Do we want a future where our religious faith makes us a target?

From our Restore Fairness blog-

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 also proved to be an unfortunate turning point in America’s socio-cultural dynamics. For a nation that’s built upon the principles of separating church and state, America’s multi-religious identity came to the forefront as specific groups, especially Muslims or Hindus and Sikhs (who were presumed to be Muslims), became the targets of mistrust and prejudice, both institutional and social. While Americans enjoy considerable religious freedom regardless of affiliation or faith, the increased polarization of the religious communities post-9/11 is a major cause for concern. This issue is addressed in Breakthrough’s multi-platform Facebook game America 2049 which, this week, takes players to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The future that America 2049 presents, and asks players to save, shows a country torn apart by hate and mistrust. Yet the scenario of the future isn’t too far from us today. The Gainesville Times recently published a letter to the editor that exemplified the extremities of religious and ethnic hate that exists in certain parts of the country. A reader, responding to the May 6 story of a Delta Airlines pilot refusing to fly with two Islamic imams onboard, said-

It is impossible to distinguish between Muslims who are anti-American and just waiting for a chance to do us harm, and those who are merely pursuing their religious beliefs in this country. The only way to be sure and safe is to exclude them all. Such action would not constitute bias or racism against a particular nationality just because they may be different from us, or the condemnation of a specific religion because it differs from our beliefs but the action is necessary to create conditions in which it is safe to live without a constant fear of terrorism.

Such blatant justification of Islamophobia is alarming and begs us to work towards much more comprehensive multicultural education. Such views are further bolstered with several states, such as Tennessee, looking to pass a state bill which would essentially ban the practice of Sharia law in the state. The letter received much criticism and supports the statistic put forth by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that since 2000, the number of organized hate groups has increased by 50 percent.

America 2049 provides players with an interactive scenario where this situation — which is already all too real — gets worse in the near future. Players also learn about the strong Anti-Catholic sentiments that pervaded America in the mid-1800s. Such sentiments gave rise to a political party called The Know-Nothings - so called because members swore to deny any knowledge of the party when questioned by outsiders. The Know-Nothings exhibited an extreme disapproval of the wave of Irish and German Catholic immigrants to the U.S in the mid-1800s, often engaging in violence and pushing for stricter immigration and naturalization laws to restrict Catholic presence in the country.

In a classic case of history repeating itself — a point America 2049 aims to make - we are now witness to similar sentiments against Muslim or Arabian/South Asian immigration to the U.S. The recent uproar around the proposed construction of an Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero in New York City serves as an apt example of this prejudice. America 2049 aims to address such issues of mistrust and blind discrimination by challenging players to make their own choices on how to confront religious profiling by contextualizing the entire issue across history. The crucial question, therefore, is - in a country that prides itself on freedoms of many kinds, do we want a future where our faith makes us a target?

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Fictional ban on interracial unions and abortion in America 2049 becoming all too real today

From our Restore Fairness blog-

Games, it turns out, imitate life — sometimes eerily so — just as history so often threatens to repeat itself. This week, Breakthrough’s ongoing Facebook gaming event, America 2049, tackles two major issues that become linked within the narrative of the game: interracial unions and abortion. During gameplay, players encounter the story of Bonnie, a privileged white Southern woman who is pregnant with the child of a black man: the product, that is, of an illegal relationship. But that’s not the only reason she’s in hiding; she’s also at risk of being forced to abort her baby as a “mercy” (”A baby like that wouldn’t know who its own kind is,” her father says), even though abortion too is illegal in this scenario. That’s where class comes in, too: it’s made clear that while families like hers have access to skilled abortion care, women less fortunate — and forced to seek out back-alley providers — die at a rate of 180,000 per year.

Sounds a lot like our pre-Roe v. Wade past, but also, more and more, like our near future. Last month, a Public Policy Polling survey (PDF) found that a majority of Republican voters in Mississippi would support a ban on interracial marriage. Meanwhile, on May 4, all House Republicans and 16 Democrats voted to pass H.R.3, the so-called “No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion Act,” which Ms. Magazine has called “misleading and punitive.” (For one thing, there is no federal funding of abortion.)

The bill will now go to the Senate, which is Democrat-controlled, leading many to believe that it will likely not pass. The Obama administration has also promised to veto the bill if it comes across the President’s desk.

The Mississippi poll results and the H.R.3 passage in the House happened independently, but their timing is apt. The scenario explored in America 2049 connects back to our country’s history of anti-miscegenation laws, which were not repealed until 1967. The story of Bonnie, the character in the game, echoes that of an interracial married couple Richard and Mildred Loving, whose fight for equality led to the historic 1967 decision to legalize interracial unions.

The Lovings are the subject of the new documentary The Loving Story that screened recently at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and will air on HBO in February 2012. Richard Loving, a white man, met Mildred Jeter, a woman of African and Native American ancestry, in 1951 in a small town in Virginia. When Mildred was 18, she became pregnant. She and Richard went to nearby Washington, D.C. and got married, since Virginia laws at the time prohibited interracial marriage. A few weeks later, back in Virginia, the Lovings were arrested for their union and banished from the state for 25 years. The Lovings reached out to legislators and advocates in Washington, D.C. and, after a long fight, they won their right to be together. On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all remaining state anti-miscegenation laws and the Lovings returned to Virginia to live out the rest of their lives. The anniversary of the date, June 12, is now celebrated as “Loving Day“ by some interracial couples and increasing numbers of same-sex couples, who are currently fighting for their own right to marry.

Watch a testimonial by Bonnie, a character in America 2049, who speaks about the danger she is in for being in an interracial relationship and being pregnant with an interracial child.

The right to choose whom to love or marry; the right to control one’s body and future: they’re intimately linked. And at present — with H.R.3 only one of numerous legislative attacks on women’s human rights today — the latter truly hangs in the balance.

As Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, commented:

”True to form, the House majority has cast a wide net in its attack on women’s health and rights — this time, trying to use the tax code to eradicate all insurance coverage for abortion. This move is the height of hypocrisy, because politicians who regularly rail against big government today voted to raise taxes on millions of families and small businesses — merely to stop them from purchasing insurance plans that cover abortion.”

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, added:

”Despite facing intense public backlash for bringing the government to the brink of shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood, Speaker Boehner and his allies have resumed their war on women with the passage of H.R.3. This bill is so extreme that it manipulates the tax code to advance anti-choice policies and could spur the IRS to audit rape and incest survivors who choose abortion care.”

The H.R.3 bill also affects the rights of physicians and their freedom to properly care for their patients. While women’s rights are greatly affected by this potential piece of legislation, the providers who would administer the abortions safely will be even more restricted and possibly at greater risk. The Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) is one such group of providers who have committed to providing reproductive medical care, especially to those who with limited financial means. The organization supports the right of their doctors to deliver such care without becoming a target. Last night in New York, the PRCH Abortion Provider Awards recognized the dedication, compassion and tenacity of Dr. Eleanor Drey and Dr. Curtis Boyd. Said Dr. Boyd: “We are now facing the most repressive and aggressive legislation against women that we’ve seen since the 1950s.” How will we treat women and families of all sorts in the 2050s? You decide.

Photo courtesy of america2049.com

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“With Osama Bin Laden dead, can we have our rights back?” – How the effects of 9/11 could lead to America 2049

From the Restore Fairness blog-

On Sunday, May 1, President Obama announced the death of Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the notorious terrorist who spearheaded the 9/11 attacks against the U.S. While the predominant reaction from around the world has been one of relief and joy, bin Laden’s death reminds us of just how big an impact the 9/11 attacks had on us and the way we perceive and treat each other.

While the U.S. was already grappling with the immigration issue, 9/11 triggered a major overhaul of legislation that imposed stringent restrictions on immigration and gave the government much greater power to infringe on the rights of citizens and visitors to this country. The U.S had essentially gone into lock-down mode domestically, and U.S. foreign policy became more aggressive. At the time of the attacks, Barack Obama was an local politician only known in Chicago, and largely unknown to the world. He wrote a short article for his local newspaper, the Hyde Park Herald, in which he reacted to the tragic events of that day and suggested a cautious approach to its repercussions. He stated-

The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity….

We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad. We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin American, Eastern Europe, and within our own shores.

Obama's emphasis on steering clear of blind rage and discrimination, as a way of blaming certain groups for the attacks, seems prophetic now. Over the last ten years, we have witnessed increasingly stringent immigration enforcement, and a steady dissolution of civil rights and attitudes towards immigrant communities, especially Muslim-Americans and South Asians. This view was echoed by Chris Hedges, a senior journalist and war correspondent who witnessed 9/11 and was plunged into its aftermath. In an address at a fundraising event on Sunday night as news of bin Laden's death was creeping in, Hedges remembered-

When I was in New York, as some of you were, on 9/11, I was in Times Square when the second plane hit. I walked into The New York Times, I stuffed notebooks in my pocket and walked down the West Side Highway and was at Ground Zero four hours later. I was there when Building 7 collapsed. And I watched as a nation drank deep from that very dark elixir of American nationalism … the flip side of nationalism is always racism, it’s about self-exaltation and the denigration of the other.

The risks and backlash that both Obama and Hedges referenced have materialized over the last decade and placed the U.S. at a crucial crossroads where the decisions we take now will significantly impact the America of the future. In its fifth week, Breakthrough's human rights Facebook game America 2049 takes players to their mission in Phoenix, Arizona, which has been in someway the epicenter of the immigration debate.  In Phoenix, players confront heightened debates around severely restricted immigration policies. Players are also confronted with a scenario where ethnic celebrations and festivals have been outlawed for fear that "they promote dissent and unnecessarily emphasize differences between populations." The game presents players with choices for how to address such a situation in the future, and by referencing historical artifacts, shows how our present could very well lead to the dytopic future that the game depicts. One example of this historical reference is a 1920s songbook - "O! Close the Gates." (see photo) - that demonized immigrants in popular culture.

In Level 5 of America 2049, players also meet Cynthia Espinoza. Watch her testimonial about the need to preserve America's multicultural heritage:

America 2049 addresses the rights of immigrants, including forced immigrant workers, in a country that has struggled to reach a rational solution to the "foreign threats" amplified by the attacks of 9/11. The attacks changed the immigration issue in America dramatically, sparking off a wave of new legislation or a tightening of existing ones. In an intriguing article, the Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) outlined five ways in which Osama bin Laden -- and the 9/11 attacks he masterminded -- altered the immigration landscape in the U.S. These include, perhaps most notoriously, the establishment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has been responsible for a growing number of deportations each year, as well as the now-canceled Secure Border Initiative network (SBInet) or the "virtual fence" that was planned for the entire stretch of US-Mexico border. The erosion of basic rights accelerated with the Patriot Act, which considerably expanded the government's ability to conduct surveillance over Americans.

The calls for comprehensive immigration reform have intensified over the past few years, making it even more pressing to address the rights of immigrants who have no criminal records and are working hard to become part of American society. Another aspect of the immigration debate that is brought up in America 2049 is the degradation of immigrant worker rights and forced migration. While the tragedy of 9/11 caused the government to enforce stricter anti-immigrant legislation, one of the side effects has been the neglect of immigrant worker conditions. In America 2049, players discover an actual account by a Puerto Rican laborer at Camp Bragg, Rafael F. Marchan, who protested against his deplorable working conditions in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, such situations still exist today, as reported by the New York Times about a story of "500 Indian men hired by Signal International of Alabama for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina were confined in squalid camps, illegally charged for lodging and food, and subject to discrimination and abuse." The fact that such forced servitude of immigrant workers continues a hundred years on from the example in America 2049 proves that prompt action must be taken to restore basic human rights for everyone.

So while the world celebrates the end of a tyrant, we must remember that more than celebrating a death, we must take this opportunity to work towards lasting peace and respect for basic rights for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or background. Osama bin Laden caused much havoc around the world and claimed countless innocent lives, but letting his actions be used as a reason for the dissolution of respect and rights for hard working, innocent people can simply not be justified. As a statement that circulated virally soon after bin Laden's death was announced said- “If Osama Bin Laden is dead, can we have our rights back?” Ten years on, let's make that our main goal.

Photo courtesy of Norton, et. al., A People and a Nation (5th ed., 1998)

Shackled no more: Justice for Juana

From the Restore Fairness blog-

We’re pleased to announce that the Nashville, TN Sheriff’s office has been found guilty of violating the Constitutional rights of Juana Villegas, a pregnant immigrant woman who was inhumanely shackled during labor and denied proper treatment after a traffic stop, of which she was later cleared.

Back in 2008, through documentary and our interactive experience, Homeland Guantanamos, we put a face to Juana Villegas’s story. Because of an agreement between local police and federal immigration authorities, called 287g, she was picked up, detained and shackled during labor. She was not allowed to use a breast pump to nurse her newborn child. Villegas said, “The nurse brought me a breast pump… she asked permission for me to take it to jail… again the sheriff said, no.”

Our friends at Colorlines wrote about this historic verdict and about the nationwide effort against shackling incarcerated women while they’re in labor. From Colorlines-

In 2009, former New York Governor David Paterson signed a bill to outlaw the practice. Former California Governor Arnold Swarzenegger vetoed a similar measure. According to the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, so far only ten states have legislation regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women. Because of the criticism that has stemmed from her case, the sheriff’s office has changed its policy such that “pregnant women are shackled only during transport if there is a credible threat that they may try to escape.

Watch our first interview with Juana here.

While she has won the case, Juana Villegas faces the threat of deportation once again as the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals has denied a request that would allow her to stay. Villegas’s case sheds light on the grave injustices in our broken immigration system.  As we continue to tell these stories, in the hope of similar successes, we ask that you play our new Facebook game, America 2049, which weaves human rights issues into each week of game play. Next week, the game explores the struggles of Latino immigrants.

This ruling against the Nashville Sheriff’s office is a historic step. We will continue to tell stories, invite conversation, and inspire action that will help America move even further in the right direction.

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Re-enactment of Chinese immigrant exclusion and recent quelling of protests show a future without diversity and freedom

From the Restore Fairness blog-

"The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don't agree with."
- Eleanor Holmes Norton, civil rights activist and Democrat Delegate to Congress representing the District of Columbia.

The freedom to disagree forms the bedrock of a thriving democratic society. Today, as we witness numerous incidents of suppressed protests and dissent around the world, the call for this freedom becomes even more pertinent. It also reminds us of America's fortunate position as a society where considerable disagreement is allowed to foster healthy debates on issues. This freedom of speech and debate is inextricably linked to our nation's fabric as a confluence of immigrants. This week, Breakthrough's ongoing Facebook game America 2049 addresses the issue of quelling dissent in the future, reminding us that the freedoms we have today can easily be restricted for the sake of supposed national security. On Saturday, April 30, Breakthrough is also partnering with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) in San Francisco to host the Interrogation Reenactment Event,* an opportunity for visitors to witness a historical scenario and learn about its repercussions today. From the event organizers-

...actors in period costumes will reenact an actual interrogation of Chinese immigrants attempting to overcome the Chinese Exclusion Acts [of 1882], the first American legislation to exclude a specific race or nationality from immigration to this country. We will see what these intended immigrants went through at the island’s Administration Building, and the outcome of their ordeal. Following that, well-known professors Judy Yung, professor emerita at UC Santa Cruz, and Bill Ong Hing, law professor at the University of San Francisco, and a recent immigrant who is a college student will participate in a panel discussion relating the Angel Island experience to what immigrants face today.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 provided a 10-year absolute moratorium on Chinese labor immigration. It was then extended in the form of the Geary Act, which added further restrictions on Chinese immigrants already in the United States. Chinese immigration was stringently regulated until 1943, when all these exclusionary acts were repealed in favor of more rational quotas on immigration for each nationality. The targeting of specific immigrant groups (based on their ethnic background) in the U.S. exists in other forms even today with some states passing stringent immigration acts that tend to affect the Latino communities primarily.

Harsh immigration laws affect our country to this day. The diversity of opinion that comes with healthy immigration forms the unique social, cultural and political fabric of our country. Today, as the people of several Arab nations are rising to claim their rights for equality and fair governance, some of their own governments are actively halting their protests. While the future of the 'Arab Spring' remains to be seen, this moment in history points to the greater issue of freedom of speech. Americans are fortunate to have much greater freedoms in protesting and dissent, but we must remain aware of this and not take it for granted.

In America 2049 this week, players are confronted with a situation where the authorities have sanctioned the use of a chemical agent in the water supply, SerennAide, that would pre-emptively quell any dissenting activity, making the population completely passive. Whether fictitious, as shown in Joss Whedon's 2005 space western film Serenity (in which a chemical agent was added to the air processors of a planet to calm the population), or the very real new "calming" drink 'Just Chill' from a California-based company, a SerennAide-like scenario is not too far from reality. Most importantly, SerennAide is also a symbol for institutional measures that have sought to prevent dissent or difference of opinion for the sake of national good throughout our history. In the bleak future of America 2049, the situation is at an extreme, raising awareness for the value of diversity of opinion.

A society that is so heavily based on immigration and diversity, such as the United States, must remain aware of its uniqueness and strengths. We must learn from our past, from decisions we made then to actively prohibit specific groups of immigrants, and understand how such practices today or in the future will only damage our social framework.

Watch a message from 'M,' the masked leader of Divided We Fall, the presumed terrorist group in America 2049. 'M' speaks about the the importance of dissent and difference of opinion to nurture a healthy democracy, especially as authorities in 2049 sanction the use of SerennAide.

*Be sure to check out the ferry schedule to allow for more time to arrive to the Immigration Station. For more information on ferry, tickets and schedule, visit AIISF's event page.

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Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk

 

 

 

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