Weekly Sedition: Slut Walk D.C.

Posted in Weekly Sedition on August 14, 2013 by Kontra


Slut Walk comes to D.C. in 2013!   On location reporting from the front lines in the war against victim-blaming.


Weekly Sedition: The Railroading of Ashley Williams

Posted in Weekly Sedition on July 17, 2013 by Kontra

rail·road  [reyl-rohd]: verb
to convict (a person) in a hasty manner by means of false charges or insufficient evidence



In this episode, we hear the chronological story of the Ashley Williams case through the eyes of an investigator who has assembled hundreds of pages of official documents proving unconstitutional and illegal actions on the part of prosecutors.  We also hear from Ashley’s original attorney, who was disposed of after she mounted a world-class defense.  This show has reported on the case before, but never in this degree of detail.

(Click here to listen to the previous show about the Ashley Williams case.)

Weekly Sedition: Through Walls of Brick & Steel

Posted in Weekly Sedition with tags , , , on July 8, 2013 by Kontra

This episode covers the hunger strike at Red Onion, along with an inspiring story of how families are getting messages into the prisons along the mountainous Virginia/Kentucky border.

Weekly Sedition: Huguenot Strikes Back

Posted in Weekly Sedition on July 7, 2013 by Kontra


This episode, Huguenot High successfully gets one student advocate fired while attempting to illegally remove young organizers from the school.

(For the original story of how Latino students were segregated and searched, see the previous coverage of this story here.)

We Demand Language Access

Interpretation services must be provided so that every student and parent can communicate with any school official. The services must be professional, competent and neutral. The interpreter should have no role in the conversation except to interpret. It is unfair and unprofessional to have teachers, security guards or other disciplinary figures act as interpreters.

The grievance procedure must be translated into Spanish and distributed to all Spanish-speaking families.

When Spanish speaking parents enter the office, they must be treated with respect, not ignored. If there is not an interpreter immediately available and no faculty or staff who speaks Spanish, then there should be instructions written in Spanish that clearly outline how to request a meeting with interpretation. This interpretation must be provided in a timely fashion.


We Demand the Removal of Ms. Ortiz from the Staff

Ms Ortiz has consistently acted in a hostile and antagonistic manner towards Latino students and their families. It has reached the point that trust and confidence cannot be restored. Her presence undermines the ability of the students to learn. She must resign or be terminated from her position.

We Demand Clearly Defined Authority Structures

It must be clearly communicated what authority is granted to faculty and staff in regards to students. Students and their families have a right to know what disciplinary decisions can be made by teachers or security guards and which must be made by the principal or other administrators. This information must be put into writing and translated into Spanish.

We Demand That All School Personnel Stop Threatening Students With Deportation

No one on staff is trained to interpret or authorized to enforce federal immigration law. These threats are blatant bullying and detract from the ability of students to focus on learning. It must be written into school policy that these threats are prohibited and that disciplinary action will be taken against anyone making them.


We Demand Additional Training for Faculty

Given the climate of fear and hostility that has been created for Latino student, there is a clear and present need for additional staff development. This must include cultural sensitivity training and non-violent conflict resolution training.

We Demand that Faculty and Staff Respect the Privacy of Students

It is not appropriate for faculty or staff to comment on, document or threaten to share information about the private lives of students. This includes who they choose as friends and who they choose to date.

We Demand a Public Apology from Principal Barakat to the Latino Students

Principal Barakat must publicly apologize to the students and their families for the offenses described above and most especially for his actions in searching only Latino students after a recent fight in school, for singling Latino students out to be escorted to the buses in small groups and for threatening Latino students with deportation if they did not comply with his orders.

Salomonsky: Richmond is a “Ghetto of people making $30k-$50k a year”

Posted in Other Media on June 24, 2013 by Kontra

Now here’s an interesting bit of audio.

Louis Salomonsky is the downtown developer who did time in federal prison for conspiracy to commit extortion, along with the Council member he bribed.  He recently laid out in full brazen form for Style how he was skirting taxes the straight-and-narrow way, but was smacked down by the city immediately thereafter.  He has been (and is currently) one of the loudest advocates for a new stadium in Shockoe Bottom, and controls a substantial portion of property in the area.

In a recent interview with Open Source on these tax abatement issues, Salomonsky also openly lamented the city’s “ghetto of people making $30k-50k a year”, citing it as the reason why the city keeps asking developers for more and more luxury condos.

Shortly thereafter, he notes with optimism that “minorities moving to the counties” because of a “declining school system” will finally bring rich, childless empty-nesters into the city, making it richer than the counties.

The fight against those counties for economic supremacy is still ongoing, he reminds us!

Wait, what?

Just to be clear… Citizens making $45k a year are ghettoizing the city?  And the declining educational system (even now closing schools) is a good thing, because the “minority” families that make up this city will be forced to leave to educate their children properly?  And we’re in an economic battle with the counties… why?

How is it possible that people like this say what they think and still get their way?

Amazing Women Reclaim Country Music

Posted in Articles on June 21, 2013 by Kontra

“What kind of music do you like?” is a question that I’ve been asked many times in my life.  Even as a white, southern boy, my response has almost always been something like, “Anything that’s not modern country music.”  I like classic country music, I’ll tell them – Cash, Nelson, Cline, Hank, Dolly – but cannot abide country radio.

Country music, it seems to me, has been going through an identity crisis as the music has become less and less a reflection of the actual stories, lives and experiences of people living in rural areas.  Instead, we get song lyrics that name-drop cultural components associated with the south, but which have very little of substance to share about why those cultural components are important or how they play a role in the lives of the people the music claims to represent.

Male artists are the worst.  Turn on your local country radio station(s) at any time during the day, and you are guaranteed to hear a song like Jason Aldean’s She’s Country, which is basically a laundry list of words that he hopes you’ll think show just how country he is: “cowboy boots”, “prayers”, “born and raised”, “pickup truck”, “backwoods”, “homegrown”, etc.

Or for comparison, try on Blake Shelton’s Boys Round Here, which is essentially the same thing: “boots”, “prayer”, “southern”, “truck”, “backwoods”, “beer”, etc.

These two songs are representative of a large portion of today’s country radio.  The few corporations marketing and distributing mainstream music have essentially packaged up the most superficial aesthetic and cultural components of country music/life and sold them back to the population as culturalist anthems.  It’s like a deep south version of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle.

To make matters worse, the arrangements and chord progressions of mainstream country have increasingly begun to resemble the overproduced rock music that you can purchase from your local Family Christian Store in the strip mall next to Applebee’s.

These are serious problems, and have been for some time.


Over the past year, three all-female country artists have broken through this cultural echo chamber with stunning success.  I’m excited to tell you about them.  Before I talk about them individually, there are two themes that span all of these albums, worthy of mention:

1)  Religion – Two of these artists do not neglect the role of religion in their lives as southern women, and in fact portray its role in a much more realistic context than most artists who talk about their spirituality.  No sappy preaching here.  Only one of these three artists (Kasey Musgrave) seems to actually be questioning her faith, and this too is done tastefully.  As a humanist, it can be hard for me to listen to music with religious references, but these albums never irked me once.

2)  Marijuana – Finally, country is returning to its longstanding outspoken acceptance of  marijuana as a worthy element in its cultural narratives.  Every single album mentions marijuana use at least once, and never inappropriately.  If we want to see the failed and destructive war on marijuana end in our lifetime, we need public figures normalizing responsible use with honest depictions of their lives.

Pistol Annies – Annie Up


I had my doubts.  These gals sang backup on that Blake Shelton song I ragged on a moment ago, so I thought the odds were stacked against them.  Emphatically not the case.  This trio has crafted a country album that is not just listenable from beginning to end, but is both thoughtful and fun to boot.

Here are some women from the working class background that country music derives from, singing the virtues of working class men, marijuana and getting down.  But don’t mistake this for a party album.  Several songs on Annie Up are about complex personal and social issues, all of which are dealt with in a nuanced way.

The first lyrics to really perk up my ears came in Track 3, Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty, in which the band laments the soul-crushing difficulty of maintaining mainstream beauty standards:

Being pretty ain’t pretty, it takes all day long
You spend all your money just to wipe it all off
You spray on your perfume, you spray on your tan
Get up in the morning, do it over again
Being pretty ain’t pretty at all

The strongly reinforced feminine beauty standards that characterize southern culture make this voice no less than feminist, social counterspin.  And I love it.

Trading One Heartbreak For Another might be one of the most poignant songs about divorce ever written, and to my knowledge, is the only one that frames it just so.  The heartbreaks being traded are the kind that comes with a messy divorce, and the kind that comes from seeing a child needing his estranged father:  “I’m finally alive, but it’s killin’ who I’m livin’ for”.  The Annies deal with serious issues of guilt and relief and anxiety here, and deserve credit for writing a truly heartbreaking song.

Other notable songs include a personal struggle with alcoholism (Dear Sobriety) and the blue collar, girl-power track Girls Like Us (Make the World Go Round).

These well-crafted, often insightful songs stray from the country formulas in important ways.  This is a must own for people interested in new country music.

Ashley Monroe – Like a Rose


What splendid use of traditional country stylings!  What classic themes!  And yet, Ashley manages to explore those themes with a meta-consciousness that speaks volumes: “So the man is gone / What a damn cliche”.  This not only imbues the classic themes with new life, but reminds everyone that the themes (like breakup/heartbreak) are cliches because they are a universal experience.

At the same time, the lyrics seem to have been written in a time and place removed from the urban centers where large portions of the country music demographic now live.  Whether songs are talking about taking “the phone off of the hook” (do YOU still have a landline?) or shooting Polaroids (as opposed to Instagraming), the listener has the impression that these songs could have been written any time since the early 70s.

I’m also a sucker for artists with multiple personas, and Ashley offers us one by the name of “Monroe Suede”, a nickname for herself in a possibly-true story about an incident of grand theft auto from her youth.  Songwriting like this is perfectly suited to country music, and serves to boost her mystique both as a person and an artist.

There is no question that Ashley is also representing a working class ethic here, with songs about late rent payments and heavy drinking flanking fun-as-hell stompers like Weed Instead of Roses.  Strongly recommended.

Kacey Musgrave – Same Trailer, Different Park


Of the three albums, this one diverges most from roots and country stylization, but only by a few degrees.  Same Trailer, Different Park certainly has pop influence, but still relies on identifiable country instruments and lyrical elements.

But the thing that really sparks my interest in this woman is the way she actively calls into question the values of the culture that gave birth to her.

If you ain’t got two kids by 21, you’re probably going to die alone
At least that’s what tradition told you
And it don’t matter if you don’t believe
Come Sunday morning you best be there in the front row like you’re supposed to

Songs like these are not only a personal exploration, but also an encouragement for the listener to question for themselves.  If I had a teenage daughter, this is exactly the sort of music I would give her to listen to.  The range of empowering messages for young women on this album cannot be overestimated.  Sometimes they are couched in stories of other working class women, like Blowing Smoke, while others are direct encouragements that reach outside of country’s typical value scheme, like in Follow Your Arrow:

Make lots of noise, Kiss lots of boys
Or kiss lots of girls, If that’s something you’re into
When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight
Roll up a joint, or don’t
Just follow your arrow

Keep Kacey Musgrave on your radar, and snag this album at the first opportunity.

Weekly Sedition: The Case of Ashley Williams

Posted in Weekly Sedition on June 19, 2013 by Kontra

A community tries to understand how a Richmond mother could be convicted of the death of her two-year-old son, as the full extent of prosecutorial wrongdoing comes to light.