Category Archives: congress

Gay Rights: Not a Partisan Issue

Andrew Sullivan once wrote, in a heated blog post, (and I paraphrase) that equality for LGBT Americans is not a partisan issue. It is a human rights issue. His fervor gave me clarity and his observation stuck with me. So today, I’ll take it a step further because we are facing a symbolic moment in the journey towards equality.

Congress will be voting on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the next 48 hours. I’m asking my friends and family to call Capitol Hill and let their Representative know they SUPPORT LEGISLATIVE REPEAL in 2010. The phone number is (202) 225-3121. If you’re not sure what to say, you can take suggestions from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund here. You can also find out if your Member supports the legislation here.

Why do it? Too often do homophobic policies find their ways into national politics, making it difficult for people of all ages living in small towns, big cities and rural areas of America to live their lives fully and openly. They are paralyzed by fear of political and social retribution for being who they are. I know because it happened to me.

Learn more from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund and keep up with the latest news from the Advocate’s Washington, DC correspondent, Kerry Eleveld. Read her analysis of how we got to DADT here.

Finally, I thank you for doing your part. With integrity and compassion for others, I’m ready to take a stand. Are you?

Who is the "Tea Party?" – My Tax Day Video

Who is the “Tea Party?”

A college student. A coal miner.

Check this out video from Tax Day, where I shadowed supporters of the “Tea Party,” (which was initiated by Freedom Works), and were out engaging the government about what’s going on in their lives.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhaD1g9-Dp8[/youtube]

As a side note, finally! I am back. As a video journalist, that is. It was a long journey to transition and upgrade all my gear. I’m happy to report that I have officially gone from a Panasonic Mini DV cam (MTV vids), to a Flip Cam (CNN iReport vids) to a Canon Vixia and a Kodak Zi8 Pocket, which are both HD quality. In this video, you’ll notice some imperfections, in part due to experimenting with different file formats. That’s OK though. No one is expecting technical perfection – I think we all get at this point, it’s all about creating content that is raw, unfiltered and authentic…and in some way makes you feel like by watching it you are closer to a truth you had not considered.

As for my editing gear, I also transitioned to a MacBook Pro and Final Cut Express. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was a dramatic, drawn out process getting the Canon Vixia HD filed (AVCHD .MTS) ready to go into Final Cut. In fact there’s no easy way, it requires tons of conversion and compression. That’s what video editing is all about. Tedious, challenging problems that require solutions. Over and over. Thanks to @AnthonyFears, who suggested I use HandBrake, an excellent converter that made my life so much easier and got these old clips ready to produce.

Up Close with the Tea Party on the National Mall

UPDATE: I have just been reminded by many diligent readers that “Tea Baggers” is widely accepted as a negative term.  At the risk of sounding oblivious or insensitive – and just plain naive, I was using it as a term of affection. But I digress – and at the chance that someone will not read my piece based on the construct of the word in a title, I have changed it. It has been a teaching moment for me and with it, I’ll leave a lesson for you here: don’t judge the book of Erica America by the cover – it’s impossible to pin my ideology because every day it is in some way shaped by the stories I hear and the people I meet. I’m just your eyes and your ears. My opinions are rarely inside the fold… and when they are you will know.

READ THE POST BELOW. KEEP AN OPEN MIND.

saw something unusual today at the Tax Day  Tea Party Rally – and it wasn’t bright yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags or the woman dressed in a revolutionary gown. It was a woman wearing a Politico employee t-shirt with a name tag that had the logo for Cision – a PR service that collects information and data. What was she doing? Handing out a “Census Form” to a group of willing, middle-aged people at the footsteps of the Washington Monument. Trying to uncover who, demographically, these so-called Tea Partiers were.

The Tea Party  – a rapidly growing movement that started supported in part by initiatives of Freedom Works, a conservative advocacy group in Washington, DC, has spread like wildfire to the states with messages about high taxes and an expanding government – that resonated real time. If your’re web savvy, all you have to do is check out the Tea Party Patriots web site, and scroll through, state-by-state, to see the hundreds of membership organizations and data of a growing group of well, pissed off Americans. But before today, I always thought Tea Partiers were racist, homophobic jerks?

Is the Tea Party misunderstood or is the misunderstanding about the Tea Party? I decided to find out.

As I walked around the National Mall, cutting through a current of signs, I stopped to talk to normal looking people. Did I profile “normal?” You bet. I’m an Indiana Hoosier so nothing about Midwesterners, manufactures or miners seems unusual to me. And as I walked, that’s when I met Jerry from New Jersey.

Jerry was a clean-cut, Country Club looking guy.

“I’ve been involved in the Tea Party for a little over a year now. We’re here looking to make a statement that we’re not ok with what the government is doing. Congress and the Administration. We’re in a rapid slide that is – well taking us to a place that is not the way I think of America.”

“The government can not spend money like they do,” a gay man with his partner, told me.

“It’s going to back up this country. Why am I here? I think its collectivism, the fact that we’re getting together with people who have like minds. We’re peacefully assembling and petitioning our government.”

I do love a good demonstration of the First Amendment.

On my way out, I stopped by the concession stand (I was famished) and before I could find a hot dog, I found something better. A bubbly woman from Pennsylvania with a sign that read “Taxed Enough Already.” When she sat down at the picnic table, I squatted in front of her, held up my camera, and we talked.

“Everything you touch or buy, you’re taxed on,” she told me.

“I have 14 grandkids. Some are in college, and they don’t know what it’s like yet to pay for their own rent, their car, and insurance. Sooner or later they will find out – and when they do, they won’t be happy. We are taxed to death.”

Like everyone else – I asked her: “How was it doing your returns?”

“I am retired and my taxes – well, you’d be surprised how much you pay – retirement income, it’s pretty amazing. I also just lost my Uncle, like a week ago. And now I’m finding out what the death tax is all about. It’s absolutely horrible. I can’t not believe the money he earned, he paid taxes on, the money he saved, he paid taxes on, and now that he died, we’re paying taxes on. It’s been taxes three times over. That’s insane.

So with that, I packed up my gear and made my way through the crowd one more time to my walk home. What just happened? I wondered to myself. Are these people made to be completely fictitious characters on TV – mainstream news – to serve some kind of pre-existing media narrative? Or are they, as I tweeted this: “Americans are worried, broke and tired of career politicians. Can we blame them? #TeaParty.”

Turns out I have no idea if Politico and Cision will be making their survey results public – or if it’s something for their internal marketing and targeting purposes. Either way, I commend the idea. So basic yet so important.

There will be more to come from me on the story of the Tea Party. The Express is moving and I’d hate to miss a good ride.

Posted via web from ericaamerica’s posterous


Congress Tunes In To Mega Media Deal

There is a mega media merger on the horizon – and Capitol Hill is tuned in. Last Thursday the CEOs of Comcast and NBC Universal came to Washington to testify before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee and make a case for their joint $30B merger. Comcast is the country’s largest cable provider and NBC Universal is television’s top-rated network among the 18-49 age group. As reported by MSNBC, NBC Universal also includes “a major movie studio; a television production studio; a handful of cable TV channels including USA, Sci-Fi, CNBC and Bravo; and a group of 29 television stations.”

You can watch the entire webcast of the hearing here or watch Senator Franken’s style of questioning below. Finally, the Hill’s Kim Hart did a few posts on her blog here.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clvqrfq6-Es[/youtube]

The Social Media Tug of War: SOTU Style

The State of the Union streamed faster online than any of the networks could achieve on Television.  In the world of Twitter, conversation around the hash tag #SOTU soared, accounting for thousands upon thousands of updates on the aggregating machine. On sites like the New York Times and The Washington Times, live bloggers updated, updated, and updated. People gravitated to the pixels on computer screens and smart phones like citizen zombies, edging in a commenta critiquea joke, to see if anyone was listening.

But was anyone listening to the President?

Social media consultant, Jen Nedeau, was part of an effort with New York media consultant, Dan Gerstein, to organize a group of live bloggers and spur a substantive online discussion around the State of the Union. Her answer to the question above – was anyone actually listening? Most likely, would be a resounding yes.

“Social media allows the conversation that used to happen in the family living room, over the dinner table or within the knitting circle expand into a global dialogue. As the President gives his speech tonight, we will all be tuned in – not only to what he is saying – but to what those around us are saying.”

Nedeau, who earned her social media chops as a digital strategist in Washington, D.C. and New York City, went on to say that the online conversation in-stream with the President’s speech, “creates the unique ability for political thought to expand and explode beyond the television broadcast.”

Could she be right? In the last decade, technology has soared to new heights – at the turn of the century, words like Kindle, Android, Tablet and Geotargeting were hardly in our language. But in a short period of time, boundaries have disappeared and with it, unspeakable progress has occurred. But have all the channels for talk brought about setbacks, too?

Gerstein, founder of Gotham Ghostwriters and a columnist at Forbes, takes the question above and colors in a different point of view. With Gotham’s live blogging effort, he says, average political junkies are given an alternative to the talking heads found on network TV.

“Before these tools were available, people had to listen to talking heads yak at them.  Now they can directly engage political pros and experts in a two-way conversation, ask them questions, and quite possibly enlighten them.”

Gerstein makes a point – and with it, speaks to perhaps the biggest success the President didn’t address in the State of the Union: WhiteHouse.Gov. A web site that has made press briefings available live, visitor records downloadable, daily photos accessible, and Q&A’s with Administration officials a mouse click away. Tonight WhiteHouse.gov live streamed the address (yes, faster than the networks could), held a live video Q&A afterward, and uploaded the official remarks and two blog posts (onetwo) after.

My point – which is not to ignore the fact that I, like Nedeau and Gerstein, use social media to engage others and to tap into a larger conversation – is that we are all in this pixilated society together. But what does it mean for moving a President’s political agenda forward – any President for that matter, post-social media? Can either side build up enough strength, enough collaboration, enough bipartisanship, to tug the social media rope hard enough and bring over to the other side?

To see a Flickr feed of the social media story from the State of the Union, click here.

The Social Media Swing State: MA's Special Election

2008 was a year for Democrats. Led by President Obama, Obama for America utilized social networks, text messages and online organization to get a record number of people out to vote. But today, it looks like the Republicans are about the pull out the social media win. The real question is: will the Senate seat come with it too? Contestants in today’s special election race for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat, Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley, are about to find out.

CNN’s Audience Interaction Producer, Eric Kuhn, wrote a post Monday morning “GOP Candidate Dominates Social Networking in Massachusetts,” and pulled numbers of Brown’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to make the GOP case. Kuhn was right, and today Brown’s numbers continued to grow. (Below are the most up to-date stats).

At this moment, more than 110,078 people on Facebook have taken sides and more than 15,338 people on Twitter are tuned in. Brown leads Facebook with 92,964 fans compared to Coakley’s 17,114. He also has a clear lead on Twitter with over 7,000 more followers and listed nearly 600 times. Brown’s approach to social media is also more effective, especially in his use of Facebook. His campaign staff uses the page to funnels news, information, and behind-the-scenes campaign photos. Coakley’s Facebook Page reads more like a resume.

I left a comparison of YouTube out, but I should make one quick point. Brown is burying Coakley. Search for “Martha Coakley,” and you are likely to find, top fold, clips that Brown’s campaign have uploaded about her. Fatal flaw for Coakley’s campaign – to not play offense on one of the most searched web sites in the world.

The gamble is just as dire for the Democrats, who have 60 votes and health care reform at stake with today’s election.

Side-By-Side (As of 2:10AM Tuesday)

Scott Brown (Republican)
Facebook: 92,964 Fans
Twitter: 11,472 Followers

Martha Coakley (Democrat)
Facebook: 17,114 Fans
Twitter: 3,866 Followers
ActBlue (Fundraising): Raised $1,276,289 from 14,668 supporters

This Week on The Hill: Twitter

We all know by now what a magnifying impact Twitter, the micro blogging sensation, has had on politics. Capitol Hill is no exception. Here are some key highlights from the week of Twitter on the Hill.

Trending Topics this week, according to Tweet Congress, a web site dedicated to  tracking tweets from Members of Congress, include: #haiti, #morejobs, #hcr and #tcot. (TCOT = top conservatives on Twitter). Remember, hash tags are tools that help you to follow a conversation. So if a user uses #hrc in their 140 character update, it will funnel into a conversation thread with more #hcr.

Some interesting hash tags I found from Republicans include #repealit and #KilltheBill, no doubt in reference to health care. From the Democrats, at least this week, I found less Twitter output.  Their hashtags revolved around #haiti, #hcr and personal state hash tags such as #MO for Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). It seems Republicans are finding more creative uses of hashtags, a smart and effective way of targeting messages…at least at this moment.

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Equal Rights: More Than a March

I just got back from the National Equality March that is taking place right now in Washington. Thousands of GLBT equality advocates have descended on Northwest D.C. and are in full force as they march from McPherson Square to the steps of the Capitol.

The march has been met with some skepticism, especially by openly gay Member of Congress, Barney Frank (D-MA), who told Associated Press: “The only thing they’re going to be putting pressure on is the grass.” He went on to allude to more effective ways the GLBT community could push their equality agenda – constituent lobby days and grassroots efforts in the states, such as Maine, where gay marriage will soon be voted on. But even with that valid point, the thousands of marchers in Washington had ample reason to be here.

Over the last two decades, our government has actually established legislation that prohibits equality. First there is Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), a ban of openly gay people in the military, which reduces military effectiveness. Then there is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which conflicts the Constitution by connecting church and state with a legal definition of marriage: between a man and a women.

On the other hand, you have the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (EDNA), a piece of legislation that protects people from wrongful termination – except GLBT people. In fact, in 29 states, employers can fire or not hire someone based on their sexuality. And the list of policies that dictate civil rights for a minority group in America goes on.

In sum, our government is actively producing policy that makes some U.S. citizens less than equals. We all know that no matter what, it is not right. But somehow that message has not reached all of America. Here are some people who want to change that.

Helen Thomas to the President: Go Down In Flames for the Public Option

Just Released – Unedited, unfiltered interview with Helen Thomas about the health care debate. With more than 60 years of White House experience, Thomas dissects the interests against a “public option” in the health care debate: “Profiteering,” “Misinformation” and an “atmosphere of hate.”

This interview was recorded on Wednesday, August 19, 2009.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRaKNyn3v0M[/youtube]