New reports of advertising by Focus on the Family during the NCAA basketball tournaments in March on CBS raise troubling questions about involvement by both the collegiate sports association and the network's support for a right-wing extremist group.
Yesterday, sports blogger and former University of Massachusetts professor Pat Griffin reported that, tucked among the banner ads for Coke Zero, Outback Steak House, Wendy’s and Enterprise Car Rental on the corporate website of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA.com) was an ad for Focus on the Family (FoF).
By early afternoon today, the FoF ads had been removed from NCAA.com–at least from the website, and at least for now. But as we approach the frenzy of collegiate basketball playoffs knowns as March Madness, the question remains whether CBS will be running these ads during these games as they did during the Superbowl.
Griffin is the former director of It Takes A Team, an education and advocacy project addressing LGBT issues in sport. She wrote: "I hear that CBS, the network that brought us the Focus on the Family
Super Bowl ad, is also covering the Men’s NCAA Tournament, and plan[s] to
air these ads throughout the tournament with the complete complicity,
consent and support of the NCAA."
"We cannot let this stand."
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Focus on the Family is a right-wing Christian political organization
that not only opposes a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have
an abortion, they also are one of the most powerful national opponents
of civil rights for LGBT people. You can bet they are in the forefront
of every national and state battle over LGBT rights and abortion
rights. Now they want to impose their values on the NCAA tournament and
college basketball fans and the NCAA and CBS are inviting them to. They
are rolling out the red carpet and I am deeply offended by the NCAA’s
complicity in this.
The NCAA is the most prominent national
governing body for intercollegiate athletics for women and men. The
NCAA constitutional principles include an explicit prohibition on
discrimination based on sexual orientation. Lesbian and gay
student-athletes, coaches, and administrators are a significant part of
the NCAA’s membership. Women are a significant part of the NCAA on all
levels. Many of the individual institutions that belong to the NCAA
have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Yet the NCAA apparently thinks it is just fine to support an anti-gay
This is an outrageous slap in the face to every LGBT person and
their allies in athletics and to all other people who believe in a
woman’s right to choose who are associated with the NCAA.
A post by a former NCAA athlete on Mombian, a website for lesbian mothers, notes that "NCAA.com is in fact run in partnership with CBSsports.com. It is
focused on competition news and is a more commercial site than the
organization’s corporate site, NCAA.org. I imagine that it is CBS that
manages advertising on NCAA.com, as it does for television broadcasts.
Regardless, the site uses the NCAA name and is clearly run with NCAA
Yet as Griffin notes in another post on this issue, "running the Focus on the Family ads
is in complete violation of the [NCAA] standards" for advertising.
A few excerpts from
the standards provided by Griffin:
The NCAA’s advertising and promotional standards
are designed to encourage those advertisements and advertisers that
support the NCAA’s ideals and exclude those advertisements and
advertisers (and others who wish to associate with NCAA activities)
that do not appear to be in the best interests of higher education and
The NCAA strives to be associated with entities and messages that:
NCAA believes, at a minimum, that advertisements, advertisers and others who wish to be associated with NCAA events should not:
• Cause harm to student-athlete health, safety and welfare.
• Bring discredit to the purposes, values or principles of the NCAA.
• Negatively impact the best interests of intercollegiate athletics or higher education.
the examples of ads that are "impermissable" according to the NCAA
Standards, writes Griffin, "are "Advocacy of viewpoints on controversial issues of public
importance (e.g., religious beliefs, political beliefs).""
"The NCAA cannot have it both ways," said Griffin.
"They cannot claim to care about the
quality of the athletic experience for LGBT student-athletes and
provide educational programs to assist schools in making sure that LGBT
student-athletes can compete with respect and dignity and allow Focus
on Family to use the NCAA web site and men’s basketball tournament to
promote their discriminatory right-wing Christian agenda."
Besides, she continues,
"why on earth would the NCAA want to get involved in this controversial
mess when it will only draw attention away from basketball and embroil
the NCAA in an ugly public culture war battle. That is a question, I
cannot answer, but we sure can make sure their decision is a painful
So will NCAA.com and the NCAA be airing these ads during March Madness games? It is not yet clear. "The ad deal is not confirmed," according to Towleroad," but the report is troubling."
At least for now, however, it does seem the organization is in fact trying to "go both ways" so to speak with CBS and Focus on the Family.
Is this happening under pressure from CBS? If so, why is CBS suddenly the home broadcasting network for a far-right Christian organization that advocates making homosexuality illegal and is seeking to abrogate women’s basic human rights? And how does NCAA square this with its own stated guidelines and respect for diversity?
As of publication of this article, calls to the public relations office of the NCAA have not yet been returned. We will update after speaking to NCAA.
An estimated 150,000 people have fled Syria for Jordan since March 2011. Temporary solutions to what may be a long-term problem include how to integrate those fleeing across the border to Jordan. In this environment, “marriages of convenience,” or even forced marriages, can thrive, essentially undetected.
This article is the second in a two-part series commissioned by Rewire. You can find the first here.
An estimated 150,000 people have fled Syria for Jordan since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011.The Jordanian authorities have made much of how they’ve welcomed refugees, but even after they granted the United Nations permission to build 200 refugee camps along their northern border, housing up to one million people, the focus is still very much on temporary solutions to what may be a long-term problem.
Refugee services include short-term housing, inexpensive rentals, “holding centers,” and, since August 1, the first tent camp at Zaatari. Countries as dissimilar as Egypt, France, and Saudi Arabia have dispatched medical teams to the border to provide on-site care. Save the Children has launched projects at Zaatari for young people. These efforts are essential, amid what the Jordanian government has just recently begun to call a humanitarian crisis.
Women tend to bear the brunt of the more slow-burn problems surrounding conflict, and the setup in Jordan is ripe for this to continue. So-called “refugee issues” are not just those related to camps, or to short-term care. Jordanian and Syrian societies are close-knit socially, and much of the focus until very recently has been on how to integrate those fleeing across the border into Syrian society, and into homes and pre-existing structures. In this environment, “marriages of convenience,” or even forced marriages, can thrive, essentially undetected. Many question whether—under the circumstances—these marriages are even a problem at all.
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Visitors to Amman speak of a recent phenomenon: get into any taxi, chat with the driver, and he will tell you that “cheap wives” are to be found in the refugee camps near the Syrian border. “Cheap” refers to the dowry given to the brides’ families, as well as to the women’s expectations. Jordan is a comparatively poor, aid-dependent nation. Around 14.2 percent live below the poverty line, according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook. Nevertheless, cultural norms dictate that most Syrian women will have lower expectations for their standard of living, having come from an even poorer country.
“There are all kinds of social conceptions of Syrian women as the most obedient, the most caring of their husbands out of all Middle Eastern women,” says Khadija, an activist from the northern Jordanian town of Irbid, close to the Syrian border.
“There are all kinds of jokes now within Jordanian society that the women should watch out, as with all these Syrian women in the country, the men will always choose a Syrian woman over a Jordanian woman.”
Add to this that Syrian women are normally paler, a valuable asset in a region in which skin-bleaching products replace tanning products. There is a growing sense that female Syrian refugees, while socially elevated, are now increasingly perceived as vulnerable, due to the conditions under which many refugees are living.
The State of Things
Until the opening of the Zaatari tent camp, refugees were being housed in so-called “transfer” facilities, usually rehabilitated private property that had formerly served as parts of the university campus, or even private gardens. The Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO), an umbrella group tasked with the coordination of all aid and refugee services in the Kingdom, has said that all refugees currently living in transfer facilities will be transferred to Zaatari, which can house up to 120,000 people.
Until now, refugees were held in facilities that were labeled as temporary until a Jordanian citizen could act as a “guarantor,” who would care for the refugee financially and legally. But the situation has reportedly been far from temporary for many. In early May, during a visit to Jordan by this reporter for Rewire, Mohammed Kilani of the JHCO estimated that the Beshabshe tower block, designed to house 700 people “is holding at least 2000.” Aid worker Hisham Dirani of Muhajeroon Ahrar reported that there was “no plumbing, no sewage, and no ventilation.” One former resident said, “I met people in there who’d been there for six months… It was like living in hell.” The expectation that, as Kilani put it, “a Jordanian family will open their homes to these people” after a short stay did not always prove true for those who did not have Jordanian relatives or a guarantor to bail them out.
Into this troubling situation comes the guardianship system, instituted primarily to allow refugees with friends or family who are Jordanian citizens to come to the transit facilities and to vouch for the continued well-being of the refugees, once they leave the camp. Given the years of intermarriage and long-standing familial and social connections between the two neighboring countries, there is undoubtedly a logic to this system.
There is, however, also potential for abuse.
Jordan boasts a long history of accepting refugees from all over the Middle East, but it is questionable to what extent Jordanians are “opening their homes” to refugees in camps with whom they have no family ties. The camps, either temporary or longer-term, are based primarily in Jordan’s northern region. The desperately-poor surrounding areas experience water shortages and electricity outages. “These are close-knit communities,” a Jordanian colleague said. “You wouldn’t just invite strangers to live in your house; you need some kind of social link to make that possible.”
It’s possible that those acting as guardians for refugees are doing so because it is culturally expected of them. And a marriage between the two families provides a “convenient” way of making this socially acceptable as well. It’s also possible that men are entering the camps looking to find wives, and in so doing are bringing the women, and possibly their families, into their homes.
Former residents of Beshabshe spoke frequently of witnessing men being allowed into the block in order to, effectively, cruise for wives. Statistics on the scale of the problem are impossible to obtain. It’s also impossible to contact anyone who has had personal experience with the issue. “You hear stories everywhere of how Syrian women have a price now,” said “O,” a female anti-regime activist, who lived in the Ramtha center when she first arrived.
I heard of one man marrying six different girls in this situation, and I even met a family who were ready to sell their daughters. With all the misery I saw in that center, I could predict the kind of future that these girls would face. I don’t want to judge their motivations, but at the same time, these men are opportunists. It’s sick.
Kilani viewed the issue purely in terms of aid. “But is it really such a problem?” he argued. “If a man marries a woman, he is obliged to care for her family.” That the women involved are being denied a role in choosing whom they marry did not appear to concern him. Indeed, such marriages can be beneficial to many charities and aid groups dealing with the Syrian refugees, because their limited funding can stretch only to short-term care. Off-loading a few women from the system means more resources to go around. Furthermore, many, if not all, of the organizations have some kind of religious affiliation, be they Muslim or Christian, making them less likely to criticize something that plays into a conservative social structure.
Aid organizations have condemned the guardianship system’s potential for exploitation, in terms of both marriage and work. Many international organizations that have visited the camps, including the Beshabshe transfer facility, were concerned about the lack of follow-through after refugees had been signed out of the facility. Unfortunately, none were willing to comment on the guardianship issue, given the shift of focus to the housing of refugees in Zaatari. That initiative brings its own set of new problems. Eva Abu Halaweh of the Jordanian human rights law group, Mizan, said:
While foreign women who marry Jordanian men are entitled to equal rights before the law, any marriage formed through this kind of relationship is going to have a built-in power imbalance, which could bring further problems.
The families of Syrian girls, married as young as ages 13 or 14, are increasingly concerned for their safety. Khaled Ghanem of the Islamic Society Centre told the U.N. news service, IRIN, “In Maraq, we have come across around 50 cases of early marriages since the day we started helping out Syrians. Most of them are married to Syrians, especially cousins.”
According to Jordanian marriage laws, age 18 is the legal marriage age, but religious leaders can grant “informal” marriages to younger people. The marriages can be certified when the parties turn age 18. IRIN quoted a mother, who arranged marriages for her daughters, ages 15 and 14. “As a single mother,” she said, “I cannot support them. I cannot feed them. I wanted to make sure they are okay, so I asked around if people know of good Syrian men they could marry.” Such arrangements involving Jordanians do not seem such a remote possibility.
The policy toward refugees is changing with the move to Zaatari, but this does not mean the end of issues surrounding “marriages of convenience.” Zaatari is operated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Its policy of “encampment” means that refugees are unable to leave the camp. There is also debate as to whether the guardianship system has been suspended or ended altogether. But with refugees now confined to a tent camp on an unforgiving dust plain in the middle of the desert, some are keen to escape by any means possible. Also, Zaatari is guarded by the Jordanian police, who have been responsible for guarding the transfer facilities, such as Beshabshe. Given that they were apparently allowing men into the camps before, there is no guarantee that they won’t continue to do so while policing Zaatari. With confusion over whether or not the guardianship system has ended, and with the camp filling up, and resources being stretched, there is potential for further exploitation.
Better the Devil You Know
This issue cannot be examined without looking at the “convenience” aspect, because this is not purely an issue of brute force and one-sided exploitation. For the women, girls, or families involved, socio-economic factors drive their consent to, or encouragement of, such arrangements.
One factor is a desire to propel oneself or one’s daughter out of the situation in which the refugees are being forced to live. It’s a shockingly obvious choice: live in a refugee camp in potentially awful conditions, or enjoy comparative freedom in Jordan. Because there is frequent intermarriage between the two countries, the latter may seem like the most sensible option. Girls are also more likely to be seen as burdens. Finding someone else to care for them lightens the already heavy load on families, who are struggling to support themselves in cheap accommodations, or trying to make meager rations feed a family in a refugee camp.
Another factor is fear of the unknown. The future of Syria hangs in the balance, and, sadly, the conflict now engulfing its main cities could rage on for years. The situation for those who left is as unstable as for those who stayed. The draw of a new, more secure life in Jordan is strong in a time of crisis. “Women being traded always happens with war,” O said.
But still, I worry about these girls. I know that this is a kind of survival strategy, but I wish instead that having survived the Assad regime would have made them stronger in a different way—to be able to escape not just the regime but to a place where they are not harmed like this.
The third, and most worrying factor, is the fear of rape, which is pushing families to marry off their daughters. Being raped can result in social isolation that will ruin the woman’s future chances of marriage, and thus of social and financial security. During a recent visit to Zaatari, I talked to a refugee from Baba Amr in Homs, who told me, “You need to know, everyone needs to know: they are raping women. Hezbollah, the Iranians, they are in Syria and they are raping women.”
Another interviewee from Dara’a said, “Regime forces go into the houses, round up the men to kill them, then they rape the women.” Lauren Wolfe, director of Women Under Siege, recently wrote in The Atlantic Magazine about a project her group conducted to map the incidences of rape in Syria found 117 reports thus far. Eighty percent of the victims were female, and the majority of those surveyed said the attacks came from pro-regime forces. Rape as a weapon of war has, unfortunately, become standard practice, despite the fact that the presence of foreign elements in Syria is still open to debate. But whatever the identity of the perpetrators or the actual stats, the fear of rape is real and widespread among the refugees. One of the many abominations committed in the fog of war, rape is just as frightening as shelling. This might explain the link to Hezbollah or Iran—whether true or otherwise—in the minds of some of the refugees.
A Syrian woman who married a Jordanian from Mafraq almost 20 years ago said, “In one of the mosques you find Syrian men who saying that they will marry their daughters for free, provided that the man is suitably religious, to ensure their safety.” By marrying, or by ensuring that their daughters are married, even if that means staying in Jordan, women are preserving their social status and security for years to come. They are also fleeing a form of violence that they cannot report, one which may remain a weapon in an increasingly sectarian conflict long after Assad falls. A “marriage of convenience” to escape the possibility of rape may be confining in some ways, but the fathers are consenting to their daughters’ marriages to preserve their dignity. Some are even arranging their marriages, which is common in more conservative societies such as those in Syria and Jordan. This smacks of allowing legal rape in place of illegal rape.
Silence Is a Virtue
Syrian men do not believe that the “marriage of convenience” is a problem that should be publicly discussed. Intensely patriotic Syrians who have left often spend their days discussing their hopes for a better Syria without Assad. For them, the idea of Syrian women marrying foreigners seems to hint at a kind of lost national pride. They sense that something is being stolen from them. “I’ve been clear with my daughters; they are not allowed to marry a Jordanian man while we’re here,” said the father of a family of eight living in Mafraq. A number of men had come to propose. “One was the owner, who is 56, of this building who saw one of the girls and liked her, but we said no,” the father said. “The other was a man who sent one of his female relatives to come and suggest the idea, but we said no again.”
Some are unwilling to recognize the problem of “marriages of convenience.” Pushed to comment on the issue, Kilani said, “Syrians have been marrying Jordanians for many years. Surely there are at most 20 to 25 cases if this is true?” He is right in one sense; hard evidence is extremely difficult to obtain, due to the social taboos, which fuel the entire issue. But anecdotal evidence is growing exponentially. Women who have been inside Beshabshe or one of the other camps have spoken of it. And “cheap brides” jokes are now so commonplace in northern Jordan that they’re almost passé.
Shining a light on this issue requires a careful balance of cultural sensitivity and criticism. The first response to raising the problem is often a gentle shrug and a reference to tradition. This problem may be rooted in long-standing traditions governing marriage, and that factor should not be dismissed. There is no wish here to rush in and point the finger in a way that is at best intolerant, and at worst racist. There is also a concern when writing about this issue that it feeds into every prejudice surrounding how women are treated in the Middle East. That is not the intention. However, that should not be a barrier for a necessary discussion. This is not an issue of “forced marriage,” but rather an examination of the cultural forces that can bind women to oppressive social structures, here and around the world.
Several years ago, I was approached by a young woman after giving a talk examining how patriarchy is at the core of the world’s dominant religions and calling out the Christian fascist movement to criminalize abortion. As she told me of her abortion, her demeanor suggested she was rather settled about it. But then suddenly she stopped talking, her face flashed with emotion, and she burst into tears.
I tell this story precisely because this young woman was a confident and articulate atheist. She had been raised pro-choice and still was. Her boyfriend was supportive. She received great medical care. Extremely important: she made clear she had never felt guilty.
So, why was she sobbing?
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She explained, “Until today, I have never in my life heard anyone say that it is okay to have an abortion and even feel good about it. For two years I have gone around feeling like there must be something wrong with me because I never felt any remorse.”
Stop for a moment and think about that. She didn’t feel bad about her abortion. She felt bad about not feeling bad!
I responded very firmly that there is nothing wrong with her. There is nothing wrong with a woman terminating her pregnancy at any point and for whatever reason she chooses. Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder.
There is, however, something profoundly wrong with a society in which millions of young people have grown up never having heard abortion spoken of as something positive and liberating. There is something deeply wrong not only with the movement which has viciously and relentlessly fought to criminalize, terrorize, and demonize those who seek – or provide – abortions, but also with the mainstream of a “pro-choice movement” which has repeatedly conciliated and compromised with this madness.
Lets be clear, the notion that women are full human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor together with men is historically an extremely new idea. It is also under extreme, and increasing, fire. The fight to not only defend, but to expand and to destigmatize abortion and birth control, must be seen as a central battle in the fight to make good on the full liberation of women.
What’s the big deal about abortion, anyway? Together with birth control, abortion enables women to not be enslaved by their biology. It enables women to delay, restrict, or forgo altogether the decision to make babies. It enables women to explore their sexuality free of the fear that an unintended pregnancy will foreclose their lives and their dreams. It opens up the possibility for women to enter fully and equally into every realm of public life and human endeavor together with men.
Of course, the possibility of full equality for women doesn’t exist merely because of the technological, or even the legal, existence of birth control and abortion. These reproductive rights would not have been won — and wouldn’t have had the earth-shaking repercussions they’ve had – without the tremendous struggles of women demanding their liberation. Despite popular misconceptions, it was this righteous struggle, together with the broader revolt of the 1960s and 70s – not some sudden flash of enlightenment on the Court –that most influenced the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Further, the liberation of women requires more thanreproductive rights and a radical shift in the culture. The need for an all-the-way revolution that goes beyond even the best of the revolutionary experience of the last century – including as pertains to challenging traditional gender and other chains that bind women – is a key element of Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of revolution and communism. Explicating this more fully goes beyond the scope of this article, but interested readers can learn more by reading ADeclarationforWomen‘sLiberationandtheEmancipationofAllHumanity.
But even the specter of women’s liberation — and the important advances that were made — were too much for those who rule this country. The backlash really coalesced and gained initiative under Reagan. The reassertion of the “traditional family” became an indispensable part of not only reasserting patriarchy but also stitching back together the reactionary fabric of society that had been significantly frayed. Christian fascists — people fighting for the laws and culture to conform to a literal interpretation of the Bible, including its insistence that women bear children and obey their husbands (1 Timothy 2:11-15) – were given powerful backing by ruling class forces and unleashed to hound and harass women who sought abortions. They bombed clinics. They killed doctors. They pushed the shame and ignorance of abstinence-only education into the schools and went to war on the scientific fact of evolution.
Through this period, the most mainstream elements of the women’s movement came to be identified broadly as the only outlet for those concerned about the oppressed status of women, even as this bourgeois feminism more and more subordinated itself to the ruling class, and the Democratic Party in particular.
To quote from the above-mentioned Declaration, “This absorption of the ‘official women’s movement’ into the Democratic Party, and its utter subordination to the confines of electoral politics, has done incalculable damage. For over two decades now this ‘feminist movement’ has encouraged and influenced progressive people to accommodate to a dynamic where yesterday’s outrage becomes today’s ‘compromise position’ and tomorrow’s limit of what can be imagined. The defensiveness and cravenness of this ‘movement’ in the face of the Christian fascists in particular — its refusal to really battle them on the morality of abortion, to take one concentrated example — has contributed to the disorientation of two generations of young women, and men as well.”
What has this looked like? It looked like Hillary Clinton implying there was something wrong with abortion by insisting it be “safe, legal, and rare” and then these becoming the watchwords of a “pro-choice movement” that even removed “abortion” from its name. It looked like spokespeople for NARAL and Planned Parenthood repeatedly insisting they are the ones, not the Christian Right, who prevent the most abortions, even as women scramble nationwide to access the dwindling abortion services. It looked like a strategy focusing almost entirely on the most extreme cases — endangerment to a woman or fetus’s life, rape or incest — rather than standing up for the right of all women to abortion.
It looked like the 2006 congressional elections where the Democrats insisted that to beat the Bush-led Republicans they had to run hardline anti-abortion candidates like Bob Casey. And while many registered complaints, not a single major national pro-choice “leader” called for mass mobilizations of protest in the streets. It looked like broad “feminist” celebration of President Obama even as he, too, insisted on reducing abortions and finding “common ground” with fascists and religious fanatics. Now he has now presided over the greatest onslaught of abortion restrictions introduced at the state level since Roe v. Wade.
All this is why a new generation has, almost without exception, never heard anyone speak positively about abortion. This has led to thousands of women feeling guilty or ashamed of a procedure which is necessary for women to live full and independent lives. This has led to a situation where activists fight piecemeal at the edges of each new major assault while losing ground overall.
If we do not seize the moral high by boldly proclaiming the positive morality of abortion, if we don’t begin now to change hearts and minds among this new generation in particular, if we do not refuse to be confined by what is deemed “electable,” then not only will we fail in fighting back the restrictions, we will compound this legal defeat with an ideological and political defeat as well.
Millions and millions of women feel absolutely no remorse about their abortions; it is time for all of us to speak out boldly in support of this attitude. It’s also time we stop bending over backward to validate the feelings of guilt or shame that some women feel over their abortions. Millions of women feel guilty and ashamed after being raped, but while we acknowledge their emotions, we also struggle for them — and everyone else — to recognize they have done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s time we do the same around the stigma that surrounds abortion.
It’s absolutely a great thing for women to have — and to exercise freely — their right to abortion. The doctors who provide these services should be celebrated! There is nothing “moral” about forcing women to bear children against their will, but there is something tremendously moral about enabling women to determine the course of their own lives. This is good for women and it is good for humanity as a whole.
It is time to declare boldly: Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!
Sunsara Taylor is a writer for RevolutionNewspaper, a host of WBAI’s EqualTimeforFreethought, and sits on the Advisory Board of WorldCan‘tWait. For nearly two decades she has been on the front lines of the battle against Christian fascism – from abortion clinics under siege in North Dakota to Terri Schiavo’s hospice in Florida, from Rick Warren’s bigoted anti-gay sermons to militarized Christian youth stadium rallies. She has written on the rise of theocracy, wars and repression in the U.S., led in building resistance to these crimes, and contributed to the movement for revolution to put an end to all this. She takes as her foundation the new synthesis on revolution and communism developed by Bob Avakian.