Political Action

Election Update

Democratic Convention Watch - Sun, 06/25/2017 - 15:25

May and June were significant months for elections, both in the United States and Europe.  While the news media tends to overhype some elections and ignore others, there are some conclusions that can be drawn from those elections.

Starting with the United States, the big news has been a series of special elections — focusing mostly on three Congressional seats held by the Republicans.  Neither party can be particularly happy with the results at the Congressional level, but certain things need to be noted.

First, except when caused by death or sudden resignation due to scandal, most vacancies occur in what the parties consider to be “safe” seats.  With the exception of the upcoming special election in Utah, the special elections for the House are all the results of an executive of their own party “promoting” the member of Congress to an executive office.  In California, you have to go back to 2012 to see the last time that a Republican even ran in the 34th district.  The four Republican seats were solid wins for the Republican incumbents in 2016 with the closest margin being 16% in Montana.  All five of these districts were double-digit wins for their party’s candidate in 2012.  The only district that was arguably winnable by the “out” party was Georgia 6 and that is only if you looked solely at the 2016 presidential election.  By the partisan vote index, Georgia 6 is still R+8, meaning that the Democrats would need to get around 58% nationally to win that seat.

Second, while national trends have a significant role to play in Congressional election results (as the number of true swing voters declines), races still involve actual candidates running actual campaigns.  Unlike regular elections, in which the parties have a significant period of time between the last election and the start of filing to recruit solid candidates for winnable seats, special elections require getting candidates to file (or choosing a candidate in some states like Kansas and Montana) in a matter of weeks from the announcement of the election to the close of filing.   The candidates for both parties are the ones who are ready to run, not necessarily the “best” candidate.  (That is especially true in Montana where both parties ran flawed candidates.)

Third, special elections are almost never about which party controls Congress.  While the media focuses on wins and losses (and parties will find consolation/disappointment in the wins and losses), the more significant story is whether the results show anything about swings since the last election.

It is in those trends that any discussion of these elections has to begin and it leads to the bigger question — has Trump yet made the Republican Party his party.  In the 2016 election, Trump exceeded expectations in some rural and blue collar districts but underperformed in certain suburban white collar districts.  A question going forward is whether Trump has driven voters with college degrees who, in the past, have leaned Republican from the Republican party or if these voters merely oppose Trump.  On the other side, the question is whether rural and blue collar voters have been permanently lost to the Democratic Party or if they merely disliked President Obama and Secretary Clinton.  Assuming that the results from the special elections so far has any meaning for 2018, it seems likely that the Democrats are looking at getting a result near the 53-54% national vote needed to win a majority in the House.

Another issue from these elections is that, in each of the races in the Republican districts (except perhaps in South Carolina), the polls showed the Democratic candidate either leading or in a close race shortly before the election.  After those polls showing a closer than expected race, the national Republicans intervened in the races and local Republican activists woke up to the need to work hard to keep the seat.  In all of these seats, the Republicans slightly over-performed these polls to barely keep the seat.  Obviously, the mid-term election will be quite different than these special elections.  With 435 seats up for grabs, there will not be polling for every seat (so people will not necessarily know which seats are at risk of an upset).  Additionally, neither party will be able to pour money into every close race — at least not at the overkill levels seen in Georgia 6 — a race that shows that there is such a thing as too much money.    On the other hand, traditional Republican voters did come home in these seats despite any potential problems that they might have with President Trump.

Of course, there are still more elections to come this year — the regularly scheduled off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia and the special election for Utah 3 are all scheduled for November.

Internationally, the big elections were in the United Kingdom and France.  In the United Kingdom, the election law is supposed to make it difficult to call an early election.  However, the Conservatives called an early election barely two years into a five-year term.   The traditional thought in the United Kingdom — from the days when the election law placed no limits on the ability of the government to call an early election — is that calling an early election (i.e. before the last year of the term) when the government has a working majority is generally viewed as opportunist and the government is punished.  This election followed that general rule.  Despite the early polling showing the Conservatives gaining a significant number of seats, the Conservatives actually lost seats and their majority.

Equally big from the United Kingdom were the continued developments in Northern Ireland.  This election saw the Ulster Unionists and the Social Democratic and Labour Party lose their last seats in Parliament.  In the old days, when there was still fighting between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, these two parties were the two leading parties in Northern Ireland.  Since the Good Friday Agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland, these two centrists parties that pushed for peace have lost votes and seats to the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein — the two parties that represent the extremes of the two communities.  After the last election, the Democratic Unionists held ten seats and Sinn Fein held seven seats with one seat held by an independent who was originally elected as an Ulster Unionist.  (In comparison, before the Good Friday Agreement, the Ulster Unionists and SDLP held thirteen seats.)  Given that the Conservatives fell just short of a majority, the overall election results mean that the Democratic Unionists hold the balance of power.  Given that the DUP is a socially conservative party and the fact that the rest of the UK has managed to stay above the unique regional disputes of Northern Ireland, the DUP being power brokers is not a good thing.

Another development worthy of note from this election is that the DUP is only in this position because the Conservatives rebounded in Scotland.  Before the election, the Conservatives held only one seat from Scotland with the Scottish Nationalists holding 56 of 59 seats.  The SNP fell to 35 seats with the Conservatives gaining twelve seats (compared to a gain of six by Labour) leaving the Conservatives with a total of thirteen seats.  Given that the Conservatives fell six short of a majority (forcing them to rely on the DUP’s ten votes to survive any motion of no confidence), the gain of twelve in Scotland is the only thing letting them form a minority government that has any chance of surviving more than a couple of months.  (It will also be interesting to see what will happen.  In the past, a minority government would probably call an election within several months in the hopes of winning a working majority.  Now, calling an election would require the support of the opposition parties.)

The stated reason for the Conservatives calling the election was to receive a mandate to pursue a certain strategy in Brexit negotiations.  The attempt to get a mandate for a very Trumpian approach to those negotiations failed “bigly.”  Additionally, the most Trumpian party lost its only seat in parliament.

Across the English Channel in France, the election results show the significance of “personality politics.”  A political party that did not exist in the last general election has now won the presidency and an overwhelming majority in Parliament.  While the new president is not quite the newcomer that he is sometimes portrayed in the media — he served in the last government — the ability to build a movement from scratch is somewhat foreign to U.S. politics.  Other countries make it much easier for parties to get on the ballot leading to more fractured political loyalty and a chance for a new party to accumulate a significant percentage of votes.  In the first round of voting (for both president and the legislature), this new party managed to get in the mid-20s.  Given the number of parties in France, those numbers were enough to make the run-off for president and the run-off in almost all of the legislative seats.  In the U.S. (or even the U.K.) with two major parties and no run-off, those numbers would be an electoral disaster rather than winning numbers.  While the Trumpian party made the presidential run-off, it got crushed and only won eight seats in parliament.

As in the U.S., major international elections are not done for the year.  Even  if there is not a second election in the U.K., German elections are scheduled for late September.  In the beginning of the year, it looked like a far right Trumpian party might win a significant number of seats (polling in double digits).  Now it looks like, they are polling in the single digits.  While currently they are polling over the 5% necessary to qualify for seats (having fallen just short in 2013), they have dropped 3-4% since earlier in the year and may ultimately fall short again.  (The most recent polls have them between 6% and 9% compared to polls showing them near 15% at the start of the year.)  As would be expected, most of the voters that flirted with the far right have returned to the center-right meaning that Chancellor Angela Merkel is looking likely to win another term in office.  While Chancellor Merkel’s party is polling slightly under its result in 2013, its main ally (who failed to get the necessary 5% in the last election) is polling around 8%.  As a result (as compared to a grand coalition after the 2013 election), it looks likely that Chancellor Merkel will be able to form a center-right coalition after this election (like after the 2009 elections).

Of course, the big story from Europe is that the Trump brand of politics is not doing well in European elections.  The far right populism peaked in Europe last year and Trump’s example of poorly run government is turning off European voters.  For the United States, the bigger problem is that Europe’s leaders are getting the message that they are on their own.  The United States has been able to get rather favorable deals internationally (regardless of how domestic opposition mischaracterize them) because the United States was in a leadership role and seen as indispensable to making any arrangement work.  If our traditional allies get used to having to do things for themselves, it may be hard for the U.S. to reclaim that position after Trump is shown the door.

Categories: Political Action

Free Speech Uber Alles

Democratic Convention Watch - Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:48

The late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black was famous for a very literal interpretation of the First Amendment — that the language in the Amendment providing that “Congress shall make no law” meant that Congress should make no law.  While the current Supreme Court does not go quite as far as Justice Black, a consistent theme of the Roberts Court has been — with the occasional exception that proves the rule — a very broad interpretation of the First Amendment to strike down any law in which the government either directly (by banning it) or indirectly (by favoring other speech) regulates speech.  Simply put, if there is a free speech component to your case, the expectation has to be that the government will lose if the Supreme Court grants review and the only question is exactly how the justices will line-up in the decision.

This week saw the last two free speech opinions of the term (there is a remaining free exercise case that could incorporate some of the recent free speech cases into that sphere of law) — both issued on Monday.  In both cases, the ultimate decision was unanimous, but there was a liberal-conservative split in the reasoning.

The more “traditional” case was Packingham v. North Carolina.  This case involved a North Carolina statute that barred registered sex offenders from accessing commercial social networking website if juveniles could also join that site.  (Under the very broad definition used by North Carolina, this site might qualify.)  All eight justices (the case was heard in February before Justice Gorsuch joined the Court) agreed that the statute was overbroad and not narrowly tailored due to the sheer number of sites covered by the statute that were not primarily designed to facilitate the type of one-on-one real world interaction that the Court saw as the legitimate purpose behind the statute.  The main disagreement in the case — between Justice Kennedy writing for the “liberal” majority and Justice Alito writing for the three conservative justices — was how to characterize the internet.  The majority described the internet as the functional equivalent of public streets and parks.  (In free speech law, streets and parks are considered “public forums” and the government’s ability to regulate is very limited — some content-neutral “time, place, and manner” restrictions like requiring parade permits are allowed, but such restrictions are closely examined to determine that they are not being used to prevent speech.)  From a factual point of view, this analysis is partly accurate.  The internet itself is arguably like a street, but the individual websites are more like private homes and offices.  The dissent — borrowing from language in the majority about the need to be cautious in applying existing legal categories to the internet to avoid inhibiting the speed at which the internet is changing — thought that it was not necessary to categorize the internet as a public forum.  (Because both opinions recognize that preventing crime is a legitimate governmental interest potentially supporting restrictions on sex offenders, there are likely to be future cases considering whether other restrictions — whether imposed on sex offenders on a case-by-case basis or statutes that apply to certain categories of sex offenders across the board — are narrowly tailored.)

The other case — Matal v. Tam — involved the Supreme Court’s growing line of “indirect” restrictions on speech.  The issue in this case — as discussed on prior occasions — was the law permitting the patent office to decline to grant trademark recognition if the item for which trademark recognition was sought “disparaged” any person.  In this case, the “Slants” — an Asian-American rock band — sought and had been denied trademark protection for that name.  Again, all eight justices agreed that the law was unconstitutional — rejecting all arguments that the statute did not actually bar or restrict speech but merely governed a governmental benefit that the government choose to give to certain “favored” speakers.  (While trademark recognition makes it easier for the trademark owner to bring an infringement action, it is not absolutely necessary that the government officially recognize and register a trademark for there to be a legally-protected “common law” trademark.)  As in Packingham, the justices split on some of the reasoning.   Seven of the justices (Justice Thomas did not join this part of the opinion) held that, although the statute only expressly barred trademarks that disparaged persons, the patent office correctly interpreted the law as also barring trademarks that disparaged groups of people (such as derogatory names for certain racial groups).  All eight justices agreed that the trademarks was not governmental speech and, because registration did not endorse the content of the trademark, registration was not governmental speech either.  However, the justices disagreed about how to analyze the rest of the case.

Justice Alito (writing on behalf of himself, the other two conservative justices, and Justice Breyer) rejected the claim that trademark registration was a form of subsidy (holding that the subsidy cases only applied to cash subsidies) or a government program.  Treating trademarks as a “limited public forum” (think public comment session at a local government meeting), the “conservative” opinion noted that regulations limiting permissible speech in such forums had to be viewpoint neutral and the bar on disparaging comments is not viewpoint neutral.   Finally, analyzing the regulation under the relatively relaxed standard that applies to commercial speech, the regulation is still not viewpoint neutral and thus fails the intermediate scrutiny because (like the regulation in Packingham) it is not sufficiently narrowly drawn to match any proposed legitimate governmental interest.

Justice Kennedy (writing on behalf of himself and the remaining three liberal justices) would have applied heightened scrutiny to the regulation (requiring a compelling interest and narrow tailoring rather than the substantial interest required by intermediate scrutiny) because it constituted viewpoint discrimination.  As with the four justices who applied intermediate scrutiny, these four justices found that this regulation failed heightened scrutiny.

While none of the opinions address the rest of the registration statute, the statute also bars registration of trademarks that are “immoral,” “deceptive,” or “scandalous.”  While the bar on deceptive trademarks probably would withstand scrutiny, the bars on “immoral” and “scandalous” trademarks will probably also be struck down in future cases unless a court very narrowly interprets those terms  (For example, by equating immoral with obscene).

The decision in Packingham is the less significant of the two.  When the case was granted, the law looked in trouble and the only question was whether some of the justices might create a “criminal” exception to free speech.  Tam raised more significant questions because it was less clear how to characterize the impact of the regulation and whether it actually restricted speech.  The immediate impact of Tam is that efforts to pressure the Washington Redskins to change their name by denying trademark registration  to that name are gone.  The case also falls into a line of cases that restrict regulations on hate speech unless that speech is associated with a criminal intent (i.e. directed at intimidating or harming a specific individual).   It also represents another link in a line of cases that sees the denial of a governmental benefit based on viewpoint discrimination (except when the viewpoint is closely connected to the purpose of the benefit) as a violation of the applicant’s free speech rights.

Looking at things longer term, while Justice Gorsuch did not participate in either case, the Roberts Court is unlikely to be changing its approach to the First Amendment.  While we still have three April cases left, Justice Gorsuch appears to be lining up with Justice Alito and Justice Thomas more than Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts.  It is unlikely that this Court is going to walk back from Citizens United.  More significantly, just before Justice Scalia died, the Supreme Court heard a case asking the justices to overturn a prior decision requiring public employees in closed shop states to pay fees to unions to cover the expenses of collective bargaining on behalf of those employees.  The decision in that case was 4-4.  Anti-worker activists have several cases in the  pipeline, and the conservative majority is likely to get another case raising that issue to the Supreme Court soon.  Given the gradual shift among unionized workers from those working in the private sector to those working in the public sector, such a decision would cripple the union movement.  And given the role that the union movement plays in supporting progressive candidates, such a decision would leave the Republican Party and the Koch brothers with a monopoly in campaign spending.

Ten years from now, workers and progressives are going to realize that the 2016 election was a missed opportunity to bring the Supreme Court back to the center.  With Justice Gorsuch on the court, conservatives will continue to use the First Amendment as a battering ram to crush any restrictions on the wealthy buying elections.  While, thanks to Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts, we might win individual cases on other issues, campaign finance reform is dead for the foreseeable future.

Categories: Political Action

Take action to #ProtectOurCare!

Move On - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 13:50

Thanks for your interest in taking action to defeat Trumpcare! Here are a few ways to raise your voice.

1- Text CARE to 668366 for updates in real-time about actions we can take to protect health care coverage in Congress!

2- Call your Senators to demand they oppose Trumpcare
The Capitol Switchboard number is 202-224-3121. Dial that number, then provide your zip code to be connected with your Senator. If possible, ask to speak with the person who handles health care legislation.

3- Call again!
Save that number to your contacts. Then set a daily calendar reminder to call your Senator’s office and paste the number in the notes — make sure to call every day until we defeat Trumpcare.

4- Sign this petition calling on Senators to opposed Trumpcare.

Categories: Political Action

In conversation with Jessamyn West, famous librarian

Creative Commons - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 13:30
Jessamyn West at Desk, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jessamyn West is a famous librarian, a former Metafilter admin, and a Vermont information technologist with a passion for open knowledge.

West has been blogging about library technology since 1999 at librarian.net and on her blog jessamyn.com since 1999. She also has a prolific Medium presence and an entertaining and informative newsletter about libraries and information access, called TILT. In addition to moderating the online Metafilter community, West has worked with Open Library, Harvard University, and the Rutland Free Library. An inspiring library activist, she designed the library “warrant canary,” and last year, she spearheaded the Librarian of Progress campaign, which encouraged the Library of Congress to modernize for the 21st Century.

You made a website during the nomination process of the Librarian of Congress called “The Librarian of Progress.” Can you talk about Carla Hayden’s nomination and then appointment as the Librarian of Congress? What do you think is going to happen with the new LOC and how do you think it’s going to affect copyright in the future?

I think there’s a couple things that pile in together, right? Number one, I feel like the Library of Congress has been a little bit of a ghost ship for the last five, maybe even 10 years. James Billington, who’s this eminent historian, headed the institution as if it were like a history center. But not quite a library and certainly not a public institution that is the world’s largest library. I think when a lot of us were looking at “Gosh, he’s retiring. Thank God. Who’s going to come in?” We were just hoping there would be somebody who was from this century, number one, and number two, somebody who was friendly, progressive, and forward-thinking. A lot of people don’t really know that the copyright office sits within the Library of Congress. The Librarian of Congress is nominally in charge of the copyright office.

She’s said copyright reform needs to happen – she’s definitely a sharing advocate, and a true public librarian who understands that culture is advanced when people are allowed to be creative with things. Hayden believes that libraries can be an institution that can help people do that—safely is maybe not the right word, but fairly.

Librarians don’t want copyright to go out the window. They just want it to be fair, they want it to be something that people can understand, and they want it to be something that people can use.

We hope that Dr. Hayden is really going to be the first Librarian of Congress who maybe gets that and can create an institution that can work with that.

Do you think that library values can be particularly important when it comes to the challenges facing the copyright office in the Library of Congress?

I think so. Libraries work for everyone, they don’t necessarily just work for their customers, they don’t necessarily just work for the people with money, and they don’t necessarily just work for the people in charge. There’s a democratizing factor with what they do. You realize that certain things about the way copyright works, the way copyright protection extends way, way back into history, some things seems to never enter the public domain, especially lately. Authors write that things can get locked up forever, things could be in an orphan work state where you have no idea who owns it and it’s just presumed that it’s not available to be used, unless you can prove it’s available to be used. I feel like libraries can have a mitigating factor on that because they can accept some of the risk. They can say, “We feel it’s probably okay to share this.”
 
The MPAA and RIAA work for the rights holders—who maybe be different than the actual creators—but in general the behavior of industry organizations is understandable. It’s not necessarily in their best interest to be crystal clear about what the law does and doesn’t allow. It’s a lot more in their interest to be slightly scary and to make you afraid so that if you’re making a video in your kid’s house, and your kids appear in a video, and you know the music in the background is an artist that’s notoriously litigious, maybe you’re not going to do that. As far as the RIAA is concerned, that’s fine with them. Don’t play Metallica in the background. Don’t paint Mickey Mouse on the wall of your daycare. All the rights holders want you to worry and second guess your use of their content, and what the library would like you to do is share legally as much as you can. They can help people and I think their values of working for everybody push forward that goal.

How do you feel about the concept of the commons and knowledge of licensing, like Creative Commons? Do you feel that CC can help in these kinds of situations?

I feel like it’s a great tool for cultural heritage organizations. Not just libraries, but museums and archives too, because then they also use it for sharing their own resources—to a certain extent. I use Creative Commons to license the content that I put online. I like it because it essentially says, “Look, I’m making this freely available, but I don’t want other people making money for it.” I can dial in how I want people to be able to use my work. Maybe someone else just want to give away all the rights and they can dial that in too. I think the only thing really standing in the way of Creative Commons is that some people aren’t clear what the enforcement mechanisms are.

I think we’ve seen people who share their content as freely as possible, but then other people sell it and they say, “What? That’s not in the spirit of it.” We’re not talking about the spirit. We’re talking about an actual license, which means you have to read the fine print and everything else. I think we’re seeing a ton of libraries using tools like Flickr, for instance, online photo archiving, and it’s awesome for them to be able to assign Creative Commons licensing to it to expand their options beyond either only public domain or only all rights reserved.

CC gives them options that are more true to their values, and I think that act facilitates sharing and reusing, repurposing, remixing, and all that wonderful stuff that helps culture move along. It’s joyful, honestly.

I really am happy that CC exists, but I’m always surprised how many people I talk to who either don’t quite understand it or they don’t see that it’s actually a tool of facilitation, not a tool of restriction.

It sounds like a lot of the different examples we’ve been talking about have to do with fear and confusion. This culture of fear around people using and sharing material and using and sharing licenses. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how that has influenced your work, both as a librarian and also as a MetaFilter moderator, and the other work that you’ve done over your career as an advocate for free and open information.

I spend a lot of time trying to talk people through some worst case scenarios, because I think one of the problems is chilling effects of unclear rules. People aren’t sure what the rules are, and so they over-censor themselves or over-restrict, or they try to shame other people into doing that. For 10 years, I ran MetaFilter, which is a big online community. There are lot of people interacting and talking to one another. You would occasionally get someone who would write, “There’s this scientific paper that I think is super interesting,” and they would link to an abstract or a news article about the paper. Then in the comments, someone would tell them, “Here is a PDF, or contact me to get a PDF of that paper.” Maybe the PDF is available, but it’s only in a commercial journal, you have to pay 50 bucks to get it. They’d share it out. Then other people would say, “That’s so illegal,” and freak out.

As a moderator on the site, we have to be a mitigating influence and tell people, “Look, it’s up to the rights holder to determine if there’s a problem. Sharing a PDF among 30 people is maybe technically a copyright infringement, but it’s probably not going put you in jail.” I think the MPAA and the RIAA really like to blur that line. I don’t think it’s nice to pirate all music because it’s no good for struggling artists, but I don’t think sharing a Metallica song is really the same thing as stealing the records from somebody’s house. I think the entertainment industry tries to obscure that boundary because their revenue stream depends on it.

In terms of sharing information in online communities, the risk is so low and the value of people having better information about medicine, for example, is so valuable that it’s worth approaching the outlines of that envelope and trying to figure out how you can maximize sharing. I think for some libraries, they worry a lot about risk assessment because they’re government institutions. Not so much “We’re the government,” but if the library gets sued by the MPAA, that’s a town getting sued by the MPAA, and it’s expensive. I like it when non-profit institutions are willing to go to bat for better interpretations of copyright laws. We saw the Hathi Trust lawsuit and the Google Books lawsuit. The Internet Archive is always willing to stand up for sharing as much as possible. These public interest institutions can really help model appropriate risk assessment.

For example, the Internet Archive shares thousands of video games from the 1990s that nobody was playing anymore and the original companies have probably abandoned, but if someone comes along and says, “Hey, that belongs to me and I own the rights, will you take it down?” they will. In the meantime, the Archive provides access to games that people can play and share and talk about, and it surfaces culture in a way that if they were concerned only about chilling effects and “maybe this isn’t technically legal,” they never would. I’m happy that those organizations are out there, and I’m always advocating for libraries to join in the sharing as much as is possible. And I think for libraries this type of sharing is usually practical because they can shoulder a little bit more risk than one individual patron might be able to.

You work and live in Vermont, and in your library, the internet and having access to cultural works online can open up the world to a lot of people. I’m wondering while the culture of commoning can open up new frontiers for students and educators, how are you and your organization branching that digital divide? Are you or how are you using tools such as Creative Commons to help cultural heritage organizations bridge that gap?

One of the things I try to do all the time when I’m educating users about Creative Commons and the other things is just showing people where these deep archives of content are already available to them. One of the aspects of the digital divide is that people only have ideas about content, archives, and information that they read about in the paper. If you ask somebody what they know about Wikipedia when all they have is access to a newspaper and don’t use the internet that much, they’ll ask me “That’s that place where everybody yells at each other and people vandalize it all the time,” and they have all these weird ideas. I was like, “Okay, that happens, but did you know that every picture you see on Wikipedia you can have for free?” A lot of them don’t know that.

Part of how Wikipedia works is the content that’s available is freely licensed so that people can have it and use it. Somebody wants to make a YouTube video or maybe they got in trouble because they put up a YouTube video of something and it had a copyrighted song on in the background, and I let them know, “You know the Creative Commons has a search engine where you can search for music that you can use as a background to your video and it’s all licensed for you to use, reuse, mix, and share.” A lot of times they don’t. A lot of times what I’m talking to people about is ways to help transplant things maybe they want, but they can’t have, with things that they can have that are equivalent.

Our public library is digitally divided enough that it’s actually fairly difficult to even have a program about Wikipedia and have people show up, because people say, “I don’t understand why that would work.” If you hang out in a library with a scanner and help people take their photographs and put them online, or even show them other people’s photographs and then put them on the internet, you have to find what makes this stuff a genuine option for people. You have to figure out what the hook is that’s going to bring them in and be like, “That’s also a problem for me and I’d like to solve it.” In this region, a lot of it is family history books that are freely searchable via the internet archives. Or music that you can find through the Creative Commons searches that you can use on YouTube videos. Or historical photos on Wikipedia that you might use to illustrate a book report.

What kinds of random things do people want to go look up? YouTube videos about tractor engines running. Never would’ve known that’s a thing, but apparently there’s a ton of them, and a lot of them are available, shareable, embeddable, because even Youtube licensing strictly, videos can often can at least be shared around. I encourage people when they’re using the internet to think about the benefits of having that be shareable for everyone, and try to educate them appropriately about the downsides to it as well. I think a lot of people are under the misapprehension that if you share a picture on the internet then everybody just steals it, or takes it and draws a mustache on your baby’s face, or worse. Realistically, there’s so much information out there, most of the time people aren’t going to focus on harassing individual users, but if you do find the right user who can use that tractor engine video, of all the things, that’s really made a connection, and that’s, again, helped cultural progress, which is really I think what we’re all about in a library.

I think maybe some of this is the about first taste of recognition. I was having a conversation with someone at the bank and they saw who I worked for, and they said, “You know that my photo is the photo for challah on Wikipedia? It’s the best. I just love it.”

My mom is a huge sharer of photos using Flickr. She does some of them public domain and some of them not. She has a ton of those stories and she is a 70-ish-year-old lady living in rural Massachusetts, and she’s connected with a ton of people like that. She takes pictures of cats at the cat shelter to help cats get adopted. It’s enriched her life just doing her own things that she would basically be doing normally, but she sticks a sharing license on them and I think part of that also, she sticks a sharing license on them, and Flickr has mechanisms where you can search for stuff that’s shareable. It’s not just the power of Creative Commons, which I’m already jazzed about, but the fact that that’s built in now to search engines.

Have you seen a significant change in your own community in the last few years with smartphones really becoming a much more viable option for a larger group of people?

A little bit. I think smartphones are a lot more about instant connectivity, Instagram and Snapchat, and to look stuff up on the internet. We haven’t seen, at least in my community, too many people using smartphones to be creators of content. I taught an HTML class last fall at the local community college, and we spent a day talking about alternative licensing, we talked about Creative Commons licensing. I got to test and quiz kids on what does BY-NC mean and stuff. They didn’t quite see it as totally relevant to themselves because they didn’t see themselves as content creators. The couple kids who were musicians or web designers, they believed that this served them. Out of about 30 kids, I probably had four or five who really viewed themselves as creators. The makerspace communities that have taken root in bigger cities is only slowly getting here. These may be kids who build their own tractors, build their own cars. Literally building physically out of things, but the digital maker way hasn’t quite hit here yet.

Do you think that there’s anything that apps or that the people who are making apps, particularly people who are making apps for the cultural heritage sphere for libraries could do to make to help people feel more like makers on the web?

I think about Wikipedia, right, and Wikipedia really, really wants people to upload and share images. All sorts of content, but images especially because it’s easy.

I think the missing sharing point is unless you’re a cultural heritage institution who can bulk upload a bunch of stuff because you’ve been in touch with the Wikipedia organization and you know how to do it, it’s not going work very well. The average person doesn’t know they can get free storage for their content on Wikipedia. I feel like we still could have sharing tools that work better than the ones we have now that facilitated accurate licensing, but for people affected by the digital divide, the fact that they don’t have access to computers or the web means they don’t have access to a lot of other tools.
 
Can you talk a little bit about how you teach the ethos of sharing within your community, particularly with social networks, like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, when a lot of folks are coming online and that’s the first world that they’re encountering?

A lot of what I do is teach people how to use things. I teach people what some of the normative expectations of the space are, which can be challenging because there’s a lot of ways to be “normal” on Facebook. You can use it in a million different ways and nothing’s totally correct, but there are normative ways to use it. If you take a picture of someone else’s kids, for example, maybe you don’t make that picture public or maybe you don’t use that kid’s name. Maybe you do, depending on your community. That’s the thing that people need to put some thought into.

If I’m looking at Twitter, there are accounts like the History in Pics account, and it posts all these really interesting historical photos, but sometimes with semi-questionable captions. There’s whole other accounts dedicated to telling them, “Hey, I don’t actually think that caption is what that picture is really about. I actually did five minutes of research and realized that that thing that you pulled from that other random site wasn’t the thing you said it was.” I show people what the back and forth is that if there’s questions about where something came from, there are actually ways to figure it out. It’s not like, “It’s the internet. Nobody can figure anything out.” I teach them about research. I teach them about Google’s reverse image search. I teach them about how you can ask any librarian anywhere on the internet if you have a question. I think people think they can only talk to their own librarian.

I don’t think people know that the library system is there for them, and if I have a question about Colorado College, I can go ask the librarian at Colorado College and they will help me. They don’t do a ton of in depth research for me, but they can definitely help me. I try to teach people how there are humans you can talk to who can help you figure out some of this stuff, even though Facebook themselves doesn’t really have tech support, but you may have a buddy who understands it. The most powerful thing I teach people is that if you have a problem with a thing that you’re using, you’re not the first one.

It’s hard because the meta message is that you’re not special, but a lot of times if you Google an error message you’re seeing on your computer, you can find people discussing the exact problem that you also have. The thing I hear again and again from people is why doesn’t ‘X’ have a manual. The thing I have to keep telling people is the collective group of people on the internet are your manual. It’s not awesome because a lot of times people feel like that doesn’t work for them, they don’t understand it, they feel out of their element. It feels weird, but realistically, when you try it, it does work. Part of what I try to do is model good behavior with my own social media behavior.

Also I try to model not being frustrated. When people say, “Their pictures are stupid. They upload too many pictures. I don’t care about that person’s baby. Too much Trump.” I’m like, “Okay. Let me show you how to limit pictures of that person’s baby or ban the word ‘Trump’ from your front page of your Facebook.” There’s a lot of tools that we can use to empower us, but I think a lot of people presume the default role of technology is to be disempowered, which is not how I see it, but I can see how they see it that way. I try to get them turn that around and show them that there are tools that can help them. I’m part of the help manual for this system basically.

Just walk the talk. If you’re interested enough in Creative Commons to be reading this, share your stuff, put your content online, help other people do it, and spread the word. I think that’s the most important thing that super fans can be doing at this point.

Want more content about libraries, free information, and the commons? Sign up for our email list.

 

The post In conversation with Jessamyn West, famous librarian appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Immigration police grab two more activists

Socialist Worker - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 01:00

Owen La Farge and Steve Ramey report from Vermont on more detentions of immigrant farmworker activists who have been courageously standing up for their rights.

Esau Peche-Ventura (left) and Yesenia Hernández-Ramos on a farmworkers' march for justice in Vermont (Migrant Justice)

THE FEDERAL government is continuing its war on Vermont's immigrant dairy workers who are fighting for their rights.

Two more workers organizing with the immigrant rights organization Migrant Justice were arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection just hours after they had participated in the group's 13-mile-long March for Milk with Dignity.

On June 17, more than 200 farm workers and supporters marched 13 miles from the Vermont State House to the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury, Vermont to demand that the company sign a contract to improve working conditions on dairy farms in the state. Later that day, Yesenia Hernández-Ramos and Esau Peche-Ventura, two immigrant workers who participated in the historic march, were arrested at a traffic stop.

Two actions were called for the following day at the facilities where the two were being held, each drawing more than 30 people. Chants outside the facilities included, "¡Yesenia, escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!" and "¡Esau, Yesenia! ¡El pueblo se levanta!".

Migrant Justice campaigner Brendan O'Neil spoke at the action outside the facility where Yesenia was being held about the courage of migrant workers to protest even when they know they could face political targeting by ICE. As O'Neil said:

Those workers were sacrificing, willingly and knowingly, something that could happen along these lines...ICE is serving the function of driving workers across this country--this is not just a Vermont issue--into enduring and sucking up terrible, deplorable workplace conditions because of the fear this creates.

Most of the workers and their supporters marched the full 13 miles on June 17 in order to send a powerful message about the campaign's strength. Enrique Balcazar, a leader in Migrant Justice who was himself abducted and targeted for deportation by ICE in March, urged the crowd at the final rally:

We are fathers, we are mothers, we are youths with dreams of a better life, and right now we find ourselves under attack from new policies of immigration coming down from the federal government. And in this environment of attack, the only thing that we can do is redouble our efforts to fight for and secure every one of our human rights.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

MIGRANT JUSTICE has been calling for Ben & Jerry's to sign and implement the Milk with Dignity program that the famous ice cream company agreed to in 2015, but has taken no action to implement since.

Vermont's immigrant dairy farm workers often face wage theft, 70- to 80-hour workweeks without overtime pay, going days at a time without eight consecutive hours off, substandard housing conditions housing on farms that lack drinking water, and many other intolerable conditions.

As dairy workers have organized to resist these injustices, their bosses have been aided by the government, which, instead of detecting and punishing violations of labor law, is carrying out raids against workers who are protesting the violations.

Last year, ICE targeted Migrant Justice activist Victor Diaz. This year, immigration agents detained Migrant Justice activists Balcazar and Zully Palacios, and deported Alex Carrillo away from his wife and daughter, who are American citizens.

And as of the writing of this article, Migrant Justice's Facebook page has been reported and taken down.

We face the harsh reality that the government and the business class that run this society want to remove any glimmer of hope from the immigrant community. They want immigrant workers--and others besides--to be voiceless and too terrified to do anything other than accept appalling conditions and miserable wages.

In many cases, Migrant Justice activists have been the best hope the immigrant community has had for a better life--which is why these activists are under attack. Their courage in face of the most powerful government in the world targeting them has been an inspiration--and is a clear lesson to the rest of the labor movement: If we fight, we may lose, but if we don't fight, we will have already lost.

Categories: Political Action

THIS WEEKEND: Bernie Sanders, MoveOn.org Host Bus Tour with Health Care Rallies in PA, OH, and WV Urging GOP Senators to Save the Affordable Care Act

Move On - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 19:16

Rallies in Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Charleston Target Senators Pat Toomey, Rob Portman, and Shelley Moore Capito, Urging Them to Vote No on Senate Health Care Bill

Following the release of the Senate health care repeal bill this morning, MoveOn.org and Sen. Bernie Sanders have teamed up to announce a slate of major rallies in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia this weekend designed to put pressure Senators in those states—specifically, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)—and Senate Republicans at large to vote against the legislation.

 

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at 7:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 24:

  • WHEN: Saturday, June 24th at 7:00 p.m. ET
  • WHERE: Pittsburgh Convention Center — 1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd. Pittsburgh, PA 15222
  • FOR PRESS INTERESTED IN ATTENDING, PLEASE RSVP TO: press@moveon.org

 

In Columbus, Ohio at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, June 25:

  • WHEN: Sunday, June 25th at 11:30 a.m. ET
  • WHERE: Express Live — 405 Neil Ave, Columbus, OH 43215
  • FOR PRESS INTERESTED IN ATTENDING, PLEASE RSVP TO: press@moveon.org

 

In Charleston, West Virginia at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 25:

  • WHEN: Sunday, June 25th at 3:00 p.m. ET
  • WHERE: Charleston Civic Center — 200 Civic Center Dr, Charleston, WV 25301
  • FOR PRESS INTERESTED IN ATTENDING, PLEASE RSVP TO: press@moveon.org

 

MoveOn.org and Sen. Sanders argue that the Senate’s health care legislation is an especially cruel and destructive transfer of wealth to the wealthiest American’s at the expense of kids, low-income Americans, the elderly, those with disabilities, and the nearly 23 million Americans who could lose their coverage as a result of health care repeal efforts.

According to reports, the Senate legislation—which was devised in secret without a single public hearing, chance for markup, or public input—could eliminate coverage for more than 23 million Americans, raise costs, reduce coverage, and end Medicaid as we know it.

The bill would also reduce tax credits that help people in the middle class afford health care; allow insurance companies to charge up to five times as much for people over 50; let insurance companies deny coverage for maternity care, mental health care, and substance use treatment; dramatically cut treatments for people with opioid disorders; and ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood.

“The Republican plan is even worse than expected and by far the most harmful piece of legislation I have seen in my lifetime. This bill has nothing to do with health care. It has everything to do with an enormous transfer of wealth from working people to the richest Americans,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said. “Our job now is to rally millions of Americans against this disastrous bill to make sure that it does not pass the Senate. Instead of throwing tens of millions of Americans off of health insurance, we must guarantee health care as a right to every American.”

“No matter what backroom deals Senators make in the coming days, there is no way to fix this shocking and cruel bill,” said Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org. “This bill is a giant giveaway to the wealthiest Americans at the direct expense of the health of tens of millions of average Americans. Senators have a choice: stand up for your constituents and protect their health care, or go down in history as the people who ended Medicaid, slashed Planned Parenthood, and raised health care costs for your constituents.”

# # #

Categories: Political Action

Sanctuary Everywhere -- Annual Fundraising Dinner

American Friends Service Committee - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:54
Saturday, October 7, 2017 - 5:00pm Sanctuary Everywhere logo Photo: AFSC/ Ravi and Amy

Amy Gottlieb and Ravi Ragbir

Photo: Beth Steinman
Categories: Political Action

Community update: Unsplash branded license and ToS changes

Creative Commons - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 11:54

UPDATE: Unsplash has responded to CC’s concerns, and offered clarifications and additional information to address the issues. In particular, they have committed to making the license explicitly irrevocable. We will update this post as changes are made to the Unsplash license and terms to reflect these statements.

Unsplash, a photo sharing startup, has launched their own branded license and updated their terms to add new restrictions and remove CC0 from their platform. As a result of the changes, Unsplash images are no longer in the public domain. The permissions offered can be revoked at any time, and Unsplash now has the right to pursue infringement on behalf of their users. Also, in some cases, attribution is now required. The terms of the new Unsplash-branded copyright license may create issues for users who hope to re-use the images, and for those who shared using the service and wanted their works available under unrestricted terms.

Background

We feel it’s important to inform the CC community, as many have been supporters of Unsplash and we have been receiving questions from users in the open content and free software movements. We reached out to Unsplash and then also, with their consent, spoke to their legal counsel to understand the new license and terms.

Our intention is to ensure that CC community members understand what has happened to a service they have been using that incorporated CC tools, and to protect the content that was dedicated to the public domain. We don’t want to oppose a startup’s business and marketing decisions, nor deny them the IP they might now want to claim to protect their business model.

We understand from Unsplash that they felt that copycat services were detracting from their offering and upsetting their users. We are sympathetic to that challenge — the predominant players in photo sharing like Flickr, 500px, and Wikimedia Commons all use CC0 in their platforms, and have faced those issues with their users. But it’s also clear that Unsplash wanted to extend their brand to have their name incorporated into the license. That’s a perfectly valid business and marketing decision.

We’ve outlined some issues for consideration in more detail below for the benefit of contributors to Unsplash, and those who wish to re-use their images:

Revocability

The new Unsplash-branded license is, as written, revocable. This means that Unsplash or the author could, at any time, change their mind about how people can use the images they have previously downloaded. This is a significant change from CC0. (Note: Unsplash has since stated that the license is irrevocable. We await an update to the license terms to reflect this explicitly).

Irrevocability is a fundamental feature of CC tools, designed to ensure that anyone who uses the image can do so with the confidence that the author can’t withdraw the permissions they’ve previously granted. We believe that is essential to building a commons that people can rely on, and use permissively.

Attribution

CC0 does not require attribution, though we encourage users to do so because it gives gratitude to the creator, and can support further re-use by linking to the original work and its license. The new Unsplash-branded license doesn’t require attribution, but the Unsplash API guidelines do require attribution. So depending on how a user, a developer, or their app retrieves the image from the Unsplash service, they are subject to different terms.

Copyright and sub-licensing

The new Unsplash terms of service require users who share to grant a copyright license to Unsplash, which permits them to sub-license their work. Unsplash also requires users to grant them the authority to enforce copyright on their behalf. Beyond the compilation of photos in a competing service, it is not clear if there are other scenarios under which Unsplash would enforce copyright against reusers.

CC0 Collection and Archive

Following the switch to the new Unsplash-branded license, there is no marking of works that were previously shared in the public domain using CC0. The Unsplash API restricts/obscures the full CC0 collection, which we believe to be about 200,000 images, but it isn’t possible to access the complete archive. In order to ensure that the commons is maintained, we hope that Unsplash will either a) properly mark all the works shared using CC0 and/or b) make available a full archive of the CC0 works so they can be shared on a platform that supports open licensing and public domain tools. Previous platforms that have gone under or abandoned open license tools have shared their CC archives for this purpose. We hope Unsplash will follow the same path.

The post Community update: Unsplash branded license and ToS changes appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Mourning and marching after the Grenfell fire

Socialist Worker - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 01:00

Close to 100 people are dead and possibly more after the fire in Grenfell Tower, a public housing tower block in West London. This tragedy exposes everything wrong with a society ruled by a Conservative Party government that puts the profits and power of a few ahead of the livelihood--and the lives--of the many.

The fire came less than a week after a general election in which the Labour Party, led by left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, outdid all expectations, and the Tory government of Prime Minister Theresa May lost its majority in parliament. May is attempting to stay in power through a deal with a right-wing party, but her position was weakened further after the nightmare of the Grenfell fire showed the human cost of years of neglect and austerity.

Millions of people who celebrated Corbyn's showing in early June were horrified by the fire and outraged by the needless toll in human lives. Rob Owen of revolutionary socialism in the 21st century and a co-editor of its website talked to Alan Maass about the surge of anger and protest following the fire, how it was connected to political organizing around housing issues before, and what it might mean for the future.

Protesters take to the streets in London after the Grenfell Tower fire (Wasi Daniju | flickr)

THE GRENFELL Tower fire has aroused so much anger, not only toward Theresa May and her government, but the whole system that breeds austerity and inequality. Can you talk about some of the reasons why that is?

ONE OF the things that makes the sight of the tower so powerful is that it's this skeletal image standing in the midst of an area of extraordinary wealth.

For readers who might not be aware, Kensington and Chelsea, where the Grenfell Tower was situated, is one of the richest areas of London. So on Friday, when a march went from the local town hall to the tower--a march called by residents who had occupied the town hall earlier in the day--you walked past houses that wouldn't have looked out of place in Beverly Hills, costing millions and millions of pounds.

Then you turn a corner, and you hit the housing estate where Grenfell Tower stood.

There are about 4,500 tower blocks in a similar condition around the country, according to the figures cited in the media. What most local councils have done is gradually let them get run down, in the hope that tenants move out. So Grenfell Tower was neglected for long periods of time.

Then, some 8.7 million pounds was spent on refurbishing the tower in construction that ended a year ago. But large amounts of that went for cosmetic changes. One of the main causes of the fire--or at least one of the main reasons it spread so quickly--is that the outer cladding put on during the refurbishment was made of a material that was flammable.

The statistic that has gone all over the Internet and is being talked about constantly in workplaces is that for the cost of an additional 2 pounds per square meter, they could have put fire-resistant cladding on the building.

One factor that the media haven't picked up on as much--but which campaigners and community activists have, and which has a strong resonance--is how the questions of racism and migration tie into the tower fire.

Large numbers of the people living in Grenfell Tower would have been first- or second-generation migrants--people who had sought refuge in this country. One of the first known victims of the fire was a young boy who had come over from Syria as a refugee. So the racial dimensions of housing, particularly social housing, and austerity have come to the fore in a very sharp way.

And all this is coming shortly after the election, where Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party did unexpectedly well. So there was already an environment where people were talking in more class-based terms than usual. The Grenfell Tower fire coming at the moment it did has crystallized that mood.

After the protest on Friday, hearing the slogans that people raised, it's hard to imagine how a moderate response that doesn't deal with those issues is going to contain the political anger that's being expressed.

You can even see it reflected in the establishment media. There was an interview between Theresa May and a BBC journalist shortly after she went to the site of the fire for the first time and refused to meet residents--and you could see the BBC presenter shaking with fury as May refused to answer her questions.

One of the things that's hit popular consciousness is the number of statements made by leading Tory politicians that damn them completely. For example, David Cameron, the former prime minister, made a speech about making a "bonfire of regulations." This was only a few years after a Tory minister, Eric Pickles, refused to make sprinkler systems compulsory in council housing.

People are beginning to understand the situation that local councils have been faced with during this whole era: On the one hand, the government says it wants councils to add sprinkler systems in housing or use fire-resistant cladding, but doesn't make this compulsory. Then, on the other hand, it massively reduces the funding available to local councils, so they can't carry out anything more than the most marginal of repairs.

CAN YOU talk about the protest marches last week and what might come next?

THERE WERE two marches on that Friday. One was the planned march that a lot of people had started the day with the intention of attending. It started outside the ministry responsible for housing, with plans to march to Downing Street and the BBC.

That demonstration was called by a traditional alliance of trade union groups and established left and housing campaigns. On Facebook, the numbers of people saying they would attend exploded through the course of the day.

Many rs21 members went to a second demonstration in response to a call that went out that afternoon when a number of the Grenfell Tower residents occupied the Kensington Town Hall.

By the time people finished work and got to the town hall, there was already a protest of several hundred people, including tenants who had occupied to demand answers, and then voted to leave and have a rally on the steps to further their demands.

As the evening progressed, I think large numbers of people who were planning to attend the first demonstration in central London started to flow across into west London to the protest at the town hall. By the time the organizers called for the demonstration to march, there was well over a thousand people--predominantly local residents and working class, with relatively few people from the organized left.

I think what made this demonstration so powerful was the combination of slogans that you might traditionally hear radical students chanting--about bringing down the government, about austerity, about neoliberalism, about who was to blame--coming from middle-aged men and women, most of them Black or minority, in a community where the left had probably not spoken to people in a significant way in a very long time.

One of the things that I thought was most powerful about the demonstration was that it was both incredibly angry, but at the same time incredibly somber.

Around the tower and the surrounding area, there are a large number of posters that people have put up with pictures of those still missing. Obviously, if those people who are missing were in the tower, it's overwhelmingly likely that they died.

So on the march, people would switch between chanting for the government to go, for May to fall, saying that she had blood on her hands--and then suddenly crying as they remembered their relatives and talking to each other about the situation.

The demonstration was punctuated by street meetings. Two or three people brought microphones and speaker systems with them, so periodically, the demonstration would stop, and residents or friends of residents or family of residents would get on the microphone and talk about the politics of the situation, how they felt, who was to blame.

They would talk about the difference in how working class people, and Black working class people in particular, are treated--but also who should be held accountable.

It was an incredibly poignant moment when the demonstration reached the bottom of the tower. As I was saying, the march went from the town hall through some of the richest parts of London, past these incredibly large houses and wide streets.

And there was a massively varied response. Bus drivers and working-class people would cheer on the march and join the demonstration. But there were nervous looks from the wealthier residents, who were unsure what to make of it and clearly not entirely comfortable with the part of the community that's generally kept out of sight marching through the town center.

The demonstration put the blame very clearly on the government--on the decisions that leading Tory politicians have made over the last five or six years, which created a situation where something like Grenfell Tower could easily have happened in many, many places in the UK.

It's still very early and difficult to tell exactly what form the movement will take around Grenfell Tower. A demonstration that was going to take place on Saturday was postponed as housing activists and Grenfell residents talked about what the next round of protest should look like.

There's going to be a demonstration in two weeks' time on July 1, called by a coalition of the left, including people around Jeremy Corbin, to demand the fall of the government. This was called immediately after the election, but the Grenfell Tower fire will clearly take center stage.

ONE OF the horrible ironies of the fire is that there were residents in Grenfell Tower organizing against conditions and warning of the threat of a deadly tower fire. What has the movement around public housing looked like before this?

PARTICULARLY IN London, the housing crisis has been a major area of tension for quite a number of years. Social housing has been run down, and rents paid on privately owned accommodations now make up an astronomical amount of people's income.

The housing campaigns have run on two separate tracks. On the one hand, there are the traditional campaigns defending council housing, often run by established figures of the wider left of the Labour left, which have fought going back decades to stop the selloff of council housing to private landlords.

But alongside that, there are resident committees and tenant association fighting quite bitter and radicalizing campaigns to defend the housing blocks that they're in. There are a number of high-profile campaigns like this around London--including the Grenfell Action Group, made up of the tenants who had been campaigning for investment in the building for a number of years, all the while warning of a possible catastrophe.

The Grenfell Action Group has its own blog and website and ran a really persistent campaign, particularly targeting what's called an "arms-length management organization."

These exist in councils across London, where responsibility for social housing that is notionally in the hands of the councils is passed off to a kind of quasi-independent body that's wholly owned by the council. That body becomes a kind of buffer between the council and local residents over questions of failures to do repairs or health and safety concerns.

The Grenfell Action Group had been fighting a long and bitter battle against the management organization, trying to hold particular councilors and particular officials to account.

One of things the media is now reporting--as they go back through what isn't an atypical story of a group of residents fighting their council--is the difficulty the Grenfell Action Group had in pinning anyone down to a sense of accountability.

This is typical of what's happened with local government--accountability and responsibility have become so diffuse that it's very difficult for residents to work out how they could have some sort of democratic control over what's supposed to be social housing.

In the last few years, alongside the more traditional campaigns, a more radical housing campaign has emerged in London called the Radical Housing Network, which grouped together resident associations that want to fight with wider political groups that have campaigned over the question of housing and the right to a decent place to live in London.

Up until now, many demonstrations have targeted private property developers, because the cutting edge of the housing campaign was trying to stop councils from shutting down or demolishing former social housing so the land could be sold off to property developers to build new developments with a very limited social housing component.

But in the aftermath of the fire, the close relationship between the tenant group, which is very well rooted among the Grenfell residents, and a layer of the radical left organizing around housing issues has been important.

These activists have been able to articulate the demands of the residents when it's been difficult for the residents themselves to do so--when they've been more concerned with how to house people who lost their homes or how to demand accountability about the numbers of people who have died.

That relationship has been quite a key point in getting a radical interpretation to reach the media--in a way that it's been very hard for anyone to contest.

COULD YOU step back and talk about this radicalizing tragedy in the context of the general election a week before, where Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party did so much better than anyone expected a few months before?

I THINK it's only fair to start by saying that few people were expecting the result we got in the general election. There was a handful of rs21 members, probably those most embedded in the campaign, who were urging people to recognize that something like this could take place, and for members to get more involved in making it happen.

The fact that shocked everyone, as I imagine has been reported in the U.S., is the unprecedented turnout of young voters for Labour.

I was campaigning in the Croydon Central constituency, which is a seat Labour took from the Tories--Gavin Barwell, the MP who lost his seat, is now a senior adviser to Theresa May at Number 10, responsible for dealing with things like the Grenfell disaster.

But the results we were getting from canvasing gave us no sense of the degree of the shift that would take place.

I think it's only possible to understand what happened if you credit Corbin's ability to get his message out to the general public--despite being undermined by Labour Party MPs, despite the media silence about what he was saying.

In the weeks running up to the election, his message spread rapidly around social media. The strategy of the Corbyn team of holding mass rallies in areas where Labour had their safest seats--a strategy that was pilloried as pointless at the time by the right wing of the Labour party--created a buzz and a momentum akin to what you would try to do in building a social movement.

I think one of the reasons Corbyn's message resonated so strongly with a younger audience is the lived experience of austerity. All the warnings from the establishment and the Tory smears against Corbyn didn't connect with a generation that has lived under kind of many, many years of Tory rule and continuing austerity.

Being presented with an alternative to all that is something that really struck people.

After the election, that mood has caught on with wider sections of the population, People talk much more explicitly in class terms. The idea that Corbyn's proposals could become reality--that increased taxation could actually bring large amounts of money into education and health care--has transformed the political landscape. People are thinking not just about the process of stopping the cuts, but actually making things better.

Meanwhile, the Tory Party is in a state of total crisis. Theresa May looks like a defeated figure, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond came out twice in two days to publicly put a knife her in her front, not her back--first about her suitability to be prime minister, and then over the question of the Brexit plan she's trying to deliver.

It seems like the establishment has become distrustful of its own weapon--distrustful of the Tory Party that it traditionally used to force through its policies. And there doesn't seem to be anyone coming to the fore who is capable of resolving the crisis.

That's the context for May coming to Grenfell Tower the first time after the fire, when the residents booed her and chanted for her to go. Then, Corbyn arrived later to walk around the site and talk to ordinary people, and he was mobbed like a hero.

If it wasn't for the election that preceded it, I'm not sure the political response to the Grenfell Tower fire would have been the same. The immediate call for massive government investment in sprinkler systems across the country seems like it was possible because people had come to the conclusion, as a result of the election, that real change was a realistic option.

Jeremy Corbyn has positioned himself as waiting in the wings to become prime minister after the next election--whether it comes in a couple months' time if the May government collapses or two years' time, which is the program that the government seems to have set itself to try to get through the initial talks on "Brexit" from the European Union.

What Grenfell Tower has done in this context is to show the human cost of austerity in such a powerful way--in a way, tragically, that I'm not sure much else would have. And it's clear that the right doesn't have any kind of response.

There's been such a change in mood that even the media has to respond to events in a different way, and it seems impossible for the government, no matter what the situation, to put a foot right.

In those circumstances, you get a sense that the actions of even small sections of the extra-parliamentary left can be quite significant in taking the momentum of the election campaign into social campaigns that now have a realistic prospect of bringing down the government.

For many, many years, the left has had slogans and an analysis about how the Tory government is nasty and weak. The fact that it's weak now is beyond question for millions and millions of people.

And there's a sentiment not only that one big push could get rid of a rotten government and replace it with something similar. Now there's an expectation that getting rid of May will result in a government with a reform program quite unlike anything I've ever experienced in my political lifetime.

That will pose its own kind of problems and strategic questions, both for the Labour Party itself and for those of us on the revolutionary left. But for certain we can say that the entire political world around us has changed completely in the last four months.

Categories: Political Action

A political prisoner is freed from ICE's grasp

Socialist Worker - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 01:00

Danny Katch reports on the successful effort to win the release of Claudia Rueda, an immigrant organizer who was kidnapped by vindictive immigration authorities.

Teachers and activists rally to demand the release of Claudia Rueda from ICE detention

CLAUDIA RUEDA, a Cal State Los Angeles (CSULA) student and immigrants rights activist, was released from the Otay Mesa Detention Center on June 9--but still faces the threat of deportation from a vindictive and dishonest immigration bureaucracy.

"I just want to say thank you to everyone across the state that has been helping me," Rueda said to supporters after her three-week imprisonment had ended, "and to not forget about other people who are detained, who are in my shoes, and that we need to keep fighting for everyone who's being detained in this unjust immigration system."

Rueda is correct that there are many more immigrants wronged by Donald Trump's ramped-up deportation machinery, but her particular story encapsulates much of the immorality and impunity that is taking place around the country under the guise of enforcing immigration law.

Claudia, who has lived in the U.S. for 15 of her 22 years, was targeted by the Border Patrol after she helped lead a successful campaign to free her mother who had been wrongfully detained in April in a Border Patrol drug raid.

What you can do

Sign a petition to demand that ICE take Claudia Rueda out of removal proceedings and allow her to apply for DACA.

Immigration agents got their revenge, as described in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece written by two professors at CSULA:

On the morning of May 18, Cal State Los Angeles student Claudia Rueda disappeared in East L.A. The 22-year-old immigrant rights activist stepped outside her aunt's home to move her mother's car for street cleaning, but never returned. Hours later her family learned that she had been surrounded by three unmarked cars carrying an estimated nine plainclothes Customs and Border Protection officers who whisked her off to a detention center 130 miles away.

As the agents looked for Claudia in her Boyle Heights neighborhood, they accosted neighbors on their way to work and detained six other people--four of whom were immediately deported to Tijuana without a court appearance.

As they did with Claudia's mother, the Border Patrol falsely claimed that the seven detentions were part of operation against "a cross-border narcotics smuggling operation." But all seven people were arrested on immigration violations rather than drug charges.

Once Rueda was in custody, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)--which hadn't been involved in her initial arrest--decided a to keep her in detention without bond, a decision the judge in her case called "unduly severe."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

CLAUDIA'S CASE illustrates many of the most troubling trends that have emerged in the four months since Trump has taken the controls of Barack Obama's deportation machine.

The first has been a willingness--more like an enthusiasm--for going after all undocumented immigrants, regardless of their criminal record or levels of community support.

"Most of the criminal aliens we find in the interior of the United States, they entered as a non-criminal," said ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan to the House Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee. "If we wait for them to violate yet another law against a citizen of this country, then it's too late. We shouldn't wait for them to become a criminal."

"If you're in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable," he ominously added. "You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried."

But ICE and the Border Patrol have continually used deception and outright lies to create the impression that the people they are detaining and deporting are dangerous criminals when often their only crimes are immigration violations or traffic offenses.

Trump recently that he would continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that grants temporary legal status to many who migrated to the U.S. as children--but his actions have told a different story.

Claudia Rueda is one of many DACA-eligible youth who have been targeted for deportation (she couldn't afford DACA's $465 application fee), and the numbers who have been stripped of their DACA status has increased 25 percent from this time last year.

Rueda's case also fits a pattern of activists being targeted for deportation, from Daniela Vargas in Mississippi--who was arrested shortly after speaking at an immigrants right rally, to the series of arrests of Vermont dairy farmer activists--most recently Esau Peche-Ventura and Yesenia Hernández-Ramos just hours after they participated in day of action against Ben & Jerry's.

If the face of this campaign of fear, Claudia Rueda's fellow organizers in the Immigrant Youth Coalition, as well as the National Day Laborer's Organizing Network and other groups, kept up the pressure to win her release.

Also stepping forward was United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), whose chapter at Roosevelt High School (RHS)--Claudia's alma mater--organized a Free Claudia Rueda press conference on June 15. Featured speakers included a number of Rueda's former teachers at RHS and the current president of the RHS MEChA club Edna Galaviz, as well as Luz Borjón Montalvo, coordinator of the Dreamers Resource Center at CSULA.

UTLA Treasurer Arlene Inouye spoke about her family's story of internment during World War II, and connected that to the urgent need to stand up for immigrants like Claudia today.

The support of unions like the UTLA is important and needs to increase if we are going to build a movement strong enough to defend Claudia Rueda and millions more of our immigrant friends, neighbors and loved ones.

Categories: Political Action

Shot while her kids listened

Socialist Worker - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 01:00

Amad Ross reports on a deadly visit by the Seattle Police Department that left Charleena Lyles' four kids without a mother--and the protests that followed.

Activists demonstrate against the police murder of Charleena Lyles in Seattle

TWO SEATTLE police officers shot and killed a pregnant 30-year-old mother of four, Charleena Lyles, on June 18, in the front room of her apartment, while three of her children waited in an adjacent room.

According to police, the officers arrived after a call from Lyles reporting a burglary. Seattle Detective Mark Jamieson told the Seattle Times that the officers received a warning that Lyles was an officer hazard when they responded to the call, suggesting that Lyles had a previous unfavorable encounter with police.

This hazard warning is the reason why two officers were dispatched, rather than one.

In a dash-cam audio recording released by the police, the two officers can be heard discussing an encounter with Lyles prior to the shooting. On June 5, two weeks before her murder, Lyles called police for similar reasons.

"She let them in," says one of the officers, describing the incident while sitting in the parking lot of Lyles' apartment complex, "and then she started talking all crazy...she had a pair of scissors." Eventually, the officers were able to convince Lyles to drop the scissors, leading to a peaceful resolution.

But not on June 18. After the officers discussed the June 5 incident, they entered Lyles' apartment, where she told them about an Xbox that had been stolen. At some point, an altercation ensued, as heard in a disclosed audio recording of the incident. Twenty-five seconds later, following the cry of Lyles' daughter and one officer yelling "Get back!" both officers began shooting.

Charleena Lyles was killed in her own home while three of her children, aged 1, 4 and 11, listened from the other room.

Jamieson says that Lyles was armed with a knife. If this is true, the officers had every opportunity to deal with Lyles peacefully. They knew all about the similar June 5 incident, in which officers said Lyles threatened them in her apartment with scissors, but was talked down without any violence. According to a statement by police, both officers were equipped with "less than lethal force."

Even if the officers didn't have a plan to deal with aggression before entering the apartment, it's hard to imagine how Lyles represented a threat to the officers. Her sister described Charleena as "tiny," and her cousin estimated she was "78 pounds wet."

"What is the reason to use such lethal force?" Lyles' cousin Erneshia Jack told the Guardian. "There are many ways to subdue someone without shooting them. She's not big. She's not intimidating...She called you, and you went to her house and killed her."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

DEADLY INCIDENTS like these aren't rare for the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The SPD has been under a Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree since 2012, following a federal investigation that uncovered a pattern of police abuse and racism.

According to the DOJ website, the investigation found that the SPD has "engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Constitution and federal law."

Since the decree, the SPD has altered its image significantly. It has implemented racial sensitivity and de-escalation training and now operates a program for officer-worn body cameras, earning Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole national attention.

But how much has substantively changed remains in question.

Sunday's slaying recalls the murder of Che Taylor, a man shot and killed by Seattle police officers in February 2016. The 46-year-old Black man was approached in his car by two white plainclothes officers. Dash-cam footage showed the officers brandishing an assault rifle and a shotgun, and telling Taylor to exit his vehicle.

Taylor exited the car and got down on the ground, as the police order him to do. Fewer than five seconds later, police opened fire and Che was shot seven times.

Seattle activist and Che's brother Andrè Taylor has been in contact with the Lyles family since the day of the shooting, attempting to help them through a difficult time that he understands well. Barely a year has passed since the police shot and killed Che, yet Taylor must already mourn another casualty of the SPD.

Che Taylor and Charleena Lyles are only two names of many, but two names which we will not soon forget.

On the night of her killing, protesters gathered outside Lyles' apartment, chanting, "We want justice!" and holding candles and signs. Michael Taylor, Lyles's uncle, spoke to them: "This is my family and we're going to be as one. We're not going to stop until we get to the bottom of this."

None of us will.

A rally was called for June 20, and Social Equality Educators, a progressive caucus within the Seattle Education Association, called on its teachers to wear Black Lives Matter shirts to school that day. On June 23, Seattle will march for justice in the name of Charleena Lyles and all other Black women victimized by racist policing.

The SPD has proven to be a bad apple tree, and its roots are rotten. The job falls on us to demand justice for Charleena Lyles and stop the killing at the hands of the police.

Categories: Political Action

Québec Solidaire sets a course for the left

Socialist Worker - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 01:00

Benoit Renaud, a member of the Québec solidaire National Coordinating Committee, describes the shifting political terrain in Quebec and considers where social struggles and left politics are headed, in an article first published in Presse-toi à gauche and translated for publication here by Michele Hehn. Renaud's article "New opportunities for Quebec's left" appears in the current issue of the International Socialist Review.

Supporters of Québec Solidaire on the march in Montreal

THE 12th congress of the radical left party Québec solidaire (QS), held in Montreal from May 19-22, 2017, made some major decisions--in particular, to not enter into an electoral pact with the Parti québécois (PQ), Quebec's traditional independence party, before the next elections to the Quebec National Assembly, slated in a year and a half.

To better understand the significance of the conference and these decisions, the following is a brief historical overview, with a brief analysis of recent developments afterward.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Federalists Versus Sovereigntists

For a long time, the political landscape of Québec was very simple. On the one hand, there was the federalist wing [defenders of Canadian unity], represented by the Parti libéral du Québec (Quebec Liberal Party, or PLQ); on the other, Quebec sovereigntists in the Parti québécois (Quebec Party, or PQ).

This model began to fall apart after the 1995 independence referendum, in which the sovereigntist camp--the OUI ("Yes")--lost the referendum by about 1 percent of the vote, with a total participation of over 95 percent of voters.

First, the rejection of two constitutional agreements by the rest of English-speaking Canada discredited the autonomist perspective for a federalist Quebec with heightened provincial powers. A section of the PLQ broke away to form l'Action démocratique du Québec (Democratic Action of Quebec, or ADQ), a party that remained marginal because of the utopian nature of its main idea: the demand for autonomy. The majority of the PLQ soon became the party of passive acceptance of the constitution imposed on Quebec by the rest of Canada in 1982.

Next, the Parti québécois completely adopted neoliberal economic dogmas, the turning point being the acceptance of a "zero-deficit" policy in 1996. Two forces have undermined the hold of the PQ on its base: Resistance to neoliberalism led by social movements and the persistence of aspirations for independence. The political space represented by these forces was first organized by the Union des forces progressistes (2002-2006), and then by Québec solidaire.

For these parties, the national question and the social question are inseparable: Their vision of a more just Quebec requires powers that come with national independence. At the same time, a strategy for independence must involve mobilizing the majority of the population for greater democracy and social justice.

Québec solidaire's response to the fragile unity (of sovereigntists or of progressives) proposed by the PQ is a project for specifically left unity, making the national question part of a global political project. It therefore provides a space for left militants who, while not necessarily defining themselves as pro-independence ("indépendentistes"), may still wish to join the overall project.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
2006-2011: A Model in Crisis

During the 10 years of its existence, the ADQ was content to be what looked like the eternal third party. Meanwhile, the independentist left remained marginalized despite attempts to unify it.

The model established since the 1970s seemed to hold until Mario Dumont, leader of the ADQ, invented the so-called "crisis of reasonable accommodation"--that is, how to provide accommodations for those who hold minority religious beliefs through court judgments and other informal arrangements. (Dumont had claimed that any further increase in rates of immigration to Quebec would create ghettos, because immigrants were no longer integrating into the fabric of Quebec society.)

This was the first time since the rush of modernization of the 1960s that a Québecois political leader resorted to a pejorative caricature of a specific community in order to gain political capital.

At first, no one wanted to follow Dumont out on this terrain. But the harm was done, and the ADQ was able to use what is now known as "identity politics" to hoist itself into second place in the 2007 elections.

This bruising defeat for the PQ, now relegated to third place behind the Liberals and the ADQ, brought about the coronation of a new PQ leader, Pauline Marois, who oriented on two issues: the rejection of "referendism"--that is, the refusal to hold a third referendum for independence (which would have threatened the fragile unity sought by sovereigntists); and the open adoption of "identity politics," firstly on the language question, and then with an increasingly authoritarian and Islamophobic vision of secularization.[1]

The election in December 2008 of Amir Khadir, the first deputy of Québec solidaire, pushed the left up from the margins. But Québec solidaire was only able to get 4 percent of the provincial vote overall. This election resulted in a majority Liberal government, with the PQ as official opposition.

The collapse of the ADQ's electoral strategy opened the door to a takeover bid led by former PQ leader François Legault, who wished to create a new right-wing party.

Legault first oriented the new party, Coalition avenir Québec (Quebec Future Coalition, or CAQ) towards classical right-wing economics and provincial autonomy. But over time, he began increasingly to play the "identity" card, which had proved so successful for the ADQ in 2007, and which put the CAQ into competition with the PQ for the votes of the xenophobic section of the electorate.

At the same time, the orientation on the strategy of "sovereigntist governance" resulted in eroding the trust of those pro-independence forces within the PQ that were determined to have more. This difference erupted with the departure of four deputies in 2011 and the founding of a new independence party: Option nationale (National Option, or ON).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
2012-2014: The Crisis of the Model Intensifies

The relative success of Québec solidaire and the creation of ON pose a real conundrum for those partial to the old political model of sovereigntist unity. Since this unity can no longer be realized through the PQ itself, several organizations have been created to attempt to forge unity through various coalitions external to the PQ.

These movements sought to remake the concept of unity by including not only the PQ and the ON, but also Québec solidaire. This is can be termed "meta-PQ-ism".

But this big, potential coalition could not be realized because of three dividing issues: 1) the PQ's wait-and-see approach to the goal of independence; 2) the center-right economic policies of the PQ when in power; and 3) the PQ's turn towards "identity politics."

If the PQ managed in 2012, despite all this, to regain power by the skin of its teeth, it is solely by virtue of the social crisis provoked by the student strike and the widespread sentiment that defeating the Liberal government of Charest was a political priority.

The PQ then formed a minority government. However, the new government's policies went completely counter to the convergence efforts towards QS. The refusal to support fiscal justice measures and legal reforms for the mining industry; the rallying to the Canadian petroleum extraction model; and, finally, the infamous "Charter of Values," with its xenophobic overtones, repelled some and hastened the reconfiguration of the political landscape.

In addition to the divisions over the national question and the issues of political economy, there were ecological questions (with some advocating that "our oil is the good oil" against those who were against further fossil fuel extraction) and the cleavage between the "identitarians" and the "inclusives."

This is how the Liberals were able, during the elections of the spring of 2014, to reassert their legitimacy and present themselves as the defenders of individual and minority rights against the PQ with its polarizing charter. By focusing on the PQ's ambiguous position towards a new referendum, the Liberals were able to regain lost ground and win a majority in the 2014 elections.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A New Configuration Emerges

In 2016, the campaign to find a successor to the short-lived leadership of Pierre-Karl Péladeau opened up deep divisions within the PQ. By promising to take steps toward independence in her first term, Martine Ouellet clearly aimed to create a united independence front in action. Her victory would almost certainly have created major headaches for both the ON and QS.

The winner, Jean-François Lisée, on the other hand, went even farther than his predecessors by putting the goal of independence on hold and proposing instead a united front against the Liberal government and some of its austerity measures. By imposing a bitter defeat on the supporters of Ouellet, he pushed a section of the base of the PQ towards Option nationale. The victory of Lisée showed that "meta-PQ-ism" had lost support even within the PQ itself and was therefore at its end.

For its part, the ON has gradually evolved towards left positions and clearly rejects PQ's identity politics as a source of division that alienates entire communities from the project of independence.

Left independence forces are now able to see a way to create their own pole of attraction, by way of countering Lisée's appeals for a timely alliance to "defeat the Liberals." This is what is in the process of happening since Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, one of the main spokespersons of the student strike movement of 2012, came to QS.

Around 6,000 people have joined Québec solidaire over the past few months, raising the number of members to 16,000. Nadeau-Dubois was elected as a co-spokesperson of the party, along with the deputy Manon Massé. One of his campaign themes was to support a merger with the Option nationale.

One proposal adopted by the recent QS congress is to begin negotiations with Option Nationale with the goal of merging with it. By including hundreds of militants for independence, particularly young people, this merger will create a stronger left-wing pole of attraction that could appeal to those members of the PQ who are disappointed at seeing their cause endlessly postponed.

This new pole of attraction can bring around a critical mass, allowing it to go beyond the so-called "orange" zone (after the color of the QS flag) in Montreal's center, where the three ridings, or constituencies, won by QS since 2008 are located.

Overall, the Québécois political landscape seems about to divide into three camps on the national and identity questions.

The first bloc is the Liberal Party, dedicated to Canadian federation and a multiculturalism, in which the Québecois people are just another ethnic minority among others. The second is that of the inclusive indépendentistes (anti-racists with a civic conception of nationhood) led by Québec solidaire. Between the two, the PQ and the CAQ divide up the autonomist and identitarian camp, with varying degrees of xenophobia and ethnic nationalism.

In this context, the decision by QS to refuse the so-called "hand across the aisle" offer from the PQ really clarifies existing political differences. The recent QS congress has effectively announced that QS is not part of the same "sovereigntist" family as the PQ; that our project is not the same; and that it is by regrouping around our camp that a left independence political alternative will be able to emerge.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Notes

1. See among others : Baubérot, J. (2012), La laïcité falsifiée. Paris, La Découverte; and Tevanian, P. (2013), La haine de la religion : comment l'athéisme est devenu l'opium du peuple de gauche, Paris, La Découverte.

Categories: Political Action

A Bolshevik appeal finds an echo in the streets

Socialist Worker - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 01:00

One hundred years ago today, on June 22 (June 9, according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time), the Bolshevik Party circulated the first proclamation below, drafted by Joseph Stalin, with the aim of reaching workers in Petrograd. Nine days later, the Bolsheviks' slogans promoted in this appeal won mass support at a giant demonstration called by the Petrograd soviet.

In mid-May, the Bolshevik Military Organization (BMO) had proposed to the party's Central Committee (CC) a demonstration opposing the Provisional Government's planned military offensive. Fearing that such an action was premature, the CC was not receptive. BMO organizers became more insistent over the coming weeks, as soldiers worried about attempts to restore military discipline and to transfer them to the front.

BMO leaders hoped to time a demonstration to coincide with the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, which met in Petrograd from June 16 through July 7 (June 3-24). The CC remained undecided--Lenin supported a demonstration, as did most Petrograd committee members, while Kamenev was against.

Worker unrest over the Provisional Government's attempt to expel anarchist-communists from its headquarters created more friction. An expanded meeting of Bolshevik Party organizations on June 21 (8) revealed majority support for a demonstration by workers and soldiers on June 23 (10). The Bolshevik leaflet helped prepare for the demonstration.

The second document is the response by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets to the Bolsheviks' appeal. The demonstration proposed by the Bolsheviks encountered opposition in the Congress, which appealed to military units and factory workers not to march. In the early morning hours of June 23 (10), a small meeting of Bolshevik CC members called off the demonstration.

In an attempt to bolster support for its policies, the soviet arranged a demonstration on July 1 (June 18), which attracted almost 500,000 participants. However, due to the efforts of Bolsheviks, Left SRs and anarchists, this demonstration was dominated not by the moderate politics that still predominated in the soviets, but by radical slogans for ending the war, opposing the coalition government and its military offensive, and transferring all power to the soviets--precisely what the Bolsheviks had argued for.

These documents were selected and translated, and the above annotation written, by Barbara Allen, author of the biography Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik. They are part of an SW series giving a view from the streets during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The series is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.

A socialist contingent in Petrograd with banners calling for peace, land and soviet power

The Bolshevik Proclamation Calling for a Demonstration

To all laborers, workers, and soldiers of Piter [Petrograd]: Comrades!

Russia is experiencing difficult trials. The war, which has carried off millions of victims, continues. Millionaire bankers are intentionally prolonging it, because they're making a fortune off the war.

The war has devastated industry, leading to factory stoppages and unemployment. The greedy capitalists, who lock out workers while making fantastic profits, exacerbate this trend.

Shortages of bread and other food supplies are becoming more acute. The increase in the cost of living is throttling the population. Prices keep increasing, per the whims of robber-speculators.

The sinister specter of hunger and ruin looms over us. At the same time, the black clouds of counterrevolution are approaching.

Imposed by the Tsar to strangle the people, the [illegitimate] June 3rd Duma* now demands an immediate offensive at the front. But for what purpose? To drown in blood the freedom that we have obtained.

The State Council, which supplied the Tsar with hangmen ministers, is quietly braiding a traitor's noose, while shielding itself behind the law. What is this for? It is so that at a convenient time they may come out into the open and hang the noose around the neck of the people.

The Provisional Government, positioned between the tsarist Duma and the Soviet and containing 10 bourgeois members, obviously has fallen under the influence of gentry landowners and capitalists. Instead of securing soldiers' rights, Kerensky's 'declaration' violates their rights in several very important points.

Instead of securing the liberties that soldiers gained during the revolution, new "commands" threaten them with penal servitude.

What else to read

Read other leaflets, statements and documents from the Russian Revolution in this series titled "1917: The View from the Streets" edited by John Riddell.

Bolshevik leaflet
To the revolutionary students of Russia

Mezhraionka leaflet
The day of the people's wrath is near

Menshevik leaflet
Only a provisional government can bring freedom and peace

Bolshevik leaflet
For a provisional revolutionary government

Mezhraionka leaflet
A day to prepare for conquering the enemy

Mezhraionka leaflet
For a general strike against autocracy

Mezhraionka leaflet
Soldiers, take power into your own hands!

Polish socialist workers' appeal
The only guarantee of Polish independence

Petrograd Soviet appeal
Joining together to achieve peace

Petrograd Soviet Executive appeals
https://socialistworker.org/2017/05/15/calling-for-peaceand-renewed-o

Instead of securing the freedom that Russia's citizens achieved, there are arrests without trial or investigation, and new suggestions about Article 129, which make threats about penal servitude.

Instead of struggling against counterrevolution, they put up with the debauchery and bacchanalia of counterrevolutionaries.

Meanwhile, economic devastation keeps getting worse and no measures are taken against it.

The war keeps going on, and no actual measures are taken to end it.

Famine is still imminent, and no actual measures are taken to prevent it.

Is it really any surprise that counterrevolutionaries are becoming more insolent and inciting the government to repress soldiers, sailors, workers and peasants?

Comrades! It's impossible to endure such things in silence any more. It is a crime to keep silent after all this! Protest is already beginning in the depths of the working class. We are free citizens. We have the right to protest and we should avail ourselves of this right before it is too late.

We still have the right to demonstrate peacefully. We will go to a peaceful demonstration and will make our needs and wishes known!

Raise the flags of victory today to make the enemies of freedom and socialism afraid!

Let our call, the cry of the sons of the revolution, fly round all Russia today to the joy of all those who are oppressed and enslaved!

Workers! Join together with soldiers and support their just demands. Indeed, don't you remember how they supported you during the revolution? Everyone onto the streets, comrades!

Soldiers! Hold out your hands to workers and support their just demands. The strength of the revolution is in the union of soldiers and workers. Not one regiment or company should sit in the barracks today!

Everyone into the streets, comrades! March on the streets of the capital in orderly ranks. State your wishes calmly and confidently, as befits the strong:

Down with the Tsarist Duma!
Down with the State Council!
Down with the ten capitalist ministers!
All power to the All-Russian Soviet of Workers, Soldiers, and Peasants' Deputies!
Revise the "declaration of the rights of soldiers"!
Repeal the "commands" against soldiers and sailors!
Down with anarchy in industry! Down with capitalists who engage in lockouts!
Long live workers' supervision and organization of industry!
It's time to end the war! Let the Soviet of deputies announce just conditions of peace!
Neither a separate peace with Wilhelm, nor secret treaties with French and English capitalists!
Bread! Peace! Freedom!

* Editor's note: Socialists regarded the State Duma as illegitimate because it was elected under undemocratic voting rules enacted by Tsarism in 1907 that gave landowners and capitalists a predominant voice. The Tsarist regime enacted these rules after having arbitrarily dissolved the previous Duma on June 3 that year.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tthe All-Russian Congress of Soviets Proclamation Opposing a Demonstration

Soldier and worker comrades!

The Bolshevik Party is calling you out onto the street.

Their appeal was prepared without the knowledge of the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, the All-Russian Congress, the Soviet of Peasants' Deputies, or any other socialist parties. It rang out right at the critical moment when the All-Russian Congress called upon worker comrades of Vyborg District to remember that any demonstrations during these days can harm the cause of the revolution. Comrades, on behalf of millions of workers, peasants, and soldiers in the rear and at the front we say to you:

Don't do what they are calling upon you to do.

At this critical moment, they are calling upon you to go onto the street to demand the overthrow of the Provisional Government, which the All-Russian [Soviet] Congress only just recognized as necessary to support.

Those who call you out cannot help but know that bloody riots may arise from your peaceful demonstration. Knowing your dedication to the revolutionary cause, we say to you:

They are calling upon you to demonstrate in favor of the revolution, but we know that hidden counterrevolutionaries want to make use of your demonstration.

We know that counterrevolutionaries eagerly await the moment when internecine war in the ranks of revolutionary democratic forces will make it possible for them to crush the revolution.

Comrades!

In the name of all Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, the Soviet of Peasants' Deputies, armies in action, and socialist parties, we say to you:

Not one company, regiment, or group of workers should be on the street.

There should not be even one demonstration today.

A great struggle still confronts us.

When counterrevolutionary danger actually threatens Russian freedom, we will call upon you.

Disorderly demonstrations are the downfall of the revolution.

Conserve your forces.

Act in concert with all revolutionary Russia.

All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies
Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies
Executive Committee of the All-Russian Soviet of Peasant Deputies
Organizational Committee of the RSDRP [Menshevik]
Central Committee of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries
Central Committee of the Bund
Central Committee of the Laborite Group [Trudoviks]
Ukrainian fraction of the All-Russian Congress
Fraction of United Internationalists of SD Bolsheviks and Mensheviks of the All-Russian Congress
Military Section under the Organizational Committee and Committee of the Petrograd Organization of the RSDRP
.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Source: Both documents reprinted in A.G. Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 4, 1931, p. 404-406. Translated by Barbara Allen.

Historical References:
-- Alexander Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising (Indiana University Press, 1968, reprinted in 1991), pp. 54-79.

-- Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 179-180.

A note on Russian dates: The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the "View from the Streets" series, centennials are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian ("New Style") date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.

Categories: Political Action

If House Bill Was ‘Mean,’ Senate Bill Is Cruel  

Move On - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 18:30

Moments ago, the Washington Post reported details of the Senate Republican health care bill that threatens to take away health insurance from tens of millions of Americans and raise costs and limit coverage for many more.

In reaction to this news, Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org, released the following statement:

Our jaws are on the floor. This bill is worse than even our darkest fears. It will take a wrecking ball to health care in this country, leaving millions without care, making health care unaffordable for many, eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, and giving massive tax cuts to the wealthy. Shockingly, this bill’s cuts to Medicaid are even deeper than those passed by the House—at a moment when Medicaid and Medicare should be dramatically expanded.

If the House bill was ‘mean,’ this bill is cruel.

Nothing remotely like this bill should be considered by any member of Congress, and amendments won’t get it into the ballpark of the compassionate and practical policy-making we need from our elected officials. As-is or with fig-leaf amendments, this bill would go down in history as the most cruel, destructive act of wealth transfer to the richest Americans at the expense of kids, low-income Americans, the elderly, those with disabilities, and the vast majority of Americans. It’s a moral disaster and political malpractice by any senators who dare to support it.

MoveOn members will work around the clock to defeat this bill and protect and improve coverage for all Americans.

Now that the bill is public, Senate Republicans have a choice. Do the right thing and protect our care. Or, if you boot millions of Americans off of health insurance, destroying Medicaid as we know it, slashing Planned Parenthood, and raising health care costs, know that your constituents will boot you out of office.

# # #

Categories: Political Action

Nabra Hassanen had more than one murderer

Socialist Worker - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:00

If Virginia authorities have their way, the anti-Muslim hate that set the stage for the murder of a young women will go unchallenged, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

Nabra Hassanen

SEVENTEEN-YEAR-old Nabra Hassanen was returning with a group of friends for all-night prayers at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society center in Sterling, Virginia, in the early-morning hours of June 18 when she crossed paths with Darwin Martinez Torres.

The 22-year-old Martinez Torres reportedly drove up on the group of teens, chased them, attacked Nabra, who was wearing an abaya, with a metal baseball bat, and put her in his car afterward. Nabra's body was found in a pond later that evening, beaten to death.

Taking all these details into consideration, Fairfax County police concluded that the reason for Torres' attack was...road rage.

Nabra's family and friends, however, see her abduction and murder in a clearer light. "This is a hate crime," her father, Mahmoud Hassanen, told reporters the day after the murder. "It's racism. Getting killed because she's Muslim."

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling for an investigation. "We'd like to hear from the witnesses to the initial attack as to whether they heard any biased statements," said Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR. "Even if not, why is this individual targeting a group of people dressed in Muslim attire? Would they have been targeted if they hadn't been of a certain faith or ethnicity?"

Hundreds who joined a protest in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to show their solidarity with Nabra echoed this sentiment.

"The police are saying the murder was because of road rage. Why as a Muslim do I find that hard to believe?" said Dr. Maha Hilal. "Since 9/11, Muslims have systematically targeted and discriminated against by the U.S. government. While that has been more obvious under the Trump administration, it is nothing new."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

NABRA'S FAMILY has good reason to suspect she was targeted because she was Muslim. According to a 2017 CAIR Civil Rights report, from 2014 to 2016, anti-Muslim bias incidents jumped 65 percent--and in the same period, hate crimes targeting Muslims went up 584 percent.

These incidents have only increased since Donald Trump took the White House, where he has reinforced every bigoted anti-Muslim idea in society--not only with rhetoric, but with action, like attempting to ban citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

But while skyrocketing anti-Muslim attacks are staring law enforcement officials in the face, they won't take them seriously, preferring instead to focus on what they consider to be the "real" threat--Muslims themselves.

The media is an eager accomplice in this, too, according to a study from Georgia State University.

"When the perpetrator is Muslim, you can expect that attack to receive about four and a half times more media coverage than if the perpetrator was not Muslim," researcher Eric Kearns told NPR. In other words, "a perpetrator who is not Muslim would have to kill on average about seven more people to receive the same amount of coverage as a perpetrator who's Muslim."

This media bias contributes to the toxic climate of Islamophobia--but by whipping up fear and hysteria, it helps create an atmosphere where more attacks are possible.

NPR cited another study from the University of Michigan in which people were shown video clips with different portrayals of Muslims. Those who watched news stories portraying Muslims as terrorists were more likely to support unconstitutional policies against Muslim Americans.

Hate crimes committed against Muslims expose the ugly double standard about what is taken seriously as terrorism and what is not.

In London, just after midnight on Monday morning, a white man driving a van plowed into a crowd of Muslim worshippers as they stood talking outside a mosque in the Finsbury Park area. One man was killed and at least 10 more injured in the attack by a man whose neighbors acknowledged that he was racist toward Muslims.

In this case, British officials called the atrocity what it was--terrorism--which is a rare occurrence. But that didn't prevent the victims of terrorism, as even the right-wing media acknowledged from becoming the target of suspicion.

"For a long time, Finsbury Park was synonymous with two things: Arsenal Football Club and the radical, hook-handed cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri," wrote Newsweek, referring to a man who is serving life without parole in a U.S. jail on terrorism charges and hasn't been affiliated with the mosque for about 13 years.

Newsweek and the rest of the media were less quick to point out these more recent facts: Last summer, the mosque was one of several that was sent envelopes containing white powder, including one that had "p*** filth" written on it. And in 2015, an arsonist threw a petrol bomb over its gates.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IF GOVERNMENT officials took a fraction of the resources they use spying on Muslims and looking for "terrorists," and instead committed it to protecting Muslims now under increased attack, we might not be mourning these victims in Virginia and London.

Some 20,000 people in Britain are on a "terror watch list" almost exclusively made up of people who are young and traveled to Syria, according to a report by the BBC.

It's at least a small recognition of reality that this week's terrible attack in Finsbury Park is being called "terrorism." But just naming this kind of violence properly won't stop the wave of attacks directed at Muslims.

To find the accomplices responsible for these terrorist attacks, Donald Trump and Theresa May need look no further than their mirrors.

The hate and fear they use to scapegoat and demonize Islam--all to divert attention from their own crimes and bolster their war on terror around the globe--puts a target on the backs of Muslims, at home and around the world.

And it is political leaders like Trump and May who have provided a breeding ground for the far right to grow and become more emboldened. This week, while members of a London mosque gathered donations for victims of the Grenfell Towers fire, a few members of the far-right Britain First organization protested outside to spread their filth, saying, "They're all Muslim terrorists."

What we really need is a war on Islamophobia. But that isn't going to come from political leaders. It will need to be built by people standing up to hate and discrimination wherever it rears its head--in the airports under Trump's racist ban, in demands for justice for victims of hate crimes, and in counterprotests against the right.

As a young Muslim woman at the protest for Nabra Hassanen said:

We will not be silent in the face of terror. We will not be silent in the face of hate. We will not accept the lie they peddle that this somehow happened in a vacuum--that this is somehow not impacted by a climate of dehumanization and hatred.

Categories: Political Action

Victims of UPS's deadly drive for profit

Socialist Worker - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:00

A UPS worker reflects on the sources of violence at a hub that left four workers dead.

UPS workers in San Francisco evacuate following a deadly shooting

ON JUNE 14, a 38-year-old United Parcel Service driver, Jimmy Lam, shot and killed three co-workers, wounded two others and then killed himself at the UPS hub in San Francisco in the Potrero Hill neighborhood.

This tragedy is obviously upsetting for those of us who work at UPS, along with our family and friends. But it doesn't come as a real surprise given the undue stress of the job.

The mass shooting took place as drivers were waiting to start delivering packages in the morning. Benson Louie, Wayne Chan and Mike Lefiti were killed, along with Lam. Xiao Chen and Edgar Perez were treated for gunshot wounds at San Francisco General Hospital and released.

Members of the Teamsters union who work at UPS are reminded daily of management's antagonistic relationship with us. Yet the mainstream media made an issue that Lam had a "grievance with the company"--as if this is unusual.

Lam had filed a grievance--a procedure used to address a violation of the Teamsters-UPS contract--over excessive overtime. In fact, many grievances are filed by workers every day at UPS. The problem is that many are blocked by management and take months, if not years, to resolve, if they ever are.

This stalling by the company is specifically designed to discourage workers from filing grievances or otherwise challenging poor conditions or contract violations. Management also uses harassment to try to intimidate workers from filing.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

TO COUNTER bad publicity after the shooting, UPS issued a press statement in the name of CEO and Chairman of the Board David Abney, UPS Chairman and CEO: "The UPS family is deeply saddened by the tragic shooting in San Francisco on Wednesday, when four employees lost their lives. On behalf of all UPSers, I extend sincere condolences to the families of the deceased, and we pray for the speedy recovery of the injured employees."

What is this "UPS family" and does it really exist? Does it include the part-time workers making only $10 an hour working in warehouses and loading trailers, where temperatures in the summer can reach 130 degrees? Management, on the other hand, gets air-conditioned offices.

Does it include package car drivers like Jimmy Lam, who work 12-hour days or longer, with more stops per mile added on to increase work "efficiency"? The result of management piling on work is that some members of the "family" have to work late into the night, only to get up early the next morning and start the process all over again.

Mandatory overtime has become the rule at UPS, and many workers are at the breaking point.

Meanwhile, the company is automating more of its facilities, not to make workers' lives easier, but to increase the pace of the work. Workers load and unload thousands of packages a day. The body starts to break down from all of that lifting.

Workers who have been on the job for years--or even for a short time--often suffer pain from repetitive motion, sickness from breathing in dirty and dusty air, and stress inflicted by management that operates acts in a crisis mode to get the work done so their numbers are acceptable to their superiors.

This toxic work environment hurts not only union workers, but is visible on the faces of the low-level supervisors and managers who fear for their own jobs if they can't meet the targets devised by their bosses. That means they are constantly harassing workers and trying to force them to work faster than before.

Part-time new hires usually quit because the working conditions are so bad and the pay is too low. Meanwhile, supervisors rush around downing energy drinks to do union work in violation of the contract in order to meet their down time--the time when work should be finished.

The work pace is so fast and brutal that some workers learn to "suck it up" and get upset at other workers who don't do the same. Others slow down, realizing the faster they work, the more management will abuse them to work even faster.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

ON THE other hand, the world looks sunny for the top executives and major stockholders of UPS. The company is expanding its operations and buying up other corporations around the world.

Meanwhile, UPS's President of U.S. Operations Myron Gray, speaking at the UPS Investor Conference last February, explained how change would drive the logistics network of the future.

Phase One of the new program was ORION, computer software that cut 210 million miles out of the routes driven by UPS drivers in a year, while increasing the average stops per mile by 6 to 9 percent. ORION generated more than $400 million in annual cost savings by extracting more work out of drivers.

But what comes with that is more stress and longer hours on the street for drivers, since they are making more stops per mile. This leads to a lack of any social life outside of UPS, since you can be at work for longer than you are at home, not even excluding sleep.

UPS has also started to retrofit its largest ground facilities and claims automation will contribute to labor savings. Other older facilities will be expanded, but to really increase productivity savings, new facilities, with a higher degree of automation, are being planned--about 70 new package and hub projects around the world.

Gray and the other UPS executives have many reasons to be happy, especially when counted in terms of the dollars in their bank accounts.

According to the Wall Street Journal, top executives got a second pay raise and special stock awards in 2016. At $11.7 million in 2016, CEO David Abney's total compensation was 21 percent higher than the year before.

As the Journal reported, "UPS says the higher salary and one-time grants were designed to keep the company's pay competitive with peers, and to tie more of the compensation to future performance." UPS spokesperson Steve Gaut underlined this last point: "The only way the pay is delivered is if the company performs to the target expectations."

But for UPS workers, this will mean even more speedups, longer hours and cost-cutting on workers' needs, like building cleanliness and well-maintained vehicles and equipment--all so that top management can hit their numbers and get those million-dollar bonuses. We will pay with more work, more stress, less sleep, more injuries and even premature deaths.

Drivers will bear the same pressure that Jimmy Lam did, because of the decisions made at corporate headquarters in Atlanta. That is the bigger tragedy behind this month's horrific shooting in San Francisco, and it will only lead to other workers breaking down, mentally and physically, with all the repercussions that entails.

Categories: Political Action

Why has this professor been targeted?

Socialist Worker - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:00

Brandon Daniels reports from Syracuse, New York, on a smear campaign against university professor that has included frightening calls for violence.

Professor Dana Cloud (Abigail.gilbert | Wikimedia Commons)

SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY Professor Dana Cloud has become the target of a right-wing campaign of abuse and harassment after her participation in a counterprotest against a right-wing Islamophobic rally.

Cloud was bombarded with hate-mail, including threats to her physical safety, after she tweeted a call for larger numbers to join the June 10 counterprotest in Syracuse, New York, against the "Anti-Sharia law" rally organized by the anti-Muslim group ACT for America.

The Syracuse rally was attended by members of the Oath Keepers militia group, among others. In several cities, other demonstrations that same day attracted open white supremacists and neo-Nazis, as well as figures on the "alt-right."

Days after the protest and the tweet, right-wingers used their social media followers to direct people to attack Cloud. She has since been inundated with abuse, including threats that make specific reference to her home, family and pet.

This is a clear attempt at political intimidation. In response, we must stand in unity and solidarity with Cloud and all others who are harassed by right-wing pressure groups for speaking out against oppression.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IN RESPONSE to ACT for America's call for "anti-Sharia" rallies--in reality, thinly veiled anti-Muslim demonstrations steeped in bigotry, local residents in upstate New York organized a counterdemonstration to stand in solidarity with their Arab and Muslim neighbors.

What you can do

Add your name to the petition in support of Professor Dana Cloud.

The rally and counterprotest occurred without any sort physical confrontation, but the crowd at the ACT for America was heavily outnumbered by those standing against Islamophobia.

Throughout the counterprotest, Cloud used social media to encourage other members of the Syracuse community to join in. When it became clear that ACT for America supporters were beginning to leave, Cloud tweeted, "We almost have the fascists in on the run. Syracuse people come down to the federal building to finish them off."

That message--to join a peaceful counterprotest that outnumbered the far right--has been used by some to mobilize an attack against Cloud with the absurd claim that she was calling for a physical assault. On June 14, the right-wing website CampusReform.org published an article citing Cloud's tweet and describing it as a "veiled call for violence."

Since the article was published, various websites and right-wing figures have publicized Cloud's twitter and personal information, including right-wing media pundit Ann Coulter.

Gavin McInnes, founder of the so–called "Proud Boys"--a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a "fight club ready for street violence"--published his own article arbitrarily linking Cloud's out-of-context tweet to the recent attack on Republican U.S. Representative Steve Scalise.

Others on the right have cynically exploited the June 14 attack on Scalise--which was immediately and unconditionally denounced by figures on the left, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders--to call accuse the left of using "extremist rhetoric" and promoting violence.

The deliberate campaign of intimidation is meant to silence academic freedom and smear left-wing professors. One article from Campus Reform, for example, cited tweets from five different professors from various institutions, deriding them for being critical of Scalise's support of the NRA and gun rights.

The fact that Cloud is a longtime left-wing activist and openly gay has made her a further target.

As a petition in her defense circulated by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) notes: "It is no accident that Dr. Cloud, as an outspoken lesbian socialist and peaceful social justice activist for decades, is being targeted. The emboldened right wing targets the oppressed with disgusting insults and threats directed at their identities."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THOUGH ATTACKS by the right on left-wing professors and academic freedom aren't new, they have escalated since Trump's election.

Drexel University Professor George Ciccariello-Maher was the subject of a similar campaign in December after he tweeted a joke about "white genocide." Meanwhile, earlier this month, Princeton University Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was forced to cancel speaking engagements after Fox News ran a smear story about a commencement address she gave at Hampshire College, leading to racist and homophobic slurs and death threats.

The threats against Cloud fall into this same pattern of attack. As the petition for Cloud notes:

The hate mail and threats directed against Dr. Cloud are not isolated phenomena, but part of a campaign of intimidation and harassment against those standing in solidarity with Muslims and other oppressed groups...

These attacks are evidence of a disturbing rise in the confidence of right-wing extremists around the country. We call on others to stand in unity and solidarity with all those, like Dr. Cloud, who are being harassed and threatened by right-wing pressure groups for speaking out against Islamophobia and bigotry.

While those critical of Cloud say they are opposing her so-called "aggressive" rhetoric, these campaigns of terror rely on a connection between digital threats and the very real history of right-wing political violence in the U.S.

The dramatic escalation in hate crimes since Trump's election has only magnified the effect of these threats. Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, for example, were murdered for standing up to threats of racist violence last month in Portland, Oregon.

After the recent attack in London on Muslim congregants near a mosque, as well as the murder of Nabra Hassanen--a Muslim teen who was beaten to death with a baseball bat this week in Virginia--no one should take the threat of right-wing political violence lightly.

The threats Cloud received--including messages reading "You need to be executed" and "We on the right will find you and we will be coming after you"--only highlight the severity of the situation.

Such attacks are evidence of a disturbing rise in the confidence of right-wing extremists. We hope others will stand in unity and solidarity with all those, like Dr. Cloud, who are being harassed by the right for speaking out against Islamophobia and bigotry.

Organized groups of the right have identified university faculty and student activists as their targets. By waging campaigns that threaten their personal safety, the institutions they work for, and their employment, such forces hope to further restrict the dwindling levels of independence professors have at corporate-dominated institutions.

Anyone who cares about free speech, academic freedom and fighting bigotry should respond to the attack on Cloud and others with solidarity.

As the petition in her defense states, "We demand that Syracuse University and the broader academic community defend and protect her and all faculty in the exercise of their academic freedom, their right to extramural speech, and the exercise of their conscience in civic life."

Categories: Political Action

Pages