Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chicano Arts Pioneer Takes On Globalization and War

Malaquias Montoya’s Show at Centro Cultural Looks Forward and Back


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Pioneering Chicano artist Malaquias Montoya is still doing political art. That comes through loud and clear from the title of his show, “Globalization and War: The Aftermath,” through March 4 at the Centro Cultural de la Raza, 2004 Park Boulevard in Balboa Park. But when he appeared for the opening reception January 22 and was invited to speak for 45 minutes, he talked as much about the past — the heady days of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when Hispanics first started calling themselves Chicanos and the Chicano art movement that gave rise to the Centro Cultural was getting under way — as about Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and the other modern-day inspirations for the art he was showing.

Montoya’s art blends a brutal toughness and a desperate compassion in dealing directly with political themes — torture as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy (plus the denials that we engage in torture — one piece uses the actual words of someone accused of torturing detainees at Abu Ghraib who said “we’re just softening them up for interrogation”), the growing gap between rich and poor in the U.S. itself and the brutality and viciousness with which Americans, especially the military, throw their weight around the world and demand other countries bend to their will. Among the influences he cited were Mexican muralists José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siquieros (two of the three great painters of the Mexican revolution who were called Los Tres Grandes — the third was Diego Rivera), along with newer artists Elizabeth Catlett and Kathe Kollwitz.

One name he didn’t mention as an influence, but whose stylistic footprints were obvious in Montoya’s work, was Ben Shahn, who in the 1930’s and 1940’s pioneered a style of political art relying on bold, often deliberately ugly imagery, rendered in stark monochromes. The monochrome pieces in Montoya’s show especially resemble Shahn’s work, and he acknowledged the influence when he took audience questions. “Ben Shahn is someone I’ve always admired,” said Montoya, who studied him towards the end of his career in the 1960’s and read his 1960 art book, The Shape of Content.

Montoya was introduced by the pioneering Chicano poet Alurista, who paid tribute to the RCAF — “Radical Chicano Artists’ Front” — a group of radical Chicano artists which started in Sacramento and San Francisco, and which Montoya helped organize. In 1970 Alurista and some of his fellow activists staged the takeover of the small strip of land under the freeway in Barrio Logan that is today known as Chicano Park. He was also instrumental in starting the Centro Cultural. In his introduction, Alurista recalled that the inspiration for the Chicano Park takeover came from, of all sources, the California Highway Patrol.

“They wanted to put a station in the middle of the barrio, where Chicano Park is now,” Alurista recalled. “We took over Chicano Park, but had it not been for the RCAF and Los Elas Dunstas of Los Angeles, Chicano Park would not be what it is today.” He paid tribute not only to Montoya but to Victor Ochoa and Mario Torero, local San Diego artists who were part of the original Chicano movement and helped paint the famous murals on the pillars holding up the freeways over Chicano Park. At first the authorities wanted to whitewash the murals; today San Diego regularly promotes them as a tourist attraction.

“I was here many years ago in the 1970’s and met several people, including Victor Ochoa and Alurista,” Montoya recalled. Though he was committed to the RCAF because his brother held the title of “general” in it, Montoya explained, his principal affiliation back then was with an Oakland-based group called MALAF. The initials stood for “Mexican-American Liberation Art Front,” Montoya said, but when he pronounced them it sounded like the Spanish words “mala jefe” — “bad chief.” According to Montoya, most of the members of MALAF had grown up as farmworkers but had moved to the urban barrios and had ultimately put themselves through college.

Montoya said MALAF organized one major exhibition, called “A New Symbol for La Nueva Raza,” but its major influence was through the long dialogues and rap sessions its members had with each other. “We would talk about ourselves, how we grew up, how we weren’t allowed to speak Spanish, and how we hated ourselves for looking ‘different’,” Montoya recalled. “But in this fellowship we talked and found the humor in our situation.” He recalled that MALAF’s members weren’t immune to their own internal racism; one member was “castigated for looking ‘too Indian,’” he said.

“We were proud of who we were, the food we ate, our work in the fields and how our parents contributed to the wealth of the country,” Montoya said. “We started to take pride in who we were. We were looking for something we could use as a symbol, and [we took it from] Miguel Gomez, a young man with a brown beret and a bomber jacket, someone who a few years before that we would have called ‘cabrón Indio.’ He had a face that looked like it could have been the subject of a Mayan sculpture. We looked at him and he became the symbol. All five of us in MALAF went and did portraits of him for ‘A New Symbol for La Nueva Raza.’ It was a successful show.”

Today Montoya teaches at the University of California at Davis, near Sacramento. It’s a career he fell into almost by accident. “In 1970, when I started teaching at UC Berkeley, I had no idea I’d end up teaching,” he acknowledged. He had come to Oakland from San José in 1968 and found that his reputation and some of his work had preceded him when he started organizing on the Berkeley campus in support of the boycott against grapes called by César Chávez and the United Farm Workers union. Berkeley hired him, he recalled, “because they wanted to develop a Chicano arts program,” and he launched an oral history project in which he interviewed Chicano and Latino artists not only in the Southwestern U.S. but in Mexico as well.

Alas, Montoya said in response to a question from the audience, many of the tapes of his interviews and the slides he shot of the artists’ works disappeared into the maw of academe. “Professor Juan Martinez was an historian who got interested in art and wanted to do a book about it, and ended up with the tapes and the slides,” Montoya recalled. “Some of the tapes and slides were eventually returned, but others were lost, and I had to write the people I’d interviewed that the material had been taken out of my hands. Fortunately, no one sued.” Montoya said that one of the people he interviewed, Nino Padilla, had just returned from Viet Nam and had done a series called The People of Viet Nam in Black and White, which he recalled as “very powerful work,” but he hasn’t heard of it since and doesn’t know what happened to it.

One audience member asked Montoya how he felt about UC Berkeley, where he started his academic career and which still has a reputation as a progressive institution, hiring John Yoo from the George W. Bush administration as a law professor. Yoo’s memos to Bush, outlining a theory of executive power that basically said that during a time of war the President is above the law and can order virtually anything, including torture, that he feels is needed to save the country or win the war, made his name a flash point for the controversy over the harsh interrogation methods used at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. “I know about him,” said Montoya, “but I look at my work as a collaboration with the people of the community and people who influenced me. I pretty much work in my studio alone. That’s what gives me solitude and allows me to think beyond what I hear in the news.”

Not that Montoya is — or would ever want to be — an ivory-tower artist living and working in lordly isolation from political and social movements and events. “We live in a society that on a daily basis for the things we will commit later, without realizing that’s the direction we are being taken in,” he said in a statement that sums up the theme of his show. “Without an understanding of the progressive side, we will participate in that training and even be involved in that slaughter. That’s how young men can join the military and do those horrible things.” Referring to the assault on Congressmember Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of Judge John Roll and five others in Tucson January 8, Montoya added, “The Right says they can’t have caused what happened in Tucson, but when you say those things often enough — when you call your political adversaries ‘enemies’ and say they should be ‘eliminated’ — crimes like that will happen.”

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Meanness in This World


“They want to know why I did what I done?
I said there’s just a meanness in this world.”
— Bruce Springsteen, “Nebraska”

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

In a better world, I’d be writing in this space about the repeal — or at least the beginning of the process of repeal — of the U.S. military’s hateful “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that for 17 years has forced Queer Americans to lie about who they are in order to fight, die and kill for their country. Or I’d be writing about how the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress batted .500 on civil rights, passing “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal but denying the common decency of the DREAM Act to give the children of undocumented immigrants the right to earn legal U.S. residency through serving in the military or going to college.

Or I’d be writing about the latest bizarre twist in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger (soon, likely, to be renamed Perry v. Brown), in which a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals bounced the case back to the California Supreme Court to determine whether the proponents of Proposition 8 have legal standing to challenge Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, which is bad news in the short term (it means the case will drag out longer than it would otherwise, and in the meantime Proposition 8 remains in force) but good news in the long run (if we can get the appeal thrown out on grounds of lack of standing, we’re a lot more likely to have marriage equality in California than we are if the proponents get to argue the case on the merits before a U.S. Supreme Court with a hard-core Right-wing majority).

Instead I’m writing about America’s latest public bloodbath, the assault on U.S. Congressmember Gabrielle Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” meeting in Tucson, Arizona that left Giffords in critical condition, fighting for her life, and killed six people, including a federal judge, John Roll, who had displeased the radical Right and got 200 threatening phone calls the day he ruled to allow 12 undocumented immigrants to sue an Arizona rancher they claimed had harassed and threatened them. I’m writing this on January 15, just one week after the attack happened, during which there’s been a crazy reaction in which, like the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, the Tucson bloodbath has become a blank slate in which partisans on both the Right and the Left are writing whatever points they think they can make out of the tragedy — and the radical-Right media are essentially doing damage control, trying to convince us that the shooting was the act of one lone nut and they shouldn’t be held responsible in any way.

In direct terms, that’s probably true. The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was a 22-year-old who seems to have shown all the classic signs of schizophrenia. By the accounts that have come out so far, he was normal and even charming until he turned 16, when he started hearing voices in his head and became more and more detached from conventional notions of reality. He’s supposed to have hated Congressmember Giffords ever since 2007, when he went to a previous “Congress on Your Corner” and asked her, “What is government if words have no meaning?” The question so perplexed Giffords she ignored it and went on to the next audience member, but it may or may not have been inspired by a weird Web site Loughner may or may not have visited. Set up by someone calling himself “:PLENIPOTENTIARY-JUDGE: David-Wynn Miller,” this site has apparently been used by several ultra-Right anti-tax activists who seem to believe that if they festoon their names with odd punctuation marks the way Miller has, they can avoid being subject to U.S. jurisdiction and therefore won’t have to pay U.S. taxes.

It’s not known for certain whether Loughner ever logged on to that site, just as it’s not known whether he ever saw Sarah Palin’s Web page listing 20 incumbent Democratic Congressmembers she was targeting for defeat in last November’s election, including Giffords, and containing a map which showed cross-hair target symbols over their districts. Nor is it clear whether Loughner either knew or cared that Giffords’ office was vandalized immediately after she voted for the Democrats’ health-insurance bill, or that Giffords’ opponent in the last election was a Tea Party Republican who hosted a fundraiser that gave attendees a chance to fire an M-16 rifle in exchange for a campaign donation. But it is clear that Loughner’s obsessions with tax avoidance, returning the U.S. to the gold standard and opposing the so-called “Second Constitution” — the post-Civil War 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments that ended slavery, gave African-Americans the right to vote and authorized Congress and the federal courts to protect minorities’ civil rights — are causes near and dear to the Right, not the Left.

That, too, may just be an accident of history. If he’d been born in the 1940’s and become a symptomatic schizophrenic in the 1960’s instead of the 2000’s, Loughner may have found a more progressive inspiration for a crazy killing spree — the way Charles Manson is supposed to have read the Beatles’ “White Album” as an instruction to him and his followers to kill white celebrities in a way that the blame would fall on Blacks and an apocalyptic race war would start. Instead, both Loughner and his madness came of age in a reactionary era in which the loudest voices on the political and media landscape are those of talk radio and Fox News — and thus the actions of which he’s accused took the form of an attack on a politician and a judge America’s radical Right had “targeted.” What’s more, though America’s “mainstream” (or “lamestream,” as Sarah Palin calls them) corporate media are trying to reassure us that Loughner was just a free-lance nut with no political agenda at all, the U.K. Guardian has quoted no less than FBI director Robert Mueller as saying that the official investigation will include a look at the role Right-wing organizations and their propaganda may have played in bringing about the killings. “The ubiquitous nature of the Internet means that not only threats, but hate speech and other inciteful speech is much more readily available to individuals than quite clearly it was eight or 10 or 15 years ago,” Mueller told the Guardian.

There’s no reason to believe that Sarah Palin and her Webmaster put that target symbol (which she now lamely says was just a “surveyor’s mark” — an excuse whose credibility ranks right up there with “the dog ate my homework”) over Gabrielle Giffords’ Congressional district with any intent other than to remove her from office with ballots — not bullets. But in a broader sense, the radical Right has created a culture of meanness in this country that, if it didn’t actually put the gun in Jared Loughner’s hand and direct him towards a Congressmember and a judge that had displeased them, certainly created a climate that led his murderous rage in the direction it took. With their stated goal of even-handedness and “objectivity,” the mainstream corporate media — the center-Right media, as opposed to the far-Right media of talk radio and Fox News — and establishment politicians are trying to play a pox-on-both-your-houses game and blame “extremists” on both the Left and the Right for “coarsening” this nation’s political discourse and ending “civility” in American politics.

Bullshit. The coarsening of political debate and the end of “civility” in this country are the work of the Right, not the Left. First, it’s the Right, not the Left, that has the media power: talk radio and Fox News beam forth vicious, scurrilous attacks on their political enemies 24/7 over a wide variety of media outlets. Leftists, progressives and even liberals have virtually no media access — just a couple of shows on the least-watched cable news outlet, a public-radio network of no discernible ideology and a carefully cultivated and exquisite dullness, and a handful of small-circulation magazines that continually have to beg their readers for money to survive. Progressives like to hold out the forlorn hope that the Internet will somehow equalize their access to media — but the most visited news sites on the Web are those run by the corporate media, and with the near-certain end of “Net neutrality” it’s likely that within five to 10 years the Internet will be just as totally controlled by the radical Right as most of America’s other communications channels.

What’s more, the vision of America’s future the radical Right uses their media empire to push is a mean, vicious one in which the only rules are those of dog-eat-dog lassiez-faire capitalism. Economically, their vision is that of the late author Ayn Rand, in which the people who make the most money not only have the power but the moral right to run the world as they see fit, and the rest of us have no opportunity to complain. It is a world in which corporations can destroy jobs, communities and even entire countries, while workers are systematically prevented from organizing to protect themselves and told that even thinking about doing so is immoral and will get their livelihoods taken away. It is a world that will need to build the barriers between the haves and the have-nots ever higher — more gated communities, more border fences — just in case the have-nots dare to defy the system and rebel against the haves. And while the Right has women and people of color among their leaders and spokespeople, they paradoxically preach a vision of the social order in which women exist only to give birth to the next generation, sex is only justifiable to make babies, and therefore abortion, homosexuality and even birth control must be suppressed.

It’s also a vision that regards the earth, not as a limited resource to be husbanded and protected, but as territory to be strip-mined and trashed for the immediate bottom line. It’s a vision that has to deny the reality of global warming because any truly effective program of stopping global warming will have to challenge the slash-and-burn ethos of capitalism itself. It’s a vision that regards the primary function of this country’s military not as defense, but as unchallenged imperialist rule, intervening in nation after nation to prevent any competing ideology to lassiez-faire capitalism from even being tried, much less actually working. It’s a vision whose two priorities are to ensure that the United States continues to use and control a disproportionate share of the world’s resources, and that the wealthiest one percent of Americans keep and increase their disproportionate share of our nation’s resources and economic production. And it’s a vision that, thanks to the relentless propaganda of talk radio, Fox News and the other media outlets of the radical Right, millions — probably a majority — of Americans today believe in, even if they’re personally suffering from the policies being pursued to implement it.

Listen to talk radio or watch Fox News for any length of time, and the mystery is not why Congressmember Gabrielle Giffords got shot and Judge John Roll got killed, but why there aren’t more such assaults and more such victims. Listen to the airy talk of people like defeated Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle about “Second Amendment remedies” in case they and their ideological brethren and sistren lose at the polls, and the only surprise is that there aren’t more nuts out there taking her literally and buying arsenals to do what she’s advocated. So far, at least, most of the radical Right media’s audience has been able to control themselves and confine their political activism to legitimate avenues — especially since the hosts of talk radio and Fox News sell not only their vision but an arrogant certainty that it will prevail and it will be only a matter of time before liberals, labor, immigrants, Queers, Hollywood actors and all the people on their ever-growing shit lists are pounded into oblivion without the necessity of violence or bloodshed. But how much longer will that last before America’s streets are filled with tens, hundreds or thousands of Jared Lee Loughners, all armed to the teeth and with brains twisting the hate-filled messages of talk radio and Fox News into calls for immediate and brutal action?

Marriage Activists Discuss “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal

Say We Have the Right to Be in the Military, but Shouldn’t Do So


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO: President Obama signs the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal bill into law. Courtesy of the White House.

“When you hear it’s repealed, you think of all the cool actions you could have done,” said Kelsey Hoffman of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) at the beginning of their January 11 meeting in Hillcrest regarding the bill passed in the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress to repeal the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning Queers from serving openly in the U.S. military.

“I think it was a significant victory,” said attorney and S.A.M.E. member Ann Menasche. “It’s taken about 30 to 35 years — and now that it’s repealed, I’m going to be out there persuading people not to join.”

That paradoxical attitude was common among S.A.M.E. members and progressive Queers in general. Throughout the history of the U.S. military’s anti-Queer policies — the outright ban on Queers in the military that lasted until early 1993 and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that replaced it — progressive Queer activists and their straight allies have wrestled with the issue. It’s been a dilemma because they’ve seen how important equal access to military service is as a civil-rights issue — but most of them are also peace activists who fundamentally object to what the U.S. military does.

One S.A.M.E. member summed up the dilemma when he said, “I have very mixed feelings. It’s increasing the military-industrial complex, but it’s also a good way of getting our voices out there.”

Other members noted that the bill passed in December 2010 doesn’t actually get rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell” once and for all. “It’s voting to start a process towards repeal,” said S.A.M.E. president Cecile Veillard. “Yes, it will be a huge victory when it’s final, but I’m just unimpressed with the pace of it. Why did it take so long? I’m also wondering how we get the next step [towards Queer equality] in a presumably Right-wing climate. So far, the Congress has said we’re good enough to fight and die in the military, but not to get married or hold other jobs.”

“I’m really surprised; I didn’t think it was going to happen,” said Chuck Stemke, a member of S.A.M.E. and the International Socialist Organization (ISO). “We have organized bigotry in this country … and if the Right is allowed to keep [a straight monopoly in] institutions like the military and marriage, that’s how they think they can keep control of people’s minds.”

“S.A.M.E. wasn’t born in response to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ but I’m glad we took that as part of our demands,” said José Medina. “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ has killed people, including Seaman August Provost (found dead on the U.S. Marine base at Camp Pendleton in June 2009 in an apparent anti-Queer hate crime).” Medina took pride in the four events S.A.M.E. either organized or participated in to demand repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” including protests at the Federal Building and the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, a Harvey Milk Day action in Coronado and the “Patriots’ Pride” event in Oceanside. He also expressed the hope that “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal will make it easier to win marriage equality.

“I wasn’t particularly involved with ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Sean Bohac, “but two significant events helped bring it about: the lawsuit filed by our friends in the Log Cabin Republican Club and high-profile activism by GetEQUAL and Lieutenant Dan Choi (a Gay Arabic-speaking linguist, fired under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ who has announced he plans to re-enlist as soon as repeal is completed). I wonder if people outside the activist sphere recognize those names as much as I do. We could probably learn something from them.”

“I don’t believe we’d have seen ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repealed in 2010 if not for the Gay revolt in 2008 and the constant pressure [from the activist community],” said Zakiya Khabir. “There are Gay and Transgender people in the military right now. It’s a huge blow against discrimination, and probably the most significant civil rights legislation we’ve ever achieved.”

Other people were concerned about the limitations of the bill Congress passed. Felicity Bradley complained that it still does not allow Transgender people to serve openly. Lisa Kove, civilian employee of the U.S. Department of Defense and executive director of DOD FED GLOBE (, an organization that works for the rights of Queer servicemembers and government employees, said she was “involved with every part of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal, including negotiations behind the scenes.” Kove said she wants to see the Log Cabin Club continue their lawsuit to have “don’t ask, don’t tell” unconstitutional because the law just passed “does not set up a timeline” for repeal.

Indeed, Kove said that on both “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and marriage equality she’s got stronger and more powerful support from Queer Republicans than Queer Democrats. She said the Log Cabin Club enthusiastically supported the actions targeting Arizona Senator John McCain, the Republicans’ 2008 Presidential candidate, for his opposition to “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, while their counterpart, the National Stonewall Democrats, ducked any direct action on the issue. Kove announced that she’s leaving the Democratic party and changing her registration to “decline to state” so she can work with members of both major parties on Queer rights issues.

The U.S. military’s policies towards Queers have evolved slightly over the years but have always been motivated by prejudice and fear — though, as anti-“don’t ask, don’t tell” activists have pointed out, the rationale for excluding Queers from military service has changed over the years. Through most of the post-World War II period there was an absolute ban on Queers in the military — though sometimes there would be so-called “stop-loss orders” during actual wars so Queers would be kept in the ranks and not discharged until the wars ended and they were no longer needed as cannon fodder.

By the late 1970’s, excluding Queers from the military was pretty much left to the authority of local commanders, which meant that some units had open Queers serving without being hassled or threatened with discharge while others had witchhunts and threw them out en masse. When Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, commanders were ordered to throw out anyone they found or suspected of being Queer, whether they wanted to or not. Activists filed lawsuits and at least one servicemember, Perry Watkins, won an order demanding that the Army let him back in after having discharged him for being Gay.

In his 1992 Presidential campaign, Bill Clinton promised to repeal the ban on Queers in the military, but once he took office he reneged and agreed to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as a compromise with opponents in the military and in Congress. The full name of the policy was “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t harass, don’t pursue,” and it theoretically provided that Queers could serve in the U.S. military as long as they didn’t disclose their sexual orientation either publicly or to other servicemembers.

It was also designed to prevent the military from actively investigating and identifying Queer servicemembers to discharge them, but according to Queer activists, that part of the policy was never implemented. Queer-related discharges from the U.S. military actually increased during the first five years of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the rate of discharges only started to slow when the U.S. got involved in a two-front war in Afghanistan and Iraq and once again needed Queers as cannon fodder.

Just as a series of lawsuits had targeted the ban on Queers in the military in the late 1980’s and led to concerns that a court would throw out the policy, a new round of lawsuits challenging “don’t ask, don’t tell” was filed in the late 2000’s. These actions, of which the most famous were the Log Cabin Club’s and Dan Choi’s, led some military leaders to decide that a bill from Congress starting a year-long process to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” was preferable to leaving the policy in place and risking a court decision that would order the military to eliminate it immediately.

City Heights Human Rights Fest Draws 500

Sparked by Viet Namese-Americans Concerned About Abuses


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Viet Nam Reform Party members at their City Heights Human Rights Festival booth, Anthony Nguyen, Kim Truong Nang, Ivan Chong

The first annual City Heights Human Rights Festival drew over 500 people to the streets of San Diego’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood Saturday, December 11 for a march down El Cajon Boulevard and a fair in the parking lot of Hoover High School at El Cajon and 44th Street. Besides speeches by local elected officials who represent the area, including City Councilmember Todd Gloria and his former employer, Congressmember Susan Davis, the event also included musical performers, readings and a showing of a short film by the Media Arts Center, I Want My Parents … Back, dealing with immigrant rights and how border enforcement is breaking up families.

“We are really a microcosm of the whole world in one Zip code,” said Gloria. “Right in 92105 we have over 35 different languages spoken. We have people from all over the world — from the Horn of Africa, from Latin America, Southeast Asia, the [Indian] subcontinent, all around the world, all calling City Heights home. And so on a day when we want to come together and acknowledge the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it makes sense to do it here in a community where people from all around the world have found a home and, hopefully, have found their piece of human rights.”

The event was organized not only to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations in 1948, but to call attention to rights abuses all over the world and especially in Viet Nam. The impetus for organizing the event came from local representatives of the Viet Nam Reform Party, which exists clandestinely in Viet Nam and openly among Viet Namese immigrants in countries like ours that guarantee political freedoms. Among their demands is an end to one-party Communist rule in Viet Nam and an end to its ban on independent media.

A stark painting, displayed on a banner at the festival, dramatically depicted the rights — or lack of same — Viet Namese citizens have today. It showed two people in green military uniforms standing on either side of a man in civilian dress who is grabbing another person’s head and holding him by the mouth. The painting had a caption which read, “Viet Nam Today — Freedom of Speech?” The controversial war the U.S. fought in Viet Nam in the 1960’s and 1970’s was supposed to preserve the freedom of at least some Viet Namese, but more recently the U.S. has normalized relations with the Communist government that defeated them and isn’t pressuring the Viet Namese authorities to allow their people political freedom.

Congressmember Davis told the crowd that she is working to change that. She’s pushing the House of Representatives to pass a resolution adding Viet Nam to the U.S. government’s official list of “countries of particular concern” (CPC), maintained by the U.S. Secretary of State to denote nations that deny their citizens freedom of religion. As of 2009 the list included Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

In her speech, Congressmember Davis acknowledged that many of the foreign-born residents of City Heights came to the U.S. as political refugees fleeing abuses in their homelands. “Many, many people of our community have really seen the dark side in fighting for the cause of freedom,” she said. “I’ve listened to your stories, and I know that many of you have lived with and seen, and yet survived, through tremendous abuses. … We want to celebrate you for your courage, for your resiliency, and for teaching children how important it is to have those freedoms.”

Among the people Davis particularly cited as refugees from abusive governments were the child soldiers from Uganda and citizens of southern Sudan. “As a member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, I want you to know that we have many members who are working with you and want to use Congress’s leverage to bring about change in repressive regimes around the globe,” she said. “So please join me in celebrating the people — all of you — who come together in a common cause; who believe that freedom is bittersweet when others are stripped of their rights; and who refuse to be silent as others are silenced.”

Kim Truong Nang, vice president of the Viet Namese Committee of San Diego, spoke briefly from the floor of the parking lot rather than the raised stage, since she was using crutches and couldn’t make it up the stairs to the platform. “Everywhere that human rights are not practiced, we need to speak up and share our concern,” she said. “In Viet Nam we don’t have any human rights at this time. So we need your support. Please help us to raise our voice and concern.”

The event was MC’d by another Viet Namese-American, Anthony Nguyen, and featured a multi-cultural greeting in four languages (English, Spanish, Viet Namese and Arabic) based on a quote from the current Dalai Lama: “Human beings, in fact all sentient beings, have the right to pursue happiness and to live in peace and freedom.” Singer/songwriter Ivan Chong, who’s performed in the past for the Little Saigon Foundation’s Lantern Festival, sang five songs, and Naylene Nguyen followed him with two songs she sang to recorded accompaniment: “Let’s Love One Another” in Viet Namese and Whitney Houston’s 1980’s hit “The Greatest Love of All” in English.

Naylene Nguyen and another woman, Tracy Lum Wy, also read a passage from the book The Gangster We Are All Looking For by Thi Diem Thúy Lê, recounting her own teen years as a Viet Namese immigrant growing up in San Diego. A break-dancing group’s spectacularly acrobatic performance to a hip-hop recording was one of the highlights of the afternoon. Councilmember Gloria used the occasion to announce the city’s formation of a “Little Saigon District” in the neighborhood, administered by the local Viet Namese community, to help support the many Viet Namese-owned businesses in the area.


New Media Rights Group Hosts Drumbeat-S.D. February 5


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

As writers from George Orwell to George Lakoff have told us, what we think we know about something — anything — depends largely on the words used to describe it. Language can be used as a tool to communicate meaning or to conceal it; to open minds to new ideas or to close them and keep them stuck in old thought patterns. The dramatic emergence of the Internet as a new mass communications medium in the last 15 years or so has created a similarly divided set of possibilities. With its freewheeling, anyone-can-publish ethos, the Net has the potential to broaden the range of information and perspective available to ordinary people around the world — but it’s also become a major profit center for media companies and other large corporations who like the world just the way it is and want to make sure the Internet reinforces rather than challenges pro-corporate and pro-capitalist thought patterns.

Mera Szendro Bok is a San Diego-based activist, a recent transplant from New York City, whose organization, New Media Rights, exists to preserve the Internet as a bastion of individual freedom and liberty and protect it from government or corporate control. Her group’s latest big local event is Drumbeat San Diego, part of a nationwide mobilization of individuals and organizations working to give ordinary people the tools they need to use the Internet to spread their messages effectively — and the training to act politically to protect their rights to use the Internet to obtain and publish information.

The local Drumbeat event is part of a nationwide movement founded by the Mozilla Foundation, described on its own Web site as “a non-profit organization that promotes openness, innovation and participation on the Internet.” Best known as the developers and sponsors of the Firefox Web browser, the Foundation called Drumbeat “to spark a movement … to keep the Web open for the next 100 years.” According to the event’s Web site,, the event is designed to help preserve the open Internet by developing and supporting “practical projects and local events that gather smart, creative people around big ideas, solving problems and building the open Web.” In this interview, Szendra Bok discusses how her group plans to fulfill the Drumbeat mission locally and talks about some of the threats she sees to the openness and freedom of the Internet.

Drumbeat San Diego takes place Saturday, February 5, 1:30 to 6:30 p.m., at Queen Bee’s Arts and Cultural Center, 3925 Ohio Street in North Park. Admission is free, but since the space can only accommodate 100 people, New Media Rights asks that people who want to attend register at The group is encouraging people interested in helping shape the event to join the ongoing planning process; for more information on Drumbeat or New Media Rights, call (619) 591-8870 or e-mail

Zenger’s: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into this issue?

Mera Szendro Bok: I was originally raised in New York. When I came to San Diego, I was really interested in uniting San Diego and bridging different activist groups, and also engaging on media issues and media reform. I am very interested in getting local activists’ voices, and a diversity of voices, access to media; sharing stories; fighting media consolidation; and fighting for an open Internet.

New Media Rights is an organization that offers one-on-one free legal assistance to people on copyrights and online publishing. We plan to have a public media studio that is free — camera, lights, green screen. We got involved in Drumbeat San Diego because I worked on a similar event called One Web Day. Both were localized events, part of a global movement to make people aware of the importance of an open Web and get them engaged on technology projects. We figure that by working on projects that impact the local community and engage diverse communities, we will be able to make a global impact.

Zenger’s: I thought that Drumbeat was an event your organization actually started, but you’re now telling me it wasn’t. Was it something you came on board as a coalition partner, because it’s on the same wavelength as what you’re doing?

Szendro Bok: The call actually came from the Mozilla Foundation. I think Firefox is really interesting, and how do we make sure that ideas and innovative non-commercial Web projects like Firefox continue in the future. There are a lot of threats to the open Web right now. I’m very concerned about those threats. New Media Rights is very interested in bridging communities; getting filmmakers, Web developers and Web designers in the same room; and building projects.

So I got word from Mozilla Foundation that this was happening and they wanted me to be the lead Southern California organizer, and it just seemed like an organic partnership that Mozilla and New Media Rights should work together. Drumbeat San Diego is a coalition of tech groups, activist groups, and art groups coming together. We’ve been meeting and building this event for about six months now, and we’ve definitely tailored the event to San Diego’s needs. Mozilla does not have a heavy hand on what this event is going to accomplish.

Zenger’s: What are some of the other local groups involved?

Szendro Bok: We have S.D. Tech Scene. We have people in the tech community who go to events like Ignite and Barcamp. Who else? We’re working with Media Arts Center. We’re working with the Fab Lab. We’re working with people like Xavier of CPI [Center on Policy Initiatives]. All of these partnerships are active partnerships and take different form. We have about 10 to 15 volunteers who help out.

Zenger’s: Exactly what’s going to happen at this? If people come, what can they expect?

Szendro Bok: A lot of networking opportunities. We’re going to be featuring projects, but there are also going to be ample opportunities for people’s passion projects to grow. In the beginning, we’re going to have an introduction. We’re going to have a “geeking session,” which is kind of like speed-dating, only it’s speed-geeking. So you kind of travel around to different projects and see what they’re about, and see if you want to be a part of that.

We’re going to have a Human Spectrogram, where we’re going to pose different questions about an open Internet and privacy, and see how people feel about the state of the Internet right now so we can get a sense of where people’s opinions are. It’s going to be an ice-breaking exercise.

The main thing is going to be the Drumbeat Projects. There’s going to be the Open Data Project, the Eat Good Food project, Citizen 2.0, and an open-source music and experimentation project. During the last two or three hours, people are going to engage in building these projects and decide how these projects can really meet San Diego’s needs.

Zenger’s: A lot of these sound pretty vague.

Szendro Bok: I can give you some examples. The Open Data Project is the project of the Watchdog Institute and a group called Open San Diego. The Watchdog Institute analyzes data, and Open San Diego is fighting for more open data in San Diego. They will be examining data of 911 phone calls compiled over a one-month period, and diverse participation will be included in examining the stories within the data, which would help [create] effective narratives for journalism stories.

They’ll also be talking about how journalists can get access to data; a workshop on how to develop a meaningful and useful data visualization; a discussion on the best ways to make data more available and useful to people.

The Eat Good Food project is a bit different. It’s going to be a Web site or a phone app where people can look at their local farmers’ markets, see where they are, see what the food options are at local farmers’ markets, see what the featured vegetable is. So they’re going to be building a Web site on what’s available at your local farmers’ markets, and then allowing people to add content to the Web site about, “Look, I took this photo at my local farmers’ market,” “I made this dish with local vegetables.” It’s like a farm-to-table resource for people.

Ray Lutz’s Citizen Oversight Project is going to encourage open government by fostering active citizens to attend and monitor local government meetings. He has a Wiki up on his site where he shares information and action on often-overlooked actions of local governments. You can also learn about your rights to access public meetings, ask questions about successful online open-government projects, and we want more people to go to public meetings and be part of that.

Part of that process is asking San Diego what’s going to get you there, and asking diverse communities about their interest in it. A lot of these projects are about building, and a lot are simply about engagement: engaging diverse communities to find out what their needs are.

Zenger’s: So if it seems incredibly open-ended, it’s because it is. You’re hoping not just to put out information but to get input from the people who come to the conferences. You’re hoping for a dialogue, rather than just a series of lectures.

Szendro Bok: It isn’t a series of lectures. The time is allotted for open discussions and networking. It’s a highly participatory event. But there is a level of structure to it. People will know what’s available to them within a timetable.

Zenger’s: What are you hoping that people will bring out of it?

Szendro Bok: We want diverse communities to network. Recently we showed a movie called Ten Tactics, about how activists around the world are utilizing technologies to better their communities. We recognize that by cross-pollinating skills, projects will grow stronger and they’ll also meet San Diego’s needs. We also want people within the activist community and the arts community to see technology as a tool and not a burden.

Zenger’s: That’s one of the contradictions in the whole arena of communications technology and Internet politics. On the one hand, the Internet promises to be this great leveler, where anybody can communicate with anybody. At the same time, it’s also in some ways a very capital-intensive business, and one that the traditional big-media companies are moving to control. What do you think are the biggest threats right now to the open Internet?

Szendro Bok: The main threat that I’ve been concerned with is companies trying to kind of chop up the Internet and sell it their own ways, including ISP’s [Internet service providers] using discriminatory practices against users. I think Net neutrality is very important, and what we see coming out of the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] is a convoluted, oftentimes confusing [set of] rules that will really only allow lawyers to make a lot of money for deciding whether it was lawful content or unlawful content, or whether it was a discriminatory practice or not. I think the FCC has to improve a lot on their stance on Net neutrality.

I think another threat to Net freedom, from a global perspective is countries filtering. There are over 40 countries filtering, and they do this through technical ways, commonly using techniques to block access to Internet sites: IP blocking, DNS tampering, URL blocking, search result removals. There’s also undue self-censorship: we see a lot of countries where there are social norms and other informal methods of intimidation. That’s certainly an issue.

We work on a lot of cease-and-desist letters [sent by attorneys from major corporations threatening to sue individuals and small businesses if they don’t immediately remove allegedly copyrighted material from their sites]. That’s one way that there’s definitely censorship: unfair cease-and-desist letters.

Net freedom is a really big topic right now. We’ve seen, in the case of WikiLeaks, how much control corporations have through their terms-of-service agreements [to keep people from accessing or donating to WikiLeaks], and we definitely want to make sure that in the future people can use the Internet and effectively pressure companies to have more clear and fair terms.

Zenger’s: I have a roommate who constantly listens to Right-wing talk radio, and they’ve presented the current proposals at the FCC, however weak we might find them, as a direct threat to liberty and freedom and the First Amendment and all of this. Part of this comes from the Right’s belief that if you have more money, you should be able to dominate communications, and politics, and everything else, because by having more money you have more of a stake in society, and therefore you should have more power.

Szendro Bok: Communication is the lifeblood of our society. I’m not in this field because I just love analyzing law. To me, the policy level is important in creating effective change, but making sure that people, citizens, can share their stories, can communicate effectively, can have some consensus on what is really happening in the world so that we can have creative solutions.

We’ve definitely seen in the last couple of years that media consolidation has pushed a lot of strong language to either the Left or the Right. Communications narratives are on two parallel tracks. I think a lot of Americans are in the middle, but are definitely being pushed to one side or the other. The reality is that we, as citizens on the ground, should be discussing what is it that we’re seeing, and what are the problems, and how can our local legislators and representatives really serve the public interest, which is their job?

Zenger’s: So far, at least, in this country the courts have ruled that ISP’s can pretty much do whatever they want in terms of allowing or suppressing information and tiering the Net [giving users faster access to large corporate media sites than individual or small-business sites]. One thing the FCC did do to try to block this was thrown out by the courts. Given the tremendous power of Big Money over our political system, how realistic is it to hope that we will continue to have a truly free Internet, and not just a medium that’s yet another transmission belt for the corporate message, like all other mass media in this society?

Szendro Bok: My goal, and our hope at New Media Rights, is that we can offer information to citizens in a way that they understand that communications policy and media law really decide the ways that we can interact and communicate as individuals, and that is the most important human function in order for us to evolve. As far as us interacting and working as a community, it’s vital that our communications media are there to be utilized by everyone.

When people realize how important intellectual property law, media law and keeping the Internet open are to their daily functions, to making money, to innovating, to educating themselves, to communicating with each other, meeting up with each other and building community, that’s when we’re going to have a realization of how critical it is for us to advocate for public-interest media law. But until citizens understand what we’re doing here, we’re only going to have a small segment of the population really engaged in these battles.

Zenger’s: What do you think it’s going to take to build that awareness?

Szendro Bok: I certainly feel called to work on advocacy campaigns. I think that if we create campaigns that are engaging, campaigns that invoke language that this is a right of ours, the people will hopefully move quickly to protect their rights. Certainly we’re at a precipice, where we’re seeing the importance of utilizing the Internet for education, for innovation and for communication; and we’re also seeing that there’s a threat to our ability to fully utilize the Internet. Hopefully people feel a sense of action, that there’s a real threat.

I would hope that now more people are buying tools and technologies —creating podcasts, creating video, creating media and using the Internet. New Media Rights hopes to offer free legal assistance to [overcoming] many of those barriers when it comes to online publishing, and when it comes to dealing with larger corporations and not getting anywhere.

So I would hope that communicating with your community is not something that’s happening “out there,” but you’re doing it, and if you’re feeling like, “Well, I can’t go downtown and go on Fox News. I can’t go to my local radio station and just say what I want,” then that’s something you need to consider. How can you advocate for a better communications policy that will give you outlets for your message?

Zenger’s Associate Editor vs. Fox News Fans

Backs Due Process for Undocumented Immigrants, Branded an “Idiot”


Copyright © 2011 by Leo E. Laurence, J.D. • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Does it look to you like he’s wearing a dress? That’s just one of the loonier accusations leveled against Zenger’s associate editor Leo E. Laurence, J.D., shown being made up for one of his two recent appearances on Fox News. (Photo: Daniel Hutson, Jr.)

“You are a certifiable nutjob,” wrote John Stuben just minutes after I went on Bill O’Reilly’s national Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” on Jan 4.

Though I made my appearance in San Diego, Fox’s national headquarters arranged my appearance in the style typical of New York City; sending a big, black Lincoln limo to take me to an independent studio at Third & Market streets downtown.

As a longtime member of the Diversity Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), I’m helping spearhead a national debate encouraging working journalists to avoid the phrases “illegal immigrant” or the more offensive “illegal alien” (from which planet?) in writing media stories, to be consistent with our U.S. Constitution.

Enshrined into that document is the legal doctrine that everyone (including non-citizens) is pre-sumed to be innocent of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law. Only judges can say if someone is “illegal,” not a journalist.

It’s an insider issue that applies largely to working journalists, but conservatives worldwide are exploiting this to vent their raw, racist anger. (They love to hate.)

Issue Explodes

As a function of my role on the SPJ’s diversity committee, I wrote a comprehensive analysis of the issue on page 13 (lucky) of the November-December 2010 issue of the Quill, the official magazine of the SPJ which goes to working reporters and editors in all media.

That article, and some similar blogs I wrote for the SPJ’s national Web site ( were no-ticed by conservative, internet media and they were furious.

The apparently controversial issue was picked up by Matthew Boyle, 25, of the Daily Caller in Washington, D.C. who quickly was blasting it across the conservative Internet media worldwide.

Radio stations in Seattle, New York, Tampa, St. Louis, NYC and Canada (among many others) aired extensive live interviews with me.

This “illegal alien” thing just exploded, serendipitously.

For unknown reasons, the SPJ’s officials at international headquarters in Indianapolis appeared to dislike it. Disclaimers were flying everwhere, including the SPJ’s Web site.

They were quick to disavow anything to do with the issue, wrongly saying the SPJ hadn’t taken a stand as yet. That was misguided and suggests those officials did not carefully read my Quill article closely before commenting. Or, they just didn’t like the heat or wasn’t in control of it.

A private, diversity committee meeting will be conducted via a telephonic conference call is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 25 specifically to explore the issue.

I’m a Idiot, Say Fox Fans

After appearing nationwide on Fox & Friends on Monday, January 3, the Fox producer in NYC on my Monday appearance said I had done something never done before in the history of their news shows. I gave my personal cell-phone number and e-mail address on-the-air, nationwide, to 5.3 million viewers. (619) 757-4909,

So many calls suddenly hit my cell phone that it shut down, as did my laptop, overloaded with e-mails. For my Tuesday appearance on the O’Reilly Factor, however, I created a special, new e-mail account:

Here are some of the 300+ e-mails I’ve received:

Though I was wearing a three-piece suit with a vest, Randy Fant wrote: “I don’t need some old self important fossil in a dress to tell me whether somsthings [sic] legal or illegal.” (

And this from Mike Gross ( “Mister, anyone your age (78 on 1/13) and lack of teeth wearing ear rings has something seriously wrong with them.”

Or, from New Yorker Frank Reinbold ( “saw you on o rielly [sic]. Your [sic] nutty.” My response: “I’m assuming your spelling also reflects your intelligence, or maybe you’re just lazy ‘n ‘ignornt’.”

“You’re an idiot saying only a judge can determine that someone is illegal. I looked at you on TV and thought to my self [sic] there is someone who cares not a whit about the will of the people. FUCK YOU LEO!,” wrote Craig Haught (


“Chin thrust forward. Arrogant. *ss Kisser. All this told us you want your 15 minutes of fame. UGLY. Now that you have had your 15 minutes of fame – please go away. Seriously, GO AWAY. Dumb comments and a stupid way to present,” wrote Jan Hale of Ankey, Iowa (

And another:

“Hi Leo. I saw your appearance on the Bill O’Reilly Show with my wife and friends. We all think you are a total idiot!,” wrote Mike Speer (

Still another:

“After watching your interview on “Fox & Friends” this morning, I was left with the opinion that you are a complete idiot,” wrote Tom Chrisman (

And this one:

“Well you got your face on TV. You came off by your body language as a pompus self important [sic] ass. The majority of America is sick of liberal crap. You are an idiot in spite of the comments praising your education,” wrote Henry (ashamed to give last name?

Or this one:

“They are illegal regardless of what an arrogant pompous self-rightious [sic] faggot says on ‘Fox & Friends’,” said Nathine Pine (

Here’s another e-mail I’ve received:

“Do you really call yourself a journalist? I hope that you enjoyed your five minutes of fame – you and your stupid smirk,” wrote Walden P. (

Apparently I’m a certified idiot:

“Saw you on O’Reilly. You are a freaking idiot,” wrote Ray G on Facebook.

Here’s more:

“You are an asshole. They (undocumented immigrants) are as illegal as you are dumb,” said C. Abate (

Or this e-mail:

“One question: do you or your organization receive government grants or subsidies to pursue ri-diculous causes such as the one displayed today?” wrote “Mr. Blackburn” ( “PS: You are far too old to wear earrings.”

My two gold earrings really bothered some Fox News viewers:

“People like you are the reason the country is in the shape it’s in. Wishing Steve Doocey Happy New Year in Spanish was SO cute. Your bong buddies will pat you on the back for that one. You need to stay off television – you and your stupid earrings are embarrassing to normal people,” wrote Bob Elliott (

“First, I am offended that this issue was on national news . . . Oh, another word of advise [sic] …. Lose the ear rings [sic]. If you really want someone to take you seriously, look the part. You look like you are going through a mid life [sic] crisis, for maybe the second or third time with the ear rings and all,” wrote Mack Brown of Gamer, NC (

Brian Brandt apparently doesn’t know much English, so he only wrote: “!@#%&**!@#&%@#!!!” (

And I’m still an IDIOT: This good reputation is still solid!

“YOU ARE AN IDIOT!,” wrote Russ (

Or this:

“you [sic] are a jackass. Just saw you on Fox. You seem to be an arrogant boob,” wrote Jim Davis in a Facebook posting.

Many conservatives wrongly believe the U.S. Constitution applies only to citizens, as Penny An-derson wrote ( “The Constitution does not govern the citizens of other countries and in my opinion would not apply to persons here without proper documentation.”

Jason Buehler wrote: “I saw you on Fox & Friends. People like you scare me. GOD bless your ignorance.” (

“You are among a host of inarticulate misguided commentators from the destructive left. You, sir, take the cake. P.S. Buy some Rogaine,” wrote John (

William Bergthold (612) 385-5726 wrote: “I saw you sorry face on Fox News this morning. You are a complete nut case for all the disjointed [sic] beliefs that bounce around in your tiny cranium. Get off whatever drugs you are doing. Seek advice from Obama’s end of life counselors.” (

Or this: “You move [sic] to Mexico …. Your’re [sic] what’s wrong with this country,” wrote Ja-son Watson on Facebook.

Supportive e-mails

“I just read about you and what you are doing for the community. I am a Latina who has been very frustrated and hurt by all the hatred around my community. I support you in your efforts. Don’t give up. Thanks a lot,” wrote Gabi Mayorga (

And from a 12-year-old in 7th grade in Pioneer Middle School: “Mr. Laurence, I agree with you on some points. It may be wrong . . . to profile (undocumented immigrants) as ‘illegal aliens.’ After obtaining permission from her mother, we will be working together later. Yet another supporter:

“I was great talking to you today! The Drop-the-I-Word team ( is thrilled that SPJ’s diversity committee will help inform its members about this harmful language and try to get a (national) resolution passed at the (SPJ na-tional) 2011 convention. We’re on the same team,” wrote Mónica Novoa (

A student and mother of three in Rio Rancho, NM wrote: “We are all ‘innocent’ until this status is changed by a ruling determined in court. Thank you for your courage,” wrote Karen L. Deleewerk (

The vice president of the St. Louis SPJ and a reporter with the Belleville (IL) News Democrat wrote: “Our local SPJ chapter voted to issue a statement of support for your call to use ‘undocu-mented immigrant’ in place of ‘illegal’ immigrant, or worse ‘illegal alien’.” (link: I hope this conversation continues, even if the (SPJ diversity committees have taken no official stance. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of language and our continuing need to use it effectively and fairly in the work we do.” (

A retired ABC News (San Francisco) correspondent, Peter Cleaveland) said: “you handled your-self quite well for a man dealing with a certified asshole. You didn’t rise to the bait, even when the head of the SPJ sort of threw you under the bus, you didn’t go for it. O’Reilly had his chance to be a journalist during his stint with ABC News, and he failed. . . Like the earrings . . . they lent an air of avant garde to your appearance. Keep up the good work.” (

Contact Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at

EDITOR’S NOTE: It is the style of Zenger’s to use the term “undocumented immigrant” and to avoid any use of the term “illegal” to refer to someone who has not been duly convicted of a crime.
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual teens singled out for punishment

Study in leading pediatric journal finds unfair treatment nationwide

Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) adolescents are about 40 percent more likely than other teens to receive punishment at the hands of school authorities, police and the courts, according to research published in the January, 2011 issue of Pediatrics and released online December 6, 2010 at

The analysis, conducted at Yale University, found that the disparities in punishments are not explained by differences in misbehavior. Youth who identified themselves as LGB actually engaged in less violence than their peers, for example. Nonetheless, virtually all types of punishments — including school expulsions, arrests, juvenile convictions, adult convictions and especially police stops — were more frequently meted out to LGB youth.

For instance, adolescents who self-identified as LGB were about 50 percent more likely to be stopped by the police than other teenagers. Teens who reported feelings of attraction to members of the same sex, regardless of their self-identification, were more likely than other teens to be expelled from school or convicted of crimes as adults. Girls who labeled themselves as Lesbian or Bisexual were especially at risk for unequal treatment: they experienced 50 percent more police stops and reported about twice as many arrests and convictions as other girls who had engaged in similar behavior.

Although the study did not explore the experiences of Transgender youth, anecdotal reports suggest that they are similarly at risk for excessive punishment.

The study is the first to document excessive punishment of LGB youth nationwide. It was based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and included approximately 15,000 middle and high school students who were followed for seven years into early adulthood. The study collected details on subjects' sexuality, including feelings of sexual attraction, sexual relationships and self-labeling as LGB. Add Health also surveyed participants regarding how frequently they engaged in a variety of misbehaviors ranging in severity from "lying to parents" to using a weapon.

The study authors hypothesize that the excessive punishments of LGB youth may reflect authorities' reluctance to consider mitigating factors such as young age or self-defense in determining punishment for LGB youth. Moreover, they note that LGB youth frequently encounter homophobia in the education, healthcare and child welfare systems, and may therefore fail to receive services offered to other young people.

"The painful, even lethal bullying that LGB youth suffer at the hands of their peers has been highlighted by recent tragic episodes. Our numbers indicate that school officials, police and judges, who should be protecting LGB young people, are instead contributing to their victimization," said Kathryn Himmelstein, the study's lead author. Himmelstein, who initiated the study while a Yale undergraduate, currently teaches mathematics at a public high school in New York City. The research was supervised by Dr. Hannah Brückner, a Yale sociologist and nationally recognized expert on adolescent sexuality.

"We hope the study will serve as a wake up call for those whose job it is to protect youth," said Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network, a national organization empowering LGBT youth to create safer schools. "These alarming statistics underscore the need for alternatives to punitive school disciplinary practices as well as the need for school, police, and court officials to receive comprehensive training about the serious consequences of targeting LGBT youth, whether the perpetrators are student bullies or the adults themselves."

Pediatrics is the world's leading journal of pediatric medicine. To request the full text of the study, contact Debbie Linchesky at, (847) 434-7084, or Susan Martin at, (847) 434-7131.


Singer, Songwriter, Activist Brings Passion to His Music


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The first thing you’ll notice when you hear Joshua Napier sing is the sheer emotion and passion he projects with his music. Not for him the bland delivery of all too many guitar-toting singer-songwriters. Like the rock musicians who were his greatest influences, Bruce Springsteen and Melissa Etheridge, Napier sings with an edgy intensity that makes you identify with him and his songs. What’s more, though he’s a political activist and writes topical songs, he has the knack of the best activist songwriters of combining the personal with the political and creating pieces that reflect his beliefs instead of hitting you over the head with them.

Napier is equally passionate off-stage. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio and raised by a single mother, he was out as Gay in high school. One of the reasons he came to San Diego was to find an activist community with which he could work. Active as the membership chair of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.), he recently left that group’s board to join the board of Activist San Diego (ASD) because he wanted to work with a group that isn’t just focused on Queer issues.

Catch him wherever you can — at fundraisers, coffeehouse gigs or the “Redfest” event of politically aware music he’s planning for this summer. Someday you may find yourself boasting that you saw him “when,” just like the women who saw Melissa Etheridge in her early gigs in Los Angeles Lesbian bars when she was just one person and a guitar.

Zenger’s: Why don’t you tell me your background and how you got involved in music and in activism?

Joshua Napier: I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. That’s where I’m from. My mom was a single mom. She had me really young. I grew up in small towns, basically, and that’s the major influence on my music: I would define my music as small-town working class rock.

I moved out here to California in 2009 with my partner Jeff, who’s a student at UCSD. I wanted to find a different sort of music scene that would appreciate the sort of folk-rock, kind of acoustic thing that I have, and also find an audience for more political-type songs. I met some members of S.A.M.E., the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality, and that was how I got involved in politics. I wasn’t too political back home, so I guess I had a political conversion, I guess. I came to California hoping to find people who were more like me.

Zenger’s: So you’ve always been Left of center, but you came to California to find people to be Left of center with?

Napier: Yes, exactly. Back home I was known as “the crazy kid,” because I came out while I was still in high school, so I guess I was always political without realizing that I was this kind of champion for Gay people. I was just being myself in high school. I’ve met people that I knew in high school who have come out now, and they’ve said, “Oh, we saw you were,” so I guess that’s kind of cool.

I’d grown up wishing I’d been a teenager in the 1960’s, so I could have played in that scene and gone to Woodstock. I’m very inspired by that music, and wanting to write that way has been a tradeoff of working in the political atmosphere, looking at different things and perspectives.

Zenger’s: There’s been a lot written about how people are coming out at younger and younger ages. For Gays of my generation, it’s a little hard to imagine why, with all the other stuff you have to deal with in high school, would you want to choose of all times to proclaim this to the world?

Napier: For me, personally, it helped prevent a lot of that crap that other people deal with, because I was out and open and very confrontational about it. So I didn’t get the same sorts of threats. I didn’t have the same problems, because when people are confronted by such honesty, they can’t do anything but accept it. I think that’s something that our community deserves, to be honest with itself. That’s a big theme in a lot of my songs, and when people come to my shows a lot of the things I talk about are truth and honesty, transparency and its importance to everybody.

The more adults are honest and open, and the more accepted it looks in mainstream culture, the more younger folks feel comfortable enough to come out and just be who they are. Personally, I preferred to walk through high school letting everybody know who I was, rather than having to hide it and constantly worry about what they thought I was, or to threaten me or whatever. I think that’s a lot scarier position to be in than to just be out.

And, unfortunately, a lot of people in our community spend their lives that way in the giant high school that is life, hiding who they are. So I like that that’s happening in the youth movement, and I definitely encourage that. Being part of S.A.M.E., I hope we will continue to connect with GSA’s and youth, the progressive youth instead of the old bigots. That’s what I always say.

Zenger’s: How many progressive youth are there? I get the impression sometimes that this whole country is shifting far to the Right on economic issues. People completely believe in capitalism and “The Market.” So how does a young person grow up to be progressive in this very conservative age, and how many of you are there?

Napier: I think access to technology, having the Internet, has definitely assisted that. As negative as the complete plugged-in kind of feel that we have is, it is access to information, and kids in a small town can see beyond the conservative leaders they have in their town. That’s what saved me: growing up in the age of the Internet and knowing very early on that there were Gay people in the world, that I wasn’t the only person, I think helps.

I know here in San Diego there’s quite a progressive youth movement. We did that demonstration at San Diego High School against Fred Phelps’ church and all that, and there was a huge, huge positive response from the student body, not only the high school but the college next to it. We have to have had about 500 kids out there being political and standing up for themselves, and I think that’s a really cool thing.

Then when we had the student march, that’s kind of the thing right now. It may not even be that they’re becoming politically motivated because they’re Queer, but because they want an education. They want access to information, and I think that’s also radicalizing people. With the big budget crisis, we had lots of students coming out in response to the hike in tuition. I think that’s something that is also inspiring people.

I don’t know how large the progressive youth community is. I have dreams that it’s really large, that it’s kind of this big, sleeping mass that hopefully we can inspire and goad to be more involved. But our job as older activists, I think, is to try to bring them in and let them know. S.A.M.E. is starting this program where they’re going to go into high schools and create this network of GSA’s [Gay-Straight Alliances], and then you know when you get out of high school that you have a whole community to become part of, and to fight along with, on a variety of issues. At least that’s my dream for that project. We’ll see.

Zenger’s: When did you know that you wanted to do music as your life’s work?

Napier: When I was four or five, as my mother could tell you, all I ever talked about was wanting to be a singer. I wanted to sing, and then for a while I wanted to design, because I like art. I’m all over the place creatively. But I got a guitar roughly 10 years or so ago. Originally I just wanted to learn a couple of songs and play stuff for friends, that sort of thing. But once I learned to play it, it wasn’t too long before I started writing my own songs, and they soon became a solace for me, a way for me to deal with my issues in the world. And now it’s my best friend.

I was definitely that kid alone in the room, dancing and pretending I had an audience, and wanting to be able to share my message. That’s one of the biggest reasons I like music: it’s universal. It’s easy to spread, it’s easy for people to get hold of and pass on, and it’s also something that — songs change people’s lives. They change their emotions. They change their everything, and I wanted to be part of that universal amazingness that is music. Its ability to transform, and to share a message, I think, is very, very powerful.

Zenger’s: One thing I’ve liked about you as a musician and songwriter is you perform with an unusual degree of emotion. There are a lot of people at your stage, aspiring singer-songwriters who play coffeehouses and whatnot, who write nice songs but present them in a very bland fashion. One thing that I really connected with you is just the sheer intensity with which you sing.

Napier: Oh, wow. I really appreciate that. My vocal styling has shifted and changed over the years of learning, and of performing in front of people. I find that when I’m the most honest, when I’m the most connected in my lyrics, the emotion just comes through naturally, because I write about events that have happened in my life. I write about the day-to-day things, and that’s how I present them. This is my personal story. I can’t help but feel emotional.

My favorite singers are like that: Janis Joplin, Melissa Etheridge and Bruce Springsteen, people who have these kinds of odd vocals, but they’re very emotional, very powerful. You know exactly what they mean when they sing that song. That’s what I would want to come across, and that is why people enjoy my show, because they can see the honesty and the emotion behind it. I don’t like to play a lot of cover songs. I don’t typically play stuff I didn’t write, because it’s not the same connectedness.

Zenger’s: What would you say your influences are?

Napier: I love 1960’s-1970’s folk-rock, but my biggest influences would be Melissa Etheridge and Bruce Springsteen. I like their style, I guess I would say. Melissa writes very, very powerful lyrics. She was also, for me personally, kind of an idol because when I was a kid and I knew I wanted to perform, knew I wanted to write music and be out there, I looked around and there weren’t any Gay male guys that were like me, that just wanted to have a guitar and write a simple song. Having her as a role model really helped me, because there was somebody doing what I really wanted to do, and she was out.

Even though I would say I’m definitely a Queer musician, I would not say that my music is necessarily Queer. Anybody could listen to it that wanted to, if you like acoustic rock. That’s something I strive for, and like I said, in other artists I like that sort of honesty.

Zenger’s: Where do you want to take your music? Do you want to stay a solo performer, or do you want to have a band?

Napier: I would love to have a band, not necessarily a working band. I’m kind of a control freak, as most of my friends would be able to tell you. I have a specific vision for what I like for my music, but I love being with other musicians. I love a band because I love the energy of a live show. My intention, though, is to stay a solo artist, hopefully involved with a band I would be able to travel with and to play live with. I’m definitely looking. I’ve been trying to build something. It’s difficult.

Zenger’s: Tell me about the project you have coming up later this year.

Napier: O.K., the Redfest and my The Boy in the Red Shirt? I’ve been very inspired by the groups I’ve been involved with, like Activist San Diego, S.A.M.E., the International Socialist Organization, a lot of people who have been very political and have introduced me to a lot of very political music. So I think it would be really cool to have some sort of political activism/music fest, where we could have people come and play political music or songs that are a lot less mainstream, I guess I could say.

My hope is that it would be a large music festival that we could do every year in San Diego, and that it would benefit the ASD Radio Project and also spread other artists that are like me here in town that don’t have exactly the right avenue or the right venue for their sort of music. People with guitars in coffee shops happen a lot, but sometimes our music can be a little extreme or very political, and you want to have an audience that understands and appreciates that. That’s what I’m hoping will happen with this particular project.

It’ll be something I’m building in conjunction with those groups, and hopefully others, and other musicians. Definitely people are welcome to contact me about it if they have interest in helping build it, and it will also be where I’ve been writing a rock opera called The Boy in the Red Shirt, which is about this very, very far-Left activist who takes over the military and ends war. So it’s an idealistic show, but I’m enjoying writing it because I’m able to put in my political beliefs.

There’s so much stuff happening right now with WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning, and so many inspiring things. I just feel it’s a good time to process and to write this kind of show about escaping from this cages I feel we’re constantly put in. At least I’m hoping that’s what will come through.

Zenger’s: You mentioned WikiLeaks: I’ve read some articles and blog posts by feminists saying, “Wait a minute. The guy’s [Julian Assange] an accused rapist. We shouldn’t be just leaping to his defense and saying it’s O.K. what he did with those two women in Sweden because he’s exposing the secrets of the American government, because then we’re condoning rape and violence against women.” How do you feel about that?

Napier: I would definitely say I’m very much a hard-core feminist. I understand the concerns that a lot of the feminist community has had. I just feel that the information, the stuff that’s getting out there, is extremely important to have out there. People deserve the truth. People deserve to have access to the truth, and people deserve a transparent government.

If he did it, about which I have doubts, he deserves to be punished for it, because it’s wrong. That’s one of the most horrible crimes that a person can commit against somebody. It’s such an act of violence that he definitely deserves to be punished for that. But that’s not a good enough reason to suppress the information, and I do feel that there was kind of a smear campaign there, especially since the charges were dropped, and they were brought back up, and they were kind of murky, and nobody knew what they were, and they just started spreading rape.

I thought personally it was a way to drown out what he was really saying and to discredit him, as if to say, “Oh, he did this awful, awful act, so now we can’t trust these cables, we can’t trust what he’s releasing.” I think people should think very hard about what, at the end of the day, what the priorities are. If those women were abused by him, then I feel very sorry for them and I hope he’s punished for it, if he did it. But I still feel at the end of the day that the transparency is more important. Some of the things that are coming out of that are kind of scary, and we should know about them.

Zenger’s: Yeah, one of the things that astonished me about it was that Sweden apparently has a law making it illegal to have sex without a condom, and this is something that some of the more militant AIDS activists have been talking about here. In other countries, people have been prosecuted for these sorts of things. There was one proposal that you would practically have to sign a release form before you could have sex with anyone.

So it strikes me that one of the questions, besides did he actually force himself on women; and is the ultimate goal of this to get him extradited to the U.S. so he can be punished under espionage laws or whatever this government thinks they can throw at him; what does the existence of these kinds of laws say about our notion of sexual privacy? Are we going beyond punishing the bad stuff, the stuff that should be illegal, and policing people’s private conduct in ways the government shouldn’t be involved in?

Napier: I agree that there’s a lot there. We should always question people who are making money off of us. We should question their motives. We don’t have a cure for cancer because losing the amount of money made off it every year would bankrupt several pharmaceutical companies, I’m sure. I think that we always have to question the motives of our supposed leaders: those we have elected to be in charge, those who have forgotten they are servants and not kings, so to speak.

I am extremely against the government being that involved in people’s lives. I think that people as adults have the right to conduct themselves as they want. I’m not really sure about the whole condom thing in Sweden. I haven’t been paying attention, but I definitely think that would be silly here, and almost impossible to have happen. Despite the threat of AIDS or HIV, which terrifies a lot of people, there’s still a huge amount of unsafe sex that goes on. There’s still a huge number of people that prefer to bareback and to behave that way.

It’s like the drug laws. Telling people not to do drugs only makes them do it more. Telling people they have to wear a condom during sex would only increase people not doing it, to be honest. If people would stop policing people that much, people would stop behaving in some of the ways they do. But that’s just my personal opinion. I don’t think legalizing pot will lead to the whole world being addicted to heroin. That’s insane and ludicrous. I think these anti-drug people are only making it worse.

It’s also kind of hypocritical because the government wants to protect us against certain things, but other things are O.K. People are living in the streets because we decided to bail the banks out, because war is more important. We can’t dare take $2 billion out of that war funding to help the federal workers who are getting laid off. Any of that sort of policing by the government, telling people how to live their lives, really terrifies me with how the government’s choosing to live its life, so to speak.

Zenger’s: There’s one thing I’ve heard you talk about at meetings, and it was a question I was definitely going to ask you: how do you feel about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”?

Napier: As a member of the anti-war community, I was very disheartened by the amount of celebration about it, because it was like, “Yay! We can go out and do more wars. We can kill more civilians that live in the Middle East. Yay!” That’s how I personally felt about a lot of it. I think of the military as one of our largest employers. I think it does send a very strong message culturally, and to our whole society, by them saying, “Gays are allowed to serve openly in the military. They should be able to serve without fear.”

I think that sends a very good message, and hopefully it will help us get an all-inclusive ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act] passed. If Gays are able to serve in the military, if they’re willing to die for their country, they should be able to teach children. “They” — like we’re some separate species. But we should be able to do anything that anybody else does. Straight men get to work around young girls. It’s not like they’re running — well, not all the time, but it’s not like they’re behaving in that way. So to say that Gays would [behave sexually irresponsibly], that really bugs me.

It was kind of bittersweet. It sends a good message that Gay people want to defend the country — so to speak — and they should have the right to. But the expansion of the military-industrial complex is very frightening, especially when we’re in so many countries, doing so many horrible things, as evidenced by a lot of these diplomatic cables documents being released.

Zenger’s: It sounds like what you’re saying is you’d like Gay people to have the right to be in the military, and the wisdom not to.

Napier: Precisely, exactly. Yeah, that’s what I would like to see. I would like to see more people saying, “No, we don’t want to go to war. Not only is it a huge waste of money, but we’re killing people for no reason, for resources that we should be working to be less dependent on.” I can definitely be accused of being an idealist. We should share the world. Unfortunately, that’s not how it goes. But I like that, exactly: Gays should be able to serve in the military, and should have the wisdom not to. Really.

Zenger’s: You recently dropped off the board of S.A.M.E. and joined the board of Activist San Diego. Why?

Napier: I plan to keep the position I’ve had within S.A.M.E. as the membership coordinator, and I have done our newsletters for the past year. But I like ASD. I think it’s a cool organization that could be much more effective, and I think S.A.M.E. is at a point where it’s changing and reorganizing itself. It’s at a good place to kind of go off to some of our newer members, who I think are really plugged in to the marriage equality issue, and they’re better suited to run S.A.M.E. and make it a better organization.

I wanted to be in a more all-encompassing organization. I wanted to work on different things, be able to talk to people who are involved with the legalization of marijuana, or the Free Palestine movement, or the anti-war movement, with the peace and justice, labor workers. It’s exciting to come into a group with a different structure and working in a different way. I’m really excited about it, and I’m excited to see what the next year, or two years, or however long my term is, to see how ASD changes. But I still love S.A.M.E. and will stay an active member in S.A.M.E. and help out when I can.

Zenger’s: What do you think about the latest twist in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger lawsuit, with the federal appeals court sending it back to the state supreme court for clarification of the standing issue?

Napier: It’s exciting to be able to say that these people don’t have standing, because they don’t. They want to restrict the rights of certain people. They want to treat us like we are not human beings. So to have somebody question whether they even have the right to do that is really cool. I’m hoping that once it makes its way — as it eventually will — to the U.S. Supreme Court, that they will have the same thing to say: these people don’t have standing, they cannot keep rights and stuff from one particular group of people. I’ve had issues with the whole marriage equality thing from the beginning, because it’s so obvious to me that these people are trying to tell me I am a second-class citizen, I don’t deserve to have the same rights.

So hopefully that sentiment won’t continue; that people will be able to say that this is kind of a stupid issue. We will eventually be able to marry. We will eventually have access to all the same rights, all the same privileges, and if it takes every single one of these old bigots to go away and die off before we get it, we’ll have it eventually. They’re only delaying the inevitable.

I definitely think we’ll have marriage equality back here in California within the next couple of years. All the states. But I have mixed feelings about the marriage equality fight because we’re fighting for things we should have access to already, like health care. I should be able to leave the things that I have when I die to whomever I want. I should have the choice. All the rights and stuff that are being kept from us — that are benefiting people who can get married — I think is ludicrous. I think people should have that already. But that gets back to my idealism, and as they have not yet elected me King of the Universe, I have to keep fighting.