Showing posts with label Liberty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Liberty. Show all posts

July 29, 2013

What Does “Justice For “ALL” Means? Vic Walczak Will Argue in Court

His grandfather escaped from the Treblinka death camp, his grandmother died there. Decades later, when Witold "Vic" Walczak returned to his family's native Poland, a young man amid the Solidarity protests of the 1980s, he got knocked around and strip-searched by police. "At that point, I knew I wanted to be a civil liberties attorney," said Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. 

Today, Walczak helps lead the legal fight for what is fast becoming Pennsylvania's preeminent civil rights issue: gay marriage. He's co-lead counsel, with Philadelphia lawyer Mark Aronchick, in the federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the state law that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. No hearing date has been set, but the furor hasn't subsided since the suit was filed July 9 in Harrisburg by 10 gay couples. More than 20 gay couples were issued marriage licenses in Montgomery County last week after Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes announced he believed the state law was unconstitutional and would not enforce it. 
Witold “Vic” Walczak, the grandson of Holocaust survivors whose work with Solidarity got him locked up in Poland, and who now leads the ACLU in its federal lawsuit to overturn Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. (Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Republicans accused Hanes of overstepping his authority by ignoring a law he didn't like, and protesters gathered at the office on Friday. Earlier this month, Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane stunned Republicans and same-sex-marriage opponents - and thrilled supporters - when she announced she could not ethically defend the ban in court, and would not. The next day, a Montgomery County pastor was arrested as he tried to reach Kane's office to pray for her. The controversy that surrounds big cases is familiar to Walczak, 52, who for more than two decades has pressed suits on free speech, religious liberty, police misconduct, immigration, and biblical creationism. This week, he's in Harrisburg seeking to overturn the state's voter ID law, which proponents say is aimed at preventing fraud and opponents call a political effort to disenfranchise minorities. "It's the world's greatest legal job," Walczak said. "Every day I get to wake up, survey the Pennsylvania horizon, see injustice, and say, 'We're just the people to fix that.' " The Soviet Union dominated Poland at the end of World War II. Within a few years, Jews were invited to leave. Many headed to the new nation of Israel, to other countries in Europe, to North and South America. Walczak's parents started life over in Sweden in the late 1950s, and he was born there in 1961. 

The family emigrated to Canada and then, in 1964, to Nashville. As he grew, Walczak noticed the separate water fountains and restrooms for blacks and whites. His mother told him that people shouldn't be treated differently based on skin color, that it was wrong to segregate and discriminate. When he was about 10, his family settled in Scotch Plains, N.J., where he attended high school. As Walczak studied at Colgate University and majored in philosophy, conditions worsened in Poland. The Communist government declared martial law in 1981, banning pro-democracy groups like Solidarity and jailing activists. 

After graduation in 1983, Walczak headed to Poland. At a demonstration, he raised his camera to take photos. "The next thing I know, I'm on the ground," he said. "There are three police officers standing over me demanding the camera." In conversations, friends would interrupt to tell him to stop talking about politics - their rooms were bugged and the government listening. "It was a window into a society without civil liberties," Walczak said. People had few physical possessions - no cars, small apartments, limited food, but "as I talked to them about what they could have, if they could change anything, they told me, 'The right to vote, the right to free speech.' “ 

As he left Poland, police entered Walczak's train compartment and ordered him to strip. They tore open his luggage. Satisfied he carried nothing illegal, or at having imposed an indignity, they moved on. "Poland - that partly explains who he is," said Eric Rothschild, a lawyer with Pepper Hamilton L.L.P. in Philadelphia. The two worked together on a landmark 2005 suit over the teaching of intelligent design in a York County school district. Rothschild said that while his cocounsel strongly believed in separating science from religion, he never forgot the parents and children at the heart of the case. "We were representing clients," Rothschild said. "Not an ideology. Real clients, real people." The ACLU infuriates a lot of people.

 "No organization in America enables terrorism as much as the ACLU," conservative news host Bill O'Reilly has said, angered by the group's demands for due process for accused terrorists and its efforts to stop New York police from searching bags in subways. Even liberal supporters wince at some of the ACLU's clients, which have included the North American Man/Boy Love Association, the American Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Nation of Islam. "We don't stand up for terrorists or criminals because we like them," Walczak said. "We do it because they deserve the same process as everybody else. "Think about what every kid says in school everyday: 'Liberty and justice for all.' Everybody likes liberty and justice. 

The problem is the 'for all' part." That's where the ACLU comes in, he said, by insisting that "civil liberties and rights belong to everyone, and that includes the least popular - the poor, the powerless, and the least popular." Walczak, who lives near Pittsburgh, joined the ACLU in 1991 after five years at the Prisoner Assistance Project of the Legal Aid Bureau in Baltimore, where he litigated civil rights claims on behalf of prisoners. He worked 13 years as head of the ACLU's Pittsburgh chapter before becoming state legal director in 2004. "You don't always see the combination: He's good on theory, very good on doctrine, knows his First Amendment issues," said David Rudovsky, the dean of Philadelphia civil rights lawyers. "He's always very good in court." Walczak's best-known case: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, a second Scopes Monkey Trial. It marked the first direct federal court challenge to a school policy that mandated the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution. 

Walczak and his cocounsel argued for science - and the judge agreed, dismissing intelligent design as a "relabeling of creationism" and declaring that it could not be taught in the district. "He's a great guy, and it makes him an effective lawyer," said Cyndi Sneath, a Dover mother who was a plaintiff in the suit. "Somebody who really cares about the cause, and really cares about the people behind the cause." Walczak's next challenge is to force Pennsylvania to join the 13 states and District of Columbia that allow gays to wed. Legislative bills to legalize same-sex marriage have gone nowhere, and Gov. Corbett favors a permanent ban through an amendment to the state constitution. "We have a good chance," Walczak said. "If I didn't think we could win it, we wouldn't have brought it."

April 26, 2013

‘Geeks' The New Guardians of Liberty and Justice For All

 bTheresa Riley

Gabriella Coleman
Anonymous, the hacktivist collective that Fox News once called “the Internet hate machine” has undergone a dramatic rebranding in recent months. Once thought to be a public nuisance, their work seeking justice in the Steubenville rape case and other actions they’ve taken to improve society has earned them a new moniker: the “white knights of the digital realm.”
Gabriella Coleman is the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at Canada’s McGill University and one of the foremost experts on Anonymous. Trained as an anthropologist, she examines the ethics of online collaboration and the role of the law and digital media in sustaining various forms of political activism.
We caught up with Coleman earlier this month in Denver at the National Conference for Media Reform where she spoke on a panel that asked “Are Geeks the New Guardians of Our Civil Liberties?” She is the author of Coding Freedom and is currently working on a new book about Anonymous and digital activism.
Riley: Many people became more familiar with the world of hacking because of the tragic death of Aaron Swartz. How do you think his story may change, or has already changed, the perception of hackers?
Gabriella Coleman: Aaron Swartz considered himself both a hacker and an activist. He was also very involved in the free culture movement — Creative Commons — which drew inspiration from the hacker community to create licenses that could be used on other media, such as music and art software. In some ways he was the quintessential hacker, by which I mean extremely clever and bright. Folks like Tim Berners-Lee called him an ‘elder’ when he passed away. A lot of hackers are bright and precocious, but he pushed that envelope. He was a hacker who worked on technology, but he was also very committed to open access — and from a very young age, when he was 14 or 15. While hackers are often adept at programming at a young age, to be so politically inclined at that age is unusual, so he really stood out.
The reaction [to his death] from the hacker community was unlike anything I had ever seen. I remember very distinctly, because I was home on Twitter, and it was just this flood and outpouring. He wasn’t this hacker just breaking the law for the fun of it. He was very mindful as to why he did things, and he was very respected by a wide cohort of individuals. It really brought into relief the problems with the law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, under which he was being tried. For a very long time, activists and lawyers have said the law’s too broad and vague, and this became a moment and cause by which to really make that utterly clear. There’s now a whole set of initiatives to finally reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Riley: You’ve mentioned that the harshness of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act has resulted in the “offshoring” of some political activities. What are some examples of civil disobedience online?
Coleman: There have been politically motivated leaks procured through hacking, as well as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which is basically overwhelming a web server with too many requests so you can’t access it.
In the context of the United States, a DDoS falls under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, so an individual who participates in a protest could be fined over $100,000 and face 20 years in jail. If someone wants to engage in civil disobedience, there should perhaps be a legal repercussion, but whether it deserves 20 years in jail, probably not. But there’s really no leeway in the United States over this activity.
Anonymous supporters wearing Guy Fawkes masks pause for fellow protesters and members of the media to film and photograph them with a banner as they take part in a protest march along Whitehall to Britain's Houses of Parliament in London, Monday, Nov. 5, 2012. The protest was held on November 5, to coincide with the failed 1605 gunpowder plot to blow up the House of Lords. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Anonymous supporters wearing Guy Fawkes masks pause for fellow protesters and members of the media to film and photograph them as they take part in a protest march to Britain's Houses of Parliament in London, Nov. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Some hacker activists now have a division of labor where some of the labor is performed by people not in the United States and Europe, because they’re in some ways beyond the reach of the law. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be caught and ascertained in certain ways, but I think people are cognizant of the legal risks entailed in the United States with these sorts of activities.
The early instances of DDoS being used for political purposes was by a group called the Electronic Disturbance Theater, who used it in the late ’90s. They would send too many requests to the Mexican government [website] to show their support of the Zapatistas. The DDoS is actually one of the most controversial tactics among the hacker community. Some say it’s useful in some instances but loses its ability very quickly to garner attention. Some say it’s just not clever. Others are very opposed to it, because they say that if you take down a webpage you’re taking away someone’s ability to speak.
Riley: What are some of the other issues hackers tend to care about?
Coleman: Computers are omnipresent; they’re everywhere. They have our data, they perform our transactions, they’re the media through which we form social relationships. And because of that, anything and everything can relate to computer hackers, whether it’s accessing information for the purposes of leaking, as Bradley Manning did, or rebuilding technology to embody certain values. It’s kind of everywhere at some level, and that’s one of the reasons why we see hackers getting involved in so many different domains of politics.
But there are some bread and butter issues: free speech and privacy, civil liberties. This is something that a lot of hackers who tend towards the political domain care about quite deeply. But when it comes to freeing information, it exceeds questions of the Internet, of course. There’s been the rise of civic hacking, which concerns accessing (let’s just say) government data of different sorts and rendering it into useable form. In a lot of instances, data exists but not in a format that’s useable. So they write tools that make it useable for other formats, for identifying patterns and for visualizing trends.
Riley: What about privacy online? That’s a big issue for many people, particularly on Facebook.
Coleman: It’s an interesting moment, because there’s so little of it when it comes to the Internet. The data that sits on servers, or the many platforms that people use, from Gmail to Facebook, is mined to deliver the perfect advertising environment. This is a known fact, but it’s also the case that when the government needs the data, it’s very easily accessible. Hackers tend to care quite a bit about privacy and provide tools so that people can keep their communications private. There’s pockets of protection, but generally on the Internet it’s actually really, really hard to have anonymity or privacy.
Riley: Although there are women involved with Anonymous, you’ve talked about how they are in the minority. If the future of protest and civil liberties protection is online, it could be a real problem if women, people of color and poor communities don’t have the skills to participate, right?
Coleman: That’s absolutely right. There’s so much economic and political power that’s tied into technical literacies, and there’s many different types, from administering a server to coding software. It’s very skewed toward the male side of things and there’s some forms of sexism in the community. There’s been a lot of initiatives to broaden the scope, and there have been some very interesting diversity and gender projects as well.
But even if the hacker community did everything under the sun to get rid of sexism and create initiatives to diversify things, it would not be enough. It would not be enough because outside of the world of hacking there’s such disparities in computer science. For example, in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — majors tend to be pretty even [women/men] in math and engineering. In computer science, it’s about 19 percent women. The peak of women majors came in 1985.
One of the interesting things about the world of hacking is that many hackers got their start at a very young age — three, four, five, six, seven years old — and so women who are catching up and getting computer science degrees are already way behind the curve. Really the only solution is to integrate computer science curriculum in elementary and middle schools. That is the one way to make sure that a wide swath of very different types of people gain these skills, which, again, translates to both economic and politic power

January 3, 2013

January Month of Emancipation : Fmer Slave Send Fierce Letter To His Fmer. Owner

Slavery in America: Letter From a Free Man

A former slave sends his “Old Master” fierce words, dry wit—and a bill.
January 1, 2013, marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. One man who took full advantage of his new freedom was Jourdon Anderson, a slave who fled his abusive “Master,” Col. Patrick Anderson, in Tennessee, to settle in Ohio as a free man. Shortly after the Civil War, the colonel beckoned Jourdon back to the failing plantation. Jourdon sent a droll reply in his place.
Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865
I got your letter and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable.
Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.
Slavery in America: Letter From a Free ManMARK HUMPHREY/AP PHOTO
I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy, the folks call her Mrs. Anderson; and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you Master.
Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly, and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future.
We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here, I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee, there was never any payday for the negroes, any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.
In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young Masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education and have them form virtuous habits.
Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
Editor’s note: Things did not end well for Colonel Anderson. His crops failed, forcing him to sell his plantation for very little. He died two years later, at age 44. Jourdon survived him by nearly four decades, living well into his 70s.

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