtain transparency in lieu of shady business, as they have now declared that they will declassify their board of directors. This according to the Wall Street Journal, the board is proposing to introduce the idea to shareholders etc. and potentially even make the process more democratic.

Massey Energy Co. said its board plans to propose that directors stand for election every year for one-year terms.

Chairman and Chief Executive Don Blankenship and lead independent director Admiral Bobby R. Inman said the move to declassify the board of the coal producer was a result of stockholder input and the board’s ongoing review of Massey’s corporate governance policies.

A classified board, where classes of directors generally are elected for three-year terms and only a portion of the directors stands for election each year, is harder to dislodge through the shareholder meeting process.

The board plans to hold a special shareholder meeting in the next three to six months where it will propose that stockholders approve declassification.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Blankenship has seen his fair share of controversy, as I have detailed in several previous blogs in wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, and this proves there isn’t an end in sight. Blankenship, amidst numerous calls to step down and many claims of injustice and fraud, refuses to forgo his position as CEO of Massey. Its hard to tell whether this is simply Blanky trying to play a game and manipulate his business further, saving his butt from criminal allegations, or just plain stubbornness. My personal opinion? He needs to step down. Futher even, he needs to be criminally indicted. Too often, CEO fat cats like Blank are left alone to ravage whatever gets in their way in the holy name of money.

Massey Energy chief executive Don Blankenship, whose Richmond-based company is under investigation after a deadly explosion at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, said he has no plans to resign.

"Whatever happened at UBB is something that needs to be figured out, but it’s not the result of my management style," Blankenship, 60, said in an interview.

From The Washington Post, as reported by Bloomberg

An end is not in sight for this ongoing Blankenship conundrum, which can be seen as good news and bad news. I want resolution. I hope that one day this man will receive the proper justice brought to him, not on a silver platter, but closer to a penitentiary meal tray.

He doesn’t represent the values and culture of Appalachia, he represents the coal industry and corporate greed. I for one will not stand for this. The question still remains, will the people of Congress and those in higher powers finally grow a pair and do something about corrupt and greedy tycoons like Blankenship? Or will they let this case slither away like a cunning snake, deep into the elusive tall grass it will await yet another prey who is unbeknownst to their presence.

 

What did civil rights polls reveal 50 years ago?

From the Restore Fairness blog.

The passage of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law has thrown the issue of immigration and race into the limelight. With many in Arizona deeply concerned about the specter of racial profiling that SB1070 brings with it, the law has brought attention to the frustration many feel at the federal government’s inaction on immigration reform.

It’s this very frustration that a recent poll by the Service Employees International Union, National Council of La Raza, Latino Decisions and Grove Insight tap into, through a poll conducted across Latino and non-Latino voters in Arizona about SB1070 and it’s electoral implications.

The poll conducted across 500 non-Latino voters reveal that while 60% favor SB1070, 73% favor a smart, workable, comprehensive, federal solution to immigration reform. Poll results reveal a vast majority of voters frustrated with the failure to take comprehensive action on immigration, and in the absence of responsible action on the part of Congress and the White House, willing to lend support to an irresponsible law that unfairly targets minorities.

Amongst Latino voters, an overwhelming 82% oppose SB1070, spanning all generations, from first generation Latinos to fourth generation Latino-Americans who believe it will lead to racial profiling. After the passage of the law, immigration has become the most important issue for Latino voters, rising from 36% before the law passed to 59% after. Looking towards the November elections, the poll found that Latino voters are extremely dissatisfied with both parties-

The law, which is seen as a personal attack against all Latinos, has ignited Arizona Latino voters’ frustration…and galvanized them to move away from candidates – particularly Republicans – who play politics with the issue. Leadership on the issue is essential for Democrats if they want to nurture the support they gained from Latinos in 2008. And leadership is crucial for Republicans if they want to address and move the issue off the table so they can start repairing their relationship with this critical electorate.

Both this poll, and a number of other polls show that a majority of Americans, across ethnic and party lines, believe that it is important for government to address immigration before the elections in November 2010. A CBS/New York Times poll 57% of Americans who believe immigration law should be the domain of the federal government and 64% who were in support of legal status for undocumented people already in the country.  However, the same poll also showed 51% support of Arizona’s law and 9% who felt that it “doesn’t go far enough”.

An interesting blog post by Imagine 2050 compares the results of current immigration polls to surveys of public opinion on civil rights and racial desegregation issues conducted 50 years ago. Out to prove that the “tyranny of the majority” is a continuing narrative of American history, it says -

A half century ago, polls found strikingly similar results with regard to civil rights. In spite of gaining the approval of some 55% of Americans in the spring of 1954, five years later a majority believed that the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education “caused a lot more trouble than it was worth.” During the 1960s a Gallup Poll found most Americans gradually came to support “racial equality in public places” but a consistent plurality wanted to take a “go slow” approach to racial change. In the South, not surprisingly, Gallup found that 80% of those polled in 1964 disapproved of civil rights legislation.

While opinion polls are crucial to understanding how people in different areas are responding to the issue, it is important not to lose sight of the human aspect of this debate, and the fact that millions of people are dealing with the implications of a broken system on a daily basis. Inspired by a true story, and no doubt representative of the true stories of many people in the United States, an award-winning film Entre Nos is playing in theaters now. It tells the story of Mariana, a single mother who fights against all odds to fend for herself and her children after her husband leaves her, undocumented, poor and alone in an unfamiliar city, speaking a language she barely knows. Watch co-director and actress Paola Mendoza talk about the film as a tribute to her mother who gave up everything to ensure the American dream for her children.

Photo courtesy of Sridhar Ranganath

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