Category Archives: Guns

YouTube, Censorship and Nasim Aghdam

People like me are not good for big business, like for animal business, medicine business and for many other businesses.  That’s why they are discriminating and censoring us.

Nasim Najafi Aghdam discussing YouTube

She claimed to have detested it, issuing fiery calls on her social media outlets, and asserting that this creature was demonic in its effort to limit talent, expression and the profits of others.  Nasim Najafi Aghdam of San Diego spoke with a steely confidence that certitude brings, a self-perceived clarity of thought on such topics as veganism, the right to protest and animal rights.

“For me,” she stridently told the San Diego Union-Tribune at a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest in 2009 outside Camp Pendleton, “animal rights equals human rights.”  In Iran, she came to be known as Green Nasim, commanding a certain degree of social media heft.

On Tuesday, that mind of screened clarity manifested itself in a shooting spree at YouTube headquarters.  Three were wounded, with the sole death being Aghdam, who took her life after the bloody spray.  On Wednesday, San Bruno’s police chief Ed Barberini claimed rather laconically that the suspect was expressing her anger at “the policies and practices of YouTube.”

Prior to that, a point confirmed by a Mountain View police representative, Aghdam had been found sleeping in a car on Tuesday morning.  “Our officers made contact with the woman after the licence plate of her vehicle matched that of a missing person out of Southern California.  The woman confirmed her identity to us and answered subsequent questions.”  Nothing, according to the officers conducting the interview, suggested future intentions.

The attack showed no evident discrimination. There were no set agendas against specific employees, nor was it even clear at first instance whether those wounded were, in fact, employees.  What the alleged shooter seemed to see was a ruthless target in the abstract, a brutal tech giant that had betrayed its mission.  Aghdam’s father, Ismail Aghdam, warned police that she might well be paying the technology company a visit, so disgruntled was she.

Her personal website spoke of there being “no equal growth opportunity on YouTube or any other video sharing site”. Growth would only take place “if they want you to.”  That particular point was stimulated by a change in YouTube policies requiring that individual channels have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 “watch hours” over the previous twelve months before qualifying to run advertisements.  One of Aghdam’s channels sported 1,579 subscribers, but in failing to meet the other threshold requirements, the account was demonetised.

Other restrictions were also the subject of Aghdam’s opprobrium, who attempted over time to build up the image of the technology company as an arbitrary censor.  One video she posted received an age restriction. She railed against those “new close-minded YouTube employees [who] got control of my Farsi YouTube last year in 2016 & began filtering my videos to reduce views & suppress & discourage [sic] me from making videos!”  The result of imposing such a limit precluded the video from receiving moneys.

So we return to that same problem: the digital frontier, far from flat in its egalitarian access, is vertical, hierarchical in its hold.  Power only devolved to the mass community of users in an artificial sense, giving that charming impression that the plebs controlled the production and creation of content.

Community standards are always cited, but these are ultimately set and determined by the particular provider, cajoled in parts, reviled in others.  In YouTube’s case, such policies zero in on vulgar language, violence or disturbing imagery, nudity and sexually suggestive content, or videos portraying harmful or dangerous activities.

YouTube, as a provider of content generated by individual users, has found itself in a brutal middle, harried by a range of groups keen to limit or advance particular platforms.  The morally righteous and surveillance-minded take issue with its permissiveness, seeking controls over such content as “hate speech”; other individuals find it unduly controlling, limiting engagement, debate and speech.

Last year, its “restricted mode” setting designed to permit libraries, schools and parents filter out content deemed inappropriate to children invariably screened other sources.  The videos of gay pop duo Tegan and Sara, fell foul of the provision. Vlogger Calum McSwiggan’s video featuring his coming out display to his grandmother also became the object of digital filtering, while Rowan Ellis would suggest a “bias somewhere within that process of equating LGBT+ with ‘not family friendly’.”

YouTube’s initial response contained a steadfast denial. “The intention of Restricted Mode is to filter out mature content for the tiny subset of users who want a more limited experience.  LGBTQ+ videos are available on Restricted Mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be.” Experiments by various users testing this claim suggested otherwise.

It its subsequent and hurried note was the tone of a servant to numerous lords, seeking to placate and improve upon previous erring.  “We recognise that some videos are incorrectly labelled by our automated system and we realise it’s very important to get this right.  We’re working hard to make some improvements.”

These provide cold comforts to those recipients of bullet wounds, and certainly did nothing to calm the disturbed an impassioned Aghdam, self-proclaimed as “the first Persian female vegan bodybuilder.”  But again, where the gun is a logical extension of frustrated rights and social impotence, furious redress has come to be an almost reasonable, if predictable expectation.

Role Of Youth In The Coming Transformation

The eruption of youth protests over gun violence in schools and other issues is another indicator that the 2020s could be a decade of transformation where people demand economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace. Students who are in their teens now will be in their twenties then. They will have experience in how protests can change political culture.

Some view the youth awakening in these protests as reminiscent of youth movements in previous generations, others are less optimistic. We cannot predict the role this generation will play, but throughout the history of mass movements, youth have been a key factor by pushing boundaries and demanding change.

One of the slogans in the actions against gun violence is “adults failed to solve the problem.” The truth is, as many youth are aware, those currently in power have failed on many fronts; e.g., climate change, wealth disparity, racial injustice, never-ending wars and militarism, lack of health care and more. These crises are coming to a head and provide the environment for transformational changes, if we act.

Beware of Democratic Party Co-option

One of the challenges youth, and older, activists face is the Democratic Party. Democrats have a long history of co-opting political movements. They are present in recent mobilizations, such as the Women’s March and March for our Lives, which both centered on voting as the most important action to take.

Big Democratic Party donors, like George and Amal Clooney, provided massive resources to the March for Our Lives. The corporate media covered the students extensively, encouraged attendance at the marches and reported widely on them.

As Bruce Dixon writes:

It’s not hard to see the hand of the Democratic party behind the tens of millions in corporate contributions and free media accorded the March For Our Lives mobilization. 2018 is a midterm election year, and November is only seven months away. The Democrats urgently need some big sticks with which to beat out the vote this fall…

Democratic politicians see the gun issue as an opportunity for the ‘Blue Wave’ they envision for 2018, even though the Democrat’s history of confronting gun violence has been dismal. When Democrats controlled Congress and the presidency, they did not challenge the culture of violence, confront the NRA or stop militarized policing that is resulting in hundreds of killings by police.

Ajamu Baraka writes:

Liberals and Democrat party connected organizations and networks have been quite adept at getting out in front of movements to pre-empt their radical potential and steer them back into the safe arms of liberal conformism.

Indeed the history of the Democratic Party since its founding as a slave-owners party has been one of absorbing political movements and weakening them.

For this new generation of activists to reach their potential, they must understand we live in a mirage democracy and cannot elect our way out of these crises. Our tasks are much larger. Violence is deeply embedded in US culture, dating to the founding of the nation when gun laws were designed for white colonizers to take land from Indigenous peoples and control black slaves.

When it comes to using the gun issue for elections, the challenge for the Democrats is “to keep the public anger high, but the discussion shallow, limited, and ahistorical,” as Bruce Dixon writes. Our task is to understand the roots of the crises we face.

Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes this in her new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. The culture of violence in the US goes beyond the horrific shooting in schools to the militarization of our communities and military aggression abroad. The US military has killed more than 20 million people in 37 nations since World War II.

One step you can take in your community is to find out if there is a Junior ROTC program in your local school and shut it down.

Potential for Youth to Lead in Era of Transformation

One of the reasons we predict the 2020s may be an era of transformation is because issues that have been ignored or mishandled by powerholders are becoming so extreme they can no longer be ignored. Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report writes the gun protests present an opportunity to highlight all the issues where Democrats (and Republicans) have failed us.

Youth are already involved, often playing leadership roles, in many fronts of struggle.  Rev. Jared Sawyer, Jr. writes that when racial violence arose at the “University of Missouri in recent years, student athletes and scholars united in protest, prompting the administration to take action. Organizations like Black Youth Power 100 have arisen in the wake of police” violence against black people. Youth are on the front lines of the environmental movement, blocking pipelines and carbon infrastructure to prevent climate change. Youth are leading the movement to protect immigrants from mass deportation.

This week, Hampton students took to the streets over sexual violence, housing, food and other problems on campus. Students at Howard University started HU Resist, to “make sure that Howard University fulfills its mission.” They are in their third day of occupying the administration building.

At March for Our Lives protests, some participants saw the connections between gun violence and other issues.  Tom Hall reported that those who “attended the rally had far more on their minds than gun control and the midterm elections—the issues promoted by the media and the Democratic Party. Many sought to connect the epidemic of mass shootings in American schools to broader issues, from the promotion of militarism and war, to poverty and social inequality.” Youth also talked about tax cuts for the rich, inadequate healthcare, teacher strikes, the need for jobs and a better quality of life. He noted those who attended were “searching for a political perspective,” and that, while it was not seen from the stage, opposition to war was a common concern.

Robert Koehler writes: “This emerging movement must address the whole spectrum of violence.”  He includes racist violence, military violence, mass incarceration and the “mortally sinful corporate greed and of course, the destruction of the environment and all the creatures.” What unites all of these issues, Koehler writes, is the “ability to dehumanize certain people.” Dehumanization is required to allow mass murder, whether by a single gunman or in war, as well as the economic violence that leaves people homeless and hungry, or for the violence of denying people necessary healthcare and to pay people so little they need multiple jobs to survive.

Movements are Growing, Now How Do We Win?

We have written about the stages of successful social movements and that overall the United States is in the final stage before victory. This is the era of building national consensus on solutions to the crises we face and mobilizing millions to take action in support of these solutions.

Protests have been growing in the US over the past few decades. Strong anti-globalization protests were organized under Clinton to oppose the World Trade Organization. Under the Bush administration, hundreds of thousands of people took the streets against the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. The anti-war movement faded under the Obama administration, even though he escalated US militarism, but other movements arose such as Occupy, immigrant’s rights, the fight for 15, Idle No More and black lives matter. Erica Chenowith posits that current youth activists “did their first activism with their moms. It’s a quicker learning curve for kids.”

At present, large drivers of mass protests are reaction to the actions of the Trump administration and the Democrats using their resources to augment and steer anti-Trump anger into elections. To prevent what happened to the anti-war movement under President Obama, people will need a broader understanding of the root causes of the crises we face, not the shallow analysis provided by the corporate media, and will need to understand how social movements can be effective.

To assist in this education, Popular Resistance is launching the Popular Resistance School. The first eight week course will begin on May 1 and will cover social movement theory – how social movements develop, how they win and roles people and organizations play in movements. All are welcome to participate in the school. There is no cost to join, but we do ask those who are able to donate to help cover the costs.

For more information on the school and to sign up, click here. Those who sign up will receive a weekly video lecture, a curriculum and an invitation to join a discussion group (each one will be limited to 30 participants). People who complete the course can then host the course locally with virtual support from Popular Resistance.

The next decade has the potential to be transformative. To make it so, we must not only develop national consensus that issues are being mishandled, that policies need to change and that we can change them, but we must also educate ourselves on issues and how to be effective. We have the power to create the change we want to see.

Soul on Ice Goes to College, and the Murder of Dr. King

Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are enriched beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change, we are going to have to change the system.

— Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967

The murder of Dr. King on April 4, 1968, marked a  sea change in black America’s long, tortuous sojourn in this nation-state.  Of course, assassination of black leaders and sympathizers has been a mainstay of American life from even before this country’s inception.  Still, the Civil Rights and Black Power era of the ’50s and ’60s featured an especially gruesome series of murders that included, to name only a few of the most spectacular:

November 22, 1963,  A date seared into everybody’s consciousness.  We watched on live TV half of President John Kennedy’s head get blown off on that mid-morning in Dallas.

Robert F. Kennedy’s gut-wrenching take-down in Los Angeles a mere six weeks after Dr. King’s assassination.

Medgar Evers (top state NAACP executive) collapsed into a pool of his own blood under the relentless rain of rifle and shotgun fire on the steps of his own Mississippi home, also in ’63. Evers’ killing fit seamlessly between the rhythmic drumbeats of black church bombings across the south.

Then, on February 21 of 1965,  Malcolm X’s enormous black heart was  shredded by gunfire as he stood on stage in Harlem’s famed Audubon Ballroom.

Since 1955, I have been troubled by an indefinable pain as the sad, sad saga of the lynching of Emmett Till, in a place ominously called Money, Mississippi, played out on our eight-inch Motorola television set.  As a small child, I listened hard with little understanding while my elders recalled some of our own kinfolk who, unlike them, had opted to stay in the south (or had failed to escape) and therefore suffered fates identical to Emmett Till’s and so many faceless, nameless others.

Each of these murderous moments presented to our black consciousness as earth-rending points in time. But, again, none of these past or ongoing days and nights of terror affected, changed, black America as profoundly as the wholly expected, public, and unspeakably brutal execution of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1968:  How to Avoid  the “Paralysis of Analysis”

I was a  junior at Indiana University’s main campus in Bloomington in that revolutionary year.  Our mass marches, demonstrations and protests, walk-outs, stand-ups, sit-ins, lay-ins,  strikes, boycotts, and occupation of buildings paralleled and, more often than not, spearheaded the campus Hippies’, Yippies’, etc. assorted protests.  They, understandably, were offended by the Vietnam War, and inspired by a renewed white Women’s Liberation Movement.

We black students protested unjust and racially discriminatory practices and policies of the University itself – especially its abominable admissions policy. There were 500 black students on this, the state of Indiana’s flagship and largest state-supported university, a campus of 29,000 students.  There were just three black professors, not one of whom was tenured. And, naturally, there were no courses, let alone curricula, which even pretended to address the 400-year-old history and contemporary lived experience of black folk in this nation-state.  Thus, another of our non-negotiable demands was establishment of a degree-granting Black Studies Department.

We refused to allow our protests to be dismissed as momentary expressions of youthful exuberance. Through our marches, meetings, poetry slams, and classes, we questioned the fundamental assumptions of the University, especially its historical embrace of white supremacy/white racism. And, in concert with the anti-War movement, we challenged those who provided the financial wherewithal for corporations like Dow Chemical to do its lethal, on-campus research for napalm gas, which engulfed untold millions of Vietnamese in excruciating, fiery injury and death. We were at war, all right…at war with campus honchos who made peace with the war, and who were more committed to keeping peace on campus rather than in exploring the ways in which the University collaborated with the war efforts and its deliberate mis-education of all its students.

“Soul on Ice” Goes to College

In late ’67, Indiana University’s Black Theater Workshop was organized by black students to produce plays, poetry and nonfiction that addressed this nation-state’s real history, our present condition, and hoped-for revolutionary future. We breathed deeply, freely, of the burgeoning Black Arts Movement as it raced through the blackosphere like a fast-moving river. Those black tributaries flowed from, to, and back again through Harlem, Gary, Oakland, Madison, Watts, Ann Arbor, Chicago’s South and West Sides, Ohio’s Central State University, and New Jersey’s newly christened “New Ark.”

Our literary high priests and priestesses included, but were by no means limited to:  Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, Hoyt Fuller, Maya Angelou, Ishmael Reed, Rosa Guy, Sterling A. Brown, LeRoi Jones, Richard Wright, and, of course, the Master of them all, James Baldwin.

In ’68, the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Information published a black-busting tome entitled Soul On Ice. Eldridge Cleaver had done lots of California prison time, mainly for rape and robbery; but he was a powerful, even essential essayist.  Soul On Ice provided a first-hand look at the Panthers sans the usual establishment media bias.  Soul on Ice also chronicled Cleaver’s own astounding rise from prison inmate to Ramparts Magazine’s star, revolutionary writer.  

The BTW converted Cleaver’s book into a play.  Because his life and persona were so deeply conflicted, we divided the “Eldridge Cleaver” character into three parts:  The Rapist; The Revolutionary; and The Writer. Guess which part I played.

The Murder of Dr. King

On April 4, 1968, I was hiking – sans umbrella – across IU’s idyllic campus to play rehearsal. A light, steady Spring rain began to fall, so I decided to cut through the blocks-long Student Union building.

I passed through the giant cafeteria and approached an open-area TV lounge.  A large group of students stood gathered around a television. I stopped, but could hear only  muffled voices. Just as I came up directly behind them, Walter Cronkite said, “….and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.”

The students before me burst into loud, raucous whistles, hoots, and applause.  They cheered.  I stood directly behind them and watched and listened in open-mouthed shock….dumbfounded – not at the heart-stopping news  – that had not had time to register – but at the utterly appalling scene unfolding right before my eyes.

I never saw the TV screen and could no longer hear it.  I stared at the backs of these my fellow students for what seemed a long moment as some of them began to guffaw and slap each other’s backs.

Slowly….ever so slightly, the laughter began to subside.  And then, en masse, they turned their faces in my direction — as though they shared a single neck.  Their toothy, ear-to-ear grins looked weird, distorted. I could sense – feel –  sharp-edged daggers of hate radiating from them.  I could see their disgust at not just my presence among them but at my very existence. It was clear that I had intruded upon an electronic lynching and had inadvertently disrupted their blood lust.  It was only then, however, that I noticed the thing that has come back to haunt me each and every 4th of April since that night:  Every single one of these faces was “white.”

I dared not turn my back to these people.  I tentatively began walking backwards, furtively eying each one of them as I carefully placed one foot behind the other.  I made it out into the hallway and then sprinted to the nearest exit.

“Burn, Baby, Burn!” versus Learn, Baby, Learn!

I arrived at our director’s off-campus apartment soaking wet.  She was a strikingly beautiful, jet-black East Indian political science PhD. candidate, a devotee of both Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi. Although she was East Indian, she “identified” completely with “black” Americans. Indeed, she was so dark-complected (black) that when the sun touched her skin just right, she actually sparkled.

Standing there, just inside her pad, dripping onto the threshold, I watched  the girls gathered around the TV sobbing uncontrollably, hysterically. The guys, enraged, walked around the place pounding their fists into their hands, “We gotta get ’em!  We gotta get ’em,” they alternately mumbled or shouted. “How could they kill him?!” somebody said. “Not this man!”

The TV began showing scenes of riots breaking out across the country:   Chicago was ablaze; New York; L.A.; St. Louis; Detroit, even staid Indianapolis.  Later, we learned that over 110 cities had gone up that night.

“We can’t meet violence with violence,” the director said finally.  “If we even try,” she continued, “we will lose. They’ve got all the guns.”

“Not this one!,” a brother said, pulling out a shiny snub-nosed .38 pistol.

“Put that thing away!”, she ordered.  “The last thing Dr. King would want you young people to do is commit violence in his name,” she declared.  “Let’s use our heads! All of you must stay in school and graduate.  It’s more important now than ever before that we complete and present this play.”

Like so many other black people, that night changed my life.  I was one person before Dr. King’s murder, and a completely different person afterwards.

Marching for the Democrats: Another Farce on Washington?

They called in [Roy] Wilkins; they called in [A. Philip] Randolph; they called in these national Negro leaders that you respect and told them, ‘Call it off.’ Kennedy said, ‘Look, you all are letting this thing go too far.’ And Old Tom said, ‘Boss, I can’t stop it, because I didn’t start it.’… And that old shrewd fox, he said, ‘If you all aren’t in it, I’ll put you in it. I’ll put you at the head of it.’…

Malcolm X on the 1963 “Farce on Washington”)

Liberals and Democrat party connected organizations and networks have been quite adept at getting out in front of movements to pre-empt their radical potential and steer them back into the safe arms of liberal conformism. Before resistance to the election of Donald Trump could be developed into a radical rejection of the neoliberal order, the new alignment of ruling class forces that coalesced around the candidacy of Hilary Clinton launched a pre-emptive strike against Trump with the two-fold objective of preventing him from governing and ensuring that opposition to Trump did not take on an anti-system character.

A similar thing happened after the 2006 massive marches of undocumented migrant workers that had a militant anti-capitalist component. It was quickly marginalized and transformed into something called “immigrant rights” with the highest demand being a demand to become legalized settlers. Then, on the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington when Black people were still experiencing the devastating and disproportionate impact of the capitalist crisis of 2007-08, members of the Black Mis-leadership class warmly welcomed the first Black president to join in the day’s festivities ensuring that the gathering would be devoid of any meaningful politics.

Unfortunately, for the young people who sincerely want to understand and confront gun violence, the opportunism of the democrats made these students and their pain easy targets to advance the agenda of the democrat party that sees this issue as one that will advance their electoral agenda.

While the democrat party and liberals pretend to respect and celebrate the young people, they know that the narrow focus on largely irrelevant gun control reforms like more background checks, banning certain ammunition clips, and sale of assault weapons will do nothing to confront what Dr. King referred to as the deep malady at the heart of U.S. culture that makes it so fundamentally violent.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, points out in lavish detail on the subject in her new book Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment.  She reminds the reader of the central role of violence and the reason why the second amendment was seen by the ruling elite of the U.S. settler state as a fundamental right, second only to freedom of speech. She argues that the gun control and the normalization of violence was essential to how white nationalism, racialized dominance, and social control through systematic violence operated in the U.S. It was the method in which white settlers appropriated Native land and controlled their massive enslaved population.

So the young people will need to understand that this normalization of violence is reflected in the social institutions, values, and ethical framework of their society. The violent, white male shooters that are now turning their guns on the society at large are not an aberration but a logical, almost inevitable consequence of a culture in which people are degraded and de-humanized as instruments for others pleasure and exploitation, made into things, through what Dr. King called the process of “thingingfication.”

A respectful engagement with these young people is one in which you struggle with their understanding of the terms of their culture, its history and reality. We must be honest with them and help them to understand the role of violence not only as a cultural product but as the main instrument that created their nation.  That violence is systemic to the system and history of their settler-colonial nation and for the maintenance of the U.S. empire.

Judging from some of the statements, many of these young people are close to making the right connections. That it is the “thingingfication” of the racialized “other” that more people cannot see the moral contradiction between the concern for gun violence in the U.S. and their continued support for U.S. militarism abroad.

Radical politicization means that they and the public at large come to terms with the fact that the arms industry and the proliferation of arms/weapons is not just a problem domestically but that it is a billion-dollar industry in which representatives from both parties are implicated. And if the NRA is a terrorist organization, what does that make the arms industries and the U.S. state?

However, as long as those young people are ensnared by the morally challenged liberal democrats, their ideological development will be arrested, and a few will emerge as “new leaders” given salaries, awards for being in the struggle for two weeks and will become weapons used to block authentic radicalization among their constituency.  That is how hegemony works.

Fredrick Jameson reminds us of the lesson that these young people will have to learn that they will not learn from their liberal benefactors: “The lesson is this, and it is a lesson about systems: one cannot change anything without changing everything.”

So, it was a good week for both bourgeois parties. The democrats didn’t get called out for their collaboration with Trump and the republicans on the budget. The Trump folks have more ammunition to use to mobilize their supporters in opposition to what they will frame as efforts to violate the constitution and take away their guns and give more power to a repressive government. Even the intelligence agencies benefited from the week’s events with attention being shifted away from the FBI scandal that is threatening to blow the cover off of official criminal activity to undermine the electoral process, not by the Russians, but unelected forces in the U.S. state.

But for those of us from the colonized Black and Brown zones of non-being, we can never allow ourselves to be distracted by the diversionary and accommodationist politics of the latest carefully crafted spectacle, especially one that proports to be advancing a superior moral politics.

We must always remind ourselves that some can march with the confidence that “their” government might be trusted with regulating weapons and protecting their lives but that the protection of our fundamental human rights rest with our ability to defend our collective rights, and no one else.

Through our painful lived experiences, we understand and must live by the insight provided by our dear brother, James Baldwin, who counseled us that we must be vigilant when our oppressors speak of morality and the sanctity of life:

The “civilized” have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their “vital interests” are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death; these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the “sanctity” of human life, or the conscience of civilized world.

Distraction can be deadly, let’s us get and stay woke!

Enough Is Enough: If You Really Want to Save Lives, Take Aim at Government Violence

It is often the case that police shootings, incidents where law enforcement officers pull the trigger on civilians, are left out of the conversation on gun violence. But a police officer shooting a civilian counts as gun violence. Every time an officer uses a gun against an innocent or an unarmed person contributes to the culture of gun violence in this country.

— Celisa Calacal, Journalist

Enough is enough.

That was the refrain chanted over and over by the thousands of demonstrators who gathered to protest gun violence in America.

Enough is enough.

We need to do something about the violence that is plaguing our nation and our world.

Enough is enough.

The world would be a better place if there were fewer weapons that could kill, maim, destroy and debilitate.

Enough is enough.

On March 24, 2018, more than 200,000 young people took the time to march on Washington DC and other cities across the country to demand that their concerns about gun violence be heard.

More power to them.

I’m all for activism, especially if it motivates people who have been sitting silently on the sidelines for too long to get up and try to reclaim control over a runaway government.

Curiously, however, although these young activists were vocal in calling for gun control legislation that requires stricter background checks and limits the kinds of weapons being bought and sold by members of the public, they were remarkably silent about the gun violence perpetrated by their own government.

Enough is enough.

Why is no one taking aim at the U.S. government as the greatest purveyor of violence in American society and around the world?

The systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and our liberties than any single act of terror or mass shooting.

Violence has become our government’s calling card, starting at the top and trickling down, from the more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans by heavily armed, black-garbed commandos and the increasingly rapid militarization of local police forces across the country to the drone killings used to target insurgents.

Enough is enough.

The government even exports violence worldwide, with weapons being America’s most profitable export.

Indeed, the day before thousands of demonstrators descended on Washington DC to protest mass shootings such as the one that took place at Stoneman Douglas High School, President Trump signed into law a colossal $1.3 trillion spending bill that gives the military the biggest boost in spending in more than a decade.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Here we have thousands of passionate protesters raging, crying and shouting about the need to restrict average Americans from being able to purchase and own military-style weapons, all the while the U.S. government—the same government under Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton and beyond that continues to act as a shill and a shield for the military industrial complex—embarks on a taxpayer-funded death march that will put even more guns into circulation, and no one says a thing about it.

Why is that?

Why does the government get a free pass?

With more than $700 billion earmarked for the military, including $144.3 billion for new military equipment, you can expect a whole lot more endless wars, drone strikes, bombing campaigns, civilian deaths, costly military installations, and fat paychecks for private military contractors who know exactly how to inflate invoices and take the American taxpayers for a ride.

Enough is enough.

You can be sure this financial windfall for America’s military empire will be used to expand the police state here at home, putting more militarized guns and weapons into the hands of local police and government bureaucrats who have been trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

There are now reportedly more bureaucratic (non military) government civilians armed with high-tech, deadly weapons than the U.S. Marines.

While Americans have to jump through an increasing number of hoops in order to own a gun, the government is arming its own civilian employees to the hilt with guns, ammunition and military-style equipment, authorizing them to make arrests, and training them in military tactics.

Among the agencies being supplied with night-vision equipment, body armor, hollow-point bullets, shotguns, drones, assault rifles and LP gas cannons are the Smithsonian, U.S. Mint, Health and Human Services, IRS, FDA, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Education Department, Energy Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and an assortment of public universities.

Seriously, why do IRS agents need AR-15 rifles?

Enough is enough.

Remember, it was just a few months ago that President Trump, aided and abetted by his trusty Department of Justice henchman Jeff Sessions, rolled back restrictions on the government’s military recycling program to the delight of the nation’s powerful police unions.

Under the auspices of this military “recycling” program, which was instituted decades ago and allows local police agencies to acquire military-grade weaponry and equipment, more than $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies since 1990.

Ironically, while gun critics continue to clamor for bans on military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets, expanded background checks, and tougher gun-trafficking laws, the U.S. military boasts all of these and more, including some weapons the rest of the world doesn’t have.

In the hands of government agents, whether they are members of the military, law enforcement or some other government agency, these weapons have become routine parts of America’s day-to-day life, a byproduct of the rapid militarization of law enforcement over the past several decades.

Over the course of 30 years, police officers in jack boots holding assault rifles have become fairly common in small town communities across the country. As investigative journalists Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz reveal, “Many police, including beat cops, now routinely carry assault rifles. Combined with body armor and other apparel, many officers look more and more like combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Although these federal programs that allow the military to “gift” battlefield-appropriate weapons, vehicles and equipment to domestic police departments at taxpayer expense are being sold to communities as a benefit, the real purpose is to keep the defense industry churning out profits, bring police departments in line with the military, and establish a standing army.

It’s a militarized approach to make-work programs, except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy work to keep people employed, communities across America are being inundated with unnecessary drones, tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment better suited to the battlefield in order to fatten the bank accounts of the military industrial complex.

Thanks to Trump, this transformation of America into a battlefield is only going to get worse.

Get ready for more militarized police.

More police shootings.

More SWAT team raids.

More violence in a culture already drenched with violence.

Enough is enough.

You want to talk about gun violence?

According to the Washington Post, “1 in 13 people killed by guns are killed by police.”

While it still technically remains legal for the average citizen to own a firearm in America, possessing one can now get you pulled over, searched, arrested, subjected to all manner of surveillance, treated as a suspect without ever having committed a crime, shot at and killed by police.

You don’t even have to have a gun or a look-alike gun, such as a BB gun, in your possession to be singled out and killed by police.

There are countless incidents that happen every day in which Americans are shot, stripped, searched, choked, beaten and tasered by police for little more than daring to frown, smile, question, or challenge an order.

Growing numbers of unarmed people are being shot and killed for just standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.

Enough is enough.

With alarming regularity, unarmed men, women, children and even pets are being gunned down by twitchy, hyper-sensitive, easily-spooked police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, and all the government does is shrug and promise to do better.

Killed for standing in a “shooting stance.” In California, police opened fire on and killed a mentally challenged—unarmed—black man within minutes of arriving on the scene, allegedly because he removed a vape smoking device from his pocket and took a “shooting stance“.

Killed for holding a cell phone. Police in Arizona shot a man who was running away from U.S. Marshals after he refused to drop an object that turned out to be a cellphone. Similarly, police in Sacramento fired 20 shots at an unarmed, 22-year-old black man who was standing in his grandparents’ backyard after mistaking his cellphone for a gun.

Killed for carrying a baseball bat. Responding to a domestic disturbance call, Chicago police shot and killed 19-year-old college student Quintonio LeGrier who had reportedly been experiencing mental health problems and was carrying a baseball bat around the apartment where he and his father lived.

Killed for opening the front door. Bettie Jones, who lived on the floor below LeGrier, was also fatally shot—this time, accidentally—when she attempted to open the front door for police.

Killed for running towards police with a metal spoon. In Alabama, police shot and killed a 50-year-old man who reportedly charged a police officer while holding “a large metal spoon in a threatening manner.”

Killed for running while holding a tree branch. Georgia police shot and killed a 47-year-old man wearing only shorts and tennis shoes who, when first encountered, was sitting in the woods against a tree, only to start running towards police holding a stick in an “aggressive manner.

Killed for crawling around naked. Atlanta police shot and killed an unarmed man who was reported to have been “acting deranged, knocking on doors, crawling around on the ground naked.” Police fired two shots at the man after he reportedly started running towards them.

Killed for wearing dark pants and a basketball jersey. Donnell Thompson, a mentally disabled 27-year-old described as gentle and shy, was shot and killed after police—searching for a carjacking suspect reportedly wearing similar clothing—encountered him lying motionless in a neighborhood yard. Police “only” opened fire with an M4 rifle after Thompson first failed to respond to their flash bang grenades and then started running after being hit by foam bullets.

Killed for driving while deaf. In North Carolina, a state trooper shot and killed 29-year-old Daniel K. Harris—who was deaf—after Harris initially failed to pull over during a traffic stop.

Killed for being homeless. Los Angeles police shot an unarmed homeless man after he failed to stop riding his bicycle and then proceeded to run from police.

Killed for brandishing a shoehorn. John Wrana, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, lived in an assisted living center, used a walker to get around, and was shot and killed by police who mistook the shoehorn in his hand for a 2-foot-long machete and fired multiple beanbag rounds from a shotgun at close range.

Killed for having your car break down on the road. Terence Crutcher, unarmed and black, was shot and killed by Oklahoma police after his car broke down on the side of the road. Crutcher was shot in the back while walking towards his car with his hands up.

Killed for holding a garden hose. California police were ordered to pay $6.5 million after they opened fire on a man holding a garden hose, believing it to be a gun. Douglas Zerby was shot 12 times and pronounced dead on the scene.

Killed for calling 911. Justine Damond, a 40-year-old yoga instructor, was shot and killed by Minneapolis police, allegedly because they were startled by a loud noise in the vicinity just as she approached their patrol car. Damond, clad in pajamas, had called 911 to report a possible assault in her neighborhood.

Killed for looking for a parking spot. Richard Ferretti, a 52-year-old chef, was shot and killed by Philadelphia police who had been alerted to investigate a purple Dodge Caravan that was driving “suspiciously” through the neighborhood.

Shot seven times for peeing outdoors. Eighteen-year- old Keivon Young was shot seven times by police from behind while urinating outdoors. Young was just zipping up his pants when he heard a commotion behind him and then found himself struck by a hail of bullets from two undercover cops. Allegedly officers mistook Young—5’4,” 135 lbs., and guilty of nothing more than taking a leak outdoors—for a 6’ tall, 200 lb. murder suspect whom they later apprehended. Young was charged with felony resisting arrest and two counts of assaulting a peace officer.

This is what passes for policing in America today, folks, and it’s only getting worse.

In every one of these scenarios, police could have resorted to less lethal tactics.

They could have acted with reason and calculation instead of reacting with a killer instinct.

They could have attempted to de-escalate and defuse whatever perceived “threat” caused them to fear for their lives enough to react with lethal force.

That police instead chose to fatally resolve these encounters by using their guns on fellow citizens speaks volumes about what is wrong with policing in America today, where police officers are being dressed in the trappings of war, drilled in the deadly art of combat, and trained to look upon “every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.”

Remember, to a hammer, all the world looks like a nail.

We’re not just getting hammered, however.

We’re getting killed, execution-style.

Enough is enough.

When you train police to shoot first and ask questions later—whether it’s a family pet, a child with a toy gun, or an old man with a cane—they’re going to shoot to kill.

This is the fallout from teaching police to assume the worst-case scenario and react with fear to anything that poses the slightest threat (imagined or real).

This is what comes from teaching police to view themselves as soldiers on a battlefield and those they’re supposed to serve as enemy combatants.

This is the end result of a lopsided criminal justice system that fails to hold the government and its agents accountable for misconduct.

You want to save lives?

Start by doing something to save the lives of your fellow citizens who are being gunned down every day by police who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

You want to cry about the lives lost during mass shootings?

Cry about the lives lost as a result of the violence being perpetrated by the U.S. government here at home and abroad.

If gun control activists really want the country to reconsider its relationship with guns and violence, then it needs to start with a serious discussion about the role our government has played and continues to play in contributing to the culture of violence.

If the American people are being called on to scale back on their weapons, then as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government and its cohorts—the police, the various government agencies that are now armed to the hilt, the military, the defense contractors, etc.—need to do the same.

It’s time to put an end to the government’s reign of terror.

Enough is enough.

Millions of Students Demand “Never Again” to Gun Violence

Over a million students and allies walked out of classes in the U.S., from Maine to Hawaii, and elsewhere in the world on March 14. Ten days later, March 24, hundreds of thousands of defiant marchers flooded the streets in Washington, D.C., and at more than 800 places on every continent except Antarctica. What might they do next?

Many surviving Parkland students are becoming familiar faces in D.C. Politicians hear from them regularly and some respond positively. They have captured the nation’s attention with their soaring speeches and emotional chants at what is being described as “sibling marches.”

They are protesting the killing of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They gathered on street corners, in downtowns, gyms, football fields, auditoriums, and elsewhere. The first events typically took 17 minutes to honor those who were murdered.

This was the largest wave of protests in American history, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. This show of strength reveals a political awakening by youth. “Welcome to the revolution,” said one student.  “We need to turn this moment into a movement,” said another, which some call the #Never Again Movement.

Since the 1999 Columbine shooting, 187,000 students have experienced a shooting. “Many are not the same,” added the Washington Post.

Three groups gathered in different cities here in semi-rural Sonoma County. A March for Our Lives group took to the center of our small-town Sebastopol (population 8000) and another at Courthouse Square in Sonoma County’s capital Santa Rosa. It was organized by Moms Demand Action and the Sonoma County Junior Commission on Human Rights.

Some vets and active duty military persons attended the Sebastopol gathering and spoke against assault weapons.

The Love Choir led singing at the Sebastopol action. They wore shirts saying “Peacetown USA.” Their lyrics included the following: “I’m going to lay down my sword and shield. We’re going to study war no more.” A popular chant was “We shall not be moved.” One sign read “Liberty, Not Death for My Grandchildren.”

The town of Sonoma was the site of another rally, in its Plaza. Fourteen students from Sonoma Valley High School traveled to D.C. to join the March 24 action there.

“Make safe schools a priority” was the goal of the Santa Rosa gathering. It offered student speakers, opportunities to pre-register to vote, and other options for concerned citizens of all ages to become involved with advocacy.

Signs such as the following were held: “Books Not Bullets!” “Love Kids, Not Guns.” “Send Prayers to the NRA.” “We Adults Have Failed Our Young People.”

One student held a sign bearing 17 blood-red hands and the message “How Many More!” A student wore a t-shirt that read “Young and Powerful.”

Politicians Support Students

California Congressman Jared Huffman met with nearly 1000 students and adults the day after the first large march. “There is a lot of evidence right now about the power of young voices,” he said. “Many of us have been beating our heads against the wall of gun reform for years and getting nowhere. These young people are stepping up and speaking so eloquently. They are changing the country.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) has been meeting regularly with high school age activists. He urges them to dig in for a long fight, “like the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.”

Sebastopol Mayor Patrick Slayter attended both rallies in his town. He supports greater gun control and was heartened by the student activism.

“This fits in with the history of the country. The way change is made is the bottom up,” said History Professor Nolan Higdon of Cal State East Bay.

“These kids are all right,” a Chronicle headline reports the day after the first march. Between 1990 and 2004 92 million Americans were born. They represent the largest generation in history, becoming 1/3 of the U.S. population this year. That’s a lot of votes.

“It’s going to look scary to politicians,” said Rebecca Schneid,16, editor of the Parkland student newspaper. The U.S. may be at the beginning of a new, rapidly growing movement. It could grow and change history dramatically.

The New York Times quoted senior Ally Sheehy as saying, “The ‘children’ you pissed off will not forget this in the voting booth.  We are a force to be reckoned with.”

“How disgusting and broken our political system is right now in America,” added senior David Hogg, a survivor of the recent Parkland massacre.

Organizers demand tighter background checks on gun purchases and a ban on assault weapons, like the one used in the Florida bloodbath.

A small number of pro-gun demonstrations have also happened, especially in rural areas. Some have chanted “NRA is the only way.” Arguments and scuffles have broken out between the two sides.

Conservative supporters of guns organized smaller, competing rallies this weekend in places that include Helena, Montana, and Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, in a Pennsylvania town each classroom now has a 5-gallon bucket of stones.

Student leaders vowed to continue walkouts April 20th, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting in Colorado. They plan to continue direct actions, register young people to vote, lobby legislators, and even run for office.

Many students walked out of classes in the l960s to protest the American Wars on the People of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. My generation was a leader in ending those wars, as this generation can lead us to stricter gun laws, and thus fewer school and other mass shootings.

By walking out, today’s students may have initiated a massive movement for change, including more even than the importance of dealing with guns—at a time when the U.S. desperately needs change and new leadership.

We adults have failed to provide safety for our young people.

The Children’s Crusade (Against Early Death by School-Shootings)

Everyone except the NRA and Donald Jr. thinks it’s a beautiful sight. These high school students, so many of them (have you noticed?) extraordinarily articulate, marching to demand changes in gun laws and mental health care so that they don’t have to fear for their lives in math class.

It’s natural to refer to this movement poetically as a Children’s Crusade (although that episode in the thirteen century did not end well). I think of random Bible verses. “And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6) and Jesus’s comment that you have to become like a child to enter heaven (Matthew 18:3). There’s lots of poetry in this moment.

I’ve been a college professor for over thirty years. I have been surrounded weekly by 18 to 22-year-olds. I see how they change. Used to be that half the guys in my classes had earrings. This is rare now. Used to be one or two nerds would bring a laptop to class. Now they all have them. Used to be they were much less tense about their futures and more prone to take courses for intellectual pleasure than job market concerns. I am more than the average 62-year-old man aware of the conditions faced by modern youth, even if my students comprise a highly privileged sampling. And I fear for their futures, for many reasons.

To see so many high school students who could be my students soon throwing their hearts into this movement moves me. Like Occupy Wall Street did. Like the Sanders campaign did. Like Black Lives Matter does. Like #MeToo does. The excruciating element is this: these kids are not demanding some concept of economic justice, or engaging in “identity politics” other than the identity politics of wanting to survive puberty and become adults eventually. This would seem to be the very minimal human demand from a decent society.

Children are saying, very eloquently and indignantly: it should not be legal for psychos to buy assault guns to kill us. But legislators cling to the Second Amendment, the Constitution, rights, freedom. (You know how free high schools feel today?)

One of my favorite journalistic pieces by Marx involves a Hyde Park demonstration in 1855 in which about 200,000 of London’s proletariat turned out to protest new laws about pub hours. This issue involved the power of the Anglican church over public morals, and wasn’t directly connected to the struggle between worker and employer. But Marx suggested that even something so seemingly marginal could be the spark to provoke a revolution. You never know. There is no linear inevitable pattern. High school students’ outrage could spark Mao’s proverbial prairie fire. Oh god may it be so.

Full of blood and energy, these teens rage against the stupidity of the gun culture that’s been at the center of U.S. life since the first Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth with their muskets and shot their first Wampanoags, praising God. The movement’s identity is life itself, the right to grow up. It’s beautiful in that.

When I was in college, a member of a New Left communist group, we opposed gun control on the grounds that the people will need to be armed to confront the state, eventually. At that time the idea that a youth-driven movement towards some form of gun control was inconceivable. The insanity of gun culture already clear in the early ’70’s has much deepened since, and now the freedom not to be shot is coming to supersede the freedom to shoot.

So fitting that high school students are fired up on this cause and that many seem to understand the corporate causes of mass shootings. May their raging hormones drive ongoing activism in all causes for peace and justice.

Ending Public Access to Military Style Weapons

When troubled youth Nikolas Cruz picked a fight with a classmate who was dating his ex-girlfriend he was expelled from high school. Three days later he bought an AR-15. The gun dealer reportedly suggested an accessory to make the rifle fully automatic. Anger prompted Cruz to show up at the Parkland, FL school on Valentine’s Day and fire 160 rounds, slaying 17. For doing little to launch follow-up intervention, let’s blame the school administration.

Police reportedly responded 39 times to circumstances at the home where Nikolas lived after the deaths of both his parents. Let’s blame the local authorities for not considering this behavioral pattern worthy of greater attention.

Let’s blame Donald Trump for undoing even the minor preventive measures three previous presidential administrations had put in place. Note NRA support for Trump’s election was $30.3 million.

The FBI learned a person with this name had used social media to announce intention to become a school shooter. Though they had little power to apprehend Cruz and receive millions of such alerts, let’s blame the FBI for inaction.

The school maintained an armed security guard who didn’t challenge Cruz. We could blame him for not intervening.

Cruz was a member of his high school’s junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps that promotes young persons’ interest in weapons. Let’s blame the ROTC.

Cruz evolved as a racist. We need to confront this country’s slave owning Founder’s constitutional justification of chattel slavery and argument that – as they held dominion they must be racially superior. We need to confront the legacy and posture of every holder of public office since that time that has not taken a public stance to correct this historic falsehood. It was the assassination of President Lincoln – the peacemaker who sought to bind up the nation’s Civil War’s psychological wounds – that allowed a fateful shift to punishment of the South for the Civil War. This, in turn, launched the South’s resentment measures, Jim Crow and the deep racism that has, ever since, held this country in its grip.

It may surprise the reader to learn that in the first 45 days of 2018 there have been 18 gun incidents in our schools, 8 of them involving wounding or death. The United States is unique at generating such statistics. We can no longer assume it is safe to send children to school in the morning.

There is a raging debate whether the nation’s 3-million teachers should be armed with handguns. What have we come to? In our watch, national pride has become national shame.

The response to this most recent mass killing has been predictably outrageous. House Speaker Paul Ryan defensively referenced the 2nd Amendment, asserting this was not the time to threaten citizens’ constitutional rights. Donald Trump declared sympathy for the victims and their families but avoided mentioning guns.

Hillary Clinton favored improved gun controls but that only funneled campaign money to opponents. With few exceptions, for decades the response to these tragic events by the makers of our laws has been what I must characterize as, “Blah, blah, blah.” The lobbying and contributions from gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association corrupt our officeholders.

In its 2008 landmark decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Washington, DC ban on hand guns – implemented to reduce city gun deaths – violated Dick Heller’s 2nd Amendment right to keep a gun in his home for self defense.

But we know Supreme Court decisions are invariably political-party-based interpretations of the Constitution. The majority five in this decision were all Republican appointees – loyalists to the party most resistant to stricter gun laws.

Embedded in the decision are these positive notes. “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever for whatever purpose.” Protected weapons are those “in common use” while those not protected are those which are “dangerous or unusual.”

The Court’s political bias ignores history. Lacking a national army during both the American Revolution and the Civil War, George Washington, then Abraham Lincoln, summoned state militias to serve. Southern colonies had demanded the 2nd Amendment in order to bear arms against potential rebellion by their slaves.

All these “blamings” are intended distractions favoring the greedy gun industry and immoral NRA. Despite a history of instability, Nikolas encountered no difficulty in purchasing an automatic rifle and sufficient ammunition for multiple murders. Let’s level the blame on Congress for decades of failure to pass legislation confronting the national proliferation of military-style weapons that are repeatedly used to kill the innocent, particularly our children.

There are more guns than people in this country. A substantial number of these are designed for the sole purpose of killing people. It is time to not only confiscate all military-style weapons but to make their possession a serious felony.

Thousands of Students Protest Gun Violence

Sonoma County, CaliforniaDriving through small-town Sebastopol on March 14 toward the Senior Center, this 73-year-old noticed groups of young students with signs gathering on downtown street corners and waving to motorists. These active participants in direct democracy joined thousands who walked out of schools across the U.S. and the world, organized by the Women’s March Youth branch.

As I got closer to the students, a variety of feelings, thoughts, and memories emerged. Tears of appreciation began to drip from my eyes, as I learned why they were protesting.

Then I smiled at them and flashed the peace sign, as I used to during the active 1960s. I eventually resigned my U.S. Army officer’s commission to join the marches that finally helped end the American wars on the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Spending a short time in jail, before being released — since I was merely expressing my First Amendment freedom of speech — was worth it.

I’m proud of our middle and high school students, as well as others, for non-violently standing up to defend their generation against those who continue to shoot innocent youth and others in Florida and elsewhere. “Lives matter more than guns. Enough is enough!” were  among the signs.

Many teachers and administrators supported students wanting to join the brief marches. California Rep. Mike Thompson created a video, which schools are showing, where he encourages students to “stand up and speak out” against gun violence.

Each event had its own character. The Sebastopol rallies were relatively dignified and many protestors had taped their mouths. All corners of Santa Rosa High, in contrast, were full of students waving signs, chanting, and expressing a call to action and a show of force.

An estimated 500 students, about a quarter of Santa Rosa High’s student body, joined the walkout. In nearby Petaluma around 2000 students from a dozen schools walked out. Some wore bright orange #Never Again shirts, a prominent hash-tag, according to the daily Press Democrat.

Nearly all of the 1300 students at Sonoma Valley High School gathered with signs such as “I should be writing my term paper instead of my will” and “Never Again!” Some waved the American flag and shouted things such as “It’s time for the next generation to take over!”

The Sunridge 8th grade class (Sebastopol) arranged this memorial in front of their school before heading down to Main Street to participate in a 17 minute moment of Silence. (Photo: Bill Shortridge)

My feelings eventually ranged from a mixture of sadness—because these students needed to protest—to appreciation for their bravery against those who threaten the Earth’s future.

“Too Young to Protest? 10-Year-Olds Beg to Differ” headlined a March 14 New York Times article. “It started last month as a writing exercise on the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, when more than 1000 students skipped school and marched to demand civil rights,” the article began. So the current marches have also been a history classroom.

“The classroom assignment mushroomed into a plan—hatched by 10-and-11-year-olds—to stage a little civil disobedience of their own,” the article notes.

“We Won’t Let the N.R.A. Win” headlines another Times article, written by three New Jersey high school students. “The killings of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida may be the massacre that finally gets federal and state governments to enact common-sense gun control laws,” the students commence their article.

They remind us, “That should have happened after Columbine. It should have happened after Virginia Tech. It should have happened after Sandy Hook. But it didn’t. The Stoneman Douglas School is where our generation draws a line.” So they imagined and then created what some organizers describe as the National School Walkout.

17 is the number of students and staff killed at the Florida school. Many of the events were scheduled for 17 minutes.

“March for Our Lives is not just one day,” the students conclude. “We must all stand with Stoneman Douglas students and say, ‘Never again.’ This isn’t about being aligned with one political party or another. This is about protecting this nation’s children.”

The American Civil Liberties Union helped train some students in their direct actions. The creation of a sense of community was among the marches’ goals.

Meanwhile, a series of violent threats have been scrawled on campuses, including at Santa Rosa High in Northern California.

“We are the future of this country, yet we can no longer assume we are safe from mass shootings in our schools. Nor can we assume our elders will protect us,” the students write.

When I arrived at the Sebastopol Area Senior Center, I spoke with other elders about the issues these youth raise. We agreed that we should support their leadership and join these brave “first responders.”

“Eloquent young voices, equipped with symbolism and social media savvy, riding a resolve as yet untouched by cynicism,” is how the New York Times described the rallies.

In Lower Manhattan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined a die-in at Zucotti Park, the former home of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“Hey-hey, ho-ho, the N.R.A. has to go,” students chanted as they marched to the D. C. Capital steps. They were met by members of Congress, the most popular of whom seemed to be Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Stay tuned for at least two more nationwide protests on March 24 and April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine murders, as students continue to gather steam and define their movement.

Idiocy 101: Arming Teachers To Stop Mass Shootings In Schools

So President Donald Trump now pontificates that he would run into a school building to save students during a mass shooting attack even if he was “unarmed!”

This empty boast is from the same Trump who failed the bravery test during the Vietnam War by dodging the draft — not for principle but because the poor guy had “bone spurs” on one foot (he can’t remember which).

Yes, that braggadocio is on top of other asinine blather from the Oval Office occupant. Trump, for example, made that boast while taking another shot at the police who failed to rush into that south Florida high school during the Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre that left 17 dead including 14 students.

The unwillingness of armed cops outside that Parkland high school to rush inside to confront an assault rifle firing shooter didn’t stop pseudo Tough Guy Trump from pushing the asinine proposal to arm teachers to help stop mass school shootings.

The Trump who wants to pay teachers to carry guns in schools is the same Trump who wants to slash billions of dollars in federal funding for education.

Arming teachers is a big pay day for gunmakers. It doesn’t make America great or safe.

Since Trump never lets facts stand in the way of his fantasies, he doesn’t care that a study conducted by his hometown police force – – the New York City Police Department –- found police only had an 18 percent success rate in hitting a person they were shooting at if that person was shooting back at them.

That begs the question: In arming teachers, does Trump accept that teachers will almost inevitably accidentally kill a few students while trying to shoot a mass shooter, given the NYPD certified fact that even trained police, who are regularly retrained on shooting guns accurately, have such a poor ‘good shoot’ percentage in shootout situations?

Trump made that pontification about his imagined bravery under fire during remarks to a gathering of governors that included Florida Governor and Trump supporter, Rick Scott – the Republican Florida governor with an A+ rating from the NRA.

In June 2014 the NRA honored Scott for his “strong” support of gun rights. The 2014 NRA press release lavished praise on the governor for the fact that he had “signed more pro-gun bills into law – in one term – than any other governor in Florida history.”

A 2011 NRA-supported law that Scott signed virtually barred Florida doctors and mental health professionals from even mentioning gun safety – a law overturned by federal courts last year. Also last year, President Trump signed a congressionally approved measure that shot down an Obama-era proposal to prevent persons with certain mental illnesses from purchasing guns.

The Florida Department of Children and Families, under Gov. Scott’s control, conducted a Fall 2016 investigation of Nikolas Cruz, the young man arrested for the Parkland Valentine’s Day Massacre.