News and reports
November 14, 2003 | Pages 10 and 11
National Conference on Media Reform
MADISON, Wis.--More than 1,600 activists turned out November 7-9 to take part in the first National Conference on Media Reform sponsored by the Free Press, far surpassing anything organizers expected. "We thought that we'd get 200 when we started in December," Robert McChesney, author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy and event organizer, told Socialist Worker. "I hope this means that we're going to have a strong organizing effort to change the media system in this country--a long-term struggle--and this is going to jumpstart it."
The weekend began with a packed-out meeting on "Media and Propaganda During Wartime," featuring Democracy Now! radio host Amy Goodman; John Stauber, author of Weapons of Mass Deception; and author Rahul Mahajan. Workshops included the recent Federal Communications Commission fight over corporate media monopoly, the rise of right-wing Clear Channel media conglomerate, the rights of media workers and linking social justice issues to media reform.
Activists representing an array of independent and alternative radio, television, Internet and print media attended, as well as new activists angry at the sad shape of the U.S. mainstream media. On Friday night, people crowded the Orpheum Theater to hear speeches by conference organizer John Nichols of The Nation, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and global justice activist Naomi Klein and to hear music by Billy Bragg, Tom Morello, Boots Riley and Lester Chambers.
The event kicked off the musicians' multi-city "Tell Us the Truth Tour" concert tour, which focuses on building the protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami later this month (go to www.tellusthetruth.org for local tour dates.)
The next night, an electrified crowd cheered veteran journalists Bill Moyers and Studs Terkel, Goodman and comedian Al Franken. "Most Americans are interested in this issue when they know they can have an opinion on it," McChesney told the crowd. "We can organize on this issue, but progressives will have to lead."
CHICAGO--More than 100 people gathered here last weekend for a conference on the future of the struggle to end the death penalty. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty's third national convention came at the end of a year that started with the most important victory in three decades for opponents of capital punishment--former Illinois Gov. George Ryan's decision to empty death row by pardoning four men condemned to death and commuting the sentence of every prisoner who faced execution.
Participants celebrated this step forward for the abolitionist movement--but also talked about new challenges ahead. "We had a victory," said former Illinois death row prisoner Darby Tillis, "but we want to win the war."
Speakers also talked about how to take what has been accomplished around the issue of the death penalty and expose the flaws of the entire injustice system. "George Ryan said that the system was broken, and that's wrong--that implies that the system once worked," said Rob Warden, executive director of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions. "It doesn't work. It's dysfunctional, and it has to be stopped."
Members of the Campaign say that their organization has put a priority on involving those most affected by the issue of the death penalty--both exonerated former prisoners and family members of those on death row--and these speakers were the highlight of the convention.
"In those courtrooms, there was no truth," said Pauline Matthews, as she described her son Ryan's ordeal since being convicted and sentenced to death in Louisiana for a murder he didn't commit. "In the name of justice, they're killing our children."
Campaigners said that the national meeting reflected the organization's growing maturity. "I'm happy to see that there's more people here, because it's going to take all of us to kill this death penalty and these wrongful convictions," said Louva Bell, the mother of Ronald Kitchen, an innocent man who was tortured onto death row and remains behind bars today.
OAKLAND, Calif.--Some 100 protesters gathered in front of the Alameda County courthouse on November 7 to support 25 protesters who were attacked by police at a peaceful antiwar protest at the Oakland docks seven months ago. At the April 7 picket, police opened fire with "non-lethal weapons"--rubber bullets, wooden dowels, concussion grenades and bean bag projectiles--and charged the crowd with motorcycles, seriously injuring several protesters.
These weapons, which are not supposed to be fired directly at people, were fired at point blank range, sending more than a dozen people to the hospital. Twenty-five protesters, including eight union dockworkers and International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) business Jack Heyman, were arrested and now face criminal charges of "disturbing the peace" and "being a public nuisance."
The lively protest last Friday, just before one of the pre-trial hearings, drew about 100 dockworkers, students, and other supporters. An ILWU member pointed out that the "non-lethal" weapons have caused serious injuries and deaths all over the world, from Palestine to Ireland.
"The wrong people are on trial here," said IBEW member Gerald Smith, who called for the police to be charged instead." One woman, whose wound from the police attack has still not fully healed, carried a sign reading, "Victim of the PATRIOT Act."
"Shoot first, ask questions later! The connections between the war at home and abroad are very clear to each and every one of us!" said former Local 10 Secretary-Treasurer Clarence Thomas, who had recently returned from Baghdad as part of a labor delegation.
Michael Smith, one of three students charged by the University of California-Berkeley administration for organizing a peaceful sit-in the day after the war started, delivered solidarity greetings. "This is not just about the Berkeley 3 or the Oakland 25," said ILWU business agent Trent Willis, million are being oppressed by hired guns. It is not going to stop until we put an end to it, and say: We've had enough!"
Supporters packed the courtroom, where it was announced that the hearing could not proceed, because defense lawyers still didn't have access to the hundreds of pages of evidence the district attorney has against their clients. A new hearing is set for January 9. Supporters vowed to keep up the fight for justice for the Oakland 25. Drop the charges now!
BOSTON--Leading Palestinian activist Amer Jubran faced the final hearing on November 6 in his deportation trial by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, formerly known as the INS. About 75 people came out to show their opposition to the witch hunt.
The FBI and INS arrested Jubran on November 4, 2002, two days after he organized a march for Palestinian rights in Boston. The group Jubran co-founded, the New England Committee to Defend Palestine (NECDP), called the action.
Since then, 12 federal agents have been involved in the investigation of his case, intimidating and even detaining some people in Jubran's witness pool, including his ex-wife, her family and former neighbors. After the trial, Jubran came out to supporters to announce that he asked the court for "voluntary departure" from the U.S. to return to Jordan.
"I am saddened and enraged at the outcome of Amer's trial, but not surprised," said Gene Atwood, a member of NECDP. "Unfortunately, we are living in a terrible time for immigrants, especially those of Arab descent, and especially those that voice their opinions against the policies of the U.S. government. But this will only strengthen our resolve to keep the movement growing louder and louder."
Go to www.amerjubrandefense.org or NECDP's www.onepalestine.org for more information and to express your support.
SEATTLE--More than 200 people rallied here to demand that Israel dismantles its so-called separation wall. The protest was called on the 14th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In fact, the wall that Israel is building is much larger and longer than that wall. The wall slashes straight through Palestinian territory, cutting Palestinians off from land and water resources as well as friends and families.
"This is a struggle for our children and their future," said one speaker. "This is a struggle for the very existence of Palestinians."
Another speaker demanded that the U.S. stop funding Israel. Afterward the crowd chanted, "Bring the wall down!" The rally was a powerful display of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle--as well as a way to put pressure on the U.S. to get out of the Middle East.