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Jason Crane Posts

Jerks (New Jersey, Part 2)

I was eating dinner in the hotel restaurant tonight, and a couple of event managers sat down near me. I’m not sure which event they were managing, although it wasn’t taking place at the hotel. They were the kind of folks who talk like they’re at the center of the universe, and like the rest of that universe is a series of concentric circles based on money and power.

At one point, the waiter came and took their drink order. The woman’s response: “I’ll have a margarita, and I hope it’s better than the one I had last night.”

What kind of a jerk do you have to be to say that to a hardworking person whom you don’t even know?

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A change of plan (New Jersey, Part 1)

As of Friday at 2 p.m., this was my plan for the weekend:

  • Have dinner with my family on Friday evening
  • Take Bernie to the Rhinos playoff game
  • Spend a lazy Saturday with Jen and the boys
  • Announce a game for the vintage base ball playoffs at Genesee Country Village on Sunday

And then, at a few minutes after 2 p.m., I got a call from the HQ of my union in New York City, asking me to hop on a plane and fly to New Jersey to lead a campaign for five days. So here I am, ensconced in a hotel room, glued to my cell phone and my e-mail account as I work to coordinate a team of seven people for an event early next week.

I cannot tell a lie: It’s kinda fun. I work for a union local, rather than the HQ, so I don’t have to travel too far, with the exception of the occasional trip to one of the cities upstate. That’s a nice arrangement, because I’m home with my family a fair amount. But it’s fun to get out of town and help some workers fight for what they deserve. It’s exciting to hit the ground running and to try to pull off a big event with a short amount of time. And it’s gratifying to know that the reason I do all this is so some folks are better able to defend themselves against a ravenous corporation which is trying to steal their benefits.

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Branford Marsalis: Braggtown

If you’ve got a minute or two, check out my review of the new Branford Marsalis album, Braggtown, at All About Jazz.

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The conversion

Maybe you should sit down for this one.

On Wednesday night, I was elected as leader of the Democratic Committee for the 24th Legislative District here in Monroe County, NY. Why should that be a shock? Because I was previously chair of the Green Party in this same county, a party that exists not only in support of progressive causes, but in opposition to what is often called the two-party duopoly of American politics. So the question is: Have I sold out?

To some, the answer will be an unequivocal “yes!” I ran for City Council and got more votes than any independent candidate has received. I did this on the Green line in a district that’s home to the president of City Council and one of the most respected Dems in the county. I got creamed, but I received more than 30% of the vote in the LD where I now serve as leader.

But here’s the deal: It’s not realistically possible to win in Rochester as a Green. And at the state and national level, it’s the Democrats who can most easily stand as the progressive party. They don’t often do that now, but they have a ready-made structure for creating change. If I’m going to spend some amount of the time taking part in politics — time that could otherwise be spent at home or anywhere else — then I want the fastest route to effective action. That is the Democratic Party. I decided a few years ago to set aside my dreams of ideological purity and focus on making people’s lives better. That’s why I do the job I do. Unions may not be perfect, but they’re a lot better than letting the market decide whether folks should have a living wage, health care and a pension. Similarly, the Dems aren’t perfect, but it’s a lot easier to create change through that structure than to first have to build an entire party from the ground up, and then start solving problems.

So here I am, on the left end of the Democratic Party, trying to remind folks that what’s considered “left” in our media discourse is actually at the center of the American electorate. Who doesn’t believe in health care for all, good educations for our kids, jobs that create middle class families, and dignity in retirement, to name just a few ideas? These are basic American values, and I’m going to do my part locally to make sure that these are the values championed by this party.

It’s never easy to make choices like this one, but I’m confident that working to move the Democrats forward is the surest path to the change I want to create.

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Alto saxophonist David Binney stops by The Jason Crane Show

David Binney

This week, my guest on The Jason Crane Show is alto saxophonist and composer David Binney. David was here in Rochester this summer as part of Joel Harrison’s band. David has a new album out called Out Of Airplanes.

Please listen to the show and enter the contest mentioned at the end — you could win a copy of David’s new CD!

And while you’re on the Web, check out

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Stephen Biko

September 12, 1977: STEVEN BIKO IS KILLED

Steven Biko, leader of South Africa’s “Black Consciousness Movement,” dies of severe head trauma on the stone floor of a prison cell in Pretoria. Six days earlier, he had suffered a major blow to his skull during a police interrogation in Port Elizabeth. Instead of receiving medical attention, he was chained spread-eagled to a window grill for 24 hours. On September 11, he was dumped, naked and shackled, on the floor of a police vehicle and driven 740 miles to Pretoria Central Prison. He died the next day. In announcing his death, South African authorities claimed Biko died after refusing food and water for a week in a hunger strike.

Steven Bantu Biko, born in 1946, was the most influential anti-apartheid leader of the 1970s. As a medical student in 1968, he founded the all-black South African Students’ Organization with the aim of overcoming the “psychological oppression of blacks by whites.” Similar to the “Black Power” movement in the United States, Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement stressed black identity, self-esteem, and self-reliance. In the 1970s, Black Consciousness spread from the university communities to black communities throughout South Africa.

In 1972, Biko helped organize the Black People’s Convention, and in the next year he was banned from politics by South Africa’s white-minority government. As a “banned person,” he was forbidden by law from speaking in public or being quoted, leaving the area around King William’s Town, and being in the company of more than one person at a time. However, he continued to oppose apartheid covertly and was arrested four times during the next few years and held without trial for months at a time.

On August 18, 1977, he was arrested with another activist at a roadblock outside the small town of Grahamstown on his way to a political meeting in Cape Town. Taken to a prison in Port Elizabeth, he was stripped naked, manacled to a grate, and forced to lie on a filthy blanket for 18 days. On September 6, he was brought to the Sanlam Building, where police tortured prisoners as a means of interrogation. Five security officers took Biko into room 619 for interrogation. When he emerged, he was in a semiconscious state, having suffered severe head trauma that left him with multiple brain lesions. His injuries were left unattended, and he was chained, standing up, to a window grill for 24 hours.

On September 7, two government doctors finally examined Biko and found him hyperventilating, frothing at the mouth, and unable to speak or stand. They pronounced him fit to travel. On September 11, Biko, by then comatose, was thrown naked and chained into the back of a police truck, which drove 10 hours to Pretoria in the north. Dropped in a cell in Pretoria Central Prison, he succumbed to his injuries on September 12. He was 30 years old.

South African authorities attempted to cover-up the circumstances of Biko’s death, saying he starved himself on a hunger strike. They later claimed he died of kidney failure. Finally, when the findings of a postmortem were made public, they said he might have “hurt his head when he fell out of bed.” A judicial inquiry found no one responsible for his death and most of the policemen who interrogated Biko were promoted.Steven Biko was hailed as a martyr in the anti-apartheid struggle, and his death became an international rallying point against South Africa’s repressive government.

In November 1977, the United Nations voted a partial arms embargo against South Africa. U.N. resolutions calling for sweeping economic and military sanctions against South Africa were vetoed by the United States, Britain, and France.Apartheid was abolished in South Africa in 1991, and in 1994 Nelson Mandela was elected the country’s first black head of government. The following year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to examine apartheid-era crimes. In exchange for full confessions of politically motivated crimes, the TRC promised amnesty for those who came forward.

In 1997, the five former security officers who interrogated Steven Biko on September 6, 1977, applied for amnesty from the TRC.One of the former officers, Daniel Siebert, said in his application to the TRC that he and two other officers ran Biko headfirst into a far wall of the interrogation room. Several of the officers spoke of Police Colonel Gideon Nieuwoudt striking Biko with a pipe. However, when the men testified before the TRC shortly before the 20th anniversary of Biko’s death, they claimed, in conflicting accounts, that Biko had injured himself in a scuffle. They said that the handcuffed Biko lunged at them during the interrogation and struck his own head against the wall. They said they didn’t provide immediate medical attention to him because they thought he was faking his injuries.In February 1999, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission denied the men amnesty, saying that the former officers’ version of Mr. Biko’s death was “so improbable and contradictory that it has to be rejected as false.” With the exception of murder, there is a 20-year limit on prosecution of criminal charges in South Africa.

It is unlikely that the former officers will face trial.

Biko has inspired many artists, including Peter Gabriel’s song “Biko” and the excellent film Cry Freedom by Richard Attenborough.

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