ICE Raids, Asylum Seekers and the Othering of People of Color

Like many of you, I’ve watched the reports and rumors of expected ICE raids, images of adults and children in U.S. concentration camps and the attacks on asylum seekers with horror.

The large-scale ICE raids that officials have hinted at haven’t yet materialized as I write this, but they’ve succeeded in what may have been their real objective: terrorizing immigrant communities. Central and South Americans seem to be mainly in the crosshairs, but they’re far from the only ones. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has openly mocked its own claims to be focused only on immigrants who do not follow legal procedures: Officials have announced a draconian crackdown on asylum seekers – people following the 100 percent legal process of seeking refuge from violence and danger in their homelands.


Close the Camps


There is nothing radical in the call to abolish ICE, which is a relatively new agency, created in 2003 out of fear of terrorist attacks. The invention of ICE represented a fundamental change, taking immigration issues out of the hands of the Departments of Labor and Commerce and treating it strictly as a security concern – in other words, treating immigrants and  asylum seekers as threats, not as positive additions to our society.

But this is bigger than ICE raids or the Border Patrol or even the completely unjustified crackdown on asylum seekers. Look at these in the larger context, like the (happily failed) attempt to add a citizenship question to the Census in a blatant attempt to undercount immigrant communities, attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and defenses of racist behavior by law enforcement, and telling people of color who criticize the president’s policies to “go back” where they came from.

An agenda lies behind all of this — an agenda aimed at ensuring that people of color are the “other,” an agenda of white supremacy.

And while we’re seeing this agenda in a particularly vile and malignant form right now, we must recognize that our country has been here before. Indeed, we never really left. We hear some critics of current policies say that “this is not America,” but we need to ask ourselves whether that view is really true.

For the bulk of this country’s history, the default assumption has been that “American” = White. We should never forget that our first Black residents were literally brought here in chains as slaves, that the Declaration of Independence – with all its ringing declarations about the rights of free people – also decried “merciless Indian Savages,” and that the U.S. had essentially no limits on immigration until large numbers of Chinese immigrants began to arrive in the late 19th century.

American Racism has never gone away
While we’re seeing the Trump Administration’s agenda in a particularly vile and malignant form right now, we must recognize that our country has been here before. Indeed, we never really left.


That legacy faded for a while with the enactment of civil rights laws, but it never truly went away. Here at The Greenlining Institute, we see it every day in communities of color that have been systematically redlined into having less wealth, under-resourced neighborhoods and dirtier air and water. Since our founding, we’ve been committed to not only building a nation where race is never a barrier to opportunity, but to communities standing together to uplift all. That’s why today we must stand up against the ICE raids and the abuse of asylum seekers.

If we want to be able to honestly say, “this is not America,” then it’s up to all of us to make America do better.

Please take a few minutes to think about what you can personally do, and to make a commitment to helping one or more of the many outstanding organizations heroically working to protect migrants, at our borders and elsewhere. Here are a few we’re aware of – far from a complete list, but a good place to start:

Preeti Vissa Kristipati is Greenlining’s Interim President.

My Family Wouldn’t Be Here Under the Trump Immigration Plan

Recently, President Trump announced an “immigration plan” – actually, just a set of talking points, without enough detail to be called a real plan. While it was quickly proclaimed “dead on arrival” in Congress, it tells us a lot about the administration’s priorities and the path it will pursue on immigration. My family – and lots of other people from similarly humble backgrounds – would not be here if the president’s proposal had been in effect when they arrived.

Under the Trump immigration plan, my grandfather likely couldn't have come to the U.S.
My father and grandfather, Allan and Saul Mirken, circa 1917

My grandfather, Saul Mirken, arrived from Russia in the 1890s as a child, apparently welcomed by one or two other relatives already here, looking for a better life at a time when persecution of Jews was widespread in Russia. He arrived in New York without advanced degrees or much knowledge of English, but with a ferocious work ethic.

Saul started his own business, the Saul Mirken Paint Co., which acquired such a good reputation that after he sold the store and retired, the new owners kept his name on it for decades. He put his kids through college. My dad went to Cornell and then Harvard Medical School. He fought in World War II, serving as an army physician in the Pacific, where at one point the ship he was on was torpedoed. One of his sisters became a respected writer and editor and the other an economics professor.

These are the sorts of people the Trump immigration plan is designed to protect us from.

(Astute readers will likely have noticed that I and my family are white, unlike most immigrants being demonized today. I’ve written before about how I benefitted from white privilege, but — odd as it seems to us now — Russians, Poles, Italians and other eastern and southern Europeans were not considered white when my grandfather arrived. That belief eventually led to eugenics-based immigration restrictions in the 1920s. At the time Saul arrived, the U.S.’s only major ethnic immigration restriction barred entry by Chinese people – who, of course, have more recently been touted as the “model minority.” Prejudices change, but the stupidity of prejudice remains.)

While the White House immigration plan wouldn’t have absolutely barred my family from coming here, it would have made their path much more difficult and probably impossible. Under the Trump immigration plan, uniting families gets much less emphasis while enhanced pathways would be created for those with “extraordinary talent, professional and specialized vocations” and “exceptional academic track records.” Priority will also go to “higher wage workers.”  In addition, “Those seeking entry would also have to demonstrate English language fluency and pass a civics test.” My family would have flunked on pretty much all counts.


This picture of my family wouldn't have been possible under the Trump immigration plan
My grandfather Saul (right) with me (top center), my mom and my brothers, 1960. My family wouldn’t have been here under Trump’s immigration plan.


America’s story, of course, is full of immigrants who came here with nothing (including no “professional and specialized vocations” or “exceptional academic track records”) and spoke little or no English, but went on to do extraordinary things. A short list might include “White Christmas” songwriter Irving Berlin and Zumba creator Beto Perez – a Colombian fitness instructor who arrived in the U.S. speaking little English and has now become one of the planet’s most successful entrepreneurs. It also would include millions more who never became famous but who came to this country, worked hard, overcame racism and other forms of bigotry, built a good life for themselves and their families, and contributed to their communities.

Our current government couldn’t care less.

The Trump immigration plan firmly and finally jettisons “Give us your tired, your poor” in favor of “Give us your people from privileged backgrounds who already have advanced degrees and that tech companies want to hire.” It will make us spiritually poorer and morally smaller.

Bruce Mirken is Greenlining’s Media Relations Director. Follow him on Twitter.


Safety, Liberation, and Racial Justice at #FacingRace2018

Finding safety and community at Facing RaceWhat’s it like to be 3,500 racial justice organizers deep? It feels like home — and liberation — when you’re at Facing Race.

Before I even arrived at the Cobo Center in Detroit, I stopped in Dearborn, Michigan, the city with the largest Muslim population in the country. I saw storefront signs with halal written on them, hijabis were on every street corner. I felt safe, I felt belonging in a place I’ve never been to. To feel that connection is so meaningful, especially in a time when the Ohlone land I was born and raised on often feels alienating.

As a first time attendee at the Facing Race Conference, I had no idea what to expect. The conference opened by collectively establishing layers of safety that didn’t include police so we could take responsibility for each other’s safety. We had folks trained in de-escalation and conflict resolution and a second layer of private security. We collectively agreed to go to these people before we EVER went to the police. As people of color, we know that calling the police can be a death sentence. This practice was powerful because the conference didn’t just talk; we actually implemented an alternative safety system that didn’t require police. We used our own power to stay safe as a community.

Throughout the weekend-long conference, we focused on key ideas like the importance of water, decolonization and reparations, our ancestral power, and the role of relationship building in creating systems outside of state violence. The stories shared reminded me of the tremendous amount of work that we have to do to achieve liberation and uplift the struggles of communities that are not at the forefront of the media. The indigenous community still doesn’t have clean water in North Dakota. And Flint still doesn’t have clean water, even though the media have completely stopped paying attention! Uplifting the struggles of local communities was something that was reiterated through the conference. Facing Race intentionally centered the host community of Detroit throughout the conference and committed to giving $100,000 to 14 community organizations for hosting us. Again, the conference created a system that practices collective liberation by shifting the way our relationships with people, land, and natural resources operate.

Facing Race made thinking about liberation a conscious processAs someone who is constantly rushing at a packed conference, I felt at ease in this space despite the jam-packed schedule. There is something so healing about being in space that is in the process of decolonizing. In this space, the relationship with time and people change. As Tiny from Poor People Magazine’s “How to never call the police EVER” workshop said, “when you are working towards something that will last forever, your relationship with people changes.”

Throughout this event, I felt the love and more importantly, I felt safe — something that I haven’t felt in a while. Here, people broke silence, sharing powerful stories of survival, liberation, and heartbreak. My heart was broken open and I allowed myself to fully feel the experiences and stories shared with me. I met kind people, filled with compassion and a fire to make change. I ran into old friends and mentors, who shared warm hugs and greetings. I met a Muslim father who shared his struggles with parenting a young Black Muslim woman and connected with the protege of Rosa Parks, a brilliant woman by the name of Mama Lila who shared the herstory of the land I was on and encouraged my young self to strive forward.

And finally, the keynote Tarana Burke, founder of #metoo, reminded each of us of the need to include a gender justice analysis in our fight to end racism, a long overlooked issue by men of color and advocates for social justice. She said that no matter what happens, you wake up the next day and keep doing the same work. As an energetic 20-year-old organizer, new to the work, her statement reminded me that this work will not stop and I will likely not see the end of gender-based violence in my lifetime. In this context, how do I want to conduct myself and focus on?

The Facing Race conference reminded me over and over again why relationships and structures must change, especially when it comes to community safety and sustainability. I was reminded of verse 9:71 in the Quran which says “the believing people are protectors of one another.” After my weekend at Facing Race, I returned with a renewed intention to prioritize relationships with people over money/time and to make intentional moves to decolonize my life.

Building spaces where marginalized people can actually feel safe is more important than you can imagine. As someone who experiences street harassment daily, has been followed by men and taunted at with Islamophobic slurs, safety is priceless. I felt safe at Facing Race, I felt at home. We all deserve to feel this kind of safety, regardless of where we are. As an advocate for gender justice, my vision is to live in this world, where I can walk anywhere, anytime safely. Facing Race got me one step closer to this.


The Climate Change Denial Suicide Cult

A recent encounter on Twitter with a bunch of climate change denial types sent my memory flying back nearly 20 years to my days as a reporter and an eerily parallel run-in. Now as then, I realized, we’re face-to-face with a suicide cult.

Climate change threatens us all, of course, but it’s of special concern here at The Greenlining Institute because low-income communities of color have the fewest resources to deal with its effects and often suffer most from the toxic air pollution generated by our fossil fuel economy.  In addition, these communities most urgently need the jobs and investment that the clean energy economy will bring – or at least can bring if governments design policies to give disadvantaged communities a fair share of these investments. For all these reasons – not to mention that whole survival-of-civilization thing — climate change denial poses a serious threat.

This tweet set the climate change denial faction aflameSomeone had tweeted a scary image of smoke from the Woolsey Fire billowing over Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu. I retweeted the image and added a few thoughts of my own. I noted that we’ve always had fires in California, but the number of these high-intensity firestorms – and seeing them in November, no less – represents a new and frightening development.

I’m not exactly famous, so even my most provocative tweets don’t always generate much reaction. But this one was retweeted by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, whose Twitter following outnumbers the populations of about 10 states, and all hell broke loose. Soon, the climate change denial crowd was shouting at me that climate change was a fraud, I was “pushing a political agenda,” and, parroting Donald Trump and his Secretary of the Interior, that the real issue was “bad forest management” in California. One particularly vehement complainer told me the cause of our recent fires could just as easily have been “an illegal alien’s campfire.” Even when I responded with detailed explanations from a meteorologist showing that – as scientists overwhelmingly agree — global warming has lengthened our fire season and heightened the risk of disaster, I got responses like, “Climate change my ass.”

And that’s what sent the memories flooding back: the intensity with which these folks deflected all contradictory facts, stuck to their talking points and defended their belief system to the point of denying obvious reality. I’d been there before.

Starting in the late 1990s I became interested in the cult-like network of people, known as AIDS denialists, who insisted that HIV doesn’t really cause AIDS, that AIDS isn’t even a real disease, and that the entire epidemic is a fiction generated by funding-hungry government researchers and profit-crazed drug companies. They told people with HIV to shun the medicines their doctors prescribed – “poisons” in their view – and advised that people could stay healthy if they just lived a healthy life and avoided all drugs, recreational and pharmaceutical.

I’ll spare you the details, but as I sifted through the research it became obvious that these claims were nonsense, cobbled together from denial, disinformation and obvious lies. I ended up writing a number of articles, including a series for AIDS Treatment News debunking the denialist arguments point by point. That’s when the suicide cult got mad.

A trio of particularly militant types began stalking me around San Francisco, screaming “Murderer!” at me in the street. Another – the author of a particularly wacky little AIDS denialist book – threatened to sue me for libel for pointing out how nonsensical and dangerous her ideas were (she never sued, of course). These four individuals, whom I’ve chosen not to name out of respect for their families, all have one thing in common:

They’re dead.

All four – ranging in age from late 30s to about 50 – died from “mysterious” infections that they went to their graves believing could not possibly be related to that “harmless passenger virus” called HIV. Even though effective anti-HIV drug combinations were in wide and successful use by the time their health began to crash, belief in their suicide cult won out over willingness to even consider the possibility that their belief system was mistaken.

AIDS denial was a suicide cult, though its followers didn't know itOf course, these people didn’t know they were in a suicide cult. Like all cultists, they’d learned to shut out any information that contradicted their beliefs — so thoroughly that they couldn’t hear the messages their failing bodies were frantically trying to send them.

My recent exchanges with the climate change denial cult feel eerily similar. They don’t have facts; they have sound bites and rhetorical tricks that they put up like a Berlin Wall to shut out contradictory information. When all else fails, they crank up the volume and ratchet up the ridicule.

Of course, there’s one big difference: The HIV deniers’ suicide cult couldn’t hurt anyone but themselves and the few unfortunate souls they managed to convince with their propaganda. But the climate isn’t like personal health decisions. We can’t address this crisis unless the world’s governments choose to act, and if the climate change denial crowd manages to stop them, we’re all in trouble.

And right now, this particular suicide cult runs the U. S. government.

Bruce Mirken is Greenlining’s Media Relations Director. Follow him on Twitter.


Stereotypes, Snickers and Everyday Bigotry

Looking for a tasteless Halloween costume? A company that I prefer not to name will happily sell you a “Sexy Women’s 4 Piece Indian Chief” costume for $69.95 plus shipping. And yes, it’s as tacky, demeaning and stereotypical as you might imagine. And it’s just the tip of the commercial bigotry iceberg. Plenty of companies will happily sell you Halloween costumes based on sexist and racist stereotypes.

You look at some of this stuff and think, “Really? In 2018???” Yeah, this stuff is still here.

Joe Jitsu is an example of the casual bigotry and stereotypes that are less common now but still persists
Joe Jitsu character from the “Dick Tracy” cartoons

In fairness, these sorts of crude stereotypes occur in pop culture less frequently now than when I was a child in the 1960s. I vividly remember watching “Dick Tracy” cartoons at the age of seven or eight and seeing a character named Joe Jitsu, drawn as a slant-eyed Asian caricature. TV commercials sold a popular brand of corn chips using a character called the Frito Bandito who survived into the 1970s – and yes, it was as bad as the name suggests. One could go on for hours describing obnoxious stereotypes of African Americans, gays and pretty much any other ethnic or cultural group you care to name that showed up regularly in ads, TV, movies, etc.

While everyday bigotry of this sort has mostly faded from pop culture, it’s found a new amplifier in social media. Who can forget the obnoxious image of President Obama’s face photoshopped onto an image of an African in stereotypical native garb, complete with a bone through his nose?

I wish I could say such garbage was the exclusive province of the far right, but it’s not.

Not long ago a gun control activist – the father of a shooting victim and a man I genuinely admire – responded to that rather odd White House meeting between President Trump and Kanye west by sharing a “humorous meme.” It showed an image of Trump and West, apparently naked (mercifully shown from above the waist only), with West laying his head on Trump’s chest in an affectionate embrace – a snickering use of suggestions of male intimacy as an insult.

So I tweeted back a request that the activist please refrain from sharing such homophobic memes. His response was, roughly, “Oh, I didn’t mean anything by it. I just thought it was funny.”

I have no doubt that he didn’t mean anything by it, just like the ad agency behind the Frito Bandito didn’t mean to insult Mexican Americans and the “Dick Tracy” creators didn’t mean to insult Asians. They, too, “just thought it was funny,” but it wasn’t. It’s not. At least not if you’re the one being made fun of. Then it feels like bigotry.

As I explained in a followup to that gun control activist: Somewhere there’s a gay 13-year-old who’s alone and confused, and feeling worse right now because he keeps seeing affection between two men being used as a joke or an insult. It doesn’t matter how innocent your intent may be, this sort of thing does hurt. I know. I was that kid, a long time ago.

The second time around, it felt like he got it.

I can already hear some readers slamming me for “political correctness,” but political correctness is just the right-wing term for treating people with respect. Everyday bigotry has consequences, even if they aren’t obvious to those who perpetrate it.

Bruce Mirken is Greenlining’s Media Relations Director. Follow him on Twitter.

California Ballot Guide, November 2018 — Resist!

Californians can #RESIST this November by voting on key statewide propositions that invest in people, not corporations.  Given California’s housing crisis, it is no coincidence that many of our most contested measures relate to California’s housing crisis. Californians can fund key issues related to housing and protect vital transportation funding and say no to giving more tax breaks to the wealthy. Our California Ballot Guide gives the specifics.

If you’re not sure whether you’re registered to vote, you can find out by visiting the California Secretary of State’s voter status page, where you can also find your polling place and other useful information. The voter registration deadline for this November’s election is October 22. You can register online here. We strongly urge you to register, vote, and #resist!

Greenlining Institute California ballot guide, November 2018
Greenlining’s California Ballot Guide — #Resist!

Tales of White Privilege – Police Edition

police protect and serveFrom time to time I’ve written here about my experiences of White privilege – sometimes to incredulous responses from White readers who steadfastly refuse to believe that White privilege exists. Well, it does, and I saw it again during a recent vacation in Utah, when a highway mishap caused me to need help from the police.

Though police shootings of unarmed, young,  Black men don’t get the headlines they did a couple years ago, they keep happening – as the family of Antwon Rose knows far too well. White folks like me simply don’t live in the same world when it comes to encounters with police officers, as my recent experience reminded me.

I was driving up Interstate 15, heading back to my hotel after a day of hiking in beautiful (but unspeakably hot) Zion National Park when, out of nowhere, a massive semi truck sideswiped me.  I was able to get out of its way before the encounter became deadly, but the repairs to my car will cost something north of $3,000. After hitting me, the truck kept on going, ignoring my frantic honking. I pulled out my phone and managed to snap a couple photos of the hit-and-run trucker, but that was all I could do.

Needing gas, I pulled off at the next gas station to fill up and try to calm down. Happily, a Utah Highway Patrol car pulled in at the same moment. Without hesitation, I walked up to the officer and explained what had just happened. I should probably mention that – after a day of hiking in 100-degree heat and a near-death experience minutes before – I was tired, sweaty, disheveled, and generally disreputable-looking.

The officer was unfailingly polite and helpful. After looking at my photos of the hit-and-run trucker, he radioed ahead to colleagues down the road, who found the truck and pulled it over.  The officers got all the information, wrote up a report, and were consistently respectful to both me and the truck driver, who turned out to be a White woman.

None of this should be remarkable. And for White people, it’s not. That’s where white privilege comes in.

Black parents almost universally feel the need to have a discussion with their children about police that’s become known as “The Talk.”  Details will vary, but it typically includes things like: “Don’t go out with friends all wearing the same colors because you’ll be assumed to be gang members. If you must interact with police, keep your hands visible at all times. Use your Sunday school manners and don’t talk back. Make no sudden movements. Don’t give them an excuse to kill you.

In fairness, as a White kid in the suburbs, I got a talk from my dad about the police as well. I remember it well enough to give it to you nearly word-for-word:

“If you’re ever lost or need help, look for a police officer. The police are your friends.”

Until every child of every race or ethnicity can get that version of The Talk from their parents, we need to grapple with the reality of White privilege and its deadly consequences.

Bruce Mirken is Greenlining’s Media Relations Director. Follow him on Twitter.

Greenlining’s 24th Economic Summit in Oakland Trended on Twitter

Each year, Greenlining’s Economic Summit brings together a diverse array of leaders (public policy advocates, government leaders, grassroots organizers, and students) to connect, brainstorm, celebrate and strategize on important economic issues affecting communities of color. Our Economic Summit is usually held in California (San Francisco, Oakland, or Los Angeles).

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Attend Greenlining’s 2018 Economic Summit

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On April 14, 2017, The Greenlining Institute held our 24th annual Economic Summit in our hometown Oakland, California. We zeroed in on specific issues of particular urgency: the fight to preserve healthcare as President Trump and Congress continue to attack the Affordable Care Act, strategies to build wealth in communities of color, and the role of racial justice in the climate justice movement.

2017’s Summit was all about resistance, persistence, and strength-building.


We have the power and passion to write the next chapter of this nation.

– Orson Aguilar, Greenlining President


Here are some Twitter reactions to Greenlining’s annual racial justice and policy convening:

1. Showing solidarity

2. We woke up like this

3. Celebrating disruptive advocates

4. Alicia Garza. Enough said.

5. Fulfillment

6. Deeply felt conversations

7. Trust Black women, always

8. My excitement when I found out we were trending

9. Closing out with next-level artists

See you at this year’s Economic Summit! #Greenlining 25

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Attend Greenlining’s 2018 Economic Summit

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Conrad Contreras is Greenlining’s Senior Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter @conradc.

Who Will Save Journalism?

As both a citizen and an advocate, I’m terrified by what’s happening to journalism in America. We seem to be watching the disintegration of the news business, and no one seems to know what to do about it.

Here at The Greenlining Institute, we change policy the old-fashioned way: by doing research, listening to communities, and trying to put what we learn into ideas that will help level the playing field for people and communities for whom the “American Dream” has too often seemed like a distant, improbable fantasy. Then we try to persuade those with power – legislators, regulators, corporate leaders – to put those ideas into action. That can only work in a society in which the people know what’s going on, and politicians and corporate leaders know they know.

Taking the News Out of the News Business

But the news business is sick – in part because the owners of some news businesses are poisoning it.

On April 6, the Denver Post published an extraordinary editorial asking to be rescued from its corporate owner, Alden Global Capital, which owns Digital First Media. In nearly 62 years on this planet, I’ve never, ever seen a newspaper editorial like this:

We call for action. Consider this editorial and this Sunday’s Perspective offerings a plea to Alden — owner of Digital First Media, one of the largest newspaper chains in the country — to rethink its business strategy across all its newspaper holdings. Consider this also a signal to our community and civic leaders that they ought to demand better. Denver deserves a newspaper owner who supports its newsroom. If Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell The Post to owners who will.

The Post has seen brutal cutbacks, as have most papers in the Digital First chain – including the East Bay Times and Mercury News (whose executive editor, Neil Chase, publicly backed his Denver colleagues on Twitter and then in a column), and most of the major suburban papers in southern California.

A decimated newsroom. Can the Denver Post do journalism without journalists?
A decimated newsroom. Can the Denver Post do journalism without journalists?

This past weekend weekend, the rebellion spread to the Boulder Daily Camera, another Digital First paper that’s seen severe cutbacks.

Yes, the news business faces complicated economics right now – especially so for newspapers. Print readership has declined in favor of online reading, with many getting their news via social media feeds. And right now neither mode of delivery generates the level of ad revenue that newspapers brought in back in the good old days. It’s tough out there. But some, including the New York Times and Washington Post, are thriving.

That’s great for big, national stories. But who’s watching the city halls and statehouses, the police commissions, school boards and public utilities commissions? That used to be the job of local newspapers, and no one is stepping in to fill that void — at least not on the scale that’s needed.

Local TV news has never been great for that sort of thing, mostly preferring car crashes and sensational crime stories (“if it bleeds, it leads,” the saying goes) to nuts and bolts journalism on issues and policy.  And even that seems to be under increasing threat now that the Sinclair Broadcast Group – which owns 170 local TV stations and is trying to acquire more – has moved from merely leaning conservative into peddling overt propaganda.

Can We Rescue Journalism?

If democracy depends on an informed populace – and it does – we are in deep trouble.

So what’s a person to do? For one thing, recognize that good reporting costs money, and invest a bit of your own.  Find a few pennies to donate to the growing body of great, nonprofit journalism outfits like Reveal and CalMatters, and whatever nonprofit local outlets – online, TV/radio, or whatever – exist near you.  And if your local newspaper isn’t owned by Digital First Media, buy a print or online subscription.

And if your local paper is owned by Digital First? I genuinely don’t know. No doubt further drops in subscriptions and advertising would be used to justify even more staff cuts, but nothing in the company’s behavior suggests that additional revenue would go to restoring decimated editorial staffs (for the record, Neil Chase wants you to subscribe). The best I can suggest for now – and if anyone has further ideas, please post them in the comments section — is to follow Digital First Media Workers (on Twitter as @dfmworkers), the union organization working to protect its 1,000 members at the Digital First properties and hoping to organize the rest. As a union, their first obligation is, of course, to their members — many of whom haven’t had a raise in years.  But they’re also keenly aware of the role journalism plays in bolstering communities and keeping politicians honest, and realize this fight goes well beyond their members or prospective members.

I feel bad asking you to care about one more thing at a moment when America already feels like it’s in a state of near-permanent crisis fatigue. But remember, there’s a reason the news business is the only private enterprise singled out for protection in the Bill of Rights.

Bruce Mirken is Greenlining’s Media Relations Director. Follow him on Twitter.

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Keep up with Greenlining’s latest developments

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Why I Don’t Speak Spanish: The Collateral Damage of Prejudice

I wish I knew how to speak Spanish. Not only would it be incredibly useful in my current job here at Greenlining, I can think of hundreds of occasions in the past when it would have helped. But I don’t speak Spanish for precisely one reason: prejudice.

Speak Spanish
Photo by Paul Sableman

In 6th grade – the last year of grade school in my district – we’d learned a smattering of Spanish via a teacher who came into our class once a week, Señora Rosa. Starting middle school the next year (1968, for anyone who’s counting – but please don’t) offered me my first chance to take a foreign language class every day. With a small head start on Spanish it seemed logical to continue rather than switch to French, which was the other alternative my school offered.

My father talked me out of it. He said, in essence,

“Nothing important happens in Mexico or South America. Learning Spanish is a waste.”

Bear in mind that we lived in Los Angeles County, on a street called La Tijera Blvd. The nearest other major streets were La Cienega Blvd., Centinela Ave. and La Brea Ave. Yet my dad could see no value in being able to speak Spanish. He believed that the world’s centers of thought, science and culture resided in the U.S. and northern Europe, where people mostly spoke English, French or German. Given the intensity of the Cold War back then, he’d probably have counted Russian as significant, too.

La Tijera Blvd

My parents did not consider themselves bigots, and they certainly were not haters. But prejudice doesn’t always involve hate, and it’s often unconscious.

My dad had an Ivy League education: Cornell University, followed by Harvard Medical School. While I don’t know what courses he took, I’d bet money his education never exposed him to Latin American literature or culture. And he surely believed that if something was important, the prestigious schools he attended would have taught it to him. That implicates at least two layers of prejudice: On the part of his professors, for ignoring the intellectual and cultural output of big chunks of the world, and his own, for simply accepting that the (white, almost all male) faculty knew what was important.

My dad was a smart man who could have looked beyond what he was taught and probed for the underlying prejudice. He didn’t, just like most Americans don’t, then or now. As a result – not having the intellectual wherewithal at age 11 to argue with him – I don’t speak Spanish.

I took French. And after seven years of it in middle school, high school and college, I got pretty good – able to read nearly anything, so long as I kept an English-French dictionary handy in order to look up the occasional unfamiliar word.

Forty years later, I remember almost none of it, having had virtually no chance after graduation to use the French I’d learned.

I wish I could speak Spanish.

Bruce Mirken is Greenlining’s Media Relations Director. Follow him on Twitter.

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 @brucemirken shares how he could’ve & should’ve learned Spanish at a young age, but didn’t… because of prejudice.

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