On Saturday, August 3rd, my family will be at Totland in Berkeley celebrating our granddaughter Amiela’s second birthday. Amiela and I are particularly close, so my absence will be noticed.

I will be marching along with thousands of others concerned about climate change and horrified by the fossil fuel industry’s willingness to continue to place profits over worker and community safety, and over the very future health of the planet.

I will be wearing my white doctor’s coat and marching with the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) contingent. PSR’s international affiliate, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for proclaiming that there was no medical response to nuclear war. The only option was prevention. We can now say the same for climate change. Extreme weather events, food and drinking water shortages and all of the known and unknown consequences of destabilizing the earth’s climate system are all best prevented.

The mantra is clear and catchy. Adapt to that which you can’t prevent and prevent that to which you can’t adapt. Climate science now tells us that we can only burn 1/5 of the known fossil fuel reserves. Anything more will exceed the two degree celsius red line everyone agrees we can’t go beyond without huge catastrophes. Even at two degrees we will lose half of the Sierra snowpack and therefore half of our drinking water.

But Chevron, like the rest of the fossil fuel industry, is focused on short-term profits. They’re betting that no one will stop them from refining every last bit and then some, despite the cost to the planet and to my dear grand children.

We need to wake up and do what is right for the future. There is no meaningful medical response to climate chaos. Help prevent it by marching to the Chevron Refinery on August 3rd. Meet at Richmond BART at 10AM sharp.

 

Congress must lower student loan rates to reinvigorate the economy, invest in America’s future and foster the American dream. For many students, like my brother about to head to UConn, the interest rates on student loans will determine how long he remains under the burden of debt. For other students, it may decide whether college or graduate school is even a viable option.

Broader access to college, which is made possible by low interest loans is an investment in the future. Recently, the U.S. has begun to graduate fewer students, meaning that in 2018, according to a 2010 report from Georgetown University, the U.S. will be 3 million college graduates short of labor market demands. At the very time when the U.S. needs more graduates, our politicians are making it harder for Americans to get degrees and thereby compete on the international labor market.

The high cost of college shuts many poor and middle class students out of college. A study by Martha Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski found that the college entry gap between wealthy students and poor students had grown from 39 percentage points to 51 between 1979 and 1997, and that gap held even among students with the same cognitive ability. The result is staggering. A recent Century Foundation study found that, “one is twenty-five times as likely to run into a rich student as a poor student at the nation’s top 146 colleges.”

Of course, some college students won’t be affected. Wealthy students rely on parental connections to gain admission to elite universities, gain internship experience and then graduate to a starting job with health care benefits, likely debt-free. For some lucky graduates, like Liz Cheney, daddy makes a new job at the State Department tailor-made for her.

Sadly, most of us don’t have these opportunities and struggle with an uninviting job market, even with a college degree. But, we still have to begin paying off our debts shortly after graduating. In Britain, where my girlfriend lives, students don’t begin paying off their loans until they find stable employment, and the cost is in proportion to their earnings. In Denmark, education is considered a right by the people and an investment by the government, and is therefore free. Some students are even offered a stipend by the government to defray costs. In America, the university is considered a commodity, one that can easily purchased by the wealthy, but not the poor.

Middle class and working class students lucky enough to attend college must often work one or two side jobs, interfering with studies. Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer students invest time in studying or pursue degrees in science and engineering that require intense amounts of work and concentration? Plato noted that students cannot study while exhausted, and yet this is what we demand.

Is it then any wonder that the American dream is dying? Economists like Miles Corak have discovered that upward mobility is now lower in America than a host of other European countries, among them, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, France, Germany, Norway and Finland. Is it, as George Carlin claimed, “called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it?”

Lowering student loans below the rate paid by the big banks who destroyed the economy and the lives of millions Americans would be a good first step. But at all levels our education system is slanted towards reducing upward mobility. For my brother, for my friends who can’t pay for college, Congress needs to think big. Maybe Congress should consider expanding the Pell Grant program which has failed to keep up with the rising cost of college. Maybe Congress could consider zero-interest loans. It would be a start.

Remember that the biggest boom in American innovation came after WWII, when millions of Veterans attended college under the GI bill. Remember that the American dream, as enshrined by James Truslow Adams, was a place where, “each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

This may well be the most short-sighted, ineffective and contemptible Congress in the past fifty years, but can they truly be foolish enough to gamble with the future of America’s children? If they do, we may find ourselves asking us what makes America so great.

 

And it’s happened again. At this year’s MLB All-Star Game , Marc Anthony became the most recent public figure to be violently denounced for his “un-American” performance of “God Bless America.”

And on what grounds is his award-winning voice being dubbed unpatriotic and un-American? Oh, you know, on the color of his skin. That’s right, on his race. 

Here’s just a few of the racist tweets posted just moments after Anthony begins singing:

Brian Edwards (@Dusboy7): Another disgrace Marc Anthnoy singing god bless America. Is he even an American citizen?

Tyler Pounds (@tylerpounds): Welcome to america where god bless america is sung at our national pastime by a mexican 

Kris Rieder (@kriederkid): Shouldn't an AMERICAN be singing God Bless America? #getoutofmycountry #allstargame

But this bizarre moment of fear and anger over how a “Mexican” or “Spanish” person would dare sing America’s song was especially striking for me. Not only did it highlight the very real issue of race in this country, but it also illuminated a national concern (and anger) over nationality. For Marc Anthony was not only raced as being “Mexican,” but also as being anything but American. It’s almost as if the color of your skin, as long as it deviates from whatever the U.S. considers “white,” marks you as a perpetual foreigner and alien.

And that’s exactly what happened to Marc Anthony.

Never mind the fact that Marc Anthony was born and raised in New York; or that his Puerto Rican ancestors were U.S. citizens as well.  Because all that matters is that Anthony didn’t “look” American, right? And if he doesn’t “look” the part, then, hell, that strips him of his American-ness.

And if that’s true, here’s what that means:

Not only does this country race its Hispanic residents as “illegals,” or its Muslims as terrorists, or its blacks as criminals, but it simultaneously marks these individuals as stateless people.

This realization brought me back to a few moments I had this past weekend:

I was working for a compost and recycling group at a music festival in Oregon when I was stopped by very drunk man and asked, “What are you?” as he pointed to my skin. His friend, who also happened to be very drunk, chimed in and asked, “Yeah, yeah, where you made from?”

What these two drunkards meant to ask was my ethnicity. But their questions made me feel as if, due to the color of my skin, it wasn’t possible for me to be American, that I was, at least in that particular moment, potentially stateless. (Despite the fact that I was born and raised in the U.S.)

This feeling only escalated when a different man told me in passing that I looked like “the real” Pocahontas (I had my hair in a braid). (Some of you might be saying, ‘Oh you can’t get more American than Native American.’ But, sorry bucko, many indigenous tribes do not consider themselves American (and for good reason), and therefore calling me Pocahontas does not refer to me as being American, but rather a member of an alienated and offended group of people.)

The idea that people in this country feel comfortable enough to sum strangers up according to the color of their skin, and thereby imply a sense of foreignness, a lack of American-ness or a state of statelessness is absolutely mind-blowing. And, more than anything, it’s completely illogical.

I’m tired of having to tell strangers what they mean to inquire about is my ethnicity, and that asking where I’m from is loaded with the assumption that I'm a foreigner. I’m tired of saying that (surprise!) I’m from the U.S.. But most of all I’m exhausted of being profiled as something potentially un-American simply because my skin color is brown.

(And poor Marc - he took this at a national level.)

This exhaustion comes from my deep discomfort when strangers assume I’m anything but American, and consequently anything but white. Because here’s what those strangers don’t know: I may get my brownness from my Mexican mother, but I get my culture from my white American father and my life here in the U.S.. I am as much brown as I am white, if not more of the latter.

Though some may not think I “look” American, America is all I know. And to only recognize my brownness and therefore dismiss my whiteness, would be to dismiss exactly what makes me me. 

When strangers ask where I’m from, like the strangers who assumed Marc Anthony is from Mexico,  they should know that they are actively dismissing the very qualities that make Marc and I American. 

Here’s my advice to those who would genuinely like to know why an individual might look the way they do: Ask what you really mean to ask. You don’t want to know where they’re from, but what their ethnicity(s) is.

It’s really that simple: “Excuse me, what’s your ethnicity?”

“My mother is from Mexico, and my father is as white as they can get. He’s from Nebraska.”

Now that the House has blocked any kind of overhaul on the Senate's 'comprehensive' immigration bill, the bill will continue to sit idle in Congress, waiting for House members to move it up along their list of other priorities (which probably won’t happen until well after the August break). And as the nation waits, it seems that everyone is taking a guess at what will happen next. 

Most progressives expect the Republican controlled house to spit out an even more extreme, ring-wing bill – something with more heightened border security and harsher penalties for those here illegally. Some progressives, so lost of faith, have gone a little loopy, laughing about how they expect their tax dollars to go to feeding alligators in man-made rivers along the border. 

Other progressives don’t expect the House to rule on a bill at all – an educated guess considering the House’s extra extremist conservatives and ultra liberals (who probably won’t vote for a bill that includes border security levels equal to or higher than that in the Senate’s bill) that make up its recipe for congressional failure. 

And right-wing media is urging its House members to kill the bill immediately, claiming it’s not an urgent issue and won’t help the GOP win in 2014, so why bother? 

Even immigrant and Latino advocacy groups like Presente.org and the Border Network for Human Rights have backed out, saying they don’t want this bill or any bill that builds off the Senate’s compromise to pass.  In a statement released June 27, Presente.org said of their dissent:

The promise of immigration reform was that the lives of 11 million people would be enriched by granting them a pathway to citizenship. What we have in the Corker-Hoeven amendment is the enrichment of companies that lobby for and profit from jailing, surveilling and building fences against immigrants, including the millions from among the “11 million” that will left out by the legislation. Surveys, polls and common sense tell us that Latino voters want real reform, not more punishment for immigrants.

If this is really what the immigration debate has come to, if this is really what there is to expect, is it smart to even hope a positive immigration bill will turn out in the end?

Sure there are some signs of hope – like Bush’s speech on Tuesday where he urged Congress to find a “positive resolution” on immigration reform, or the recent poll that found there would be strong backlash against House members who oppose immigration reform – but ultimately there’s really not much to hold onto.

That’s because what the immigration debate had evolved into is an array of failures and displeasures on both the parts of Republicans and Democrats.

Here’s why:

Republicans continue to misunderstand the fundamental necessity of winning Latino votes in order to stay afloat. Instead, many have begun arguing they simply need to find and turn out “missing white voters.” First off, this is just wrong. But, perhaps more importantly, this line of thinking has cultivated Republicans’ transparent strategy of passing an immigration bill that screams ‘comprehensive’ (in an effort to win voters) but which, in actuality, does nothing on the matter.

Let’s elaborate on that point.

If GOP Senators believe ‘comprehensive’ to mean:

  • A military border complex complete with 18,000 new border patrol, deployment of the National Guard, an additional 700 miles of fencing, 15 Blackhawk Helicopters, 30 marine vessels, 18 (weaponized) drones and more – all of which allows for prisons and military companies to gain sheer profit from immigration reform
  • Or the fact that the current bill’s promise of a path to legalization for 11 million was a lie (4-5 million will be left out due to the loopholes and obstacles included in the bill)

Then they’ve sure got ‘comprehensive.’

But when Democrats continue to give way to GOP bullying and whining, therefore allowing this definition of ‘comprehensive’ to take form and set down roots, what we see is the not only the failure of both parties to undertake the nation’s demand for immigration reform, but we see a sign of Democratic capitulation.

And as a result, Democrats have continued, and most likely will continue, to move farther and father away from their initial immigration reform goals all in the name of political expediency.

Sadly, Democrats continue to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt, saying that Republicans just need more time to grapple with concerns about border security and the changing demographics of America. But this simply isn’t true. Sure there’s a political panic taking place within the GOP, but when it comes to the Republicans inside the House, they’re just fine with their whites-only club. All that matters now it keeping their base of conservative white voters happy. And, sorry progressives, but that doesn’t spell out immigration reform – even if we are patient with them and hold their hand along the way.

Perhaps the House will pass an immigration bill, but whether that will make the nation a winner is still to be determined.

But what is most clear, at least in my opinion, is that if a bill passes or not, what will be remembered are two things:

How Democrats yielded in unprecedented and disappointing ways to a tyrant-like GOP, giving Republicans the idea that they can push and corner Democrats as much as they want if the Democrats want something bad enough. (And unfortunately, they might be right about this one.) Or, in other words, teaching Republicans how to get away with using Democrats as their doormat. 

And that nobody, starting at the beginning with Republicans and concluding with Democrats at the end of their compromise, wanted this bill.

This moment in history, though, might very well serve as learning curve for what can happen when political groups, or any group for that matter, enters into a debate with the objective of compromising. Though the Democrats did indeed get their immigration bill, they have lost the heart of the bill, and with it, all the excitement and momentum to finally fix our broken immigration system.

In a sense, this moment has gutted many U.S. citizens of their hope.

Perhaps it would be wise, then, to follow in the footsteps of Presente.org, the Border Network for Human Rights and other advocacy groups that pulled their support for the Senate’s immigration bill. At least then we’d know we weren’t pretending to “do something” about immigration like our political parties have.

 

In light of the of ongoing immigration reform debate, it would be rather convenient if a superhero could fly on in and save not only the day, but our stalling immigration reform. Unfortunately, though, we don’t live in the DC Comics world – which means Marco Rubio will continue to refuse answering questions about whether he supports his own immigration bill while also demanding increased border enforcement, and GOP Congressmen will continue to call immigrants “bank robbers.”

But Define America, an organization that seeks to bring new voices into the immigration reform dialogue, is connecting our disappointing, languished immigration reform debate and the DC Comics world. And they’re doing it by summoning one of America’s most cherished superheroes: Superman.

In the spirit of Superman’s internal struggle to understand who he is and where he has come, Define America is asking Americans to send in their ‘Superman’ story, a story the organization has dubbed “The American Way.”

The campaign’s Tumblr explains why:

Born on Krypton, he came to this country with the promise of Hope – the symbol he bears on his chest. Many of our families also have a history of immigration. We share Superman’s hope and we continue his fight for truth, justice and the American Way.

Even Google’s brief description of the newly realeased  movie Man of Steel highlights the same “American Way” story:

A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for all mankind.

Superman, clearly, is a fitting candidate for pro-immigration’s poster child. Even his last encounter with his parents, as their precious homeland ignites in flames, is reminiscent of the classic immigrant hope and dream: Placing him inside the small pod that will travel through space and to Earth, his parents say: “Goodbye my son, our hopes and dreams travel with you.”

“What is the hope of the immigrant than at core a promise that it would be better in America? That no matter what your situation is, it will be better [in America],” Comic-book writer Mark Waid told USA Today.

Superman’s good fortune, though, often goes unnoticed. He was extremely lucky to have landed on the predominately white-ruled U.S. as a white-skinned, human-looking alien. It would be an interesting conundrum to wonder what would have happened if the same man, with the same super-hero powers, had landed on Earth as a brown-skinned or black-skinned man, and whether he too would have been called an “illegal alien” (a term that fits white Superman much more accurately than it does undocumented immigrants).

(Oh, but of course, his writers never would have dreamt of that – it wouldn’t have made any money!)

Now imagine if this colored Superman were to land in the U.S. today. What would we think of him? My amateur guess is that there would be a serious problem with this colored man’s ‘potential terrorist’ powers (just like how so many government officials warn us of undocumented immigrants being “potential terrorists”)

Then again, he could have been born a (colored) woman, and that would have been a whole another story. (Superwoman would have had an especially hard time getting legal status in the U.S. compared to her male counterpart according to a new report.)

But, as a white and handsome Clark Kent, Superman assimilates just fine. He doesn’t even have to think about applying for any sort of lawful residency, visa or citizenship (the lucky guy!) But, today, his fantastic powers might have granted him what the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) calls an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability,” a title that allows for an immediate priority visa for residency.

But not all immigrants have these “extraordinary abilities” or powers — most are thrust into the only opportunities they have: picking strawberries, taking after the children of absent mothers and fathers, cleaning toilets and building the kinds of homes they’ll most likely never be able to enjoy. In fact, most of these immigrants aren’t allowed the opportunity to be or become “super.”

So, in endorsing a campaign that highlights a white-male ‘super’ immigrant, we face the possibility of alienating those who aren’t so ‘lucky.’ Not everyone arrives to Earth in a safety-sealed pod. Some have to cross rapid rivers, gapping mountains and deserts with scorching and freezing temperatures. And, unfortunately, many die on their way.

While the campaign has been great at raising dialogue around this complicated issue, and inviting an array of individuals to participate and tell their “American Way story,” we, as viewers, fans and participants must remember that Superman’s white skin and gender gives him a very privileged immigration experience. The campaign, therefore, needs to be approached with a vigilant eye. 

It would still be nice, though, if we saw a more fitting immigrant hero fly on in and save the day (let’s shut that Marco Rubio up, please!).

During Tuesday’s debate on the Senate’s immigration bill, Virginia’s Democratic Senator Tim Kaine took to the podium and launched into a nearly 14-minute floor speech entirely in Spanish, making him the first senator ever to do so. 

Before beginning, Kaine asked permission to deliver the speech in Spanish. Heidi Heitkamp, the Senate’s presiding officer, gave him this permission, but only after she hesitated in her speech and made a quick double take in Kaine’s direction.

During his speech, the Virginia Democrat spoke of his decision to address the Senate in Spanish saying:

I think it is appropriate that I spend a few minutes explaining the bill in Spanish, a language that has been spoken in this country since Spanish missionaries founded St. Augustine, Florida in 1565.  Spanish is also spoken by almost 40 million Americans who have a lot at stake in the outcome of this debate.

On Twitter supporters commended Kaine for his bold move. Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, wrote: "After so much talk about English proficiency, kind of awesome for @TimKaine to deliver his Senate floor speech on #immigration in Spanish."

Kaine’s proficiency in Spanish even drew praise, where one tweet read: “Tim Kaine’s Spanish is pretty good, guys.”

But Spanish isn’t a new language to Kaine. Not only did he learn Spanish in Hondoras years ago during the 1980s, but he told the New York Times in an interview that he speaks Spanish everyday.

“It is a sign of the changing nature of Virginia,” he said.

As of 2011, 8.2 percent of Virginians are Hispanic or Latino, according to Census figures.

But Kaine’s point to acknowledge the history of languages in the U.S., as well as the current Spanish-speaking population, is important because, in doing so, he reminded all of us of the diversity of this country. His 14-minute long Spanish worked to give an authentic voice to the wide range of ethnicities and languages living and speaking in the U.S. today. And, perhaps more importantly, it gave voice to the history of this country and its Hispanic roots.

As one Hispanic civil rights group put it to the New York Times, “we are being heard, finally.”

The fact that Kaine went against the norm to achieve these ends is in itself not only the act of a smart politician, but the act of the every day kind of activism we can all participate in.

It is significant (and possibly telling), then, that Senator Marco Rubio, one the Senate’s most high profile Hispanics, did not include Spanish in yesterday’s debate. In fact, according to the Senate Library, he has never made remarks in Spanish.

Perhaps Rubio is afraid of receiving some of the backlash remarks Kaine received on Twitter:

  • “while working for the American people speak our American language. #TimKaine"
  • “Dem breaks into Spanish on Senate floor...  ...to endorse amnesty legislation! (still America, asshole. English is spoken here) #TimKaine

But what should be made clear is that Kaine’s decision on Tuesday was not meant to spark a debate between Spanish and English. What Kaine’s speech illustrates is not the need to ‘pick a side’ between Spanish and English, but that the U.S. is unique in its plethora of languages and ethnicities, and even more unique in its history. We are, as all politicians, Republican and Democrat, like to say, a nation of immigrants.

And with a topic like immigration reform, it’s important that we seize the opportunity unique to the U.S. to debate these issues in other languages besides English and Spanish.

As Kaine put it:

“I’m going to cross my fingers that some of the other senators with language fluency might pop up and do the same thing,” he told the Washington Post. “[If Senator James Webb was still in office] he’d be able to speak Vietnamese.”

Recently there's been a lot of hype over the news on the rising migrant death toll along the U.S.-Mexico border, and publications have been remarkably giddy over it. The New York Times ran an article in late May titled, 'Arizona Desert Swallows Migrants on Riskier Paths.' USA Today ran a similar article titled, 'Big Surge in Border Crossing Deaths Reported.' Earlier this week the Guardian ran another article titled, ''Death map' of deserts aims to save lives of desperate Mexican migrants.'

But, what I don’t get is why this is news- ‘news’ here meaning it is (duh) new. I have to point this out because the rising death toll of migrants attempting to cross the border is NOT new. In fact, it’s incredibly old!

Here’s a list of headlines (that could go on and on, but which I’ve shortened for your convienece) that have covered this ‘new’ story topic before:

So, it’s been a sort of odd, and quite frankly, frustrating experience for me to see article after article report on this rising death toll as if this is the first time we’ve seen this.

For instance, not once did the May New York Times article mention that the New York Times has reported on the very same subject, with close to identical headlines, multiple times before. The article didn’t even mention the running total of deaths along the border (a number more than 5,000), but instead cited only the 2,100 deaths the Humane Borders ‘death map’ has collected since 2001. (What kind of reporting is that?)

At first I didn’t understand why reporters were neglecting to comment on how the surge in migrant deaths along the border is an old, ongoing epidemic. But then I realized the potential political consequences there might be if media were to acknowledge this relentless epidemic.  

Migrant deaths along the border are not some sort of rare, unpredictable event. What most Americans don’t know is that the U.S. government is (and has been since 1994) intentionally and strategically channeling undocumented migrants toward lethal terrain, and ultimately their death.

The militarization of the border has only ensured this escalating death rate. In the past five years, the border enforcement budget has expanded from $6 billion to $10.1 billion, adding unmanned drones, hundreds of miles of fencing and vehicle barriers and a huge jump in patrol agents to the equation.

Now migrants are dying more than ever before as they continue to cross lethal frontiers like the Arizona desert and the Rio Grande river. Border Patrol agents have even gone as far as to vandalize life-saving resources such as food, water and blankets that are dispersed about the desert.

In a 2011 New York Times article titled ‘Crossing Over, and Over’ the reporters subliminally acknowledged that the militarization of the border has been a total failure. They wrote, “The number of immigrants found dead in the Arizona desert, from all causes, has failed to decline as fast as illegal immigration has.” And yet, they went on to exemplify their dumb understanding of this interconnected web of death when they wrote, “Has the more aggressive approach — bigger fences, more agents and deportations — contributed to, or diminished, the danger?”

It’s a duh moment, and yet they (intentionally?) don’t make the connection.

Death has been, by design and by default, the ultimate intention of border enforcement. We can see it in the numbers: In 2009, the risk of dying along the border was 1.5 times higher than in 2004 and 17 times greater than in 1998. Today there is at least one migrant death along the border every day. 

The call for additional border security in the immigration reform debate only further exemplifies this embedded and concealed goal.

But if media were to acknowledge this little fact, not only would their precious headlines not be news, but they would be acknowledging that migrant deaths is an ongoing trend that the government allows and perpetuates. That being said, they would also be recognizing that the U.S. government leads people to their death and lets them die.

So, here’s the catch:

If we were to recognize that surging migrant deaths along the border is an ongoing problem that we, as a nation and through policy, are creating, then something would actually have to been done about it. And (gasp!) if we were to do something about the thousands of deaths that take place every day inside the U.S. then we’d be acknowledging that the death of these (brown) migrants actually means something to us.

But, as we can see with the hundreds of brown people who have died by drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan or the hundreds of brown and black youth in the U.S. who have been shot by raving gunmen with badges and police uniforms, the U.S. really doesn’t care about the deaths of these colored folk, do we?

We don’t care because, well, heck, it’s not happening to ‘us’ in every sense: the U.S. isn’t brown (let’s just ignore the 51.9 million Hispanics living in the U.S.), we aren't ‘illegal aliens’ (let’s ignore the 11 million undocumented people living in and contributing to the U.S. and its economy) nor do most of us know anyone who hangs out in the Arizona desert or who swims in the Rio Grande (we only know people who camp in Death Valley and competitively swim in the Hudson).

If it’s not happening to ‘us,’ then U.S. policy doesn’t care if it kills.

What this all loops back to is the U.S. constant prioritization of the lives of white people over the lives of people of color.

And, again, we can see it in the numbers.

Remember 9/11? (How could we forget.) How many times have we been reminded of the 3,000 lives that were lost that day? (A number that, though large, is not that big in the big scheme of things, especially when we compare it to 158,000 to 202,000 civilians who have died as a result of the U.S. conflict in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.)

Or, what about the Boston Marathon bombing? Those three deaths (though tragic) were all the nation was supposed to care about for those two weeks following the bombing.

Each Sunday on George Stephanopoulos’ This Week, viewers watch the scrolling list of the names and ages of U.S. soldiers who have died over seas for that particular week. And yet, rarely do we see the numbers of those killed by U.S. forces; and when we do, the numbers and the names have little impact.

This is exactly my point. Not only are we rarely told of the 5,000 migrants that have already died along the border (a death toll that is only growing), but the number means little to us. In fact, it means close to nothing.

In 2008, a blogger for NewsBusters commented on the San Diego Union-Tribune’s report of 22 migrant deaths along the San Diego sector of the U.S.-Mexico border for the 2008 fiscal year alone, by arguing the report “lacked perspective.” Criticizing the Union-Tribune for “worrying” about these deaths, he declared that 22 migrant deaths were “statistically insignificant numbers” and therefore unworthy of the time the Tribune spent reporting on the subject. He wrote,

"Now, of course, no one wants a single person to die just because they want to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that they might find in these great United States. But, even a quick glance at the numbers of illegals coming in shows that the 22 or so that have died is a tiny number and that it isn't really anything to get too alarmed over in the statistical sense."

I can almost guarantee you that if 22 (or less) white Americans were to die in one city in one year by an institutionalized policy these deaths wouldn’t be “statically insignificant numbers,” nor would anyone be saying, “let’s not worry about those guys.”

But what’s important here is that this blogger, like the New York Times and other mainstream media, doesn’t have the full historical picture. And in lacking the history not only does he sound dumb, but he and his publication are absolutely ignorant.

It’s time, then, that we start holding our media accountable for the history. We can’t afford to have gaps in reporting due to a neglect of history. If media had a better (and frankly a more professional hold) on history then as a nation we could begin connecting the dots between our government’s disparate treatment toward people of color.

But it’s also time that we start reevaluating what we think of as news. News (by definition) is supposed to be new. We can’t continue to accept article after article that neglects to capture the history of an issue for the sake of calling it ‘news.’

Although publications that have been reporting on the rising migrant death toll are absolutely right to tell this story, it’s absolutely fundamental that they realize how dangerous it is to report on issues without telling their readers the back story.

I’m speaking to all publications and media sources, and especially to you New York Times – and that means including running totals.

Recently everybody’s been talking about change. From Yes! Magazine’s new piece on ‘radical’ being the new normal to the implications of the global Monsanto protest, much of this discussion has been a debate about what it means to ‘push back.’ People are asking: Is activism pushing back? Is activism the means for change?

This all makes me think of a rather inspiring (and disappointing) video montage of what I thought exemplified authentic ‘inner activism’ (considered here as a more instinctional, less organized form of activism) and ‘push back.’ The montage includes a series of automoblie drivers stopped at Department of Homeland Security immigration checkpoints that are not along the domestic border. Each driver stops and greets an officer, but soon refuses to answer questions about citizenship. Though the officers threaten to detain the drivers and subsequently search their vehicles, the drivers assert their right to continue on their way. In a matter of minutes each driver is allowed to continue driving despite having refused to submit to questioning.

Feeling enlightened by this new display of power and agency, I continued to search for similar videos.

I came across another video titled “Abusive Border Patrol Agents NM Checkpoint” that was particularly striking in that it showed that this kind of activism isn’t easy. Here's what happens to one driver after he refuses to answer questions:

  • The officer tells the driver that within 100 miles from the border and at immigration checkpoints, all constitutional rights are officially suspended and do not apply. He says: “Just to let you know, in a border patrol check point a person’s rights do not matter here, they don’t apply here. You do not have rights. I can print that out for you.”
  • The officers explicitly say that anyone who does not follow the norms is therefore suspicious, and therefore they have legal probable cause to detain and search him.
  • The head officer tells the driver he suspects him of being a terrorist.

Nearly 30 minutes of coercive threats and no results, the officers become exhausted. They eventually dismiss the driver after having realized they cannot in fact detain or search him (or convince him to waive his rights).

This is a rather remarkable moment of the kind of everyday activism each of us can take. But what it also reveals is that those who ‘resist’ will always be confronted with a different kind of push back – a voice that tries to remind us of ‘our place.’ What’s important, though, is that we don’t let this deter us.

A friend of mine who refuses to go through airport security scanners because they remind her of the stop and frisk stance told me that she had asked an airport security officer how many people ask to be patted down instead of going through the ‘normalized’ stop and frisk body scanner. She was told that on any given day only about three individuals ask to be patted down - a relatively quick (2-4 minutes) procedure. Apparently, anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of those choosing to opt out of the scanner is growing.

In resisting the scanner ‘norm’ these individuals and my friend, in my opinion, are pushing back. They are, in fact, discovering their ‘inner activism.’

It’s also important that we look at how those who choose to opt out of normalized procedures are treated and what this might mean when looking at the state of the union:

While all the drivers in the immigration checkpoint videos are eventually told they can continue driving (though they were also previously told they would detained and punished), all the drivers undergo harassment. One agent even pulls out his baton to threaten a driver, though quickly puts it away after the driver says, “Did you just pull out a weapon because I won’t answer your questions? Why are you brandishing a weapon at me when I just want to go on my way?”

What's significant here is that while all persons in the U.S. have the right to assert their rights, the officers in these videos find it rather abnormal and suspicious that they are doing so. What does this say about U.S. police force? 

Perhaps a more telling example of the state of our union is another immigration check point video where the officer allows a stopped driver to continue driving after the driver answers the officer's question about citizenship with: "Actually what's an even more important question than that, it's asked one time in the Bible, is: What must I do to be saved? If you've got about 10 minutes I can walk you through that..." The officer tells the driver he doesn't have 10 minutes and then bids him farewell with, "Have a nice day sir."

The idea here is that this particular driver, though he has not answered the officer's question, is not suspicious because, well, he's a good (probably Rebublican) devoted Christian. Therefore he (ah ha!) must not be a terrorist! 

What does this say about U.S. police force, norms, and treatment?

Christopher Elliot wrote an interesting blog back in January titled, “Three Troubling Ways the TSA Punishes Passengers Who Opt Out.” According to his experience, TSA officers will intimidate, harass and humiliate passengers choosing the pat down, as well as making them wait long periods of time – so long sometimes that passengers miss their flight. He referred to this behavior as the treatment of second-class citizens.

What these moments exhibit is the retaliating voice that attempts to put everyday activists ‘back in their place.’ But this is also the voice of a steadily growing police state with creeping militarization taking place in unconstitutionally coercive inland checkpoints, airport security, schools and more. We cannot let such a voice defeat our everyday activism choices. 

So, get to the airport early so you can take the pat down and not have to worry about missing your flight. In fact, miss your flight! And then file a complaint! Carry a copy of the Constitution with you so you can read it aloud to those Nazi style border patrol agents.

I think it’s time, then, that we come to think of small day-to-day acts like the ones mentioned above as authentic activism. Perhaps it’s these minor acts that propel our larger protests and initiatives into the activism limelight. 


 

There has been much recognition of Angelina Jolie's public revelation that she has had a prophylactic double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to avoid breast cancer. She says that although the decision was hard, she made the right choice for herself; that she looks good and feels whole, again. As a gorgeous famous woman and sex symbol, her public sharing is seen as a generous move towards destigmatising breast cancer and a gracious concern for women who might face similar dilemmas. 

But what does "similar" really mean here? We think that Jolie has inadvertently added to the notion that breast cancer is a genetic disease, which is not helpful for most women. In reality, her particular story of genetic breast cancer has relevance for very few women, and to the degree that this relevance is not understood, her disclosure may be more harmful than it is helpful. 

Jolie has had Hollywood-style access to the best medical treatments that money can buy, and to incredible publicity given her fame. It must be recognised, however that most women across the globe do not have access to the same level of health care that was and is available to her. We will take the publicised opening she has created and use breast cancer to shine a clear lens on the environmental hazards and damage that play a role in compromising the health of all of our bodies, along with the planet. 

BRCA mutation 

Jolie has the BRCA1 gene mutation. This mutation is extremely rare. It most often is found in Ashkenazi Jews. Genetic mutations such as this make up about five to ten percent of breast cancers. There is harm in not recognising the true rarity of this mutation because breast cancer is not a uniformly genetically inherited disease. And even for those of us with the BRCA1 mutation, and both of us - including us, mother and daughter - with a BRCA mutation, the mutation is a pre-disposition that greatly increases risk, but does not completely determine the disease. Triggers are often needed to activate the disease - and these are largely environmental. You can have the BRCA mutation and not get breast cancer. And, most importantly, youcan not have the BRCA mutation and still get breast cancer. 

We are not biological/genetic determinists nor environmental determinists, because neither can be fully understood as cancer risk in isolation from each other. 

Breast cancer is complex and it is "man-made" (See Zillah's discussion of this in her Man-Made Breast Cancers, 2001). Nothing about it is neutral or singular. There are multiple kinds of breast cancers and many lenses - social, cultural, medical, demographic - through which to define and classify these types. In such a plural disease, there are many directives that can make sense. The breast is already culturally and psychically filled with meanings. Culture and its practices are always in place and define treatment protocols - detection and treatment are never merely scientific. 

Many of the dominant and popularised discourses of breast cancer parade themselves as scientific and dis-inform as much as they inform, and create false closure and dichotomies when openness and complexity is needed. Much caution is needed in these discussions to avoid unnecessary melodrama, and honest complexity is more helpful to sort out both one's fear and one's choices. 

I have lost two sisters at a very young age to breast and ovarian cancer and have suffered the pain and agony of these diseases myself. And yet, Sarah and I think that breast cancer suffers from too much exceptionalism as a disease. More than one woman dies every minute across the globe from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Poverty prevents most of the globe's women from having access to cancer screening and the treatment options needed. 

You are not born with breast cancer - so there needs to be a focus on the environments that trigger and enable it to grow and spread. Breast tissue appears to be more vulnerable to damage from carcinogens, pesticides, radiation, biopsy needles and so on. There is some evidence that breasts may be more susceptible to carcinogens than other parts of the body. 

Individual detection is important. Individual options are key. But more important than either of these is a determination to focus on the environmental and changeable determinants of cancer. Access to detection and to treatments also must be put more fully on the agenda. This demands a politics that addresses poverty, the drug industry, health insurance, and more. 

Breast cancer, rather than seeing it as simply an individual problem with an individual solution - which it is - also needs to imagine the political/biological problem created by the food and tobacco industry, the militarised and corporatist complex and industrial polluters. Use the breast as an interior site for the exterior globe and its coming environmental destruction. 

What of the women in Congo and Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer the destruction of their environments in war? Without medical care their bodies are endangered to everything, including breast cancer. Here in the US, women without health insurance have little chance at preventive or diagnostic care, let alone a $3,000-test for the BRCA gene. The cost of reconstructive surgery is also often well out of reach. 

Aftermath of mastectomy 

Let us also be reminded that women can choose widely about how they deal with the aftermath of mastectomy. I am remembering the intrepid black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde who, after her mastectomy in 1978, bravely rejected the use of a breast prosthesis (that came in only white flesh colour at the time). She thought that wearing a prosthesis was a form of lying, of covering up the trauma of breast cancer. As she wrote in The Cancer Journals, she would be a militant one-breasted woman rather than practice what felt like self-deceit. She wanted breast cancer to remain visible. Of course, lumpectomy has sometimes changed the issue of (in)visibility. 

I have had a double mastectomy and reconstructed my chest and cleavage with my own muscle rather than through reconstructive surgery. Two of my closest friends have done the same. Sarah, who has annual MRI breast screenings at 28 years old, continues to hope for new breakthroughs both in terms of disease prevention and treatment, and reconstruction. There are too few choices for all breast cancer patients, and yet also many personal narratives to be built and listened to. 

And what of public health? There remain bigger issues in breast cancer and public health than ensuring access to testing for the BRCA1 mutation. Other interventions - access to screenings, ensuring cleanerenvironments, establishing health care networks - will potentially save more lives than BRCA testing. So let us think bigger than the breast. Think about a world when corporations make money by preventing disease instead of screening for them. This means changing the medical and pharmaceutical industries of and for profit. This means protecting all our environments from harm. 

Let us really get serious about preventing breast cancer. This means ending industrial farming with its insecticides and herbicides. This means addressing and redressing climate change and global warming. This means no fracking for natural gas and contaminating water supplies.  

Dream and hope for vaccinations for all everywhere; mosquito netting wherever needed, health screenings from mammograms to pap smears free of charge. Treatments will be available to all who need them. Healthy bodies will be a human right. Maybe in this world we will no longer need either pink or red ribbons. 

We have travelled from Jolie's breast cancer to the health of the globe. Fellow friends and activists Eve Ensler and Sandra Steingraber make similar cancer journeys, but from different body parts. Meanwhile, Sarah and I with our BRCA1 mutations remain determined to de-essentialise breast cancer and work towards a radically improved public health.