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The Movements of Immigrants, Black Lives, Refugees and the Indigenous Talk About the Centrality of Palestine

25 Mar

From Left to Right: Amani Al-Hindi Barakat, Alfredo Gama, Nana Gyamfi, Micahel Letwin, Lydia Ponce, Ameena Mirza Qazi, Garik Ruiz in conversation, Wednesday, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks 

To a standing-room-only crowd of about 75 people, a discussion: “From Palestine to Mexico, All the Walls Have Got to Go” was held on Wednesday, March 22, at 6101 Wilshire Blvd., formerly Johnie’s with the theme, “grassroots movements for human liberation increasingly recognize #Palestinian liberation as a central component of intersectionality (sic),” according the Facebook page of the event.

Also according to the same Facebook page, the event was sponsored by Al-Awda the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, American Indian Movement Southern California, California for Progress, HP Boycott Campaign-Los Angeles, Idle No More L.A., Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, Jewish Voice for Peace-L.A., Labor for Standing Rock, LA4Palestine, and March and Rally Los Angeles.


Karen Pomer introducing the panel, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Karen Pomer, who was the lead event organizer, also according the Facebook page, and who is also with Labor for Standing Rock, said, “If we are missing a few people tonight, it’s because we have hundreds of people that we helped organize along with many other groups outside the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office tonight fighting back against the raids and again protecting the state of California from ICE (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

To read the Facebook page, which announced the discussion, click here.


Garik Ruiz, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Pomer introduced Garik Ruiz.  Ruiz said he’s the North America liaison for the Palestinian BDS Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) National Committee (BNC).  Thus, he works with organizations fighting for human rights for Palestinians against the Israeli state.  Ruiz reported last week the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia released a report for the first time named Israel as “creating a system of apartheid” and asked governments to respond to the BDS campaigns.  Because of pressure from the U.S. and Israel, the U.N. removed the report.  In response, the director resigned rather than withdraw the report.  He also reported the Israeli state had detained prominent Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti placed him under “intense interrogation” to intimidate him and the BDS movement.  Click here to read the the full statement on Barghouti by BNC.

Ruiz then introduced the panelists: Amani Al-Hindi Barakat, who was born in Kuwait and is the National Chairwoman of Al-Awda, the Palestine Right of Return Coalition; Alfredo Gama, who is a member of the Papalotl Brown Berets and an organizer of the recent immigration protests; Nana Gyamfi, who is a member and co-founder of Justice Warriors 4 Black Lives, a network of attorneys and non-attorneys providing legal support for the Movement for Black Lives, including BLMLA; Michael Letwin, who is a New York City public defender, former president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (United Auto Workers Local 2325) and Labor for Standing Rock; Lydia Ponce, who is an organizer with the American Indian Movement and Idle No More of Southern California and an organizer of the No Dakota Access Pipeline protests in Los Angeles; and Ameena Mirza Qazi, who is the Executive Director of the L.A. chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, civil rights attorney who has worked on free speech, social and economic justice, discrimination and due process issues.


Amani Al-Hindi Barakat, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Barakat characterized herself as a Palestinian-American immigrant and refugee.  She said, “Trump’s win … has been very difficult and exhausting for many of us…. Aside from him (President Trump) bringing us together today, we’re only two months into his administration and we’re already seeing a change in the American landscape….Tens of thousands of citizens across the country have stormed congressional offices and town hall meetings.…We can see today policy flourishing in the larger institutional structure that serve only select few in the American society.  Whether you’re Black, Latino, Native American, LGBQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Queer) or a Muslim, the system excludes you equally….As a Palestinian, I can say with certainty that injustices we face are the same ones our Black, Latino and Native American brothers and sisters have faced for far too long.”


Alfredo Gama, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Next was Gama.  He said when he was first asked to speak he was reminded of the Facebook picture, which said, “From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson to Palestine.”  He then explained that Ayotzinapa is “where 43 students went missing, to Ferguson, where Michael Brown was murdered right to Palestine, where … indigenous Palestinians are also being murdered…. We have to understand we are still a colonized people…. The law is not about justice but power…. We are illegal because we are profitable…. We are saying we are here and we are here to stay.”


Nana Gyamfi, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Gyamfi followed Gama.  She almost immediately said, “It is clear that everyone that’s here is someone who understands that how this system is constructed is completely wrong, that it needs to be destroyed and that we need to build a new world.”  She pointed out the Platform for the Movement for Black Lives in 2016 included support for BDS and Palestinian autonomy because Pan-Africanism and the struggle of the Palestinians are a result of colonialism.  At the end, she said, “We are talking about the onslaught on the freedom, the liberation, the autonomy of indigenous populations and we will win together.”


Michael Letwin, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Letwin followed Gyamfi.  He said the struggle around Palestine is “a beating heart” of intersectionality, which puts Palestine in the center.  Letwin rhetorically asked what the Trump administration means for the movements?  He said while the Trump era is troubling and worrisome, the response, the resistance to it is hopeful.  He pointed out that the policies of the Trump administration that the grassroots movements are responding to are the policies that were part of the Obama administration and all the administrations before it.  Letwin’s last point was that different struggles must include those struggles that have been most marginalized, like the struggles of Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, and Palestine.


Lydia Ponce, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Ponce immediately reminded the audience they were on the land of the Tonga people.  She said when we come to these kinds of gatherings and meetings, “we recognize that we are all healing from our historical trauma and that the value of coming together like this is to do it more often.”  Ponce said activists “need to step out of their comfort zone and “just show up” even when it “may not be your thing.”  She added, “For solutions tonight, … is to accept the idea the economic elite has declared war on all of us and has signed a death certificate for earth mother.”


Ameena Mirza Qazi, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Last to speak on the round was Qazi.  She wasted no words.  She described briefly that the question of Palestine was important to the Middle East South Asian Committee, which is part of the International Committee of the National Lawyers Guild.  She spoke of the Arabic concept of “ummah,” which means community, but also “transcends space and time” and the need to return to that concept that was used before 9/11.  She said, “The United States plays the most active role in oppression of foreign peoples with the suppression of Palestinian rights.”

Ruiz posed some questions to the panel.  First, besides just showing up, are there ways to develop what Ruiz called, “joint struggle.”  Barakat said it was important to learn about each other’s struggles and then participate.  Gama said it was important “to show up but to shut up.”  He said for himself, while he can learn about the Palestinian struggle and stand in solidarity with it, he understood the Palestinians must lead their own struggle.  Gyamfi said issues need to be identified that “we have the same opposing force” and that we understand that we are oppressed and harmed in different ways.  Letwin said one area for potential struggle is to look at “class” and when attempts are made to exclude folks, we need to figure out a way to participate without being silenced, including our own contingents.  Ponce echoed Gama and ended her thoughts with “honor the differences but find the similarities.”  Qazi said it was important to create safe spaces for all of us.  She used a recent example, where it was necessary for the NLG had to boycott a meeting because the Anti-Defamation League (According to the Electronic Intifada, the ADL had been advising universities how to isolate the BDS movement.  Click here to read the Electronic Intifada article.), was participating.  To educate those at the meeting, the NLG sent a letter explaining its decision.

Ruiz posed a second question: what does it mean for us to be supporting Palestinian indigenous resistance, when we are doing that work here on indigenous land and how can we better shape our campaigns and messaging?  Ponce said it was divestment and the need to support the United Nations’ Declaration of Rights for the Indigenous People.

Ruiz posed a third question: how can the Palestine Solidarity Movement in the U.S. do more to support the Movement for Black Lives?  Gyamfi said one way is “to address the anti-blackness within in the Palestinian population.”









Marshall Blesofsky on Military Recruiters in Long Beach, Zach Madeiros on Syria

1 Jun

The audience waits for the program to start, Saturday, May 13, at Hellada Gallery; Photo by Barry Saks

In the small backroom of the Hellada Gallery, 117 Linden Ave., on Saturday, May 13, Marshall Bleskofsky spoke on the Recruit Awareness Project in Long Beach and Zach Medeiros spoke on Syria to about 20 people.

According to an email sent before the event, this was to be the first of a speakers’ series the Long Beach Area Peace Network would sponsor.


Videographer Marlene Alvarado as emcee, Saturday, May 13, introducing Marshall Blesofsky; Photo by Barry Saks

With videographer Marlene Alvarado emceeing, the program consisted of a short video Alvarado produced, where Blesofsky spoke at a local solidarity march and rally at the Long Beach Islamic Center, which was earlier threatened; followed with Blesfosky speaking and ending with a photographic presentation of Syria with Medieros speaking.


Marshall Blesofsky, on Saturday, May 13, Speaking on Military Recruitment in Long Beach; Photo by Barry Saks

Blesofsky said RAP is “to help students make informed choices about (joining) the military.”  He said when the military recruits someone, a contract is signed, in which language exists allowing the military to change the contract, but of course, no such language exists for the recruit.

Blesofsky pointed out, while cities like San Diego and Los Angeles have policies regarding the military recruiters in the high schools, Long Beach has none, essentially giving recruiters full access.  He added, “They (recruiters) can hang out (and) they go to lunch with the students….They get to know the kids, make relationships with the kids or the students and also recruit them.”


Zach Medeiros, Saturday, May 13, Speaking on Syria; Photo by Barry Saks

Medeiros first provided a summary of the foundations of modern Syria, followed by the non-military aspects of the Syrian revolution, followed by the internationalization of the Syrian war and followed lastly with how we in the United States can best help the Syrians in their struggle.

Medeiros said that after 400 years of foreign domination with first the Ottoman Empire and then the French Mandate, Syrians ended their foreign rule in 1946, “(i)n 1949, Syria’s young democracy was overthrown by an army colonel backed by the CIA” and in 1963 the Syrian Ba’ath Party seized power.  He characterized the Ba’athists as “espous(ing) pan-Arab nationalism, top-down statist modernization, and Arab socialism.”  He added in 1970 Hafez al-Assad, the defense minister and “de-facto leader” took complete control of the country.  Mederios characterized the regime under Hafez al-Assad as “essentially (a) fascist dictatorship.”  He explained how al-Assad was able to maintain power.  He won popular support by improving rural conditions through regime-initiated large modernization, redistributing land to peasants, expanding the state to provide the urban working and middle classes with public sector jobs and he won support of the Alawites by integrating them into the power structure. Regarding state repression, Medeiros said to enforce complete obedience to the state and dictator, the army and secret police were used.

Mederios said in 2000, Hafez al-Assad died and his son, Bahsar, assumed power through a unanimous vote in a “sham election.”  He pointed out Bashar al-Assad accelerated the market liberalization, which “led to a dramatic increase in poverty, unemployment, and the concentration of wealth in an even smaller fraction of society, often in(to) …Assad’s own family.”  Mederios claimed the accelerated market liberalization contributed to making Syria “ripe for…revolutionary fervor…in 2011.”

Regarding the non-violent revolution, Medeiros said it didn’t start as an armed rebellion for revolutionary change, “but (for) things like jobs, basic rights, and an end to corruption, discrimination, brutality, and repression” and it began “as a multi-ethnic, non-sectarian movement.”  He added a democratic awakening occurred with the creation of “scores of independent media centers, films, newspapers, and magazines, and the flourishing of street art and citizen journalism.”

Regarding the internationalization of the Syrian war, Medieros said some leftists who characterize the Syrian revolution as nothing but a US-led plot against the anti-imperialist Assad regime, is a lie.  He argued the Assad regime was not anti-imperialist by pointing out the Syrian government joined the US during the first Gulf War, allowed Israel to keep the Golan Heights, weakened Palestinian resistance and lent the CIA torture during the Bush-Cheney years.  He explained how the US provided minimal limited support to the rebels to contain their revolution.  He said, “When the US began sending aid to rebel groups, it mostly consisted of nonlethal equipment and a trickle of light weapons…The CIA aggressively intervened to stop revolutionaries from gaining access to anti-aircraft weapons…The US repeatedly turned off the minimal flow of arms and ammunition whenever the rebels proved too successful on the battlefield.”

Medieros lastly told the audience how they could help.  He told them to arm themselves with knowledge and not to forget the uprising began as a democratic awakening; to learn and listen to revolutionary-democratic Syrians; to organize solidarity by supporting the White Helmets, the Syrian Medical Society, Doctors without Borders; and to echo the demands of Syrians, such as an end to all sieges, the immediate release of all political prisoners, a massive increase in direct humanitarian aid, the removal of all foreign armies and militias from Syrian soil, accountability for war criminals and to demand rights for refugees.

According to the Dr. Marshall Blesofsky for LBCC (Long Beach Community College District) Trustee Facebook page, Marshall Blesofsky is a retired educator from the University of Southern California and taught in the Allied Health Program at Long Beach City College.

According to the publication “The Socialist,” Zach Medeiros is a history student and is the Male Co-Chair of the Socialist Party’s International Relations Committee.

Barry Saks is married to Marlene Alvarado.

To hear the audio of Marshall Blesofsky’s talk, click here.

To hear the audio of Zach Mederios’s talk, click here.

To download the transcript of Mederios’s talk, click here.

Protesters March in Los Angeles Against U.S. Wars

26 Apr

Antiwar Protest at Pershing Square, Los Angeles, April 2017; Photo by Barry Saks

About 25 people, many were from California for Progress and the local Green Party, marched from Pershing Square in Los Angeles, on Sunday, April 23, to the downtown Federal Building on Temple Ave. to protest the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia.



Whether standing outside of Pershing Square on the corner of 5th and Olive Streets or marching to the Federal Building, the protesters chanted.


Stephanie Delgado, standing on the edge of Pershing Square on April 23, 2017, with her sign, protesting; Photo by Barry Saks 

One chant was “Funds for jobs and education, not for wars and occupation.”  Another was “No war in the Middle East.” A third chant was “When the Middle East is under attack, what do we do?  Stand up, fight back.”  A fourth chant was “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”  A fifth chant was “What do we want?  Peace.  When do we want it?  Now.” A sixth chant was “Love and peace, no more war in the Middle East.”  A seventh chant was “This racist war has got to go.”


Antiwar Protesters Marching Toward the Downtown Federal Building, April 23, 2017; Photo by Barry Saks

While most of the chants, addressed peace, war and its costs, the issue of immigration was, particularly raised with the chants, “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all. No hate no fear, refugees are welcome here” and “You build a wall, we tear it down.  From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go.”


Antiwar Protesters Listening to Speakers, April 23, 2017, Outside an Entrance to the Downtown Federal Building; Photo by Barry Saks 

On arrival to one side of the Federal Building, a pro-immigrant rights rally was taking place.  The antiwar protesters, who had early chanted a couple of pro-immigrant chants, greeted the other rally by continuing their pro-immigrant chants.  After about 10 minutes, the antiwar protesters moved to another entrance to the Federal Building, where they ended their protest with more speakers and announcements.


Tania Singh Speaking, April 23, 2017, at Downtown Federal Building; Photo by Barry Saks

The idea of the protest came initially from Tania Singh, 28, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science.  Singh said she started thinking about the need to protest two or three months ago and was aware of the U. S. bombings.  She tried to get people in the Democratic Party involved, but found no interest.  At first she was going to stand on a corner by herself in her neighborhood with a sign.  She posted her desire to protest on Facebook; she heard from California for Progress and others, which wanted to do more and this is how this protest came about.  Singh said, “There has never been a time when they (the United States) go in and that place is left better than it was before….(T)here are better ways to achieve peace.”


Allie White at Pershing Square, Los Angeles, April 23, 2017; Photo by Barry Saks

One of those who encouraged Singh to build something larger was Allie White, 29, who is with California for Progress.  White characterized California for Progress as leaderless.  She pointed out her organization supports indigenous and immigrant rights.

One of those who marched was James Carter, 24.  Carter said he was a member of the Socialist Party of Los Angeles and belongs to West Angeles Church of God in Christ.  He said he was there to oppose U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and added, “Usually we (the U.S.) say we are freeing people or liberating them from some kind of dictator, but that is rarely ever the case…. But then we occupied them for two decades or so.”

Another marcher was Jimmy Rivera.  Rivera said he was “part of the Green Party.”  Rivera, like Carter, said he was opposed to the U.S. imperialist wars.


Yolanda Gonzalez, outside Pershing Square, Los Angeles, April 23, leading chants; Photo by Barry Saks

Another marcher was Yolanda Gonzalez, 56.  Gonzales said she’s a member of the Green Party and a teacher of 25 years, who teaches in a project-based-learning classroom.  Gonzalez, said, “I want to teach my students about the militarization that has been occurring in this country since its inception and that peace has to come from each one of us.”

The Facebook page for the event said, “On April 23, 2017 the people of Los Angeles unite to denounce military interventions, wars, and war crimes the United States is culpable for…. (W)e unite to call for demilitarization, de-escalation, & diplomacy….We call on our human family around the world to join us in demanding a demilitarized world.”




Long Beach City Council Defies President, Supports California Bills–Values Act, Religious Freedom Act

10 Feb

Photo by Barry Saks; Audience member holding sign, on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 at Long Beach City Council Meeting

The Long Beach City Council, in a full chamber with a small overflow, on Tuesday, Feb. 7, voted to support California Senate Bills 31 and 54, as amended.

California State Senate Bill 31, known as California Religious Freedom Act, prevents the “state or local agency or public employee acting under color of the law” from (p)rovid(ing) or disclos(ing) to federal government authorities personally identifiable information regarding the religious beliefs, practices, or affiliation of any individual for the purpose of compiling a list, registry, or database of individuals based on religious affiliation, national origin or ethnicity” and prevents using “agency money, facilities, property equipment, or personnel” for the creation of a list, registry or database “for law enforcement or immigration purposes.”  California Senator Ricardo Lara (Democrat, 33rd District) introduced the bill.

California State Senate Bill 54, known as the “California Values Act,” states it will immediately take place, it prevents state and local law enforcement agencies from using “agency or department moneys, facilities, property, equipment, or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”  It also prevents those same law enforcement agencies from “(p)erforming the functions of an immigration officer.”  However, it doesn’t prevent the same law enforcement agencies “from responding to a request from federal immigration authorities for information about a specific person’s previous criminal arrests or convictions.”  California Senate Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (Democrat, 24nd District) introduced the bill.

In the council chambers, during the comment period, while two speakers spoke against supporting the two bills, dozens of speakers spoke in favor and most added they wanted Long Beach to become a sanctuary city.


Photo by Barry Saks; Member of Audience Holding Sign, at the Tuesday, Feb. 7 2017, While Standing in Line to Speak During the Time for Public Comments

Just before the last speaker, many in the audience stood up and chanted, “Sanctuary, not deportation.”


Photo by Barry Saks; Members of Audience Chanting Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, in Council Chambers during Long Beach City Council Meeting

After public comments, 1st District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, who put forward the support motion, said Senate Bill 54 sets a statewide standard and asked Diana Tang, Manager of Government Affairs, about the legislative process, the status of the bills, and more specifically the issue of violent and serious crime, and human trafficking as it is related to SB54. In response, Tang said both bills are now in the Senate and because both are emergency bills, a two-thirds vote will be required in both houses.  She said, if they pass, they then will be sent to the Governor for him to consider and that SB54 is still in its original form.

The Mayor, in response to the discussion between the councilwoman and Tang, reported he had spoken that day to the Senate Pro Tempore, who told the Mayor he is in discussion with the State Police Chiefs Association to ensure there is interagency communication, particularly regarding human trafficking and other issues, and that he is looking at and supports language that allows for interagency coordination with Federal law enforcement regarding violent and serious crimes.

Then, the Councilwoman Gonzalez said while she supports the two bills, she said she also supports the same amendments the Senate Pro Tempore is pursuing.  She then amended her motion to include her two concerns.

Then, 2nd District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who also signed on in support of the two bills, reminded the other councilmembers that they supported last November a motion urging the Federal government to provide Jose Alvarez humanitarian parole and then said, “As a state and as city we have gone too far and we will not go back.”  She then asked how Long Beach Police Department has implemented the recently passed California Trust Act, (Assembly Bill 4), which prohibits law enforcement from detaining an individual for Federal Immigration after the individual becomes eligible for release from custody, unless specified conditions are met.

Deputy Police Chief Michael Beckman responded.  He said LBPD complies with the California Trust Act and said since the act’s implementation, “I.C.E. (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has never provided the Long Beach Police Department a signed court order and/or has traveled to the Long Beach Police Department to take custody of an undocumented immigrant.”

Then 7th District City Councilman Roberto Uranga, who also endorsed the motion of support, said, “We are experiencing a President who is a thug, who is a blackmailer and who is potentially an extortionist.  He is threatening to withhold federal funds to not only the states and the state of California, but to the City of Long Beach, as well.”

Then, 3rd District City Councilwoman Suzie Price said, “I am a descendant of immigrants from one of the countries, where there is currently the ‘non-ban’ and it has been a very scary time for people in my community, as well, and I actually had an opportunity to meet with them on Sunday…. and I explained to people in that community my concerns with sanctuary city.”  For the Councilwoman, her concerns centered on the fiscal impact of the city becoming a sanctuary city and asked for clarification.

Tang said it was unclear what the fiscal impact would be.

The Councilwoman then said Long Beach becoming a sanctuary city was not the agenda.  She then voiced her concerns about Senate Bill 54 and offered an amendment to support Senate Bill 31, but asked Senate Bill 54 be sent to the State Legislative Committee and the Public Safety Committee.

Councilwoman Gonzalez responded politely and then rejected Councilwoman Price’s amendment.

Then, 8th District Councilman Al Austin said it was a “no brainer” for him to support the motion.  He added, as a suggested amendment that there may be other bills, which could be supported.  Councilwoman Gonzalez accepted his amendment.

Then, 9th District Councilman and Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who also initially supported the motion, said, “These bills on the table they demonstrate some very critical values, religious freedom and trust….The tone in Washington is quickly eroding that trust.”

The last councilperson to speak before the vote was 4th District Councilman Daryl Supernaw.  The councilman echoed Councilwoman Price that the issue of sanctuary city was not on the agenda.  He then said because the item was not put on the agenda until Friday afternoon, consequently he was not able to notify the people in his district.

After the councilmembers spoke, the Mayor stated his support for the motion and pointed out that Long Beach is not only a city of immigrants, but also of refugees.

The council voted 7-0 for the motion with the three amendments.  Absent were 5th District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo and 6th District Councilman Dee Andrews.


Photo by Barry Saks; audience holding signs, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 during the Long Beach City Council Meeting.