Friday, October 29, 2010

Supervisorial Candidate Whitburn Makes Impassioned Plea to Queer Democrats to “Get Out the Vote,” Volunteer in Last Few Days


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“This is Get Out the Vote weekend,” said Zenger’s-endorsed San Diego County Board of Supervisors candidate Stephen Whitburn in the last few minutes of the October 28 San Diego Democratic Club meeting in an intense, impassioned manner belying his usual reputation for cool, “All the work leads up to this weekend.” Speaking to the members of the club of which he used to be president until he ran for the San Diego City Council in 2008, Whitburn thanked them for their previous efforts on his behalf — and pleaded with them to keep up their volunteer work during the election.

While admitting that he has no current polling data on his race, Whitburn said he expects it to be “close” — and, what’s more, he thinks the campaign of his entrenched opponent, Republican 16-year incumbent Ron Roberts, also expects it to be close. Otherwise both Roberts’ own campaign and independent committees wouldn’t be putting so much money and energy sending out a blizzard of last-minute direct-mail hit-pieces attacking Whitburn — “which indicates the opposition has something to worry about,” Whitburn told the club.

Whitburn said two of the hit pieces attacking him came from the Lincoln Club of San Diego, and two others came from a nationwide group called the New Majority Political Action Committee (PAC), the largest Republican PAC. Whitburn is sure more vicious direct-mail attacks are coming in the last few days before the election. “They’re going to have me doing horrible things from your mailboxes, including reaching into their pockets,” he grimly joked. He also alluded to the run of deceptive “slate mailers” which purport to be from Democratic organizations, list the Democratic candidates for state offices — and then endorse Roberts.

But he also said there’s a silver lining in the dark cloud of mailers against him. “They’re going very heavy on mail because they aren’t doing much on the ground or on the phones,” Whitburn said. “We have an incredibly large field campaign, and it’s a credit to all of you who have participated. We have talked to thousands of voters in person and by phone. We’ve gotten a big number of yes ID’s — people who’ve said they’ll vote for us. If we can get those people to turn out, we can win this race.”

One theme Whitburn has stressed in his campaign is that electing him will put a Democrat on the County Board of Supervisors for the first time in 16 years. Thanks to California’s system of nonpartisan local elections, in which candidates aren’t listed on the ballot by party identification, people running for office have to educate potential voters about their party affiliation. Thanks to Whitburn’s unsuccessful run for the City Council in 2008, he explained, a lot of people in the district — or at least those parts of it which overlap with the City Council district he ran in — already know he’s a Democrat. The problem, Whitburn added, is “a lot of people think Ron Roberts is a Democrat as well.”

What’s more, Whitburn says, he has to introduce himself to people in the parts of the Fourth Supervisorial District which don’t overlap the Third City Council District. “The [Supervisorial] District goes all the way up to University City,” he explained, “and there are a lot of people in it who don’t have a clear idea who I am.” He’s also running into a lot of people who say they already voted — a recurring issue for candidates now that increasing numbers of voters bypass the polls on election day and vote by mail earlier — and they can’t always remember who, if anyone, they voted for in his race. But Whitburn says he’s been heartened by the many early voters who’ve told him they don’t like Roberts and certainly didn’t vote for him.

Another former club president, Craig Roberts, told Whitburn and the club audience that he’d done door-to-door walking as part of the Democrats’ GO Team — which only goes to Democrats and voters who don’t state a party affiliation — “and there’s a lot of awareness that you’re a Democrat. More people have told me they are going to vote for you than are going to vote for Jerry Brown.” Veteran club activist John Lockhart added that the district has a 2-to-1 Democratic registration edge and should be represented by a Democrat.

“We’ve got to get this race up on the radar screens,” said Whitburn. “We need to get these people to the polls. We identify these people all year to get them out in the next five days. We have to make sure they turn in their absentee [vote-by-mail] ballots or go to the polls. The other side doesn’t have a field campaign. It all depends on having people in the offices and in the field.”

The last days of the Whitburn campaign will be run out of the Democratic Unity Office, 7847 Convoy Court, Suite 101, San Diego, CA 92111. “There is something for everybody to do,” Whitburn said. “No matter what you like to do, we need you: labeling door hangers, hanging them on doors, knocking and talking, phoning. Please turn out in the next few days and make it happen.” To contact the Democratic Unity Office, please phone (858) 279-2010. For more information on Stephen Whitburn, please visit his Web site at

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

For the Record …

Zenger’s has received word from Robert Corea, public relations person for the Eden restaurant/bistro/nightclub in Hillcrest, that the feature story on Eden in the October 2010 Zenger’s mistakenly identified co-owners Scotty Wagner and David Laurent as Gay. Wagner is Gay but Laurent is not; according to Corea, “Laurent is happily married with a wife and child.” Also, Eden will be open for breakfast (actually brunch) only on Sundays, not every day as stated in the article, though the ChileCo Bistro will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The online version of the article, posted below, has already been corrected accordingly. Zenger’s regrets the errors.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Over 200 Turn Out for Matthew Shepard Memorial

Marchers Converge on Obelisk, Center from Both Sides of Hillcrest


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Marchers on their way from 5th and University to Obelisk; Ben Cartwright and Rudy Cervantes; Assemblymember Lori Saldaña; Terry Summers; Russell Bui; Josh Scarpuzzi; Wendy Sue Biegeleisen; Bobby Lute; Jason

When Ben Cartwright and Rudy Cervantes organized their first memorial for Matthew Shepard in Hillcrest on October 12, 2009 — 11 years to the day after Shepard’s death — only a handful of people turned out. This year, over 200 people took to the streets of Hillcrest, converging from opposite directions for a preliminary rally and candlelight vigil at Obelisk Bookstore and a long program at the Center. “This is the proof that we had a powerful idea,” Cartwright said at the opening of the Center rally. “We will continue doing this until all hate is gone.”

The Shepard memorial on October 12, 2010 took place amid a growing number of events suggesting that the day when all anti-Queer hate is gone is still very far away. At least six Queer teenagers had recently killed themselves, largely as the result of anti-Gay bullying from their peers — including 19-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, whose roommates wired his room with a hidden camera, filmed him having sex with a man and posted the images on the Internet. Other Gay men had been targeted by bashers, including one gang who assaulted someone leaving the iconic Stonewall Inn in New York City, and a gang member was beaten virtually to death by his confederates once they realized he was Gay.

The organizers of the Shepard memorial — Cartwright, Cervantes and a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence identified only as “Sister Iona Dubble-Wyde” — dramatized the death toll. Over both march routes — one stretching west from Park and University, one going east from Fifth and University — they wrote on the sidewalk, in chalk, names of victims of Queer-related murder and suicide. Chronologically, their list started with Harvey Milk, San Francisco city supervisor murdered by a homophobic colleague in 1978, and ended with Seth Walsh, 13-year-old Fresno middle-school student who killed himself after being taunted by schoolmates over being Gay.

The preliminary rally was held in front of Obelisk Bookstore because it’s the site of the John Robert Wear memorial plaque, commemorating the death of a teenager in Hillcrest on December 13, 1991. He and two friends were assaulted with knives by a gang of young white supremacists based in the Casa Grande building in East Hillcrest (now known as the Marquis of Hillcrest). Though Wear wasn’t Gay — at least according to his friends, who were also stabbed but survived — he was targeted because he was young and out on the streets of Hillcrest at night.

“We’re here to remember everyone who died of hate and intolerance,” said Sister Iona Dubble-Wyde at the Obelisk rally. “We’re all proud that we’re here tonight, because there’s strength in numbers. Sometimes when you’re alone in school, you often feel that you’re the only one who’s getting picked on; you’re the only one who’s ever had people call you a name. But getting together lets us give people strength and lets them know that it’s going to get better. So think of those lights as your beacons of hope to let kids who are out there scared that it does get better.”

It’s wasn’t an accident that Sister Dubble-Wyde used the phrase “it gets better” as a recurring theme in her speech. It’s the name of a YouTube page,, created by Seattle Stranger editor Dan Savage and his husband Terry aimed at convincing Queer teenagers not to kill themselves because if they live, their lives will indeed get better. They’re soliciting adult Queers who have made it through being bullied and survived to lead happy, satisfying lives to film testimonials for posting to the site. During part of a recent marriage-equality fundraiser in Hillcrest October 15, a camera crew was present to take down testimonials from anyone who wanted to contribute to the “It Gets Better” project.

Sister Dubble-Wyde admitted that she almost didn’t make it herself, though her chosen means of self-destruction was a slow-motion one — crystal meth — instead of a gun, knife, noose or leap off a bridge. “I tried my hardest, and I’m still here,” she said. “I’m here because I need to be. We all need to give hope to everybody else. If any of you would like to speak and share a story, either of yourself or anybody you know, I will go ahead and open up the mike.”

A young man named Bobby Lute was the first to take up the Sister’s challenge. He just moved to San Diego a year ago, after having grown up in Mississippi — not exactly the most hospitable place for a young man coming to an awareness that he’s Gay. “I was bullied in high school, but I actually had support from both my parents and my brother,” Lute recalled. Noting how many popular activities he’d been involved in in high school — including being a cheerleader and in the color guard, as well as playing football and baseball — until he came out as Gay, he moved to San Diego after his stint in the military because “I saw that it was comfortable and safe. I moved out here to be myself. … I’m happy that I’m living here now because all my friends are not only jealous, they see that I’m very highly comfortable being Gay in public, in the eye of everybody else.”

Another young man, who identified himself only as Jason, said, “I was originally invited on Facebook to come to this event, and I declined it, like I decline most events, because I’d rather stay home and watch my DVR. But then I remembered exactly why I’m here today. I’ve worked in Hillcrest now for 11 years, and the very first thing that brought me out here and got me involved with the group that used to be called GYA [Gay Youth Alliance] was when Judy Shepard [Matthew Shepard’s mother] came to Hillcrest.”

Jason recalled that he saw Judy Shepard speak at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest, near UCSD Medical Center, and “she said all these crazy, powerful things. Her son had just been beaten to death, but she still was there because she knew work needed to be done. And here I was, this timid little teenager. I came out to my parents through the newscast that night, because I was on the news, hugging Judy Shepard, and we were just bawling. I don’t think I stopped crying for a while after that. Shortly thereafter, I got off my damned ass and started volunteering. I got jobs here in Hillcrest, and now I can’t see myself doing anything but being out here and being strong, and being who I am.”

Another young man, who didn’t identify himself at all, said he was from Wyoming, Matthew Shepard’s home state, and that he came out at age 14 a year or two after Shepard’s murder. “I remember it was really emotional for me,” he recalled. “I was 13 or 14 but still pretty feminine. Everybody knew I was Gay. Whether you know it or not, everybody around you can pretty much tell. So I got made fun of a lot. One time I counted134 times in one day I got called ‘faggot’ or ‘queer’ or ‘butt-dart.’” Recalling from his childhood how much negative terms hurt him, he called on the people in the crowd to “be nicer to each other” and not use terms like “faggot” to refer to other Gays.

“There are places out there where people are like me as a kid,” the man from Wyoming said. “They fear going to school each day. They fear that they’re going to get attacked or called names. You just have to care about each other. I think Matthew Shepard was great. He really helped me come out. Even though he got killed, that showed me the inspiration. If he could die and people could know about him, I could do it, too.”

Fresh Stories at the Center

The following rally at the Center was unusual for several reasons. One was the cast of speakers; aside from an elected official, state Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, and the Center’s own political action coordinator, Carlos Marquez, most of them were unfamiliar people picked to speak because of their deep knowledge or involvement with the topic, not the usual community “names.” Even veteran activist Wendy Sue Biegeleisen, who’s been involved in San Diego’s Queer community for over 30 years, was on the program not to talk about her general experience but to admit that she herself attempted suicide three times between the ages of 12 and 14 — a revelation which shocked many in the audience used to regarding this self-proclaimed “loud, proud, Jewish pagan activist dyke” as a pillar of strength in the community.

“Every one of you is the change we need to see in the world,” Assemblymember Saldaña said. “It’s tragic when the start of a school year means the start of bullying. I wish I could have had a conversation with these young people to tell them it gets better, and that school should be a place of learning and a safe place. We learned with AIDS that silence equals death. We have to encourage the people being bullied to speak up. The tragedy is it takes the deaths of young people to make people aware that there is a problem.”

Saldaña cited one example from her legislative career that showed just how hard it sometimes it to get people to see that school bullying is a problem. She had heard of a young man who was attending a private school where he was being bullied. When his parents complained to the people running the school, their advice was that they should pull him out of the school and send him somewhere else. The parents not only did that, they moved — only the bullies at their child’s former school found out the family’s new address and continued the bullying. “The parents found they had no legal recourse because it was a private school,” Saldaña said.

She introduced a bill to make private school owners accountable for students who get bullied, and she got it through both houses of the state legislature — but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. One bill Schwarzenegger did sign, Saldaña explained, was one authored by openly Gay Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) giving students the right to leave school during the day to seek counseling — and not have to disclose to teachers or school authorities exactly why they’re seeking counseling.

“You are wonderful advocates to have those conversations with young people because you have been through those experiences,” Saldaña told the crowd. “I’ve worked with advocates to make the community safer, to increase awareness and understanding. Sometimes we’ve succeeded in Sacramento, and sometimes we realize we have to keep trying.”

Knowing Matthew Shepard

The next speaker was Tony Summers, former executive director of the Lambda Community Center in Fort Collins, Colorado, who was born in Matthew Shepard’s home town, Casper, Wyoming; attended the University of Wyoming at the time Shepard did and chaired its Gay student group; and met him at least three times after Summers graduated from the University of Wyoming and took the job in Fort Collins. He began by reading a letter from Judy Shepard in which Matthew’s mother hailed “the spirit of activism that has motivated you to fight for an end to violence for all.” Then Summers spoke in his own voice about what his association with Matthew Shepard — both before and after Matthew’s murder — had meant to him.

Summers said he first met Matthew Shepard when “he and his friends had driven down to dance at the two Gay clubs in Fort Collins. We talked about the student group, and he was eager to talk about the Lambda Center. Two months later, I met Matthew at a party. He was chatting about everything from politics to what guys on the campus were cute.” The last time Summers saw Matthew was the week before he was killed; this time he and his friends had chartered a limousine to make the trip to Fort Collins and the Tornado Club to dance. “He was funny, full of life and wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” Summers recalled.

The first word Summers got of Matthew’s fate was a news report on October 7 that “a University of Wyoming student” had been found, savagely beaten and tied to a fence. His intimation that it might be Matthew was soon confirmed. He was at his job at the Lambda Community Center “when the media barrage started,” he recalled. “We organized a vigil that evening and let the gatherers know what we knew, which wasn’t much. Later that night I heard about the extent of Matthew’s injuries and I cried like I never cried before. People gathered at the Center and they were scared.”

The assault on Matthew Shepard hit Fort Collins’ Queer community especially hard for two reasons. First, he was actually there; after he was found he had been taken to a hospital in Fort Collins, where doctors kept him alive for five days until his parents reluctantly ordered life support withdrawn and he died on October 12, 1998. Second, the city was in the middle of a controversial campaign because there was an issue on that year’s election ballot to add sexual orientation to the list of classes protected by the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. Summers said he was hit with another media deluge when Matthew died, and he was also getting calls from members of Fort Collins’ Queer community at the Center. “The sadness and fear was overwhelming,” he remembered.

Matthew Shepard’s funeral took place October 16, 1998 in Casper. “We did the three-hour drive, and it started to snow on the way,” Summers said. “Fred Phelps and his followers were there to picket the service, and I encouraged our group just to ignore him. It was a beautiful service, and the tears flowed.” After the funeral, Casper was hit by a blizzard, stranding Summers and his friends from Fort Collins. “We were stuck in Casper and so we shared stories about Matthew,” Summers said.

“I am truly saddened by all the hate that still surrounds us,” Summers noted in closing. “I was also the victim of bullying in school, and I am a survivor of teen suicide. We must never forget the people killed because of their sexual orientation, their race or any other prejudice.”

Russell Bui, one of the event organizers, took time out from his duty running the projector — which showed slides giving the speakers’ names and presenting images of Matthew Shepard — and talked about his researches into Matthew Shepard’s death. His killers were found almost immediately; they were Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, both 21 years old and also University of Wyoming students. “They were known for their outgoing personalities and involvement in the meth scene,” Bui said. He said that on the night they attacked Matthew, McKinney and Henderson “had originally planned to rob a drug dealer,” but when they saw Shepard they figured he would have money and be an easier target.

McKinney and Henderson offered Shepard a ride home from a local bar, and on the way “Matthew put his hand on McKinney’s thigh and McKinney hit him with a gun and pistol-whipped him,” Bui said. The attack escalated and McKinney struck Shepard again and again with his gun, and eventually the two men tied Shepard to a fence and left him to die. Then they went back to Shepard’s apartment to rob it — only by sheer coincidence they ran into another pair of burglars, and the police were called and arrested all four men. The police eventually linked McKinney and Henderson to the Shepard murder from the revolver in Henderson’s possession, which still had Shepard’s blood on it.

“The outcome would indicate there was a targeted hate crime against Shepard,” Bui said. He admitted that Shepard and McKinney had known each other and both “were part of the drug scene” in Laramie, but said McKinney and Henderson brought up drugs as part of their defense “to play down the idea that hate was a motive.” McKinney’s attorneys also suggested that their client was himself Bisexual — there’s evidence that McKinney had had sex with men, but only as part of threesomes in which a woman was also present — “to play up a ‘Gay panic’ defense.” McKinney’s lawyers also said he had been a victim of child molestation, but, Bui said, “the defense could not ignore that Shepard’s sexuality had something to do with their motives.”

According to Bui, the long-term significance of the trial “was the definition of a hate crime.” Immediately afterwards, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act was introduced in Congress, making hate-related assaults federal crimes and also giving judges the right to impose longer sentences for crimes motivated by prejudice. But, despite the aggressive lobbying of Judy Shepard and other Queer and Queer-friendly activists, it still took over a decade for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act to become federal law — and then only because the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress piggy-backed it onto another bill.

Survivors of Suicide Attempts

“I came out to my parents at 16 and I was thrown out on the streets by my parents two weeks later,” recalled the next speaker, Josh Scarpuzzi. “Later my parents had me kidnapped and sent to a Mormon camp, where I spent the next 365 days of my life and was subjected to humiliation and sexual abuse every day. Upon returning to my house, I was bombarded every day with Bible verses, Yes on 8 signs and harassment. I stood on the 163 bridge and contemplated ending my life. I’d had a recent breakup and I’d lost my family and friends.” The only thing that kept him from going over, he said, was that at the moment he was about to jump he got a call on his cell phone from Cricket Wireless reminding him that he owed $45 on his plan the next day; he joked that Cricket Wireless saved his life.

Scarpuzzi added that everyone in the room — even those who hadn’t suffered anywhere near what he had — “can all relate to discrimination. It took me a long time to forgive my family. Had I killed myself that morning, the pain would have lived on through the people who cared about me. I had to learn to accept myself and my family’s beliefs. Matthew Shepard’s life was taken from him because of an evil epidemic called homophobia.” But he also praised elected officials who volunteer at the Center for showing their support and validating the community. A writer for Gay San Diego who’s publishing in that paper a series of vignettes about his life, Scarpuzzi told his audience to “love each other, and above all love yourselves.”

“I am a sponsor of school abuse, molest and attempted teen suicide,” said Wendy Sue Biegeleisen, jolting many in the audience who have known her for decades and seen her as a tower of strength in the community. “I’ve seen a lot of the public-service announcements on the It Gets Better Web site, including the one of Tom Gunn of Project Runway, who admitted he attempted suicide as a teenager. It’s very important for us to confront the epidemic of school bullying, cyberabuse and teen suicide. We need to make our schools, churches, after-school spaces and playgrounds safe.”

Biegeleisen said her struggle to be accepted despite her differences from the norm began in first grade, when a teacher noticed she was left-handed and “tried to turn me right-handed in the traditional way — with a ruler. Thank goodness I was moved to another class, but I’d already learned being ‘different’ was bad. At seven my family moved to San Diego County and I tried to fit into my new school, but I was ‘different,’ and the teasing began.”

In the fourth grade, Biegeleisen said, she got jarred by another aspect of her life that was “different,” and that she couldn’t do anything about: her Jewish background. “My best friend came up to me and said, ‘You killed Jesus, and I’ll never play with you anymore,’” she recalled. “The bullying and teasing increased, and I responded by becoming active and loud. The teachers said I wasn’t ‘working to my potential.’ I didn’t find out I had a learning disability until I went to college. My parents didn’t care about my grades as long as I didn’t ‘act out’ in school.”

In junior high school, Biegeleisen recalled, “the verbal abuse became physical abuse. I was called every name in the book, from ‘ugly’ and ‘weirdo’ to ‘lezzie’ and ‘queer’ — before I knew what those terms meant. I kept my head down in gym class because if I were caught looking at another girl, the label would stick. I felt something so wrong with me I just wanted to escape the pain. I believed I was the horrible one.” So she tried to kill herself three times, and when she awakened from the last attempt “I felt like such failure because I couldn’t even kill myself right. I turned to self-medicating: drinking, taking my father’s Valium, smoking pot. I have not drunk or taken a drug in 23 years. I started early and ended early.”

The only thing that saved her, Biegeleisen said, was the arts. She sang and participated in college drama. “I had a couple of teachers in the arts who recognized that I was different, and that being unique and individual was a gift,” she recalled. “They assured me life would be better after high school. Now I’m a 51-yar-old radical dyke Lesbian feminist peace activist. I came out as a Lesbian in 1976 and realized I had a lot to offer ‘different’ people like me, and at 24 I realized I would not be in the closet anymore. I would go through life believing everyone I met would know I was a Lesbian, and act accordingly.”

The final speaker was Don Mitchell, head of the Stonewall Citizens’ Patrol, a volunteer group formed after a Queer-bashing attack on people leaving the 2006 San Diego Pride Festival. According to their Web site, , they work with the San Diego Police Department and serve as extra “eyes and ears” for the police. “Our main goals are to raise awareness, patrol the streets and educate our community,” Mitchell said. “We are all volunteers. None of us are paid. The time we give is our way of fighting for Matthew Shepard’s memory and for all the victims of hate.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME) fundraiser this Friday, October 15:



Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bullying: America’s National Pastime

Queer Youth Victims of a Homo-Hating Culture


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

I was probably lucky that I didn’t really know I was Gay until I was 24. I was coming out of the bookstore at San Francisco State University and another man was going in when he decided to cruise me. “I’d like to blow you away,” he said, and gave me his phone number. I got very little sleep that night: I tossed, turned, got up, opened the book in which I’d stuck his phone number, and finally realized, “You’re going to call this guy, and you’re going to meet him.” I did, and I did, and I ended up having sex for only the second time in my life and the first time with a man.

So I didn’t actually live the tortures Queer kids have reported going through in middle school and high school, the ones that led kids like 13-year-old Seth Walsh of Fresno, California; 13-year-old Asher Brown from Houston’s suburbs; and 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana to kill themselves in the last month. And since the Internet didn’t exist yet, my first Queer tryst with a fellow college student wasn’t filmed and put up on the Web by my roommates, as happened to Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, shaming him into suicide.

But I certainly got bullied, and maybe on some weird subliminal wavelength the people who did tease and bully me — worse in the seventh grade than at any other point in my life — were on to something about me before I was. After all, I was a virtual walking stereotype of the sort of boy who grows up to be Gay: small, weak, petrified of getting into a fight, lousy at sports, great at schoolwork and inclined to react to traumas by locking myself in my room at home and playing records of classical, opera or show tunes. Ironically, things started looking up for me when I made it to high school, if only because high school was large enough and the era in which I went there — the late 1960’s — sufficiently Bohemian and counter-cultural I found enough fellow misfits, whatever their sexuality, to make friends and feel that I wasn’t alone.

The suicides of Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas and Tyler Clementi have become a news story even though I suspect at least as many Queer kids kill themselves at the beginning of a new school year every year and this time it just happens to have become a mainstream media event. They’ve become an excuse for the usual cant, the usual hand-wringing, the usual frantic mobilizations by Queer activists who think if they can just set up enough organizations, put up enough Queer-positive Web sites, build enough support from the non-Queer public, somehow we can reach future Queer youth and persuade them that life is worth living — that, as Seattle Stranger columnist Dan Savage put it in a video he and his husband Terry posted to a YouTube page they call “It Gets Better” [], “Your life can be amazing, but you have to tough this period of it out. And you have to live your life so you’re around for it to get amazing.”

But in persuading the Queer or so-called “questioning” youth that his or her life is worth living and worth sticking out this misery and pain in order to get to the good parts later on, Dan Savage, the people behind the Trevor Project [; 1-(800) 488-7386] and all the other activists bearing the “it gets better” message are up against a level of social revulsion against Queer people that remains astonishingly forbidding and impermeable. One would think the progress we’ve made over the years — thanks largely to our own activism, we’ve ended the laws criminalizing our sexual expression, about half the states make it illegal for employers to discriminate against us, a handful of states even allow us to marry our partners; and we’ve made inroads as both personalities and characters in movies and on TV — would have started to eat away at the prejudices and eased the horror many teenagers feel when they start to realize that their emotional and erotic impulses are directed at members of their own, not the opposite, gender.

But no-o-o-o-o: whatever progress we’ve made has been little more than window-dressing on what remains a pretty relentlessly homophobic society. Can it be coincidence that this spate of Queer teen suicides occurred just after a solid Republican minority in the U.S. Senate used the filibuster to block repeal of the hateful “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prohibits Queers from serving openly in the U.S. military? What kind of a message does that send to Queer or “questioning” youth — that because you’re a man-loving-man or a woman-loving woman, your country doesn’t even consider you morally fit to lay down your life for it? Thanks to the never-ending demand for cannon fodder for Afghanistan, Iraq and the U.S.’s other military commitments around the world, the military has relaxed its standards enough that you can get in if you’re a convicted felon, a drug user or actively autistic — but not if you’re Queer and you refuse to lie about it.

America’s majority religion, Christianity, endlessly repeats the message that we’re sinners, we’re evil, we’re hated by God, we’re doomed to Hell. (Not all Christian churches say those things, but the biggest ones and the ones that get the most publicity do.) The Right-wing media ceaselessly attack us and ridicule the very idea that we should expect to have our sexuality and our relationships respected. And the American electorate has proven, over and over again, that it hates us: in every state where our marriage rights have been on the ballot, we have lost: majorities ranging from 52 percent in California and Maine to 90 percent in Kentucky have told us we are at best second-class citizens and at worst scum of the earth. It’s particularly relevant to the question of why Queer teens kill themselves that one of the most effective arguments for the anti-marriage initiatives has been that if you allow same-sex marriage, kids will be taught about it in schools. God forbid that schoolchildren actually hear a Queer-positive message from their teachers as part of the official curriculum!

What’s more, we live in an America that has made bullying not only a national pastime but has made heroes and superstars of the bullies themselves. Look at Rush Limbaugh and listen to his hectoring voice: what is he if not a schoolyard bully writ large, with his puffy body and his smirking self-righteousness? Talk radio and Fox News have hired bullies and made them not only well-paid entertainers but arbiters of American politics; listen to the snide laugh every Right-wing talk-show host brings to bear in discussing the opposition, and the crude, malicious “jokes” they tell (like Mark Levin referring to rival media outlets as the “Associated Depress” and the “Los Angeles Slimes”), and see if you don’t agree with me that the popularity of talk radio is the exaltation of the bully and the bullying spirit.

And it’s gotten even nastier with the Internet, and in particular with the cult of anonymity that surrounds it. The classmates who bullied Billy Lucas into suicide didn’t even stop tormenting him with his death; they hacked into the memorial Facebook page and vandalized it with further anti-Queer insults. The roommates who put Tyler Clementi’s sex life online responded to his protests by posting more clips of him and spreading them to more sites. The Internet has cultivated a culture where nobody feels compelled to accept responsibility for anything they say or write — and where instead of the face-to-face insults of old, where you could at least confront your accusers even if you couldn’t stop them, the new bullies use the responsibility-free anonymity of cyberspace to render their insults untraceable and therefore make them sting even harder.

Richard Swanson, the superintendent of the district where Seth Walsh went to school, did at least some of the right things. He had his staff conduct quarterly assemblies on behavior, taught tolerance in the classroom and had, he told the New York Times, “definite discipline procedures that respond to bullying.” But they weren’t enough to prevent Seth from killing himself, and Swanson sadly told the Times, “Maybe they couldn’t have.” As long as you have a society that hates Queers — that hates weakness in general and sees same-sex affections as a sign of weakness — that exalts bullies and rewards them with power, money and fame, and that is so relentlessly hypercompetitive that even its entertainment (the so-called “reality” shows on TV that broadcast the message, over and over, that there can be only one winner and everyone else doesn’t matter) exalts a definition of “strength” that means destroying the other guy — we’re going to be seen as weak, vulnerable, unworthy to live. And all too many of us are going to internalize that message and take ourselves out — meaning, as Dan Savage said in his YouTube video, “that the bullies have won.”
November 2 Election: Any Democrat Over Any Republican!

Tea Party Threatens Economy, Civil Rights, Human Survival

This is not the year for American Leftists, progressives and liberals not to vote — or to cast protest votes for alternative parties. The extremely Right-wing Tea Party has virtually taken over the Republican Party and, if not stopped, has a good chance of winning control of the country in 2012 and instituting policies that will result in a full-blown depression, a corporate dictatorship and, ultimately, the end of the human race through unchecked global warming. We MUST vote to elect EVERY Democrat on the ballot in 2010 and 2012 — AND we must mount a massive direct-action movement to put pressure on the Democrats to govern progressively.


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Zenger’s Newsmagazine usually uses the last issue before a major election to publish a long list of endorsements in every race San Diegans are likely to vote in. This year, the frightening surge in power and influence of the radical-Right “Tea Party” movement makes endorsing easy: any Democrat over any Republican!

The Tea Party has gained so much influence in such a short time that the euphoria in Left-of-center circles over Barack Obama’s history-making election as President in November 2008 seems already to belong to another historical era. Partly due to a genuine grass-roots mobilization, but mostly due to the immense media power of talk radio and Fox News and the multi-million dollar contributions by large corporations and wealthy individuals, the Tea Party is just two elections away from virtually total control over the U.S. government. If the Republicans win majorities in both the House and Senate this year, they will be poised to win the presidency in 2012 — and if all Sarah Palin’s endorsed candidates win their Senate races, she will quite likely be the next president, beating Obama in 2012 the way Ronald Reagan squeaked out a victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980. (Right-wing revisionism has turned Reagan’s first election into a “landslide” even though he barely got over 50 percent of the vote to Carter’s 43 percent and independent candidate John Anderson’s 7 percent.)

The Tea Party poses a threat of such scope it’s comparable to the threat the German Left faced in the early 1930’s as their country’s economic collapse increased the power, influence and political support of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Instead of coming together to defeat the Nazi threat, Germany’s two largest Left parties, the Social Democrats and the Communists, targeted each other. The winners were the Nazis and the losers were not only the German Left but the millions of people worldwide who lost their lives in World War II and the Holocaust. If the U.S. Left continues its pointless debates over whether to work in or support the Democratic Party, it is heading for the same fate as the German Left in the early 1930’s — and the powerful, mobilized corporate Right of which the Tea Party is the vanguard will win absolute control over American politics and destroy this country.

Let’s take a look at what the Tea Party and its candidates stand for. First, they call for drastic cutbacks in government spending at a time when the only force fueling the poor excuse for an economic “recovery” we have going is government spending. Meg Whitman, Republican candidate for governor of California, says that one of the three key points in her platform is job creation — yet she also says she’s going to fire 40,000 state workers, which will hurt not only them but also every business in the private sector from which they buy goods and services. The Tea Party’s relentless attacks on government programs, and especially on unemployment insurance and what’s left of America’s tattered “social safety net,” isn’t going to revitalize the economy. Quite the opposite: it will take more people out of the workforce and turn the double-dip recession into a full-fledged depression.

Though they’re politically savvy enough to leave Social Security and Medicare alone — for now — largely because they’re depending on the votes of senior citizens currently receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits, their long-term plan is to get rid of them too. Missouri Senate candidate Roy Blunt, living up to his last name, has said Medicare “has never done anything to make people more healthy.” Other Tea Party Republicans running for U.S. Senate, Sharron Angle of Nevada and Mike Lee of Utah, have called for phasing out of Social Security and/or Medicare. Angle also says unemployment benefits “have really spoiled our citizenry.”

The Tea Party is also totally opposed to civil-rights protection. One major Tea Party Senate candidate, Rand Paul of Kentucky, has said private business owners should have a right to discriminate on the basis of race or any other criterion they choose. Tea Party candidates and supporters have called for repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which not only guarantees citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil but also contains the constitutional basis for virtually all federal civil rights legislation. Without the Fourteenth Amendment, racial segregation will once again be constitutional and the basis of the hard-fought legal battle for Queer rights in the courts will disappear overnight.

And the Fourteenth Amendment isn’t the only part of the current Constitution the Tea Party opposes. They’re also against the Sixteenth Amendment, which allows Congress to levy an income tax; and even the Seventeenth Amendment, which allows the U.S. people to elect Senators directly. That last is especially ironic because virtually all the Tea Party candidates who have become Senate nominees ran insurgent campaigns and defeated establishment candidates in party primaries. If the state legislators still elected Senators, as was the case in the first 120 years of America’s history as a republic, none of these Right-wing Tea Party radicals would be anywhere near a U.S. Senate seat.

Don’t be fooled by media claims that the Tea Party represents a new libertarian strain of Republican politics that’s de-emphasizing the “social” or “values” issues of the religious Right and instead is focusing on economics. On abortion, Queer rights, creationism and the other hot-button issues of the religious Right, the Tea Party is with them 100 percent. Republican Senate candidates Carly Fiorina of California (who’s really a Tea Party candidate even though she’s tried to make it look like she isn’t), Joe Miller of Alaska, Ken Buck of Colorado and Rand Paul of Kentucky all flatly oppose women’s reproductive choice. Christine O’Donnell of Delaware says “there’s just as much, if not more” evidence for creationism as for evolution. She also founded a group called Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth, where she promoted sexual abstinence and attacked homosexuality and masturbation, and she blames school shootings on the constitutional ban against prayer in the public schools.

Marco Rubio, Republican front-runner in the Senate race in Florida, opposes the separation of church and state and supports the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevents Queers from serving openly in the military. (His “independent” opponent, Charlie Crist, is no better; he was the architect of Florida’s ban on adoptions by same-sex couples — recently thrown out by a court as unconstitutional.) Sharron Angle of Nevada believes both public education and government aid to the poor are anti-Biblical and therefore immoral. (Apparently her edition of the Bible doesn’t include the part in which Jesus says, “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”) Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire has pledged to support the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DoMA), passed by Congress in 1996, and wants to ban same-sex couples from adopting children. Richard Burr of North Carolina goes even further: not only does he support DoMA and “don’t ask, don’t tell,” he favors amending the Constitution to abolish same-sex marriage nationwide and opposes laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Rob Portman of Ohio also supports the Federal (anti-)Marriage Amendment.

Some may read my comparison between the Tea Party and the Nazis and think I’m being hysterical and hyperbolic, but there’s one issue — climate change — on which the Tea Party actually poses more of a long-term threat to humanity than the Nazis did. It’s an article of faith among Tea Party supporters that so-called “global warming” is not only not happening but is a hoax deliberately created by sinister Leftists anxious to reduce the standard of living of virtually everyone and leave us living in caves again. Joe Miller of Alaska insists there’s no proof that climate change is the result of human activity. Carly Fiorina of California mocked her opponent, Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer, for calling climate change a national security issue; according to Fiorina, Boxer is just “worried about the weather.” Ken Buck doesn’t want to be called a global-warming “denier,” but he too insists there’s no proof that humans are causing climate change. Marco Rubio of Florida says there isn’t enough scientific evidence to justify legislation to address climate change, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — currently favored to defeat incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold, the most consistently progressive Senator in the current Congress — says, “I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change.”

If the Tea Party takes over the U.S. government, the immediate result will be an economic depression. The medium-term result will be a corporate dictatorship, as the anemic regulations passed by the Obama administration and the current Congress to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial meltdown are dismantled and ordinary workers and consumers are at the mercy of corporations who can hire, fire, slash wages, market unsafe products, charge ripoff prices, swindle people with so-called “investment opportunities,” and pollute the environment with impunity. The long-term result, in about 100 to 200 years, will be the end of the human race — and perhaps all life on earth — as unchecked global warming floods much of the earth’s surface and makes the remaining land too hot to support our species.

So this is not a time to stay home on election day — or to cast protest votes for alternative-party candidates — just because we’re upset with Obama and the Democrats for not having brought us the progressive millennium. It’s true that the Democrats made us a lot of fine campaign promises in 2006 and 2008 and then reneged on them — the U.S. still has a military presence in Iraq, is escalating the war in Afghanistan (something Obama did promise to do in his campaign), still runs detention camps at Guantánamo, Bagram and elsewhere in the world and still asserts the right to hold so-called “enemy combatants” in custody forever, due process be damned. It’s true that the consumer regulations passed by Congress are far weaker than they should have been, and the so-called “health care” bill is actually a giant giveaway to the for-profit insurance industry (which, true to form, is reneging on all the promises it made and is demanding the carrot — a federal requirement that everyone in the country be forced to buy health insurance — without the stick of being forced to offer genuine coverage to sick people). It’s also true that the Employee Free Choice Act (which aimed to reverse decades of successful employer intimidation against workers’ attempts to organize and join or form unions), the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” are dead issues for now.

But the threat of the Tea Party is so overarching that this is not the time to nit-pick over whether the Democrats should have done more. If they didn’t do more, one reason is that we weren’t in the streets demanding it. We didn’t crash the Congressional town-hall meetings on health care to yell at the Wimpocrats and demand single-payer; the Tea Party Right did and attacked the whole notion of health care as a human right. We didn’t confront Obama and demand that he turn his words into action; instead the Right seized the opportunity and grabbed the political momentum. Obama and the Democrats are in deep trouble mainly because the economy hasn’t really recovered; there’s nothing wrong with the Democrats’ prospects that a million new private-sector jobs per month wouldn’t cure. Since that isn’t happening, the American people — especially the non-partisan “independent” voters — are swinging Republican because they’re voting “retrospectively and negatively,” as the late political scientist V. O. Key said in 1966. They’re not voting for the entire repressive, Right-wing revolutionary Tea Party agenda — polls reveal surprisingly even splits on the question of whether government should be doing less or more to get the economy going again — but if they elect a Republican Congress this year, and especially if they also elect a Republican President in 2012, the full Tea Party agenda is what they’re likely to get.

So it’s time for those of us who consider ourselves progressives, liberals or Leftists (which are three very different things, though they all get lumped together as “un-American” in Tea Party propaganda) to abandon our internal battles and pull together for the Democratic Party in 2010 and 2012. This does not mean we shouldn’t challenge them in the streets; we should. One reason we’re in this horrible dilemma is that somehow between the 1960’s and today the U.S. Left forgot the balance between electoral activism and direct action, and the U.S. Right learned it. If you want to achieve social change, you have to be involved in the electoral process to vote in candidates more sympathetic to your goals than their opponents — and you have to be out in the streets protesting to push them to answer the better angels of their natures. We need to help keep existing Democrats in office, and elect new ones, in 2010 and 2012 — and in 2011 we need to be on their doorsteps shouting at them, “We put you where you are. You owe us.”

For the guidance of voters in San Diego’s “nonpartisan” races who want to know who the Democrats are, Zenger’s recommends the following candidates:

San Diego County Board of Supervisors, District 4: STEPHEN WHITBURN

San Diego County Board of Supervisors, District 5: STEVE GRONKE

San Diego City Council, District 6: HOWARD WAYNE

San Diego City Council, District 8: DAVID ALVAREZ

San Diego Unified School District Board, District B; KEVIN BEISER

San Diego Unified School District Board, District D: JOHN DeBECK

San Diego County Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk: DAVID BUTLER

State Superintendent of Public Instruction: TOM TORKLASON

Guide to State and Local Propositions

Proposition 19 (Legalization of Marijuana): HELL YES! Marijuana isn’t a totally benign drug, but it’s no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco. It’s fundamentally irrational that it remains illegal.

Proposition 20 gives authority over Congressional redistricting to the same independent commission, currently still being formed, authorized by voters in 2008 to redraw state legislative districts. It’s wrong and immoral to allow politicians to draw their own districts and use that power to protect themselves. YES.

Proposition 21 increases the vehicle license fee (the so-called “car tax”) by $18 to fund state parks and wildlife programs. This is a form of “ballot-box budgeting” we’re generally opposed to, but the issue is important enough — and the chances parks will get their fair share of the state budget if it doesn’t pass remote enough — it’s a close call, but we say YES.

Proposition 22 prohibits the state from borrowing or taking funds used for transportation, redevelopment or local government projects or services even during times of financial emergency. Local governments and school districts shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of the state’s financial problems, but the solution isn’t to pass a measure like this. It’s to amend the state constitution to give cities, counties and schools the independent tax bases they had before Proposition 13 passed in 1978 and made them all mendicants of the state. NO.

Proposition 23 “suspends” AB 32, California’s landmark global-warming law, until the state’s unemployment rate dips below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters — i.e., one year — which has happened exactly three times in the last 30 years. (The rate is currently 10.5 percent.) A vote for this is a vote for the two Texas oil companies who are sponsoring it, greater dependency on fossil fuels and the ultimate annihilation of the human race from global warming. HELL NO!

Proposition 24 is an attack on unwarranted, unnecessary corporate tax ripoffs that were written into the 2009 state budget to win enough Republican votes to pass it under the state’s monstrous two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget. HELL YES!

Proposition 25 reduces the vote requirement to pass a budget in the state legislature from two-thirds to a simple majority. If it passes, the minority party will lose its power to hold the budget hostage to win special favors for corporations and other special interests. It does not affect the two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes, though we wish it did. Still, it’s a long-overdue reform. HELL YES!

Proposition 26 would add more two-thirds vote requirements to the state constitution, requiring the same two-thirds vote for new “fees” as for new taxes. The provision that gives away the proponents’ real agenda is that “fees … that address adverse impacts on society or the environment caused by the fee-payer’s business” would be subject to two-thirds vote requirements. It’s yet another attempt by corporations to evade responsibility for cleaning up their own messes and set themselves up as above the law. HELL NO!

Proposition 27 attempts to eliminate the independent redistricting commission altogether and return California to the inherently evil practice of allowing legislators to draw their own districts. The old saying is that no man should be the judge of his own cause; likewise, no politicians should be able to pick and choose their own constituents. HELL NO!

Proposition A is an attempt by the current all-Republican San Diego County Board of Supervisors to freeze into the county charter their ban on so-called Project-Labor Agreements (PLA’s), which require that government contractors hire local workers and guarantee them union-level wages and health benefits. It’s yet another Republican program to make fat cats richer and workers poorer. HELL NO!

Proposition B would prevent a new San Diego city attorney from firing the previous city attorney’s appointees except for “cause.” That means if we ever elect a progressive city attorney again, he or she wouldn’t be able to get rid of the current Right-wing Republican’s appointees. We’ve seen at the federal level how a progressive attorney general can be sabotaged by a Right-wing predecessor’s holdover appointees with civil service protection. NO.

Proposition C is a measure to keep the state from being able to hold the Pacific Highlands Ranch development hostage by failing to build the freeway extension that was one of the original conditions for the project. We’re usually skeptical of initiatives to make development easier, but with Democratic City Councilmember Sherri Lightner and the San Diego director of the Endangered Habitats League on board, we’ll say YES.

Proposition D is the controversial measure to add one-half cent to the sales tax in San Diego to keep the city from having to make even more drastic cuts to police, fire and other city services. The tax is contingent on the city making 10 “reforms,” seven of which address the ongoing pension crisis and three are designed to make it easier to privatize city services. The anti-tax “starve the beast” crazies are against this — and so are some misguided progressives who don’t like sales taxes because they hit working people harder than the rich (they do) but ignore that California cities don’t have either the constitutional power or the political will to tax more fairly. HELL YES!

Proposition J is an attempt by the San Diego Unified School District to levy a “parcel tax” of $98 on every single-family home in the district, and larger fees on commercial and rental housing properties, to save the district from massive layoffs of teachers and other cutbacks. Once again, the choice isn’t between an ideal financing system and this measure; it’s a choice between a (barely) politically possible tax and the total decimation of public education in San Diego. HELL YES!

San Diego Activists Turn Out to Support Bradley Manning

Gay Army Private Accused of Leaking Afghan War Papers, Iraq Attack Video


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Group shots of the September 19 rally (2), Bradley Manning (stock photo), Chuck Wynette, Marjorie Cohn, Adrienne Bocelli, Justin Caulker

On July 12, 2007 a U.S. Army helicopter was flying a routine patrol over New Baghdad, Iraq when its crew members spotted two employees of the Reuters news agency — a photographer and his driver — on the ground. Possibly mistaking the long telephoto lens on the photographer’s camera for a weapon, the helicopter crew radioed to base and requested “permission to engage” — military-speak for “fire” — on the two Reuters staffers and several other Iraqi civilians in the area. The guns from the copter not only mowed down the photographers and the other civilians on the scene, they also opened up on a black minivan that drove up to pick up the bodies and any survivors. Two children in the van were orphaned, and when U.S. ground forces arrived one soldier requested permission to take them to a U.S. Army hospital for treatment. But his superiors refused and instead insisted that he take them to an Iraqi hospital — meaning an unnecessary delay and inferior treatment for their wounds.

All this was recorded in a 17-minute video that was posted in April 2010 by the aggressive independent Web site WikiLeaks, an Australian operation headed by Julian Assange, which gave the post the provocative headline, “Collateral Murder.” WikiLeaks had also published 90,000 pages of documents about the U.S. war on Afghanistan, many of them bolstering already known information about U.S. forces killing civilians in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan (a country that’s supposedly our ally) as well as corruption within the Afghan government. In late May the U.S. Army arrested private first class Bradley Manning and charged him with being the leaker who made all this information available to Assange’s Web site. He’s currently imprisoned in the brig at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia — and on September 19, demonstrations were held in San Diego and 19 other U.S. cities demanding his immediate release.

“If the allegations are untrue, we call on the U.S. Department of Defense to release Mr. Manning immediately,” said an open letter calling for the San Diego protest and signed by at least 12 local progressive organizations, including Zenger’s Newsmagazine. “If the allegations are true, we also call upon the U.S. Department of Defense to release Mr. Manning immediately. The leaked video … clearly shows that official statements … were blatantly false. The leaker of this video blew the whistle on two crimes: the murder of civilians and an official cover-up. Exposing these crimes was a moral and legal obligation and a service to the international community. The leaker deserves our respect and thanks — not prosecution.”

Michael Anderson, who helped organize the rally on behalf of at least two of the sponsoring organizations, Activist San Diego and the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME), kicked off the event by reading the letter and MC’d it throughout. The rally took place on Sunday afternoon, September 19, in front of the Horton Plaza shopping mall at Fourth and Broadway downtown. Speakers — most of them using a bullhorn since the P.A. system malfunctioned early on — delivered impassioned pleas not only for Manning but urging increased resistance to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lorraine Wrightsman of the Bradley Manning Support Network said her group has raised over $50,000 for Manning’s legal defense and boasted that “due to sites like WikiLeaks, transparency is coming” — that government can no longer keep anti-civilian attacks like the one documented in “Collateral Murder” secret.

“There’s a misconception about the oath soldiers take,” said Chuck Wynette of Viet Nam Veterans Against War (VVAW). “You don’t swear to obey megalomaniacs in the oil business, crazies in the State Department or mercenary organizations. You swear to uphold the Constitution, not the President or defense contractors” — ironically sounding similar to Right-wing servicemembers who, according to a recent article in Mother Jones magazine, may be organizing resistance to President Obama on the basis that his administration is violating the Constitution. Anticipating the arguments of law professor Marjorie Cohn, who spoke later in the event, Wynette pointed out that under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, treaties signed by the U.S. President and ratified by the Senate become the supreme law of the land, just like the Constitution itself. “After World War II, we not only signed but wrote treaties about warfare,” Wynette said — treaties we’ve routinely violated in the Viet Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars, he argued.

Cohn, announced as the event’s keynote speaker, took the platform just after Wynette and compared Manning to Daniel Ellsberg, the former Pentagon historian and data analyst who leaked the so-called “Pentagon Papers,” a secret history the Defense Department compiled on how the U.S. got involved in Viet Nam, in 1971. She also described the “Collateral Murder” video and listed the acts it shows that constitute war crimes. “The video shows U.S. forces opening fire from a helicopter and killing 12 Iraqi civilians,” Cohn said. “One witness told [progressive journalist] Amy Goodman that it flew into an area without arms or insurgents, destroyed the area and killed all the people.” She also cited journalist Rick Pawley as her source for the allegation that the man in the video who’s run over by a tank was still alive until it struck and crushed him.

According to Cohn, “Article VI of the Geneva Conventions say soldiers should differentiate between civilian and military forces. The attack violated the Geneva Conventions by targeting civilians who posed no threat.” The soldiers committed a second war crime, Cohn said, “when they shot potential rescuers in the van; and when the wounded man was run over by a tank and split in two, that was a third violation.” She cited one U.S. servicemember as saying that attacks like the one shown in “Collateral Murder” were quite common in Iraq, and the only thing different about this one was that the victims included two reporters and the video footage was ultimately leaked and made available to the public.

“Targeting civilians makes us less safe, and makes our troops less safe, due to retaliation,” Cohn said. “After citing both President Obama and U.S. Marine Col. David Logan as saying that the 90,000 pages in the so-called “Afghan War Diaries” contained no new information and didn’t lead to the Taliban harming any American servicemembers or Afghan civilians, she said, “The charges against Bradley Manning end with the language, ‘Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline.’ On the contrary, if he did what he’s accused of, he should be honored as a hero for exposing war crimes and ultimately helping end this war.”

“A lot of Democrats and Republicans have said the source of the leaks has blood on their hands,” said Adrienne Bocelli of SAME and the International Socialist Organization (ISO), another organization on the demonstration’s list of sponsors. “The real people with blood on their hands are the racist administrations and Congressmembers who wage these wars. Martin Luther King said the U.S. government was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, and it’s still true. The real war criminals are the ones who have run illegal wars and sanctions against the Iraqi and Afghan people for 30 years. These operations have been for war profits and expanding the U.S. empire. They don’t benefit the American people.” Bocelli pointed out that until September 11, 2001 “the U.S. was … allied with the Taliban and had created al-Qaeda” [as part of the U.S.-funded resistance against the Soviet-backed Afghan government in the 1980’s], and since then had “razed whole villages in Iraq, created the world’s biggest refugee problem and turned Shi’a and Sunni against each other to destabilize the country.”

Bocelli also raised one of the thorniest issues among progressive Queers: the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy preventing Queer people from serving openly in the U.S. military. Manning reportedly “outed” himself as Gay on his Facebook page just before the leaks he’s alleged to have committed, and has come out for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “We should support the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ not to encourage Queer people to join the military but because Queer people are put on the battlefield and then denied benefits,” she said.

“’Collateral Murder’ is too real: round after round of 30 mm. Fire taking away life,” said Justin Caulker, Navy corpsman and conscientious objector to war. “This is our war: random, disconnected death. There’d been a lot of talk about civilians murdered in Iraq. It flashed me back to the incident in 2003 when two other journalists were killed by U.S. tank fire on their hotel in Baghdad. They took the video from the Army itself, sent it out to the Internet and bypassed the usual media gatekeepers to go directly to the people. The mass media call these ‘leaks,’ as if they were a slow, steady drip on the American electorate. Evidence of murder has to be spirited away from enemy lines.”

Caulker said he didn’t know Manning, “what his intentions are or even if he’s responsible, but like all political prisoners his path is likely to be dark and ugly. Bradley Manning sacrificed his career, his livelihood and his liberty to make this information available. The assertion that the information on WikiLeaks endangers the U.S. military is nonsense. Bradley Manning is not responsible for the risks the troops face. It is the people who send our children to fight and die in wars of aggression that are responsible. It’s the people who take everyone who wants to serve their country and turns them into cannon fodder for imperialist dreams. Bush, Cheney, Obama, Gates and Clinton are the ones who put our troops in jeopardy.”

Michael Anderson, who had begun the rally with a reading of the call to action, ended it with his own reflections on the ties between the anti-war and Queer-rights struggles. “What does ‘equality’ mean if the system we demand equality in is broken?” he said. “Queer people are oppressed economically, more likely to suffer from mental disease and addiction, less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to end u in the ‘poverty draft.’ As the military becomes more Queer-friendly, more Queer people will be likely to serve.” Referring not only to “don’t ask, don’t tell” but the fact that in 26 U.S. states it is still legal to fire someone for being Queer, Anderson said, “When Queer people hide who we are for fear of losing our jobs, we are not free. When we face jail for revealing the true nature of war crimes, we are not free.”


The Bradley Manning Support Group can be reached via the Web at The group urges people to write Manning c/o Courage to Resist, 484 Lake Park Avenue, Suite 41, Oakland, CA 94610. Donations to his legal defense fund can be made there or to his Web site,

The “Collateral Murder” video has been available through a special WikiLeaks link at, but at the time of this writing WikiLeaks was offline for “scheduled maintenance.” “Collateral Murder” is still visible on YouTube and other outlets on the Web.

Church Program Honors Southern Poverty Law Center

Show Targeting Right-Wing Extremists Goes On Without the Star


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen testifies before Congress in 2007. Courtesy Southern Poverty Law Center.

The party continued even though the guest of honor didn’t show up. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had scheduled a program called “The State of Hate and Extremism in America” for St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Bankers’ Hill September 22, but the group’s co-founder, veteran civil rights attorney Morris Dees, was detained in his home town, Montgomery, Alabama, by the terminal illness of his mother-in-law. The audience didn’t find out about Dees’ cancellation until they were in the church hall and the program was already under way, but the other advertised guest, SPLC board chair Richard Cohen, was there — and so were other staff members and local attorneys who’ve worked with the group.

“I spoke with Morris this afternoon and he told me, ‘Lecia, let them know SPLC is not a one-man band,’” said staff member Lecia Brooks, an African-American woman who joked about how the organization’s reputation was so powerful she was lured from California to Alabama to work for it. “Morris is our best-known figure, but our work is a collective effort with 100 people who share Morris’ passion for justice. We also know you share our vision.”

Dees and fellow civil rights attorney Joseph Levin, Jr. founded SPLC in 1971, just seven years after the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of that law’s provisions created opportunities for private attorneys to enforce its provisions by filing lawsuits against businesses and government agencies that discriminated based on race or gender. Dees sold a profitable book-publishing business to start SPLC, and over the years expanded the focus of his group to challenging white-supremacist movements like the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party.

A Lynching in 1981

Though Dees didn’t attend the St. Paul’s event in person, he sent a videotape which was shown towards the end of the program. “Many of you have contributed to us and have been supporting our work for five, 10, 15 or 20 years,” Dees said. “You were with us when the Klan burned down our building; when we represented Beulah Mae Donald when her son Michael was lynched by Klansmen in 1981; when we sued the United Klans of America and the Aryan Nations in Idaho.”

Dees recalled that the Beulah Mae Donald case began when a Klan chapter in Mobile, Alabama in 1981 — the same group, he said, that had burned down a Black church in Birmingham and killed four little girls in 1963 — threatened to murder one African-American every day if an African-American defendant on trial for allegedly killing a white police officer was found not guilty. “When the Black man’s jury deadlocked,” Dees recalled, “the Klan considered that a defeat, and they drove their car around until they found a Black man, a student at Mobile Junior College who worked at a pressroom.”

According to Dees, the Klansmen lured him to their car by pretending to ask for directions to a local restaurant. “They held a gun on him and forced him into their car,” Dees said. “He tried to run, and they hit him with a club. They put him in a noose and pulled it tught until there was no life left in him, and left his body in a Black neighborhood in Mobile. They had a criminal trial, and I watched it as a lawyer for the Donald family. I saw one of the two defendants turn and testify against the other. The principal defendant was sentenced to death, and eventually executed — the first time in Alabama history that a white man was executed for killing a Black man.”

The SPLC brought a civil suit against the Klan groups that had been involved in the attack — the United Klans of America and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — and also against Bennie Jack Hays, the Klansman who had participated in the attack and then turned state’s evidence in the criminal case. “I asked the jury to render a verdict so people will recall the name of Michael Donald along with Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers,” Dees said. “When the judge charged the jury, Hays asked to address them and he said, ‘Everything Mr. Dees said we did, we did, and we did it because these people’” — the leaders of the Klan groups — “’told us to. Now I’ll never be able to be with my family again.’”

What followed next, as Dees recalled it, was a dramatic scene in which Hays turned to Beulah Mae Donald and said, “Can you forgive me for what I did to your son?” Ms. Donald said, “Son, I’ve already forgiven you.”

“There wasn’t a dry eye at our counsel table or in the jury box,” Dees recalled. “This woman had the look of understanding that she could forgive him, and her words were a higher justice than the $7 million verdict we won for her.”

Taking On Metzger

SPLC has been best known for its civil rights cases and its targeting of Right-wing racist extremists, but Dees mentioned other causes it’s also taken on, including a lawsuit against Del Monte and tree planting companies that imported undocumented immigrants for jobs and then refused to pay them. Dees also talked about the group’s efforts to stop Queer-bashing in schools and the group’s most recent major case, “a woman from Mexico whose baby was taken away from her just two days after she was born.” The incident happened in Mississippi, and SPLC’s lawsuit charges state authorities and the private hospital where the child was born with taking the baby away from her mother, Cirila Baltazar Cruz, and turning her over to a white couple.

“Sometimes people think these things couldn’t happen outside the South,” SPLC president Cohen told the St. Paul’s audience. But one of SPLC’s most famous cases against a white supremacist organization took place in Portland, Oregon and involved one of the most infamous residents of San Diego’s North County. Tom Metzger ran a TV repair shop in Fallbrook and also headed a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and even won a Democratic Party nomination for Congress in 1980. (The San Diego County Democratic Party repudiated him and endorsed the incumbent Republican instead.) Later he ditched the Klan name and formed his own organization, which went through several name changes before he settled on “White Aryan Resistance,” or “WAR” for short.

In the late 1980’s Metzger sent his son John to Portland as a “recruiter,” Cohen explained, on a mission to reach out to young skinheads and recruit them for WAR. One day in 1988, Cohen said, a group of WAR-affiliated skinheads “ran into Muguleta Seraw, a student from Ethiopia who had come to pursue the American dream, and they beat him to death with a baseball bat. The Portland police arrested the skinheads, but we uncovered secret recordings that linked the Metzgers to the killings. The civil suit SPLC filed against Tom and John Metzger and their organization was controversial even among some progressives, but SPLC was able to establish in court that the murder of Seraw had been directly inspired by the Metzgers’ call to turn hate into action and thereby the Metzgers’ statements were direct incitements to violence rather than constitutionally protected speech. The upshot was a $12.5 million judgment against the Metzgers and WAR that took all the property and forced them out of the San Diego area.

For local attorney Jim McElroy, who assisted SPLC with the Metzger case and then joined the Center’s staff, the case had an interesting sequel. Sent by Cohen to Ethiopia to meet with Seraw’s family and arrange for an equitable division of the judgment, McElroy was confronted by Seraw’s widow telling him that her husband had come to the U.S. for a better life and she wanted, more than anything else, to see that hope fulfilled by someone in her family. The result was that McElroy adopted Seraw’s son and raised him in the U.S. “He introduces me as his father,” McElroy said, “and a lot of people say, ‘How did such a handsome kid get such an ugly father?’ I tell them he’s the love child of me and Halle Berry.” Today the son has returned to Ethiopia and is using his U.S. training as a pilot to fly for Ethiopian Airlines.

More recently the Center has prosecuted a similar case against Ron Edwards, leader of a Klan splinter group called the Imperial Klans of America (IKA). Like Tom Metzger, Edwards sought to reach out to young skinheads and used his son as a liaison. In 2006 two IKA members, Jarred Hensley of Cincinnati and Andrew Watkins of Louisville, attacked 15-year-old Jordan Gruver, a part-Native American whom they mistook for Latino. Gruver was knocked to the ground and repeatedly kicked with steel-toed boots; he survived but suffered a broken arm, broken jaw and cracked ribs.

“We saw this as an opportunity to sue not only those people but the Edwards organization itself,” said Cohen. “We got the usual threats — ‘Blow up their building!’ ‘Hitler was right!’” Cohen and the rest of SPLC’s staff took the threats seriously because their building has been burned down before, and Dees in particular has received so many threats against his life that 24 people have gone to jail for making them. Indeed, just before their suit against Edwards and IKA came to trial, Cohen recalled, a book called Into the Devil’s Den was released which detailed a plot to assassinate Dees masterminded by Ron Edwards himself.

“I sat next to Ron Edwards at the trial, and I got the feeling that his feelings about us had not softened,” Cohen laconically said. Indeed, Edwards was wearing his opinions on his face — literally: one side of his head was tattooed “FUCK SPLC” and the other was tattooed “KILL ZOG.” [“ZOG” stands for “Zionist-Occupied Government,” a way many white supremacists refer to the current U.S. government, claiming it’s secretly dominated by Jews who want to take over the world for nefarious purposes.] SPLC won a $2.5 million verdict against Edwards and IKA, and Cohen joked to Edwards he should have the amount of the judgment against him tattooed on his forehead.

One of the guests at the SPLC program was Bill McMurray, a Louisville-based attorney SPLC recruited to help with the case against Edwards. “In my world, Morris Dees is a modern-day Perseus, half-man, half-god and the best of both,” McMurray said. “Until Morris asked me to serve as co-counsel in the IKA case, I didn’t know about the extent of hatred in America. If Jordan Gruver had gone to every lawyer in Kentucky and asked them to take his case, the answer would have been, ‘No, there’s no money in it.’ I value my life and my family, and I realized I could lose my life. … I had to wear a bulletproof vest to court every day, and my family had to stay in a safe house 45 miles away, but I was impressed by SPLC’s security detail.”

McMurray said the case was an eye-opener for him, making him aware both of the sheer extent of prejudice in America and the dedication of SPLC in fighting it. “I was honored when Morris asked me to handle the direct examination of our client,” McMurray recalled. “I worked with Jordan for weeks. He talked about what had happened to him and how his injuries had affected his life.” McMurray said that even Morris Dees broke down and cried when he heard Gruver’s testimony. While Edwards represented himself in the trial and argued that his racist statements were protected by the First Amendment, SPLC argued — as they had in the Metzger case — that by recruiting members with violent histories and encouraging them to attack people of color, he and his organization were legally responsible for Gruver’s injuries.

A Broader Focus

But SPLC’s activities extend beyond spectacular lawsuits against white supremacists and their organizations for fomenting violence against people of color. They maintain a civil rights memorial wall in Montgomery a short distance from the church where Martin Luther King was the minister when the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott was launched. They produce books, magazines and videos not only exposing hate groups but also advancing mutual acceptance — including a series called Teaching Tolerance aimed at schools. Jim McElroy joked that Cohen is the only person who’s both argued a case before the Supreme Court and won an Academy Award.

Though SPLC is sometimes criticized on the Left for making a big deal about tiny hate groups while ignoring the broader threat of the radical Right, Cohen said the group is well aware of the connection between the two. They have the statistics to prove that hate-group membership and activity rises when a Democrat is elected President; it spiked up under Bill Clinton and has grown even more under Barack Obama since Obama is not only a Democrat but an African-American. Cohen quoted former Ku Klux Klan leader and U.S. Congressmember David Duke as calling Obama “a visual symbol for white America” and said his election reinforces the feeling among white racists that the U.S. has been “stolen” by Jews on behalf of people of color. (These groups make a big deal of the fact that Obama’s campaign manager, David Axelrod, is Jewish.)

One symptom of the way Obama’s election has sparked the Right, Cohen said, is the “unprecedented number of plots against the President.” Indeed, Obama got so many death threats that the U.S. Secret Service assigned a detail to protect him as early as May 2007 — long before they took up security for any of the other 2008 Presidential candidates. Cohen named at least two people who had plotted to kill Obama, including a foot soldier in Ron Edwards’ organization and an active-duty U.S. Marine. “We’re asking the Pentagon for a zero-tolerance policy, not against Gays and Lesbians, but against neo-Nazis,” Cohen said.

Cohen also discussed the Tea Party movement and the popularity of Right-wing media personalities like Glenn Beck, whom he said reaches many times more people than the white nationalists but preaches essentially the same message. “Beck and the others who are vilifying the President 24/7 don’t have responsibility for the death threats, but they do deserve to be held accountable for the atmosphere of hate,” Cohen said. “There’s a Facebook page calling for Obama’s death and over 100,000 people have signed it.” He quoted Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), a Midwestern neo-Nazi movement headquartered in Minneapolis, as calling the economic crisis an organizing opportunity and saying their movement is “the answer for white people” who’ve been hurt by the failing economy.

That’s not all that different from what the Tea Party groups have been saying, Cohen pointed out. Both the Tea Parties and the violent Right “are responding to something very real,” he said. “We all know government has made terrible mistakes in the economy and foreign policy. But there are elements [in the Tea Parties] that are very conspiratorial and very racist. There’s been a 200 percent increase in [Right-wing] militia organizations since Obama took office. The last time something like this happened was in 1994, when we sent a letter of warning to [then-]Attorney General Janet Reno — and six months later the Oklahoma City bombings happened. We see signs it’s happening again, including people flying planes into Internal Revenue Service (IRS) buildings and people threatening to kill police officers and members of progressive organizations.”

Cohen ended his part of the program with the expected fundraising pitch. “We’d love to continue sending free materials into schools, to train law enforcement personnel and, when things happen, to go into court and hold the perpetrators accountable,” he said. “No matter how hard a task it is, we will not stop until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” — the last a famous quote from Martin Luther King (who in turn was quoting the Book of Isaiah) that emblazons the SPLC civil rights memorial wall.

Democrats or Alternative Parties? SUF Debates the Question


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Martin Eder, Hugh Moore, Miriam Clark

Work within the Democratic Party or start alternative Left parties of our own? It seems to be a debate American progressives and Leftists have been having at least since the 1890’s (and until the 1930’s progressives had options to work within the Republican party as well), and it was the topic of the San Diego Socialist Unity Forum’s (SUF) September 19 meeting at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest. Though SUF organizer Martin Eder tried to maintain the appearance of neutrality on the question, the e-mail call to the meeting made the organizers’ position on the topic clear: “To Leftists who look through the lens of a class analysis, the two parties share very similar agendas on the wars, the military budget, corporate bailouts, budget deficits, deregulating business, the diminishing of civil liberties, lax environmental regulations, etc. Want change? How bad does it have to get?”

So did the barbed joke with which Eder began the meeting, about how he, a genuine socialist, feels insulted whenever President Obama’s political opponents call him a “socialist.” As far as he’s concerned, Eder added, “Obama was elected to run the system. He is in charge of the largest military that’s ever existed.” At the same time, Eder conceded, the growing power and influence of the radical-Right Tea Party movement may signal “the rise of a neo-fascist mentality that is winning the working class with attacks on big government that never mention corporations.” He acknowledged that “there are many people in the room who know the Democratic Party has been the only bunker we have against a police-state mentality that would turn this country into a monopoly-run corporation from top to bottom,” but he also framed the question as “how do we get around the two-party monopoly in this country.”

Eder invited the two Left alternative parties currently on the California ballot, the Green and Peace and Freedom Parties, to send representatives to speak at the meeting. He also invited Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), an organization committed to promoting progressive candidates and issues within the Democratic Party, to send someone. The alternative parties both sent speakers — Hugh Moore for the Green Party and Miriam Clark for Peace and Freedom— but PDA didn’t. In the end, Pat Gracian, a PDA member who’d gone to the meeting simply to experience it as an audience member, got drafted to be a spokesperson for the organization.

Clark introduced herself as Peace and Freedom’s 50th District Congressional candidate against Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray (who won a special election after the district’s previous Congressmember, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, was forced out of office when he was convicted of accepting bribes from defense contractors) and Democratic challenger Francine Busby. “Francine Busby is a nice woman, but [if she’s elected] she’s going to have to go along with the war,” Clark said, “This is a bipartisan war.” Clark joked that this is the third consecutive election in which she’s run for the seat — and so little has really changed in American politics in the last four years, despite the Democrats winning the presidency and a Congressional majority, she said that she can still use the issue cards she had printed in 2006.

Stressing the “peace” more than the “freedom” part of her party’s name, Clark cited Seymour Hersh’s article in the 2008 New Yorker that said the U.S. was planning an attack on Iran and said she’d been to Iran in both 2008 and 2009. She said the Iranians she talked to had the same impression of Obama that she did: a leader who talked peace and negotiation but delivered war and confrontation. “My two roommates came up to me and said, ‘Your President Obama spoke to us in Farsi, but he continued the sanctions,’” Clark recalled. “We have done nothing for them. They all know about the 1953 coup against Mohammed Mossadegh, a democratically elected secular Iranian leader who was removed from power by the CIA and British intelligence after he nationalized Iran’s oil industry … because the corporations of both countries didn’t want that as an example.”

Clark pointed out that, unlike the Green Party, Peace and Freedom is openly socialist. “You have to have a socialist government,” she said. “The protections against corporate exploitation are gone and all the federal aid money has gone to the bankers who created the economic mess. British Petroleum so totally controlled the oil ‘cleanup’ in the Gulf of Mexico they didn’t let government scientists in to observe it.”

Hugh Moore, speaking for the Green Party, said the biggest differences between his party and the Republicans or the Democrats are that it’s a worldwide movement and that all Green Parties are organized around 10 “key values” (available on the Web at “Regardless of our personal opinions about the [Democratic] Party, I don’t know what they stand for,” Moore said. “We’re working for a more peaceful world, including protecting the environment … You don’t hear other parties talking about global warming and stopping it so we can have a future. The Kyoto Protocol doesn’t go far enough.”

Other differences between the Greens and America’s two major parties, Moore said, include a commitment to nonviolence; decentralization, meaning “services brought forth from the local community instead of a top-down national government”; and a commitment to facing issues long-term rather than just looking ahead to the next business or electoral cycle. “In Japan they have a committee that studies where they’ll be 1,000 years from now,” Moore said. “Does anyone in our government think past the next election?” Moore also claimed that “the Green Party is the only party that supports Gay marriage in our platform” — which brought forth an irritated response from Clark, who said Peace and Freedom also endorses marriage equality.

“Do we abandon or engage the Democratic Party? Why not the Republican Party?” Moore said. “I don’t think the Democratic Party can be engaged at all. They are exactly the same. They put forth the same policies. Obama is worse than Bush because he claims in the public eye, and the press puts forth, that he made ‘victories’ in health care and in Iraq. I’m in favor of single-payer; that would be real health-care reform. If you want to say you ended the war in Iraq, you can’t leave 50,000 U.S. combat troops and 175.000 contractors there.”

“We strive to change the Democratic Party both from the outside and the inside,” said Gracian, PDA’s reluctant spokesperson. “We organize people to vote in the local caucuses, and when these caucuses push on the Democratic Party for progressive platforms, we get results. We try to raise money for progressive candidates and try to get people elected.”

Gracian said working within the Democratic Party to push for progressive candidates and issue positions is the only practical way “to counter the hard Right, who I think are just fascists who want to impose their own morality on us all. I’m very scared of people abandoning the Democratic Party because it may be the only bulwark against these fascists. They do not have any thought-out ideas to bring the nation where it should be. All they say is don’t grow the government. Bush created the Nazi concept of ‘homeland security’ in the U.S. and decimated the Constitution while the Tea Party movement said not a peep. As soon as a Black man came into the Presidency they went after him with a racist hate campaign. … We need to keep the Democrats in office. I’m too scared to let go of the Democratic Party. We need to push the Democratic Party to be more progressive.”

After the three speakers, Eder opened the meeting to a freewheeling discussion which began with Herb Shore, local organizer for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), making many of the same points as Gracian. “There’s a famous event in Germany in 1932, where the German Communist Party said there was no difference between Hitler and the Social Democrats. We know the consequences of that. When things are tight and the ‘greater evil’ is really evil, you have to look at the lesser evil. DSA supports Barbara Boxer over Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate and Jerry Brown over Meg Whitman for Governor. We do support independents and Greens, but we believe the Left first needs to create a social movement, and then electoral politics will come later.

Eugenia Cutler said that progressives and Leftists need to focus on what unites them rather than what divides them. She said she’d been inspired by the previous SUF meeting that reported back from the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, but the policy ideas discussed at that nationwide event can only be advanced by a unified Left. “You need to stress what the Green Party, Peace and Freedom, DSA and others agree on,” she said. “We need to put pressure on the Democratic Party to stop ignoring their base and get together on one candidate. Right now we’re just voting for the least bad, and this [economic crisis] is a good opportunity to start uniting.”

Local activist Fred Lonidier mentioned another type of organization he’s been involved in: the Labor Party. Noting that the U.S. doesn’t have a parliamentary system, which has allowed Green Parties in other countries to claim a share of power in government, he said the Labor Party was a project of the late union leader Tony Mazzochi “to win the labor movement over to a labor party” and “to resolve the structural impediments to [alternative] parties in the U.S.” Arguing that electing Democrats is crucial to the labor movement because Republicans have become so aggressively opposed to workers’ rights to organize that they fill the labor boards with appointees that routinely rule against unions, Lonidier said, “The Labor Party decided only to contest elections where there was a good chance of winning.” He also complained that the Peace and Freedom Party had kept local progressive Democrat Dan Kripke from winning a Congressional election by splitting the progressive vote and thereby allowing his incumbent Republican opponent to stay in office.

Elizabeth Fatah made a dramatic presentation urging the Left to abandon participation in electoral politics altogether. She called for “a strong boycott of elections, not just sitting at home but going to polling places with leaflets and telling people, ‘Stop voting! What do you accomplish?’ To use all your money and time to push for a candidate on the national level is a waste. My point is to boycott elections in a very meaningful way and explain to people why you’re not voting.” She said that the Democrats had shown their true colors by using the courts to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot in several states when he ran for President as the Green Party nominee, and also got Green Party candidates in several Pennsylvania Congressional districts kicked off the ballot.

“I don’t believe there’s a two-party monopoly in this country,” said local marriage equality activist and self-proclaimed “commie fag” Michael Anderson. “There’s a one-party monopoly, the Corporate Party, and everything else. When I think of the Democrats I think of slavery, the Dixiecrats [the Right-wing Southern Democrats who prevented any serious civil rights legislation from being enacted for the first two-thirds of the 20th century], more bombs dropped on Iraq under Clinton than under Bush I, the first cuts in Social Security an the repeal of Glass-Steagall [the New Deal-era act that separated investment and commercial banking, whose 1999 repeal encouraged financial speculation and arguably set the stage for the current economic collapse].” Anderson said it would take “multiple strategies” for the Left to turn the country around, but he made clear that working within the Democratic Party was not one of the strategies he had in mind.

“I’m not a political activist per se, but typically I’ll vote for a Green, Peace and Freedom or Democratic candidate depending on who’s on the ballot,” said John Micheneau. “I’m with the San Diego Nonviolent Communication Group [] and I want to talk about a conversation to shift people to the values we’re espousing. I was raised in a really Right-wing home, and my parents made me read John Birch Society literature. It was in college that I was exposed to other views. One question I have is how to talk to your parents and friends. One idea [researcher] George Lakoff had is to use a language of values and reach common ground through a cognitive approach. Our organization is working on an emotional approach to common ground. When I see a newspaper I feel really sad, but how do I work through my emotions before I talk to a Republican at the bus stop?

“I think we can all agree this election is one of the most important we’ve faced,” said PDA member John Malamud. “PDA works inside and outside the Democratic Party, and we have six core principles, all of which are on the Green Party’s list as well. I think that’s what we’re all fighting for here, but in this year’s election if we boycott or vote Peace and Freedom or Green, we’re helping elect Republicans. We need to walk the streets for the Democratic Party, and also look for more candidates who believe in what we believe in.”

Local activist and senior citizen John Falchi said that he’s recently been working with students and has been struck at how radicalized they’ve become by the way state budget cuts threaten their ability to complete their educations. “These are the people that will be working your issues,” he said. “The things we want won’t be accomplished when we’re as divided on the Left as we are now. We can keep our identities [as separate organizations] but we need to come together to work for the people.”