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Are Current Protests Effective?

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One key focus of Black History month is the success that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement and specifically the role of protest in achieving those successes.

Recently, there have been protests after the incidents involving Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in New York City and Trayvon Martin in Florida. Unfortunately, in these cases it is hard to find any successes. The police officers in Ferguson and New York have not been charged. Just yesterday, the DOJ (Department of Justice) declined to charge Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Given these failures, it is time to ask the following questions. Are the current protests effective? If these protests are not effective, then why do we keep doing them?

It should be noted that I am not the only one asking these questions. Apparently, Reverend Al Sharpton has many of these same questions. On February 7, 2015 the Washington Post published a very interesting article entitled, “The public life and private doubts of Al Sharpton” by Eli Saslow. This article shows how long Reverend Sharpton has been using protest and activism to advance the cause of the black community. During the article Reverend Sharpton makes some pointed observations and asks some very relevant questions. Here is a quote:

“We come after a generation that was movement motivated,” Sharpton said. “They started with nothing and took down apartheid, and what have we done so far that compares to that? That bothers me. That haunts me.”

“I got a radio show, a TV show, a direct line to the president, and what good is all that if I still can’t get something done when they choke a guy out on tape?”

Whether you like or dislike Reverend Sharpton, the questions that he asks are very relevant. It often seems that we continue to pursue a protest strategy because that strategy was so effective in the past. However, it should be obvious to everyone in the black community that we are no longer seeing the same level of progress.

Moreover, I believe that we are not going to have the same gains because the situation in America has changed dramatically. We now have large numbers of black elected officials including a Black President. We have more successful black entertainers, athletes and business people than ever. In spite of this progress, I know that there will be immediate responses from those who are invested in the protest approach. They will point out that there have been attacks on black voting rights. They will correctly note that bad policing and educational achievement disparities still plague our community. I agree wholeheartedly that these problems still exist in the black community. I just don’t think that protesting is going to lead to solutions.

In fact, over the past 20-30 years, the effort put into protesting has had diminishing returns. Yet many in our community refuse to confront this reality. Black History Month is an excellent time for us to finally confront this reality. We should note that Black History television programs and movies are limited and only can only show an oversimplification of history. They don’t show the goal setting and planning that occurred before the protests. We do not get any analysis of failures. We seldom see the decisions to “not protest”. I wonder if people are attempting to emulate previous Civil Rights protests without actually thinking about whether or not they will be effective.

I believe that today’s protestors are sincere and are working hard to bring change to their communities. However, sincerity is not enough. Given recent setbacks it may be time to rethink our strategy.

Finally, a lack of success can lead people to become very frustrated. This frustration causes people to make sweeping statements such as, “Things for blacks have not really improved” or “We are just as bad off as we were before”. These are not only untrue but they discredit the achievements made by those who came before us.

The best way to address this frustration is to realize that today’s protests are not going to yield the same level of results that we saw in the 1950’s and 60’s. Let’s use Black History Month as a time to not only celebrate past success but to also look beyond those successes to new and better strategies.

Kevin Martin is an Executive Recruiter and former technology entrepreneur. He can be reached at By1989@pacificnet.net

Endless Plastic Bags Smother Planet Earth

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(NNPA) Maybe it has always been like this. If so, I am not sure precisely what triggered my new concern. But in either case, there seems to be an exceptional amount of plastic on highways, streets, in bushes, etc. It is mainly in the form of used plastic bags.

I became aware that it was entering my consciousness a few weeks ago. I was driving and noticed that there was a lot of trash along a major road in my neighborhood. I noticed that, day after day would pass and it would still be there. But it was not only in my neighborhood.

I started wondering whether it was just a matter of the wind, that all of this plastic was around. That there were wind-tunnels created and the plastic bags were accumulating. I have not been able to figure it out, exactly, but I have come to a few conclusions.

The most obvious is that, as individuals, many of us simply do not care about the planet. When we are finished with something, such as a plastic bag, we are content to let it drop and float away. The second conclusion is that we are increasingly witnessing the impact of the destruction of the public sector. There are fewer city, county and state workers to take care of our streets and roads. More often than not, I see groups of prisoners dressed in their bright, orange attire, doing clean-up. Other times I see no one.

A third conclusion is that we live in a society that creates so much waste and really does not know what to do with it. So, these plastic bags fly around, after we have used them, and start to wrap themselves around trees. I am sure that you have seen this. And they smother the trees over time. Or, they fly into the rivers, ponds, and lakes, eventually making it into the ocean, to be consumed by sea life that can never digest them and, therefore, die. Yet, most of us act more as if it is nothing more than a nuisance rather than a sign of collapse.

The solution goes far beyond recycling, as important as that step actually is. It is really about priorities. What sorts of packaging should we use? Yes, maybe some packaging will cost a little more, but so what? Yes, when we get tired of something, we should restrain ourselves from just dropping it where we want, whether it is a plastic bag or a toxic waste dump.

So, when you are driving down the road and see those plastic bags smothering the trees or when they get stuck to the bottom of your car so that you are forever smelling burnt plastic, remember that this is a symptom of a society that has said, in so many words, we do not care what comes next.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Life According to the Movies – Selma

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I enjoy watching movies and like many people especially enjoy movies that are “Based on a True Story” or “Based on actual events”. These statements imply that these movies are more “true” or at least less fictional than the average movie. However, my research has shown that most movies that claim to be based on a true story are often extremely inaccurate with respect to key plot points and characters. Shockingly, many of the most memorable scenes in these in movies never actually happened.

Accusations that supposedly true movies are inaccurate have been leveled at a number of films. The movie “Selma” is just the most recent movie to experience this controversy. Some have suggested that Selma was not nominated for many awards because of its historical inaccuracies. If this is true then the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is selectively applying these criteria. AMPAS has in fact already given out a “Best Picture” Oscar award to a movie that had major historical inaccuracies. More on that in a minute.

I first became interested in this issue because of the controversy surrounding Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in the 1999 film, “The Hurricane”. There was a great deal of criticism that the film had historical inaccuracies. Denzel Washington was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar and some have suggested that he did not win because of this criticism.

Some of the criticism was probably correct specifically, that Carter’s loss to the Middleweight champion and was in fact not due to racist judging. Yet this criticism is beside the point. If Denzel’s performance was the best of the year he deserved to win an Oscar, in spite of any historical errors.

How can I make this statement? That’s easy, I simply point to the 1957 movie, “The Bridge Over the River Kwai”. This movie won seven academy awards including “Best Picture”, “Best Actor” and “Best Director”. According to the AFI (American Film Institute) it is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. However it has huge inaccuracies in some of its most important plot points. The errors are so bad that British Prisoners of War who survived the building of this bridge have written books to set the record straight. The BBC and History channel have done programs discussing the real story of the building of the bridge.

The first error is that British engineering and ingenuity was required to build this bridge. This is completely ridiculous. The Japanese had excellent surveyors and engineers and did not need or get any assistance from the British to build the bridge. In fact, the captured British troops were simply slave labor along with Dutch and American prisoners of war and hundreds of thousands of civilians brought in from Burma, Malaysia, etc.

Additionally the climatic ending (which I won’t spoil) did NOT happen as shown in the film. This ending was designed to show that the triumph of the heroic “commando fighters” but the ending shown in the film never happened! The truth is that “Bridge over River Kwai” is an excellent movie with beautiful cinematography and great performances from a number of notable actors. I can see why it won numerous awards, in spite of its historical inaccuracies.

A movie’s success is based on its ability to tell a story and engage the audience. Movie makers often add or even invent pivotal scenes to add drama and heighten suspense. We should not be surprised that most movies contain “inaccuracies” no matter what they claim.

Let the awards continue to be based on movie making versus historical accuracy. Let’s also encourage people to use any movie “based on a true story” as a starting point for historical research. Hopefully watching the movie “Selma” will encourage people to learn more about Martin Luther King, President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The real stories of the people and events are actually more amazing than the movies!

Kevin Martin is an Executive Recruiter and former technology entrepreneur. He can be reached at By1989@pacificnet.net

It’s Time for Hollywood to Act Like Diversity Matters

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“Diversity is basically a description of independence. Diversity is what moves the ball for me, and I thought ‘give people a chance that have different points of view. Let the audience decide whether they like it or not. But give those voices a chance to be seen and heard.’” – Robert Redford, actor, director, and co-founder of Sundance Film Festival

(NNPA) Hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the 87th annual Academy Awards ceremony, better known as the Oscars, will either best be remembered for the uproar incited by this year’s homogenous nominations, or as a seminal moment for change in the Academy’s long, non-inclusive history.

For the first time since 1998, the stage has been set for our nation to celebrate its least diverse Oscars. In a year that saw Oscar-worthy turns from several actors of color, none were nominated in the acting categories, with all 20 acting nominations going to White actors. But the story doesn’t end there. Not a single woman stood among the five directors and 14 screenwriters nominated in those categories.

In a nation where nearly 51 percent of the population is female, how can formidable directors like Ava DuVernay for “Selma” and Angelina Jolie for “Unbroken” find themselves on the cutting room floor of the nomination selection? In a nation where, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, “Some 43% of Millennial adults are non-white, the highest share of any generation,” how does the Academy’s nominees not reflect Hollywood’s audience base or the nation in which we live?

In response to the outcry surrounding this year’s Oscar nominations, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American and third female president of the Academy, spoke to the Associated Press and pointed to progress in the Academy’s efforts to reflect our nation’s diverse, movie-going audience. She noted, “In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members,” adding, “I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”

I share her vision, but the question remains of when those words will be put into a plan of action – and championed by the broader industry.

A much-cited 2012 survey of the Academy by the Los Angeles Times demonstrates the crux of the problem. According to the survey, the estimated 7,000 Academy members are 94 percent White, 77 percent male and have a median age of 62 – hardly a representative reflection of the nation.

While my role is not to question the film credentials of the Academy’s members, I do question the ability of such a homogenous body to reflect the perspectives, lives, and stories of a diverse pool of moviemakers – and moviegoers. I would also question the ability of the Academy to monitor itself and become a more inclusive body without the pressure of public scrutiny and advocacy.

Here are a few things to note about Academy membership: membership is “limited to film artists working in the production of theatrically-released motion pictures…The Academy’s membership process is by sponsorship, not application. Candidates must be sponsored by two Academy members from the branch to which the candidate seeks admission. Additionally, Academy Award nominees are automatically considered for membership and do not require sponsors…The Board decides which individuals will receive invitations.”

The Academy’s membership requirements are both an indictment and call to action. When women and minorities are snubbed at the Oscars, it means much more than wounded gender or ethnic pride. It means that we, as a nation, have lost an opportunity to reflect our unique diversity via a medium that touches so many of our lives. It means we have lost another seat at the proverbial Oscar table.

This is about more than awards deferred; it is about dreams deferred. It is about the lack of racial and gender diversity we find both behind the screen and in front of it. It is about the inevitable way the Academy’s membership roll directly influences who gets nominated and who wins. What it is not about is an unfair advantage, but instead, a fair chance to have the work of a wider swath of our filmmakers, casts and crews considered. That must begin with a significant change in the composition of the Academy.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the strides the Academy has begun to make to address its diversity issues. Hiring Boone Isaacs as its president was an important step on the road to diversifying, and her decision to remove a cap on the number of Academy members and push for Academy members to invite a more diverse pool of people to apply are the first of many important steps that must be taken on the journey towards inclusion. But more must be done. Progress rarely comes as a result of being passive. I urge you to join me in efforts to ensure more inclusion in Hollywood so that we can look back on the 2015 Oscars as the catalyst that spurred action for much-needed industry reform.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Nigeria at a Crossroad

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By Lekan Oguntoyinbo
NNPA Columnist

Nigeria, Africa’s so-called giant and the world’s biggest Black nation, is in the news again. And as usual, much of the world is watching with considerable trepidation. On February 14, voters in this West African nation of 170 million people will go to the polls to pick a president. There are two frontrunners and for many voters it will be a tough choice.

The incumbent, a poor manager and weak leader with the curious name of Goodluck Jonathan, is running for his second and, presumably, final term. Jonathan, who has a well-earned reputation as a do-nothing president, came into office in 2010 when his ailing predecessor died in office. Despite pledging to only serve out his predecessor’s term, he ran in 2011. Now, despite a pledge to serve only one full-term, he is running again.

His opponent, Mohammed Buhari, is a septuagenarian former army general who wants his old job back. In the early 1980s, he helped overthrow a democratically-elected government and ruled Nigeria as military dictator for nearly two years. Some credit Buhari for running a government that imposed discipline on a notoriously wayward society. But many critics also remember a man who presided over a regime that muzzled the press, held people in prison without trial for long stretches and showed contempt for human rights.

Buhari says he’s now a reformed man, a committed democrat dedicated not only to the rule of law but to due process, liberty and justice. He won’t be the first former Nigerian military dictator to try to take over the reins of power once more. In 1999, another ex-general, who served as military dictator in the late ‘70s, was elected president. As his second term drew to a close, he tried to ram through a constitutional amendment that would have given him a third term (Nigeria’s constitution is modeled after that of the United States). Thankfully, he failed.

Four years earlier, another former military dictator credited with doing so much to ruin the country tried unsuccessfully to sneak back into office.

It’s not the first time Buhari has tried to get his old job back. In 2011, he ran against Jonathan and lost a race that observers failed to declare free and fair. His supporters rioted for weeks. Thousands of people died.

Nigeria has been a democratic country for less than half the 54 years it’s been independent from Great Britain. Free and fair elections are the exception, not the norm.

But now the stakes are much higher. Many analysts believe Buhari is a much stronger – and smarter candidate this time around. And more Nigerians have come to recognize that Jonathan may not be up to the job.

In the five years Jonathan has been in office, attacks in the northeastern region of the country by the terrorist group Boko Haram have intensified. Nigeria’s ill-equipped and poorly trained military has tried to fight back but it is clear that they are no match for the Islamic terrorists. Human rights group estimate that about 10,000 people have been killed in the last five years, but the number is likely much higher.

A few weeks ago – around the same time that the world was mourning the deaths of 17 French citizens killed by terrorists – Boko Haram soldiers marched through a section of one state, sacking numerous towns and villages and burning them to the ground. At least 2,000 people were estimated to have been killed. The massacre commanded only a fraction of the attention given the killings in Paris. World leaders did not converge on the Nigerian capital Abuja for a solidarity march.

Weeks went by and Nigeria’s president did not utter a word –and neither did Buhari.

In the meantime, the conflict with Boko Haram has drawn in several neighboring countries, including Niger, Cameroon and Chad. Nigeria is the rock of the West African subcontinent. It is the region’s wealthiest and most powerful country. It is one of the world’s three fastest-growing economies. It is also of vital strategic and economic importance to the United States and many other leading industrial nations.

Nigeria is one of the biggest oil suppliers to the United States. Constant flow of oil from the delta region helps keep prices at the pump relatively low here. For decades, Nigeria has played a key role in peacekeeping efforts in Africa and around the world. Nigeria is also a reliable ally of the United States in the so-called war against terrorism. There is some concern that post-election unrest could destabilize Nigeria. With destabilization could come a domino effect for many nearby nations – and ultimately for the rest of the world.

Even in a country with a long history of flawed elections, every election is important. But this election is particularly important – for Nigeria and the rest of the world.

Lekan Oguntoyinbo, a national award-winning writer, is an independent journalist. Contact him at oguntoyinbo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @oguntoyinbo.

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