#MeToo and the (2nd) Cosby trial

From the moment Montgomery County prosecutors decided to take another crack at Bill Cosby after a mistrial less than a year ago, critics have speculated about how the growing #MeToo movement would affect what went on in the courtroom. In the wake of Cosby’s Image result for #metoo protestconviction yesterday, on three counts of aggravated assault, pundits rushed to the airwaves and their keyboards declaring that the movement mattered.

It’s worthwhile to think about how.

The raft of studies on social movement outcomes mostly ignores court cases, focusing instead on policy, politics, and personal lives. All provide somewhat easier settings in which to assess influence. Courts aren’t supposed to be swayed by the world outside. The notion that a movement might influence the outcomes of legal proceedings absent a change in law invokes a kind of examination that is necessarily more speculative than what usually passes in social science journals–but more rigorous and analytical than found in the best journalism.

Courts are supposed to decide cases, not causes. Judges work to wall off the influence of politics and personal biases in shaping the scope of evidence presented in a trial. They instruct jurors to ignore outside influence and focus on presented evidence and the law.

But, because trials take place on Earth–and in specific places and times–some degree of outside influence is unavoidable, and certainly not always good. Egregious decisions, say convicting John Scopes or acquitting racists who murdered civil rights workers, are larded in the nation’s history.  Right now, jurors are notoriously reluctant to convict police officers of killing unarmed Black men–if they can be convinced that the police were doing their best. Such things aren’t absolute or inevitable.

Movements can affect the world in which trials take place and the many decisions attorneys, judges and jurors make–all within the letter of the law.

In this Cosby case, Montgomery County prosecutors chose to pursue charges against a famous and well-heeled offender for criminal acts committed in 2004. The trial would be expensive and time-consuming, and it’s hard to think they would have taken it on without Image result for Cosby courthousethinking they could win. They charged Cosby with assaults committed against one person, but could not help but know that scores of other women had reported similar stories of assaults over the previous thirty years.

The movement publicized those stories, suggesting support for those who would go public with their own experiences.  Activism made it slightly less difficult and risky for women to come forward, and more likely that their stories would be heard and believed, and that they could find and afford lawyers. This is one way coming out works to build a movement.

When the jury hung in the first trial, prosecutors again calculated the prospect of another trial. It’s understandable that an elected District Attorney would be attentive to public opinion on Cosby and on sexual assault. (See Jia Tolentino’s sharp recounting of the tale of the Cosby trials.)

The judge in the second trial ruled that the prosecution could present five witnesses to establish Cosby’s pattern of conduct with young women, while only one such witness testified in the first case. Of course, this testimony made it easier to believe Andrea Constand. Surely, the judge knew there were more than 50 other women who had been testifying outside the courtroom.

It’s hard to think that the jurors, even ones who hadn’t heard about Cosby’s previous offenses, would have been able to avoid all discussion of sexual assault in the entertainment industry since #MeToo. The flood of stories of exploitation and assault in the industry made the charges against Cosby more credible–and no less horrifying.

The guilty verdict provided a kind of moral vindication, not only for Constand, but for 59 other women who had told their stories about Cosby, and possibly the much larger Image result for Courtroom protest, sexual assaultnumber abused by wealthy and powerful men (see this take by Judy Huch). But the criminal court provided no restitution. The victims are still left to find their own ways to move on with their lives. We hope that solidarity with others who came forward provides some help.

The promising story here is that the Cosby verdict reflects larger changes in the world, that today’s television stars won’t be able to accumulate decades-long histories of abuse and assault, and that it will be harder to stay silent about sexual assault. A jury ruled in only one case, but just giving that jury the chance to consider the facts in that case was a movement victory.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cesar Chavez Day, 2018

(recycled, augmented, and reedited)

Less tImage result for edna chavez speech, stephon clarkhan a week after Edna Chavez, the charismatic seventeen year old high schooler from South Los Angeles, electrified a national crowd with a demand to end gun violence, Californians celebrate the legacy of another Chavez.

On my campus, we commemorated Cesar Chavez Day today, rather than March 31 (his birthday), by closing.  The state established the holiday in 2000, and six other states have followed suit.  In California, the legislature calls upon public schools to develop appropriate curricula to teach about the farm labor movement in the United States, and particularly Chavez’s role in it.

A campaign to establish a national holiday has stalled so far (The Cesar Chavez National holiday websiteseems to have last been updated in 2008), but last year President Obama issued a proclamation announcing a day of commemoration, and calling upon all Americans “to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor Cesar Chavez’s enduring legacy.”

Political figures have many reasons for creating holidays, including remembering the past; identifying heroic models for the future; recognizing and cultivating a political constituency; and providing an occasion to appreciate a set of values.  Regardless of the original meaning, the holidays take on new meanings over time.  Columbus Day, for example, is celebrated as an occasion for pride in Italian Americans (e.g.), and commemorated and mourned as a symbol of genocide  and empire (e.g.).

Cesar Chavez’s life and work is well worth remembering and considering, particularly now.  His career as a crusader was far longer than that of Martin Luther King discussed (here and here) and he was far more of an organizer than Fred Korematsu (discussed here).  Chavez’s Medal of Freedom was awarded shortly after his death in 1993, by President Clinton, but many of his accomplishments were apparent well before then.

Dolores Huerta, 2009

As a young man, Chavez was an agricultural worker; by his mid-twenties, he became a civil rights organizer, working for the Community Service Organization in California.  With Dolores Huerta, in 1962 Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers.  Focusing on poor, mostly Mexican-American workers, Chavez’s vision for activism was right at the cornerstone of racial and economic justice.  Establishing an organization, however, is a long way from winning recognition and bargaining rights as a union.

Chavez was a tactician, a public figure, a charismatic, and something of a mystic.  Modeling his efforts after Gandhi’s successful campaigns, Chavez was an emphatic practitioner of active nonviolence.  He employed boycotts, strikes, long fasts, demonstrations, long marches, and religious rhetoric in the service of his cause.  He also registered voters, lobbied, and worked in political campaigns.  He was a tireless and very effective organizer for most of his life.

But holidays are best celebrated with an eye to the future, rather than the past.

On Cesar Chavez Day this year, we can think about the large and growing Latino community in the United States.  The 2010 Census reports that Latinos now comprise roughly 1/6 of the American population, and more than 1/3 of the population in California. This is the youngest and fastest-growing population in America today, and they are severely underrepresented in the top levels of politics, education, and the economy.   The civil rights map is at least as complicated as at any time in American history, but not less important or urgent.  (The struggle about the DREAM Act is reminiscent of the debate about Voting Rights 45 years ago.)  The future of American Latinos is very much the future of America.

And Chavez saw the civil rights struggle as a labor campaign.  When Chavez and Huerta started their campaign, nearly one third of Americans were represented by unions.  The percentage now is now just about 10 percent, and less in the private sector.

And public sector workers, even if represented by unions aren’t doing so well.  The ongoing conflict in Wisconsin is all about weakening unions that are already making very large concessions on wages and pensions.  The campaign in Wisconsin is part of a larger national effort, which is playing out in Indiana, Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere.  Even in states where anti-union forces are weaker, state employees face lay-offs, wage cuts, and increased health and pension costs.

This year, the Supreme Court will rule in Janus vs. AFSCME, and court watchers expect the Wisconsin model to be immediately exported across the country. [The wildcat teachers strikes in West Virginia, and now Kentucky, with credible threats in Oklahoma and Arizona, offer the hint of a new resurgent labor… more later.]

But, we need to remember that you can’t attack teachers, nurses, police officers, and firefighters without hurting the people they serve: us.

Or should I say, US?

We commemorate the past to help guide the future. Edna Chavez, working in an urban setting far from Cesar Chavez’s organizing, carries the legacy forward, and adds more.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

#BlackLivesMatter & #NeverAgain

Edna Chavez, a student leader from South Los Angeles, spoke powerfully at Saturday’s rally, and stood up for Stephon Clark. (I missed it the first time through, overwhelmed by the crowd chanting the name of her murdered brother, “Ricardo.”)

In addition to sharing their spotlight, the Parkland kids are working to link campaigns against gun violence, including police violence.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#MarchforOurLives and #BlackLivesMatter: more to come…

I didn’t hear Stephon Clark’s name at the spectacular Washington, DC March for Our Lives.

Days before, Sacramento police shot and killed Clark in his grandmother’s backyard. They thought they saw Clark holding a gun, and fired 20 times to protect themselves and the neighborhood. No gun was recovered, only a cell phone near Clark’s body.

The next day, demonstrators closed off the interstate protesting a tragic instance of gun violence, which didn’t quite fit into the gun control agenda at the demonstration. But the young organizers are working hard to deal with the complicated dynamics of race.

The savvy Parkland kids know that they are riding a (mostly) positive wave of mainstream attention. [They’ve bravely taken a beating from trolls on social and partisan media–another part of contemporary movement politics.] They also know how different the reception they’ve gotten is from the BlackLivesMatter activists just a few years ago. Race and class are part of the story.

These new organizers, determined to control their demonstration, kept grown-up and professional speakers off the stage. In a striking reversal of the typical large demonstration, the oldest people with access to a mic were the performers, all in their 20s and 30s.

The Parkland kids were determined to share their moment and their spotlight with black and brown kids who had also lost friends and family to gun violence, and not just in schools.

The seventeen speakers included the key organizers from Stoneman Douglas, who threw attention to powerful speakers from Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

Junior class president Jaclyn Corin acknowledged their spotlight in her speech:

We recognize that Parkland received more attention because of its affluence, But we share this stage today and forever with those communities who have always stared down the barrel of a gun.”

She then introduced Yolanda Renee King, Martin Luther Student Gun ProtestsKing’s 9 year old grandaughter, who claimed the moment in talking about her dream.

Both the podium and the attendees were a far more colorful crowd than a typical national demonstration. The speakers were all very clear that gun violence was a bigger problem than school safety, and they were determined to take it on. They want safer stores, streets, and communities.

The Parkland kids displayed a sophistication about politics that people who don’t know high school students will find surprising.

Delaney Tarr, who anchored Stoneman DouglasMandatory Credit: Photo by JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9475179ae) Delaney Tarr March For Our Lives in Washington, USA - 24 Mar 2018 Delaney Tarr, a survivor of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks at during the March For Our Lives in Washington, DC, USA, 24 March 2018. March For Our Lives was organized in response to the 14 February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The student activists demand that their lives and safety become a priority, and an end to gun violence and mass shootings in schools.‘s daily newscast, was clear about the need to constantly demand more from government:

There are so very many things, so many steps to take. Like right now, sign our petition. It takes two seconds and it matters. We will take the big and we will take the small, but we will keep fighting. When they give us that inch, that bump stock ban, we will take a mile.

We are not here for bread crumbs. We are here for real change.

We are here to lead.

The Parkland kids are heroes, smart, brave, and committed. They’re confronting a difficult politics that, so far, is stacked against them. And they’re trying to do more.

But something was missing. Black Lives Matter focuses on gun violence perpetrated by police, something that escaped attention from the speaker’s rostrum. The politics of recognizing this threat is tougher, and it threatens the mainstream support the Parkland kids have won.

But it’s connected.

As a matter of policy, police who know that they might encounter well-armed miscreants in any situation are more likely to mistake a wallet or phone for something more dangerous. Fewer guns in our streets will make a difficult and dangerous job a little less so.

As a matter of politics, the Parkland kids saw police coming to their aid, a view that’s far less common in other communities. Building an effective and sustainable youth movement means incorporating the diversity of America.

March for Our Lives Emma GonzalezIt’s hard work. The Parkland kids are off to a great start; under tremendous pressure, they’ve worked very hard to build coalitions beyond their suburban enclave.

Now maybe the rest of us have to work harder at seeing connections.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Small victories for the Parkland kids matter–even if you don’t notice

Five of the brave and savvy Parkland kids are on the cover of Time magazine, a cover unlikely to appear in a frame on Donald Trump’s wall.

On the eve of this weekend’s March for Our Lives, a national demonstration supporting modest gun control measures, the kids are already making an impact.

In Florida, which has been an extremely congenial setting for gun rights advocates over the past two decades, government responded to the school shooting and the kids’ efforts by changing the laws….a little.

On March 9, 2018, Governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill that makes it a bit more difficult to buy a gun. The new law raises the age for legal purchase of a rifle from 18 to 21 and institutes a 3 day waiting period for most gun buyers. It also prohibits the sale of “bump stocks,” which allow a semi-automatic weapon to function more like an automatic weapon and fire multiple rounds more quickly.

Florida didn’t ban assault weapons like the semi-automatic rifle the school shooter used, nor did it ban the specific weapon, the AR-15. The state didn’t institute regulations on high capacity magazines, nor did it tighten background checks of potential buyers.  The legislative response was a compromise that, for the first time, recruited dozens of state legislators endorsed by the NRA to defy their sponsors…a little. [Sixty-seven state legislators risked their “A” ratings from the NRA.]

Far less than what the Parkland kids wanted, it was also a greater concession than gun rights supporters imagined they would have to make.

And it’s not just Florida:

The US Congress is about to pass an omnibus spending bill that deals the NRA a double-barreled defeat on small issues that are likely to escape much national attention.

First, the new spending bill deletes a provision passed by the House that allows a concealed carry permit issued by any state to be valid in every state. This would have meant that a permit issued in a state with few restrictions or checks, like Arizona, would be valid in more restrictive states, like California. The NRA supported the bill, and House conservatives are outraged that they’ve lost on it…for now.

Stopping the other side from making gains is also a victory, even if it doesn’t always feel like one.

Also important, the spending bill clarifies that a restriction on gun violence research implemented two decades ago does not restrict public health research on gun violence. In 1996, a Republican Congress passed a spending bill that prohibited the Centers for Disease Control  from promoting restrictions on guns and cut $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget. All concerned viewed the Dickey amendment as the death knell for Image result for Parkland kids protestfederal funding on gun violence.

You see, just a few years before someone had published a research report that showed a gun in the home was more likely to result in injury than protection for those who lived there. The NRA pushed the amendment to end research that might diminish the appeal of guns for some buyers. [Rep. Jay Dickey (Arkansas, Republican), now out of office, says he regrets the impact of the amendment he championed.]

Small victories matter in a long political battle, moving the policy debate in inches over time. The challenge, for gun rights advocates, is to get their supporters outraged over any encroachment.

The trick, for the Parkland kids and their allies, is to find and claim such victories, gracelessly, and demand more.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Students walk out for gun control; schools teach….compliance?…engagement?

Students at Yarmouth High School participate in a walkout to protest gun violence, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Yarmouth, Maine. Leaders of the rally address the crowd from the back of a pick-up truck in front of the school. Yarmouth is one of the few sc

Yarmouth High School, Maine.

The final tallies are not in on participation in the National Student Walk Out for school safety, but thousands of kids across the country have gone outdoors for a lesson on civic engagement.

This demonstration was organized on the fly, in quick response to anger and frustration from the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The kids want adults to give them safe schools, but they’re not asking for gun turrets, higher fences, or armed teachers. They want sensible gun control.

Lots of adults, including teachers and school administrators, want the same thing. So, what do you do when students, often supported by their parents, friends–and a growing national movement–get ready to break the rules?

No surprise that school districts are responding in different ways.

Some districts have committed to maintain control, scheduling official memorials and prohibiting students from leaving campus. Milpitas  (California) Superintendant Cheryl Jordan announced that while she understood that students might want to express themselves, anyone who left the building would face “consequences.” Those consequences are thus far unspecified.

Two days of suspension are in store for anyone who walks out of classes at Sayreville (New Jersey) High School. (Note: The logic of keeping someone out of school for staying out of One student walks out after NJ high school threatens to suspend any protestersschool has always escaped me.) I’m sure some students, worried about grades, homework, getting into college, and staying out of trouble, will follow the rules.

But sophomore Rosa Rodriquez walked out, scoring interviews with local radio stations and getting national coverage for her act.  I hope that, if Sayreville follows through on its promised punishment, Rosa uses the time to explain why she thinks the American gun problem merits dramatic and risky action. She’s got a good case. (The ACLU is on her side.)

The threat of punishment makes politics more contentious and dramatic, and every kid in Sayreville High School will learn a harsh lesson about what’s most important to the adults who are supposed to be looking out for them.

Tolerating and controlling protest seems the more common school strategy. The Superintendent of Schools in Irvine (California) Unified School District announced that students were free to walk out and protest, sort of:

IUSD respects students’ First Amendment right, under federal and state law, to freedom of speech in the school environment. The March 14 event is entirely student-driven and voluntary – it is not sponsored by IUSD or our schools. In accordance with state law, we will not discipline students who choose to assemble, provided they adhere to District and school guidelines:

* All activities must be peaceful and respectful.

* At no time may students leave campus.

* Students must stay in the designated areas on campus, so as to not disrupt a safe and orderly educational environment for all students and school staff.

* Students may not exceed the identified break period and must return to class when instructed by school staff.

IUSD has received legal guidance from the Orange County Department of Education that school districts may provide appropriate time and place alternatives to ensure there will be no to minimal disruption to the instructional process.

Protest is easier when authorities endorse it, but they also take the heat out of the event.

PHOTO: Students across the U.S. walked out of classes on March 14, 2018, in a nationwide call for action against gun violence following the shooting deaths last month at a Fla. high school.

In Washington, DC, students turn their backs on the White House which has failed them

More than that, authorities can take the politics out of it. The student protesters are moved by the horrific shooting that cost 17 lives in Parkland, and by all the other shootings they’ve heard about in the years since Columbine in 1999–before most of today’s protesters were born.

But they want to do more than memorialize victims; they want to address the problem of gun violence, protecting themselves and others.

This is political, and it’s contentious–moreso in some communities than others.

The students who walk out of schools that support them will have to work a little harder to see the contention–and to stoke it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#TimesUp at the Academy Awards

Oscar night offers an ideal setting for politics: celebrities, cameras, costumes, and a global Image result for #TimesUpaudience in the ten millions. The trick is to make sure the spectacle doesn’t drown out the cause, and the cause doesn’t crush the fun–too much. Activists pushing for action against sexual violence, harassment, and gender injustice more generally have a chance to exploit the large audience, and it can matter as long as the audience doesn’t feel exploited.

Sexual harassment and assault received unusual–and overdue–attention over the past few months, the result of smart activism exploiting staggering revelations of abuse.

In the last month, the clever and committed Parkland kids grabbed some of that attention for the ongoing problem of gun violence. I hope the #MeToo activists will recognize their efforts and issues as well.

When activists have a window of a few hours of national television time, the goal has to be to get the message out—clearly and sharply—without encouraging people to change channels. Activists also want to expand that window, getting people to tune into the movement before and after the big show.

Like overnight stardom, an effective protest takes preparation. In the weeks of publicity and awards campaigning already underway, the committed can promote the cause as well as their movies. Already equipped with a handy hashtag, supporters can tell their stories, and announce that there will be more action on Oscar night. Audiences are less likely to miss the message if they know something’s coming.

They can also work within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to make sure the host, Jimmy Kimmel, is on board. Maybe they can even get the Academy to announce new rules and standards for appropriate behavior (no “auditions” in hotel bedrooms off-hours?). At least the Academy can announce general support for an end to harassment and the start of gender equity.

Even before the event, actors can work to share their spotlight with the movement. Beyond naming villains, they can call out famous and less-known movement heroes. The Golden Globes provided a rehearsal; eight stars brought activists working for gender equity beyond Hollywood as their plus-ones, and on the red carpet talked about their guest and her work rather than a designer.  The basic black costumes at the Golden Globes also showed a clever innovation on the familiar cause lapel ribbons. It allowed attendees who didn’t have nominations to declare their support for #TimesUp without much effort, and made for powerful images. Organizers can go black again, design a ribbon or button, or try something new—a sash or hat. The point is to let large numbers speak without talking and push people to take a stance.

The Oscar ceremony is fundamentally about glamour and the movie business, as #MeToo must recognize. Activists have to work within the event. Long speeches that get drowned Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo march in Los Angeles on November 12, 2017. out by the orchestra as the cameras pull away don’t make for compelling politics or television. This means that the message has to be brief—a line or two, not a speech—but repeated throughout the evening. Those who get to make speeches can add a name or two to the lists of managers and agents who make victory possible. I’d hope that all the winners and presenters can “thank” an activist or two making the movement, while a chyron underneath or at least an available website provides links to groups. They can thank women who told their own stories, and people who supported them. Alyssa Milano, who started the #MeToo hashtag last year deserves recognition, and so does Tarana Burke, who started the pre-Twitter campaign in 2006. So does Moira Donegan, who kept a spreadsheet of allegations against Hollywood harassers. Of course, the exposure means more to Ms. Donegan or Ms. Burke, who do not have millions of Twitter followers.

Effective action means using the Oscars to help build something that spills off the big screen into real politics, part of a movement that continues the next day.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment