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News and reports

October 12, 2007 | Pages 14 and 15

Organizing against racism in Madison
Stop Blackwater's training base
Anti-death penalty forum in Chicago
Protesting Bush's SCHIP veto

Organizing against racism in Madison
By Elizabeth Wrigley-Field

MADISON, Wis.--Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are organizing against racism in their community, including segregation in their school and a planned visit from the bigot David Horowitz.

Collaboration between the Wisconsin Black Student Union (WBSU), Multicultural Student Coalition (MCSC), and the International Socialist Organization (ISO) began with a walkout to support Louisiana's "Jena 6," six Black teenagers facing long prison sentences for a school fight resulting from a series of racist incidents.

The September 26 walkout, initiated by the WBSU, brought out over 200 students for a lively, angry and hopeful march from the campus to the courthouse and back.

"How many people here have a mother, father, brother, sister, or cousin in jail?" asked Ingrid Smith of the WBSU to the students assembled at the courthouse, to many nods. "This isn't just the Jena 6. There's a Wisconsin 6, a Michigan 6, an Illinois 6, a Minnesota 6." Indeed, Wisconsin incarcerates Black men at 13 times the rate of white men.

Connecting Jena to racism in Wisconsin is a major theme of an October forum hosted by the ISO, MCSC and WBSU.

Organizers also want to pressure the university to increase the numbers of students of color. After a 10-year diversity program, the student body remains just 2 percent Black and 3 percent Latino.

Another goal is to organize a challenge to David Horowitz when he comes to Madison on October 22. Horowitz--infamous for his argument that Blacks "owe America" for slavery since they'd otherwise be living in Africa--is promoting a national "Islamofascism Awareness Week" on campuses to foment racism against Muslims and Arabs.

The forum organizers are reaching out to many organizations, including the Black fraternities, MEChA, the Muslim Student Association and the Campus Antiwar Network, to join the discussion and plan the next steps in fighting racism.

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Stop Blackwater's training base
By Rick Greenblatt

POTRERO, Calif.--If Blackwater USA security company has its way, peaceful Potrero Valley, some 50 miles east of San Diego, will be the new home to an 824-acre mercenary training base, complete with live fire ranges, a heliport and an urban warfare environment.

But they won't get it without a fight, and the odds for Blackwater haven't been looking quite so good lately. Many of Potrero's over 800 residents don't want to see Blackwater as their new neighbors.

Not only are they opposed to the noise and environmental degradation the base will bring, they don't want a private army training in their backyard. Joining with antiwar and environmental activists from the San Diego area, they're organizing to keep Blackwater out.

On the October 6-7 weekend, activists from San Diego gathered with Potrero residents for an encampment to oppose the base. On Saturday, there were workshops and a nature walk led by the Sierra Club, followed by an evening of music, performed by local Potrero musicians, some of whom had written anti-Blackwater songs for the occasion.

On Sunday, about 200 protesters assembled under the shade of coast live oaks for a rally, which included speeches from Jan Hedlund, the sole Potrero planning board member to oppose the base; Dave Patterson of Vets for Peace; and Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego).

Chanting "Stop Blackwater!" and "Out of Iraq, out of Potrero!", the group marched about a mile toward the site. Marchers looked down on the valley, adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest, but were prevented from entering.

Anti-Blackwater Potrero residents have successfully petitioned for an unprecedented planning committee recall election on December 11, hoping to replace all pro-Blackwater members.

Although the planning committee's conclusions are only advisory, a successful recall vote will play a major role in channeling opposition to the new base.

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Anti-death penalty forum in Chicago

CHICAGO--The Campaign to End the Death Penalty's (CEDP) national speaking tour, "A Broken System...Crying Out for Justice," made its first stop on October 2, at the University Church on Chicago's South Side.

Speakers, who included former and current death row prisoners as well as family members, shared their horrific experiences with the criminal justice system.

First to speak was Delbert Tibbs, whose story is told in the award-winning play The Exonerated. Tibbs spoke about his time on Florida's death row.

Next, Darby Tillis, the first exonerated death row prisoner and a longstanding CEDP leader, took the mic. He sang a song he wrote during the successful fight to stop the execution of Kenneth Foster. "Those tears I cry / doing time for another man's crime," sang Darby as the room turned completely quiet.

Gloria Johnson, whose son Montell was on death row and is now in prison, dying of multiple sclerosis and suffering from dementia, explained her battle with the prison authorities over the care of her son. Derrel Myers, the father of a murder victim, explained why he was an activist against the death penalty.

Stanley Howard, a police torture victim who remains in prison after Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted his death sentence, spoke from his cell about the torture he suffered. "The system is racist, corrupt and unjust--but we've shown we will fight back and we can win victories. We've got to keep fighting."

The lively discussion that followed included a woman whose nephew was shot by Chicago police and others who made the connection to the fight to win justice for the Jena 6.

"My brother was caught up in the criminal justice system and I saw an announcement for the Campaign convention," said Cathy McMillan from the Hyde Park CEDP chapter. "It was the first time I ever told my story publicly. I became a member of the Campaign and I've been a member ever since...Gloria Johnson is crying out for justice, Darby Tillis is crying out for justice...Please get involved with us so we can win real justice."

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Protesting Bush's SCHIP veto
By Alison McKenna

SOME 200 rallies were organized nationwide on October 4, in response to Bush's veto of expanding of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), according to reports on Sicko director Michael Moore's Web site.

More than 70 people came out in Chicago, including several doctors and a contingent of Service Employees International Union members. Activists were protesting Bush's veto, but people's call for health care didn't stop with SCHIP. Many at the action were interested in a national health care plan.

The protests, called by, asked that congressional Republicans change their minds and vote in favor of SCHIP. An override of the veto is just 15 votes away in the House of Representatives.

While many Republicans have criticized the expansion of SCHIP as a step toward "socialized medicine," many activists argue that a step in this direction would be a positive step. In Oklahoma, Reggie Cervantes, a 9/11 emergency responder who was featured in Sicko, joined others to protest the president's veto.

"Saying it's to restrict spending is a complete joke," said retired teacher Bill Brady at a protest in Monterey County, Calif. "The man has no credibility."

In Louisville, Ky., Kentuckians for a Single Payer Health Care and organized a protest. "With the defense budget as large as it is, how can we not find money to fund SCHIP?" asked Bill Zubaty, who recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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