The Flaming Sword of Justice, with Ben Wikler






January 2013
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After 64 hours of original interviews, inspiring stories, and flames that leapt from our honed steel edge up to the merciless skies, The Flaming Sword of Justice has been reforged.Check out its successor, The Good Fight, with Ben Wikler, here!

The Good Fight is a new weekly podcast and radio show with the same spirit, same host, and same sponsor, but a new city (DC), format (pre-recorded, mixing comedy and news with in-depth interviews), time slot (Saturdays), and name. If you loved the Flaming Sword of Justice, you'll be utterly enthralled by The Good Fight.

Direct download: From_Sword_to_Fight.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:38pm EST

The Dream Defenders have been occupying the Florida State Capitol for 17 days, making national headlines with their call for a special legislative session to pass a "Trayvon's Law"--to repeal Stand Your Ground, ban racial profiling, and end the school-to-prison pipeline.

They've made headlines coast to coast. They're being recognized as the next generation of civil rights leaders. But rewind a month or two, and almost nobody had heard of them. So who are they, and where did they come from? 

This episode of the Flaming Sword of Justice brings you a slice of the back story: the spellbinding journey of Phillip Agnew, the Dream Defenders' co-founder and executive director. In an interview recorded in March of 2013, Phillip recounts growing up in the black church, not much money but a lot of love; his first fight against a racist killing in Florida; the brush with racial profiling that jolted him out of his depressing job selling anti-depressants--and then the creation of the Dream Defenders in the course of a life-changing march to Sanford, Florida after the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Today's Tallahasee Takeover springs directly from the same vibrant vision and bedrock commitment that shines through in this interview, and through the voices of so many of the Dream Defenders. If you want to understand the present and future of Florida politics--and, indeed, of American politics in general, as a rising generation of young people of color moves the balance of power--then you'll want to get to know this extraordinary group.

There's a moment in this interview that we'll never forget, about 34 minutes in: the day Phillip realizes that he can never go back to his old life in corporate America. Don't miss that part. But check out the whole thing.

Direct download: FSJ_18_Dream_Defenders_Origins.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:07pm EST

92 years of life can give you some perspective. Especially if you spend seven-odd decades in service of others, as a diplomat and peacebuilder working on five continents. 

Today, we interview Ambassador John W. McDonald, co-founder and chair of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, about his extraordinary journey: from his far-flung childhood in a military family to his arrival as a young foreign service officer in postwar Germany in 1947; from the Berlin airlift to the nerve center of the Marshall Plan; from camel caravans through snow-choked Afghanistan to jungle airports in Bolivia. 

Our guest built a railroad from Turkey to Tehran, helped run United Nations agencies and create new ones—and then, at age 70, after a 40-year career in government, with no resources except a co-founder and a dream, created a new organization that is helping citizens build peace from Cyprus to Kashmir.

Oh, and we should mention: he has a personal connection to the show. You know our host, Ben Wikler? He's John McDonald's grandson.

As you hear Ambassador McDonald share stories and lessons from his long and world-spanning life, you'll catch the intensity of his optimism, his enthusiasm—and you'll see why he's so hopeful about where the world is going next.

Direct download: Sword_2013_07_25.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:10pm EST

What happened to the Minutemen? 

A refresher: the Minutemen were the group that whipped up American conservatives into hysterics around the supposed issue of "border security" a few years back. They called themselves "a citizens' Neighborhood Watch on our border," and organized press stunts in which armed white people would tromp around the border with Mexico and argue that they weren't racist. 

You don't hear from them so much anymore. Partly, that's because their positions—and many of their former members—moved on to the Tea Party. But partly that's because of the story you'll hear in this episode. A story of cold-blooded murder.

The journalist David Neiwert researched the tale for his new book, And Hell Followed With HerAnd he joined us at the Netroots Nation conference in San Jose to tell the story on-air.

If you want to understand the politics and the personalities of the hardcore right-wing end of the U.S. immigration debate—or if you just like a rivetingly blood-soaked story of zealotry, xenophobia, and bad ideas gone even worse, don't miss this episode of The Flaming Sword of Justice.

Direct download: 63__Minutemen_Murders.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:56pm EST

When the Christian Right launched the organization "True Love Waits," they might not have been intentionally referring to the wait for a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Defense Of Marriage Act. But as of Wednesday, June 26th, 2013, the wait is over. And true love won. 

Today on the Flaming Sword of Justice, we bring you three voices from inside the struggle for equality. First, Darlene Nipper of the Task Force tells about the moment she heard the news about DOMA, reflects on the struggle to get here, and fires us up for the fights ahead. 

Then Jamie McGonnigal, who married his husband one month ago, tells us what it was like to stand in front of the Supreme Court today as the decision came down. (The first sign that we'd won? An eruption of screams.) 
And finally, in an interview recorded at the Netroots Nation conference in San Jose, Minnesota's House Majority Leader tells us the tears-inducing story of passing a marriage equality law in her own state—a law that, starting today, will be recognized nationwide.

The Defense of Marriage Act has fallen, and family values have triumphed. Don't miss this special celebratory edition of the Flaming Sword of Justice.
Direct download: Sword_2013_06_26.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:55pm EST

Remember the Dean campaign? It never ended. A decade later, the people he inspired are still winning elections coast to coast, using the idea that was always at the heart of his campaign: people powered politics.

In 2003, a 22-year-old named Arshad Hasan joined Dean's campaign for president. Today, he's preparing to depart from his post as Executive Director of Democracy for America, the organization that sprang up from the Dean community after the campaign's end. On today's Flaming Sword of Justice, recorded live at the Netroots Nation 2013 conference in San Jose, Arshad tells the story of his path to DfA—and the story of one of his proudest fights, an election battle that seasoned campaign experts were all dismissing as hopeless. 

Hearing Arshad explain what happened on that race, you can't help but get swept up in the intensity and fervor of it all. And you'll realize that when Howard Dean kept saying "this campaign is not about Howard Dean," he was right. You—we—really do have the power. 

This week, a ten years ago, Governor Dean struck a match. Today, the flame burns hot on the Flaming Sword of Justice.

Direct download: Sword_2013_06_25.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:41pm EST

There's deadlock in DC, but in Wisconsin—as in 23 other states—Republicans have total control. So what is the party of Palin doing with all that power? 
One thing's for sure: those Republican majorities aren't interested in consensus. The GOP is ticking through its wish list (a list that includes wishes for more wishes) and ramming hard-right bills through legislatures all over the country.
Unions shut down and jobs eliminated. Women's rights abused. Votes suppressed.
And the worst part is, Wisconsin is doomed forever. 
Wait, that can't be right. There's hope! On our show today, meet two activists who are fighting extremism and trying to stem the tide—Milwaukee's Biko Baker, ED of the League of Young Voters, who tells tales from the front lines fighting GOP voter suppression, and Madison oncology nurse Anica Bausch, whose silent, nondisruptive act of dissent as the State Assembly passed an extreme anti-abortion bill led to a visit by four looming security officers.

What the Wisconsin GOP is doing is ugly. But as long as citizens are ready to fight back, nothing lasts forever. Wisconsin's long political winter isn't just about Wisconsin. It's about all of us. And together, we'll make sure that spring comes once again.
Direct download: Sword_2013_06_18_full.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:03pm EST

The NSA vs the ACLU: one side knows everything. The other has read the Constitution very carefully. Winner gets bragging rights. And shapes the course of history.
On today's show, we'll talk to two of America's foremost experts and advocates about liberty, privacy, and digital security—and the explosive new revelations of omnipresent domestic and global surveillance by the National Security Agency. First, Ben Wizener of the ACLU will tell us about the American Civil Liberty Union's new case: a lawsuit demanding that the Obama administration bring its surveillance activities in line with the law and the US Constitution. And then we go to Margot Kaminski of Yale Law School, who expands the fight from the courts to the halls of Congress and corporate America—and explains exactly how you can help.
Direct download: Sword_2013_06_12.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:07pm EST

Want to win an election? The formula's supposed to be simple: raise a ton of money, buy a ton of TV ads, stir in a little get-out-the-vote action, book your tickets to DC. 

Except: that's not what the research says.

A wave of political science studies have upended the conventional wisdom about what counts in politics, and suggested a very different way to win elections. And on this episode of The Flaming Sword of Justice, our guest—Becky Bond of CREDO—tells the story of how she put that research into action. While billionaires bankrolled a tidal wave of TV ads in the 2012 election cycle, her team targeted ten terrible Tea Party Republicans with the tactics suggested by scientific experiments. 

What they did, and what happened as a result, will give you hope for the future of American politics.

Direct download: Sword_2013_06_07.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00pm EST

On March 25, a clothing factory caught fire. Workers ried to escape, but they found the doors locked—and 146 of them died. 

Sounds like Bangladesh. But this happened in New York City. In 1911. 

What happened after that has been written in a thousand history books: a national outcry; new legislation protecting workers' rights; and a wave of union organizing that helped transform the lives of workers in this country. 

Fast forward a century, loop around to the other side of the globe, and you'll find almost exactly the same story—fire, locked doors, death—in Bangladesh last year. But then it got worse: the factory collapse this April, a disaster far far deadlier than either fire. A gruesome story. But maybe, just maybe, another turning point. 

Maybe you've noticed: in recent weeks, under massive public pressure, more than three dozen huge clothing companies have joined a legally binding agreement for radically improved worker safety protections. On this show, we talk to three people in the heart of that fight: a California fashion industry veteran; a Bangladeshi woman who started working in a clothing factory at age 12, became a union organizer by 16, and now is leading the global fight for worker's rights there; and an international worker's rights campaigner who is helping rack up the victories. Through their stories, you'll get a taste of a life and death struggle—and, amidst tragedy, a rising tide of hope.

Direct download: Sword_2013_06_05.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:28pm EST

When a government is doing wrong by its citizens, it never knows in advance the moment that will prove to be the last straw.
Sometimes, it's a new tax on stamps on the colonies in North America. 
Sometimes, it's the harrassment of a fruit vendor on a Tunisian street. 
And sometimes it's the arrival of bulldozers to rip out hundred-year-old trees in a Turkish park, and build yet another shopping mall in its place. 
You never know the last straw in advance. But once it's happened, there's no going back. 
On today's show, we land in the streets of Istanbul, Turkey, scene of a historic uprising—a people's revolt that began in Gezi Park and has engulfed the nation. 
Our first guest, Yigit Aksakoglu, speaks to us live from Gezi Park and tells us how it felt to be a part of the resistance.

Second, Defne Suman, whose blog post What is Happening in Istanbul? brought the protests to a worldwide audience, talks about the affect the protests are having in Turkey and their affect on participatory democracy there.

Third, we're joined by an anonymous activist who was one of the first hundred people on the ground in Gezi Park, before the bulldozers came. She describes what it felt like to be a part of the protests in those first few days and what the protestors want to have change.

Finally we talk to Omer Madra, a lifelong activist and radio host, who brings us his ears and his eyes, but more importantly, his insight: the inside story of the years-long leadup that made this moment so explosive. 
The arc of a fiery Turkish scimitar is short, and it bends towards justice—right here, in a dispatch from the heart of the revolution.
Direct download: Sword_2013_06_04.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:35pm EST

Imagine paying $3000 to visit America through a cultural exchange/guest-worker program--and then being forced to live on a cot in a packed basement room, abused at work, and threatened with expulsion if you called out your boss... who owns both the McDonald's where you work and the basement where you live. He can get you kicked out of the country with a single phone call. Do you try to bear it? Or do you fight back? Today's guests took the latter option--with some help from labor organizing pioneer Jess Kutch and her new organization, Four guests, outrageous injustice, and a very satisfying ending... all on today's Flaming Sword of Justice.

Direct download: flamingsword-24-not-lovin-it_re-run.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:46pm EST

When the AP announced this week that it would stop using the phrase "illegal immigrant," American media (and Americans in general) took notice. But in all the many, many news accounts of the AP's decision, few reporters acknowledged the highly coordinated, strategic, and empathic campaign that made it happen—a campaign that built on work by leaders and citizens in social movements dating back decades. Our guest, Monica Novoa, the coordinator (and sole full-time employee) of the "Drop the I Word" campaign, was at the heart of making it happen—and in this episode, she tells her story, and the story of this movement, like you've never heard it before. You'll laugh, sing, cry, and cheer. Tune in and spread the word!

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_04_re-run.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:18pm EST

Gaby Pacheco arrived in the US at age 8, and thrived here. It wasn't until middle school, when her sisters were rejected from college because they lacked immigration papers, that she found out she wasn't a citizen. But in the years to come, instead of hiding the truth, she did something unusual: she decided to speak out.

Her activism earned her the ire of immigration authorities, who rounded up her family and demanded that she stay quiet if she wanted to prevent their deportation. But she fought back, waging a years-long battle for change. On January 1, 2010, she began a journey that would take her to the national stage: she and three friends began a 1500-mile journey, on foot, that soon made national headlines as the "Trail of Dreams." By the time they reached Washington, DC that May, they had faced down the Ku Klux Klan and built a 30,000-strong petition for reform. Months later, one of them met with Obama to discuss immigration reform--and, just last week, Gaby Pacheco was the one undocumented immigrant to testify for immigration reform at the United States Senate.

To hear Gaby tell her extraordinary story of courage, resilience, and hope is to realize that the xenophobes are outmatched, whether they're in Klan robes or pinstripes. Tune in!

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_29_re-run.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:59pm EST

For years—for decades—the Boy Scouts didn't just discriminate. They insisted on discriminating. They forced local troops to throw out gay scouts. They won a Supreme Court case to defend their right to discriminate. They told the press, over and over, that nothing was going to change.

And then, suddenly, something changed. 

This is how that happened. 

This is the story of how an Ohio mom, a Iowa Eagle Scout, and a gay teenager in California sparked a nationwide movement that ended one of the most hotly-defended policies of discrimination in America. This is the story of how their voices inspired millions to join the cause—to sign petitions and make phone calls, to march and lobby and send in their merit badges in protest. How they fought, and fought, and refused to give up. 

In this episode of the Flaming Sword of Justice, we interview Mike Jones, the behind-the-scenes campaign director at who worked with the public heroes of this campaign to win a change that many had dismissed as an impossibility. And then we talk to Jennifer Tyrrell, the mom whose petition sparked the wildfire—reaching her by phone the day after the vote to allow gay scouts. (The fight now continues to end the ban on gay leaders.) This is the first time anywhere that you can hear the whole story, from the inside, of how it all unfolded. It's inspiring, and it's more than that: it's a case study of how to beat the odds, from the bottom up. 

Below: see photos of our guest, Mike Jones, and the heroes of the story; and a timeline of the scouts campaign.

Direct download: Sword_2013_05_28.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:47am EST

On the wall of my high school theater classroom, at Madison West High, my wonderful teacher posted a bumper sticker bearing a famous and accurate quote: "Feminism is the radical idea that women are people." 
Today's immigrant rights movement is premised on a similar, and similarly radical, idea: the notion immigrants are people too. 
And on today's show, we'll explore an idea more radical still—an idea grounded in demographic fact: half the time, the people who are immigrants...  are also people who are women. So, immigration reform? It's a feminist issue. 

On today's show, we talk to the co-chairs of the We Belong Together campaign: two nationally acclaimed advocates—one best known for her work for immigrant rights, the other best known as a feminist activist. They've already won some crucial victories on amendments in the immigration reform bill, and they've got some amazing things in store.

Think you can support justice for immigrants without being a feminist? Think you can be a feminist without supporting immigration reform? Listen to this podcast.
Direct download: Sword_2013_05_24.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:42pm EST

At some point, you go from taking care of your kids and grandkids... to needing someone to take care of you. 
That's hard. And it can be hard on the grown-up kids who are trying to juggle their parents the the children of their own. It's one of the hardest personal issues that families face. 
But think about it for a second: if every family has to deal with it, why is this just a personal issue? 
On today's show, we talk to Ai-Jen Poo, co-founder of the Caring Across Generations campaign, who realized that this is one of the fundamental questions facing the country as a whole—especially now, when another American turns 65 every 8 seconds. 
You'd think that an aging population is a problem to be solved. But in this interview, Ai-Jen lays out a breathtaking vision for how the so-called "silver tsunami" is actually an opportunity: how tackling it can bring together solutions not only for the aging of the baby boom generation, but also for immigration, the economy, women's rights, worker's rights, and even climate change. And it's bigger than even that: this is a moment that calls on us to remake our institutions, and our own actions and beliefs, in accord with our most fundamental value: love. 
Direct download: Sword_2013_05_23.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:17pm EST

It's a doctor's worst nightmare. You arrive at the hospital--and the hospital has collapsed. In the rubble, a thousand people are near death. You have no medicine. You have no equipment. You've never been in a situation like this before. And yet: you have to act. 
Three years ago, that's what Dr. David Walton found when he arrived at what had once been the biggest hospital in Haiti, 48 hours after the earthquake. 
From the US, it's easy to forget that the deadliest disaster of the 21st century occurred just a two-hour flight away from the United States. And it's easier still to think that so many people died because of a "natural disaster." But as Dr. Walton makes clear in this unforgettable, searing, and ultimately hopeful interview, the deadliness of disasters is something that we, as human beings, can do something about. 

And here's some evidence for his case: In the next few weeks, the inpatient clinic will open at a state-of-the art teaching hospital: a hospital powered entirely by solar energy, with its own eco-friendly water treatment system and a groundbreaking new system to support decentralized medical care. In the middle of rural Haiti.
The story of Mirebalais Hospital is a story of hope rising out of tragedy. Dr. Walton over oversaw the hospital's construction. And when you hear his story, you'll never think about poverty, health, Haiti, medicine in the same way. 
Direct download: Sword_2013_05_22.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:52pm EST

If troops from another country invaded American military bases and sexually assaulted tens of thousands of american service men and women, our response would be instant, all-out war. 
But when sexual predators and abuswrs within America's own military done exactly the same thing, the response - for years - has been to pretend that nothing was happening. 
But now—thankfully—finally - that's starting to change. 
Our guest today survived sexual trauma as a young sailor in the US Navy. And by telling her story, and joining with others to do so, she has awakened the conscience and outrage of a nation.  Now, she's taking her case to Congress--and America's elected leaders are rushing to respond. 
Today's show is intense. But stay with us and you'll hear a story of hope.
Direct download: Sword_05_17_2013.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:44pm EST

You want a job in America so you can support your family. They say that, for a fee, they can help you do everything by the books--you'll get a good wage, overtime, and a green card. You only make $10 a day, but somehow, borrowing from friends and family, you scrape together $4000.
And then you enter a nightmare.
On today's show, we talk to Annabelle Sibayan--a survivor of labor trafficking who tells her story, a story that shouldn't happen to anyone. And we talk Candice Sering of FiRE (Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment), an artist working with Annabelle and other survivors to craft a powerful play, opening this weekend in New York, that tells four women's stories of struggle and resilience in the face of this modern-day American bondage. Plus: the very first Magic MoveOn Moment of Movement Momentousness.
Direct download: Sword_2013_05_15.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:13pm EST

The Boy Scouts didn't just discriminate against gay scouts and leaders. They insisted on discriminating. They required local troops to discriminate. They fought a legal battle, all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, to defend their policy of discrimination. Nothing, it seemed, could move them. 

And yet, somehow: next week, something will happen that the scouts' national leadership long insisted would never occur... the Boy Scouts of America will hold a national vote on whether to welcome gay members.

How did that happen? The answer, as it so often is, is that the change took a fight. And on this episode, for the first time anywhere, you can hear how it all went down: from the tiny petition launched by Jennifer Tyrrell, who was ousted as head of her son's tiger scout den because of her sexual orientation, to the rise of Scouts for Equality, led by straight scout--and son of two lesbian moms--Zach Wahls; from the CEOs of some of America's most powerful corporations realizing that their brands were at risk if they didn't take a stand, to hundreds of Eagle Scouts sending in their most cherished badges in protest of a policy that betrayed Scouting's core principles. 

As you hear what this policy did to scouts and their families, you'll get angry. When you hear how people across the country rose up to fight back, you'll be inspired. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_05_13.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:03pm EST

Today, in the developing world, AIDS is not a death sentence. There are millions of people in Africa and around the globe who are alive right now thanks to lifesaving drugs—drugs they can afford.
But it wasn't always that way. 
In the year 2000, effective treatments existed—but the drug companies who owned them enforced their patents with a lethal ruthlessness, charging more than $30,000 per year per person. Only if you lived in rich countries like the US, could you afford to stay alive. 
For most people on the planet—for nearly everyone in Africa—if you got HIV, you would develop AIDS and die.
So what changed? How did we get from there to here? 
The answer is one of the great social movement stories of all time. 
Today, we kick off a series of shows tracing the epic fights that saved millons of lives—and the work that still needs doing. 
Join me and our guest, Amy Kapczynski, to hear about a movement to change the rules on essential medicines, as the Flaming Sword of Justice starts now. 
Direct download: Sword_2013_05_09.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:46pm EST

The California Republican Assembly, a grassroots right-wing group dedicated to electing conservatives, was once described by Ronald Reagan as "the conscience of the Republican Party."
And so you might be interested to learn that the organization's president recently expressed her view that rape was unikely to cause pregnancy because, as she put it, "the body is traumatized," which reflects a biological theory held by approximately 0% of biologists. 
Why did she say it? Was she trying to drive women out of the Republican Party? 
Or perhaps Mr. Reagan hadn't been studying his Freud—and, rather than the GOP's conscience, this sentiment is actually the GOP's id? 
Whatever the case, it was outrageous—and you're about to hear how the courageous campaigners from the Courage Campaign, working with their friends at, just crossed party lines to help the California Republican Assembly remove her from office.
Strap on your scuba gear, because we're diving in to the Republican fever swamps... as the Flaming Sword fo Justice starts now. 
Direct download: Sword_2013_05_08.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:02pm EST

On Thursday, May 2, 2013, at 5:45pm, Governor Lincoln Chafee picked up his pen and signed marriage equality into law for the state of Rhode Island. 

You might think it was inevitable. It wasn't. That signature was the fruit of a relentless 16-year campaign, culminating in the largest grassroots legislative mobilization Rhode Island had ever seen. On this episode of the Flaming Sword of Justice, you'll hear the inside story of how that war was waged and won: the lonely years when even getting a vote was a distant dream; the moment when victory seemed tantalizingly close, only to slip out of reach; and then the knock-down-drag-out fight that swept 15 legislators out of office and bombarded state legislators with dozens of phone calls every hour. In Rhode Island, the religious left went collar to collar with the right; organized labor drew a line in the sand... and, when all was said and done, tears rolled down the cheeks of parents and grandparents who could finally know that their kids would have the same marriage rights they did, no matter who they loved. 

It's all here. Tune in and then share this episode. This is a story that should be heard in every state... so that, sometime soon, the citizens of every state can tell a story just like it.

Direct download: Sword_2013_05_07.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:09pm EST

In the days after the Boston Marathon bombings, it was as predictable as the sunset: a wave of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim outrage swept through parts of America. But then the Tsarnaev brothers were caught: Muslim, yes, but white, literally Caucusian, from the Caucuses. A pothead... and a boxer.

What's a bigot supposed to do with that?

The truth is, life could be very confusing for those who think all Arabs are Muslims, all Muslims are Arabs, and all of them are terrorists... because all three of those things are wildly untrue. But that kind of confusion has created a lot of havoc in a lot of people's lives. On this episode of the Flaming Sword of Justice, author and professor Moustafa Bayoumi brings us into the lives of two young Arab-Americans, as chronicled in his award-winning book, How does it feel to be a problem? Being young and Arab in America. One is a Christian Arab US Marine who boarded the bus to the base on September 10, 2001. The other is a teenager born in Syria who was arrested in the middle of the night, released 80 days later with no charges and no apology, and had to explain to her professors why she'd missed so much class. In their stories, and in the larger history of Arabs in America, you'll learn how regular people navigate America's crazy tangles of race, religion, fear, and foreign policy... and you'll emerge more hopeful than you started.
Direct download: Sword_2013_05_06.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:15pm EST

It's called Colony Collapse Disorder: the sudden death of entire bee populations, in a grisly phenomenon that threatens not only humanity's food supply, but entire ecosystems. The full science is still emerging about what causes this ghastly buzzkill. But one thing is increasingly clear: soaking plant seeds in ultrapowerful insecticides known as "neonicotinoids"... doesn't help. These insecticides are a business worth billions a year.

But last week, somehow, the insecticide lobby lost a huge battle, as a crucial vote in the European Union paved the way for a two-year Europe-wide ban. On this show, for the first time anywhere, you can hear the inside story of how it happened: how an alliance of beekepers, scientists, green groups... and, crucially, more than 2.6 million citizens acting through the global campaigning group waged a brilliant, desperate campaign to keep the bees alive.

Iain Keith ran Avaaz's campaign. Get your epi-pen ready: you're about to know the sting of bee movement.


Read aaaaall about colony collapse disorder

The United States Department of Agriculture's report on honey bee health

Photos from a petition drop from Save the Bees!

Direct download: Sword_2013_05_03.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:12pm EST

When Aaron Swartz took his own life this January, we lost one of the world's foremost fighters for digital rights. But since his death, we've seen a massive surge of energy in the movement for freedom and justice online. On this episode, I talk to David Segal--a close friend of Aaron's and the executive director of Demand Progress, the group that Aaron founded in 2011--who has just helped defeat an effort to make the notorious Computer Fraud and Abuse Act even worse. 
In this very personal and conversation, you'll hear how Aaron came to create Demand Progress, how he was ensnared by the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and how an unlikely alliance of figures from left and right are coming together to change it. And you'll hear what it was like for David when his partner in advocacy was indicted under a law that, no kidding, was created in reaction to the fictitious hacker-panic movie War Games in 1984.  Online-rights activism was, of course, only one of Aaron's many causes--but hearing these stories, you'll see why changing this unjust law is a fitting and necessary first step towards honoring his legacy. 
Direct download: Sword_2013_04_30.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:30pm EST

Gaby Pacheco arrived in the US at age 8, and thrived here. It wasn't until middle school, when her sisters were rejected from college because they lacked immigration papers, that she found out she wasn't a citizen. But in the years to come, instead of hiding the truth, she did something unusual: she decided to speak out.

Her activism earned her the ire of immigration authorities, who rounded up her family and demanded that she stay quiet if she wanted to prevent their deportation. But she fought back, waging a years-long battle for change. On January 1, 2010, she began a journey that would take her to the national stage: she and three friends began a 1500-mile journey, on foot, that soon made national headlines as the "Trail of Dreams." By the time they reached Washington, DC that May, they had faced down the Ku Klux Klan and built a 30,000-strong petition for reform. Months later, one of them met with Obama to discuss immigration reform—and, just last week, Gaby Pacheco was the one undocumented immigrant to testify for immigration form at the United States Senate.

To hear Gaby tell her extraordinary story of courage, resilience, and hope is to realize that the xenophobes are outmatched, whether they're in Klan robes or pinstripes. Tune in!

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_29.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:24pm EST

It's a great business model: make deal with a state government so that you're paid to imprison people. Cut spending on safety and health so you can rack up big profits. And then use some of those profits to lobby for harsher sentencing, so that the state government makes more deals for more private prisons. Perfect!

Except, um, everything. 

Today's show shines a spotlight on the private prison system, with help from two of its fiercest critics: the head of Grassroots Leadership, which has helped curb some of the industry's worst excesses, and a former private-prison inmate who tells how he, during his incarceration, helped stop a massive private prison expansion... and then beat the prison company that tried to retaliate against him.

Warning: if you listen, you're gonna get angry.



Grassroots Leadership's website—research, campaigns, and more.

"Beyond Walls and Cages"—check out Bob Libal's chapter, "A Prison Is Not A Home"

Mother Jones story on Alex Friedmann: "Ex-Con Shareholder Goes After World's Biggest Prison Corporation"

Stop Owlcatraz! Students at Florida Atlantic University successfully prevent private prison corporation GEO Group from pushing their way onto campus. (Hear their story on this episode of the Flaming Sword of Justice.) 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_25.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:34pm EST

Campbell's cautions us that we should never underestimate the power of soup. The old proverb says that we should never underestimate the power of a kind word. But lawmakers, employers, and gun lobbyists might want to adopt a different creed: never underestimate the power of moms. Today we'll meet to the co-founder and executive director of MomsRising, a million-member nonprofit organizing moms and their allies for a better world. She and the other moms of MomsRising are fighting the fights that we should all support: for decent wages, parental leave, paid sick days... and, in these moments of battle with the NRA, for common-sense gun laws that can save kids' lives. Get ready for an hour of maternal power with the Flaming Sword of Justice. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_24.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:03pm EST

What makes people love their work? Money? Power? Prestige? Those probably help. But groundbreaking new research illustrates the explosive power of a different force entirely: making a difference in other peoples' lives. Our guest, Dr. Adam Grant, has driven a revolution in management theory and the psychology of work, turning old ideas about "incentives" upside down. But could his research be used for evil? And what does it mean for people who don't actually care about the jobs they already have? Find out all that and more on a special social-science-research-y edition of The Flaming Sword of Justice.

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_23.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:47pm EST

When people talk about comprehensive immigration reform, they talk about a lot of different things—some people talk about paths to citizenship, some people talk about border security. But there's one aspect of immigration reform that almost nobody talks about, but everybody should agree on: kids. Tens of thousands of kids arrive in this country without documentation and without their parents. Experts say that nearly half of them would have the right to gain citizenship, even under current law, because of the violence and repression that they're fleeing. It's an issue that could break your heart, but it doesn't have to be this way. Our guest, attorney Wendy Wylegala of Kids In Need of Defense, is here to tell us what's happening, how to fix it, and how you can help. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_22.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:12pm EST

The NRA claims that the only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good guy with a gun—and the stories told by Hollywood can make that seem true. But if you move a few miles away, to the streets of Los Angeles, you'll quickly learn that real life is much more complicated and much more beautiful: that, most often, the people holding the guns aren't bad guys, or good guys, they're human beings, people struggling to stay alive in circumstances they didn't create and would never have chosen. If you want to stop violence at its root, it's not about pulling a trigger: it's about helping people realize their rights and achieve their dreams. Our guest, Alex Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos, has lived every part of this story. He's been in gangs, in prison, deported. He's been hunted by the LAPD and by El Salvadoran death squads. And when he found a path to a life in service of justice, he didn't just walk it himself—he became mentor to help thousands make the same journey. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_19.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:35pm EST

When you think about Iran — when you think about the crushing of the Green Revolution, about the massive censorship of the Internet and free speech, of the government that represses its people and alienates so much of the world, you might not experience a rush of hope. But on today's show, you'll hear a reason to hope for Iran that we trust you'll find compelling indeed. Our guest, Sara Haghdoosti, today launches a new organization that uses the tools of 21st-century political organizing to unite people around the world, Persian and non-Persian alike, who believe that the people of Iran can and will create a better future for their country —

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_18.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:26pm EST

On today's show, the stunning story of how a tiny grassroots group waged an unrelenting and visionary 15-year campaign to win fundamental change by the world's largest paper producer... and, just one week ago, won a victory that would make the Lorax proud. 
Our guest, Danna Smith of the Dogwood Alliance, lived the battle from start to sweet, sweet finish, and she's here to tell a tale of corporate campaigning, grit, and redemption that proves what's possible if you never give up. 
Direct download: Sword_2013_04_17.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:19pm EST

On today's program, an appreciation for the heroes saving lives in Boston—and a landmark moment in the struggle for a better America: a bipartisan group of Senators has released a landmark immigration bill that creates a path to citizenship, and Maria Rodriguez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition is here to tell us about the path to this moment... and why the stakes in this fight are so high. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_16.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:53pm EST

Hear the story of how one tough-as-nails group of young women took on a huge corporation whose celebrity pitchman glorified rape in a rap lyric... and how these women pushed and pushed and pushed until a whole lot of powerful people, after far too long, woke up. Ultraviolet versus Reebok: the Rick Ross Rumble. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_15.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:06pm EST

A year ago, our founding producer Aaron Swartz guest-hosted an episode of The Flaming Sword of Justice when Ben Wikler was out of town. Four months ago, facing trial, Aaron took his own life. Today, in his memory—and in support of the Demand Progress and Internet Defense League Week of Action, which is working to reform the unjust Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that was used to charge Aaron—we're airing his episode for the first time.

You'll hear Aaron interview Mike "Rortybomb" Konczal, who tells the story of how he went from being a financial engineer to a leading voice for regulatory reform. And then you'll hear an interview of Aaron by Ruairi McKiernan, an Irish activist and youth organizer, which you can also see on YouTube here, where Aaron explains how he became an activist.

As you listen, please sign the petition calling for justice for Aaron and share this episode in your social forum of choice. And if you're in Boston, please make plans to attend the rally this Saturday, starting at noon in Dewey Square Park.

Direct download: Sword_2013-04-11.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:00pm EST

When a billion-dollar private prison company donates millions to your university in exchange for the right to name your new athletic stadium, what do you do? Our guests today had one answer: fight back. The inside story of a campaign nobody thought could succeed, by the people who won it. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_10.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:15pm EST

Social Security benefit cuts: bad idea, or spectacularly awful idea? On today's episode, we explore this complex question with help from two key voices in the debate: Max Richtman, who received an in-person, direct commitment from the President of the United States just a few months ago that the White House wouldn't cut Social Security, and Sarita Gupta, who is helping lead a national conversation about how, as a society, we should handle the aging of the baby boom generation. 

In the course of the show, your host comes to a totally new understanding of the Social Security fight... and how there's a much deeper, richer debate we should be having instead.

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_09.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:22pm EST

Social Security is under attack. And we've traced the cuts. They're coming from inside the party. 

On today's Flaming Sword of Justice, we report to the barricades, bringing you inside the front lines of the fight to make sure America's most important social insurance program remains untouched. Our guests are some of the central strategists in what could well be one of the defining political battles of the year: the leaders of MoveOn, Social Security Works, CREDO, and the PCCC. Tune in and mount up... the battle is on.

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_08.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:31pm EST

When the AP announced this week that it would stop using the phrase "illegal immigrant," American media (and Americans in general) took notice. But in all the many, many news accounts of the AP's decision, few reporters acknowledged the highly coordinated, strategic, and empathic campaign that made it happen—a campaign that built on work by leaders and citizens in social movements dating back decades. Our guest, Monica Novoa, the coordinator (and sole full-time employee) of the "Drop the I Word" campaign, was at the heart of making it happen—and in this episode, she tells her story, and the story of this movement, like you've never heard it before. You'll laugh, sing, cry, and cheer. Tune in and spread the word!

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_04.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:37pm EST

When the world's biggest corporations caught wind of the campaign for paid sick leave in New York City, they knew it was a matter of principle. Not the principle of whether working people should have to choose between going to work sick or losing their jobs. No, the principle they seized upon was whether corporations should ever ever have to bow to basic decency, common sense, and the will of regular citizens like you and me.  
It was a fight they thought they could win. They had the New York Republicans in their pocket. They had the New York Democrats in their pocket. 
But they forgot that in New York, there's a third party to reckon with, a party utterly beyond the control of the special interests, a party whose name tells you exactly who it works for: the Working Families Party. 

The corporations, it turns out, never had a chance. Last week, the New York City council passed a landmark sick-leave bill that guaranteed protections to more than a million working New Yorkers and instantly became a model for the nation. And the Working Families Party rocketed into the national progressive spotlight. 
On today's show, Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party explains who they are, how they won, and what it means for revitalizing progressive politics across America. Tune in and share this episode!
Direct download: Sword_2013_4_3.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:41pm EST

There are times when changing the world can feel like pushing a pickup truck up Mount Everest. But there are also times when something clicks—and the world seems to change in an instant.  Last Tuesday was one of those times: a day when, to the amazement of so many who worked for so long to build support for equal marriage rights for LGBT Americans, millions upon millions of citizens announced their support in the most public way possible: changing the photos on Facebook that represent themselves. Their personal profile photos. To red and pink symbol for equality.  Suddenly, from that moment on, nobody who believed in full rights for gay Americans could think they were all alone. It was the kind of cultural sea-change moment that's impossible to plan. But it wouldn't have happened without our guest—the one and only Anastasia Khoo, director of Marketing for the Human Rights Campaign, who created the equality logo that swept news feeds from coast to coast and beyond.

Direct download: Sword_2013_4_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:14pm EST

On today's program, we explore a question that until not long ago, would've seemed hopeless: how do you beat the NRA?
We start with a guest on the front lines of a fight over a gun violence prevention law in her home state of Minnesota, where the NRA, even after Newtown, still seems nearly impossible to defeat. But our next guest—who works on the gun-violence team of a certain Michael R Bloomberg—brings stories from not one, but two states where the NRA's might has been overwhelmed by the combined forces of common sense, real information, and well-financed organizing both at the grasstops and the grassroots. Bullets aren't the only things flying through the air: there's also hope.
Sign Rebecca Lowen's petition for gun violence prevention in Minnesota
Join the national grassroots movement demanding action on gun violence, powered by Mayors Against Illegal Guns:
Our guests:
Direct download: Sword_2013_4_1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:37pm EST

Ever been harassed on the street? Ever wanted to fight back, with a vast global network of awesome activists standing with you? Your wait is over: Hollaback has got your back. Our guest, co-founder and executive director Emily May, tells the story of the group's founding all the way through to the present—62 cities, 25 countries, 250 trained leaders, 4000 stories, and one world getting changed by the minute. 

Plus, a call from the Working Families Party to celebrate their paid sick leave victory yesterday!

Direct download: Sword_2013_03_29.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:01pm EST

Imagine paying $3000 to visit America through a cultural exchange/guest-worker program—and then being forced to live on a cot in a packed basement room, abused at work, and threatened with expulsion if you called out your boss... who owns both the McDonald's where you work and the basement where you live. He can get you kicked out of the country with a single phone call. Do you try to bear it? Or do you fight back? Today's guests took the latter option—with some help from labor organizing pioneer Jess Kutch and her new organization, Four guests, outrageous injustice, and a very satisfying ending... all on today's Flaming Sword of Justice.

In this episode: Jess Kutch,, the National Guestworker Alliance, the McDonald's Must Pay campaign

Photo credit: Kara Newhouse

Direct download: Sword_2013_03_28.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:02pm EST

How does it feel, after decades of battling hate and discrimination, to stand in front of thousands of people cheering their support for your right to marry the person you love? On today's show, Darlene Nipper brings us with her as she MCs the rallies for marriage equality outside the Supreme Court. Dare you not to cry.

Direct download: Sword_2013_3_27.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:47pm EST

A decade ago, attacks on marriage equality helped Bush win reelection—and scared Democrats away from equality for years. Today, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the issue for the first time, everything has changed. But the massive shift in public opinion was not inevitable. Our guest, Rashad Robinson of ColorOfChange—and, formerly, GLAAD—tells the story of his own work to change minds by touching hearts... including a story about a TV network president that will make you want to cheer. Plus, how America's largest online civil rights group shut down corporate funding of ALEC. It's a great show!

Direct download: Sword_2013_3_26.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:57pm EST

When you're thinking about climate change, it's easy to get demoralized. Happens to everyone. But for the organizers of, even the darkest moment in recent climate-movement history—the aftermath of the global Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, when world leaders tried and failed to create a global treaty—couldn't keep them down. Hear how 350 went from that moment ("Take a nap, and get back to work") to devising a whole new strategy of civil disobedience (see: Keystone XL) and corporate campaigning (, and breathed new life into the global climate movement. Plus, the origin of the word "crisitunity!"
Direct download: Sword_2013_03_25.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:18pm EST

Last year, student loan debt passed $1 trillion—surpassing credit card debt for the first time. We talk to two organizers helping people tackle the student debt crisis in different ways: Chris Hicks, of Jobs with Justice, who is helping students stand up to loan giant Sallie Mae; and William Winters of, who tells the story of Ella Edwards, a woman who started a petition after her son died... but whose student loans lived on. Help came from an unexpected source. Tune in.

Direct download: Sword_2013_03_22.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:42pm EST

Until Newtown, talking about gun violence was politically taboo. But it wasn't just the horrific killings that changed the debate. It was also the voices of survivors of the mass shootings of the last few years—voices like that of our guest, Stephen Barton's, who was hit and nearly killed by a shotgun blast during the massacre in Aurora, Colorado in 2012. Stephen tells the story of that awful night... and the story of how, instead of trying to put that trauma behind him, he joined the fight to stop tragedies like that from happening again. It's an intense, but ultimately uplifting, episode of The Flaming Sword of Justice.

Direct download: Sword_2013_03_21.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:47pm EST

What happens in US politics will happen in Florida first. And a new group called Dream Defenders—an alliance led by Black and Brown youth, founded after the killing of Trayvon Martin—is rising up to tackle the injustices that deny the American Dream to so many. Hear about their launch action that shook the Tallahassee statehouse; Phillip's personal journey from a childhood in the church to lifetime dedication to social justice, with a depressing detour in corporate America selling, ironically, anti-depression drugs; and the transformative forty-mile march that set Dream Defenders in motion.

Direct download: Sword_2013_03_20.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:55pm EST

Since Aaron Swartz's tragic suicide in January 2013, tens of thousands of words have been written about his life, his death, and his legacy. What none of them noticed is what he was doing with most of his time for the last couple of years of his life (other than fighting an outrageous prosecution and launching the campaign that stopped SOPA—a story he told on The Flaming Sword of Justice episode 2). So what was keeping him busy? For one thing, he met, and fell in love with, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman. For another, he co-founded this very show. We tell both stories on this personal edition of The Flaming Sword of Justice. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_03_19.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:41pm EST

Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, founders of, tell the inside story of how it all began—and the thrill and terror of waking up to discover that hundreds of thousands of people are asking you what they should do next.

Direct download: Sword_2013_03_06.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:53pm EST

Two Executive Directors of and present--take us inside the philosophy and some early formative moments of the progressive powerhouse that defined online organizing in the 21st century. First, Eli Pariser remembers MoveOn's first wave of citizen lobbying of members of Congress, in the lead-up to the Iraq war. Then Anna Galland, MoveOn's new ED, tells us her own journey in activism and organizing, from her grandmother's house being shot all the way through MoveOn's new Million Member Strategy.

Direct download: Sword_2013_02_26.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:27pm EST