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Building an Alternative to Capitalism From the Ground Up

November 29, 2017 - 11:00am
sol•i•dar•i•ty e•con•o•my


1. An alternative economic system based around institutions—from food co-ops to community-owned renewables—that make decisions democratically, meet local needs and put people and planet over profit

“There is no blueprint. We’ve had two blueprint disasters in the past 50 years: centralized socialism and corporate capitalism. We need something different.” —Filipino sociologist Walden Bello, speaking at the 2002 World Social Forum in Brazil

What Sorts of Institutions?

There’s quite a list—turns out there’s no One Easy Trick to building an entire parallel economy. Just for starters: Worker cooperatives; community land trusts for green affordable housing; neighborhood vegetable gardens; free health clinics; barter networks and time banks; participatory budgeting, in which communities democratically determine local spending priorities; and more.

Do We Really Need a New Economy?

It’s hard to look at rising inequality and rising temperatures, shrug one’s shoulders, and say the present economy is fine as it is. But it’s one thing to critique the old, and another to actually build something new. Reformists see solidarity economy efforts as a way to “fix” capitalism; for some socialists, they’re a stopgap to help people get by until the Left seizes the state. But some enthusiasts see the solidarity economy as both the means and the end: a bottom-up, fully functioning economy outside of capitalism, eventually replacing it entirely.

So, Does It Work?

Plenty of individual worker co-ops (around 300 in the U.S.), community gardens and other solidarity economy institutions are flourishing. Many, too, struggle to take off in the capitalist marketplace—traditional funding sources aren’t always too enthused about the whole “people and planet over profit” thing. But various organizations are experimenting with alternative finance methods, and groups like the New Economy Coalition are trying to link these scattered efforts into a larger, more resilient movement. Nowhere has this vision been fully realized, but advocates from Jackson, Miss., to Cleveland to Barcelona are making progress.

As Goes Jackson, So Goes the World?

Well, only sort of. But the idea isn’t to export one city’s model and create Jackson clones across the planet. After all, the term “solidarity economy” originated decades ago in Latin America, and economies built around mutual aid far predate capitalism. Different communities live in different social and ecological contexts, and when given the chance to operate democratically, will come to different conclusions. What solidarity economy advocates want, then, is not a cookie-cutter utopia, but the grassroots construction of a million new societies in the hell of the old.

This is part of “The Big Idea,” a monthly series offering brief introductions to progressive theories, policies, tools and strategies that can help us envision a world beyond capitalism. For recent In These Times coverage of the solidarity economy, see, "Turning Capital Against Capitalism," "Detroit's Underground Economy" and "How a Maryland Town Is Turning Its New Deal Past Into a New Economy Present."

Categories: Newswire

The Tax Bill Battle Shows the Left Needs a “Single Payer of Fiscal Policy”

November 28, 2017 - 9:28pm

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world.

Michael Kink: I am the executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition.

Sarah Jaffe: The last time we did one of these interviews, we were talking hypothetically about a tax bill. Now there is a tax bill that has passed one house of Congress. What are some of the highlights and/or lowlights of this thing?

Michael: I would say that it is almost all lowlights. It is a cartoon parody of the most ridiculously unfair tax plan that anyone could come up with. It literally adds new subsidies for private jets while taking away tax deductions for the parents of disabled kids. It is utterly, utterly ridiculous.

The only highlight is that it is tremendously unpopular. The vast majority of Americans don’t like it, don’t want it, understand that it benefits the wealthy over regular people, and understand that it doesn’t close any loopholes and opens up some new ones. The broad popular dissatisfaction with the tax plan is similar in percentages to where the healthcare bills were, but maybe not quite at the level of intense opposition. You had people with the healthcare bills whose lives were literally on the line.

I would argue that the tax bill puts lives at stake in many of the same ways that the healthcare bills did. It includes a massive cut to Medicaid and Medicare. But it’s a tax bill, so there is certainly a presumption in the media that most people don’t particularly care about tax bills or most people figure, “They will give a bunch of money to the rich, and maybe they will give a little bit of money to me or someone like me. I will be okay.”

The fact is, unless you are incredibly, ridiculously, preposterously rich, you are not going to get much of a benefit at all out of this. And most regular working-class or middle-class people are going to see tax increases.

The folks who get big tax cuts are the heirs and heiresses of billionaires. They are going to inherit their massive fortunes tax-free. Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. and the kids of the hedge fund moguls and private equity titans are going to do really well. Multinational corporations are going to get a massive cut in their tax rate. There are going to be new corporate loopholes, including actual new subsidies for outsourcing jobs. That’s one of the things that Trump voters, Bernie voters and every voter in between was pissed about. They are opening up new subsidies for corporations to move profits and jobs overseas.

The carried-interest loophole is still wide open, and hedge fund managers and private equity managers will benefit from a new pass-through tax scam that will cut their taxes even more. All of these folks are big campaign donors, and they use their political contributions to really rig the system. They have got a tax bill that is a dream for them.

Young people with student debt are going to lose their interest deduction for that debt. School teachers are going to lose their deductions for teaching supplies. Families struggling with medical expenses are going to see deductions eliminated. The tax bill itself sets off $25 billino a year in automatic cuts to Medicare.

They are still trying to pass this bill even though it is incredibly unpopular. Chris Collins, the congressman from Buffalo, admitted to The Hill, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” So they are even admitting that the main pressure for this bill is coming from their biggest campaign contributors.

We are working around the country to fight this. A lot of the healthcare activists and grassroots activists who fought and beat the healthcare bill are engaged in this and are fighting back against it. The American Federation of Teachers, the Communication Workers of America, the National Nurses United and a bunch of community groups have come together for a national day of action on Wednesday, November 29. There is a website with some details of the actions at We are aiming for a kind of grassroots march on Wall Street on Saturday December 2. If the bill keeps going into December, as we expect it will, we are going to aim for a second wave of direct actions and protests on Capitol Hill on December 5.

Sarah: I have been thinking about the last time we had a Republican president selling us a big package of tax cuts for rich people. It was George W. Bush, and the argument was that it was tax cuts for everybody, and it just so happens that rich people make more money and so they got bigger tax cuts. And this bill is just ludicrous. They would have passed something by now with much less opposition if they were not being so grotesquely class war about it. I just wonder what is even happening here.

Michael: I think that the ownership of the Republican Party by the most aggressive and most entitled and system-rigging rungs of capital is entirely complete. The Bush tax cuts for the rich included a refundable tax credit where families got checks. Working people got an actual check. Now, you can say, “I got a $400 check, and some billionaire a dozen zip codes away got a $4 million check.” But regular people who might be Republican or Democratic voters got something.

Nobody gets anything out of this bill. It goes to private equity titans, hedge fund managers, international banks, multinational corporations. I do think that the policy apparatus in Washington in the Republican Party is so completely and utterly broken, so distant from the reality of the vast majority of people who provide the votes to keep these people in power, that they just don’t talk to those people, they don’t listen to those people, they don’t care about those people.

It shows such utter contempt for their voters that I don’t know how long they can exist as a political party. I don’t think most people who are getting nothing and are getting hurt from public policies are going to put up with it. There is a larger question of whether there is an actual, forceful, populist progressive option that anybody in mainstream politics is going to put out there. But the Republicans are working to pass bills that benefit billionaires and their lobbyists. I don’t think that the Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells of the world really care about anybody else right now. That is very clear from the legislation that they are presenting to the public.

Sarah: That is an interesting question you bring up: What would we like to see as the alternative? What should Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison and anybody else who wants to be the leadership of a left alternative to this be pushing forward right now? Single-payer healthcare was the obvious thing in the wake of the repeated healthcare disasters, but what should we be demanding in response to this?

Michael: I think there are two angles to look at. One, at even the most moderate level, if you look at public opinion polls, things that pollsters already ask people about, most Americans want the wealthy to pay their fair share. Most Americans want to see higher taxes on rich people, not lower taxes on rich people. Most Americans would like to see a lot of loopholes eliminated, particularly the loopholes for outsourcing jobs. Most Americans would like to see a tax system that doesn’t overly reward people who are already wealthy, that doesn’t overly reward people who just invest for a living, that does something to help families that are struggling. We don’t have any legislation that does that.

More aggressively, what is the single payer of economic policy or fiscal policy? I would argue that if most people want to see the wealthy pay their fair share, and most people want to see government budgets that actually invest in and create jobs by hiring people and giving them paychecks as opposed to just sprinkling helicopter-loads full of cash on rich zip codes, we could talk about fiscal policies that actually redistribute income and invest in the future. We can talk about public goods. We can talk about the opportunity to close loopholes, make the wealthy pay their fair share and invest in an economy that would actually employ a lot more people then we have now. We could make the transition into a clean energy infrastructure. We can move forward with single payer healthcare that responds to our opioid addiction crisis, that responds to the aging of America, that provides more independent living options for seniors and for people with disabilities.

There are a lot of things we could do that would create a lot of good, meaningful jobs for Americans with decent paychecks, and we have the money to do it. The Republicans are saying they would be willing to spend a $1.5 trillion on something. If we were going to spend $1.5 trillion on clean energy and public health and education and higher education, a lot of people would be in favor of that. The tax system can provide the resources to do it. You could be scared of the phrase “redistribution of income.” But when pollsters ask questions about making the wealthy pay their fair share and investing in programs that create, that is what they are talking about. When we have young people supporting socialism over capitalism by significant margins because they have been screwed so badly by the economy, I think it is incumbent on politicians to provide more effective public policies.

There aren’t too many people who are doing that right now, but there are starting to be some, and I think we are starting to see the public rewarding politicians who come out with more forceful and positive solutions. Single-payer healthcare is very popular. We are seeing the weakness of the center-right system of moderate Democrats that relies on tax incentives.

The alternative is: Let’s have something big and powerful and forceful like single-payer health care. Let’s have free, affordable, universal childcare for all kids that includes a strong early education program that gets every single kid in America ready to go to school and be a great learner. If other countries do it, we could do it, too. Let’s have a distributed networked clean energy system that reduces peoples’ electric bills, that reduces climate destroying greenhouse gases, and that creates millions of American jobs for people of every race everywhere in the country. The ability to do big powerful things that people want is there.

Sarah: We talked a lot about the healthcare fight and how that worked and how at the end of it, we come out with more support than ever for a single-payer healthcare bill. This could, indeed, work the same way if the pushback to this is actually paired with a positive demand. Not just, “No” but actually, “No, and while you are at it, if you think we have however many trillions to spend here, then, good. Let’s spend it on creating jobs.”

Michael: It’s $1.5 trillion. In terms of public policy, it suggests new areas to go forward. Everyone understands that if you get rid of the estate tax, it is only benefiting these heirs and heiresses of the billionaires. That is ridiculous. You could have a 100 percent inheritance tax on fortunes over $1 billion or over $5 billion. You could say, “We do not want dynastic wealth in this country. You can get your first billion and keep it, but we are not going to let you keep this 2nd, 3rd, and 14th, and 30th. We are going to take that and put it back into public goods. Because you created Facebook or that hedge fund or whatever with huge amounts of public resources. You use mathematicians trained at land-grant universities. You use the advanced research facilities at colleges and universities. You took patents that were in the public realm, and you made private profits off of them.”

When the heirs and heiresses of billionaire fortunes can take over an entire political party and force them to pass public policies that the vast majority of even their own voters don’t want, there is a problem with democracy.

I don’t know if we will get to 100 percent inheritance tax. That is a little bit hyperbolic. But I do think the same way we saw a lot of the support for single payer healthcare, after the GOP tax bill, you are going to see a lot of proposals for higher inheritance taxes. You are going to see tax bills that close loopholes on outsourcing jobs that are going to be taken more seriously. You are going to see continued progress for our state-level bills to close the carried interest loophole. If Congress is so bought and paid for that they won’t do it in Washington, then state lawmakers in Albany, Springfield, Sacramento and Harrisburg can take steps to bring the money back for state governments until and unless Congress does it. There is going to be more support for fair taxes at the state level.

I think this is an education process. I hope to God we beat it. I think the idea of giving huge amounts of money to the super wealthy while we are destroying our public healthcare system is a really, really scary thing for the future. It is a kind of dystopian nightmare of public policy for the future of our country and that is why people are fighting so hard against it.

Sarah: What lessons did you and the other folks who are planning all these actions learn from the healthcare bill that is being applied to fighting the tax bill?

Michael: From a movement perspective, it was really interesting seeing a lot of different people from different backgrounds realizing how much they have in common. There was a kind of commonality of purpose and experience with the healthcare fight that I think is really an antidote to the division—the politics of hate—that Trump, Breitbart, the Mercers and Bannon have thrown at us. They really want to keep people divided. They want to keep people hating each other.

On healthcare, you saw a lot of people in the same boat, and they came from a lot of different places. There were folks from Arkansas and Alaska and New York and California and Connecticut and Vermont and Alabama all working together, all doing teach-ins in church basements, all sleeping in sleeping bags together. That was a very powerful thing to see. I think in tax policy you have seen something of the same thing happening with the Indivisible groups, labor unions, students, Bernie folks and more conventional big national unions jumping into this fight.

They declared class warfare. Whether or not you agree with fighting class warfare on behalf of people who are workers, the billionaires declared class warfare on everyone.

Sarah: How can people get involved in some of these various actions that are going to be coming up in the next week?

Michael: Go to There are some simple bullets on the plan, and there is a whole set of days of actions where folks can click through. That hashtag #GOPtaxscam is also going to be in place where you can look on Twitter and Facebook. There will be a lot of local events. I think the face to face is really important: going to events, joining with other people.

There is certainly a plethora of online calling tools. You should call your member of Congress, your House member and your Senator. If you know those numbers, fine. If you go to, or, there are a lot of places you are going to get a “Click here, put in your zip code, and we will call your Senator and your House member for you.”

I do think that they need to be getting calls every day next week. There are a lot of Republican Senators who have expressed concerns: Senator McCain on process and Collins on the healthcare angles. Senators Corker and Flake and Moran and Langford have all talked about the problems with the bill in increasing the deficit. This bill explodes the deficit by $1.5 trillion dollars even after you have cut $1.5 trillion from Medicaid and Medicare. They are going to have problems within their own conference passing this bill quickly.

We need every Democratic Senator to oppose it and we need those couple dozen House Republican members, particularly from big states: New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Many Republican House members in those states voted against the bill, but many of them voted in favor of the bill. I think the bill that comes back to the House to consider is probably going to be worse than the bill they got before. It is going to hurt more people, it is going to be more destructive to working-class and middle-class voters who will either re-elect these people or kick them out of office.

So, I do think that there are going to be several opportunities over the next couple of weeks for people power to try to work its magic one more time. That is something that has worked over and over and over this year in stopping the worst of the public policy proposals that Trump is trying to jam through Congress. There is one more thing we have got to stop this year before we can take a break.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission. 

Categories: Newswire

Fascism in the United States Can’t Be Defeated Without a Mass Movement

November 28, 2017 - 8:26pm

The following is an excerpt from the book Fascism Today: What It Is and How to Fight It.

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Mike Cernovich, the “MAGA Mind-set” internet celebrity, and Peter Thiel associate Jeff Giesea held the much-publicized Deploraball in Washington, D.C.—an event named as a campy throwback to Hillary Clinton’s unfortunate “basket of deplorables” quip about Trump supporters. The event was conceived of as a meeting of the “trolls,” a celebration of the culture that “meme’d [Trump] into the White House.” The ball lacked strong ideology and instead was a celebration of Twitter message boards, snarky graphics, and the ability to sway conversations through a mean-spirited, tech-savvy persistence. It was as if someone had taken the culture of the Alt Right and stripped out the hardline white nationalism, leaving only an internet culture of “anti-PC” web-warriors who would rather be right than white. Trolling, the ability to offend, is their politics, and people like Alt Light leaders like Richard Spencer and Nathan Damigo only side with that behavior if it can create a space for white identity politics.

Cernovich and Giesa, who had been running the pro-Trump MAGA3X organization, had become leaders in the Alt Light, the slightly more moderate allies of the Alt Right, with Cernovich, known for his right-leaning online self-help books, battling it out with Richard Spencer over who held the rights to the term “Alt Right.”  While the Alt Right means white nationalism more than anything else, the Alt Light took a more “Civic Nationalist” approach and would have more in common with the “America First” nativism of Pat Buchanan than open neo-Nazis.  The Deploraball was supposed to be a large Alt Light meet-up and did attract people like Neoreaction-friendly tech impresario Peter Thiel, but Breitbart antagonist Milo Yiannopoulos and conspiracy hero Alex Jones were notably absent, and Spencer had been banned outright in Cernovich’s effort to kick out explicit white nationalists.

Though it attracted a couple of hundred inside, it was the angry waves of antifascist protesters that completely overshadowed the event from the outside. Organized in part by Refuse Fascism, which had been organizing mass counter-actions in response to the Alt Right and the Trump inauguration, protesters dragged trashcans and newspaper dispensers into the street to block off the roads and taunted attendees. James O’Keefe, the Breitbart-allied sensationalist who staged videos to disgrace ACORN and Planned Parenthood, released videos of the D.C. Anti-Fascist Coalition who were planning direct actions during the inauguration and at the Deploraball. While the Alt Right and their coterie were in a period of jubilant celebration, their step forward was marked less by success and more by a wall of opposition.

In The Age of Trump

Two years earlier, no one as obscure as Cernovich could assemble hundreds of protesters, and even Richard Spencer was barely known as recently as 2014. But as the Alt Right entered the public arena, more traditional white supremacist organizations got a steroid injection. Trump inflated the racist subconscious of America, and the urgency of the situation fertilized the growing resistance. As Spencer alluded, there is a growing clash between the right and the left, yet those who are building a base against white nationalism are the dominant faction by far. With antifascist organizations reaching numbers not seen in years, the Alt Right became the catalyst for left opposition. This dialectic was a microcosm of the political polarization in the country as a whole. It was no longer the hardcore ideologues of Antifa organizations that were confronting the fascists, but regular people skewing to the left, and the concept of anti-fascism as a political program went from abstract to concrete as the threat of fascism became tangible. While the Alt Right intended to move the conversation to the right, they moved the left further left, and their weight pulled the Overton window back with them, thereby mainstreaming antifascism.

What does it mean when a minority movement, one meant to confront a marginal threat, moves from the edges to the mainstream? What happens when white supremacists shift from a threat of vigilante violence and radical co-optation to national political influence? As the enemy leaves the gate and the left’s numbers swell, the answer to confronting rising fascism lies in reframing the proposition of a “diversity of tactics” to see the complex patchwork that makes up mass movements as the coalescence of that diversity. The concept of “mass movement antifascism” implies a strategic choice, one that looks at all available options and finds the best possible route rather than an ideologically favored one.

As Trump entered his first week in office he tried to keep his promises about Muslim immigration, working with reactionary politicians like Rudy Giuliani to pass an executive order halting immigration from seven primarily Muslim countries. This created pandemonium in airports across the country as refugees were turned away, students and professionals were detained without access to attorneys, and LAX and JFK became holding pens for those who suddenly had their visas revoked. This order was met with some of the largest spontaneous protests in recent history, with airports all over the country overflowing with protesters. Public pressure, as well as a court order that overruled Trump’s decision, helped push through international travelers, and showed that Trump’s attempts to close the border would not only be opposed, but would also be openly defied.

Trump’s White House was stacked with all elements of the “respectable” far-right. Steve Bannon’s “American Nationalism” was met by controversial figure Steven Miller, who had an organizing relationship with Richard Spencer and anti-immigrant zealot Peter Brimelow in college and now acted as a stalwart against refugee resettlement and non-white immigration programs across the board. Sebastian Gorka rounded out the most controversial slate of appointees in years, eventually being outed for his relationship to an openly fascist and anti-Semitic Hungarian militia, the Hungarian Guard, and the “chivalrous” Order of Vitéz. After the election, Vice News producer Reid Cherlin described a 2014 attempt to write a story about an almost unheard of publication called Breitbart and the collection of far-right ideologues that populated their lively townhouse party, including Gorka, Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Milo Yiannopoulos, as well as head of the nationalist U.K. Independence Party Nigel Farage. “At the time, if you had said this room was full of the most important future policy thinkers in America it would have just been so implausible. Because they were so fringe.”

An executive order like the travel ban may not have inspired such quick and decisive action in the pre-Trump era or without the specter of advisors he was amassing, but as the Alt Right grew and America’s racism became more explicit, a culture of resistance quickly matured. In Trump’s America, there is bigotry and state violence, and there is also a passionate movement to support the most marginalized, to live up to the phrase “Never Again.” The mass turn toward antifascism comes from a culture ready for resistance, a culture ready to bring protest to a scale necessary when the state is friendly to or occupied by a fascist movement.

A History of Resistance

The lessons of the past loom heavily on the development of a mass antifascist movement, including the lineage of organizations, both in the United States and internationally, that have been doing this work in various capacities for decades. While antifascism has a direct continuity from before the Second World War to the present day, making the streets of London a cauldron of confrontation between the British Union of Fascists and 43 Group, Combat 18 with Anti-Fascist Action. The United States also has a unique history. There is a tendency to delineate between liberal and militant antifascism, but we can broadly define movements by highlighting their purpose. The purpose of antifascism is a complete repudiation of fascism and its removal from the culture. The point is not that there is no tactical difference, or even that liberal approaches have often reinforced the state and undermined effective challenges to fascist growth, but that the boundaries that are outlined are fuzzier and more easily redrawn than we have thought. While direct confrontation is never off the table, not all organizers approach every situation in that fashion. Instead a new antifascist ethos may be taking hold, one that sees multiple approaches as valid, as they are all matched by the same motivating impulse: fascism is to be ended, not debated.

What may be different in this shift to a mass movement is the willingness to put a public face to antifascist organizing, to operate in plain sight. Security has always been paramount in many areas of antifascist organizing, which brings benefits as well as challenges for scaling up a movement’s size. Achieving mass involvement—with participants of varying commitment levels and skillsets—requires recruitment, public information, and a certain level of openness. How this plays out now will depend on existing organizations, how they relate to each other, and how public they can be given the violent revenge often sought by insurrectionary racists. Coalition efforts have often provided the answer to this. In coalitions, various groups take up different components of a particular project or committees that can determine exactly what degree of public profile are necessary for the job.

A mass movement approach means drawing from a range of social movements—conceivably, all those touched by the reactionary right—each with their own political trajectory and history of gains and losses. The structures of different resistance, from organized labor to the tenants’ movement erupting in America’s urban core, provide structural lessons for confronting the far-right in the halls of power and the creeping white nationalism all around. The revolutionary white nationalist current, led by the Alt Right, has begun creating strong institutions from media outlets to regional cadre organizations bent on seeing material gains through wedge issues. This shift creates the opportunity to borrow from the strategies that the left has used over a long history of struggle.

The current, more public nature of the white nationalist movement means that formalized campaigns against them can grow, and they can have a layer of organizers and an outside ring of supporters who rely on public communication. This allows for a range of tactics including escalation campaigns, boycotts, mass mobilizations, building occupations, and so on. “Community organizing” is stripped down to its bare essentials and reframed to target fascist threats. The tactics of community unionism, hailing from the early syndicates of the shop floor and brought into the neighborhoods through tenant resistance, provides a range of solutions, such as defending both against white supremacist violence as well as protecting undocumented people against the impending ICE raids of Trump’s fantasies. The model here is less to replicate the blueprint of successful antifascist movements of the past than to use the entire toolkit of revolutionary organizing. During the civil rights movement that resisted Jim Crow from the 1950s to the ’70s, the battle against both the insurrectionary advances of the Klan and the embedded white supremacy of the apartheid state ran parallel, and the successes depended on the ability to expand involvement while adopting tactics and strategies that worked in each particular venue.

Any successful social movement allows for diversity in roles, matching the different personalities, interests, and skills of the actors, creating a patchwork that reflects the constituents as much as the goals. Movements developing today that seek to stop the growth of the far-right are moving toward an inclusionary framework that makes mass movements work: they have different tasks for different people. How this is structured pragmatically can and should depend on the people involved, how they work best, and what the unique situation is of a given area. For people forming new groups, a broad-based community strategy requires external communication, educational and community-building events, campaign planning, public actions, research and information dissemination, and all the other component parts. Many antifascist organizations previously ran on tight, information-restricted formulas, yet this could limit their ability to expand beyond a close-knit cadre of committed organizers, and would also preclude most people from participating. What movements in this new climate will grapple with is how to best make use of every interested person in relation to the larger organizing goals, which means that a fully realized antifascist movement will have different types of campaigns, multiple approaches, and a complex web of support systems. The challenge will be to make these facets work with one another rather than creating conflicts.

Categories: Newswire

Viewing the USSR Through Red-Tinted Glasses

November 28, 2017 - 4:55pm

For a good deal of the 20th century, it was difficult to know much about how Russians were getting on in the USSR and what they were making of the extraordinary changes their lives were undergoing. My father started learning Russian at the beginning of the Second World War (“the Great Patriotic War” for Russians of his and my generation), partly because the Russians became our allies. He was not a Communist, but many of his friends were. I unsatisfactorily studied Russian in 1952 at Cambridge, mainly in order to read the literature. We didn’t discover very much, though we read Turgenev’s warnings and Tolstoy’s almost impenetrable epilogue to War and Peace, which castigates historians for mapping their versions of the past onto a few “great” men and their victories and defeats. Wasn’t it possible, he wondered, to describe what people thought and felt about their lives and how power and the powerful were experienced and understood by those affected by that power? His answer to that was literature, fiction.

Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2015, offers the spoken life stories she’s elicited from “witnesses and participants … actors and makers,” which, she believes, become literature in the telling. And so they do, individually and collectively. She has listened to literally thousands of people, and she has created her books of stories from what they told her. Her first, The Unwomanly Face of War, was banned in the Soviet Union after its 1985 publication. The stories are by and about women who performed every kind of military role in the Red Army and who often returned to their towns and villages to be treated with suspicion and contempt as unwomanly and as possible prostitutes. Even where they were welcomed, their accounts of what the war had been like for them were often dismissed, and husbands would occasionally insist on accompanying their wives when Alexievich interviewed them, in case they slipped up on facts.

Another of her books, Voices from Chernobyl, has been made into a film. That book and Boys in Zinc, which charts the horrifying fates of young men and women sent to fight in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, cover the two critical events of those years that may be thought of as harbingers of the downfall of the Soviet Union. The years following it are the subject of her latest and most impressive book, Secondhand Time (2013). This is not only an important document; it’s a moving and beautiful piece of work.

Alexievich remembers the 1990s in her introduction: “Yes, we were ecstatic: There’s no way back to that naiveté. We thought that the choice had been made and that communism had been defeated forever. But it was only the beginning. … Twenty years have gone by. … ‘Don’t try to scare us with your socialism,’ children tell their parents.” For some, Gorbachev was “a windbag,” for others, a shrewd politician, though distrusted for being popular abroad. The young sometimes rebuked the old for failing to make money in the 1990s, when the going was good. For most people it’s too late now. There are stories here of destitution and of a complete lack of state support or welfare. Suicides, broken families, alcoholism and devastating physical and mental illness run through nearly every story. Yet, while one old person remembers that “we could live off our pensions” in the good old Soviet days, a young woman, 35 years old and an advertising manager, rejoices in this new world. “It’s all mine! I’m happy that the only time I ever see Soviets is on May 9, Victory Day.” She’ll start her own business, no need to bother with pensions. And she knows that her elders think, “Young people today inhabit a world that’s much crueller than the Soviet Union.”

Sovoks, those who look back fondly on the Soviet era, are mocked for their suspicion of capitalism, for their unwillingness to avail themselves, even where they’re able to, of choice, profusion, luxury. Many of them have kept faith with socialism, with the ethos of the USSR, with their youth and its commitment to socialism and rodina, motherland, even when they remember and admit to the horrors perpetrated by Stalin. One old man ends what has become a confession with the words, “I want to die a communist.” He has just told Alexievich that when he was 15, he reported his uncle (a so-called rich peasant, or kulak) to the army for hiding some sacks of grain. The soldiers cut his uncle into small pieces before his very eyes.

And the old sovoks stick to their old ways. A woman remembers that it took her years to use up the matches and the flour her mother had stockpiled, unnecessarily. In the old days it was salami and jeans that people longed for. Now there is an overwhelming choice of both. There’s even a choice of newspapers. Things were simpler when Pravda was more or less all there was, a single truth. This feels like real history: time lived and understood, and differently by men and women, by young and old, by rich and poor, by Tajiks and other members of minority groups, and by racists. The particular, the detailed, the exceptional, woven into the dangerous generalizations of 20thcentury Soviet society; the generalizations that inspired people and the generalizations that did untold damage, from the treatment of the kulaks, the attitudes toward women, and of course, the policies that led to oppression, to murders and to terror generally.

They were often the same ones. Mysteriously, perhaps miraculously, Alexievich has quietly listened and allowed each storyteller to develop their own eloquence as they worked to make sense of a painfully complicated life. It seems salutary to remind ourselves of the particular horrors that were inflicted on vast populations by tyrannies coming from the left and the right. We need to be on our guard.

Categories: Newswire

After the Keystone XL Approval, Here’s What’s Next for the Climate Movement

November 28, 2017 - 1:25am

After months of public hearings and deliberation, Nebraska’s Public Service commission on November 20 approved a route for the Keystone XL pipeline in a 3-2 decision. The years-running fight against the controversial infrastructure project, however, is far from over: Organizers up and down the project’s route are already lining up to stop it, whether in courts or on construction sites. And whether Keystone XL ends up getting built or not, the battle against it has already changed the way Americans relate to the fossil fuel industry. 

Last Monday’s outcome wasn’t an ideal result for either side. The confines of what the commission was allowed to consider in its decision were strict. Commissioners were barred from considering either the economic viability of the project—whether TransCanada actually wants to build it—as well as environmental harm from oil spills. Just days before the ruling, the original Keystone pipeline blurted 200,000 gallons of crude oil into South Dakota.

The decision wasn’t a total win for TransCanada. While the points where the pipeline could enter and leave Nebraska remain the same, the route the PSC approved differs significantly from the one the company first floated, and involves six counties that weren’t included on the route before. It remains to be seen what kinds of additional permitting will be required before construction can begin, and what sort of consultation either the state, the company or federal government will need to engage in before there’s an official green light to start building.

The Canada-based oil company isn’t likely to see opposition to their now-trademark project stop anytime soon. Before the ruling came down, members of the Sioux Nation gathered in South Dakota to sign a historic treaty, pledging to resist the pipeline. “Nothing has changed at all in our defense of land, air and water of the Oceti Sakowin Lands," pipeline fighter Faith Spotted Eagle told that gathering. "If anything, it has become more focused, stronger and more adamant after Standing Rock."

At least 8,000 people have also already pledged to risk arrest to get in TransCanada’s way, through a document being circulated by environmental groups.

TransCanada faces legal challenges over the Keystone XL elsewhere along its proposed route as well. Montana’s initial environmental review of the pipeline is being challenged in court, with critics alleging the process that led the way for its approval wasn’t thorough enough. Two days after the PSC issued its decision, a federal judge rebuffed TransCanada and the White House by ruling that a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s approval of the pipeline could proceed, erecting yet another barrier to its construction.

For these and other reasons, the business press has been cool on the pipeline’s prospects. Oil markets have shifted dramatically since the project was proposed, and the kinds of fuel prices that made the pipeline a profitable investment almost a decade ago—when the project was first floated—are a thing of the past.

For that and a host of other reasons, including opposition along the proposed route and elsewhere, TransCanada has been famously ambivalent about the project. As of this summer, the company said it would decide whether to invest in the Keystone XL by December.

Reporting on Monday’s ruling, the vice president from Moody’s Investors Services told Reuters, ”While today’s Keystone XL pipeline approval is an important milestone, it does not provide certainty that the project will ultimately be built and begin operating.” Bloomberg noted that the PSC’s decision “could throw more uncertainty into the mix.”

Even TransCanada itself demurred about Keystone XL’s future. “As a result of today's decision, we will conduct a careful review of the Public Service Commission's ruling while assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project," said Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer, in a statement.

Whatever the fate of the Keystone XL project ends up being, the fight over the pipeline has changed the way climate and environmental campaigns are waged.

The Keystone battle gave the climate fight a much-needed shot in the arm following the collapse of both UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009 and Waxman-Markey, the doomed cap-and-trade trading bill filled with giveaways to polluters. Big green groups had invested in these behind-closed-doors processes for years, all while the physics behind global warming seemed to be looking bleaker by the week. A 2013 post-mortem of Waxman-Markey by political sociologist Theda Skocpol found that several of the groups pushing for that legislation systematically disinvested from grassroots organizing, doubling down on lobbying staff in Washington for the sake of getting a bill passed by any means necessary.

In contrast to the top-down strategies employed before it, the big successes in the Keystone fight stemmed from the not-always-easy alliances between traditionally disparate groups: Indigenous communities and white ranchers working with larger green groups working with student activists and even elected officials, all while lawyers waged a legal battle in court rooms dotted all around the Great Plains and beyond. All at once, the Keystone fight became one over native sovereignty, against eminent domain and for clean water and the future of life on earth. The battle against the Keystone XL pipeline has almost always been about much more than a single oil pipeline. And though it was hardly the first such fight, Keystone’s prominence made it possible to start seeing environmentalism at a national scale as a movement with room for people who aren’t hippies and tree huggers.

By naming an enemy, the battle against TransCanada in the Great Plains defined the terms of the debate and drew a firm line in the sand: Either stand with a multinational corporation out to wreck the planet or with the people whose lives they stand ready to destroy. Unlike Waxman-Markey-style cap-and-trade, a policy difficult to grasp for even policy wonks, what pipeline fighters wanted was clear and made intuitive sense to the American public, be it clean water or the right not to have land taken away for the benefit of a foreign corporation.

Just a few years ago, mainstream environmentalism—dictated by a handful of environmental NGOs—was virtually synonymous with corporate-friendly pushes to change lightbulbs and bike more. While a strain of lifestyle activism remains in the climate movement, even organizations with multi-million dollar budgets—like—have been injected with an anti-corporate zeal. That’s the result both of timing—Occupy Wall Street kicked off within months of hundreds getting arrested in Washington D.C. to protest Keystone XL—and ample pressure from the grassroots, particularly those living along the pipeline’s path. This trend even led a legacy green like Sierra Club to change its policy in partaking in civil disobedience.

Two massive waves of arrests propelled hundreds of college students (myself included) into years of climate organizing, and a new understanding of what it meant to lower emissions. In that sense, anti-Keystone organizers also helped put the extraction—and the outsized responsibility of coal, oil and natural gas companies—at the center of the conversation about climate change, prompting a shift away from talk of recycling and the sausage-making behind climate policymaking.

On the heels of COP23, there’s a danger of slipping backward on the progress the Keystone XL fight made to the climate fight more broadly. The self-appointed official face of the resistance to Trump’s climate policies in Bonn earlier this month—convened under the banner “We Are Still In”—contains a throwback to corporate-friendly environmentalism. Largely bankrolled by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, this contingent featured a rotating cast of corporate executives from Walmart to big banks to the country’s largest electric utility. Voices from fights like Keystone were almost totally absent, and several people who’d worked against that pipeline and other fossil fuel infrastructure disrupted California Gov. Jerry Brown’s opening remarks over his support for fracking. Throughout the week, Brown touted California’s cap-and-trade program—drafted in part by the fossil fuel industry itself—as a model climate policy for states around the country.

Besides the wind he’s putting behind the wings of the fossil fuel industry, Trump is dangerous because he sets such a low bar for what constitutes leadership on climate change. For that, we might do better to look toward tribes and ranchers along the Keystone’s route than Bloomberg, Al Gore or any number of self-appointed billionaire climate saviors.

Categories: Newswire

Trial by Peace Circle: How a Chicago Community Is Pursuing Jail-Free Justice

November 27, 2017 - 11:00am

CHICAGO—It’s 9:30 a.m. on a Thursday in late September and four young men in their early 20s sit bundled in gray and black hoodies in the gallery waiting room of a makeshift courthouse in North Lawndale, killing time on their phones. All are charged with nonviolent drug possession, and all are taking a chance on a new restorative justice court that promises a chance to wipe their records clean if they can make amends to their communities. The court opened August 31 and these four are among the first group of 12 defendants, all West Side men ages 18 to 26 charged with low-level nonviolent misdemeanors and felonies.

At least we’re not at “26th and California,” says 22-year-old Tobias Pierce (all defendant names in this story are pseudonymous, at their request), referring to Chicago’s notorious Cook County Jail, where he was held for two years while on trial for armed robbery. “If [the guards] feel like you disrespecting them, they feel like they can harm you,” he says. “You down in the basement and ain’t no cameras down there.” Although Pierce was found not guilty, he says those two years set him back. “There was no job waiting for me ’cause I had been in jail for the past two years. Y’all had wasted two years of my time.”

The restorative justice court does not hold defendants in jail and may remove their electronic monitoring. If Pierce repairs the harm he did to his neighborhood, he can have his case closed and a clean record in six months to a year.

Despite the small talk, Jefferson Holt, 25, is still feeling nervous. Tall and thin, he rocks back and forth. He came to the court because he is “tired of running from the police” and hopes to get his record expunged. With a record, finding a job hasn’t been easy. He estimates he has applied to around 70 in five months and just landed one.

“[This court] is basically giving you a get out of jail free card, so I’m going to take this and use it,” he says, adding that his little cousins deserve someone better to look up to. He just isn’t so sure yet that the court offers a way out.

Holt speculates with the others about what, exactly, “restorative justice” is. “There must be a lot of stuff you have to do before they even start to expunge your record,” he says, shaking his head.

The court is one of the only alternative courts nationwide to depend entirely on restorative justice. The defendants will meet in confidential “peace circles” with their victims (or, in the case of a nonviolent drug offense, a surrogate victim such as a neighbor), a facilitator and neighborhood residents, and map out a “community agreement” to repair the harm done. If they complete the agreement, they are eligible to have their records wiped clean.

The court also connects defendants with social services, which may help with access to rehab, GED classes or job placement as part of the agreement. If defendants fail to abide by the new court’s rules, they risk being sent back to the courthouse at 26th Street and California.

At 10:30 a.m., court is officially in session.

“You may have noticed this court seems different than other courts,” says Judge Daryl Jones with a smile. He’s sitting at a group of conference tables wedged together into a makeshift square.

Jones lays out some opening points: The restorative justice court is voluntary and requires a serious commitment. “People think with drug cases that it isn’t a violent crime and that it doesn’t hurt the community, but it does,” Jones says. “One bad apple spoils everything. What’s the impact on the family of the person you are selling to? The person you sold to and got them addicted? Do you take responsibility for that? This is what you are going to talk about in circle.”

One by one, the County Clerk calls defendants to the table to sign a waiver committing to the process and giving up the right to a preliminary hearing and speedy trial. The defendants have the right to consult with their public defender or attorney before making the decision. Everyone opts to sign.

“I’m congratulating you on participating and I’m hoping that this gives you an opportunity to reflect,” says Jones to each defendant with a genuine smile.

Each then schedules an appointment with a restorative justice practitioner and social services agent, and a follow-up court date. Court is dismissed just before noon.

Pierce pulls his hoodie over his shoulder-length dreadlocks and starts walking to his home on Chicago’s West Side. “It’s better than the regular court—it’s way better,” he tells me. Organizers have promised him a job. “But it’s just about, what they are saying in here—is it true?

“You don’t want to keep going through the same thing, so you have to try something new,” he says as he makes his way through the gate, clutching a paper with his next court date. 

Categories: Newswire

How Democratic Socialists Took On Centrists and the Right Wing at the Ballot Box

November 25, 2017 - 7:21pm

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators, and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world.

David Duhalde: I am David Duhalde, deputy director of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Sarah Jaffe: You had a pretty successful election night. Tell us what you were thinking when you started hearing the results come in?

David: It was very funny for me. I will be quite honest that a lot of us were maybe deeply affected by 2016 were, [Laughs] maybe not as optimistic as we should have been. I was speaking at a conference for the European Left. It was in Belgium, and I was many hours ahead. I thought, “I am just going to go to bed and I will wake up and I will see how we did.” I didn’t want to stay up and lose sleep. Then, I awake to a flurry of text messages and Facebook messages like, “Oh my god! Lee did it!” Referring to Lee Carter in Virginia. And, “Oh my God! J.T. Scott won in Massachusetts!” It was truly like…I didn’t burst into tears, but I was fighting back tears in a hotel room alone because I had almost no one to share it with. But I did at least have Facebook and was messaging people. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life. It was just such a pleasant surprise. It really had exceeded my and a lot of other people’s expectations who wanted it badly, but just weren’t sure it was going to happen.

Sarah: Was there a particular one that you were really surprised and excited by?

David: I am going to be uncreative and say the Lee Carter race in Virginia, partly because I work out of the Washington, D.C. office of DSA. So I was able to meet Lee for the first time at a major meeting we had after the election, where about 140 people came. He came and spoke and he impressed me deeply. He had come to a couple of things, including my Labor Day barbeque, to pitch his campaign.

Then I went down to volunteer. But when you volunteer it is hard to get a read sometimes on the crowd. So, I was very hopeful of course, but he had hired some great DSA members who were all under 23 and he was taking on this huge incumbent with a war chest who then dropped this anti-Communist mailer on us. I was just very worried.

Even though I knew we were doing everything right [the worry is] you can do everything right and it doesn’t matter. That was just a huge surprise. But the J.T. Scott race, too. I had actually lived in Somerville, Mass. where J.T. is now an alderman. It was impressive to me because I knew the machine. I remember how difficult it was to beat them and how recalcitrant some of the residents could be towards new people and change. So, even though it is a Democratic stronghold, there were definitely a new verses old residents [situation]. And to see him take on this incumbent—who I know definitely had a base and had been there for 15 years—but he just did it through blood, sweat and tears. It was just truly overwhelming.

It was just truly great to see all those grass-roots campaigns led by DSA, but also working with Our Revolution to really sweep these elections. But, [we had] lots of other allies, especially in the Carter race, such as Planned Parenthood.

Sarah: That is interesting you mention those two in particular, because one of these was against, of course, a Republican incumbent. The other one was against the Democratic Party machine. I would love to hear you talk about that aspect of this; that in some places you were going up against these Right-wing people and in other cases you are taking on centrist Democrats.

David: It was an interesting, fascinating scope of races that we took in. We ultimately endorsed six candidates nationally. Some of whom were running against Democrats, like Ginger Jentzen, who was in Socialist Alternative. She ran against two Democrats, actually, in a ranked-choice voting race. Others, like Jabari Brisport who is a Green [Party member], ran against the machine Democrats. Most of them were Democrats themselves and were running either in primaries like Khader Al-Yateem in Brooklyn and Tristan Rader, who won as well in Lakewood, Ohio.

It really shows a couple of things. It shows, to me, that what I appreciate about the new DSA, the one post-Trump election, is how committed it is to being flexible. Being willing to work around local conditions. I think that is what is going to make a modern DSA thrive. It is not necessarily having a one-size-fits-all model, but really allowing these grass-roots chapters, who are autonomous, to work with national to do what fits them.

Sometimes that meant, “We are going to take on the Democratic machine, like in Somerville and in Lakewood.” Both of those actually succeeded, but sometimes it is just winning the Democratic ballot line that no one wants, like the Lee Carter race or Karen Lowe, who won the school board. What is really exciting for me too is khalid kamau—who won and was one of our first nationally endorsed candidates after Bernie—is that we are really focusing on lots of these local races. Learning the good lessons of bad people, seeing how the Right wing has built such a great pipeline of local candidates who are now part of the ruling class and part of the congressional Republicans.

We feel that it is very critical for groups like DSA to be flexible, but also see our folks train them on races where they can learn, because it is very hard to win a race. What I think is beautiful about Bernie Sanders is how he energized people. But what is also kind of worrisome for an old man like me is that he made it seem too easy, I think, for people. Some people didn’t appreciate how much work he had put in throughout his career to win those races and to get to that place where he could do that. We’re working with our folks and getting them to be flexible and know that, “What works in Peoria, doesn’t necessarily work in Syracuse,” or vice versa. It has been a really great experience to see how DSAers and other Socialists that we have worked with have learned that.

Sarah: Take us back a little bit to the thinking and the planning around electoral strategy this year. You had the conference, but talk about how the strategy came together and how people within DSA now are thinking about electoral politics.

David: It is a very fascinating process for us and really one that evolved over the course of the year after Bernie Sanders first declared his intention for the presidential primary. DSA has come out of a movement that had really wanted to make the Democratic Party a Social Democratic party, and a really genuine progressive party. With the rise and success of neoliberalism in the 1990s and Clinton, both Bill and Hillary, and so many times Barack Obama, it was very clear that the idea of changing the Democratic Party was not really in the cards.

So DSA shifted away from electoral politics and its bread and butter mission and focused on social movement work and other forms of sophistication. But, Bernie Sanders really energized people and especially us. So DSA put a tremendous amount of energy and support into his candidacy, doing independent expenditures. Then people started coming to us for endorsements. He really re-energized the idea of people wanting to run as Democratic Socialists. We had to step to the plate.

We started pretty small. We just did a handful of endorsements without much work behind them, such as Mike Sylvester, who is now a state representative in Maine, and Ian Schlakman, who ran as a Green for the Baltimore City Council and ended up staying involved in our national electoral committee. That was pretty good. Then, khalid kamau came out of nowhere and “Let’s work with you.” That is when we started realizing we could build a national program, using khalid’s campaign as a model where we called dozens of chapters and got them to phone bank for him. People were just so excited to work for this amazing member and fellow Socialist. That made us realize we could really start building Socialist electoral power.

Then, we had a handful of more people come to us for endorsements. Then by the spring of 2017, we kind of had to say, “Stop.” What was happening was people were coming to us ad hoc, especially with our convention coming up. We just didn’t have the bandwidth to take on people as needed. So, what we did was—and I think it shows to how strong DSA has gotten—we created a national electoral committee. It included Ian Schlakman who had run and nine other great DSA members who applied and were accepted. They ranged from people who were with Democratic politics, to people who had done voters rights legal work, to people running campaigns on their own, and allowed candidates to apply to be endorsed.

What we did to rejigger and make it easier for us to institute our electoral mission, is we created a three-point criteria to receive a DSA endorsement. You had to be running as a Socialist. You didn’t have to be a DSA member, Ginger Jentzen is not. But you had to be a Socialist and be okay with talking about it, even if it wasn’t in the forefront of your campaign. It was very important to us that you had to have the support of a local DSA chapter. That is really important for us because we don’t want to be that kind of D.C. or national group, that kind of parachutes in and tells people who they are going to be supporting. We really want endorsements to come from the grass roots. For example, unfortunately Chokwe Lumumba, we couldn’t support him because we didn’t at that time have a Mississippi DSA. Hopefully, that will be different now, but we were very strict about that. Even if we really love Lumumba, but it wasn’t possible.

The third thing was we really wanted people to show us that they had a pathway to victory. We didn’t need somebody to say, “I am 100 percent a shoo-in to win,” but we wanted people to really show us they have been thinking about, what were the steps to win their races? We wanted people who really were going to be out there hitting the pavement and talking to voters. From this, we were able to select six candidates. Then, we really built a national infrastructure to support them through our base. Social media is a huge asset, especially for local races trying to draw national and potentially international attention and donations. But also, using our network of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of members to do phone banking and to do door knocking. For example, in Seattle Jon Grant, who ran as a great housing advocate, unfortunately ran against a very good liberal Democrat. So it made it a hard race. The DSA knocked on 22,000 doors and we made sure to send out emails for them to reach other members in the State of Washington they might not have reached.

The same thing with Carter. We worked hard to talk to the media and raise awareness, especially in the D.C. Beltway about his race which helped generate attention he might not have gotten. So, strategically, we shifted and we are trying to look to 2018 about how we are going to expand this program, because 2017 was kind of the test run. We will see what happens, but we definitely want to be more sophisticated. We want to increase the standards to get endorsed, and also, look at now we helped people win. We also want to make sure we hold them accountable—we don’t want people coming to us to get volunteers and leaving. There are a lot of questions that are going to come up that the national political committee, which is DSA’s leadership, are working on to really make sure we are still a very relevant and democratic organization that is electing Socialists who will be held accountable by their constituents.

Sarah: How does the broader post-Bernie spectrum of groups and organizations fit together in this moment? There were a bunch of Our Revolution endorsed candidates, there were some DSA endorsed candidates, there were other local people who come out of that movement all over the country. I am wondering how you think this movement, such as it is, fits together. Or, where are some of the tensions?

David: That is a really great question. Actually, similar to how my expectations were exceeded about how well DSA did on election night in November 2017, I have been rather pleasantly surprised about how well the different post-Bernie formations have been doing and working together to keep this political revolution going. I want to give one great example, which is Our Revolution either locally or nationally endorsed all of our candidates that we endorsed nationally, as well. Not to mention tons of local races. We have a very good working relationship with Our Revolution. We often share information and talk about candidates. We also have this affiliation program where DSA chapters can be the local Our Revolution chapter as well. That is to avoid unnecessary conflicts and duplication of efforts. So, our Knoxville chapter—which helped elect two DSA members— is also the Our Revolution chapter. That is a really great example of keeping this collaboration going.

But also, Socialist Alternative, which is one of the other major socialist groups that endorsed Bernie Sanders, worked with us not only on Ginger Jentzen’s campaign, but they were big supporters of Jabari Brisport running on the Green Party ticket. So, there was lots of good energy coming out of teaming up and keeping this work going. That was something you just didn’t know going in after 2016, if that is going to be kept alive.

We are definitely going to see what happens in 2018. I do have Brand New Congress looking at some of the people we are looking at for congressional races. And Justice Democrats, of course, too. There is definitely a lot of potential out there, and it has been really exciting to see different groups who bring different things are able to still keep this going, and also, “You help me and I will help you.” I especially saw that with Our Revolution and Socialist Alternative. That makes me incredibly optimistic for 2018 that this post-Bernie energy will keep going. I think Sanders has definitely said all the right tunes to encourage that. He posted about Lee Carter’s victory. He is clearly still promoting Democratic Socialist candidates and it gets him very excited. That is only going to keep our base energized, too.

Sarah: I want to wrap up by talking about 2018 and what is coming down the pike. This is going to be the congressional elections. What are you guys working on so far?

David: Well, we have not made any endorsements yet. Definitely, people have approached us on the congressional level for endorsements. We also have lots of locals who are already getting excited. I was at our general membership meeting in D.C. and three county councillors from Montgomery County, which is the county north of the District of Columbia, came to speak. Two of whom are DSA members, including one who is running for county executive. If he won, he would be the Socialist with the largest constituency in America. There are twice as many people in Montgomery County as there are in Vermont.

So, we are definitely seeing people already coming right now. I think what we are looking for in 2018 is to expand our network of national volunteers who can then really work with local volunteers. Because the key still will be the influence we are going to have will be much more locally, raising profiles nationally and working to create new systems to make sure that candidates will come to us with a clearer understanding of what they want from us and what we want from them. And looking at maybe different tiers of endorsements.

Very importantly, we are also looking at how we can support and hold candidates accountable after the election. We understand that, of course, you first have to help get people elected. Where you help them get elected, that increases the interest they will have in you, and we want to make sure that we are going to be educating DSA chapters to hold people accountable. That means we are going to have to contribute a lot to their campaigns, but then also have clear expectations. For example, it was very exciting coming out of our convention, we have a strict policy that we only endorse pro-choice candidates and helping DSA chapters think about how they set their own standards for endorsements, I think, will be really key.

Just getting people to think strategically, be sophisticated, but also keep politicians honest, ultimately, is a huge role DSA will play. And, of course, prioritizing electing Socialists will be our niche compared to great post-Bernie groups and definitely our focus will still be advancing the Democratic Socialist agenda more explicitly.

Sarah: How can people keep up with you and also with DSA’s electoral efforts?

David: You can follow DSA at @DemSocialists on Twitter. But, if people have any questions or comments or just want to get endorsements, learn how the process works, I can always be reached at and that will go straight to me. We are also going to be putting out a website pretty shortly about our electoral work. People should be on the lookout for that website at

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

Categories: Newswire

Here’s Why Chicago Activists Are Against Rahm Emanuel’s $95 Million Cop Academy

November 24, 2017 - 2:38pm

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators about how to resist—and build a better world.

Monica Trinidad: My name is Monica Trinidad. I am an artist and an organizer in Chicago, born and raised here on the far South Side. Currently I am organizing with For the People Artists Collective and also the People’s Response Team.

Sarah Jaffe: We are here to talk about one particular campaign happening in Chicago right now, which is around the construction of a new police academy. To start off with, tell our listeners what that is and, in particular, what they are budgeting for it.

Monica: Over the 4th of July weekend, Rahm Emanuel, who is a really awful, awful mayor, threw out this proposal to build a $95 million police academy. He originally framed it as a public-training safety center. That is sort of the messaging he is using in mainstream news outlets. Really, it is $95 million for a new, fancy, shiny building for the police force here in Chicago, in a city where we already spend roughly $1.5 billion on police every year.

That is about $4 million every single day that goes into policing from our city budget. That is more than the city spends on the Departments of Public Health, Family and Support Services, Transportation and planning and Development (which includes affordable housing).

Basically, Rahm Emanuel tried to slide this under the radar on 4th of July weekend thinking nobody would pay attention. But we did. We saw it and were like, “No, this is not what we need in our community right now. This is not what we are asking for.” The No Cop Academy campaign is an effort that is supported by community organizations from across the city. There are about 40 organizations right now that are part of this coalition.

We are saying that $95 million needs to be invested in our communities and not in more police training and more police training grounds. The campaign is being led by Assata’s Daughters, which is a young Black women and femme organization in Washington Park. It is also in coalition with the People’s Response Team, For the People Artists Collective, Black Lives Matter Chicago, BYP 100. The list is incredibly long. The campaign is only about two months old now. It started as a rapid response campaign and it still is. But we are in it for the long run.

Sarah: Some of the money that Chicago spends on policing is on paying out settlements over police violence. Take us through the recent history of the Chicago Police Department and Rahm Emanuel’s involvement.

Monica: In Chicago, numerous people have already been killed by the Chicago policy department this year. We know that a huge amount of money goes towards settlements. We are hearing these arguments from aldermen that, “Well, if we have better police training, we won’t have to be paying out all of these big huge settlements.” That is not necessarily true, when you think about policing and the police force as inherently violent, as having roots in oppression and being anti-Black.

When you think about the ways in which we are talking about this police training center and how this is going to be better for our city, we are saying, “Absolutely not.” This is not where our money needs to be going. Our money needs to be put into resources. Rahm closed 50 schools in 2013, some of them in that neighborhood where they want to build that police academy. It is very clear that Rahm is saying he is supporting schools and resources for cops, but not for the Black kids.

We are trying to say that real community safety comes from fully funded schools and mental health centers, job training programs and social and economic justice in our communities. It does not come from expanding resources for policing.

A lot of us who are involved in this current coalition were part of We Charge Genocide, which was an effort in Chicago in 2014 where we went to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to submit a report on the huge amount of police violence being committed against young people of color in our city. We were there, and we did direct action inside of the United Nations calling attention to the murder of Dominique “Damo” Franklin. His family recently got paid out about $200,000 in a settlement for wrongful death.

This cycle keeps repeating over and over. Somebody is murdered by the Chicago police. A huge settlement gets paid out. Then it happens over and over again. If they think that opening up a brand new police academy is going to stop this, then they are just entirely wrong.

Sarah: This kind of campaign follows from the invest/divest framework that has been discussed a lot in the last couple of years. Could you talk a little bit more about that framework and why it has been effective for previous campaigns, particularly for this one?

Monica: Even from an artist perspective, something Chicago is really, really good at is understanding the role that art plays in organizing and activist spaces, understanding the importance of the cultural worker, understanding the importance of opening up our imaginations to endless possibilities of a world outside of what we are actually existing in right now. So when we think about $95 million, we are like, “What could we actually be doing with that money?”

There is so much we could be doing with that money! It is just absurd that they want to put more money into the police department when $95 million could pay for more mental health clinics in our city. It could mean one brand new high school. A new school in Englewood would cost $75 million. It could build 5 new Chicago Public Library branches.

We are being given this one option from our city that says, “Oh, we are going to give you more policing.” Then, people say okay, because everybody wants more. More, more, more. We want resources. But no one is stopping and asking our communities, “What would you actually like to see done with $95 million?” That is where we are coming in and informing our communities and saying, “Here are all the things that we could actually benefit from in our city, and here is what they are proposing.” This is not okay. This is not right.

Also, this isn’t a transparent process. This plan was developed long before it even was made public. And there has been no public comment or input whatsoever on the plan at any stage. We are making it clear to our communities that this plan is being put forward without our input during a time when our mayor is saying that the city is broke. But apparently, he can find money when he wants to.

That is where we are coming from with the invest/divest. Let’s ask our communities and folks who are directly impacted by a lot of the violence that is happening and say, “What actually would make this violence stop?” That would be job training, and that would be after-school programs. I think that imagination piece is what is often missing in the conversations around what we could actually invest our money in.

The beautiful organizing that happens in Chicago expands our imaginations and allows us to demand the impossible.

Sarah: Tell us about this coalition that is working on this and how it came together.

Monica: Just last year we had the #ByeAnita campaign. That was a campaign to oust our state’s attorney Anita Alvarez who was blocking any sort of progress in moving forward in any sort of justice in our city. It was after the Laquan McDonald video came out. We know that she played a huge role in keeping that undercover and under wraps. We came together as an organization, led by the Black women and femmes of Assata’s Daughters. The fearless leading youth said, “Bye”—and she was out.

It also comes from working together with people within the reparations ordinance fight. Those are some of the same who we won reparations after 20 years for Jon Burge torture survivors in our city and won a huge package. A huge financial package. A memorial should be going up soon, which is one of the first of its kind to have a memorial dedicated to people that have been victims of police violence. That is something just unheard of. Then, also, including this history in Chicago Public School curriculum. It is this huge, huge success.

Again, I want to emphasize that this is being led by young Black people, in particular, by Assata’s Daughters. We are taking cues and taking the lead from young Black people who are saying, “This is not what we want. We do not want more police harassment and violence. We want money for the schools.” That is how it came together.

It started out very small. We knew that this was being hidden from the public, so we really just wanted to make some noise about it. We put out a statement, and we did a press conference, and we sort of just hoped for the best. Then, so many organizations started reaching out to us to endorse the campaign, organizations that we haven’t worked with before. Education and economic justice groups were reaching out to us and being like, “Yes, this is exactly what we are saying.” It was really a beautiful moment when we thought, “Wow, we could really build a huge coalition of organizations across the spectrums in our city to demand better for our city.”

We are about 40 organizations strong now and still growing every day. We get at least three or four requests to endorse per day, as well as press coverage across the country. It has really taken off. I really think that it shows the desperation that our communities have, that we are like “This $95 million does not make any sense.”

What we want is accountability. Something that keeps coming up is the Department of Justice came to Chicago and gave us their 99 recommendations. Can they tell me how many recommendations have been taken care of that will decrease the violence that police are perpetuating on our communities? No. What they are doing first and foremost is creating a $95 million shiny new building. What we are saying is that we want accountability, not a new facility. And we want transparency.

Sarah: You mentioned the Justice Department and, of course, Donald Trump loves to use Chicago as his example of a place where there is all this violence. Rahm Emanuel wanted to be one of the people who was resisting Trump, whatever that means. But when you look at this kind of thing, his priorities are not actually that different.

Monica: Absolutely. You hear Rahm talking about being a sanctuary city and a place where police never cooperate and never collaborate with ICE. We are like, “Wrong. That is absolutely wrong and you are a liar.”

We have a Chicago gang database. Nobody knows how you get on this database. Nobody knows how to get off this database. It is just this arbitrary, non-transparent database where people get put on it, and that is one of the exceptions to police and ICE collaborating. BYP 100 Chicago and Mijente are doing a lot of brilliant work in Chicago to amplify and expose that.

Rahm is such a liar when it comes to being the antithesis to Donald Trump. He is using Trump politics. He is Chicago’s Trump, basically. The idea that he is the resistance to Trump is another narrative we want to disrupt as a campaign.

Sarah: There was just a city council meeting to vote on the police academy. Talk about what went on at the city council meeting and what the next steps are.

Monica: There was a city council vote two weeks ago. Basically, 48 to 1 voted in favor of the land acquisition for 30 acres of vacant land for that academy. The one sole alderman who opposed it was Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa from the 35th Ward. He gave a speech about how police training isn’t going to solve problems that are being highlighted in the Justice Department report and that we don’t need more training, we need more money for mental health services and schools and not for a police academy.

It is so interesting. We are very new to working and being involved in the city council process. I think it is very muddled and very confusing on purpose. When we went in, we were like, “Okay, let’s get our people in to make public comments against the police academy because we know that it is going to be up for vote today. So, let’s get in line. Okay. How do we make a comment? What do we do? What do we fill out?”

Also, I am sure many people have heard that Chance the Rapper came out to oppose the police academy, as well. He was there. He gave his three-minute opposition to the police academy. There were also folks from NTA, which is a school in Chicago that is also facing closure. There were dozens of NTA students who were there who were demanding that their school remain open. They also plugged us and said, “No police academy. Fund our schools. Not this.”

Then, there were also folks there from Uptown Tent City who are basically calling out their alderman, James Cappleman, who is harassing the homeless and taking away their ability to have a tent community in Uptown area. They were also saying, “No cop academy. Create homeless shelters and create housing for homeless people.”

So, we have all these different people who are all saying, “We are opposed to this police academy.” Then, when the time for the vote comes up, you have all of these aldermen who are saying why they support the police academy. And before this, there were all these different line items that were just being voted on and passed, voted on and passed, voted on and passed. We really believe that this land acquisition vote, which was also just a line item, would have just had that vote and been done with had we not been making the noise that we have been making. Then, they spent an hour defending this police academy being built. I don’t think they would have done that if we weren’t there.

The way they voted wasn’t a surprise, especially knowing that this entire process hasn’t been transparent, without public comment. The way that city council works is not about democracy. So we already knew this wasn’t going to happen the way that we wanted. But I think that we were really curious to see what was going to happen inside of the city council.

And we said, “Okay, next steps. Let’s focus on putting pressure on the aldermen.” We wanted to show these alderman that people felt really polarized about this campaign and where their alderman stood. After this vote happened, my Facebook wall was flooded with people who were like, “How dare my alderman vote for this police academy! I am committing to voting you out in 2019.”

So you are seeing this huge surge in constituent power that is happening right now. People are really pissed off and are committing to recreating the #ByeAnita campaign for all of these different alderman. I think that these alderman really made a huge mistake and miscalculated their votes.

Sarah: Do you know what the next steps are or where the next opportunities to stop this are?

Monica: Yes, it is not a done deal yet. They still have to find a contractor. They still have to figure out financing. This building is not a done deal yet, because they still don’t know exactly how they are going to pay for the project. They are still about $37 million short. I think that is also a huge area of question, of “How can we organize around that?”

It is going to be brought back to city council in the future. So, there is still time to organize around that. And I think there is still time to turn aldermen around and stop it. We are re-strategizing, we are re-grouping, and we are figuring out the next steps.

Even if this police academy gets built, I think we have already won. I think we have already been successful in exposing the ways that the city really doesn’t care what its community members think or what its constituents think. They are still going to do whatever Rahm says to do. Exposing that is something that we have really been successful at.

I think it is important to give room to have conversations around abolition, to have conversations around alternatives to policing, alternatives to prisons. It is about building up power among our different communities and friends—and building a united front against the things that are harming our communities. And it is about changing the narrative. I think that is something we have been really successful at in this campaign so far.

Right in the beginning, Rahm was trying to call this this public training safety center, and that was the language that was being utilized universally in the news. Now, it is being referred to as the “cop academy.” Now it is being referred to as exactly what it is. In that sense, we have also won by changing the narrative. Now, next steps are keeping the pressure on.

Sarah: How can people keep up with you and with the campaign?

Monica: People can visit us at We post a lot of updates on the People’s Response Team Facebook page, Assata’s Daughters Facebook page, and For the People Artists Collective Facebook page. Lots of updates there. If people want to get on the endorser’s list, if you are an organization in Chicago that wants to join us, you can email us at

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

Categories: Newswire

How SWAT Team Expos Are Militarizing Police Departments Across the Country

November 22, 2017 - 11:00am

Last week, the Florida SWAT Association hosted the “35th Annual SWAT Round-Up International Competition and Vendor Trade Show” in Orlando. The event brought together law enforcement and military personnel from around the world to compete against each other, train in new tactics and technologies, and buy new weapons from arms dealers. At a time when Florida residents are acutely aware of the need for climate disaster and emergency preparedness, this use of resources to further escalate policing tactics is not only wasteful, but demonstrates the increasingly dangerous power of defense industry “solutions.”

As a national organizer for the War Resisters League’s “No SWAT Zone” campaign, I know firsthand that communities around the country are concerned about the dangerous effect such police militarization gatherings have on all policing. Last week’s SWAT Round-Up schedule included competition days between participating SWAT teams, vendor expos featuring ballistic weapons for purchase, workshops and competition exercises. Weapons exhibitors included teargas giant The Safariland Group, Smith and Wesson guns, and Lenco armored vehicles. Also present were companies that self-identify as “philosophy” or “lifestyle” brands, aiming “to better our brotherhood first and foremost.” Among them is SWAT LIFE: Brothers for Adversity, a company that celebrates and promotes warrior mentalities. Civilian and hiking companies such as VISTA outdoors, Timberland and Benchmade Knife Company were also present at the expo, exemplifying the seeping of militarism into everyday life.  

Most conference and competition participants hailed from police departments in southern and central Florida, but they also came from across the state and country. Last year’s SWAT Round-Up featured national winners from Texas to California. Alameda County Sheriff Marcus Cox won the distinction of 12th best “Super SWAT” cop. SWAT officers from Hungary, Brazil, Sweden and Jamaica also competed last year—a reminder that these U.S.-based trainings and expos facilitate the exchange of tactics and arms across national borders. This year, representatives from the United Arab Emirates attended, in order to “see how other people are doing,” in the words of Col. Masoud Alhammad.

SWAT Round-Up also offered educational trainings—most of which inevitably escalate police interactions via militarized equipment, technologies and mentalities. Of the 13 workshops advertised for the week, not one featured de-escalation tactics for responding officers. One workshop, “What SWAT Must Do Today,” focused on damage control, advertising itself as training officers in “how to survive the media, the U.S. Department of Justice-Civil Rights section and your local critics.”

SWAT Round-Up did not return a request for comment.

From years of organizing against SWAT trainings and weapons expos like SWAT Round-Up across the country, I have seen time and again that such trainings rely heavily on cultural norms of hypermasculinity and white-supremacy. Trainings reproduce battlefield mentalities, whether it’s racist stereotypes used in training curricula, an “us versus them” narrative about cops and civilians, or the idea that military weapons are the go-to solution for complicated situations like mental health crises.

As police budgets increase nationally, and the 1033 military-weapons transfer program that was formerly blocked by Obama is reinstated under Trump, this country is experiencing an increase in domestic militarization. This development is paired with a steep uptick in the intensity of U.S. bombings in an expanding number of countries, from Yemen to Afghanistan. SWAT trainings and war weapons expos such as SWAT Round-Up happen across the country all year long, often hosted by statewide or national Tactical Officer Associations.

Additionally, tactical trainings are often funded by Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant program, a $630 million grant for the federal year of 2018. In 2017, UASI allocated $5.3 million to Miami and Fort Lauderdale and $2.8 million to Tampa Bay for training and infrastructure in counter-terrorism efforts.

One training federally funded by the UASI program is Urban Shield—one of the largest SWAT training exercises in the world—hosted every year in the Bay Area. UASI’s funding requires a “nexus to terrorism,” meaning that police forces participating in UASI programs acquire highly militarized weapons, tactics and technologies that are geared toward counterterrorism—but are primarily used in everyday policing against Black, Latinx and poor communities.

As Mohamed Shehk, a member of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition in the Bay Area, put it to In These Times, “The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office hosts Urban Shield, and numerous Bay Area jurisdictions participate. Many of these cities and counties, including Alameda County, San Francisco, and Berkeley have committed themselves to be ‘sanctuaries’ in resistance to the new administration—a commitment that is made essentially meaningless when they simultaneously participate in Urban Shield, a program that mirrors Trump’s own law-and-order, xenophobic and militaristic vision for society.”

Instead of solutions to, or preparation for, the many crises we face, we continue to see resources poured into police militarization across the country, making escalated policing the only resource for emergencies, instead of firefighters, mental health workers and relief agencies. SWAT trainings and expos like SWAT Round-Up help drive the warrior mentality underlying police murders and aggression, and they expand the power of the global arms trade in our local communities. Floridians have an opportunity to join with people across the country in speaking out against this phenomenon—and to demand resources be put where they are most needed: schools, affordable housing, mental health resources and climate change preparation.

As War Resisters League member Ana Conner of Polk County puts it, “The only way to stop prioritizing war profiteering over human needs is to build power across communities facing militarism, whether that looks like police with tanks or an occupying army. Shifting resources away from SWAT competitions and towards storm preparedness is a good place to start.” 

Categories: Newswire

What a Century-Old Socialist Newspaper Can Teach Us About the Left

November 22, 2017 - 11:00am

When In These Times began 41 years ago, founder James Weinstein looked for inspiration to Appeal to Reason. This Kansas-based socialist newspaper ran from 1895 to 1922, reaching 720,000 subscribers at its height in 1912.

For most of its 27 years, the Appeal operated out of Girard, a small southeastern Kansas town. Today, if you drive the back roads around Girard, you’ll pass old mining pits filled with water and resident waterfowl. In the 2016 presidential election, 58 percent of the county’s voters went for Donald Trump. But the history of the Appeal is a reminder that current rhetoric reducing the complexity of the Midwest and the Plains to red-state stereotypes ignores the other “red” history of the region, the country and, of course, the press.

Julius A. Wayland, a longtime independent socialist journalist and editor, founded the Appeal in Kansas City, Mo. He moved the paper to the smaller, less expensive Girard two years later. The town’s social conditions also made it ripe for a press project focused on labor issues. It had railroad access and was located in the middle of coal country, in a region full of recently arrived European mine workers.

By the early 20th century, large stacks of the paper had to be carried off in long lines of carts or railroad cars, and the town drew leftists from across the nation. The Appeal published a range of socialist writers, from Eugene Debs, Mother Jones and Kate Richards O’Hare to William Morris, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Jack London. In 1904, editor Fred Warren gave Upton Sinclair the advance that sent him to the Chicago stockyards for what became one of the most famous works of American social criticism, The Jungle (1906), which first appeared as a serial in the Appeal.

John Graham, author of Yours for the Revolution, a definitive history of the Appeal, writes, “If there were working conditions or a strike to publicize in West Virginia, Colorado or California, the Appeal was there; if Milwaukee, Wis., and Schenectady, N.Y., voted the Socialist ticket, Appeal correspondents reported the victories; if states were without their own socialist papers, the Appeal printed individual state editions.” The Appeal sponsored “study clubs” and sent special editions to union organizers and strikers around the country.

American socialism in the era of Appeal to Reason was diverse and persuasive to many, but socialists had their limitations. Reading through the archives is a cautionary reminder of the contradictory history of the American Left, especially with respect to race and immigration.

You will find, for example, Appeal articles calling for segregationist approaches to labor organizing. In 1915’s “Socialism and the Negro,” staff writer John Walker Gunn argued for “the same rights of freedom and opportunity” for African-American workers, but assured his white readers this did not mean “intimate social equality.”

The Appeal weathered many legal and political attacks. In 1909, Appeal editor Fred D. Warren was sent to Leavenworth penitentiary for mailing “defamatory and threatening” materials. (In a publicity stunt meant to highlight union issues, he’d offered a reward for the capture of Kentucky’s ex-governor, who had been indicted for murder.) Warren used his time behind bars to document atrocious conditions at the prison itself. He and Appeal staff were then indicted for sending “indecent” materials through the mail—namely, Warren’s report on prison conditions, including sexual assaults against inmates. (The charges were dismissed.)

The toll of these attacks became especially severe for Wayland, who was left exhausted by his work and personal struggles; he committed suicide in 1912. When World War I broke out, the Appeal initially opposed the war, in line with the Socialist Party. But under an escalating Red Scare, including censorship of the radical press, then-editor Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius renamed the paper the New Appeal and shifted its stance. After the war, editorial focus continued to drift away from socialist politics, and circulation wobbled under subsequent editors until the paper finally ceased publication.

Pressures against an open and progressive press never subside in the United States—but neither does public appetite for progressive journalism. The challenge of finding the places, people and means to do vibrant work is ongoing, and on us.

Categories: Newswire

COP23 Proved That Indigenous Peoples Still Don’t Have a Real Voice in Climate Negotiations

November 21, 2017 - 10:08pm

For the most part, Indigenous rights were not included in the operative text of the Paris climate agreement. Most language about the rights of First Nations peoples were housed in its preamble, and what did make it into the main body of the agreement was an acknowledgement of the importance of Indigenous knowledge. Although exactly what that means—and who will decide what that means—remains to be seen.

“We are not at the table in a manner equal to other nation states,” Tom Goldtooth tells In These Times. He’s executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network and a veteran of UN climate talks. He was at COP23, which concluded at the end of last week in Bonn, Germany.

“We are still seen as civil society groups, but within the space of the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, we do our best to hold those countries that have significant amounts or really any amount of Indigenous people accountable for the impact on Native [people] within their lands,” he says. “What we are fighting for is full and active participation in any negotiation that impacts Indigenous people.”

Tom Goldtooth says there is no real guide on how to do that within the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This year’s UN climate talks were a mixed bag for Indigenous people from around the world. Having met at least daily through the two-week duration of the talks, the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus—drawn from seven different regions in every corner of the globe—won a seat at the table in the UNFCCC processes. However, that representative has no decision-making power, not technically representing a party at COP23.

This gave Indigenous negotiators present at COP23 a two-fold task: ensure their right to participate in UNFCCC proceedings and ensure their concerns actually get discussed.

The results were spotty.

The final language that came out of Bonn states that parties to UN climate talks will “consider their respective obligations on the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities.” This is much weaker language than many had hoped for, and far short of full recognition of Native peoples’ rights in the UNFCCC process.

“This decision only allows us to participate in operationalizing the Indigenous People’s Platform, sometime in the future, at the next UNFCCC COP 24,” said Alberto Saldamando, Indigenous Environmental Network’s legal counsel at COP23 and a tribal and human rights lawyer. “Notwithstanding what has been reported, we are not negotiating or decision making. The platform will only recommend [that].”

Article 7 of the Paris Agreement says that, "Parties acknowledge that adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach…” This includes, among other things, “knowledge of Indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate.”

Dallas Goldtooth, member of the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus (and Tom Goldtooth’s son), says the inclusion of this language is opportunity to hold states accountable as they develop their plans to address climate change. However, he also raised concerns about serious barriers to Indigenous nations’ inclusion in the Paris process.

Implementation of the Article 7 text falls officially to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, or SBSTA, which convenes both at annual Conference of Party gatherings and at intercessional meetings, which happen between yearly climate talks. Implementing the agreement’s specific language around Indigenous knowledge, though, has effectively been up to the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, which meets under the SBSTA umbrella.

Previously, the caucus has only been able to meet unofficially with official parties—like nation-states—to make their voice heard. The inclusion of language around Indigenous knowledge in the Paris agreement opened a window to change that.

And since the agreement’s passage, the caucus has met regularly to discuss what more formal representation on this point might look like. Last week, the caucus passed an incremental milestone in having its participation formally recognized. The caucus also pressed the SBSTA to recommend the Indigenous Peoples’ Platform to the full conference of parties—outlining a number of ways that Indigenous knowledge should be incorporated into deciding the Paris agreement’s implementation.

Navigating the legalese to get this far has been tireless work for members of the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus. Each day of the talks, they met in the morning in trilingual meetings (English, Spanish and French) that were followed in the afternoon by individual meetings among each of the seven regions represented in the caucus.

Though Indigenous communities at COP are diverse—coming from every corner of the globe and a range of different social and economic contexts—the nature of UN negotiations means that each region must agree to a common, collective platform. The Indigenous Peoples Platform that’s emerged from these meetings is intended to be a blueprint for how to operationalize the consideration of Indigenous knowledge.

Some of the loudest voices for strengthening Indigenous representation in the Paris agreement process were from Ecuador and Bolivia, two nations with large Indigenous populations and with formal Indigenous representation in their delegations to international climate talks. 

“Indigenous people get lumped together as one people or one voice,” says Michael Charles, a delegate with the U.S.-based youth group SustainUS that participated in the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus. “We all have different culture and practices, so it is different voices.” 

Charles says he was also frustrated that all the energy that went into ensuring basic representation meant less time for Indigenous communities at COP23 to push forward policy concerns.

There is also a myriad of internal divisions among Native groups in the United States. None of the representatives from the United States who are part of the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus are elected tribal leadership. And while some tribal governments have come out strongly against extraction on Native lands, others have close ties to the extractive industry.

“Overall, there’s a lot of frustration with the Indigenous peoples here about the lack of action and ambition, and feeling that Indigenous peoples are some of the most vulnerable populations out there, from the Arctic to regions where people are experiencing drought conditions,” Tom Goldtooth tells In These Times. “If the environment is changing and weather events are coming about that have negative impacts on our habitat, that effects our treaty rights.”

“In consultation with spiritual leaders, we’ve been told of prophecies when trees start dying from the top down and that there would be melting of glaciers and changes in the circle of life,” Tom Goldtooth adds. “That’s coming about now. That’s already here. There’s going to be a time for all people to come together to make a decision about what we’re going to do to save mother earth as we know her. That’s where we're at.”

Categories: Newswire

As the J20 Trial Begins, We Must Not Allow Trump to Imprison Dissenters When They Are Needed Most

November 21, 2017 - 5:28pm

Editor’s Note: On Inauguration Day, thousands of people took to the streets of Washington, D.C. to participate in a “Disrupt J20” coordinated day of direct actions, blockades and protests against the incoming Trump administration. One part of this mobilization—the anti-capitalist, anti-fascist contingent—was targeted by a heavy police crackdown, and more than 200 people in or near this demonstration were surrounded and arrested. Now, more than 190 of the people caught in this sweep face rolling trials, with the first kicking off this week as supporters flood the courtroom. The majority of defendants are fighting heavy charges and up to 60 years in prison at the hands of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which answers directly to Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice. Often vilified in the press, J20 defendants have had few public platforms to share their experiences on Inauguration Day—and describe what motivated them to take action.

Not even a year into the Trump presidency, our social and political fabric seems to be unraveling. Wild fires have ravaged northern California, and record-breaking storms have barraged parts of the Gulf Coast and Caribbean regions. Swastika-wearing white supremacists marched through the streets of Charlottesville, and mass deportations are tearing communities apart. This is the terrifying future promised by Trump that motivated me to join others in protest on the streets of Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day.

In response to protest during the inauguration, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) used chemical and projectile weapons to attack dissidents—in line with the MPD’s  history of mishandling protest. Police directed abuse at children, the elderly and disabled people.  The reaction was so violent that the Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Office of Police Complaints accused police of using excessive force and recommended an independent investigation, which is currently in its early stages.

After assaulting people on the streets with chemical weapons and stinger grenades, the police kettled more than 230 people. This drag-net style of arrest indiscriminately sweeps up large portions of marches and subjects those it catches to arrest—often initiating lengthy, resource-draining court processes. Despite widespread condemnation of this tactic, kettling has become an all-too-common police method for suppressing protest. We see these police actions, also recently used in St. Louis, as an effort to get large numbers of dissidents off the streets and into the court room so they can no longer resist.

Those of us kettled on Inauguration Day were forced to stand outside in the cold and deprived of food, water, medical treatment and bathrooms. As if that weren’t bad enough, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged us all with the same blanket eight felonies that carry a sentence of up to 70 years if convicted. We believe this was an attempt by the prosecution to scare defendants into accepting pleas. As trials drew closer, some charges were lowered or dropped. But I am one of nearly 200 people preparing for a trial where I will face six felony charges and up to 60 years in prison for resisting the Trump regime. 

We are not alone. Other activists from across the country are also facing repression for resisting the Trump administration and the racist legacies it supports. Hundreds of protesters in Durham, Santa Fe, Philadelphia, St. Louis, St. Paul, Chicago, Standing Rock and beyond have been criminally charged for their resistance.

The march on Inauguration Day was to be the antithesis of all that Trump stands for—a level of opposition that the administration finds intolerable. We and other dissidents come from communities that Trump has already denigrated and harmed. The violent fascism and bigotry that accompanied Trump’s rise to power poses a threat to us all. The last year has proven that the government will do little to stop his administration from devastating and harming marginalized communities.

The only thing that can really protect us is a robust and pervasive culture of resistance. Yet, the Trump administration is treating our acts of self-defense and opposition as more of a threat than real acts of white supremacist terrorism, such as those seen in Charlottesville  and Gainesville.

Unlike some of the “alt-right” groups that organize so-called “free speech” rallies that afford opportunities to attack vulnerable communities, anti-capitalist and anti-fascist organizers don't spend our weekends training at paramilitary camps. Our movements are vilified in the press and targeted by police, but we’re your friends, your neighbors and your family members. Some of us in the movement are first responders, nurses, water protectors, teachers, students and parents. Some of us are in our early 20s, and some of us are old enough to be grandparents. Our movements are comprised of everyday people who refuse to let our friends and loved ones suffer and live in fear.

When we're not out marching in the streets, we spend our time setting up food shares, founding libraries, providing healthcare and sometimes even filling potholes when the state fails to do so. While Trump ignores climate change and those it harms, our movements are providing autonomous disaster relief in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. After U.S. Customs and Border Protection checked people's immigration papers as they fled Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and arrested undocumented parents while they awaited their child’s surgery, our movements are helping protect those targeted by ICE raids and held for years in detention centers.

Despite the strain these politically motivated charges put on defendants and our communities, those of us directly impacted by this case are doing all we can to support and protect each other.

We cannot rely on the state to protect us or meet our needs—a reality routinely confirmed by the actions of the Trump administration. Our hope for a better world lies with each other. As people across the country and world work to confront fascism and bigotry, communities in resistance will continue to face escalating violence and repression. It is essential that people continue to resist—and give voice and power to a future in which we not only survive but truly thrive. If we fail to ensure our livelihood and our dignity, the government and the alt-right will continue to marginalize and target us.

Now is a time to build our collective defense against the political repression and violence of the Trump administration and its tacit support for white supremacy. We ask those who truly desire a free and egalitarian society to stand with J20 defendants and other activists. Help us fight these charges, so we can all continue to stand against bigotry and defend each other.

Categories: Newswire

The Pope May Speak About Climate Justice, But in L.A., the Church Leases Land to an Oil Company

November 21, 2017 - 11:00am

LOS ANGELES—Most people don’t even know they’re there, hidden behind a 10-foot wall in the middle of one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Los Angeles: 21 oil wells with the capacity to pump out more than 58 barrels a day.

The oil field is located in University Park, a low-income, multiracial neighborhood in which Latinos make up nearly 50 percent of the population. The land is owned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The company operating the wells, Allenco, voluntarily shut them down amid criticism and health concerns in 2013. On a recent Friday afternoon, only one employee could be seen milling about the site.

But now, Allenco is working to clear a few last regulatory hurdles and reopen the site for drilling. Local residents are calling on the archdiocese to keep the site closed.

Art Gomez, standing a block away in the driveway of his elderly mother’s home, remembers when the wells were active. “There was a foul smell,” he says, scrunching his nose.

In 2013, after years of complaints from locals, inspectors from the Environmental Protection Agency decided to check for themselves. It sickened them.

“I’ve been to oil and gas production facilities through the region, but I’ve never had an experience like that,” said Jaren Blumenfeld, then EPA regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, as reported in the Los Angeles Times. “We suffered sore throats, coughing and severe headaches that lingered for hours.”

Soon after, Allenco closed the site voluntarily under pressure from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) and others, and Allenco was hit with a lawsuit from Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feur, accusing the company of ignoring air quality regulations. Regulators found that the odor created a “public nuisance,” and that equipment was releasing smog-forming compounds.

The company settled that lawsuit in 2016, agreeing to pay out $1.25 million in civil penalties. As part of the settlement, it must come into compliance with environmental regulations. Once it does so, it can open again.

Holding her daughter’s hand just outside the oil field, Tania Velásquez says she moved to the neighborhood just six months ago. She’s heard about what it used to be like here, and worries that if the site reopens, “It’s going to be bad for my child.” STAND-L.A., a coalition of community groups opposed to urban oil drilling, is campaigning to keep the site closed. It wants Allenco’s landlord, the Catholic Church, to stop allowing fossil fuels to be extracted.

“You’ve got a tenant [Allenco] on this property that’s a known lawbreaker,” says organizer Eric Romann, “and you’ve got an activity that’s known to cause harm to the surrounding community.” The archdiocese, he says, “should terminate the lease … and make sure the site never reopens.” Residents rallied in front of the archidoces’s office October 4.

Shortly after Pope Francis released his 2015 encyclical on climate change, which declared “technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels … needs to be progressively replaced without delay,” University Park residents sent him a video pleading their case.

Some Catholic institutions seem to have taken the encyclical to heart: In early October, more than 40 Catholic organizations, representing investors worth $5.5 trillion, announced they were divesting from any companies that extract gas, oil or coal.

But the church has not acted in Los Angeles. In addition to the Allenco site, the archdiocese leases to Freeport McMoran Inc., which operates 22 oil wells, prompting similar complaints of toxic odors and demands that it be shut down.

In a statement to In These Times, the archdiocese says it is “working with the mayor’s office, the Petroleum Administrator for the City of Los Angeles and Allenco to explore possible alternative uses for the site in our continued commitment to the health and well-being of the entire community.” It declined to elaborate as to what those alternatives were.

Ultimately, local campaigners want the city to ban urban oil drilling altogether. According to a 2015 report from the Liberty Hill Foundation, a local social justice nonprofit, “Los Angeles is the largest urban oil field in the country,” with nearly 5,200 active wells, 70 percent of which are within 1,500 feet of a home, school or hospital.

In the meantime, advocates want the archdiocese to accept responsibility for extending the life of an industry that the head of their church has labeled a threat to the planet.

As Pope Francis once posted on Twitter, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” For now, at least, his church is still playing a role.

Categories: Newswire

Bernie Sanders Is Now Backing Randy Bryce—Which Could Be Very Bad News for Paul Ryan

November 21, 2017 - 12:01am

Randy Bryce took the political world by storm this June when he released a stunning television ad announcing his campaign to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan. Bryce is running for Ryan’s seat in Wisconsin’s southeastern 1st congressional district, which straddles Milwaukee’s metropolitan border.

“I decided to run for office because not everybody’s seated at the table—and it’s time to make a bigger table,” Bryce says in the ad. “If somebody falls behind, we’re so much stronger if we carry them with us. That’s the way I was raised. We look out for each other.”

The ad helped raise almost half a million dollars for Bryce’s campaign in just twelve days.

An Army veteran and an ironworker by trade, Bryce mixes an everyman’s appeal with genuine progressive politics—a stark contrast with Ryan’s straight-laced conservatism. And Bryce received a boost to his progressive credentials last week when he was officially endorsed by Bernie Sanders.

"We've got to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid from people like Paul Ryan," Sanders said in a statement announcing the endorsement. "I think Randy Bryce has an agenda that is going to make sense to working families. We need Randy in Congress."

Sanders and Bryce line up on a range of issues, from unwavering support for workers and union rights to a $15 minimum wage.

Explaining why he stands with workers fighting for a higher wage, Bryce tells In These Times, “I’ve always been supportive of a $15 minimum wage. Otherwise what we’re doing is just giving welfare to corporations. We shouldn’t be subsidizing corporations so that they can profit more on the people’s backs.”

Bryce also shares Sanders’ belief in a universal healthcare system, backs the Vermont senator’s Medicare for All bill and supports a massive investment in infrastructure spending to revitalize deindustrialized communities like those in his Wisconsin district. Joe Dinkin, spokesperson for the Working Families Party—of which Bryce is a member and endorsed candidate—says that what connects Sanders and Bryce is a commitment to progressive values.

“What Bernie sees in Randy Bryce is a working class progressive that draws a perfect contrast to ‘Wall Street’ Paul [Ryan],” Dinkin says. “Randy wants to guarantee healthcare for all, to rebuild America's roads and bridges and to make the billionaires pay for it. Paul Ryan wants to give billionaires a massive tax cut and make the middle class pay. This endorsement, coming from America's most popular political leader, is a huge deal and proves that this is a top tier race.”

Bryce says it’s not only his policy positions that that set him apart from Ryan, but also his commitment to representing the needs of his constituents rather than outside interests.

“It’s about getting trust,” Bryce says. “It’s not just showing up a few weeks before election day and trying to get people to vote. It’s about actually being involved in the community—to listen and then to come up with ways to implement the needs of the community.”

Bryce may still appear to be a longshot candidate. A recent Public Policy (PP) Poll shows him trailing Ryan by seven points. But Bryce’s campaign says that these numbers will change as more voters get to know who the candidate is and what he stands for (the PP poll shows 69 percent of respondents still aren’t familiar with Bryce).

Ryan beat his Democratic opponent in 2016 by 35 points, so the race currently sitting at single digits represents a significant change in the political winds. The Bryce campaign’s own internal polling shows Bryce winning in 2018 by a 3-point margin—assuming more voters get to know him.

Democrats are currently engaged in what some are calling a civil war over the future of the party and, in many ways, over the future of the resistance to President Trump. Randy Bryce’s campaign offers echoes of the party’s past—of FDR’s ambitious New Deal, of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty—and potentially signals a new direction for the party’s future.

“We need more working people to run for office. We understand it. We get the struggles of living paycheck to paycheck,” Bryce tells In These Times.

Asked whether his campaign will help inspire more working people like himself to run, he replies, “It’s already happening. People are contacting me. We’re seeing a record number of candidates come out everywhere. And a lot of Republicans that are going to have to fight for their seats see this wave coming, and they’re retiring in pretty big numbers.”

Sanders’ embrace of Bryce is another indicator that progressive challengers are gaining steam in the upcoming election cycle. Rather than giving in to Trump’s demagoguery or Ryan’s austerity, Bryce is trying to prove that what voters are really looking for are commonsense solutions to their problems. While the Right pushes for building a “big, beautiful wall” and enacting tax cuts for the rich, Bryce is countering with proposals for higher wages and jobs building infrastructure—policies that will clearly improve working people’s lives.   

He is also showing that candidates from outside the political establishment can help usher in this new progressive vision for both the Democratic Party and the country as a whole.

“We have enough lawyers in Congress,” says Bryce “There aren’t a lot of garbage men, ironworkers, building tradespeople. We need more people that actually know what it’s like to struggle so that we have a government that’s receptive to our needs.”

Categories: Newswire

Puerto Rican Former Political Prisoner: “Colonialism Is a Crime Against Humanity”

November 20, 2017 - 10:37pm

The devastation of Puerto Rico by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and the U.S. government’s inadequate response, shed new light on the island’s long-standing exploitation as one of five inhabited, unincorporated U.S. territories—essentially, modern-day colonies. The political and economic subjugation of Puerto Rico is especially damaging now as the island faces a deepening crisis, fueled in part by human-made climate change. As an indifferent Trump administration looks on, the voices of the Puerto Rican independence movement are especially instructive. Ricardo Jimenez offers one such voice.

Jimenez is part of a long history of Puerto Rican freedom fighters. Born in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico and raised in Chicago, Ill., he became politically involved at an early age. Some of his first activism as a teenager focused on freeing political prisoners such as Oscar Collazo and Lolita Lebrón, who had been incarcerated for their roles in Puerto Rican nationalist struggles.

In 1981, Jimenez and 9 others were convicted of “seditious conspiracy” because of his involvement with the independence group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, or Armed Forces of National Liberation. Jimenez was sentenced to 90 years in prison, and former President Bill Clinton granted him clemency in 1999.

Jimenez came out as gay soon after his release, becoming the first openly gay Puerto Rican former political prisoner. Today, in addition to advocating for Puerto Rico’s independence, he is deeply involved in LGBTQ rights activism and HIV prevention. In August, he delivered an address at the national gathering of the queer prison abolitionist organization Black and Pink. While there, he spoke to In These Times about incarceration, imperialism and queer rights.

Sophie Drukman-Feldstein: Could you tell us about yourself?

Ricardo Jimenez: I’m a former political prisoner who was incarcerated for 20 years, and the first openly gay Puerto Rican prisoner of war. I’m a freedom fighter, a person fighting against U.S. imperialism—particularly the colonial status of Puerto Rico. Colonialism is an international crime against humanity, and Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since 1898.

I’m first and foremost a Puerto Rican and a freedom fighter—a political prisoner. I was a gay man, but within the context of society at the time, I couldn’t come out. I was closeted because of the circumstances in the 60s and 70s. The gay movement was not where it is today.

Sophie: How should communities approach safety and justice?

Ricardo: Prisons have a special role in the United States against oppressed people, especially Black and Latino people. The abolition of prisons ties with the whole liberation of humanity. There are different ways to deal with the ills of society, instead of incarcerating somebody for such outrageous sentences and treating them so inhumanely while incarcerated.

However, I don’t think that you can define justice and safety in one net. I think that each country has to decide how to do it humanely. Not every society is developed the same way. What would work in Puerto Rico, in Latin America, might not work in the United States. Liberation movements are not the same in every place. We have to break that down. How do we deal with prisons, for example, in Puerto Rico? In the United States? There’s also the question of what prison is to society. If we abolish this, what alternatives exist in the society that you specifically are talking about?

Sophie: What is the relationship between imperialism and prisons?

Ricardo: You not only have cultural imperialism, the imperialism of controlling other countries, but the imperialism of racism. Racism is the foundation of the United States. That’s not going to change until we destroy what we have now. Racism is far from over. White people have to understand white privilege and the difference between prejudice and racism.

Do I think imperialism is the fault of this country? Of course it is. Do I see that their agenda involves the oppression of Blacks and Latino people? Yes. But into that equation, we have to put the existence of the LGBTQ community. We have to look at how we are not included in the society, and how that is a violation of human rights. We are talking about a system in this country that has to be changed. But unfortunately, white privilege does not let you do that. Because people are very engaged in what’s going on, but without having any knowledge of what United States is.

So, education is of foremost importance. Why is Puerto Rico a colonial possession? Because Puerto Rican history is not taught. Puerto Ricans don’t know that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States.  So we have to see how we as a people are going to have a solution. How are we going to get the youth of this country, which is the foundation of any country, to understand what is happening here? Imperialism, for the great majority of this country, is not understandable.

Sophie: What steps need to be taken to begin to address racism and imperialism?

Ricardo: We have to look at the economic situation of this country and the power it has worldwide. This country is based on money, where most countries are based on humanity.

Why is it that this country and its people are suffering and not getting services, and don’t have access to universal medical care? Out of all the industrialized nations, only one doesn’t have universal medical care. Why is that? And why is it that you still don’t fight for that? Because the country, through the means of communication, controls the thoughts. They actually think that you have free press here, and don’t understand that the news that you hear on ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN is all from the same perspective.

How do we engage people in the United States to understand their own existence—in a country so advanced, the most powerful country in the world, the richest country in the world? And then you have somebody like Trump and his cohorts able to control the mentality of this nation. What solutions do we have? How can we educate? I think the future would be the youth. And I see the change. I can see it in the LGBTQ community, which is much more accepting. Today, eople are freer to express themselves, to come out at an early age.

I know that, because I could never come out the way youths do now. I didn’t come out until I was 45. And not fully out. And there had to be a struggle for that to happen, because of who I was in my country—a national hero.

Then we look at marriage equality. People want to get married, and that’s fine. But for me, we have go to the root of this. Change the definition of family. This thing about marriage, it’s just about money.

Sophie: Did your experience being gay inform your politics?

Ricardo: No. My politics were defined, first and foremost, by my anticolonial decision on Puerto Rico. I became actively involved as a Puerto Rican activist at the age of 14 because in my community I was not accepted.  My parents couldn’t rent a place. I was looked at differently, because of my language, how I ate and how I celebrated my holidays.

Because of the colonial experience that I had, I involved myself in a struggle for better housing, better education, for being treated humanely. That developed my conscience. I was always not gay—I grew up but I would not accept it. I would say, “This is a phase I’m going through.” Later on, I become a human rights activist, and then the definition for gay, for LGBT, was a human rights issue. After I come out and get more involved, I get more in tune with myself and accepted me for who I am. I become then an LGBTQ activist.

After most of us political prisoners were released, there was one left—Oscar Lopez Rivera. He was released on May 17. So now, the biggest issue for me, besides the Puerto Rican independence movement, is LGBTQ rights. It’s not about accepting or tolerating: It’s about inclusion. We are going to be respected.

The independence movement used to be very homophobic, I have to say. It always has been. But once they found out I was gay, they changed completely around. Now, they have taken the lead for LGBTQ human rights—because of who I am as a political prisoner, because I was for 20 years incarcerated, because I’m respected at that level. So, if you cannot accept me for who I am and the struggle I am, you tell me I’m not a man, then do the 20 years that I did and see how much of a man you are.

Now, you see an activism in Puerto Rico that’s much more accepting, where big names are coming out.

Sophie: What issues do LGBTQ prisoners face?

Ricardo: It’s sickening. In prison, gay people are treated as piece of property. You know, when I was in prison in the 1980s, I saw the beginning of HIV epidemic, what was called the gay plague. I saw people in prison who had HIV, and how inhumanely they were treated. There were also people who supposedly were not gay, but at that time we didn’t know that one of the modes of transmission was intravenous drug use. So we had other people who were dying, who were not from that category, but also treated so inhumanely.

Some other convicts and I took initiative. We developed a prevention and education intervention program in order to educate not only the prisoners, but also the staff. That became a source of support and a reference for a lot of gay people there, who were being treated so outrageously. Because of education, we were able to humanize their condition a little bit.

Sophie: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Ricardo: One of the biggest things is that people understand the plight of the Puerto Rican people. There’s no voice from our country. There’s no voice from anybody. Even the legislature, which is a puppet anyway, even they don’t have power now.

You have a junta controlling Puerto Rico—a handful of people control the destiny of Puerto Rico. What have they done so far? They cut and close more than 180 public schools. Education is in the hands of the rich. We have people leaving Puerto Rico, and too many in foreclosure.

And, since Puerto Rico’s a colony, we have no solution, because we don’t control our economy. Who controls our economy is United States, because we cannot trade with other countries. 

I think a lot of the North American Left has forgotten Puerto Rico. People in this country must know that United States, which calls itself the protector of human rights, in reality is our biggest violator.

Categories: Newswire

Barbara Lee’s War on War

November 20, 2017 - 2:00pm

Congressional negotiations over the Pentagon’s annual budget are usually a staid affair, with much of the focus on lawmakers’ favored pork projects. But on June 29, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) won nearly unanimous support on the appropriations committee for her measure to sunset the post-9/11 authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, essentially a blank check for American wars.

Though Paul Ryan stripped the measure from the bill later in the summer, Lee singlehandedly launched a debate on the issue in Congress, with Republicans and Democrats alike asking whether the president should have this power.

Lee’s success also comes as a vindication; she was the only member of Congress to vote against the AUMF.

“September 11 changed the world,” she said at the time. “Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.” Boondocks cartoonist Aaron McGruder paraphrased Lee’s speech this way: “You people are being intensely stupid right now. Please stop.”

To date, the passage of that resolution has left more than 100,000 dead in Afghanistan, including more than 30,000 civilians and over 2,000 U.S. soldiers. Since 2001, the AUMF has been used to justify at least 37 military actions in at least 16 countries, including ongoing campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Niger and Yemen.

But the landscape has changed enormously since the House voted 420-1 to approve the AUMF. Lee’s protest of Ryan’s decision to excise her AUMF sunset language was retweeted 18,000 times. The 10-term congresswoman has enjoyed an upsurge in popularity as an outspoken voice on racial justice and war and peace. Lee, who got her political education in the Black Panther Party, channels long-suppressed, now-emergent forces in American life: a bipartisan war-weariness and a restiveness among people of color, principally Black folks, organizing and speaking out against police violence and mass incarceration.

Lee has the singular honor of having her name next to the word “woke” in Merriam-Webster. She brought Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza as her guest to President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union address. She introduced the first legislation to remove Confederate monuments from the Capitol. Peace activists have floated the idea of Lee running for president.

At a moment when the Democrats desperately need to retake the House and yet are riven by internal divisions (witness, most recently, controversy over the Democratic National Committee’s removal of several officials aligned with Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison), Lee is a crucial figure. Hers is a politics that traverses the fault lines established in the long and contentious 2016 primary, argues labor organizer Bill Fletcher Jr. “Bernie Sanders needed to understand the centrality of race and gender and the fact that it needs to be infused into his populism,” says Fletcher. “Hillary Clinton was advancing justice issues for the traditionally excluded, which ran smack into a wall when confronted with her neoliberal economic agenda. Barbara Lee is someone who has been a champion of justice, both economic and otherwise. That inclusive and multifaceted analysis of justice grounds her conception of politics.”

Indeed, there has been an attempt to paint the efforts to increase the representation of women and people of color in politics as being in opposition to efforts for economic justice. It’s a clever parlor trick for the 1%, as it plays on the weaknesses of the broadly defined U.S. Left. Too often, progressive institutions have failed to implement basic affirmative action policies. Meanwhile, groups focusing specifically on racial or gender justice rely on foundations underwritten by the wealthy and powerful, inhibiting their ability to advance structural critiques of what bell hooks calls the “white supremacist patriarchal capitalist” system.

Bernie Sanders’ failure to win the 2016 primary was due in significant part to this tension. Sanders was hit hard, early and successfully, on his limited capacity to speak about racial justice, and was accused of downplaying the importance of abortion rights. It’s true that the right to choose was not an integral part of how Bernie defined himself in the 2016 campaign. He was a white man running against a candidate tapped as the first woman president, in a country still woefully bereft of representation for both women and people of color at all levels of government. Clinton, on the other hand, explicitly rejected a $15 minimum wage and said that real universal healthcare would “never, ever come to pass.” While she messaged effectively about racial justice, she also had a legacy of calling Black youth “super-predators”—not to mention an often-racist campaign against Obama in 2008.

On both sides of the Bernie/Hillary divide, one question posed was whether we have to choose between electing a woman to higher office or getting transformative economic justice. Barbara Lee exposes the falseness of that choice. A former co-chair and current whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (of which Sanders is the lone Senate member), Lee stood with Keith Ellison in May to announce a progressive budget proposal that includes higher taxes on the wealthy, debt-free college, universal child care, equal pay for equal work and full employment. A stalwart advocate of abortion rights, Lee related her own abortion experience in extremely personal detail in her 2008 book, Renegade for Peace and Justice. Her progressive record on issues from peace to gun control, women’s rights and police violence is unimpeachable.

To be sure, Lee is not popularly identified with Sanders or the anti-establishment Left. She often appears with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and she bucked fellow Progressive Caucus leaders Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva by staying neutral in the 2016 primaries.

But the relationship between Lee and party leaders has not always been smooth. Pelosi tried to talk her out of her 2001 AUMF vote, and her friendship with Pelosi was not enough to win her the Democratic Caucus’ vice chair position when she ran in 2016. Sanders Democrats appear to see Lee as a potential ally; when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced her run for re-election in 2018, “Berniecrat” freshman Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) called on Lee to throw her hat into the ring, calling her “a voice for reasserting Congress’ role on matters of war and peace.” Lee, to put it simply, has cred.

Lee was born in segregated El Paso, Texas, in 1946. Her mother needed a caesarean section and had to beg for medical care in the hospital. Her father convinced the admitting personnel that, because she had white ancestry, she deserved to be born there. Lee was scarred by the forceps used in the C-section and says she reaches to the scar to remind herself that bigotry can be overcome.

The hospital created a makeshift segregated area, where her mother languished in pain due to subpar medical attention while in labor. As Lee writes in her book, her birth experience was emblematic of the multitude of indignities that white supremacy inflicted on Black people in the pre-civil rights South. “I came out fighting,” Lee has said.

Lee’s politicization began when she became involved with the Black Panther Party in 1968, working on the party’s welfare programs in Oakland. The Panthers gave her the framework to analyze the problems facing Black people, and Black American women specifically, and helped her connect racism and exploitation here in America to wars abroad.

“Being a part of the Black Panther movement,” writes Lee, “toughened me up, it made me realize that racism, sexism, economic exploitation, poverty, inequality—all issues we are still dealing with—are a by-product or result of a system of capitalism that relies on cheap labor and keeping people fighting each other rather than uniting and working together for the common good.”

Lee’s entrance into electoral politics began with Shirley Chisholm, whose 1972 campaign for president Lee ran in Northern California—a campaign that was supported by the Panthers, who distributed flyers saying “A vote for Chisholm is a vote for survival.” It was Chisholm who said, “When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.” Lee’s efforts helped win Chisholm 12 of California’s 271 delegate slots—one of which went to Lee—and earned her the attention of Rep. Ron Dellums, the Oakland socialist, who invited her to join his staff. In 1990, she was elected to the California State Assembly; in 1996, the state Senate; and in 1998, she won Dellums’ U.S. House seat upon his retirement.

As a member of the California legislature, Lee led the effort to pass California’s Violence Against Women Act. In her book, she recounts her own harrowing experience with domestic violence as the partner of a man who was mentally ill and physically and emotionally abusive. Women trapped in abusive relationships, she argues, are on the receiving end of both male and economic violence, since they often cannot afford to leave their partner. In Congress, Lee successfully rolled back a provision of President Bill Clinton’s 1996 “one strike and you’re out” public housing policy that, outrageously, allowed the victims of domestic abuse to be evicted for involvement in a crime.

When Congressional Republicans advocate sunsetting the Violence Against Women Act or cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood, Lee, as a left Congresswoman from a working-class background, is one of a few who can speak with authority to the actual effects of that policy. Her peace activism, as well, is inseparable from her outrage at how America’s obsession with war abroad sucks resources for priorities here at home.

The military budget accounts for 53 percent of the federal discretionary budget. In fiscal year 2017, the Pentagon will spend $574 billion. Not only does the Pentagon budget destroy lives abroad, it completely undermines our ability to support basic human needs at home. Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

“We spend more on our military activities than every other nation in the world combined,” Lee says. “Instead of redeploying troops, we need to redeploy where our money goes.”

Peace activists interviewed for this story spoke glowingly of Lee. The word they used, again and again, was “brave.”

“When you deal with Congress, you get disgusted with how easy it is for both Democrats and Republicans to cheerlead for war, to take money from the military-industrial complex and create a military-industrial- congressional complex that really crushes dissent,” says Medea Benjamin of Code Pink. “It’s hard to find people to stand up.”

Lee has been a consistent anti-war voice under four administrations. She was the sole House vote against Bill Clinton’s misadventure in Kosovo, which killed some 500 civilians. Under George W. Bush, Lee voted against the war in Iraq and led the effort for withdrawal. So, too, did Lee oppose Barack Obama’s wars in Libya and Syria.

“There was no authorization there, and it opened the floodgates for weapons, and it created an opening for groups like ISIS and Boko Haram,” Lee tells In These Times. “We’ve created more threats to our national security than is warranted by our actions since in the War on Terror.” She also condemned Obama’s use of drone strikes and proposed legislation to curb them.

Lee has spoken out against President Trump’s threats against North Korea, his arbitrary bombing of Syria, and the concentration of military officers in the White House. Lee’s criticism of John Kelly’s military background earned her a great deal of abuse from the Trumpian Right.

Asked about a 2020 presidential run, Lee demurs. “When we get total public finance, call me back.”

John Nichols of The Nation thinks that Lee would be a credible candidate. “Of the members of the House, Barbara Lee arguably stands out. People know her record,” he told In These Times. “She is also a very appealing political figure. She’s good at working with people, reaching out, getting conversations going.”

“Bernie Sanders made it OK to talk about the deep-seated issues of the capitalist system,” says Code Pink’s Benjamin. “We need a candidate that can talk about the deep-seated problems of a nation based on empire and how we need to move to the next system—a system based on people, not profits.”

Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies sees potential for Lee to emulate U.K. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, who “won this incredible new level of support by focusing on economic justice, but never refusing to talk about the anti-war component.” Indeed, in a certain sense, Lee is America’s Corbyn—no member of the British Parliament has been more closely identified with the U.K. anti-war movement, just as no member of Congress has been closer to the U.S. anti-war movement than Lee.

Lee will likely be more visible on the national stage in the coming year as Democrats, who see Trump as the GOP’s Achilles’ heel, send their stars to stump for congressional candidates. A House Democratic majority would give Lee a platform, as a senior member of the appropriations committee, to take on the military-industrial complex. Lee has been swimming against that tide. It’s finally starting to turn.

“She’s as brave and tough as it takes,” says Bennis. “Imagine if there was a real movement behind her.”

Categories: Newswire

The Paradise Papers Are Proof That Capitalism and Racism Fuel The Global Plutocracy

November 17, 2017 - 11:11pm

The Paradise Papers, a stash of over 13 million documents from 19 tax-haven nations and two offshore law firms leaked this month to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, present an archive of global avarice.

Today, the richest one percent own half of the world’s wealth. The Paradise Papers show how this global elite uses offshore tax arrangements, often perfectly legal, to circumvent both the obligations of citizenship as well as the consequences of ownership. The demands which apply to the rest of us—the obligation to pay our taxes, to pay our debts and our civil liabilities—do not apply to them. In many ways, the class war has been won, and the spoils of the victors sit safely sheltered in the Cayman Islands.

The documents reveal that thousands of the world’s richest individuals and companies engage in regulatory arbitrage to evade tax authorities in their home countries. An estimated $8.7 trillion—10 percent of world’s GDP—is currently stashed offshore, almost all of it belonging to the richest 0.1% of households.

This system of global tax evasion exacerbates inequality and deprives governments of resources that could be used to benefit the public. Up to $699 billion sits in offshore accounts. According to a 2016 study, the United States alone loses $111 billion in taxes each year due to this practice. Yet, at this moment, Republicans in Congress are moving forward with a tax-reform bill that would significantly lower the tax burden on the super-rich. And the GOP bill, which would balloon the federal deficit, is almost certainly a prelude to deeper cuts to the social safety net. Rather than punishing the selfish and destructive behavior of the super-rich, Congress is poised to reward it.

That billions of dollars in wealth is now sitting stowed away in the Caribbean while every day families in America struggle to feed themselves is an injustice of cosmic proportions. This fact should blare like a siren every time we see a homeless person, every time we hear the story of an uninsured child, every time we sit down to balance a tight family budget. And it should motivate us to fight the obscene inequality that pervades our society.

But, for the most part, it doesn't. A number of Democrats, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, have seized on the revelation that Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hid financial ties to Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov. Bernie Sanders, true to form, has called for an end to the “global oligarchy.” Yet the Paradise Papers, like the Panama Papers before them, have generated no great backlash in the United States. Many Americans seem resigned to the explanation offered by Trump’s chief economic advisor Gary Cohn that “this is the way the world works.”

But why? Where is the rage? How can Americans be placid in the face of injustice so transparent? This is the question we should be asking ourselves.

Part of the answer is that we lack a clear outlet for our rage. Our democracy has become so captured by the influence of big money on our political system that the available pathways to channel our anger into reform can appear scant. Another answer is less widely acknowledged, but no less important. Today’s economic robber barons are sheltered from the ignominy of their crimes by the resurgence of a parochial, racist nationalism. Financial elite such as Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, both Trump administration officials, are perfectly happy to make common cause with white nationalists like Steve Bannon. Why? Because more than anything, what the super rich need is someone else to blame.

It’s no coincidence that many white workers believe their antagonists are working people of color and immigrants, rather than the wealthy capitalists who control their lives. Though most working-class whites believe the economic system unfairly favors the rich, they also tend to believe welfare recipients are gaming the system—especially if those welfare recipients are non-white.

A recent poll shows that 68 percent of working-class whites believe the United States is “in danger of losing its culture and identity.” And racial resentment, political scientists Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee have found, is a strong predictor of opposition to government aid to the poor. By stoking racial animus, those in positions of extreme power and wealth are able to fleece the working class and protect the interests of their fathomlessly affluent friends while redirecting white anger towards the racial other.

A coalition of racists and plutocrats have stigmatized our best means of fixing inequality—redistribution and social programs—by associating them exclusively with supposedly “undeserving” outsiders: “welfare queens” (Ronald Reagan’s dog-whistling term for poor black mothers), undocumented immigrants or Muslim refugees. In this way, the wealth of the one percent is shielded by white racial panic.

The mistake many liberals and leftists make is imagining that these twin threats can be disentangled. That we can confront the racists without confronting the super rich as well, or vice versa. That, perhaps, the globetrotting economic elite can be an ally in the fight against resurgent nationalism. But this is a fantasy. There’s no need for the one percent to sign on a dotted line approving this bargain. The financial elite are chief beneficiaries of racial division and the policies they support exacerbate it.

The truth is, there are free riders in our economic system—people who have never known a hard day’s work and who enjoy the benefits of society without bearing its responsibilities. But they aren’t the urban dwelling poor of the conservative imagination. Rather, they’re the children of extreme privilege, the names listed in the Paradise Papers, who leech off the largesse of a system designed to cater to their every whim.

Getting a majority of Americans to understand this, and to collectively organize to change it, will require fighting racism and economic inequality together, as mutually-reinforcing conditions of the status quo. The Paradise Papers should serve as a reminder of the urgency of this task.  

Categories: Newswire

Nationalize the Fossil Fuel Industry

November 17, 2017 - 6:14pm

We are sitting on a time bomb: more than 500 gigatons of carbon dioxide in the United States completely under the control of unaccountable fossil fuel corporations. These companies have so many incentives to turn their reserves into profitable returns on investment—are we really ready to stake our collective future on the hope that these companies go green in time to avert climate catastrophe? As the Trump administration continues to run down the carbon clock as quickly and as irresponsibly as it can, the time has come to promote solutions that can deal with this massive private control of fossil fuel reserves. A future government may have no choice but to de-privatize control of these reserves, which would detach them from single-minded profit interests and take fossil fuel companies, powerful forces of climate opposition, out of the equation as we genuinely figure out the rest of the green transition.

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season kicked-off with a series of record-breaking storms hitting the United States, leaving behind scenes of complete destruction in large areas of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It has been scary to see climate scientists’ predictions unfold before our eyes, and realize that this is our new “normal.” But the lack of debate around real solutions to mitigate further climate impacts is even scarier—as we’ve seen this week at the UN climate conference in Bonn, Germany, where the United States attempted to promote fossil fuels as the “answer” to the climate problem, an initiative that former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has compared to “promoting tobacco at a cancer summit.” This season made crystal clear we need a game-changing solution to ensure that fossil fuels remain unburned and in the ground.

Many efforts have been pursued over the years seeking to decrease fossil fuel extraction and production. On one side are initiatives aimed at reducing demand for fossil fuels: increasing the demand for renewables, improving efficiency, adopting a carbon price, or banning future production and sale of gas-powered cars, as China, Britain and France have recently done. Others have worked on the supply side, working with private landowners to lock out extraction, or pushing the government to increase regulation and to end leasing of reserves on federal lands. In the final years of his presidency, Barack Obama made advances on some of these fronts—efforts that were soon reversed by Donald Trump’s administration.

But even if these efforts were successful, they would still be too little, too late, as they fail to deal with the elephant in the room: who really controls the majority of U.S. fossil fuel reserves. Although federal lands produced almost 376 million tons of coal, 755 million barrels of oil, and close to 5 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2015, these accounted for only around 40 percent of coal production and less than a fifth of oil and gas production in the country. That means that the majority of coal and more than 80 percent of all combined oil and gas production in 2015 came from resources located outside of federal control. In most countries, such reserves remain by and large under public control through state-owned companies—but in the United States the opposite is the norm, with most proven reserves controlled by private interests.

This is a serious roadblock for any effective green transition, and perhaps one reason why the United States is the only country opposed to the Paris Agreement.

If, as suggested by the think tank Carbon Tracker, 80 percent of proven reserves need to be kept in the ground, that means that any efforts at curtailing U.S. fossil fuel extraction have to go beyond limits on federally controlled reserves—and this means confronting the basic economic drivers of the extractive economy. Private companies’ values are determined by their assets and their capability to turn those assets into products and services demanded by society. In the case of fossil fuel companies, their assets are composed mainly of proven fossil fuel reserves—reserves that are economically and technically recoverable under current conditions. To maintain their value, and ongoing investments, fossil fuel companies must continue turning these assets into products and replace any extracted assets with an equal or higher amount of new reserves. Failure to do so negatively impacts their market value—and threatens their survival.

How do we break this vicious cycle of inevitable extraction in time? We need systemic solutions that address this dynamic of profit and control head-on and rapidly phase out fossil fuel production. Some people are willing to take the chance that such production will become unfashionable or even unprofitable as the costs of renewables continues to drop. But the most direct and only guaranteed way to do so is to change the rules of the game by taking control of U.S. fossil fuel reserves out of corporate hands through nationalization.

Such de-privatization could be accomplished through a buyout of fossil fuel reserves’ top controllers: fossil fuel companies. While the U.S. has hundreds of such companies, the reality is that only a few of these together control the vast majority of proven reserves in the country. Take oil and gas, for example: Ten U.S.-based, publicly held companies control close to a quarter of all American proven oil and gas reserves. A targeted buyout of fossil fuel majors would not only make up for lost time, but it could prevent vast amounts of CO2 from entering into the atmosphere through a managed decline in fossil fuel production, provide a breakthrough solution capable of dealing with the private and federal reserves already leased to private companies, remove powerful opposition to climate action from the political equation and unlock the possibility of a just energy transition in the U.S., especially if the buyout was structured in a way that encouraged or mandated reinvestment in renewables and resiliency.

While many may fear that a buyout is unlikely in the present political configuration, there are several historical precedents that show that such a decisive step is not as foreign to the American political experience as one might suspect. We could go as far back as WWII, in which wartime mobilization took over vast swaths of the national economy, but in the 21st century alone Americans have experienced buyouts and de-privatization of major industries more than a handful of times—under both red and blue administrations.

Take, for example, the tobacco buyout. After recognizing the magnitude of the impact smoking has on public health, the George W. Bush Administration decided to cut the subsidies given to tobacco producers while providing a $10 billion buyout to help farmers replace lost income, retire or transition to growing different crops. In the aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, both Bush and Obama Administrations de facto nationalized a number of companies, including financial institutions, insurance companies and even General Motors, to bring back stability to the financial markets.

A future in which the dynamics baked into our current system of ownership, control and investment are allowed to run their course is one in which the kinds of climate catastrophe we saw this hurricane season will be multiplied many times over. As vast amounts of greenhouse gases continue to be released into an already carbon-constrained atmosphere, securing public control of America’s proven fossil fuel reserves can buy us the precious time we need to avert disaster.

Categories: Newswire

What the South Can Teach the Rest of the Country About Resisting the Right

November 16, 2017 - 10:12pm

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators, and educators about how to resist and build a better world.

Libby Devlin: I am Libby Devlin. I am the southern region director for National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United. I am on the governing council of the Southern Movement Assembly, and I am on the coordinating committee for the Southern Workers Assembly which runs the Southern Workers School.

Saladin Muhammad: I’m Saladin Muhammad, retired international rep for the United Electrical Workers union, founding member of the Black Workers for Justice and co-coordinator of the Southern Movement Assembly.

Rita Valenti: I am Rita Valenti. I am a registered nurse. I work with National Nurses Organizing Committee. I'm on the Board of Healthcare-NOW! I am a Project South founder.

Sarah Jaffe: We are talking a little while after the Southern Movement Assembly happened. Tell our readers what that was.

Saladin: It is a convergence of organizations and grassroots organizations that are largely anchored in the African-American grassroots struggles in all of the states in the South. It is aimed at building a sense of strategy and program in people’s understanding of the Southern freedom movement.

Sarah: Tell us a little bit about the history of the Movement Assembly; how long this has been going on, and why did you come together?

Rita: This is the seventh Southern Movement Assembly. Our first one was in 2012 in Lowndes County, Alabama. Each Movement Assembly has built on the one before it and has developed a sense of principles. People work together and practice consciousness, vision and strategy. Ultimately, we are trying to build power from the bottom up and end oppression and exploitation of our people in the South.

Libby: There are around 20 organizations that participate in the Southern Movement Assembly. We have all agreed to a blueprint, which is the Southern People’s Initiative. This includes working to build a new economy, to establish more of a people’s democracy and to protect and defend each other within that democracy.

Sarah: Let’s talk about how this past assembly went. Was it at all different now that Trump is president, or are you still focused on the same things that were happening before?

Saladin: We have a long-term perspective regardless of who is president. Obviously, the Trump presidency has some influence on how we think about the long-term perspective, because it certainly is a part of the long-term perspective of the elite class and the direction of the system. We felt that it is important that people have a perspective so that we don’t just panic because of this open facilitation of white supremacy and white nationalism. So, building on the past assembly informed us on the road ahead. It has had some influence, but it didn’t disrupt perspective.

Sarah: Some of the southern organizers I have talked to recently have said, “We have already been struggling with people who are a lot like Trump.”

Tell us a little bit about what happened at this assembly. What were some of the sessions like? Who was there? What were some of the conversations that people were having?

Rita: There were about 300 people there. That showed a deep commitment. To get to Whitaker, North Carolina, you can’t just land in an airport someplace. You actually have to be engaged and really committed to building this work.

Essentially, it was a series of frontline assemblies. One engaged a National Student Bill of Rights. Another assembly dealt with mass incarceration and de-incarcerating the assemblies. There was one on climate change, one on people’s democracy. And then there was the assembly that I, Libby, Saladin and a lot of other folks put together: The Workers Justice Assembly. There was an assembly on migration and one on economies for survival. Plus, there were a number of skill building assemblies that dealt with strategy and tactic, as well as vision.

It was a beautiful space. In a lot of ways, it created a harm-free liberation zone where people felt very comfortable sharing their views and really trying to come together to develop political strategy.

Libby: I know Black Workers for Justice has been involved in the past, and I think this is the third assembly that the NNU has participated in. But this particular assembly had, I think, more focus on the idea of workplace democracy and building worker organizations as a way to expand democracy and protect and defend each other. There was a little bit more attention to the idea that we need to have a worker-based movement if we intend to really do anything about income inequality and the lack of democracy in our country.

Sarah: On that note, why don’t we talk a little bit about the Workers Justice Assembly.

Saladin: The Workers Justice Assembly represented a new entity, or—as described in the Southern Movement Assembly—a new frontline. That is, a new battlefront, a new issue struggle.

The Workers Assembly provided an experience that has been a little different from other frontline assemblies. We involved participants in a practice that trade union organizing does: meeting other people, asking them where they work, asking them about what issues they face where they work, etc. Then, we went out to some real workplaces to leaflet, talk to workers and report back that experience, to have a sense of some of the things that workplace organizing entails. I think that was a new experience and a new practice.

Libby: Obviously a lot of the unions have a real vested interested in having strong alliances with community organizations. The nurses are natural allies with our patients and community. It is important for the unions to be involved in the Southern Movement Assembly, because it engages unions and community organizations together. The unions bring something important to this relationship in that we, as unions, are the ones who directly confront capital every day at work. Many of the community organizations engage in really important organizing, but they don’t necessarily have an automatic relationship via their union to directly confront some of the economic systems that are particularly exploitative and unfair to people.

So, we bring that alliance together to figure out, “Where do these community organizers themselves work, and are they interested in participating in a broader economic struggle for economic justice?”

Rita: I was very, very excited about the presence of some of the key unions that have an understanding of social unionism, which brings together the workplace and community issues and sees those things interconnected. This is opposed to a more elitist business unionism model that tends to collaborate with the boss.

The other thing that I think also came out of this is this is a focus on the gig economy. We talked about what a lot of young workers are facing in terms of internships and contracting and some of the real problems that young workers face in an economy that is constantly changing and has been developing in a way that unpaid labor and lack of benefits are the norm for so many young workers.

How does this collaboration between unionism and grassroots organizing actually begin to challenge power and transform our society in ways that address the current situation? In our assembly we had nurses, we had retired workers, we had representatives from UE and NNU, as well as a lot of workers who are working in 501(c)3s and struggling to bring together their work experience with their desire to transform this country.

Libby: We also had some online journalists as part of the Workers Justice Assembly. This was before Ricketts closed down his business rather than deal with unions. I don’t know if I would call online journalists part of the gig economy, but it certainly is precarious work. How are we going to approach the precarious work to be able to have people take power? What do we learn from that, and how do we build on that and figure out what the next and proper steps are?

Saladin: For me, the Southern Movement Assembly raises the issue of how a movement has to deal with contradictions that emerge out of organizing in a changing economy and also in a changing political reality. We have to ask whether or not the differences that exist should be viewed as antagonistic within the movement, or a learning curve that the movement has to understand in order to be able to move forward collectively.

We learned that even in liberated spaces, sometimes there will be differences that a movement has to try to navigate and work out. Understanding challenges in the course of carrying out a strategy and a program is something that I think the assembly helped us to learn.

Sarah: One of the challenges that several places have faced this year has been hurricanes and looking forward into a world of climate change. I wonder how much you guys talked about these storms and what being ready for the next ones would look like.

Rita: I think one of the leaps that has occurred in the Southern Movement Assembly process was Southern Movement Assembly 5, Gulf South Rising. That marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of Katrina, including the huge amount of privatization that went along on New Orleans. So, what is it that we have to do in terms of building leverage and power? One of the reasons I love this movement assembly process is because it is beginning to address that.

Also, NNU started the RN-to-RN program with Katrina that brought nurses into the Gulf after Katrina and has also sent nurses into Puerto Rico. Not from the perspective of colonizers, but from the perspective of, “What is on the ground and how do we assist with that?” Part of the bringing unions—progressive unions—into the Movement Assembly is the building of capacity and organization. The other question that comes out of the Southern Movement Assembly process is, “What is the nature of the organization we have to build to win?”

Saladin: Hurricane Katrina, for many of us, brought forward the beginning understanding of disaster capitalism. That is an important aspect of our understanding about the question of climate change and the role of the state, the failures of the state.

There are so many conferences that take on similar, not identical, characters as the Southern Movement Assembly. But, the difference between the Southern Movement Assembly and a conference and workshops is that it is part of an ongoing process of forging and building a movement with a consciousness that is local, national and international. To really see how those features are forged is a way to look at the experience of the Southern Movement Assembly and its annual convergence.

Sarah: What are a couple of the lessons from this past assembly and from the work of doing these assemblies more broadly that people from outside the South should take?

Libby: I guess I always kind of hoped that the standards in the northern states would move South, not vice versa. So, when you look at income inequality, it is worse in the South. Health outcomes are worse in the South. Education quality is worse in the South. Infant mortality rates are worse in the South. The percent of unionization is directly linked to all of that, as well.

What we bring from the South is that we have been living under these same conditions that the existing government and their funders would like to see brought throughout the country. We have existed. We have survived. We can say we have done that. I think a lot of people in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri are all going to be faced with the same conditions that we have now. I know that they are working to try to figure out, “How do you fight back in that environment?” Because the political climate has been different there. One thing that people can learn from us is how to be scrappier. How you fight in that context. There has been a lot of cross-state discussion that has been going on, and I think that is helpful and useful.

Saladin: Historically, the labor movement has not recognized the strategic role of the South in a national strategy. The south is a zone of global capital very much like the maquiladoras. International capital is now seeing it as a region of concentration that is protected by a state that is dominant internationally. Economists have said that the regional economy of the South would be considered as the world’s fourth largest economy, following Japan. If we are not recognizing this concentration of global capital in the South and understanding how to challenge the outrageous actions of U.S. and global capital, then I don’t think we are looking at a strategy correctly.

When Wisconsin happened and the issue of Right to Work was raised, it appeared as if the sky had fallen. We have been living under Right to Work, and it never sounds like the sky is falling for the South. It’s almost as if that is normal for us. In terms of so-called de-industrialization and the Rust Belt, I don’t think that we have a good handle outside of the South on understanding what that is going to mean for the labor movement in terms of the shrinkage. Again, I think you can look at the South almost as a kind of internal colony, if you will, in terms of how capital has used it in reorganizing itself. I think that is something that the northern forces have to get a better handle on.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission. 

Categories: Newswire

Robert Reich: The GOP Tax Bill Is Everything That’s Wrong With Our Democracy

November 16, 2017 - 9:15pm

Selling the Trump-Republican tax plan should be awkward for an administration that has made patriotism its central theme.

That’s because patriotism isn’t mostly about saluting the flag and standing during the national anthem. It’s about taking a fair share of the burden of keeping America going.

But the tax plan gives American corporations a $2 trillion tax break, at a time when they’re enjoying record profits and stashing unprecedented amounts of cash in offshore tax shelters. And it gives America’s wealthiest citizens trillions more, when the richest 1 percent now hold a record 38.6 percent of the nation’s total wealth, up from 33.7 percent a decade ago.

The reason Republicans give for enacting the plan is “supply-side” trickle-down nonsense. The real reason is payback to the GOP’s mega-donors.

A few Republicans are starting to admit this. Last week, Gary Cohn, Trump’s lead economic advisor, conceded in an interview that “the most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan.” Republican Rep. Chris Collins admitted that “my donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham warned that if Republicans failed to pass tax reform, “the financial contributions will stop.”

Republican mega-donors view the tax payback as they do any other investment. When they bankrolled Trump and the GOP, they expected a good return.

The biggest likely beneficiaries are busily investing an additional $43 million to pressure specific members of Congress to pass it, according to The Wall Street Journal. They include the 45Committee, founded by billionaire casino oligarch Sheldon Adelson and Todd Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs; and the Koch Brothers’ groups, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners.

They’re not doing this out of love of America. They’re doing it out of love of money.

How do you think they got so wealthy in the first place? As more of the nation’s wealth has shifted to the top over the past three decades, major recipients have poured some of it into politics – buying themselves tax cuts, special subsidies, bailouts, lenient antitrust enforcement, favorable bankruptcy rules, extended intellectual property protection, and other laws that add to their wealth. All of which have given them more clout to get additional legal changes that enlarge their wealth even more.

Forty years ago, the estate tax was paid by 139,000 estates, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. By 2000, it was paid by 52,000. This year it will be paid by just 5,500 estates. Under the House tax plan, it will be eliminated altogether.

Why do Americans pay more for pharmaceuticals than the citizens of every other advanced economy? Because Big Pharma has altered the laws in its favor. Why do we pay more for internet service than most other nations? Big cable’s political clout. Why can payday lenders get away with payday robbery? The political heft of big banks.

Multiply these examples across the economy and you get a huge hidden upward redistribution from the paychecks of average working people and the poor to top executives and investors. All this is terrible for the American economy. 

More and better jobs depend on increasing demand for goods and services. This must come from the middle class and poor because the rich spend a far smaller share of their after-tax income. Yet the middle class and poor have steadily lost purchasing power. Partly as a result, a relatively low share of the nation’s working-age population is employed today and the wages of the typical worker have been stuck in the mud.

The Republican tax plan will make all this worse by burdening the middle class and the poor even more. A slew of analyses, including Congress’s own Joint Committee on Taxation, show that the GOP plan will raise taxes on many middle-class families.

It will also require cuts in government programs that middle and lower-income Americans depend on, such as Medicare and Medicaid. And the plan will almost certainly explode the national debt, eventually causing many middle class and poor families to pay higher interest on their auto loans, mortgages, and credit cards.

I don’t care whether the top executives of big corporations, Wall Street moguls, and heirs to vast fortunes salute the flag and stand for the national anthem. But they enjoy all the advantages of being American. Most couldn’t have got to where they are in any other country.

They have a patriotic duty to take on a fair share of the burden of keeping America going. And Trump and his enablers in Congress have a patriotic responsibility to make them.

This article first appeared on

Categories: Newswire