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Commentary :: Peace & War

Stupid White Movie: What Michael Moore Misses About the Empire

July 5, 2004
Stupid White Movie
What Michael Moore Misses About the Empire


I have been defending Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" from the criticism in mainstream and conservative circles that the film is leftist propaganda. Nothing could be further from the truth; there is very little left critique in the movie. In fact, it's hard to find any coherent critique in the movie at all.

The sad truth is that "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a bad movie, but not for the reasons it is being attacked in the dominant culture. It's at times a racist movie. And the analysis that underlies the film's main political points is either dangerously incomplete or virtually incoherent.

But, most important, it's a conservative movie that ends with an endorsement of one of the central lies of the United States, which should warm the hearts of the right-wingers who condemn Moore. And the real problem is that many left/liberal/progressive people are singing the film's praises, which should tell us something about the impoverished nature of the left in this country.

I say all this not to pick at small points or harp on minor flaws. These aren't minor points of disagreement but fundamental questions of analysis and integrity. But before elaborating on that, I want to talk about what the film does well.

The good stuff

First, Moore highlights the disenfranchisement of primarily black voters in Florida in the 2000 election, a political scandal that the mainstream commercial news media in the United States has largely ignored. The footage of a joint session of Congress in which Congressional Black Caucus members can't get a senator to sign their letter to allow floor debate about the issue (a procedural requirement) is a powerful indictment not only of the Republicans who perpetrated the fraud but the Democratic leadership that refused to challenge it.

Moore also provides a sharp critique of U.S. military recruiting practices, with some amazing footage of recruiters cynically at work scouring low-income areas for targets, whom are disproportionately non-white. The film also effectively takes apart the Bush administration's use of fear tactics after 9/11 to drive the public to accept its war policies.

"Fahrenheit 9/11" also does a good job of showing war's effects on U.S. soldiers; we see soldiers dead and maimed, and we see how contemporary warfare deforms many of them psychologically as well. And the film pays attention to the victims of U.S. wars, showing Iraqis both before the U.S. invasion and after in a way that humanizes them rather than uses them as props.

The problem is that these positive elements don't add up to a good film. It's a shame that Moore's talent and flair for the dramatic aren't put in the service of a principled, clear analysis that could potentially be effective at something beyond defeating George W. Bush in 2004.

Subtle racism

How dare I describe as racist a movie that highlights the disenfranchisement of black voters and goes after the way in which military recruiters chase low-income minority youth? My claim is not that Moore is an overt racist, but that the movie unconsciously replicates a more subtle racism, one that we all have to struggle to resist.

First, there is one segment that invokes the worst kind of ugly-American nativism, in which Moore mocks the Bush administration's "coalition of the willing," the nations it lined up to support the invasion of Iraq. Aside from Great Britain there was no significant military support from other nations and no real coalition, which Moore is right to point out. But when he lists the countries in the so-called coalition, he uses images that have racist undertones. To depict the Republic of Palau (a small Pacific island nation), Moore chooses an image of stereotypical "native" dancers, while a man riding on an animal-drawn cart represents Costa Rica. Pictures of monkeys running are on the screen during a discussion of Morocco's apparent offer to send monkeys to clear landmines. To ridicule the Bush propaganda on this issue, Moore uses these images and an exaggerated voice-over in a fashion that says, in essence, "What kind of coalition is it that has these backward countries?" Moore might argue that is not his intention, but intention is not the only question; we all are responsible for how we tap into these kinds of stereotypes.

More subtle and important is Moore's invocation of a racism in which solidarity between dominant whites and non-white groups domestically can be forged by demonizing the foreign "enemy," which these days has an Arab and South Asian face. For example, in the segment about law-enforcement infiltration of peace groups, the camera pans the almost exclusively white faces (I noticed one Asian man in the scene) in the group Peace Fresno and asks how anyone could imagine these folks could be terrorists. There is no consideration of the fact that Arab and Muslim groups that are equally dedicated to peace have to endure routine harassment and constantly prove that they weren't terrorists, precisely because they weren't white.

The other example of political repression that "Fahrenheit 9/11" offers is the story of Barry Reingold, who was visited by FBI agents after making critical remarks about Bush and the war while working out at a gym in Oakland. Reingold, a white retired phone worker, was not detained or charged with a crime; the agents questioned him and left. This is the poster child for repression? In a country where hundreds of Arab, South Asian and Muslim men were thrown into secret detention after 9/11, this is the case Moore chooses to highlight? The only reference in the film to those detentions post-9/11 is in an interview with a former FBI agent about Saudis who were allowed to leave the United States shortly after 9/11, in which it appears that Moore mentions those detentions only to contrast the kid-gloves treatment that privileged Saudi nationals allegedly received.

When I made this point to a friend, he defended Moore by saying the filmmaker was trying to reach a wide audience that likely is mostly white and probably wanted to use examples that those people could connect with. So, it's acceptable to pander to the white audience members and over-dramatize their limited risks while ignoring the actual serious harm done to non-white people? Could not a skilled filmmaker tell the story of the people being seriously persecuted in a way that non-Arab, non-South Asian, non-Muslims could empathize with?

Bad analysis

"Fahrenheit 9/11" is strong on tapping into emotions and raising questions about why the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, but it is extremely weak on answering those questions in even marginally coherent fashion. To the degree the film has a thesis, it appears to be that the wars were a product of the personal politics of a corrupt Bush dynasty. I agree the Bush dynasty is corrupt, but the analysis the film offers is both internally inconsistent, extremely limited in historical understanding and, hence, misguided.

Is the administration of George W. Bush full of ideological fanatics? Yes. Have its actions since 9/11 been reckless and put the world at risk? Yes. In the course of pursuing those policies, has it enriched fat-cat friends? Yes.

But it is a serious mistake to believe that these wars can be explained by focusing so exclusively on the Bush administration and ignoring clear trends in U.S. foreign and military policy. In short, these wars are not a sharp departure from the past but instead should be seen as an intensification of longstanding policies, affected by the confluence of this particular administration's ideology and the opportunities created by the events of 9/11.

Look first at Moore's treatment of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. He uses a clip of former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke complaining that the Bush administration's response to 9/11 in Afghanistan was "slow and small," implying that we should have attacked faster and bigger. The film does nothing to question that assessment, leaving viewers to assume that Moore agrees. Does he think that a bombing campaign that killed at least as many innocent Afghans as Americans who died on 9/11 was justified? Does he think that a military response was appropriate, and simply should have been more intense, which would have guaranteed even more civilian casualties? Does he think that a military strategy, which many experts believe made it difficult to pursue more routine and productive counterterrorism law-enforcement methods, was a smart move?

Moore also suggests that the real motivation of the Bush administration in attacking Afghanistan was to secure a gas pipeline route from the Caspian Basin to the sea. It's true that Unocal had sought such a pipeline, and at one point Taliban officials were courted by the United States when it looked as if they could make such a deal happen. Moore points out that Taliban officials traveled to Texas in 1997 when Bush was governor. He fails to point out that all this happened with the Clinton administration at the negotiating table. It is highly unlikely that policymakers would go to war for a single pipeline, but even if that were plausible it is clear that both Democrats and Republicans alike have been mixed up in that particular scheme.

The centerpiece of Moore's analysis of U.S. policy in the Middle East is the relationship of the Bush family to the Saudis and the bin Laden family. The film appears to argue that those business interests, primarily through the Carlyle Group, led the administration to favor the Saudis to the point of ignoring potential Saudi complicity in the attacks of 9/11. After laying out the nature of those business dealings, Moore implies that the Bushes are literally on the take.

It is certainly true that the Bush family and its cronies have a relationship with Saudi Arabia that has led officials to overlook Saudi human-rights abuses and the support that many Saudis give to movements such as al Qaeda. That is true of the Bushes, just as it was of the Clinton administration and, in fact, every post-World War II president. Ever since FDR cut a deal with the House of Saud giving U.S. support in exchange for cooperation on the flow of oil and oil profits, U.S. administrations have been playing ball with the Saudis. The relationship is sometimes tense but has continued through ups and downs, with both sides getting at least part of what they need from the other. Concentrating on Bush family business connections ignores that history and encourages viewers to see the problem as specific to Bush. Would a Gore administration have treated the Saudis differently after 9/11? There's no reason to think so, and Moore offers no evidence or argument why it would have.

But that's only part of the story of U.S. policy in the Middle East, in which the Saudis play a role but are not the only players. The United States cuts deals with other governments in the region that are willing to support the U.S. aim of control over those energy resources. The Saudis are crucial in that system, but not alone. Egypt, Jordan and the other Gulf emirates have played a role, as did Iran under the Shah. As does, crucially, Israel. But there is no mention of Israel in the film. To raise questions about U.S. policy in the Middle East without addressing the role of Israel as a U.S. proxy is, to say the least, a significant omission. It's unclear whether Moore actually backs Israeli crimes and U.S. support for them, or simply doesn't understand the issue.

And what of the analysis of Iraq? Moore is correct in pointing out that U.S. support for Iraq during the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein's war on Iran was looked upon favorably by U.S. policymakers, was a central part of Reagan and Bush I policy up to the Gulf War. And he's correct in pointing out that Bush II's invasion and occupation have caused great suffering in Iraq. What is missing is the intervening eight years in which the Clinton administration used the harshest economic embargo in modern history and regular bombing to further devastate an already devastated country. He fails to point out that Clinton killed more Iraqis through that policy than either of the Bush presidents. He fails to mention the 1998 Clinton cruise missile attack on Iraq, which was every bit as illegal as the 2003 invasion.

It's not difficult to articulate what much of the rest of the world understands about U.S. policy in Iraq and the Middle East: Since the end of WWII, the United States has been the dominant power in the Middle East, constructing a system that tries to keep the Arab states weak and controllable (and, as a result, undemocratic) and undermine any pan-Arab nationalism, and uses allies as platforms and surrogates for U.S. power (such as Israel and Iran under the Shah). The goal is control over (not ownership of, but control over) the strategically crucial energy resources of the region and the profits that flow from them, which in an industrial world that runs on oil is a source of incredible leverage over competitors such as the European Union, Japan and China.

The Iraq invasion, however incompetently planned and executed by the Bush administration, is consistent with that policy. That's the most plausible explanation for the war (by this time, we need no longer bother with the long-ago forgotten rationalizations of weapons of mass destruction and the alleged threat Iraq posed to the United States). The war was a gamble on the part of the Bush gang. Many in the foreign-policy establishment, including Bush I stalwarts such as Brent Scowcroft, spoke out publicly against war plans they thought were reckless. Whether Bush's gamble, in pure power terms, will pay off or not is yet to be determined.

When the film addresses this question directly, what analysis does Moore offer of the reasons for the Iraq war? A family member of a soldier who died asks, "for what?" and Moore cuts to the subject of war profiteering. That segment appropriately highlights the vulture-like nature of businesses that benefit from war. But does Moore really want us to believe that a major war was launched so that Halliburton and other companies could increase its profits for a few years? Yes, war profiteering happens, but it is not the reason nations go to war. This kind of distorted analysis helps keep viewers' attention focused on the Bush administration, by noting the close ties between Bush officials and these companies, not the routine way in which corporate America makes money off the misnamed Department of Defense, no matter who is in the White House.

All this is summed up when Lila Lipscomb, the mother of a son killed in the war, visits the White House in a final, emotional scene and says that she now has somewhere to put all her pain and anger. This is the message of the film: It's all about the Bush administration. If that's the case, the obvious conclusion is to get Bush out of the White House so that things can get back to to what? I'll return to questions of political strategy at the end, but for now it's important to realize how this attempt to construct Bush as pursuing some radically different policy is bad analysis and leads to a misunderstanding of the threat the United States poses to the world. Yes, Moore throws in a couple of jabs at the Democrats in Congress for not stopping the mad rush to war in Iraq, but the focus is always on the singular crimes of George W. Bush and his gang.

A conservative movie

The claim that "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a conservative movie may strike some as ludicrous. But the film endorses one of the central lies that Americans tell themselves, that the U.S. military fights for our freedom. This construction of the military as a defensive force obscures the harsh reality that the military is used to project U.S. power around the world to ensure dominance, not to defend anyone's freedom, at home or abroad.

Instead of confronting this mythology, Moore ends the film with it. He points out, accurately, the irony that those who benefit the least from the U.S. system -- the chronically poor and members of minority groups -- are the very people who sign up for the military. "They offer to give up their lives so we can be free," Moore says, and all they ask in return is that we not send them in harm's way unless it's necessary. After the Iraq War, he wonders, "Will they ever trust us again?"

It is no doubt true that many who join the military believe they will be fighting for freedom. But we must distinguish between the mythology that many internalize and may truly believe, from the reality of the role of the U.S. military. The film includes some comments by soldiers questioning that very claim, but Moore's narration implies that somehow a glorious tradition of U.S. military endeavors to protect freedom has now been sullied by the Iraq War.

The problem is not just that the Iraq War was fundamentally illegal and immoral. The whole rotten project of empire building has been illegal and immoral -- and every bit as much a Democratic as a Republican project. The millions of dead around the world -- in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia -- as a result of U.S. military actions and proxy wars don't care which U.S. party was pulling the strings and pulling the trigger when they were killed. It's true that much of the world hates Bush. It's also true that much of the world has hated every post-WWII U.S. president. And for good reasons.

It is one thing to express solidarity for people forced into the military by economic conditions. It is quite another to pander to the lies this country tells itself about the military. It is not disrespectful to those who join up to tell the truth. It is our obligation to try to prevent future wars in which people are sent to die not for freedom but for power and profit. It's hard to understand how we can do that by repeating the lies of the people who plan, and benefit from, those wars.

Political strategy

The most common defense I have heard from liberals and progressives to these criticisms of "Fahrenheit 9/11" is that, whatever its flaws, the movie sparks people to political action. One response is obvious: There is no reason a film can't spark people to political action with intelligent and defensible analysis, and without subtle racism.

But beyond that, it's not entirely clear the political action that this film will spark goes much beyond voting against Bush. The "what can I do now?" link on Moore's website suggests four actions, all of which are about turning out the vote. These resources about voting are well organized and helpful. But there are no links to grassroots groups organizing against not only the Bush regime but the American empire more generally.

I agree that Bush should be kicked out of the White House, and if I lived in a swing state I would consider voting Democratic. But I don't believe that will be meaningful unless there emerges in the United States a significant anti-empire movement. In other words, if we beat Bush and go back to "normal," we're all in trouble. Normal is empire building. Normal is U.S. domination, economic and military, and the suffering that vulnerable people around the world experience as a result. This doesn't mean voters can't judge one particular empire-building politician more dangerous than another. It doesn't mean we shouldn't sometimes make strategic choices to vote for one over the other. It simply means we should make such choices with eyes open and no illusions. This seems particularly important when the likely Democratic presidential candidate tries to out-hawk Bush on support for Israel, pledges to continue the occupation of Iraq, and says nothing about reversing the basic trends in foreign policy.

In this sentiment, I am not alone. Ironically, Barry Reingold -- the Oakland man who was visited by the FBI -- is critical of what he sees as the main message of the film. He was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle saying: "I think Michael Moore's agenda is to get Bush out, but I think it (should be) about more than Bush. I think it's about the capitalist system, which is inequitable." He went on to critique Bush and Kerry: "I think both of them are bad. I think Kerry is actually worse because he gives the illusion that he's going to do a lot more. Bush has never given that illusion. People know that he's a friend of big business."

Nothing I have said here is an argument against reaching out to a wider audience and trying to politicize more people. That's what I try to do in my own writing and local organizing work, as do countless other activists. The question isn't whether to reach out, but with what kind of analysis and arguments. Emotional appeals and humor have their place; the activists I work with use them. The question is, where do such appeals lead people?

It is obvious that "Fahrenheit 9/11" taps into many Americans' fear and/or hatred of Bush and his gang of thugs. Such feelings are understandable, and I share them. But feelings are not analysis, and the film's analysis, unfortunately, doesn't go much beyond the feeling: It's all Bush's fault. That may be appealing to people, but it's wrong. And it is hard to imagine how a successful anti-empire movement can be built on this film's analysis unless it is challenged. Hence, the reason for this essay.

The potential value of Moore's film will be realized only if it is discussed and critiqued, honestly. Yes, the film is under attack from the right, for very different reasons than I have raised. But those attacks shouldn't stop those who consider themselves left, progressive, liberal, anti-war, anti-empire or just plain pissed-off from criticizing the film's flaws and limitations. I think my critique of the film is accurate and relevant. Others may disagree. The focus of debate should be on the issues raised, with an eye toward the question of how to build an anti-empire movement. Rallying around the film can too easily lead to rallying around bad analysis. Let's instead rally around the struggle for a better world, the struggle to dismantle the American empire.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of "Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity" from City Lights Books. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

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News :: Peace & War : Protest Activity

Hundreds rally, march in protest against war

Chanting slogans like "George Bush, you can't hide, we charge you with genocide," several hundred people marched down largely barren streets to the state Capitol on Saturday to demonstrate their objections to the war against Iraq.

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News :: Peace & War : Protest Activity

Anti-war message pushed: Protesters in Richmond express strong oppostion to U.S. policy in Iraq

It was at times carnival, at others family reunion, and very occasionally even confrontational.

But through the more than three hours it took for an anti-war rally and march through downtown Richmond yesterday, there was a pervading sense of serious business.

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:: Protest Activity

Richmond Rally/March Pics

Pictures from Virginia AntiWar Coalition Rally/March in Richmond,VA July 3, 2004.

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Commentary :: International Relations

9-year old palinistin boy shot dead as he plays

By Donald Macintyre
The Independent - UK

JERUSALEM -- A nine-year-old Palestinian boy was shot dead by Israeli forces yesterday as he played football, local residents said after armoured vehicles once again entered the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

A few hours later five Palestinian gunmen were killed in Gaza by Israeli forces protecting the approach road used by Israelis from the Jewish settlement of Netzarim. The army said its unit returned fire from one gunman and then shot four others who subsequently approached the "structure" occupied by the troops.

The boy killed in Rafah, named as Omar Za'ran, was pronounced dead by medics at the local hospital, after he was brought in from the Brazil section of the town's refugee camp. Bashir Abu Jlidan, 18, said: "We were playing football when Israeli tanks ... started firing inside the camp and towards us." He said that the boy had fallen to the ground, bleeding.

Palestinian sources said a force of 15 armoured vehicles backed by Apache helicopters had entered the town. The army said it was a mission to find and destroy tunnels used by militants to smuggle weapons. It added that it was still checking reports of the boy's death.

The army, which was still operating in Rafah last night, said it had discovered the shaft of a tunnel under abandoned stores near the Brazil camp. Palestinian sources said the force had begun to destroy houses in the area.

Meanwhile, witnesses said Israeli helicopters had fired two missiles into Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, injuring several people, one critically. Israeli military bulldozers began destroying olive groves and orchards in Beit Hanoun to strip militants of cover.

And in a third Gaza incident, the sources said last night that at least one Palestinian gunman had been shot dead by an army patrol protecting the Jewish settlement of Netzarim.

Earlier yesterday Israeli forces launched a raid into the normally quiet West Bank town of Jericho. The army said it had arrested 30 wanted Palestinians and had found weapons, including rifles and grenades.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=537262
my comments :
suddenly i see a growing similarity in the way isreal military carries out its agressions in a war/occupation and the way americans have started to carry out theres hummmmmmm
go figure who would ever guess these 2 millitaries could ever opperate so closely in hitlers foot steps ,in style and approch..
mass genocide....torture ,harasment, random murders ,rape of the enemy ,rape of civilians ,rape of each other ....rape of the land and defientely rape of all of the resources food,water,medicine ,medical care ...
what i hate is when the guilt catches up to thoes responsible and they wine about it and try to justify it with miss-conscrewed religious belifes and theories totally unassociated with any god i ever knew who was worthely of love and respect ...

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News :: Globalization

Coal power plant jobs cannot be exported

Southwest Virginia will be taking advantage of improvements in the national economy to bring new business and jobs into the region, according to economic development officials meeting here yesterday.

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News :: Miscellaneous

Private firm to run new city school

The Richmond School Board voted 6-2 Monday to allow a private company, Community Education Partners, to run the city's new alternative school set to open in the fall.

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News :: Civil & Human Rights

Coverage of Anti-Marriage Affirmation Act Protests (various media)


June 25, 2004

By Chris Newman

News & Messenger

Cindy Allan grew up in Dale City, her lesbian identity not accepted by her
church and community.

She left the county, away from its conservative culture, to live in

She's returning Saturday to march with her mom and others on Delegate Robert
G. Marshall's house to protest a law he sponsored they say could make
Virginia the most restrictive state in the country for gays.

"I remember growing up there. It's very difficult to get people to come
out," Allan said of Prince William. "But now, this bill has set off people.
This is too much to risk, to let this go by. It's time to speak."

The law takes effect July 1.

Allan, who is with the Stand Up for Equality Coalition, said the law could
void agreements between same-sex partners such as medical or child custody
agreements, powers of attorney and wills.

Virginia lawmakers passed the law by a veto-proof two-thirds majority this
winter in response to other states granting extensive legal rights to
homosexual couples, including gay marriage in Massachusetts.

The bill prohibits same-sex persons from entering into a "civil union,
partnership contract or other arrangement" that "bestow(s) the privileges or
obligations of marriage" and does not recognize these agreements made in
other states.

Opponents including Gov. Mark R. Warner say this language is too broad and
affects contracts that are not exclusive to marriage.

March organizer Kirk Marasak of Manassas said marchers will meet at the
Prince William Judicial Center on Lee Avenue in Manassas at noon.

He said he expects 20 to 25 people.

The walk will be approximately two miles round trip to Marshall's house,
which is just off the county parkway on Willow Pond Court.

This will be the second time in three months a march in Old Town Manassas
has made Prince William the center of a contentious statewide debate.

Anti-tax conservatives marched on the business and district offices of
Delegate Harry J. Parrish, R-50th District, in April to protest a state $1
billion tax increase, a compromise lawmakers eventually passed.

Marshall, R-13th District, said marching on a private residence is different
than marching on a commercial establishment.

"Picketing a house is not really a prudent thing to do. What it says is if
you can't win by persuasion, you win by intimidation," Marshall said.

Marshall said he had to cancel a graduation party for his son, and he is not
sure if there is another date that will work for family coming from out of

"This is an effort to scare people, to throw smoke and fog at the issue,"
Marshall said. He said it is "preposterous" that the law will affect
contracts that are independent of marriage, citing a letter from Virginia
Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, R.

"[The law] as overwhelmingly passed by both houses of the General Assembly
provides a needed safeguard for the institution of marriage while not
depriving any individual rights currently available to all citizens. The
legislation is consistent with a strong public policy of the Commonwealth,"
Kilgore wrote Marshall.

Kilgore wrote that the law is constitutional and one he would defend in

"The purpose of this legislation is not to prohibit business partnership
agreements, medical directives, joint bank accounts, or any other rights or
privileges not exclusive to the institution of marriage," Kilgore wrote.

Whether it was the intent or not is irrelevant now that interpretation will
be done in the courts, opponents and law experts say.

"By its very terms, [the law] would prevent [people] from creating an
'arrangement' with a person of the same sex that would bestow any of the
privileges and obligations of marriage," University of Virginia law
professor Daniel R. Ortiz wrote Warner. "I doubt the sponsors of HB751
intended this," Ortiz wrote.

For example, if a family disagrees with a child's lifestyle, they will be
able to go to court to take away a partner's power of attorney to make
decisions, Allan said.

Loudoun resident David Weintraub, who has been with his partner for 20
years, said the intent of the law is to be punitive to gays and get them to
leave the state.

He knows a gay couple that are leaving the state because of the law. They
have combined property and are"not willing to live with that kind of

"Personally, I'm not going anywhere. I'm a citizen of this commonwealth.
This kind of thing, we've had enough," Weintraub said.

Equality Virginia and other gay rights groups are organizing rallies across
the state. The groups joined by the American Civil Liberties Union are
planning to challenge the law in court.

A Web site, http://www.virginiaisforhaters.org, a play on the state's
tourism slogan, is calling for a boycott of Virginia businesses and
attractions including Philip Morris and J. Crew.

Marshall said gay leaders are intentionally deceiving the community to build
support and power. The bill's impact is not alarming, he said, "not the
ordinary homosexual who can read."

"To be as kind as possible, I think Delegate Marshall is being
disingenuous," Weintraub said.

Marshall is relying on Kilgore, the same attorney general who wants to keep
Virginia's crimes against nature on the books even though the U.S. Supreme
Court struck them down, Weintraub said.

"These two men and others are not making decisions on this whether it is
constitutional. They're basing it on their ideological position," Weintraub
said. "It's very obvious they are completely unfamiliar with the gay
community. They have no idea what our lives are like, what our values are
... we want the same things everyone else wants. We simply want to be able
to protect our families. What they are doing with this law is taking the few
tools we have to do that."



Temperature rising as deadline approaches for anti-civil union legislation

June 25, 2004

Chris Graham

Augusta Free Press

The gay and lesbian community in the Central Shenandoah Valley has been and
is to this day eerily quiet.

It's not hard to figure out why.

"There's still a fear there that there might be repercussions for gays and
lesbians who decide to come out of the closet in terms of their jobs and
their status in the community. The only way to get over that fear, in my
view, is though being open and honest with yourself about who you are," said
Linda Czyzyk, one of the organizers of a town-hall forum being held at
Staunton City Hall on Wednesday night that is focused on educating the
community at-large on gay and lesbian issues.

Czyzyk and others across the state holding similar forums and rallies on
June 30 just wish they weren't doing so because of what is taking place the
next day.

On July 1 - next Thursday - legislation styled as the Affirmation of
Marriage Act will become law.

The law, written by Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, who introduced the
legislation as House Bill 751, declares that the Commonwealth will not
recognize a marriage, civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement
purporting to bestow any of the privileges or obligations of marriage under
the laws of another state or territory of the United States unless such
marriage conforms to Virginia law.

The sum effect of the new law, said Mark Mitchell, of Singers Glen, "leads
to the feeling that we're being taken down a couple more notches."

"I can't escape the feeling that we're going to be even more second-class
citizens than we are now," Mitchell told The Augusta Free Press.

"We had been making headway toward getting more in the way of equal rights.
This feels like a sort of punishment for the progress that we had been
making slowly over the years," Mitchell said.


"There are a lot of unknowns right now. A lot of uncertainties. I don't know
if July 1 is going to be the end of the world or anything. I do feel a sense
of greater unease about what the future might hold. Unfortunately, there
doesn't seem to be much that anybody can do," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he is concerned that issues that he has fought for
personally - from the extension of employee benefits to the domestic
partners of gays and lesbians to hospital-visitation rights for partners who
are not blood relations - will be rolled back.

The big problem with the legislation, said Dyana Mason, executive director
of the Richmond-based Equality Virginia advocacy group, "is that it is so
poorly constructed and poorly written that it doesn't really even spell out
how it is to be enforced."

"For example, in situations where a person wants to visit their partner in
the hospital, who would be the person responsible for denying that right to
access? A hospital administrator? A judge? There are questions across the
spectrum about what this law really means," Mason told the AFP.

Mason said Equality Virginia and other civil-rights groups in the Old
Dominion are working to try to lay the groundwork for a court test of the
law that could come down within the next couple of months.

"We don't know exactly what the impact will be until somebody steps forward
and says that they have been harmed and files a case in court," said Edward
Strickler, a member of UVa. Pride, a faculty and staff organization
dedicated to protecting the rights of homosexual employees at the University
of Virginia.

"Until this is adjudicated in a court of law, we won't know what it will
mean. We don't know how it's going to be enforced. We don't know who is
going to enforce it. We don't know what might happen," Strickler told the


"All the rallies in the world are not going to change the fact that this
legislation passed with bipartisan supermajorities in the General Assembly,"
said Victoria Cobb, the executive director of the Richmond-based Family
Foundation of Virginia.

As Cobb alluded to, HB 751 passed by margins of 69-30 in the House of
Delegates and 27-12 in the Senate.

Cobb told the AFP that she is not surprised to see the gay and lesbian
community using the July 1 date that the bill becomes law as a rallying

"Fringe groups tend to do these kinds of things, trying to roll back
legislation by marching on the homes of legislators, while the rest of us
work through the legislative process," Cobb said.

"We have to understand that this issue isn't about what these groups are
saying it is about. It's not about contracts and benefits. It's about
marriage. Ultimately, that's what this has all been about, in spite of the
rhetoric that we've been hearing," Cobb said.

But is that the case? Mitchell made it clear that his one wish is "that we
could separate the issue of marriage from the civil-rights issue."

"The religion part of the marriage issue is immaterial for the vast majority
of the people affected by this. The real issue is the civil-rights issue,"
Mitchell told the AFP.

"This law isn't about gay marriage. Virginia has had a law on the books
banning gay marriage for a long time. The real impact of this is going to be
on issues like domestic-partner benefits, child-custody cases,
hospital-visitation rights, those kinds of things," Czyzyk told the AFP.

Czyzyk said she has asked the human-resource director at the Charlottesville
company that she works for what her company is going to do with respect to
the extension of employee benefits to the partners of gays and lesbians in
light of the pending change in the state code.

"And the answer is that they're confused about what the law means, so
they're taking a wait-and-see attitude to learn what other companies are
doing before they decide what their course of action is going to be," Czyzyk

"The people who will be affected by this are couples with children, those
caring for an elderly partner, people who have earned the right to be able
to access domestic-partner benefits through their employer ... those are the
questions that have many people very nervous about the future," Mason said.

Back and forth

Supporters of HB 751 are nervous about the future as well.

Danny Campbell, the pastor at Wayne Hills Baptist Church in Waynesboro and
an AFP columnist, said he doesn't approve of the homosexual lifestyle - and
cited health and social data that he used in a recent church sermon to back
up his belief.

He also quoted from the Bible - the books of Genesis and Leviticus in the
Old Testament and the letters of Paul to the Romans and to the Corinthians
in the New Testament.

"That said, we love all of God's children, of course," Campbell said. "We're
not on any witchhunts. We don't go after people for how they live their
lives. But when it's brought out into the public eye, when it is something
that is brought out for the world to see in the public square, we will stand
for what we believe."

Campbell said it is "sad to see how our social standards have fallen over
the years."

"Look around at the world that we live in today. We're heading into
dangerous territory with the way things are going. You have to ask the
question, when will it stop?" Campbell said.

That is a question that Strickler would like to know the answer to as well.

Strickler used the term Jim Crow to try to give a sense of what the
Affirmation of Marriage Act will mean for gays and lesbians in Virginia come
July 1.

"I don't want to overstate that. This is not going to be as pervasive as Jim
Crow was in terms of racial segregation in the South. Jim Crow was more
systematic than this," Strickler said.

"But that term does evoke some sense as to what the impact of this will be
on gays and lesbians in Virginia. Jim Crow was a system of laws that said
that people who are different are less than others. It seems clear with this
law that the intent is to treat those who are different as being less human
than others," Strickler said.

From here

"In the past couple of years, I've noticed a change in the level of activism
here in the Valley. People are getting to be more active. The time is right
now. This law taking effect next week is forcing people to be more
involved," Czyzyk said.

Czyzyk said she hopes the forum being held in Staunton next week "will
educate the community as to the effects of this legislation and let them
know what we're doing and what they can do to try to help in the effort to
turn back the tide."

"My goal is that this event can help start a dialogue between the gay
community and straight community in the Valley," Czyzyk said.

Mitchell said he is taking a vacation day from work on June 30 so that he
can do his part to "show people in the community that the lives of real
people are going to be impacted by this."

"It's frustrating, on the one hand. But you kind of get used to it after a
while," Mitchell said, referring to the recent furor over a wire-service
photo depicting two gay men who were kissing after a wedding ceremony that
ran in an edition of The Daily News-Record this past spring.

Letters to the editor poured in from readers who expressed varying degrees
of disapproval of the editors who decided to run the photo.

Mitchell said he wrote a long letter himself in which he lashed out at those
who showed their intolerance of others before deciding to take a different

"I decided it would be better to write a letter thanking those in the
Valley, including yourself, who do take the time to try to understand what
it's like for us, who ask questions, who want to know what it's like to be
in our shoes," Mitchell said.

"The response has been really nice. I've heard from a number of people who
said they support gay and lesbian issues. Some of them will only say that
behind closed doors, but it's a start," Mitchell said.

"We are all in a period of transition. I want to emphasize that. I want to
be fair to our opponents on this issue. I want to be fair to their point of
view," Strickler said.

"I know that they're not trying to be unfair to us on this issue. I think
they're very confused on what this all means," Strickler said.

"I'd rather that this wouldn't have come up as a result of laws that are
going to do harm to an entire group of people. I'd rather us be able to have
some dialogue. I'd rather us be able to meet together and read together and
study together so that we can learn from each other instead of having it
come up like this," Strickler said.


Gays mobilize to protest new Va. law
June 30 rallies target Marriage Affirmation Act

Friday, June 25, 2004

The incendiary piece of legislation, sheathed in a glossy cardboard folder,
sat on Virginia Governor Mark Warner’s desk for weeks in April, while he
debated about how to approach it.

Warner did not support same-sex marriage or civil unions, but he had an
uneasy feeling about HB 751, a measure that took the prohibition of both to
the extreme, according to those familiar with his thinking at the time.

The Harvard Law School graduate knew signing it into law could have serious,
though unforeseen repercussions, so he consulted his lawyers, drafted an
amendment, and attempted to pass it to no avail. With all legal options
exhausted, Warner conceded to its codification into Virginia state law.

“Let’s put it this way: HB 751 was the one bill he brought up in every
conversation with every legislator in an attempt to curtail its passage,?
said Ellen Qualls, Warner’s spokesperson. “The governor never signed it
because it passed over his objections.?

Warner’s objection wasn’t to the bill’s refusal to recognize marriages or
civil unions from other states, though only two other states have gone so
far as to ban recognition of the latter. His concern was that broad language
in the legislation purports to prohibit gay couples from even entering into
private contracts with one another if those contracts are intended to secure
protections traditionally associated with marriage, like hospital visitation
or inheritance.

Now two months later, the Marriage Affirmation Act will become effective on
July 1. Though HB 751 may have been intended to curtail the gay rights
movement in Virginia, it has had exactly the opposite effect, inspiring a
new surge of activism that will crest on June 30, the day before the bill
officially becomes law.

Under the umbrella organization, Virginians Stand Up for Equality, at least
a dozen local gay rights groups will stage eight demonstrations on that day
from Fredericksburg to Roanoke.

However, all eyes will be focused on the central rally in Richmond’s Capitol
Square on the evening when a Warner spokesperson will addresse gays for the
first time since the governor’s amendments failed. Equality Virginia will
also announce its plans for future action, which include an imminent

For gay Virginians, the mass mobilization marks a decidedly radical shift in
their efforts toward achieving equality in the conservative state. With some
provoked by anger and others motivated by fear, gays in the state have
united in an unprecedented grassroots campaign to not only demand the repeal
of HB 751, which potentially bans legal arrangements between people of the
same sex, but to also push for increased rights.

“The Marriage Affirmation Act is one of the most anti-gay discriminatory
pieces of legislation in the country,? said Dyana Mason, the executive
director of Equality Virginia. “Our challenge is to harness all of this
energy into something that moves Virginia forward on this issue.?

More than 100 organizations have endorsed the statewide day of action,
including several mainstream groups such as the National Association of
Social Workers, United Methodist Congregation of Virginia, and the Virginia
Democratic Party.

Sponsor slams planned protest outside home
The activities range from a protest outside the home of Del. Robert Marshall
(R-Loudoun), the author of the affirmation act, to a march in
Fredericksburg, a sleepy hamlet halfway between Washington, D.C. and

Marshall, who has thus far declined to speak to the gay press, said in an
interview from him home office in Manassas that the personal approach
rankles him.

“People have first amendment rights to petition their state representatives,
although a demonstration in front of my house seems to eclipse my right to
privacy that homosexuals also claim for themselves,? he said.

“Their broad claims of the bill eliminating their contracts are almost too
ludicrous to be taken seriously. They are just being used by Equality
Virginia as an organizing tool.?

By adding the words “civil union? to its Defense of Marriage Act through HB
751, Virginia joined the ranks of two other states officially and
specifically banning the legal alternative to same-sex marriage. But the
additional language in the Virginia legislation far surpassed even Texas and
Nebraska — as well as the other 47 states — in the limitations it placed on
legal recognition of same-sex couples, abolishing their rights to execute a
will, sign medical directives or craft custodial agreements, Equality
Virginia has said.

Marshall and the measures other supporters dispute that interpretation,
contending the law blocks only marriages, civil unions and other similar
legislative creations given different names.

On April 16, Warner amended the affirmation act to remove all the provisions
that he said dealt with partnership contracts, though he kept the civil
union provisions of the bill — a measure Virginia gay groups accepted,
though not happily.

During a special, one-day session called a week later to address those
changes, lawmakers ignored the governor’s directive and passed the original
version with a two-thirds, veto-proof majority in both the House and Senate.

Equality Virginia and other state advocacy groups reacted by establishing
Virginians Stand for Equality. The new umbrella group developed a slogan,
“Virginia is for Lovers* (*some restrictions apply),? and recruited active
members through a series of brunches, town meetings and receptions held over
the past two months.

“This is the first time in Virginia’s gay rights history that we’ve had such
a coordinated effort,? Mason said. “I have absolutely no idea what sort of
turnout we’ll have on the 30th, but I have heard a positive buzz about our

The governor takes his annual family vacation during the last week of June,
and will not personally comment on the statewide protests. However, his
office will deliver his official statement through two members of his
administration acting as spokespersons.

“He hasn’t drafted his message yet, but it will probably reinforce his
resistance to the bill and his efforts to stop it before it became law,?
Qualls said. “The governor thinks this is basically a bad, unconstitutional

Since it passed the Virginia Legislature in late April, HB 751, known across
the state of Virginia as the Marriage Affirmation Act, legal scholars on
both sides have debated the repercussions of the new law when it takes
effect on July 1.

Same-sex marriage advocates descended on the court clerk’s office in
Fredericksburg, Va., in March but four gay couples seeking marriage licenses
were turned away. The state later passed a law that not only banned gay
marriage, but civil unions and possibly any private contracts between
same-sex partners. (Photo by Susan Stanskas)

Officially, HB 751 is an amendment to the state’s Defense of Marriage Act,
passed in 1997, that adds civil unions as a prohibited legal relationship in
addition to same-sex marriage, something not specifically included before.
HB 751 also protects Virginia from recognizing same-sex marriages or civil
unions performed in other states. The final law reads:

“A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of
the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage
is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other
arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or
jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual
rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable.?

The unprecedented nature of HB 751 comes in the phrase “partnership contract
or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow
the privileges or obligations of marriage.? Marshall, the bill’s author,
asserts those words go no further than to reinforce the DOMA law. Groups,
such as the Richmond-based Virginia Family Foundation agree.

“The argument about contracts being voided by this law is simply a scare
tactic,? said Victoria Cobb, the Family Foundation’s legislative director.
“Any homosexual, just like any other Virginian, can write a will and leave
his or her estate to anyone. Any homosexual, just like any other Virginian,
can designate anyone to direct his or her medical treatment.?

However, some lawyers and legal scholars have said the affirmation act goes
“recklessly overboard? in achieving its intended purpose.

“It is precisely because Virginia does not recognize civil unions that gay
Virginians enter into these ‘arrangements,? said Tracy Thorne, a gay
Richmond attorney and vice chair of advocacy organization, Equality
Virginia. “For gay Virginians, contracting for all of these rights was once
a difficult and costly process; now it is illegal and impossible.

“HB 751 exposes people financially, legally and emotionally to the threat of
a challenge on a daily basis. This legislation is so broadly written it is
at least unclear and at most unconstitutional.?

The question of the constitutionality of HB 751 could be left up to the
Virginia courts through an impending lawsuit brought by Equality Virginia,
the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal

Marshall said he drafted HB 751 to prevent judges from dictating the will of
the people, but the courts might decide the legal fate of gay relationships
in the state after all.

Adrian Brune can be reached at abrune@washblade.com.

Dyana Mason

Executive Director

Equality Virginia

p: 804-643-4816

f: 804-643-2050


Seeking Equality For All Virginians

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