On July 13th, George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting of 17 year old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman shot Martin during a scuffle—the details of which we will never truly know—and claimed that he had done so only in self-defense. The jury believed him; much of the viewing public did not. In the weeks since the verdict, the nation has been reeling. The shooting itself, the failure of the police department, the vigilantism encouraged by “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) laws, the racial tensions—all of it brought to light deep seated issues in the US. Clearly, we are not a post-racial society. (more…)
In my last post, I mentioned the larger discussion about blame for racism that cases like Trayvon Martin produce. One consistent meme that arises every time black people protest the killing of a black person by a white person is: Why don’t black people protest when blacks kill other blacks? After all, statistically black homicide victims are more likely to be killed by blacks than any other race. Black on black homicide certainly happens at a far greater rate than vigilante or even police killing of blacks. So, why doesn’t the black community protest that? Why is it only when the perpetrator is white? The questions (rhetorical as they may be) need answers. (more…)
Two weeks ago, my post, the 40th Anniversary of Kent State: a gap in our historical knowledge?, addressed the reasons why we remember certain events and not others. As a current example of the way in which history is created, I offer the example of the protests that are taking place at the University of Puerto Rico and the lack of media coverage of said event. When the violence at Kent State broke out, there were no online news outlets, no blogs, no video phones. Vast systems of information diffusion are currently at our disposal and a nearly constant stream of news filters into our world. And yet, still, only some events are covered – some incessantly, in fact – while others are not. The extent to which the media affect our perception of events and how history is recorded is so significant that it is almost unknowable.
A few days ago, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico posted an intriguing bit of information and I only saw it because he’s a friend and it appeared on his Facebook page: There were protests taking place at UPR. Further, students had settled in at the University and Police were surrounding the property. A father of one of the protesters had been injured by police and tensions were escalating between students and the police. The university, in fact, had been shut down for months leading up to this situation – summer classes had been canceled, dorms evacuated. Where was the media coverage? I logged onto the New York Times website. In fact, I would soon discover, my friend had written in to the Times specifically because there had been no coverage of the protests. I searched Google and the only articles that seem to exist are those linked below from a local PR paper and from a Taiwanese paper. The only discernible mention of the protests by the Times is by Mariela Ramos, a resident of PR, who wrote an online letter in response to another Times article, “The Forces Move on Protesters as Tension Grows.” Her letter appears here:
“The students of the State University of Puerto Rico have been on strike for 22 days. Yesterday, the strike vote was ratified by the students at an Assembly, and today the Police is not letting food or water in, as a coercive method for the protesters to give up their struggle. A parent was hit and arrested for throwing food over the gate. Violence may erupt any minute, as Police officers surround the entrances and await for the order to enter and move the protesters by force. The world should know this is happening right now in American territory.”
On Tuesday, May 12, two women attempted, in the face of almost certain failure, to become the first same sex-couple in Russia to legally marry. LGBT rights activists, as well as the gay community in Russia, have been met with antipathy and hostility in the past so, it came as little surprise to the two when their request was denied. Not only have activists been violently attacked, according to the New York Times, state officials have assigned the gay community blame for the spread of HIV. Instead of receiving a marriage license yesterday, the couples’ attention was directed to Article 12 of the family codex, which specifically articulates that marriage is only legally sanctioned between a man and a woman. The pair will be appealing the outcome.
One might ask why, in the face of such antagonism, these women would make such a bold statement of political protest. However, this move was not meant to serve as one isolated statement but rather as the pretext to a much bigger effort on the part of LGBT rights activists in Russia. They were helping to construct the political opportunity for a protest set to take place in Moscow on Saturday in conjunction with the Eurovision final, which will take place in the same city. The two women, along with many others, are employing protest politics to combat the state’s influence on an area of the social life not historically seen as political. While the LGBT community of Russia is not likely to achieve legal equality through this one collective action, there is still much they can hope to achieve. David S. Meyer explains, “Movement activists aspire to change not only specific policies but also broad cultural and institutional structures; they therefore can affect far more than their explicitly articulated targets.” So, while policy changes may still be a long way off for Moscow, the participants in such protests are taking major strides in the transformation of the Russian social and political culture.
Link to the story in the New York Times
Link to Blackwell Reference Online: Protest and Political Process by David S. Meyer
The financial system is ‘ill’, capitalism is on the verge of ‘collapsing’, a drastic ‘cure’ has to be found quickly, ‘toxic’ funds need to be ‘eradicated’, and so on. Terms from the vocabulary of medicine and biology have been largely used to describe the systemic crisis of the latest capital, often comparing it to the body in pain. Probably, in an attempt to localize and make more understandable the phantasmagoria of the trillions to Mr. and Mrs. Smiths, the taxpayers, the backbone of the economy.
On the other hand, people protesting their dissent at the 20 ‘surgeons’, who gathered in London for the world summit, were confined, squeezed, made literally prisoners in public space by a well established police tactic, in Wednesday’s protest in the City of London. For seven hours, they have been left without basic services, water, food, or a chance to move away, compressed in a tight space by the police, armed in full anti-riot gear. A colleague of mine, a PhD research student, so described to me in a private email the scene: “…most people around us were totally calm and peaceful till the police penned in thousands upon thousands of people without giving reasons for their actions, without access to food or water or toilets. Disgusting!”. A journalist from the Times (Murdoch’s paper) so comments: ” The police wilfully criminalised and alienated 4,000 innocent people. If I were to design a system to provoke and alienate, I could not do better”.
What would have Foucault thought of this, I wonder?
An Intro to Biopolitics (K. Schlosser)
For a theory of urban warfare tactics (E. Weizman)
Last week, a very racially charged cartoon appeared in the New York Post, featuring a couple of police officers having killed a chimpanzee, with the caption, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” The cartoon was supposedly a somewhat weak joke about an animal that attacked a woman, and was shot by police in Connecticut, linked tenuously with commentary of a sort about President Obama’s economic plan. Civil rights leaders weren’t laughing. In fact, Al Sharpton as well as the NAACP have called for the resignation of the cartoonist and the editor who defended it. They believe that the cartoon was not only racist, as African Americans have historically been disparaged by comparing them with apes and monkeys, but was also “an invitation to assassination” of the president. Defenders of the cartoon have appealed to free speech rights, or have stated that the cartoon had nothing to do with the president. Needless to say, protests and calls for a boycott continue.
Some commentators have seen a more structural factor at play in this incident: the lack of Black voices in decision-making capacities on editorial boards and in news rooms in America. Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP appeared on the cable show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on Monday, and the two discussed this issue. As the New York Post is owned by Rupert Murdoch, issues of consolidation of media ownership have also come to the forefront, since Murdoch (who owns multiple media outlets in major cities the world over) needed an F.C.C. waiver to own a television station in the same city where he also owns a daily newspaper. Sharpton’s civil rights activist organization, the National Action Network, is calling for this waiver to be revoked. As Ben Bagdikian wrote about in his book The Media Monopoly, first published in 1983, consolidation of media ownership puts fewer and fewer voices in charge of distributing information and opinions in the mass media. When media crosses the invisible line that divides opinionated commentary from that which causes outrage, these issues are thrown into the spotlight again.
You Must Be Joking: The Sociological Critique of Humour and Comic Media by Sharon Lockyer and Michael Pickering
A new television show on the U.S. broadcast network ABC called “Homeland Security USA” has been stirring up controversy within the immigrants’ rights community. Ostensibly a Homeland Security Department version of the long-running show “Cops,” this version includes border and port security activity. Critics ask, is this just another reality show, or an elaborate piece of propaganda? Some civil rights groups believe the latter, and one has organized a protest and boycott directed against the show. They charge that the program glosses over some very questionable practices of immigration enforcement like “detainees being held in inhumane and overcrowded conditions, often without charges, and for months and even years.” A Facebook page has been started to organize protest activity. Proponents of the show say that it allows the public to see the work being done to protect citizens. Conflict theory states that social order is maintained by the ability of the dominant group to control those without power, a perspective that the protesters want to make evident.
A Nation of Immigrants and a Gatekeeping Nation: American Immigration Law and Policy by Erika Lee
The growing rate of home foreclosures has devastated individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities across the United States. The Washington Post reported that a group of “foreclosees” recently engaged in collective action in response to this crisis. The small group marched into the Baltimore office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in an effort to get some kind of public and official response from “The Man”. These are the real people behind the impersonal news stories peppering papers across the nation. While this may have been only a symbolic confrontation on some levels, it is characteristic of the kind of direct action used by social movements throughout history. The individuals in this article may be seen as actively engaging in the social process of defining the foreclosure crisis as a public issue. Scholars of social movements may argue over whether strain/breakdown or opportunity offer the more appropriate construct for explaining what led to this collective action. Either way, it is clearer now that foreclosures are a kind of external factor that can stimulate protest activity.
Steven M. Buechler on Theories of Collective Action