Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Community Members Seek Greater Support for Hamilton County JFS at Future Budget Hearings

Over a dozen concerned citizens gathered in Mt. Auburn last night at the Church of Our Savior for a public meeting to discuss Hamilton County's proposed budget and its impact on county services and workers. The proposed budget cuts for 2009 would close a jail, eliminate deputy patrols in some townships, layoff hundreds of county workers, and have an untold impact on many public programs.

According to employees of the Hamilton County Job and Family Services (JFS) who attended yesterday's meeting, as many as 350 jobs could be lost in this department alone. In fact, layoffs have already begun at JFS as an estimated 80 workers have already lost their jobs.

Organizers and sponsors of yesterday's public meeting (including Mother Paula Jackson, Rev. Damon Lynch III, and Cincinnati Progressive Action) voiced concerns over the layoffs at JFS during these times of economic hardship. Attendees expressed concern that during times when unemployment is going to increase, the county will be eliminating workers from an agency that will be needed the most and who are most prepared to handle an increase in unemployed citizens. In addition to the loss of jobs at JFS, attendees worried that elimination of these positions will put many of these workers into the unemployment line themselves and will actually end up costing the county more money in the long-run.

The first public hearing put together by County Commissioners was held on November 19 at the Sharonville Convention Center. An estimated 150 citizens attended this hearing and numerous employees of the Sheriff's Office spoke voicing their opposition to the recommended budget. Family members of these employees also voiced their concerns about how job losses and a reduction in public safety services will affect their communities. While the vast majority of the speakers at this first public hearing were connected to the Sheriff's Office, members of the Hamilton County JFS were largely absent despite facing similar job and service cuts. As the final two public hearings approach on December 3 and December 10, attendees of last night's public meeting shared the viewpoint that more members of JFS are needed to attend these hearings to voice their opinion on an issue that greatly affects them.

With a lack of representation from JFS workers at both the public hearing on November 19 and at last night's public meeting at the Church of Our Savior, it was acknowledged that there is work to do to both educate workers at JFS on the impact that the proposed budget will have on the agency and also motivate JFS workers to attend the remaining public hearings to give their input and voice solutions to issues raised in the 2009 proposed budget.

Some of the attendees of last night's meeting questioned how the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are working with their members at JFS as the threat of future job cuts loom. Based upon the response of JFS employees at the meeting, it appears that AFSCME has taken little to no action to encourage workers to either attend or speak out at the public hearings. AFSCME even cancelled a recent meeting despite questions raised by JFS workers about this current crisis.

As the public meeting concluded, attendees called for JFS workers, all those who have been affected by the services that JFS provides, and all citizens concerned about the future of County services to attend either one or both of the remaining public hearings to voice their opinions as well as their solutions to the cuts that are included in the proposed budget. The times and locations for the remaining two public hearings are as follows:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 at 6:30 p.m.
The Drake Center
Rooms F and G, Level A, West Pavilion
151 West Galbraith Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45216-1096

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 6:30 p.m.
Cincinnati State Technical and Community College
3520 Central Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45223-2690

This article can also be found at: http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Camilo Mejia, Ending the Occupation, and Regaining Our Collective Sense of Humanity

The story of Camilo Mejia is recognized by many in the anti-war movement as a story of one man standing up against the injustice of war. Mejia was the first conscientious objector of the Iraq War and has been a leading voice for the organization Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) where he was named Chair of their Board of Directors in 2007. Mejia has been traveling to cities as part of the Resisting the Empire Tour and this tour is what brought his story to the University of Cincinnati's campus last week.

Camilo Mejia was stoplossed in January 2003, only months away from graduation from the University of Miami. He was shipped out to Iraq in April 2003 and returned in October on a two week furlough. It was during this time away from the battlefield that Mejia was able to collect his thoughts and listen to his conscience. When his plane took off to go back to Iraq, Mejia was not aboard. He decided that he could no longer take part in fighting an unjust and illegal war and he decided that he could not take part in abusing the Iraqi people anymore. Mejia laid low for several months while he worked on putting together a case so that he could file for conscientious objector status and in March 2004, he turned himself in and submitted such an application. He was charged with desertion, convicted by a military court, court marshaled, and sentenced to one year in prison. From prison, Mejia wrote a piece entitled "Regaining My Humanity" in which he stated:

Today, as I sit behind bars I realize that there are many types of freedom, and that in spite of my confinement I remain free in many important ways. What good is freedom if we are afraid to follow our conscience? What good is freedom if we are not able to live with our own actions? I am confined to a prison but I feel, today more than ever, connected to all humanity. Behind these bars I sit a free man because I listened to a higher power, the voice of my conscience.

Mejia has been listening to the higher power of his conscience ever since and feels that it is a privileged to be a part of the growing anti-war movement. During his talk at the University of Cincinnati, he shared with us stories of frustrated soldiers, torturous interrogation techniques, and the provoking of civilians. Mejia told the story of when he first arrived in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. There was little resistance from the population at first, but Mejia said that they would often "fish for missions". In one instance an 8-10 year-old boy threw a rock at a Lieutenant and the Lieutenant told his soldiers, "I'm going to make an example of him". The Lieutenant proceeded to grab the boy and begin to take him with the group of soldiers. "Me no Ali Baba mister" the boy would yell as some soldiers tried to convince the Lieutenant to let the boy go. An old man came running from a near-by house, Mejia gathered that this man could have been the boy's father, and passionately tried to communicate with the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant asked the man "What are you going to do? This kid threw a rock at me." The old man slapped the kid in the face. This did not satisfy the Lieutenant as he kept the child in his grasp and continued to move along. The old man continued to plead his case as the Lieutenant demanded more of a punishment for the child. The old man then began to beat the child in order to show the Lieutenant that he was being taught a lesson and it was only then did the Lieutenant let the child go. "This is the reality of an occupation," Mejia said to us, "this is how you win the hearts and minds."

After this incident the attacks increased on the U.S. soldiers in the area and Mejia stated that they responded by purposely conducting missions around mosques, hospitals, schools, and public squares. "We were doing things in a way that led to the killing of civilians," he stated. He spoke of instances in which he was ambushed and though he was opposed to the war, Mejia says that his survival instincts took over and he shot in any direction from which gunfire was coming. "You don't have the luxury to think morally when you are thinking, how do we get out of this place alive." he stated.

Mejia did make it out alive and when he returned home in October of 2003 for a two week furlough, he began to try and justify his participation in a war in which he didn't believe. Often times his justification would be that he was doing it for the man sitting next to him in Iraq, but when he dug deeper within himself he couldn't justify the broader question of why. It was then when he decided to speak out and take a stance despite the fear of a court marshal and being labeled as a deserter. After Mejia turned himself in and was sentenced to a year in jail, Amnesty International labeled him a Prisoner of Conscience and he was supported by many organizations through the website FreeCamilo.com.

As he travels around the country and continues his work with IVAW, he stresses the importance of building a larger anti-war movement. He speaks of the importance that antiwar organizations on college campuses join with groups like IVAW to not only give speakers like himself a platform, but to build a broad coalition from coast to coast to pressure leaders to end the occupation of Iraq. This task, that of ending the occupation, is an uphill climb to say the least. From the invasion, to the implementation of torture, to the scores of civilians killed, the task of repairing what has been so badly damaged can seem insurmountable. It is almost as if we, as a nation, must reclaim our own humanity much like Camilo did during his own personal journey. It was this thought that led me to ask Mejia this question:

"In interviews and in your piece that you wrote from jail in 2005, you often speak of the dehumanizing factors of war and of your personal journey to regain your own humanity. Considering we live in a society in which war is very profitable for various sectors of society and corporate interests and government are becoming more and more aligned, do you feel that the United States has sold or lost its collective sense of humanity and if so, how do you think we can get it back?"

Mejia responded:

"I don't think that we have lost our humanity, we just haven't been able to experience it. Think back to Vietnam and the iconic images of the little girl who was burned and running away from the napalm. Now it is different, we are not allowed to see it. If people don't experience the pain then they won't be as willing to change it. We haven't lost our sense of humanity, we need to reclaim it."

We stand at a moment in time where there is an opportunity to reclaim our collective humanity. The people of this country have voted for a change and we must continue to demand that such change is implemented. We need to think outside the box in our organizing efforts in order to continue to join together and turn this hope into momentum. Camilo Mejia's journey to reclaim his personal humanity was not easy just as the journey to reclaim our collective humanity will not be easy. To undertake this challenge, it was imperative for Mejia to listen to the higher power of his conscience and for the rest of us, it is going to be essential.

This article can also be found at: http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Open Letter to John Bolton

Dear Mr. Bolton,

I was recently about half-way through reading your letter to President-elect Obama when I asked myself this question: Why should I, Barack Obama, or anyone else for that matter, take any advice from you seriously?

You sir were a loyal soldier in the neo-conservative army that waged an all out assault on rationality and dissenting opinion in the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2002 and 2003. Your work directly contributed toward the invasion and occupation of Iraq which has resulted in the loss of thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. You were a member of the Project for the New American Century which tried to influence the Clinton Administration to adopt the same preemptive doctrine that you later were able to implement under the Bush Administration. This type of behavior has led to the decline in respect of the United States throughout the world and the spread of terrorist activities into countries that previously had little to no activity.

Your disregard for world opinion when it conflicts with so-called "United States interests" is a prime example of an unilateralist philosophy that has led this country into the giant mess that this new administration must now attempt to dig us out of. Why in the world should an Obama Administration take the advice of someone who is part of the ideology that the American people rejected so enthusiastically in this election?

In your letter, you advise President-elect Obama to:

"...resolve disagreements among your advisers, and not allow drift, and you must insist on discipline once you make a decision. If anyone disagrees with this approach, you may invite them to do the honourable thing and resign, or not sign on in the first place."

This advice is dictatorial. While you acknowledge that President Bush suffered from only hearing "one voice in his ear at critical points", you then advise Obama to take the same 'my way or the highway' approach to leading. The voters have rejected the idea of the imperial presidency Mr. Bolton. The strength of a leader does not simply reside in the ability to make decisions, but to listen to various viewpoints, constantly review new information, and be willing to adapt to a situation when things do not go as planned. In case you are not aware, things over the last eight years have not quite gone as planned for the American people. It is time for a new leadership strategy.

This new strategy should include a technique that you have not always been helpful in implementing, this is the strategy of diplomacy. It has not been effective nor will it continue to be effective to make statements such as "...there is no United Nations" and to suggest that it would make no difference if the UN lost ten floors of its building. You sound like a bully on the playground when you say things like:

"The United States makes the UN work when when it wants it to work and that is exactly the way it should be because the only basic question, only question for the United States, is what's in our national interest and if you don't like that, then I'm sorry but that is the fact."

This belittling of the international community is not what we needed eight years ago and it is certainly not what we need now. Despite this, you advise President-elect Obama to:

"...not let global 'public opinion' about the United States, from Albania to Zimbabwe, dissuade you from doing what you think is right for America. Your job is to defend and advance our interests and values, a task which invariably will displease our adversaries, and even many of our friends, especially those who wish we were, well, more European in our behaviour and attitudes...we should try to shift international public opinion to support our policies, not modify our policies to try to satisfy international public opinion."

Have you learned no lessons from any of the imperialist policies that you have supported? Do you not acknowledge that this type of thinking has led to out of control military spending, an increase in Al Qaeda's presence in Iraq, and a decline in American power and influence throughout the world? While you may think that you are advocating ways for a President Obama to be strong in actuality you are advocating the same stubborn ideology of the last eight years. Your words of advice read as a desperate last attempt for your neo-conservative agenda to fall upon ears that have already rejected your imperialist view of the world.

I urge President-elect Obama to say "thanks but no thanks" to the advice which you offer in your letter, this country can no longer afford to follow your advice. We have a lot of repair work to do and ripping open old wounds through bullying and unilateralism is not going to be an effective way to help this country heal.

This article can also be found at: http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com

Thursday, November 6, 2008

From Hope to Momentum: Why the Election is Just the Beginning

It was as if the air had been let out of a balloon. The networks announced at 11pm EST that the country had elected Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States. I could instantly hear people shouting outside of my home and within three minutes, someone near-by began shooting off fireworks. I watched the sea of people at Chicago's Grant Park explode on my television set as people hugged each other and jumped around, unable to control their excitement. Crowds began to gather from Washington D.C. to major cities across the globe driving home just how much of a global impact the U.S. elections have. We watched the world let out a collective sigh of relief on election night with images of a unified and hopeful people anxious to see what happens next.

There is no doubting the historical nature of Barack Obama's campaign and election to be the first African-American President of the United States. Watching Obama address tens of thousands of supporters as President-elect was even enough to move many Americans to tears. Seeing the hope in the eyes of so many people is an amazing moment in history to bear witness to and only provides us with evidence that we are standing at an important time in the history of this country. The end of this election should not mark the end of the involvement of those who were energized by this campaign, to the contrary, this is where the real work needs to begin.

There are two main narratives that have been circulating since the election. The first comes from those on the right who have seen the Republican Party unravel into a giant circular firing squad and are still trying to interject their ideology into the American discourse. This is the narrative that we are a "center-right country". Karl Rove spoke these words on Fox News on election night and it has moved through the conservative echo chamber ever since. These pundits argue that an Obama Administration will be forced to govern from the center because the majority of Americans have "center-right" values.

The other narrative has come out of the Democratic Party and from some progressive-minded individuals. This narrative is that progressives won the election, are now in control, and through Obama will have the sway to influence policy over the next four years. Both of these narratives miss the mark. The United States is not a "center-right country". Americans just demonstrated their rejection of the ideology that has been in control of the Executive Branch for the last eight years and most Americans are in against the war, for universal health care , and in favor of smart government regulation of the financial industry. These are progressive ideas that many Obama supporters hold and are even more progressive than positions that Obama himself holds. This is not the mark of a center-right country, but of a country desperate for a new direction.

In the same breath, the narrative that progressives are now in control of the government and that Obama will automatically enact progressive change is also misguided. It has been demonstrated by many and through Obama's own voting record that he is a moderate politician with centrist policies. Now is not the time for progressives to sit back and watch what Obama can do, but rather it is time to use this fantastic opportunity to unite and apply pressure to an Obama Administration to enact actual change. It is vital for progressives to stay engaged and turn this enthusiasm from the election into a movement for the people.

Barack Obama and his administration are going to be pressured by the big corporate campaign donors who have established ties to and invested funds in Obama's campaign. Just like any other business decision, they want to see a good return on their investment so they will be seeking access and looking to influence policy. Amy Goodman wrote an article earlier this week in which she echos this sentiment:

"There are two key camps that feel invested in the Obama presidency: the millions who each gave a little, and the few who gave millions. The big-money interests have means to gain access. They know how to get meetings in the White House, and they know what lobbyists to hire. But the millions who donated, who volunteered, who were inspired to vote for the first time actually have more power, when organized."

The key to that statement are the last two words...when organized. Progressives need to start building a network in order to counter the insider influence and use this network to create a powerful movement of accountability. This moment in which we live is too important for us to not take action. In order to begin to pressure our national leaders, we must get organized on a grassroots level. It is absolutely necessary for those who supported Obama, to join with those who supported Cynthia McKinney, Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, on down the line and unite around the issues that we all care about. We must seize this moment, turn it into momentum, and raise our voice to say that we demand real progressive change.