‘We are jobless because of fish poisoning’: Vietnamese fishermen battle for justice

A year after Vietnams worst environmental disaster, lives remain ruined while the government cracks down on protesters seeking compensation

We used to eat the meat of the pig, but now all we have to eat is the skin the Vietnamese saying neatly encapsulates the predicament facing the countrys fishermen, says Nguyen Viet Thieu.

Before the marine disaster happened, I could earn up to 15m Vietnamese dongs [500], reflects Nguyen. But after, I didnt sell any fish at all. I was sick of my profession.

He moors and ties his small boat in the dock of Tan An village. Today, he has caught nothing.

This weekend, like every other, Nguyen and his neighbours will attend a protest vigil at the local church. It is their attempt to keep attention focused on the aftermath of the chemical spill that poisoned up to 125 miles of Vietnams central coastline last April. The disaster has damaged the regional economy of a country that earned $7bn (5.4bn) from seafood exports in 2016.

Led by Catholic priests, prayers and marches have been held ever since. Despite reports of demonstrators being arrested and beaten by the authorities in Nghe An province, rallies calling for justice and government accountability have been spreading across this central region.

Families from Nghe An say their livelihoods have been destroyed by the toxic discharge from a steel plant in neighbouring Ha Tinh province. But compensation has been awarded only to people in Ha Tinh and three other adjacent provinces Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue.

Anger has been growing over the governments handling of what is thought to be the countrys worst environmental disaster affecting 450 hectares (1,112 acres) of coral reefs, of which about half were totally destroyed.

Slow government response and denials of wrongdoing sparked angry protests not often seen in four decades of Communist party rule.

In April 2016, at least 70 tonnes of dead fish were washed ashore. In July, the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp, a subsidiary of Taiwans Formosa Plastics Group, admitted responsibility, blaming an accidental release of chemicals including cyanide in waste water during a test run of the plant.

Formosa Ha Tinhs chairman, Chen Yuan-Cheng, apologised, saying: Our company takes full responsibility and sincerely apologises to the Vietnamese people for causing the environmental disaster that seriously affected the livelihood, production and jobs of the people and the sea environment.

A government minister, Mai Tien Dung, told reporters Formosa Ha Tinh had pledged $500m for a cleanup and to pay compensation, which included helping fishermen find new jobs.

A woman collects fish on the beach of Dong Yen village next to the Formosa factory. Photograph: Nguyen Huy Kham/Reuters

According to the ministry of labour, more than 40,000 workers in Vietnam who rely on fishing and tourism were directly affected and a quarter of a million people nationwide felt the repercussions of the toxic spill.

Activists and environmentalists questioned the agreement reached between the government and the company because there had been no independent evaluation of the true impact.

It is critical to publish a chemical blacklist to be acted upon immediately, says Hikmat Suriatanwijaya, of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. We urge factories to disclose chemical information to facilitate supply chain transparency and create a level playing field for the industry. The Formosa disaster has shown us exactly the impact of such irresponsible and unsustainable business practice.

The Vietnamese government did not respond to a request for comment.

In April, on the first anniversary of the spill, thousands of people occupied beaches, roads and public offices demanding justice, ocean decontamination and the shutdown of the steel plant.

Blogger Tran Minh Nhat says: At the beginning, the government neglected the disaster despite the evidence. Now, it uses all possible means to stop affected villagers from complaining. Five people have been arrested. They are stopping citizens from seeking justice.

Protesters in Hanoi hold a banner saying Vietnam people, save the sea at a rally against the governments response to the toxic spill from the Formosa Ha Tinh steel plant. Photograph: Luong Thai Linh/EPA

Tran is on probation from a prison sentence for conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the peoples administration. On his blog, he reported on Februarys police attack on 700 peaceful marchers in Nghe An who were on their way to submit legal complaints against Formosa, claiming $20m in damages.

Organised by clergy and lawyers, the legal struggle between fishermen and one of Vietnams largest investors began as soon as Nghe An province was excluded from the government restitution agreement.

Weve given financial support to affected families and helped them file petitions, says Dang Huu Nam, a priest whose church has become a haven for activists. We managed to submit more than 600 individual lawsuits at the Qy Anh court in August 2016. But there are around 5,000 villagers harmed.

His prominent role has attracted the attention of the authorities and in August he was arrested while in Hanoi for a medical checkup. They interrogated me for four hours and told me to stop supporting demonstrators, he says.

To counter state-run media allegations of disagreements over anti-Formosa protests, 18 priests signed a joint statement of support. The church stands by the side of Formosas victims. Weve raised around 1bn Vietnamese dongs [34,000] for those in need, says Father Nguyen Nam Phong, a priest at Tai Ha church in Hanoi.

The courts have rejected all lawsuits against Formosa, citing lack of evidence. We are jobless, four people are dead because of fish poisoning and a whale was found dead on Cua Lo beach, only 50km from here. What other proof do they need? asks Nguyen So Menh, a fisherman from Tan An village.

The effects of the spill have been felt by restaurateurs like Mai Ngoc Ky on Cua Viet beach. Photograph: Nguyen Huy Kham/Reuters

Despite no official data being published and concerns that it may take decades to restore the marine ecosystem, Hanoi has declared the national seawaters clean and safe for swimming and fishing.

But a recent explosion at Formosas steel mill in Ha Tinh has again put pressure on the government to scrutinise the activities of foreign companies.

The Formosa conglomerate, with its $10.6bn steel complex in Ha Tinh, wants to make the mill the biggest in south-east Asia.

We dont earn enough to provide milk for our children and we had to borrow money from the church to pay their school fees, says Nguyen Tha Tran, a fish-sauce seller and mother of four, from Tan An.

The government should give compensation to all regions so that families can restore our living conditions. It should also clean up the ocean and close Formosa.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/aug/14/vietnamese-fishermen-jobless-fish-poisoning-battle-justice

How the homophobic Muslim became a populist bogeyman | Moustafa Bayoumi

US Muslims are now more tolerant than many Christian groups. If you listened to Trump, Le Pen and Anne Marie Waters, youd believe that was impossible, writes author and academic Moustafa Bayoumi

Heres something you may not have thought likely. A majority of American Muslims now believes that its fine to be gay. The latest Pew Research Centre survey, published on 26 July, tells us that most think homosexuality should be accepted by society. The poll further shows how dramatically acceptance has risen, nearly doubling from 27% to 52% since 2007 (among millennial Muslims, its 60%). Muslims may lag behind the general public, for whom the corresponding figure on this issue is 63%, but they poll at exactly the same percentage as Protestants and far above white evangelical Christians, a mere 34% of whom believe that homosexuality should be tolerated.

If you have actually spent some time with American Muslims you wont be surprised by these numbers. Im not. This is a multifaceted group of people, representing many different and sometimes conflicting tendencies and traditions. But the Pew data shows us that the overall tilt of the community, even while it is itself contending with high levels of discrimination, is progressive andoptimistic.

Youd never know it if you listened to populist leaders. Whether in the US, the UK, or on the European continent, the idea that Muslims represent a civilisational threat to the west because of an intrinsic ultra-conservatism, which includes a violent hatred of gay people, is so widespread that it is seen as a truism. Not only is this tidy titbit of political wisdom false, it also ends up obscuring the degree of homophobia in other parts of society, and in our politics.

Rightwing populism is especially devoted to this narrative. From DonaldTrump to the Netherlands Geert Wilders, Frances Marine Le Pen and Ukips Anne Marie Waters, todays demagogues seek to convince the public that they are the true defenders of freedom, courting LGBT votes by dangling the caricature of a dangerous, intolerant and homophobic Muslim in front of their eyes. But this apparent support for LGBT rights is often only skin-deep.

During the US presidential campaign, Trump frequently argued that he was the best candidate for LGBT voters because Hillary Clinton was soft on Muslim immigration. At the Republican convention, Trump stated: As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. Now Trump is proposing to ban all transgender people from serving in the military.

During the French presidential election Marine Le Pen surrounded herself with gay advisers and claimed that she alone would protect LGBT people from the Muslim menace. France isnt burkinis on the beach. France is Brigitte Bardot, she said, and claimed during a televised debate that Emmanuel Macron was supported by a French Muslim organisation that sponsored speakers who hated Jews and homosexuals. (I think its terrific to see you speak words in defence of homosexuals and Jews, Macron cleverly responded.) But Le Pen also opposed gay marriage (and, just in case you wondered, not from a principled point of criticism of the bourgeois roots of marriage), legal in France only since 2013. The fact is, she isnot a true defender of LGBT rights, just an opportunist.

Geert Wilders animosity towards all things Muslim is so over the top that it appears to be turning his hair peroxide-blond. (It has been reported that he dyes his hair because his original dark curls drew racist jeers as a child.) Day after day, for years, we are experiencing the decay of our cherished values, he said in January. The equality of men and women, freedom of opinion and speech, tolerance of homosexuality all this is in retreat. Again, its hard not to conclude that the greatest threat to the Dutch tradition of tolerance isnt Islam but people such as Wilders. The good news is that neither he nor Le Pen succeeded in their campaigns.

Ukip leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters at an anti-Islam protest in London last year. Photograph: Vickie Flores/REX/Shutterstock

But now a bid for the leadership of Ukip is under way by none other than Waters, founder of Sharia Watch UK. Her manifesto demands the party publicly acknowledge that Islamic culture is simply not compatible with our own. Shes been quoted as saying that sharia law has terrible elements to it in terms of treatment of women, antisemitism and homophobia. And yet it was Roger Helmer, one of Ukips leading lights, who once asked: Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex-change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to turn a consenting homosexual? He is also said to believe there are that there are different degrees of culpability in rape cases.

Oh, the brave men and women of the right. Ever ready to proclaim the threat of Muslim homophobia, they cynically depend on incorporating LGBT concerns into their divisive narratives without in fact providing them full rights of inclusion.

Last month in Germany, for example, lawmakers voted to approve gay marriage (and adoption) in a historic vote. The anti-Muslim populist party Alternative for Germany opposed the measure on ideological grounds, while all six Muslim members of parliament voted in support of the bill. Incidentally, Chancellor Angela Merkel, now widely seen as the pre-eminent guardian of western liberal values, voted against the bill.

The underlying point here is not that Muslims arent homophobic. Some clearly are. Some undoubtedly arent. Rather, the crucial point borne out by the Pew data is that positions can change over time.

In the UK, Muslims are still dealing with fallout from a Channel 4 documentary What British Muslims Really Think that purported to show how different they were from other Britons. It included the statistic that 52% of UK Muslims believe homosexuality should be illegal, which is shocking in isolation. Its a different metric, but consider this: in 1985, only 9% of British Catholics believed that same-sex relationships were not wrong. By 2016, that had leapt to 62%. Catholic doctrine had not changed in the interim; attitudes had.

How such change happens is whatweshould pay attention to. Lastyear, Omar Mateen killed 49 people in a horrific attack on a gay nightclub he had previously been a patron of in Florida. Sincere discussions have sincebegun between LGBT and Muslimcommunities in the US, with spaces also opening up for LGBT Muslimsthemselves.

Imams and scholars issued a statement condemning the attack and, while falling short of full acceptance of gay Muslims, underlined the liberty to pursue happiness as each sees fit. Muslim LGBT groups, such as the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, have grown in prominence. Philanthropic organisations such as the Contigo Fund are backing initiatives thatunite LGBT, Latin and Muslim communities to battle homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination.

The health of any society is premised on its ability to face its fissures squarely, but that is not what anti-Muslim populists are doing. By arguing that Islam and the west are forever incompatible, they construct a Muslim bogeyman while denying both their own homophobia as well as the living, breathing Muslims in their midst.

Moustafa Bayoumi is an author and a professor of English at City University, New York

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/07/homophobic-muslim-populist-bogeyman-trump-le-pen

How Facebook groups bring people closer together neo-Nazis included

Mark Zuckerbergs new mission is to bring the world closer together. But Facebook groups can unite extremists as easily as they serve hobbyists

Ricky Caya was looking for something. A 43-year-old postal service worker and father of two in Quebec, he felt unsettled and unconnected. The great social movements of the 1960s, the American civil rights movement, flower power, the big trade union movements people today dont have that, he said.

So when a Facebook post crossed his news feed promoting a new organization that sought to bring together good people without a voice to finally allow them to have strength in numbers, Caya requested membership to the group and quickly became an active participant and leader.

In many ways, Caya could be a poster child for Mark Zuckerbergs new mission for Facebook to bring the world closer together through the power of meaningful Facebook groups.

But its unlikely that Zuckerberg will be touting Caya and his Facebook friends in a branded video anytime soon. Because Caya is a member of La Meute, a virulently anti-Islam Facebook group with 50,000 members.

On 16 July, La Meute, whose founders express a political affinity with Frances Marine Le Pen, notched a real-world victory when voters rejected the establishment of a Muslim cemetery in a small town near Quebec City. The burial ground had been proposed after the families of six people massacred at a Quebec City mosque in January had nowhere nearby to bury their loved ones. La Meute (it means the Wolf Pack in French) helped lead a campaign to force a referendum, prompting many Qubcois to blame the group for the votes failure. (The organizations leaders did not respond to a request for comment.)

In the end, what people want is to be united in something bigger than them, said Caya. A sense of belonging.

Or, as Zuckerberg said in a June speech when he announced Facebookss new mission statement: When you bring people together, you never know where it will lead.

As Facebook has grown to more than 2 billion users, and as Zuckerberg has embarked on a post-2016 election attempt to understand the social impact of his creation, Facebook groups have become the centerpiece of his messaging around the companys ability to change the world for the better.

In a lengthy manifesto published in February, Zuckerberg revealed a preoccupation with Americans well-documented decline in membership in local organizations such as churches, unions, parent-teacher associations and sports teams an idea apparently cribbed from Robert Putnams classic sociology text, Bowling Alone.

Such groups provide all of us with a sense of purpose and hope; moral validation that we are needed and part of something bigger than ourselves; comfort that we are not alone and a community is looking out for us, Zuckerberg wrote. It is possible many of our challenges are at least as much social as they are economic related to a lack of community and connection to something greater than ourselves.

In June, at the inaugural Facebook Communities Summit, Zuckerberg returned to the theme: For decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter, he said. Thats a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else. This is our challenge.

Zuckerbergs solution to the decline in what he calls social infrastructure and Putnam calls social capital is, perhaps unsurprisingly: more Facebook. Specifically, more Facebook groups.

Setting a goal of helping 1 billion people join meaningful groups, he told a cheering crowd of Facebook group administrators: If we can do this, it will not only turn around the decline in community membership weve seen for decades, it will start to strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together.

Its impossible to say whether Zuckerbergs stated belief in the transformative ability of his own products is naive or cynical. It is undoubtedly true that many Facebook groups are meaningful to many people.In his speech, Zuckerberg singled out for praise audience members who had founded groups for disabled veterans, adopted children, lonely locksmiths and black fathers in Baltimore.

But Facebook groups like any social capital can just as easily be used for ill as good. And social capital is not an unalloyed good. A 2013 study by New York University political scientist Shanker Satyanath, Bowling for Fascism, found that dense networks of social organizations and clubs in Germany helped promote the spread of nazism. And even a cursory search of Facebook unearths networks of extremists using groups to recruit and organize.

Take the Soldiers of Odin, a far-right, anti-refugee organization founded by Finnish white supremacist Mika Ranta in late 2015. The vigilante groups anti-Muslim message spread from Scandinavia to the Americas quickly, with a network of Facebook groups developing in the US and Canada by early 2016, according to separate studies by the Anti-Defamation League and Yannick Veilleux-Lepage of the University of St Andrews Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.

In many ways, these organizations are entirely dependent on social media, said Veilleux-Lepage, who used social network analysis to find extensive ties between the Canadian and Finnish groups, despite the fact that the Canadian chapters have distanced themselves publicly from the Finnish extremists. Veilleux-Lepage pointed out that the same feature that has made social media a powerful force in democratic movements the fact that it lowers the barrier for political participation is also what makes it useful to extremists. The barrier to engage with these groups is much lower than it ever was, he said.

Many far-right groups appear to use a combination of public groups, which anyone can join, closed groups, which anyone can search for but which require approval to join, and secret groups, which are invite-only. Prospective members request entry to a closed group, then are required to go through a vetting process, such as uploading a video pledging ones allegiance to the cause or submitting to an interview over Skype.

That process makes it easier for extremist organizations to evade Facebooks moderators, said Keegan Hankes, an intelligence analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

A lot of Facebooks moderation revolves around users flagging content, Hankes said. When you have this kind of vetting process, you dont run the risk of getting thrown off Facebook.

Facebook has been working on developing technology to complement its human moderators, and is already using artificial intelligence to crack down on terrorist content. But the sheer volume of content on the platform and complexity of deciphering meaning and intent make combating hate on the platform a herculean task.

Most groups on Facebook are connecting for good from addiction recovery to support for new moms but if any group does violate our community standards, we will remove it, Facebook vice-president Justin Osofsky said in a statement.

But many groups appear to be aware of Facebooks rules for hate speech, so they enforce their own rules against offensive language despite espousing hateful ideologies. Facebook will only remove groups if it finds they are dedicated to promoting hate against protected characteristics such as gender or race, a bar that apparently is not cleared by Soldiers of Odin or La Meute.

Still, getting kicked off Facebook can be a critical blow to such organizations, Hankes noted, because they rely on social networks to find new members.

These are the spaces where you talk to people who arent already in your movement, Hankes said of social media sites. Recruitment is always at the center of this. The alt-right and white nationalists are extremely conscious of the fact that they are in the minority, and they are always trying to get more members.

Hankes also argued that Facebook has shown considerably less commitment to policing its platform for domestic extremist groups than it has to cracking down on Isis and al-Qaida.

In 2016, the SPLC sent Facebook a list with links to more than 200 pages, profiles and groups affiliated with SPLC-designated hate groups. A Guardian audit this month found that at least 175 of those links remain active, including closed groups for neo-Nazi, white nationalist and neo-Confederate organizations. After being contacted by the Guardian, Facebook removed nine additional groups.

Theyre not using [Facebook] just to send each other nice notes, Hankes said. Were talking about hate groups who are taking the work of creating a white ethno-nationalist state very seriously, and theyre doing it all on the platform.

Mark Zuckerbergs 2017 personal challenge to visit and meet people in all 50 states has triggered an avalanche of speculation that the CEO is considering running for political office. How else to explain the billionaires decision to break bread with a steelworkers family in Ohio, attend services at a black church in South Carolina or discuss public safety with Dallas police officers?

But whats striking about the newly political Zuckerberg is precisely how un-political he manages to be. I used to think that if we just gave people a voice and helped them connect, that would make the world better by itself. In many ways it has, but our society is still divided, he said at the communities summit. Now I believe we have a responsibility to do even more. Its not enough to simply connect the world, we must also work to bring the world closer together.

Both versions of this mission statement lack any kind of political framework to discern that, actually, the world might be better off if some people remain disconnected and far apart.

Zuckerbergs skill at ignoring these complexities makes him better fitted as an evangelist for the Church of Facebook than a political candidate. I know we can do this, he pledged to the crowd at the communities summit. We can reverse this decline, rebuild our communities, start new ones, and bring the whole world closer together.

Or, as Ricky Caya put it in a Facebook message: Facebook helps connect people, and those people can use it to organize themselves. It is also a tool of choice for the Islamic State, and thousands of other groups, on subjects from macrame to cycling to politics, to extremism.

Everyone is there!!

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/31/extremists-neo-nazis-facebook-groups-social-media-islam

Face-sitting protest outside parliament against new porn rules

Sex workers and campaigners gather to demonstrate opposition to changes to UK pornography regulations

Sex workers and campaigners have gathered in front of parliament to protest against changes to UK pornography regulations.

Organiser Charlotte Rose called the restrictions ludicrous and said they were a threat to freedom of expression.

Protesters say the list of banned activities includes face-sitting, and campaigners planned to carry out a mass demonstration of this while singing the Monty Python song Sit On My Face.

These activities were added to this list without the public being made aware, Charlotte Rose said. Theyve done this without public knowledge and without public consent.

There are activities on that list that may be deemed sexist, but its not just about sexism, its about censorship. What the government is doing is taking our personal liberties away without our permissions.

Protesters outside parliament. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

The protest comes after the government said a list of sex acts has been banned from online porn videos filmed in the UK, in a bid to crack down on harmful content.

A quiet change in legislation has ruled that paid-for online porn videos must now adhere to the same rules as content produced for sex shop-type videos.

It means acts that would not be classified as an R18 rating, in line with guidelines laid out by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), are prohibited.

The list of around 10 acts reportedly range from spanking to strangulation.

Critics argue the change not only damages the countrys porn industry, with online viewers still able to access content banned in the UK by watching videos filmed abroad, but amounts to arbitrary censorship.

The Audiovisual Media Services Regulation 2014 came into effect this month.

Mistress Absolute, 39, a professional dominatrix and fetish promoter, said the law was restrictive.

I felt that this was the beginning of something to creep into my sexual freedom and sexual preferences.

This is a gateway to other laws being snuck in.

Protesters outside parliament. Photograph: Vianney Le Caer/Rex Features

Her friend Neil Rushton, 33, a mature student, said: Theyre very sexist laws. These are very geared towards womens enjoyment as opposed to mens.

The pair will take part in the mass face-sitting this afternoon.

Justin Hancock, a sex educator who runs the website Bish UK, said: Often the same filters that block these websites block my website, so I suffer from the same kind of censorship issues that the porn industry does.

This particular regulation will not prevent one person from seeing any porn that they cant already see elsewhere anyway.

Them using the argument around sex and young people is completely specious.

Its moralising. Its about saying as a society what kind of sex is okay.

Hancock also warned that the state is trying to take control of the internet.

Obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman, Jerry Barnett from Sex and Censorship and Jane Fae from the Consenting Adult Action Network were among those making speeches at the protest.

Fae called the changes heteronormative, and said: What is being clamped down on is any kind of online content made by adults who are consenting.

This is entrenching big business.

Protesters chanted: What do we want? Face-sitting! When do we want it? Now!

Participants wearing gimp masks used mats and blankets to act out face-sitting.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/dec/12/face-sitting-protest-outside-parliament-against-new-porn-rules

Venezuela violence: Woman killed, 4 injured as thousands vote in opposition referendum

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans lined up across the country and in expatriate communities around the world Sunday to vote in a symbolic rejection of President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution, a proposal that’s raising tensions in a nation battered by shortages and anti-government protests.

A 61-year-old woman was killed and four people wounded by gunfire that erupted after government supporters on motorcycles swarmed an opposition polling site in a church in the traditionally pro-government Catia neighborhood of western Caracas.

The opposition mayor of the Caracas borough of Sucre, Carlos Ocariz, said pro-government paramilitary groups attacked voters outside the Our Lady of Carmen Church around 3 p.m. The chief prosecutor’s office said Xiomara Soledad Scott, a nurse, had been killed and four others wounded in the incident.

Video posted to social media showed massive crowds outside the church, then hundreds of people running in panic outside the church as motorcycle-riding men zoomed past and shots rang out.

Maduro made no mention of the incident in comments on state television shortly after the official close of opposition polls at 4 p.m., but he called for an end to violence that he blamed on the opposition.

“I’m calling on the opposition to return to peace, to respect for the constitution, to sit and talk,” Maduro said. “Let’s start a new round of talks, of dialogue for peace.”

In what appeared to be smaller numbers in many parts of the capital, government supporters went to polling stations in a rehearsal for a July 30 vote to elect members of the assembly that will retool Venezuela’s 1999 constitution.

The opposition says that vote has been structured to pack the constitutional assembly with government supporters and allow Maduro to eliminate the few remaining checks on his power, creating a Cuba-style system dominated by his socialist party.

The success of the opposition’s symbolic referendum will be measured by how many millions participate. Democratic Unity, a coalition of some 20 opposition parties, has printed 14 million ballots for voters inside and outside the country of 31 million people. Few expect turnout that high but analysts say participation by more than 8 million people would significantly hike pressure on the government.

Participation appeared to be high, with large crowds of people lining up at tables in churches and parks across the capital. Ballots were still being counted late Sunday.

“Since we opened at 7 a.m. the line hasn’t let up,” said Pedro Garcia, organizer of a voting station filled with hundreds of people in the south Caracas neighborhood of El Valle, a stronghold of government support that has been weakening in recent years.

Juan Madriz, a 45-year-old insurance company employee, said he didn’t object to rewriting the constitution per se, but rejected Maduro’s decision to do so without putting that decision to a vote, as his predecessor Hugo Chavez did.

“If they’re forcing us, it isn’t democracy,” Madriz said.

Isabel Santander, a 67-year-old retired auditor, said she was voting against the constitutional assembly as a protest against the country’s economic collapse.

“I signed because there’s no medicine, no food, no security,” she said. “There’s no separation of powers, no freedom of expression.”

Maduro and the military dominate most state institutions but the opposition controls the congress and holds three of 23 governorships. The country’s chief prosecutor has recently broken with the ruling party.

The opposition is boycotting the constitutional assembly. Instead, it called backers to 2,000 sites across the country to fill out ballots featuring three yes-or-no questions. Do they reject the constitutional assembly? Do they want the armed forces to back congress? Do they support the formation of a government comprised both of Maduro backers and opponents?

The government calls the opposition vote a manipulation aimed at destabilizing the country, and has been urging its supporters to participate in the constitutional assembly, which it calls a way of restoring peace to Venezuela.

“Some comrades and brothers may be worn out by the right’s great media campaign. Now they’ve invented this July 16 thing to put the burden on their own people and evade their responsibility,” socialist party Vice President Diosdado Cabello said Saturday. “That’s how the right is, manipulative, fooling their own people.”

Polls show that barely 20 percent of Venezuelans favor rewriting the late Hugo Chavez’s 1999 constitution about the same level of support as for Maduro.

For the government-backed rehearsal, hundreds lined up outside a school in El Valle guarded by heavily armed soldiers and militiamen, waiting quietly to place a practice vote that also served as a show of support for the government.

“Our president Chavez supported the poor, the people,” said Yveth Melendez, a 41-year-old homemaker. “Today we’re following his legacy, with President Nicolas Maduro … The constitutional assembly is something that benefits the people.”

Opponents of Venezuela’s government blame it for turning one of the region’s most prosperous countries into an economic basket case with a shrinking economy, soaring inflation and widespread shortages. The government blames the crisis on an economic war waged by its opponents and outside backers. The petroleum-rich nation has been hit hard by falling world oil prices.

Clashes between protesters and police have left at least 93 people dead, 1,500 wounded and more than 500 behind bars.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/07/17/venezuela-violence-woman-killed-4-injured-as-thousands-vote-in-opposition-referendum.html

Gaza electricity crisis: ‘It is the worst I can remember but we expect it to get worse’

Move by Mahmoud Abbas to cut electricity to 2-4 hours a day in escalation of row with Hamas is affecting quality of life for Gazans

In Imad Shlayls electronics shop in Gaza City, the customers crowding his store are interested in only two products: LED lights and the batteries to power them.

In the already impoverished Gaza Strip, residents have learned to adapt to the fact that electricity is only available for between two and four hours a day.

But fresh anger was sparked when availability was cut further last month, at the request of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in an escalation of his conflict with Hamas, the Islamist group that wrested control of the Gaza strip from forces loyal to Abbas 10 years ago.

The shortages have defined how people live their lives: getting up in the middle of the night, if there is power, to run washing machines or turn on water pumps.

Only the wealthy few have frequent, long-lasting access to electricity to power lights and fans and fridges, televisions and wifi routers, in Gazas stifling summer heat.

We used to sell all sorts of things, says Shlayl. But its different these days. All we sell is batteries and chargers. Because the crisis is so deep we are selling 100 batteries a day when normally we would sell 20.

Gaza electricity crisis explainer

Gaza requires 430 megawatts of power to meet daily demand, but receives only half that. Sixty megawatts are supplied by its solitary power station, now short on fuel, while the rest is supplied by Israel and funded by Abbass West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA).

Abbass move to cut supplies to Gaza, which is already under a joint Israeli and Egyptian blockade now in its 11th year has quickly made him a hate figure among many Gazans, who question why he is punishing 2 million fellow Palestinians in what appears to be an attempt to force Hamas to relinquish control of the territory.

Though business is good for Shlayl, he is angry at the fresh shortages faced by Gazans that affect all areas of life, from hospital emergency wards to clean water supplies.

Ive not done anything to be punished by anyone. It is the worst I can remember but we are expecting it to get worse and worse, he said. Not just electricity, but other things as well. We are in a very deep descent.

As well as cutting electricity, the PA has cut salaries for its employees in Gaza by upwards of 30% , prompting thousands to protest on the streets of Gaza city.

Residents also blame Abbas for a backlog in processing the medical referral process for those needing to travel out of Gaza for treatment, although who is at fault in that issue is less clear cut.

The problems facing Gaza where high levels of unemployment are endemic is most obvious in the poorest areas.

In Gaza Citys al-Shati refugee camp, home to the head of Hamass political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, whole housing blocks were dark, while in others only a handful of windows were weakly illuminated.

In the one-room kiosk selling pigeons and chickens that he manages, just off the camps main market, Ayman Nasser, 32, is sitting on the street with his friends in search of a sea breeze.

His face is illuminated by the light of his mobile phone. He has one battery-powered light burning in his shop.

Part of the problem is that we dont have any news. Who should we blame for this? Hamas, Israelis, Abbas? he said.

A Palestinian girl reads by candlelight due to a power cut at the Jabalia camp in Gaza City. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

His friend, Ashraf Kashqin, interrupts: It is all connected to politics, but it is us who is getting played by the two sides.

If there is a question that all the Palestinians in Gaza are asking, it is what the ageing and remote Abbas hopes to achieve, not least whether he hopes the cuts will lead to an insurrection against Hamas following demonstrations linked to the power supply in January.

While a senior official in the Fatah-led government on the West Bank said last month that the aim behind the move by the PA which has been paying $12m (9m) a month for the electricity Israel supplies to Gaza was to dry up Hamass financial resources, others are dubious about the timing, the motive and the real impact.

Among them are human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, who have warned it could turn Gazas long-running crisis into a major disaster already hitting hospitals and waste treatment plants.

For 10 years the siege has unlawfully deprived Palestinians in Gaza of their most basic rights and necessities. Under the burden of the illegal blockade and three armed conflicts, the economy has sharply declined and humanitarian conditions have deteriorated severely. The latest power cuts risk turning an already dire situation into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe, said Magdalena Mughrabi, of the group.

Then there is the question of timing. Abbas is probably the only one who knows why he is doing this to Gaza, adds Mohameir Abu Sada, a political science professor at Al Azhar University and analyst.

I honestly dont buy what he has been saying for the last three months: that he will take exceptional measures against Hamas to put pressure on it to give up control of the Gaza Strip.

Staff in Imad Shlayls electronics shop in Gaza City test a battery storage system, a popular product in the midst of Gazas worst electricity crisis in recent memory. Photograph: Peter Beaumont for the Guardian

I dont buy it because it does not explain why he waited 10 years to put pressure like this on Hamas?

Honestly speaking, if he had done it in the first few months, the split would have been resolved. And now Abbas is not punishing Hamas he is punishing 2 million Palestinians. I mean, Hamas leaders have giant generators. It is the poor people who are suffering.

Another thing that does not make sense is, how do you explain cutting salaries to the people who are supposed to be most loyal to the Palestinian Authority and Abbas. The same people who have been arrested and tortured by Hamas?

Sada is also dubious whether Abbass extreme measure against Gaza can work, pointing to the fact that Hamas has survived a decade of blockade and three wars with Israel.

Gazas solitary power plant for its 2 million residents, which has been running at a fraction of its capacity. Photograph: Peter Beaumont for the Guardian

Every time Hamas is under pressure they are able to invent new ways to go around the siege, he said. This is not a productive way against Hamas. If he thinks Palestinians in Gaza will revolt against Hamas, then Abbas is mistaken.

Taher al-Nounou, an adviser to Haniyeh, suggested the electricity crisis had been engineered largely to distract attention from Abbass own failures.

Abbas wants to create a hostile environment against Hamas in Gaza, but he has failed in this. [His first motive] is the failure of his political path during the last 11 years because no one is asking him what he has achieved in 11 years for the Palestinian people.

He believes Abbass latest moves will only bring further woes for his fellow Palestinians.

If, in the past, you asked ordinary people here who was responsible for the difficulties in Gaza, people would have said Israel or Hamas or maybe Abbas. Now if you ask theyll say Abbas.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/10/gaza-electricity-crisis-it-is-the-worst-i-can-remember-mahmoud-abbas

How Paul Robeson found his political voice in the Welsh valleys

African American star Robeson built his singing career in the teeth of racism in the early 1900s. But his radicalism was spurred on in Britain by a chance meeting with a group of Welsh miners

Paul Robeson possessed one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century. He was an acclaimed stage actor. He could sing in more than 20 different languages; he held a law degree; he won prizes for oratory. He was widely acknowledged as the greatest American footballer of his generation. But he was also a political activist, who, in the 1930s and 1940s, exerted an influence comparable to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in a later era.

The son of an escaped slave, Robeson built his career despite the segregation of the Jim Crow laws basically, an American apartheid system that controlled every aspect of African American life. He came to London with his wife Eslanda known as Essie partly to escape the crushing racism of his homeland. Yet later in life he always insisted that he became a radical as much because of his experiences in Britain as in America. In particular, he developed a deep bond with the labour movement particularly with the miners of Wales. That was why, in 2016, I travelled from my home in Australia to visit the landscape that shaped Robesons politics.

Pontypridd was a village carved out of stone. Grey terraced cottages, grey cobbled streets, and an ancient grey bridge arching across the River Taff.

The sky was slate, too, a stark contrast with the surrounding hills, which were streaked with seasonal russet, teal and laurel.

I was accustomed to towns that sprawled, as white settlers stretched themselves out to occupy a newly colonised land. Pontypridd, I realised, huddled. Its pubs and churches and old-fashioned stores were clutched tightly in the valley, in a cosy snugness that left me feeling a long way from home. Id come here to see Beverley Humphreys, a singer and the host of Beverleys World of Music on BBC Wales.

I have a strong feeling that we might meet in October! shed written, when Id emailed her about the Paul Robeson exhibition she was organising. I know from personal experience that once you start delving into Paul Robesons life, he just wont leave you alone.

In that correspondence, shed described Pontypridd as the ideal place to grasp Pauls rich relationship with Wales and its people. I knew that, in the winter of 1929, Paul had been returning from a matinee performance of Show Boat [in London] when he heard male voices wafting from the street. He stopped, startled by the perfect harmonisation and then by the realisation that the singers, when they came into view, were working men, carrying protest banners as they sang.

By accident, hed encountered a party of Welsh miners from the Rhondda valley. They were stragglers from the great working-class army routed during what the poet Idris Davies called the summer of soups and speeches the general strike of 1926. Blacklisted by their employers after the unions defeat, they had walked all the way to London searching for ways to feed their families. By then, Robesons stardom and wealth were sufficient to insulate him from the immiseration facing many British workers, as the industrialised world sank into the economic downturn known as the Great Depression.

Singing with a choir in a scene from The Proud Valley. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Yet he remembered his fathers dependence on charity, and he was temperamentally sympathetic to the underdog. Without hesitation, he joined the march.

Some 50 years later, [his son] Pauli Robeson visited the Talygarn Miners Rehabilitation Centre and met an elderly man whod been present on that day in 1929. The old miner talked of how stunned the marchers had been when Robeson attached himself to their procession: a huge African American stranger in formal attire incongruous next to the half-starved Welshmen in their rough-hewn clothes and mining boots.

But Robeson had a talent for friendship, and the men were grateful for his support. He had remained with the protest until they stopped outside a city building, and then he leaped on to the stone steps to sing Ol Man River and a selection of spirituals chosen to entertain his new comrades but also because sorrow songs, with their blend of pain and hope, expressed emotions that he thought desperate men far from home might be feeling.

Afterwards, he gave a donation so the miners could ride the train back to Wales, in a carriage crammed with clothing and food.

That was how it began. Before the year was out, hed contributed the proceeds of a concert to the Welsh miners relief fund; on his subsequent tour, he sang for the men and their families in Cardiff, Neath, and Aberdare, and visited the Talygarn miners rest home in Pontyclun.

From then on, his ties with Wales only grew.

Robeson remained [living] in Buckingham Street, London. He and Essie maintained a public profile as a celebrity couple, still mixing easily with polite society and the intelligentsia. But Robeson was now aware of the labour movement, and began to pay attention to its victories and defeats. His frequent visits to mining towns in Wales were part of that newfound political orientation.

You can see why hes remembered around here, Humphreys said. He was so famous when he made those connections, and the Welsh mining community was so very cowed. In the wake of the general strike, people felt pretty hopeless.

A Robeson exhibition opened in Pontypridd in October 2015 and was an echo of a much grander presentation from 2001, which Humphreys had assembled with Hywel Francis, then Labour MP for Aberavon, and Paul Robeson Jr [Robesons son died in 2014]. It was first shown at the National Museum in Cardiff and then toured the country.

Staging that event had been a revelation for Humphreys. Shed known that memories of Robeson ran deep in Wales, but shed still been astonished by the response. Every day of the exhibit, people shared their recollections, speaking with a hushed fervour about encounters with Paul that had stayed with them for ever.

Robeson at Waterloo Station in London in 1935. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Pauls interactions with Wales were shaped by the violence of mining life: the everyday hardship of long hours and low wages, but also the sudden spectacular catastrophes that decimated communities. In 1934, hed been performing in Caernarfon when news arrived of a disaster in the Gresford colliery. The mine there had caught fire, creating an inferno so intense that most of the 266 men who died underground, in darkness and smoke, were never brought to the surface for burial. At once, Robeson offered his fees for the Caernarfon concert to the fund established for the orphans and children of the dead an important donation materially, but far more meaningful as a moral and political gesture.

That was part, Humphreys said, of why Wales remembered him. He was by then among the most famous stars of the day, the recording artist whose songs many hummed, and yet he was showing an impoverished and struggling community people who felt themselves isolated and abandoned that he cared deeply about them.

And the continuing affection for Robeson was more than a recollection of generosity. The Welsh sensed the relationship was reciprocal, said Humphreys. That he was deriving something from their friendships, from seeing how people in the mining communities supported one another and cared for one another. He later said he learned more from the white working class in Wales than from anyone..

Certainly, Robeson discovered Wales and the British working class in general at just the right time. Hed signed up, with great hopes, for a film version of [Eugene ONeills play] The Emperor Jones in 1933 the first commercial film with a black man in the lead. But the process played out according to a familiar and dispiriting pattern. Robesons contract stipulated that, during his return to America, he wouldnt be asked to film in Jim Crow states. Star or not, it was impossible to be shielded from institutional racism. At the end of his stay, as he arrived at a swanky New York function, he was directed to the servants entrance rather than the elevator. One witness said he had to be dissuaded from punching out the doorman, in a manifestation of anger hed never have revealed in the past.

The Emperor Jones itself was still very much shaped by conservative sensibilities: among other humiliations, the studio darkened the skin of his co-star, lest audiences thought Robeson was kissing a white woman. Not surprisingly, while white critics loved the film and Robesons performance, he was again attacked in the African American press for presenting a demeaning stereotype.

A few years earlier, he might have found refuge in London from the impossible dilemmas confronting a black artist in America. But hed learned to see respectable England as disconcertingly similar, albeit with its prejudices expressed through nicely graduated hierarchies of social class. To friends, he spoke of his dismay at how the British upper orders related to those below them. He was ready, both intellectually and emotionally, for the encounter with the Welsh labour movement.

There was just something, Humphreys said, that drew Welsh people and Paul Robeson together. I think it was like a love affair, in a way. And that seemed entirely right.

In the 1940 film The Proud Valley, about a Welsh community that takes in a black unemployed seaman. Photograph: Getty Images

The next morning, Humphreys and I walked down the hill, beneath a sky that warned constantly of rain. We made our way to St Davids Uniting Church on Gelliwastad Road. From the outside, it seemed like a typically stern embodiment of Victorian religiosity: a grey, rather grim legacy of the 1880s.

Inside, though, the traditional church interior the pews, the pulpit, the altar was supplemented by a huge banner from the Abercrave lodge of the National Union of Mineworkers, hanging just below the stained-glass windows. Workers of the world unite for peace and socialism, it proclaimed, with an image of a black miner holding a lamp out to his white comrade in front of a globe of the world.

The walls held huge photos of Paul Robeson: in his football helmet on the field at Rutgers [University]; on a concert stage, his mouth open in song; marching on a picket line. These were the displays extracted from the 2001 exhibition.

We chatted with parishioners, who were taking turns to keep the Robeson display open during the day for black history month.

The service itself reminded me of my morning in the Witherspoon Street church, except that, while in Princeton [where Robeson was born] Id marvelled at the worshippers command of the black vocal tradition, here I was confronted by the harmonic power of Welsh choristers: the old hymns voiced in a great wall of sound resonating and reverberating throughout the interior.

Robeson, of course, had made that comparison many times. Both the Wesleyan chapels of the Welsh miners and the churches in which hed worshipped with his father were, he said, places where a weary and oppressed people drew succour from prayer and song.

His movie The Proud Valley (released as The Tunnel in the US), which had brought him to Pontypridd in 1939, rested on precisely that conceit. In the film (the only one of his movies in which he took much pride), Robeson played David Goliath, an unemployed seaman who wanders into the Welsh valley and is embraced by the miners when the choir leader hears him sing.

Throughout the 1930s, the analogy between African Americans and workers in Britain (and especially Wales) helped reorient Robeson, both aesthetically and politically, after his disillusionment with the English establishment.

His contact with working-class communities in Britain provided him with an important reassurance. He told his friend Marie Seton about a letter he received from a cotton-spinner during one of his tours. This man said he understood my singing, for while my father was working as a slave, his own father was working as a wage slave in the mills of Manchester.

That was in northern England, but he experienced a similar commonality everywhere, and it pleased and intrigued him. If the slave songs of the US were worth celebrating, what about the music emerging from other oppressed communities? What connections might the exploration of distinctive cultural traditions forge between different peoples?

Significantly, it was in Wales where Robeson first articulated this new perspective. In 1934, he gave a concert in Wrexham, in north Wales, between the Welsh mountains and the lower Dee valley alongside the border with England. Yet again it was a charity performance, staged at the Majestic Cinema for the benefit of the St John Ambulance Association.

During the visit, Robeson was interviewed by the local paper, and he told the writer he was no longer wedded to a classical repertoire. Hed come to regard himself as a folk singer, devoted to what he called the eternal music of common humanity. To that end, he was studying languages, working his way haphazardly through Russian, German, French, Dutch, Hungarian, Turkish, Hebrew, and sundry other tongues so as to perform the songs of different cultures in the tongues in which they had been written. He had become, he said, a singer for the people.

Movie star: Robeson, right, with Sir Cedric Hardwicke in the 1937 film King Solomons Mines. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

The confidence of that statement reflected another lesson drawn primarily from Wales. In African American life, the black church had mattered so much because religion provided almost the only institutional stability for people buffeted by racial oppression. In particular, because Jim Crow segregated the workplace, black communities struggled to form and maintain trade unions. Wales, though, was different. The miners found consolation in religion, with every village dotted with chapels. But they believed just as fervently in trade unionism.

The Gresford disaster showed why. In an industry such as mining, you relied on your workmates both to get the job done safely and to stand up for your rights. The battle was necessarily collective. A single miner possessed no power at all; the miners as a whole, however, could shut down the entire nation, as theyd demonstrated in 1926.

In particular, the cooperation mandated by modern industry might, at least in theory, break down the prejudices that divided workers even, perhaps, the stigma attached to race. That was the point Robeson dramatised in The Proud Valley, a film in which the solidarity of the workplace overcomes the miners suspicion about a dark-skinned stranger. Arent we all black down that pit? asks one of the men.

Its from the miners in Wales, Robeson explained, [that] I first understood the struggle of Negro and white together.

To understand Pauls relationship with Wales, Humphreys told me the following day, you need to understand Tiger Bay.

She introduced me to Lesley Clarke and to Harry Ernest and his son Ian. The three of them came from Tiger Bay, the centre of Waless black community. Theyd worked on the original exhibition in Cardiff, after Humphreys had insisted that the National Gallery employ black guides, and now theyd come to Pontypridd to witness the new display.

At 82, Lesley Clarke was thin but sprightly and alert. She spoke slowly and carefully. I hadnt realised there was a colour bar until I left Tiger Bay. When I went to grammar school, I realised for the first time that there were people who just didnt like coloured people. Didnt know anything about us, but didnt like us. I didnt know I was poor and I didnt know I was black: all I knew was that I was me.

Tiger Bay was forged by some of the worst racial attacks in British history. In June 1919, returning soldiers encountered a group of black men walking with white women. Outraged, the troops, led by colonials (mostly Australians), rampaged throughout Butetown, attacking people of colour, destroying houses, and leaving four dead.

For Clarke and Ernests generation, the colour bar was very real, especially in employment. Ernest was impish and bald, and his eyes crinkled as he spoke, almost as if he took a perverse humour in the recollection. Wed ask if a job was open, he said, and soon as they said yes, wed say, Can I come for an interview right now? To narrow the gap, because the minute you got there they would say, Oh, the job is gone.

The minute they saw you were black, that was it, said Clarke. You just took it for granted that it was going to happen. There were very few outlets, especially for girls. You either worked in the brush factory or you worked in Ziggys, selling rags and whatnot, or there was a place just over the bridge that did uniforms.

I worked in the brush factory for a while, Ernest said. Oh, Jesus!

He shook his head and laughed in dismay. Jesus.

Addressing the National Eisteddfod of Wales, Ebbw Vale, 1958.

Robeson had reached out to the Welsh miners when his career was at its height. They came back to him at his lowest ebb, almost two decades later, at a time when all hed achieved seemed to have been taken from him. In the midst of the cold war, the FBI prevented Robeson from performing at home. [Hed proclaimed his sympathy for the Soviet Union ever since the mid-30s. That leftism now made him a target. He became, in Pete Seegers words, the most blacklisted performer in America, effectively silenced in his home country,] Worse still, the US state department confiscated his passport, so he could not travel abroad. He was left in a kind of limbo: silenced, isolated, and increasingly despairing.

On 5 October 1957, the Porthcawl Grand Pavilion filled with perhaps 5,000 people for the miners eisteddfod. Will Painter, the union leader, took to the microphone. After welcoming the delegates, he announced that they would soon hear from Paul Robeson, whod be joining them via a transatlantic telephone line.

When Painter spoke again, he was addressing Robeson directly. We are happy that it has been possible for us to arrange that you speak and sing to us today, he said. We would be far happier if you were with us in person.

Miraculously, Robesons deep voice crackled out of the speakers in response. My warmest greetings to the people of my beloved Wales, and a special hello to the miners of south Wales at your great festival. It is a privilege to be participating in this historic festival.

He was seated in a studio in New York. Down the telephone line, he performed a selection of his songs, dedicating them to their joint struggle for what he called a world where we can live abundant and dignified lives.

The musical reply came from the mighty Treorchy Male Choir, the winners of that years eisteddfod, and a group that traces its history back to 1883. Robeson joined the choir in a performance of the Welsh national anthem, Land of My Fathers, before the entire audience all 5,000 of them serenaded him with Well Keep a Welcome. This land you knew will still be singing, they chorused. When you come home again to Wales.

This is an edited extract from No Way But This by Jeff Sparrow, published by Scribe (14.99). To order a copy for 12.74 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/02/how-paul-robeson-found-political-voice-in-welsh-valleys

At Pride celebrations, protesters chant ‘No Justice, No Pride’

(CNN)At Pride celebrations across the United States on Sunday, a protest movement that aims to draw attention to the struggles of marginalized people within the LGBTQ community made itself heard.

Activists carrying signs declaring “No Justice No Pride” and “Black Lives Matter” appeared in New York, Minneapolis and Seattle, among other major cities. In some they were welcomed and invited to speak; in others, the activists interrupted parades and clashed with police, leading to an unconfirmed number of arrests.
The protests disrupted pride events earlier this month in Columbus, Ohio and Washington, DC. Their causes varied — police shootings, violence against transgender women of color, mass deportations, corporate sponsorship of Pride — but organizer Angela Peoples said members of the grassroots movement were united by concerns of the “whitewashing” of the LGBTQ community.
    “There’s a broad concern among LGBTQ folks, especially people of color, that this movement that claims victory around marriage equality has very much left behind those of us who still experience marginalization,” Peoples said.
    Law enforcement’s participation in Pride parades embodies the disconnect, she said, pointing to the arrests of protesters last weekend in Columbus. So does the involvement of corporate sponsors that benefit from mass incarceration and the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, she said.
    “This is a true grassroots movement where people are aligning under the notion that there’s no equality and pride for some of us without reparations for all of us,” she said.
    In Minneapolis, protesters waving “Black Lives Matter signs” marched behind a large banner that read “Justice for Philando” in honor of Philando Castile, who was shot to death in a traffic stop. A jury acquitted the officer who killed him earlier this month.
    Protesters blocked the parade route and delayed its start by more than an hour as they called for police to be excludedfrom Pride events.
    Activists in Seattle halted the parade by blocking the road in honor of Charleena Lyle, a 30-year-old woman whom police said they shot and killed because she refused commands to drop a knife.
    In New York, police said 12 people were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. They were detained outside the historic Stonewall Inn as they carried signs that read “No Cops, No Banks.”
    NYC Pride organizers said they have a policy against restricting groups from participating. They said they decided to “authorize” the arrests so the march could proceed after the activists had demonstrated for 10 minutes.
    “There were some 40,000 marchers behind them who needed to have their message (heard) as well,” NYC Pride spokesperson James Fallarino said. “We believe strongly that it’s a free speech event. That has worked on both ends of the spectrum. We have always held the line that any group interested in our march can participate.”
    Fallarino said it was impossible to run an event of Pride’s size without police presence. Parade organizers recognize that police violence is a “major issue” in the United States, he said. They’re trying to address it through a “good working relationship” with the NYPD.
    “As you probably know, this march started after a police raid at Stonewall Inn. We’ve come a long way since then.”
    Indeed, Pride originated 48 years ago in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall riots, a series of uprisings by women of color from the LGBTQ community over the Inn’s raid.
    The significance of Pride’s origins makes it the ideal staging ground for today’s protests within the LGBTQ community, Peoples said. But they will continue after Pride ends.
    “If you truly honor the history of Pride as well as the crisis we’re in, then you will recognize the need for disruption to bring attention to issues of marginalized people,” she said. “This is not a one-off movement.”

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/25/us/no-justice-no-pride-protests/index.html

    Massive Early Voting In Georgia Runoff Heightens Expectations In Campaign’s Final Days

    More than 140,000 people have already cast ballots ahead of Tuesdays hotly contested U.S.House special election runoff in Georgia, indicating high interest in the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel that both parties see as an important bellwether.

    Early voting ended Friday, and the ballots already cast more than double the comparable figure in Aprils first-round election, and amount to almost three quarters of the 192,000 people who voted in that 18-candidate race.

    With spending on advertising by both sides nearing a total of $40 million, the race already ranks as the most expensive House contest in U.S. history.

    Ossoff and Handel, as the top finishers in the first round, are vying for a seat in suburban Atlanta vacated by Republican Tom Price, who is now President Donald Trumps secretary of health and human services. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also once represented the district.

    The high early vote total indicates that the final numbers on Tuesday will likely far surpass those of the April election.Election officials in Georgia hailed the unprecedented and phenomenal turnout, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It remained unclear, though, which candidate would benefit from a higher turnout.

    Ossoff led by slightly more than 2 percentage points in the HuffPost Pollster average of recent surveys of the race.

    Price won re-election November, garnering almost 62 percent of the roughly 311,000 votes cast.

    Christopher Aluka Berry / Reuters
    Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff debate earlier this month at a television studio in Atlanta.

    Democrats in particular see the race to replace Price as a test of anti-Trump activism and strategy ahead of next years midterm elections. While they have made some impressive showings, they have yet to notch a victory in several highly anticipated congressional special elections this yearin traditionally GOP territory.

    In Aprils election, Ossoff won about 48 percent of the vote, falling just short of clearing the 50 percent mark he needed to avoid a runoff. Handel, one of 11 Republicans competing in the first round, got about 20 percent.

    Over the weekend, Ossoff and Handel both campaigned with high-profile political figuresin hopes of generating more enthusiasm. Price, as well as former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue who now serves as Trumps agriculture secretary joined Handel at a Saturday campaign stop. Ossoff got a boost Saturday from civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

    Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/georgia-6th-runoff-early-voting-ossoff-handel_us_5946bd91e4b0f15cd5bc2aab

    So Trumps too scared to come to the UK. Who says protest doesnt work? | Hugh Muir

    If he cant bomb it or tweet against it, the US presidents cupboard of responses seems bare. We may be denied a spectacle, then, but saved a distraction

    How might President Trump react to a world leader who, afraid for his image, perhaps afraid for himself, refused to fulfil a promise to visit a loyal ally. He might fire off a tweet: RAN from critics. A gift for crooked MSM. TOTAL pathetic loser!

    But he wont, because the loser is him. He got to hold hands with Theresa May when she visited Washington, but alas, that may be the high point of his cuddle-fest with her, and with us because Trump, it now appears, is not keen on making his proposed state visit to Britain any time soon.

    He has apparently, in a recent telephone call to the prime minister, declared that he does not want to come if there are to be large-scale protests. The visit, we are told, is on hold.

    Some may be surprised by this. From the violence and menace that became features of his ugly campaign, it was easy to assume that he liked a bit of edge at his public appearances. But on those occasions, he knew he would always have the support of far-right thugs and hangers-on who could drown out dissent and, if need be, throw a few punches at protesters, passers-by, anyone who would dare to question him. That intimidation, unprecedented in recent history, would have been more difficult to replicate here; he could hardly bring his street fighters with him. There are only so many seats on Air Force One.

    Maybe he didnt fancy the trip without Theresa there to hold his hand; to keep him strong and stable, as it were. Even he might blanch all the way from Tango orange to the whitest white at the idea of skipping through the Downing Street rose garden hand in hand with Phil the spreadsheet Hammond or Boris Johnson.

    So we may be denied a spectacle then but will hopefully be saved from the distraction of Trumps bandwagon when we may be fixating on at least one more general election, and we should certainly be focusing on the history-defining implications of Brexit.

    Saved too for now at least the embarrassment of those who offered Trump the invitation in the first place, those who saw our new place in the world as lying at the feet of a reprobate.

    And what do we learn from this? Once again we see what it is to deal with someone who has such high office and such thin skin. Just the notion of turbulence that might be seen around the world seems to be enough to scare him off. If he cant bomb it or tweet against it, the cupboard of responses seems bare.

    But, for the more important message, look to ourselves. It is easy to question the efficacy of protest. Millions marched against the war in Iraq, but couldnt stop it. Millions more marched against Brexit and cuts in the NHS. There is rarely such a direct link to be drawn between public action and response from those with power, but each public protest speaks to the strength and tenor of opinion. Every one sets out a position and raises the stakes. Here the stakes became too high for a brittle, image-conscious president in Washington. What do we want? Not Trump. When do we want him? Never.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/11/trump-scared-uk-protest-us-president