Speakout http://www.truth-out.org Mon, 30 May 2016 00:43:33 -0400 en-gb Free Alabama Movement May Day Work Stoppage Interview http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36216-free-alabama-movement-may-day-work-stoppage-interview http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36216-free-alabama-movement-may-day-work-stoppage-interview

From May 1 to May 9, 2016, prisoners at multiple facilities across Alabama engaged in work stoppages, refusing to labor for the Alabama Department of Corrections. This strike was the second major work stoppage in prisons this spring. In April, prisoners in Texas refused to work for most of the month. The striking Alabama prisoners, along with revolutionary prisoners in other states, have also called for a nationally coordinated work stoppage and protest September 9 of this year, the 45th anniversary of the Attica rebellion.

From May 1 to May 9, 2016, prisoners at multiple facilities across Alabama engaged in work stoppages, refusing to labor for the Alabama Department of Corrections. This strike was the second major work stoppage in prisons this spring. In April, prisoners in Texas refused to work for most of the month. The striking Alabama prisoners, along with revolutionary prisoners in other states, have also called for a nationally coordinated work stoppage and protest September 9 of this year, the 45th anniversary of the Attica rebellion.

At the end of the strike, we interviewed Free Alabama Movement (FAM) cofounder Kinetik Justice Amun to get a deeper understanding of the context and strategy of their work stoppage, as well as a better understanding of the state's response and possible strategic lessons going forward. Kinetik has been held in solitary confinement at Holman Correctional since 2014 as retaliation for FAM's work stoppage that January.

Holman Correctional was at the center of this work strike, which spread to Elmore, St Clair, Donaldson and Staton facilities over the following days, shutting down the Alabama Department of Correction (ADOC) canning plant, recycling, fleet services and chemical industries. Holman has also been the site of much spontaneous rebellion in recent months. In March, prisoners repeatedly disrupted the prison's operations, occupying cell blocks, assaulting staff -- including stabbing the warden -- and attempting to burn down the prison. Meanwhile, ADOC has been struggling with budget constraints, overcrowding, and increasing violence for years. Their solution to these problems, a prison transformation bill was recently defeated in the Alabama State Legislature.

Ben Turk: Why did you choose to go on a work strike May 1?

Kinetik: We really were in the preparation stages of organizing for September when we heard news of the money ADOC [was] trying to get for the prisons [it] were trying to build. It became a hot topic in the state after the riot [in March]. In fact, [ADOC] used the riot here as their platform to promote the campaign for this $800 million Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative. They were trying to build four new prisons.

Is that the same law you were telling me about -- where they were taking money from education and after-school programming?

Well, in the last three years, they took $100 million. I think in 2015 they took $100 million from education to try to balance the budget in regards to corrections. They came back last year -- or it might have been early this year -- and got $80 million from education in order to try to keep account of what they were doing. Then the Alabama government proposed a new $800 million bond so they could afford four new mega prisons, one for the females, and three for the males.

These giant prisons, they were to be supermaxes?

Yes. They were supermax. Alabama has a plan to close down 14 male prisons to consolidate them into three male mega-prisons. It would take away our ability to organize because they bring level 3, level 2, level 4 and level 5 prisons together in one prison. I think one of them each holds about 3,500 people.

That way, the maximum security people right now -- the ones in St. Claire, Donaldson and Holman who provide the industry jobs today -- they will all be in these mega-prisons instead, and the lower-level people will be here doing these jobs. The lower-level people won't organize and won't strike because they will be short-timers, people with a year or two before they go home. ADOC will use the short-timers working the industry jobs to generate these billions of dollars, while they keep the rest of the population on controlled movement and secure lockdown at the mega-prisons.

But they didn't get the money. That bill got killed two days after we started the strike. That victory of seeing the bill destroyed and the mega-prisons out of the equation -- that was our first objective: prevent them from getting $800 million to build the mega-prisons without changing the laws and things that contribute to this overcrowding.

See, they want to address the issue with overcrowding of almost 10,000 extra people by building these new mega-prisons. Yeah, a lot of these prisons are old, unsanitary and overcrowded, but rather than rebuild them, you need to put the money into actually releasing the thousands of people who are eligible. ADOC said [it] didn't have the money for parole officers and probation officers to release these people, or the money that should be used for education and rehabilitation to combat recidivism, so why are they trying to build prisons?

Until you change the laws that have people coming here and being in here for 50 and 100 years with these crazy sentences for being here that long, then no, we ain't going to never be alright. We ain't gonna be alright until we burn it down.

Since we killed that bill so they didn't get the money, they are now on the verge of a federal intervention. If we can come together, all of these prisons, we can get our demands in front of the federal court. ADOC has had five years to do something or the federal system will take over, but they ain't doing nothing. It keeps getting worse and worse every year. More and more overcrowded, more and more violent, more and more outbreaks of infectious diseases, more and more lawsuits for inadequate medical treatment -- like I said, it continues to get worse in every arena every year.

So, they are on the brink of the federal courts coming in and that's what they are afraid of the most. They don't want to turn in their books so the federal courts can see exactly what they have been doing, because they've been stealing the money for years. The money they have been getting -- they have only been putting a fraction of it back into the prison system -- they've been pocketing the rest.

The $800 million they were trying to get, trying to use this national attention on Holman prison after the riots to promote that. So we used the national attention to strain their economics and say, "No, y'all need to change these laws instead of building a new prison." And we won, that bill died on the floor. They still have the opportunity to call a special session this year to try to do it again. So we need to be vigilant in regards to the legislation and what's going on and continue to organize and push.

How has ADOC responded to your strike?

They really are bird-feeding us. When I say bird-feeding, I mean, this morning we had grits and prunes for breakfast. That was it. No bread, no nothing. This is the way they've been feeding us for almost 9-10 days. It's been hot dogs and bologna, hot dogs and bologna every single day. So they don't have to do no work in cooking. They just throw whatever on the tray and they sit around and wait to go home, because there's no movement in the prison.

The Department of Corrections has also brought in work-release inmates to undermine our work strike. They sent them to Elmore first, on Thursday afternoon. Then ADOC gave them a few perks over the Friday-Saturday-Sunday period, and yesterday they went back to work at Elmore, seeing that the work release people were doing their job already. You know, Elmore was not as prepared, was not as in-the-loop. They were really in a solidarity role and based on their own issues they had in the institution there.

Then Monday, later on in the afternoon here, at Holman, they brought 12 people from the work-release (Atmore work center) not too far from this prison to work and produce the tags (license plates). That was our leverage. That was our power to negotiate with, the economics of that.

Them bringing people in from the work-release caused a big turmoil amongst everyone. This morning, several people attempted to go back to work. However, many of them came back. I think, in all, maybe 10 people went to the industry today.

However, right now I am waiting for a chance to try to explain to these work-release brothers what they're actually doing. Understand that there's an option that, you know, they at the work center and it's not their assigned jobs so it is optional. They can choose to work or choose not to work. And I'm trying to express to them that they can't do anything to you for refusing to go to another institution for a work assignment that isn't yours. Especially in a prison where you know that we engaged in a work strike.

You know, that's the callousness of the Department of Corrections; they put economics ahead of the welfare of these people's lives. Because these people -- they can easily be right back here and people would be like, "What part of the game are you playing? Why would you do that?" You know what this is about. It's been on the news for a week, so you know what's going on. I understand that you are trying to go home, but this won't stop you from going home. This is not your job assignment. They can't penalize you for not coming over here to work and breaking the strike line.

I wonder if they're threatening them?

I don't think they are threatening them. What it is, they are adding on incentives for coming over here. But now that threat is a possibility because none of the work release wants to get a disciplinary because that disciplinary can be what comes between them getting to go home. So you always have that possibility over their heads.

I think they came over yesterday and packed up the tags they had made because the trucks came through, and they picked up several boxes of the tags and took them with them. I'm trying to get in touch with them if I can get confirmation from them that they won't come back over here and work. Let them know it's a choice.

If someone performs the job, the DOC will be getting what they want. Even though we locked down and going through bird-feeding and other hardships, our objectives aren't being met because they are still getting the money generated from the tags by bringing in outside work.

That was something we didn't anticipate. Well, we anticipated that they could bring in free world workers, pay them minimum wage, all that, but they can't afford to do that. We didn't take into consideration that they would be able to get some of our own brothers from other prisons to do the work.

The question I have about that is, it seems to me that it is still an economic hardship on the ADOC because the work-release people normally would go out into the world and work and make good money?

And the DOC gets 60 percent of that, right. However, the thing is, all of these work-release people are up for a limited amount of outside jobs. There are always people who don't have outside jobs, who work in the work center, or are just there waiting at the work center for a job assignment. I believe those are the guys they are using. I can't see people who are already getting minimum wage pay coming over here to do work for nothing.

That's the problem; there are a handful of people at the work center who just have an institution job or who ain't got a job yet.

Do you think it is useful to call in and demand they not bring in work-release scabs like this?

I think the better thing in that regard would be to identify who they are that are coming in and find a way to stop them.

When you call in to ADOC administration, first of all, they probably aren't going to talk to you. Second of all, they are probably some of the most arrogant people you're ever going to run across. I mean, if you don't really have what you're going to talk about on point -- they are going to hang up on you, they'll talk crazy -- they don't have no respect.

I wonder if that can be useful, if we get regular people to call in and they see how disrespectful and rude the guards are, you know?

Might not work like that man. I mean, I've had so many people call me and tell me they were recording the way that these people are dealing with them. It's a smudge on their collar, but they don't care about being exposed.

I'm watching now ... the truck is riding out of here with two bundles of tags, some 200,000 tags -- countless amounts of money. That's what we're trying to do. Industry workers are the only people in the prison who actually get paid to work -- if you call the 15 to 25 cents per hour being paid -- but I tell them all the time, "You produce 20,000 tags a day. That's 100,000 tags a week and these people can take four of those tags and pay for all of y'all money."

That's supposed to infuriate you! You're supposed to be madder than anyone in the world that you produce 100,000 tags and the $50 you earn in a month can be made with half of a tag. It's crazy.

But then, I understand that when you've been down 30-35 years and you don't have outside support, you'll take anything you can get. That's why we want to bring a lawyer in.

I wanted to ask about lawyers, I heard you were looking for a labor lawyer to come in ...

What we wanted to do was to bring a lawyer in here to give a recommendation to the industry workers from the outside support system, to show there are people working to solidify their position as workers, not just as prisoners. We want to try to get prisoner workers some sort of security back. If we get lawyers to come together and join the movement, ADOC won't have the ability to tell prisoners, "You won't have that income no more ever again because you tried to stand up for your rights."

Or maybe find out if there is a legal blockade we can use to prevent them from bringing level 2 work-release workers into the maximum security prison to work a factory job. To give us some sort of foundation for us to stand on.

If we can't get a labor lawyer, maybe a civil rights lawyer. I reached out to some friends and they said the lawyers are going to want to know exactly what it is that they are coming in there to do, so the better you can describe that, the more likely we will be to find somebody.

Ok, we're trying to find someone to set up a conference to explain to them what we need done. What we are trying to get done and to see if they would be able to do that. We're just trying to cover some bases, you know, to get at that security incentive to get at people to keep them on board for the long haul.

For that long haul, for September, what are your next steps and what can people on the outside do?

We need people to start organizing events in their city to show solidarity, not just social media posts declaring the words. We need tangible support and solidarity. Let's stop talking about it and be about it.

September is right around the corner, so start planning and promoting educational workshops, marches, protests and walk-outs. Boycott complicit corporations and pressure your school, your workplace, or any institution you interact with to divest from prison slavery. It's time to let our actions show our dissatisfaction.

On June 25, we'll be having an Incarcerated Lives Matter event in Birmingham. Juneteenth, July 4 or Bastille Day (July 14) celebrations are good opportunities to march, flyer or create a visible protest presence. August 12 is also the day Hugo Pinell was murdered on the yard in San Quentin last year, and people are planning memorials on that day.

As far as this fight here goes, every engagement we've had with these people. We be bobbin, and they be bobbin. This is the first time they've used the tactic of going to the work-release to use against those who work in the industry. They kind of took us by surprise with that, but we still trying to keep the unity and make sure that whatever we do, we do it as a collective unit. We maintain our ground because there's a lot of progress we've made on the outside as well as on the inside.

The next conference we have, we need to share some of the things that have happened during this ordeal that we need to share with a larger audience to be prepared for the September endeavor. We'll know the ins and outs of the things that they are capable of. The things that they try so the outside people can be prepared for the things that can be anticipated.

There was a lot of things that didn't go the way we intended, but we still gained the experience and we still gained the ground of getting the bill killed, and at least getting a week of economical strain on them to put them deeper into the financial hole while they try to deal with this prison crisis.

We definitely are shooting for getting to the point where we ain't never going back to work. We ain't never letting up. Each time that we get a little more organized, we are getting to the point where we can sit down and make it do what it do.

I know there are people organizing in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Oregon. But in a lot of those places, the call to end prison slavery and other labor issues do not resonate as much as in the South. I'm not sure why that is, but...

What we need in those different states -- we need to determine the language and the issues so that we can try to find a common ground. I know the language of the South is not as popular in the North as it is in Texas, Alabama and Georgia. We need to start coming together on conference calls and see how many contacts we have that we can depend on to be ready.

If we can do that -- get that kind of solidarity and unity on the inside and the proper promotion and publicity on the outside -- that would make a great contribution to the collective cause.

Kinetik Justice Amun (Robert Earl Council) is a New Afrikaans political prisoner of war. For the last 17 years, he has played a major role in educating prisoners and confronting corrupt prison authorities. He is a cofounder of the Free Alabama Movement, a nonviolent and peaceful protest for the human and civil rights of all Alabama prisoners, as well as a curriculum developer for the Universal Peace and Unity (UPU) movement. Amun has been serving an indefinite sentence in solitary confinement for the last 28 months in retaliation for the 2014 Free Alabama Movement shut-down. Twenty-two years ago, he was wrongfully convicted a capital murder sentence (life without parole) by an all-white jury for the self-defense killing of a white man. To learn more about this legal lynching, visit The Resurrection of Robert Earl Council on Facebook.

The best way to follow and get involved in the growing prisoner resistance movement is to visit SupportPrisonerResistance.net, click contact and sign up for the mailing list.

]]>
Speakout Fri, 27 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
They Lit the Bern, What Comes Next? http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36214-they-lit-the-bern-what-comes-next http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36214-they-lit-the-bern-what-comes-next

Winnie Wong calls herself a practical anarchist. She speaks in short intense bursts, an activist warrior slashing her way through the thicket of establishment politics toward a future that somehow has to be won. Charles Lenchner identifies as a "full-spectrum socialist" who will adopt the best strategy in a given moment to build the power of the working class. A former director of communications for the Working Families Party, his preferred voice is one of bemused irony that masks an underlying seriousness of purpose.

Winnie Wong calls herself a practical anarchist. She speaks in short intense bursts, an activist warrior slashing her way through the thicket of establishment politics toward a future that somehow has to be won. Charles Lenchner identifies as a "full-spectrum socialist" who will adopt the best strategy in a given moment to build the power of the working class. A former director of communications for the Working Families Party, his preferred voice is one of bemused irony that masks an underlying seriousness of purpose.

They both were active in Occupy Wall Street. In 2013 they began collaborating on bringing OWS's battle cry of the 99% vs. the 1% into this year's Democratic presidential contest in which Hillary Clinton was expected to stroll to an easy coronation. 

They launched Ready for Warren, an online initiative that stimulated a groundswell of interest in Elizabeth Warren, the Wall Street-bashing senator from Massachusetts who ultimately declined to run for the White House. When Bernie Sanders jumped in the race a year ago, the anarchist and the socialist shifted gears and used their online organizing skills to help build a nationwide grassroots infrastructure to support Sanders' nascent campaign. Their efforts included creating 200 pro-Sanders Facebook pages and giving away the passwords to his supporters, much to the surprise of Sanders campaign staffers. 

"I knew that decentralizing would change everything, and that's exactly what we did," Wong recalls. "It was dangerous but effective."

The prolific duo also launched the now-ubiquitous #FeelTheBern hashtag and started the People for Bernie Facebook page that currently has over three quarters of a million followers and more user traffic in some weeks than the official Facebook pages of either the Sanders or Clinton campaigns. 

As the Democratic primaries wind down, Wong and Lenchner are at it again, helping to organize The People's Summit in Chicago from June 17-19. This gathering of thousands of Bernie supporters, including many of the key groups that have backed his campaign, will seek to consolidate for the energies stirred by Sanders' historic run for the long haul. While they scoff at being considered leaders of what has become a highly networked movement, Wong and Lenchner did see the potential of the Sanders campaign before almost anyone else. So I checked in with them recently to get their respective thoughts on the path traveled so far and how the Sanders movement might evolve in the future.

John Tarleton: It's been a long primary battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton that has upended many people's expectations. Why convene a People's Summit at this point?

Winnie Wong: There has been an ongoing conversation among National Nurses United, People for Bernie, Democratic Socialists of America and a number of other groups about doing something between the California primary and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to ensure that the participation in this moment would not dissipate and that we could figure out what to do next en route to a contested convention, which we're certain will happen.

What would you like to see happen?

I would like to see a progressive platform supported by elected officials who will be attending the conference, as well as soon-to-be electeds who are running for office and progressive political organizations that will be attending as well. It's going to be a big space with people from many different backgrounds and political allegiances coming together to agree on a new progressivism for America.

The Left is prone to splintering in many different directions. How do you avoid that, if it's even possible, after the unifying force of a campaign is no longer present?

I think over the last year the Left has become less cynical. It's going to be the job of the facilitators to make sure we are creating a space where participants are able to be productive rather than cynical and regressive.

Will more people running for office be one of the legacies of the Sanders campaign?

It won't be the legacy of the Sanders campaign because the Sanders campaign doesn't get to call the shots. It will be a decentralized movement. There's no way we can achieve political change in this country unless people from social movements commit to tackling electoral power effectively and strategically. The recent ousting from office of district attorneys in Chicago and Cleveland were both electoral battles led by organizations that emerged out of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Once social movements start to become more certain of their power, they will be unstoppable. You will see it not just from movements led by people of color, but also the women's movement, the LGBTQ movement, the environmental justice movement.

Hopefully these movements will be more inclusive and will open up more space for more people of color to participate and the big picture will emerge that all our issues are connected and that capitalism is the root problem.

From your vantage point, what role did Occupy Wall Street play in setting us on the course we are on now?

The arc of the past five years has been remarkable. I believe it started with Occupy. It was there that single-issue activism became multi-issue activism. For the first time in many years, decades, you had housing activists working alongside trans activists, working alongside environmental justice fracktivists. It wasn't always pretty but what emerged out of that experience was a deeper understanding of the influence of money and power over not just politics, but over everyday life, the 99 and the 1 percent. The Sanders campaign electrified the world by electoralizing those concerns. 

You are an anarchist, yet at the same time you are comfortable working in the electoral realm.

Anarchy is a way of life based on the broad principles of cooperation, solidarity, resilience building, decentralized coordinated activity. We are applying that operating system to this campaign.

Creating 200 different pro-Sanders Facebook pages and then handing control of them to his supporters. That's the opposite of what would have occurred in a normal top-down political campaign.

I knew that decentralizing would change everything, and that's exactly what we did. We sensed there was a broader public that was ready for a Sanders messaging campaign, but it was also very clear to me that their participation in the electoral process would be dependent on whether they were able to create the messaging themselves. Social media has been both an organic ally, and a game-changing tactic. 

I gave the passwords to everybody. It was dangerous but effective. It worked. It changed everything. I think the Sanders campaign was like, "Holy fuck!" and then had no choice, in some ways, but to follow our lead.

Unleashing the #FeelTheBern hashtag was another powerful intervention.

It carried the movement narrative co-created by hundreds of thousands of people across multiple platforms on the Internet. The establishment media incorporated the hashtag into their feeds and after that, there was really no looking back. 

We encouraged people, pressured them even, to use the hashtag and this gave us an inkling of what a distributed strategy might look like. We always knew it was going to work, we just didn't think it was going to work this well!

Yet this isn't really about Bernie in the end, is it?

I am not a Democrat. I'm not a Bernie or bust person. Bernie Sanders has brought the S-word, small or large, to dinner tables across America every night now for a year. No one has ever done that before. Still, he is a tactic. He's a means to an end. I think he's aware that he is a tactic.

A tactic to what end?

To help us move toward building people power, community power that will put us on our way to a better place. 

I don't think that things are ever really going to be rosy again. We're well past that. Just look at the rising sea levels, shocking forest and brush fires, ocean acidification and all the other signs of an accelerating climate crisis that is continuing to unfold.

We're not doing enough, so we have to do something. Electing Bernie Sanders and building local politics is something. 

We can create a transitional world and in that time, our culture and people can adapt to these new very challenging realities. At the core of it is a redistribution of wealth so we can have transformational changes like a guaranteed basic income and Medicare for all. If we don't create conditions that are more just and palatable to human existence over the next 20 years, then our day-to-day existence will dissolve into violence and strife, and it's not going to be pretty.

John Tarleton: It's been a long primary battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton that has upended many people's expectations. What do you hope the People's Summit can achieve?

Charles Lenchner: Tons of groups have sprung up and worked together and accomplished a great deal. However, there hasn't been an opportunity for anyone except campaign staff to actually gather in a relaxed setting, get to know each other and decide collectively what the next steps are going to be. 

Can individuals attend? Or is the conference intended for a select list of groups?

It's open to everyone who wants to network with people who support Bernie Sanders' political revolution and to develop a sense of collective. This is an opportunity to figure stuff out not as you stroke your chin deciding what's best, but in a relationship with the social forces that you want to be aligned with.

What would you like to see happen?

My goal is to see as many of the groups that have emerged in the wake of the Bernie campaign survive and thrive as possible. In order to do that, they might need training and resources and support. They need to stitch together a mindset that they deserve to exist and figure out how to actually accomplish that. Historically, most entities tend to fade before long in the wake of a presidential election. Finding a way for this political cohort to survive and grow and be active for years to come, pushing for progressive policies, is no small feat.

What would be the basis for that? Political campaigns have a singular focus on winning votes that eventually comes to an end. 

My advice would be de-center the candidate and focus on the movement, which is totally in line with what Bernie Sanders has been saying.

If you belonged to a group of 10 people who canvassed your neighborhood, can we get you 10 people to meet and decide what to do next and not look to others for solutions or direction? Can we have a situation where the activists in a particular city or state have a democratic process to decide what their participation in the general election will look like and who they are going to support? We could get a thousand groups meeting and deciding whether what a candidate has to offer is worth it to them. That would be an amazingly empowering process. 

The Left is prone to splintering in many different directions. How do you avoid that, if it's even possible, after the unifying force of a campaign is no longer present?

A central problem for the U.S. Left is that we have many organizations, but it's often unclear who they represent. Contrast that to Europe where a party might only have a few percentage points in parliament but they represent someone. What Bernie Sanders has done is create an electoral map of the Left. The people that voted for him are now in a patchwork of electoral districts that are 70 percent for Bernie, 30 percent for Bernie or whatever. To fully digest this, we need to make sure that in all the areas that Bernie was strong, there's a legacy not only of voting but of organization, that people who came together through the Sanders campaign find a way to craft sustainable political efforts that are locally based.

How would things look in two or four or 10 years if this happened?

I'm looking at the Spanish municipal elections of last spring, where you had grassroots coalitions come together, figure out what they believed in, what their platform was, and then recruit a candidate. They now control the largest cities in that country. 

Think about how different that is from the American system, where the process of figuring out whom the candidate will be is preceded by lots of jockeying among insiders and by the time you have a candidate, she or he is already compromised. So could we create a situation where grassroots coalitions form, decide on their principles and points of agreement and then say "Who wants to run under our banner?" In other words, create the electoral machine that isn't built around specific candidates. That's a task that potentially Bernie supporters would glom onto fairly easily.

The other thing to do is to figure out where you have corporate Democrats who endorsed Hillary and who are vulnerable because their constituents are overwhelmingly pro-Bernie and then get ready for campaigns to unseat those people or push them to adopt more progressive policies. 

Do you have a sense of whether the Sanders campaign will inspire people who share his values to run for office?

It's already happening. The Sanders campaign proved that you can run against the party establishment and do pretty darn good for yourself. Look at Debbie Medina in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She's been a community organizer there for 30 years and is now running as a democratic socialist against a longtime incumbent state senator. This wave of support for democratic socialism is going to draw people into running for office who otherwise might not have done so and will also at the same time help surface massive support for these people.

Can the Democratic Party actually be transformed from within? 

The United States is the heart of a global empire. I don't think our forces have the kind of power to actually overthrow the rule of the 1 percent and institute a real democracy. But I do think we have the chance to win many things by fighting for them, and those things will improve people's lives in many material ways, whether it's $15-an-hour minimum wage, paid sick days, free public university tuition, making sure that we have protections for transgender people, immigrants and others.

You recently wrote that one of your goals is to see the elimination of the Democratic Party apparatchik class. Can you explain what you meant?

(Laughs) In the old days of real, existing socialism, an apparatchik was someone whose task was to figure out how to serve the needs of the Party and in turn he or she would be rewarded with promotions within the Party. It was the way compliance was enforced throughout society, because in -every social pyramid there were apparatchiks figuring out how things ought to be done to serve the folks upstairs.

So changing that means having a class of people who are loyal to what the people downstairs want. That's the opposite of an apparatchik. We don't need people who are like, "Oh, can we demand this?" No, figure out what the people you serve want and do that instead and don't do it because it's a part of a career ladder. 

The reason why corporate Democrats are so powerful is not because there are so many people taking graft from corporations. It's because there is a whole pyramid of power from on high at the Democratic National Committee all the way down to the local level through patronage politics. So if you want to go after that, you have to have a broad vision of what it means to take away that career ladder.

FIRST CHICAGO, THEN PHILLY

The People's Summit will be held in Chicago from June 17-19. Some travel scholarships are available. For more information, see thepeoplessummit.org

Meanwhile, organizers in Philadelphia will host a People's Convention on July 23, two days before the Democratic National Convention kicks off in that same city. For more, see thepeoplesrevolution.org.

The newspaper Naomi Klein calls "utterly unique," full of insightful dispatches from around the world, The Indypendent offers a fresh take on today's events.

]]>
Speakout Fri, 27 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Over 70 Prominent Scholars and Activists Call on Obama to Take Concrete Action in Hiroshima http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36194-over-seventy-prominent-scholars-and-activists-call-on-obama-to-take-concrete-action-in-hiroshima http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36194-over-seventy-prominent-scholars-and-activists-call-on-obama-to-take-concrete-action-in-hiroshima

Over seventy prominent scholars and activists, including Oliver Stone, Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, have signed a letter urging President Barack Obama to visit with Hibakusha, atomic bomb survivors, and to announce concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament when he visits Hiroshima this Friday after the Group of Seven economic summit in Japan. American University Professor Peter Kuznick remarked, "This is an extraordinary moment."

Over seventy prominent scholars and activists, including Oliver Stone, Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, have signed a letter urging President Barack Obama to visit with Hibakusha, atomic bomb survivors, and to announce concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament when he visits Hiroshima this Friday after the Group of Seven economic summit in Japan.

American University Professor Peter Kuznick remarked, "This is an extraordinary moment. President Obama can either use it to further the cause of world peace and nuclear disarmament or he can use it as a cover for his militarization of the conflict with China and his trillion dollar nuclear modernization program to make nuclear weapons more usable. Such an opportunity may never come for him again."

The signers expressed support for the president's visit to Hiroshima, but advocated further action to fulfill the promise to reduce nuclear weapons outlined in his 2009 Prague speech. Despite the significant achievement of the Iran nuclear deal and successes in securing and reducing nuclear weapons grade material globally, the president's Prague agenda has been mostly stalled since the 2010 New START agreement with Russia, with no further nuclear weapons reductions. The letter is online and presented below:

Dear Mr. President,

We were happy to learn of your plans to be the first sitting president of the United States to visit Hiroshima later this week, after the G-7 economic summit in Japan. Many of us have been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and found it a profound, life-changing experience, as did Secretary of State John Kerry on his recent visit.

In particular, meeting and hearing the personal stories of A-bomb survivors, Hibakusha, has made a unique impact on our work for global peace and disarmament. Learning of the suffering of the Hibakusha, but also their wisdom, their awe-inspiring sense of humanity, and steadfast advocacy of nuclear abolition so the horror they experienced can never happen again to other human beings, is a precious gift that cannot help but strengthen anyone's resolve to dispose of the nuclear menace.

Your 2009 Prague speech calling for a world free of nuclear weapons inspired hope around the world, and the New START pact with Russia, historic nuclear agreement with Iran and securing and reducing stocks of nuclear weapons-grade material globally have been significant achievements.

Yet, with more than 15,000 nuclear weapons (93% held by the US and Russia) still threatening all the peoples of the planet, much more needs to be done. We believe you can still offer crucial leadership in your remaining time in office to move more boldly toward a world without nuclear weapons.

In this light, we strongly urge you to honor your promise in Prague to work for a nuclear weapons-free world by:

  • Meeting with all Hibakusha who are able to attend;

  • Announcing the end of US plans to spend $1 trillion for the new generation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems;

  • Reinvigorating nuclear disarmament negotiations to go beyond New START by announcing the unilateral reduction of the deployed US arsenal to 1,000 nuclear weapons or fewer;

  • Calling on Russia to join with the United States in convening the "good faith negotiations" required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for the complete elimination of the world's nuclear arsenals;

  • Reconsidering your refusal to apologize or discuss the history surrounding the A-bombings, which even President Eisenhower, Generals MacArthur, Arnold, and LeMay and Admirals Leahy , King, and Nimitz stated were not necessary to end the war.

Sincerely,

Christian Appy, Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Colin Archer, Secretary-General, International Peace Bureau

Charles K. Armstrong, Professor of History, Columbia University

Medea Benjamin, Co-founder, CODE PINK, Women for Peace and Global Exchange

Phyllis Bennis, Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies

Herbert Bix, Professor of History, State University of New York, Binghamton

Norman Birnbaum, University Professor Emeritus, Georgetown University Law Center

Reiner Braun, Co-President, International Peace Bureau

Philip Brenner, Professor of International Relations and Director of the Graduate Program in US Foreign Policy and National Security, American University

Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director, Western States Legal Foundation; National Co-convener, United for Peace and Justice

James Carroll, Author of An American Requiem

Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

David Cortright, Director of Policy Studies, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame and former Executive Director, SANE

Frank Costigliola, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, University of Connecticut

Bruce Cumings, Professor of History, University of Chicago

Alexis Dudden, Professor of History, University of Connecticut

Daniel Ellsberg, Former State and Defense Department official

John Feffer, Director, Foreign Policy In Focus, Institute for Policy Studies

Gordon Fellman, Professor of Sociology and Peace Studies, Brandeis University.

Bill Fletcher, Jr., Talk Show Host, Writer & Activist.

Norma Field, Professor Emerita, University of Chicago

Carolyn Forché, University Professor, Georgetown University

Max Paul Friedman, Professor of History, American University.

Bruce Gagnon, Coordinator Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

Lloyd Gardner, Professor of History Emeritus, Rutgers University.

Irene Gendzier Professor Emeritus, Department of of History, Boston University

Joseph Gerson, Director, American Friends Service Committee Peace & Economic Security Program,

Todd Gitlin, Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

Andrew Gordon, Professor of History, Harvard University

John Hallam, Human Survival Project, People for Nuclear Disarmament, Australia

Melvin Hardy, Heiwa Peace Committee, Washington, DC

Laura Hein, Professor of History, Northwestern University

Martin Hellman, Member, US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University

Kate Hudson, General Secretary, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (UK)

Paul Joseph, Professor of Sociology, Tufts University

Louis Kampf, Professor of Humanities Emeritus MIT

Michael Kazin, Professor of History, Georgetown University

Asaf Kfoury, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, Boston University.

G. Peter King, Honorary Associate, Government & International Relations School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of Sydney, NSW

David Krieger, President Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute, American University

John W. Lamperti, Professor of Mathematics Emeritus, Dartmouth College

Steven Leeper, Co-founder PEACE Institute, Former Chairman, Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation

Robert Jay Lifton, MD, Lecturer in Psychiatry Columbia University, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, The City University of New York

Elaine Tyler May, Regents Professor, University of Minnesota

Kevin Martin, President, Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund

Ray McGovern, Veterans For Peace, Former Head of CIA Soviet Desk and Presidential Daily Briefer

David McReynolds, Former Chair, War Resister International

Zia Mian, Professor, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

Tetsuo Najita, Professor of Japanese History, Emeritus, University of Chicago, former President of Association of Asian Studies

Sophie Quinn-Judge, Retired Professor, Center for Vietnamese Philosophy, Culture and Society, Temple University

Steve Rabson, Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies, Brown University, Veteran, United States Army

Betty Reardon, Founding Director Emeritus of the International Institute on Peace Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Terry Rockefeller, Founding Member, September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows,

David Rothauser Filmmaker, Memory Productions, Producer of "Hibakusha, Our Life to Live" and "Article 9 Comes toAmerica

James C. Scott, Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University, ex-President of the Association of Asian Studies

Peter Dale Scott, Professor of English Emeritus, University of California, Berkleley

Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate Cornell University, editor, Asia-Pacific Journal,

Martin Sherwin, Professor of History, George Mason University

John Steinbach, Hiroshima Nagasaki Committee

Oliver Stone, Academy Award-winning writer and director

David Swanson, director of World Beyond War

Max Tegmark, Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Founder, Future of Life Institute

Ellen Thomas, Proposition One Campaign Executive Director, Co-Chair, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (US) Disarm/End Wars Issue Committee

Michael True, Emeritus Professor, Assumption College, is co-founder of the Center for Nonviolent Solutions

David Vine, Professor, Department of Sociology, American University

Alyn Ware, Global Coordinator, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament2009 Laureate, Right Livelihood Award

Jon Weiner, Professor Emeritus of Histry, University of California Irvine

Lawrence Wittner, Professor of History Emeritus, SUNY/Albany

Col. Ann Wright, US Army Reserved (Ret.) & former US diplomat

Marilyn Young, Professor of History, New York University

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics & Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies, University of San Francisco

]]>
Speakout Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Great Unraveling of the American Oligarchy http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36195-the-great-unraveling-of-the-american-oligarchy http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36195-the-great-unraveling-of-the-american-oligarchy

One of the most penetrating insights of depth psychology is that when we repress very disturbing information or experiences in our lives, when we live in a state of chronic denial, we tend to "act out" our repressed feelings over these disturbances in dysfunctional ways, projecting our "shadow" out into the world in often dramatic ways. The greater the disturbance we are repressing, the more dramatic the projection. What we are witnessing in the world at this particular time in human civilization is perhaps the most disturbing development we have ever faced.

"Our system is basically breaking apart right now in this election. And you can only say, 'Yay! It's great!'"—Seymour Hersh

One of the most penetrating insights of depth psychology is that when we repress very disturbing information or experiences in our lives, when we live in a state of chronic denial, we tend to "act out" our repressed feelings over these disturbances in dysfunctional ways, projecting our "shadow" out into the world in often dramatic ways. The greater the disturbance we are repressing, the more dramatic the projection.

What we are witnessing in the world at this particular time in human civilization is perhaps the most disturbing development we have ever faced, a rapidly accelerating baking of the planet often referred to as "the Great Unraveling." Some have gone so far as to say that, collectively, we are exhibiting suicidal behaviors that add up over time to "ecocide" -- mortally threatening our own life-support system.

Because humanity refuses to deal with the reality of this situation, especially at the highest levels of governing and planning, we are unconsciously "acting out" this Great Unraveling in just about every area of our lives right now. Nowhere is this being played out any more dramatically, unfortunately, then in the American presidential race. Casual observers on both sides have characterized the actions of both political parties as suicidal. We are witnessing the self-inflicted maiming and rapidly accelerating destruction of the two-party system. Given its continuing role in the climate crisis, that is a cause for celebration! And the only candidate who emphasizes our moral obligation as a people to future generations, who sees the obvious seriousness of the threat and promises to take appropriate action, is being marginalized and demonized by the corporate-controlled media whose golden-egg laying goose he regularly threatens to cook.

The monthly global average temperature went up in the last two months (Feb./March) approximately as much as it had in the prior 35 years. In fact, the February temperature was 1.35 degrees Celsius above baseline -- by far the greatest jump in recorded history. Welcometo the world of abrupt climate change. It turns out we've passed the tipping points much quicker than scientists had warned, primarily because the feedback loop from the "albedo effect" -- the loss of reflective capacity associated with melting glaciers and ice caps -- is far greater than we had imagined.

This is very bad news. The human race is now whistling past a global graveyard. But fortunately, we have a political horse race todistract us! Perhaps the most distracting political horse race ever. The one thing we humans have become most proficient at in responseto this existential threat we face is distraction!

After years of Tea Party led efforts to kill the Republican Party from within its big, bloated gut, Ted Cruz was finally beaten to the punch by the reality television blowhard, Donald Trump. Naturally, these faux Republicans are the people most in denial about the climate crisis, so we would expect them to act out in the most extreme of ways -- and they have obliged. In spades.

You see, the climate crisis is ultimately rooted in America's own cultural trauma, and the most traumatized people in our culture are drawn to Trump and Palin like flies to a factory farm. He is their daddy, and he is going to build a wall to protect them from the dangers of a changing world. Get it?

Clinton represents endless war, which is not only the easiest way to distract people from the need to overhaul our rigged economy, but also happens to be extremely profitable -- so it also distracts them from the continuing concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. "Oh look -- a terrorist!" It is so telling that Clinton's first response to her cozy relationship with Wall Street was "9-11!"

Naomi Klein would call Clinton the "Shock Doctrine" candidate. Of course, she also happens to be the one candidate in the entire country who actually stands a good chance of losing to Donald Trump. In a year where voters are angrily demanding change across the political spectrum, no longer willing to tolerate the status quo, the Democrats have dressed the status quo up in an establishment pant suit. This wolf in sheep's clothing just happens to be under investigation by the FBI for espionage (removing state secrets from a secure server -- without telling anyone) and, quite possibly, raking in tens of millions of dollars in a "pay-for-play" access scheme where arms deals were traded for donations and exorbitant speaker fees (half-million per) for Bill.

But wait, it get's much worse! It now appears that the Clinton campaign and their henchmen in the Democratic National Party -- Debbie Wasserman, Barbara Boxer Harry Reid, Paul Krugman, Wolf Blitzer, Chris Matthews -- have orchestrated a fine dirty tricks campaign at a key point in the primary season, a time when she is in danger of losing something like 18 of the last 23 primaries and caucuses. They used Nevada's Democratic Gestapo (DNG) in Las Vegas to provoke Sander's supporters into a near frenzy of righteous indignation, and in the next news cycle had all their spin doctors and corporate press toadies ready to spring into action, blaming the victims of their treachery in the ultimate victim card from the deck Clinton has been dealing from her whole career in office.

Regardless of what else you may think of these tactics, which hearken back to the days of Nixon, it is clearly suicidal behavior. The millennials that favor Sanders' political revolution are now the largest voting block in the nation, and they cannot be "brought to heel," as Clinton likes to say. The Clinton/Wasserman Campaign is ensuring that there will be no way Sanders will be able to call for unity with a straight face. They have effectively just ousted he and his followers from the Democratic party, apparently in favor of appealing toClinton's true base: the neoliberal/neocon coalition of suits and uniforms.

One problem with this strategy, Clinton. That is not the Democratic Party's base. It is the Republican's old base. You've just sacrificed the future of your party for the chance to win a nomination before the FBI guillotine falls.

So here are the new political realities. Hillary Clinton is now running for president as a Republican, and indeed has the Koch Brother's tacit endorsement. She's been using Karl Rove's playbook, and has now even gone after Jeb Bush's donors. Donald Trump is apparently running as the Tea Party candidate, though nobody is really sure. There's no other way to affiliate him, unless the "T" Party is now the Trump Party. While we can call Sanders the only true Democrat in the race now, he has always self-identified as an Independent.

And this is where the reality gets very interesting.

Independents now comprise 44 percent of registered voters. Democrats are 31 percent. Republicans 25 percent. These numbers mirror the latest favorability ratings of the three remaining candidates, according to a NYT/CBS News poll: Sanders, 41 percent; Clinton, 31 percent; Trump, 26 percent. And get this: 65 percent of the electorate would support a candidate other than Clinton or Trump. Sixty-five percent!

Now imagine for just the sake of this thought experiment that we nominally associate each candidate with their chosen labels, and consider each a political party for purposes of the general election. Sanders represents the largest segment of the voting population, andhe is the one being asked to politely step aside for fear that, should he actually run in the general election, he might somehow be responsible for one of the other party's candidates winning or losing.

But he represents the largest political party! And as he has repeatedly said, he will do everything in his power to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. Since Clinton is already sliding in the polls relative to Trump, who is just warming up, that presumably means Sanders will stand as an Independent and beat the pants off both of them.

Americans are quite fed up with both the establishment parties. I dare say that if we have this 3 way race, the results would mirror the breakout above: Sanders would take around 45 percent of the vote, Clinton would take about 30 percent, and the Donald would get his 25 percent. Maybe you could see Donald getting more and Clinton less, especially if the FBI investigation plays a part. But Sanders clearly would take a larger share of the pie than either of them, by far.

And that is the corner the Clinton campaign is backing him into. Political suicide.

If Sanders runs as an independent, especially if he hooks up with the kind of woman we'd actually like to see become president some day -- Tulsi Gabbards, Nina Turner or Jill Stein -- the two party system will come tumbling down like the house of cards it actually is. Those of us who have been urging Sanders to consider a run as an independent are quite encouraged by these developments. We thank Clinton for showing her hand in Nevada. There is no more reason for Sanders to play nice, and there is only one way for him to continue the political revolution and nascent movement that he has sparked.

Now, about that albedo effect. While the Arctic Ocean has lost 3 million square kilometers of ice cover, which scientists have been focused on, the Northern Hemisphere as a whole has lost more than twice that amount of snow cover. I lived in Montana until recently, and can tell you that Glacier National Park should be re-named Waterfall National Park. This 7M+ sq. km. loss in reflective capability of the landscape explains the abrupt rises in temperature we are now beginning to see.

And all those projections of climate change models that warned us about what we might expect by the end of the century if we don't take drastic actions soon? Well, it is looking like we might expect those disruptions very soon if we don't take some very drastic actions now.

An honest politician who promises to order all federal land agencies to cancel any plans for further extraction of fossil fuels from our public lands and oceans. Someone who will turn back the tides of world war so that we can focus our efforts and resources on the tidal changes of melting glaciers, dying oceans, disappearing species, and the poisonous tyranny of giant agribusiness and factory farming.

Raise a glass to the end of the two-party system in America. Good Riddance!

]]>
Speakout Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
This Is What Insurgency Looks Like http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36170-this-is-what-insurgency-looks-like http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36170-this-is-what-insurgency-looks-like

In a small church in the Albany, New York's low-income, predominantly African-American South End, forty people were gathered for a community meeting. They were organizing a protest against trains carrying potentially explosive oil -- dubbed by the residents "bomb trains" -- that were running through their neighborhood. City Counselor Vivian Kornegay told the group that many municipalities had opposed the bomb trains and other dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure, but had little power to protect their residents; it was up to a "people's movement" to do so.

In a small church in the Albany, New York's low-income, predominantly African-American South End, forty people were gathered for a community meeting. They were organizing a protest against trains carrying potentially explosive oil -- dubbed by the residents "bomb trains" -- that were running through their neighborhood. City Counselor Vivian Kornegay told the group that many municipalities had opposed the bomb trains and other dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure, but had little power to protect their residents; it was up to a "people's movement" to do so. "What we want is for all of us to be free, healthy, and safe -- and for our planet to be a better place to live."

Maeve McBride, an organizer for 350.org, explained that the protest was part of a global campaign of direct action and civil disobedience aiming to keep 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground. Pastor Mark Johnson of the St. John's Church of God in Christ said, "I heard at a meeting last night that we have a constitutional right to clean water and clean air." Maeve McBride explained that the action was part of a "new wave" that was drawing on a "new paradigm" -- "using civil disobedience to protect the public trust," which included water, air, and the climate itself.

Organizers had met with officials from the police and sheriff's offices and reported, "they abhor the trains -- and are very supportive of us." Then the group received direct action training. They read out loud the "action agreement" pledging nonviolent behavior and mutual support. Then they lined up to march and while police officers (played by the trainers) ordered them to move away, they scrambled onto an imaginary railroad track. Later that evening the steering committee for Albany Break Free planned outreach to supporting organizations, phone banks, canvassing, leafleting, and details of the action.

The Albany organizers had learned about the "new paradigm" when 350.org North American co-organizers of Break Free From Fossil Fuels had decided to use the "public trust" principle to frame US Break Free actions and formed a Break Free Public Trust Work Group to spread the idea. Some on the The Break Free Albany steering committee had participated in the working group's webinar on using the public trust doctrine, and they decided to integrate the Public Trust Proclamation into their "topline message" and to hand out the Break Free Public Trust Proclamation to all participants. (The Proclamation appears at the end of this article.)

A week before the action the Albany Break Free steering committee defined their basic message. Potentially explosive crude oil "bomb trains" roll through Albany and surrounding communities, polluting the air and contributing to the climate crisis. Primarily low-income communities of color are put at risk. The urgent need to address climate change means that fossil fuels have to be left in the ground and a transition made to a "twenty-first century renewable energy economy." They called for an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure, including pipelines, power plants, compressor stations, and storage tanks. And they called for a just transition away from fossil fuel energy with training and jobs for affected workers, so "no worker is left behind."

On Six Continents

Meanwhile, reports of Break Free actions from six continents began flowing in. In Wales, protestors shut down the UK's largest open-pit coal mine for over twelve hours with no arrests. In the Philippines, 10,000 people marched and rallied demanding the cancellation of a 600-Megawatt coal power plant project. In New Zealand, protestors blockaded and shut down Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington branches of the ANZ bank, which had $13.5 billion invested in fossil fuels. In Indonesia, banner drops brought a coal terminal to a standstill for hours. In Germany, 4,000 people shut down a large lignite coal mine for more than two days.

In Australia, 2000 people shut down the world's largest coal port with a kayak flotilla and a railroad blockade. In Brazil, thousands participated in a protest against fracking during a concert at an annual rural fair. In Nigeria, demonstrations called attention to the environmental and social devastation that followed in the wake of exhausted oil wells. In Indonesia, 3000 held a "climate carnival" at the presidential palace demanding a move from coal to renewable energy. In South Africa, drought-affected farmers and communities from around the country came together for a "speak out and bread march." In Ecuador, activists planted trees on the future site of an oil refinery to protest drilling in a national park. In Vancouver, Canada more than 800 people held a sit-in and a kayak swarm at the tanker terminal for the Kinder Morgan gas pipeline. In Turkey, community leaders led a mass action at a coal waste site calling for a halt to four fossil fuel plant projects planned for the area.

Outside Seattle, thousands converged on two oil refineries with kayak flotillas, a march led by Indigenous leaders, and an overnight sit-in on the train tracks that led to more than fifty arrests. In Washington, DC, 1,300 demanded no new offshore drilling in the Arctic and off the Gulf Coast. Outside Chicago, dozens were arrested as 1,000 people protested a planned expansion of a BP refinery. In Los Angeles, 2,000 opposed the oil drilling that is conducted right within the city. In Lakewood, Colorado, hundreds of people delayed an auction for thousands of acres of public land for oil and gas drilling with disruption and a sit-in. Organizers called Break Free "the largest ever global civil disobedience against fossil fuels."[1]

Creative Tension

In some cases, Break Free evoked what Martin Luther King, Jr. characterized in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" as "creative tension." Some early Break Free statements in the state of Washington, for example, suggested that protestors might use direct action to shut down oil refineries. This was understandably alarming to workers in the highly-dangerous refineries. Break Free organizers and a retired union official initiated discussions with the local union that made clear that Break Free would not try to obstruct the plants or their workers and that took into consideration other safety concerns of the local union.

Break Free had always advocated a "just transition," but discussions with the local union helped them better understand what that means from the workers' point of view. Break Free organizers say they came away committed to educating their constituency about the importance of fighting to protect and create family-wage jobs in the transition to a clean energy economy; protecting job security amidst declines in fossil fuel consumption; and minimizing job losses as the necessary action is taken to curtail dangerous climate change.

Despite this dialogue, the United Steelworkers union issued a statement critical of 350.org and Break Free. Noting that three USW-represented oil refineries were targeted locations, the USW said, "shutting down a handful of refineries in the U.S. would likely lead to massive job loss in refinery communities, increased imports of refined oil products, and ultimately no impact on reducing global carbon emissions." It added that "short-sighted and narrow-focused activitieslike 350.org's 'Break Free' actions this May make it much more challenging to work together to envision and create a clean energy economy." But they added, "The work of addressing climate change and building a more sustainable economy is too important to be derailed by a handful of groups organizing protests at our plant gates."

As Dr. King wrote, "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue." While Break Free and the Steelworkers by no means see eye-to-eye, they have begun to negotiate, and are even discussing cooperation around upcoming local energy issues.

Personal and Global

In Albany, a "climate camp" made preparations for the action, creating banners and other art work in an "artbuild," organizing logistics, and nailing down final plans. As Chairman Norman Bay of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission addressed the Independent Power Producers of New York, a group of Break Free protestors interrupted and drove him from the stage. "Why are you signing the death warrant for so many people?" one protestor asked Bay. IPPNY President Gavin Donahue said the protestors were "aggressive," "disruptive," and "out of line." "We were keeping an eye out, but we did not see anything before this," he said. "The protesters disguised themselves in suits and ties to blend in."[2]

As the sun set over the Hudson River the evening before the action, a kayak flotilla provided a perfect photo-op. That night hundreds from the Northeast gathered in a historic neighborhood black church for a meal, a rally, and civil disobedience training. They shared stories from struggles to block pipelines, fracking, and other fossil fuel projects around the region and celebrated the state's refusal of permits for the Constitution pipeline after massive protests.

Saturday morning more than 1,500 people arrived at Lincoln Park. Rev. Mark Johnson, welcoming people to the park where he had played as a child, said "We all deserve clean water, we all deserve clean air." Albany Common Council member Vivian Kornegay said, "We're tired of big oil coming to our communities and polluting. We should keep the oil in the ground and make our country a greener and safer place. My community is in danger. The people in the Ezra Prentice housing are facing asthma and cancer. The company says it wants to partner with us, but it is partnership where we assume all the risks and minimum benefits." Miss Charlene Benton, President of the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants' Association said, "We're not going to be cremated without permission."[3]

Rev. Johnson added, "We're going to stay on the right side of the law because the moral side of the law is the right side of the law."

Then Rev. Johnson read the Break Free Albany "Action Agreements." Participants agreed "not to harm people or property"; to be "dignified in dress, demeanor, and language;" to attend action training; act "in accordance with our group's agreed plan for action."

As the crowd started to march toward the Port of Albany, 500 of the demonstrators peeled off to show their support for the people of the Ezra Prentice Homes, a 179-unit housing development described as "ground zero for environmental racism," where "bomb trains" run next to the playground and the railroad parks its trains free of charge.

As the marchers reached the train tracks, police were present but stood by as they occupied the tracks. An organizer hollered, "You came to block the tracks and that is exactly what you are doing."

As people settled in on the tracks, law student Kelsey Skaggs asked those risking arrest to fill out intake forms for the legal team. Then she said,

But I want to talk about a different kind of lawbreaking. Fossil fuel companies, and the governments that authorize their activities, are destroying the land, water, and atmosphere that sustain us. From my home in Alaska to here in Albany, we are being sacrificed for the profit of fossil fuel companies.

But these companies have a problem. Their problem is that we -- all of us -- have rights to that land, water, and atmosphere.

We have rights under a legal principle called the public trust. The public trust concept is old law -- it's been around since ancient Rome. In American law, it means that the government has a duty to protect shared natural resources, and to hold them in trust for the public and for future generations.

But our governments are violating this obligation by failing to regulate fossil fuel emissions. They violate this right by subsidizing fossil fuels, by approving new dirty energy projects, and by locking us into further, deadly emissions.

The question -- the critical question facing humanity at this moment -- is whatwe are going to do about these violations of our rights.

In the face of government's failures, there is only one answer that leads to a livable future on this planet. And that answer is: what each of you is doing, right here, today. Standing up and taking action to break free and end the era of fossil fuels. Enforcing the public trust. Demanding that the government fulfill its obligations to the people, not bow to corporate power.

It's up to us to claim our right to a healthy climate, to stand up for the rights of future generations, and to stop the degradation of our planet and our communities and everything that we love. Thank you for doing that.

More than 400 of the 1,500 people registered for the action said they would be willing to be arrested for physically blocking the trains.[4] The company had canceled trains through Albany for the day because of the protest. But sixteen miles up the track in Guilderland, climate activists Marissa Shea and Maeve McBride suspended themselves from train tracks on a railroad bridge. At the risk of serious or even fatal accident they blockaded a "bomb train" carrying fracked crude oil from North Dakota. They and three members of their support team were arrested after successfully delaying the train.

Shea and McBride described their efforts as enforcing the public trust doctrine which requires that vital natural resources, in this case the atmosphere, on which human well-being depends, must be cared for by our governments for the benefit of present and future generations.

"The global climate system, on which every human depends, is no longer stable because our governments have utterly failed us. So now, for our survival, we will act on climate ourselves," said Shea.

The activists demand that the business as usual economy, which is currently reliant on fossil fuels, must be transformed into a new fossil-free economy that isjust and equitable, a just transition.

"Most of my family lives within a few miles of where the bomb trains travel. Thisis personal and global. Their lives are at risk and millions of lives are at risk with rising seas, forest fires, violent storms, and all the havoc that global warming brings," said McBride, who grew up in Troy. "Today I felt called to directly obstruct the fossil fuel industry joining thousands of others around the world."

McBride had earlier written Break Free organizers around the country,

Many of us participated in the Public Trust webinar a couple of weeks ago, and we are excited for the paradigm-shifting opportunity that this presents. Organizers have asked those risking arrest to consider a court solidarity approach where, as a group, we will plead not-guilty and seek to bring our cases to court. While the DA is likely to drop the majority of charges, we are taking measures to ensure that we will have some viable court cases and will seek to argue them under the Public Trust Doctrine and/or necessity with a Public Trust spin. During the action we will distribute copies of the Break Free Public Trust Proclamation, as it could be important to have this document in hand during arrests [and for some political theater in court.]

[Before publication an update on the legal process and defense of the defendants will be added. Also an account of the passage of the resolution opposing Pilgrim Pipelines at the Albany Common Council two days after the Albany Break Free action.]

The call to Break Free from Fossil Fuels envisioned "tens of thousands of people around the world rising up" to take back control of their own destiny; "sitting down" to "block the business of government and industry that threaten our future"; conducting "peaceful defense of our right to clean energy." That's justwhat happened.

Such a "rising up" amounts to a global nonviolent insurgency -- a withdrawal of consent from those who claim the right to rule -- manifested in a selective refusal to accept and obey their authority.[5] Break Free From Fossil Fuels represented a quantum leap in the emergence of a global nonviolent climateinsurgency -- its nonviolent "shot heard around the world." It was globally coordinated, with common principles, strategy, planning, and messaging. It utilized nonviolent direct action not only as an individual moral witness, but also to express and mobilize the power of the people on which all government ultimately depends. It presented climate protection not only as a moral but as a legal right and duty, necessary to protect the Constitution and the earth's essential resources on which we and our posterity depend. It represented aninsurgency because it denied the right of the existing powers and principalities -- be they corporate or governmental -- to use the authority of law to justify their destruction of the earth's climate.

Footnotes:

[1] Oliver Milman, "'Break Free' fossil fuel protests deemed 'largest ever' global disobedience," The Guardian, May 16, 2016.  Other details from https://breakfree2016.org/#locations See also: https://breakfree2016.org/press-release/thousands-worldwide-take-part-in-largest-global-civil-disobedience-in-the-history-of-the-climate-movement/

[2] Brian Nearing, "Rancor, protests greet top energy official," timesunion, May 11, 2016. 

[3] "Thousands Converged in Albany to Blockade Bomb Trains," release, and personal observation.

[4] Lindsay Ellis, "Albany protest: 5 arrested after oil train delayed," Albany Times-Union, May 16, 2016. 

[5] See Jeremy Brecher, Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival," Routledge, 2016.

]]>
Speakout Wed, 25 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Repair the World: The New, New Left and the Gospel of the Social http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36171-repair-the-world-the-new-new-left-and-the-gospel-of-the-social http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36171-repair-the-world-the-new-new-left-and-the-gospel-of-the-social

Bernie Sanders' April 15, 2016, address to the Vatican, titled "The Urgency of a Moral Economy" arrives at a curious point for the left in the Anglo-American sphere. With Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the UK's Labour Party and theastonishing success of Sanders' own run for the Democratic Party nomination, there is something clearly afoot. Many have drawn connections from these events to the rise of continental European parties tied to left-wing socialmovements, such as Greece's Syriza and Spain's Podemos, which is a fair thing to do.

Bernie Sanders' April 15, 2016, address to the Vatican, titled "The Urgency of a Moral Economy" arrives at a curious point for the left in the Anglo-American sphere. With Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the UK's Labour Party and theastonishing success of Sanders' own run for the Democratic Party nomination, there is something clearly afoot. Many have drawn connections from these events to the rise of continental European parties tied to left-wing socialmovements, such as Greece's Syriza and Spain's Podemos, which is a fair thing to do. In all of these cases, anger at systemic corruption and widening inequality, along with the discrediting of traditional parties of the center-left, have driven a political polarization accompanied by mass grassroots engagement.

However, there may be a key difference in that both Syriza and Podemos draw on intensely academic traditions of politics in ways that are less true of the movements behind Sanders and Corbyn. This is both in the literal sense that university professors make up a large number of the key figures in both parties and that their analysis of and tactics within the political systems they occupy is based on a constructed theory. In keeping with the roots of both the Labour Party and the various leftist currents of US politics that Sanders emerges from in trade unions and cooperative societies, they evince a less theoretical and more concrete vision of a just society, tied with a greater sense of moral imperative.

Sanders, in forthright opposition to politics of technocracy and "pragmatism," states that "Our challenge is mostly a moral one, to redirect our efforts and vision to the common good." When asked to define his spiritual beliefs, Sanders has stated that, "This is not Judaism, this is what Pope Francis is talking about, that we can't just worship billionaires and the making of more and more money. Life is more than that." He has expressed admiration for the current pope's vision of economic justice on other occasions as well.

Similarly, belying the press vision of him as a swivel-eyed hard Marxist, Corbyn is thoughtful and nuanced on question of religious faith. In an interview with the Christian UK magazine Third Way, he stated, "I think the faith community offers and does a great deal for people. There doesn't have to be wars about religion, there has to be honesty about religion." In more explicit terms, his Christmas message in the Daily Mirror drew parallels between Christian and secular socialist conceptions of solidarity. He may not be practicing, but Corbyn is certainly familiar with the language of the Christian left, in particular, the non-conformist Methodist tradition that has often inspired theparty he leads.

Liberation theology as a concept is most closely associated with Latin American leftist movements of the type that Sanders has himself expressed support for at various points. However, a key visible supporter of his campaign has been political scholar Cornel West, who draws from a particular tradition of the Black Church in formulating his stance as a "non-Marxist socialist" (West is prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America).

One should be careful not overstate this point, of course, and this is not to say that the individuals involved would describe themselves as proponents of a social gospel or liberation theology as such. Corbyn considers his religious beliefs, like much about his life outside of politics, to be a "personal matter," and Sanders is, of course, an avowedly secular Jew. But the idea of liberation theology is not confined by any means to Christian theology and its interaction with politics. The Jewish concept of tikkun olam, which literally translates as "repair of the world," forms a core idea in progressive Jewish political engagement. The particular spiritual tradition that one is informed by matters less thanthe drive it gives.

In a world where anyone who dares to dream beyond the narrow confines of what is deemed currently acceptable is said to be "at war with reality," the clarity of vision and inspiration from a theology of liberation and a gospel of social justice is perhaps more necessary than ever. And in a world which continually denies the possibility of higher human purpose beyond the fulfillment of individual desires, it gives the courage to define politics, once again, in moral terms.

]]>
Speakout Wed, 25 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
French Coalition Launches Call to Limit CEO Salaries to 100 Times the Minimum Wage http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36159-french-coalition-launches-call-to-limit-ceo-salaries-to-100-times-the-minimum-wage http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36159-french-coalition-launches-call-to-limit-ceo-salaries-to-100-times-the-minimum-wage

A group of 40 well-known personalities in France, including writers, politicians and chief executive officers of corporations listed on the country's stock exchange, the CAC 40, have called for a cap on the amounts CEOs can receive, limiting their salaries to 100 times the French minimum wage. The call was launched with the publication of an open letter in French newspaper Libération, hitting its front page on Thursday, May 19, 2016. 

A group of 40 well-known personalities in France, including writers, politicians and chief executive officers of corporations listed on the country's stock exchange, the CAC 40, have called for a cap on the amounts CEOs can receive, limiting their salaries to 100 times the French minimum wage. The call was launched with the publication of an open letter in French newspaper Libération, hitting its front page on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

The "40 Calling the CAC 40" group includes Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, economist Thomas Piketty, artists, union leaders and the presidents of a luxury travel agency and a supermarket chain. They outlined their reasoning as follows:

Because we are living through an unprecedented period in the history of contemporary capitalism, whereas duringthe 1960s, CEO salaries represented 40 times the average wages paid by the largest American corporations, this gap has exploded, today reaching 200 in American corporations and 120 in French companies;

Because the government bet upon self-regulation in 2013 and that this has failed. In 2015, total compensation for CAC 40 employers increased from 5  percent to 11  percent, according to assessments, reaching an average sum of 4.2 million euros a year, or 240 times the minimum wage;

Because employers' principal argument to justify such practices --  that of a world market in high-level leaders necessitating a top-down salary alignment  -- is not corroborated by any serious economic study or concrete proof;

Because several international institutions, such as the OECD and the IMF, have sounded the alarm for several years about the growing burden imposed by these inequalities and their negative consequences on the potential growth of our Western economies;

Because through this type of behavior, our financial elite have assumed a pernicious attitude of every man for himself. While the majority of French people have had to make great sacrifices since the 2008 financial crisis, these practices on the part of employers call into question our pact of solidarity, foment defiance against our institutions and fuel votes for the extreme right.

For all of these reasons, we are asking the government to legislate that an employer in France cannot receive compensation of more than 100 times the minimum wage; i.e., 1.75 million euros a year.

Faced with the possible objection that France would be alone in the world to enact such a law, the signatories responded that it would be "a source of pride" in France. They concluded: "We would say that this is a start and that if this law is approved, it would obligate almost the entire group of CAC 40 employers (and therefore a very large part of their boards of directors) to lower their salaries by at least 58 %," cutting them by more than half.

In an editorial on the letter, Libération editor Laurent Joffrin lamented the "social and philosophical abyss" that would allow the large salary gaps in evidence today. In France, the minimum wage stands at 17,490 Euros per year, whereas the average compensation for CAC 40 bosses is 4,200,000 Euros, or 240 times higher. "How is it that a man who didn't take any risk, who didn't invent any revolutionary process, who probably rose up the ranks of a large corporation, can be worth 300 times more than another man or woman working for the same organization?"

Joffin recalls that no less a capitalist than JPMorgan once said that he wouldn't trust a company where the highest officer was paid more than 20 times the lowliest employee.

Economists concur. "We can no longer say that compensation depends on merit," said Thomas Dallery, author and professor of economics. "These salaries go beyond what is reasonable."

The corresponding Change.org petition can be found here.

]]>
Speakout Tue, 24 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How One Missouri School District Took on Poverty and a Tornado http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36141-how-one-missouri-school-district-took-on-poverty-and-a-tornado http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36141-how-one-missouri-school-district-took-on-poverty-and-a-tornado

Joplin, Missouri, a small city in the Southwest corner of the state, is probably best known for the devastating tornado that ripped through it on May 22, 2011. The storm killed 161 people and caused more than $2 billion in damages. Less well known is the widespread and growing poverty that is damaging the community -- especially its students and schools -- in quieter but no less harmful ways. But Joplin has begun to rebound, and the rest of the country should take note.

Joplin, Missouri, a small city in the Southwest corner of the state, is probably best known for the devastating tornado that ripped through it on May 22, 2011. The storm killed 161 people and caused more than $2 billion in damages. Less well known is the widespread and growing poverty that is damaging the community -- especially its students and schools -- in quieter but no less harmful ways. But Joplin has begun to rebound, and the rest of the country should take note.

Three years before the tornado, CJ Huff, the superintendent of nearby Eldon, Missouri, was hired to lead Joplin's 18 schools. His main charge was to raise the district's graduation rate, which at the time hovered just above 73 percent. It quickly became apparent to Huff that the growing rate of child poverty stood in the way of reaching that goal as well as his broader aspirations to prepare students for college, careers, and active participation in a democratic society.

The Joplin school team conducted nine months of face-to-face talks with parents, teachers, and the community's faith, business, and human services agency leaders in order to assess the school district's needs. They discussed everything from the transition between elementary and middle school, to mental health, to mentorship. The plan they ended up with -- called "Bright Futures" -- is now a blueprint for school transformation in dozens of districts across the South and Midwest. Seven years later, Joplin's graduation rate has risen to 87 percent. Here's how Huff and the Joplin community did it.

Meeting Every Child's Basic Needs Within 24 Hours

As a former principal and teacher, Huff knew how difficult it is to teach effectively when students are too hungry to focus, lack needed eyeglasses, are stressed out from spending the night in a homeless shelter, or, worse, can't make it to class because they are in the ER dealing with a preventable asthma attack. Indeed, children living in poverty in the United States are more than twice as likely as their more affluent peers to miss at least two weeks of school and thus fall behind, largely because health concerns go unaddressed.

But how would a poor and relatively small city like Joplin succeed in addressing these and other unmet needs? Huff's team drew on all available resources. They established partnerships with local health clinics, hospitals, and individual doctors to secure physical and mental health care, so kids were in school and ready to learn. Local doctors provided physicals so students could participate in sports activities, dentists volunteered to provide emergency dental services to children whose families couldn't afford it, and kids were referred to mental health providers free of charge as needed. Hospitals and health clinics likewise stepped up to serve students' health care needs.

In addition, the team reached out to drug stores, grocery stores, and other businesses to assemble a pantry that school social workers could use to immediately meet basic needs such as food and clothing. They hosted a back-to-school resource fair that called upon families and local stores to help all kids start the year well-stocked with school supplies. And they built up a Bright Futures Facebook page that enabled any resident to respond to more unusual requests -- like size 13 steel-toed work boots (which cost more than $100), so a homeless high school student could enroll in the technical schoolwelding program.] (This Facebook page became popular with neighboring communities, including nearby Carl Junction School District, which in 2010 became the first Bright Futures affiliate.)

Developing Local Leadership and Community Support for Long-Term Success

Huff knew that superintendents come and go, especially in struggling school districts. And Joplin's mayor wouldn't necessarily be around long either. If the schools were to improve -- and also sustain and grow that improvement -- locally-nurtured leaders would need to take the helm in promoting good policy.

This kind of leadership development wasn't an easy task in a city where many families didn't view high school graduation -- let alone college admission -- as a top priority. Residents also didn't have a clear vision of the interrelatedness of the city's many assets and how they were all critical to the school district's success. A key step therefore was to establish an advisory board comprised of needed allies from the city's many institutions, including faith-based organizations to provide volunteer support, human service agencies to respond to non-academic needs, and business partners to supplement the resources that families were able to provide, as well as parents. A second step was for each school in the district to develop its own council that would work with teachers and principals to identify and address classroom-level needs and also support and train emerging, local leaders.

Embedding Service Learning in Classrooms, Even Among the Youngest Pupils

Huff and his team believed service learning was a natural fit for the district, but that it would require a different mindset for teachers who had long understood raising test scores to be their main objective, and who might not see the connection between service learning projects and broader learning objectives.

Service learning provides hands-on, curriculum-based opportunities for children to give back to the communities that support their education. It is intentionally designed to help students develop advanced cognitive skills while also building a sense of self-worth. Finally, it provides an opportunity for the teaching staff to showcase their talents and those of the students to the community. In Huff's words:

"We want the students to understand their power to give and to help all kids feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Finding needs they can address, like organizing drives for the soup kitchen or, for older students, assessing water quality to support the local agency, is empowering. And it helps them grow into the engaged citizens our country needs more of."

The same kinds of challenges that Joplin faces limit the futures of millions of students in rural, suburban, and inner-city school districts across the country. But the Joplin experience shows us that the learning needs of young people can be addressed, and that the right actions will substantially brighten their futures.

]]>
Speakout Mon, 23 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Education, Beauty and Civility: Beyond the Absence of War http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36138-education-beauty-and-civility-beyond-the-absence-of-war http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36138-education-beauty-and-civility-beyond-the-absence-of-war

In 2013 I spoke with the CEO of Americans for the Arts, Robert Lynch, who said that art provides a guiding light "in a time in history where that is desperately needed." This is not just speculation and hyperbole. Lynch also said in the article that "today we are seeing the arts being usedto help solve other problems: the arts and community development, the arts and law enforcement for crime prevention, the arts and healing." And that he wants "to see more opportunity for kids and adults to have access to the arts to be used in community advancement."

In 2013 I spoke with the CEO of Americans for the Arts, Robert Lynch, who said that art provides a guiding light "in a time in history where that is desperately needed." This is not just speculation and hyperbole. Lynch also said in the article that "today we are seeing the arts being used to help solve other problems: the arts and community development, the arts and law enforcement for crime prevention, the arts and healing." And that he wants "to see more opportunity for kids and adults to have access to the arts to be used in community advancement."

As I discovered in my article with Lynch, quantifiable research demonstrates what he is saying, which was cited in the article:

[S]tudies show the multiplied benefits of art. For instance, in a report by Americans for the Arts, which cites research from The College Board on SAT scores for high school students, it was discovered that students who had four years of art and music classes "on average scored about 100 points better on their SATs than students who took only one-half year or less" of art and music. And another report by Americans for the Arts that cites James Catterall, professor emeritus at UCLA and author of"Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art," informs that low-income students "who are highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely as their peers with low arts involvement to have earned a Bachelor's degree."

It is not simply the absence of war that creates prosperity or the preservation of good things -- education and an enriched sense of civility does that, for which Merriam Webster offers a definition as a "refinement of thought, manners, or taste," and at Vocabulary.com, the chief definition states:

Civilization is the opposite of barbarism and chaos. Civilization is an advanced stage of human society, where people live with a reasonable degree of organization and comfort and can think about things like art and education.

This includes the study and preservation of anthropology, archaeology and architecture, which is not just for those with nothing better to do. These things make humans humane, and when I learned earlier this year that my friend -- the renowned modernist architect, author and archaeologist William Morgan, passed away -- a man who was an "earth architecture" visionary, who was one of the first to be taught by Walter Gropius at Harvard University, and who thereafter worked as an office manager for Paul Rudolph before starting what would become a 50 year practice based in Florida -- I thought to myself: What a civilized individual.

In the news everyday are reports about the craven killings and wanton destruction by the Islamic Caliphate, known as ISIS. I have no direct experience with war or violence on that scale, and can only offer condolences to those suffering the loss of loved ones. I do grieve and can relate directly to witnessing the destruction of irreplaceable historic monuments, like the ancient City of Palmyra, Syria, at the hands of ISIS. And to this point, a recent article questions: [W]here does Palmyra belong, to Syria or the world? I believe it a very good question that needs to be asked about all historic sites, especially those which have meaning far beyond their specific locale; those that are and should be protected by UNESCO.

In Palmyra and elsewhere -- whether as a result of war, greed or ignorance -- now more than ever the world needs UNESCO.

Additionally, we need our museums to be truly affordable, accessible and inclusive. We need art in every public school, for every student of every age. Our collective soul and civility depends on it.

Marcel Breuer knew this, and during an extraordinary career that spanned multiple decades, Breuer would build an impressive roster of architectural sites worldwide, including libraries, colleges and churches. He was the architectural genius commissioned to lead the team that built the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, and in his lifetime Breuer would accrue over 300 commissions, including The Whitney Museum in New York City, which once came close to being destroyed and is now owned and operated under the auspices of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Breuer was a citizen of the world, and so is his work. He built the Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library (AFCPL), and it would be a setback to civilization if Breuer's final commission, before his death in 1981, meets fate in the wrecking ball of political ignorance and gentrification.

What a cruel irony that Marcel Breuer would build UNESCO, the very organization that came in to being to protect global sites like Palmyra, only to have his final building destroyed at the hands of a rather juvenile politician in Atlanta.

In 2010, when I spoke at length with Barry Bergdoll, who was at that time Chief Curator of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art, he called Breuer's last building "a masterpiece." Yet in spite of all this, an aggressive campaign continues to destroy AFCPL site, with its chief detractor recently quoted as saying Atlanta needs a new "iconic" library.

Yet, what could be more iconic than an elegant, bold and very statuesque library, built by the man who built UNESCO?

In recent weeks there has been much talk of African-American hero and abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, whose image is slated to replace the image of President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. An editorial at the Baltimore Sun points out that "Jackson engineered the forced removal of peaceful Indian tribes from their homes in the South to lands west of the Mississippi River. " Yet what the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author of the article fails to mention are all [the White people] who benefited from the millions of acres of subsequent stolen land -- still living on that land -- still making money from that land.

Somehow Jackson is now being characterized as being outside the norm, when in fact he was emblematic of the mainstream, says the former senator, Jim Webb. Writing in a Washington Post editorial, Webb said "Jackson became the very face of the New America, focusing on intense patriotism and the dignity of the common man."

President George Washington, and many other presidents held people captive for free labor and worked them to death on stolen land for hundreds of years in a practice called chattel slavery…now considered "barbaric."

President Thomas Jefferson was the chief author of The Declaration of Independence -- a document representing the core structure of democracy in the US. Jefferson was a distinguished writer, statesman and architect, and he also had many slaves.

Like Jackson, Jefferson was a man of his age, but political correctness aside can he be considered truly civilized when his lifestyle was supported by ill-gotten gains and resulted in the deaths of who knows how many?

Notwithstanding, it may be tempting to conveniently blame and assign ignorance on the past, or even the current mainstream morons and despots of the world, but where does their power come from? How many have, and continue to, benefit from the stolen lands of American Indians, and the barbaric enslavement of Africans? And how many are benefiting today from newly realized ill-gotten gains?

To answer that question, look no further than the Panama Papers!

Yet beyond the nightmare of genocide, slavery and the engineered poverty of today, beyond the transgressions of morally bankrupt leaders in the East and the West, beyond the starvation and unmet basic needs allowed to happen around the world, people must, as well, fight for education, architecture and art. Being civil means being willing to do the work necessary to protect a vision of beauty -- to enshrine local, national and global treasures -- to stand up and defend the ability to express oneself creatively. These things make the life water of the soul.

UPDATE: Less than a week after this article was published, it was announced that keeping the Marcel Breuer designed Atlanta Fulton Central Public Library is on the agenda of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, with Vice Chairman, Liz Hausmann, saying "I think we need to be very careful about leaving that building."

]]>
Speakout Mon, 23 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Should Progressives Unify With the Democratic Party Establishment? Hell No! http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36119-should-progressives-unify-with-the-democratic-party-establishment-hell-no http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36119-should-progressives-unify-with-the-democratic-party-establishment-hell-no

In countless ways over the last 35 years, our society has become less economically equal and more dominated by corporate power. Less just and more jailed. Vast urban and rural areas decline as government subsidizes economic elites. Funds for education and social services are under constant threat, while funding for war and surveillance seems limitless. These trends have persisted no matter which major party dominated Washington, DC.

In countless ways over the last 35 years, our society has become less economically equal and more dominated by corporate power. Less just and more jailed. Vast urban and rural areas decline as government subsidizes economic elites. Funds for education and social services are under constant threat, while funding for war and surveillance seems limitless.

These trends have persisted no matter which major party dominated Washington, DC.

Whether it's a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, Wall Street personnel fill top economic posts; energy policy is dominated by oil/gas/nuclear interests; Monsanto is ever-present in food and agriculture policy; military-industrial types dominate foreign policy.

The luminous Bernie Sanders campaign -- in many ways, a youth movement -- has blossomed out of this decay and corruption, as millions are saying "No" to a corporatized Democratic Party leadership. Not convinced the Democratic leadership of the last several decades has been thoroughly corrupt? Read any of a dozen books from William Greider's 1992 classic Who Will Tell the People? to the 2013 insider account This Town.

In a past life, I was a mainstream TV news pundit. Many years ago, I began making the argument to news executives that if they allowed strong progressive viewpoints to be heard, millions of TV viewers would respond and their audiences would grow.

I feel totally vindicated. The Bernie Sanders upsurge has proved me correct. Finally, an unabashed progressive domestic agenda has been heard, and that agenda has resonated with millions of people -- nearly derailing one of the most powerful and best funded machines in modern politics, the Clinton Machine.

You have to go back to the working-class movements of the 1930s and FDR's New Deal to find a time when so many US citizens supported a transformation of our political/economic system.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Bernie campaign is that it has transformed the political spectrum and the way people (even including a few mainstream pundits) view the spectrum. Instead of a binary band with Republicans on the right and Democrats on the alleged "left," the political spectrum now looks like it's divided into three parts:

The Republican Right, led by the Trumps and Cruzes, rallies its base through racist appeals, anti-immigrant hysteria, misogyny and "America First" rhetoric -- a base that is still sizeable and dangerous, even though it is aging and declining as whites lose their super-majority status, and as young whites aren't as homophobic or bigoted as their elders.

The Democratic Centrist Establishment, personified by Hillary Clinton and dependent on its base of corporate funders, is adept (though not as convincingly as before) at campaigning to the left with rhetoric about "working families" and "breaking down barriers" -- while governing mostly on behalf of an unequal status quo, once in office. (Because of Trump's unpredictability and Clinton's reliability, the centrist establishment will likely gain support this year from Wall Street Republicans and neoconservative hawks.)

The Progressive Left, embodied by (but broader than) the Bernie Sanders campaign, is gaining popularity by articulating issues ignored by major party elites:

  • free public college tuition funded by a Wall Street transaction tax;
  • health care as a right through enhanced Medicare for All;
  • ending the drug war and mass incarceration;
  • cuts in military spending;
  • and government jobs programs to rebuild infrastructure and transform to renewable energy.

Progressives owe a debt of gratitude to Bernie Sanders for what he's accomplished. But no matter what Bernie does or says or advises at July's Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, progressives must stay independent of Democratic elites. As the Bernie vs. Clinton primary contest has shown, we and they have different agendas, funders and values.

The Bernie campaign has been a boon to progressive organizations, including one I cofounded: the online activist group RootsAction.org. We need to maintain and grow our organizations independent of the Democratic establishment and be ready to protest against Democratic Party policies when necessary, including perhaps at the Democratic convention and definitely beginning next year if Clinton is elected president.

Having said all this about independence, I'm not one of those progressives who pretends that Donald Trump is no worse than Hillary Clinton, or that he's somehow a peacenik or "fair trade" advocate. Trump is a climate change denier and xenophobe with fascist tendencies who is far more dangerous than Clinton in terms of race-baiting, immigrant-bashing, abortion and court appointments and even foreign relations (and I know how hawkish Clinton has been). I've never forgotten Trump's candid comment against raising the minimum wage in one of the first debates, when he said US wages were "too high, we're not gonna be able to compete against the world."

Let's be clear: Trump is the anti-Bernie.

While remaining independent of the Democratic establishment, progressives must take the Trump threat seriously and make sure he's defeated in November. If it's a contest between Trump and Clinton, I support a "safe-state voting" tactic, where you can cast a protest vote or a Green Party vote in most of the country, but you vote against Trump by voting for Clinton in the dozen "swing states" where polls show a close race.

As Noam Chomsky said on Democracy Now! this week: "If Clinton is nominated and it comes to a choice between Clinton and Trump, in a swing state -- a state where it's going to matter which way you vote -- I would vote against Trump, and by elementary arithmetic, that means you hold your nose and you vote Democrat. I don't think there's any other rational choice."

One can "hold your nose and vote Democrat" -- tactically -- without becoming a Democratic Party hack or a Clinton apologist. Defeating Trump does not mean we exaggerate any positives about the Democratic establishment. More important than how we vote is how we build independent progressive organizations and movements (and media) in the coming months and years.

Good news about the Bernie campaign is that the whole world -- including even mainstream media -- now knows that there is a loud and proud left in our country. They know exactly where we stand on domestic issues and that our positions are widely popular.

And they know that young activists are key to our growing movement.

Millions of young people have had a crash course in recent months in Democratic Party corruption, as well as corporate media bias -- not to mention their own power to shake up the system.

A "political revolution" rarely happens in a year. The #NotMeUs movement is far more than about Bernie. Whatever happens at the Philadelphia nominating convention, the movement has much to be proud of and will continue.

Of course, many progressives feel that the best-case scenario is that Bernie becomes the next president.

But here's another decent scenario: The divisive Trump-led Republicans suffer a massive defeat. The centrists take power ... but with a mobilized and independent left breathing down their necks.

Such a scenario hasn't occurred in our country since about 1932.

]]>
Speakout Fri, 20 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400