Thursday, January 7, 2010

Republican's Lie, Lie, Lie

This is why I love Daily Kos. Simply put, they do some research before making accusations. A simple google search could have told any of the critics how dumb the accusation was. But the modus operandi of the conservative, sorry, the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party is to spread whatever message you think is effective, regardless of whether or not it is true.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Nightly Rooftop Chants

Under the cover of darkness, screams of protest erupt from Iranians and bounce from roof to roof. These rooftop chants have become a staple of the protests taking place in Iran, a response to the crackdown on dissent by Iranian security officials.

At the beginning of the summer, just after the election in Iran, our country could not take our eyes off the protests. Demonstrations broke out all across the U.S. as Americans hit the streets to stand in solidarity with the people of Iran. Many of us believed the vote counting in Iran's election had been rigged. Profile pictures on twitter turned green, and tweetdecks across the country filled with #IranElection posts. We filmed a demonstration in DC, back on June 20th, 2009:

Since then, things have barely changed, other then the increase of force used by Iranian security officials. Protests continue, and the Iranian government continues to try to squash dissent. While we celebrated with family and loved ones over the winter break, Iranian civilians were being shot, beaten, arrested, and run over by cars, as part of efforts to practice free speech and the right to assemble.

The videos below are shocking to say the least. The first is video that apparently shows Seyyed Ali Mousavi, the nephew of the former Presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, just after he was shot.

Mousavi's supporters are accusing Iranian security officials of murdering Seyyed Ali, and Iranian officials claim the man was murdered by protesters as some kind of PR stunt. This happened during protests that took place during the Shiite holy day of Ashura, a holiday connected to martyrdom.

This next video shows an Iranian official driving a security vehicle over a person:

In this video, we see peaceful demonstrators coming under heavy attack by Iranian security:

In response to the unrest, is reporting that Iranian government has issued a call for the general public to provide information on opposition organizers, showing pictures of 32 people involved in the demonstrations.

This is why they chant from the rooftops at night.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Training Tuesday: Translating Community Organizing to Online Space

Today's session of Training Tuesday is from the panel, 'Organizing Theory and Practice: Translating Community Organizing to Online Space'. Our panelists are Charles Lenchner, the Online Organizing Director of the Working Families Party, Joan Minieri the Cofounder of Community Voices Heard and the author of "Tools for Radical Democracy", Kristi Barnes, the Communications Director of New York Jobs with Justice, and Talia Schank, the Grassroots Fundraising and Communications Director of Community Voices Heard.

We were not only blessed with expert panelists, our audience was made up of experts too. This shows how far from "established" online organizing is, the experts are absolutely still students.

What occurred, was a somewhat unique discussion about the successes, struggles, and future potential of using new media in coordination with well-established, person-to-person organizing. In the progressive blogosphere, we have a tendency to revel in the successes. What our panelists focused on in this session was the disconnect between many of the entrenched community organizers, the ones knocking on doors and building relationships one home at a time, with the rather new community of online organizers.

First things first, if you are completely oblivious to the ancient art of community organizing, and it is very ancient, Joan Minieri began the panel with a fantastic five minute synopsis:

One of the major factors the keeps many progressive organizations from more fully incorporating online tools is that many of us are working with the poor, the disenfranchised, and the disconnected communities. Their constituents may not have the most consistent access to the series of tubes that is the internet. This last clip is an example of one theme that emerged throughout the conversation: the internet can be used to amplify the voice of your constituents, regardless of their connectedness.

Remeber This?

I'm sure this video has absolutely nothing to do with recent chest thumping out of our conservative friends.

Just keep this in mind, Republicans have been waiting, praying rather, for terrorist attacks so they could unleash a political argument to keep brown people out of the country. Keep in mind that none of them were rushing to news cameras to talk about how we had to strengthen security at reproductive health clinics after the terrorist, Scott Roeder, assassinated Dr. George Tiller outside his place of worship.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Flavor Trip DC: A Taste Psychedelic

Are you ready for a Berry to blow your mind (well your mouth). The get ready for Flavor Tripping, a new craze that began last month at EFN Lounge in Washington DC and will continue to be held on the second Friday of every month, also at EFN Lounge (the next event is Friday, Jan 8th. Click Here for tickets). I'll quote from the Flavor Trip DC website ( to explain the berry that makes it all possible.

Synsepalum Dulcificum, or trippy fruit, temporarily re-wires taste receptors on the tongue for about an hour, transforming acidic and sour food into sweet and enjoyable treats.

Once the tongue starts tripping, lemon wedges become candy canes, hot sauce becomes donut glaze, goat cheese becomes cheesecake, bottom-shelf tequila becomes Patron, and Guinness Beer becomes a chocolate milkshake.

Aa ticket buys you a berry and unlimited access to their unusual buffet of food. Most of the food itself is not unusual and can be found in any grocery store. Alternatively it is the quantities and arrangement of the spread itself that is bizarre. For example, how many parties serve lemons, on their own? Or offer shots of vinegar, mustard, and/or tabasco sauce, on their own? Again, I'll let the site explain some of the theory behind this bizarre eating extravaganza.

After beginning the trip, guests will enjoy food from the Tripeteria, a cafeteria with an all-you-can-trip buffet full of all the sour nasties usually consumed in moderation. In this conceptual flavor laboratory, lemon wedges become candy canes, hot sauce becomes donut glaze, goat cheese becomes cheesecake, bottom-shelf tequila becomes Patron, and Guinness Beer becomes a chocolate milkshake.

The menu was designed by a team of experienced flavor trippers and evolves for each party. Selections include sour candy, cheese from Dean & Deluca, pickles, sauces, sour fruits, sugarless cupcakes, and much more. You can suggest menu items when you purchase your ticket. EFN will also hold taste-testings of shots and cocktails designed for flavor tripping enthusiasts.

Though the berry doesn't work on every food or for every taster, it is definitely worth trying, at least once. Don't forget the next event is this Friday the 8th of January. For tickets and more info, go to

Please check out the video above for more reactions from the crowd and the video below for more info and ideas from the organizers.

The Restoration of Rights for Former Felons in Virginia

Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states in the country that do not have a clear path to restore basic rights to former felons after they have completed their sentence. This puts a plethora of problems and restrictions on former felons, many of whom were convicted of non-violent crimes decades ago but continue have their basic rights, such as the right to vote in elections, the right to drive, and the right to hold office, restricted. The governor has the authority to restore rights to individual felons, but only a small percentage of them apply for restoration (often because the process is unclear) and even fewer are actually approved to have their rights restored. The 48 other states have some sort of provision to automatically restore rights, two states never revoke them in the first place, so we, and many others, feel that it time to change the situation.

This next two weeks are very important for doing just because that is all the time left Virginia has with Democratic Governor Tim Kaine, who will be replaced in two weeks when he leaves office to become the chair of the DNC by Republican Bob MacDonnell. Gov Kaine has personally restored the rights to more former felons than any of his predecessors, but he has the ability to, by executive order, to instantly restore rights to the tens of thousands of former felons who currently do not have them and establish such a system to automatically restore these rights in the future. There is a large population who know the struggles of rights restrictions all too well and a growing population who feels that this is unjust needs to be changed who are all calling on Gov Kaine to step up and take action.

As a result, a coalition headed by the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP) has taken several actions persuade the Governor to take action on behalf of his struggling citizens. One of the steps was to hold an event in Petersburg, VA, to assist felons who want to have their rights restored and to pressure the Governor to take the politically tenuous but personally important step to automatically restore the rights of felons across the state. We were at the event and spoke with both former felons, for whom this has been a major issue, and community leaders, who are fighting on behalf of their neighbors. I edited together a piece from each of these groups. The first is from a few former felons who were gracious enough to share their struggles with us and the second is compiled of interviews from activists and community leaders who everyday are helping to improve the lives of their neighbors.

I encourage you also to please take action yourself and call Governor Kaine and tell him to restore the rights to former felons in Virginia. The number is (804) 785- 2211.

Again, please call Governor Kaine on behalf of these former felons and tell him to restore their rights. The number is (804) 786- 2211.

For additional coverage and more videos, go to

Music Monday: Dizzy and Satchmo Together

Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie were greats from two very different eras of Jazz history. Armstrong, considered the father of Jazz, helped create and popularize the style in 1920s New Orleans and was known for being a genius entertainer. Gillespie, one of the founders of Bebop in post World War II New York City and was known as an entertaining genius. However for one song, and one song only, they performed side by side together on the same stage and were recorded on video doing so. The performance was part of the fourth and final 'Timex Jazz All Star' specials. The shows were always had the best bands but usually were overbooked, leaving the viewer overwhelmed with star names but underwhelmed with star performances. However, There are several gems in the shows and this is certainly one of them.

A couple years ago, I interviewed Dan Morgenstern as part of my senior project in college, a documentary on Jazz Television shows (check in for more info on this topic in later Music Monday segments). Mr Morgenstern, currently the Director of the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, is the former Chief Editor of Downbeat Magazine and a 6 time Grammy Award winner for album notes (among many other accomplishments). However early in his career, he attended this tremendous event in Jazz history and was able to offer me some on-hand insight on his experience during our interview, which I am proud to share with you.

Please enjoy both videos. Feel free to enjoy them in any order, but I suggest you watch the interview first to get some insight and background on the event, then watch the performance and enjoy!!!

Please check back next Monday for our next installment of 'Music Monday'

To see our old 'Music Monday' posts, go to

Netroots Nation '09: This Video Will Save Your Campaign Lots of Money

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 8/18/2009)

This is not spam. This is not a commercial. This will seriously save your campaign money, and make it more effective at the same time.

There is a lot more to show from the "Cutting-Edge Evidence-Based Best Practices" panel. We are going to release a long version (almost the entire 1.5 hour panel), sometime over the next week or two at our Netroots Nation page.

This test, done by the Analyst Institute, reminds me of one specific mail piece. I had just come home, from door to door canvassing. I was working on a City Council race at the time, but there was a heated Mayoral race as well. There were three typical lit pieces in my mail box. Big, glossy, nice color work. All typical. Then there was one letter from one of the candidates office. It was in a normal envelope, just a black and white, typed out letter. A dear neighbor letter. At the bottom were signatures, seven of them to be exact. Each signature was from one of my neighbors, someone that lived no more than a mile from me. The letter read off a few of the reasons that these neighbors were supporting this candidate for Mayor. I cannot name a single specific detail about any of the other lit pieces. Clearly, one piece drove itself into my memory, and the others simply did not.

For more video of Netroots Nation, visit the Sum of Change NN'09 page.

Health Care Town Hall: Congresswoman Donna Edwards Leading on Reform

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 8/07/2009)

We at Sum of Change, attended a health care town hall last night, hosted by Congresswoman Donna Edwards. The Congresswoman gave a brief speech, and then opened the floor for questions. The town hall was heated, which should come as no surprise. Not only were conservative groups organizing to get people out to these town halls (with detailed instructions about how to act and talk), OFA 2.0, several Unions, and liberal bloggers pushed progressives to turn out as well. The debate was vigorous, but not disrespectful. If anyone came there with the intent of disrupting the town hall, they failed miserably.

We'll go through a round of the Q&A questions. I strongly recommend watching these all the way through, the Congresswoman knows how to finish an answer.

We shall start with the big, scary end of life care question :

Ladies and gentleman, that is how it's done.

How about the 'our health care system isn't broken' question (which, as it turns out, isn't a question):

Buddy, my mother is a cardiologist, in Maryland too, with a private practice, who deals with plenty of Medicare and private insurance patients, and makes a damn fine living at it. She voted for President Obama in large part because she believes our health care system is a disaster. She loves her job, and her patients.

And on health care as it relates to undocumented workers:

The Congresswoman takes a question from a military wife:

And here is our quick interview with her: (since the room was so loud we have provided a transcript of this interview for those that have difficulty hearing it):

Q: At the progressive press conference last week, the progressive caucus press conference, you touched on progressives ceding single payer if, and only if, there is a public option.

EDWARDS: (aside) Thank you…

Q: And you touched, briefly, on why that’s important for progressives to do. Can you talk a little more about why it is important, and why, for the blue dogs, why the compromises end at the public option?

EDWARDS: Well, you know, it’s hard for me to speak for where the blue dogs are going because a number of the provisions that they have proposed actually increase costs. And, which is amazing from a group a members, frankly, who’ve said that they want to decrease costs. What I can share with you though, is that we are, out of energy and commerce, we got a commitment that we are gonna get a stand alone vote on single payer, which I think is important to set a marker. But we also cannot abandon the public option, sort of take our eye off of that prize because we run the risk of not being able to preserve anything going into a battle with the United States Senate.

Q: Okay, and one last question. A lot of people have talked about the demons of socialized medicine and obviously we all know the military is on the government run option. Have the opponents of health care, has anyone proposed giving the military a better health care system? Or do they think that the military gets the best health care we can buy?

EDWARDS: No, I mean, I think that, I mean, I come from this experience, because I grew up in the air force, I know the military system. And know that, that it works, and I also know that it’s government provided. And so, I always just share with people that, for those people who are so against government being involved in health care, look at our military, look at our veterans, look at Medicare, so many of us are actually already engaged in government provided health care.

Q: But, as far as you know, no opponents have, have suggested changing that?


Q: Do they think, they don’t think there’s a better system for the military?

EDWARDS: No. I mean, it’s a good, the military system is a good system and it serves, but it serves a particular purpose. Whether that’s something that we could then, sort of, translate into the public sector is a different question all together. It’s something that has to do with just by the way they can provide service, just because of the (inaudible, contiguity?) of having everybody located on a duty station or something like that, that may or may not be appropriate for the broader public.

DC Vigil for Shooting at Agudah LGBT Community Center in Tel Aviv

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Laura Gilbert on 8/4/2009)

On Monday, August 3rd, there was a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting at a support group meeting for LGBT youth at the Agudah LGBT community center headquarters in Tel Aviv. Hundreds of people gathered in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC at sunset. You can download the event press release in pdf format.

One of the speakers was Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, from the Orthodox Ohev Shalom-the National Synagogue in Washington, DC. While the shooter hasn’t been caught yet and they know nothing about his motives, some bloggers suspect that he was an Orthodox Jew fueled by religious motivations, to which the Rabbi stated, “Within the Orthodox community, it is time to do some internal accounting.” This statement garnered applause and agreement from the crowd. "What I think we need to do, in the Orthodox community, is to create a communal pledge for synangogues and schools to sign onto, to declare that we will not create a climate of gay-bashing, a climate of hatred, a climate that willingly or implicitly condones these types of murders. And once we create such a pledge, we need to enforce it and we need to live it." When we asked him why he felt obliged to attend this event, he told us that it is important to recognize that the shooter's actions are a desecration of God’s name, and in a proactive sense, make sure none of this happens again. The Rabbi ended our interview by saying, “Don’t get me wrong, I believe homosexuality is prohibited according to the Torah, but it is wrong to create an environment of belittling and fostering hatred… I challenge you to find me anyone who is one thousand percent pious.”

Alex Greenbaum, one of the organizers that helped plan the event and Vice Chair of DCJCC Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Engagement (GLOE), lived in Israel for a couple of years. When he found out about the shooting, he was moved to tears and felt that he needed to do something. He said that he wanted the event to be really personal, where people could show emotion. "Tel Aviv likes to think of itself as the Jewish, intellectual city. That’s why everyone is so shocked…I think we are especially shocked it happened to youth." He went on to say, “the Jewish community cares about queer youth and cares about any youth” . He is planning to set up a helpline for queer Orthodox youth through an organization based in New York City called Footsteps.

Zvi Bellin, another event organizer, is the Engagement Associate for Nehirim, an organization that "creates authentic spiritual community for GLBT Jews, partners, and allies." Zvi told us that he wasn’t able to come out in the US because he knew too many people and was "ingrained in the culture of living in the closet." In Israel he was more comfortable taking a personal look at himself. In search of support, Zvi went to Agudah, the place of the shooting. Agudah got him in touch with a group of religious gay men in their 20’s. It gave him a safe space. There he found a community who “would listen. Bear witness to my story.”

We asked Zvi what message he wanted people to take away from this vigil: "No matter what one’s opinion is, the way of dealing with it is not through violence... When it comes to our youth’s rights to explore, to not be certain, to weed out their identity, we support them.”

Jack Moline, the Director of Public Policy for the Rabbinical Assembly said, “Personally I take offense when anyone is persecuted for something that is part of their God-given nature. In the capacity of my job, it is important that people know that religious Jews are not only offended by tragedy but supportive of the diversity of human nature.”

Cheryl Saferstein, age 21, summed up the message of the vigil, simply saying, “Stay strong. Stay proud. And stand together.”

Photographs by Laura Gilbert

Free Iran Protest in Washignton DC, 6/20/2009

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart 6/20/2009)

originally posted on June 20th, 2009

The District of Columbia awoke to storms this morning. Huddled under an overhang outside the Iranian Consulate’s office, were Americans and Iranian-Americans standing in solidarity with the people of Iran. Notwithstanding the rain, the crowd began its slow march, about two-and-a-half miles to the White House.

As they marched, the rain subsided, giving way to a gorgeous day, almost perfect for a demonstration. The crowd was loud and energetic,venting their anger, frustration, and concern. There was also a sense of hope, in light of an uprising in Iran on a scale not witnessed since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Young and old alike, expressed their inspiration.

Creating Powerful Multiracial Alliances With Progressive Bloggers

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Mitch Malasky on 8/21/2009)

These videos are from an excellent panel on Friday afternoon at Netroots Nation 09 in Pittsburgh called Stepping it Up: Creating Powerful Multiracial Alliances with Progressive Bloggers. Hosted by Will Coley, the co-founder of Aquifer Media, the panel featured Cheryl Contee, a partner at Fission Strategy and a co-founder of, Jacki Esposito, the policy coordinator at the Detention Watch Network, Kyle de Beausset, an immigrant himself who runs the blog, and Rinku Sen, the executive director of the Applied Research Center (ARC) and Publisher of ARC's ColorLines Magazine.

Together, these speakers are at the center of the pro-migrant blogosphere, which is small but slowly growing. Though most immigrant blogging so far has come out of the latino blogs, all of the members of this panel are working to develop an online network for immigrants, legal and illegal. The web is especially a great forum for illegal immigrants who are unable or afraid to speak out in public for fear of detention or deportation. Online they can speak out and share their stories anonymously to an audience who cares about what happens to them. The online strategizing also works to build a community, a collective voice, who jointly can speak for those individuals who have been silenced by pressure and by force. They are fighting an uphill battle which will only get tougher once immigration reform (finally) gets to congress. But by joining together online, they are developing a diverse unified front to counteract long established anti-migrant organizations.

Please keep checking for more videos from Netroots Nation 2009 in Pittsburgh. We will have more videos from this panel up shortly. A don't forget to go to the recently redesigned for all your socially, politically, and culturally conscious media.

Four Perspectives from the Social Change Blogosphere

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 8/30/2009)

Recently, we posted some videos from the Netroots Nation panel 'Four Perspectives from the Social Change Blogosphere'. Today we would like to present a few more videos from this panel. So, without further ado, we present round 2...

We'll start with Edmundo Rocha, speaking briefly, yet passionately, on why the immigration issue is important and why bloggers should be involved:

Next up is David Bennion talking about the immigration battle on capitol hill over the last five years:

Last, but certainly not least, Prerna Lal shares her personal experience with the struggle of immigration:

I hope you enjoy these videos. We will release a round 3 shortly. Check back at our Netroots Nation page for new videos.

Grow the Hope's House Meeting with Betsy Hoover of OFA

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 11/23/2009)

Yesterday, had you stopped by Sum Live Change between 2:00-4:00pm you would have stumbled upon our first ever live broadcast. We spend the afternoon in Bethesda, MD, at the home of David Hart, the founder of Grow the Hope (GTH). The guest speaker was Betsy Hoover, the Regional Director of Organizing for America (OFA 2.0).

I hope you enjoy the videos:

Dereje Tessema: How This Happened

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 9/23/2009)

On Saturday, September 13th, Dereje Tessema sat down with a group of Grow the Hope volunteers to introduce them to his new book, How this Happened. In the book, Dereje discusses how the combination of emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, and sound project management propelled President Obama's 2008 campaign.

Dereje B. Tessema is a Senior Project Manager working for the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC). He has extensive experience implementing, supporting and managing complex and critical enterprise systems at different capacities. He obtained his Bachelors degree from Ethiopia; Masters Degrees from Germany and the US; and various professional certifications including Master Certificate in Project Management, Certified Federal Enterprise Architect; and Certified Project Management Professional (PMP). He is working on his PhD. at Walden University with research focusing in the areas of Emotional Intelligence and Transformational Leadership in Project Management. He is also actively involved in community services and volunteer support and outreach programs. Dereje lives with his wife and three children in Rockville, Maryland.

Dereje volunteered for the Obama campaign in Bethesda, where he developed the idea for this book. We all know, and knew at the time, that President Obama had done something different, something unique, and something important with his campaign. Dereje appears to be one of the early experts to define that "something different," and to explain it in an easy to digest manner.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mark Walsh Speaks to Grow the Hope About Messaging

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 7/15/2009)

In May, Mark Walsh, founding CEO of Air America and a Democratic media strategist, accepted Grow the Hope's invitation to speak to the community about messaging and media. Many of the people in attendance had rallied behind Obama on his presidential campaign. Their work is not over, however. As David Hart, the founder of Grow the Hope (GTH), would say:
"Electing a smart and moral man as our President was an important step, but it's not enough... The challenges we face are far too massive for any one person to solve alone. The task is not his alone, it is ours together."
Using the lessons they learned during the campaign, and new lessons like Mark Walsh's tips on messaging, members of Grow the Hope are rallying to make real the changes they want to see in the world.

Grow the Hope (GTH) was founded by David Hart and other volunteers from Maryland's Bethesda Obama office. Their goal, is to "nurture the spark of creativity and hope that came alive during the Obama campaign." They have held numerous house meetings since the election, as well as direct actions to make concrete changes in their communities. Recently, we highlighted their efforts to fill food banks and their organizing around health care. Today, we chose to focus on their work to educate their community on messaging. We at Sum of Change have been following GTH, since shortly after the election, to document the work they are doing, and will continue to do so.

Grow the Hope/Organizing for America Health Care House Meeting

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 6/30/2009)

President Obama called on Americans to rally for action on health care. Grow the Hope answered the call, and has held health care house meetings across the state of Maryland. On Saturday, June 27th, they held their largest health care meeting and invited Sum of Change to document the occasion.

Grow the Hope's Hunger Action Team

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 6/14/2009)

On Saturday, June 13th, Sum of Change Productions joined volunteers from Grow the Hope's Hunger Action Team who are organizing food drives to help restock the Manna Food Center in Rockville, Maryland. A sign of the economic crisis, supplies are reported to be down by 50%. The Hunger Action Team is a part of a local volunteer organization called Grow the Hope (GTH). GTH was formed by volunteers from the Bethesda Obama Office (the BOO). David Hart, the founder of GTH, said that they are working to "nurture the spark of creativity and hope that came alive during the Obama campaign."

Utilizing the same tactics they used to help elect President Obama, GTH organized house meetings, calling on members of the community to join the Hunger Action Team and take direct actions to combat the food crisis. On June 13th, volunteers gathered at a Giant in Silver Spring, Maryland, with a shopping list. They asked people to buy some extra food; a can of tuna, a box of cereal, some peanut butter. Anything nonperishable.

When President Obama (then candidate) talked about building an organization that lives on past his campaign, this is what he meant. The same strategies that helped forge a campaign for change, often as simple as volunteering some time outside a grocery store, are the same strategies we can use to make real and direct changes in our communities.

You can join Grow the Hope and build a Hunger Action Team in your neighborhood too. I urge you to sign up and ask how you can help.

20 Years of Defending Clinics and Keeping the Doors Open

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 12/16/2009)

Last night, I attended an inspiring and important event. It was the celebration of the 20th year anniversary for the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force (WACDTF). I got introduced to WACDTF as myself, and the other Managing Partner at Sum of Change, Mitch Malasky, began planning a documentary on clinic escorting. As part of our research, we got involved with WACDTF, volunteering at clinics in the DC/MD/VA area.

I would like to take a moment to tell you a little about WACDTF. To start with, it is a completely volunteer run operation. They provide escorts to clinics in the area that request them. When they first started, 20 years ago, escorting was a very different beast. Anti's, their word for anti-choice protesters, would physically block off entrances or literally close doors and refuse entrance to people. Escorts in those days had to lock arms and form walls to keep anti's at bay. It was literally a fight to keep the clinic open. I doubt I need to explain how this could become ugly.

In 1994, President Clinton signed into law, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). For the first time, blocking a clinic entrance became a Federal offense. The impact of FACE was immediate and lasting.
Since its enactment, though anti-abortion violence continues, clinic blockades have dwindled to their lowest levels since they were first used to prevent women from accessing reproductive health care.
WACDTF took a moment last night to recognize the sponsor of the FACE Act, Senator Ted Kennedy. Yet again, I was reminded of what type of champion the late Senator was. I realized, when I got home, that the sentence, "We would not be where we are on (insert issue here) without Ted Kennedy," is always true.

Since 1994, Anti's have altered their tactics. It is less physical. They protest outside the clinics, approaching people immediately to attempt at convincing would be patients to walk away. They hand out literature and hold up signs, with doctored or fake pictures of late term abortions. They will say many things to arriving patients and companions. What they say ranges drastically. There is the common, "We can help you," "Your baby can feel pain," "Please don't kill your baby," "Your baby has a heart beat," etc. Then, there is the crazy, "We aborted the person who would have cured aids," "Mary was raped, she could have aborted Jesus," "We had a Preacher come to this clinic and he found spiritual evidence that these deathscorts (what they call escorts) have sacrificed babies on an altar here," etc. (Every one of those are real examples)

This is where we find ourselves today, and where our documentary picks up. Patients can enter a clinic, after being harassed and insulted first. The anti's are very aware of the restrictions on them. They will use every tactic that is legally available to them.

WACDTF has continued to survive throughout all this history. For 20 years now, they have provided escorts for clinics across DC, Maryland, and Virginia, at the request of the clinic. For 20 years, they have managed to organize and coordinate efforts at multiple clinics without a single person on staff. They operate to achieve one goal, and one goal only, assist patients in entering the clinic in the safest manner, with as little harassment as possible. They use, solely, nonviolent conflict resolution tactics. They do not tolerate counter protesting from WACDTF volunteers. They operate with high level of professionalism and dedication.

It was truly an honor to sit with the crowd of escorts, clinic workers, and WACDTF supporters last night. Being someone that comes from a community organizing background, I am continuously intrigued, inspired, and impressed with the organizers that make WACDTF work.

And you can get involved too. If you are in the DC/MD/VA area, please contact WACDTF. If you are not in that area, you should start by contacting your local clinic, planned parenthood, and local pro-choice organizations like NARAL.

Lastly, our documentary is still in the early stages. We have begun filming recently. We will, shortly, release a lot more information about the film. For now, I will say that we are producing a short piece on WACDTF, and then we will travel the country to document this work all over. If you are interested in hearing more, please sign up to receive Sum of Change email alerts. We will use this list to alert people when the website for the documentary is ready.

Advocating for Reproductive Rights in the Age of Obama

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 8/25/2009)

Aimee Thorne-Thomsen on Reproductive Justice in the Age of Obama from Will Urquhart on Vimeo.

Aimee Thorne-Thomsen gave powerful opening remarks at the Netroots Nation panel, 'Advocating for Reproductive Rights in the Age of Obama'. In this video, she talks about the difference between reproductive rights and reproductive justice, she talks about the uncomfortable feeling of holding a decent President accountable on all issues, she talks about the importance of connecting this issue to our daily lives.

And Jodi Jacobson talks about discussing reproductive rights:

We're still working to release more videos from Netroots Nation '09 everyday. You can find a complete list of every event we filmed (we don't have video up from each event yet, but we will) at the Sum of Change NN09 page.

Abortion Clinic Escorting Day One: The Sidewalk Dynamic

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Mitch Malasky on 7/18/2009)

My first escorting experience was a lot different than Will's was last week. Though we both had about the same number of Anti-abortion protesters ('Anti's'), the ones at my location were a lot more mellow, probably because I was in a progressive, pro-choice part of town. This clinic apparently also has a lot of seasonal protesters, who take the summer off. Many of the Anti's simply prayed outside in front of the clinic, each with rosary in hand, and made no attempt to interact, much less convert or berate any women entering the clinic. Some prayed out loud, some just mouthed their devotions, with a barely audible 'Hail Mary' here and there. One woman's routine actually included some singing. She broke out with a few operatic "Ave Maria"s then continue the rest under her breath. I found my self wondering if they were saying the same prayer, if they each had individual prayers to say, or if they were rotating invocations. I could clearly tell that 'Hail Mary's' were involved here and there, but I couldn't tell if their repertoire went any deeper.

The importance and influence of religion is quite striking. Since each and everyone had a rosary (at least one, apparently they give them out) I'm pretty sure each and every protester was Catholic. I had assumed that many of the protesters would be Catholic, but I didn't expect every single one of them to be. I know that there are people who aren't Catholic who are against abortion and I know that some Catholics are pro choice, but from what I could tell from my one experience today, those who protest abortion clinics are predominantly, if not exclusively Catholic. I believe the moral nature of the abortion debate begs the religious separatism, though I am interested to hear and see how a secular anti-abortion approach would manifest.

In talking with the other escorts, I found there was much more diversity. Though I didn't ask all 8 or so of us there, those who I spoke with were all Jewish, Protestant (from one denomination or the other), or not religious. The escorts were from all over, some native to DC and some who moved here at some point in their lives, and worked in a variety of fields. A few of them had been doing this for at least a year, but most of us had only been escorting a few months, if that. A couple mentioned Dr Tiller and how his slaying motivated them to take action. To be honest though, it was very difficult to have a legitimate conversation to get to know the fellow escorts. Because we don't know what the protesters might do if they had our personal information, and because many protesters will heckle individual escorts, we don't want to bring up any personal information while they are in earshot. Though it appeared that none of these protesters would escalate to that level, we try to not even use each others first names, just incase.

This meant that most of the morning was spent in relative silence. Some of us spread up and down the block from in front of the clinic where all of the Anti's were, in order to be closer to approaching women, and got a chance to chat a bit more during the down time. But for the most part, much of the day is a very awkward coexistence on the sidewalk. On the street side, there is a line of Anti's praying to themselves and observing. On the other side of the sidewalk and onto the lawn of the clinic were several escorts standing in silence so the Anti's have nothing on us. There appeared to be an uneasy respect between both crowds. Everyone involved has been moved by their own beliefs to take action, just their beliefs and subsequent actions vary widely. So we all stand there (or, in my case, pace around a bit) looking at each other, uneasily but cordially, waiting for someone to approach.

Since I mostly observed, I'm going to hold off on going into the details of what actually escorting people into the clinic is like until I've done it some more. But my first day was a great transition to escorting. As opposed to Will who's first few experiences were a baptism by fire (no pun intended), my experience today was quite fulfilling and educational but ultimately uneventful. I receive a lot of appreciation for just being there though, which was quite nice. The bright orange shirts "Pro-Choice Escort" shirts make us stand out and we were thanked by both clinic attendees and random individuals alike, which made it all worthwhile.

I very much look forward to my next escorting experience. I feel a lot more comfortable after my first day and will share how my next one goes. If you live in the greater Washington Metropolitan region and are interested in escorting yourself, go to WACDTF. If you live elsewhere, contact your local clinic or contact us with questions and we will try to pass them along to the right people. Please keep checking back to Sum of Change for more information about our experiences and our documentary project. Thanks and I'll talk to y'all again soon.


I Meet the "Anti's"

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 7/11/2009)

Today, I had my first real experience as an abortion clinic escort. For those of you that do did not read our recent pieces, we at Sum of Change Productions are in the early stages of a documentary on the work that clinic escorts do and the stories attached to it. Volunteering as an escort is a part of our research, ideally making our film stronger by giving us a deeper understanding of the work. There is about 8 trillion things I could say about today, but I will keep this somewhat brief, and just run through the day.

I woke up this morning with a slightly soar throat, the result of nights of web design without sleep. It's a Saturday, and it's 9:00am. I would much rather sleep in, try not to get too sick because we have a big week ahead of us. I made a commitment though, and I have an hour drive ahead of me, so it is time to wake up. I was not nervous on the drive up. I have done plenty of protesting, and dealt with plenty of protesters. So far, none of this felt too far outside of my comfort zone.

I get to the clinic, and see the "anti's" immediately. For those that do not know, the term "anti's" refers to the regulars that show up every week to "demonstrate" (or harass if you want to get nit-picky about it). I came alone, and I appear to be the first escort to arrive, so I park down the street and wait for the others to arrive. They taught us in the training that you never escort alone, because the anti's will be quick to claim you assaulted them (as I learned in the first half-hour). If you are alone, there are no witnesses on your side, so just never escort alone.

When I saw the others, I left the car to join them. (For obvious reasons, I will not be using anyone's name, besides my own, without explicit permission to do so). I met my trainer for the day, a nice lady who has been escorting for about fifteen years now. We went inside to get me an escort shirt, essentially a bright orange tank top with "clinic escort" written on it. The second I walked in, the clinic staff shot me a big smile and thanked me for volunteering. That moment was one I tried hard to remember for the next two-and-a-half hours.

In the clinic escort training, they taught us that boring is good. But today was not the case. The anti's that showed up today were regulars, and immediately recognized myself and another as new. Not only were we new, but men too. One anti just pounced on us with the traditional "they're killing babies in there", "why are you helping them", "God will forgive you, repent", and so on, and so on. For a few minutes, I just stood there, laying out my best poker face. Eventually, I broke and responded, as she rambled at me, with something along the lines of "there is a patient to consider too." And we went back and forth, politely, aside from her constant condescension. Throughout the conversation, I let slip at some point that my mother is a doctor. I quickly learned my lesson from that. For the rest of the day it was "your mother the doctor" this, and the "Hippocratic Oath" that. I did not let a single fact about myself slip from then on. They will jump on anything you give them, so we do not even use our names around them. Luckily, my mom will laugh at them when she hears about this, so it did not offend me the way it might if I thought the words would hurt her.

Then we had the first patient arrive. Nothing about this had scared me up to this point. I am not afraid of the threat of violence, or of confronting an anti in vigorous debate. None of that scares me (as a political organizer, those are pretty much part of the job description). However, approaching a woman walking up the street who might be a patient, who is being yelled at about killing babies, and trying to reassure her that I am here to help, that she can talk to the protesters but does not have to, that she does not have to answer personal questions from them... that scares me. That moment is so real, so quick. That is definitely out of my comfort zone. Luckily, our trainers handled most of that today, and us two newbies mostly acted as a human wall to help guide the way into the clinic. However, one of us slightly bumped into an anti, and "Assault!" they screamed. As I said before, do not ever escort alone.

And then there was a patient that arrived who spoke little-to-no English. I was the only one who spoke any Spanish (the anti's didn't, but that didn't stop them from screaming wretched things, even the most obvious logic escapes them). From the look in the patient's eyes, she was clearly caught off guard by all this.

I am not great at Spanish, but I speak it enough to get by in a conversation, and from a city council race I worked on, I can go on and on in Spanish about improving education in the inner city. I was nervous, but what else could I do? "Habla espanol?" I asked.

To which she replied "No." She was expecting me to ask if she speaks English, and responded with that by accident, another sign of how shaken she was by the whole event.

"No ingles?" (No English?)

"Si" (Yes)

Once you are talking to the patient, making eye contact, the fear goes away. For me at least, it was somewhat natural after that. You talk, so that the patient has someone to listen to other than the hateful anti's.

"Vamos. No tiene que hablar con ella," Which roughly means, "Let's go. You don't have to talk to her." Her being the rambling lady yelling about baby killing.

That was about as eventful as it got. Most of the patients just made their way in, trying to ignore the anti's. Occasionally, a guy who came with a patient would come outside to have a cigarette and would get into a conversation with the anti's. By a conversation, I mean he sat there, usually answering as little as possible, while one or two anti's rambled on and on. My favorite part was when an anti called the holy, immaculate conception a case of rape. I have never, in my life, heard a Christian refer to it as that.

After the first patient arrived, I knew I would continue doing this. It is purely disgusting that people have to escort at clinics. Imagine if men got this type of treatment every time they bought a condom. I will be back next week, and shortly after that. I would much rather not. But, as my trainer said to an anti today, "I'm here because you are."

You can become a clinic escort too! Contact your local clinic, or contact us if you need any help and we will try to pass your questions along to the right people.

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@Organizing 2.0

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 12/10/2009)

Last weekend, I attended the Organizing 2.0 conference in New York, put together by Charles Lenchner of the Working Families Party. This conference brought people together to hear from some of the greatest minds in the online organizing world. I came out of it with lots of great footage, and today we are previewing some of it. The majority of the footage, however, will be featured in our Training Tuesday series. So check back Tuesday at 6:00pm for more Organizing 2.0 footage. We are also collecting all our Organizing 2.0 footage onto one page here. But if you are reading this, then you really should find the time to watch these videos.

Whether you've been actively engaged in fighting the good fights online for years, or you are simply a lurker who visits from time to time to read, your intimate knowledge of the workings of the blogosphere makes you a valuable resource for candidates and organizations. This is a quality that is rather unique. As deeply entrenched as the online world may feel, online organizing is still brand new. You can think of it like this, Organizing 2.0 is still in beta format, and it is open source so people all over the world can develop new and exciting features.

The people you will hear from in the videos below, and the many to come over the coming Training Tuesdays, are about as experienced as we can get. They will provide you with many helpful tips and share some of their best practices.

Ari Melber, of The Nation, gave the opening speech:

That was followed by a conversation between Ari Melber and Nancy Scola, of the Personal Democracy Forum:

The last two videos we have for you today are the closing remarks. First, we have Dan Cantor, the Executive Director of the Working Families Party:

And the closing speech, or keynote address if you will, was given by Deanna Zandt, the author of "Share This!":

That's all for today, but check back at 6:00pm Tuesday for our running series of Training Tuesdays when we will introduce our first round of Organizing 2.0 panel coverage!

If you want to read more about the Organizing 2.0 Conference, check out these links: Talk: How Sharing and Storytelling Will Change the World Labor & community activists coverge @Organizing2.0 (the inspiration for my title, credit where credit is due)
Sum of Change: Musings on Ari Melber's Speech and the State of TV News
Ari Melber: Obama Campaign Organizing & New Media: Presentation to Organizing 2.0 Summit Writing for your Digital Audience

What Happens When Workers Organize

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 9/11/2009)

Yesterday, we attended the Employee Free Choice Day of Action in DC. There, we met Cheri Seise, a student at the College of William & Mary, who told us about the cafeteria workers' fight to form a union.

As she said, they had simple, logical complaints, complaints that have yet to be rectified. So they started what is a grueling process to form a union. Management immediately held meetings to discuss the issue. They threatened to hold paychecks. They scared and intimidated the workers. And the fight to form a union quickly halted.

What is worse, is that under our current laws, there is no retribution for this type of management. Even when a manager is caught firing an employee for union organizing, the only retribution is that the employee is rehired and given back pay, minus what that person could have made at another job. What kind of punishment is that. This is one of the most important aspects of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). If EFCA passes as is, employers could be fined $20,000 for unfair labor practices, such as threatening to hold paychecks.

What is probably more important than all the other parts of the bill put together is this ability to actually find retribution for unfair labor practices. Without that, management will deem it less costly to threaten workers, or fire them, for union organizing.

Employee Free Choice Day of Action

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 9/10/2009)

Hundreds of people, representing states all across the country, gathered on Capitol Hill in DC on Thursday morning to lobby their members of Congress in support of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). What made this group unique, is that it was a specifically non-labor coalition. Activists, students, faith leaders, members of all walks of life, united in their vision of a more just, fair America.

Without further ado, we present our coverage:

As you can see, we tagged along with the Virginia delegation as they lobbied Senator Warner, Senator Webb and several Representatives. There was a common theme for sure: plenty of support, but a lack of leadership and a lacking sense of priority. Frankly, this issue seems to be getting brushed aside, in the midst of a vigorous health care fight, and a dramatic struggle to shore up our economy. Yet with those challenges, there is still a strong and growing coalition that is fighting, tooth and nail, to pass this critical piece of legislation and give workers a stronger voice.

We also have Senator Harkin's entire speech, which gets more and more moving as it goes on:

The day of action is over, but, as I find myself saying more and more, this next session has to be our session of action. On many fronts, EFCA included, we have no time to let up, to take a break. We face many challenges. To find out more about what you can do to take part in the fight for workers rights, please visit the American Rights at Work.

If you still need a little inspiration, we present Stewart Acuff:

Bloggers and Blue-Collar Workers Unite!!!

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Mitch Malasky on 8/24/2009)

Here are some snippets from an excellent panel at Netroots Nation 2009 in Pittsburgh called, 'Bloggers and Blue-Collar Workers Unite: You Have Nothing To Lose But Wall Street Domination'. The diverse set of panelists was all presented interesting insight from a variety of viewpoints. Present were three labor representatives- the moderator, Scott Paul, President of the American Alliance for Manufacturing, Leo Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers (USW), and Tula Connell, Managing Editor of the Website and Blog of the AFL-CIO, two industry analysts, Bob Borosage, President of the Institute for America's Future and Marcy Wheeler, blogger at Institute for America's Future and at Firedoglake, and one US Congresswoman, Donna Edwards, a Democrat from Maryland's 4th congressional district. (We have already posted videos from Marcy Wheeler, Donna Edwards and another video from Leo Gerard here.)

This group had an obvious pro-labor bias (which we share), but they focused on specifics of how American labor and manufacturing could help America recover from it's current economic situation. They talked about how manufacturing can help to break out of the boom a bust cycle and build a solid base for a sturdy economy. Recognizing that labor and manufacturing have been on the downswing for years, the are looking for ways to revitalize and modernize industry to help build a stronger, improved America. From Cars, to steel, to paper, manufacturing and production employ millions of people and reinvest American money back into the United States in a direct manor.

We will continue to release more snippets and longer versions of panels from Netroots Nation 2009 in Pittsburgh over the next weeks. Keep checking back to our Netroots Nation Page for more blogs and videos.

The Secret Plan to Defeat the Right Forever

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 8/23/2009)

One of the panels I attended at Netroots Nation on Day 1, Thursday August 13th, was titled 'The Secret Plan to Defeat the Right Forever'. The panel focused on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Stewart Acuff does a great job explaining some of the more important details of EFCA:

He also talks a little bit about what it is going to take to get this legislation passed:

And Tanya Tarr explains why EFCA is the secret plan to defeat the right forever:

We've got lots more videos from Netroots Nation available, and we will be releasing plenty more over the coming weeks at the Sum of Change NN09 page.

The Online Immigration Debate - Netroots Nation '09

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Mitch Malasky on August 19th 2009)

Three of today's video's come from 'Four Perspectives from the Social Change Blogosphere: Case Studies from Civil Rights/ Pro-Migrant Bloggers' a panel at Netroots Nation 2009 in Pittsburgh hosted by Kety Equivel, the New Media Manager for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), with David Bennion, a non-profit immigration attorney, Prerna Lal, a blogger, youth organizer, and new media consultant, Edmundo Rocha, the Publisher and Content Producer of Para Justica Y Libertad, a latino centered political blog, and Dee Perez-Scott, who runs the blog 'Immigration Talk with a Mexican American'. They all shared stories about their efforts to fight a struggling battle. They were not very optimistic, they all shared depressing stories and sentiments about numerous immigration inequities, but were hopeful and dedicated to getting comprehensive immigration reform passed. While the immigration reform bill in congress has taken a back seat to other issues, such as healthcare, there are millions of people whose lives and well being are being held hostage by the unjust execution of antiquated laws. While positive news on the national scene is hard to come by, these panelists are working to facilitate as many small scale successes as possible. Check back for more stories and thoughts from the panel over the next couple weeks.

We will be releasing lots, and lots, of videos from Netroots Nation over the coming weeks, including some panels in entirety. For more videos, and a list of every event we filmed, please visit the Sum of Change NN'09 page.

Vigorous Student Protests at UCLA over UC Tuition Hike

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Rachel Tepper on 11/24/2009)

News of a steep hike in tuition fees at University of California public schools have students riled up at campuses across the UC system.

The UC’s Board of Regents met at UCLA on Wednesday to approve a plan which will raise next year’s undergraduate fees by an astounding 32%. UC President Mark Yudof told The New York Times that the fee increase was the university’s only choice in light of significant state budget cuts in the last decade. Yudof explained that the university system currently receives half as much, per student, as it did about twenty years ago.

Despite current measures in place which have slashed staff salaries, laid off teaching assistants, eliminated free printing for students and cut library hours, the board insisted that the university will be unable to maintain the same level of academic excellence without raising tuition.

Anger within the student body was most acutely felt at UCLA, where students from across the university system rallied outside the board’s meeting. Protests at times turned nasty, leading to the arrests of several students and accusations of police brutality.

Darlene Tran, a sophomore at UCLA, received bruises to her chest and wrist courtesy of officers responding to protests outside the meeting. Tran said she was chanting with a mass of students blocking the board members’ exit from a university building. She explained that she and others were demonstrating peacefully, but officers used unnecessary force when they pushed through the crowd to clear an exit path.

“From my perspective, I understand why they did it,” admitted Tran. “But I don’t think they needed to have been so aggressive. It was almost brutal, in a way.”

Tran noted that the Board of Regent’s meeting had originally been scheduled to take place on a day earlier on Thursday. She believes that the rescheduling was a deliberate attempt to thwart students’ plans to assemble. Students representing every institution in the UC system planned to bus to rallies at UCLA, but arrived a day late.

“We thought it was very sketchy,” said Tran.

In a last ditch attempt to convince the board to reverse its decision, some students stormed Campbell Hall, a building on UCLA’s campus, and occupied it from 2 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday in protest.

Tran noted that the protests had hit a particularly sensitive chord with students.

"We’re students, we can not handle this fee increase," said an exasperated Tran. She believes many students will be forced to drop out of school because of the increased fees. "We’re smart and we’re knowledgeable. We know there are other ways, there are other solutions, but we want to be protesting.”

Senior Sharya de Silva said the vigorous demonstration was a unique display of a particularly emotional student body.

“It was more students than I have seen in a long time. When it first started on campus, I would say at least 300 kids [were protesting],” explained Silva. “But then when we walked down Westwood Blvd…another group of students showed up. I think while marching we had around 600 kids.”

She described the scene outside Covel Hall, a building on UCLA’s campus, as “a mad house,” and said she believes about 1000 were protesting there.

Silva echoed sentiments of undue police force against what she described as passionate but nonviolent protest.

“I saw one officer swinging a baton around to try and clear room,” she said. “In the process he hit two guys and almost hit me. This one girl was actually trying to help the cops by calming the crowd down, and they got her. It was sad, she just hit the ground.”

Silva believes the police “didn't know how to handle the volume of students with that much passion,” and their actions were preemptive measures taken in fear that protests would turn violent.

Despite the widespread discontentment in regard to increased fees and the fervor demonstrated by protesters, some students questioned the effectiveness of such displays.

“Everyone is unified in their opinion about it, well, sucking, but not everyone supports the protests,” said junior Nathan Stein. He said the demonstrations are “causing a lot of disturbance to people living in the dorms and not accomplishing much.”

Both Tran and Silva confessed that they believed the decision made by the Board of Regents will likely stick.

Protests have currently died down, though students continue to stew over the possible implications the increase.

For now though, students must turn their thoughts to another problem: finals. Exams for the fall semester will begin taking place in a matter of days. Little time, said Stein, to worry about tuition.

“I think most students are spending their time studying,” he said.

Thousands in Berkeley Mobilize to Save Public Education in California

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally posted by Laura Gilbert on 9/24/2009)

On Thursday, September 24th, an estimated five thousand people attended a rally on Sproul Plaza at the University of California, Berkeley. The rally and subsequent march through campus and downtown Berkeley—scheduled to coincide with and planned in support of the University of California (UC) Faculty Walkout that took place on all ten UC campuses—brought together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, university workers and alumni to protest the budget cuts at Berkeley and stand up for public education across California.

All in attendance protested the enrollment cuts, layoffs, faculty furloughs and threatened department cuts outlined in a plan pushed through by the UC administration this summer in the aftermath of a reduction in state educational funding to the tune of more than $637 million—or 20% of the 2009-2010 budget. But it is perhaps the already imposed 9.3% increase in student fees for the 2009-2010 school year, as well as the proposed 32% fee increase to be partially imposed mid-year that has invigorated the masses. Many feel these increased fees will effectively privatize California’s public schools, making higher education inaccessible to countless California residents—including those already enrolled in the system. One Berkeley first-year, Magali Flores, currently pays her own fees but expressed worries of having to ask her mother for help if the 32% increase proposal passes, help she is not sure her single mother of five will be able to provide.

Ricardo Gomez, a third-year at Berkeley, says the fee increases will not affect him personally because he receives scholarship; however, “I know for a fact that students will be priced out—particularly undocumented students.” Another student held a sign that said, “’UC’ me now…you won’t see me after 32%”.

After the proposed increase, fees will amount to over $10,000, before room and board. With such high costs, “the line between public and private blurs,” says Alex Tarr, a graduate student in geography at Berkeley and head steward of the Local 2865 UAW which represents 12,000 student employees, grad-student instructors, readers and tutors.

But it is not just students who have something to say about the fee hikes. Paul (who declined to give his last name), a Spectroscopist and member of the University Professional Technical Employee union (UPTE), expressed concern that the University was no longer following its mission, laid out in the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education—specifically, the principle that higher education should be accessible to all regardless of one’s economic means. “The whole mission of the University of California was so anyone could come here, to a public university that was as good as Harvard or Yale. The irony is that it is cheaper now to go to either one of those schools than to one of the UC’s”—referring to the ability of many Ivy League schools to run needs-blind admission and finance the education of any admitted student who is unable to pay. Personally, he said, he has two children he hoped to send to the University of California system, but with rising costs he is exploring options in other states.

Tamar (who declined to give her last name), a Berkeley alum and an UPTE member (a union which chose to strike on the 24th in solidarity with the Faculty Walkout after itself engaging in 19 months of negotiations with the University with no contract), wanted to bring greater awareness to the day-to-day changes brought on by these budget cuts. “Professors are being forced to furlough classes, to work harder in less time with less salary. Facilities and departments have fewer open hours or may close entirely. Essentially, students will be paying 32% in increased fees for reduced services.”

Tamar—and many others—argue that such drastic budget cuts are unnecessary. Many expressed a belief that the money is there, despite the reduction in state funding, but it is being allocated disproportionately to executive salaries for the Regents, the Cal football coach and especially President Mark Yudof, towards whom a great deal of the protesters’ ire was directed. (An objective observer may become sympathetic to such ire after reading Yudof’s snarky responses to Deborah Solomon’s questions in the September 24thNew York Times interview.) Those who place most of the blame for the budget crisis on the University leadership demand budget transparency and democratization of the Board of Regents.

Others believe the blame for the current budget crisis should lie primarily on the state, whose priorities they question. They cite statistics that show that over the past 20 years, state expenditures on education have gone down from 17% to 7% while state expenditures on the prison system have gone up from 3% to 10%. As Ruben Canedo, a representative of the SOLIDARITY alliance and one of the organizers of the march, put it, “The message that the state is sending to kids is that it is more prepared to send you to the prison system than the education system.”

And still others believe the fact is there is simply not enough tax revenue to sustain public education in California. Those carrying signs that said, “Repeal Prop. 13” said the current state budget crisis was foreseen long ago. “Once Prop. 13 froze property taxes at 1970’s rates, a future budget crisis was inevitable,” said California State University, Monterey Bay campus Professor C. Menning. Originally intended to protect elderly residents from being taxed out of their homes, “it was the corporations who benefited most” from Proposition 13, Menning said. In 2004, in an attempt to preempt the public education crisis, Governor Schwarzenegger, then UC President Robert C. Dynes and CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed created The Higher Education Compact that put forth a plan to mitigate the budget gaps by raising student fees and increasing private fundraising. This is the crux of the argument that California public higher education is being privatized. Or perhaps even the smoking gun.

Still, the September 24th rally at Berkeley, along with the walkouts across California, illustrate the fact that thousands want to preserve public education. And the 24th was just the beginning. Berkeley has held a general assembly and established committees to continue organizing in this fight. Conferences are being held to connect the UCs, CSUs, Community Colleges and K-12s within regions and eventually across the state. This is exciting: a new movement with inspiring leaders waiting in the wings. Thousands of leaders, in fact, ready to mobilize to protect the promise of an accessible education for all. “This is not a movement for a specific community or population,” said Canedo. “We stand in solidarity for education. We ask for your support.”

An estimated five thousand people gathered to rally on Sproul Plaza at the University of California, Berkeley.

Among the protesters was a contingent representing student-parents. They held a banner that asked, "Where's the affordability you promised us?"

Representatives from the Student Worker Action Team (SWAT) and the SOLIDARITY Alliance, among others, lead the march through the Berkeley campus and downtown Berkeley.

Marchers returned to campus via Bancroft road.

The marchers staged a sit-in at the intersection of Telegraph and Bancroft across from the Sproul Plaza entrance of the Berkeley campus.

Both UPTE (University Professional Technical Employees) and CUE (Coalition of University Employees) chose to strike in solidarity with the UC Faculty Walkouts on September 24th. Union members and supporters picketed at the Berkeley campus entrances throughout the day.

As night fell, a General Assembly was held for anyone who wanted to help organize to continue the fight to save public education.

Despite three relocations of the General Assembly due to a lack of open University facilities, hundreds moved together and finally settled in Lower Sproul Plaza on a chilly night to continue organizing.