Category news & critique

Awake in my Cell

By Malik A. Uhmari, Sparrow Media Contributor

Here I sit in my cell, alone. Alone in my thoughts, yet no more than three-feet away, just outside my door, there is life. There is commotion; there is a variety of activity. A more accurate description would be “festivity.” I resist engaging in this orchestrated and organized madness induced by the prison experience.


I choose tranquility. The solitude allows me to exercise control over my own mind and thoughts. My (mental) strength increase as I avoid the debilitating views of the prison administration – which constantly promotes dependency on them – the misleading conjecture and commentary supplied by a Left or Right Wing media and the “idle” counter-productive discourse centered around who is the greatest “entertainer, athlete, or drug dealer” and how much money they have.


I am awake in my cell. “They” know this. My inactions betray me. Resistance is my only refuge. Greater men and women have attempted to camouflage themselves among the conformity only to be consumed and eventually silenced all together. Kwame Ture once said, “Years of struggle has allowed our vague, general views to become more precise and specific and provided us with the opportunity to correct previous mistakes.” And today we must continue to learn from these mistakes, as well.


The pandemonium outside of my cell forces me to stay awake. I refuse to be counted amongst the broken. Fear abated, I cautiously make my way toward the small window encases inside the door and peek out. The seconds seem like an eternity as my train of thoughts races through centuries of imagery – Slavery, Jim Crow, Black Codes, Colonialism, Apartheid, Civil Rights – toward its final destiny: Freedom, Independence, Sovereignty and Autonomy. This image of me, in my mind’s eye is reminiscent of another man, of another era, same cause, same enemy.


I can visualize “Malcolm” as he pulls back and peeks out of the curtains and scans the environment for any signs of danger – to himself, to his family, his community – all that is missing is my “M1,” semi-automatic weapon.    Am I Malcolm X? No. Am I his successor? No. Am I his student? No. However, what I (and I think to some degree most Blackmen and Women do, but black men particularly) share, understand and have in common with Malcolm is his “fear!” The fear that the Blackman (or any man who is subsequently not of the same race as the power structure) would not be allowed or systematically denies access to that position of power as a provider, protector and promoter of his family, culture, belief systems and governor of his own social and political affairs.  The reality that at the helm of power: power to decide; power to influence; power to control; power to penalize; power to promote; power to denounce; power to organize; power to legalize and legitimize; and power to define often lies in the hands/control of someone who does not support the cause and expansion of our interest, provides a tipping point. This is a reality check, not only as to “what is power” but who has power, and more importantly, “who doesn’t!”


The word “Power” of course has several meaning, but for what is necessary for our collective mission, Power refers to: the ability to do, the ability to be and the ability to prevail. Thus, Powerless means: not having the ability to do, not having the ability to be, not having the ability to prevail. In other words, it means: impotent, without effect or influence.


At some point – consciously/unconsciously – the Blackman/ and or woman, either individually or collectively realized that it isn’t designed for him to achieve the former definition of Power, but instead he/she is to be relegated to the latter – unless one is promoting the cause of someone else – and at this time a natural sense of frustration and/or fear begins to arise within us. A Fear of being made impotent. A Fear of being made of no accord or significance. A Fear of being Forced to endure mediocrity and not being allowed to tap into that source of greatness.


This Frustration/Pain/Fear is all to often something most men and women have experienced in their lifetime, but are afraid or cautioned not to discuss. How one attempts to overcome or avoid this frustration/pain/fear (which, depends on what stage they are in their growth and mental development) of being denied that manhood and womanhood training, which grants, bestows and establishes in increments, degrees of power, control, significance and being (depending on his or her ability) ultimately, (I think) determines the path one initially chooses and it explains why Malcolm X became engulfed in being a “Vanguard, Provider, Protector, and Promoter” of values, family, and race pride. It’s why those outside my cell become engulfed in B.E.T. sports, drugs, gambling and extreme levels of black-on-black violence: to avoid that pain/frustration/fear of being “insignificant, powerless and of no concern.” And it’s why I now realize that to “go to sleep (mentally) is to Die,” so in order to “Live my Dreams,” I must stay “Awake in my Cell!”

Uprooting the Garden of Hate

The Southern Poverty Law Center, long a bulwark against prejudice in the US, this past week added a number of organizations to its list of hate groups; organizations with innocuous-sounding names such as The Family Research Council and The National Organization for Marriage, whose appellations belie the truth behind their agenda. Couched in a Bizarro-world interpretation of Christianity, in which Jesus would somehow approve of war, capitalism and capital punishment, these groups are little more than an engine of intolerance and hate. Naturally, these good folk are apoplectic about their inclusion on the list, assuming the venerable status of victim and claiming that they are being unfairly targeted, in the words of FRC’s president, Tony Perkins, by a “liberal organization.” Once again, like environmental issues, the extreme right has managed to politicize something that, in reality is a universal concern: human rights. They sanctimoniously plead that they are not anti anything, but simply pro-traditional marriage. Really? Then how to explain this missive by Peter Spriggs, a senior fellow for policy studies at FRC? Earlier this year, Mr. Spriggs told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that “homosexual behavior” should be made illegal. These aren’t words of hate, repression and prejudice? Neither were the Jim Crow supporters actually racist, right? I suppose that their practices of lynchings and wanton violence against African-Americans were actually a supreme expression of a commitment to justice and equality.

I’ll allow them to state their case, in their own words, with some examples of their “message of love”…

There is a strong undercurrent of pedophilia in the homosexual subculture. Homosexual activists want to promote the flouting of traditional sexual prohibitions at the earliest possible age….they want to encourage a promiscuous society – and the best place to start is with a young and credulous captive audience in the public schools.Robert Knight, FRC

Gaining access to children has been a long-term goal of the homosexual movement.Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex With Boys: Family Research Council publication, July 1999

You don’t have to eat the stale crumbs off the dirty floor, which is basically what lesbianism is. AFTAH (Americans for Truth) Web site interview with FRC’s Yvette Cantu

There is no taking these statements out of context, but if these quotes aren’t enough, there is no ambiguity to the following image:

You get the idea. Naturally, I take issue with bilious and spurious sentiments such as these, but what makes them even worse is that they are presented as somehow being consonant with Christian values. As someone who has studied the bible, I defy these suppurating souls to cite where, exactly, Jesus ever addressed this issue, let alone made recommendations contrary to his one dictum, Love!


Did my Bible exclude the Gospel According to Fred Phelps? The one in which Jesus, donning fatigues and an M-16, rides in on an Abrams tank, Goldman Sachs stock certificates in hand, and sets up perimeters to defend the money changers in the temple? Then, just for good measure, stones a same-sex couple; two people who have the temerity to hold hands over a Starbucks Frappuccino, on Jerusalem’s Main Street? I know, it’s absurd, but so is the notion that these hate groups aren’t, in fact, espousing hate and that they are “victims.”


There are people on all sides of the political spectrum promoting half-truths and outright lies, but the radical right has mastered the art of convolution. Just look at their success in convincing poor and working people that it is in their interest to vote for candidates beholden to big business and banking—the very people who have eliminated their jobs and foreclosed on their homes. It should come as no surprise, then, that these same hypocrites would spew venom and cower in a cloak of innocence, crying that they are being unfairly targeted. I have no love for anyone who encourages hate, but at least I could offer a begrudging sense of respect for those who have the courage of their convictions. Many on the right in this nation aver that they aren’t racist or homophobic, yet their very words, while sometimes devoid of actual epithets, prove otherwise. It’s beyond time that they were called to task for their divisive and hateful rhetoric and actions. Bravo to the SPLC for its boldness.


- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.

Black Friday & The Importance Of Having A Voice On The Job

Every Thanksgiving I remind my friends and family of the deadly war waged against Native Americans in this country. This Thanksgiving, there is another war I’d like to discuss: the war being waged against retail workers.  This year I call on progressives to not only speak up for native people, but to remind our friends and family how important it is that workers have the right to organize for better conditions at work. And there’s no better time than Black Friday to have these conversations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently sent letters to 14 major retailers urging them to adopt crowd control measures this Black Friday.  It would almost sound serious if one had no idea how impotent OSHA is and how powerful the big box retailers are. Yes, I’m sure receiving a “strongly worded letter” from OSHA has CEOs shaking in their booties!  In fact, it would be downright comical if it wasn’t for the fact that lives have literally been lost because of retailers’ utter disregard for their employees’ and customers’ safety.


Two years ago 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour, a temporary Wal-Mart maintenance worker, was trampled to death and four were injured at a Long Island Wal-Mart on Black Friday.


The bloggers and commentators used the event to lament just how crazy our consumer culture has become. While it’s tempting to comment on our frenzied consumer culture, the crowd basically did what any large crowd would do. News reports described a crowd of at least 200 people waiting outside one set of doors for the store’s 5am opening. Predictably, when the store opened, people bum rushed the entrance. And when 200+ eager customers are waiting to enter one set of doors at five o’clock in the morning on Black Friday, it’s going to be difficult, to say the least.


What’s amazing about this situation isn’t how the customers acted, but that they bore the brunt of the blame for what is gross negligence on the part of Wal-Mart. In any other situation, the company surely would have been to blame. When crowds get out of control at football games or rock concerts, the venue is immediately held to account. Where was security? Why wasn’t there better crowd control? Why weren’t safety measures properly enforced? We should expect no less of retailers expecting large crowds on Black Friday.


In May 2009, OSHA cited Wal-Mart for inappropriate crowd control and fined them $7,000. While most would argue that a life is worth much more than $7,000, apparently Wal-Mart feels that this number is TOO much! Wal-Mart is actually appealing the decision in court.


Aside from the OSHA fine, Wal-Mart cut a deal with the Nassau County DA to set up a $400,000 fund for victims, give $1.5 million to county social service programs, and implement a new safety plan at 92 of its locations. In exchange for this, Wal-Mart will not face criminal charges, and Mr. Damour’s family would have to waive their right to bring a separate civil suit against Wal-Mart if they participate in the victim’s fund. So as usual, the corporate executives shirk criminal responsibility and instead pay pennies (and yes, $2 million is pennies for a company that posted $3.44 billion net income in this year’s third quarter).


And now, two years later, OSHA is sending strongly worded letters. The letters, addressed to such retailers as Wal-Mart, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Target, stress the importance of safety on Black Friday and include the OSHA “Crowd Management Safety Tips for Retailers.” Tips include setting up barricades for crowd management and making sure employees are aware when the doors are about to open

Sounds reasonable enough. And, in fact, some chains have implemented these simple guidelines. “They’re pretty much identical to what we use at Macy’s,” Macy’s spokesman Jim Sluzewski said.


What’s to happen if stores don’t follow those tips? They get a citation from OSHA. Now, when someone literally died at Wal-Mart, the OSHA citation resulted in a $7,000 fine that Wal-Mart is now appealing. Does anyone really think any of the CEOs receiving this letter feel threatened by a possible $7,000 fine? Clearly, our society is in a sad state of affairs when retailers act with impunity, lives are lost, and the government is powerless to stop it. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and, in fact, it hasn’t always been this way.

Our country has a rich history of workers and communities coming together to organize against rampant corporate abuse. When workers have a unified voice on the job, they have the power to ensure that real safety measures be implemented. It’s worth noting that Macy’s, the one letter recipient that does have some safety measures in place, is one of the few retailers with some unionization (four of their NYC locations are organized with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union).


In 1955, over a third of workers in this country were members of a labor union. Unfortunately, that number has slowly declined over the past three decades, and today union density hovers at around 12%, and is only 7% in the private sector. This decline is in part due to the growth of professional union-busting firms that companies can hire to run highly sophisticated anti-union campaigns against its workforce. It’s also due to the increasingly aggressive anti-union policies of the past five presidential administrations.


Despite this general decline, there have been small yet inspiring victories, most notably the Republic Windows and Doors sit-down strike in late 2008, organized by members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1110. When workers were informed their factory would close down, nearly all the 260 workers sat down next to their machines, refusing to leave until the company at the very least paid the legally required accumulated vacation pay and compensation the workers were owed. The plant ended up finding another line of credit, and instead of closing, the factory still operates today, thanks to the actions of the workers.


A more recent union win was the victory of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union in their 3-year long fight to get the company to pay the holiday premium on MLK Day. For years, Starbucks refused to pay the time-and-a-half that they pay on other federal holidays. The company recently announced a reversal on this position.

In both these examples, it was a combination of workers staying organized and committed, on-point media messaging, and overwhelming community support that led to victory. Contrast this with the Wal-Mart example, where even after a worker dies the government can barely coax retailers into following OSHA guidelines.

The Wal-Mart example makes it clear: corporate executives will not take responsibility for the safety of retail workers. Nor will the courts or government agencies.


The government won’t do it. The CEOs sure as hell won’t do it. So we, working people, organized in our communities and on the job, must rein in the power of the retail giants, and ultimately build a better future for us all.


- Stephanie Basile resides in Brooklyn, NY. She works as a union organizer and is interested in labor, anarchism, feminism, and queer issues. She loves bike riding, running, and cooking vegan food.

A Plea for Progress

As Election Day is upon us, I vacillate between continuing to play my assigned role in the sham of American “democracy” (i.e. voting for someone who will, in the end, cater not to the needs of the people, but to whichever corporation has financed her/his campaign) and casting a non-vote of protest. This year, however, I’m firmly in the camp of voting; with a caveat and a plea. Too often, I’ve encountered the argument and fallen prey to it, myself, that voting for a progressive or radical third party is simply enabling the cause of the right wing. This is why, contrary to my instincts, I, an avowed and proud Socialist, voted for Barack Obama, who has proved himself to be an avowed and proud Wall Streetist. The logic is convincing: If we cast our ballot for the Green Party, one of the Socialist Parties, et al, we will simply take votes from the Democratic candidate, thereby ensuring the victory of the Republican. The first problem I see with this argument is that it presupposes that the Democrat is any better than the Republican. The only discernible difference between the two parties is that the Republicans make no pretense of caring for anyone but the banking class. Both parties perpetuate war; corporate subsidies; taxation favorable to the wealthy; a practiced anti-labor stance and a disregard for civil liberties.

I recall watching Jay Leno, during the 2004 presidential campaign season, as he derided, admonished and belittled Ralph Nader for siphoning votes from John Kerry. I also recall the revulsion and anger I felt at Leno’s condescension and audacity. Then, it occurred to me: the establishment has a fine-tuned apparatus in place to keep a third-party candidate from making a real showing in the polls, let alone actually winning a seat (an interesting exception being Vermont, whose citizenry is wise enough to have elected and reelected the Democratic Socialist, Bernie Sanders). It’s the age-old weapon of assuring conformity: terror. Forward-thinking people are browbeaten into submission for fear of the Republican winning. This is why union members continue to vote for a Democratic Party that has betrayed them, laughing as it cashes the checks culled from the hard-earned wages of working people. In my state, New York, the Democratic candidate, Andrew Cuomo, last week declared in a New York Times interview (read here: , that he would take on the unions; that business has been victimized in my state. Really? The preponderance of Starbucks and not-really-the-mayor Mike Bloomberg’s support of Wal Mart establishing a foothold in my city (in spite of the people’s successful actions to prevent this malignant entity from poisoning our community) suggest otherwise. Still, co-opted parties, such as the ironically named Working People’s Party, which has bowed its head and endorsed Cuomo, and rank-and-file union members have averred their support for this establishment marionette of the ruling class. When I ask them why, the answer is the same: We fear the victory of the Republican candidate. Well, I counter with this: What if every one of us—and make no mistake, we constitute an overwhelming majority, which is the source of capital’s fear. Let’s really frighten them and be unified—voted for a candidate who actually is one of ours; who is a union member; who is not for sale? The answer is that the Democratic Party would cease to be relevant. This is good. This party acts as a means of confusing the working class and poor. Let a party of the people take on the Republicans.


This Tuesday, I petition all forward-thinking people to cast an honest vote; not a lesser-of-two-evils vote. Personally, I’m voting screw-both-of-the-evils, and abjuring both wings of the single capitalist party. If we all did this, we just might find that our so-called “representative government” actually represents us. People, as the great lover of humanity and justice, imprisoned for exercising his right to free speech (read, speaking an uncomfortable truth), Eugene Debs exhorted us, 105 years ago, GET OUT OF THE CAPITALIST PARTIES! Vote in the interests of people, not profit and capital. Peace, love and a knowledge that we will win!


I leave you with the words of that phenomenon, Helen Keller, on the fallacy of American two-party politics: “Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” Let’s reject capital’s parties, this Tuesday, and cast a vote for life.


- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.

The Peace Process

I know we’re not supposed to talk about this, it’s too controversial in this country to talk about Israel or Zionism, and it’s easier to pretend that it doesn’t perpetuate the longest standing current day human rights crisis in the world.  It would, I’m sure, make many of us more comfortable if human rights activists could just stop reminding us that Israel is a modern day Apartheid state with Jim Crow laws, and we wouldn’t have to face the fact that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Israel lobby) is pushing for a constant pro-Israel agenda in our country on the backs of millions of brown Palestinian children.  (See The Israel Lobby, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.)  But being a brown Muslim vegan woman, it just wouldn’t feel like my every day life if I didn’t take on the most uncomfortable and heinous injustices in the world.  I’ve lived in Palestine so I have a special duty to never forget.


I don’t even get hopeful, excited or even mildly interested now whenever a new “peace” process starts, because I know the game and the story.  We need only look back to see our history repeating itself to understand that these peace talks are never meant to create peace.  They are meant to keep the cycle of violence going until it can reach its ethnically cleansed conclusion.


So a bit of history: Zionism is the idea that Jewish people are the racially superior chosen people who deserve the exclusive right to all of historic Palestine.  Now I must be clear that not all Jewish people think this, and many including Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, the Neturei Karta and countless others are outspoken critics of this racism and won’t allow it to happen in their name.  Modern day Zionism’s father Theodor Hertzl had the vision back in the late 1800’s that Jewish people needed a homeland that was ethnically and racially Jewish.  The World Zionist Organization (WZO) founded in the late 1800’s set their eyes on historic Palestine (at that time occupied by the British) as one day being exclusively a Jewish homeland free of its Palestinian inhabitants.  This vision included “from the river to the sea”, meaning from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which includes all of historic Palestine (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip).  This vision was made reality in 1948 when the British mandate ended, the UN along with the British betrayed the Palestinians out of a promise to their homeland and partitioned Palestine into two states (one exclusively Jewish, one Palestinian), and Zionist forces captured even more than the already unilaterally unjust UN partition plan and murdered and pillaged over 400 Palestinian villages, driving out those who were able to survive the onslaught into neighboring nations Lebanon and Jordan or to the east and west of historic Palestine (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) where many still reside in refugee camps to this day.  The current day occupation was finalized in 1967 when Israel fully seized control over the remaining Palestinian lands the West Bank and Gaza.  (For an excellent account of the history Noam Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle, chapter 4).

The Zionist vision of claiming all of historic Palestine (which includes current day West Bank and Gaza which have been touted as the future Palestinian state) still remains in effect.  Israel has never had and will never have any intention of relinquishing any of this land to Palestinians for the creation of a future state since claiming all of the land has always been the mission, hence the ongoing 60 plus year occupation.  This is also why Israel has never officially declared its national borders since their land grab is unfinished.  In order to enforce this slow land grab, Israel has in violation of the 4th Geneva Conventions heavily carved up the West Bank with illegal settlements with the intention of annexing the land.  The Israeli settlements slowly claim this settled land, deliberately located on top of the largest water aquifers in the West Bank (Ariel settlement for example), in order to take the land and the majority of the water for Israel.  It is also no coincidence that the Apartheid Wall (which has been ruled unlawful by the International Court of Justice for where it confiscates Palestinian land off of the 1949 armistice line or “green” line) snaking through the West Bank deliberately encircles the settlements on the Israeli side of the Wall, again particularly Ariel, in order to steal the water and land from the Palestinians.  The fact that a temporary freeze on these illegal settlements is somehow a bargaining chip or bonus point for Israel just demonstrates how far we have fallen in understanding what is really happening on the ground in Palestine.


The farce of Israel’s “peace” offers is evidenced through the numerous peace talks and Israel’s offers for a “two state solution” consisting of chopped up pieces of land.  The Israeli offers of a state would be as is, the West Bank carved up by settlements where Palestinian villages would not be connected, making up a “swiss-cheese” like state, and the Gaza Strip would be as is, this open air prison physically amputated from the West Bank.  Oh and you can forget about Jerusalem.  Any two state solution offers from the Palestinians proposing a state in the West Bank and Gaza based on pre-1967 borders without the illegal settlements cutting up the land (and supported by numerous UN resolutions) in whole are roundly rejected by Israel.  And Palestinians are always left to blame for rejecting the Israeli proposal of a “peace” offer, that also includes banning the future state of Palestine from ever having an army, being able to trade openly with their neighbors, and with Israel reserving the right to control their airspace and national borders.  In other words, still an occupation.  Not to mention these redundant peace processes constantly revolve around a dead solution.  The two state solution is not even an offer of a real contiguous, autonomous nation, and is reminiscent of the South African model of an occupying power negotiating an ethnically pure state on the lands already stolen from an indigenous population while offering the original inhabitants a separate but not so equal state on the worst parts of the land left.  These negotiations do not dare mention the one democratic, secular state solution where one’s rights are not based on one’s race or religion but rather on the fact that they are humans with inalienable rights to democracy and self determination.  One person, one vote.  If we have learned anything from U.S. and South African Apartheid history, it is that separate is never equal.  (For a detailed explanation of the one state solution, see Ali Abunimah’s book One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli- Palestinian Impasse.)

Yet Israel knows that by offering these crumbs to the Palestinian leadership, it will be rejected as any people would reject this offer, Israel will be allowed to claim that they offered “peace” while not offering to dismantle illegal settlements, stop the deliberate shooting of children, strangulation of water and access to farm land (read: access to food and the only source of employment left for Palestinians), the air strikes, the siege on Gaza, and provide medical care as is the legal requirement of an occupying body, and Israel will somehow still come out the victor.  All the peace negotiations have ever been about is placating the international community and the Palestinians while Israel continues its land grab, genocide and ethnic cleansing until one day Israel will fulfill the WZO vision of claiming all of historic Palestine free of Palestinians.  It’s simply stalling, a delay tactic, a diversion from what is really happening.  Israel and Israeli companies are also making vast sums of money with this perpetual occupation and genocide and the requisite weapons and security technology.  (See Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, chapter 20).  So it’s a win win for them.  And the cycle continues.


The important conclusion to take away from all of this is to understand that all the misery Israel inflicts on Palestinians is deliberate, not just out of racism but out of the intent to make life so miserable for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and occupied Gaza Strip that the Palestinians will be driven out of the their homes and the land will be free for Israel’s taking.

I do live in hope that one day these so called peace negotiations will actually talk about peace, about Israel ending its brutal 6 decade long occupation of Palestine, 6 decade long Apartheid regime, and allow the refugees living in camps for up to 62 years to come home, as mandated by the UN and international law.  (See for example UN resolution 194).  If for no one else, I hold this hope alive for so many of the Palestinian children I met while living in the West Bank who dreamt of being able to at least travel to the neighboring village to see their families, to visit Jerusalem and pray at Al-Aqsa, to be free of Walls and checkpoints, to not lose another friend to Israeli sniper fire.  And to simply have an innocent childhood.  That is, for those who are left alive to have that hope.

- Bina Ahmad is an attorney, human rights and animal rights social justice activist.  She is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and an Ahmadi Muslim, a heavily persecuted sect in Islam.  She has worked on social justice issues her entire life, and worked with organizations such as Human Rights Watch, the New York branch of the ACLU, Al-Haq (the oldest Palestinian Human Rights NGO based in Ramallah, West Bank), and PETA.  She strives to make the connection between human and animal oppression, and hopes you will join her in the struggle

Race and Religion as Red Herrings

“Post-racial America.” Remember that term? Just two short years ago, when many progressives believed (or convinced themselves—I humbly admit that I was among this group, and broke my rule of never voting for a Republocrat) that Barack Obama was not, in fact, a marionette of Goldman; Blackwater; Boeing; General Electric, et al, this was a slogan of the proverbial dawn after the stygian horror of the Cheney presidency. Well, the hangover has hit hard, on many fronts and, true to form, post-racial America has proven itself to be as virulently racist as always; an ignominious tradition remains unbroken.


Throughout our history, different groups have been identified by the ruling class as “other,” as hostile to the virginal and perfect American way. First were the indigenous, who were dealt with in the most pragmatic way possible: they were deceived and exterminated. When Adolf Hitler, that paradigm of all things nefarious, once claimed that he admired the Americans because they/we saw a racial problem and solved it, it is time to take a sobering inventory of the nation’s record on race.


Today, the targets du jour are what I call the unfortunate M&Ms: Muslims and Mexicans. Of course, African-Americans, women, socialists and LGBTs, to name but a few, are always conveniently present as the majority’s punching bags, but the headliners in today’s newspaper of hate are the aforementioned. To anyone who doubts this, I simply point to the two main race/religion-based controversies garnering most of the nation’s attention: that vile piece of legislation, SB1070 and the 9/11 mosque controversy.


That some of these people are simply malevolent souls, drinking from the trough of hate, is undeniable. Most, however—and this I must believe, or else my fight is futile—are terrified people being misled by the power structure which has manipulated their very real fears to serve a status quo. This is an American tradition as ingrained as baseball and the Fourth of July. During the early independence period, many of the veterans of the revolution; people who believed in the lofty ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the gentry who simply wished to keep their ill-gained wealth, rather than share it with King George III, expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that the new boss was, in fact, the same as the old boss. These defrauded souls (rightly) identified the problem as one of class. Naturally, they felt solidarity with enslaved Africans and the beleaguered indigenous. Here, arguably, is where the concept of racial identity was introduced into the American consciousness. The elite made a concerted effort—and succeeded—to deceive the white underclass that, through Draconian Calvinism, they too would raise their standing; that their identifying on class lines was erroneous and that their race made them superior. This was a flawlessly executed example of the British practice of divide-and-conquer. After two centuries, it appears that the student has outdone the teacher.

Sadly, nothing has changed. I engage, exhort and excoriate some white members of my class, yet still they adhere stubbornly to the canard that “anyone, regardless of status, can be president in the US,” and all the implications of that sad platitude; that naïve Algerism. I receive looks of disdain when I mention class-consciousness. These fellow victims of an iniquitous system subscribe to the lie that race and religion are the salient issues. Instead of looking upward at their enemy, they look laterally, at the very people of all races and faiths who are trudging with them through the morass created by those above. They are mesmerized by the diversions of race, ethnicity and religion.


Unless we are Choctaw; Arawak; Cherokee; Mohican, et al, we are all (with the exception of my African-descendent brothers and sisters whose ancestors were brought here, against their will) immigrants. Nobody has any right to own land, anyway; this is as preposterous as the idea of owning the air or the rain. Still, as this unhappy and exploitive system remains in place, it would be good to remind my white siblings that they are all children of immigrants.


As for the supposedly sacrosanct status of Ground Zero and its immediate environs, where is the outrage over New York Dolls, the strip club, just two blocks away? The McDonald’s within the same proximity? As a greater mind than mine has elucidated, this latter filthy entity has purveyed more suffering and death than any of the malignant souls behind 9/11 ever could hope to achieve. By the spurious logic of Donald Trump and his attendant cast of clowns, there should never be a church constructed in Oklahoma City because Timothy McVeigh identified himself as a Christian. Do we see the illogic? The hypocrisy?


The elites have once again succeeded, but there is time. Race and religion are red herrings. The real issue—the truism that makes the capitalists shudder in their overpriced shoes—is class. When we, the 95% majority are galvanized and unified, justice isn’t far away.

“I Love The Mosque” T-Shirts Benefiting Victims Of Hate Crimes { recently in the press }            Praise From New York Times Art Director Steven Heller & Print Magazine !,   Essay Challenging Xenophobia by Sparrow’s Andy Stepanian for The Huffington Post


- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.

Bansky Shanks FOX with Storyboard for Simpson’s Intro

Usually we reserve space on this blog only for projects we are actively involved in or for activist efforts that we support but today may be one of the few exceptions.

The semi-elusive UK street artist Banksy was commissioned to storyboard the intro to the primetime animated television show The Simpsons which airs weekly on the Fox network. It is amazing that this passed, and perhaps even insulting to know that a company as crude and oppressive as NewsCorp feels ok about parodying themselves in this manner. Whether you hate Banksy or love him, there is no question that he shanked 20th Century Fox & NewsCorp in the jugular with this one. Watch, laugh, and then do your part to disassemble the corporate media…

Adham the Father of Sayaaf

Please Check Out Andy Stepanian’s Article this week on Huffington Post, Share It With Your Friends, & Leave Comments on the Huffington Post Blog So That They Will Continue to Pay Attention To This Important Story!

“Before Abu-Sayyaf was an inmate in a secretive US political prison called a ‘Communications Management Unit’ Abu-Sayyaf was a computer programmer for a software company in Florida. Abu-Sayyaf was an immigrant, he attained rights as a US citizen, he gave back to his community, to his co-workers, he generously donated to UNICEF, and he gave much of what he had to people outside of this country, specifically to children in Bosnia…”

(to read the full story click here)

Please Submit Comments to The Bureau of Prisons & Please Share This Article With Your Friends. You can submit your comments online or through the mail.  If you submit comments via regular mail, please send them to the following address and include the following docket number in your correspondence:

Rules Unit, Office of General Counsel Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW. Washington, DC 20534



Please consider submitting your comments by June 2, 2010* and sending The Center for Constitutional Rights a copy of your comments as we’re hoping to collect these pieces to illustrate the depth of collective public outcry over the creation of the CMUs.


*The official deadline for comments is June 7, 2010.

**Please send copies via email to:


or via regular mail to:


Nahal Zaman //  Center for Constitutional Rights

666 Broadway, 7th floor, New York, NY 10012.

To download a sample letter click here.







The Invisible, Accidental Records, 2009, (UK)

by Alex Ferzan, Sparrow Media Contributor

While overseas on tour with The Urgency this spring, I revisited 15 or so of the larger cities in the UK and Ireland. Regretfully, I can’t say I was reborn. Though I love Manchester, parts of London, Edinburgh and a few other damp and dismal distractions in the region, for the most part the UK is “a bit shit”, to be honest. Culture and cuisine are always interesting, new people are always entertaining, but I promise I that any less-than impressed judgment I make is based on much time and many cities, much socializing and many historical tours and much booze and many moons.

I can however offer credit to the big island and its neighbors in one very overlooked category, the support for live music. Kids climbing from the walls and media outlets covering everything from the mega artists that sell out Wembley Stadium, to the shrimps that happen to impress them, music is widely appreciate and followed (though outdated, most of us Statesiders would argue). Coming from what my peers and I would like to consider one of the more influential (though now completely dead) underground music scenes of recent history and working in the Music Industry for the better part of the last 8 years, I have to admit that I am at best, completely jaded when entering into anything from a music based conversation to a music faced venue. All that being said, for me to be excited about a show takes a lot.


Being on tour with a Welsh band is awesome. They are ball-busting, bowel-blowing descendants of amazingly interesting tribes and a families, most surnamed “Jones”, “Smith” or “Smith”. The Blackout were gracious enough to not only take us on a tour that saw 1,000+ new faces a night, but show us their home and their friends in what became one of my more favorable cities of the United Kingdom, Cardiff, Wales. After a hometown show, The Blackout took us barhopping just around the corner from the University we just played. Forgive me, but I cannot remember the name of the bar we went to. It was lit in red neon signs, very unassuming but very hip and guess what? The show was FREE!!! Real bands played there and real people came to see them. Upon walking into the cramped, crooked and loud venue, I took a non-autonomous turn for the stage, where normally my belly drives me to the bar. Setting aside for a moment what I heard, I looked toward the stage only to set my eyes on the quintessential counter-culture front man. At 6’6” and nearly 300lbs, the 3 piece’s leader was cloaked in a purple wizard’s smock, androgynously dressed in neck and arm accessories, dreadlocks and demanding an intricately delayed guitar solo out of what looked like a miniature telecaster in the hands of a giant African warlord. He was so captivating that I nearly forgot music was being played.


Once I tuned in to sonic stimulation I realized how incredible the actual music was. The other two members (Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor), both skinny, white and disheveled, were in such perfect rhythmic coordination with each other that it afforded Dave Okumu, the lead singer and guitar player, the freedom to completely exaggerate every sound and texture possible. I thought I knew a thing about guitar effects until I saw Dave make a mess.

Digressing from my drawn-out introduction, all these wonderful things lead me to the point of buying their album and sharing my thoughts about it with you.

The Invisible starts their record with s theme that runs through out the entire body of work, texture. Within 16 bars of a minor acoustic introduction, space and ambience somehow creep there way into the song. The opening song, “In Retrograde”, eventually moves into a sound-scape that would be more appropriate in the movie 300, or Gladiator, some world music battle scene, if you will.


After the less-than-comfy introduction, the band begins to showcase their song writing skills, never predictably. One who has real appreciation for how difficult it is to write a good song would admire how interesting the actual notes were built around such bizarre backing music. The songs move in and out of abstract noises and dissonant notes to a remember-able melody that may be a little dark and disturbing, but in a major key it could pass for a pop song.

I hate comparing bands to bands, but I find what The Invisible so interesting that it almost compliments them. They remind me of the choral guitar-ie feel of Prince, guitar effects of The Edge, the instrumentation of The Talking Heads, rhythm like Block Party, melodies that would make Robert Smith proud and the flavor of something a little more urban like Gnarles Barkley. Everything moves in and out of a very dance feel, while satisfying the core indie properties, innovation and deviation. The brilliance of it to me is that Dave Okumu gives off the vibe that he could have easily gone in and wrote an R&B record with Stevie Wonder, but his true passion was for something a little more interesting.

Some of my favorite tracks on the record include Passion, London Girl, and Monster’s Waltz. However, the track that makes me so glad I found this band is Baby Doll. The song is what I love most about music, the ability to fuse conventional melodies that would make anyone sing along with a Kandinsky, or a Jackson Pollock…something so bizarre that it just makes sense.

This band is not only a great album creator; they are an incredible live group. They’ve been praised by magazines as prestigious as NME in the UK and though I don’t think the US has the palette for them yet (regretfully), I really look forward to getting back over the pond and trying to catch another night with this band. It’s one of those bands that will inspire so many to follow, but maybe never be as recognized as they deserve to be. One of those bands I’ll stay up at night wishing I found them first and picked them up. One of those VERY few bands that I will listen to over and over again, finding new inflections each time I listen, like a good book.

For those visiting from outside this article along with video originally appeared in the reviews section of the Sparrow Media Blog

All Bottled Up

by Danielle Thompson

Last Month I posted about the privatization of water through corporate control of municipal water systems.  As I mentioned in the previous post, the second way corporations are stealing our water is through bottling.   FLOW (For the Love of Water), a documentary which came out in 2008 brilliantly (and frighteningly) lays out the international water crisis, including the role of bottled water.   I would highly recommend everyone rent, borrow, or buy this film.  After watching it, I did a down and dirty post for Girlie Girl Army but here I’d like to dig a little deeper.


As you probably already know bottled water is terrible in numerous ways.  It’s no safer (and in some cases, less safe) than tap water, much worse for the environment in many way than tap water and a gigantic waste of money.  In the U.S. and abroad Nestle, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are the chief corporations creating a false demand for bottled water by making people think it’s healthier and safer than water from the tap.  It’s a masterful marketing campaign the opposite is often actually true.  Then again, usually when a corporation tells us anything it’s probably safe to assume the reverse. Tap water is subject to state and federal safe drinking water standards by the Environmental Protection Agency, whereas bottled water is far less regulated because it’s done so by Food and Drug Administration.

More than just the plastic waste created with every bottle of water tossed in the trash after drinking, the making of plastic bottles and transporting the water-filled bottles all across the country takes a lot of energy and creates a lot of pollution.  Although this is of course an argument against all plastic containers, remember, the same water already comes out of the faucet.  The infrastructure for drinking water out of the tap already exists and it’s a lot more eco-friendly!  No plastic waste, no trucks driving water all over the place.  Its genius but unfortunately municipal water bureaus don’t have millions of ad dollars to market tap water the way Coca-Cola can market Dasani.

On top of the waste created from plastic production, shipment and destruction, corporations often devastate the environment to extract water at an alarming rate.  Nestle is a notorious offender.  In 2003, Nestle after failing in Wisconsin, set sights on Michigan and set-up a bottling plant, extracting groundwater at the rate of 400 gallons per minute.  Citizens won in court claiming that the pumping had a negative effect on the environment but Nestle appealed and continues to pump water while the legal battle with Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation continues.

Finally, bottled water is a huge waste of money for the consumer (hopefully at least after reading this, not you) and communities. Buying bottled-water perpetuates the falsehood that it is safer than tap water and diverts concern (and eventually dollars) away from municipal water systems.  In my other post about bottled water I mistakenly said that when you buy bottled water you are paying for what you could get at home for free.  That’s not true of course, municipally-owned water you get from the faucet is not free to you or the government, it actually costs millions of dollars for government to provide safe and clean drinking water.  But that is still a fraction of the cost of bottled-water and corporate-controlled tap water.

To learn more on the ills of bottled water you can read the Take Back the Tap report.  In it, you’ll find the many local groups are fighting big corporations’ bids to set up bottling plants in their communities.  Additionally, groups like Food and Water Watch and Corporate Accountability International are helping convince individuals, governments, restaurants, campuses and stores to move away from bottled water and start offering tap water.  Both have many resources on their sites if you want to help.   Sometimes all you have to do is ask, or not even.  I’m so happy to report that after my friends who run Food Fight Grocery! in Portland, OR read my other piece on bottled water they stopped selling it altogether and instead now offer free water that customers can fill up reusable bottles with (thanks guys!)

Food and Water Watch suggests that it’s not enough to simply give up bottled water and they advise that government at every level needs to protect our sources of water as well devote needed dollars to drinking and sewer water systems.  I agree but would add that giving up bottled water is a great first step that everyone can take. Right now.  More than immediately decreasing demand for the product, when you buy and carry around plastic water bottles, you send a message that it’s an acceptable product.  So, go rent FLOW, learn more about the global water crisis in general, and take the pledge to give up bottled water.