Joel Sronce reports from North Carolina on a grassroots effort to save one woman from being ripped away from her home that shows the potential for ongoing organizing.
Juana Luz Tobar Ortega speaks to supporters after taking sanctuary in a Greensboro church (Leoneda Inge | WUNC)
MORE THAN 100 people packed St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, for a May 31 press conference welcoming Juana Luz Tobar Ortega into sanctuary within the church's walls.
Juana was supposed to meet that morning with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and board a plane bound for her home country of Guatemala. Instead, she was received by Rev. Randall Keeney and his congregation, who voted unanimously to provide Juana refuge in their church.
At the press conference, her family joined faith leaders, community activists and supporters to collectively state their commitment to do whatever it takes to ensure that Juana not be torn away from her home in North Carolina.
Following the reception at St. Barnabas, dozens of people gathered outside of the office of North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis in High Point, North Carolina, to call on the senator to show support for Juana by submitting a stay of removal. A week later, dozens of supporters gathered to discuss how to further build momentum during a community meeting at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro.
The different actions surrounding Juana's case have demonstrated how communities can come together and organize to protect people, uniting the religious-based sanctuary movement with a broad-based struggle for solidarity.
For Juana, her family and her supporters, sanctuary is not just a last resort. It's the start of a campaign.
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JUANA HAS called the U.S. her home for almost 25 years. She's a mother of four--two children are U.S. citizens, and two are protected under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program--and grandmother of two.
After escaping violence in Guatemala in 1992, Juana immediately applied for asylum in the U.S. but was denied. She appealed the denial and received a work permit while her case was being processed.
In 1999, her oldest daughter, who was living with her grandmother in Guatemala, became very ill. Juana returned home to care for her. After her daughter's health improved and Juana came back to the U.S., her hopes for asylum were destroyed when she was picked up by immigration authorities during a raid at her workplace.
After spending time in detention centers in North Carolina and Georgia, she was eventually released on the condition that she report to ICE officers for regular check-ins. Juana did so for more than a decade, but when she returned earlier this year, she was denied an extension and instructed to leave the country by the end of May.
The orders were a direct result of the priority deportation policy changes under the current administration. Since mid-April, Juana has been forced to wear an ankle monitor. She was ordered to purchase her airline ticket to Guatemala, which her family paid for to buy her time.
When her attorney's appeal for a stay was denied, Juana was forced to make a choice: Get on a plane back to Guatemala, leaving her family and returning to the risk of violence--or find a place of sanctuary.
The sanctuary movement that has resurfaced since Trump took office has its roots in the 1980s, when interfaith organizations began to shelter refugees fleeing U.S.-backed campaigns of state violence against radical insurgencies in Central America. Those religious communities actively engaged in civil disobedience, a U.S. tradition that has roots in the Underground Railroad and beyond.
The sanctuary movement of the 1980s was one component of a broad-based movement. This can inform today's struggle: Wider collaboration between groups is essential for the mass movement needed so that Juana and others may remain at home.
We also need to remember something else: The Democrats have contributed as much as Republicans to the anti-immigrant climate. When deportations and raids increased under George W. Bush, immigrants and activists put their hopes in Barack Obama--only to have them dashed by Obama's record of more deportations than any preceding president.
Though Trump has set in motion the unprecedented onslaught against all immigrants, he has inherited a system built up by conservatives and liberals alike.
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THOSE AT the community meeting for Juana on June 7 included her family and friends, community organizers, and members of St. Barnabas and other religious congregations around Greensboro. Several members of other churches attended the meeting to begin exploring how they might offer sanctuary in their own places of worship.
Though organizers began the meeting with a discussion of the history of sanctuary and modern immigration policies, the primary goal of the meeting centered around Juana's current needs while at St. Barnabas as well as measures to take beyond sanctuary. Juana is the first person to live in sanctuary in North Carolina in many years, and she's one of nine people currently in sanctuary across the country.
Due to the growing danger under the current administration, many others may seek sanctuary in the weeks and months to come. With legal options sharply diminished, organizers are seeking out new strategies based on developing public support through mass campaigns.
Juana's advocates at the Congregational UCC split into groups to discuss ways in which they could use creative action to apply pressure to those in power and to foreground Juana's story in the media and the hearts and minds of those in Greensboro and beyond.
Ideas poured out, including: Create a website to share information and strategies among churches providing or interested in providing sanctuary; and organize a Las Posadas in July, in which supporters invoke a religious tradition to march and carry pictures of those needing sanctuary. There were many more suggestions for developing support through documentaries, concerts, art pieces, house parties, and options of sponsorships from restaurants, breweries and cafes.
Among those in attendance was Lesvi Molina, Juana's oldest daughter, who fell sick in Guatemala many years ago. For Lesvi, the support at St. Barnabas, at Sen. Tillis' office and at the Congregational UCC has been incredible. "It's a blessing to have the community, people who don't even know you, come together to help my mother be free again," Lesvi said.
But it's not only the support of those in the community that has created the momentum around her mother's case--it's Juana herself, representing an open door for others who have been afraid to come forward.
"[Going into sanctuary] privately was never a thought," Lesvi explained. "She has sought asylum for so long, checking with immigration, doing the right things, not even thinking about hiding. We want it solved. We're not going to get it solved by hiding."
Mulling over the decades her mother has struggled to remain in the U.S., Lesvi's frustrations were clear: "Why would they want to deport her now?" Lesvi asked, citing Juana's children, grandchildren and contributions to her church, her kids' schools and her community. "It's cruel, and it doesn't make any sense."
But when she thinks of her mother risking everything to return to Guatemala to care for her, Lesvi becomes filled with such courage. "Thanks to her bravery and decision-making, I am here today," Lesvi proclaimed. "As her eldest, I'm going to fight this to the end."
Juana's campaign is the result of a broad collaboration of groups anchored by American Friends Service Committee, Indivisible groups, ACLU People Power, local nonprofits, congregations, and other groups and individuals politicized by the 2016 election result.
Thanks to the courage of Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, Greensboro is seeing collaboration between religious organizations such as St. Barnabas offering sanctuary refuge and the broad struggle for solidarity by activists on the political left. Their work together represents an effort to develop the political movement needed to move toward liberation for all.
A brewing conflict among the rulers of the Persian Gulf region reached a crisis stage in early June when Saudi Arabia led other countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in cutting ties with Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have halted all land, air and sea traffic with Qatar, ended diplomatic ties and ordered to Qatari citizens to leave. With 40 percent of Qatar's food supply coming over the border from Saudi Arabia, there are fears of shortages of food and water.
Qatar is a small but very wealthy nation on a peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf. It shares a single land border with Saudi Arabia to the south and west, and lies across the Gulf from Iran to the east and the small island nation of Bahrain to the north and west.
Qatar stands accused of supporting Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies hold responsible for fomenting terrorism and instability. In reality, the Saudi autocracy has led the way in crushing pro-democracy movements and pursuing a sectarian conflict with its chief regional rival, Iran, that is at the root of war and suffering in the Middle East. Qatar has supported some movements that Saudi Arabia opposes and leans toward Iran in aspects of the regional conflict, though Qatar also has close ties to the U.S., as the site of some of the Pentagon's most important overseas bases.
Gilbert Achcar is a socialist who grew up in Lebanon and author of numerous books, including Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising. He wrote this analysis untangling the sources of the conflict for the Qatari-owned newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi. It appeared in English at The Arabist website. The translation is credited to Industry Arabic and was revised by the author at SW's request.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (left) with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley | flickr)
TO UNDERSTAND the violent campaign launched by the Saudi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahraini and Egyptian governments against Qatar, we must look beyond the trivialities of the Qatari ransom money allegedly paid in Iraq and the charges leveled against Qatar of supporting terrorism. Such charges lose all credibility when they come from actors that have, for decades, engaged in just that. We must return to the scene before the Arab Spring and how it was affected by the Great Uprising.
During the reign of Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emirate of Qatar took an approach to regional affairs not unlike Kuwait's after it declared independence from Britain in 1961. The announcement outraged the Republic of Iraq, which demanded the Emirate be restored as part of its territory. But Kuwait benefited from the tension that existed between Iraq, under the leadership of Abd el-Karim Qasim and Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt in order to secure Arab acceptance of Kuwait's independence, in addition to British-provided protection. To deter its Iraqi neighbor from annexation ambitions, Kuwait pursued since then a policy of Arab neutrality, maintaining good relations with the two poles of what was called "the Arab Cold War": Egypt and the Saudi kingdom.
The similarity is that Qatar, as is well known, has a historically strained relationship with its Saudi neighbor, particularly since declaring independence from Britain in 1971. After seizing power in 1995, Emir Hamad pursued a policy that sought to make up for the emirate's small size by reinforcing ties with the two main axes of regional conflict as they emerged after the extensive deployment of U.S. troops in the Gulf: the United States and the Republic of Iran. Qatar thus managed to simultaneously host (and fund) the United States' most important regional air base and cultivate cozy relations with Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah. The policy of good relations with opposing forces also manifested itself in Qatar establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, while also supporting Hamas.
Qatar's role during the reign of Emir Hamad was not limited however to cultivating good relations with different parties in the Kuwaiti way, which is neutral and passive, but it also used its considerable wealth to play an active role in regional politics by sponsoring the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudi kingdom had rescinded its support to the Brotherhood, after sponsoring it since its inception in 1928, due to the latter's opposition to American intervention in the Kuwait-Iraq crisis in 1990. The weight of Qatar's political role greatly increased with the establishment of the Al Jazeera TV network, which resonated with Arab audiences by welcoming Arab voices of opposition, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood.
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SO WHEN the volcano of the Great Arab Uprising erupted in 2011, Qatar was able to play a major role through its patronage of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Jazeera. As a result, the two poles of the conflict that dominated the Arab world since then--the old regime and the Islamic fundamentalist opposition led by the Muslim Brotherhood--found support in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). While Saudi Arabia supported the old regime throughout the region--with the exception of Libya where it remained neutral and Syria where the sectarian factor produced an alliance between the Assad regime and Iran--Qatar supported the uprisings, especially where the Brotherhood was involved, except for fellow GCC member Bahrain, for obvious reasons. The conflict between the Emirate and the Kingdom became obvious since the onset of the "Arab Spring" with Qatar's support for the Tunisian uprising contrasting with Saudi political asylum to deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The Obama administration saw Qatar as a means to ward off the danger of a radicalization of the Arab uprising that would threaten U.S. interests. So it played both sides, at times supporting the old regime with the Saudis (as in Bahrain), and at others, trying to contain the uprisings with Qatar through the Muslim Brotherhood and its associates (like in Tunisia and Egypt). But Qatar's role in urging Washington to adopt a policy of flirting with the uprisings was a cause of Saudi indignation, and outraged the United Arab Emirates, which had designated the Muslim Brotherhood as its public enemy number one. The pressure that the two Gulf countries exerted on Qatar escalated after the great defeat of Qatari bets on the Muslim Brotherhood that became clear when the Egyptian army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi and violently suppressed the Brotherhood. That came at the same moment as Emir Hamad's decision to step down in place of his son, the current emir, Tamim, only to see Gulf pressure reach its first peak in 2014 to force the new emir to change course.
After that peak, it seemed that the Gulf conflict had come to an end. Through the accord of the three Gulf states in supporting the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime, which strained relations between Qatar (and with it, the Muslim Brotherhood) and Iran--and, later, Qatar's participation in the military campaign against the alliance between Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis in Yemen, all against the backdrop of a new king ascending to the Saudi throne--it seemed as if concord between GCC members was possible. This trend was reinforced by the Saudi kingdom's pursuit for a while of a Sunni consensus against Iran that includes the Muslim Brotherhood, and coincided with tension between Riyadh and Cairo. This trend also aligned perfectly with the politics of the Obama administration.
However, Donald Trump's election as president of the United States changed the equation. The new president is a supporter of a confrontational policy of opposition to change and revolution in the Arab region. He is also extremely hostile to Iran and a close friend of Israel. Some of his key advisers want to classify the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, concurring in this with the UAE, as evidenced by recently uncovered correspondence of its ambassador to Washington. This fundamental change in the equation led the Saudi kingdom to reconcile with al-Sisi's Egypt. Together, accompanied by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, they launched the current frenzied attack on Qatar to impose a radical change in its policy.
Thus, the latest episode of the Great Arab Uprising's relapse and the counterattack launched by the ancien régime across the region, supported in most arenas by the Gulf axis and by Iran in Syria and Yemen, is almost complete. But a new wave of revolution will inevitably surge sooner or later (indeed, its harbingers are already visible in Morocco and Tunisia). When it will break out, there won't be anyone able to contain it, and Riyadh and Abu Dhabi may well regret eliminating Qatar's role in this regard.
First published in English at The Arabist, which states that the translation was made possible by Industry Arabic--use them for your Arabic needs. The translation was revised by the author at SW's request.
The debates about caste and class in India go back many decades, but they remain relevant today, writes Steve Leigh in a review of a new book by Arundhati Roy.
Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar (left) and Mahatma Gandhi
IN THE Doctor and the Saint, writer and political activist Arundhati Roy invites readers to take a new look at the "saint" M.K. Gandhi alongside a less-talked-about fighter for Indian independence and justice, Untouchable leader and intellectual Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
This book is based on an introduction that Roy wrote in 2014 for The Annihilation of Caste--a pamphlet of a 1936 speech by Ambedkar that he was never allowed to deliver. "When I first read it, I felt as though somebody had walked into a dim room and opened the windows," writes.
After Ambedkar's speech was canceled by the Hindu reformist organization that had invited him, it was printed as a pamphlet, and though the publishing houses were modest, it sold in the millions, becoming the source of great public debate over the question of caste in India--and social discrimination on the basis of caste. Gandhi was included among the opponents to Ambedkar's views.
In The Doctor and the Saint, Roy uses this historic debate to underscore the centrality of caste in the past and present--and to take a deeper look at the myths about Gandhi.
Roy points out that the institution of caste continues today, as she outlines the brutal oppression suffered by the "scheduled castes" continues, not only in India but also in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and beyond.
Arundhati Roy, The Doctor and the Saint: Caste, Race and the Annihilation of Caste, The Debate Between B.R. Ambedkar and M.K. Gandhi. Haymarket Books, 2017, 184 pages, $15.95.
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CASTE OPERATES throughout the population, but is, of course, especially onerous for the scheduled castes at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Estimates put this group at 17 percent of the population.
Besides Untouchables, there are Unseeables and Unapproachables--these are the scheduled or avarna castes, known as Ati-Shudras or subhumans. Other castes are grouped into four "varnas": Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (soldiers),Vaishyas (traders) and Shudras (servants).
Untouchables were not allowed to use the public roads that privileged castes used, they were not allowed to drink from common wells...not allowed into Hindu temples...not allowed into privileged caste schools, not permitted to cover their upper bodies, only allowed to wear certain kinds of clothes and certain kinds of jewelry.
Some castes like the Mahars...had to tie brooms to their waists to sweep away their polluted footprints, others had to hang spittoons around their necks to collect their polluted saliva. Men of the privileged castes had undisputed rights over the bodies of Untouchable women. Love is polluting. Rape is pure. In many parts of India, much of this continues to this day.
Roy gives examples of horrendous attacks and murders still carried out today, based on and reinforcing caste.
There have been some attempts at "positive discrimination," or affirmative action, so that some of the scheduled castes have made it up the social and economic hierarchy. But these efforts are extremely limited, Roy says, and have been resisted by right-wing movements that want to reinforce caste hierarchy, often leading to violence.
In spite of efforts at positive discrimination, the class structure lines up very well with the caste structure. Roy illustrates this with a list of the CEOs and billionaires who come from the upper castes. She goes on to explain the heavy overlap between lower castes and the poorest sections of the population.
Many lower caste people try to escape caste discrimination by converting to Christianity or Islam. But Hindu society treats the converts as if they are still in their hereditary caste. There are even cases of other religions in the subcontinent enforcing caste. "Though their scriptures do not sanction it," writes Roy, "elite Indian Muslims, Sikhs and Christians all practice caste discrimination. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal all have their own communities of Untouchable sweepers."
Thus, caste has a basis in religion, but the system of discrimination and privilege is embedded in society at a deeper level. In fact, Hinduism was at first the name given to caste society by outsiders. The promotion of Hinduism, and later Hindutva, was a political project.
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OF PARTICULAR interest to those on the left will be the section of the book looking at the Communist Party (CP) leadership's disappointing view on the politics of caste. Under the guise of focusing on class divisions, they dismiss the importance of caste discrimination.
For example, CP leader E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the former chief minister of the state of Kerala, denounced Untouchable leader Ambedkar for focusing on caste, calling it "a great blow to the freedom movement. For this led to the diversion of peoples' attention from the objective of full independence to the mundane cause of the uplift of the Harijans [Untouchables]." Harijan, or "Children of God," was the condescending name that Gandhi gave the Untouchables.
Other political formations grew out of the fight against oppression, including Ambedkar's Independent Labor Party and the Dalit Panthers in the 1970s. The Dalit Panthers descended in part from Ambedkar's politics, but also from Marxism. They used the Marithi word "Dalit," meaning oppressed or broken, to embrace all the oppressed of India. Unfortunately, the Panthers disintegrated, with some actually going over to the Hindu right.
According to Roy, the official Communist Parties became "bourgeois parties," and their rejection of the importance of caste fit in well with their pro-capitalist politics. Even the more radical Maoist parties, the Naxalites, haven't put caste at the center of their politics and haven't won significant support from the scheduled castes.
Roy helps the reader conclude that without confronting caste, there can be no working-class unity and therefore no successful struggle against capitalism. Caste division hobbles a united working-class struggle.
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THE BULK of Roy's book is an analysis of Gandhi's politics in contrast to Ambedkar's.
Gandhi has become revered around the world because of his part in the campaign for India's independence and because of his commitment to nonviolence. But his first campaign in South Africa was in defense of upper-caste Indians, who were treated like Africans. Gandhi's appeal was that apartheid should treat Indians better than Africans, especially businessmen from India.
Gandhi held a racist position against the "kaffirs"--a racial slur against native Africans used in South Africa by whites, Afrikaners and some Indians like Gandhi. One of his demands was that Indians not be put in the same jail cell with Africans. Through Gandhi's life, he held a low opinion of the lower classes, castes and races--he felt they should get charity, but weren't fit to actually take part in democracy.
Gandhi also wanted to reform the British Empire and work with it, rather than get rid of it. He signed Indians up to fight on the side of the British during the Boer War in Africa and supported Britain in First and Second World Wars. "Gandhi was not trying to overwhelm or destroy a ruling structure; he simply wanted to be friends with it," writes Roy.
Funded by textile capitalist G.D. Birla, Gandhi preached collaboration between the classes. Roy quotes Gandhi, who argued:
It would be suicidal if the laborers rely on their numbers...In doing so, they would do harm to industries in the country. If, on the other hand, they take their stand on pure justice and suffer in their person to secure it, not only will they always succeed, but they will reform their masters...and both masters and men will be members of one and the same family."
Gandhi's attitude toward the scheduled castes was one of the main bones of contention with Ambedkar. Ambedkar proposed that the scheduled castes have a separate electorate so they could elect their own representatives and also be part of the general electorate.
Gandhi opposed this as "divisive." Gandhi was for incorporating Untouchables into the Hindu body politic by allowing them to worship at Hindu temples, but otherwise leaving the caste system intact. Other changes in the treatment of Untouchables would be left to the good will of the privileged castes.
Gandhi only came around to the idea that it was acceptable for people from different castes to share meals toward the end of his life. For Gandhi, the caste system was necessary and an integral part of Hinduism. For Ambedkar, it needed to be abolished.
Ambedkar tried to support Gandhi, but broke with him on the issue of caste. His politics had a radical core--self-determination for the scheduled castes and abolition of the caste system, as well as for true equality generally.
But he often sought these aims through reformist methods. For example, he was part of the commission to design the Indian constitution, but quit when it became clear that it wasn't going to achieve his goals. He organized independent political parties in support of the Dalits.
Ambedkar's analysis of the struggle for independence was right on point. Referring to the Indian National Congress, the main representative of the nationalist movement, he wrote: "The question of whether the Congress is fighting for freedom has very little importance as compared to the question of for whose freedom is the Congress fighting."
Replying to Gandhi, who questioned his sharp criticism of the Congress, Ambedkar argued in 1931, "No Untouchable worth the name will be proud of this land."
In contrasting Gandhi and Ambedkar, Roy doesn't lionize Ambedkar. But she points out the weaknesses and betrayals in the politics of the "saint"--and points out that that even in Gandhi's time, there was a political alternative.
The Doctor and the Saint provides important lessons about the need to fully incorporate the fight against oppression into the fight to abolish capitalism.
Mario Kessler pays tribute to Theodor Bergmann, a veteran of the struggles of the 1930s in Germany as a member of the anti-Stalinist communist opposition and an inspiring thinker and teacher to the end of his days at the age of 101. This article first appeared in German in Neues Deutschland and was translated by Axel Fair-Schulz.
IT SEEMED that the older he grew the less likely it was that he could actually die. Even after Theodor Bergmann celebrated his 100th birthday, this indefatigable professor of agricultural sciences and, later on, historian of the labor movement, continued his busy schedule of delivering public lectures and authoring books.
He ever sparkled with vitality and new ideas. Just a few months ago, the VSA-Verlag published Der chinesische Weg. Versuch, eine ferne Entwicklung zu verstehen (The Chinese Way. An Attempt to Understand a Development in a Far-Away Place).
It turned out to be his last book. On June 12, Theodor Bergmann passed away--well into his 102 year--in his chosen home of Stuttgart, Germany. With his death, the last living connection to the labor movement of the Weimar Republic has been severed: He was the final surviving participant and eyewitness.
Born on March 7, 1916, in Berlin, to a large Rabbinical family, young Theo joined the Communist movement in 1929, but he did not join the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Instead, he opted for the anti-Stalinist opposition to the KPD, the KPO, which had coalesced around Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimer.
Bergmann remained committed to their example, of a critical Marxism, for the rest of his long life. He searched for a world where freedom and social justice would be intrinsically connected. To him, only a truly emancipatory socialism had the potential to bring such a world into existence. Yet Bergmann also knew, only too well, what Bertolt Brecht had alluded to when he characterized socialism as "the simple thing that is so difficult to do."
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BERGMANN WAS only 17 years old in 1933, when the Nazi rise to power forced him into exile—with Palestine, Czechoslovakia and Sweden as stops along the way. His life was hard and often dangerous, and twice, the Nazis came very close to capturing him.
In 1946, he returned to West Germany, as Stalinist East Germany was no alternative to him. He found political belonging in the group "Arbeiterpolitik" (Worker's Politics) and also a personal home with comrade Gretel Steinhilber, who, like Theo, was active within the KPO.
In his memoirs, which he updated and republished on the occasion of his 100th birthday, he described succinctly how arduous his journey had been, from having been an agricultural laborer, living in exile, to finally becoming a professor on international comparative agricultural policies at the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim.
Not surprisingly, more than a few "colleagues" with a Nazi past tried to undermine and sabotage Bergmann's academic career.
Ultimately, Bergmann prevailed, thanks to his legendary energy, immense discipline and an unyielding optimism that defined him until his last day. The range of his productivity and creativity is underscored by the over 60 books he either wrote or edited, as well as his several hundred published scholarly papers and another several-hundred journalistic articles that have appeared on five different continents.
He generously shared his immense knowledge and insights without being pretentious or condescending and was a genuine socialist Weltbürger--a citizen of the world.
Bergmann was fluent in five languages, both as a writer and as a speaker. On top of that, he had a reading knowledge of another half-dozen languages as well. He traveled to China on his own dime no fewer than 17 times, and to Israel even more frequently. There were many trips to India and Pakistan, among many other countries, in order to better "understand developments" there.
Never an armchair academic, while living in exile Bergmann worked as a Hebrew teacher, a mineworker and an agricultural laborer. Agriculture became his chosen field, when he could finally consider a more academic career. In 1947, he was finally able to finish his college degree in agricultural science in Bonn. He had begun his studies in exile but was prevented by circumstances from finishing until after the Second World War.
Yet even with his degree in hand, any thought of an academic career seemed unrealistic for a long time to come. As an unskilled worker in the metal-processing industry; later on as an employee of the Chamber of Agricultural Affairs in Hannover; and finally as a project leader in Turkey; Bergmann worked to complete his doctoral degree, as well as his second doctoral degree (the so-called "habilitation"--the prerequisite for university teaching). This was in addition to his regular professional duties and without much support.
It was not until 1973 that he became a professor at Stuttgart-Hohenheim. There, he helped students who were targeted by the anti-leftist witch hunts of the era, including the extensive blacklistings and other forms of harassment. He offered his help regardless of whether he agreed with the specific ideological perspective of the targeted students or not.
Bergmann's field of specialization, in his teaching as well as in his research, focused on the comparative study of the developmental agricultural models and cooperatives in different countries, especially China, India and Israel. Even today, his former students and Ph.D. candidates speak fondly about his helpfulness, his impressive expertise and his exceedingly well-rounded humanistic learning. While being unassuming and approachable, Bergmann nevertheless demanded a great deal from his students, while always arguably demanding the most from himself.
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THE HISTORY and politics of the labor movement became increasingly central to Bergmann's intellectual activities, especially after his official retirement, which led him to be busier than ever.
His history of the anti-Stalinist KPO, entitled Gegen den Strom (Against the Current), appeared first in 1987 and has come out in several new and expanded editions since. It is now a well-established classic in the field. In addition, he wrote well-documented works on the Comintern, the Spanish Civil War, the Israeli-Arab conflict, to mention just a few.
Bergmann also initiated, together with his colleague and friend Gert Schäfer, a range of international conferences on the history and current problems of the labor and union movements. This started with conferences on Karl Marx and August Thalheimer in 1983 and 1984, in the Stuttgart area, and ended with a conference of the Rosa Luxemburg Society in Guangzhou/Canton. In between were conferences on Trotsky, Bukharin, Lenin, the Russian Revolution and Friedrich Engels--among others. In word and deed, and via his extensive networking skills, he supported the work of the Rosa Luxemburg Society.
Theodor Bergmann saw himself as a critical Marxist. Hence it was no surprise that his work was banned in East Germany during the Stalinist era. Yet it was only natural for him to come to the aid of East Germany's disenfranchised scholars after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, despite the fact that they were supposed to denounce Bergmann as a "revisionist" and "renegade" under the old Stalinist Regime.
Bergmann joined the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS, the new organization that emerged from the ashes of the old ruling party) and led its state division in Baden-Württemberg for some time, remaining active in the political-education efforts of the party until the end of his life.
Bergmann especially enjoyed speaking in front of high school students, and he was frequently invited to do so. He placed great importance on sharing his personal experiences, as his long life of great peril and important insights fascinated the politically curious from younger generations.
I myself recall rather fondly how my college students in Potsdam/Germany stood open-mouthed as Theo Bergmann concluded a freely delivered talk, followed by a spirited discussion and question-and-answer session, and then finished with the remark: "I hope that I have not exhausted you too much." At that point, Bergmann was already over 100 years old.
Theodor Bergmann was consequent and consistent in his thinking and conduct. Yet he could also empathize with the human shortcomings in others, as not everybody could always fight. Those who falter don't need our constant criticism, but they always need our solidarity.
Theo embodied Bertolt Brecht's sentiment that "[t]he weak do not fight. The stronger ones fight for maybe an hour. Those who are even stronger might fight for many years. But the strongest fight during the entire lives. They are indispensable."
Theodor Bergmann never thought of himself as indispensable. But he was.
First published in German in Neues Deutschland. Translation by Axel Fair-Schulz.
One of the unwritten rules of the Supreme Court is that, come hell or high water, the justices will get all of the opinions issued before the July 4th weekend. (In the past, some justices actually maintained a summer home outside of D.C. and those justices were very keen on getting out of D.C. as soon as possible. Even today, justices will spend a good part of the summer elsewhere giving presentations and lectures for various schools and groups.) That will make for a very packed last two weeks. It’s not just that the number of remaining opinions is slightly high, but the number is high after a very light term. For the past decade or so, the Supreme Court has heard between 70 and 86 cases per term. This year, they have only heard 64 cases. The last two weeks of the terms have seen the court issuing between 9 and 17 opinions. This year, we still have 17 cases waiting for opinions. (The pace of grants of argument for the upcoming term is also a little light with 19 cases granted so far which would only take the Supreme Court through November but there tends to be a decent number of cases granted during the last two weeks of the term when the Justices run out of time to postpone making the decision to grant or deny argument in a case.)
Given the large number of cases, it is more likely than not that there will be multiple opinion dates during these two weeks. In theory, all of the opinions could be issued on one day in each week — the decision on which opinions are final and ready to issue is made at the weekly conference (June 15 and June 22). But last second “non-substantive” edits that delays the Court’s printshop from having all of the opinions printed and the sheer number of opinions tends to result in multiple opinion days during this point of the term. (In addition to the two regular conferences, there is always a wrap-up conference after the last opinion issues. In the past, the wrap-up conference typically featured cases that had been “held” because they involved an issue raised in one of the argued cases. Once the argued case has resolved the issue, the held cases can be sent back to the lower court — if necessary — to apply the ruling in the argued case. In recent years, the practice of taking at discussing cases at two or more conferences before granting argument means that the wrap-up conference involves a final decision on several pending applications.)
As noted in past years, the Supreme Court has customs regarding the assignment of opinions that makes it somewhat possible to predict what Justice is most likely to have which opinion by this point of the term. Of course, the number of outstanding opinions does make it a little bit harder this year. The general rule of thumb is that the Supreme Court tries to keep the workload balanced. With eight justices for the first six months of the term, that usually means that: 1) in any month with seven or fewer cases, no justice gets two opinions, and some justices do not have any opinions; 2) in any month with eight cases, each justice gets one opinion; and 3) in any month with nine or more cases, each justice gets at least one opinion, but no justice gets more than two opinions. Additionally, this practice means that a justice who was skipped one month is likely to get two opinions in a following month and a justice who had two opinions in one month is likely to get skipped in a following month. At this point, we do not know whether Justice Gorsuch will be getting one or two opinions from April (we already have one opinion from Justice Gorsuch). If Justice Gorsuch only has one opinion, seven of the other justices will eight opinions and one will have seven opinions. If Justice Gorsuch has two opinions, six of the other justices will have eight opinions and two will have seven opinions. The two justices most likely to have only seven opinions would be the two junior justices — Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan — but there is always the possibility that the Chief might decide to count a complicated case as a two-fer to spread the burden of opinion-writing around.
Right now there is one case still outstanding from December — Jennings involving the federal statute on bonds in deportation cases. Neither Chief Justice Roberts nor Justice Alito have issued an opinion from December. Looking at the bigger picture, there were thirty-three cases heard between October and January. Chief Justice Roberts has four opinions from that time frame (picking up two in one of the nine-case months) and Justice Alito currently only has two. Given that Justice Breyer has five opinions from that time frame (leaving twenty-eight cases for the remaining justices or four per justice), it seems more likely that Justice Alito has the opinion in Jennings. Given post-argument orders in this case, my projection is that the detainees will receive some type of bond hearings but not as much as the Ninth Circuit had granted. There is also a significant possibility that the Supreme Court will order re-argument in light of that supplemental briefing and the addition of Justice Gorsuch since the argument.
There are still three cases outstanding from January. The biggest of the three is Lee involving whether the First Amendment bars the Patent Office from denying trademarks based on the offensive content of the trademark (here an Asian-American band calling themselves “The Slants,” but in another pending case a group of wealthy, mostly white males, calling their sports team “The Redskins”). There are also the cases about the vagueness of one of the categories of individuals eligible for deportation (i.e. it is allegedly unclear on which criminal offenses qualify) and a civil rights case about the post 9-11 arrests of Muslims. The three justices who do not yet have a January opinion (and thus should have these cases) are Justice Kennedy, Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito. More likely than not Justice Kennedy has the trademark/First Amendment case and Justice Thomas has the immigration case, but they could be flipped.
In February, there are two cases outstanding. One involves a cross border shooting by the border patrol and the other involves the First Amendment and internet restrictions on a sex offender. Three justices do not have any opinion from February — Justice Breyer, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Alito. Given that Breyer already has five opinions from October through November and that all justices should be evened up at five opinions per justice through the February sitting, it is more likely than not that these cases have gone to Justice Kennedy and Justice Alito. The cross-border shooting may be a four-four tie and be scheduled for re-argument. If not, my hunch is that Justice Kennedy has the cross-border shooting case and Justice Alito has the First Amendment case.
March and April are the problem months for predicting (eleven cases total outstanding). Justice Kennedy should have one of the three left in March (my hunch is Lee on the impact of immigration consequences on the validity of a plea). Justice Alito already has two from March and one from April and — assuming that the projections regarding December through February are accurate — should have no case from either month. If Justice Sotomayor is one of the (one or two) justices with seven opinions, she has already issued seven opinions. Of the remaining six Justices (other than Justice Gorsuch), Chief Justice Roberts is likely to have two outstanding opinions with one being from April (my hunch is that one of the two is Trinity Lutheran on the free exercise and whether states have to provide funding to churches for secular purposes). Besides his March opinion, Justice Kennedy should have an April opinion and an extra opinion in either March or April. Justice Thomas has already issued six opinions (which would be seven with the expected January opinion) but could have one more opinion from March or April (looking at what’s left, the issue of what qualifies as a material misrepresentation in citizenship applications could be the case assigned to Justice Thomas). Justice Ginsburg is at seven opinions, but could have one more from either March or April. Justice Breyer should have two opinions left — at least one from April. Justice Kagan should have one opinion in April (which would take her to seven opinions for the term and, for the reasons noted above, as the most junior of the justices who sat for the entire term, is most likely to only have seven opinions).
Some of the cases involve poltically-explosive issues like immigration and international relations. Assuming that Justice Gorsuch does not have any additional opinions, the four Democratic justices are likely to have only five of the cases compared to twelve for the Republican justices. If Justice Gorsuch does have an additional opinion, that allocation would be four and thirteen.
MoveOn calls for criminal justice reform after acquittal of police officer who killed Philando Castile
Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org, had the following statement:
The tragic shooting and death of Philando Castile by a police officer last summer shocked the Twin Cities and millions of people across the country, and was yet another painful reminder that our nation’s criminal justice system remains profoundly unjust and must be reformed. The lives of people of color, and Black men in particular, remain at disproportionate risk from police violence.
This acquittal is unfortunately unsurprising given that law enforcement officers are almost never convicted in such situations, even in the face of substantial evidence indicating criminal wrongdoing. But that doesn’t make it easy, or right. Our hearts go out to the Castile family and all of Philando Castile’s loved ones.
This acquittal should serve as a call to action and challenge all of us to redouble our commitment to reform. As MoveOn members help fuel a broader Resistance Movement, we have a responsibility to do more than block a reactionary white nationalist agenda. It isn’t enough to stop things from getting worse; we must make them better. All of us must help confront and abolish the systemic racism that plagues our criminal justice system—and our nation’s past and present—and to stand for the principle that Black lives matter.
What does it mean to exhibit prosocial behavior? For our purposes, we mean behavior that leads to healthy collaboration and meaningful interactions online. Specifically, we are interested in prosocial behavior around online content sharing. How can we help people make the human connections that make sharing meaningful?
In this post, we distill learnings from the “How to encourage prosocial behavior” session at the recent CC Global Summit in Toronto, and outline the next steps for CC in this space. Specifically, Creative Commons will launch an investigative series into the values and behaviors that make online collaboration thrive, in order to embed them more deeply into the experience of sharing with CC.
Read on for all of the glorious details, or skip to the end for next steps.
When we launched our new strategy in 2016, we focused our work with user-generated content platforms on increasing discovery and reporting of CC-licensed works. Since the majority of the 1.2 billion CC-licensed works on the web are hosted by third parties, re-establishing relationships with them (e.g. Flickr, Wikipedia) was important, as was establishing relationships with newer platforms like Medium.
In year 2 of our strategy, we are broadening our focus to look more holistically at sharing and collaboration online. We are investigating the values and behaviors associated with successful collaboration, in the hopes that we might apply them to content platforms where CC licensing is taking place.Creative Commons Global Summit 2017 in Toronto by Sebastiaan ter Burg / CC BY
As a first step, we asked the question — How can we help people make the human connections that make sharing meaningful? — at this year’s CC Global Summit in Toronto. (This question is also central to our 2016-2020 Organizational Strategy, where we refocused our work to build a vibrant, usable commons, powered by collaboration and gratitude.) In a session entitled, “How to encourage prosocial behavior,” our peers at Medium, Wikimedia, Thingiverse, Música Libre Uruguay, and Unsplash shared the design factors they use to incentivize prosocial behavior around CC content, particularly behavior that helps people give credit for works they use and make connections with others. Programming diversity expert Ashe Dryden shared additional insights into how current platforms often approach design from a position of privilege, unwittingly excluding marginalized groups and potential new members.
We structured the discussion into three parts:
Part 1 – The Dark Side, or defining the problem. We asked our peers to detail examples of negative behaviors around content sharing and reuse.
Part 2 – What Works, or identifying solutions. We asked for technical and social design nudges that platforms have implemented that work to increase sharing and remix. We also discussed community-driven norms and behavior “in the wild.”
Part 3 – What can we do? We wrapped by discussing what we might do together to design and cultivate online environments conducive to healthy and vibrant collaboration.Part 1 – The Dark Side
In part 1, we heard the standard issues one might expect around CC licensing, and also negative behaviors that occur with online content sharing more generally, regardless of the © status of such content. Specific to CC were issues such as: users claiming CC0 public domain works as their own and monetizing them; misunderstanding what it means to share under a CC license vs. just posting it online; and lack of clarity on when or how a CC license applies. More generally, negative behaviors around online content sharing included harassment based on gender, ethnicity, and other identities, which discourage potential new members from joining a community.
The behavioral tendencies and tensions we surfaced that were most relevant to the question — How can we help people make the human connections that make sharing meaningful? — were:
- Users prefer real people (user identities with a history of credible content contributions) to automated accounts. CC users are smart and can quickly recognize the difference between a real user and a bot.
- Example: On Thingiverse, a 3D design sharing platform, a bot called Shiv Integer crawled the platform and automated bizarre remixes of users 3D designs, which were posted automatically to the site as remixes. Though the bot’s remixes respected the CC license conditions, the community still felt it was an inappropriate use of their content.
- Harassment marginalized groups face is more subtle than one might expect, and often serves to reinforce norms previously set in a space that does not account for diversity of gender, ethnicity, or geography. Overreliance on data or AI may also serve to reinforce these norms (that unintentionally discriminate) because data on which design is based is faulty or not representative of marginalized groups. Ultimately, this prevents the community from obtaining new members, particularly those from more diverse backgrounds, and from evolving into a truly open, inclusive environment inviting to “creators across sectors, disciplines, and geographies, to work together to share open content and create new works.”
- Example: 80-85% of current Wikipedia editors are males from North America and Western Europe. 38% of Wikimedia users reported some level of harassment, including stalking, doxing, attacking off the wiki on other platforms, such as Facebook, based on gender, ethnicity, and other identities.
- On platforms, users enter into legal contracts and social contracts that are separate and often in direct tension with one another. This plays out specifically in the world of copyright, where people’s desires and expectations about how content will be used are often different from the rules dictated by copyright law (which are therefore, embedded with CC licenses).
- Example: A user may post discriminatory, harassing, or violent speech on a platform under the guise of parody. As a copyright matter, parody is clearly a fair use. As an ethical matter, whether the parody constitutes harassment may not be so clear, since a parody, as a satirical imitation, essentially mocks or belittles some aspect of the original work, and possibly the author. As a result, parody can often generate confrontation and controversy in a community. With the legal and social contracts in tension, the platform must decide which to uphold for its users, with either decision potentially alienating one segment of its community. This example also raises the issue that many users expect a platform to be the enforcer of ethical norms, a position not all platforms hold.
- When different values are in tension with each other, it is hard to design community rules that can be applied both consistently and fairly. Some rules may even serve to disproportionately affect one group of people over others.
- Example: Medium has an “all-party consent” rule with respect to posting screenshots of personal 1:1 exchanges, such as text messages. This policy is designed to protect everyone’s expectation of privacy related to personal communications. It is also designed to apply to all users equally, with some exceptions for situations involving public figures or newsworthy events. In some cases, however, this policy can mean that a person with less power in an exchange is prevented from fully telling their story, since it is often when a powerful or privileged person behaves badly in private that the other person involved wants to publicly expose that behavior. As a result, this policy may allow some users to keep evidence of their private bad acts out of public exposure or scrutiny, while preventing users from a marginalized group (who may benefit from exposing the interaction or fostering public discussion of it) from being able to show the details of an exchange they think is important to show.
In part 2, we learned about the different platform approaches to both incentivizing contributions of content to the commons and to incentivizing prosocial behavior around the content that made it personal and meaningful to users.
Platform approaches included:
- a prosocial frame to license selection, asking creators the kinds of uses they envision for their works, versus what license they might want to adopt
- a curated public space for licensed works, such as a radio channel, where the platform facilitates distribution to other users and potential fans
- collaborative education projects facilitated by the platform, such as an FAQ about music licensing and distribution built with the community
- foregrounding the reuse and remix aspect of CC content in a variety of ways, such as: featuring remixes on the platform’s home page, displaying an attribution ancestry tree on the work’s page, sending alerts when a creator’s content is reused, and reminding users of the license on a work upon download
- remix challenges and related competitions, run by the platform to foster reuse
We also learned about approaches to disincentivize the negative behaviors and tendencies we discussed in part 1. These included:
- crowdsourced tracking of misuses and misbehaviors
- redirecting license violations to the community to handle (e.g. community forums), utilizing community pressure to behave well
- a safe space for new users to practice contributing before moving into the actual project, especially for projects with contribution rules and norms that are difficult for new members to get right the first time, e.g. Teahouse space for Wikipedia
- follow-on events or projects to retain new members after initial engagement, such as face-to-face edit-a-thons
- allowing for flexibility with regards to many community rules, noting that some rules may disproportionately affect marginalized groups
- emphasizing a personal profile or identity for each user, so that other users recognize that these contributions were made by a real human being and not an anonymous internet entity
- adding friction into certain workflows, such as at the moment of publication of a post or comment, to discourage negative behaviors and remind the user that there is a real human being at the other end of the exchange
- making community rules more visible at the appropriate steps in the sharing process, so users are more likely to respond and adhere to them
In part 3, we discussed the importance of designing for good actors. Despite the examples of negative behaviors, the platforms in the room noted that the majority of CC uses have a positive outcome , and that people in content communities are passionate about Creative Commons as a symbol of certain values, and about sharing and remixing each others works. We shared positive examples that were completely community-driven, such as unexpected reuses of a particular 3D design that led to the creation of a prosthetic hand, and a sub-community of teachers that split off to bring 3D design to students in the classroom.
More importantly, we discussed what we could do next, together. Here is the short list of ideas that emerged in the last half hour of our discussion:
- Prosocial behavior toolkit for platforms, a “prosocial” version of the CC platform integration toolkit we created in year 1 of our new strategy
- Reinvesting in the tools that make it easier to comply with CC license conditions, e.g. one-click attribution in browsers, WordPress, and other platforms
- API partnerships that bring CC media into platforms more easily, e.g. Flickr + Medium or WordPress
- Supporting the good actors and amplifying their voices
- Explore areas like reputational algorithms, possibly community-driven, to discourage bad behaviors
- Explore the role of bots in trolling and antisocial behavior, and how that affects human behavior on a platform
- And more!
Asking the simple question — How can we help people make the human connections that make sharing meaningful? — elicited exciting discussion and surfacing of issues we had not considered before this summit session. Informed by the overwhelming response and interest from our platform partners and community, we will forge ahead with the next phase of our platform work, focusing on collaboration, in addition to discovery.
As a next step, Creative Commons is launching an investigative series into what really makes online collaboration work. What does it take to build a vibrant sharing community, powered by collaboration and gratitude? What are the design factors (both social and technical) that help people make connections and build relationships? How do we then take these factors and infuse them into communities within the digital commons?
The series will include:
- A series of face-to-face conversations on how to build prosocial online communities with CC platforms, creators, and researchers. To kick off the series, we are hosting a private event in San Francisco this June; stay tuned for public follow-on events in the series in a city near you!
- Research and storytelling of collaboration as it occurs over time through interviews and thought pieces.
- A prosocial platform toolkit that distills all of the applicable design factors into one comprehensive guide.
- Reporting of the most impactful stories in the next State of the Commons.
If any of this of interest to you, join the conversation on Slack.
If you would like to be invited to a future event, sign up for our events list.
The post Toward a Better Internet: Building Prosocial Behavior into the Commons appeared first on Creative Commons.
For the first time, the CC movement has completed a comprehensive and collaborative effort to renew and grow its network, finalized at the recent Global Summit in Toronto. It’s important to acknowledge the hard work of all the people involved from the beginning, which included research (the Faces of the Commons is a 300 page multi region report with recommendations and insights), an open consultation with the broad CC community including Affiliates, partners, funders, and the CC Board, and 22 online and in-person meetings and more than the eighty percent of the active members of the network involved. This bottom-up process included discussions, proposals and specific edits and changes, reflecting the dynamic global community we have built together around Creative Commons during all this years. We all should be proud of all this process.
This new Strategy has a lot of benefits:
- Global collaboration. Connected with the work of the Platforms, communities will work together to set priorities, goals, objectives and strategies.
- Resilience. The previous model for Affiliate involvement was focused on institutional relationships. Today, we are focusing on individuals and supporting organizations instead. We are providing a path to create a network of trust and real collaboration for the future.
- Growth and inclusion. The new strategy is meant to include new and diverse global voices in the conversation and to provide more capacity and agency for teams working locally. We are creating a strategy focused on supporting and activating people.
- Shared decision-making, goal-setting, structure for collaboration. The new strategy creates new governance bodies to provide space for the community to identify priorities for the global work. This is a first for CC: the network takes care of the network.
- Resource allocation. The strategy creates two funds specifically focused on the network to support community activities, actual project work and identified movement priorities.
It has been a long road, but now the strategy work is complete. For the transition period, we are planning to focus on Chapters, Platforms and Governance.
Chapters (formerly Country teams). The local work is key for the new Network Strategy. To coordinate this efforts we will trust in Chapters as units for the governance and to coordinate local work. After concerns from several affiliate teams, we’ve decided to use Chapters instead of a reference of a “country” or “nation”. However, it will be those borders that we use to organize each team (with some exceptions, for example in Mainland China and Taiwan). These Chapters will be made up of people, with individuals whose work is focused on the place where they live, have accepted the Creative Commons Charter and have been vouched by two actual members. The membership recruiting process is starting in the coming weeks. More details of this process will be published very soon.
We expect Chapters to have their first team meeting no later than January 2018, primarily to appoint a coordinator (which will be the main point of contact for the movement), elect a representative to send to the Global Network Council, and draft a plan of work for the rest of the year.
Platforms. Platforms are areas of work, a collaborative space for individuals and institutions to organize and coordinate themselves across the broad network. Platforms will be the way we will create and communicate spaces of strategic collaboration to have worldwide impact. They will be the way our network will work collaboratively.
The conversation on platforms started at the Global Summit. So far, community members have organized around:
- Copyright Reform Platform
- Open Education Platform
- Open GLAM Platform
- Community development Platform
You can learn more about it and how to get involved and participate on our wiki and directly on Slack.
There may be more platforms in the future, but during this transition period -before the new Governance structure is set up by the next Global Summit on 2018- the work of the platforms will be oriented to fill a specific need and requirement from the network on each area, being particular activities, documentation or products.
These platforms will set specific priorities and plan of work in the coming months, to develop their plan of work until next Global Summit on 2018.
Governance. The main governance body for the new Strategy is the Global Network Council, and it’s important to us to focus on establishing the new Chapters as soon as we can, and to make that happen we will be opening the membership process in the coming weeks for anyone to join. For the transition period, during the coming days there will be an open call to constitute an Advisory Committee, to advise on this transition and provide support to the Chapters, with global and diverse representation.
Republicans--and quite a few Democrats--are trying to exploit the mass shooting in Alexandria to demonize left-wing expressions of discontent toward the system.
Law enforcement responds to the shooting at a baseball field in Alexandria
TWO CONTRADICTORY messages emerged following Wednesday's mass shooting in Alexandria, Virginia: One, the left and right need to come together in the spirit of bipartisanship. And two, this is all the left's fault.
James Hodgkinson's rampage against Republican members of Congress and staffers practicing for an annual Congressional baseball game left four of the victims wounded, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. There could have easily been many more dead beyond Hodgkinson himself.
The mass shooting was shocking enough on its own, but it quickly and predictably became politicized--not only because Hodgkinson appears to have specifically targeted Republicans, but also because he was a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer with a long history of passionate and sometimes angry political posts on social media.
His rampage sparked deeply hypocritical denunciations of the left by the GOP--and not a few Democrats looking for a reason to discredit supporters of Sanders, who is currently the country's most popular politician.
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ILLINOIS REPUBLICAN Rodney Davis told Fox News that the shooting was the product of "political rhetorical terrorism...that has to stop."
That would be the same Fox News that built an empire on fomenting outrage over right-wing conspiracy theories and distortions--most recently with a hit piece denouncing author and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor that inspired dozens of death threats.
Longtime Republican operative Roger Stone, a close confidant of Donald Trump, tweeted, "This is the climate of hate generated by the MSM and egged on by LibDems hath wrought."
As if Stone isn't notorious for his hateful Twitter history, including countless racist and sexist slurs, as well as the straightforward "DIE BITCH" he directed at former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson.
Then there was White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who tweeted, "James T. Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders staffer. Today he went on a shooting spree These are the people who call Trump supporters hateful."
Beyond the fact that neither Trump nor anyone connected to him seem able to get to the end of 140 characters without getting at least one thing wrong--Hodgkinson was a volunteer with the Sanders campaign, not on staff--the hypocrisy of this statement is glaring to anyone who wondered if the White House would condemn the recent string of murders committed by the alt right.
The Trump administration is eager to use "these people" to link a killer to its political opponents, but it hasn't acknowledged--much less taken responsibility for--the wave of violence whipped up over the past year by Trump's racism and nationalism.
It took Trump over a week to condemn the February murder of Indian immigrant Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas by a man shouting, "Get out of my country!"
And there has still been no word at all from Trump about Richard Collins III, a Black Army veteran murdered on Memorial Day by a white supremacist on the campus of the University of Maryland, half an hour's drive from the White House.
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BY CONTRAST, Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor within hours of the Alexandria shooting to declare, "I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society, and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms."
But that didn't stop the New York Times from running a shameful article the next day that claimed violence is an issue among Sanders supporters--because they express anger at the corruption of mainstream politics.
The Times article began by noting: "The most ardent supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders have long been outspoken about their anger toward Republicans--and in some cases toward Democrats. Their idol, the senator from Vermont, has called President Trump a 'demagogue' and said recently that he was 'perhaps the worst and most dangerous president in the history of our country.'"
An online search of "NYTimes Trump demagogue" produces dozens of hits for articles where Trump is described in exactly these terms by politicians across the spectrum--not to mention New York Times columnists! But the article didn't pause for a moment in portraying all expressions of left-wing anger at the system in an ominous light:
On Tuesday, Mr. Hodgkinson posted a cartoon on Facebook explaining "How does a bill work?" "That's an easy one, Billy," the cartoon reads. "Corporations write the bill and then bribe Congress until it becomes law." "That's Exactly How It Works....." Mr. Hodgkinson wrote.
That is not far from Mr. Sanders' own message. On Saturday, during a conference in Chicago filled with Sanders supporters, he thundered, "Today in the White House, we have perhaps the worst and most dangerous president in the history of our country," to cheers from thousands. "And we also have, not to be forgotten, extreme right-wing leadership in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate."
These are hardly radical sentiments from the crackpot fringe, as a regular reading of the New York Times, among other publications, confirms.
In fact, the irony is that many supporters of Hillary Clinton post the same and worse about Donald Trump and the Republicans. One source of the popularity of Bernie Sanders' presidential primary campaign was that he did more than just criticize Trump, but actually put forward progressive policy alternatives.
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THERE'S NO automatic relationship between political enthusiasm and violence. Britain has far more shouting matches among its members of parliament and far fewer mass shootings, political and otherwise, than the U.S.
But the baseless attacks on Sanders and his supporters are really about something else: an attempt to discredit anger at the status quo as "extremism," which is supposedly equally dangerous on both sides.
In reality, the balance of aggression and violence in the U.S. has always fallen very heavily to one side--the right--especially recently. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote on Facebook in reaction to media coverage of Hodgkinson's attack:
Since the election of Trump, we have seen a dramatic escalation in hate crimes as white nationalists, alt right and white supremacists have taken the rise of Trump and Bannon as a cue to attack. The violence from the margins has been amplified in policy and the actions of public institutions like ICE, Homeland Security, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice. It has been open season on Muslims, immigrants, Latinx, and African Americans for months...
But now all of a sudden, political violence is the Left's problem? Sanders, unlike the President, has never incited anyone to violence. And now scurrilous hacks in the Democratic Party try and seize this to marginalize Sanders--who represents the wing of the party that has any remote connection to reality.
Political violence attributed to the right or to the left aren't interchangeable acts of "extremism." They have very different consequences.
Right-wing violence, whether it's officially condoned or not, helps to advance the reactionary agenda of intimidating and silencing the oppressed. This is obvious from the growing mobilizations of the far right in the Trump era, which have often come in liberal strongholds like Berkeley, California. Violence is a tried-and-true tactic of the right wing to keep opponents quiet.
By contrast, if Hodgkinson's attack was motivated by opposition to the right--something that hasn't been proven conclusively, though the media leapt to that conclusion--the effect won't be to silence or marginalize the Republican Party.
The exact opposite is true: Trump and the Republicans will gain support for strengthening the forces of government repression--and the far right will be able to advance its false claim of needing to arm itself in "self-defense."
This last point is an important one for the left to guard against in the coming days. The right wing, aided and abetted by the media, has been advancing its agenda in the guise of defending itself from left-wing attacks, whether in the form of restrictions on its "free speech" or physical confrontation. Hodgkinson's rampage and the hysteria about the "violence" of Sanders supporters has handed them another excuse.
We need to be especially careful about right-wing provocations and violence in the days to come.
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THE FLIP side of the blame-the-Sanders-supporters argument is the sanctimonious call for the right and the left to "just get along."
"Both sides need to look in the mirror," Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and Sanders supporter, told the New York Times. "We have to decide what kind of language we are going to use in our political discourse."
But these calls for bipartisan cooperation are only another means to silence opposition while the status quo remains undisturbed. The Republicans have no intention of stopping their assault, regardless of the various Trump White House train wrecks taking place on a daily basis.
If we censor ourselves in the name of "bipartisanship," does anyone think the Republicans will stop trying to jam through their health care bill--even though it's deeply unpopular and has no Democratic support, even within Washington?
If passed, the American Health Care Act--either in its current House-approved version where the Republican right forced the party establishment to cave to all its demands, or in some slightly moderated version negotiated by GOP senators--will cause immense misery and untold numbers of needless deaths.
That sounds like "extremist" rhetoric. But it's the truth. To state what we are fighting against in honest and uncompromising terms is absolutely necessary if we are to achieve more justice, not less.
The problem isn't our speech--it's their actions. We can't concede an inch in our efforts to build a resistance to the Trump onslaught and the whole U.S. political system.
If we are going to be liberated, the LGBTQ community can't let the police and corporate sponsors call the shots at Pride, argue Sarah Mamo and Jonah ben Avraham.
Police officers show support for demonstrators at a pride march in Washington, D.C. (Elvert Barnes | flickr)
A DEBATE has emerged about the relationship between police and the LGBTQ community after Black Lives Matter-Toronto activists organized a sit-in at last year's Toronto Pride parade to demand a host of inclusion and safety measures, including an end to a uniformed police presence at Pride.
Toronto Pride organizers initially agreed with all of Black Lives Matter's demands, but later changed their position on the demand to kick the cops out of Pride, creating a rift in the queer liberation movement between those in solidarity with Black Lives Matter-Toronto and those holding onto the respectability of Pride parades populated by major corporations and gay police contingents.
This debate is taking place at a time when corporate sponsorship and police involvement are common to Pride parades all over the world--and, we believe, incorporate politics that are fundamentally foreign to the radical roots of the movement for LGBTQ liberation.
In response, the Washington, D.C.-based No Justice No Pride is calling for an end to "the LGBTQ movement's collusion with systems of oppression that further marginalize queer and trans individuals." Their demands include eliminating corporate sponsorship of Pride and a ban on both corporations and police from participating in Pride celebrations.
When corporations like Wells Fargo--which helped sponsor the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and stands accused of contributing to the mortgage crisis with its predatory practices--also sponsor Pride parades, there's ample reason for activists who understand the need for building solidarity among struggles of the oppressed to be concerned.
Moreover, the presence of police flies in the face of Pride's origins. After all, Pride celebrations take place in late June to commemorate the 1969 riot at New York's Stonewall Inn in response to the police targeting the LGBTQ community.
It's in this context--coupled with the sea change in public opinion and support for a popular movement for queer liberation, which increased during the Obama administration--that corporate and police presence at Pride should be understood.
If the queer liberation movement is going to push back the forces that harm LGBTQ people of all races, then it should work to reclaim Pride as a site free from corporate and police bigotry.
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AFTER THE horrific shooting at a popular Orlando, Florida, gay nightclub Pulse in June 2016, many LGBTQ activists called for an increase in police presence at Pride events.
This was an understandable response. The Orlando massacre was a frightening attack directed against the LGBTQ community. But the calls for increased policing rest on the false belief that cops can be trusted to protect LGBTQ people.
Many of its most marginalized members, however, know from personal experience that this is a lie. When a group of white men and women shouted racist and transphobic slurs at CeCe McDonald, a Black trans woman, and slashed her face with glass, the police arrested McDonald--not her attackers--when she defended herself.
McDonald is certainly not alone among queer folks in being mistreated by police. According to FBI statistics, LGBTQ people are among those most likely to experience a hate crime, yet LGBTQ people of color are disproportionately more likely to experience police violence.
More than half of respondents (58 percent) to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported high levels of mistreatment and harassment by police. This includes being intentionally misgendered, deadnamed (when a trans person is called by their birth name instead of their chosen name), and verbally, physically or sexually assaulted. Some reported being forced by officers to engage in sexual activity to avoid arrest.
Many respondents, most of them transgender women of color, reported that police frequently assumed they were sex workers. Nine out of 10 who do sex work or were assumed to be doing sex work reported being "harassed, attacked, sexually assaulted or mistreated in some other way by police."
Given these statistics, it makes sense that more than half of all respondents (57 percent) would feel uncomfortable asking police for help, leading more LGBTQ people to decide not to report hate violence to the police out of fear of retribution.
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IN THE 1960s, police brutality against the LGBTQ community reached new heights when police raids of LGBTQ nightclubs--sanctuaries for our freedom of expression and identity--became routine. That's why the uprising at New York City's Stonewall Inn after a raid led to the bar being known as the birthplace of gay power.
Led by Black and Brown trans women, the Stonewall riots put ending state violence and the fight for survival at the heart of the LGBT agenda, which Pride parades have too often erased. As Sherry Wolf writes in her book Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation, Stonewall is a highlight in the history of LGBTQ resistance because of:
the conscious mobilization in the riot's wake of new and seasoned activists who gave expression to this more militant mood.
Like a dam bursting, Stonewall was the eruption after 20 years of trickling progress by small handfuls of men and women whose conscious organizing gave way to the spontaneous wave of fury...Each night thereafter through Wednesday, more and more gays and straight leftists, from socialists and Black Panthers to the Yippies and Puerto Rican Young Lords, arrived on the scene to participate in the latest confrontation with police.
Stonewall demonstrates that when cases of state repression are exposed, solidarity between oppressed groups can strengthen--as Wolf's description of support for the rebellion among anti-racist organizations makes clear.
This tradition continued with the AIDS activist group ACT UP in the late 1980s and early 1990s and again in 2014 with the emergence of Black Lives Matter, with many queer Black women among its leaders--BLM was thus simultaneously LGBTQ-inclusive and anti-police brutality.
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SOLIDARITY IS precisely what the LGBTQ movement needs to progress toward real liberation. At New York's annual Celebrate Israel parade on June 4, queer activists in solidarity with Palestine showed what resistance and solidarity looks like by disrupting the Pride contingent, with its attempt to "pinkwash" Israel's disregard for Palestinian humanity.
In Israel, an apartheid state that received huge U.S. support, state repression collides with tepid cultural acceptance of LGBTQ people. Israel's settler-colonial society gives way to ethnic cleansing, apartheid and the daily endangerment of the lives of Palestinians. As Keegan O'Brien explained at SocialistWorker.org:
Instead of focusing on its shameful abuse of human rights and violation of international law, Israel has made a concerted effort to market its image as an LGBTQ-accepting, tolerant society in a sea of Arab reaction. While it's true that some LGBTQ people have been able to create cultural enclaves in select urban centers in Israel, these marketing efforts serve another purpose: to detract attention away from other, not-so-pretty facts about Israeli society, while demonizing those it colonizes in order to justify its crimes against them.
Activists call this blatant exploitation of LGBTQ rights for colonial purposes "pinkwashing." It's the policy of Israeli state officials, police and the Israeli Defense Force to deny Palestinians their right to their homeland in historic Palestine--but the government would rather the rest of the world see it as an LGBTQ haven.
The truth is that the Israeli government's claim that it's LGBTQ-inclusive doesn't extend to LGBTQ Palestinians.
If we want liberation for all LGBTQ people, let alone equal rights with our straight counterparts, we have to learn the lessons of the era of radicalism from which Stonewall emerged--as O'Brien writes, "a time period when movements actively saw themselves in solidarity with liberation struggles taking place across the world against all systems of oppression, empire and occupation."
Our movement has to draw a line against perpetrators of state violence, from U.S. police to Israeli occupiers. And this movement must also embrace the idea that solidarity is our strongest weapon.
Increased corporate presence and sponsorship at Pride comes at a cost--and that is heightened policing. If Pride is to be an authentic celebration of the LGBTQ community, its accomplishments and aims yet to be fought for, we must oppose police presence at and involvement in Pride.
Protection of the LGBTQ community will come from below, not from above, and it will take collective resistance to the powers that be to get there.
Politics in Britain have been upended by the results of the June 8 election that Conservative Party Prime Minister Theresa May called two months ago, expecting to win easily. Instead, the Tories lost their parliamentary majority--they will cling to power by bringing the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), based in Northern Ireland, into the government.
In a matter of weeks, the opposition Labour Party came from far back in opinion polls to rival the Conservatives for most votes overall and increased their seats in parliament. This is a vindication of party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his avowedly left-wing message--and a further indictment of the party establishment that has tried to bring down Corbyn since he was elected Labour's leader in 2015.
The election has raised hopes on the British left--along with a host of questions about what comes next to engage the millions of people, predominantly young, who saw Corbyn as a new direction for politics. Here, Neil Davidson, a member of revolutionary socialism in the 21st century (rs21)/International Socialism Scotland (ISS) and author of numerous books, including We Cannot Escape History: States and Revolutions, talked to Alan Maass about the outcome of the vote and the issues at stake in the coming weeks and months.
Jeremy Corbyn on the campaign trail with other Labour Party members (Andy Miah | flickr)
THIS RESULT is something no one would have predicted in April when Theresa May called the snap election. Can you introduce the factors that led to this?
THE MAIN thing is that nobody expected Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party to be anything like as successful as they were.
One reason for the success was that hundreds of thousands of people joined the Labour Party in the last year and a half--and a lot of them became activists and were involved in the campaign. So we've had a whole bunch of young people doing electioneering for Labour in a way the party hasn't seen in 10 or 15 or even 20 years.
Another reason is that the manifesto that Labour ran on was fairly left wing by contemporary standards. It wouldn't have been particularly left wing in the 1960s, but it has to be considered left wing now, compared to Labour under Tony Blair. The manifesto talked about renationalization, doing away with student fees, defending the National Health Service and so on.
Frankly, a lot of people had just never heard that before--especially young people, who were highly mobilized during this campaign. Some of it is old hat to socialists of my age--but this is stuff younger people never heard before, and it was extremely attractive.
I also think it's the case that the left badly overestimated the strength of racist and anti-migrant feeling on the basis of the Brexit vote. There was an assumption that because people had voted for Brexit, they must automatically be racists.
That was always an oversimplification. And what we saw in the election is that a lot of the people who previously supported the right-wing UK Independence Party and voted to leave the EU actually voted for Labour.
This happened in some quite extraordinary places. In Canterbury, which has been a Tory seat since 1831, there was a massive swing to Labour of almost 30 percent, which must have been made up of a number of previous UKIP voters, because UKIP didn't stand in that race.
That sort of result happened all over the place, and it speaks to the strength of Labour's turn to the left and Corbyn's own impressive abilities as a campaigner.
But the other side of the election was that the Tory campaign was a complete disaster, in ways that even they had to concede.
The Tory manifesto had no cost estimates at all for its proposals, unlike Labour. The Tories started off saying they were going to make ordinary people pay for social care, and then, when faced with a massive response to that, they reversed themselves and said they wouldn't do that, all in the space of a day. Theresa May appeared to be incapable of defending her position.
I'm less surprised by the collapse of the Tories. I've been saying for some time that the quality of British ruling class leadership is appallingly low--it has been for a good 30 or 40 years, and this was just demonstrated again. These people aren't used to having to fight--they haven't had a union movement or an effective opposition, so they don't know how to do it.
But what I think what is in some ways quite surprising is the revival of Labour as a left-wing social democratic party.
MAY IS making a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to cling to power, so she'll still be the prime minister. Does that mean it isn't such a bad defeat for the Conservatives?
NO, I think this is catastrophic--an absolute disaster for the Tory Party. This is as bad as the Iraq invasion of 2003 was for Tony Blair, or the Suez crisis in 1956 before that.
May had, I think, four things in mind when she called the snap election.
One, she knows that Brexit--or at least the particular Brexit the Tories have in mind--was going to be really damaging to the people who voted for it in the referendum, and working-class people in particular. And with Brexit due to be completed the previous year, the effects would kick in just about the time that the next election would have been scheduled. May wanted to circumvent that by holding an earlier election.
Second, of course, May thought the Tories could win easily because Labour was obviously not going to--not with Jeremy Corbyn, the mad, IRA-supporting pacifist who nobody was going to support.
Third, I think May wanted a reinforcement of the Brexit referendum last year--to say: I was elected on the program of leaving the EU, so shut up about it.
The fourth reason was what she called strengthening her hand in negotiations about Brexit, which people took to mean gaining leverage with the EU negotiators. But what she really meant was to strengthen her hand within the Tory Party, against the ultra-right Brexiteers.
The negotiators for the EU will be laughing themselves sick, I would think. This obviously hasn't strengthened the power of whoever's going to be doing the negotiating for Britain. The Tories are badly divided, and it's a divided parliament, so clearly, the EU will be able to make demands that they might not otherwise have made.
I think the Tories have virtually no cards to play in the negotiations. There must be some talk at the moment about delaying the start of the talks, because the British side is simply in no position to enter them. There's some flexibility on when negotiations begin, but no flexibility about when they end--Britain has to be out of the EU by March 2019.
But to go back to the election, May was claiming she would get a gigantic majority--like what Margaret Thatcher won in 1983. But she actually ended up with fewer seats than she went into the election with.
So this is a disaster. Everyone knows it--the right wing press, her own party members, who have been lining up to stab her in the back since the vote. The general line is that May can't leave immediately, because that would produce complete chaos, but she'll get the Brexit process started, and then there will be a leadership election in the Tory Party.
But that's a problem as well because it would mean another election--presumably, any new leader of the Tories would run in a new election to gain some legitimacy for themselves. And now, we know that Labour could possibly win that election.
The snap election was the latest in a series of unbelievable miscalculations. First was the Scottish referendum, which they almost lost. Then came the Brexit referendum, which forced out the last Conservative prime minister. And now this. If I were a British capitalist, I would be tearing my hair out at the moment at the condition of the political leadership.
Plus, the Tories will have to rule with the Democratic Unionist Party in the government in order to have a parliamentary majority.
This is the Irish equivalent of the Tea Party. They're not just a unionist party that's committed to preventing unification of Ireland so the North can remain part of the UK. These are people want to stop abortion, they believe in creationism, they're climate-change deniers.
And they're linked to ultra-loyalist terrorist groups from the 1970s and '80s. Given all the smears about terrorism that were thrown at Corbyn, the fact that May is consorting with a party with links to loyalist terrorist organizations is going to play very badly.
So everything's been thrown into the air. To quote Chairman Mao: "There is great disorder under the heavens--the situation is excellent!" Because the ruling class is in extreme disarray.
CAN YOU talk about what happened in Scotland? The Scottish National Party (SNP) lost a number of seats, more of them to the Tories than to Labour.
YES, THE Tories are up from one seat in Scotland to 13, and Labour went from one seat to seven seats. The SNP still has more seats in Scotland than all the other parties put together, so we shouldn't exaggerate this.
This is coming after the SNP result in 2015, where they ended up with 56 out of 59 seats in Westminster. That was purely on the basis of the massive radicalization of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. That was never going to be sustainable, so what's really happened is that the SNP is back to what is still a commanding position.
As to why the Tories did well, I think the unionist vote for staying in the UK has consolidated itself around the Tory Party, which in Scotland is led by Ruth Davidson, who at least appears to be reasonably intelligent and personable. Also, a lot of people in the northeast of Scotland, which used to be a Tory stronghold, went to the SNP last time on a fairly conservative basis--a lot of those people are just coming home to the Tory Party.
So it's not a new group of people abandoning the SNP. But I think there's a limit to how much support there will ever be for the Tory Party in Scotland. They're probably about at that limit at the moment, with around 28-29 percent of the population.
On the other hand, the Labour Party in Scotland had a revival because of Corbyn. The Scottish Labour Party is on the right wing of Labour, and it was really hostile to Corbyn. Yet a lot of people in Scotland voted for the Labour Party anyway because of his left-wing message.
I did. This is the first time I voted for Labour in 30 years, because I'm done with the SNP, and the candidate for Labour where I live was a real left-winger. I think that's what gave Labour its revival.
The SNP made two miscalculations. One was to think that everyone who supports independence supports the SNP, which isn't true. At least a third of the independence vote isn't SNP supporters.
And the second was to assume that everybody who supports independence supports staying in the EU. The SNP made that a major plank of their argument for a second independence referendum--which would be about staying in the UK or going back to the EU. That was a really stupid position to take, because there's quite a big section of the Scottish population that supports independence, but doesn't support the EU.
I think those assumptions meant the SNP was exposed to the unionist argument on the one hand that drained votes to the Tories, but also to the arguments of the anti-EU wing on the other.
However, I don't think the SNP is going to collapse. A lot of what's been said about how the SNP is in decline is nonsense. I think that Scottish politics has become normalized. We're back to talking about class issues, for both of the two major classes--and that's done away with the idea that everything is about independence.
People are starting to talk about social questions again, and that's obviously good for the left, and something we have to encourage. But I suspect the SNP will continue to be the dominant party for the foreseeable future, and the Tories will be their main opponents in the Scottish parliament.
CAN YOU look ahead to the future and talk about the impact of this election for the left? Let's start with struggles outside the electoral arena. Will the Labour Party's success build working-class confidence?
I THINK a lot of the campaigns that are already running--for example, unionization campaigns for people on zero-hour contracts or initiatives to abolish zero-hour contracts--are going to gain new momentum, because a lot of the people involved in these campaigns are young people, and they're precisely the people who came out to support Corbyn.
The same will be true about anti-racist campaigns, campaigns to defend the National Health Service, and so on. Previously, people didn't feel like the Labour Party was the party behind these campaigns. But because of Corbyn, they do now.
Plus, people have seen that it's possible to mobilize in political ways. Because that mobilization took place on the basis of a series of Labour Party manifesto commitments--all of which relate to these kinds of social struggles--I think this will give them an added impetus.
A lot of this depends on whether people go beyond an exclusively electoral focus with the Labour Party.
There are a lot of issues here that aren't new. We've all known, going back decades, about the difficulties of working within the Labour Party. It's only because the Labour Party has been so right wing for the last 20 to 25 years that this appears to be a new set of questions.
A lot of the people who joined Labour are more like the people who joined Podemos in Spain or SYRIZA in Greece, or the people who supported Bernie Sanders in the U.S. They're not embedded in the old kind of constituency parties, like Labour has always been. They're much more interested in struggle and political activity than in traditional election campaigning. That's much healthier.
The question is how the radical left, outside of the party, is able to work with these young, very motivated people who are in the Labour Party, and build a relationship with them.
That hasn't been an issue we've had to confront over the last 20 to 25 years, because there haven't been those kinds of people in the older mainstream parties. Now there is, and it means that a lot of the things the left used to take for granted about relating to people with reformist ideas moving to the left have to be rethought--or at least we have to go back over some of that ground.
It would be a problem to just sloganeer at people about the dead end of reformism. Because at this moment, it doesn't seem like a dead end. It seems like it's actually going somewhere.
I think the debate will come up now about whether people on the left should be inside the Labour Party. That has obviously been an argument since Corbyn took over the leadership, and I think it's a serious discussion now. Given that the radical left is dispersed among different organizations, there's an argument for at least temporary membership in the Labour Party.
I'm not sure what the answer to that is yet. I think we need to see what the fallout is after the election, once it's settled down, assuming it does. But certainly, it's not a stupid question--it's a legitimate one for revolutionaries to discuss now.
WHAT ARE some of the questions the left needs to ask and answer in having that discussion?
I THINK the main issue is about forms of organization and the assumptions people on the left have made for past hundred years--or at least the last 50 years, from 1968 onwards--about the need for revolutionary parties.
To what extent do we need to rethink that assumption, given that no one has successfully built a mass revolutionary party anywhere, at any time, through different periods and different situations, even if you take the mid-1960s as a starting point?
Maybe the answer to that question is the object now is to create a cadre--a group of people who have experience in the class struggle, who participate in campaigns and trade unions, who learn to operate and to argue and to lead.
That's something that is still possible. Whether it's possible to do in the form of a mass revolutionary party, outside of a revolutionary situation--that's what I'm dubious about. To go back to the early 20th century, the problem in Germany--and Italy, too--wasn't that there wasn't a party beforehand. It was that there weren't enough experienced cadre able to form that party when the time came and have people listen to them.
So I think there are two separate questions. There's a need for some kind of organization or structure for revolutionaries--that's certainly necessary. And then there's the question of whether it's possible to build a mass revolutionary party, which I'm not sure about, based on the experience of the last half century.
One way of reaching people and having that discussion is to actually be inside the reformist parties--on the condition that you don't make staying in those parties the main priority.
I would think that the question is different in the U.S., where there isn't an actual social democratic party, and where Sanders didn't succeed in transforming the Democratic Party--it's doubtful that anyone could.
But here, that's the issue, and I think it needs to be looked at seriously, especially during the centenary year of the Russian Revolution--what is still relevant and what is of historical versus contemporary significance.
These are very difficult questions, and of course, as soon as you say any of this, the specter of revisionism is thrown at you. But it's something that has to be confronted.
We need to talk about the question of organization--and the implications flowing from that answer in terms of whether people on the left go into, individually or in groups, social democratic organizations to try to influence them, but knowing that these bodies can't by totally transformed.
We're just at the beginning stages of this discussion, of course. I know a lot of people are thinking these things through and haven't reached conclusions yet.
WHAT QUESTIONS need to be asked about revolutionaries joining the Labour Party?
I THINK the first question would have be whether you can operate openly as a revolutionary within the Labour Party, without silencing yourself on certain issues in order to stay in. That's absolutely fundamental.
If people can operate openly, make arguments and sell literature, that makes it possible. If you have to make compromises about your positions and not openly tell people what you stand for--if you have to have some kind of a secret organization--that won't lead anywhere. There are plenty of historical examples of that failing.
So this question is actually going to be about the Labour Party from Corbyn on down. Corbyn did usually defend revolutionaries in the Labour Party in the past. So it's possible he might be in favor of people coming in. He might see it as strengthening his hand, and also on the basis of a belief that revolutionaries ought to be there.
What it comes down to is whether the Labour Party becomes the kind of organization that allows people on the left to organize openly. I have enough historical experience with the Labour Party to wonder whether it will, even under a left-wing leadership.
And I don't think it's possible to go in without the ability to be open as a revolutionary. Because that means deceiving people, and I think you ultimately end up deceiving yourself. We've seen many times in the past people going into reformist parties, hoping to change them and ending up being changed themselves, and accepting reformist positions.
I guess it's an open question at the moment, but the main point for me starts with this: Can you be a revolutionary without compromising or hiding your views?
When Donald Trump made Jared Kushner a senior adviser, he brought the family business--corruption--to the White House, writes Ryan de Laureal.
Jared Kushner (Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro | Wikimedia Commons)
PERHAPS NO figure embodies the bizarre state of U.S. politics better than Jared Kushner.
With Trump's victory in November, the bland and unremarkable 36-year-old real estate tycoon went from being a virtual nobody--the husband of Trump's daughter Ivanka and, like Trump himself, the pampered heir to his father's business empire--to a key powerbroker in the new administration.
In his new role as senior adviser, Kushner has influence over some of the most significant areas of world politics--tasks normally reserved for people who spent their careers on them--from U.S. policy in the Middle East to solving the U.S. opioid epidemic to restructuring the American executive state.
But more important than the "experience" question, Kushner is a shining example of the web of hypocrisy, contradiction and intrigue surrounding Trump himself and his promises to rejuvenate American capitalism.
Despite Kushner's frequent portrayal in the media as a soft-spoken, moderating influence among his father-in-law's advisers, the more you investigate Kushner, the more a shady and Trumpian character emerges.
In May, Kushner became the latest member of Trump's inner circle to be implicated in backroom dealings with Russia. Federal and congressional investigators announced that they were looking into Kushner's meeting in mid-December with Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker whose financial institution has ties to Russian intelligence under Vladimir Putin and is under sanction from the U.S.
As the investigation into the Trump campaign's suspected dealings with Russia continues, the Democrats have kept a narrow focus on these allegations, to the exclusion of Trump's other crimes. But as inadequate as the Democrats' "opposition" has been, it's also easy to see why the Trump and Co. could be suspected of corruption.
And Jared Kushner is a great example of how the Trump family business is corruption.
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AS A landlord, Kushner has a history of harassing low-income tenants and evicting them from his properties. As the owner of the New York Observer, he used the newspaper as a platform to pursue personal vendettas against his rivals.
Kushner also has a history of partnerships with corrupt foreign businessmen and officials that is particularly hypocritical for somebody serving a president who flaunts "buy American and hire American" policies and who rode to power on a wave of nationalistic fervor by employing rhetorical attacks against Muslims, Mexicans and China.
There are Kushner's business deals with an Israeli bank under criminal investigation by the Justice Department, and with Chinese business officials linked to the country's ruling elite.
And now there's his meeting with a Russian banker in the months before Trump's inauguration--in an apparent attempt to create "back channel" communications with Moscow, away from the prying eyes of U.S. intelligence officials.
As head of Kushner Companies, Kushner obtained millions of dollars through a U.S. government visa program that allows foreign investors to buy their way to permanent residency in the U.S. The program's extension was part of Trump's first major piece of legislation.
The program, called the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, was introduced in the early 1990s and is a favorite of real estate tycoons like Trump and Kushner, allowing them to attract wealthy foreigners to bankroll luxury building projects at extremely low interest rates.
Because EB-5 recipients must pledge a minimum of $500,000 to $1 million toward a U.S. business venture, the program is officially billed as a way to attract foreign capital to the U.S. and create jobs. But the actual requirements for job creation on an EB-5 project are extremely low--only 10 permanent jobs need to be created.
As a result, the primarily beneficiaries of the program aren't U.S. workers, but developers like Kushner and wealthy investors in China and elsewhere.
Could there be a starker refutation of Trump's con?
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WHILE HUNDREDS of poor and desperate migrants die every year attempting to cross the U.S. border, while the rest are vilified by xenophobes like Trump and scapegoated for the failures of U.S. capitalism, the president and his closest associates are busy extending a program from which they have personally gained--one under which thousands of foreign millionaires are granted residency visas every year with little controversy, including nearly 3,000 from January to March of this year alone.
For comparison, this is almost the same number of visas that were issued over a three-year period, from January 2008 through June 2011, for unskilled workers who fall under the EB-3 visa for foreign workers. This is the only type of visa open to working-class foreigners who are not related to a U.S. citizen and who can't apply for some other type of special visa status.
Unlike the EB-5 program, in which foreign investors apply for residency directly, workers aren't allowed to file their own paperwork to obtain an EB-3. Instead, they must be sponsored by an employer, which must obtain a "foreign labor certification" from the Department of Labor, a complex process that can take months.
In order to be approved, the employer must demonstrate that that no domestic worker can be found to perform the job in question, and even if certification is granted, the employer must still file separate paperwork with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and fork over a $700 filing fee. Even then, there is a good chance the visa won't be approved.
The difference between these visa programs is a perfect illustration of reality of the U.S. immigration system, where the vast majority of the world's population is essentially blocked from ever obtaining any form of legal residency in the U.S., while for the rich it is virtually guaranteed.
And it exposes the hypocrisy of con men like Trump and Kushner who use scapegoating rhetoric about "immigrants taking away American jobs" and immigration laws being too lenient, yet manipulate the system to strike overseas business deals and exploit current immigration laws for their own gain.
Jesse Hagopian, a Seattle educator, editor of the book More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing and a member of the International Socialist Organization, explains why the ISO has endorsed the Seattle People's Party campaign of Nikkita Oliver for mayor.
Activist and artist Nikkita Oliver of the People's Party in Seattle
"EVERY GREAT change that has occurred in this city in the past eight years has been because those communities have risen up and used their voice to ask for that change: shut down chambers, gone to people's houses and into their offices, until we got the change that we most needed. It has not been because politicians moved for it."
So declared the newly formed Seattle People's Party candidate Nikkita Oliver--an educator, attorney, poet and political organizer--in the first Seattle mayoral debate in April.
Oliver continued her remarks:
HALA [Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda], MHA [Mandatory Housing Affordability], $15 [minimum wage], the No New Youth Jail campaign, Block the [Police] Bunker--even the [federal] consent decree [on the Seattle Police Department]--have all been because of movements of the people. What we need are leaders who listen to the needs of the most impacted in our communities and actually act on those solutions that are being brought forward by them.
Oliver, a Black, mixed-race, queer organizer, has been one of the most vocal leaders in the local movement for Black lives in Seattle. She has helped build actions against police brutality, against a new youth jail, and in support of local education initiatives that increase arts in schools and for the Black Lives Matter at School campaign.
She works full time in Seattle Public Schools as a resident artist educator with the Creative Justice program. As a renter in the city, she is all too familiar with rising rents and has been displaced from several homes due to high fees, even coping with homelessness during one difficult period.
When Oliver announced her candidacy for mayor in a video on March 8--International Women's Day--she electrified the Seattle activist scene. A few weeks later, she drew hundreds of people to a standing-room-only campaign kickoff event--the auditorium was filled with a multiracial cross section of Seattle, including many youth and student activists.
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WHILE THE excitement for Oliver was already high among activists, youth and artists, at that point, Oliver's campaign was widely viewed as a long shot against the incumbent, Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle's first openly gay mayor.
Murray's political power was based on his support from the political establishment, liberals and labor unions--which he solidified by using the language of progressivism, making limited concessions to organized social movements while maintaining a status quo approach to politics that made him quite acceptable to Seattle's financial elites.
But in April, Murray's re-election bid suddenly unraveled when four different men came forward to claim he had sexually abused them as teens.
As these allegations surfaced, a flurry of candidates entered the race--some 21 candidates are now running, including former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, state Rep. and former labor activist Bob Hasegawa, and business favorite Jenny Durkan.
Nearly all of the mayoral candidates are fluent in liberal talking points, including advocating for a city income tax on the rich, affordable housing and programs to address homelessness.
However, Oliver's campaign has separated itself from the pack by being closely aligned with social movements in the struggle for oppressed and exploited communities in Seattle, which are being left behind by a massive tech boom and brutalized by an unaccountable police force.
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THE DIVIDE between the rich and "the rest" in Seattle could not be more apparent. Seattle has the fastest growing rental rate of any city in the U.S., and ranks eighth in rental prices nationally.
The city has over 3,000 homeless students in the public schools and over 3,000 people are on the streets every night--making the city fourth in the nation for homelessness, behind New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
The Seattle Police Department is also notoriously brutal and has been operating under a federal consent decree since 2012 when the Department of Justice (DOJ) found a disturbing pattern of excessive use of force, particularly against people of color. The DOJ report also found that one in four arrests involved a violation of that person's constitutional rights.
Oliver's policy platform forcefully takes up these issues of race, class and oppression.
Among other things, her policy agenda calls for rent control, 25 percent of all new up-zoned developments reserved for low-income tenants, increased public housing, and restorative justice programs in the courts and schools as an alternative to mass incarceration and school expulsions.
As she said at her campaign kickoff: "To actually stop the school-to-prison-pipeline, we must transform the legal system...We cannot arrest our way out of unaddressed social problems. We cannot imprison our way out of the trauma that the criminal injustice system has created...In fact, we must restore our way out of it...The system is broken, not our children."
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OLIVER'S ROOTS in social justice movements, her refusal to take any corporate donations, and her decision to run her campaign outside of the confines of the corporate two-party system show she is accountable to regular people and not business elites.
Seattle's alternative weekly newspaper The Stranger wrote of her decision to run with the People's Party, "Oliver's independence from the Democratic Party may prove to be her greatest weakness in an increasingly competitive mayor's race."
Yet it is precisely her decision to run outside of the Democratic Party--a party that makes promises to be champions for the oppressed, but is more concerned about pleasing its corporate sponsors--that makes her campaign an important contribution to the struggle for social justice.
While the Seattle mayoral race is technically "nonpartisan," it is a given that most candidates run as members of the Democratic Party. While Seattle and Washington state have long been run by Democratic strongholds, however, the state has the most regressive tax structure in the nation, and the city of Seattle has the highest taxes on low-income earners and fourth-lowest taxes on high-income earners.
While it may be true that running outside of the Democratic Party will cause some people not to vote for Oliver, it may also energize many people who don't usually vote because they see nothing on offer from the political status quo that has resulted in Seattle's affordability crisis.
Crucially, the activists and organizers that make up the People's Party say that they envision the party as long-term project that can serve both to run social justice candidates in many different races, but also engage in actions and organizing to hold politicians accountable between elections.
As Oliver's campaign manager, indigenous rights leader and member of the Blackfeet Nation Gyasi Ross, told me of the decision to launch the People's Party:
We need an institutional memory of how we organize. Because this isn't a one-year project. This isn't a one-year experiment. Hopefully it's a 10-year or 20-year project that says we are going to retain some of this knowledge and network of how we seep into some of the machinery and get involved in a more strategic level.
As a People's Party position statement explains about the decision to launch a party outside of corporate duopoly:
We live in a time of grave political upheaval. The upheaval is the symptom or manifestation of issues that have plagued the United States since its inception. The political system in the United States has grown increasingly more dysfunctional. With each successive election the two-party system has become more adversarial. Accordingly, the system grows increasingly ineffective at addressing solutions that we, the People, care about and to which we require immediate action and response.
People do not believe their voices can impact the political process and actually lead to long lasting transformational change. For these reasons Nikkita and the People's Party have chosen to declare independent. We are pushing a solution-based agenda which focuses on the issues faced by everyday working people rather than party politics.
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FOR THESE reasons, the International Socialist Organization has endorsed Oliver's campaign for mayor. She is running the kind of independent, left-wing campaign that is needed to challenge both an emboldened right-wing in Trump's America and a corporatized Democratic Party.
The ISO is not alone in our recognition of the importance of Oliver's campaign. She has been gaining momentum with a growing list of endorsers that include the Seattle Education Association (the union representing teachers and other educators in Seattle), numerous community organizers, the Green Party of Seattle, Seattle Democratic Socialists of America, and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative.
The mayoral election primary will take place on August 1, and the top two candidates in the primary will advance to the November 7 general election. While Oliver's independent bid for mayor will face an uphill battle, and she will likely continue to be portrayed as an "outsider," with Mayor Murray out of the race, Oliver not only has raised the most money from small donations, she also has the largest activist base.
Win or lose at the ballot box, Oliver is clear that her campaign and the formation of the Seattle People's Party is a step forward for Seattle's 99 Percent.
As she said of her bid for mayor, "We need to create a sustainable model for political power for everyday people who may not have an interest in being career politicians but do have an interest in seeing the system being effectively transformed to show what access and equity actually look like."
Edna Bonhomme reports from New York City on a one-day walkout by union nurses.
Nurses and caregivers hit the picket line for a one-day strike against Fresenius (New York State Nurses Association | Twitter)
NURSES AND caregivers from the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and 1199SEIU (Service Employees International Union) went on a one-day strike across New York City to protest the for-profit health care company Fresenius.
Workers struck outside of working class and multiracial neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Bronx and Upper Manhattan to ensure optimal patient care, pension benefits and collective bargaining.
The one-day walkout is part of a several-years-old battle to negotiate a contract, but also an international challenge against this highly profitable company.
Fresenius manages dialysis centers in New York City, as well as in Britain, Spain and Germany as well. Workers went on strike as part of a local and international effort to challenge layoffs and pension cuts.
Fresenius has used anti-union tactics in its international expansion. In Brooklyn, it built a new nonunion facility on Degraw Street that is walking distance from its unionized dialysis center. The company is attempting to move all staff into that building, while keeping administration so the facility with union representation would have no union members.
At stake is an opportunity to win a five-year contract with better benefits and higher staff-to-patient ratios. Niro, a retired worker in Brooklyn, said of Fresenius: "They're crooked. they're crooked, that's it. They don't care about workers."
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SINCE ITS initial founding in 1912, Fresenius has expanded its health operations outside of Germany. Most recently, Fresenius Helios purchased IDC Salud Holding S.L.U., Spain's largest hospital operator, for $6.5 billion. This gives Fresenius 43 hospitals, 39 outpatient centers and 300 prevention centers.
While the company celebrated this deal, the transaction undermines affordable and public-sector health facilities that are already in place. At a moment when Spain, among other European countries, is facing drastic austerity measures because of the long-running debt crisis, these health care buyouts are another way to impose higher costs on patients and local facilities.
Meanwhile, the German-based Fresenius is accused of skimming resources and decreasing support staff at facilitis it acquired. The company faced controversy earlier in the decade when it implicated in distributing faulty insulin devices to British health facilities.
In New York City, Fresenius is trying to cut staff so that the patient-to-nurse ratio would reach 12 to 1, up from the current 10 to 1. The union is demanding a 6 to 1 ratio.
Fresenius' neoliberal health policies come amid a continuing attack on workers and their organizations in Europe and North America, though there have been signs of a fightback, such as the 40,000-strong weekend strike at AT&T last month.
The NYSNA's June 12 strike had a different character because of the international component. Union members and officials traveled to Germany to with nurses and hospital workers from the Ver.di union.
One of the delegates, nurse Teresa Schloth, noted that Fresenius was promoting the for-profit system there, but German health care workers have been able to take on the company because of a stronger union and work council culture. In addition, German labor laws have made it more difficult to undermine working conditions.
Another component that contributes the to greater strength of German workers is the existence of a universal health care system. The basic right to health care--something missing entirely in the U.S. context--gives workers and patients to unite and fight from a higher ground.
Sentiment for a single-payer system in the U.S. is greater than ever, as seen by the legislative successes of "Medicare for all" initiatives in New York and California, though these bills have more hurdles to overcome before becoming law. Campaigns to win these measures can be coordinated with solidarity for the struggles of health care workers.
The June 12 strike shows the strength of workers who provide the necessary care and expertise to patients. They work long hours to help those with long-term chronic diseases or temporary disability.
Sharice, a tech worker for 18 years, had never been on strike before, but in answering the question of what it would take to win, she said: "We have to take another step. Without us, you don't have patients. They don't even like that we're in a union."
June 15, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Espionage Act. Earlier this year, as if to commemorate the centennial, President Trump suggested to then-FBI Director James Comey that he extend the Act into new territory—that he use it to prosecute journalists.
While no reporter has ever been charged with violating the statute, this is hardly the first time, as we reported in 2012, that the government has threatened to pursue Espionage Act charges against journalists who base their reporting on leaked classified documents.
Unfortunately, there is little in the language of the law itself that would limit the application of the Espionage Act’s nondisclosure and possession prohibitions to journalists who did not themselves remove the documents from the control of the government. By their terms, two key sections of the Act seem to threaten criminal liability for journalists who shed light on government secrets. 18 U.S.C. § 793(e), for instance, broadly criminalizes the following:
Whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over . . . information relating to the national defense, which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, [or] transmits . . . the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it;
A related provision, 18 U.S.C. § 798, reaches anyone “who knowingly and willfully communicates . . . or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States” certain classified information.
These provisions have no express exception for journalists reporting on issues of public concern—and no implied shield has emerged from the handful of precedents handed down over the last century. The Supreme Court brushed up against the question for the first and only time in New York Times Co. v. United States, the federal government’s effort to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers. While the court’s brief per curiam opinion didn’t touch the issue, several justices wrote separately to suggest that the Justice Department could still prosecute the reporters responsible for the story after it made the front page.
Why have no such prosecutions followed? In part, probably, because the law is unclear, shot through with undefined terms that courts rarely see an opportunity to interpret. Justice Harlan called the Espionage Act “a singularly opaque statute” in his dissent from New York Times Co.; Professors Harold Edgar and Benno Schmidt, in a 1986 law review article, went so far as to call the statute “incomprehensible if read according to the conventions of legal analysis of text, while paying fair attention to legislative history.” There’s no guarantee that the prosecution of a journalist under the Act would succeed—and from the government’s perspective, a loss would undermine the coercive value of threatening prosecution to protect secret surveillance programs.
There are at least two compelling (but untested) legal arguments that would complicate any effort to prosecute a reporter who relied on leaked documents in that kind of case. In New York Times Co., the lower court thought—and Justice Douglas agreed—that the word “communicates” in § 793(e)’s was never intended to include publication by the media. That question is still an open one. What’s more, at least some Espionage Act precedents suggest that “reason to believe [the leaked information] could be used to the injury of the United States” is a stiff requirement, one that it’s hard to imagine would be satisfied in the case of public reporting. In United States v. Rosen, for instance, the district court for the Eastern District of Virginia insisted that that language “requires the government to demonstrate the likelihood of the defendant’s bad faith purpose to either harm the United States or to aid a foreign government.” In other words, it’s not enough to publish sensitive information that a news organization knows might harm national security; harming U.S. national security needs to be the point of publishing.
In essence, for decades, journalists have been protected against prosecution under the Espionage Act by an informal truce, not a battery of legal arguments.
The application of the disclosure provisions of the Espionage Act to third party recipients and republishers of government materials is likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Bartnicki v. Vopper, a 2001 case in which the Supreme Court afforded near absolute protection to the republication of information pertaining to matters of public interest that the republisher legally acquired even if their source illegally acquired and transmitted it to them. But the interaction of the Bartnicki doctrine and the Espionage Act has never been tested.
In essence, for decades, journalists have been protected against prosecution under the Espionage Act by an informal truce, not a battery of legal arguments. As Justice White noted—disapprovingly—in New York Times Co., a legal carve-out for reporters would “conform with the past practice of using the statute only to prosecute those charged with ordinary espionage.” Or as David Pozen described the government’s approach to leak prosecutions in The Leaky Leviathan, “In formal terms this legal regime looks forbidding, draconian. In practical terms, as a frustrated intelligence professional once put it, the system amounts to ‘permissive neglect.’”
That norm may be on the brink of changing. In 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder promised, “As long as I am attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions declined to make the same basic commitment at his confirmation hearings earlier this year. For better or worse, the Trump Administration may finally test the Espionage Act’s sweeping, ambiguous language against reporters’ core First Amendment rights.
With that test looming and with the 100th birthday of the law upon us, it’s clear that the Espionage Act needs to be reformed. Sign our petition calling for changes to this overly broad and outdated law.
One hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Espionage Act into law, and since then it has been used to criminalize the disclosure of national defense and classified information.Dissent-Stifling Roots
At the turn of the 20th century, anti-immigrant, xenophobic sentiments dominated national rhetoric and was consequently reflected in the legislation crafted. On September 25, 1919, the 28th President of the United States Woodrow Wilson gave his final address in support of the League of Nations in Pueblo, CO and in his speech, he spoke of American immigrants with hyphenated nationalities: “Any man who carries a hyphen around with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.” Wilson specifically targeted Irish-Americans and German-Americans, whom he perceived to be disloyal immigrants and potential spies. In fact, many state governments banned the teaching of German in schools, since it was “a language that disseminates the ideas of autocracy, brutality, and hatred.” The nativism movement continued to grow from the “Know-Nothing” party to the Palmer raids as concerns about espionage and disloyalty swirled.
Thus, the Espionage Act was born against the backdrop of World War I and amidst fears of subversion of American democracy. Its primary purpose was to deal with avoidance of the draft, sabotage of state activities, and espionage. But its subsequent interpretations led to the punishment of socialists, pacifists, and other anti-war activists. Most infamously during this period, former Presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a 1918 speech, denouncing the Espionage Act of 1917. The Supreme Court upheld his sentence, which was eventually commuted post-World War I.
The Espionage Act was further modified by the Sedition Act of 1918 but those amendments were ultimately overturned on March 3, 1921, when World War I ended. The Sedition Act sought to criminalize statements during the war that were “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive…about the form of government of the United States.” Those found in violation of the rules set forth in the act were subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of up to 20 years.Tested in Court
The constitutionality of the Espionage Act as a basis for punishing speech was tested in the landmark case, Schenck v. United States (1919), which concluded that First Amendment did not bar Schenck’s prosecution. The appellant Charles Schenck had mailed anti-draft letters to draftees, which read “Do not submit to intimidation.” The Supreme Court held that Schenck’s words were not protected by the First Amendment and was guilty of violating the Espionage Act of 1917.
A week after Schenck, the Court unanimously reaffirmed and reasserted its decision in another case, Frohwerk v. United States (1919). Jacob Frohwerk wrote twelve editorials for the Missouri Staats Zeiung in 1915, which denounced the United States’ involvement in World War I. The Supreme Court upheld the Espionage Act of 1917’s constitutionality. Justice Holmes again argued that the First Amendment does not “give immunity for every possible use of language.” Along with Debs v. United States (1919), the rulings emphasized the superseding nature of the Espionage Act of 1917 over any First Amendment claim during this time. (These First Amendment holdings were ultimately displaced by the far-more-speech-protective modern incitement doctrine finalized in Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969.)Anti-Communist, Anti-Whistleblower
The Espionage Act resurged as a tool used to root out communist influences in American society during the 1940s and 1950s. The Red Scare, led in particular by Senator Joe McCarthy and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, employed the Espionage Act to suppress the opinions of left-wing political figures. Indeed, it was the basis of the convictions that led to the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
In addition to conventional spying, however, the Espionage Act has also been used to prosecute those who delivered confidential governmental information not to foreign governments, but to the press. Whistleblowers charged with violating the Espionage Act include Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, WikiLeaks contributor Chelsea Manning, and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Now there are threats that it may be used against the groups that publish that information.
Sign our petition and tell U.S. policymakers that it's long past time to reform this speech-chilling law.
The federal law that is commonly used to prosecute leakers marks its 100th birthday on June 15,2017.
Signed into law on June 15, 1917, the Espionage Act 18 U.S.C. § 792 et seq., was Congress’s response to a fear that public criticism of U.S. participation in World War I would impede the conscript of soldiers to support the war effort and concerns about U.S. citizens undermining the war effort by spying for foreign governments. Although some parts of the law were repealed, many remain in effect 100 years later.
Most pertinent today, the law criminalizes both the disclosure and receipt of certain national security information. As a result, the Espionage Act remains the most common grounds upon which leakers of U.S. governmental information are prosecuted. Indeed, the recent charges against the alleged source of the NSA Russian Election Systems Phishing documents are based on the Espionage Act.
To date, however, the United States has never sought to prosecute a journalistic entity under the Espionage Act for either receiving secret government documents from a source or further disseminating the documents themselves or information from them in the course of reporting. There is nothing in the language of the law that prevents its use against a news organization, but it has been unofficially accepted that it should not apply to the press.
So it is alarming that the Justice Department is reportedly taking a serious look at bringing criminal charges against Wikileaks and Julian Assange for disclosing classified information . In so doing, the Trump administration is threatening to step over a never-crossed line – applying the secret documents provisions of the Espionage Act to journalistic practices. The threat is greatly concerning in the context of prosecuting whistleblowers, and, more broadly, preserving a free press.
The threat is greatly concerning in the context of prosecuting whistleblowers, and, more broadly, preserving a free press.
Leaks are a vital part of the free flow of information that is essential to our democracy. And reporting on leaked materials, including reporting on classified information, is an essential role of American journalism. The US Supreme Court, in Bartnicki v. Vopper, recognized that those who lawfully obtain information pertaining to a matter of public interest have a near absolute right to publish it even if their source illegally obtained the information. Prosecuting Wikileaks for its role in this fundamental democratic process will undermine these vital protections.
In sections 793(d), (e) and 798 the Espionage Act criminalizes the unauthorized communication of both certain classified information and information “connected with the national defense.” Section 793(c) also prohibits merely obtaining national defense documents “with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation.” Whether the principle of Bartnicki v. Vopper would bar a successful prosecution against a news organization under these provisions has never been tested.
A strong defense of Wikileaks is not simply an anti-Trump position. As current events indicate, leaks are non-partisan: those on both sides of the aisle typically embrace leaks that are politically useful and condemn leaks that are politically damaging. President Donald Trump famously praised Wikileaks when disclosures of DNC emails benefitted him. He now threatens to bring the strong arm of the law down on it.
It can be difficult to separate rhetoric from a planned course of action with this administration. But there are strong signs this White House intends to follow through on its bluster.
First, CIA Director Mike Pompeo labeled Wikileaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” at an April 13, 2017 speech at the Center for Strategic And International Studies. The director then followed up by asserting his “philosophical understanding,” as opposed to a legal conclusion, that Wikileaks and Assange are not exercising First Amendment rights.
About a week later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained that his department was “stepping up its efforts” “on all leaks” with the goal being to “put some people in jail.”
President Trump also reportedly urged then-FBI director James Comey to prosecute and imprison journalists who published classified information. Comey’s failure to prioritize this has been cited as the one of the reasons for his firing.
Moreover, the president’s reported initial first choice for FBI director, former Senator Joseph Lieberman, has a history of belligerence against both the news media broadly and Wikileaks in particular. In 2010, Lieberman called for an investigation of the New York Times and other news media for publishing Wikileaks documents, proposed an “anti-Wikileaks Law” that would have criminalized the disclosure of intelligence source names, and pressured Amazon and credit card processors to choke off funding for Wikileaks.
Many of the other threats the president and those speaking on his behalf have made against the news media both during the election and since he took office require legislative action by either Congress or the states. Unlike his threat to “open up the libel laws”—which would require action by 50 state legislatures or otherwise be subject to Congressional oversight—the executive branch can initiate a federal criminal prosecution on its own.
We condemn the threats of prosecution of Wikileaks and call for all to speak out against the them.
One hundred years is long enough to let the threat of prosecution under the Espionage Act cast a shadow over our free speech and press freedom protections. Sign our petition, and tell U.S. lawmakers to reform this outdated and overbroad law.
A few weeks ago, we joined the global open access community in celebrating that Diego Gomez had finally been cleared of criminal charges for sharing scientific research over the Internet without permission. Unfortunately, the fight is not over yet. The ruling has been appealed to the Tribunal de Bogota, a Colombian appellate court.
Diego’s story demonstrates the urgency of open access. Since Diego was first brought to trial, thousands of people all around the globe have signed a petition demanding that open access publishing becomes the default for academic research worldwide. No one should have to risk going to prison simply for sharing research.
This case also demonstrates the dangers of severe criminal penalties for copyright infringement. In this case, the penalties in question were specifically enacted as part of a trade agreement with the United States. Sadly, U.S. efforts to export its copyright rules can also mean exporting chilling effects on freedom of expression and intellectual freedom.
The Karisma Foundation, a Colombian NGO that has been coordinating Diego’s legal defense, has now launched a campaign to raise money for this expensive next step of Diego’s defense.%3Ciframe%20src%3D%22https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2FDdFqheeMFiU%3Fautoplay%3D1%22%20allowfullscreen%3D%22%22%20width%3D%22560%22%20height%3D%22315%22%20frameborder%3D%220%22%3E%3C%2Fiframe%3E Privacy info. This embed will serve content from youtube.com
“The decision of the judge is an important step that guides Colombian criminal justice towards international standards where this measure is reserved only for piracy. This case must spark a serious debate over the necessity of Open Access. We celebrate that justice was made in an absurd case that could have set a bad precedent for access to knowledge in Colombia,” said Carolina Botero, director of Fundación Karisma, about Diego’s acquittal.
Since 2014, the Fundación Karisma has provided advice to Diego and, along with several allied organizations, launches a crowdfunding campaign in order to help him in this new stage of the process.
The goal is to raise USD $40,000 during 4 weeks of campaigning. With this money, Karisma expects to cover the financial costs related to the appeal process on behalf of Diego and to seek legal ways to prevent cases like Diego’s from happen again. Likewise, the production of a case study, whose aim is to tell the story of Diego, and show the need for Open Access to knowledge will be covered. Finally, we expect to cover Diego’s accommodation and transportation when needed, so that he can take part in the appeal process and a case study production. He currently works at a natural reserve in Costa Rica so traveling is expensive.
EFF is proud to stand with Karisma and Diego.