Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Resistance is NOT Futile!

You're tired. I know. I'm tired too. You watched helplessly as John Kerry conceded the presidency the day after "Black Tuesday". You, like so many others, including myself, believed that with such a ridiculously inept incumbent, "How could he (Kerry) lose?" Only to find out that the deck appears to have been stacked against, not only Kerry, but also democracy itself via voter fraud, voter intimidation, and electronic tampering. The Rethuglican juggernaut was rolling on, unabated.

Many liberals and progressives around the country probably began to believe and feel that, to quote the BORG of Star Trek fame, "Resistance is futile." I certainly have felt that way at times.

Recent events that escaped the radar of the Republican Media Machine - formerly known as the Liberal media - have given me hope, however. In fact, I feel downright energized.

Last week at Georgetown University, twenty-two students ended a nine-day hunger strike that successfully persuaded the heads of that prestigious university to give its contracted service employees a living wage. With support from the AFL-CIO and other students around the country participating in "solidarity fasts", the students raised awareness about the low wages paid to service employees of Georgetown University and that those wages are less than one tenth of what the university's president makes. According to WTOP Radio, "The university sent an all-student e-mail last night (March 23) detailing plans to increase wages and the students accepted the plan." The workers currently earn $11.33/hour (to some that may seem high enough already, but the cost of living in Washington, D.C. is higher than in many American cities). The plan will give the workers a raise to $13/hour by July 1, 2005 and up to $14 by July 2007. The plan also includes additional benefits such as use of the school's library and shuttle service.

This was a group of students who were simply looking out for people less fortunate than themselves. They were willing to and did make sacrifices for the benefit of others. And in the end, it will benefit the students that follow them to that university. I only wish that more progressives - and I have to include myself - were willing to do the same.

Resistance is not futile. Small victories do add up.

Do you know what a pogrom is? Are you aware that until recently, a notorious proponent of this genocidal practice was about to be welcomed to the United States with open arms and lavish banquets? Like most Americans, I was unaware of the pogroms that have occurred and continue to occur in India until a friend opened my eyes. For the uninitiated, a pogrom (pronounced: poe-grum) is "an organized, often officially encouraged massacre or persecution of a minority group..." according to dictionary.com. Mr. Narendra Modi is the chief minister - an elected official similar to governors in the U.S. - of India's Gujarat, a state located on its uppermost northwest coast. Modi reportedly idolizes Hitler. Mr. Modi is also a reported architect of this officially-sanctioned genocide that occurred in 2002. Over 2,000 Muslims were killed in Gujarat; justified by the state government as a knee-jerk reaction against the horrific mass murder of 56 Hindu men, women, and children committed reportedly by several Muslim extremists. There is a growing number of Indians who feel the mass murders that sparked the pogroms may have have been manufactured by Mr. Modi.

Those on the right side of the aisle (that's "right" as in directional, not "right" as in correct) are probably saying, "So what?" The answer to that is: "There but for the grace of God, go we." Right after the events of 9/11, Muslims in America were persecuted, certainly not to this degree, but still persecuted. One of our supposed reasons for toppling Saddam's government - after the WMD angle fell through - was because of his pogroms on the Kurds as well as his own people. There is another reason Saddam may have been chosen to fall... he looks like them, which appeased deep seeded prejudices. Most tend to forget that Saddam was our boy for most of his reign of terror. There are countless violators of human rights all over the world. The United States has played patty-cake with most and hardball with only a few, and only after they have fallen out of our good graces. We turn a blind eye when there is money to be made. We only invade when there is much more money to be made. Sorry for the digression.

The Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), scored another small victory for human rights and against big business when American Express withdrew its sponsorship of the Asian American Hotel Owner Association of America (AAHOA) convention held in Florida. CAG's contention was not of the conference itself, but rather its honoring of Mr. Modi, "the Indian politician who has been internationally condemned for his human rights abuses and for direct responsibility in the 2002 pogrom against minorities in Gujarat, India."

According to CAG's website, "American Express representative Ms. Elliott stated, 'A conference that was intended to help promote travel and tourism has become the object of partisan political contention. Therefore, we have chosen to withdraw from the conference.'" This only occurred after numerous phone calls and letters to American Express from CAG and the coalition's supporters. In addition, Mr. Modi's VISA was denied and Congressman Kendrick Meek (D-FL 17th) cancelled a dinner reception as well due to a "scheduling conflict."

What strikes me about American Express is that even when they do the right thing, they can't even own up to it because of political pressure from their colleagues and the rest of big business. Terri Schiavo was made "the object of partisan political contention" - by Republicans. Standing up to officially sanctioned genocide should not be considered partisan but rather everyone's political contention. Sorry, pro-lifers, Mrs. Schiavo does not qualify.

The same can be said for those brave Georgetown University students' hunger strike. Paying people a living wage should not be a partisan issue. Those kids resolved to make a difference in many others' lives, not because it was a partisan issue, but because it was the right thing to do. They put their money where their mouths were and acted to improve the quality of life for those less fortunate. Where are their Medals of Freedom, Mr. President?

Pro-lifers hold their little marches and hold their signs, and blow up an abortion clinic here and there, but when it comes to real activism, they suck, just like most of us. I would have a lot more respect for pro-lifers if they volunteered their time and energy to the actual care of those they claim to be protecting. Adopt some of those unwanted babies you keep insisting be born. Go change the bedding, diapers, and colostomy bags for those terminally ill who have absolutely no one marching in their names. You're not going to do any of that and you know it. Yet you get all up in arms when someone wants to prevent or end their suffering. Typical. To further point out your ridiculousness, stem-cell research might be the one way to truly find a cure for Terri Schiavo. Culture of life, indeed.

What CAG and the Georgetown 22 have in common is organization, persistence and resolve. True, these were small victories in the grand scheme of things, but when you string together enough small victories, true change will begin to take hold.

If you're tired of the way things are being done in this country, if you don't want a Christian-styled American Taliban to destroy this land of the free, then I implore you to get active - while it is still free. Find your voice, find your venue, and get busy!

Me? I'm just getting started.

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