Last month Leonard Pitts Jr. spoke powerfully about the intersections of class and race at the Twenty-ninth Peacemaking Workshop in Lincoln. He advocated connecting these facets of social reality and emphasized the importance of economic analysis. Two of the strongest populist movements of the last five years, Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, have both resisted exploitative material practices. Racial capitalism continues to perpetrate violence against us.
Prairie Fire Newspaper went on hiatus after the publication of the September 2015 issue. It may return one of these days but until then we will continue to host all of our archived content for your reading pleasure. Many of the articles have held up well over the years. Please contact us if you have any questions, thoughts, or an interest in helping return Prairie Fire to production. We can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you to all our readers, contributors, and supporters - the quality of Prairie Fire was a reflection of how many people it touched (touches).
As a native Cornhusker and field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign in Nebraska, I was pleased to announce our Equality is Our Business Program in March. It is designed to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender diversity in the workplace; advance protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations; and create more inclusive business practices.
By Heath Mello, Kathy Campbell, Annette Dubas, and Jeremy Nordquist
Over the past few years, the Obama administration has undertaken efforts to transform our nation’s immigration enforcement system into one that primarily focuses on public safety, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system.
Because it is critical that the Department of Homeland Security prioritizes its enforcement resources on the removal of individuals who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety, DHS has stated that they will “exercise prosecutorial discretion as appropriate to ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as individuals who came to the United States as children and meet other key guidelines.”
As a result, the administration determined that individuals who meet certain guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and may also be eligible for employment authorization.
The issue in Nebraska today is we have young, talented people in Nebraska with DACA temporary relief who are allowed to stay here and obtain work permits, but our state is refusing to allow them to apply for a driver’s license. In Nebraska, it can be hard or nearly impossible to get to work without a car. Why would we want to limit their abilities to work and contribute?
“A stench rising from downtown streets in San Diego is drumming up a controversy…Reviews speak of … the large number of dogs that reside in that particular building. ‘The streets reek all the time of dog urine and excrement,’ says Laura H. Still.”
If Laura lived near Turner Park in Omaha, Nebraska, would she have the same complaint? And if she did have a complaint, who would listen to her? To raise the issue of dogs as a source of urban pollution is to buck the trend that sees a dog as man’s best friend. Laura and others have an uphill struggle to have limits placed on dogs in the urban environment.
For nearly forty years I have been a Nebraskan by choice. I love this state and have served Nebraska every way I am able, as writer, educator, and citizen. My own ancestors settled in the Deep South, dating back to early Colonial times. I spent much of my youth in Georgia and Louisiana, where my closest relatives still live. My family was active in Atlanta’s civil rights movement—I have written elsewhere of my meeting with Coretta Scott King on the night of Dr. King’s assassination.
But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones, I am weary of holding it in: Indeed I cannot.
—Jeremiah 20: 9
I became a feminist when I was ten years old. I was in fifth grade at St. Jude Catholic School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and one of the parish priests gave a presentation persuading the boys to become altar servers. He was more successful than intended; after he spoke, I wanted to be a server. I asked my teacher why girls couldn’t be altar servers, and she said, “Monsignor Brophy would never allow it.” I was ten, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew that wasn’t a real reason.
When I went home that day, I told my parents what happened, and my dad said, “Why don’t you start a petition? We could bring it to the bishop.” I remember liking that idea, although ten-year-old me never followed through.
Editor’s Note: In 2013 the Nebraska Coalition for Immigration Reform, in partnership with Prairie Fire, conducted a series of forums in five Nebraska communities to learn how they coped with the challenges and opportunities offered by growing immigrant populations. Following each forum, an essay was published in Prairie Fire summarizing the conclusions and recommendations of the forum participants. After completion of all forums, the results were summarized in a final report titled Immigration in Nebraska, Part II.
Again this morning I heard one of the talking heads, sometimes called political experts, say that the government in Washington is broken. (By the way, if you look up the parts of the word “expert” in the dictionary, you will find that ex means “has been” and spurt is “a drip under pressure,” and that seems to fit admirably.) I would agree that it isn’t working as envisioned by the founders of this great nation, but I prefer to think that it is like a very complex piece of equipment that continually has new parts inserted in the “system,” and, although intended to make the machine run like new, they don’t always accomplish that. It is easy to blame the mess on “those people in Washington,” but that is not where the real fault lies. The fault lies with the people who “buy” those parts—the members of Congress and the president and the Supreme Court. I use the term “buy” intentionally because, unfortunately, that is really how most of those parts are obtained and sent to Washington.
The sun shone brightly, and I was glad to be outside, though I felt my anxiety begin to soar as I parked my car. As I walked toward the building, praying silently, I noticed a yellow warning road sign, “Dead End.” While the sign forewarned the end of the road, I wondered what other new immigrants visiting the office of Immigration and Naturalization Services might think of the placement of the sign. It was a tip from a friend that led me into the parking lot that day. She said, “There is an immigration office in Lincoln where you might be able to get some information.” It was three-and-a-half years into my immigration process nightmare—I was fully awake, eyes wide open and still feeling helpless. You know the feeling you have after waking up from a nightmare, thinking, “Good—it was only a nightmare.” For my 16-year-old son and I, this nightmare never seemed to end.
Senators vote 26-23 to abolish death penalty
Governor promises veto
Oh, wait. We never saw that headline. Twenty-one senators voted against cloture, so LB 543, 2013’s bill to abolish the death penalty, never came to a vote. It used to be that filibusters were for bills that the governor supported, so there was no veto backstop for opponents. This time the filibusterers already knew, from an early test vote, that the veto would hold. The bill had no chance of becoming law, so perhaps it was just the evidence that the Nebraska legislature was ready to abolish the death penalty that the filibusterers sought to suppress. Headlines like the hopeful one above would give momentum to the nationwide revulsion against state-ordered killing. Sen. Ernie Chambers himself called for the cloture vote, the first time he’d ever made such a call in his long career. There had been 11 hours of vigorous debate, though both sides acknowledged that they did not expect to change each other’s opinion. Abolitionists recapitulated the arguments that had been made at the judicial committee hearing—that the death penalty does not deter; that it will result in the execution of innocent persons; that the swifter it is, the more room for error; that executions are not needed to immobilize dangerous persons; that the death penalty is both racially biased and capricious and arbitrary; that its complexity and cost overtax both the judicial and the penal systems; and that evolving standards of decency all over the world are inexorably moving toward its abolition. Furthermore, as they pointed out, given Nebraska’s lethal injection protocol and its inability to acquire legal quantities of the drug sodium thiopental, no execution could be carried out in Nebraska in the foreseeable future. Why have a law that can never be executed?
There were new people this year, testifying against the death penalty. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty sent out a jaunty email, titled “Not Just for Liberals and Democrats” to recruit conservatives against capital punishment. Stacy Anderson, the current executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (the old name, Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty having been deemed too negative), comes from an evangelical religious tradition that in the past has entered the debate mostly to remind us, sternly, that their Bible demanded an eye for an eye.
While we were sitting in Hearing Room 1113, listening to the different speakers, Maryland’s bill to abolish the death penalty was making its way through the state house, en route to successful enactment. Maryland has become the sixth state in six years to do away with capital punishment. Their campaign was spearheaded by Kirk Bloodsworth, the first man in the U.S. to be exonerated and freed from death row by DNA evidence. It’s hard not to be riveted by the nightmare tale of someone condemned to death for a crime he did not commit, with which he had no substantial connection.
Some years ago at one of his openings at the Burkholder Project, my husband, Howard, included a watercolor of the then newly finished sculpture “Torn Notebook,” with some figures in front of it to provide human interest. They were holding signs lettered “Down with Up” and “This is That” and such. My friend Margaret, strolling through the gallery, paused for a moment. “What protest is that? … Was I there?” That’s how it is when you’re a progressive in a midsized conservative city. You go to all the protests, and you automatically check to see if you were there.
I keep staring at the article by Eugene Glock in the February 2013 issue of Prairie Fire, recalling an experience I had as a very young man working on my father’s farm in Seward County. While I was harrowing a field for planting wheat, I noticed, at the base of the REA power pole in the middle of the field, a ring of grassy soil that stood a half-foot higher that the rest of the field. That power pole had been there no more than 10 or so years, since “the electric” came after World War II, and I left Nebraska for university in 1958. In that short time, the level of soil in that field had dropped half a foot. Since then, we have been destroying the shelterbelts, terraces, grassed waterways and farm ponds that our fathers and grandfathers invested in to stop the Dust Bowl, in our greed for ever-more production. We have given up contour plowing in favor of ever-larger machinery that allows one person to farm ever-increasing acreages, all in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Yes, we have been destroying our precious, irreplaceable fossil soil that took centuries of prairie grass to build.
I suspect our situation is typical: we love these 60 acres we live on and fear what will happen to them after we are … uuuuuh … you know … like … gone. I bought this 60-acre scrap of land in 1974 under 3 feet of snow … a brilliant way to buy land, and every day of thaw in the spring of ’75 I was happier as my prize was revealed. The uplands were naked sand, the river bottom marsh, slough and jungly tangle. Just what I wanted.
We have replanted the uplands to native grass, planted tens of thousands of trees, reestablished plants like white cedar, calamus, sand cherries, leadplant and Osage orange. We know the deer, turkeys, raccoons, possums and crows by name. We love our river, the Middle Loup. Our house is old and drafty, but it is full of memories and stories. The cabin down by the river is a treasure, originally built by a Civil War veteran out of oak and walnut he cut himself just west of Lincoln, Neb.
While the deal ending this latest round of high-stakes fiscal drama made some progress toward tax fairness, retirees and workers need to remain vigilant against long-standing threats to seniors’ health care and economic security.
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—landmark national efforts to help retirees pay their bills and stay healthy—continue to be unfairly targeted as a way of keeping the wealthiest Americans and big corporations from paying their fair share of taxes.
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court, in effect, threw out all existing death penalty statutes in the U.S., leading many observers to believe that we would never again see an execution on American soil. How wrong they were. Since then over 1,300 men and a dozen women have been put to death, about 37 percent of whom met their fate on the gurney in Huntsville, Texas. Today nearly 3,200 inmates await execution in the 33 states that allow it. Nebraska has executed three prisoners since 1972 (the last was 15 years ago), and 11 more sit on the state’s death row in Tecumseh.
Capital punishment has always been controversial in the Cornhusker state. In 1979 the legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, only to see the legislation vetoed by Gov. Charley Thone. Since then abolition bills have regularly been introduced in the legislature, and in 2007 the state came within one vote of repeal. Clearly, there have been regular conversations about capital punishment throughout the state over the past 30 years.
The University of Nebraska Omaha’s Grace Abbott School of Social Work is celebrating 75 years of excellence in social work education in 2012. Rechristening of the school took place in 2010, after years of advocacy by department professors who thought the child welfare champion and early social worker embodied the mission of the school.
The school aims to educate generations of social work professionals who engage in scholarship, research and a commitment to service to a diverse range of people. Grace Abbott, a native of Grand Island, Neb., was an advocate at the turn of the century for abolishing child labor and increasing public awareness of the need for services for immigrants, children and their families. The focus of Abbott’s work led her to reside at Hull House in Chicago, one of the first social settlement agencies in the country, working alongside Nobel Prize-winning social advocate Jane Addams. Her contributions against dangerous working conditions for immigrants and children are credited with policy decisions that led to the creation of Social Security and UNICEF.
I think most citizens of our great nation are aware that we are facing some very difficult challenges—the soundness of Social Security and Medicare, our inability to balance our budget and the growing deficit that results from this failure, as well as a multitude of lesser problems. I submit that only a few probably agree with me that those problems are relatively minor in comparison to what I perceive as our greatest challenge. I believe the challenges I first mention are the result of the bigger problem, which the elected officials of this nation, from both parties (or three or four parties, depending on your point of view) refuse to address. This is partially because the citizens too often forget, as do the officials, that the founders of our great nation recognized that they did not want a governing entity like the one from which they had tried so hard to get away. That is, a monarchy or similar form of government that gives the full authority for governing to one individual or a small group of like-minded individuals, who then use their authority for their own selfish purposes. That is why, after long and often heated discussion, our Founding Fathers chose democracy, a form of government that utilizes the best ideas of all the people and groups to address problems with solutions that, while not pleasing any one group of individuals, allows the government and the nation to move forward in addressing issues. This very often requires compromise on the part of everyone, but it also allows for adjustments in the future if the compromise solutions are found to be lacking.
We are proud to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Education Amendments of 1972, a portion of which is commonly referred to as Title IX. As Ms. Petersen so eloquently sets out, it opened a door for women athletes to perform at levels and locations not previously available to them. It is regrettable that 40 years later there are still isolated pockets of resistance to the letter and spirit of Title IX.
I recently walked through the University of Nebraska’s sports facilities for women and observed the ease with which the players worked out, played and showered. It was so different when I played volleyball for the NU team in the ’70s.