Speakout http://www.truth-out.org Thu, 26 May 2016 04:36:17 -0400 en-gb 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. "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."

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 here. 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.

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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. 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.

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.

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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 J.P. Morgan 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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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Speakout Fri, 20 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Overturn Citizens United Act, One Step Closer http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36105-the-overturn-citizens-united-act-one-step-closer http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36105-the-overturn-citizens-united-act-one-step-closer

The people of California were denied a vote in 2014 on Proposition 49, The Overturn Citizens United Act. The question posed by the ballot measure was whether a constitutional amendment is necessary in order to restore the people's right to regulate money in our elections and make clear that that rights enumerated in the US Constitution are for human beings and not for corporate entities. This is a conversation that America must have and we'd have gotten it going here in California in 2014 if not for the wrongful interference by the California Supreme Court.

The people of California were denied a vote in 2014 on Proposition 49, The Overturn Citizens United Act. The question posed by the ballot measure was whether a constitutional amendment is necessary in order to restore the people's right to regulate money in our elections and make clear that that rights enumerated in the US Constitution are for human beings and not for corporate entities.

This is a conversation that America must have and we'd have gotten it going here in California in 2014 if not for the wrongful interference by the California Supreme Court.

In a 5-1 temporary ruling and in response to a petition from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California's high court ordered then-Secretary of State Debra Bowen to remove Prop 49 from the November 2014 ballot.

Only Chief Justice Tani Cantil- Sakayue cautioned her colleagues against taking this "extraordinary step" that would lead to, among the other concerns she cited, "disenfranchising voters."

By January 2016, when the Court issued its 6 to 1 ruling that Proposition 49 was always legitimate, the 2014 election was long past. Instead of placing the Prop 49 on the 2016 ballot as the legislature had filed to request, the Court told the California legislature that they would have to pass a new bill.

That is what the California Legislature is doing now. And, so far they aren't wasting any time about it either. SB 254 had its first Assembly committee hearing on April 27, 2016. On May 12, 2016, the full Assembly, in a bipartisan vote, passed the bill and sent it to the California Senate. That's lightning speed.

There's more motivation behind the California Legislature's drive to pass the "new" Overturn Citizens United Act than belief in the opportunity SB 254 presents and concern for the voters (though both those components are present for many legislators.)

When the California Supreme Court inserted itself into the Legislature's function in an unprecedented way, discovered they were spectacularly wrong and then, instead of trying to make things right or do justice, told the Legislature that they needed to do it again when only the Court's error prevented this ballot measure from moving forward in 2014, the Legislature wasn't happy. One Capitol staffer told me it was "like the Court poked a stick in the Legislature's eye."

Senator Ben Allen, the lead author on SB 254, said in Assembly committee hearing: "[I]t would set an unacceptable precedent if we didn't stick to our guns."

Senator Allen is right. There's a separation of powers issue here that should concern us as much as it concerns the California Legislature.

Judicial overreach leads back to the substance of SB 254 and the question it poses around what to do in response to US Supreme Court rulings that are rewriting the Constitution and encroaching in unprecedented ways on the functions of the other two branches of government.

America needs to have this conversation. The California Assembly has taken a meaningful step towards sticking up not only for themselves, but also for us, the disenfranchised voters of California.

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Speakout Thu, 19 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Electoral Boycott as a Revolutionary Tactic http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36095-electoral-boycott-as-a-revolutionary-tactic http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36095-electoral-boycott-as-a-revolutionary-tactic

The potential for radical change is widely recognized, but prevailing reformist ideas remain insufficient. Electoral boycott will be the most effective means of building revolutionary momentum. Except for a small group of committed Bernie Sanders supporters and writers, analysts of the US presidential primaries generally agree by now that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic Party candidate and Donald Trump the Republican Party candidate. Several ideas have been advanced within this context concerning what disaffected voters, unhappy with these choices, should do.  

Radical Reformism in a Time of Change

Except for a small group of committed Bernie Sanders supporters and writers, analysts of the US presidential primaries generally agree by now that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic Party candidate and Donald Trump the Republican Party candidate. Several ideas have been advanced within this context concerning what disaffected voters, unhappy with these choices, should do. For example:

● Bernie or Bust -- A group of die hard Sanders supporters, the "Bernie or Bust" movement promotes writing in Bernie Sanders' name on the ballot, rather than voting for Hillary Clinton.

● Voting Third-Party -- Both the Green Party and the Libertarian Party recognize potential for third-party growth, and are attempting to seize the moment by appealing to disaffected voters from across the spectrum.

● Vote Pact -- In an attempt to neutralize the "spoiler effect," writer and political activist Sam Husseini is encouraging progressives and libertarians to vote in pairs for their preferred minor party candidates.

Notice that each of these ideas are reformist rather than revolutionary (including the Sanders campaign). That is, rather than promoting a fundamental transformation of the structure of government and two-party system, they advance radical change within the existing institutional framework. The timeliness and potential for radical change is now widely recognized, but reformist ideas are likely to have only limited success.

Boycotting the Elections

Boycotting the elections would be most conducive to revolutionary change, for a couple reasons. First, while Vote Pact neutralizes the spoiler effect (and promotes nonpartisan coalition building in the process), the wasted vote problem remains, as pairs of votes for minor parties are unlikely have a big impact on the electoral outcome.

Second, as a type of participation in establishment politics, voting reinforces the legitimacy of current system, propping up the status quo and its extensive list of policy problems. Even a vote for a minor party candidate -- while expressing a preference for radical policy reform -- is effectively a vote of approval for the current electoral system and structure of government. A campaign for electoral boycott avoids this pitfall.

A likely objection to this tactic is that if progressives on the left and libertarians on the right abstain in unequal numbers, a boycott may help the less preferred candidate, similar to the spoiler effect. However, this apprehension is based on a pluralist understanding of the president as an ideologically motivated free agent carrying out a partisan agenda within his/her institutional context.

An alternative elite-theoretic view is that it doesn't matter a whole lot which candidate or party wins the election. Beneath a veil of partisan division, elites use the political system to maintain balance -- offering concessions to keep populist movements at bay, while maintaining the status quo and securing the interests of the upper class. As Howard Zinn observed, "the really critical thing isn't who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in the streets."

If the spoiler effect remains a concern, one could also turn Husseini's idea on its head and make an abstention pact with someone from the opposite end of the political spectrum. While this idea is unlikely to have a big impact on the election outcome (considering, for instance, that the Trump candidacy appears to be increasing registration among Latinos), it would probably do more to build revolutionary momentum than pursuing change via the ballot box.

Boycott and Revolution

The need for fundamental, even revolutionary change is now widely recognized. Widespread support for the Sanders and Trump campaigns -- whose effect (if not intent) has been to preclude revolution by weaving disaffected voters back into the two-party system -- are among several signs of this. However, simply staying away from the polling stations isn't enough. To gain the most momentum from the current moment, the boycott should be advanced as part of a longer-term movement for systemic revolutionary change.

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Speakout Wed, 18 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Millions of Us Are Affected by Draconian Prison Penalties http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36071-millions-of-us-are-affected-by-draconian-prison-penalties http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36071-millions-of-us-are-affected-by-draconian-prison-penalties

A crisis is defined as "a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events is determined." It is a turning point, a condition of instability or danger that will lead us to a decisive change. We are at such a turning point right now with mass incarceration, which is the No. 1 public health crisis as the Vera Institute says in its report, "On Life Support: Public Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration." The political climate is poised to make the necessary changes to truly reform our criminal justice system because without these changes we will have a collapse.

A crisis is defined as "a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events is determined." It is a turning point, a condition of instability or danger that will lead us to a decisive change.

We are at such a turning point right now with mass incarceration, which is the No. 1 public health crisis as the Vera Institute says in its report, "On Life Support: Public Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration." The political climate is poised to make the necessary changes to truly reform our criminal justice system because without these changes we will have a collapse. The catastrophic fallout and collateral consequences have affected each and every one of us who pay taxes.

Studies have proven that incarcerating young offenders actually leads to more criminal behavior and more serious crimes. The harm done to their families and the community is profound. If we don't create safe, effective solutions now it will get worse.

As the mother of a Georgia inmate, his incarceration has had a profound consequence on the way I have lived for the past four years. Pain from being dragged through the mire of the criminal justice system and fear of the unknown world of incarceration have directly affected how I do business and who I do business with. It has changed the way I vote, and it has changed the way I see the world. It has changed me.

For the returning citizen (ex-con), the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction are those thatare NOT part of the civil penalties (i.e. incarceration, fines or probation). They include loss of professional license, ineligibility for public funds and potential loss of voting rights (depending on where you live), among thousands of other consequences that makes coming home and staying home nearly impossible.

Now keep in mind, I don't have the same losses forced on me as my son will when he returns, but I have collateral consequences nonetheless. My income is less because I had to give up a full-time job so that I can advocate for my son, hence I pay less taxes. Because my income is less, my spending has decreased.

In fact, I have not spent a fraction of what I did pre-prison years, except to support my son. Between phones, commissary, gas to visit, quarters for vending during visits, books, magazines, shoes, shirts, etc., I have spent nearly $50,000. This doesn't even count legal fees or my time. Money that I can't get back, and money that I didn't spend in my community.

On top of the loss of money, I no longer find the need to have a spontaneous meal out on the town. I no longer find the need to buy that pretty bauble, and I no longer have the desire to support things that have no depth or meaning. You see, when you have someone you love in prison, you are basically in prison right along with them, so being frivolous with your time and money becomes painful, especially considering how meagerly they live.

Multiply this by the 2.5 million families who have a loved one in prison and I think the numbers speakfor themselves. Families who are torn apart by mass incarceration have an enormous responsibility to forsake things in order to help their loved ones. They also must prepare to support them when they return, because returning citizens are barely able to find work due to the collateral consequences oftheir conviction. And 90 percent of them will return one day.

Our business leaders and owners need to understand that mass incarceration and the collateral consequences it has on the families hit them directly in their wallet. And more importantly, our lawmakers need to understand that they have collateral consequences as well. With the transparency that social media allows, we can no longer sugarcoat the truth. The prison-industrial complex is a financial burden on all of us, and the taxpayers and family members are the pillars who hold up this very unstable system.

The only way we can properly turn the ship around is by using our political clout. We need to come together as one community and vote according to the needs of ourselves and our loved ones before, during and after incarceration.

We need to vote for people who have compassion for reform, and are willing to address laws that aredraconian and destructive to our country. We need to vote for leaders who stand up and speak for us. With almost 7 million people in our country under some form of supervision, jail, prison, probation and parole, we must have another 7 million who love them.

The time for decisive change is now.

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Speakout Tue, 17 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Five Refugee Camps in Mud on the Greek-Macedonian Border http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36069-five-refugee-camps-in-mud-on-the-greek-macedonian-border http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36069-five-refugee-camps-in-mud-on-the-greek-macedonian-border

"If you don't like refugees coming to your country, stop voting for politicians who love to bomb the shit out of them." Our delegation from CODEPINK: Women for Peace saw this written on a tent at the Idomeni refugee camp in on the Greek-Macedonian border. As we well know, neither the Greek nor Macedonian governments have bombed people, but they are having to deal with the huge numbers of refugees caused by the decisions of government far away.

(Photo: Courtesy Ann Wright)(Photo: Courtesy Ann Wright)

"If you don't like refugees coming to your country, stop voting for politicians who love to bomb the shit out of them." Our delegation from CODEPINK: Women for Peace saw this written on a tent at the Idomeni refugee camp in on the Greek-Macedonian border. As we well know, neither the Greek nor Macedonian governments have bombed people, but they are having to deal with the huge numbers of refugees caused by the decisions of government far away.

The Obama administration, which inherited the chaos from the 2003 Iraq War from the Bush administration -- but that has been bombing ISIS in urban areas in Iraq and Syria has resettled only 1,736 Syrian refugees over the last seven months despite President Obama's pledge to resettle at least 10,000 Syrians by September 2016. In contrast, Canada has resettled more than 26,000 Syrian refugees since late 2015, while Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have together taken in millions of Syrian refugees since the conflict began five years ago.

In early May, we had flown from Athens to Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, and then had driven one hour north to the Greek border with Macedonia. The name of the tiny hamlet of Idomeni has become synonymous with the largest refugee camp in Greece.

As we arrived, a tremendous thunder, lightning and hailstorm hit the area, ripping down tents, making mud pools and deluging tents and the clothing and bedding inside. We saw the worst conditions (except cold and snow) that the 13,000 refugees must endure in five camps within four miles of the Macedonian border. All five are "informal, unofficial" camps and refugees can come and go at will. They have refused any attempt to put them into the formal "detention" camps that place them in isolated areas and restrict their movement within Greece. As a result, the services provided are not particularly well-organized, although all have limited porta-potties, showers and faucets for washing clothes. All have basic food provided primarily by volunteers, nongovernment organizations and the Greek military (in only one camp).

The first camp one comes upon on Highway 75 heading north from Thessaloniki is at the gasoline station and rest stop called EKO. More than 2,000 persons are camping in the large parking lot, grocery store and car wash. Save the Children provides rice porridge and oranges daily for children under 11 years of age, and estimates there are more than 1,000 children. We helped hand out the porridge by going tent-to-tent and asking how many children of that age group were in the household (tenthold). Save the Children coordinators told us that they liked having the daily contact with people in their living space, rather than having people stand in another long line. We were greeted with a warm smile and a "thank you" by every mother to whom we delivered the porridge. The Boat Refugee Foundation of the Netherlands has a number of volunteers that help with the porridge delivery -- young women and men from the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden and the UK.

At EKO camp, we met a distinguished man who told us he was a mathematics teacher in a small village outside of Damascus, Syria. He and his 13-year-old daughter made the trip from Syria through Turkey, by boat to Samos, ferry boat to Piraeus, train from Athens to Thessaloniki and taxi to EKO camp. He had been at the camp for one month and 3 weeks. He left his wife and 17-year-old daughter behind in Syria

Leaving EKO camp, we stopped at the Park Hotel on the outskirts of the village of Polikastro, where the volunteer headquarters are located. Each night at 8pm, experienced volunteers provide an orientation for new volunteers and update everyone with the day's happenings.

In the back of the Park Hotel is the kitchen of Hot Food Idomeni, a group of volunteers that cook basic meals of staples such as rice, beans and curry in large vats for 5,000 people each day. Paul of the United Kingdom heads up thevolunteer force of 45 persons. Two shifts of 15 people prepare the meals and two groups of another 15 load up thefood, drive the food to the camps and distribute it. Paul said that they are spending about $2,000 per day for food and transporting the food for 5,000. The Greek military feeds one of the other camps and has called on Hot Food Idomeni to help them when their food ran out. Hot Food Idomeni is a remarkable place to work as a volunteer and it's a great organization to send donations, as their work is definitely keeping people alive.

After the Park Hotel, we stopped at the 500-person camp called Lidl, named for a nearby merchandise store. Most people live in white tents provided by the Greek military. The tents are in long military precision lines next to a small runway. The military does not let new volunteers into the camp -- only those affiliated with organizations.

Next, we visited the Hara camp, named for gasoline rest stop and nearby hotel. 500 persons are camped around thegasoline station area. Norway's Northern Lights Aid group is nominally "in charge" of the camp and provided tents, coordinates clothes distribution and has a sundry item purchase for refugees. Charlie and Henry formed Northern Lights after they worked for months on Lesbos, and when volunteers were displaced by the detention center staff, they came to the Macedonian border to help with refugees there. Hara has a much different atmosphere, as it is a smaller camp and the attention given by Northern Lights volunteers -- including four from Poland and the Czech Republic when we were there -- has much to do with that more positive environment. Donations can be made through NorthernLightsAid.org.

Idomeni is a sprawling camp within 500 meters of the Macedonian border and has around 10,000 persons. One Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staff told us that no one knows the exact number, as refugees are coming and leaving at will. The camp has been open as a stop for refugees who were able to cross into Macedonia prior to March 22 and go into Europe. Now those in the camp are stuck. They must remain in the camp until a decision is made on their individual cases. Some have been in the camp for nine weeks.

Greek police have two large buses that block the railroad tracks between the camp and the border. Many of the refugees have placed their tents on the railway line. Others have their tents in the fields, which became mud pits with the heavy rain we witnessed on the day we arrived. Parents were cleaning out the tents of mud and rain that had poured in, hanging up clothes, blankets and sleeping bags on the fences along the railroad track.

(Photo: Courtesy Ann Wright)(Photo: Courtesy Ann Wright)

Not everyone is sleeping in small tents. Two large UNHCR temporary tent buildings have approximately 100 bunksin them arranged much like the overcrowded prisons in the US. People make privacy areas from the blankets hanging down from the upper bunks.

Four dinner lines began forming in the late afternoon. The four feeding locations had hundreds of people lined up for simple meals of beans and rice, and a couscous type meal.

As with any refugee camp, industrious sellers have begun. Some had small amounts of coffee, powdered milk, crackers and eggs for sale. Those who had purchased food were cooking it over wood fires from trees they were chopping down -- not an enduring move to local residents in the area.

Millions of refugees await their fate and future in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan as the international community slowly decides how to handle the flood of people fleeing chaos in their countries caused by military operations. Millions of others hope that their arrival in Europe will provide them an opportunity for a life without conflict until they can return home.

In the year of presidential election in the United States, the reminder written on a refugee tent in Greece is one voters should heed: "If you don't like refugees coming to your country, stop voting for politicians who love to bomb the s**t out of them."

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Speakout Tue, 17 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400