The Flaming Sword of Justice, with Ben Wikler (general)






August 2017
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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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT