Black Lives Matter at Netroots Nation: Failing to Recognize the Power of Protest

Screen shot from Netroots Nation 2015’s live stream of the presidential forum

A number of people in attendance at the Netroots Nation presidential forum with Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders grew upset when black organizers took the stage and launched a protest. There were complaints about the organizers being disrespectful, obnoxious, and impolite.

It was supposedly not constructive. However, less than twenty-four hours later, O’Malley apologized for saying, “All Lives Matter,” and Sanders’ campaign sent messages in support of “Black Lives Matter.” This demonstrates that there are real advantages to protest, particularly at political gatherings like Netroots Nation.

However, a significant faction of Netroots Nation attendees, including some press in attendance, do not appear to recognize the value of this kind of protest in forcing change.

Tia Oso, a national coordinator for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in Phoenix, took the stage in the middle of O’Malley’s interview with undocumented activist Jose Antonio Vargas. She immediately contextualized the act of protest by acknowledging that Arizona was built on indigenous land and the border was drawn by white supremacists, who believed in “Manifest Destiny.”

She marked the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of an NYPD police officer, who put him in a chokehold and made him cry out, “I can’t breathe!”

The crowd of black organizers led a chant of, “Say Her Name!”, as Oso acknowledged Sandra Bland, a young black woman and anti-police brutality activist who was found dead in a jail cell in Texas. They shouted out names, like Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Kyam Livingston, Natasha McKenna, and Tarika Wilson, forcing the crowd to remember—and notice—their lives.

Oso stated, “We shouldn’t have to do this. We asked [Netroots Nation] to create space for black activists to connect. They said no so we did it ourselves.”

Following the acknowledgment of black women killed by police and prison guards, the organizers chanted “If I Die in Custody” and shared what they wanted the world to demand of authorities.

Patrise Cullors, who is with the Ella Baker Center and also a lead organizer of Black Lives Matter, declared, “Every single day folks are dying, not being able to take another breath. We are in a state of emergency. We are in a state of emergency.”

“And, if you don’t feel that emergency, you are not human,” Cullors added.

Cullors demanded that O’Malley and Sanders address the fight for black and brown lives. She pleaded with the candidates to speak out against police unions, who are “battering our names after their law enforcement” officers kill their people. She begged the candidates for action plans or concrete proposals for dealing with this crisis.

After the protest, the dominating news headline was that O’Malley had said something at a liberal conference that left-wing activists did not like. He said, “All Lives Matter,” and why should that be such a problem.

The disruption was cast as a sign of division in the Democratic Party. How are candidates going to deal with this? And, since Hillary Clinton declined to participate in the Netroots Nation presidential forum, does this show that she was smart to avoid this ruckus altogether? (more…)

SeaWorld Employee Who Infiltrated PETA Actions Put on Paid Leave as PETA Plans to Expose More Spies

SeaWorld Employee Infiltrator Arrested at Protest

When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) exposed a SeaWorld employee as a corporate spy who had infiltrated the organization’s meetings and protests, the theme park’s initial response was to accuse PETA of hypocrisy. SeaWorld pointed to the fact that PETA encourages undercover investigations, as if the two were somehow remotely similar.

But, as this story has gained traction and as PETA prepares to expose more alleged SeaWorld spies, the theme park has had to adjust its response and place the employee accused of infiltration on paid leave.

On July 15, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby announced an investigation led by Ron Olson of the law firm, Munger, Tolles, & Olson.

“The allegations made yesterday against a SeaWorld employee are very concerning,” Manby said in a statement. “These allegations, if true, are not consistent with the values of the SeaWorld organization and will not be tolerated.”

How come this was not SeaWorld’s initial response when media organizations were asking for comment on PETA’s accusations, which included clear evidence of infiltration? Is it because SeaWorld has encouraged some of its employees to engage in such dirty tricks?

PETA alleged Paul T. McComb claimed to be “Thomas Jones” and showed up at PETA protests against SeaWorld. He operated a Twitter account as “Thomas Jones,” where he posted messages attempting to incite protesters to “burn” SeaWorld “to the ground” or rush the gates at a future action.

During a protest where PETA activists engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience and blocked a float in the 2014 Rose Parade, “Jones” was arrested with other activists. He subsequently disappeared, and there is no record of charges ever being filed against him.

PETA contends it has been targeted by more SeaWorld spies in addition to McComb and does not believe the suspension and investigation will amount to anything more than a cover-up.

“Suspending your own agents is an old trick, which usually comes with a backroom deal of compensation and a promise to bring them back when things die down, which is unlikely to be the case with this beleaguered business,” PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk said in a statement. “Furthermore, we do not believe that SeaWorld limited its espionage efforts to McComb’s activities. It has hired protesters to attend SeaWorld rallies, and PETA is currently looking at two more men we believe were SeaWorld agents hired to infiltrate PETA as ‘volunteers,’ and the list may grow.”

Newkirk indicated more names and photographs of other people it believes infiltrated demonstrations and “volunteer activities” will be released. (more…)

Federal Appeals Court Reverses Nun & Army Veterans’ Sabotage Act Convictions

Transform Now Three (Photo from Transform Now Plowshares)

A federal appeals court has reversed convictions in the case of an 85-year-old nun and two Army veterans, who broke into a United States government facility holding weapons-grade uranium, and called for nuclear weapons to be transformed into “real life-giving alternatives to build true peace.”

The activists’ sentences were vacated, and the appeals court ordered a lower court to re-sentence them.

On June 28, 2012, Megan Rice, a nun, and Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, both veterans, cut through multiple fences around the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The activists were able to get to a Department of Energy building with enriched uranium. “There the trio spray-painted antiwar slogans, hung crime tape and banners with biblical phrases, splashed blood, and sang hymns,” according to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision [PDF].

The activists struck the building with small hammers, and their action effectively delayed a shipment that was supposed to arrive that afternoon.

Initially, the government charged the activists with trespassing and “injuring government property. When they refused to plead guilty, prosecutors essentially made a vindictive move and charged them with “violating the peacetime provision of the Sabotage Act,” which “Congress enacted during World War II.”

“That provision applies only if the defendant acted ‘with intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense,’ and authorizes a sentence of up to 20 years,” the appeals court explained. “A jury convicted the defendants on the sabotage count and the injury-to-property count.”

The activists argued that they had no intent to violate the Sabotage Act and could not have violated this law. The federal appeals court agreed.

By using the Sabotage Act to prosecute a nun and two Army veterans who dared to engage in an act of nonviolent resistance against nuclear weapons, the government sought to accuse them of planning to interfere with the ability of the government to maintain national security.

“No rational jury could find that the defendants had that intent when they cut the fences; they did not cut them to allow al Qaeda to slip in behind,” the appeals court declared. “Nor could a rational jury find that the defendants had that intent when they engaged in their protest activities outside the [Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility].”

True, their ultimate goal in engaging in those activities was to advance the cause of disarmament, by persuading Y-12’s employees to abandon their pursuits there. But “the ultimate end” that “compel[s] the defendant to act . . . is more properly labeled a ‘motive.’” Kabat, 797 F.2d at 587. And the defendants’ immediate purpose in hanging the banners themselves, and in otherwise erecting their shrine outside the HEUMF, was simply to protest.

Such a conclusion is a huge victory for activists, because it means the government cannot stand in court and equate an act of protest with sabotage without evidence of motive.

The appeals court also rejected the idea that the defendants meant to interfere with the national defense by creating “bad publicity” for the facility.

“First Amendment issues aside, it takes more than bad publicity to injure the national defense,” the appeals court concisely declared. (more…)