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A Few Confederate Flags Down, But Thousands of Trappings Remain

Robert Klitzman, M.D.   |   June 26, 2015   10:38 AM ET

No portrait in any house had ever shocked me more. I recently drove through Mississippi, and stopped in a town known for its extensive pre-Civil War architecture. Plantation houses still stood with tiny outbuildings that guides called "the servants' quarters," but in fact housed slaves.

A local woman invited us into her home for cocktails. "I want to show you Southern Hospitality," she said. She had lived on the West Coast, and seemed open-minded. But a tall life-sized portrait hung prominently above her living room mantel -- a young man in a Confederate Uniform and with a sword.

"That's quite a portrait," I exclaimed, shocked.

"Oh, that's my son." she said proudly.

"But he's wearing a Confederate uniform!"

"Yes, that's what the young people wear at the ball every year." She seemed to feel that it was just for fun, so was ok.

But as we sat down, the painting loomed high over us, dominating the room and the house.

The next day, we visited the home of William Faulkner -- one of my heroes. An African-American student from the University of Mississippi, which owns the house, showed us around. He mentioned that his nearby high school has two separate proms every year -- one black, one white.

Two years ago, the students elected a black homecoming queen. An outcry erupted, and the school decided that she could remain the homecoming queen that year, but that the following year, a white one would have to be chosen.

"That's horrible," I said.

"That's just the way things are," he explained very matter-of-factly. "We know the rules. We don't date your daughters or go to your church on Sunday."

"Why don't you move elsewhere?"

"I don't know where I'd go. This is where I grew up."

Calls for removing the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol and elsewhere, following Dylann Roof's horrific shooting of innocent African-Americans in their church, should certainly be applauded.

But the problems are much deeper. Underlying attitudes also need to change.

Removing the flags could help heal tensions at the moment, but ultimately be empty gestures. Flags are weighty symbols, but also mere pieces of cloth. We also all need to alter what lurks beneath. Racism persists in manifold subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

A few years ago, I visited a court room in rural Virginia -- near Manassas, where the Civil War battles of Bill Run were fought.

The judge sat on a raised platform, and above him hung a single portrait -- that of Robert E. Lee in a Confederate uniform. Lee was an extraordinary man, but in this white dominated area, standing high above the judge, his portrait sent a powerful message.

Some Southerners say they still want to fly the Confederate flag because it represents part of their history. They feel comfortable with their moral beliefs, arguing that these come from the Bible. But the New and Old Testaments also teach justice, charity and love. Not all past behaviors should necessarily be respected or upheld. Morally wrong past behaviors should not be sources of pride simply because they are historical.

Such symbols foster harms. Racial violence and police brutality against blacks, and discrimination continue. MIssissippi and South Carolina have among the states with worst health, educational and poverty in the country; and in these states, these disadvantages disproportionately affect African-Americans.

Thousands of Confederate flags still fly today from not only state capitols and schools, homes. Even if they were all removed, Confederate garb remains. Even if the uniforms were eliminated, images of Lee would probably endure.

Hence, we need to recognize and address these deeper attitudes inside us all.

Removal of the flag from state offices and license plates should be only the beginning, not the end. We need to work to be less placid in accepting inequalities that persist against various groups -- not only African- Americans, but women, gays and lesbians and others.

We should be careful that the response to Dylann Roof does not stop with a few flags alone.

Scalia's Dissent: A Direct Attack on American Democracy Itself

David Ropeik   |   June 26, 2015   12:00 AM ET

In the middle of the celebration of the Supreme Court decision establishing same-gender marriage is an ominous attack on democracy itself from one of the highest constitutionally sworn officers in America, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. His dissent (in the full decision all dissents) is a direct call for Americans to abandon their trust in and support for the institution of the Supreme Court and indeed in American democracy itself.

Scalia's message is frightening anti-government rhetoric so harsh and polarizing that it is potentially far more damaging to America than anything in the gay marriage ruling he laments.
Scalia's dissent says, "I write separately to call attention to this Court's threat to American democracy." And why does he think that threat exists? Because,

It is of overwhelming importance... who it is that rules me. Today's decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.
Buried beneath the mummeries and straining-to-be-memorable passages of the opinion is a candid and startling assertion: No matter what it was the People ratified (in states that passed bans on gay marriage), the Fourteenth Amendment protects those rights that the Judiciary, in its 'reasoned judgment,' thinks the Fourteenth Amendment ought to protect.

In other words, Justice Scalia is unhappy that the Supreme Court gets to make the final call. He is rejecting the very right of the Supreme Court on which he sits to adjudicate disputes where the answer requires interpretation of the Constitution, (which is of course precisely what the Court did when it interpreted the 2nd Amendment to enshrine the personal right to own guns, an opinion Scalia wrote), a role that has proven to be a cornerstone of American democracy. Because he is upset by this ruling, Justice Scalia directly rejects the authority of the Court itself.

But he goes further in undermining public trust in the court.

"And to allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation," he writes. Outrageously, he calls the ruling "a judicial putsch."

What incendiary rhetoric. The definition of the word putsch, as a man as erudite as Justice Scalia knows is "a violent attempt to overthrow a government."

Scalia's language is so harsh and divisively tribal that it could be a tract from a right wing anti-government radical group.

... the Federal Judiciary, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers, is hardly a cross section of America. Take, for example, this court, which consist of only nine men and women, successful lawyers who studied at Harvard of Yale law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single Southwesterner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California does not count.) Not a single Evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one-quarter of Americans) or even a Protestant of any denomination. ... to allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.

What a poisonous, polarizing misinterpretation of the very role of the judiciary as defined by the Constitution Scalia so solemnly invokes. The judiciary was never intended to be the representative part of democracy. Scalia knows that. His ideological anger at today's decision clouds his reason into saying things that are laughable in a high school civics class.

Scalia charges that,

this practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanies (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, (Scalia's majority decision interpreting the Constitution's 2nd Amendment right to own guns is laced with the same language he here laments.) robs the People of the most important liberty they asserts in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1775: the freedom to govern themselve
A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.

What an astoundingly, nearly treasonous thing to suggest for a justice of the Supreme Court Scalia believes issues like gay marriage should be determined by the people, at the state level.

... win or lose advocates of both sides continued pressing their cases, secure in the knowledge that an electoral loss can later be negated by an electoral win. That is exactly how our system of government is supposed to work.

Well no, Mr. Supreme Court Justice Scalia, that is patently not true. You and your colleagues serve on the very institution American democracy has always relied on to resolve conflicts that arise when the electorate in one state sees things one way and another state's electorate sees the issue another way, or when a state law tramples on rights covered by the overarching federal law of the Constitution which you so solemnly invoke. Your selective view of which branch of government gets the final say is not just the argument of the side that lost. Coming from a person in your position, such an argument is poisonous, harmful, and breeds mistrust in both the Supreme Court you serve and government itself.

If you have any doubt left that Scalia is proposing that today's decision should undermine trust in the court, he closes by noting that the Judicial Branch of government has no real power in the Constitution to enforce its rulings. The courts power ultimately rests entirely on the public's acceptance of their role to be our final interpreters of law.

With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them -- with each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the "reasoned judgment" of a bare majority of this Court -- we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.

Far more than today's decision itself, Justice Scalia's ideological, angry attack on the very standing of the Supreme Court to make such rulings dramatically moves the court in that direction. His language does America great harm.

Unfinished Projects

J Henry Fair   |   June 25, 2015    6:04 PM ET

We all have unfinished projects.

One of mine is the documentation of the churches and music of people of color in Charleston.

I grew up in what was then a virtually unknown town on the South Carolina coast. The racial divide was so omniscient that it was invisible to someone growing up in it.

My other mother, our maid, was the most gentle and prescient woman I have known, and remains one of my most important socializers.

Anna Canty

I started on my project sporadically, going in and enjoying the music and photographing some of the people, and, though it was years ago, specifically remember going to Emmanuel, as it is a larger church with a full congregation, or at least it was at the time. The music was, for lack of a better term, rockin'.

There are so many debts that this nation and the world owe to the people that were brought to these shores against their will to face a lifetime of slavery. My gratitude is for the music. One could argue that we owe all of modern American music to these people brought here against their will.

The woman who came out to greet the uncertain 18-year-old white boy standing at the door of Emmanuel Baptist Church was gracious and invited me to please come in and join them. What followed was a transformative experience as a stranger was welcomed into a different world, one of close community, with music as an integral part of spirituality, religion, and family.

Another uncertain boy walked into the same church last week. I wonder if he was greeted by someone as gracious and generous as I was. Instead of music with a call and response, which builds such a wonderful sense of belonging, his father gave him a gun for his birthday in hopes that it would engender maturity and responsibility.

This country is founded on this idea that liberty is dependent on the right of individuals to own guns. Arguments about the intent of the founding fathers and the exact meaning of the constitution are brandished frequently, and usually by groups trying to prevent change. But it's fairly certain that the founding fathers did not intend a world in which regular massacres of innocent citizens by unstable teenagers wielding guns became the norm.

Our problem is simple, and the answer equally so: limit the number of guns, and you limit the number of killings. Especially those types of guns that are most designed for mass killing or concealability.

But what a wonderful irony if, contrary to the intent of our deranged shooter, this horrible incident in my hometown led to productive national dialogs about weapons and race in our country? Then maybe their deaths would not be in vain.

Comedian Shoots Down 2nd Amendment With Humor

Laura Goldman   |   June 25, 2015    2:08 PM ET

Politicians as diverse as President Obama and Senator Toomey have struggled to put into words the reasons we gun safety laws make sense. Australian comedian Jim Jeffries ignites the gun control debate in a way the killing of 20 children at Sandy Hook elementary school or the shooting of a sitting congresswoman did not. His hilarious, but easy to understand arguments slays the second amendment during his current FreeDumb tour. In a sense, he brings a drone to a gun fight.

One of the more effective arguments for gun rights is that they are needed for protection of oneself or family. This argument persists despite statistics showing that guns are predominately used in criminal homicides not for protection. A study by the Violence Policy Center, via the Washington Post, shows guns between 2008 and 2012 were used in 42,419 criminal homicides and only 1,108 justifiable homicides -- defined as the killing of a felon during the commission of a felony by a private citizen.

Jim Jeffries decimates the guns are needed for protection argument with such good humor it may even silence the NRA. His comedy act does something dry statistics can't.

"The main one is that I need it for protection. I need it to protect me. I need to protect my family," said Jeffries. "Really? Is that why they are called assault rifles? Is it? I have never heard of these fuckin protection rifles you speak of."

The talented comedian used a horrific burglary that happened to him and his girlfriend to show gun ownership rarely protects you against violence.

I had a break in in Manchester, England where I was tied up. I had my head cut. They threatened to rape my girlfriend. They came through the window with a machete and hammer. Americans always go, Imagine if you had a gun. Alright, I was naked at the time. I wasn't wearing my holster. I was staring at the window waiting for machetes to come through. What world do you live in where you are waiting constantly fuckin' ready?"

The Australian understands our constitution and knows our history better than most Americans. He pointed out during the act that the arguments to keep the second amendment were similar to those proffered by Southerners to keep slavery.

Jeffries said, "You can not change the second amendment. I am like yes you can. It is called an amendment. If you can't change something called an amendment...See, many of you need a thesaurus. If you don't know what a thesaurus, get a dictionary and work your way forward. Don't think your constitution is set in stone. You have changed things before. You used to have prohibition in there. Right? Then people were like hey who likes getting fucked up. I like getting fucked up too. Let's get that one out. You used to have this other thing in America called slavery."

Jeffries will be appearing at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, Pennsylvania. With 10 people shot at a block party last weekend in Philadelphia, I hope politicians and gun safety advocates come to the show to learn how to shoot down the arguments of gun rights advocates. And laugh a little.

Partners in Crime

Jonathan Schmock   |   June 24, 2015    4:48 PM ET


Biggest Threat on U.S. Soil: Domestic Right-Wing Extremists

Christian Piatt   |   June 24, 2015    3:50 PM ET

When we think of "terrorist threats" to American lives and sovereignty, immediately our minds go overseas, usually to the middle east. We have been sold more than one war abroad principally based on the argument that, if we don't take the fight there, they'll bring it here. And yet, there is disturbingly little done -- and often times, even known -- about a more potent threat here, in our midst.

There have, indeed, been a handful of executed or attempted terrorist acts carried out by Muslim extremists, in addition to the chilling World Trade Center attacks. However, few of us have heard of the 125 or so incidents of domestic terrorism, either carried out or planned, reported HERE by the Center. These acts generally have been traced back to white supremacy groups, and other far-right extremist groups fueled by a hatred for difference, and fueled by and large by a zealous interpretation of their own Christian beliefs.

Consider these sobering claims from the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Currently, there are 784 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-NazisKlansmenwhite nationalistsneo-Confederatesracist skinheadsblack separatists, border vigilantes and others.

Since 2000, the number of hate groups has increased by 30 percent. This surge has been fueled by anger and fear over the nation's ailing economy, an influx of non-white immigrants, and the diminishing white majority, as symbolized by the election of the nation's first African-American president.

These factors also are feeding a powerful resurgence of the antigovernment "Patriot" movement, which in the 1990s led to a string of domestic terrorist plots, including the Oklahoma City bombing. The number of Patriot groups, including armed militias, skyrocketed following the election of President Obama in 2008 - rising 813 percent, from 149 groups in 2008 to an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012. The number fell to 874 in 2014.

One questions raised is whether these groups are so much more prevalent on domestic soil than in other predominantly white, Christian developed nations because a culture of accepted violence has been normalized in our culture. From fetishized violence in the media to our obsession with personal possession of guns and capital punishment, violence is a sort of panacea for problems in our cultural narrative.

However, we can't ignore, too, that at least equally as embedded into our nation's DNA is the marginalization and exploitation of non-Anglo people. Though we celebrate our independence from the British Empire, we give far less attention to the brutal reality that the country we know and fight to protect now was built on the bloodshed and near extinction of the indigenous Native American tribes who preceded us.

From there, our nation's culture and economy was inhered with the use of slaves to do our most grueling work, while also exploiting them for everything from sex to entertainment (which often included beating someone to death, hanging or abject torture. Our own Civil War was fought largely over the issue of slavery, and the fact that well into the 21st century we are still having public debates about the propriety of the Confederate Flag  - under which the pro-slavery south fought - on our license plates and public buildings.

The ingredients for homegrown hate-based, religiously-fueled right wing extremism are abundantly evident, if only we are willing to acknowledge them. And yes, we do need to recognize that they are a part of our heritage, our past and our shared story. But that doesn't mean they should be things we fight to preserve and maintain as a symbol of pride.

Terrorism always has a complex combination of sources for its diabolical inspiration.  Unfortunately, we're far more willing to point the finger at the multitude of problems abroad, rather than engage in real, gut-wrenching work of exorcising similar demons from our midst in our own communities.

Christian Piatt is the author of postChristian and Blood Doctrine, his first novel. He is the founder and cohost of the Homebrewed CultureCast podcast and blogs on the Patheos Progressive Christian Channel

Getting Wrapped Up In The Flag

John Friedman   |   June 24, 2015   10:17 AM ET

I can't help but thinking that all of the recent gnashing of teeth over the Confederate (actually, the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia) flying over the Capitol of South Carolina (while an important conversation) has distracted us from the larger and more important conversations that we need to have and continue to avoid.

While we are busy debating what the flag represents in the minds of those who see it compared to those who wish to fly it, we are not talking about the issues that really matter.

Fact #1: Racism is not dead. Taking down the flag, or electing an African American president will not miraculously transform us into a post-racial society. Racism continues and is pervasive. And it is not only an issue among the poor, the less educated or confined to a geographic region. It is everywhere. Our obsession with political correctness may prevent people from overtly sounding like racists, but it does not change what is in hearts and minds.

Fact #2: The "cowboy" mystique inspires violent acts. Glorifying the single-person-with-a-gun-who-triumphs-against-the-system feeds directly into the mind of those who feel disenfranchised, powerless, helpless and angry. That culture grants permission and encourages those who would see themselves as self-appointing defenders of what they see as 'right.' And sadly, there are voices in the media fanning that sense of isolation, and siege mentality with incendiary claims that there is either a 'War' (note the violent image) on either Christians (over 70 percent of the population) or Women (51 percent). And the glorification of continuing to hold onto a 'lost' cause (such as the Civil War) remains part of this ethos.

Fact #3 Our differences divide us. Despite the hopeful words that children repeat by rote in the pledge allegiance, our nation is not "indivisible." We are a divided people and we have always been -- whether the issue was slavery, the 'gold standard', or the Supreme Court decision that determined that George W. Bush had been elected president, etc. And while it is vogue to say that our government has never been more divisive, our struggle to come together has often led to shoddy and shameful acts; including when member of the House of Representatives entered the Senate chamber and savagely beat Charles Sumner with a cane.

We must accept that, for our nation's history, these three things have defined us. We like to pretend that at least two (#1 and #3) don't exist, but they do. And the second one has nothing to do with the second Amendment. "The right to bear arms must not be infringed" is a right that our Constitution grants every citizen. But when you combine it with the license to act violently against with whom we disagree, and add the specter of racism it becomes a recipe for what we saw in Charleston, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, in Oklahoma City, at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Columbine, etc.

I am not arguing against the Confederate Flag, or the Second Amendment or political disagreements. Instead we must ask ourselves what it says about all of us that some continue to identify with those who sought to leave our nation. Or why so many of us are all too willing (eager) to kill - and die. Or if we cannot learn how to settle our differences productively and constructively.

Vaughn Can Go Packin'

Leslie Marshall   |   June 24, 2015   12:00 AM ET

I don't like Vince Vaughn. I've never met the man, but I have that six degrees of separation relationship with him -- sans Kevin Bacon.

It all started a few years back when one of my husband's best buddies was getting married in Bora Bora. Because it was a destination wedding, everything was being held at a resort. After our plane tickets were purchased and rooms and taxes paid, the hotel informed us that that it had canceled our reservations.

Why? Because Vince Vaughn was filming a movie there and allegedly he didn't want anyone staying at the hotel who wasn't in his flick, Couples Retreat. (Ironic title, huh?) Now keep in mind, this was someone's wedding, and there were two other couples getting married that same weekend! So, my first impression of Vaughn was that he was a diva accustomed to demanding and getting his way. And, since I live in Los Angeles, believe me, I've met plenty of them.

So imagine my surprise when I was asked for one of my weekly television appearances to comment on Vince Vaughn's assertion in a British GQ magazine that Americans should be able to carry guns everywhere, even in gun free zones.

Here's what Vaughn said:

I support people having a gun in public full stop, not just in your home. We don't have the right to bear arms because of burglars; we have the right to bear arms to resist the supreme power of a corrupt and abusive government. It's not about duck hunting; it's about the ability of the individual. It's the same reason we have freedom of speech. It's well known that the greatest defense against an intruder is the sound of a gun hammer being pulled back. All these gun shootings that have gone down in America since 1950, only one or maybe two have happened in non-gun-free zones. Take mass shootings. They've only happened in places that don't allow guns. These people are sick in the head and are going to kill innocent people. They are looking to slaughter defenseless human beings. They do not want confrontation. In all of our schools it is illegal to have guns on campus, so again and again these guys go and shoot up these f***ing schools because they know there are no guns there. They are monsters killing six-year-olds.

Now Vaughn's entitled to his opinion. But opinions based on fact are so much better.

Although I agree with Vaughn that the 2nd Amendment was meant to enable us to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government, nowhere in the 2nd Amendment does it state that there's a right to carry weapons around in our daily lives, in public, in plain view.

What about the rights of those like me, who choose not to bear arms and don't want them around me at Disneyland, which in Vaughn's utopia would not be a gun free zone. What about my right to have my children run free to meet Donald, Mickey and Cinderella without the fear of someone going postal after waiting in line too long? And as for the 2nd Amendment not applying to duck hunting? Well, don't tell that to the cast of Duck Dynasty.

When Vaughn speaks of the greatest defense against an intruder being a gun, he is wrong. He and those who believe this often cite a study quoted by the NRA, which was done by Northwestern University in 1995 -- a study now two decades old. The problem is that data is not the data we are working with today. More recently, a higher risk of suicide, homicide and even accidental death by gun have been linked to owning a gun. And although guns are used to defend our castle, for every time a gun is used to defend one's self, there are 11 suicide attempts, four accidents and seven murders or assaults.

And his claim that mass shootings only take place in gun-free zones is completely false. The Sikh Temple in Wisconsin had no such ban. Guns were, in fact, legal there.And at Columbine, there was an armed security guard in the school and another armed officer outside. Both, in fact, shot at the shooters, but that did not stop the carnage on that day.

And as for his "sick in the head" comment, isn't that reason enough for us not to all walk around with guns in holsters on our hips a la John Wayne? Anyone, without a background check and certainly without a psychological exam can obtain a gun at one of the numerous guns shows throughout our nation.

Vaughn's claim that all our schools are gun-free zones is not true either. Of the approximately 4,400 colleges and universities in the United States, most are gun free zones, but not all. And with legislation passed such as last week in Texas, where the Lone Star state will allow guns to be carried on college campuses starting in 2016, that claim is certainly changing and rapidly.

Do we send our children to colleges and universities to learn or to walk around in fear, and just in case a bad guy is around the corner, to make sure they can defend themselves with deadly weapons? If our college campuses are so dangerous, why are we sending our kids there at all?

As for Vince Vaughn, it's a good thing there are gun-free zones. For if those brides had been packing heat at that resort in Bora Bora, well, let's just say, he would definitely have understood the meaning of Bridezillas.

How California Teachers Beat the Gun Companies

Robert Greenwald   |   June 23, 2015    4:43 PM ET

The recent success of the California Federation of Teachers' (CFT) battle to remove investment in guns and pro-guns organizations from their retirement fund is a major victory. In the years since the ultimately successful divestment campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, the tactic of using one's money to change the world has been repeatedly second-guessed, called ineffective and generally dismissed. Yet divestment campaigns continue, on fossil fuels, on guns, and on other issues, for a reason: They work.

In the real world, where progress on tough issues is measured in millimeters, California teachers taking a stand and forcing their pension fund to divest millions from gun holdings was a practical and moral win that matters.

The campaign to divest began two years ago, when the country was jolted out of complacency by the horror of the Newtown school shooting. New groups formed, legislation was introduced in Congress and a pivotal moment in gun legislation was at hand. California teachers voted to have their pension fund, known as CalSTRS, divest from companies manufacturing firearms illegal for sale in California. The vote took place in April 2013, but two years later, the pension fund still held stock in Cerberus, which owns Freedom Group -- maker of the Bushmaster rifle used in the Sandy Hook massacre. CalSTRS said it was complicated and that they were working on divestment, but no one saw any movement. Cerberus claimed they were trying to sell Freedom Group, but despite protests from coalitions like Campaign to Unload, which includes the American Federation of Teachers, there was no evidence that they were truly making an effort.

"Our teachers took a stand, put their money where their mouths are and told the world that the violence in this country must end and that we are all responsible for making that happen," said CFT President Joshua Pechthalt. "We were truly amazed that those who supposedly worked for us and managed our money did not do everything they could to support us in our work."

By fall of 2014, it had become abundantly clear that progress would be made only if those who care deeply about gun-violence prevention gave CalSTRS no choice but to act.

The renewed campaign officially kicked into full gear in spring 2015 at the CFT's annual convention in Los Angeles, but planning for it began much earlier, with a new partnership between the teachers and our team here at Brave New Films. Together, we planned and delivered a hard-hitting short film featuring teachers who had been touched by gun violence in their lives or through the lives of their students. The film became a rallying point for teachers to speak out on social media, make phone calls and eventually launch simultaneous public protests in Sacramento, at the CalSTRS campus during a board meeting, and in Los Angeles, at the Cerberus Group's Southern California office.

In Sacramento, teachers screened the film outside the meeting and staged a "teach-in" to educate the board about the toll of gun violence on the lives of Californians. In L.A., my Brave New Films team and I joined angry teachers and other advocates in a similar teach-in and delivered thousands of petition signatures to Cerberus calling for the group to follow through on public promise and to sell Freedom Group.

And then in mid-May, Cerberus announced plans to let investors in their funds divest themselves specifically from Freedom Group.

The lessons here are no surprise to anyone who has organized and fought for change.

The voices of ordinary people matter. In this case, the teachers' voices mattered not only because they were the actual investors in the pension fund but because they had moral authority on the issue. They had felt the anguish of gun violence survivors and victims, and they were taking a stand for selfless reasons.

Press coverage matters. The Internet is a powerful tool for organizing without which they would not have had this success. People saw the film online, got angry and were moved to take action. And this action led to press coverage, which took the campaign to another level. When people in power see a story told in the media, it takes on a new reality and a sense of urgency. They know for sure that someone is watching what they do.

Finally, successes take time. With all the competing demands in our lives, from activism to family obligations, it's easy to think that one can send a tweet or an email or make a single phone call and his or her part will have been done. That never happens. Victory is always the result of sustained effort and constant pressure. Hang in there; it is worth it. But don't be overly patient -- know when it's time to ramp up the pressure.

The next steps in the gun divestment movement include ensuring that there are no firearm companies in the University of California's endowment. Gun-violence-prevention activists are also working to spread the word about how everyone with a retirement account can take a stand for peace and safety by unloading their 401k.

No matter what amount of money is in one's retirement fund, divesting from gun companies makes a difference. Divestment is a financial tactic, and the pain is felt at the bottom line, but it is also very much a matter of changing the world through social norms. Today's children not only know that smoking is bad for you but also are disgusted by the very idea of taking it up. That took one person at a time changing what they did and what they said. If we work at it, those children can grow up in a world free of random violence and with a political system that does not bend to the will of the loudest, richest voices -- like the gun manufacturers and their lobbyists, the National Rifle Association.

We've all seen the Margaret Mead quotation that half the people we know use in their email signature -- you know, the one about how a few committed people are the only way to make real change. Sure, it may be overused, but that sure doesn't make it any less true.

5 Lessons Charleston Can Teach Us About Race, Guns and Healing

Tavis Smiley   |   June 23, 2015    2:04 PM ET

The talking points have been many, varied and wrong. Here's how we can go forward with clarity and the resolve for change.

After last week's massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, there should have been no question of guilt, or motivation. Dylann Roof made it clear what he did, and why, long before his confession. And yet, the media has bungled so much of it, from beginning to, if not the end, then the point at which we continue, which today saw South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley call for the immediate removal of the Confederate flag.

Why did it take this event to lead to that? How can we re-examine the assumptions we hold and expand our inventory of ideas about the way we talk about race in America? Here are five points, just for a start.


Never in my media career have I seen media outlets refuse to show the face of any adult black murderer. Never. Quite the opposite: They loop it. All day, all night. We tend to see black men on television in one of two positions: handcuffs in the front, or handcuffs in the back. So what was with the burst of momentary morality that had certain talk show hosts refusing to show the killer's face? Really? To all of a sudden decide to not show Roof's face seemed not only disingenuous, but racial.


Can we stop letting pundits and politicians get away with selectively quoting Dr. King when black tragedies happen? Sure, King is the quintessential example of "nonviolence" and
"love thy neighbor as thyself," but he was also felled by an assassin's bullet, and six years after his death, his mother was shot and killed as she sat playing the organ at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Never mind that the black folk for whom he risked his life are still overwhelmingly the victims of gun violence in America.

To quote King about the "beloved community" and not get serious about gun violence in America is, at best, empty rhetoric, and at worst, a malignant mangling of his message. If you're going to quote King, then vote King: Get serious about gun control.


It didn't take long for partisan politicians and the chattering class to start manufacturing excuses about this tragedy. First it was an attack on faith. Then it was an "accident" that might have had more to do with drugs than guns, bumbled former Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. Or it was all about quickly casting Roof as "mentally ill" and "unstable," not a thug, criminal or terrorist. (Sidenote here: For all our handwringing, we are no more serious about adequately addressing America's mental health crisis than we are about addressing the gun epidemic.) Truly unbelievably, a board member of the NRA actually blamed one of the victims of the shooting for his political position on concealed-carry gun laws. Finally, the media seized on Roof's statement to police investigators that he "almost didn't go through with it." But he did.

Any excuse to do nothing, any route to circumvent the ugly truth! And what is the ugly truth? Lack of gun control. Personal and systemic racism. A political system undermined by corporate interests. Politicians who put personal gain and fleeting support above the needs of the citizens.


When is a terrorist not a terrorist? Apparently when he's a 21-year-old white male in America. Were he a 21-year-old Muslim attacking a sacred site in America, the media would have declared him a "terrorist" sooner than right now and quicker than at once.

Jim Naureckas, editor at, said it best:

If media are going to use the word 'terrorist' they need to have a single standard for its application. By applying the word to a [Boston Marathon] bombing with initially unknown perpetrators, and largely declining to use it in connection with a massacre allegedly perpetrated by a white supremacist hoping to spark a race war, media failed that test.
The media is a runner coming off the blocks. How it frames a breaking story is critical to both initial public perception and eventual public policy. 5. THE POWER OF LOVE The most important message to come out of this tragedy is, sadly, the lesson that we will likely forget soonest: forgiveness. Maybe it's just me, but given our society's unconscious biases about black men, I have a hard time believing that a 21-year-old black male in the South could just roll up into an all-white prayer circle, cop a seat next to the pastor and be welcomed like a Christian brother, no questions asked. I was at a dinner party after Roof's confession, and even the black folk at the table thought it was strange and abnormal that the black prayer warriors let this out-of-place white male just randomly stroll up in the church. I didn't agree. That's love. Growing up in a black church, I've seen it happen countless times with all kinds of random visitors. Indeed, our church's welcome, uttered in unison, went like this, "Welcome to the church where everybody is somebody, nobody is a stranger, and you belong here. Welcome!" Sadly in this world, sometimes trust makes you vulnerable and love can get you killed. And, yet, love is the only antidote to hate. What else is there? For a true Christian, there really is no more noble way to die. Refusing to judge folk, meeting them where they are, and sharing the Good News. Black America has learned to love this country in spite of, not because of. Even when the victim of the most heinous of assaults, at our best, we forgive so that we might live. The next time this happens, the media won't likely remind us of the extraordinary grace that we're witnessing right now. So, remember Charleston.

No Season of Jubilee

Sylvia Rhue, Ph.D.   |   June 23, 2015   12:45 PM ET

Mother Emanuel AME Church, famous for being the Church of Denmark Vesey, and one of the oldest churches in South Carolina, is now infamous for the Peculiar Institution of racially motivated hate crimes. Nine souls murdered for the eternal crime of being Black.

When someone enters a church, a synagogue, a temple, a mosque and shoots down people, it goes beyond the heinous act of killing the innocent. It shatters the sinews of a society.


For Black Americans, evil does not lurk, it lunges. It lynches. It lunches on our entrails with bloody fangs and reads the signs of past and future terror. It is celebrated as Americana. Baseball, apple pie, and racism.

America's Original Sin, 500 years in the making.

Jim Crow is back with a brand new outfit. It has molted its feathers and looks like another bird. It is now a mutant with two right wings: one wing is voter ID suppression and the other wing is the school-to-prison pipeline for our children. And voter suppression is not just for African Americans. It is for students, and Latinos and anyone who isn't "just so."

Chorus: Wheel about, and turn about, and do just so;
Every time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.

The melody lingers on.

The people who died in Mother Emanuel AME Church will be buried in a state that still flies the Confederate Battle flag at the State Court House. It is a truncated swastika. Still saluted. Still revered by those who believe in the Cult of Euro-Narcissism, aka, White supremacy.

So there will be no season of jubilee for us. No funeral for racism. No respite from its spiritual and physical violence. No parades for the final coffin of racial hatred. No victory parties, but the continuation of public outcry and private pain.

The despair of our diaspora continues. We can say, "It Gets Better." But right now it is bitter. Racism has infused liability into the bone marrow of our viability.

Now we must draw on our prayers and the strength of our ancestors who faced worse than today and survived. We will soldier on. We will face fear and loathing with the same rich, deep-veined reserves as those who went before us. We will soldier on. We will challenge the daily domestic terrorism that haunts our movements and existence and we will survive.

We soldier on.

What Do You Do When the World Is Too Much With You?

Edie Weinstein   |   June 22, 2015   11:24 PM ET

What do you do when you have days when the "world is too much with you"? I do my best to keep from absorbing the pain and angst of those in my personal life as well as what is going on all over the planet. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the magnitude of what is swirling around me.

Sitting here in beautiful Bucks County, P.A. -- a suburb of Philadelphia, grateful for my family, friends, home, job, Jeep, and the fact that I am rebounding from several health crises in the last year or so that included shingles, heart attack and kidney stones. Feeling revitalized as I am re-creating my life. All good stuff.

Elsewhere in the world... not so good stuff. War, church shootings, off the scale racism and hatred, climate change, people and animals being abused, addiction of monumental proportions sucking the life out of those in its clutches.

Ball of confusion, indeed.

What's an empath to do? Shields up. I know that taking on the traumas and dramas of others is not the answer. I used to carry the proverbial weight of the world and needed to put it down when I was almost crushed beneath it. Savior behavior and all that comes with it. Being a martyr isn't pretty.

Today, I didn't feel like leaving the house. Spent the day writing A LOT, had a work-related phone meeting, did promo for my articles and workshops, took two required online competency classes/tests for my job, and then guided friends who wanted assistance with getting their business out on a grander scale. Later, I spoke with a family member who is facing a major health issue that I can do nothing to help, but just listen and love. Focusing on quality of life for her, without letting the fear of losing her getting in the way.

I contemplated going to the gym to sweat it all out, but voted for a restorative nap instead. I was greeted in my dreamtime by images of tumultuous storms that threatened to sweep me away. It felt so real that I was tempted to get up and batten down the hatches outside. I was relieved when I awoke to see calm twilight instead.

I have gotten adept at self care, when in the past, I would have muscled on through, creating a "spiritual bypass," as I told myself that I had nothing to complain about, echoing my well-meaning father, "If that's the worst thing that happens to you, you'll be all right."

Nowadays I pray, meditate, exercise, spend time in nature, hang out with kindred spirits, dance, drum, cry when needed, laugh a bunch, read, express gratitude. Despite all of those interventions, there are still moments when I feel this emptiness and weariness attempting to overtake me.

I reached out to the Facebook collective mind/heart and was greeted by other ideas that included yoga nidra, EFT, hugs, letting myself off the hook and honoring my intentions as good and honorable. By bolstering myself and allowing others to support me and the planet, since we are all in this together, I can become an even greater force for good in the world.

'Good Guy With a Gun' Stories Are a Lot Less Common Than the NRA Wants You to Believe

Mike Weisser   |   June 22, 2015    4:55 PM ET

Every time there's a mass shooting, it ignites the debate about whether guns make us more or less safe. And even though the NRA has been surprisingly silent since the Charleston massacre (but that will probably change within the next few days) they have plenty of surrogates running the virtues of the 'armed citizen' up the rhetorical flagpole, of which the latest is a story in the online Washington Times about how "a good guy with a gun stopped a bad guy, saving lives." The intro to the story says "With tragic events such as the shooting of a bible study group at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, the stories of heroic self defense and lives saved by legal gun owners are often overlooked." And we are then treated to eleven examples of what happened when bad guys were confronted by good guys carrying guns.

Before I review these 11 stories, bear in mind that whenever someone promotes the armed-citizen nonsense, there's usually some caveat about how the 'mainstream' media goes out of their way to diminish or entirely ignore all the wonderful things accomplished by good guys with guns. But since this story ran in the Washington Times, which promotes the NRA's viewpoint as if the Reverend Moon owned the NRA, I'm going to assume that these stories are the real deal and, if not an exhaustive compilation of good guy-bad guy episodes, at least give us some idea of how much and how often we can depend on our fellow armed citizens to protect us from all those nasties out there.

The first story concerns Jeanne Assam, who was something of a poster-girl for the CCW movement after she shot and killed a shooter outside of a Colorado Springs church following a Sunday service when congregants were heading for their cars. Actually, it turned out that the shooter committed suicide after being wounded by Assam's gunfire, but let's not quibble over details. The bottom line is that her actions may have saved the lives of other parishioners, so she deserves our recognition and our thanks.

But there's only one little problem with the story itself, namely, that it occurred in 2007. And if you take the trouble to read through all 11 accounts of armed citizens protecting someone else or just themselves, it turns out that only one of the episodes took place in 2015. In fact, one of the episodes took place in 2006, and in two other instances, the 'armed citizens' turned out to be professional security guards or cops. So what the story gets down to is, in fact, exactly nine examples of good guys protecting us from bad guys over a period of nine years.

Now you would think that in a country which, according to John Lott's estimate, has issued more than 11 million concealed-carry permits, that the Washington Times could dig up more than nine stories to prove that bad guys are only stopped by good guys carrying guns. So I went to the real fount of knowledge when it comes to the benefits of concealed-carry, namely, the NRA, which has been publishing examples of good guys stopping bad guys since 1958. Here's how they put it: "The NRA Armed Citizen® stories highlight accounts of law-abiding gun owners in America using their Second Amendment rights to defend self, home and family."

Know how many good-guy stories the NRA has published in the past 57 years? Somewhere around 1,540, give or take a few, which translates into roughly 36 per year. Don't get me wrong; the people whose lives were saved by those 1,540 good guys will never be able to thank them enough. But do those numbers balance out the 30 people who are shot to death every day? Maybe what good guys do and what bad guys do have nothing to do with each other. But they do. It's called a gun.

After Charleston

Tom F. Driver   |   June 22, 2015   12:43 PM ET

Following the nine murders in Charleston, the most amazing thing has been the public reaction of the victims' families, who have, as they say, refused to let the mass murders push them into hatred. Instead of calling for revenge, or even "justice," they offered forgiveness. It is the strongest affirmation of nonviolence that I have ever heard.

Now all us white folks, listen carefully: The ball is in our court. It is up to us to get the guns off the street and to become nonviolent ourselves. If we're just bystanders and grievers, we're giving the support of silence to the racists among us.