Editor's Note: As the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People prepares to celebrate its Centennial in New York, the city of its birth, I’m confident that we as a nation have turned an important corner on the long road toward racial and economic equality for all Americans. Now, insistent questions have arisen about the relevancy of our mission: Haven’t we entered a “post-racial” era in America, with the election of President Obama?
caption="Athanasidis was detained, questioned and taken to Tehran's notorious Evin prison."]
In Iran, days of calm have been shattered. Thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Tehran to protest last month's presidential election. Since the protest began, 1,000 people have been arrested, including some reporters. A freelance writer and photographer was covering the Iranian election when he was detained by the government. He was held for 20 days before being released.
Iason Athanasidis spoke with Joe John’s from Athens, Greece.
Joe Johns: Start at the beginning. It was about June 17 when you were detained. Could you walk us through it?
Iason Athanasidis: Well it was the last day of my press visa of my seven-day press visa. I was exiting the country with very mixed feelings because it was right in the middle of the most serious demonstrations. Heading to the airport I was picked up after passing through passport control by a gentleman who wasn’t wearing a uniform but said to me I wasn’t going to be flying tonight and there were a couple other gentlemen coming from Tehran who wanted to interview me.
Johns: You lived in Tehran for three years. You're familiar with people in the government. You have associations with them. So given the circumstances, was it a surprise to you or was it pretty predictable?
Athanasidis: I figure that I was one of the most vulnerable people on the ground there because I did not have a proper affiliation in a sense that I freelance for "The Washington Times" and a number of other newspapers. I also knew that because of my 2 1/2 years having lived in Iran, I would be considered of particular interest to the intelligence services. But by the same token, I felt this meant they knew me pretty well. I had several exhibitions of my photography there. I'm not just a journalist but also an artistic photographer and I think that they knew that I’ve been giving a lot of talks in the U.S. in the last year trying to explain Iran to a foreign audience. I thought it was quite unlikely they would be charging me with espionage or anything like that.
Johns: You were detained you were questioned. You were taken to the Evin prison. Could you describe that? It’s notorious with the people familiar with Iran. And give us some sense as to whether this is the kind of thing that would happen to demonstrators and protesters?
Athanasidis: Well, the place was chock full of demonstrators and protestors. In fact the third cell I was moved to, the last cell I was moved to, before I was freed, was an old, not used part of the prison reopened to deal with the excess capacity. I couldn't see around me when I was there because I had to wear a blind fold. I was initially being held in the intelligence ministry control part of the prison so all of the people there were supposedly undercover. I wasn't supposed to see them.
I could see under the bottom of the blind fold there were rows of prisoners sitting on the ground with their heads between their knees. There were other people were being interrogated in the corridors because there was just no capacity in the interrogator room. They were absolutely full to bursting. And at some point my interrogator turned to me and said the people who are being interrogated in the room next us are the terrorists in charge of trying to blow up one of the main mosques here in Tehran.
Johns: As I read about this, it sounds like you were fairly assertive with the people who were holding you. Were you confident enough to challenge them just a bit? And do you think that made any difference?
Athanasidis: Well perhaps there's a certain amount of naiveté on my part because I was convinced I had never done any kind of spying. My innocence would be proven and I would be allowed to go home. Since I've returned, I've had some doubts about the idea that I might have been used as a pawn for negotiations or anything like that. But certainly in terms of my second group of interrogators who were really very objective people, I felt and wanted to get a sort of a deep psychological understanding of what motivated me, I had trust in them. The first interrogator, I felt, decided I was guilty before I came in the room and all he wanted to do was find evidence against me. But in terms of the second and conclusive round, I felt they were objective.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/10/benjamin.jealous.art.jpg caption="Closing gaps in access to education is one of the goals the NAACP will continue to pursue in its next 100 years."]
By Benjamin Todd Jealous
Special to CNN
Editor's note: Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which holds its 100th annual convention in New York from July 11-16.
(CNN) - As the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People prepares to celebrate its Centennial in New York, the city of its birth, I'm confident that we as a nation have turned an important corner on the long road toward racial and economic equality for all Americans.
Established in 1909 by a core group of black and white Americans, the NAACP's mission has been clarified and sharpened during our first 100 years. We have covered a lot of ground in the march to improve the lives of millions of Americans, but there remains much more work to be done.
The NAACP's legacy of accomplishment is rich, and cannot be dismissed or subjected to gainsaying in the wake of the election of President Obama.
Yes, we are energized and emboldened by the historic election of America's first black president. We were not surprised that Americans, at long last, voted to choose high-quality ideas, soaring spirit and bright vision over the racial, cultural and class distinctions that have so long divided us. The multi-ethnic coalition that coalesced around Obama is familiar to us, indeed.
Our members always have included whites, Asians, Latinos and Native Americans. Right now, our 1,200 branches span the breadth of this continent, and our members include white folks in southern Maine, Native Americans in Alabama, Americans of East Asian descent in the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, and of course, black Americans throughout the country with ancestral links to the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Africa.
We are a civil and human rights organization, by our founders' design. In our next century, our efforts will make the second part of that equation more evident.
Now, insistent questions have arisen about the relevancy of our mission: Haven't we entered a "post-racial" era in America, with the election of President Obama?
House Minority Leader John Boehner is a fierce critic of the stimulus. He recently posted a web video featuring a bloodhound named "Ellie Mae" on the hunt for stimulus jobs. The video asks, "where are the jobs?"
As it turns out, he should have released the hounds on his own home turf. We visited Boehner's Ohio district where we found the Butler County Sheriff got almost a million dollars in stimulus dollars. He's using the money to hold on to correctional officers he had planned to layoff. If he had laid off those officers, the Sheriff says, he would have been forced to release inmates. It's his department's policy to have a maintain a safe ratio of officers to prisoners.
Meanwhile just up the road from the Sheriff we found a stimulus road project that's days away from getting started. It's on I-75... Also in Boehner's district.
Vice President Joe Biden held a campaign style rally in Cincinnati to defend the stimulus. To Boehner's claim of "no jobs," Biden responded "that dog won't bark."
Biden held the event outside an an abandoned warehouse that's slated to get stimulus money. Developers want to use the funds to turn the building into loft apartments.
It was a curious spot for the event. The project's developer says he's still waiting on financing from the bank to start construction.
No wonder Biden asked the crowd for patience.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/10/racism.pool.kids.campers.art.jpg
caption="Some kids from the Creative Steps Day Care center say club members made racial remarks."]
(CNN) - A Philadelphia-area day care center said Thursday that members of a private swim club made racist comments about the center's children, and the club then canceled their swimming privileges.
The Creative Steps Day Care children - ages kindergarten through seventh grade - went to the Valley Swim Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, on June 29.
The day center's director, Alethea Wright, had contracted to use the club once a week. During their first visit, some children said they heard club members asking why African-American children were there.
One of the boys told the Philadelphia Inquirer that a woman at the club said she feared the children "might do something" to her child.
Days later, the day care center's $1,950 check was returned without explanation, Wright said.
The stepfather of one of the children was filing a complaint against the club with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the panel's chairman, Stephen Glassman, said Thursday.
Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/13/wingnuts.waxman.shay2.getty.facebook.cnn.art.jpg caption="Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman (L) chairman of the Young Republicans, Audra Shay (R)."]
Here’s one mistake wingnuts always make: they view political opponents as their enemies, not well-intentioned fellow Americans. They demonize disagreement.
It’s part of the hyper-partisan political cycle – backlashes begin when one party gets arrogant and over-reaches. We saw it with Tom Delay’s Republican Congress post-2004, and we might be seeing the beginning with House Democrats today.
The stimulus spending spree is beginning to attract some Main Street skepticism, just as liberal leaders try to move climate change cap and trade and a trillion dollar health care reform through Congress this summer. There is a sense that momentum must be kept at all costs and that opposition is outright un-American. At least according to influential California Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, who adopted the kind of rhetoric usually associated with wingnuts on the right while in an interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm, as reported by Politico.
"It appears that the Republican Party leadership in the Congress has made a decision that they want to deny President Obama success — which means, in my mind, they are rooting against the country as well," Waxman said.
“Rooting against the country” – that’s quite a charge. But it’s one he’s repeated in recent days (at one point saying the GOP is “rooting against the world”), while he promotes a new book and his cap and trade bill, which Waxman admits to not have read in detail despite sponsorship: “I certainly don’t claim to know everything that’s in this bill,” he’s said.
But if he doesn’t know what’s in the 1,200 page Waxman-Markey bill, who does? Republicans like John McCain have supported cap and trade in the past – and 8 courageous Republicans in the House voted for the bill while 44 Democrats voted against it. There is a need to build bipartisan support for ambitious bills. Demonizing the opposition – or questioning their commitment to their country – is not the way to achieve it.
Waxman’s comments underscore a problem for Democrats that began creeping into polling numbers this week: The election of 2008 was not a blank check liberal ideological mandate. President Obama is broadly popular, but the Democrat-controlled Congress is not. One of the reasons for this gap is the president’s post-partisan approach to problem-solving. In contrast, hyper-partisans end up being their own side’s worst enemy because they alienate the moderate majority of Americans.
But speaking of calling your opponents anti-American, few can outdo the leading candidate to be the next chairman of the Young Republicans, Audra Shay. “I think that you are ignorant if you believe this man is anything but anti-American,” she wrote about President Obama on her Facebook page.