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Tupac Shakur, Pearl Jam, Yes to be inducted into Rock Hall

The late rapper Tupac Shakur and Seattle-based rockers Pearl Jam lead a class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees that also include folkie Joan Baez and 1970s favorites Journey, Yes and Electric Light Orchestra.

The rock hall also said it would give a special award to Nile Rodgers, whose disco-era band Chic failed again to make the cut after its 11th time nominated.

Baez will be inducted only months after her 1960s paramour, Bob Dylan, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The hall’s 32nd annual induction ceremony will take place on April 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. HBO will show highlights later, with SiriusXM doing a radio broadcast.

Shakur was shot and killed after attending a boxing match in Las Vegas in 1996, a murder that has spawned conspiracy theories but remains unsolved. “Changes,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” “Ambitionz Az a Ridah” and “Life Goes On” are among his best-known songs. Only 25 when he died, Shakur left behind a trove of music that was released posthumously.

Pearl Jam exploded in popularity from the start in the early 1990s behind songs like “Alive,” “Jeremy” and “Even Flow.” After Nirvana, it is the second band with roots in Seattle’s grunge rock scene to make the hall. Behind singer Eddie Vedder and other original members Mike McCready, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam remains active and is a popular live act.

Vedder is no newcomer to rock hall ceremonies, having given induction speeches for Neil Young and the Ramones.

Baez was a political activist and mainstay of the folk movement, performing at the first Newport Folk Festival at age 19 in 1959. She was known primarily as an interpreter of others’ songs, introducing Dylan to a wider audience at the beginning of his career. Their affair ended badly in 1965, for which Dylan later apologized.

Baez’s own “Diamonds and Rust” in 1975 was one of her biggest hits.

Journey’s 1981 song “Don’t Stop Believin”” was given new life by being featured in the closing scene of HBO’s “The Sopranos” and became a favorite of a new generation. Its 6.8 million iTunes sales makes it the most-bought song on that platform from the pre-digital era, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Former singer Steve Perry, estranged from the band for many years, offers some potential rock hall drama: will he show up for his induction? Founding member Neal Schon was quoted in Billboard recently saying that there are so many non-rock artists in the hall that “I don’t really care about being there.” He did allow that it would be nice for fans of the band, never a critical favorite.

Britain’s Yes, known for its complex compositions, was a leader of the 1970s progressive rock movement. Yes’ hits include “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” and its fans have waged a vociferous campaign to see them honored. Founding bass player Chris Squire, the one constant in many years of personnel changes, died in June 2015.

Electric Light Orchestra got its start melding classical influences to Beatles-influenced pop, and charted with “Evil Woman,” “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Don’t Bring Me Down.” The band essentially exists now in leader Jeff Lynne’s imagination and home studio and had a mildly successful comeback a year ago.

Chic, led by Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards, has become the rock hall’s version of Susan Lucci and her long quest to win a Daytime Emmy. While Shakur, Baez, Pearl Jam and ELO were elected this year in their first time on the ballot, Chic has endured years of disappointment.

The hall’s award for musical excellence to songwriter and guitarist Rodgers is no consolation prize. When disco cooled, Rodgers became one of the hottest producers in the business, behind the boards for some of the ‘80s most indelible albums: David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and the B-52’s “Cosmic Thing.”

Nuns on the Bus to get out the vote in Racine

Nuns On the Bus will be in Racine on Election Day to support the students of YES — Youth Empowered in the Struggle — as they “Get Out the Vote” of underrepresented communities and encourage support for the school maintenance and repair referendum in the Racine Unified School District.

The annual YES event mobilizes hundreds of students and adults in a mass community voter drive.

The nuns will be at the Labor Center in Racine from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 pm., according to a news release from YES and Voces de la Frontera.

The nuns will be greeted by local Racine Dominican Sisters and will meet with students. They will share in a group lunch while the students take a break from their day-long effort of going door-to-door in the inner city encouraging voters in the lowest voter turnout wards to come to the polls and support the school referendum.

Chardonay Wingfield, a senior at Walden III High School and a team captain for the YES Get Out the Vote, said, “I will be knocking on doors on Election Day because I know how important it is to speak out about what matters. We have to get others to vote in the name of those who fought for that right, so their struggle was not in vain.” She wants the public schools referendum to pass because “Even as a high school senior, I want to see repairs to my schools so that the generation after me can benefit.”

Nuns on the Bus drew national attention in 2012 as they travelled across the country elevating compassion for the poor in our federal budget, immigration rights and access to health care for all, according to a statement from the group.

Illinois to become 15th state to legalize gay marriage

A long-awaited vote arrived on Nov. 5 in the Illinois House, with lawmakers approving a bill certain to make the state the 15th in the nation to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.

The House vote was 61-54 with two present for a measure that needed a final OK from the Senate. The Senate approved the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act on Valentine’s Day but the House changed the legislation, pushing back the effective date to June. That change meant the Senate had to vote again before sending the bill to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he will sign the measure into law.

The debate in the House began about mid-day on the third to last day of the fall veto session and after months of lobbying from Zion to Cairo. 

The House was expected to take up the legislation in the regular session. But on the last day of that session, on May 31, sponsor Greg Harris announced that there would be no vote, that his colleagues needed more time to discuss the issue with their constituents.

Harris, who is gay and represents a northside Chicago district, said he hoped the bill would be brought to a vote during the fall veto session.

And that’s what happened on Nov. 5.

“To treat all our citizens equally in the eyes of the law, we must change this,” Harris said of the Illinois prohibition against same-sex couples marrying.

Openly gay Rep. Kelly Cassidy, in a floor speech, said the bill could not be more personal — “It goes directly to how my family is defined by this state.”

She added, “Cast your vote for equality. For the right thing. Please, vote yes and join us on the right side of history.”

Rep. Jay C. Hoffman said, “I’ve listened to both sides, looked at the research and read the constitution. It’s clear: This is a matter of fairness.”

Republican Rep. Ed Sullivan, who represents Mundelein, urged members of his party to support the bill. He spoke about the personal impact of the legislation, about the impact of his mother-in-law, who is a lesbian, on his life.

Rep. Linda Chapa-Lavia, who was publicly undecided on the bill until Nov. 5, spoke on the floor, said the equality bill actually strengthens religious freedoms.

Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth said, “I am voting for marriage equality today because it is the right thing to do.”

Rep. Chris Welch spoke in favor of the bill, saying, “I love my wife. She loves me. We get that right. Why shouldn’t two people of the same sex?”

He added, addressing his colleagues, “Speak up for love! Speak up for fairness! Speak up for equality and vote for SB10!”

Chicago Democrat Sara Feigenholtz, long a leader on gay civil rights in the state, urged colleagues to join her in voting for the bill: “Say yes for dignity. Yes for respect. Yes for families all across Illinois.”

Opposing the measure, Republican Rep. Tom Morrison said same-sex marriage is unnatural and that “real marriage” between a man and a woman is “the building block of human civilization.”

Other opponents argued against the equality bill because it didn’t guarantee business owners the right to refuse to serve or sell products to same-sex couples.

After a lengthy debate, at about 4 p.m. CST, Harris returned to the microphone to close the arguments and bring the bill to a vote. “At the end of the day, this bill is about love. It’s about family. It’s about commitment,” he said, with emotion in his voice.

At 4:01 p.m., Harris said, Ladies and gentlemen, please vote yes.”

Sixty-one did vote yes. Fifty-four voted no. Two voted present.

To pass, the measure needed 60 votes. Had the effective date not been changed, the bill would have required a supermajority of 71 votes to pass.

Senate President John Cullerton said those in his chambers were prepared to take a second “yes” vote on the bill, and that came easily later on Nov. 5.

Quinn, who was in the House to watch the historic debate, has long said he’d sign the bill.

On the front | Voces de la Frontera marches on

The marches take activists across bridges, down streets, through parks, along the lakefront, around the Capitol, into the halls of government.

Always the goal for the activists with Wisconsin-based Voces de la Frontera is to pave a path to citizenship – for young dreamers and also for the adults in their families.

“Our huge priority this year is to fight for federal immigration reform, forge a path to citizenship for the 11 million people in this country who are still living in the shadows so they can come into the full light of day,” said Voces executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. “That’s long overdue for immigrants.”

President Barack Obama has indicated the dream may not be deferred much longer. Immigration reform is a priority in his second term, which he symbolically began on Jan. 21, taking his public oath of office on the west steps of the Capitol. In his inaugural, he said, “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.”

Wisconsin voice

Voces, founded in 2001, “fights for the rights of low-income and immigrant workers and students through education, advocacy and organizing.” In addition to the 501(c)(3) group, there is Voces de la Frontera Action, a 501(c)(4) group, and YES!, the Youth Empowered in the Struggle social justice group, with chapters in Wisconsin high schools and universities.

In 2012, Voces was at the forefront of the campaign to protect voting rights in Wisconsin, including challenges to the GOP-driven voter ID law. At the national level, the Obama administration responded to calls from grassroots groups such as Voces to defer deportations of immigrant youths. Voces also supported and promoted workers at Palermo’s Pizza, who went on strike in June for union recognition and continue to picket. The company, one of the largest producers of frozen pizza in the U.S., retaliated against unionizing efforts by intimidating and then firing immigrant workers.

Those efforts helped Neumann-Ortiz earn a place on Huffington Post’s list of “50 young progressive activists who are changing America.” Voces, meanwhile, secured a position as “Most Valuable Grassroots Group” in The Nation’s 2012 honor roll, which also included U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. The Nation said Voces “has allied with antiwar and gay rights groups and placed itself at the center of the struggle to defend public workers and teachers. With the NAACP, it successfully sued to overturn Wisconsin’s voter ID law and got another judge to overturn a redistricting plan that discriminated against Latinos. But the primary focus of Voces is on the toughest fights: organizing and defending immigrant workers. Its campaign on behalf of Palermo Pizza workers forged a strategic alliance with the United Steelworkers and won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO for a boycott of the company’s products.”

Voces also has come to the attention of right-wing media, specifically shock jock Mark Belling, who in recent months has attacked Racine’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration specifcally because of Voces’ role in organizing it. 

Student Alexia Gates, a senior at Horlick High School in Racine, said Belling cost organizers thousands of dollars in donations and formal support from the school district, the United Way and the Racine Community Foundation. But Belling couldn’t stop the celebration, which included community service efforts, workshops and a march for peace and justice.

“We talked to churches, talked to local businesses, talked to individuals and our schools and community as a whole,” Gates said. “Although we’ve been through so much, we were still able to make this event as successful as it has been for the past three years.”

On King Day, about 500 postcards were distributed calling on WISN station manager Jerry Bott to take Belling off the air “for the harm he’s caused our community and democracy.”

And although the Racine Unified School District chose not to collaborate or support the King Day events, some school officials and teachers attended the programs. The theme was “the students united will never be divided,” Gates said. “And we know that is what King would have wanted.”

“In spite of Belling’s hateful rhetoric and bullying, our young leaders and adults are showing more courage and conviction in honoring Dr. King’s legacy. In fact, Belling might be offering them the best example of why getting involved is so important in the first place,” Neumann-Ortiz said of the King Day event, which was supported by the local teachers’ union and the local NAACP.

In its work,  Voces has built a broad, progressive agenda – peace, justice, education rights, LGBT rights, worker rights and immigrant rights. And it has stood in solidarity with other progressive groups in the state, including Equality Wisconsin, an LGBT civil rights group.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” said EW executive director Jason Burns, a contributing columnist to WiG.

Voces turns out activists for Equality Wisconsin efforts and EW does likewise. 

EW, for example, has marched for immigrant rights in Voces’ annual May 1 event and will do so again this May Day.  And Voces campaigned for domestic partnership rights and against anti-gay marriage drives in the state.

“There are so many parallels,” Neumann-Ortiz said of the LGBT and immigrant rights movements. And, of course, there is a blending of constituencies.

“The communities intersect. There is a need to have strong protection against hate crimes. There are issues around workplace rights,” she said, adding that in the fight for immigration reform is a fight for how families are defined and a struggle to keep families together.

“We have common ground and common goals,” Burns said.

Solidarity for citizenship

With the oaths taken and the new Congress seated, Obama has indicated he wants quick action on immigration reform. 

How quick? A bipartisan group of senators is already writing a bill that could be introduced by March and likely will include a path to citizenship, as well as an increase in the number of visas and probably a guest-worker program.

Lawmakers in both parties cannot avoid the issue without peril – Latinos represent the youngest and fastest-growing voting bloc in the nation. The president won re-election with 65 percent of the Latino vote in Wisconsin and 71 percent nationwide.

“The president’s move to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth through deferred action was instrumental in the remarkable voter turnout that we saw,” said Neumann-Ortiz.

Support for comprehensive reform comes from a coalition of labor, faith, law enforcement, civil rights and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a recent speech on the state of business, the chamber’s president called for an overhaul of immigration law, saying the “door to the American dream must always remain open.”

Broad support among voters also exists. A bipartisan poll released in mid-January said four out of five voters support reform ensuring that undocumented immigrants have a chance to work toward citizenship. The survey commissioned by the Service Employees International Union, Americans Voice Education Fund and National Immigration Forum showed support at 83 percent among Republicans, 91 percent among Democrats and 82 percent among Independents.

“The results of this poll confirm that Americans of all political stripes agree that the current patchwork of immigration policies is not working for our nation’s best interests,” NIF board member Jeb Bush Jr. said.

Such broad support may help to explain why Wisconsin’s GOP, looking ahead to the 2014 and 2016 elections, apparently has backed off anti-immigrant legislation modeled on Arizona’s controversial law.

Onward in 2013

By May 1, when Voces holds its annual march and rally in Milwaukee, activists should know the specifics of proposed reform – and where Wisconsin’s congressional members stand on any legislation.

Milwaukee’s May Day marches often are among the largest in the nation. More than 70,000 people attended the 2006 march in Milwaukee, largely a response to U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s campaign to bar immigrant workers from getting driver’s licenses. In 2012, an estimated 20,000 people marched.

This year’s May Day event will begin taking shape on Jan. 26, when the organization’s members gather at Ascension Lutheran Church, 1236 S. Layton Blvd., Milwaukee, for an annual assembly. Supporters of Voces’ political action group also will gather that day, with a likely focus on the April elections. For the November election, Voces Action organized 250 volunteers to mobilize voters for Obama and Baldwin, with a focus on 22 Milwaukee wards.

“Every year we have an annual assembly where members come together to elect our steering committee and have a discussion about what our priorities are going to be, about strategies to move forward,” Neumann-Ortiz said.

Looking forward, Gates said, “One thing I hope to see the group accomplish this year is immigration reform. We’ve been in this fight for too long now and it’s time for a change. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Dr. King. …I can’t stop and won’t stop until justice is served and I will continue to fight for what’s right.”

Racine, Wis. students to get out the vote

An estimated 500 high school students in Racine, Wis., will join a citywide effort urging voters to take to the polls on Election Day. 

Youth Empowered in the Struggle-YES, the student arm of Voces de la Frontera, is organizing the event, which will include participation from Horlick, Case, Park and Walden high schools.

Students on Nov. 6 will be wearing bright T-shirts that state, “Your Vote is Your Voice.” They’ll cover the city in vans driven by parents, teachers and other community volunteers, according to a news release. The students will be going from door to door to talk with voters and also offer rides to the polls.

YES leader and Racine high school student Bryanna Scott said, “Our message is simple: When you vote, consider our future. As a 17-year-old student at Horlick High School, the reason why I participate in the get out the vote every election is because voting not only gives us a voice, but it makes us all equal. Since I am underage and I can’t vote, I have taken the liberty to exercise my first amendment right of freedom of speech, to go encourage others who can vote to go and cast a vote for me.”