protests

Updated: Did Whole Foods Cave to Anti-Muslim Extremists?

Update: Whole Foods, via its Twitter feed, claims that the email in question was sent by one of its twelve operation regions, that the promotion is continuing nationwide and that the email in question is being "addressed and corrected."

Apparently, Whole Foods has decided that it can make more money catering to anti-Muslim extremists than it can catering to American Muslims and supporters of religious liberty.

Last month, in what seemed like a fairly straight-forward business move for a large grocery chain, Whole Foods announced a promotion of a line of Halal products for Ramadan.

Unsurprisingly, when the anti-Muslim blogosphere caught whiff of this, they started throwing a fit, calling Whole Foods “jihadist” and “anti-Israel” for daring to sell Halal food to Muslim customers.

And the company listened. According to the Houston Press, an internal email was sent to stores around the country saying “It is probably best that we don't specifically call out or 'promote' Ramadan ... We should not highlight Ramadan in signage in our stores as that could be considered 'Celebrating or promoting' Ramadan."

Whole Foods is a private company and can advertise its products however it wants. But it’s disturbing that the Internet protests of a really fringe group were enough to prompt the company to bail out of an entirely innocuous seasonal marketing campaign.

The anti-Muslim Right's apparently successful Whole Foods gambit comes straight out of the “Invent the danger of ‘creeping Sharia” section of PFAW’s Right-Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism.

In case you missed it, here’s what New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie had to say about Sharia scare tactics -- in a different context -- at a press conference last week:

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From Wisconsin: Palin Echoes the Right's Lies in Madison Speech

On Saturday in Madison, some of the right wing’s favorite puppets rallied along with an estimated 1,000 Americans for Prosperity “Patriots” and 5,500 counter protesters at the Capitol.

As the former Governor of Alaska took the stage to chants and drums and counter protesters respectfully turning their backs, sleet turned to snow, the wind from Lake Mendota whipped through the crowd and the protesters’ chants and drums grew so loud that it was impossible to hear the loudspeakers.

Palin called for the crowd to support Governor Walker’s strong armed maneuvering, saying “...you saw these violent rent-a-mobs trash your capitol and vandalize businesses. You held your ground. Your governor did the same thing. And you won.” It isn’t clear what violent mobs or vandalized businesses she was referring to. Fox News and fringe right-wing websites have tried to make similar claims about the protesters in Wisconsin, even resorting to using misleading video footage from unrelated protests in other states. But as anyone without a dishonest, far-right agenda who has been following the events of the last 62+ days can tell you, the protests -- and the protesters -- have been peaceful.

While Palin spent the majority of her speech blasting President Obama for energy saving and job creating programs such as consumer solar panels and high speed rail, Andrew Breitbart cut right to the point at hand, leading a chant of “go to hell” aimed at the thousands of counter protesters.

Despite the miserable weather, PFAW members and a whole host of progressive and labor allies were out in force in support of collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s public workers, not only at the Tea Party’s rally but on the other side of the Capitol, where thousands gathered for songs, slam poetry and speeches by those leading the fight.

After 62+ days of protests in Madison transitioning into weeks of recall efforts across the state, it’s clear this is truly what democracy looks like.

Wisconsin PFAW Supporters were out to greet Ms. Palin on Saturday:

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Honoring King By Following in his Footsteps

The day after the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, a group of undocumented youth in Atlanta honored him by applying his message of peaceful protest against injustice. Supported by civil rights leaders like Rev. Timothy McDonald – a PFAW Board member, the founder of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, and the chair of African American Ministers In Action – they engaged in civil disobedience and highlighted the injustice of laws effectively barring them from higher education because of their parents' immigration decisions. As reported in the Washington Post:

Eight young illegal immigrants were arrested Tuesday for sitting in the middle of a busy street in front of the Georgia Capitol, protesting their lack of access to higher education in a scene reminiscent of civil rights demonstrations decades ago.

The group, made up of mostly students, believe their plight is similar to movement the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led, and they met with former activists from the 1960s to hash out their civil disobedience plan. As the foreign-born youngsters sat in the road, at times holding hands, hundreds of supporters lined the street and cheered in support as the illegal immigrants were led away in handcuffs.

Before the sit-in the youngsters, their voices trembling, each stood before the crowd, took a microphone and announced: "I am undocumented, and I am unafraid." ...

The Rev. Timothy McDonald was one of the activists who met with the students at Ebenezer Baptist Church in the room where King and other preachers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization that led the movement for equality and justice for blacks.

"We felt the connection," McDonald said. "We pointed out that there has never been a successful movement of any kind without young people, and that was especially true of the civil rights movement. It was the students who filled up the jails, not the preachers."

As these young people show, part of the strength and beauty of King's message is its universality

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Does Holding Banks Accountable Count as “Terrorism”? Glenn Beck Thinks it Does.

This weekend, the New York Times told the story of a man named Charlie Engle who is in jail for being sold a bad loan. Engle did commit a crime by signing a so-called “liar loan,” in which he falsely stated his income to get a mortgage. But what is shocking is who got off scot-free: the financial executives who convinced millions of Americans like Engle to sign similar loans, helping to bring the economy to its knees.

I thought of this story when reading about the new campaign being waged by Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck to get a man who is trying to hold big banks accountable for their actions charged with “domestic terrorism.”

Stephen Lerner is a prominent figure in the labor movement. A former executive at the SEIU, he designed the Justice for Janitors organization, which has secured workers’ rights and living wages for thousands of janitors across the country. Recently, Lerner echoed the frustration of many in saying that big banks got off scot-free after their reckless lending procedures forced millions of Americans out of their homes and caused a major financial crisis. And he proposed a solution. Ezra Klein summarizes:

Like a lot of people, he feels the financial system got off too easy in the crisis. They created the mess, but unlike the millions of foreclosed homeowners and newly unemployed workers, they’ve come out mostly unscathed. It’s still very, very good to be a banker in this country. It’s not good at all to be underwater on your house. And he’s got a plan for changing that.

Union types are always looking for “leverage.” Leverage is what I have that gives me power over you. And Lerner thinks he’s identified the point of leverage that workers and homeowners and students have over the financial system. “What does the other side fear most?” Lerner asked. “They fear disruption, they fear uncertainty. Every article about Europe says a riot in Greece, the markets went down. The folks that control this country care about one thing: how the stock market does; how the bond market does; and what their bonus is. So I think we weed out a very simple strategy: how do we bring down the stock market, how do we bring down their bonuses, how do we interfere with their ability to, to be rich.” To do so, he wants to see a campaign of disruption and strategic default led by community-activist groups and aimed at J.P. Morgan Chase.

As Lerner sees it, once there’s leverage, once the banks are scared, there can be a settlement. What sort of settlement? Lerner gives a couple of examples in his talk. “You” — meaning banks in general, and J.P. Morgan Chase in particular — “reduce the price of our interest, since your interest rate is down; and second, you rewrite the mortgages for everybody in the community so they can stay in their homes. We could make them do that.”

You may or may not agree with the wisdom of Lerner’s idea. But would you call it “terrorism”? Glenn Beck would, and has now chosen Lerner to be the newest anchor point in his vast liberal conspiracy theory, saying that the labor leader is plotting to commit “economic terrorism" by “collaps[ing] the system.”

People For’s legal department looked into what our laws actually say about domestic terrorism and, needless to say, it's not even a close question. There’s no danger to human life involved here. And there’s certainly no effort to intimidate the civilian population or the government.

In fact, under Beck’s definition of terrorism as advocating for peaceful economic disruption, he himself should be investigated. As Media Matters has pointed out, Beck himself has more than once advocated “taking down” or “resetting” our entire financial system—a much more sweeping economic action than the targeted protests Lerner is advocating.

The corporate-funded right wing has made it clear in the last few months that they will not tolerate working people who want to take on big corporations. In Wisconsin and Ohio, teachers and police officers and other public workers have been demonized for fighting to their right to organize, while corporations continue to get massive tax breaks and hold a huge amount of sway over elections.

In their world, the millions of Americans who suffered from the financial crisis—people like Charlie Engle—are the criminals, and the people who try to organize working Americans are “terrorists.” That topsy-turvy view of justice and power is unsettling, to say the least.
 

UPDATE: Lerner responds to Beck in The Nation:

So that was it: Beck, right-wingers and Wall Street sympathizers went ballistic because they knew the ideas I talked about are far from being a secret leftist conspiracy; in fact, they’re in sync with the thinking of most Americans. In my talk, I raised a very simple yet powerful idea: that homeowners, students, citizens and workers should make the same practical decisions Wall Street and corporate CEOs make every day—they should reject bad financial deals.


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Ugly Islamaphobia in Orange County

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has released a disturbing video of about one hundred anti-Islamic protesters heckling attendees a fundraiser for a Muslim charity last month. The protestors, some with bullhorns, shout at attendees to “go back home,” “no Sharia law,” and “one nation under God, not Allah.” The hecklers were part of a larger group gathered to protest the event, which was treated to speeches by several local Republican elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Gary Miller and Ed Royce. Royce told the crowd that multiculturalism has “paralyzed too many of our fellow citizens”:

The Orange County Register spoke with the organizers of the event, the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA:

ICNA spokesman Syed Waqas said the protesters "should know the facts. We have no links to any overseas organization. We absolutely denounce violence and terrorism."

He said the group started in Southern California about eight months ago and is trying to raise $350,000 to start social programs such as women's shelters, fighting hunger and homelessness in the area.

Among the activists who worked to spread the word of the protests was Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam activist who was largely responsible for turning a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan into the nationally controversial “Ground Zero Mosque.” Geller has become a leader in the effort to conflate all practicing Muslims with a tiny splinter of extremists—an effort that has born fruit in ludicrous state-level “Sharia law bans” and even in congressional hearings aimed at pinning all Muslims for the actions of a few. (For more on the congressional hearings, read Michael Keegan’s recent op-ed on the “new McCarthysim”).

While some protesters said they objected to previous remarks made by some of the speakers at the fundraiser, the protests instead consisted of hurling blanket anti-Muslim slurs at the people in attendance.

Islamophobia often comes out in subtle ways in mainstream political discourse—take, for instance, Mike Huckabee telling the virulently anti-Islam Bryan Fischer that President Obama’s childhood hears in Indonesia made him fundamentally different from Americans who grew up with “Rotary clubs, not madrassas,” or the opposition of many elected officials to the Geller-branded “Ground Zero Mosque.” These elected officials aren’t out on the streets heckling Muslims—but by condoning Islamophobia, however subtly, they’re helping this kind of outright racism to take hold.
 

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Updates from the Front Lines of Wisconsin

Below you will see live Facebook updates from State Rep. Kelda Roys of Wisconsin, a member of People For the American Way Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network. She has been repeatedly denied entry to the state Capitol as a result of the protests against Gov. Walker's attempt to obliterate Wisconsin's public employee unions under the guise of fiscal reform.

UPDATE:

Check out Rep. Roys' coverage of the protests: 

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Report from Madison: Standing Up (in the Snow) for Wisconsin's Workers

By Dave Kreisman

Over the last 13 days, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor cold has been able to stop the tens of thousands of public employees, their families and allies in Wisconsin’s fight to protect the rights of the middle class and working families.

Democracy, while flourishing in the halls of the Capitol and outside in the streets, was crushed in the Assembly chambers Friday morning at 1am, when after over 60 hours of debate, Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) opened the roll and closed it within 15 seconds, allowing only 13 of the 38 Democratic Assembly Representatives the opportunity to cast their vote. The floor immediately erupted with Democratic members rushing the line of Republicans filing out of the chamber chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

As Republicans filed out of the building, Democratic members greeted the hundreds of supporters in the rotunda who have been camping out in solidarity for over a week.

On Saturday over 75,000 people filled the lawn of the Capitol here in Madison, listening as Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, Bradley Whitford along with fellow actors Gabrielle Carteris and Robert Newman and U.S. Airways Pilot Jeff Skiles, the co-pilot who helped safely “land” a passenger plane on the Hudson River in 2009 spoke about their own unions and encouraged the masses to carry on “one more day” with Peter Yarrow assuring the crowd that “the eyes of the world are upon you.”

As has been the case at the end of each day of protests, nothing (not even snow and 14 degree weather) can stop the will of those standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in labor.

Dave Kreisman is coordinating People For the American Way's support for workers' rights in Wisconsin.

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Wisconsin after Citizens United

In the Huffington Post today, People For President Michael Keegan looks at what happens after corporations get unlimited influence in elections. In Wisconsin, big corporate funders not only have elected officials willing to unpopular and anti-populist policies, but also have instant access to decision makers:

The story of the year since Citizens United v. FEC may be perfectly crystallized in the fight that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is waging against his state's public employee unions. Organizations like Americans for Prosperity spent millions of dollars in 2010 running misleading ads bashing health care reform, progressives, immigrants, and American Muslims in order to elect politicians who would stand up for the interests of big business. Now those interests are working hard, and spending a little extra money, to make sure they collect on their investments.

The real story behind the protests in Wisconsin has little to do, as Gov. Walker would have you believe, with a state-level push for fiscal responsibility. It has everything to do with the changing dynamics of money and influence in national politics. Pro-corporate politicians have never liked the power wielded by unionized workers. Last year, in Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court handed them the tools do to something about it, paving the way for a wave of corporate money that helped to sweep pro-corporate politicians into power in November. Citizens United also increased the power of labor unions, but union spending was still no match for money pouring into elections from corporate interests. As Rachel Maddow has pointed out, of the top 10 outside spenders in the 2010 elections, 7 were right-wing groups and 3 were labor unions. Gov. Walker's attempt to obliterate Wisconsin's public employee unions, if it succeeds, could be the first of many attempts across the country to permanently wipe out what are the strongest political opponents of the newly empowered corporate force in American politics.

Read the whole thing here.
 

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I <3 NY, But Does Sarah Palin?

In his recent short New Yorker piece, Hendrick Herzberg points out something that’s been troubling me: some of the most vocal opponents of the “Ground Zero Mosque” (Sarah Palin, John McCain, Newt Gingrich) openly despise New York City as the ultimate haven of un-American “elites.”

In their attempt to protect the city against “peace-seeking Muslims,” these would-be demagogues prove that they either don’t understand or don’t value the diverse, all-American jumble that is New York. But as Herzberg demonstrates, the leaders of the proposed Islamic cultural center are typical New Yorkers and Americans:

Like many New Yorkers, the people in charge of Park51, a married couple, are from somewhere else—he from Kuwait, she from Kashmir. Feisal Abdul Rauf is a Columbia grad. He has been the imam of a mosque in Tribeca for close to thirty years. He is the author of a book called “What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America.” He is a vice-chair of the Interfaith Center of New York. “My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists,” he wrote recently—in the Daily News, no less. He denounces terrorism in general and the 9/11 attacks in particular, often and at length. The F.B.I. tapped him to conduct “sensitivity training” for agents and cops. His wife, Daisy Khan, runs the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which she co-founded with him. It promotes “cultural and religious harmony through interfaith collaboration, youth and women’s empowerment, and arts and cultural exchange.”

In his address a few days after September 11, then-President Bush made a special point of differentiating radical terrorists from mainstream Muslims. “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself,” he said. The leaders of today’s GOP, whose very public opposition to the Park51 project has sparked anti-Muslim protests across the country, seem to have lost that power of differentiation.

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Right Wing Shocked, *Shocked* at Racist Slurs Aimed at Lawmakers

During protests against health care reform, anti-health care activists used racial and homophobic slurs against members of Congress, and one protester was arrested for spitting on Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.

Right Wing leaders have attempted to distance themselves from the incidents, but their denials would be more convincing if inflaming racial resentment weren't such a central strategy in their campaign against President Obama and his agenda.

As People For the American Way reported in "Right Wing Watch In Focus -- Right Plays the Race Card," incendiary racial rhetoric has long been a part of the Right's crusade against health care:

At first glance, health care reform would not seem as likely an issue for racial wedge politics. But racially charged arguments have been made alongside the by-now familiar charges of government takeovers, socialism, fascism, and death panels. Investors Business Daily and Fox Nation teamed up to portray health care reform as "affirmative action on steroids" and to suggest that reform is actually a back-door way to implement reparations for slavery:

The racial grievance industry under health care reform could be calling the shots in the emergency room, the operating room, the medical room, even medical school. As Terence Jeffrey, editor at large of Human Events puts it, not only our wealth, but also our health will be redistributed.

At the recent How to Take Back America conference organized by far-right doyenne Phyllis Schlafly and her heir-apparent,right-wing radio host and activist Janet Folger Porter, a panelist attacked health care reform saying it would amount to a reenactment of slavery by our first black president, this time with doctors being enslaved. Bishop Harry Jackson, the Religious Right's favorite African American minister, has denounced health care reform proposals that he claims would divert health care resources from wealthier to poorer Americans as "reverse classism."

Two academics, Marc Hetherington of Vanderbilt University and Jonathan Weiler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recently found an "extraordinarily strong correlation between racial resentment of blacks and opposition to health care reform," a relationship that did not exist during the Clinton health care debate.

If the GOP and the Right Wing want to be able to credibly disavow racism, they should stop associating so closely with those who peddle it.

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Protesting For the Right to Stay Home And Skip Future Protests

Kudos to Join The Impact, which by all accounts organized some terrific protests this weekend against anti-family attacks like Prop 8 in California.

Here in Washington, DC we had a pretty sizable crowd which was all the more impressive considering the terrible, terrible weather. On one hand, it was remarkable to see how many people stuck it out through the wind and rain, but, even more telling were the people who didn’t. Lots of people brought their children to the march, and no matter what some anti-gay ideologues might be pushing, all children deserve to be kept safe and dry by parents who love them.

Which is kind of the point, isn’t it?

If you didn’t get a chance to join us, check out our video!


 

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This American Moment

I think one of the most exciting things about the recent presidential election is the amazing number of Americans who have been inspired to get involved -- to work phone banks, join neighbors in door-to-door canvasses, talk to friends about why they were working so hard to achieve change. And on Election Day, we saw that all that work can not only make a difference, it can make history.

I've talked to some friends who were deeply involved in election activities and who are asking, what now? I'd like to offer you an answer.

I take seriously our responsibility to nurture progressive leaders and activists. One way People For the American Way Foundation does that is through our leadership programs like Young People For and the Young Elected Officials Network, which support and mentor outstanding college activists and young public servants. But we also want to give progressive activists of all ages and experience levels an opportunity to volunteer their time to promote constitutional values and progressive change.

We're in the process of developing a national network of Change Agents. We'll supply information and activist tools online, and connect our Change Agents from the across the country with each other. The Change Agent network will be critical in monitoring right-wing attacks on our constitutional values and promoting those same values in your communities, states and on the national level.

Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks as the program takes shape. The Right is already gearing up to block the change that Americans voted for -- and we can't let them do it.

Even this Election Day reminded us that our constitutional ideals are never safe -- and that promoting those ideals is never a once-and-done process. The bitter defeat of marriage equality in California and the passage of other anti-gay constitutional amendments in other states made it clear that there's still plenty of work to do. But that bad news came with a silver lining. In 2000, California voters backed a ban on gay couples getting married by about 20 percent; this year, after a well-funded campaign of lies by the Right, the ban passed by only four percent. Younger and first-time voters overwhelmingly voted to uphold marriage equality, which means that if we keep pushing, victory will be in our future. I am not selling short the heartache felt by the thousands of Californians who have been denied the opportunity to marry, or the personal heartache I feel on their behalf. But the trend is positive. This is what progress looks like.

And the defeats have sparked an exciting and encouraging outpouring of grassroots action. Tomorrow, there are coordinated rallies going on all around the country in support of LGBT equality -- and in protest of Prop 8's passage. This mini-movement grew out of a few scattered protests when some energized individuals took it upon themselves to launch a web site encouraging people to organize more. Now there are rallies scheduled in cities in all 50 states!

I'll be attending the rally in Philadelphia. I hope you can show up to one near you. Find out more about where they are taking place at http://jointheimpact.wetpaint.com/.

If you do attend a rally, please take pictures and send them my way (or video, via a YouTube or other host site link) along with a note about your experience at Kathryn@pfaw.org.

In the fight for full legal equality and on so many other fronts, whether or not we achieve real and lasting progress is up to us. In Washington, restoring the terrible damage done by the Bush administration needs to be at the top of President-elect Obama's, and the new Congress's, agenda. The fundamental constitutional principles that define us as a nation need to be restored. People For the American Way is collecting petition signatures to make sure this stays a top priority in the transition process -- things are moving fast and key staff positions and appointments are soon to be named so please add your name now.

We'll make history in the next few years, but only with the crucial participation of activists like you!

P.S. As we mourn the temporary defeat of marriage equality in California, this week we can celebrate that same-sex couples began to wed in Connecticut following the court ruling upholding marriage equality there. People For the American Way Foundation had filed an amicus brief in the case.

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