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Bernie in 2016?; UMass: How Safe Are Dorms?;Springfield LGBTQ Youth Group Wins National Award

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bernie in 2016?

Anyone who really, really wants to be president is slightly crazy, because this is an unbelievably difficult job given the crises that this country faces today,” Vermont’s always frank Sen. Bernie Sanders recently told the Burlington Free Press.

Now observers on the far-left reaches of the nation’s political spectrum are waiting eagerly to see if Sanders is just crazy enough to take the plunge.

Sanders, an Independent who describes himself as a democratic socialist and a champion of progressive causes, created a buzz last month with that Free Press interview, in which he said he would consider a run for the White House if no other progressive candidate steps forward.

“Under normal times, it’s fine, you have a moderate Democrat running, a moderate Republican running,” Sanders told reporter Sam Hemingway. “These are not normal times. The United States right now is in the middle of a severe crisis and you have to call it what it is.”

Sanders later expanded on his concerns in an interview with Salon reporter Josh Eidelson. Among the urgent topics Sanders said should—but, without a truly progressive candidate, likely won’t—be front and center in the 2016 campaign: global warming, assaults on safety-net programs like Social Security and Medicare, unemployment and growing economic inequities, which he called “the great moral and economic and political crisis facing this country.” Sanders also cited the corrupting influence of corporate money in the political system, which, he said, threatens to “move [the U.S.] very rapidly toward an oligarchic form of society when our economic and political life is controlled by a handful of billionaires.”

Sanders has no illusions about the challenges his candidacy would face, from the extra work an Independent campaign needs to do to get on the ballot to the undoubtedly rough time he’d have raising the kind of big money national candidates need to win. “I’m not going to get any money from Wall Street or corporate America,” he told the Free Press.

Sanders had praise for one person whose name has been floated as a potential Democratic presidential nominee: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom he called “one of the smartest people in the Senate” and “a true progressive.”

He stopped short, though, of saying Warren should run for president, telling his Salon interviewer, “Why don’t you give her a ring?” (Salon can save its dime; earlier this month, at a Boston press conference, Warren told the media she won’t run for president in 2016 and will serve out her full Senate term.)

As for the presumed front-running Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, Sanders offered a more tepid analysis, praising her intelligence but noting that, given “the kind of centrist positions that we have seen her take in the past, it remains to be seen —although I may be wrong—it remains to be seen whether she will be a forceful advocate for working families.”•

 

UMass: How Safe Are Dorms?

After a UMass student was raped in her dormitory by four non-students in October, 2012, UMass commissioned a study by Business Protection Specialists, an independent security consulting firm based in Canandaigua, N.Y. The consultants’ 214-page report has recently been released.

According to The Daily Collegian, three of the four assailants were signed in to the dormitory by a student they did not know, while the fourth entered the building by unknown means.

The report recommends that the University make several changes to its security system, including installing a computerized system for sign-ins, altering the layout of residence halls, improving key control, and “[improving] enforcement of judicial bans and trespasses.” University officials have announced plans to spend $2 million over the next three years to put “top priority” recommendations in place.

Ninety-two percent of UMass-Amherst students surveyed in the report “believe security in residence halls is appropriate.”

UMass-Amherst enacted some changes to its security before the report was completed, including requiring police cadets—who have been employed by the University to assist with security since the summer of 2003—to patrol common areas.

“Student safety and security is our top priority,” said UMass-Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy in a press release. “While this report concludes that our residential security program ranks favorably with comparable universities, more needs to be done. We are committed to implementing improvements and making our residence halls even safer.”

According to the Annual Security Report put together by the UMass-Amherst Police Department, 15 incidents of forcible sex took place on campus in 2012, 11 of which happened in a residence hall.•

 

Keep an Eye on Kayyem

A little sparkle in the Massachusetts governor’s race? Next year’s contest will have it thanks to the versatility and verbal gifts of Juliette Kayyem, a Lebanese-American lawyer with a glittering track record on the state and national level. Kayyem raised $130,000 for her campaign within a few days of announcing her candidacy last August.

Early in her career, Kayyem worked as an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, where she helped bring about the transformation of the historic military academy The Citadel from a male-only institution to one that admits women. Later she served as a homeland security official under the Patrick administration in Massachusetts and, after that, under the administration of President Obama, overseeing responses to disasters such as the BP oil spill, the earthquake in Haiti and the attempted terrorist attack by the “underwear bomber.” She coordinated security for the Vancouver Olympics, the Caribbean Games and other major sports events. Part of her legacy from her homeland security days is a belief that Massachusetts needs to be prepared for climate change, and experience with the myriad details that make up preparedness.

Kayyem has had a wide media presence as a commentator on national security and foreign policy for the Boston Globe and an analyst for NBC and MSNBC. In a particularly memorable media moment, she leaped into the fray against Congresswoman Michele Bachmann after Bachmann had suggested that Arab-Americans and American Muslims working in government were spies for the Muslim Brotherhood. Kayyem (who is of Lebanese Christian descent) wrote that Bachmann’s attack was “intended to make Muslims or Arabs in government … feel like outsiders. It will most surely affect the desire of those who can contribute language and cultural skills to ever work in government.”

As a gubernatorial candidate, refreshingly, former civil rights attorney Kayyem doesn’t invoke get-tough-on-crime platitudes. Instead, she says, Massachusetts needs to bring down its recidivism rate (60 percent within six years) by stepping up education, job training and treatment for substance abusers—in short, reforming a system that is “more punitive than corrective.” An easy task? No, she says, but “I know what it takes to move large institutions.”

Wide-ranging expertise together with convictions and articulation that hits the nail on the head are assets in a governor’s race, no doubt. Whether they win it or not is another question; witness the 2002 gubernatorial campaign of Robert Reich, which was rich with information and vision for the state superbly expressed—and ultimately unsuccessful. A state is a warren of entrenched interests all hungry for their pork; longtime dues-paying and connections in local diners, town halls and police stations often do more for gubernatorial hopefuls than stellar experience in Washington, which former U.S. Secretary of Labor Reich also had. What’s certain about the multitalented Kayyem is that she will make the race exceptionally stimulating to watch.•

 

Local Communities Get Mixed Scores on LGBT Issues

Among Western Massachusetts communities, Northampton does the best job of offering legal protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, according to a new report from the national Human Rights Campaign.

HRC’s 2013 “Municipal Equality Index” evaluated 291 communities across the country using a scorecard that looked at their laws, policies and leadership. For example, does that community have laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in housing, employment and public accommodations? Are same-sex marriages or civil partnerships legal there? Does the local government have a human rights commission and strong anti-bullying laws? Does it offer benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees and have anti-discrimination policies for public workers and municipal contractors? Are its police department and city leaders sensitive to LGBT issues?

The report evaluated state capitals and large cities, as well as the hometown of each state’s flagship public university and communities with a high percentage of same-sex couples. The list included seven Massachusetts communities. Two of them—Boston and Cambridge—received perfect scores of 100 percent. Provincetown scored a 76, while Worcester received a score of 55.

In the Valley, Northampton led with a score of 80, while Springfield received a 56. Amherst had the lowest score of the Massachusetts communities evaluated: 49.

All three local communities scored well in the “relationship recognition” category, thanks to the state’s marriage equality law, and also benefited from anti-discrimination laws on the state level. Northampton scored additional points for its municipal nondiscrimination laws and won “bonus” points for providing services to “particularly vulnerable populations of the LGBT community” and for having openly gay elected officials. Springfield’s total score suffered the most because of a lack of municipal services for LGBT people. Amherst, meanwhile, scored poorly on protections and benefits to LGBT municipal employees.

The average score, nationally, was 57. Twenty-five cities scored perfect 100s, up from just 11 a year ago. Not surprisingly, communities with a high proportion of same-sex couples and out LGBT officials tended to get higher scores.

Still, and remarkably, eight of those perfect-scoring cities are in states that don’t have statewide anti-discrimination or marriage equality laws—demonstrating, HRC says, that profound progress can happen at the local level, and in the least-expected places. “Equality isn’t just for the coasts anymore,” Chad Griffin, HRC’s president, said in a press release. “[C]ities and towns across the country, from Vicco, Kentucky, to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, are leading the charge for basic fairness for LGBT people.”

The report can be found at www.hrc.org /campaigns/municipal-equality-index.• —MT

 

Springfield LGBTQ Youth Group Wins National Award

A couple of months ago, Joe Wilson, a documentary filmmaker and LGBTQ activist, contacted Holly Richardson to ask for some photos of Out Now, the Springfield youth group she leads, to use in a newsletter.

Richardson and her Out Now colleagues had first met Wilson a few years ago, when he came to town for a screening of the film he’d made with his husband, Dean Hamer, Out in the Silence. The 2009 film, which told the story of the torment faced by a gay kid in the small, conservative Pennsylvania town where Wilson grew up, was shown during Springfield Pride Week.

Out Now has kept in touch with Wilson since then, so it wasn’t surprising when he asked for photos of the group to use in the Out in the Silence Campaign, which he and Hamer founded after their film’s release. But Richardson was very surprised when, last week, she received an email from Wilson letting her know that her group was this year’s winner of the national Out in the Silence Youth Activism Award. The announcement was made officially on Huffington Post and featured the photo shared by Out Now, showing members gathered under the group’s motto: “Don’t Hate: Liberate!”

The honor comes with a $1,000 award and the campaign’s promise to “help spread news of your good work among the Out In The Silence network and beyond.”

In the award announcement, Hamer and Wilson praised the breadth of Out Now’s mission. “[W]hat most impresses us is Out Now’s commitment to not just serving young people but helping them understand that LGBT liberation (what is now called ‘LGBT equality’) should be seen as an all-inclusive movement that’s intrinsically bound to other social justice movements, and that there could be no justice for LGBT people without justice for people of color, women, workers, those in other nations, etc., because we are one and the same,” they said.

“That’s the angle we’ve always come from,” Richardson told the Advocate. “We see ourselves as queer people in the struggle for racial, economic and social justice.” What Out Now brings to that work, she continued, is the perspective of queer youth; when members are working on a campaign against police brutality, for instance, they can address how abuse of power affects LGBTQ kids in particular.

Out Now was founded in 1995 by a social work student at the University of Connecticut who saw a need for a support group for gay youth in Springfield, where she lived, Over the years, it’s evolved from an all-volunteer project to a nonprofit organization with staff, and it’s formed strong relationships with other like-minded groups in the Valley, such as Arise for Social Justice. Out Now co-founded the Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition after the controversial anti-gay minister Scott Lively moved to Springfield in 2010, and has been involved in the court case challenging Lively’s role in the creation of anti-gay legislation in Uganda. (See “Lively Dispute,” March 22, 2012, www.valleyadvocate.com.)

Richardson has worked with Out Now since 1997. Over the years, she said, some things have changed: “Clearly there have been shifts, in folks’ being able to be out, and visibility and awareness about what it means to be LGBTQ—with some exceptions around the B and the T.” But there’s still plenty of progress to be made, she added; classism still exists, and so does racism. Young people still find themselves without a place to live when their families reject them after they come out.

“Two steps forward, one step back,” Richardson said. “In some ways, the work is the work is the work.”

At deadline, Out Now was still discussing how to celebrate its Out in the Silence award. But Richardson was already celebrating the young people she works with. “They’ve arrived,” she said. “They’re really young revolutionaries, and they are in this work in such a loving and beautiful and smart way.”• —MT

 

Big-Name Democrats?

Among the field of potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates for 2014, conventional wisdom holds that Attorney General Martha Coakley has the name recognition and state Treasurer Steve Grossman the fundraising muscle.

But expectations were turned somewhat upside down in a recent straw poll conducted by Progressive Massachusetts of several hundred of its members. The results:

• Don Berwick: 67 percent

• Grossman: 21 percent

• Coakley: 5 percent

• Juliette Kayyem: 4 percent

• Joe Avellone: 1 percent

• None of the above: 2 percent

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