Wednesday, June 30, 2010

They Speak poets prepare for LA

On Saturday, I went out to the "Slam Bowl" fundraiser for the Texas Youth Word Collective - which was great. The four poets who comprise this year's "They Speak" slam team performed several team poems that they are bringing to the Brave New Voices International Slam next month, hosted this year in Los Angeles. Always, these young poets do Austin proud.

The TX Youth Word Collective sent out this message about their plans:

Dear Supporters & Friends,

It’s that time of year again and the Texas Youth Word Collective is scrambling to raise the necessary funds to take Austin’s They Speak Youth Poetry Slam Team to Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival 2010 (BNV) in Los Angeles. We have a very exciting team this year and they’re counting on us to get them there.

Our immediate need is to raise $500 in 5 days to purchase their airline tickets! We hope that you’ll consider making a donation to the cause and two ways for you to accomplish this:

Website: Go to
Enter the website and click on the “Home” button
Click on the “Donate” button for our Paypal page

Snail Mail: Or, you can mail a check to “TYWC” at
Texas Youth Word Collective
8301 Zyle Road, Austin, TX 78737

All donations are tax-deductible.

For additional information contact:
Dr. Sheila Siobhan – (512) 422-6653
Ron Horne – (512) 632-5033

We’re very excited about our team this year! Coached by Christopher Michael (Killeen Poetry Slam Founder, 2 time Austin Poetry Slam Champion, 2nd Place National Poetry Slam Indie Winner) - Shanitria Harris (3 time Austin Youth Slam Champion, 4 time team member!) from Texas State University, Zachary Caballero (Hendrickson H.S.), Lauren “Zuri” Hendricks (Texas Empowerment Academy), and Sheenika Medard (Hutto H.S.) have already been entertaining audiences around Austin as they prepare for their trip. You can learn more about our program and the team by visiting our website.

What is BNV? It’s not all about the competition! BNV offers youth the opportunity to participate in workshops, open mics, and ciphers, as well as attending performances by internationally renowned spoken word artists such as Saul Williams, Hodari Davis, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and DJ Kool Herc, to name a few. This year’s BNV schedule includes the following activities:

The First Wave Show
Coaches Open Mic
Opening Ceremonies
Brave New Voices Writing Workshops
Brave New Voices Town Hall meeting
The Peoples Championship (Individual Late-Night Slam Tournament)
The Brave New Leaders Conference
The Brave New Teachers Conference (Sat. 7/24/10)
2nd Annual BNV MC Olympics
Brave New Voices Speak Green (sponsored by Robert Redford)
Brave New Voices Grammy Museum Tour
The International Youth Poetry Slam
Quarter Finals (Begins with 50 teams)
Semi Finals (Reserved for 16 teams)
Finals (Reserved for the final 4 teams)
Open Mics, Cyphers, and more….

This year there will be 750 participants from over 50 international communities! Participating cities include: San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, London, Miami, Washington DC, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, New Orleans, Detroit, Houston, Oakland, Santa Fe, Portland, Denver, St. Louis, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Hawaii, Hartford, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Phoenix, Nashville, St. Louis, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Madison, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Baton Rouge, Chapel Hill, Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Plymouth, Kalamazoo, Indianapolis, Ft. Lauderdale, Burlington, Newark, Watts, Fontana, Mendocino, Austin, Anchorage, Taos, Chico, Navajo Nation, Hopi Nation, Pueblo Nation, Chimayo, San Jose, Jersey City, Baltimore, Savannah, Mexicalli, Louisville, Amherst, Las Vegas, Eugene Canandaigua, Worcester, Leeds (UK), Mostar (Bosnia).

This is an amazing opportunity for our youth! Please help them realize their dream by taking a few moments to donate to the cause.


Sheila Siobhan, Executive Director
Texas Youth Word Collective
They Speak Youth Poetry Slam
(512) 422-6653

photos by makingpeace

Monday, June 14, 2010

Replacing arts magnet program with JROTC angers parents and students in San Antonio

I was in San Antonio this weekend for a wedding and happened to pick up a copy of Friday's issue of the San Antonio Express-News. The Metro section's front-page headline story was "Parents protest changes at TJ: Arts magnet to be ended; focus on JROTC."

According to the article, a highly regarded arts magnet program at Jefferson HS in San Antonio is scheduled to be phased out in 4 years, and part of the replacement emphasis will be on "leadership training," including a requirement that all incoming students enroll in a JROTC program beginning this fall.

School district officials say that in conjunction with ending the arts magnet program, they plan to increase arts offerings in other schools throughout the district, but why must this be an either/or situation? Why not keep the magnet program and build on its success by increasing art class options in other schools?

If the concern is funding, then do school officials know that JROTC programs are costly for the district? Have they been clear with parents and students about the reasons for and actual costs of introducing JROTC at Jefferson?

Parents and students expressed strong objections to the changes. One parent was quoted saying, "I don't think we need any of our students or sons and daughters dying in wars that we don't even belong in." Another parent said, "Militarizing this school, it's a bad idea."

At SOY, we agree. JROTC uses a top-down, follow-orders type of discipline, which is not the same as developing self-discipline, which is much better learned through the arts. Do district officials want to graduate students who learn creative problem-solving skills through strong education in the arts and sciences, or students who learn that "leadership" means either following or giving orders?

Here's the article:

Parents protest changes at TJ: Arts Magnet to be ended; focus on JROTC
by Lindsay Kastner, San Antonio Express News, June 11, 2010

A plan to boost fine arts offerings across San Antonio Independent School District high schools has angered parents at Jefferson High School, where the Grammy-recognized Fine Arts Magnet Academy is scheduled to be phased out in four years.
The shifts are part of a long-range facilities plan and will allow for more robust course offerings across the district and improved academics and leadership at Jefferson, where incoming freshmen will be required to take JROTC starting this fall, district officials said.

But parents and staff are unhappy with plans to do away with the district's only fine arts magnet, the only magnet program to be phased out in a plan that mostly involves adding or streamlining programs. Next year will be the last year freshmen will be allowed into the program.

During a community meeting at the school Thursday night, trustee Ed Garza, who represents the Jefferson area, tried to calm fears by emphasizing that no staff or course offerings would be eliminated under the new plan.

“I'm a very strong advocate of arts for this school,” he told a crowd that included parents and students clutching artwork and hauling canvases.

In the fall, Jefferson will begin requiring all incoming freshmen to take at least one semester of JROTC, district spokeswoman Leslie Price said earlier Thursday. Garza said the requirement, while likely to be taught by a JROTC instructor, was actually for a separate “leadership” course.

Next school year only, students enrolled in the fine arts magnet will be exempt from the requirement. That exemption ends as the magnet is phased out.

After their freshmen year, Jefferson students will be required to choose between a “military prep” program in which they will continue JROTC or a “leadership and public service” track in which they must join a campus leadership organization and complete designated public service hours.

“I don't think we need any of our students or sons and daughters dying in wars that we don't even belong in,” a father said from the audience as Garza explained the school's new leadership focus Thursday evening.

“Militarizing this school, it's a bad idea,” said another parent.

Most parents at Thursday's occasionally tense meeting were more upset about the loss of the school's arts magnet.

Garza said unlike other magnets, the Jefferson program isn't offering courses that are unique to the school. Students take arts courses that are available at many other district high schools and though the program has some enrollment requirements, it is termed a magnet largely because it actively recruits students from outside school and district boundaries.

The school “has never been a true magnet,” Principal Joanne Cockrell told the crowd, adding, “You're talking about something that never has really existed except in name and the fact that you are allowed to go around and recruit.”

Price said the district wants to boost its fine arts offerings at all of its high schools, but having a magnet that draws students from outside the school boundaries can make it difficult to grow strong programs elsewhere.

“That can diminish the offerings at some of our smaller schools,” she said.

About half the 246 students enrolled in Jefferson's fine arts magnet come from outside the school's zone. Price emphasized that eliminating the magnet will only mean the school will no longer be able to recruit those outside students.

But parent Virginia Guzman, who helped organize the meeting, said part of what makes the magnet special is the commitment students make to the program.

“The kids in the magnet program, they want to be there,” said Guzman, whose son just graduated from Jefferson.

“I don't have a kid going into the program, but I would like to see TJ brought back up to speed,” said Guzman, who graduated from Jefferson in 1979. “Good school, good kids, good community, right? And that's what I would like to see.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"The army is not what it says it is."

Last week, a group of military spouses at Ft. Hood, the largest US army base, came forward to speak to the press about the systematic neglect of their active-duty husbands by the US army chain of command, especially in regard to their husbands' physical and psychological combat injuries.

Journalist, Dahr Jamail interviewed several of these women and published a comprehensive report on Truthout.

"The Army is not what it says it is," [said one military spouse]. "Recruiters make it sound so good, but once you sign up, you're screwed. My kids wonder what they did wrong because of what the Army is doing to their father. They feel like they've lost their father. I don't know what to do anymore. There's a whole bunch of soldiers who need this story out. They need help and they are not getting the medical help they need."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

This is what active nonviolence looks like

Excellent story published last week: [editor's note: I have replaced "illegal" with "undocumented" in this posting, wherever the author is referring to persons. Ningun ser humano es illegal.]

Student Immigrants Use Civil Rights-Era Strategies
by Russell Contreras, AP

BOSTON — They gather on statehouse steps with signs and bullhorns, risking arrest. They attend workshops on civil disobedience and personal storytelling, and they hold sit-ins and walk out of class in protest. They're being warned that they could even lose their lives.

Students fighting laws that target [undocumented] immigrants are taking a page from the civil rights era, adopting tactics and gathering praise and momentum from the demonstrators who marched in the streets and sat at segregated lunch counters as they sought to turn the public tide against racial segregation.

"Their struggle then is ours now," said Deivid Ribeiro, 21, an [undocumented] immigrant from Brazil and an aspiring physicist. "Like it was for them, this is about survival for us. We have no choice."

Undocumented students, many of whom consider themselves "culturally American" because they have lived in the U.S. most of their lives, don't qualify for federal financial aid and can't get in-state tuition rates in some places. They are drawing parallels between themselves and the 1950s segregation of black and Mexican-American students.

"I think it's genius," said Amilcar Shabazz, chairman of the W.E.B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts. "If you want to figure out how to get your story out and change the political mood in America, everybody knows the place to start your studies is the civil rights movement."

For two years, Renata Teodoro lived in fear of being deported to her native Brazil, like her mother, brother and sister. She reserved her social contact for close friends, was extra careful about signing her name anywhere, and fretted whenever anyone asked about her immigration status, because she been living illegally in the United States since she was 6.

Yet on a recent afternoon, Teodoro gathered with other [undocumented] immigrants outside the Massachusetts Statehouse with signs, fliers and a bullhorn — then marched the streets of Boston, putting herself in danger of arrest by going public but hoping her new openness would prompt action on the DREAM Act, a federal bill to allow people like her a pathway to citizenship via college enrollment or military service.

"I don't care. I can't live like this anymore," said Teodoro, 22, a leader of the Student Immigration Movement and a part-time student at UMass-Boston. "I'm not afraid, and I have to take a stand."

The shift has been building, said Tom Shields, a doctoral student at Brandeis University in Waltham who is studying the new student movement.

"In recent months, there has been an interest in connecting the narrative of their struggle to the civil rights effort for education," Shields said.

The movement has gained attention of Congress. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in April, asking her to halt deportations of immigrant students who could earn legal status under DREAM, which stands for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors act, and which they're sponsoring.

Last month, three [undocumented] immigrant students demanding to meet with Arizona Sen. John McCain about DREAM were arrested and later detained for refusing to leave his Tucson office. High school and college students in Chicago and Denver walked out of class this year to protest Arizona's tough new law requiring immigrants to carry registration papers. In December, immigrant students staged a "Trail of Dreams" march from Miami's historic Freedom Tower to Washington, D.C., to raise support for DREAM.

Similar student immigrant groups have sprung up at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Houston.

By attaching themselves to the civil rights movement, Shabazz said, the immigrant students can claim the moral high ground and underdog status of the debate.

"The question now is ... can they convince moderate, middle-of-the-road, independent voters to support them?" he said.

The Rev. William Lawson, an 81-year-old civil rights leader and retired pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, called the student activists' tactics courageous and said he'd like to meet them. But Lawson, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., cautioned student immigrant activists to prepare for peers getting arrested, deported or possibly killed.

"You do have to expect consequences. Many civil rights activists faced injury, sometimes death," said Lawson. "And I'm not sure how many of these (students) understand the fundamental philosophy of nonviolence."

Students have to keep in mind the audience they're trying to win over, said Lonnie King, 73, a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the group responsible for sit-ins at segregated restaurants across the South in the 1960s.

"They need to understand that the bulk of folks are in the middle," King said. "They have to coach their message to make it broadly appealing."

In Massachusetts, hundreds of student activists have gone through training by Marshall Ganz, a public policy lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School and a former organizer with the late Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers movement. At special camps, students attend workshops on civil disobedience, storytelling and media outreach.

Students who have attended the workshops even continue to use the well-known farm workers' rallying clap at the end of organizing meetings.

"They know that clap," Ganz said, "because I taught them that clap. It's all about the experience."

Teodoro said the training changed her life and showed her the cause was larger than herself.

During the rally last week in Boston, she led a march from the Massachusetts Statehouse to Sen. Scott Brown's office at the John F. Kennedy federal building, which also houses U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices. Along with Carlos Savio Oliveira, 22, of Falmouth, Mass., another [undocumented] immigrant, the pair walked into the federal building to hand Brown's staff 1,500 letters of support for the DREAM Act.

Outside supporters wore T-shirts with the words "Brown is beautiful" — a pun referring to the Chicano movement chant and Brown's well-publicized nude photo spread in Cosmopolitan magazine as a college student.

Brown, whose office was previously the site of a sit-in by the same group, has not said whether he supports the bill.

In September, Teodoro and a dozen other students also took a weeklong trip from Boston to the South, with Shields driving.

Along the way, they met with black former students who desegregated Clinton High School in Tennessee and Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. They visited civil rights museums and filmed the journey for a planned documentary. But the highlight was meeting Carlotta Walls LaNier, a member of the Little Rock Nine.

Teodoro cornered LaNier at a book signing of her memoir, "A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School."

"I went up to her at the signing and told her my story and tried not to cry," Teodoro said. "She listened. Then, she hugged me."

© 2010 Associated Press

photo by makingpeace

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Think Tank

I like the blog, "Waging Nonviolence," which features news about active nonviolence from around the world. Here is today's posting, about an Argentinian artist who has created a true Think Tank! Check it out:

Cruising down the busy streets of Buenos Aires, Argentinean artist and peace activist Raul Lemesoff has converted a 1979 green Ford Falcon into a moving library with the title “Arma de Instruccion Masiva” (Weapon of Mass Instruction) painted across it. Clambering out of the vehicle, he greets bystanders with a smile and offers them a book.

The Ford that buses him around used to belong to the Argentinean armed forces during its dictatorship. But now covered with over 900 hardcover books, he makes his cross-country trip handing out free literature for people in the cities of Argentina and in remote areas where schools and books are scant. He also accepts donations in order to supply schools in need.

In a recent interview, Raul explains the purpose of his project :

“The Weapon of Mass Instruction is meant to get people to recognize various aspects of life: sharing, education, and also to have a good time. It’s a contribution to peace through literature.”

By taking what was once a symbol of suppression and violence, Raul has transformed it into a peace campaign of communication through recycled books.

I’m not sure if Raul and his artistic rendered Ford Falcon are still traveling (the sustainability of the project depends on donations that can match-up or surpass the handouts). Despite any of these shortcomings, he plans on building more booktanks that will travel to other parts of the world.

photo of Raul Lemesoff and his Weapon of Mass Instruction posted on Waging Nonviolence

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Peaceful Vocations excels in Ft. Worth

Peaceful Vocations is a sister organization doing Truth in Recruitment work in Ft. Worth, Texas, and they have had a really active year. You can read more about them on facebook or on their website. Here is news they sent today about the awesome outreach they have done in their schools this year:

Another school year has come to an end for Fort Worth ISD and for Peaceful Vocations! For the 2009-2010 school year, We have tabled during lunch-time at all thirteen high schools, a total of twenty-two times. In addition PV attended eight College and Career days. Also, we attended the annual City Wide College Night and the first annual City Wide College for Middle Schools. There were also nineteen civic events for the Fort Worth community that PV was invited to. As always pictures can be viewed on our facebook.