What’s the difference between New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and your garden-variety flasher?
The editorial boards of the big New York papers—the New York Times and the Daily News—have called for Weiner, a Democrat, to abandon his campaign to be the city’s mayor, based on the fact that he lied about his rehabilitation as a serial sexter after his habit of sending nude or nude-ish selfies to young women led to his resignation from Congress two years ago.
While I agree that the lying is reason plenty to demand that Weiner end his mayoral bid, there’s something worse than lying going on here. The kind of selfie-sending in which Weiner has engaged is predatory, even if some of the recipients of his photographic outreach were receptive to it.
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I don’t mean to be a buzzkill on the Weiner jokes. Go on, laugh at the absurdity of it all. I certainly have. But this is no mere sex scandal, as some in the media have framed it; this is not simply about Weiner’s infidelity to his wife. (And yes, I think it’s fair to call cellphone sex with women who are not one’s wife “infidelity.”)
This is a scandal of sexual predation.
The most disturbing aspect of the Weiner scandal lies in his compulsive seeking of attractive women, often very young, for the purpose of cyber-flashing them. Really, if Anthony Weiner lived in an age before the advent of social media and smartphones, he might well be riding the subway wearing nothing but a trench coat, scanning the straphangers for the youngest, prettiest woman in the car to shock with his mighty sword.
When the scandal that ran him out of Congress broke in 2011, it was revealed that Weiner made a habit of responding to certain female fans who had sent him messages of kudos for his political actions with a series of messages that quickly turned sexual. Some welcomed these, finding it flattering that a star congressman would take such an interest in them, but at least one college student was shocked when he sent her a photograph of himself in underwear, sporting a bulging erection. Genette Cordova told the New York Times that she had not exchanged any messages of a sexual nature with Weiner when she received the underwear shot.
At the June 2011 news conference at which Weiner addressed that first round of allegations about his selfie-sending and sexting, he said he had sent Cordova the underwear picture as “part of a joke.”
When I was 17, I was walking on the sidewalk in my suburban neighborhood when a guy driving slowly down the street called to me to ask me for directions. When I approached the passenger’s side window, his real M.O. became apparent: his underwear and pants were around his ankles.
That guy and Anthony Weiner have a lot in common. If there’s any one reason for Anthony Weiner to leave the political stage for good, it’s that one.
An inspiring—if perhaps overly optimistic—book, When We Fight We Win!: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World, showcases six areas in which progressive shifts have already happened or are possible thanks to long-range activism and political vision.
On any given day, all it takes is a quick look at the headlines to see the sorry state of world politics: Hunger, poverty, war, environmental degradation, campus shootings and stabbings, child abuse and neglect, and police brutality are just some of the atrocities that make the future seem bleak, if not hopeless.
But not everyone is filled with despair.
For one, Schott Foundation for Public Education Board Co-Chair Greg Jobin-Leeds, himself a seasoned Cambridge, Massachusetts-based community organizer, sees numerous possibilities in today’s political morass. Indeed, his inspiring—if perhaps overly optimistic—new book, When We Fight We Win!: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World, showcases six areas in which he believes progressive shifts have already happened or are possible thanks to long-range activism and political vision. These include campaigns for LGBTQ equality; efforts to preserve and defend public education; challenges to mass incarceration and prison privatization; immigrant rights; and the promotion of economic and environmental justice. Each section includes interviews and case studies, as well as illustrations by members of AgitArte, an activist art collective with chapters in Puerto Rico and Massachusetts, underscoring the role of visual culture in popularizing activism.
“I asked leaders of … thriving social movements, ‘What are the lessons you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to new activists?'” Jobin-Leeds writes in an introduction to the text. Eager to parse organizing strategies and better understand the incremental steps that lead to bigger, bolder victories, Jobin-Leeds interrogates what successful campaigners have done to increase the likelihood of victory, and questions how they remain upbeat despite working in a less-than-progressive political milieu. He was not looking for conformity, he writes: Instead, he was eager to capture a range of organizing experiences.
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In the book’s foreword, for example, Rinku Sen, publisher of Colorlines and president and executive director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, takes a measured approach when compared with Jobin-Leeds’ buoyant point of view. She notes the enormity of challenging the status quo, writing, “Whether or not we win will be based on many things other than our own strategy and strength. Even strong, huge movements sometimes fail.” She continues, “There is, however, no path to victory without trying.”
Tapping into the desire to push back rather than fold in the face of obstacles is at the heart of When We Fight We Win! and Jobin-Leeds spent years interviewing activists to try and determine why they feel compelled to do this work. He also wanted to better understand how movements can create real and enduring change; tease out strategies that are consistently successful; and find effective tools to deflect apathy. These in-depth interviews supplement Jobin-Leeds’ more general points and give a hands-on immediacy to the stories and research he presents.
His introduction sets the stage and posits the benefits gleaned from organizing:
When we fight—building an organization, joining a community of activists—we win not only communal victories but also our own personal transformation, enabling us to discover common root causes to problems that had seemed unconnected before. Understanding root causes can ally us with others—across issues, cultures, identities. This aggregates individual fights into broad movement struggles, and by working in solidarity together we can realize far-reaching, systemic change. Winning lies not in a single victory, but in many victories and the lifelong struggle to change injustice and create a future based on a bold, transformative vision.
This philosophy, of course, requires us to celebrate incremental wins, no matter how small. It also requires us to acknowledge the enormous rush that comes from disrupting business-as-usual and its powerful enforcers. After all, if fighting back is joyless, why do it?
Case in point: the movement for LGBTQ equality.
Jobin-Leeds reminds us that five decades ago, sodomy was a crime in every U.S. state and the idea of marriage equality was a pipe dream writ large. So what happened? In a word, he says, AIDS: an unanticipated health crisis and mass tragedy that gave the LGBTQ community new prominence in the public eye. Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, tells Jobin-Leeds that when people started becoming ill, “There were a lot of men—including men in urban areas who had some level of class or race privilege—who were being denied access to their partners as they were dying in hospitals because they weren’t ‘family.’” Their stories of emotional trauma were heartbreaking and led, years later, to a demand that their relationships be recognized and validated.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, agrees with Carey, adding, “AIDS broke the silence about gay people’s lives and really prompted non-gay people to think about gay people in a different way. It prompted gay people to embrace this language of inclusion, most preeminently marriage. That, in turn, accelerated our inclusion in society and the change in attitudes.”
AIDS’ public accounting of love and loss presaged a dramatic shift in assumptions and ideas about what it meant to be queer. It also went hand-in-hand with thrillingly defiant public actions in streets, pharmaceutical company boardrooms, and government offices throughout the country.
Of course, homophobia has not been eradicated; nor has AIDS stigma. But as a result of ACT UP and other queer-led organizations, access to life-changing drugs increased. In addition, as family and friends pushed their way into hospital rooms, the broadening of the definition of “kin” took root: Jobin-Leeds and his activist contacts theorize that this is part of what eventually led to marriage equality. All of this is surely worth celebrating; at the same time, progressives understand that the right to wed is but one demand on a long roster of LGBTQ needs.
As Carey explains, “We can’t ask someone to be an undocumented immigrant one day, a lesbian the next, and a mom on the third day … Our vision is about … transforming society so that she can be all of those things every single day and that there would be a connectedness among social justice workers and among the organizations and agendas, if you will, to make her life whole.”
These linkages, Carey said, have led the Task Force to work on a range of issues, including criminal justice reform, liberalized immigration, public education, and economic justice—issues that, she says, the largely white male activists who founded the Task Force initially considered tangential to LGBTQ rights.
Still, both Carey and others stress that not every campaign will result in victory. Paulina Helm-Hernández of Southerners on New Ground (SONG) tells Jobin-Leeds about a 2012 campaign against a same-sex marriage ban in North Carolina, a battle she says the activists anticipated losing. Nonetheless, SONG committed itself to reaching one million people to discuss “the future of our state, and about the divisive tactics of the Right, and about the reality of how integrated LGBT communities in North Carolina actually are to immigrant communities, to other communities of color—it really just became a huge opportunity for us, and I would say a success in terms of helping not just amplify the grassroots organizing that makes moments like that possible, but to say it does matter.” In essence, despite losing the war, they won what they hope will be lasting personal connections with local residents.
What’s more, Helm-Hernández emphasizes another secondary gain: When other folks saw that it was possible for individuals and organizations to stand up and speak out, it empowered them to do likewise.
Among today’s most motivated activists, Jobin-Leeds writes, are the DREAMers, young immigrant women and men whose efforts have led many people to think differently about immigration policy. Although Jobin-Leeds concedes that the United States has still not enacted meaningful reform, he reports that hundreds of immigrant youth have bravely declared themselves not only undocumented, but unafraid. They’ve told their stories, and those of their parents and grandparents, to audiences throughout the country—as well as before Congress—and their efforts have begun to pay off. The New York Times, for one, has stopped using the term “illegal” to describe undocumented people, and several states now allow undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition rates, a change that has allowed many to enroll in two- and four-year degree programs.
“DREAMers from across the country have profoundly changed the national discourse and influenced organizing tactics around immigration—catapulting an issue forward,” Jobin-Leeds reports. “Storytelling combined with direct action transforms people into activists.”
And although obtaining citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented U.S residents is proving difficult in today’s political climate, Jobin-Leeds writes that it remains a long-term goal.
Like the DREAMers, activists working on other issues also sometimes set their sights on local gains—targeting a recalcitrant landlord or a bank that is threatening foreclosure, for example—rather than attempting to change national policy, and Jobin-Leeds chronicles the successful efforts of the Boston-based City Life/Vida Urbana to create eviction-free zones in low-income areas. Similarly, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United have driven companies like the Fireman Hospitality Group to settle claims for back wages and tips, and develop policies to curtail sexual harassment and discrimination. Equally significant, environmental groups such as 350.org have pushed colleges and philanthropies to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
Drops in the bucket? Maybe. But as the organizers in When We Fight We Win! repeatedly remind readers, small changes often lead to bigger ones. Furthermore, organizing requires us to take a long view of history to forestall becoming demoralized. After all, given today’s Republican assault on reproductive justice; the overt expressions of racism and xenophobia by political office holders, presidential candidates, and everyday individuals; the non-stop push to privatize once-public services; and our seemingly endless involvement in numerous wars, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, angry, and powerless.
When We Fight We Win! admits this, albeit indirectly, and recognizes that there are no guaranteed victories. Nonetheless, the book enthusiastically celebrates activism as personally and politically invigorating. Indeed, when all is said and done, we have two choices: We can either accept the current state of affairs or try to foment change. If we opt for the latter, we may not win everything we dream of, but at least we’ll know we tried. Isn’t that better than languishing in grief and anger?
The public is watching as Chicago activists have called for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign after a judge ordered the release of a video showing a city police officer shooting a Black teenager named Laquan McDonald 16 times.
Groups such as the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) and the Coalition for a New Chicago maintain Emanuel played a role in the delayed release of the video. A range of national figures and organizations, such as filmmaker Spike Lee and Johnetta Elzie with Campaign Zero, have either said the mayor should step down, or, in the case of Bernie Sanders, suggested “those involved” should resign. Others have declined to weigh in or are in support of Emanuel. In the latter camp is Hillary Clinton, who earlier this month expressed her continued confidence in the mayor. Chicago activists say that Clinton’s defense of Emanuel after the video’s release could have political consequences for the leading Democratic presidential candidate.
The shooting occurred on the night of October 20, 2014, when police were responding to a call about a man with a knife on the city’s Southwest Side. Police cameras caught the incident, in which Officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old McDonald 16 times, but police officials held the tape from being released to the public, stating that it was part of an ongoing investigation. The department fought for more than a year to keep the video from being made public. In April 2015, the Chicago City Council approved a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family, which included a provision to keep the video confidential.
Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama finally ordered the video’s release in November; Emanuel fired Chicago Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy the next week. Though police officials stood by Van Dyke’s account that McDonald approached him with a knife before he was shot, the video shows McDonald walking away from him.
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The day the video was released, 18 months after the shooting, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez decided to charge Van Dyke with McDonald’s murder.
Many activists allege that the Emanuel administration intentionally covered up the video during his re-election bid in 2015. Emanuel’s failure to press for release of the video until a judge acted, and Alvarez’s failure to charge Van Dyke until the video was released, left many calling for the two to step down.
During last week’s protests, activists held signs and chanted, recounting what they viewed to be Emanuel’s crimes.
Chicago has a history of police violence and political corruption. From 1972 to 1991, more than 100 suspects, mostly Black men, were tortured and forced into confessions by officers under former Police Commander Jon Burge and his “midnight crew.” Last May, Chicago became the first U.S. city to pay reparations to victims of police torture, when the city council voted unanimously in favor of a $5.5 million package for survivors of Burge’s reign of terror.
The Guardian released an investigation into another incriminating story concerning the city police department around the time Chicago lawmakers congratulated themselves over the reparations deal. From August 2004 to June 2015, the paper reported, police detained more than 7,000 people, 6,000 of whom were Black, at an off-the-books interrogation compound in Homan Square on the city’s West Side, where they were unable to contact or be found by family or lawyers. According to the Guardian:
The facility’s use by police has intensified in recent years. Nearly 65 percent of documented Homan Square arrests since August 2004 took place in the five years since Rahm Emanuel, formerly Barack Obama’s top aide, became mayor.
Chicago activists have long called for a change to the city’s systemic problems with police violence and political corruption. The release of the Laquan McDonald video has brought their cause to the national stage.
Today, more than half of Chicago residents believe Emanuel should resign, and at just 18 percent, his approval rating is at an all-time low, according to a recent poll taken after the release of the video. Yet his history within the Democratic Party has many national politicians, particularly Democrats, slow to renounce the mayor.
“He loves Chicago and I’m confident that he’s going to do everything he can to get to the bottom of these issues and take whatever measures are necessary to remedy them,” Clinton told reporters while campaigning in Iowa in early December.
Frank Chapman is a longtime activist and field organizer for CAARPR, one of the groups organizing the protests calling for the mayor’s resignation. He says that Emanuel is only one part of a top-down problem that his organization is trying to address, but that all those in charge must be held accountable for real change to begin.
One of CAARPR’s demands is the implementation of an all-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). Chicago activists began developing plans for community police accountability in the 1970s, said Chapman, but it had a resurgence after Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old Black woman from Chicago, was fatally shot by an off-duty Chicago police detective in March 2012. In 2013, CAARPR worked with attorneys and other community organizers to draft a proposal for establishing CPAC in Chicago.
The council would consist of elected community members from each police district in Chicago who would decide how their communities are policed and hold police accountable for their crimes. The council would appoint the police superintendent, and it would provide more detailed statistical analysis of demographic information of complaints by type and victim.
Chapman told Rewire that while he’s happy that recent protests have brought national media attention to Chicago’s problems, he wishes there would be more focus more on the possible solutions conceived by activists.
“People get off on describing problems,” Chapman told Rewire. “The national media is presenting the problem but not capturing the solution. We’re proposing a solution.”
Stop Police Crimes, CAARPR’s campaign to implement CPAC, has 25,000 supporters across Chicago and about 1,000 active volunteers, Chapman said. While Emanuel’s resignation is not their primary concern, Chapman believes it is inevitable.
“As far as I’m concerned, this administration is dead. We just haven’t buried it yet,” Chapman told Rewire. “This administration does not have the ability to continue to run this city the way it has been running.”
Chapman told Rewire that he believes Clinton’s continued support of Emanuel will affect how Chicagoans vote.
“She really stepped on the hornet’s nest with those comments,” Chapman said regarding Clinton’s support for the mayor.
Others believe, however, that Clinton’s current dominance in the polls will keep her from having to renounce Emanuel. Scott Goldberg, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Chicago, said that he doesn’t believe that the presidential candidates are taking police violence seriously as a public health crisis, and instead are addressing incidents as individual cases. Goldberg believes that each case shows City Hall’s continued neglect of communities of color within the city.
Goldberg was part of a group of medical students who joined the call for Emanuel’s resignation by staging a 16-minute “die-in” in front of City Hall, one minute for each time McDonald was shot. He doesn’t believe that Clinton’s comments will hurt her with Chicago voters.
“I think ultimately Chicagoans are going to vote Democrat,” Goldberg told Rewire. “So if she’s the candidate, which she likely will be, she’ll get their votes.”
Clinton has tried to make overhauling the criminal justice system a central theme of her campaign, but Chapman says that she and other top politicians, including President Barack Obama, are not holding the people in power throughout these incidents accountable.
“Barack Obama is the chief law enforcer of the United States. He’s the president. Why did it take so long for him to get the Justice Department to do something around this issue? This stuff has continued to go on at a high level since the murder of Trayvon Martin,” Chapman told RH Reality Check. “What more do you need?”
Chapman continued, saying that it’s not enough for politicians, like Clinton, to say they support the Department of Justice’s investigation into the CPD.
“We have to take on our government on this,” Chapman said. “The justice department comes in here, and all they’re required to do is focus on operational policies and procedures. They’re not focusing on the crimes that have been committed. They’re not holding anybody accountable for these murders. They’re not addressing a systemic problem.”
Clinton’s Democratic opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), has taken a more direct stance against Emanuel, albeit without naming him directly.
“Any official who helped suppress the videotape of Laquan McDonald’s murder should be held accountable,” Sanders said in a statement. “And any elected official with knowledge that the tape was being suppressed or improperly withheld should resign. No one should be shielded by power or position.”
The 2016 Democratic presidential candidates have spent much of the primary season trying to demonstrate their embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement, but some activists believe that their promises will continue to seem empty if they fail to address Laquan McDonald’s murder, the death of Rekia Boyd, and the interrogations at Homan Square as part of a systemic problem.
“The Emanuel administration is totally discredited,” Chapman said. “Because it is very clear to everybody, people of various political persuasions, that he suppressed a crime. He held from public view a crime committed by a police officer to get re-elected.”
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify Ben Carson’s stance on Rahm Emanuel’s resignation. Carson called the shooting of Laquan McDonald “despicable,” but has not said Emanuel should resign. We regret the error.