By Sharon Davies, Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute,

“. . . the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.”  --W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk



The nation’s focus on the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in  Ferguson, Missouri confers yet another opportunity for deeper racial understanding, but like other (too many other) teachable moments arising from the tragic loss of young Black life, the opportunity is fleeting and frail.  To make the most of it, the nation will need to embrace decades of research about how unconscious biases continue to shape how Black males are perceived in public, and impede their access to opportunity and even threaten their lives.

The African American community has a deep and painful understanding of the negative assumptions about Black people--particularly Black males—that can distort their encounters with strangers.   The expression of these assumptions has changed over time, but honest reflection about the trail of deaths of unarmed young Black men counsels us that harmful stereotypes continue to corrupt these interactions with grievous consequences.  In earlier decades, Black Americans were openly warned about the consequences of breaking the unwritten discriminatory rules that governed their daily lives.  Not infrequently these warnings came from members of police forces themselves-- “Don’t let the sun go down on you here, boy.”—through unwarranted stops, arrests, threats, beatings, and worse.

Today, we have a broadened acceptance that the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees demand better treatment of African Americans and a more elevated racial discourse.  This is real racial progress.  It is why when an NBA team owner is taped warning his mistress not to bring Black men to his team’s games, the nation has no trouble denouncing him.  But it would be a grave disservice to ourselves and the nation we aspire to be to extrapolate from that consensus that chance encounters between Black males and others are governed by fair treatment and mutual respect.  Unconscious bias research shows that Black men and boys are quickly, automatically and routinely linked in the human mind with violence, crime, aggression and danger.  Neurologists have documented that the amygdala, the part of the brain that registers threats and fears, is activated in the same way when observing images of unfamiliar Black faces as when observing images of snakes and spiders.  The result of millions of on-line takers of the “Implicit Association Test” designed by Harvard researchers show that the vast majority of test takers are able to link positive words and attributes more quickly with Whites than with Blacks, and to link negative words and attributes more quickly with Blacks than with Whites.  This extensive IAT research has uncovered a pro-White/anti-Black bias in most Americans regardless of their racial group.  “Shooter Studies” revealed that police participants in a video game simulation who were instructed to “shoot” individuals who wielded a threatening object (gun or other weapon) but to refrain from shooting individuals holding innocuous objects (cell phone, wallet, etc.), were found to mistakenly shoot more unarmed Black targets than unarmed White targets, and to fail to shoot more armed White targets than armed Black targets.

The implications of unconscious bias research are never graver than when thinking about the quickly unfolding interactions that occur each day between Black males and the police, such as that between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown in Ferguson last week.  Researchers are exploring ways to build new, better cognitive associations that align more closely with our desire to view and treat others fairly irrespective of race.  To get there will demand many things, including: a willingness to face our implicit biases with honesty and self-reflection, and a resolve to diversify our spaces of consequence—our workplaces, schools and neighborhoods—so that through increased meaningful contact with each other, stereotypes can give way to deeper understanding and mutual regard.  Black Americans know this and are raising their voices with calls for change.  The appropriate response from our police is transparent accountability, not military tanks, and the hoped for response from our fellow citizens is one of solidarity and a singularity of purpose to get to that better us.



Executive Director, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity, John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Professor of Law, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University. Professor Davies was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and a Notes and Comments Editor of the Columbia Law Review while in law school at Columbia University. After graduation she worked for Steptoe and Johnson in Washington, D.C. and Lord, Day & Lord Barrett Smith in New York City. Professor Davies served for five years as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Criminal Division of the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. She joined the law faculty at Ohio State University in 1995, was awarded tenure in 1999, promoted to Full Professor in 2002, and awarded a named professorship in 2003. Professor Davies teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure (Police Practices), Race and the Criminal Law, Civil Rights Law, and Evidence. Professor Davies’ primary research focus is in the area of criminal justice and race. Her articles and other writings have been published in some of the nation’s leading law journals including the Michigan Law Review, the Duke Law Journal, the Southern California Law Review, the Columbia Law Review, and Law and Contemporary Problems. In 2010, Oxford University Press published Davies’s narrative nonfiction account of a 1921 murder trial in Birmingham, Alabama, titled Rising Road, A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America, for which the Mayor of Birmingham awarded her a “Key to the City.”


By Gyasi Ross,

A few months ago—right up until Election Day—many of our people messaged and pontificated like crazy to point out that there are serious and profound differences between the two political parties. This past election was presented as the ultimate Pepsi Challenge©; in a blind-folded taste test, Native people chose Barack Obama and Democrats 2 to 1!! 

A few years ago, I was one of those people—I worked on the President’s campaign and honestly thought that we were entering a new generation of progressive politics, where Democrats moved back to respecting our people and the Earth.  But at that time, I didn’t get the punchline of the Pepsi Challenge, the fine print that we never hear on the commercials:

“Whichever you choose will still kill you.”

That is, whichever choice you make—Pepsi or Coke—both are horrible choices.  YES, one might taste better to you—you dig the spiciness of Coke or prefer to catch the wave of Pepsi.  Still, when you finish that refreshing can of pop, you’ve just ingested exactly the same high fructose corn syrup, brominated vegetable oils.  Both brands will kill your teeth, makes you fat, causxe erectile dysfunction, etc etc…No matter which one you choose, both Coke AND Pepsi do that.  Therefore, while one might be nominally better, they both kill you. 

And just like pop kills Native people disproportionately, this Keystone XL pipeline will disproportionately affect Native sacred sites, unmarked Native grave sites, our aboriginal homelands. 

We’re seeing that same scenario play out in politics with the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The party that issupposed to bepro-environment, the Democrats, are working hand-in-hand with the party thatunabashedly loves scorching the Earth, the Republicans, to absolutely kill any possibility of yours and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren having a quality of life that even remotely approaches ours.

Make no mistake, our grandchildren are screwed if this thing goes through.  The Keystone XL pipeline and our dependence upon fossil fuels generally will ensure that.  ThinkSoylent Green. ThinkChildren of Men.  ThinkPlanet of the Apes, except with no talking apes (I don’t think). As we speak, the supposedlydifferentDemocrats and Republicans areconspiring together to kill the Earth, trample over Native burial grounds and sacred sites. In fairness, President Obama has noted that the Keystone XL pipeline is not a major job creator, and perhaps that will be a basis for rejecting this especially since some68% of his voters disapprove of this project.

I hope so. 

Still, as noted previously, the President effectively gave himself cover when the State Department rubber-stamped the environmental impact statement and said the pipeline would have "no significant impact to the environment,"

Pepsi and Coke will both kill us—there really is no choice.  Instead, we need to drink water, a radical choice, in order to live.  Similarly, we need to start earnestly looking for a radical option to the political parties that are killing us—the Green Party, Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke, help us please!! Funny, the things that get characterized as “radical” are the ones that will keep us alive. 

We fell for the political Pepsi Challenge—God help us all.  God help our kids, Native and non-Native, even more—they’re gonna need it. 

Contact your Senator --the information is here.  Tell them “no.”

By Christy Rogers, Director of Outreach, The Kirwan Instittute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity,


Bloomberg Businessweek recently published an issue titled “The Great American Housing Rebound.” Their cover art choice was a drawing of an American family, sitting in four separate rooms of a house, scooping, counting, and brandishing fistfuls of cash. There is a lamp, a cat, and a dog in the house, but otherwise, it’s mostly a rising tide of cash.

The attitude of the drawing is deeply scornful. Their image of us is grasping, greedy objects of ridicule. This is what the financial media evidently thinks of American families.

I’ll bet most Americans, when they think of home, don’t say, “What I like best is sitting by myself in a room, awash in cash, fanning myself with my money.”

“I like feeding my dog a bowl of money, while I listen to music.”

“I like swimming the breaststroke through my room of money, smiling like I just saw the ice cream truck.”

“I like brandishing my money at passers-by, with one eye popping out!”

If you looked at that picture and thought, “They’re not talking about me,” then think again.

“I worked hard to buy a modest house,” you say. “It didn’t even cost me $100,000.”

Rich people are not the targets of the subprime loan industry. The median higher-priced mortgage loan in 2011 was for $81,000, which means that half of the non-prime loans issued in 2011 ranged from $47,000 – 142,000.

If you make less, you pay more.

If you make more, you pay less.

Rich folks are considered less of a risk.

Really? Bernie Madoff? Not risky?

The London Whale? It seems to me like losing six billion dollars on “ill-fated trading” did more damage than a $47,000 home loan ever could.

The former chair and CEO of Citibank, Walter Wriston, once said, “Money goes where it is wanted and stays where it is well treated.”


A handful of folks are super rich, and their worldview of the rest of us is on full display in this cover.

If you say, “this isn’t me…we lost money on our house,” well, duh.

The cover’s implication that American families got rich from subprime shenanigans is perverse. The only people who truly made the fistfuls of cash depicted on the cover were largely hedge fund managers. The most recent estimate of household wealth losses due to the old mortgage industry is seven trillion dollars.  Yes, trillion, with a capital “T.”

If you say, “I didn’t cause the crisis — the guy shaking his fist full of money at me with his eye popping out, he caused the crisis; that kid feeding his dog a bowl full of money – he caused the crisis,” now we’re getting to something interesting: the stories we tell ourselves about the origin of the crisis. Some folks say their neighbors.

Other folks say financial engineering gone wrong.

I have an opinion on this, and it’s an exhaustive one.

But the Bloomberg Businessweek cover convinced me that the stories we tell ourselves is what’s important. Stories work.

This illustration says American families are greedy, selfish, isolated derelicts.  Is this the story that we want to tell ourselves — about ourselves, our country, and our values? This is what we aspire to tell the world? That average American families are the laughable, stupid (“what could go wrong?”) drivers of billion-dollar financial institutions’ behavior? That we are, in our isolation and greed, awful people?

This story does not say that we care about each other. This story does not say that our country is proud that we welcome people from around the world who want to build themselves and their families a better life.  It doesn’t say that we’ve tried for decades to fight hunger, violence, illiteracy, homelessness, addiction, isolation, and fear.  This story does not say that young people today still aspire to owning their own homes, and that they’re desperately trying to figure out to make that happen, given the student loan debt they’re in.  This story does not note that we are currently having essential conversations about new mortgage rules, child safety and well-being, and marriage equality. This story does not say that we care so much about each other that we donate and volunteer in truly staggering amounts.

Bloomberg Businessweek not only thought that their cover art told a credible story, but that it was necessary to encourage other business and financial leaders to echo this version of ourselves, this story of us.

That’s not a story I’m signing on to, and I hope you don’t either.


By Stephen Menendian, Assistant Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society,

A series of high-profile tragedies has raised new concerns over the violent potential of assault weapons and launched a national conversation about the availability of these guns and the need for background checks.  Some gun-rights advocates now complain that these reasonable measures are nothing less than an attempt to “disarm” the American public.  Can a reasonable person explain how prohibiting or regulating military-grade weaponry is an attempt to “disarm” the American people?  That is tantamount to saying that a ban on foie gras is an attempt to starve the American people.   Inevitably, the Second Amendment is raised in defense of these weapons and these practices.

When I was in law school the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was not a topic of interest.  Unlike the First or Fourteenth Amendments no courses were offered on it.  Nor was it even an area of study in my Constitutional law class.  In fact, my thirteen hundred page Constitutional law textbook refers to the Second Amendment once: the appendix containing the text of the Constitution itself.   The reason for this conspicuous omission is simple.  Until very recently there was very little case law on the Second Amendment, and what little there was had long been settled doctrine.

It occurred to me to ask what the Second Amendment actually says and what it means.   As all good lawyers should, I began with the text:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Forgive the pun, but this sentence blew me away.   While this Amendment is popularly known for its protection of gun rights, the text of the sentence is surprisingly ambiguous.  Not only are the words vague and imprecise, but the punctuation is confusing and ungrammatical, at least in terms of modern usage.  There appears to be at least one extraneous comma and possibly two.   The punctuation obscures rather than clarifies its meaning.

The logic of the sentence, however, is clear.   The sentence has the form of an argument in propositional logic, with the first part constituting the premise, and the second part constituting the conclusion.   The first part logically supports the right to bear arms.   Given this relation, it is seems textually obvious that the right to bear arms is, as written, related to the necessity of a well-regulated Militia.

It seems that conservative jurists and gun-rights advocates prefer to read the two parts of the Amendment separately, as if there was no relation or only an incidental between the two.   A natural reading of the sentence stands against such claims.   The two parts of the sentence are tethered through propositional logic.

As a reaction to ‘penumbras’ and the emergence of Constitutional rights not found in the text of that document, textualism has become a popular tool of conservative jurists.  Textualism is used, for example, to attack abortion rights.  Yet, as the Second Amendment illustrates, textualism does not always yield conservative results.    Applying the tenets of textualism, it difficult to conclude that the Second Amendment provides the broad individual right that many conservative jurists and gun-rights advocates now claim.

First, if the key tenet of textualism is to use the text to discern meaning, then the ambiguity in the term “right to bear arms” and the scope of that right should be ascertained by reference to any text which might illuminate its meaning.   The first part of the sentence would and could serve that role, given its syntactical and logical relation.

Second, if another tenet of textualism is to read Constitutional text narrowly, then the scope of the “right to bear arms” should be read narrowly to have the most limited meaning.  For example, even if the second part of the sentence guarantees an individual right to bear arms rather than a right associated with militias, the text does not suggest an unlimited individual right.  A narrow reading of the text might well permit assault weapon prohibitions or regulations on some forms of gun ownership.  After all, the right to bear arms does not necessarily imply the right to bear all arms.  Some or even a few arms might satisfy a narrow reading of the text.

The Supreme Court enjoys the ultimate authority to interpret the Constitution.   In two recent decisions, the Court has read the parts of the Amendment separately, concluding that the first part of the sentence is prefatory (which I think is hypocritical for an avowed textualist to conclude).  The Court also concluded that the right to bear arms is an individual right.  It has not yet addressed the full contours of that right, although Justice Scalia’s opinion in Heller asserts that the right is “not unlimited” and suggested, in dicta, that “weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned.”  It remains to be seen whether the Court will in fact uphold such a ban, and whether future iterations of the Court will interpret the Amendment differently.  But what is clear is that progressive jurists have a strong textual Constitutional argument for reasonable gun-control measures.

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What The Heck Are All These Indians Acting All Indian About, Ey?

By Gyasi Ross, Attorney/Activist/Author, Blackfeet Nation, 

Lately, Native people have taken to the streets malls in demonstrations of Public Indian-ness (“PI”) that surpasses the sheer volume of activism of even Alcatraz and the Longest Walk. There’s a heapum big amount of PI going on right now! Many people, non-Native and Native alike, are wondering what the heck is going with their local Native population and how this so-called #IdleNoMore Movement managed to get the usually muffled Natives restless enough to be Indian in public. I mean, like Chris Rock said, he hasn’t ever even met two Indians at the same time. He’s seen “polar bears riding a tricycle” but he’s “never seen an Indian family just chillin’ out at Red Lobster.” 

Yet, now people can’t seem to get away from us. 

And that’s cool—but isn’t that what pow-wows and November is for? People (non-Native and Native alike) can only take so much PI, right? Is that what the #IdleNoMore Movement is—an extended Native American Heritage Month, where non-Natives have to act like they’re fascinated by Native culture?

In a word, no. It is much more. Please consider this a fairly exhaustive explanation of the #IdleNoMore Movement, what it is not and what it is. If for some reason you cannot read the next 1000 or so brilliant words, I can be summed up thusly: the #IdleNoMore Movement is not a new movement. Instead, it is the latest incarnation of the sustained Indigenous Resistance to the rape, pillage and exploitation of this continent and its women that has existed since 1492. It is not the Occupy Movement, although there are some similarities. It is not only about Canada and it isnot only about Native people. Finally, and probably most importantly, it (and we) are not going away anytime soon. So get used to it (and us).   

#IDLENOMORE Movement: What it is about

"The ground on which we stand is sacred ground. It is the blood of our ancestors."

Chief Plenty Coups, Apsaalooke

“…you have come here; you are taking my land from me; you are killing off our game, so it is hard for us to live.”

Tasunke Witko (Crazy Horse), Oglala Lakota

 As the above quotes display, the Indigenous Resistance to the raping and pillaging of the Earth is not new. Likewise, Indigenous peoples’ efforts to protect the mothers of our Nations—the women—are not new either. The #IdleNoMore Movement is simply the latest chapter in that resistance. 

It’s About: PROTECTING THE EARTH.  First and foremost, the #IdleNoMore Movement is about protecting the Earth for all people from the carnivorous and capitalistic spirit that wants to exploit and extract every last bit of resources from the land. Therefore, anybody that cares about this Earth should be interested in the #IdleNoMore Movement. The engineers were Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon. It was a response to Canada’s Bill C-45, which overhauled the Navigable Waters Protection Act and removed protections for many waters that go through First Nations. Changing the Act literally moves the emphasis of the protection—it morphs from protecting the waterways to protecting the navigation on those waterways. Now, instead of 30-some thousand lakes being protected under the old Act, only 97 lakes will be protected. As Canadian Parliament Member Kirsty Duncan eloquently states, “The days when Canadians take an endless abundance of fresh water for granted are numbered…”

These mobilized Native people wanted to ensure that children two, three and twelve generations from now would have clean water. The children that will benefit from the Native mobilization are not just Native children it’s for all children. Lakes and rivers tend to be either clean or dirty for Native and non-Native children alike. 

It’s not a Native thing or a white thing, it’s an Indigenous worldview thing. It’s a “protect the Earth” thing. For those transfixed on race, you’re missing the point. The #IdleNoMore Movement simply wants kids of allcolors and ethnicities to have clean drinking water. It’s also not a “Canada” or “United States” thing. Multinational corporations do not care about borders and neither should we. Despite legislation to intended to prevent pollution, corporation pollute freely with almost complete impunity and our children are the ones that suffer. We likewise should not care about borders—we are mobilizing on both sides because we understand that we do affects one another. 

We will continue to aggressively organize and be #IdleNoMore about the attempts to destroy our sacred lands, whether its Keystone XL Pipeline or Tar Sands Mining in Canada. We will be #IdleNoMore on SSA Marine’s attempts to create a deep-water shipping terminal for water and air poisoning dirty coal in the Lummi waters near Pugent Sound, WA or any disrespect to our lands. 

We’re not going anywhere, we’re not going to be silent, we’re #IdleNoMore !

It’s About: PROTECTING WOMEN.  Similar to the sustained, capitalistic effort to exploit and pillage the Earth, the carnivorous, capitalistic nature has also exploited and abused women since the founding of both America & Canada. That is something else that Indigenous people have vowed to be #IdleNoMore. America’s first marriage and property laws, or ‘coverture,’ stipulated that married women did not have separate legal existences from their husbands. Indeed, a married woman was a dependent and could not generally own her own property or control her own earnings.  “…once she married she became a legal nonentity. Her husband not only assumed her legal privileges and duties but certain rights to her property as well.” Women, Family, and Community in Colonial America: Two Perspectives, Linda E. Speth, Alison Duncan Hirsch, Pg. 8. 

And that was for privileged white women. Obviously Native women, Black women and any women of any other color that were unfortunate enough to live in the United States, it was much worse.

That pattern of condescension and indeed hatred for women has continued until the present. From the case Bradley v. State which affirmed a man’s “right” to “moderately” beat his wife to the Indian Health Service’s pattern of forced tubal ligations of Native women, the United States has shown a consistent trajectory of hatred and destruction for Native women. 

Congress’s recent failure to pass the Violence Against Women Act—specifically because Republicans did not want tribal law enforcement to be able to prosecute non-Native sexual deviants—is a continuation of that exploitation of our  women.  Similar to the “clean water” discussion, above, the protections afforded by the Violence Against Women Act protected women of all colors—not just Native women.  Conversely, Congress’s failure to act on the Violence Against Women Act hurts allwomen. Strong Native women leaders like Deborah Parker and others are advocating for safety and reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act for all women, not just a few. 

It’s not a Native thing. 

It’s a “NO women, of ANY color, should have to worry about getting raped” thing. 

It’s a “NO women, of ANY color, should get beaten and battered” thing. 

Those who are transfixed by race, again, are missing the point.  

And we will continue to organize and be #IdleNoMore about this attack on the women within our communities, as well as all communities. That is not new and it’s also not just about Native people. 

We’re not going anywhere, we’re not going to be silent, we’re #IdleNoMore !

It’s Not an OCCUPY MOVEMENT.  The Occupy Movement was powerful and necessary—yet the foundation was frankly not strong enough to sustain.  Occupy was about a slowed-down economy and a lot of folks that were, unfortunately, out of work from that slow down. As the economy began to improve in 2012 and also, significantly, the weather got colder, the Occupy Movement got noticeably weaker.  Now, it is a hollow shell of itself, with many of the middle-class supporters returning to middle-class jobs.

The Primary Reason #IdleNoMore is Not Occupy—Native economies are NOT getting any better. Many of our communities, there is 70% PLUS unemployment—more than a simple “boom and bust” economic upturn can fix. There are structural problems that will prevent a quick-fix, and therefore most Indigenous #IdleNoMore will not have an economic incentive to stop their activism.

The Second Reason #IdleNoMore is Not Occupy—We’re Native… Hello? You’re not going to scare us off with the cold weather.  My friends have literally texted me pictures of sisters and brothers in Alberta and Saskatchewan standing outside with #IdleNoMore signs in -35 degree weather; I have spoken at events where it is freezing and brothers and sisters are outside in t-shirts. 

If we’re mobilizing 2,000, 2,500 people at an event in the freezing cold in January, just imagine how that number is going to multiply when it’s 65, 70 degrees outside.

The Final Reason #IdleNoMore is Not Occupy—Occupy was snapshot response to a 3 year economic downturn.  #IdleNoMore is a continuedresponse to more than 500 years of destroying the Earth and exploiting women. Our foundation literally has centuries on which our resistance is built. 

Finally, it’s not Occupy because we are surrounding our advocacy around the specific substantive areas that were discussed earlier—protecting the environment and protecting Native women via the Violence Against Women Act. Yes, like Occupy, this is grassroots—the people are fluid and definitely can change. Indeed, the specific subjects that we choose to organize around certainly could change in the future—whatever we need to be #IdleNoMore about. Still, for now fighting against gratuitous exploitation of our lands and fighting against violence against women are areas where good organization can make a difference.


This has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. Native people did begin this movement—energized by Chief Spence’s sacrifice and sparked by the Four Founders’ initiative.  Yet, this is anybody’s movement that wants to stand up for the Earth and women and also make a positive change in the community. That means that non-Natives are certainly welcome. We neednon-Natives involved to save this Earth, to give our children and grandchildren the same quality of life that we have enjoyed. It’s about clean water. It’s about clean air. It’s about safety for all women. It’s about making a positive change in our communities. Critics seem to be so caught up on race; yet even racists want their children to have clean water just like non-racists.  Right?  Well, we want racists (and NON-racists, of course) to have kids with clean water too. Oh, and we don’t want them to get raped or beaten either. 

Not too unreasonable, is it?

Here’s a little music and video to close this piece. It’s a project that we (Rock Paper Jet Productions, LLC) did with rapper and producer Brother Ali. Coincidentally, it doesn’t mention race—it mentions wanting to make the world slightly better. And when it comes down to it, that all that the #IdleNoMore Movement is about. 

“I want to pass this planet to my son
A little better than it was when they handed it to me…”


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By Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster,

Today marks 150 years since President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which would liberate more than 3 million black slaves in the United States. In the Proclamation, he wrote “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” In freeing slaves in the rebelling states, Lincoln invoked moral authority that went beyond American laws to divine authority. To invoke God was no small matter—at that point in history, religious leaders (both Christians and Jews) fell on both sides of the debates over slavery. The Bible permits slavery—and also uses the Jewish experience of slavery as the basis for justice and compassion for the most marginalized members of society. By claiming divine authority for freeing the slaves as an “act of justice,” Lincoln left no doubt about what he felt was the correct interpretation of biblical intention.

While legal slavery not longer exists in the United States, forced labor is still a fact of life. Cases of human trafficking have been found in cities across the United States, both among migrant workers and American citizens, in industries ranging from domestic labor to farm work to forced sex work. Workers are held through debt to their employers, coercion and fraud, and threats of violence to themselves or their loved ones. Many of the people I meet assume that slavery is a crime committed by others, but the reality is that forced labor is found in the supply chains of products we buy every day (such as tomatoes, cotton, or chocolate), making each of us complicit in the system. Jewish tradition holds the buyers of goods known to be stolen to be as culpable as the thieves, since the buyers provided a market for the thieves, and today that translates into our own personal responsibility for the slave-made goods we buy. After all, someone must be paying a price for the cheap costs of every day goods—but we choose to swipe our credit cards and not ask any questions.

It should not be this way. For the Jewish community, the Jewish journey to freedom from slavery—our story of emancipation that we tell every year at Passover—is the foundation of Jewish empathy for the plight of those in the most vulnerable situations. We cannot be silent in a world where 21-27 million people find themselves held in forced labor, more than any other point in human history.

One successful campaign to end forced labor is right in our own backyards in Florida, where the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has helped law enforcement prosecute seven human trafficking cases, involving over 1,000 workers, since 1997. Slavery in the Florida tomato industry is the extreme end of a violence-filled, exploitative workplace. Indeed, one federal prosecutor called Florida’s agricultural sector “ground zero” for human trafficking in the United States. The CIW’s groundbreaking campaign, initiated and organized by the farmworkers themselves, is to end the conditions that create slavery, targeting growers to institute a human rights code of conduct in the fields (which includes zero tolerance for forced labor) and targeting the corporate buyers of tomatoes to only buy from growers with a code of conduct and to pay a higher wage directly for workers. The CIW is making a difference, and can serve as a model for bringing together workers, corporations, and consumers to act for justice.

Right now, the Jewish community is in the midst of the High Holiday season, where we repent for our actions in the past year and commit to acting more righteously and compassionately in the year ahead. Our tradition teaches that repentance, prayer, and acts of justice can affect our fates. When we commit to justice, we commit to breaking the cruelty that exists within the world, transforming it into compassion. But true justice can be hard to achieve, especially on an issue like slavery and trafficking, where we often feel powerless.

We are not powerless. We can make a difference. In the fight against slavery, the focus is often on education and awareness, but this is not enough. We must raise our voices and let our politicians know that the United States must recommit to putting resources into ending trafficking. On October 11, 2011, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) expired in Congress.

The TVPRA is the cornerstone of all U.S. efforts to combat modern-day slavery, including protecting survivors, and prosecuting traffickers. Every few years the law needs to be reauthorized, allowing innovations and improvements to be added to the original law.

Why is this law so critical? Here is just one example: in 2010, a woman had been enslaved for 18 years as a domestic servant in Saudi Arabia where she endured beatings and sexual abuse. Her traffickers brought her with them on vacation to the United States on a B-2 visa. When she received this visa, the U.S. consulate provided her with a pamphlet about human trafficking with a number to call for help. She was freed three days after she arrived in Los Angeles because she called the number in the pamphlet and was connected to a local service provider, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). This pamphlet was the direct result of the TVPRA.

The failure of Congress to reauthorize the TVPRA threatens U.S. global leadership in the fight against modern-day slavery and jeopardizes the progress made over the last decade. There is still a chance that the Senate will take up the TVPRA before this session of Congress ends. Visit and find out how to take action. Take 30 seconds to call your Senator and ask them to support the TVPRA.

As we celebrate 150 years of Lincoln’s act of justice, we should each commit to one of our own to fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster is Director of North American Programs for Rabbis for Human Rights-North America.


By Gyasi Ross author of Don’t Know Much About Indians,

An Indian Tribe—an autonomous Nation comprised of Natives that has existed on this continent since time immemorial—deferring to a political party is like a mighty glacier conforming to the howling wind.  It simply should not happen.  Instead, that mountain has been there since the formation of the earth cannot be shaped by the wind that comes and goes and blows in different directions depending on the day.  The wind goes around it; indeed, the wind, as loud as it may howl, conforms to the mountain.

The two major political parties come and go and blow in different directions depending upon the season; they are fickle, and will sell their mother to stay in power.  Native Nations are the mountain that has been here since before the formation of this infant Nation and will continue to be here after this Nation collapses due to excess, consumerism and bad karma.

It is therefore backwards for Native Nations to bend to the fickle will of political parties.

To wit, the Republican Party has changed personalities umpteen times.  Keep in mind, at one time they were the party of Lincoln, (arguably) freeing the slaves and then moving to Nixon, the President that passed extremely positive policies for Tribes and honored treaties to now…if there was a movie about the Republican Party today, it would be Party of Abraham Lincoln, Gay, Woman and Minority Hunter.  With very few exceptions, it would be very hard for a Native Nation to justify supporting a Republican candidate because most of the visible and vocal Republican leaders are freaking hateful rednecks and would take away America’s contractual obligations with Tribes (oftentimes called “treaties”).  That’s not honorable, and Republicans simply have not been honorable in their dealings with Tribes (or anybody other than rich white men) for quite some time.

But Republicans are not alone in their constantly changing personalities.

Democrats have changed personalities too—moving from the progressive party of FDR’s New Deal to racist Dixiecrats to Johnson’s Great Society to Clinton’s stripping away of welfare for impoverished, single moms (and NAFTA, which took away working class jobs for Americans).  And now, we’re back to something that sorta resembles FDR Lite.  Obama has put the “Emo” back in “Democrat”—he actually has some feeling and tries to help real people.   Thank God—it’s about time Democrats stopped trying to out-Republican the Republicans.

But that doesn’t mean that Democrats won’t switch again next year when it becomes politically expedient to do so.

Therefore, Tribes must be more nuanced and demanding when it comes to supporting political candidates.  We cannot participate in elementary school politics anymore wherein we either sit down at the Republican’s lunch table or the Democrat’s lunch table.  We’re too cool for that—we don’t need their tables.  Sovereignty demands that we play grown up politics and recognize the Native Vote’s influence—whether giving money or turning out voters—and stop giving any of these fickle political parties’ unconditional support.  With very few exceptions (like Paulette Jordan, Jon Tester and Barack Obama—websites below), they are not our friends; they surely wouldn’t do the same for us.  Neither party.

We’ve got to demand results.

P.S. If you can, please donate to the below campaigns.  These folks are undoubtedly friends to Tribes.  I ask this as a personal favor—even five bucks.  Especially Paulette Jordan—for those of you that do not know, Paulette is a powerful and dynamic Coeur d'Alene sister running for Idaho’s House of Representatives.  She is a traditional woman, a great mom, and a heckuva basketball player.


Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also belongs to the Suquamish Nation. He wrote a book called Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways) which you can get at He is also co-authoring a new book with Robert Chanate coming out in the Summer of 2012 appropriately called The Thing About Skins, and the website and publishing company for that handy-dandy book is (coming soon). He also semi-does the twitter thing at

By Liz Ryan Murray, National People's Action, This post is part of an ongoing series based on the National Fair Housing Alliance report, "The Banks Are Back, Our Neighborhoods Are Not," that examines ongoing discrimination in the marketing and maintenance of bank-owned foreclosed properties. This series is also posted on's blog Rooflines. -- What a difference a generation makes. National People’s Action got its start in the 1970’s working against bank redlining—the practice of banks systematically starving low-income and communities of color by denying credit. NPA found success with the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act, which made redlining illegal and in countless communities around the country, neighborhood groups and banks entered into CRA agreements to foster good, safe investment in community development and housing. By the 1990’s, instead of suffering the credit drought of redlining, communities of color were inundated with a toxic flood of predatory sub-prime credit.  Lenders systematically steered borrowers of color into high cost loans regardless of their income or credit profile.  Wall Street and the banking industry realized, why ignore communities of color when you can suck them dry? After this strategy blew up in the face of Wall Street—and all of us—with the economic collapse, we were promised that Wall Street had learned its lesson. No more would it systematically strip communities of wealth, which it turns out destabilizes the whole economy.  Unfortunately, these promises have turned out to be hollow. Recent research reported from the National Fair Housing Alliance shows that even as we struggle to bring our economy back, Wall Street and the banks are continuing their pattern of abuse by failing to maintain and market their real estate owned properties in communities of color as compared to their treatment of those homes in predominantly white communities. Why is this pattern repeating itself?  The very structure of our economy and financial system functions to reinforce institutional racism and encourage destructive practices.  Our financial system has become so consolidated, so huge and so far removed from the communities it is supposed to serve that the interdependence between the success of families and the success of the mega-banks has completely broken down. Traditionally, a bank took root in a community and its fortunes rose and fell with the fortunes of that community.  It was in a bank’s self-interest to see its community thrive; more family deposits led to more business and mortgage lending; more stability and jobs led to growth in wealth and stability for the community and more profit for the bank.  In the example of the Community Reinvestment Act, once local banks were forced to serve all of the communities around which they were located, they began making good loans in communities of color and low-income communities, they saw an increase in wealth, profit and prosperity.   But this system of interdependence has completely broken down and with disastrous consequences. From 1984 to 2003 the number of banking institutions in the US went from just over 15,000 to fewer than 8,000.  At the same time, the asset size of those institutions went from $3.3 trillion to $9.1 trillion.  Since the financial crisis, the situation has gotten even worse with total the total number of commercial banks numbering approximately 6,500.  And, staggeringly, in 2010, the top 10 banks in the U.S. held a full 50% of national deposits. These mega-banks control the market and, in consequence, control most of the economy but have no tether to the success or failure of individual communities.  Lack of training and experience with financial institutions in some low-income communities and the pernicious stain of overt individual and institutional racism have left many low income communities and communities of color especially vulnerable to financial exploitation and the mega-banks and the Wall Street behemoths have exploited these vulnerabilities.  With no motivation beyond next quarter’s profits, the big bank business model of ‘disposable communities’ just makes good financial sense. But we don’t have to look to the distant past to see the lunacy of this position.   We’re all – with the exception of big bank executives – still deeply feeling the effects of the financial crisis brought on by this madness and communities of color, who suffered first, continue to suffer most.  Beyond the clear immorality of it lies an economic house of cards that is teetering once again.   Reports such as the NFHA REO study, the persistence of bank foreclosure fraud and recent press showing a return to predatory credit prove that the banks are intent on driving us back into the economic ditch – remarkably along the same road. With big bank CEO’s locked away in office towers often thousands of physical miles and millions of psychological miles away from the neighborhoods they’re destroying, the opportunities for direct accountability are few.  This Spring, NPA groups along with dozens of other groups will be bringing, homeowners, farmers, retirees and community membersdirectly to several big bank and other corporate shareholder meetings to directly confront CEO’s.  While these events are a crucial opportunity to shine a light on destructive bank practices and force CEO’s to come face to face with real suffering, once a year is not enough. We need a radical restructuring of our economy. We need economies that operate locally, where profit and wealth that are generated in the community stay in the community. We need banks and business that are rooted physically where they do business and that are accountable to their customers and workers.   In short, we need true community economies. Several exciting experiments are underway across the country that are testing these ideas and succeeding, many in communities of color. The Alliance to Develop Power in Springfield, Mass. began with organizing subsidized housing resident together to purchase their building and now owns several affordable housing developments, cooperatively owned businesses and is in the process of starting their own money services bureau, the first step to their own community bank. PUSH Buffalo has been tackling the issues of environmental stewardship with job creation by training local residents in energy efficient weatherization, using local lots for community gardens and organizing for more community ownership of affordable housing. There are many other examples and thousands, even millions more are needed. No American community is disposable and the time has long since come to allow anyone to treat them as such.  Together, we can reclaim our communities. -- This series is a collaborative effort under the Compact for Home Opportunity/Home4Good campaign and builds on the disparities illiustrated in the National Fair Housing Alliance report, "The Banks Are Back, Our Neighborhoods Are Not." Those disparities are used as an entry point to discussing the issues of REO properties and equal opportunity that surround it. Blog series contributors include Alan Jenkins of the Opportunity Agenda; Jillian Olinger of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University; Debby Goldberg of the National Fair Housing Alliance; Miriam Axel-Lute of the National Housing Institute; Liz Ryan Murray of National People's Action; and Janis Bowdler of the National Council of La Raza.
By Alan Jenkins, Executive Director and Co-Founder, The Opportunity Agenda,
This is the first entry in a series based on the National Fair Housing Alliance report, "The Banks Are Back, Our Neighborhoods Are Not," that examines ongoing discrimination in the marketing and maintenance of bank-owned foreclosed properties. This series is also posted on's blog Rooflines.
Is there a house in your neighborhood that everybody hates to walk past?  You know, the one with broken and boarded up windows, trash left to gather on the lawn, and grass so overgrown it’s becoming a habitat for rodents? If you have a house like that in your community, you know it’s more than just an eyesore. Neglected, vacant houses depress property values throughout the community, and can threaten health and safety. They erode the sense of community and stability that creates vibrant localities, and they hamper economic resiliency. With a national foreclosure crisis still in full swing, such houses are all too common. You might be surprised to learn, though, that if you have problem properties like that in your neighborhood, there’s a good chance your absentee neighbor is a bank.  More shocking still, banks are neglecting houses they own in minority communities even more frequently—much more frequently—than those they hold in white communities. A detailed, undercover investigation unveiled last week by the National Fair Housing Alliance and several regional partners shows not only that banks too frequently fail to maintain foreclosed properties that they own, but that they tend to neglect their properties in communities of color at a much higher rate, with devastating consequences. A large number of the neglected, bank-owned properties have broken or missing doors and windows, inviting vandalism and trespassers.  And many have safety hazards that endanger the public. Those and other defects are significantly more prevalent in bank-owned properties located in communities of color. Another finding is that, on average, the banks are not marketing houses located in communities of color as aggressively to individual homebuyers as they do properties in white neighborhoods. The properties in white neighborhoods are, for example, more likely to have clear and professional “for sale” signs. When banks both poorly maintain and poorly market foreclosed houses, the properties tend to stay vacant longer and to eventually be sold to speculators, rather than to people who would make the houses their home. The discriminatory differences are stark.  In Dayton, Ohio, for example, 60 percent of bank-owned properties in African-American neighborhoods had broken or unsecured doors, compared to only 18 percent in white neighborhoods.  In Atlanta, properties in African-American neighborhoods were almost five times more likely than homes in white neighborhoods to lack a “for sale” sign. And in Dallas, 73 percent of the bank-owned homes in predominantly non-white neighborhoods had trash on their properties, while only 37 percent in white areas did. Neighbors of all races who live near foreclosed, bank-owned properties, the investigation found, are pulling together to keep them presentable—doing maintenance the banks should be doing, like mowing lawns and removing trash.  But in communities of color, neighbors reported seeing home improvement contractors working on those properties at only half the rate seen by neighbors in predominantly white areas. The bank behavior identified by this investigation is unethical, unlawful, and harmful to our economy. It breaches our basic national values of equal opportunity and the common good. It violates the Fair Housing Act of 1968, signed 44 years ago this week in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. And it is holding back our economic recovery by, among other things, depressing home prices and hampering sales. It’s hard to know all the reasons why banks are discriminating in this way. Bias and unfounded stereotypes about minority communities and homes, however, are a likely root cause. The investigators controlled for 39 race-neutral factors like building structure, water damage, and curb appeal, so the different treatment is indisputably about race, and not class or other home or neighborhood characteristics. This investigation should be a wake up call for banks, regulators, local governments, and the neighbors of these bank-owned properties. Among the solutions identified by the National Fair Housing Alliance are anti-discrimination investigations by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other enforcement agencies, making information about bank-owned properties more publicly accessible, and prioritizing buyers who will occupy these properties over speculators who may warehouse them. As Americans struggle together toward a lasting economic recovery, good neighbors are more important than ever.  It’s time to remind America’s banks that this includes them. -- This series is a collaborative effort under the Compact for Home Opportunity/Home4Good campaign and builds on the disparities illiustrated in the National Fair Housing Alliance report, "The Banks Are Back, Our Neighborhoods Are Not." Those disparities are used as an entry point to discussing the issues of REO properties and equal opportunity that surround it. Blog series contributors include Alan Jenkins of the Opportunity AgendaJillian Olinger of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State UniversityDebby Goldberg of the National Fair Housing AllianceMiriam Axel-Lute of the National Housing InstituteLiz Ryan Murray of National People's Action; and Janis Bowdler of the National Council of La Raza.
By Priya Murthy, Policy Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), The last ten years have been needlessly difficult for South Asians living in New York. South Asians, and in particular, Sikhs and Muslims, have faced ten years of profiling, ten years of negative encounters with law enforcement and immigration officers.  These encounters have left deep scars. Here is how one 18-year-old Bangladeshi student in Queens relates his experience of being arrested over a baseless charge. "I felt like I was being threatened more than just being questioned," he said. "I was just always scared." And he was worried that he'd now have an arrest record, which would adversely affect his chances of getting a job. He was also upset that his parents were ashamed by the arrest. This week, a coalition of South Asian organizations is releasing a report, In Our Own Words: Narratives of South Asian New Yorkers Affected by Racial and Religious Profiling. Here you will find other stories of fellow New Yorkers who, like this Bangladeshi student, have suffered from prejudice over the last decade. The encounters South Asians have with law enforcement have made them question how they lead their lives. Should I join my college’s Muslim Students Association? Should I wear my turban or hijab on this flight? Should I call the police about a crime I witnessed? These daily decisions are ones that many might take for granted, but for South Asian, Muslim, Sikh and Arab community members, a particular choice could mean being humiliated in public at the airport, being interrogated by the FBI or immigration authorities, or being worried about going to school. The psychological impact of ten years of ongoing scrutiny and targeting on our community members cannot be understated.  Our collective psyche has been shaped by the experiences of living in post-9/11 America, and future generations of South Asians, Muslims, Sikhs and Arab Americans will be forced to wrangle with questions of identity, history, shame, and our place in America. At the same time, our report also suggests that change can occur, both by government agencies and law enforcement, as well as within our schools and families.  We have a responsibility and the opportunity to create a different future for the next generation of America’s children, regardless of their ethnicity, color, or religious affiliation. We must work to change both policy and public sentiment in our classrooms, workplaces, and community spaces to ensure that children feel safe and wanted, acknowledged and valued.  In today’s post-9/11 world, we cannot aim for any less. Priya Murthy is Policy Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), which is part of a collaborative of seven organizations that recently released a report on profiling in New York City. Read the report here.