Social Activism

May 16, 2010

“You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.” -- Abbie Hoffman


It used to be the Red Scare; now it’s the Green Scare.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, the FBI persecuted communists, Lauren Regan, an attorney and director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC), said during a May 1 presentation in Bloomington. In the ‘60s, the FBI called the Black Panther Party the No. 1 “domestic terrorist threat” in the United States.

Today, the targets are environmental and animal rights groups, said Regan, who formed the CLDC in 2003 in response to the FBI’s Operation Backfire, which culminated in 2005 with arrests and indictments of Eugene, Ore., activists from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF).

To further its goals, the FBI has established it’s a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) with 92 offices nationwide, Regan said during her talk, titled “Resistance, Dissent and Government Repression: How the State Responds to Radical Social Movements.” Bloomington has one such office, on west Seventh Street.

November 15, 2009

It's been a year since John McCain piqued my reporter's curiosity about the parallel epidemics of autism and environmental pollution that have swept our nation the past couple decades, a journalistically productive and, sadly, intellectually reaffirming 12-month period, to be sure.

Since the Arizona senator announced on the campaign trail last year that he would find the cause of autism if elected, I have pursued the question through interviews with parents, clinicians, advocates, physicians and researchers; stories, articles and books; and more than a few studies and videos. I've also published nearly a dozen-and-a-half stories on the subject in The Bloomington Alternative, CounterPunch online and print editions, NUVO and IU Alumni Magazine.

So far, nothing I've found contradicts my initial premise that toxic pollution is a contributing factor to the meteoric rise we've seen in the incidence of autism. To the contrary, that argument seems more plausible today than it did when I began this time last year. All signs point to "yes," so I am taking this project to the next level.

September 20, 2009

Ted Kennedy saved my life, at least according to my mother. It was sometime in the mid 1960s, and she and I were walking down Boston's Beacon Hill when I broke away and began running toward a busy intersection. Just as I arrived at the end of the curve, a figure rounded the corner and, with an outstretched arm, whisked me from almost certain automotive death.

That figure was none other than Ted Kennedy. At least according to my mom. And, also according to her, after saving my life he carried my mother's groceries home for her.

Apocryphal or not, I've always admired the Kennedys as the standard bearers and most public repositories of the canon of liberal Democratic social values. Each impossibly and tragically flawed in character, nevertheless they carried a vision of the world not as it was, but what it could and should be, while relentlessly asking the question of why it wasn't so.

I remembered that question, when Ted Kennedy passed away last month, and I remembered its most succinct expression as I first learned it from Kennedy's eulogy to his brother, Robert. A eulogy devastating in its emotional impact on anyone who can bear to listen to it and made ever more so by the fact that it was a eulogy largely written by Robert Kennedy himself, from a speech in Cape Town delivered in 1966.

June 20, 2007

High gasoline prices are a wake-up call. They also present us with an opportunity. We can wring our hands and pound our heads against the gas pump. Or we can heed the warning and begin to plan a transportation system for the future.

The world is rapidly changing, and we have to change with it. We should not fear change but direct it to our advantage.

A few realities are now apparent. Gas prices are going to remain high; most experts agree that this is a certainty. We cannot build our way out of congestion; every major city in the nation proves this point. Energy sources are going to change.

Where this will lead is still being determined, but our dependence on fossil fuels contributes to our vulnerability to perverse markets forces, foreign entanglements and terrorist threats.

February 11, 2007

State of the Union

On Saturday, Jan. 27, members of the Bloomington community rallied before the IU basketball game to call attention to the university's plan to outsource good-paying jobs to private companies.

It was a cold and windy day, but workers, union members, church members and citizens concerned about keeping quality jobs in the community marched to the game and handed out leaflets and secured hundreds of signatures on petitions denouncing job outsourcing.

The power of people coming together to question, make their voices heard and fight for justice was displayed through an outpouring of passion and commitment. At least 200 community residents participated in educating the public about the potential loss of quality jobs that pay good wages, provide health care and support working families.

September 24, 2006

(and who's not)

On Sept. 5, The Bloomington Alternative e-mailed a list of questions to the mayor and city council about mayor-turned-health-care-marketer-turned-developer John Fernandez and his plans to demolish Ladyman's Cafe and replace it with an office building for his health care marketing firm.

The whole scenario just seemed to beg for journalistic inquiry. A former Democratic City Councilman sells a building out from under a landmark business without even showing the proprietor the courtesy of telling her her business was about to become toast.

He sells it to a former Democratic mayor, who, out of the public eye, lobbies the sitting Democratic mayor for public funds to underwrite the project. One option is to move Ladyman's to commercial property on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, now leased by a Democratic City Councilman.

April 23, 2006

In November, after six weeks on the job as a Red Cross Hurricane Katrina volunteer, Rob Lindsey of South Carolina experienced debilitating back pain.

"I'm generally good with pain," said Lindsey, whose relief assignments in New Orleans included emergency response vehicle driver, fleet maintenance and everything in between. "But I could barely move."

It was 7 p.m. Lindsey maintained he'd be fine till morning, would just ride out the suffering. Terry Cooney, his supervisor, insisted on taking him to the makeshift hospital at New Orleans' Civic Center.

"Terry waited forever with me," Lindsey said. "He said, 'We are the only family we've got right now. This is why I'm here.'"

April 9, 2006

First in a series

NEW ORLEANS — June 1 is the date lying heaviest on the mind of American Red Cross volunteer Terry Cooney.

"School's out in Houston that day," he says. "The children displaced by Hurricane Katrina and living in Houston will be returning to New Orleans. Will I be around to help them?"

Cooney spent the last seven months in New Orleans as an American Red Cross disaster relief volunteer. He started as the driver of one of hundreds of emergency response vehicles (ERVs) found throughout the city. He helped deliver hot meals, blankets, and other supplies to help people survive one of the worst disasters in American history.

A New Jersey native, Cooney landed in New Orleans when martial law still ruled.

"Families were too terrified to leave their homes," he says. "They would drill holes in their doors in order to see out. When our trucks would enter a neighborhood to deliver supplies, families would dart out, hearing our horns.

October 2, 2005

Sierra Campbell has been helping victims of Hurricane Katrina in the Waveland, Miss., region. Read her account of one family's trials with Hurricane Katrina in the Oct. 5 Bloomington Alternative print edition.


Slowly those devastated by the recent Gulf Coast hurricanes emerge to face their battered lives. People help people rebuild 90,000 square miles of devastation along the Gulf Coast, while grassroots organizations and volunteers build houses, serve food and provide medical care.

Countless individuals caravan to the coastline with cars and trucks filled with supplies and equipment to help homeowners begin anew. Many find themselves using chainsaws for days, cutting their way through Katrina's mess and clearing lots for tents, new houses, or sale to one of the many speculators snooping through the devastation.

August 29, 2004

by Thomas P. Healy

One of my favorite treasures snagged at a public library book sale is a copy of sociologist Paul H. Ray's The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World. It's a million dollars worth of wisdom that cost only a buck.

Ray published the book after 13 years of probing deeply into the lives, values and habits of more than 100,000 Americans who, he wrote, "invented the current interest in personal authenticity in America." Their "authenticity" was reflected, for example, in the growth of popular movements for civil rights and environmental protection, as well as participation in the consciousness movement that has swept the nation.

He estimated that some 50 million Americans align their values with their actions, likening those of us who do to a "country within a country" because we happily co-exist with our materialistic, "what's-in-it-for-me?" neighbors.

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