By Kay WhitlockThe August 2016 announcement by the Obama administration that it will phase out or “substantially reduce” contracts with private prisons to house federal prisoners provides a master lesson in the political benefit of the magician’s art of misdirection. Hailed by many as a definitive step forward in criminal justice reform and a severe blow to the continuation of mass incarceration, the focus on private prisons hides more than it reveals. It raises false hopes, offers false promises, and points many who want transformative change in the wrong direction.
By Roxanne Dunbar-OrtizThe first international relationship between the Sioux Nation and the US government was established in 1805 with a treaty of peace and friendship two years after the United States acquired the Louisiana Territory, which included the Sioux Nation among many other Indigenous nations. Other such treaties followed in 1815 and 1825. These peace treaties had no immediate effect on Sioux political autonomy or territory. By 1834, competition in the fur trade, with the market dominated by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, led the Oglala Sioux to move away from the Upper Missouri to the Upper Platte near Fort Laramie. By 1846, seven thousand Sioux had moved south. Thomas Fitzpatrick, the Indian agent in 1846, recommended that the United States purchase land to establish a fort, which became Fort Laramie. “My opinion,” Fitzpatrick wrote, “is that a post at, or in the vicinity of Laramie is much wanted, it would be nearly in the center of the buffalo range, where all the formidable Indian tribes are fast approaching, and near where there will eventually be a struggle for the ascendancy [in the fur trade].”
By Nicholas DiSabatinoDear Sister Sonia: We’ve never met in person, yet we’ve spoken on the phone dozens of occasions since I joined Beacon Press back in 2012. I’ve been so blessed to work with you as your publicist these past few years. It’s a strange feeling to “know” someone only via the phone. I feel in some ways like we’re long distance pen pals, even though you’re only in Philadelphia and I’m in Boston. I’ve come to expect that particular warmth in your voice whenever we speak and I hear that familiar “Brother Nicholas, any calls?” from you. It’s part of who you are as a person and an artist
By Deborah Jiang-SteinIn our fame machine culture of “Look at me, look at me!” where fame is marketed as a drug of choice, we’re consumed by the notion that the only light worth seeking is the limelight. I recently had the privilege to witness another way to hold the light. With Gloria Steinem at my side last spring, we entered the state prison for women in Minnesota to share a tour and speaking engagement. She was in Minnesota on a generous acceptance when I invited her to a fundraiser for the nonprofit I founded, the unPrison Project, so that we could raise funds to reach the thirty-one states that have requested my speaking and our programming into their women’s prisons.
By José OrduñaOne convention featured the jingoistic speeches of retired generals, and ex-CIA director Leon Panetta, of protestors chanting “No more war!” being out shouted by people chanting “U-S-A!” The other convention was the Republicans’. As a Mexican immigrant naturalized as a US citizen in 2011, this is the second US general election for which I am eligible to vote.
By Alondra NelsonAs a wide-eyed girl watching Roots, and wondering about mine, I never could have dreamed a future where one day I’d have the surreal experience of having my genealogical results revealed to me before a crowd of African diaspora VIPs and civil rights leaders, and with a prominent actor, Isaiah Washington, as master of ceremonies. Although this experience elicited mixed emotions in me, I can personally attest that new branches on ancestral trees are the undeniable graft of genetic genealogy.
By Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, MAThe most recent show of support for LGBTQ causes in professional sports was the July 21 announcement by the NBA that the men’s All-Star Game would be moved out of North Carolina because of the state’s new anti-LGBTQ law, which includes a section barring transgender people from using bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. I was surprised by the move, especially since the NBA has been slower to warm up to LGBTQ causes than the WNBA (despite being subsidiaries of the same parent organization). The NBA did participate in the Pride March, but, while Sheryl Swoopes, the first out lesbian in the WNBA, made her announcement in 2005, the first openly gay male player, Jason Collins, didn’t come out until 2013. Homophobia remains rampant in men’s sports.
By Alex DixonStudies in neuroscience and psychology have shown that the brain is wired to respond quickly to possible threats, and in American culture at least, people may have been socially conditioned to see black male faces as one of these threats. This process can even affect people who consciously shun racial bias in any form, police officers who swear to uphold the law without prejudice, and people of color themselves.
The Reverend William J. Barber II brought the crowd to its feet with his rousing speech last night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. His impassioned call for a moral awakening to combat divide-and-conquer politics with justice illustrates the foundation of Moral Mondays, the fusion movement he helped start to bridge America’s racial and economic divide. He writes movingly about how he laid the groundwork for this diverse movement in his book The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement. This appearance is part of Rev. Barber’s fifteen-state Revival Tour, launched in April to imbue love, mercy, and morality into politics. Here are some of last night’s highlights.
By Mark TreckaWhen Postcommodity documents the installation, the materials list will read: the Earth, cinderblock, parachute cord, PVC spheres, helium. But that list will be incomplete. The Mexican Consulate was a material. The local cafe owners in Douglas who spearheaded a corresponding art walk, the teenagers of Agua Prieta who danced in celebration of the launch, they were materials.
By Dina Gilio-WhitakerWhen a thirteen-year-old member of the Mississippi Choctaw Band of Indians entered into a job-training program with Dollar General, no one could have foreseen how it would turn out. Referred to as John Doe to protect his identity, the boy alleged that he’d been sexually molested and harassed by Dollar General manager Dale Townsend. Ordinarily, a case like this involving a crime on an Indian reservation would fall under federal jurisdiction, but the US Attorney’s office in Jackson failed to file a lawsuit, and the boy’s parents sued Townsend and Dollar General for damages in tribal court.
By Mark TreckaSaturday has been a long day of logistical maneuvering. Even the seemingly simple task of keeping count of the balloons, on such a scale, can prove to be complicated. And in order to see to it that all twenty-six balloons fly at an even height, anchored at intervals across very uneven terrain, each length of cord has been measured and cut precisely and specifically for each site. With twenty-five balloons aligned in the air, turning slowly, and the twenty-sixth securely anchored, those on the ground see an opportunity to slow down and seize a moment. The wind has cooperated. It breathes calmly.
By Eileen TruaxJust as with every Dreamer I meet, I found out about Jorge through someone else, who had met him through a friend. I met him in El Hormiguero, a community center in the San Fernando Valley in northern Los Angeles, where students, activists, and other members of the community hold meetings on various topics. The meeting where I met Jorge had such a provocative title, I had no choice but to go and see what it was all about: “Undocuqueer Healing Oasis.” It was a space where gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites, and transgender people could share their experiences and talk about what it’s like to live with not just one but two identities that go against the accepted norm. They share how they struggle to get ahead or just keep going, even though it takes more work, and sometimes you just feel tired and overwhelmed.
By Mark TreckaPostcommodity first began discussing the logistics of the Repellent Fence project with the Tucson-Pima Arts Council eight years ago. At several points throughout the weekend, the artists joke that Roberto Bedoya, the head of the council, thought they were crazy in the early stages of their talks. The projected site was moved several times over the years, responding to local political issues, safety concerns, and practical realities. Eventually, the border towns of Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Sonora emerged as an an ideal location for the work because they are “two communities really interested in binational cooperation,” Cristóbal Martínez explains.
By Kay WhitlockWhen I am filled with pain, and seeking change in my life but unclear, uncertain, or even ambivalent about new directions and possible choices, I spend time in quiet reflection and meditation. Then I head for The Crossroads. I go to make an inchoate plea for insight, revelation, and guidance—what some folks would call a prayer. I go when the daylight language of “issues” and politics as usual sounds like meaningless gibberish and possesses such a profound aura of lifelessness that even zombies cannot arise and lurch toward us in its presence.
By Caroline LightThis week we shoulder the weight of our grief and outrage after yet another mass shooting by a heavily-armed gunman, this one directed at patrons of an LGBTQ night club in Orlando on Latin night. Forty-nine innocent people are dead and more than fifty wounded. Once again we struggle to make sense of the senseless, asking how we keep following the same nightmarish script. But just as the loss feels most raw, and some of us may be tempted by reductionist appeals to xenophobia, it is urgent for us to take stock of the cumulative effects of our nation’s violent past.
By Rashod OllisonFresh-cut watermelon smelling like rain and ribs sizzling on a grill bring the music back. The songs complement the food and the weather and Technicolor the memories of when we were all just kids with nothing in our pockets but waxy penny candy. We thought we knew everything. We knew nothing. All that mattered was that my cousins and I in Arkansas—with our Jheri curls and short sets, scarred knees and Tabasco tongues—were all together and that Cousin Rodney’s boom box had fresh batteries.
By Mark TreckaInside the Saddle and Spur Tavern in Douglas, Arizona, it is easy to forget that about a mile south down G Street, just past the Douglas Meat Warehouse, the United States ends and Mexico begins. It is easy to forget that the U.S.-Mexico border is a mile away even though the Saddle and Spur doubles as the Gadsden Hotel’s bar. Opened in 1907, the hotel is named for the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, in which John Gadsden, the American ambassador to Mexico, negotiated the $10 million purchase of 30,000 square miles of Mexico. The deal determined the line of 1,945 miles that is the present-day border
By Dina Gilio-WhitakerThe war that is Native American cultural appropriation rages on. And make no mistake, this is a war for the control of meaning on what constitutes cultural appropriation, and thus what is considered acceptable in the U.S. American mind when it comes to American Indian culture and even intellectual property rights. In the world of media those with the biggest platforms have a decided advantage when it comes to influencing public opinion. It’s something Dan Snyder, owner of the notorious Washington Redsk*ns, knows full well.
By Sharon Leslie MorganOn January 23, 1977, more than 100 million people across America tuned their television sets to ABC to watch one of the first and still few programs to truthfully tell the story of American slavery. The historic miniseries, based on the novel by Alex Haley, recounted the genealogical saga of one of the first black people in America to successfully trace his ancestry backwards from the tobacco fields of Virginia, through the Middle Passage, to the West African Gambia village of Juffure. Revolutionary in its content, it was a story that embodied extreme examples of both horror and hope, along with the emotionally wrenching roller coaster of events that tied those reactions together.