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MLK’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’ encourages civil agitation

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This is an unusual Martin Luther King Day. Usually, young people would be learning about the civil rights icon’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech—but teachers are still on strike in Los Angeles and the nation is in its fifth week of a government shut down so that lesson may be missed. And in Washington DC, the president many consider to be an outright racist felt obliged to visit the monument dedicated to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr after the backlash Vice President Mike Pence received for comparing Trump to King on CBS News’ Face the Nation.”

“The vice president attempted to compare the president to Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a bridge builder, not a wall builder,” said Martin Luther King III, according to The Atlantic staff writer Edward Isaac-Dovere on Twitter. “Martin Luther King Jr. would say, ‘Love, not hate, will make America great.’”

Others used the day differently. California Sen. Kamala Harris announced she is running for president, as expected. Sen. Cory Booker sounded like a candidate-in-waiting at an NAACP event in South Carolina. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tried to burnish his civil rights credentials, saying he attended the March on Washington as a college student and heard King speak.

And new California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a long statement that started with a quote from King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“More than 50 years after his passing, Dr. Martin Luther King’s words ring true today. They remind us that moral leadership doesn’t require a person to be in elected office or hold a position of power. Instead, exercising moral authority simply requires the will to do the right thing,” Newsom said. “I remember the quote above when I think about what’s happening in our country today. It’s almost as if Dr. King himself had imagined this moment. During this time of unprecedented tumult, from presidential Twitter tirades to the willful destruction of federal civil protections, each of us has the capacity to make a difference. Instead of giving up or losing hope, let’s gather strength from Dr. King’s legacy and use our moral authority to push for a more equitable state, society and world.”

For King, that moral push came at an extreme cost—his assassination at the hands of a right-wing racist on April 4, 1968 in Memphis. He was 39. But there were other costs, too, as King modeled how non-violent civil disobedience confronts authoritarian power—such as beatings, humiliation and jail. But here, too, King turned powerlessness into a tutorial for assuming moral authority.

On April 12, 1963, King and his associate Rev. Ralph Abernathy put on work clothes and joined marchers in their Birmingham Campaign from Sixth Avenue Baptist Church into a waiting police van. Eight members of the Birmingham clergy immediately published an ad criticizing the campaign in the Birmingham News, calling the civil rights strategy of mass street direct action “unwise and untimely.” They appealed “to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

From his jail cell, King wrote a long letter on bits of newspaper and notepads left by his lawyers that was circulated as a mimeographed copy,  then published as a pamphlet, then printed in periodicals, with a portion eventually read into the Congressional Record by New York Democrat Rep. William Fitts Ryan. A year later, King revised his letter and published it in his 1964 memoir, Why We Can’t Wait.

First King addressed being called an “outside agitator” by Sheriff Bull Connor and others before explaining the campaign’s principles and four basic steps: “collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” The purpose of direct action, he explained, was to create a confrontation that would demand negotiation.

But most of the letter dealt with the clergy’s assertions of “impatience” by the Black community and the “extreme” actions used by the campaign. He wrote:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

King cites practioners of civil disobedience, such as the American colonists who protested “taxation without representation” and threw the Boston Tea Party—underscoring that civil disobedience is based in a person’s right to refuse to submit to unjust laws. He also chided the white clergy, noting that Jesus, the apostle Paul and even Abraham Lincoln had been called “extremists” and he was proud to stand in that light. But he scorned white moderates most of all. He wrote:

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

King’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail” is archived at Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute.  Listen to King reading the letter here.

 

Once released from jail, King often used the term “outside agitator” in his sermons and speeches, according to Hedrick Smith, who covered King for the New York Times. At Southern Christian Leadership Conference meetings in Black churches in the Deep South, King created an interesting visual that took the sting out of the criminal-sounding slur. In 2016, Smith remembered how King would flip the script:

“They call me an agitator,” he would cry out from the pulpit, his voice rising to put force and menace behind the indictment leveled against him. “Well, they’re right,” he came back defiantly. “I am an agitator.”

Then softening, he’d ask puckishly: “Do you know what an agitator is?” For a moment or two, he let the question hang in the air. People looked around at each other, uncertain.

“Well, look inside your washing machine,” he went on. “There’s an agitator in there.” And he would hold out his right arm, crooked at the elbow like a muscle man showing off his might with his fist thrust upward. And then Martin – that’s what his close friends called him – would twist his right fist sharply left-right, left-right, imitating the jerky motion of the shaft inside a clothes washer. “That agitator is in there, stirring up the water, knocking the dirt out of your clothes.”

“Well, that’s what I’m doing,” Dr. King declared, still jerking his fist left-right. And the audience, catching on, would start to giggle. “I’m agitating to knock the dirt out of our society – discrimination, Jim Crow, segregation, racism. So they’re right. I am agitating – agitating to clean up our democracy. That’s what all of us need to do – agitate for a better America, a freer America, a fairer America.”

From the audience came a roar of laughter, understanding and engagement.

 

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News Analysis

Right-wing media spreads altered footage of drag queen- who sues

Libs of TikTok and other anti-LGBTQ media falsely claimed a drag queen exposed himself to minors — now the performer is suing

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Mia Gingerich | WASHINGTON – A drag queen who performed at the Idaho Pride event targeted by white nationalists in June is suing a right-wing blogger who doctored footage of his performance to falsely claim he had exposed himself to children.

Even though the video was swiftly debunked by local news, right-wing media — including Libs of TikTok’s Chaya Raichik and others who initially helped drive harassment against the Pride event — pushed the edited footage, leading to abuse against the performer. 

On June 11, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, arrested 31 members of the Patriot Front near Pride in the Park, a planned Pride event. Authorities said evidence showed the white nationalists, who had gathered at the park from across the country, were planning to riot at the event and in multiple areas around the town. Patriot Front has a history of anti-LGBTQ actions, including burning trans pride flags and vandalizing a memorial for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated it as a hate group.

The event was also targeted by a far-right biker group that announced it was holding an event nearby at the same time as Pride in the Park, with organizers saying there were “going to be going after the groomers” while alluding to possible violence. 

One of the performers at the event was Eric Posey, whose drag name is Mona Liza Million. Following Pride in the Park, right-wing blogger Summer Bushnell posted footage from Posey’s performance that blurred his crotch. In her posts, Bushnell erroneously claimed Posey had exposed himself to minors and called for her audience to report the video to police. The video, which was debunked by local news two days after the event was held, led to harassment against Posey after it went viral on social media. Now Posey is suing Bushnell, claiming she defamed him in an effort to gain popularity as part of the nationwide effort to malign LGBTQ people and Pride Month events.

A key instigator in manufacturing outrage over the event was Chaya Raichik, who runs the social media account “Libs of TikTok.” Raichik not only targeted Pride in the Park after Idaho-based white nationalist Dave Reilly called for her to do so, but she also helped spread Bushnell’s video weeks after it had been debunked by both the media and authorities. On July 31, Raichik retweeted a tweet with Bushnell’s video and calling Posey a “pedophile,” with Raichik adding, “This is what a ‘family-friendly’ drag show looks like.” Commenters reacting to Raichik’s post falsely accused Posey of being a “groomer” and “pedophile,” while others threatened extreme acts of violence against him, including multiple threats to castrate him.

Although the tweet she quoted was later removed for violating Twitter’s rule on hateful conduct, Raichik’s tweet was never deleted. 

Raichik was joined in sharing the doctored video by anti-LGBTQ trolls including right-wing podcaster Liz Wheeler and Gays Against Groomers, with the latter writing, “If gay rights do get rolled back, it will only be because of things like this.”

The renewed social media pickup of the doctored video led to an article published by right-wing blog Post Millennial headlined “Drag queen accused of exposing self to children at ‘family friendly’ Pride event.” The article promoted conspiracy theories that antifa was involved in targeting the Idaho Pride event, and the header for the article included a still from Bushnell’s video, with the edited video embedded.  

The Idaho Family Policy Center, a right-wing Christian nonprofit that partners with extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom and multiple other anti-LGBTQ organizations, posted a petition on September 8 denying law enforcement’s debunking of the video and claiming it had “reviewed the unedited footage and can confirm it portrays public exposure of the performer’s genitalia.” Included with the petition, which called for drag performances to be banned from taking place around children, was a still from Bushnell’s video. The petition remains active as of publication date. 

Far-right conspiracy theory outlet Infowars posted an article also featuring a still from the doctored video. The article suggested the targeting of the event by Patriot Front was “a federal false flag operation” and criticized the “mainstream media” for “ignoring a potential child sex crime occurring at the very same event.”

The article cited a press release from the local sheriff’s department saying police were investigating the video. The announcement came after a local outlet had already debunked the claims and released the unedited video, and despite law enforcement officials acknowledging that their investigation stemmed entirely from reports by individuals who had seen Bushnell’s doctored footage and none of whom had seen the performance in person. The stunt culminated on July 1 with the city prosecutor stating what had been demonstrated weeks earlier — Posey had not exposed himself. 

Disregarding available evidence, right-wing media widely used the release to push the false narrative and disseminate the doctored footage. Stephanie Hamill, a contributing writer for Media Research Center and ambassador for Turning Point USA, tweeted Bushnell’s video while adding that the “dancer’s genitals were reportedly exposed on the main stage with children viewing the ‘dance.’”

Right-wing author Janie Johnson tweeted a link to the video to her nearly 200,000 followers, attempting to excuse the white nationalists who targeted the event and writing, “Wonder what ticked the Idaho dads? This drag demon exposed himself to children.” 

The incident is nearly identical to another manufactured controversy pushed by right-wing media in which an edited photo of a drag performer reading to children at a library in 2019 was blurred and paired with the claim that they were exposing themselves to children. That smear, too, was quickly debunked, which did not prevent the ensuing harassment and an attempt from lawmakers to strip libraries of their funding.   

The targeting of Posey and the broader attacks on Pride in the Park followed an escalating campaign of harassment against drag and Pride Month events that falsely accused participants of abusing children. This harassment, and the escalating rhetoric of maligning LGBTQ people as groomers, has largely been enabled by the failure of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to adequately handle the targeted harassment. 

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Mia Gingerich is a researcher at Media Matters. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Northern Arizona University and has previously worked in rural organizing and local media.

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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California

Newsom signs refuge bill for Trans kids & their families into law

Provides safeguards to block out-of-state attempts to penalize families that come to Calif. seeking medical treatment for trans children

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Blade file photo of Governor Gavin Newsom signing legislation (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation to provide refuge for trans kids and their families authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). Senate Bill 107 will protect trans kids and their families if they flee to California from Alabama, Texas, Idaho or any other state criminalizing the parents of trans kids for allowing them to receive gender-affirming care.

If these parents and their trans kids come to California, the law will help protect them from having their kids taken away from them or from being criminally prosecuted for supporting their trans kids’ access to healthcare. It will take effect on January 1, 2023.

“As so many states work to erase trans kids and criminalize their families, California must always have their backs,” said Senator Wiener. “With SB 107 signed into law, California is forcefully pushing back against the anti-LGBTQ hatred spreading across parts of our nation. The rainbow wave is real, and it’s coming. Thank you, Governor Newsom, for standing with our community.”

SB 107 was co-sponsored by Equality California, Planned Parenthood, TransFamily Support Services and Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis.

“While small, hateful men like Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis attack trans children and their families, Governor Newsom today made clear that California will welcome them with open arms. SB 107 officially makes California a state of refuge for trans kids and their families,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “SB 107 will continue California’s legacy of leadership in protecting and advancing the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ communities in a time when we cannot take our rights and protections for granted. We are grateful for the leadership of Senator Scott Wiener and his commitment to protecting the most vulnerable members of our community.” 

“Extreme politicians across the country are openly attacking trans youth and their families like never before, but thanks to today’s action by Governor Newsom and the leadership by Senator Scott Wiener, SB 107 provides reassurance that California will be a place where people can get the care they need,” said Jodi Hicks, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. “We stand in solidarity with our friends and colleagues at EQCA and LGBTQ+ communities across the country. California Planned Parenthood health centers are committed to providing care, including gender-affirming care and LBGTQ+ services, to all who come through their doors – regardless of where they call home.”

Senate Bill 107 provides for a range of safeguards meant to block out-of-state attempts to penalize families that come to California seeking medical treatment for transgender children and teens or move to the state to avoid consequences for already seeking that treatment elsewhere.

SB 107 has three main components:

1) It prohibits the enforcement of a law of another state that authorizes a state agency to remove a child from their parent or guardian based on the parent or guardian allowing their child to receive gender-affirming health care. The bill would prevent California’s law enforcement from cooperating with any individual or out-of-state agency regarding the provision of lawful gender-affirming health care performed in this state. As a result, families will be able to come to California to avoid having their trans children taken away from them.

2) It bars compliance in California with any out-of-state subpoena seeking health or other related information about people who come to California to receive gender-affirming care, if the subpoena relates to efforts to criminalize individuals or remove children from their homes for having received gender-affirming care. Some states are considering legislation that would extend their criminal prohibitions even to residents who travel out of state to receive gender-affirming health care.

3) It prohibits law enforcement participation in the arrest or extradition of an individual that criminalizes allowing a person to receive or provide gender-affirming health care where that conduct is lawful in California and to the fullest extent permitted by federal law. It will declare that it is California’s public policy that any out-of-state criminal arrest warrant for someone based on violating another state’s law against receiving gender-affirming care is the lowest priority for law enforcement in California.

Trans youth already face numerous barriers to receiving the health care they need. Studies have shown that access to gender-affirming care for trans kids reduces risk for depression, psychological distress, and suicidal ideation. The criminalization of trans children and their parents leads to increased mental health issues and even suicide.

SB 107 is co-authored by Senators Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), and John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), and Assemblymembers Evan Low (D-Campbell), Alex Lee (D-San Jose), Chris Ward (D-San Diego), Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), and Mia Bonta (D-Alameda). Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (San Diego) and Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Fairfield) principal co-authors.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Christian lawyers take case of anti-trans athletes to appeals court

Besides campaigning for a national abortion ban, Alliance Defending Freedom aims to ban trans girls competing in girls’ high school sports

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Plaintiffs & ADF attorney in case (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

NEW YORK – A federal appeals judge in New York City on Thursday listened to attorneys arguing for and against a ban on transgender athletes in high school sports, the first federal case challenging a policy of inclusion.

Now it’s up to Chief Judge Debra Ann Livingston of the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals to decide whether a landmark case should be retried or tossed out. 

The case, brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom in February 2020, was dismissed by a federal judge in Connecticut in April 2021. 

The ADF, a conservative Christian law group labeled an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is appealing the decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny. The ADF claims he was biased in favor of the defendants, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and several Connecticut boards of education. 

Their original lawsuit and this appeal claims that by permitting transgender student-athletes to compete according to their gender identity, the CIAC and the schools discriminated against the plaintiffs: cisgender women who were track and field athletes in high school in Connecticut. They have all gone on to win collegiate sports scholarships: Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell and Alanna Smith. 

“Today we argued that my clients, Selena, Chelsea and Alanna, their records and achievements matter, and we ought to be able to prove our case in court,” said ADF Senior Counsel Christiana Kiefer outside court in Manhattan. “And so, we’re asking that the judges here allow the case to continue to move forward.” 

A fourth plaintiff, Ashley Nicoletti, was added to the case last year. The women claim they couldn’t win against trans girls, and because they were forced to compete with trans girls, they were “denied the chance to be champions.” 

They also want the court to order the state to change its track and field records and championship-winning results and erase the names of two transgender athletes: Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller.

In their appeal, and in their press release following today’s hearing, the ADF attorneys repeatedly misgendered the two young Black women, referring to them as “boys” and “biological males.” Yearwood and Miller are not named in the suit, but American Civil Liberties Union attorneys represented them at the hearing.

The ACLU tweeted what the organization called “the facts” of the case, responding to the ADF’s arguments, including that Mitchell and Smith did in fact beat Yearwood and Miller and that three of the four plaintiffs actually did win championships. 

“Connecticut’s laws preventing discrimination against trans youth in school and sports are consistent with federal law,” said Elana Bildner, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut senior staff attorney, in a statement. “For years now, Andraya and Terry have carried more on their shoulders, as two Black trans youth, than most adults face in a lifetime.”

“The plaintiffs’ argument is filled with hypotheticals about a dystopia where cisgender girls disappear from the podium, but the court must rely on facts,” said ACLU attorney Joshua Block. “The facts are that these plaintiffs repeatedly outperformed Andraya and Terry and won an impressive collection of first place trophies in the process. There is enough room on the victory podium for transgender girls too. Under Title IX, all girls, including transgender girls, should be able to participate fully and equally in athletics, in accordance with who they are.”

Yearwood and Miller’s records and the lawsuit naming them have been cited in several states across the U.S. where legislatures have considered and enacted bans on trans student-athletes. Outside court, Block called this case “sort of Exhibit A,” in that effort. “It’s held up as an example of the dangers that would happen if transgender girls were allowed to participate. And the reality is that that’s based on a completely false premise, because there’s no cisgender girls getting pushed off the victory podium. The plaintiffs in this case have been on the victory podium on multiple occasions.”

Miller and Yearwood did not win any sports scholarships to colleges and are not pursuing track and field following their graduation from their high schools. 
You can read the filing by ADF by clicking here.

The ACLU’s statement is here.

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