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News and reports

August 11, 2006 | Pages 18 and 19

Harlem housing rights
Immigrant rights in Washington state
Defend the rights of Seattle's Somalis
Equal rights for gays and lesbians

Stop the Nazis
By Jesse Zarley

MADISON, Wis.--For the past month, antiracist activists in Madison have been building a campaign for a counter-demonstration against an August 26 demonstration called by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM).

The NSM, infamous for its appearances in Toledo and its call to brutalize immigrants, says that its rally will draw racists from across the U.S. Since hearing the news, activists have spread the word about the Nazis' violent actions in order to build as broad and diverse a counter-demonstration as possible.

Some 90 people attended the first organizing meeting, which was sponsored by the Rae Vogeler for U.S. Senate campaign, the Madison Area Peace Coalition, the International Socialist Organization and the April 10 movement, which grew out of the huge pro-immigrant marches in the spring. After discussing the need to confront the Nazis' message of hate, the group overwhelmingly voted to hold a vocal counter-demonstration at the capitol.

In the past few weeks, the No Nazis in Madison coalition has been building the event through local and state media and has united members of the Black, Latino, LGBT and other communities around the plan to stand up to the bigots, who have been emboldened by anti-immigrant diatribes from the media and politicians in Washington.

Importantly, several unions in Madison and from around the state also plan to join the antiracist mobilization. The coalition and all antiracists in the Midwest need to send a message to the Nazis: Immigrants are welcome here!

For more information, e-mail [email protected], or call 715-490-6762.

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Harlem housing rights
By Hannah Wolfe

NEW YORK--"Today is the day we will take back our community!" "Bill Clinton can easily afford Harlem--can you?"

Highlighting the failure of Democratic elected officials to counter "hurricane gentrification" in Harlem, more than 100 protesters gathered July 19 in front of the Harlem building in which "Bubba" Clinton leased office space in 2001 in his ostensible show of solidarity with the people of Harlem.

Hundreds of passers-by stopped to join in chants or listen to speakers on a busy rush-hour afternoon on Harlem's main commercial strip.

During the past 10 years, chain stores such as Staples, H&M, Starbucks and the Disney Store have driven small locally owned businesses out of the 125th St. corridor, leaving few remnants intact of this historically vibrant African American community.

Organized by Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenant's Council, which she founded in 1994 to provide eviction intervention services for poor and working-class families in Central Harlem, the rally was one of a series of increasingly frequent protests against sharp rent increases, predatory real estate corporations and illegal evictions.

"If we're talking about housing, we're talking about employment, health care, education," said Bailey as part of a call for unity and a broad-based coalition. "This is part of comprehensive struggle for quality of life for all people of color, for immigrants. Our struggle lies in numbers, in building a coalition. We will continue to fight."

Bailey also criticized Columbia University's plans for takeover of a square-mile swath of Harlem, in which research on toxic agents will be conducted to increase Columbia's profits that derive largely from selling patents to the pharmaceutical industry and the Department of Defense.

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Immigrant rights in Washington state
By Lonnie Lopez

SEATTLE--Backers of a racist anti-immigrant initiative failed to gather enough signatures to place the measure on Washington's statewide ballot this November.

I-946 would have required state and local government employees to verify the identity and immigration status of every applicant for public benefits, and ID cards issued without verification of immigration status (including driver's licenses) would not be accepted to establish identity or eligibility.

A grassroots coalition that included the Washington State Nurses Association, Washington State Hospitals Association, Washington Association of Churches and the Children's Alliance was organized to educate the public about the initiative's harmful effects.

As the "No on 946" campaign argued, the ballot measure sought to undermine health care for all state residents by penalizing women and families with children and deputizing social services providers as immigration agents, thus adding unnecessary costs to an already overburdened health care system.

Because driver's licenses would no longer be accepted as valid identification, anyone seeking medical treatment, even emergency care, would be required to present a birth certificate or passport before any treatment is given.

When word spread that bigots would attempt to gather signatures for the initiative at Seattle Mariners home games, immigrant rights advocates made sure they were there to counter their racist message. Fortunately, not a single petition collector showed up.

As Paola Maranan of the Children's Alliance said, "Clearly Washington voters are far more concerned about making sure that all children get what they need than they are with trying to make sure that a handful of children don't."

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Defend the rights of Seattle's Somalis
By Toni Bigbee and Darrin Hoop

SEATTLE--Officers from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) raided the homes of 18 Somali families July 25.

The federal agents battered down doors and charged in with guns. Women and children were handcuffed and thrown to the floor. Eighteen men were arrested and charged with conspiracy to import and distribute a substance called khat, a natural plant stimulant.

The raid, dubbed "Operation Somalia Express," was the culmination of an 18-month DEA investigation. The men were allegedly part of a 44-member drug trafficking organization that was responsible for smuggling more than 25 tons of khat from Africa into the U.S.

Khat is a common and socially accepted drug in Yemen, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. People use khat for the same reasons many Americans drink coffee. "All 18 of those arrested here were cab drivers who never took part in importing or distributing khat," said Salah Ismail, a member of the Seattle Somali community. "We aren't even close to the damn terrorists. We don't believe this is a drug. It's part of our culture. We use it for weddings, holidays, Ramadan."

The government's real motives are the pursuit of "the ultimate destiny of the funds," according to FBI assistant director Mark Mershon. FBI intelligence suggests it is based in "countries in east Africa which are a hotbed for Sunni extremism and a wellspring for terrorists associated with al-Qaeda."

On July 31, a protest outside the courthouse was called in support of those arrested. Since then, all 18 have been released, are under surveillance, and are awaiting an October 3 court date.

This is just the latest racist attack on the Muslim community as part of the U.S. "war on terror."

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Equal rights for gays and lesbians
By Lonnie Lopez

SEATTLE--Washington's State Supreme Court upheld the state's ban on gay marriage in a 5-4 ruling announced July 26.

The court upheld the 1998 Defense of Marriage law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Nineteen couples brought a lawsuit against the law after being denied marriage licenses two years ago.

Following the court's decision, more than 600 Washingtonians met at community gatherings around the state to discuss the next step.

Beth Reis and her partner of 29 years, Barbara Steele, spoke in Seattle about their disappointment with the decision. "They say it's OK for the legislature to decide that we have to buy rights by paying lawyers for documents," said Reis, "and that those of us who are too poor to buy our rights can always leave our loved ones and marry people of another gender."

In the past 16 months, only two protest marches were called to demonstrate visible support for marriage equality.

A stronger, more vocal, and more visible movement might have tipped the scales. To win, the marriage equality movement must become more activist, break its dependence on the Democrats, continue to build on its relationships with the immigrant rights and the labor movements, and relearn the lessons of liberation struggles of the past.

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