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SIGN PETITION: Don't reincarcerate Jalil Muntaquim
Support for Jalil Muntaqim petition from the Movement for Black Lives:
Please click the below link to sign & share widely.Support for Jalil MuntaqimSTATEMENT OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT FOR JALIL MUNTAQIM We the undersigned fully support the New York State Parole Board’s decision to release Jalil Muntaqim. The parole process is meant to evaluate a person for release based on who they are today, not to extend one’s sentence into perpetuity. Mr. Muntaqim has been incarcerated since 1971, when he was 19 years old. During his 49 years in prison, Mr. Muntaqim has led education/mentorship programs for prisoners, earned several educational degrees and mentored many younger incarcerated men. He has been commended for preventing prisoner violence and promoting safety. As a result, hundreds of organizations and individuals have stepped forward to support his release including community and faith leaders, family members, and the NY State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. The Board finally acted honorably in following the guidelines put forth by New York State Executive Law 259-(i). A 2011, bi-partisan amendment to the law passed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers makes it clear that an individual’s readiness for successful re-entry should take priority in the decision to grant release. Upon his release, Mr. Muntaqim was warmly welcomed by a large, diverse set of community leaders and residents of Rochester, New York. He reported to his parole officers and followed instructions to sign up for various social services required by all senior citizens in his position. He was handed a large stack of paperwork including a voter registration form. Muntaqim, eager to follow instructions, appropriately filled out and signed everything required of him. Now, the Rochester District Attorney is attempting to reincarcerate an elder recovering from COVID-19 because he filled out a form as instructed. We are statewide and national organizations, community and faith leaders, elected officials, civil rights organizations, public defenders, and residents of the Rochester area. We pledge our continuing support for Mr. Muntaqim and our assistance in facilitating his reintegration into society. We vehemently oppose any efforts to remove him from our community and/or place him back in prison.Please click the below link to sign & share widely.Charlie HintonNo one ever hurt their eyes by looking on the bright side
History, Great Britain, and Julian Assange
Below are the comments Clifford D. Conner made at a September 8, 2020 press conference in front of the British consulate in New York City. Conner is an historian and author of Jean Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution and The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump. The court in Britain is holding hearings on the Trump administration’s request to have Julian Assange, the Australian editor, publisher and founder of WikiLeaks, extradited. Assange would be tried in a Virginia court on 17 counts of espionage and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. If convicted, he could face up to 175 years in prison.
In 2010 Assange had the audacity to post a video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter indiscriminately murdering a dozen civilians and two Reuters’ journalists in the streets of Baghdad.
Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, testified in court on September 16 that Assange could not receive a fair trial in the United States. When he pointed out that the Collateral Murder video was clearly a war crime, the prosecution maintained that Assange was not wanted by Washington for it but for publishing documents without redacting names. Ellsberg pointed out that when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, he did not redact a single name.
Assange’s lawyer has since informed the London court that in 2017 former Republican U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher and Charles Johnson, a far-right political activist, relayed Trump’s offer to pardon Assange if he provided the source for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. This was described to Assange as a “win-win” situation for all involved.
A National Committee to Defend Assange and Civil Liberties, chaired by Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, and Alice Walker has been set up. For further information, go to: www.facebook.com/CommitteeToDefendJulianAssange. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee: NYCFreeAssange.org
—Dianne Feeley for The Editors, Against the Current
Comments by Clifford D. Conner
I am here at the British Consulate today to protest the incarceration and mistreatment of Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison in Great Britain, to demand that you immediately release him, and above all, to demand that you NOT extradite Julian Assange to the United States.
As a historian who has written extensively on the case of the most persecuted journalist of the 18th century, Jean Paul Marat, I am in a position to make historical comparisons, and in my judgement, Julian Assange is both the most unjustly persecuted journalist of the 21st century and arguably the most important journalist of the 21st century.
Julian Assange is being hounded and harassed and threatened with life in prison by the United States government because he dared to publish the truth about American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan for the whole world to see. This persecution of Julian Assange is an assault on the fundamental principles of journalistic freedom.
The sociopathic Donald Trump and his accomplice, Attorney General William Barr, are demanding that you deliver Assange to them to face false charges of espionage. Every honest observer in the world recognizes Trump and Barr as utterly incapable of acting in good faith. If they succeed in suppressing Julian Assange’s right to publish, it will be a devastating precedent for journalists and publishers of news everywhere—and above all, for the general public, who will lose access to the information necessary to maintaining a democratic society.
If you allow yourselves to become co-conspirators in this crime, History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Last November, more than 60 doctors from all over the world wrote an open letter to the British government saying that Julian Assange’s health was so bad that he could die if he weren’t moved from Belmarsh Prison, where he was being held, to a hospital, immediately. Your government chose to ignore that letter and he was not hospitalized, then or later. History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Of all crimes against humanity, the most unforgivable is torture. No nation that perpetrates torture has the right to call itself civilized. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has unequivocally characterized Julian Assange’s treatment in Belmarsh Prison as torture. History will neither forget nor forgive that terrible moral transgression.
Furthermore, the exposure of the widespread use of torture by the United States military and the CIA at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, at Guantánamo Bay, and at so-called “black sites” all over the world, absolutely disqualifies the United States from sitting in moral judgement of anybody. If you deliver Julian Assange into the hands of torturers, history will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
So, I join together today with human rights advocates and advocates of journalistic freedom around the world.
I stand with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which declared: “For the sake of press freedom, Julian Assange must be defended.”
I stand with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which said that the attempt to prosecute Julian Assange is “a worrying step on the slippery slope to punishing any journalist the Trump administration chooses to deride as ‘fake news’.”
And I stand with the ACLU, which said: “Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for WikiLeaks’publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.”
History will not only record the names of the countries that collaborate in this travesty of justice, but also the names of the individuals—the judges, the prosecutors, the diplomats, and the politicians—who aid and abet the crime. If you, as individuals, choose to ally yourselves with the likes of Donald Trump and William Barr, be prepared for your names to be chained to theirs in infamy, in perpetuity.
History will certainly absolve Julian Assange, and it certainly will not absolve his persecutors.
—Against the Current, November/December 2020
Johnson the Invisible Brat
Johnson the invisible brat,
Thinks he’s better than us all,
For he’s a posh prime minister,
Who defies international law,
No matter how many graves get filled,
Or the cupboards are running bare,
You bet you can rely on this,
Johnson won’t be there.
Hancock, Priti, any sycophant,
It doesn’t matter who,
Can keep a straight face on camera,
While reading the lies on the autocue.
Nursing homes, schools there’s Covid everywhere,
But whenever there’s a crisis,
Johnson isn’t there
Depravity, depravity there’s no match for his depravity.
He is nastiness in human form, with not a shred of common humanity.
You may read him in a by-line, or see his face in the morning paper,
But when there’s a problem to deal with,
Boris Johnson won’t be seen till later.
Depravity, depravity the are no bounds to his depravity,
He’s already broken every law and conduct of normality,
His powers of crass dishonesty are way beyond compare,
He lies in every sentence and doesn’t seem to care,
You may look for him in Downing Street or in another lair,
But when a job is needing done,
Boris Johnson is never there.
He’ll sack anyone who happens in his way
And tear up any treaty he doesn’t like today,
He is outwardly respectably but he cheats all his friends
He’ll trample over anyone to get to his own ends,
Or he’ll send his hoodlum Cummings to crush dissenting minds.
Lies, corruption, negligence we know he doesn’t care
But when there is money to be made,
Johnson and mates will be there.
In Britain he acts like a dictator doing just as he wants,
Ignoring real life tragedies while posing for photo stunts,
For all his fake bravado, he’s just another coward,
A liar, a bully a posh self-centred fraud.
He’s an invisible prime minister who is never here,
But whenever there’s Trump’s arse to kiss,
You can be sure that,
Boris Johnson will reappear.
Calamity then catastrophe with grand theft larceny,
Another billion of our money flushed down the lavat’ry,
He cares not for our suffering our deaths and our pain,
Fake news and lies again and again,
When things go wrong and account is called,
It is always someone else’s fault,
What ever the problem no matter where
He always can claim that he wasn’t there.
Covid 19’s, coming,
He says we’ll take it on the chin,
World beating, moonshot, track and trace,
Endless lies and spin
Just more meaningless hot air from this uncaring buffoon,
Exam results fiasco, yet he never showed his face.
Children going hungry a national disgrace
We must take matters in our own hands,
To make things proper here,
Have confidence in our own powers,
Make Johnson and his kind
His peers criticized this appearance. The press purposefully didn't cover it. He simply wanted to inspire young minds with the beauty and power of science, drawing attention to the power of ALL human minds, regardless of race.
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” -Albert Einstein
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
This legacy belongs to all of us:
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forest to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. . . Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature–but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man 1876. —Friedrich Engels
Enough is Enough: Global Nuclear Weapons
"The biggest block from having society in harmony with the universe is the belief in a lie that says it’s not realistic or ￼humanly possible."
"If Obama taught me anything it’s that it don’t matter who you vote for in this system. There’s nothing a politician can do that the next one can’t undo. You can’t vote away the ills of society people have to put our differences aside ban together and fight for the greater good, not vote for the lesser evil."
—Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
When faced with the opportunity to do good, I really think it’s the instinct of humanity to do so. It’s in our genetic memory from our earliest ancestors. ￼It’s the altered perception of the reality of what being human truly is that’s been indoctrinated ￼in to every generation for the last 2000 years or more that makes us believe that we are born sinners. I can’t get behind that one. We all struggle with certain things, but I really think ￼￼that all the “sinful” behavior is learned and wisdom and goodwill is innate at birth. ￼ —Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
Major Tillery, a prisoner at SCI Chester and a friend of Mumia, may have caught the coronavirus. Major is currently under lockdown at SCI Chester, where a coronavirus outbreak is currently taking place. Along with the other prisoners at SCI Chester, he urgently needs your help.
500 E. 4th St.
Chester, PA 19013
Telephone: (610) 490-5412
Email: email@example.com (Prison Superintendent). firstname.lastname@example.org (Superintendent's Assistant)Please also call the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at:Department of Corrections
1920 Technology Parkway
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
Telephone: (717) 737-4531
This telephone number is for SCI Camp Hill, which is the current number for DOC.
Reference Major's inmate number: AM 9786
Email: email@example.comDemand that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections immediately:
2) Disinfect all cells and common areas at SCI Chester, including sinks, toilets, eating areas and showers;
3) Provide PPE (personal protective equipment) for all inmates at SCI Chester;
4) Provide access to showers for all prisoners at SCI Chester, as a basic hygiene measure;
5) Provide yard access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
6) Provide phone and internet access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
7) Immediately release prisoners from SCI Chester, including Major Tillery, who already suffers from a compromised immune system, in order to save their lives from execution by COVID-19.
It has been reported that prisoners are now receiving shower access. However, please insist that prisoners be given shower access and that all common areas are disinfected.
The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
A paper by a researcher at the Schuyler Mansion finds overlooked evidence in letters and Hamilton’s own account books indicating that he bought, sold and personally owned slaves.
By Jennifer Schuessler, Nov. 9, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/09/arts/alexander-hamilton-enslaver-research.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
The question has lingered around the edges of the pop-culture ascendancy of Alexander Hamilton: Did the 10-dollar founding father, celebrated in the musical “Hamilton” as a “revolutionary manumission abolitionist,” actually own slaves?
Some biographers have gingerly addressed the matter over the years, often in footnotes or passing references. But a new research paper released by the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany, N.Y., offers the most ringing case yet.
In the paper, titled “‘As Odious and Immoral a Thing’: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden History as an Enslaver,” Jessie Serfilippi, a historical interpreter at the mansion, examines letters, account books and other documents. Her conclusion — about Hamilton, and what she suggests is wishful thinking on the part of many of his modern-day admirers — is blunt.
“Not only did Alexander Hamilton enslave people, but his involvement in the institution of slavery was essential to his identity, both personally and professionally,” she writes.
“It is vital,” she adds, “that the myth of Hamilton as ‘the Abolitionist Founding Father’ end.”
The evidence cited in the paper, which was quietly published online last month, is not entirely new. But Ms. Serfilippi’s forceful case has caught the eye of historians, particularly those who have questioned what they see as his inflated antislavery credentials.
Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of history and law at Harvard and the author of “The Hemingses of Monticello,” called the paper “fascinating” and the argument plausible. “It just shows that the founders were nearly all implicated in slavery in some way,” she said.
Joanne Freeman, a professor of history at Yale and editor of the Library of America edition of Hamilton’s writings, said that the detailed evidence remained to be fully weighed. But she said the paper was part of a welcome reconsideration of what she called “the Hero Hamilton” narrative.
“It’s fitting that we are reckoning with Hamilton’s status as an enslaver at a time that is driving home how vital it is for white Americans to reckon — seriously reckon — with the structural legacies of slavery in America,” she wrote in an email.
Ms. Serfilippi’s research “complicates his story, and in so doing, better reflects the central place of slavery in America’s Founding,” she said. “It also more accurately reflects Hamilton.”
But Ron Chernow, whose 2004 biography calls Hamilton an “uncompromising abolitionist,” said the paper presented a lopsidedly negative view.
The paper, he said in an email, “seems to be a terrific research job that broadens our sense of Hamilton’s involvement in slavery in a number of ways.” But he said he was dismayed at the relative lack of attention to Hamilton’s antislavery activities. And he questioned what he called her sometimes “bald conclusions,” starting with the claim that slavery was “essential to his identity.”
“I don’t fault Jessie Serfilippi for her tough scrutiny of Hamilton and slavery,” he said. “The great figures in our history deserve such rigor. But she omits all information that would contradict her conclusions.”
Hamilton married into the powerful Schuyler family in 1780. Slavery was common among New York State’s elite, and the Schuylers were some of the largest slaveholders in their area, with more than 40 people enslaved at the Albany mansion and another estate over the years.
In recent years, the mansion has done extensive research into “the servants” (as the enslaved people of the household were usually referred to), which has been incorporated into its tours. That the Schuylers were enslavers does not necessarily shock visitors, Ms. Serfilippi said. But the extent of Hamilton’s connections with slavery is a different story.
“There are some people who come here knowing he wasn’t exactly an abolitionist,” she said. “But there is surprise when I talk about the details of the research.”
Travis Bowman, the senior curator for the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites, who supervised the internal review of Ms. Serfilippi’s paper, said the relative lack of research on enslaved people in Hamilton’s household partly reflects the overall paucity of scholarship on Northern slavery. And the complexities of gradual abolition (New York’s gradual abolition law of 1799 phased slavery out over decades) makes tracking enslaved people, and clearly determining their status, particularly difficult.
“It’s a very odd period,” Mr. Bowman said. “Many people were granting half-freedom. If enslaved people walked away, they didn’t go after them.”
The idea that Hamilton stood apart from the institution goes back to the very first biography of him, by his son John Church Hamilton, who asserted in 1841 that his father “never owned a slave.”
That claim was flatly contradicted by Hamilton’s grandson, Allan McLane Hamilton. In his 1910 biography, he called it “untrue,” noting that Hamilton’s own account books included entries showing him purchasing slaves for himself and others.
But the idea of a resolutely antislavery Hamilton has endured, and has become more pronounced in recent decades. It’s certainly an image that appeals to contemporary readers seeking a founding father relatively untainted by slavery.
In her paper, Ms. Serfilippi challenges what she suggests are persistent myths, starting with the much-repeated claim that his childhood exposure to the brutalities of slavery on St. Croix left him with what Mr. Chernow, in his biography, calls “a settled antipathy to slavery.”
“To date,” she writes, echoing other scholars, “no primary sources have been found to corroborate” the notion that Hamilton’s childhood instilled a hatred of slavery.
Hamilton did criticize slavery at different points in his life, and compared with most white contemporaries held enlightened views on the abilities of Black people. He was also an early member of the New-York Manumission Society, founded in 1785 to advocate gradual abolition and encourage voluntary freeing of the enslaved. (A number of members, including Philip Schuyler, his father-in-law, were slave owners.)
But Ms. Serfilippi also notes documented cases of Hamilton consulting with legal clients on slavery-related issues. Hamilton would not likely have been hired for such work, she argues, “if he were known amongst his peers as having only abolitionist leanings.”
That Hamilton helped legal clients and family members, including his sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church, buy and sell enslaved people, has been noted by biographers. But whether Hamilton enslaved people in his own household is a murkier question.
Some modern biographers, Ms. Serfilippi notes, do address the question, if often briefly. In his biography, Mr. Chernow writes that Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth, “may have owned one or two household slaves,” citing “three oblique hints in his papers.” But she offers a more definitive reading, arguing that a range of primary sources “prove Hamilton purchased enslaved people for himself.”
Her case rests in large part on notations in his cash books and in family letters. For example, in May 1781, six months after his marriage to Elizabeth, Hamilton wrote to George Clinton, mentioning waiting for a sum of money “to pay the value of the woman Mrs. H[amilton] had of Mrs. Clinton.”
Some historians, she writes, have read this as paying for the value of her labor. But Hamilton, Ms. Serfilippi argues, was clearly “exchanging money for the woman herself.”
She also cites a number of similar references in other letters, corroborated, she asserts, by information in the cash books. For example, in an August 1795 letter to Hamilton, Philip Schuyler refers to “a Negro boy and woman engaged for you.” In March 1796, Hamilton’s cash books record a payment of $250 to Schuyler for “2 Negro servants purchased by him for me.”
Ms. Serfilippi also cites several letters by Philip Schuyler referring to “maids” traveling with Elizabeth and the Hamilton children, at a time when Hamilton’s cash books, she argues, show no record of wages to maids — an indication, she says, that they were enslaved.
In another entry in the cash book, from June 1798, Hamilton records receiving $100 for the “term” of a “Negro boy.” That Hamilton could lease him out to another person — a common practice — “absolutely indicates that Hamilton enslaved the boy,” Ms. Serfilippi writes.
And the Hamiltons, Ms. Serfilippi contends, appear to have enslaved people up until the time of Hamilton’s death.
She points to a piece of paper included near the end of the cash book, giving an inventory of Hamilton’s property apparently made after his death in the duel with Aaron Burr in July 1804. The inventory lists his house (valued at 2,200 pounds) and his furniture and books (300 pounds). There are also “servants,” valued at 400 pounds.
Hamilton’s own inventory, which he made shortly before the duel, includes no reference to servants. But Ms. Serfilippi believes the posthumous inventory, drawn up to settle his affairs, is more likely to be accurate.
“The Hamiltons were in debt,” she said. “It would make sense to include everything within their possession.”
It remains to be seen if Ms. Serfilippi’s firm conclusions will be broadly accepted by scholars. To her, what’s at stake is more than just how we see Hamilton.
“When we say Hamilton didn’t enslave people, we’re erasing them from the story,” she said. “The most important thing is they were here. We need to acknowledge them.”
The actress, who plays the title character’s daughter, Tutar, talks about body hair, her “nonbiological father” Sacha Baron Cohen, and that scene with Rudy Giuliani.
By Dave Itzkoff, Nov. 11, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/11/movies/maria-bakalova-borat.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=520549558&algo=bandit-all-surfaces&imp_id=204746685&action=click&module=Most%20Popular&pgtype=Homepage
Sacha Baron Cohen may be the star of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” but it is Maria Bakalova who has emerged its hero.
In this raucous prank comedy, now streaming on Amazon, Bakalova plays Tutar Sagdiyev, the downtrodden 15-year-old daughter of the titular Kazakh journalist portrayed by Baron Cohen. Raised in a barn and miseducated by her oblivious father, Tutar contrives a way to accompany Borat on his latest journey to the United States, becoming both the bait and the co-conspirator in her father’s schemes to deliver her to Vice President Mike Pence.
Through numerous awkward encounters with unsuspecting marks — including a now-infamous interview with Rudolph W. Giuliani — Tutar discovers her self-worth while calling attention to the quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) misogyny around her.
It is a breakthrough performance for Bakalova, a 24-year-old Bulgarian actress whose previous film and television work (including the Italian TV crime drama “Gomorrah”) had yet to bring her the kind of acclaim that one gains for playing a naïve teen who is unaware that women can read, drive or masturbate.
As Bakalova explained in a Zoom conversation on Tuesday, she sees the “Borat” sequel as being fundamentally the story of Tutar’s education and liberation. “It’s a movie of how a girl can grow up and should grow up,” she said, speaking from Los Angeles, where she currently lives. “How people can treat you as not equal because you’re a woman and what kind of options you have.”
For Bakalova, a prominent role in a major American film is also a satisfying opportunity to honor her home country.
“Things like that are not happening to people like us, Bulgarians,” she said. “Most of the time, there is eventually a small, small extra part in a movie, two or three lines as like a prostitute or a Mafia guy. I will be really grateful to Sacha for giving this platform to an Eastern European, to play a strong and complicated character who’s not just one thing.”
Bakalova spoke further about the making of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” her work with Baron Cohen and her highly scrutinized scene with Giuliani. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
What was your upbringing in Bulgaria like? How did you get into performing?
I started singing at the age of 5 or 6 and then I started flute lessons. But at some point, I wanted to explore more. I wanted to escape from reality. Because in acting, you can become anybody. You can do everything. You can live on Mars. I was really obsessed with Scandinavian cinema and the Dogme 95 movement, and inspired by actresses like Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Natalie Portman — how strong they can be and the important stories they can tell.
Were you ever a prankster or practical joker?
Actually, no. I was a super-disciplined child. I was reading too many books. I was obsessed with Dostoyevsky, at like 15, 16. When the first “Borat” movie was released [in 2006], I was 10, so I never even watched it before they gave me the part. But even if I had, I for sure wouldn’t have understood it.
How did you come to be cast in the sequel?
I heard from a friend there was an open call for the lead role in a Hollywood movie. And I was like, that’s not possible. We are Bulgarians. Nobody can actually see us in lead roles. I sent out self-tapes, then they called me for a screen test in London. But the project was so confidential, I was like, is this actually a project? I was sure it was going to be a human trafficking situation. I had no idea I was going to meet Sacha — it was a surprise.
How did you prepare with him in London?
There were three days of screen tests. The first one, we had a small rehearsal; the second one, we started working with real people. They had to believe that we’re real people, that we are not actors, for this to work for the movie. We had to stay undercover.
So it’s you and Sacha playing Tutar and Borat together. Who were you acting opposite and how did you pick them?
It was at a house and there was a super-sweet, nice old couple from England. And we went at them in our crazy way. I’m not quite sure that I know how they actually did it. At the same time, let’s not break the idea of how the magic is happening. Sacha is the person who knows how this whole machine is running.
As you started making the film, how did Sacha describe the character of Tutar to you?
Sacha explained that Tutar should be as crazy as Borat, maybe even crazier. She should be completely disoriented — what is right, what is wrong — and through this journey, she should learn how to be a normal human. It’s a satirical movie, it’s over the top, but he got me thinking about me what it would be like, living this life, even if it’s fake. He’d be like, would you be happy if people treated you this way — if the whole purpose of your life was to get married and live in a cage?
And how her perspective would be warped by a sexist manual that misinforms her about her own body?
The manual is a metaphor for how society and the patriarchy are asking us to behave and what people are expecting. Should I be ashamed that I menstruate? Should I be ashamed that I have body hair? Should I be ashamed that I’m a woman? That’s what Tutar has believed from the beginning, and Sacha wanted to show that in 2020, this is a moment when people should start treating each other equally.
When we first meet Tutar, she is in an extremely degraded state. How did you approach those scenes?
It’s something like hypnosis. You’re just going for it. We actually decided that I would grow out my real body hair. L.A.’s hot almost all the time. Every time I’m supposed to wear a dress or a top, you were able to see my armpit hair and leg hair. It was kind of gross. My facial hair never grows. I tried my best. But my eyebrows are never growing out. The facial part is because of my makeup artist, Katy Fray, but everything else is completely natural. It was so interesting when I finally shaved — I was able to feel the wind on my arms and my legs.
Were there ever times when it was hard for you to stay in character?
When Sacha starts doing his thing, and you’re right next to him, he has this super serious face. I have to act like it’s the most normal thing ever. But he’s so funny. There were moments when the scene was extremely funny and you just can’t stop laughing. It’s bad, because people were able to realize that it’s a joke. He taught me a trick to cross my fingers, to put pressure on my fingers, to stop laughing.
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Were there any marks that you sympathized with? Jeanise Jones, the woman hired as Tutar’s babysitter, was extremely kind to you — did you feel you were deceiving her?
We spent maybe five, six hours with Jeanise and she is the person you see onscreen. She is just incredible. She’s not an actress — she just wanted to help Tutar and for Tutar to appreciate herself, to follow her dreams and educate herself. We need people like Jeanise. She is an angel.
Were there ever times when you felt that you were in physical danger?
Sacha, he’s my nonbiological father and he will be like that forever. So I trusted him from the beginning and I knew he would never put me in a dangerous situation. At the same time, we had a security team that was able to save us in a moment. Maybe the scene when we were at the hotel and Rudy Giuliani called the police, I was kind of scared that something would happen. But fortunately, we escaped.
Did you know who Giuliani was before you recorded your interview with him?
I knew who he was, because 9/11 is something everybody should know. It’s one of the hardest moments in recent history. But I’m not American, I don’t get into American politics. I don’t think I’m that informed with the situation in America and its political system. Sacha has been living here for a long time. I trust him.
How did you and Sacha prepare to shoot that scene?
We’d been talking a lot about different scenarios. How should I act, this way or this way? What should I do? What is smarter? But in all of the scenarios, I was confident that Sacha will save me and he will save the scene, so it’s not going to be a disaster. He’s my guardian angel.
Were you still nervous about filming it?
Yeah. I was nervous. My heart was racing. But Sacha was like, you should be nervous in this situation. So use your nerves. Convert them and accept them and they’re going to help you through everything.
Giuliani has said that he was never inappropriate to you and that he was tucking in his shirt, but other viewers believe he was doing something illicit. What happened in that scene?
[Laughs] I saw everything that you saw. If you saw the movie, that’s our message. We want everybody to see the movie and judge for themselves.
But did you come to a conclusion yourself as to what he was doing?
I believe it’s my back [to the camera] there, we can see what he’s doing in the mirror.
What do you think was taking place? You’re the only other person who was in the room. Did you have any other indication as to what he was doing?
[Long pause] What do you think he was doing?
I can see how either interpretation could be correct. But I wasn’t there, and you were. Do you have an opinion either way?
Sacha jumped into the room quickly, because he’s been worried about me. So, if he were late, I don’t know how things were going to go. But he came just in time.
Did Giuliani think that Tutar was 15 years old when he agreed to do the interview?
I’m not the person who is actually booking these people, so when we get to the scene, I’m just doing the scene, without introducing myself. I’m not sure what he knows or does not know.
Giuliani has been widely mocked and criticized for being duped by you and the “Borat” filmmakers. Do you feel bad at all for that?
Movies like this are showing people’s true colors. It’s going to show Jeanise’s true colors. It’s going to show the real character of [Judith Dim Evans], the lady in the synagogue. It’s going to show Rudy’s real character. You’re responsible for your own decisions. So, no, I don’t feel bad.
What have you since learned about Americans, living among them after the film’s release?
I was extremely happy to see how happy people were over the weekend [following the presidential election]. Because in my country, there has been years and years, through different systems, when people haven’t had the right to vote. Now seeing that people are actually voting, and all over the streets people were celebrating and crying and dancing and singing. It was probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life. It was really inspiring, seeing that there is, for the first time in history, a woman as vice president. Like in the movie, women can do anything. And sometimes we can do it better.
The “war on childhood obesity” has only caused shame.
By Aubrey Gordon, Nov. 13, 2020
Ms. Gordon is the author of the forthcoming book “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.”
I was in the fourth grade, sitting in a doctor’s office, the first time my face flushed with shame. I was, I had just learned, overweight.
I will remember the pediatrician’s words forever: It’s probably from eating all that pizza and ice cream. It tastes good, doesn’t it? But it makes your body big and fat.
I felt my face sear with shame.
There was more: Just imagine that your body is made out of clay. If you can just stay the same weight, as you grow, you’ll stretch out. And once you grow up, you’ll be thin and beautiful. Won’t that be great?
I learned so much in that one moment: You’re not beautiful. You’re indulging too much. Your body is wrong. You must have done it. I’d failed a test I didn’t even know I’d taken, and the sense of failure and self-loathing it inspired planted the seeds of a depression I would live with for many years.
As the holiday season approaches, with its celebratory family meals and seasonal treats, I worry about the children across the country who will endure similar remarks, the kind that shatter their confidence, reject their bodies and usher them into a harsh new world of judgment.
For the rest of my childhood, I weathered the storm of conversations like the one I had at the doctor’s office. Well-meaning, supportive adults eagerly pointed out my perceived failings at every turn. As the years went on, more and more foods, I was told, were off limits.
It wasn’t just that I shouldn’t eat them; it was that they were sinful, bad, tempting. Many of those foods — eggs, nuts, avocados — would later fall back into the good graces of healthy eating. At the time, though, they were collateral damage in a crusade to cut calories at all costs. Fiber, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, protein — they were all sacrificed at the altar of calories in, calories out. The focus was never on enjoying nutritious foods, just on deprivation, will and lack.
My life was filled with self-flagellation, forced performances to display my commitment to changing an unacceptable body. Adults asked openly about what I had eaten, when I had exercised and whether I knew how to do either correctly. After all, if I was still fat, it must be my fault.
My body wasn’t just a body, the way a thinner one might have been. It was perceived as a burden, an inconvenience, a bothersome problem to solve. Only thinness would allow me to forget my body, but despite my best efforts, thinness never came.
The more I and others tried to change my size, the deeper my depression became. Even at such a young age, I had been declared an enemy combatant in the nation’s war on childhood obesity, and I felt that fact deeply. Bodies like mine now represented an epidemic, and we were its virus, personified.
The war on obesity seemed to emerge, fully formed, near the turn of the millennium, but its roots run deeper than that. C. Everett Koop, surgeon general under President Ronald Reagan, made fatness a priority for his office in the 1980s. In 2004, nearly three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Surgeon General Richard Carmona compared the war on obesity to the war on terror. Suddenly, fat people weren’t just neighbors, friends or family members — we were enemies to be feared.
The war on childhood obesity reached its zenith with the 2010 introduction of the national “Let’s Move!” campaign, “dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation.” It was a campaign against “childhood obesity” — not specific health conditions or the behaviors that may contribute to those health conditions. It wasn’t a campaign against foods with little nutritional value, or against the unchecked poverty that called for such low-cost, shelf-stable foods. It was a campaign against a body type — specifically, children’s body types.
In 2012, Georgia began its Strong4Life campaign aimed at reducing children’s weight and lowering the state’s national ranking: second in childhood obesity. Run by the pediatric hospital Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, it was inspired in part by a previous anti-meth campaign. Now, instead of targeting addiction in adults, the billboards targeted fatness in children. Somber black-and-white photographs of fat children stared at viewers, emblazoned with bold text. “WARNING: My fat may be funny to you but it’s killing me. Stop childhood obesity.” “WARNING: Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line.” “WARNING: Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did.”
The billboards purported to warn parents of the danger of childhood fatness, but to many they appeared to be public ridicule of fat kids. Strong4Life became one of the nation’s highest-profile fat-shaming campaigns — and its targets were children.
These declarations of an obesity epidemic and a war on childhood obesity all doggedly pursued one question, and one question only: How do we make fat kids thin? In other words, how do we get rid of fat kids?
Overwhelmingly, childhood anti-obesity programs hinged on shame and fear, a scared-straight approach for fat children. As of 2017, fully half of the states required that schools track students’ body mass index. Many require “B.M.I. report cards” to be sent home to parents, despite the fact that 53 percent of parents don’t actually believe that the reports accurately categorize their child’s weight status. And observational studies in Arkansas and California have shown that the practice of parental notification doesn’t appear to lead to individual weight loss or an overall reduction in students’ B.M.I.s. One eating disorder treatment center called the report cards a “pathway to weight stigma” that would most likely contribute to the development of eating disorders in predisposed students.
Experiencing weight stigma has significant long-term effects, too. A 2012 study in the journal Obesity asked fat adults to indicate how often they had experienced various weight-stigmatizing events. Seventy-four percent of women and 70 percent of men of similar B.M.I. and age reported others’ making negative assumptions. Twenty-eight percent of women and 23 percent of men reported job discrimination. The effects of stigma were especially dire for young people, very fat people and those who started dieting early in life. To cope, 79 percent of all respondents reported eating, 74 percent isolated themselves, and 41 percent left the situation or avoided it in the future. Rather than motivating fat people to lose weight, weight stigma had led to more isolation, more avoidance and less support.
Despite ample federal and state funding, multiple national public health campaigns and a slew of television shows, the war on obesity does not appear to be lowering Americans’ B.M.I.s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1999 there has been a 39 percent increase in adult obesity and a 33.1 percent increase in obesity among children.
Weight stigma kick-starts what for many will become lifelong cycles of shame. And it sends a clear, heartbreaking message to fat children: The world would be a better place without you in it.
Yet, despite its demonstrated ineffectiveness, the so-called war on childhood obesity rages on. This holiday season, for the sake of children who are told You’re not beautiful. You’re indulging too much. Your body is wrong. You must have done it, I hope some parents will declare a cease-fire.
Aubrey Gordon, who has written under the pseudonym “Your Fat Friend,” is a columnist for Self magazine, a co-host of the podcast “Maintenance Phase” and the author of the forthcoming book “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.”
JOSHUA CHO, NOVEMBER 13, 2020
US corporate media have buried coverage of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in the UK, despite its being the media “Trial of the Century” (FAIR.org, 9/25/20). But even in the scarce coverage that does exist of this unprecedented case with immense implications for freedom of expression, one would hardly get the impression that the US and British governments are involved in an illegal conspiracy—in violation of their own laws—to punish Assange for the “crime” of journalism.
Coverage before and at the start of the trial by establishment media outlets like the New York Times (9/7/20), Wall Street Journal (9/7/20), USA Today (9/6/20) and the Associated Press (9/6/20) largely omitted simple facts, like Assange displaying signs of abuse. Of these reports, only USA Today cited Nils Melzer, a UN special rapporteur on torture, who observed that when he visited him last year, Assange displayed symptoms of “psychological torture,” likely caused by extreme stress, chronic anxiety and isolation.
AP framed Assange’s visible and prolonged abuse at the Belmarsh maximum security prison in London and the Ecuadorian embassy—where he sought asylum for seven years—in a partisan way, presenting it as a charge of his “supporters” rather than the judgment of professionals:
Supporters say the ordeal has harmed Assange’s physical and mental health, leaving him with depression, dental problems and a serious shoulder ailment.
In fact, Melzer’s assessment is corroborated by other experts. The Lancet (2/17/20) published an open letter by 117 doctors and psychologists calling for the end to what they called the “torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange.” Dr. Sondra Crosby, one of the first doctors to independently examine Guantánamo captives, who possesses extensive experience treating torture victims around the world, later testified at Assange’s hearing that he met “all of criteria for major depression,” and is at “high risk of completing suicide if he were to be extradited” to the US (Shadowproof, 9/24/20).
Torture and arbitrary detention are human rights violations of international conventions that both the US and Britain have signed, which obligates them to conduct prompt and impartial investigations whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe someone has been and is being tortured. In Assange’s case, these violations have been downplayed or even celebrated by US and British media (FAIR.org, 4/18/19). AP (9/22/20) reported on psychiatric expert Michael Kopelman of King’s College London testifying to Assange’s “intense suicidal preoccupation” and “auditory hallucinations,” without once noting the obvious connection to psychological torture.
Another human right enshrined in international conventions and in US and British domestic law is the right to a fair trial, which is precisely what has been and is currently being denied to Assange, although one wouldn’t know this from corporate media coverage. Establishment media omitted, for example, that Assange was sent to these hearings by a judge who ruled on his case despite having several undisclosed conflicts of interest.
Before the hearing, journalists Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis of Declassified UK published several damning reports revealing that Emma Arbuthnot—the chief magistrate who had previously overseen Assange’s extradition proceedings before informally stepping aside in December, 2019 for “perception of bias”—had failed to disclose several conflicts of interest before delivering two rulings that prevented Assange from taking up asylum in Ecuador. Kennard and Curtis (11/14/19) reported that Arbuthnot had been receiving gifts and hospitality from Bechtel, a US military and cybersecurity company that had been exposed by WikiLeaks.
She has also taken part in junkets, along with her husband, paid for by two partner organizations of the British Foreign Office, which has long taken an anti-Assange position (Declassified UK, 2/21/20). (Her husband, James Arbuthnot, is a former Conservative Defense minister who has also worked closely with the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society—Declassified UK, 9/4/20). One of the junkets involved a meeting between James Arbuthnot and Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak—the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—whose personal emails were published by WikiLeaks.
Arbuthnot’s son, Alexander Arbuthnot, is the vice president of Vitruvian Partners, a private equity firm heavily invested in Darktrace—a company founded by GCHQ and MI5 to stop data leaks, which is staffed by veterans of the NSA and CIA, intelligence agencies behind the US government’s persecution of Assange (Declassified UK, 11/15/19).
Although UK legal guidance requires British judges to declare any conflicts of interest before the courts, Arbuthnot has a history of stepping aside from adjudicating cases only after media investigations expose them. Because she refused to disclose her conflicts of interest and only informally stepped away from Assange’s case, her previous rulings in February 2018 and June 2019—which brought Assange to his extradition hearings in 2020—couldn’t be revisited by his defense. Although she is no longer personally hearing Assange’s extradition proceedings, she remains the chief magistrate, and is still responsible for supporting and guiding the junior judges in her jurisdiction, like Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who presided over Assange’s extradition hearings and is responsible for delivering her verdict on January 4, 2021.
But can any of this scandalous information make it through the filters of US media? Aside from trivial reporting that focused on technical “glitches” on the first day of the hearing (New York Times, 9/16/20; Washington Post, 9/7/20), the media blackout from establishment outlets like the Times, Post, Journal, USA Today and CNN has largely forced US audiences to rely on reprinted AP reports to get any idea of what was going on during the trial.
To AP’s credit, it has covered important topics that other US outlets have ignored, such as US whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s defense of Assange (9/16/20), and testimony confirming that the US prosecution was lying when it claimed Assange wouldn’t be held in solitary confinement if he were to be extradited (9/29/20). It also covered crucial testimony from whistleblowers at the Spanish security firm UC Global, revealing that for their “American friends,” the firm had covertly installed in the Ecuadorian embassy microphones, cameras and special stickers that disrupt white noise machines (9/30/20).
As British media watchdog Media Lens (10/7/20) pointed out in its critique of the British media blackout, the mere fact that Assange’s confidential conversations with his lawyers had been violated under the auspices of the CIA “should have been sufficient to throw out any court case against Assange.” Journalist Kevin Gosztola (Shadowproof, 10/3/20) later reported that in the UK, the FBI had enlisted the Ecuadorian government’s help in stealing legally privileged material from Assange’s lawyers, which made it more difficult for his lawyers to prepare a defense for his extradition hearing.
However, when it came to the substance of what was actually argued by both the defense and prosecution, and the case’s evolving implications for the future of journalism, even the AP joined in the atrocious US media blackout. Without indispensable coverage from outlets like Shadowproof, Consortium News and former UK ambassador Craig Murray’s blog updates, one wouldn’t know that the prosecution had shifted its arguments from the claim that Assange isn’t a journalist—making a specious distinction between his behavior and those of other media professionals—to asserting the US government’s “right” to prosecute, under the 1917 Espionage Act, all journalists around the world who publish classified US information. These new US government charges could criminalize even receiving classified information, which is standard practice in journalism.
The prosecution was forced to do this because their unsubstantiated arguments collapsed under their own lies, such as when they falsely charged Assange with aiding whistleblower Chelsea Manning in a “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion,” or that WikiLeaks disclosures resulted in material harm, in order to dodge claims that the trial is politically motivated (Shadowproof, 9/26/20; Independent, 10/5/20).
At other times, AP reports focused on relatively trivial matters compared to reports by other observers at the extradition hearings. For example, AP (9/8/20) published an article focusing on Judge Baraitser instructing Assange to stop interrupting witnesses. On that same day, Craig Murray (9/8/20) reported on Baraitser’s blatantly inappropriate practice of reciting pre-written judgments prepared before she heard any lawyers argue their case in front of her, and preventing the defense from having adequate time to prepare for superseding indictments and present their case in court. Eyewitnesses to the trial, like Australian journalist John Pilger (Arena, 10/2/20), described it less as due process and more as “due revenge.”
AP, and corporate US news outlets more generally, never followed up on Consortium News’ revelation (9/28/20) that the US government’s lawyers had been relying not on actual witnesses but on a 2011 book by two Guardian journalists, Luke Harding and David Leigh, who are known to be hostile to Assange. Neither of them have been called to give evidence under oath about the contents of their book, which would require them to be cross-examined by Assange’s lawyers. Yet when the defense called former Der Spiegel journalist John Goetz to give evidence under oath refuting the book’s claim that Assange had remarked that informants deserved to die—a comment supposedly made at a dinner Goetz attended—Baraitser sided with the prosecution to prevent Goetz from giving firsthand testimony about the allegation (Consortium News, 9/16/20).
From top to bottom, the trial itself is a farce, since no one should be prosecuted for working with a whistleblower to expose war crimes, yet there are few reports questioning its legitimacy (FAIR.org, 4/12/19). On the contrary, it appears that major US news organizations have buried all the ways that the US and UK governments have already stacked the deck against Assange, in order to give the illusion that he’s receiving a fair trial.
Before she died of Covid-19, Pamela Rush opened her home to show the world what poverty looks like. "This year, Covid-19 has swept through Lowndes County like a brush fire. Poor people, and especially poor Black people, fell victim in alarming numbers. Brazen politicians have actually called for people to die to protect the economy. In Lowndes County, that’s exactly what has happened. Poor essential workers are dying to save the very economic and social structures that trap them in poverty."
By Catherine Coleman Flowers, Nov. 14, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/14/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-poverty-us.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
My story starts in Lowndes County, Ala., a place that’s been called Bloody Lowndes because of its violent, racist history. It’s part of Alabama’s Black Belt, a broad strip of rich, dark soil worked and inhabited largely by poor Black people who, like me, are descendants of slaves. Our ancestors were ripped from their homes and brought here to pick the cotton that thrived in the fertile earth.
I grew up here, left to get an education and followed a range of professional opportunities. But something about that soil gets in your blood. I came back hoping to help good, hard-working people rise up out of the poverty that bogs them down like Alabama mud.
A big part of my work now is educating people about rural poverty and environmental injustice — about how poor people around the United States are trapped in conditions no one else would put up with. Those conditions — polluted air, tainted water, untreated sewage — make people sick.
I take activists, donors and politicians to see such conditions for themselves. We visit families crowded into run-down homes that lack heat in the winter and plumbing in all seasons. We visit homes with no means of wastewater treatment, because septic systems cost more than most people earn in a year and tend to fail anyway in the impervious clay soil. Families cope the best they can, mainly by jury-rigging PVC pipe to drain their toilet’s sewage into cesspools in the woods or yard outside, where they breed parasites and disease right by where children and pets play.
An estimated 90 percent of Lowndes households have failing or inadequate wastewater systems, although no one took the time to count until my organization, the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, conducted a door-to-door survey in 2011 and 2012.
The head of one of those households for years was Pamela Rush. Pam, who was a 42-year-old mother with a cautious smile when I met her in 2018, greeted visitors at the door of the faded blue, single-wide trailer she shared with her two children. Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as famous activists like Jane Fonda and the Rev. Dr. William Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign, traveled down the dusty road to Pam’s home, where they saw a picture that was hard to shake.
In 2018, I described her living conditions in an essay for The Times. The trailer barely protected Pam and her children, now 11 and 16, from the elements. Gaps in the walls had let opossums and other wild animals squeeze in, so Pam had stuffed rags in the holes and set traps outside the front door. She cautioned visitors to watch their step on the sloping, flimsy floors, which were soft underfoot.
Her monthly checks — less than $1,000 a month from disability and child support payments — didn’t stretch far enough to cover repairs. Still, Pam did her best to make a comfortable home for her children, shopping secondhand at the Salvation Army stores. The trailer was musty, poorly ventilated and dimly lit, with water-stained popcorn ceilings and exposed electrical wiring. But Pam had arranged an old sofa and chairs in a cozy semicircle around the television set and hung framed prints on the mildew-streaked walls. A mobile of three brown-skinned angels, bearing the words “Angels live here,” hung from the wall.
She shared a bed with her daughter, whose bedroom was uninhabitable because of mold that thrived in the damp environment. The child suffered from asthma and needed a CPAP machine to breathe at night. Her son slept on the couch.
At the rear of the home, overlooking a small yard and dense woods, was a collapsed deck. Beside the deck a pipe spewed raw sewage onto the ground. The toilet paper and feces told a story of the lost American dream much more clearly than Pam ever could. The pride and independence of homeownership came to rest there, in that stinking pool.
Why didn’t she move, people sometimes asked me. A look at her mortgage papers provided one reason. She had paid about $113,000 for the trailer in 1995, with an interest rate of 10 percent. Twenty-four years later, she still owed $13,000, but the trailer was worthless. Despite this, payments came due each month. A septic system was out of the question. New ones in Lowndes, with its impermeable soil, can easily cost more than $15,000. That’s an example of the structural poverty that traps good, hard-working people where they are.
This year, Covid-19 has swept through Lowndes County like a brush fire. Poor people, and especially poor Black people, fell victim in alarming numbers. Brazen politicians have actually called for people to die to protect the economy. In Lowndes County, that’s exactly what has happened. Poor essential workers are dying to save the very economic and social structures that trap them in poverty.
It wasn’t long before Lowndes County had the highest rate of coronavirus cases in Alabama. Many people were infected at the factories, warehouses, nursing homes or stores where they worked. They didn’t have the luxury of telecommuting.
Others caught it from family members who didn’t know they had the virus or had no means of social distancing. They couldn’t afford to check into a motel. They had no second homes to retreat to. In the absence of coherent public policy, people did what they could to help one another, leaving food and other supplies on the front porches of those who were infected. In one of our last conversations this spring, Pam told me she was fixing some greens for a sick relative.
After two years of working with Pam, my nonprofit had finally raised the money to help her buy a new mobile home. We were all anticipating her move with joy, but the pandemic had put it on hold.
Then, like a heat-seeking missile, the coronavirus zeroed in on Pam. When she developed breathing problems in June, she was admitted to a Selma hospital, and then transferred to the University of Alabama Medical Center in Birmingham. That’s where she fought for her life for a few days before she lost her battle on July 3. The official cause of death was Covid-19, but the underlying causes of her suffering were poverty, environmental injustice, climate change, race, and health disparities. They would never be listed on a death certificate.
I felt powerless, unable even to visit Pam in the hospital in Birmingham where she’d been taken. My heart ached for her and for her family. At one point the hospital asked for a picture of Pam, maybe so the staff could see her as she was before Covid. I sent pictures of her with Mr. Sanders and Dr. Barber. I wanted them to know that this struggling patient was an important woman.
Before Covid-19, we thought we had a solution to Pam’s plight. After years of living in horrible conditions, Pam and her children would finally have a livable home with a working septic system. Sadly, Pam never got to live there.
In the end, it didn’t matter that Pam had opened her life and shown the world what inequality looks like, or that influential Americans had walked through her home and left in disbelief. Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, had climbed her rickety front steps. Senator Sanders had told her story in a video shown across the nation. He’d promised to work on policies to address her problems. But that would take time that Pam didn’t have. It didn’t even matter that Pam had testified before Congress. The forces of structural poverty were too strong.
I’m still hoping Pam’s children will live in the home and enjoy the better life she envisioned for them.
Quawan Charles was found dead in a field in rural Louisiana days after he had vanished. Now his family is asking whether his death could have been prevented with a faster response.
By Marie Fazio, Nov. 14, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/14/us/quawan-charles-bobby-louisiana.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
Days after his family had reported him missing, 15-year-old Quawan Charles was found dead in a sugar cane field, more than 20 miles from his home in Baldwin, La., his face badly disfigured.
A preliminary autopsy found that his death had most likely been caused by drowning. But the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, and the local police’s slowness to take action, have prompted the boy’s family to commission an independent autopsy and question whether his death could have been prevented.
“It appears that something hateful happened to Bobby,” Ron Hall, a lawyer for the family, said in an interview, using Quawan’s nickname. “Whether this was an intentional act or grossly negligent indifference for human life, it’s still horrible.”
On Oct. 30, Quawan’s mother had planned to pick him up from his father’s home for a haircut at 3 p.m., but he didn’t answer his phone, according to Mr. Hall. When he hadn’t responded by 7 p.m., his parents began to worry. His father forced down his locked bedroom door, realized he was missing and called the Baldwin Police Department, Mr. Hall said.
The police assured Quawan’s parents that he was probably at a football game or with friends, Mr. Hall said. No Amber Alert was issued.
Frustrated, the family took matters into their own hands and learned that Quawan had been picked up by Janet Irvin and her son, without his parents’ permission, Mr. Hall said. He was taken to their home in the neighboring Iberia Parish, he said.
It is unclear when, why or how Quawan left the Irvin home, Mr. Hall said. Ms. Irvin did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday, and the Baldwin Police Department, which is investigating Quawan’s disappearance, did not respond to questions.
Quawan’s parents contacted the authorities in neighboring Iberia Parish on Nov. 3 to involve them in the search.
Within hours of being notified that Quawan might be in their jurisdiction, Iberia Parish sheriff’s deputies discovered the body of a teenage boy around 6 p.m. in a muddy field near Loreauville, a small rural community not far from the Irvins’ home, after they pinged Quawan’s cellphone, Mr. Hall said.
After they located the body, the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office opened a homicide investigation that included interviewing those who were believed to have been with Quawan before his disappearance and searching their home, the office said in a statement on Saturday. A spokeswoman declined to answer whether that included Ms. Irvin and her son.
“We interviewed these same individuals and are currently tracking their whereabouts,” the statement said. Video evidence recorded near the area where his body was found indicates that Quawan was alone for some time before and after he was seen on the recording, according to the statement.
A preliminary autopsy report released by the Iberia Parish coroner on Friday said the cause of Quawan’s death was drowning, citing muddy water found in his airways and hyperinflated lungs. In the report, the coroner attributed the scratches and wounds on Quawan’s face to “aquatic animal activity” and said that the boy had not sustained the injuries before his death.
A toxicology report has not yet been released.
There are several bodies of water near the sugar cane field where Quawan was found, Mr. Hall said, but none deeper than two feet.
“If in fact he did die of drowning — and we’re saying that as an if — we’re calling into question how exactly that would have happened,” Mr. Hall said. “Can somebody who’s 5-foot-6 typically drown in two feet of water? No, not unless there’s another cause associated with that.”
The Baldwin Police Department, which also did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday, said in a statement on Tuesday that it would handle the investigation into his disappearance. Quawan’s death would be investigated — as a homicide — by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office. The Police Department added that “proper protocol was used to report the juvenile as missing.”
The family has commissioned an independent autopsy and has sent an investigator to capture drone footage of the fields where Quawan was found, Mr. Hall said.
Quawan was a quiet teenager who had seven siblings, according to Mr. Hall. He had an understated sense of humor that would come out as he got to know a person and had recently adopted a dog he named My Baby, according to The Washington Post.
“Like a lot of teenagers, he was just at that age where you’re trying to figure out your place in this world,” said Andre Arceneaux, a local activist who founded Stand Black, an advocacy group. “He was just a good kid and something happened to him that we don’t know the ins and outs of yet.”
When his family saw photos of Quawan taken at the coroner’s office the night he was found — a quarter of his mangled face gone, revealing half his teeth in a gruesome, forced grin — they likened his appearance to that of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black youth who was killed in 1955, recalled Mr. Arceneaux, who was with them at the time.
Quawan’s mother decided to release one of the photos, Mr. Arceneaux said.
“She somehow had the bravery to say, ‘The world needs to see my child; the world needs to see what he looks like,’” Mr. Arceneaux said. “Sometimes it takes something like that for people to see the severity of what happened.”
On a GoFundMe page for Quawan’s family, Mr. Till and Mr. Charles are displayed side by side, their faces captioned “1955” and “2020.” By Saturday afternoon, more than $235,000 had been raised for autopsy and funeral costs.
Quawan’s death has not been deemed racially motivated by the authorities or his family, Mr. Hall said.
Mr. Arceneaux said the failure of the police to immediately look for Quawan at the football game or to issue an Amber Alert was indicative of a larger issue.
“Regardless of whether this was racially motivated or not, regardless of what the situation surrounding his death may be, the fact that the police departments didn’t act the way they would’ve acted if Quawan was a 15-year-old white girl named Katie, that’s the problem,” Mr. Arceneaux said.
The American Civil Liberties Union has backed the call for an independent and transparent investigation, according to a statement from Alanah Odoms Hebert, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Louisiana.
“The disrespect and lack of transparency demonstrated by local officials in response to Bobby’s tragic and suspicious death is unacceptable,” Ms. Odoms Hebert said in a statement. “We join the family in demanding a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bobby’s death.”
Quawan’s family has organized demonstrations outside the Baldwin Police Department and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office to call for justice and answers. They feel that if action had been taken sooner, Quawan could be alive today, Mr. Hall said.
“He’s still a kid,” he said. “If there’s a 1 percent chance at preventing what happened to Bobby — whatever that was — if you put full resources into finding this kid, then you take that chance.”
If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we cannot escape the world we have shaped.
By Margaret Renkl, Contributing Opinion Writer, Nov. 16, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/16/opinion/coronavirus-minks-wildlife-environment.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
It was the photo of the mink in Denmark, soon to be slaughtered, that hit me the hardest. In it, the animals peer from their cages with open curiosity, ears pricked forward, clever fingers grasping the wire of the cage doors as they study their surroundings. They are clearly trying to figure out what is happening.
What’s happening, it turns out, is that mink can catch Covid-19 from human beings and from each other. Several other species — dogs, cats, hamsters, tigers, monkeys and ferrets — have contracted the virus from people, but only mink, so far, have passed the virus back to us.
Mink are native to North America, but they are farmed by the millions around the world, including here in the United States. (Let’s be clear: “Farmed,” in this context, means the animals are kept in cages until they are killed and skinned for the fur industry.) Few people come into contact with mink, so the news about Covid-19 on mink farms hasn’t elicited the kind of public terror that would no doubt ensue if dog parks became potential superspreaders.
What makes the news from Europe so alarming is that Covid-19 can mutate as it jumps between humans and mink and back again. So far these mutations have not made the virus more easily transmissible or more likely to cause severe infection. But because one set of mutations in one variant of the virus has the potential, at least theoretically, to limit the effectiveness of a Covid-19 vaccine, Danish officials made the extraordinary decision to kill every mink in the country — some 17 million animals.
It’s a heart-wrenching story of mass slaughter and mass graves. The outcry in Denmark, the world’s largest producer of mink pelts, has focused largely on the shaky legal framework for the government’s order, and on its financial devastation to fur farmers. The real question is why such farms exist in the first place.
It’s not news that life on earth is out of balance. We already know that human behavior — not just in burning fossil fuels but also in food production, wilderness fragmentation, habitat degradation and overpopulation, among other planetary depredations — has imperiled everything from global biodiversity to the actual weather. In the general public, however, warnings from scientists and environmental activists have fallen mostly on deaf ears, even when those depredations come with a cost to us.
We have known for decades what happens when we put pressure on wild animals by degrading their habitats, interrupting their ecosystems, keeping them in cages or otherwise failing them. H.I.V., Lyme, bubonic plague, anthrax, Ebola — all are among the many animal pathogens that now infect human beings. The coronavirus pandemic is just the most recent example of what nature has been telling us all along.
“When diseases move from animals to humans, and vice versa, it is usually because we have reconfigured our shared ecosystems in ways that make the transition much more likely,” Ferris Jabr wrote in The New York Times Magazine back in June. “Deforestation, mining, intensive agriculture and urban sprawl destroy natural habitats, forcing wild creatures to venture into human communities. Excessive hunting, trade and consumption of wildlife significantly increase the probability of cross-species infection.”
The conversation around conservation traditionally pits people who care about the natural world against people who say that nature is great so long as it doesn’t interfere with their plans to build a new subdivision or buy a cheap hamburger or drive a giant SUV or eat raspberries year round. So long as it doesn’t inconvenience them in any way.
The earth is paying the price for our convenience. Headlines of the last few weeks have included reports of the United States officially leaving the Paris climate agreement (followed by a record high temperature of 83 degrees Monday here in Nashville); the continuing decline of coral reefs; a devastating hurricane season; coastal plastic pollution caused by Americans; and the Trump administration’s decision to remove gray wolves from the protected species list.
Our mistake was only partly in believing that the natural world was ours for the taking. Our mistake was also in failing to understand that we ourselves are part of the natural world. If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we cannot escape the world we have shaped. We must begin right now to make preserving biodiversity a priority, to make protecting wildlife habitats a priority, to make living in closer harmony with our wild neighbors a priority. Keeping ourselves safe from a future of ever-renewing pandemics will mean completely reframing the way we think about the natural world.
“Animals don’t exist in order to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves,” the British naturalist Helen Macdonald writes in her transcendent new essay collection, “Vesper Flights.” For far too long, human beings believed they’d been given dominion over all the Earth. Now the slaughtered minks in Denmark — and all the creatures who are dying in this human-wrought and rapidly accelerating extinction — are teaching us what we need to do to save them and ourselves, too: We must change our lives.
Hit hard by job losses and the pandemic’s effect on schooling and childcare, American women face short-term difficulties and long-term repercussions.
By Patricia Cohen, Nov. 17, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/business/economy/women-jobs-economy-recession.html
For millions of working women, the coronavirus pandemic has delivered a rare and ruinous one-two-three punch.
First, the parts of the economy that were smacked hardest and earliest by job losses were ones where women dominate — restaurants, retail businesses and health care.
Then a second wave began taking out local and state government jobs, another area where women outnumber men.
The third blow has, for many, been the knockout: the closing of child care centers and the shift to remote schooling. That has saddled working mothers, much more than fathers, with overwhelming household responsibilities.
“We’ve never seen this before,” said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan and the mother of a second grader and a sixth grader. Recessions usually start by gutting the manufacturing and construction industries, where men hold most of the jobs, she said.
The impact on the economic and social landscape is both immediate and enduring.
The triple punch is not just pushing women out of jobs they held, but also preventing many from seeking new ones. For an individual, it could limit prospects and earnings over a lifetime. Across a nation, it could stunt growth, robbing the economy of educated, experienced and dedicated workers.
Inequality in the home — in terms of household and child care responsibilities — influences inequality in the workplace, Misty L. Heggeness, a principal economist at the Census Bureau, concluded in a working paper on the pandemic’s impact for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Without a more comprehensive system of support, she said, “mothers will forever be vulnerable to career scarring during any major crisis like this pandemic.”
The latest jobs report from the Labor Department showed that some of the damage was reversed last month as the service industry revived, nudging down the jobless rate for women to 6.5 percent, slightly below men’s. But there were still 4.5 million fewer women employed in October than there were a year ago, compared with 4.1 million men.
And according to the Census Bureau, a third of the working women 25 to 44 years old who are unemployed said the reason was child care demands. Only 12 percent of unemployed men cited those demands.
Laci Oyler has felt that pressure. Her husband, employed by a large printing company, was already working from home when the pandemic shuttered day care and schools in Milwaukee. But after two days of taking care of their two young sons, “he said, ‘Absolutely no way,’” Ms. Oyler explained. So she cut her weekly hours as a mental health counselor for Alverno College, a small Catholic institution, to five from 32.
In August, when she learned that public schools would continue to offer only online classes for the fall, Ms. Oyler decided she had little choice but to take an unpaid leave.
This month, she decided to resign.
“Work is so much more than what you’re taking home as payment,” Ms. Oyler said. “But when you look at that bottom line of risk versus reward, it doesn’t seem worth it,” she added, referring to the cost of child care combined with the possibility of coronavirus infection for her or her children.
As a licensed professional, Ms. Oyler does not expect to have difficulty returning to the work force when she is ready. But for most working women, dropping out to take care of children or other family members exacts a sizable toll, several studies have shown. Rejoining is hard, and if women do, they generally earn less and have less security. And the longer someone is out of work, the tougher it is to get back in.
Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard, said this was the first recession where the economy was so intertwined with the network of child care.
“During the Great Depression, no one cared about the care sector,” she said. “Women weren’t in the labor force, and they weren’t supposed to be.”
One reason that Congress started giving financial assistance to poor households headed by women in the 1930s, under a program originally titled Aid to Dependent Children, was so they could stay home with their children and not compete with men for jobs, Ms. Goldin said.
Only during World War II, when women were urgently needed in factories and offices to replace men who were in the military, did the government establish a far-reaching federally subsidized network of nurseries and child care centers in nearly every state. Once the war ended, so did the support.
“You cannot have a contented mother working in a war factory if she is worrying about her children, and you cannot have children running wild in the streets without a bad effect on the coming generations,” Senator Carl Hayden, an Arizona Democrat, testified in 1943.
Women make up roughly half of the country’s work force. They range from entry-level to professional, they live in urban, suburban and rural areas, and they often care for toddlers and teenagers. But the burdens of the pandemic-induced recession have fallen most heavily on low-income and minority women and single mothers.
Members of these overlapping groups often have the most unpredictable schedules, and the fewest benefits, and are least able to afford child care. They fill most of the essential jobs that cannot be done from home and, therefore, carry the most risk for exposure to the virus. At the same time, they make up a disproportionate share of the service industries that have lost the most jobs. The jobless rate is 9.2 percent for Black women and 9 percent for Hispanic women.
When the pandemic caused housecleaning jobs to dry up, Andrea Poe was able to find cleaning work at a resort in Orange Beach, Ala., about a 45-minute drive from Pensacola, Fla., where she and her 14-year-old daughter, Cheyenne Poe, had moved in with an older daughter, her fiancé and their five children.
The families were behind in the rent and threatened with eviction when Hurricane Sally ripped through the coast in September. To escape the floods, they piled into two cars, drove to Biloxi, Miss., and spent five nights in a Walmart parking lot.
Now Ms. Poe and Cheyenne, now 15, are in Peoria, Ariz., living in a room in her mother’s trailer.
She said she was applying for jobs every day, so far without luck. And the bills keep coming. Ms. Poe has missed two consecutive loan payments on her car and worries that it will be repossessed.
“I’m just hoping my unemployment checks come through so my car doesn’t get taken away,” she said. “If I lose my car, I’ll never be able to get a job.”
Women with more resources are in a better position, but they struggle in other ways.
When the pandemic ripped through Seattle and compelled Kenna Smith, 37, to work from home, she initially saw one upside — a chance to spend more time with her 3-year old son.
“At first, I thought I’d just focus on my child,” said Ms. Smith, who had just started a branding and design company, Wildforth Creative. “It was fun for a while, but then the stress was intense.”
Like many families who were worried about the risk of infection or short of money and space, Ms. Smith and her husband let their son’s nanny go. Her husband, project manager for a general contractor, worked out of their bedroom.
“I’m not sure why it totally fell on me,” Ms. Smith said of child care. “I’m out in the living room, dining room area with a whole bunch of toys strewn about, with my laptop, trying to run my business.
“I was wanting to work and wanting my business to succeed so badly,” she said. “I didn’t realize. …” She paused, interrupted by a voice: “Mommy, I want some applesauce.”
The couple recently decided to hire a part-time nanny, concluding that despite the expense, it was the only way both could keep working. (Ms. Smith’s sister is also helping out.)
From 2015 until the pandemic, women’s increasing participation in the work force was a primary driver of the economy’s expansion, said Ms. Stevenson, the Michigan economist. “It’s why the economy grew the way it did, why employers could keep hiring month after month,” she said.
Since February, women’s participation in the labor force has been falling, with the biggest decreases among women without college degrees who have children.
Changes forced on women by the pandemic elicit a mixture of anxiety and hope.
Many women worry that the changes will sharply narrow women’s choices and push them unwillingly into the unpaid role of full-time homemaker.
And the impact could stretch over generations, paring women’s retirement savings, and reducing future earnings of children now in low-income households.
“We are creating inequality 20 years down the line that is even greater than we have today,” said Ms. Stevenson, who was a member of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “This is how inequality begets inequality.”
Yet there is also the possibility that the mounting pressures could create momentum to complete the unfinished project of fully integrating women into the work force by providing a system of family support — like affordable child care and paid parental and sick leave.
“I think we’re really at a crossroads,” said Julie Kashen, director for women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation and one of the authors of a new report on the pandemic and working women. “We’ve never built a workplace that worked for people with caregiving responsibilities.”
Gillian Friedman contributed reporting.
For many Native Americans, the Covid-19 toll and the struggle over racial inequity make this high time to re-examine the holiday, and a cruel history.
By Brett Anderson, Published Nov. 17, 2020, Updated Nov. 18, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/dining/thanksgiving-native-americans.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
FORT PECK INDIAN RESERVATION, Mont. — On a frigid November morning inside a tractor barn in northeast Montana, 10 members of the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes joined in song to bless a thirty-aught-six hunting rifle, and to lift up the spirit of a buffalo they were preparing to kill. One man played a painted hand drum. Others passed around burning sage.
The hunt that followed took place on Turtle Mound Buffalo Ranch, 27,000 acres of rolling pasture on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Every stage of the hunt was marked by a ceremony to give thanks for a buffalo that descends from animals killed to near-extinction by white settlers in the late 19th century.
The mass killing was part of a government-approved effort to seize land from Native Americans who depended on the animal to survive. The brutality of settlers’ expansion into the Great Plains and American West has been drastically underplayed in popular myths about the founding and growth of the United States.
Arguably the best-known of those myths is the story of the first Thanksgiving, a holiday Robert Magnan, who led the buffalo hunt at Fort Peck, does not observe. “Thanksgiving is kind of like Columbus Day for Native people,” he said. “Why would we celebrate people who tried to destroy us?”
It is now widely accepted that the story of a friendship-sealing repast between white colonists and Native Americans is inaccurate. Articles debunking the tale have become as reliable an annual media ritual as recipes for cornbread stuffing.
It is now widely accepted that the story of a friendship-sealing repast between white colonists and Native Americans is inaccurate. Articles debunking the tale have become as reliable an annual media ritual as recipes for cornbread stuffing.
“I’ve seen a growing awareness, a wake-up, to the systemic oppression of people of color,” said Ms. LaDuke, an enrolled member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation. “There is a movement toward justice for Native people. People want to listen.”
Thanksgiving, of course, is a time for listening, a welcome opportunity for prayer, reflection and looking back, and many Indigenous people celebrate it in their own way. But the problem with its origin story, Ms. LaDuke and others say, goes beyond misrepresentations about what was served on Cape Cod in 1621. (There is no evidence that turkey was on the menu, and pie couldn’t have been, because there was no flour or butter available for crust.)
Linda Coombs is a Wampanoag historian and a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. Wampanoag people attended the harvest ceremony that later became known as the first Thanksgiving.
“There was an event that happened in 1621,” Ms. Coombs said. “But the whole story about what occurred on that first Thanksgiving was a myth created to make white people feel comfortable.”
The caricature of friendly Indians handing over food, knowledge and land to kindhearted Pilgrims was reinforced for generations by school curriculums, holiday pageants and children’s books. These stories were among the few appearances made by Native Americans in popular historical narratives, effectively erasing history-altering crimes, like the killing of tens of millions of buffalo, from the country’s consciousness. That massacre led to the mass starvation of Indigenous people.
“Erasure isn’t taking down a conquistador statue,” said Ms. LaDuke, 61. “Erasure is when you don’t even know the name of the people who own the land where you live.”
Work to reverse this historical amnesia has spanned decades. The National Day of Mourning dates back to 1970, established on Thanksgiving by activists in New England to recognize the suffering of Native Americans. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day, recasting a holiday that honored an explorer who presided over the enslaving and killing of Indigenous people.
Dana Thompson and her partner, Sean Sherman, an award-winning chef, are co-owners of the Sioux Chef, an organization in the Twin Cities devoted to revitalizing Native American cuisine. In the period between Indigenous People’s Day and Thanksgiving, she said she is “inundated with people who might have some awareness with the pain over the characterizations that comes with this time.”
She urges anyone who asks to focus on “the true Indigenous wisdom that is behind the philosophy of Thanksgiving — it’s about not taking, but about giving back.”
Today, it’s more common than it once was for stories by and about Native Americans to find mainstream audiences. Tommy Orange, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations of Oklahoma, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden, an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, are two of the most critically acclaimed young novelists working now.
These developments follow years in which Native American history and culture gradually became more widely taught, in schools and elsewhere. Lyz Jaakola, 52, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, recalls the catharsis she felt as a young woman watching the movie “Addams Family Values,” a dark comedy released in 1993.
In one scene, the Wednesday character, cast as Pocahontas in a children’s Thanksgiving play, goes off script to take violent revenge on the Pilgrims. “You have taken the land which is rightfully ours,” she calmly seethes. “Years from now, my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans and drink highballs.”
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, other people get it, too,’” said Ms. Jaakola, a musician and teacher who was elected this month to the City Council in Cloquet, Minn. “They realize how ridiculous the whole image of Thanksgiving is.”
Christian Taylor-Johnson, 28, is a descendant of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, and attended Leech Lake Tribal College. He said the education he received wasn’t available to older relatives, who were forced to assimilate and prohibited from speaking their native language.
“I actually speak more Ojibwe than either of my parents,” Mr. Taylor-Johnson said.
Mr. Taylor-Johnson said his family’s Thanksgiving traditionally features dishes like turkey, wild rice, fry bread and green bean casserole, his personal favorite. In recent years, he has encouraged family members to use the holiday to acknowledge the plight of their ancestors.
“Last year, we called it Takesgiving,” he said.
Cross-generational education also occurs in non-Native American households. Alice Julier, director of the Center for Regional Agriculture, Food and Transformation at Chatham University, in Pittsburgh, has incorporated Native American history in her teaching for nearly 30 years.
She said there’s a term used in academic circles to describe what happens when students like hers bring new knowledge home for the holiday: the Thanksgiving massacre.
“You come home armed with this information about how the world works,” Dr. Julier said, “and then you come back to your professors and say, ‘Well, that didn’t go well.’”
Indigenous studies is growing increasingly popular in academia, particularly among scholars whose work sits, as Dr. Julier’s does, at the intersection of food, race, class and gender.
Hiʻilei Julia Hobart, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, said current events allow students to see more clearly the shared legacies of African-Americans, many of whose enslaved ancestors were forced to work land stolen from Native Americans, whose agricultural know-how was also co-opted.
“I always start with histories of dispossession as a way of contextualizing why food sovereignty has become such an urgent contemporary project,” said Dr. Hobart, 39, a Kanaka Maoli from Hawaii who has a Ph.D. in food studies. “Now we have this understanding about the fragility of our food system that has come in the wake of the pandemic.”
She added that frontline food workers are disproportionately exposed to the virus, and that “those workers are mostly Black and brown.”
For most of her professional life, LeAnn Littlewolf didn’t give much thought to how past injustices affected the people she serves as an educator and activist. That changed after she attended the Food Sovereignty Summit last year in Green Bay, Wis.
“When I got back from the conference, I thought about how much land we used to have access to, and how much food we used to produce,” said Ms. Littlewolf, a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. “And I got so angry.”
Ms. Littlewolf has since led the American Indian Community Housing Organization in Duluth, Minn., where she serves as the economic development director, to build a rooftop garden at its headquarters and buy a former corner grocery. The group is in the process of converting the space into Niiwin Indigenous Foods Market, which will feature food from Native American producers on its shelves and on a deli menu.
“Native people haven’t had access to retail space,” said Ms. Littlewolf, 47. “We want our people to feed our people.”
That notion was part of what compelled Mr. Magnan, who led the hunt at Fort Peck, to help spearhead a long-term effort to restore buffalo to tribal lands across the United States and into Canada.
The project began more than 20 years ago. The buffalo, transported from Yellowstone National Park, descend from the few that survived the mass slaughter that, by the late 1800s, had reduced the population from more than 30 million to a few hundred. The first buffalo arrived at Fort Peck from Yellowstone in 2012.
“Native people feel that buffalo are our four-legged relatives,” said Mr. Magnan, 66. “By getting genetically pure buffalo, we’re getting our oldest ancestors back to us. They were here back before the United States was even a country.”
Mr. Magnan is director of the Fort Peck Tribes’ fish and game department, as well as its buffalo program. He oversees two herds. Revenue from the 250-head “business” herd, raised through the sale of buffalo and fees charged to hunters, is used to maintain the 350-head “cultural” herd, which the tribe plans to grow as part of its restoration effort.
The cultural herd passes through a quarantine system to prevent the spread of brucellosis, a disease feared by cattle ranchers. Fifty-five bulls graduated from the quarantine in July, and were distributed to 16 tribes in nine states.
“The ones that went to Alaska we dubbed Operation Buffalo Wings,” said Mr. Magnan, “because they rode on a plane from Seattle to Anchorage.”
Fort Peck tribal members enter a lottery for the right to hunt one buffalo from the cultural herd, which needs to be culled in order to keep it at the 350 head that the land will support; during this hunting season, from Sept. 15 to Dec. 20, Mr. Magnan leads at least one hunt every day. One of the primary benefits of the buffalo program is that it allows the Fort Peck community to feed its own.
“I told our tribal council, ‘What would ever happen if the government went bankrupt, or they cut these social programs, how would we feed our people?’” Mr. Mangan said. “Going back to being with the buffalo again would be one way.”
After blessing the rifle, Mr. Magnan led a convoy of four-by-four trucks over snow-covered hills in search of a buffalo to kill. He rode with Dana Buckles, whose Native name is White Dog. Mr. Buckles was asked by the lottery-winner, Larry Beauchamp, a tribal elder, to shoot the buffalo on his behalf.
The convoy stopped at the top of a hill overlooking dozens of grazing buffalo. The crack of the rifle was followed by a loud yelp. The men quickly drove down a steep incline to the fallen 1,400-pound animal.
Mr. Beauchamp tucked sage grass into the buffalo’s mouth and between its toes, as Mr. Buckles and his stepson, Roger White Jr. (Little Eagle), sang a song of thanks.
After loading the buffalo onto the back of a truck and driving it to a nearby hayfield, Mr. Magnan gutted it with a small knife and an electric saw. With impressive speed, he harvested the prized organs, some of which were placed in an empty Huggies diaper box. They, and the buffalo meat, will feed Mr. Beauchamp’s extended family through the winter.
“They say when Native people hunt buffalo, the coyotes starve,” said Mr. Magnan, gesturing to the relatively small pile of innards the group was leaving behind.
In another expression of ceremonial thanksgiving, Mr. Buckles and Mr. White ate pieces of the buffalo’s liver, still warm. Mr. White’s brother, Robert, let loose a war whoop as they chewed. In the cold morning air, it sounded like a cheer.
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