We, The Other People

November 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

constitution

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency last week has many people in the United States worried or scared, or both.  Anxiety is running rampant across the nation.  He was elected with something less than 25% of the vote of the voting age public, which is a problem in and of itself.  He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.  These are all things we must keep in mind.  Many people are feeling worried about their place in Donald Trump’s America.

Many of us feel like we don’t belong, like the nation held a referendum on our right to exist, and we lost.  People of color, immigrants, women, Muslims, LGBTQ people, disabled people and many others find themselves devalued and vulnerable to harassment. Let’s join together to hold the incoming President accountable for the fear, anger and hate he has stirred in our country. Let our voices be heard; we will not allow hatred to hold sway.

We believe that if we speak truth from the heart again and again and again, our words and stories have the power to affect change.  We create a record of our dissent.  We demand our system of government work for us, not against us.  We stand our ground in a way that honors the office of the Presidency and the promises of freedom and justice for all. ’

We, the project organizers, are documentary filmmakers and public historians who are deeply committed to making sure that all people are able contribute to the historical record. We believe that stories matter and that everyone has a right to make their voices heard.

We, The Other People is a project to collect letters from Americans and immigrants who live here.  We are all protected by the Constitution of the United States of America.

So why letters? Glad you asked:

Letters to the President of the United States (POTUS) have a long tradition. Revolutionary War veterans wrote to President Washington seeking pensions that were promised but not delivered.  Escaped African American slaves petitioned President Lincoln on behalf of their families. Children beseeched President Roosevelt to help them survive the Great Depression and Jewish Americans pleaded with their President to help get their relatives out of Nazi Germany.   Japanese Americans wrote to Reagan asking him to remember the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the Cold War raged.

Across centuries, letters to the President have expressed the concerns, hopes, fears and expectations of our nation’s people. They have called on the holder of the seat of power to hear them and to be their leader.

We are collecting them for now on our website.  But, come January, we will deliver them to the White House, to deliver our message for an inclusive United States, to the president.  This will also ensure that the letters enter the official record and eventually end up officially documented in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Why Tom Cotton is Wrong about LGBT Rights

April 6, 2015 § 6 Comments

Last week, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) had a very clear message to LGBT folk in the United States: “In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay.” This comes as Cotton’s defence of the now amended Defence of Religious Freedom Act passed by the Indiana legislature the week before.

So this is what is has come to.  A senator of this country is telling a group of its citizens that they’re lucky they don’t live in Iran.  In other words, shut up.  For Senator Cotton the United States should not strive to be leader of human rights in this world.  In his mind, the country should just forget the statement that “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal.”  Nope.  We should just forget what the State Department says on its webpage:

The protection of fundamental human rights was a foundation stone in the establishment of the United States over 200 years ago. Since then, a central goal of U.S. foreign policy has been the promotion of respect for human rights, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The United States understands that the existence of human rights helps secure the peace, deter aggression, promote the rule of law, combat crime and corruption, strengthen democracies, and prevent humanitarian crises.

None of this matters to Senator Cotton.  And this is very sad.  Politics in this country is a blood sport, at least symbolically.  Whenever people throw up their arms and express frustration at the current impasse between Democrats and Republicans, I like to gently remind them it’s never really been any different here, dating back to the first fights in Congress between the Federalists and the Republicans (not, of course, the same party as that today, which dates from the 1850s).  On the one side, the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, believed in a strong federal government; the Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, preferred a smaller national government and favoured personal liberty, free from government interference.

Nonetheless, there was a general belief in the right of Americans to dignity and a protection of their human rights (unless, of course, one was African American).  But we’ve already fought this fight.  In the 1960s, Americans sought a “Great Society,” one which provided care for its dispossessed and one that sought to protect its vulnerable citizens.  Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-Texas) perhaps summed up how human rights work, including in this country:

Human rights are not a privilege granted by the few, they are a liberty entitled to all, and human rights, by definition, include the rights of all humans, those in the dawn of life, the dusk of life, or the shadows of life.

Cotton clearly has this equation backwards, he seeks to refuse basic rights to LGBT people in this country.  It is not just that Cotton’s greatest ambition in terms of equality is to ensure American LGBT people are treated at least as well as the 75th ranked country on the 2013 Human Rights Index (the US, for reference, is ranked 5th).  That is not good enough and violates everything that this country is supposed to stand for.  And it does not represent the country that the vast majority of Americans hope for.

Tom Cotton should be deeply ashamed of himself.

On Uganda’s Homophobic Laws

February 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Earlier this week, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, signed a law that toughens the country’s already rampantly homophobic laws, making some sexual acts subject to life in prison.  Being gay was already illegal in Uganda prior to this law being passed.  This law had been under discussion since 2009, and originally called for the death penalty for some sexual acts, and was originally tabled when the European Union objected.  It was revived last year.  President Musveni had flip flopped on whether or not he would sign the law, at one point arguing that gay people were “sick,” but didn’t require imprisonment, but help and treatment.  And just to make it absolutely where Musveni stands on the issue, he clarified his thoughts in this CNN article.  Musveni says:

They’re disgusting. What sort of people are they? I never knew what they were doing. I’ve been told recently that what they do is terrible. Disgusting. But I was ready to ignore that if there was proof that that’s how he is born, abnormal. But now the proof is not there…”I was regarding it as an inborn problem.  Genetic distortion — that was my argument. But now our scientists have knocked this one out.

Charming.  Just charming.

Also in the past week, documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams’s new film, God Loves Uganda has been making the rounds.  It is based largely on the undercover work of a Boston-based Anglican (Episcopalian in the US) priest, Kapya Kaoma.  In the film, we learn that missionaries from the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer have been proselytising in Uganda, preaching that God hates LGBT people.  Charming.

All of this is deeply unsettling.  Yesterday, I tweeted this

I immediately got into a discussion on several fronts about the role of these American missionaries in all of this, on several fronts.  I maintain that the IHOP missionaries are disgusting and an afront to humanity, but Uganda is to blame for this.  But I’m writing this to expand what one can say in 140 characters on Twitter.  One, being gay was already illegal in Uganda when the IHOP missionaries began spreading hate.  Two, the IHOP missionaries capitalised on the already extant homophobia in Uganda in their preaching.  And three, Uganda is responsible for its laws.  The missionaries are a handful of people in a nation of 36 million people.

To argue that the missionaries are entirely to blame is wrong-headed to me for several reasons.  First and foremost, it reflects an imperialist mindset to say that American missionaries went to Uganda and taught Ugandans that being gay is a sin and therefore Uganda passed a law that toughened anti-gay measures already in place.  To blame the missionaries removes Ugandan culpability here.  It also says that Ugandans are not capable of forming their own thoughts.  Being gay was already a crime in Uganda before the IHOP missionaries gained a following.  And Uganda is hardly alone in the world in an anti-gay stance.  I point to, say, for example, Russia (interestingly, Russia’s anti-gay laws are also based on conservative Christian thought).  The new law just expanded on earlier ones.

Ultimately, Uganda is responsible for this new law.  Musveni is responsible for signing it.  No missionary held a gun to his head, or bribed him.  It’s his doing.  And it’s entirely consistent with his thoughts on being gay to start with.  And its consistent with Ugandan thought before the advent of the missionaries.

 

Bad Journalism: A textbook case

January 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

On Saturday, Montréal’s left-wing, nationalist French-language daily, Le Devoir, published a rather simple-minded article about a series of homophobic attacks that have occurred lately in Montréal’s Gay Village.  A series of assaults last weekend came on the heels of several others in Fall 2013.  This has left many in the Village feeling unsafe.  The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, not surprisingly, refuse to see a connection between a series of attacks on gay men and homophobia.  Plus ça change, I suppose.  Amazingly, while people in the village are feeling unsafe, Vincent Richer, the commander of Station 22 in the Village, claims that the neighbourhood is safe and secure.

But then there’s the article.  It talks about the fringe characters of the neighbourhood, the ones in shadows, the homeless, the drunks, drug addicts, etc.  And then there’s the usual drunken frat boys who like to show off how enlightened they are by heading downtown into the Gay Village to call people names.  As an aside, a funny story: back in the day in Vancouver, I was sitting outside at the Fresgo Inn, an all-night greasy spoon in the West End, on Davie St., that’s long since gone.  Next door was a café, with all of these big, huge, hot gay men on the patio.  A bunch of meatheads started calling them names.  It did not end well for the meatheads, they got beaten pretty good for their efforts. And that being Vancouver, the police, after reprimanding the neighbourhood guys for getting violent, arrested the meatheads for creating a disturbance.

Le Devoir also set a team of journalists into the Gay Village one night last week, as if they were heading out into Whitechapel, London, on the trail of Jack the Ripper.  Seriously, the article reads like a horrible anthropology paper.  But then, as my friend Anna Sheftel pointed out on Facebook, the paper proceeds to insinuate that the hate crimes on gay men is being perpetrated by the homeless, drunks, and drug addicts (the frat boys get forgotten).  As if, to paraphrase Anna, all violence is the same, as if all marginalised groups are the same.  As she notes, the LGBT community has a disproportionate number of homeless, especially youth, even in a place like the Gay Village.

All in all, this is horrible, bush league journalism from a newspaper that should, and usually does know better.

Niall Ferguson: Somewhere a village is missing its idiot

May 5, 2013 § 1 Comment

By now it is no secret that I think Niall Ferguson is a pompous simpleton.  I give the man credit, he has had a few good ideas, and has written a few good books, most notably Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power.  His recent book, Civilization: The West and the Restwould have actually been a pretty good read if not for his sophomoric and embarrassing discussion of “killer apps” developed by the West and now “downloaded” by the rest of the world, especially Asia.  He has also been incredibly savvy in banking his academic reputation (though he is losing that quickly) into personal gain.  He has managed to land at Harvard, he advised John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008.

But a few days ago, Ferguson outdid himself.  Speaking at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, California, Ferguson responded to a question about John Maynard Keynes‘ famous comment on long-term economic planning (“In the long run, we are all dead”).  Ferguson has made it abundantly clear in the past that he does not think highly of the most influential and important economist of all time, which is fine.  But Ferguson has also made it abundantly clear that part of his problem with Keynes is not just based on economic policy.  John Maynard Keynes was bisexual.  He was married in 1925 to the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, with whom he remained with until his death in 1946.  By all accounts I’ve read, the marriage was a happy one.  But they did not have children, which obviously upsets Ferguson.  But more troublesome for Ferguson is the fact that Keynes carried out many, many affairs with men, at least up to his marriage.  Fourteen years ago, in one of Ferguson’s more forgotten books, The Pity of War, Ferguson goes on this bizarre sidetrack on Keynes’ sexuality in the post-WWI era, something to the effect (I read the book a long time ago) that Keynes’ life and sexuality became more troubled after the war, in part because there were no cute young boys for him to pick up on the streets of London.  Seriously.  In a book published by a reputable press.

So, in California the other day, to quote economist Tom Kostigen (and who reported the comments for the on-line magazine Financial Advisor), who was there:

 He explained that Keynes had [no children] because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of “poetry” rather than procreated. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive.

It gets worse.

Ferguson, who is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, and author of The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, says it’s only logical that Keynes would take this selfish worldview because he was an “effete” member of society. Apparently, in Ferguson’s world, if you are gay or childless, you cannot care about future generations nor society.

Indeed.  Remember, Ferguson is, at least sometimes, a professor of economic history at Harvard.  That means he has gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students in his classes.  How are they supposed to feel about him when they go into his class?  How is any right-thinking individual supposed to think when encountering Ferguson in class or anywhere, for that matter?

Today, Ferguson apologised on his own blog.  He called his comments his “off-the-cuff and not part of my presentation” what they are: stupid and offensive.  So for that, I applaud Ferguson.  He has publicly owned up to his idiocy.  But, I seriously doubt these were off-the-cuff comments.  Those are not the kind of comments one delivers off-the-cuff in front of an audience.  How do I know?  Because I’ve talked in front of large audiences myself.  I’ve been asked questions and had to respond.  Sometimes, we do say things off-the-cuff, but generally, not.  The questions we are asked are predictable in a sense, and they are questions that are asked within the framework of our expertise on a subject.

Moreover, there is also the slight matter of Ferguson’s previous gay-bashing comments in The Pity of War a decade-and-a-half ago.  Clearly, Ferguson has spent a lot of time pondering Keynes as an economist.  But he has also spent a lot of time obsessing over Keynes’ private life which, in his apology today, Ferguson acknowledges is irrelevant.  He also says that those who know him know that he abhors prejudice.  I’m not so sure of that, at least based on what I’ve read of Ferguson’s points-of-view on LGBT people, to say nothing of all the non-European peoples who experienced colonisation at the hands of Europeans, especially the British. Even in Empire, he dismissed aboriginal populations around the world as backwards until the British arrived.

I do not wish Ferguson ill, even though I do not think highly of him.  But I do hope there are ramifications for his disgraceful behaviour in California this week.

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