The Arresting Case of Amy Goodman


Amy Goodman at the Wisconsin Capitol during the 2011 protests against Governor Scott Walker. Photo by Callen Harty.


Journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now was arrested last month for reporting on the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Today the charges against her were dismissed, but that is no reason for journalists and others who treasure the right to peaceably protest and who believe fervently in freedom of the press to celebrate.

As background the pipeline is a huge project that will carry oil across North and South Dakota, Iowa, and all the way to southern Illinois. According to Bill McKibben in the New Yorker (9/6/16) the pipeline was originally planned to cross the Missouri River near Bismarck, North Dakota, but when fears were expressed that a spill there could harm the city’s drinking water the route was shifted. The shift moved the pipeline from mostly white Bismarck to within half a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation where tribal members have said they were not consulted. They also stated that the new route, which was approved hastily and with little or no public input, would require digging up burial sites and spots that are sacred to the tribe–some of which has already happened–not to mention threatening their drinking water in the event of a spill. Those behind the pipeline, which includes Energy Transfer Partners, Enbridge, Sunoco, Phillips 66 and others, have said that fears of a spill are unfounded, yet they clearly moved the route of the pipeline away from Bismarck for that very reason.

Because of this an encampment was created where tribal members began a protest against the pipeline. They have been joined by thousands of other Native Americans and allies who have continued to protest and do what they can to block construction at what is now called the Sacred Stone Camp.

While the mainstream media at first mostly ignored the story some journalists and filmmakers made their way to the camp to document and report on what was happening and supporters started pouring in with supplies and to stand strong with the tribe. A private security firm let dogs loose against the protesters which finally drew in mainstream media attention, but many of the arrests by riot police have largely gone unreported. Well more than a hundred people have been arrested, including Goodman, other journalists, tribal leaders, and protesters from around the country.

Other than Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein, who was arrested for writing graffiti on a bulldozer at the site, and actor Shailene Woodley, Amy Goodman is the most well-known person arrested at the protest site. She was originally charged with criminal trespass, as most of the protesters have been, but that was upgraded to “riot”, a misdemeanor charge that could have meant a fine and jail time if the charges had not been dismissed. Goodman’s arrest left journalists, Constitutional scholars, protesters, and others unnerved as she was clearly there as a reporter with a known news organization. Democracy Now (9/12/16) reported that the Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy said, “This is clearly a violation of the First Amendment . . . an attempt to repress this important political movement by silencing media coverage.”

Lizzy Ratner in The Nation (10/15/16) reported that prosecutor Ladd Erickson admitted that trespassing charges would be difficult to prove and then stated that he did not believe Goodman was a journalist, but a protester, even though she was being filmed and had a microphone, not to mention that the charges were not brought against her until after North Dakota authorities had seen and reviewed her report on Democracy Now, a show that has been on the air for decades.

Clearly North Dakota authorities were reaching. They have used private security, riot police, police assistance from other states, and the National Guard to try to ensure the pipeline construction continues. They also clearly do not want journalists reporting on what is going on there. They don’t want to draw attention to the protest, which could bring more support for the protesters, and they don’t want anyone to see how they are handling the situation. They likely had no clue that the Democracy Now report from Goodman would be viewed by millions.

Today the charges against Goodman were dropped. Supporters of the Sacred Stone Camp posted stories all day long about how the nation’s justice system does work after all. But there is a problem with that. Yes, in the long run it does sometimes–but not always–work. In the short term it is a different story. Other journalists and protesters have been arrested and while their charges may be dropped also the arrests effectively stopped them from doing what they were doing at the moment. This is a tactic that has been used often by police when trying to gain control of large, peaceful protests. During the Wisconsin Uprising in 2011 protesters against Scott Walker and Act 10 who were seen as leaders by authorities–although it truly was a leaderless movement–were often arrested and taken to jail on trumped up charges. While the charges were almost all dropped later the arrests removed perceived ringleaders and targeted individuals from the moment, often effectively allowing authorities to regain control of the situation.

One group of protesters in the Wisconsin Uprising who were arrested for holding signs on the first floor of the Capitol when the Capitol police had declared the ground floor a protest area and other floors off limits ended up suing and winning a judgment for the wrongful arrests. The police knew that the charges were not legitimate, but they also knew they wanted to remove the protesters at that moment. This is the fear for the water protectors at Sacred Stone Camp. While Goodman filed her report and had a warrant issued for her arrest later it is possible, and perhaps likely now, that if someone is videotaping or photographing the protests, even as journalists, they can be arrested and removed from the site, effectively cutting off the report and stopping any documentation. The charge can be dismissed by the District Attorney later, and it appears to the general public that the police were just doing what they believed to be their job.

If one thinks this is not likely or possible look at the case of Madison, Wisconsin Alderperson Rebecca Kemble who traveled to the site about a week ago to deliver a resolution in support of the water protectors and went along to a prayer gathering. Kemble is also a writer who has had numerous articles published by The Progressive. When the police arrived to disperse the crowd, she photographed them coming up to where the crowd was gathered. She was cornered and could not leave. The arresting officer accused her of resisting arrest and destroying evidence. She was also charged with riot and trespassing. According to her City of Madison alder blog (10/15/16) the officer grabbed her camera out of her hands. She wrote, “My camera was seized as evidence and may have been damaged or destroyed given that the last time I saw it was lying on the ground far away from the place where it was last in my possession.”

Those who commit acts against the people and against the earth do not want a record of their destruction. They understand that there will be those who know what they are doing and will protest it and try to draw attention to it, but they do not want the vast majority of the citizens to see. The threat of arrest is an intimidation tactic that can keep some from reporting what they see. When journalists from anywhere on the political spectrum are threatened when they are simply trying to report what they witness then all of us are threatened. Amy Goodman may be free, but the press may not be.


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On Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Rape Culture


Break the Silence. At a sexual assault awareness event. Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison. Photo by Callen Harty.


Here’s the deal. Donald Trump’s video discussion with Billy Bush about women is a disgusting display of male privilege, misogyny, and the rape culture in which we live. It is indefensible. Donald Trump’s behavior in that recording is inexcusable, and so is Billy Bush’s behavior. And please, don’t try to defend it or excuse it. You can’t defend Trump by saying that Bill Clinton also treated women badly. He did, and that is also indefensible. Using someone else’s behavior to excuse it is like a child who got caught doing something wrong and then defended himself by telling his parents that all his friends did the same thing. If my neighbor or brother does something illegal or immoral that doesn’t give me license to do the same thing. That kind of justification is the larger problem encapsulated for us. According to Trump’s defenders all men behave like this–it’s just locker room talk–and while saying all men do it is an exaggeration to help their cause it also summarizes the issue: we live in a culture where rape, sexual harassment, objectification, and degradation of women’s bodies is regularly accepted and excused.

Many of Trump’s supporters are now out there accusing the growing number of victims of being liars or seeking fame and fortune. To be clear, in this society one doesn’t get fame and fortune by claiming to be a victim of sexual assault. It is a far greater likelihood to have abuse and shame heaped upon oneself after coming out as a survivor. Victims of sexual assault would typically much rather not have to be public about what happened. They would much rather that it hadn’t happened at all, but we live in a society where assault is all too commonplace.

There are memes asking why these stories are coming out now, during the election, as if to suggest that it is some grand plot by the Democrats or the government to ensure a Clinton victory in the election. If it were that easy the same ploy would be used in every election against every candidate. The reality is that victims of sexual assault often feel alone and afraid and because of our patriarchal culture that devalues the human body they don’t feel they will be believed. So they stay silent. They may tell a few friends and family, but they don’t go to the police. Instead they go to a therapist and try to piece their lives back together as well as they can. What often happens, though, is that someone else will finally come forward or the rapist will be caught, and once that happens a floodgate opens and sometimes a few and sometimes dozens of other victims will realize they were not alone, that now that someone else has accused the perpetrator they feel they may now be believed, and they will finally come forward, sometimes decades after the abuse.

This is what happened with the child molestation cases in the Catholic Church. Children who were abused did not believe that anyone would believe a child’s word against that of a priest. They stayed silent, sometimes for decades, until other cases were reported in the news or until others named the same priest as a perpetrator. This is what happened in the Bill Cosby case, and in other cases of famous men who thought they could get away with rape because they were famous and powerful. It also plays itself out repeatedly in cities and towns across the country on a daily basis, in stories that make the news and in stories that we never hear. It is what is now happening with Donald Trump. Women who thought that no one would believe them, or who questioned themselves about whether what they knew happened had really happened, are gaining the strength to come out about it because they finally know they are not alone.

Donald Trump’s behavior is inexcusable. Even if he never touched a single woman inappropriately–which seems unlikely at this point–the attitude expressed by him that he could do so and that he has a right to do so because of his fame and power is not acceptable. It is simply not acceptable. I would hope that most men do not talk the way that he talked on that videotape. I would hope that most men do not believe they have that kind of power over others’ bodies. And for those like Scott Baio who are out there saying that women talk about men the same way when they gather together I would hope that it is also not most women who behave that way.

We live in a society that devalues women, children, and others. Just yesterday it was reported that a man in Montana who had raped his own twelve-year old daughter was to be sentenced to months in prison. Months! Not years. Earlier this year Brock Turner was convicted of rape and has already served his time. Football stars, movie stars, and others are still held up as role models after we find out they have molested women and children. Men like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are given passes for their behavior. They are ardently defended by people who excuse or minimize their behavior. They are the product of the rape culture in which we find ourselves and we need to change that culture.

We need a major overhaul of our culture. We need to come to a place where we understand that each person’s body is their own and that no one has the right to it without consent. We need to make it unacceptable to objectify a person’s body, to make sexually suggestive (or the opposite) comments about someone based upon their appearance. We need to support women and men when they are victims of sexual assault or harassment. We need to instill in men that spaces where men gather are not spaces where violent language about women is acceptable. We need to take responsibility for doing what we can individually to prevent this kind of language and behavior.

Donald Trump has shown himself to be a disgusting man. So have many others, including those defending his behavior. They do not represent the best of humanity. They represent the worst of us. The rest of us have to rise up and stand with those who are victimized by men like him. We need to call out misogynistic behavior when we encounter it. We need to remake our culture into one that respects everyone, not just in lofty words, but in actions, and we need to do that now.

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At Devil’s Lake


Devil’s Lake. Photo by Callen Harty.

A lone canoe bearing two passengers sliced its way through the water. It was early enough in the season that the park, Devil’s Lake, was not overrun by campers. It was inhabited instead by those who felt a need to be there at that time. It was early in a new season of my life also, and that was why I had gone.

We parked the car and immediately started to set up our weekend camp. Brian was an Eagle Scout, so he took command and directed the activities. I had been his guest at the Boy Scout ceremony when he was made an Eagle; he had wanted me to share his pride. All through our lives we had shared our most intimate secrets, our private hopes, our souls.

As he crouched over the fireplace and I sat at a picnic table with pen in hand and a blank notebook before me, I watched him. He was wearing a worn pair of jeans and black sneakers, a red flannel shirt, an old gray sport coat bought at a thrift store in some city I never knew, and a gray hat, with the brim pulled down on the left the way our fathers wore them in the ’40s. His style reminded me of gangsters in late-night movies, but his face belied that image.

There were his eyes, innocent, pure; the few freckles on his youthful face; and the few gray hairs painted onto long black ones that at 22 suggested not age, but the wisdom and understanding that had always been his. I studied that face because as well as I knew it–and the person behind it–I was afraid of losing it that weekend. Slowly, and almost of its own will, my pen touched paper and I finally began to write what I had needed to write for years. I began with a simple, powerful phrase: I am gay.

Brian sat on the ground by the fireplace watching the flames, occasionally interjecting a sudden thought. He sensed that whatever I was writing was important for me to finish. And it was very important. On those pages I unleashed the emotions I had hidden for years. On paper, it had a sense of permanence that I could no longer deny.

After we finished eating dinner, he asked, as I knew he would, what was on the paper. Slowly, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the carefully folded sheets and placed them in his hand. I wanted to ask him to understand, to accept me for the person inside as he had always done. But I could not speak. The words I had written would have to speak for themselves.

I waited patiently for him to finish reading, and when he did, I waited nervously for him to speak. He looked at me, confused, and said only, “I have to go for a walk and think about this.” I watched his familiar form moving away from me: first my recognizable friend, then a human silhouette, and finally a vague form being swallowed by the night.

How long I waited for Brian’s return I do not know. I sat staring into the embers of a dying fire, listening to the sounds of night. I felt alone in the world, with only the stars and the trees and the wind to hear my voice and to dry my tears.

I saw him coming up from the lake. He was walking slowly, but with sure steps. Before I knew it he was standing by the fireplace, leaning down and poking at the logs to rekindle the flame. “I want you to know,” he began, “that I don’t really understand your feelings, but I want to. And whether I do or not, I still love you and want to be your friend.”

After all the years of frustration and self-denial I had finally affirmed myself, and that affirmation had been accepted. We hugged, then sat down and silently watched the fire etch itself into the black night.

This was originally published in Out! newspaper, Wisconsin’s first LGBT newspaper, in May of 1983 (vol. 1, issue 7). It was also published in my book, My Queer Life.

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Random Thoughts on the First Clinton/Trump Debate


She’s With Us shirt. Photo by Callen Harty.

Bernie Sanders was my first choice for President this year, so I  voted for him in the primary, but he lost. It was incredibly disheartening but the reality is that he is no longer running for President. We are well past that. I don’t believe in voting for the lesser of two evils, or four evils, or however many are actually still running for the office. I believe in voting for the best candidate of those still in the race. While many of my friends on the left have switched their allegiance to Jill Stein and I can appreciate their reasons for doing so I have never been a fan of hers. I saw her speak several years ago and came away unimpressed. She uttered all the correct left-wing platitudes but offered no substance. She expressed all the right ends, but no route to reach those ends. And Gary Johnson, while he seems like a nice guy to have for a friend or fun uncle, is not someone I want in the oval office.

While Hillary Clinton was not my first choice and there are things about her that I do not like, particularly her hawkishness and her close ties to Wall Street, I believe she is a more qualified and better candidate than the others mentioned, as well as the myriad third party candidates out there. I turned on the debate last night to see if she would make me believe a bit more that she should be the one I vote for and while she didn’t convince me on every issue she did enough to make me more comfortable with her as a candidate. I understand that she is not as far left as I would like and she still came across as too much of a hawk, especially with the way she talked about taking out enemies instead of bringing them to justice. But I’m also not naïve enough to believe that any President, be it Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders, or others can lead us through four years without a single casualty of war. Our nation has been at war through the terms of every single President since the beginning of our country. We need to change the culture and that cannot be done by any one person in office. I also understand that there is no one–unless I ran and won–who would support every one of my political positions. No candidate can score 100% for every individual in this country. So I vote for the one who will come closest to what I want and believe.

Donald Trump, for someone like me, is not even a consideration. I honestly was not that interested in what he had to say in the debate. I was seriously listening to hear more from Clinton. But as I was listening to her I was repeatedly shocked by his rude, boorish, and bullying behavior and by the things that he said. Surprisingly there were a few morsels that he uttered that I had to agree with, but for the most part I kept thinking about how low my country has sunk, that–whether you like her or not–a candidate with the experience and professionalism of Clinton had to stand opposite a crass and buffoonish businessman who simply wants to make more money and gain more power and she had to do her best to treat him as an equal.

Clinton said a couple things that made me uneasy–the aforementioned reference to taking out our enemies being the primary one–but overall she came across as polished and ready for the office.

On the other hand Trump, when his rambling could be clearly understood, mentioned one thing after the other that not only made me hesitate but made me all the more convinced that this man should never be allowed near the White House. Of course he is espousing more of Reagan’s failed tax cuts and economic theories (“trumped-up trickle-down” as Clinton named it) and more deregulation (in an era where more people are becoming ill or injured from the deregulation that has already happened). It’s not those standard Republican platform ideas that were unnerving to me. It was the words and ideas that had been vetted by no one but Trump. Here are some of the things that caught my attention the most:

  • Trump’s first words were about how we are losing manufacturing jobs to Mexico and China. And that is true, because they can get much cheaper labor in those countries and save money. It’s all about the bottom line for manufacturers and employers like Trump. It’s not about the well-being of their employees, but of the shareholders and the owners. Surprisingly Clinton did not attack him for the number of his companies’ products that are made outside of the United States. According to an August 26 Washington Post article products with the Trump label are made in at least a dozen different countries, including China and Mexico, the two  countries he most rails against for undermining American businesses. The Post article also pointed out that Trump wrote a piece in 2005, “Outsourcing Creates Jobs in the Long Run”, in which he argued the economic necessity for businesses to move their business elsewhere.
  • One of the most horrifying moments of the night for me was when Clinton quoted Trump talking about the housing crisis a decade ago when he said, “Gee, I hope it does collapse, because then I can go in and buy some and make some money.” His response to Clinton quoting that was not, “In retrospect I’m sorry so many people lost their homes and dreams” or some similar compassionate reply. What he said to millions upon millions of Americans who lost their jobs, houses, and money was, “That’s called business, by the way.” So to Trump business is taking advantage of the misfortunes of others to increase one’s own fortune, even when you are supposedly already one of the richest, most successful people in the world. A man with so little concern for the hardships of others is not a man who should be holding office of any kind.
  • There was also a very odd exchange about ISIS, in which Trump claimed Clinton was telling ISIS what she was going to do to defeat them and that she was “telling the enemy everything you want to do” while scolding her that World War II General Douglas MacArthur wouldn’t like it. He then goaded her about fighting ISIS her entire adult life, despite later stating that she and Obama caused ISIS to start when we left Iraq.
  • Another of the more maddening moments of the debate came when Clinton claimed that the few tax returns ever released by Trump, when he had to release them in order to get casino licensing, showed that he paid no federal income taxes. None. The businessman claims income in the hundreds of millions of dollars and does not pay a cent in taxes. Rather than saying something about that which might make it a little less irritating to taxpayers like me he responded with, “That makes me smart.” So the man who harped all night long about the country being in debt (while historically priding himself on his debt as a businessman) is not paying his fair share, or any portion of it, and takes pride in how smart he is for not contributing what he should. For those of us who pony up about a quarter of our income every year to keep this country running–and are okay with doing that if it helps maintain our highways, parks, way of life, and more–hearing his smarmy response was beyond galling. It makes me more inclined to want to vote for Hillary Clinton so that she can raise taxes and take away loopholes for corporate freeloaders like Trump and his ilk.
  • Much of what Trump talked about was how he as a businessman should run the country because he knows how to handle money and how to handle budgets. But I have always been of the belief that government is not business and should not be run like a business. Government should be the caretaker of its people. I don’t mind paying taxes so that my townsmen can eat or have healthcare. I would gladly pay more to have everyone covered under a national health plan. It would probably save the common citizen money in the long run. The last thing I want is a corporate CEO who treats citizens as expendable human “resources”, who cares only about making more money and not about the people on the front lines without whom no money would be made at all, who doesn’t pay debts just because he can get away with it, who redlines everything including our most valuable assets and services just for the bottom line. I don’t want the man who admits that he avoided paying debts with this line, “I take advantage of the laws of the nation because I’m running a company.” Give me a career politician, lawyer, the shoe repairman next door, or anyone but someone whose god is money.
  • The man who used the racist birther movement as a springboard for his political ambitions and is now denying it also reduced the issue of racism in this country to an issue of “law and order” and strongly argued for the return of the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” practice, which was ruled unconstitutional because it involved profiling black and brown citizens. He mentioned the “inner city” and in the same breath said he had just left Detroit and Philadelphia to prove how much he understands African-American issues. In fairness he was reaching out to African-Americans in those cities recently because he has been polling so poorly among blacks in this election he has to try to do something. By the way, in the middle of denying that he kept questioning President Obama’s citizenship, he said this–you can watch it online or read it in the transcripts–“He should have produced it a long time before.” This is the crux of why the birther movement is a racist issue. No other President, all of them white prior to Obama, has had their birthright and citizenship questioned like this. The President should not have had to produce a birth certificate at all. Yet Trump was full of pride about getting him to do so, calling it a great service to the country. If a racist distraction is a great service, then yes. Unfortunately, it is not. For me, the oddest quote in this segment was this: “When you talk about healing, I think that I’ve developed very, very good relationships over the last little while with the African-American community.” The italics are mine. I’ll leave it at that. His final defense against charges of racism was a Trump classic–he talked about how he built a club in probably the richest city anywhere and that club doesn’t discriminate against African-Americans or Muslims. Of course it would be illegal to do so, but I’m betting most of my friends, black or white or other, Christian, Muslim, or other would not be able to afford to go to a Trump club in one of the wealthiest places in the country, and I’m betting there are not a huge number of black or Muslim patrons on any given day, although you might see illegal immigrants clearing the tables and washing the dishes.
  • Clinton brought up some of the nasty things Trump has said about women and he could not defend himself. When she mentioned him calling a beauty contestant “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping” (because she was Latina) he did not deny it. He simply kept asking, “Where did you find this? Where did you find this?” He then defended himself by noting he had said some “tough things” about Rosie O’Donnell, but she deserved it because nobody feels sorry for her. Today he did admit in a roundabout way that Clinton’s assertion was true. He defended his comments about the beauty queen by continuing to fat shame her by stating that after she won the pageant “she gained a massive amount of weight  and it was a real problem.”

Those are the highlights (or lowlights as it were) of Trump’s part of the debate. In addition to all of the horrible things Donald Trump had to say he lied throughout the night about many things, or just made things up on the spot, such as being endorsed by ICE, which as a government agency can’t endorse anyone. He also acted like a petulant spoiled child. He came across as a narcissistic and greedy self-promoter (but one who is only really good at convincing himself about how great he is). He expressed views that made it clear that no matter what he says about the American people and wanting to protect us from terrorists and from losing jobs, he would let us all starve if it improved his lot in life. Yes, he came up from the poverty of a paltry million dollar loan from his father to get his life started, but he spent that to make more money and ended up rich in monetary terms but with an incredible poverty of soul.

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When Nightmares Intrude


Self-portrait with Prisma Filter


Trigger Warning: This post is about surviving sex abuse. Please take care of yourself first and foremost.

So last night I had a dream–a nightmare really, or a series of nightmares–in which I was assaulted again as I was when I was a child. I don’t know exactly what happened, just as I often didn’t as a child because it was so often in the dark. But I knew that I was being abused and that I could not stop it. I tried to stop it. I struggled. I fought hard. I tried to escape. But he was too much bigger and too much stronger and I could not get away. The whole thing was like a flashback in my sleep, which as far as I know has never happened to me before. I’ve had flashbacks before, but not in my sleep.

When I woke up I was pretty shook up, and exhausted from the struggle. I tried to figure out what might have caused it, what little thing in my day might have triggered such a horrible thing in my sleep. I speak publicly about my childhood sex abuse. I have dealt with it. I help others learn about child sex abuse and about male survivors. And yet, there are times when something can trigger a dream or paralysis or a fear that seems to come out of nowhere. This is the horror of surviving sexual abuse. You can face it and deal with it and seemingly move on from it, but there is a whole world out there and one moment or one image, sound, or smell, or god only knows what–something that might not even be noticed at the time–can throw a person backwards in time to those very moments of horror that were supposed to be left in the past. It can feel as if you are in that moment that was decades ago and it is as real and terrifying as it was when it was really happening.

I try not to dwell in the negative. I try not to stay mired in the horrors of the past and I generally do a good job of living a positive life in the present. Last night’s dream was a reminder that anyone who has suffered trauma, of any sort, can fall back into that trauma at any time and sometimes it can seem like there is no apparent reason.

The nightmare images from last night were significant and I knew that I had to share the experience for some reason. I am okay this evening. I recognize it was just a dream and that I am fine and that something in my subconscious brought it forth for me to face again. I wanted to document it because it surprised me by how real it was. Perhaps it is to try to help others understand what it can be like. Perhaps it is to ask for understanding, so that when you have a friend or family member who is in crisis, suffering an unexpected setback or in some way triggered, that you try to imagine what it might be like for them. You may never fully understand what they are going through but you can still be there for them.

Often–I think most often–those of us who have been through horrible experiences and are triggered by something just need most of all to know that someone is there who loves us and will listen and be with us. The best gift when these kinds of feelings are brought up is someone who will simply be with me and accept me in all of my complexity. There is really nothing more that I can ask.

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On the Milwaukee Riot


Milwaukee. Photo by Callen Harty.

Anyone who has known me for a long time knows that I have been a pacifist since I was a child. I have stopped fights, marched for peace, and have done what little I can to make this a more peaceful world. I believe that violence and war are not the answer. Yet that doesn’t mean that I can’t understand the backdrop for a violent eruption and even sympathize with it while at the same time wishing that there had been a more peaceful way. This is what I am feeling about Milwaukee this morning.

Yesterday afternoon a police officer shot and killed yet another young black man. There have  been conflicting reports about it. Some have said he was unarmed; others that he had a weapon with more than a hundred rounds. One report said he was shot in the chest and the arm; another that he was shot several times in the back. The police reported that he pointed the gun at the officer. Area residents say he did not. It could take weeks for the full story to be revealed. But what is glaringly obvious is that Milwaukee’s north side has been a tinderbox for quite some time.

Oddly enough I have been thinking about A Christmas Story this morning, the movie that is replayed endlessly during the holiday season. And there is a reason for that coming into my mind today. Think about the movie and remember that Ralphie and his friends are constantly harassed and bullied by two of the neighborhood punks throughout the early portion of the film. At one point Ralphie has had enough and fights back, tearing into the biggest bully with all his might, mercilessly beating him in a violent rage, swearing, slugging the other kid relentlessly, until his mother arrives and pulls him off the other boy. He didn’t have any concern about what might happen to him by fighting back–he just blew. And the reason he blew is because the constant abuse of he and his buddies had been accumulating pain in him. He also was having other issues in his young life, thinking that his one great desire for a Christmas present was being undermined by everyone. So there came a point when logic failed him and emotion took over and he fought back, because it was all he had left to do.

Most people watching that movie probably cheered for Ralphie in that moment. He was the underdog, the one constantly being bullied. Despite my pacifism I understood his rage and understood why in that moment it was the only action he could take. I might have wished that he had found a different way to resolve it, but I understood the path he took.

I think also about the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City in 1969. It was several nights of riots that were considered the catalyst for the modern gay rights movement. Queer people celebrate those riots as the beginning of our liberation. We don’t look at it and say, “Oh, those people shouldn’t have destroyed their own bar and neighborhood. They shouldn’t have rioted.” Instead, we celebrate it because we understand that the riots were the result of the accumulation of atrocities against the LGBT community. The people in the bar the night it started, mostly drag queens and minority queer folk, were tired of police raids and harassment. They were tired of Mafia-run bars overcharging them because nobody else would serve them. They were tired of the taunts of other citizens and oppressive laws that kept them from full freedom in a country that promises freedom for all. Stonewall was the tinderbox that lit up the movement for queer rights. Perhaps the movement would have happened without it, but Stonewall hastened it. But understand that nobody there planned it as a political act. It was an emotional reaction to being harassed and bullied and being treated unfairly.

Our own American revolution was a violent reaction to taxation without representation and other slights by the King of England. The Declaration of Independence includes a laundry list of the harms inflicted by the mother country and makes it clear that the citizens of the colonies were not willing to be bullied anymore.

And so we have Milwaukee and countless other cities across the country exploding into protests and riots, not because of a single instance of police aggression, but because of an accumulation of racism, unfairness, and harassment that has been allowed to fester with no real attempt at looking at the underlying issues and resolving them. One more young black man killed by police and the tinderbox goes off. It is an emotional reaction, just like Ralphie and just like the queer folk at Stonewall. While I hate to see the riots and violence I understand the underlying issues and accumulated injustices that cause a people to explode in rage.

There is much underlying the riot that occurred last night. According to multiple sources Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the United States. Unemployment in the city is about 5.6% overall, but for blacks it is closer to 20%. Wisconsin also has the highest incarceration rate for African-Americans in the country, and the highest educational disparity between black and white populations. A February 8, 2016 piece on PBS listed the following disparities in Milwaukee:

  • Milwaukee suspends black high school students at a rate double the national average.
  • Wisconsin has the largest achievement gap between black and white students in the country. With Milwaukee being 40% black it has the largest black student population in the state and is the biggest contributor to that gap.
  • Four out of five Wisconsin black children live in poverty. Four out of five black children live in poverty. Again, Milwaukee has the largest African-American population in the state, so a huge percentage of them are living in poverty in a country that claims to be the richest in the world.
  • More than half of all black Milwaukeeans in their 30s and 40s have served time.

This list doesn’t take into account the daily harassment by police officers in Milwaukee  with citizens being questioned about what they’re doing out and about, cars pulled over for DWB–driving while black, other recent police killings of black men nationally as well as local incidents such as the killing of Dontre Hamilton, Derek Williams, and more recently Jay Anderson in nearby Wauwatosa. This does not mean that all police are evil and out to kill black citizens, but there is enough of a history for the black community to fear the police rather than trust them. White folks generally can trust the police and believe they are there to serve and protect. That is part of what white privilege is about. Black folks don’t feel the same because of their experiences and history with the police. When more than half the black men your age have served time, flashing red lights are not the most welcome sight in the world.

Many people turn to Martin Luther King, Jr. at times like these in order to pontificate about the rioters. They’ll quote the spiritual practitioner of non-violence in an attempt to shame the rioters. And he did say that violence begets violence. He did promote peace. He did say “We must not use violence.” He understood how the use of violence could be used against the cause for racial justice. But he also understood human emotions and knew that at times when people are pushed too far and too hard that they will rise up. It is all they have left. He also said this:

“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

A riot is the language of the unheard.

The point is that the riot in Milwaukee last night did not come out of nowhere. A hundred or two hundred citizens lashed out emotionally at yet another perceived injustice. They have not been heard. They have raised their voices to deaf ears. They are seeking to be heard. Don’t ask why they set fire to buildings in their own neighborhood, but instead ask why they were angry enough to do that in the first place. Then get to work at listening to the answers to that question and working together to resolve those issues.

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Jill Stein vols

Jill Stein volunteers. Photo by Callen Harty.


There is a myth that comes around every four years that needs to be put to rest after more than a decade. It usually references Green Party candidate Ralph Nader as the cause of Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush back in 2000. The difference in the vote between the two major party candidates in the state of Florida was less than 600 votes and Nader received almost 100,000 votes in that state. A similar scenario played out in New Hampshire and if Gore had won the Granite State he could have won even without Florida. Presuming that without Nader in the race Gore would have gotten even a small percentage more of the votes than Bush in either of those states, the reasoning goes that he would have won the Presidency. We would never have heard of hanging chads or Kathleen Harris and there would have been no Supreme Court decision on the election or disappointment that Gore did not take the fight further but gave up before his supporters felt it was over. If you research it enough you will find that both sides in the controversy have shown statistical evidence to prove beyond a doubt that 1) Nader cost Gore the presidency and 2) Nader did not cost Gore the presidency.

I voted for Al Gore, but if a candidate cannot inspire the electorate enough to vote for them instead of migrating to a third party then the blame should rest on the candidate’s shoulders, not the American citizens who have every right and responsibility to vote for whomever they believe is the best candidate. It is nobody’s business to tell anyone else how to cast their ballot. Every citizen has the right to vote for the candidate that best speaks to them. Those who felt Ralph Nader was the best candidate believed it because the other two did not inspire them or tap into their needs and wants. There is no such thing as a wasted vote. This country was not intended to be a two-party system and we really need to do something to fix it so that other candidates have a real chance of winning.

The number of people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was 2,882,995. Patrick Buchanan took almost half a million votes, most of which would have probably gone to Bush if Buchanan had not been in the race. There were 14 other candidates on the ballot who secured an additional half million votes, some of which may have gone to Gore and some of which may have gone to Bush. All of them together made up about 3.5% of the vote total. The vote total for all of the candidates was 105,405,100.

In subsequent elections the  dire warnings were sounded about the Nader effect (and it’s not just the Democrats who use this to try to convince people not to vote for third party candidates). The Republicans and Democrats are both happy to have people believe there are only two choices. In this election there are Republicans who fear that Gary Johnson may hurt Donald Trump and Democrats who fear that Jill Stein will hurt Hillary Clinton. Stein, in particular, is being labeled a spoiler long before the election even happens. I’m going to vote for Clinton but if her diehard supporters don’t have any more faith in her than that then she has a lot of work to do between now and November.

The crux of it for me is this. The FEC states that 51.21% of the voting age population voted in 2000. Take out those who cannot vote, such as felons in some states (and these days those without proper identification) and you still have about half of the eligible population sitting on their hands (or with their heads up their asses) and not exercising their right to vote. The American Presidency Project lists the highest percentage of voter turnout in our recorded history as 81.8% in our centennial year of 1876. According to 270 to Win it was a close election with Samuel Tilden winning the popular vote by about 300,000 votes and Rutherford B. Hayes winning the election with one more electoral vote than Tilden. If only we could get anywhere close to 81.8% today it would be a miracle. Or 70. Or 60. The lowest voter turnout total according to the American Presidency Project was 48.9% in 1924. Since 1972 it has never been higher than 60%. That means the likelihood is that at least 40% (and probably more than 50%) of the voting age population is likely not to vote in 2016, leaving a hundred million or more votes on the table.

The real reason Gore lost in 2000 is not that Nader secured a couple million votes, and it won’t be Jill Stein’s fault if she gets a million or two million votes and Clinton loses. The real culprit is the half of the country that doesn’t care enough about their future or the future of their children or grandchildren to get off their asses, turn off the television, and head to the polls. So don’t lambaste those who really believe that Ralph Nader or Jill Stein, Gary Johnson or Emidio Soltysik, or even Vermin Supreme is the best candidate for them. They have the Constitutional right to vote for the candidate of their choice, and at least they care enough to go to the polls and do their civic duty. Instead of attacking those who do vote, even if it’s not for your candidate, put some energy into getting people energized enough to vote for the person you want to win. If your candidate, whether it’s Clinton or Trump or one of the others, doesn’t speak well enough to the masses of apathetic citizens staying at home then maybe there is something wrong with their message. Or something wrong with those people who don’t care enough about what happens to the country to do something to create the future they want. Either way it’s not the fault of those who cast their votes for the candidate of their choice.


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