Charles Holm reports on a sit-in in Austin that organizers are hoping will inspire further resistance to the anti-immigrant agenda, both locally and nationally.
DACA recipients and solidarity activists unfurl banners for a sit-in at the Texas Capitol building (Cosecha Texas | Facebook)
IN WHAT organizers called "the first DACA sit-in of the Trump era," dozens of immigrant rights activists marched toward the Texas state Capitol building in Austin on July 26, chanting, "The power is in our hands!"
At the intersection of West 15th Street and Congress, protesters unfurled banners that read "Permanent Protection Dignity AND RESPECT" and sat down in the street. Fifteen people were arrested, including four recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The action was organized by Cosecha Texas, a branch of Moviemento Cosecha, which describes itself as "a new nonviolent movement fighting for the permanent protection, dignity, and respect for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States."
Texas is at the forefront of the nationwide governmental attack on immigrants. The state recently passed Senate Bill 4, an anti-sanctuary city bill that essentially deputizes state, county, city and campus law enforcement officers as immigration agents, and encourages and in some cases forces them to ask detained and arrested individuals their immigration status, and to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
SB 4 also includes provisions to remove from office elected and appointed officials who refuse to carry out these provisions. The American Civil Liberties Union called it "the worst racial profiling, anti-immigrant bill in the country."
What you can do
The Austin branch of the International Socialist Organization is holding an event with Cosecha Texas on August 2, titled "No One Is Illegal: The Fight Against SB 4 and Anti-Immigrant Racism/Nadie es Ilegal! La Lucha En Contra de la SB4 y el Racismo Anti-Inmigrante."
This horrible law is set to go into effect on September 1, but a June investigation by the Austin Chronicle revealed that "SB4 already exists de facto" on the Texas-Mexico border, where DPS officers are turning over drivers and passengers with minor traffic violations to federal immigration officials, effectively establishing a "pioneer law enforcement conduit into the deportation pipeline for non-criminals."
Cosecha said in a statement that the sit-in was organized not only against SB 4, but also "in response to the recent threats facing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program."
On June 29, Texas State Attorney General Ken Paxton led the attorney generals from nine other states in sending a letter to the Trump administration calling for DACA's repeal.
The letter threated that if the administration failed to rescind DACA by September 5, these states would file suit against "both the DACA program and the remaining Expanded DACA permits"--amending their successful earlier lawsuit against the expansion of DACA and another program for parents of DACA recipients known as DAPA.
Trump officially canceled DAPA last month, and the newly introduced DREAM Act of 2017 is almost certainly doomed in the current Congress.
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FOR ALL these reasons, Cosehca and others consider Texas to be "the battleground state in the struggle for immigrant rights in the Trump era," much the same way Arizona's passage of its own "show your papers" law SB 1070 galvanized the immigrants rights movement in 2010.
Some local labor and immigrant rights activists criticized the sit-in as the work of a "paracaidista" organization--an "outside" group coming in to "bully" DACA recipients and people with Temporary Protected Status into an action that could jeopardize the fight against SB 4 and put an already vulnerable population at greater risk due to Texas' exceptionally aggressive anti-immigrant atmosphere.
Such "outside agitator" rhetoric is a common tactic often used against progressive forces by the right. The successful fight against SB 1070 in Arizona shows why it is important for militant actions and strategies to re-emerge within the immigrant rights movement, especially in Texas.
Part of what stopped the worst provisions of SB 1070 from taking effect was the participation of activists from across the country in organizing direct actions and mass demonstrations against the law.
The model of AltoArizona, which called on people in 2010 to "draw the line and say enough is enough...to the criminalization of workers and families," inspired this year's call by Texas immigrant rights groups for a Summer of Resistance against SB 4, which kicked off on Memorial Day with hundreds of people coming in from out-of-state to show support for the state's embattled immigrant community.
The DACA sit-in itself was not a "mass" action, but it fit the call for a "summer of resistance" that was repeated again in early June by Arizona and Texas immigrant rights organizations, who urged "activists and allies from across the country...to organize and mobilize local community members in defiance of unjust racial profiling and criminalization of immigrants, Latinos, and the African American community."
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COSECHA ORGANIZERS and volunteers arrived in Texas because they understood that Texas has now become the center of the fight against anti-immigrant policies and racism, and participants in the sit-in reflect a clear understanding of what they are fighting for and what's at stake.
Statements from Texas-based immigrant activists during the action betrayed no signs of "bullying" from out-of-town organizers--just bravery and a clear political understanding of what's at stake if bullies like Ken Paxton and Donald Trump go unchallenged, showing what kind of movement must be built to stop SB 4, protect DACA and win full equality and respect.
Manuel Ramirez, who was undocumented for 20 years and has only recently gained permanent legal status, explained his reasons for getting arrested: "I'm from Austin, Texas and I'm doing this for my family and sisters who are undocumented and also for my six-month-old son, so that we can live in a world where our human dignity is respected and protected."
Catalina Adorna, another arrestee and a DACA recipient from San Antonio, told Gus Bova of the Texas Observer that she knew there were "some serious risks [to getting arrested] but...all the small victories the immigrant community has had were the result of people taking risks."
"People kept asking me if I was afraid," Adorno told Democracy Now! "I kept telling them that I'm not. I am no longer afraid."
All four arrested DACA recipients were released from jail late Wednesday evening, and the 11 others, who had refused bail in an act of solidarity with the DACA activists, were released by early Thursday.
There is a legal defense for the released, but despite the Austin's reputation as a sanctuary from the state's anti-immigrant policies, the threat remains of ICE retaliation against the four "DACAmented" activists.
Despite these risks, Movimiento Cosecha is "calling on undocumented youth across the country to model the risk that was taken on July 26th" in Texas.
As spokesperson Maria Fernanda Cabello explained it, Cosecha understands "that some will put their hope in DC politicians," but even small victories like DACA were won "not because of any politician, but because our community took fearless action."
"We marched, we walked out, we stopped deportations and shut down detention centers. We took risks and put our bodies on the line to tell this country that we were 'Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unaplogetic'...This moment calls for us to be brave again; to create a moral crisis that will change the narrative on immigration in this country."
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IN THE days leading up to SB 4's September 1 implementation date, Cosecha and other organizations plan to continue organizing resistance and building a militant immigrant rights movement.
This includes BastaTX, a campaign of Statewide Days of Action against SB 4 that includes a September 1 Statewide Strike and Youth Rally Against Hate and a Unity March, Rally and Concert on September 2.
The BastaTX campaign states, "We believe that all Texans deserve to live free from racial profiling, free from the fear of deportation, free from detention and free from police violence," and declares, "we are going to rally, strike and resist to put an end to SB4."
So far, 33 organizations have endorsed the campaign, including Movimiento Cosecha, Black Sovereign Nation, Fight for 15, Immigrants United, Muslim Solidarity ATX, Organizacion Latina de Trans, Sanctuary UT and the International Socialist Organization.
The struggle for immigrant justice faces many obstacles in its fight to overturn SB 4, protect DACA, and ultimately win permanent protection, dignity and respect for all. But we shouldn't underestimate what it means that this is a movement made up of courageous young fighters like Catalinia Santiago, whose words on the day of the sit-in will hopefully inspire more resistance:
DACA is under attack while my parents, who are farmworkers, were never even given the temporary protection DACA provides. I am getting arrested today to tell my parents, my community, and the rest of the 11 million that no matter what politicians say, you are worthy and we will not settle for the crumbs they offer us in exchange for being the economic and labor force that sustains this country day in and day out."
A proposal for federal legislation criminalizing support for BDS shows the hypocrisy of those willing to sacrifice free speech to achieve their aims, writes Sarah Levy.
Left: Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand at a pro-Israel parade in New York; right: Demonstrating in solidarity with Palestine at Northeastern University
HYPOCRISY AMONG the American political class is not all that unusual, but sometimes the naked expression of it takes on shocking proportions.
Proposed federal legislation known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which attempts to criminalize the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights, is a perfect example.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently issued a letter urging the 46 U.S. senators--32 Republicans and 14 Democrats--who have co-signed the Senate version of the bill, S. 720, to reconsider their support. A similar House measure has support from 185 Republicans and 64 Democrats.
Under the bill, only a person whose lack of business ties to Israel is politically motivated would be subject to fines and imprisonment--even though there are many others who engage in the very same behavior. In short, the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment...
By penalizing those who support international boycotts of Israel, S. 720 seeks only to punish the exercise of constitutional rights.
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IF PASSED, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act would have chilling implications not only for supporters of Palestine, but also anyone who cares about the right to dissent in the Trump era. The bill not only exposes the hypocrisy of politicians who trumpet the right to free speech while they pass legislation to undermine it, but it also should serve as a cautionary tale for how the issue of "free speech" can be weaponized in ways that target dissenters while defending corporate power and apartheid states.
Apartheid Israel, for example, regularly violates the right to free speech, academic freedom, the right to a fair trial, indeed the very right to life of Palestinians living under its settler-colonial regime.
The bill seeks to amend two pieces of legislation--the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945.
While these two laws currently criminalize compliance with the Arab League boycott of Israel, the newly proposed legislation seeks to expand their scope to include other "international boycotts of Israel," such as those that originate in the European Union or the United Nations, though the bill's main target is the BDS movement.
If passed, the felony charges associated with the previous bills would apply in relation to BDS, exposing "perpetrators" to a jaw-dropping minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.
While Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the proposed legislation does not differentiate between boycotts that target Israel as a whole from those that specifically target settlement production--causing even J Street, a pro-Israel advocacy organization openly hostile to BDS, to come out against the bill.
This bill could give Attorney General Jeff Sessions the power to prosecute any American who chooses not to buy settlement products for a felony offense. That kind of authority should not be given to any administration, let alone one that has engaged in extreme rhetoric against political opponents, including threats to 'lock [them] up.'
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IT SHOULD be noted that this bill and others like it that attempt to criminalize BDS have nothing to do with stopping anti-Semitism.
As Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for The Intercept, said on Democracy Now! in response to Sen. Chuck Schumer's claim that BDS is "veiled anti-Semitism":
The irony here is that [this bill] doesn't criminalize all boycotts of Israel. So if you are a neo-Nazi group, and you are driven by explicit anti-Semitism, and you call for a boycott of Israel, you would not fall under this statute. Only if you're supporting BDS through the EU or through the UN from a pro-Palestinian perspective would the precise same action then be criminalized. And for the ACLU, that is the definition of a First Amendment violation, because the same act becomes criminalized only based on your political motivation for carrying out that act.
But besides the conflation of Zionism and anti-Semitism, this bill also exposes the hypocrisy of politicians and other mainstream institutions, such as college campuses and the mainstream media, which have recently championed the First Amendment when it comes to defending the right of racists to speak and mobilize, yet casually dismiss the right to free speech when it comes to advocacy on behalf of Palestinian rights.
For example, while there have been dozens of articles about the new "free speech wars" at the University of California-Berkeley after students protested right-wing speakers Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, there has been only a faint whisper about the egregious free-speech violations embedded in the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.
The bill also exposes the hypocrisy of politicians who boast about their free-speech credentials, yet turn a blind eye to the denial of free speech to pro-Palestine activists.
As Josh Israel noted at Think Progress, just three years ago, in considering an amendment that would have overturned Citizens United, several senators who are co-sponsors of the anti-BDS bill objected strongly on the basis of the free speech rights--of corporations.
"Could we really have entered a world so extreme that our common ground no longer even includes the First Amendment of the Constitution?" said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a floor speech at that time.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) also waxed eloquently about how the cause of democracy is served by enshrining the right of corporations to buy and sell politicians like so many talking billboards:
In our system of government, all voices have the right to be heard. The First Amendment gives them that right...We have a system that allows all voices to be heard, even those that oppose the majority. That is not antithetical to democracy; it is the essence of democracy. So it is time, it seems to me, to stop pretending that allowing more voices to be heard somehow poses a danger just because we don't like what they are saying.
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BOTH CRUZ and Roberts have co-signed the anti-BDS bill, illustrating how these politicians will use the First Amendment to stand up for corporate rights to buy elections, but when it comes to Israel they are all too happy to sign off on legislation that could imprison activists in the U.S. for decades simply due to their political beliefs.
Perhaps more counterintuitive is the support of liberal Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) for the anti-BDS bill.
Wyden is known for speaking out against the National Security Agency for violating American citizens' right to not be spied on as well as being a staunch proponent of net neutrality.
Furthermore, in late May, Wyden stood up for the right of neo-Nazis to hold a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, back in June when he opposed Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler's problematic plea to the federal government to revoke their permit.
"The First Amendment cuts both ways, that's why it's so special," Wyden told the media. "The challenge is going to be for the officials in our community to find ways to deal with [the growth and confidence of the right] that don't, in effect, set aside the Constitution."
Yet Wyden is one of many Democratic backers of the anti-BDS bill, illustrating the all-too-familiar bipartisan "Palestine exception" when it comes to free speech for pro-Palestine activists.
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IN ADDITION to speaking out and organizing against the passage of the anti-BDS bill, we should take its proposal as a stark reminder of the potential danger posed by liberals and progressives who call on the state or university administrators to ban hate speech or far-right mobilizations.
Such calls to ban right-wing speech do more to embolden the right by allowing them to play the victim than it does to weaken their forces.
Furthermore, because the definition of what constitutes "hate speech" is made by politicians, such calls end up legitimating their power when their use of such bans invariably end up getting aimed at left-wing dissenters who pose a much greater threat to their interests than right-wing ones.
Take Steven Salaita, the professor who lost his job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his vocal support for Palestine during Israel's 2014 bombing of Gaza.
Salaita recently announced he is leaving academia because, despite having done nothing illegal and despite being a respected academic, pro-Israel forces have undermined his ability to secure a teaching job on four continents. Salaita is only one of several scholars targeted for speaking out against racism, sexism and imperialism since Trump's election.
Back at UC Berkeley just last fall, the administration suspended a student-led class on Palestine titled "Palestine: A Settler-Colonial Analysis" due to its political content.
These are just the tip of the iceberg of a fierce campaign to silence the speech of students, professors and activists who speak out about Palestine and challenge Israel's human rights abuses.
Our side must not only continue to stand up for Palestine, but also continue to defend free speech at every turn. That right is not only one we have historically fought for and defended, but one we will need at every step in the fight for our freedom, which itself will be linked to freedom and justice for Palestine.
Teamsters Local 810 member Tim Goulet reviews the third installment of the radical working-class history documentary Plutocracy by filmmaker Scott Noble.
"Your violent chaotic state always bears within it war as a sleeping cloud bears the storm."
-- Jean Jaures, French socialist, assassinated on the eve of the First World War
Survivors of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre survey the ruins of the strikers' protest camp (Library of Congress | Wikimedia Commons)
THESE WORDS are the opening salvo to filmmaker Scott Noble's Plutocracy III: Class War, the third installment of a non-for-profit, five-part film series intended for free viewing online. Reviews of parts one and two by Ruth Hurley can be found here and here.
Noble's latest addition is a powerful rejoinder to the anodyne version of U.S. history we're typically taught in grammar school--the popular narrative that tells us the motive force of history is great men, with even greater ideas; that those who suffer must be patient, for social progress comes slowly; that progressive reforms are the product of benevolent politicians; and while there are certainly flies in the ointment, the wondrous free market will sort it out, if only left to its own devices.
As Noble shows, however, the experiences of working people throughout U.S. history have run far afield of this description.
The "chaotic state," so pregnant with war, that Jaures poetically describes alludes to the class nature of capitalist society. Capitalism pits a minority of powerful elites who control the nation's wealth against a laboring majority that produces it, creating the basis for social struggles and upheavals. It's a logic built into the fabric of the system.
Plutocracy III: Class War, part three of a five-part documentary by Scott Noble. Available online at FilmsForAction.org.
The gains working-class people have made in the U.S. have come through intense struggles, and even loss of life.
Plutocracy III: Class War, in the best tradition of Howard Zinn and other "people's historians," is a sobering, compelling and inspiring look at U.S. history from the bottom up, centered around the fiery struggles of the working class and the downtrodden.
The film includes fascinating commentary from movement activists, writers and labor historians such as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Brian Jones, Justin Akers Chacon and Peter Rachleff, juxtaposing analysis and anecdotal, with stirring imagery from past struggles.
Today, when the labor movement has been in retreat for a number of decades, mainstream politics is so openly reactionary, and socialism is just beginning to gain a new hearing, it can be difficult to visualize the working-class combativity that Plutocracy III: Class War describes.
But throughout history, American workers have often been among the most tenacious. They have organized themselves collectively into unions, identified openly with socialist politics, braved extraordinary levels of ruling-class violence and have often transcended deep divisions inherent to the American experience, such as racism, sexism and nativism.
But none of this has come without contradictions or limitations. Noble's film realistically portrays the social forces that unite the working class, while simultaneously showing those that divide it.
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CLASS WAR centers mainly on the period stretching from the profound economic transformation and social ferment following the Civil War, through the post-Second World War class confrontations of 1919.
The Civil War (1861-1865) profoundly transformed the U.S. economy. An explosion in manufacturing and infrastructure dotted the land, as the federal government passed pro-business legislation and awarded lucrative contracts to industrialists.
The banking system was modernized, and a national network of railroads were built connecting it all.
With this increase in industrialization and finance came great concentrations of wealth, and with it, massive inequality. This era became known as the "Gilded Age."
By 1890, the wealthiest 9 percent of the population owned 71 percent of the nation's wealth. Names like Andrew Carnegie in steel, J.P. Morgan in banking, John D. Rockefeller in oil and Jay Gould in rail were the so-called "captains of industry." But to the industrial workers who toiled in their employ, they were nothing but "robber barons."
As the film explores, the working class had to reckon with certain factors in the American context that made it difficult to organize and fight back.
One was the legacy of slavery, which left a virulent level of racism and segregation in its wake, dividing workers against themselves.
Secondly, the political system left barely any room for an alternative to the two parties of capital, the Democrats and Republicans, who both represented the interests of big business and high finance, with the Democrats posing as an ally of the oppressed and exploited.
There was also a massive influx of immigrants. From 1880 to 1900, the population increased 51 percent, while the urban population increased 174 percent. Immigration, coupled with the transformation and reorganization of the economy meant a working class in a perpetual state of fluidity, making stable organization difficult.
Lastly, the ruling class used an extraordinary level of violence and repression to beat back oppositional movements that threatened the status quo from the left.
This took the form of state violence--from the everyday discipline of the police and prisons, to the strikebreaking function of the National Guard. And it also included an unprecedented utilization of private armies and thugs that the capitalists employed themselves.
As labor historian Stephen Norwood writes,
The United States during the early 20th century was the only advanced industrial country where corporations wielded coercive military power. In Europe, employers did not hire armed mercenaries...Paradoxically, the nation that never experienced feudalism and that pioneered in introducing civil liberties allowed corporations to develop powerful private armies that operated outside the law, denying workers basic constitutional rights...During the 1930s, Ford Motor Company's Service Department, directed by ex-pugilist Harry Bennett, formed to suppress union organizing and strikes, constituted the world's largest private army, numbering between 3,500 and 6,000 men.
Yet despite what sounds like impossible odds, workers fought back--and won.
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THIS DOCUMENTARY examines some of the most remarkable examples of class struggle in U.S. history where these obstacles were overcome.
Miners braved the vicious violence of the Pinkerton Detective Agency at the 1914 Ludlow Massacre; and dockworkers braved the extreme racism down South when they united across racial boundaries in the 1892 New Orleans General Strike.
The film also covers the often overlooked Green Corn Rebellion, which Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz refers to as "the most important event in U.S. history no one knows about." In August 1917 in rural Oklahoma, a coalition of white, Black and Native Americans, led by the Muskogee, rose up in defiance of the First World War.
Dunbar-Ortiz describes Oklahoma at the time as a "cauldron of activism." The Socialist Party had been organizing sharecroppers and tenant farmers there for a number of years. The International Workers of the World (IWW), or "Wobblies," and other trade unions were also a force in the area.
Sharecropping was backbreaking work. It required the entire family to labor in in order to survive. This made the able-bodied 18-year-olds, who were targets for conscription, absolutely essential for their way of life. This was a driving force in the rebellion.
Most of the landless farmers were illiterate. Dunbar-Ortiz describes Karl Marx being read aloud, ministers preaching the "social gospel" and the preparation of a political manifesto that was explicitly anti-capitalist.
The plan was to go to Missouri, Louisiana and other outlying areas, and gather forces where other large-scale organizing had been taking place. After this a mass force would march on Washington and "overthrow the government." But the formation was repressed by force instead. An army of police were deputized, made up partly of wealthy owners in the area. Three were killed and hundreds arrested.
Although the rebellion failed, it's a powerful example of interracial organizing and solidarity that is worth studying today. An elderly Seminole Muscogee Creek woman said after the uprising:
It was not easy to persuade our poor white and black brothers and sisters to rise up. We told them that rising up, standing up, whatever the consequences, would inspire future generations....That has been the Indian way for centuries.
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THE FILM gives extensive focus to the tumultuous 1919--a year in which 4 million, or roughly 22.5 percent of all workers, went out on strike following the First World War.
The high-water mark of this working-class upsurge was the 1919 Seattle General Strike. The strike was put down when Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson called in federal troops, who, along with the National Guard, occupied the city.
But for six days, some 65,000 workers in 110 union locals formed a 300-member strike committee, taking full control of the city. Labor historian Jeremy Brecher described the committee as a virtual "counter-government."
Through various subcommittees, workers handled the city's sanitation, food delivery and medical services. Veterans of the First World War replaced the city police with a Labor War Veteran's Guard. Public dining halls served over 100,000 meals in six days to strikers and their families.
Incredibly, workers called the strike at the height of the postwar Red Scare in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The federal government was in the midst of leading a massive campaign against leftists, workers and immigrants, imprisoning and deporting tens of thousands.
The response among workers in Seattle was to declare solidarity with the Russian Revolution. In the fall of 1919, longshoremen refused to load arms destined for counter-revolutionary white armies in Russia.
Plutocracy III: Class War is highly recommended viewing. It gives us a sense of how modern capitalism was formed and how wealth was accrued on the backs of the working class and the most oppressed in society.
Most of all, it shows us that workers are capable of heroism under the seemingly worst of circumstances. What labor history tells us is that workers do not fight because they necessarily want to, but because their lives depend upon it.
First, I keep on thinking of a classic Saturday Night Live skit from their third season portraying Richard Nixon as a vampire-like figure who keeps coming back. Like Nixon in that skit, just when we think that the Republican efforts at gutting health care are done, they find a way to resurrect the bill. Since the Senate never actually voted on the final bill (which was put back on the calendar after the substitute amendment failed), it could be brought back to the floor at any time.
Second, I am reminded of Representative Pelosi’s comments while the Affordable Care Act was pending that we would not know what was in the bill until it finally passed. While Republicans made a lot of hay out of this comment, she was expressing the reality of the legislative process. Until the vote on the final version of the bill, it is possible that legislators will add new provisions and delete others. Normally, however, under ordinary process, there is a core of the bill that stays relatively the same. With this bill, the Republicans have treated the bill as a placeholder. The message in the House and the Senate has been just pass this bill whatever its flaws and we can decide on the real terms of the bill later. The concept that the conference committee would write an entire bill from scratch as opposed to merely reconciling the disagreements between the two houses is mindboggling.
Of course, health care was not the only example of the dysfunction of the Republican Party and the never-ending drama that is the Trump Administration. We have tweets announcing a reprehensible policy directive requiring the military to discharge well-qualified soldiers merely because of their gender identify with no apparent work having been done on how to implement that policy. We have a communications director whose only skill is to coarsen the national conversation triumphing over an experienced political operative who has a clue of how to get things done in D.C.
Of course, the utter failure of the Republican Party as a governing party merely provides an opening for Democratic ideas. One of the hard things about any democracy is that activists can get easily frustrated during the period between elections. Our actions, while important to keep the debate going, do not bear immediate positive results. At this point in time, the summer of the first year, the campaigns for the mid-term election are just starting to come together (and some potential winning candidates are still considering whether they will run).
During the first year of an Administration, the main campaigns are special elections and New Jersey and Virginia. Special elections can be frustrating. Barring deaths, special elections tend to be to replace members who have moved on to higher-ranking positions and tend to be in somewhat safe districts. (For those interested in helping in these elections, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is a good source for the state legislative races. ) Obviously for the races in New Jersey and Virginia, the state parties are a good source of information.
Looking at 2018, the Green Papers is a good source of information for who has already set up a campaign committee for 2018. However, as noted above, many potential candidates have yet to make a final decision about whether they will run in 2018. Until these races firm up, it is a little early to make projections about 2018. Obviously, the Democratic incumbent senators running in states that Trump won could use support now. The reality of politics is that people tend to run when they think they can win. If Democratic incumbents look difficult to beat, some top Republican contenders may choose to run for re-election to their current seats rather than challenging for a Senate seat. The ugly reality is that Democrats did very well in 2012, meaning that we will have to defend a large number of seats and that we have very few good Senate targets. We have at least one strong candidate in Nevada and Texas. Democrats are still looking for candidates in Arizona. (In Texas, we might be better off if the rumors of Ted Cruz replacing Jeff Sessions are true. The rules for the special election would potentially allow for a Democrat vs. Democrat run-off.)
And, of course, the 2020 process has already started. Right now the big activity is the Unity Reform Commission which will make recommendations to the Rules and By-laws committee by January 2018. Obviously, they have a difficult task ahead but they have a survey on the DNC website for those members of the public who want input. There are a lot of issues for them to decide including how open primaries and caucuses should be and the role of the superdelegates. There are a lot of pros and cons on both issues. I would note that Donald Trump is the President of the United States because of the differences between the Republican rules and the Democratic rules. Under the Democratic rules, Donald Trump would have faced a contested convention and the superdelegates would have been in a position to play a significant role in stopping him from getting the nomination. Under the Republican rules, many of their superdelegates were legally required to vote for Trump. My own personal preference is to keep the superdelegates as unpledged delegates but to give them a fraction of a vote to reduce their influence. (In the Republican Party, superdelegates represent about 5% of the floor vote. In the Democratic Party, superdelegates represent about 15% of the floor vote.)
Right now, we know what we have to fight for. We know that the 2018 elections will be key (both for policy reasons and for redistricting in 2021). But it is the early days of the 2018 campaign. The important thing is to keep the eyes on the prize and do the little things to help build up local parties so that the grassroots infrastructure is in place twelve months from now when the 2018 campaigns begin to ramp up. Voter registration and petition drives over local issues are not always glamorous, but they are where those resources are developed.
MoveOn Calls Out Trump for Violent and Dehumanizing Speech to Law Enforcement; Trump Called for ‘Rough’ Policing and Encouraged Brutality Against Undocumented Immigrants
In a speech Friday in Long Island to law enforcement officers, Donald Trump used racist language and encouraged violence, urging officers to be “rough” on suspects. Among other comments, Trump told the assembled officers: “When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, and I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice.’”
Trump also praised acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tom Homan for being “a tough guy.” Trump used his speech, addressing the MS-13 gang, to play on bigoted and dehumanizing themes about immigrants that he has often used to rile up crowds in the past, saying: “They’re animals,” and, “we will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you, and we will deport you.”
Friday’s speech comes days after another offensive, immigrant-bashing speech Trump delivered in Ohio; both speeches included remarks that encouraged violence. And they come amidst a rapid spike in ICE arrests by Trump’s administration.
Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, had the following statement in response to Trump’s recent anti-immigrant and pro-brutality speeches:
“Trump’s speech today was chilling even by his standards. Trump’s wildly racist, startlingly anti-immigrant fear-mongering is a reminder of the ways in which he is trying to radicalize and incite some Americans for personal political gain. One consequence is the spike in racial harassment and assault reports since his election.
“In Trump’s version of America, calls to brutalize people under detention, especially undocumented immigrants, are met with raucous applause by law enforcement officials and chants of ‘U-S-A’ —and that is terrifying. We are still early in this administration, and we must prepare for the possibility of years of Trump or Pence working to accelerate efforts to incite violence, tear families apart, and grievously harm immigrant communities.
“MoveOn members within America’s immigrant communities and those standing beside immigrant communities will fight together to persuade Congress to resist Trump’s radical anti-immigrant agenda, including refusing to fund his obscene border wall. Likewise, MoveOn members of all identities will continue to mobilize together against police violence and criminalization, no matter how much of a green light Trump’s Justice Department tries to give them.
“We will work tirelessly to protect all of our families, our communities, and our country from Trump’s ugly attempts to escalate white nationalism and state-sponsored brutality and terror.”
MoveOn Applauds Rejection of Bill Stripping Health Care from 16 Million, Warns This Is Not the End of Republican Repeal Efforts
Moments ago, the Senate voted down a health care bill that would have taken away health insurance from 16 million Americans, raised premiums, reduced the quality of coverage, and de-funded Planned Parenthood.
In reaction to this news, Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org, released the following statement:
“Tonight’s defeat of this bill in the Senate is a huge relief for all Americans, including the 16 million whose coverage it would have eliminated and the millions who rely on Planned Parenthood. The bill would have left those with employer-based and private insurance with higher premiums, while quality of care declined.
“We thank all of the Senators who voted against this law, including every Democratic senator as well as Senators Collins, McCain, and Murkowski, who crossed party lines to do what was right for their constituents.
“If millions of Americans had not raised their voices at town hall meetings, made phone calls to their senators, posted on social media, and resisted in other ways, this bill might already be law. But we know this fight is not over: the threat of repeal remains real. Republicans in Congress will not give up. Neither can we. MoveOn members will remain vigilant and prepared to mobilize at a moment’s notice if it appears Congress is attempting to advance a new bill.”
More than 100,000 MoveOn members called their senators to express opposition to the bill this week, and this evening, MoveOn organized a protest outside of the Capitol building that could be heard from within the Senate chamber. For months, MoveOn members have made mobilizing to stop health care repeal their top priority.
Christopher Baum and Alan Maass report on the collapse of the Republicans' anti-Obamacare crusade--and explain why the health care crisis will persist anyway.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks with reporters
THE LONG-cherished Republican dream of repealing and replacing Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been dashed on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
Late Thursday night, after weeks of trying and failing, Senate Republicans thought they would be able to eke out a majority vote for legislation that would have partially repealed the ACA--even though a number of Republicans said publicly that the measure was so inadequate they didn't want it to become law.
But in a dramatic last-minute twist, John McCain cast the deciding vote for a 49 to 51 defeat of the Republicans' last real hope of keeping their anti-ACA crusade alive, at least for now.
Ironically, McCain had returned to Washington two days before from treatment for brain cancer to cast the deciding vote to open debate on health care legislation, giving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a reason to hope that victory in some form was at hand.
But McConnell never won another vote to actually pass a health care measure.
After defeats on more substantial "repeal and replace" proposals and even a simple "repeal only" of the ACA, the Republicans were ready to settle for a so-called "skinny" repeal proposal that would have eliminated some of the most unpopular ACA measures--but whose main purpose was to throw the whole mess back to a "conference committee" of Republicans from the House and Senate to try again for another compromise.
Then McCain jumped ship, and the GOP's "repeal and destroy" mission fell apart.
It was a humiliating fiasco for Republicans--and a victory for those who stood up to the GOP's attempt to further harm health care for working people and the poor in order to hand out tax breaks to the rich.
But even so, some difficult truths need to be acknowledged: Even without a new health care law, Donald Trump and the Republicans are still in a position to inflict damage on an ailing system--a system that is already drifting deeper into crisis, regardless of what Republicans do.
That's because the ACA--far from achieving its goal of providing affordable coverage to all, or close to all, Americans--has made health care more expensive, chaotic and inaccessible in many important ways. Obamacare, by preserving the for-profit character of health care in the U.S., set the stage for a more vicious assault to come.
Trumpcare may be doomed for now, but the ACA status quo is still a disaster. We need a movement that not only protests what we don't want, but puts forward what we do: an expanded Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.
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AFTER YEARS of symbolic bills that they knew would be vetoed by Barack Obama if they weren't stopped first by congressional Democrats, leading Republicans must have thought their scheme to "repeal and replace" Obamacare was in the bag this year.
They had majorities in both houses of Congress--and, crucially, a Republican in the White House who had regularly promised to "repeal and replace" while on the campaign trail. On his first day in office, Donald Trump showed his commitment to making good on his promises with an executive order instructing the new administration to do all it could legally to dismantle the ACA.
Now, after half a year of bluff, bluster and bumbling, congressional Republicans are on the verge of failure.
Before this week, McConnell had to give up on two previous attempts to bring health care legislation to a vote. With only a narrow Republican majority, he was blocked by opposition from two sides--the most reactionary GOP senators who didn't think McConnell's version of Trumpcare went far enough, and a handful of "moderates" fearful that the Republicans would be held responsible for the nightmare to come if their legislation becomes law.
It was a rerun of the dilemmas facing House Speaker Paul Ryan months earlier. Ryan overcame two false starts to win narrow approval in the House for the American Health Care Act by appeasing the ultra-right in the final version of the bill.
McConnell tried the same tactic by adding a controversial amendment from right-winger Ted Cruz that would have further loosened requirements that insurers cover essential health benefits and services. But McConnell also tried to win over the "moderates" by, among other things, retaining two taxes on the wealthy implemented under the ACA, which Trump and the Republicans want to eliminate.
Neither side was happy with the concessions to the other, and Trumpcare seemed stalled again.
Adding to McConnell's troubles, the Senate parliamentarian ruled this week that key provisions of his proposal fall outside limits of so-called "budget reconciliation," and so his bill needed 60 votes, not just 51, to pass. Among the provisions affected by this ruling are those nearest and dearest to the hearts of conservative Republicans, such as defunding Planned Parenthood and prohibiting the use of government subsidies to purchase health care plans that cover abortion.
Then came McConnell's latest scheme--concocted under pressure from an irate twitterer-in-chief, who continued abusing Republican senators throughout the week--to vote to proceed to debate, though no one seemed really sure what they would debate and vote on.
But after that "triumph" on Tuesday, nothing went right for Republicans. McConnell's proposal for "repeal and replace," incorporating the amendments from Cruz and other Republicans, went down by a wide margin of 43 to 57. On Wednesday, a "repeal only" plan was defeated, by a smaller but still-comfortable margin of 45-55.
Having found it impossible to find a majority of senators to vote for the Republicans' more substantial proposals, McConnell elected to punt--with the so-called "skinny repeal" proposal that was never intended to be a final version that would become law.
"Skinny repeal" was a maneuver to get the process out of the public eye--and give Republicans the chance to come up with yet another version in the conference committee. But even that didn't work.
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ONE OF the confusing aspects of the Republican health care fiasco is that some of the most furious opposition to the various versions of Trumpcare came from right wingers who think the bills didn't go far enough in dismantling the ACA.
That's hard to understand, because for anyone not in the 1 Percent or close to it, everything the Republicans took up was a nightmare in the making.
The centerpiece of all the "repeal and replace" proposals was a drastic reduction in the federal government's Medicaid health program for the poor.
The ACA attempted to expand Medicaid eligibility to cover most people with income at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The Republican plans would roll back the Medicaid expansion in all states, and impose a new per-person spending cap on the portion of the program that remains. They would also, in common with the House bill passed in May, permit states to impose work requirements on Medicaid enrollees.
In addition, the GOP wants to drastically reduce Obamacare's subsidies to individuals who must, under the ACA individual mandate, purchase non-group insurance plans. The subsidies go to people whose income falls within a range of between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty line.
The combined effect of these cuts, in all of the Republican proposals this year, was the elimination of more than a trillion dollars in support for people on the lower end of the income scale to help them access health care.
The legislation passed by the House proposed cuts to Medicaid and subsidies totaling $1.11 trillion over 10 years--with about three-quarters of the cuts coming in Medicaid. Incredibly, McConnell's first Senate proposal, which was supposed to be less heartless than the House's, cut a total of $1.18 trillion from Medicaid and subsidies.
All of the GOP proposals were estimated to add in excess of 20 million people to the ranks of the uninsured over the next decade--though the "repeal only" bill floated by Trump tops them all at 32 million new uninsured.
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WE CAN celebrate that "repeal and replace" has collapsed. But it would be a grave mistake to suppose that the GOP's assault is at an end.
For one thing, Trump has the potential to wreak great havoc without any help at all from Congress. Rather than simply "let" Obamacare fail, as he continually threatens on Twitter, Trump can take steps to ensure that it does.
For example, as the New York Times reported, Trump could unilaterally suspend payment of cost-sharing reductions (CSRs)--subsidies established by the ACA that are paid directly to insurance companies to help cover out-of-pocket costs for lower-income people who buy policies on the "exchanges" established by Obamacare.
The White House has announced that it will make the CSR payment for July, but the status of the subsidies is, according to deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, "undetermined beyond that."
The Times article points out that this could lead more insurance companies to pull out of selling policies under the ACA exchanges. But the truth is that the pullouts began some time ago--a prime indication of the trouble Obamacare was already in, quite apart from anything Trump might do to it.
In May, Reuters reported that insurance giant Aetna had pulled out of the Obamacare exchanges in Delaware and Nebraska, completing its withdrawal, begun in 2016, from every exchange in which it had participated. Meanwhile, Humana and UnitedHealth Group "have also pulled out of most of the government-subsidized individual health insurance market," Reuters noted.
From the point of view of the insurance companies, the ACA exchanges put them in the position of offering policies to too many "high-risk" consumers--that is, those who are likely to require substantial payouts due to chronic or serious health conditions--compared to "low-risk" customers who need only minimal care.
In the twisted world of insurance companies, too high a percentage of high-risk policyholders--that is, too many sick people--means an unacceptably high amount of money paid out, and thus an unacceptable loss of profits.
The ACA's solution to this problem for the health care industry was the "individual mandate," which requires most Americans to either purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
The individual mandate, and the CSR payments that help to support it, generate billions of dollars a year for the insurance industry. The CSRs alone are estimated to total some $7 billion in 2017.
Nonetheless, insurance providers such as Aetna and UnitedHealth had already decided--before Trump came along to add extra uncertainty--that the system wasn't profitable enough. A Consumer Affairs report from November 2016 describes, for instance, how UnitedHealth made the decision to exit the ACA exchanges last year--despite record profits in 2015 and projections indicating an "even better year" as of mid-2016.
The consequences of insurer pullouts can be seen in the limited, and sometimes nonexistent, enrollment options projected for many consumers in 2018.
According to the New York Times, residents of 45 counties, totaling 35,000 people, may discover there are no insurance carriers at all to choose from on the ACA exchanges--and a further 3 million people in 1,388 counties may have only one carrier to choose from.
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WHILE THE Republican attempts at "repeal and replace" were floundering, where did the Democrats stand?
Now that the GOP has failed to get a bill through the Senate on a strict party-line vote, they will either have to leave it to the administration to dismantle as much of the ACA as possible--or seek some form of compromise with at least some Democrats. That's what John McCain was calling for explicitly with his vote to defeat the "skinny repeal" proposal.
On July 18, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer set out the official Democratic position: "Rather than repeating the same failed partisan process yet again, Republicans should work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets, and improves our healthcare system."
Though the remark was probably intended as a mere rhetorical talking point, Schumer's choice of words is actually very revealing.
The only way to ensure "long-term market stability" under either Obamacare or Trumpcare is to create conditions that are sufficiently profitable for the insurance companies that they will remain in the marketplace--which brings us to the fatal flaw at the heart of the ACA itself.
Obamacare is dependent on the participation of private, for-profit insurance companies. Without them, the whole system collapses. Therefore, keeping the insurance vultures happy must be a top priority. That means making sure that the system remains profitable for the insurers--which means in turn that the health care options available to consumers will be determined not by what they need, but by what the insurers want.
That's why, as of the end of 2016, there were still some 28.6 million people in the U.S. without health insurance. It's why 63 million people last year reported "not getting needed care because of cost--including many who did have some form of health insurance.
It's why, under Obamacare today, individuals and families who qualify for a "hardship" or "affordability exemption"– meaning they are unable to afford any of the plans normally available to them under the ACA--receive no assistance beyond a waiver of the tax penalty under the individual mandate, plus the opportunity to buy a laughably inadequate "catastrophic health plan" which won't cover anything until they've spent enormous sums out of their own pocket.
It is also telling that Schumer spoke not of lowering overall health care costs, but of lowering premiums.
As the San Jose Mercury News reported in 2016, there is a growing trend towards low-premium, high-deductible plans, particularly in the realm of employer-provided health care coverage.
These plans are doubly beneficial to insurers: the low premium makes the policies attractive to individuals or employers seeking "cheap" health care, while the high deductible means the individual policyholder or employee ends up paying a significantly higher portion of the overall cost of care.
So people are stuck with insurance that is only really "affordable" if they don't actually use it.
All this focus on "affordability"--reflected in the name of the ACA, no less--necessarily implies a system where the individual will always be expected to cover at least part of the cost of their health care out of their own pocket.
That this assumption goes unchallenged, even by the most supposedly "progressive" members of the Democratic Party, reveals the extent to which both parties are committed to the neoliberal creed of "personal responsibility"--where lavish government handouts are reserved for Wall Street, big business and the obscenely wealthy, while everyone else is expected to shoulder "their fair share" of any economic burden.
In practice, our "share" is anything but fair. As Helen Redmond wrote in the International Socialist Review in 2014, for millions of people, Obamacare isn't a matter of affordable care, but of "unaffordable underinsurance."
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OF COURSE, the Republican plans to replace the ACA are much worse in nearly every detail. It is no accident that the most positive elements of the ACA--Medicaid expansion, a robust list of "essential health benefits" to be covered by all policies, guaranteed protection for patients with pre-existing conditions--would be gutted or destroyed entirely if any of the versions of Trumpcare ever becomes law.
This is no trivial matter. As the Congressional Budget Office analyses of all the various Republican bills made clear, the well-being of literally millions of people hangs in the balance.
But at a fundamental level, the two parties agree on the government's role in the health care system: to provide limited financial assistance to a limited number of people, and then expect these individuals, along with everyone else, to pay for their own health care coverage.
This vision is inhumane and unacceptable. We must instead demand a health care system whose aim is to provide comprehensive health care for all people--without exception.
All of the various problems of the U.S. health care system--from insurers pulling out of the ACA exchanges, to underinsurance and high out-of-pocket costs for policyholders, to millions of people still having no coverage at all--could be solved at a single stroke with a national single-payer, "everybody in, nobody out" health care plan.
These problems melt away when health care is no longer something you must pay for, in whole or in part, but something that is guaranteed by the state as a basic human right.
Neither Trumpcare nor Obamacare will do. We must demand single-payer health care for all.
Fainan Lakha reports on Trump's ban on transgender military servicepeople--and makes the case that the left has to take a stand against discrimination and oppression.
IN A string of tweets on Wednesday, Donald Trump announced a reversal of last year's decision by the Obama administration to allow openly transgender people to serve in the U.S. military.
Trump's declaration appeared to take official Washington, including the Pentagon, by surprise. The next day, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement that the military would take no action until Trump officially submitted his ban to the Secretary of Defense.
Trump claims his ban is motivated by concern about health care costs. But there is a wider attack underway. The same day, the Justice Department filed a legal brief arguing that federal law does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Make no mistake: Trump's announcement is part and parcel of a right-wing offensive against the rights of all LGBT people, and trans people in particular. This assault has included, most notoriously, restrictions and laws against access to bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity--with the Texas being the latest state government to take up this reactionary proposal.
Trump's ban on military service is meant to send a clear message: Trans people's needs are not legitimate because they are not fully human nor truly citizens. It is an appeal to Trump's base that is driven by nationalism, racism, transphobia and other forms of bigotry.
Yet some on the left have questioned whether we should defend the right of LGBT people to serve in a military that carries out the priorities of U.S. imperialism.
But there should be no compromising on equal rights for trans people or any other oppressed group--and no question about opposing Trump's bigoted action. The civil rights of all communities must be defended without compromise, whether the queer and trans community, undocumented immigrants, African Americans or others.
This would be the country's largest employer banning an entire group based on their gender identity. Thousands of trans people, along with their family and friends, will be negatively impacted if Trump's tweeted announcement is implemented.
Moreover, opposing the right's offensive against basic democratic rights is a critical project for the U.S. left today--and every front in that struggle contributes to building a stronger overall resistance, motivated by a vision of an alternative that includes peace and justice among its highest priorities.
There is no contradiction in opposing discrimination, legitimized at the highest levels of the U.S. state, and also condemning imperialism and U.S. military violence.
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TRUMP'S BAN is an attack on equality that serves to legitimate violence and discrimination against trans people inside and outside the military.
Even within the military itself, we aren't talking about a small number of people: A 2014 study by the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute estimated that there are approximately 15,500 transgender service people on active duty in the armed forces or National Guard and Reserves, and a further 134,000 trans people who are veterans or are retired.
These people's income, pensions, health care and/or access to education could be affected by Trump's ban. We can't allow these necessities to be subject to the whim of an employer of any sort, let alone one with as terrible a record as the US military.
And let's not forget that the U.S. military is the largest employer in the world. Trump's decision will set a precedent for other employers to follow in victimizing already marginalized employees--and this is in a country where only 20 states have passed laws providing employment protections for trans people.
Even before it is implemented, Trump's announcement will encourage more gender policing and violence, with the likelihood of increased gender-based violence for anyone who is non-binary, trans or even a cis woman.
For those servicepeople who aren't out, the fact that they are transgender will give their employer greater capacity to coerce and discipline them--including giving superiors the capacity to demand sex in exchange for job security.
That's the reality inside the military, but Trump's highly publicized decision is certain to encourage acts of violence and bigotry beyond the military, as the right-wing hysteria against trans people already has.
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SOME ON the left say that the military and trans people are "better off without each other." This argument may be motivated by anti-imperialism and resistance to the idea that all we are fighting for are the mainstream LGBT priorities of inclusivity and representation. It might also arise from concern about the safety of trans people who might be injured or killed while on duty. But it is misguided for a couple reasons that are worth going through.
For starters, saying this would mean ignoring the large numbers of trans servicepeople and veterans who are already connected to the military and will be immediately affected if Trump gets away with this ban.
Opponents of oppression can't simply ignore the people who will bear the brunt of Trump's hate. And they will--this is what happened during the period of "don't ask, don't tell' during the Clinton era, when the military was able to force gays and lesbians in other-than-honorable or dishonorable discharges, meaning their right to benefits as veterans was stripped from them.
Then there's the assumption that trans people won't join the military if Trump bans them. But let's remember that openly trans people were already banned from the military until last year--and there are an estimated 134,000 trans veterans or retirees who signed up under conditions of discrimination.
Many working class and poor people of all genders and sexual identities seek to join the armed forces not because they want to follow the orders of U.S. imperialism, but because the military provides what they have limited access to: jobs, housing, health care, education, legal status.
The entire predatory nature of military recruitment is based not on finding people who are ideologically committed to the imperialist project, but preying on people who are economically and socially vulnerable.
To the extent that this left-wing argument is motivated by opposition to U.S. imperialism, it also misunderstands who and what is responsible for war and violence.
Imperialist wars have always been declared by the economic and political rulers of society, but fought by the poor and vulnerable, who are forced to follow the orders from above. To suggest that excluding trans people will weaken the military machine and U.S. imperialism is to believe the orders which guide them come from the ranks. They don't.
To say this doesn't mean that that we want to support the military or encourage people to join it in any way. On the contrary, socialists organize against all imperialist wars and protest military recruitment on college and high school campuses.
We want to take the money devoted to the bloated Pentagon and use it to increase social services for all people--including veterans, who are at high risk of homelessness and more due precisely to inadequate health care and other supports after they leave the military.
Trump's justification for the ban--that it is a question of health care costs--is particularly telling in this moment. Besides the fact that the military has an enormous budget that can easily absorb the health care needs of all its trans servicepeople, Trump's statement can be read in the light of the Republican attack on health care. By arguing that trans health care is a luxury, Trump is using trans people as a scapegoat in the Republican fight to further undermine access to needed care.
This would do tremendous harm to trans people, some of whom join the military precisely to get access to the surgeries they need in order to feel like life is worth living--while risking their lives in the process. Trump's action, if it is implemented, will only further limit the availability of surgeries that are necessary for people's survival and contribute marginalization, poverty and susceptibility to violence.
As for all of the members of Congress who have been speaking out against Trump's anti-trans ban, they have a simple and concrete way to oppose it: Vote against the shockingly expensive defense spending bill now before the House.
The point was made well by trans veteran Chelsea Manning, who tweeted following Trump's announcement: "Today is further reason we should dismantle the bloated dangerous military/intel/police state to fund #healthcare for all #WeGotThis."
Part of our struggle is to stand for viable economic alternatives to military service, for trans people and everyone else. As trans activist Dean Spade wrote:
The liberation we are working toward requires that we fight for vets and everyone else who gets exploited and abandoned for U.S. military imperialism, but not that we participate in rhetoric that celebrates the U.S. military as an employer or ties trans well-being to military service.
It's true that trans people face serious unemployment and poverty, but what kind of job is military service? Thirty percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have contemplated suicide, 43 percent say they are not seeking mental health care because they fear it will negatively impact their careers, and 80 percent say they do not think vets are getting as much care as they need. Sexual assault is rampant in the U.S. military, with 58 percent of victims experiencing reprisal or retaliation for reporting.
I want trans people, and all people, to have what we need to get by, but I don't want anyone to have to be a soldier, cop or prison guard.
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IT'S NOT any radical's first choice to end up on the terrain of defending the right of people to join or remain in a military machine that causes immense suffering and oppression, both in this country and around the world.
But there can be no conditions on equality. We defend unconditionally the right of trans people to serve openly in the military, even as we oppose imperialism, war and the ludicrous spending that the U.S. government directs toward its military.
We can and should connect the safety of trans people in the U.S. to people around the world who are harmed by imperialist war, offering a vision of internationalism, solidarity and opposition to all forms of oppression.
Such a message has the capacity to bring the many trans people who feel motivated to fight against Trump's anti-trans bigotry toward socialist politics, and to begin them on the path to be leaders of revolutionary movements of the future.
One such person is Chelsea Manning, whose other tweet Wednesday offers us some important encouragement: "so biggest, baddest, most $$ military on earth cries about a few trans people but funds the F-35? sounds like cowardice #WeGotThis."
We certainly do.
EFF applauds Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) for today introducing the ECPA Modernization Act of 2017 to protect user privacy in cloud content and geolocation information. As part of a congressional effort to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Senate bill complements the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 387), which the House passed in February 2017 by voice vote—the second time the House has passed this legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support.
EFF supports these bills and urges Congress to enact ECPA reform legislation this year.
Both the House and Senate bills require law enforcement to obtain a probable cause warrant from a judge to access private content stored by third-party service providers. This would codify the 2010 Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Warshak v. United States, which held that the government violated the Fourth Amendment when it obtained emails stored by a third-party service provider without a probable cause warrant. This would also be consistent with the 2015 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in United States v. Kitzhaber, which held that the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his emails stored by a third-party service provider.
Additionally, the Senate bill:
- Requires the government to obtain a probable cause warrant from a judge to access geolocation information stored by third-party service providers;
- Requires the government to notify a user when it obtains a warrant to access the user’s cloud content or stored geolocation information;
- Requires the government to obtain a probable cause warrant from a judge in order to acquire real-time geolocation information, for example, via a cell-site simulator (a.k.a., IMSI catcher or Stingray) or GPS tracking device. This is consistent with the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Jones, in which five justices agreed that ongoing electronic surveillance by the government of an individual’s movements implicates that individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
- Provides a suppression remedy if the government accesses cloud content or stored or real-time geolocation information without a warrant or otherwise in violation of the law. This means that a court can deem such data inadmissible as “evidence in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, grand jury, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, legislative committee, or other authority of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision thereof.”
- Heightens the standard for the government to obtain a pen register order (to capture numbers dialed) or trap-and-trace order (to track an incoming caller) from a court.
The Senate bill thus embodies the first three principles of the Digital Due Process coalition, a diverse group of civil liberties non-profits (including EFF), technology companies, trade associations, and others that support ECPA reform.
However, the Senate bill isn’t perfect. For example, we would prefer that the government be required to provide notice to a user after it obtains real-time geolocation information. The bill does not explicitly require this. While Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(f)(2)(C) requires after-the-fact notice, a statutory notice mandate would preempt attempts to amend the court rules.
The time for ECPA reform is long overdue. ECPA was first passed in 1986 and provides modest privacy protections against government access to electronic communications and content stored by third-party service providers—and it doesn’t even contemplate geolocation information.
The law has not kept pace with advances in technology and the habits of users. With the rise of cloud computing, individuals have come to rely on technology companies to store private emails, text messages, social media posts, photos and other documents, often indefinitely. While such content might contain the most personal of thoughts and details about an individual, many users do not realize that an email stored on a Google or Microsoft server has less protection than a letter sitting in a desk drawer at home. And users often can’t control how and when their whereabouts are being tracked by technology.
We urge Congress to act quickly to enact ECPA reform legislation, which would provide critical privacy protections for users of modern technology without unduly hindering law enforcement.Related Cases: Warshak v. USA
Today EFF and Public Knowledge are releasing a whitepaper titled Which Internet registries offer the best protection for domain owners? Top-level domains are the letters after the dot, like .com, .uk, .biz, or .mobi. Since 2003, hundreds of new top-level domains have come onto the market, and there has never been more choice for domain name registrants. But apart from choosing a name that sounds right and is easy to remember, a domain name registrant should also consider the policies of the registry that operates the domain, and those of the registrar that sells it to them.Trademarks
To draw one example of out of our whitepaper, if you're running a website to criticize an established brand and you use that brand as part of your domain name, it may be wise to avoid registering it in a top-level domain that offers special rights and procedures to brand owners, that could result in your domain name being wrongly taken away or could embroil you in dispute settlement proceedings.
This probably means you'll want to think twice about registering in any of the newer global top-level domains (gTLDs), which provide brand owners access to a privately-run Trademark Clearinghouse that gives them veto powers that go far beyond those they would receive under the trademark law of the United States or those of most other countries.
For example, under U.S. trademark law, if a trademark applicant sought to register an ordinary word such as smart, forex, hotel, one, love, cloud, nyc, london, abc, or luxury, they would have to specify the category of goods or services they provide, and protection for the mark might only be extended to its use in a logo, rather than as a plain word. Yet each of the plain words above has been registered in the Trademark Clearinghouse, to prevent them being used in any of the new gTLDs without triggering a warning to prospective registrants about possible infringement.
This applies regardless of whether the planned usage covers the same category of goods or services as the original trademark—indeed there isn't even any way for the registrant to find out what that category was, or even which country accepted the mark for registration, because the contents of the Trademark Clearinghouse database are secret. And since 94% of prospective registrants abandon their attempted registration of a domain after receiving a trademark warning, this has a drastic chilling effect on speech.
EFF is currently participating in an ICANN working group fighting to ensure that brand owners' veto rights aren't extended even further (for example to catch domains that include typos of brand names), and to prevent these outrageous rules being applied to older gTLDs such as .com, .net, and .org. But for now, you can minimize your exposure to trademark bullying by avoiding registering your website in one of the new domains that is subject to these unfair policies. Our whitepaper explains what to look for.Copyright
The same considerations apply if you're setting up a website that could fall subject to bullying from copyright holders. In this category, we draw attention to the policies of registries Donuts and Radix that have established private deals with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) appointing it as a "trusted notifier" to initiate a registry-level take down of websites that it claims are engaged in extensive copyright infringement.
Our whitepaper illustrates why remedies for copyright infringement on the Internet should not come from the domain name system, and in particular should not be wielded by commercial actors in an unaccountable process. Organizations such as the MPAA are not known for advancing a balanced approach to copyright enforcement.
To avoid having your website taken down by your domain registry in response to a copyright complaint, our whitepaper sets out a number of options, including registering in a domain whose registry requires a court order before it will take down a domain, or at the very least one that doesn't have a special arrangement with the MPAA or another special interest for the streamlined takedown of domains. For example, it was recently reported that the registry for Costa Rica's .cr domain has been resisting extralegal demands from the U.S. Embassy to delete the domain "ThePirateBay.cr" without a court order.Overseas Regulations
Copyright and trademark disputes aren't the only grounds on which domain name registries can be asked to suspend or cancel your domain name. They are also frequently asked to do this because the website associated with the domain is hosting content or selling products that are unlawful or against their acceptable use policies. That's why it's important to know what those policies are, how and by whom a breach of those policies is decided, and what national law or laws are taken into consideration. An appendix to our whitepaper breaks this down.
EFF's default position, drawn from the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability, is that the only way that a registry should be forced to take down a domain because of illegal content on a website is if that determination is made by a court. And if the takedown is for a terms of service violation rather than for a violation of law, the registrant ought to be entitled to due process, including in most cases a right to be heard before any action is taken.
Online pharmacies are an example of a type of website that attracts a lot of pressure upon registries to remove domains without a court order. (LegitScript, a contractor to major U.S. drug companies, regularly boasts about the thousands of websites it has caused to be suspended through its shadowy partnerships with domain registries and registrars.) In cases of the worst of these websites, those that openly sell drugs such as opioids without prescription, their readiness to proactively enforce their acceptable use policies is understandable.
Unfortunately however, just as it is a mistake to partner with the MPAA over copyright enforcement, it is a mistake to partner with Big Pharma in enforcing pharmaceutical licensing regulations. This results in overreaching enforcement that blocks even legitimate, locally-regulated online pharmacies throughout the world, principally based of the laws of just one country (the USA) that prohibits overseas online pharmacies from selling to U.S. citizens. (Access to medicines activists have proposed a more nuanced set of principles on medicine sales online.)
Extending this example, we would never accept Internet registries being pressured to apply Russia's anti-LGBT laws, nor the Turkish or Thai laws against criticism of those countries' leaders, to take domains down globally. And there a whole host of such laws that might apply to a domain that a registrant might innocently register, in full compliance with the laws of their own country. Our whitepaper explains how they can minimize the risk of their domain being taken down globally because it may infringe some other country's national law.Registrant Privacy
Finally, our whitepaper explains how some registries and registrars do a better job at protecting the privacy of domain name registrants than others. For example, there are country-code domains that don't provide public access to registrants' information at all, and some registrars that offer registrants a free privacy proxy registration service. For those that don't offer such a service for free, such proxy registration services are also commercially available to increase the privacy of your registration in any top-level domain.
No matter whether your priority is to protect your domain against trademark or copyright bullies or overseas speech regulators, or to protect the privacy of your personal information, our whitepaper also outlines an often-overlooked option: to host your website as a Tor hidden service. A Tor hidden service is a website with a special pseudo-domain .onion, which makes it more much resilient to censorship than an ordinary website, and if the website operator chooses, also more anonymous. The downside of this is that it can only be accessed by users using the Tor browser, so it may not be the best choice for a domain that is meant to be accessible to a large audience.
The domain names we use to connect to websites and Internet services are one of the weak links for free speech online: a potential point of control for governments and businesses to regulate others' online speech and activity. Choosing top-level domains carefully is one step you can take to protect your rights.
The Progressive / On The Line – 7/21/17
The face of work and poverty in Yakima ranges from a closed mill of the city’s past to the agricultural fields of its present.
At the edge of town is the rusting structure of the old Boise Cascade plywood plant, where many of this small city’s people worked for over a hundred years. Little houses in the surrounding neighborhood were originally built for mill workers. Now many are the homes of laborers in the valley’s fields and packing sheds. Yakima always was and still is a farm worker town.
The closure of the plant is one reason why those homes have seen better days. Rick, who lives in a tent camp set up by homeless people on the street downtown, says he’d like things to go back to the way they used to be. “There was work for everyone,” he remembers.
Major mobile carriers are slowing down video streams, a net neutrality violation that heralds things to come if they get their way and roll back legal protections against data discrimination.
Recent reports on Reddit from Verizon Wireless customers have drawn attention to video streams being throttled, which Verizon claimed were caused by a temporary test of a new video “optimization” system. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's not the first time a carrier has throttled certain content sources while claiming to optimize them.
We’ve previously reported on how T-Mobile tried to pass off throttling as optimization with their Binge On “feature.” T-Mobile’s Binge On has evolved since we last wrote about it, but hasn’t abandoned throttling: it now throttles video for customers on their unlimited plan, and charges them extra to not be throttled, which is also against the principles of net neutrality.
Similarly, AT&T makes use of a “just-in-time” delivery technique (aka “Buffer Tuning”) for video streams. The carrier explains that with just-in-time, “a sufficient amount of video is delivered to the device so that the user can start viewing the video, and the remainder of the video is delivered just in time to the device as needed for uninterrupted viewing.” But using just-in-time means the video will stop playing more quickly if you lose reception, rather than larger portions being buffered in advance as they would on a neutral network that wasn’t observing and throttling your traffic. Although AT&T claims that just-in-time delivery helps customers by stopping them from paying for data they don’t actually use, it doesn’t give customers the choice to disable this “feature.” Sprint also makes use of the neutrality-violating just-in-time technique.
Right now, these throttling technologies seem to be used to slow down video data generally, rather than to favor the ISP’s content over competitors, but it is a trivial matter to flip that switch and make the net neutrality violation more serious, and more harmful to competition and speech.
Net neutrality allows carriers to engage in “reasonable network management,” but throttling a class of traffic does not satisfy this standard. A more reasonable technique (that Sprint also employs) is transcoding, a technique where the quality of the stream is modified in real time to match the network’s condition. For example, if the network slows down, the video quality decreases so as to still be able to deliver video at the same rate, and vice versa.
We’ve reached out to Verizon asking for more details about the “optimization” tests it’s running. Since optimization is a technical term which implies attempting to tune a system to maximize or minimize specific measurable criteria, we’re wondering what those criteria are and if Verizon will share them with the subjects of its tests. Also, given that mobile carriers have historically had trouble differentiating between streaming video traffic and other uses of their networks, we’re curious what technical means Verizon is using to identify video, and what steps it’s taken to make sure other uses aren’t affected.
Rolling back net neutrality rules could open the door to many unfair practices like site blocking and throttling. While we can't predict exactly what changes carriers will make, it’s alarming to see them already rolling out throttling infrastructure. Without net neutrality protections, little will stop them from using that same infrastructure to discriminate against competitors, speech they dislike, or your favorite app.
Statement of MoveOn.org Washington Director Ben Wikler:
“The Senate today is poised to consider health care repeal legislation that will take away care from 16 million people, raise premiums by 20 percent or more, destabilize the insurance markets and our economy, and de-fund Planned Parenthood.
“Many in the media and elsewhere are mistakenly treating this bill as a procedural vote — an effort to simply to advance the process to a conference committee, in which the substance is irrelevant. In truth, if this bill passes the Senate, the House could simply pass the same bill. Senators who vote for this repeal legislation are endorsing its consequences, and will be held responsible.
“Of course, if the bill does end up in a conference committee, it is likely to get even worse, with the addition of massive Medicaid cuts. But that’s a big if, as the House may bypass that process altogether.
“A vote on a Trojan Horse bill is not a process vote. It cannot be viewed as another procedural prelude in a flurry of rhetorical grandstanding. The substance of the bill matters. Today’s vote must be called what it is — an effort to strip care from millions and make health care worse for everyone, and a bill that could easily become law without alteration. MoveOn members are committed to holding every senator who votes for a such a bill accountable at the ballot box, regardless of whether the bill fails in the Senate, advances to conference committee, or — as is entirely possible if it passes the Senate — is rubber stamped by the House and sent to the president’s desk.”
Nicole Colson reports on the outpouring of anger after the police murder of an unarmed white woman in Minneapolis--and political questions raised in the aftermath.
Protesters show their solidarity after the police murder of Justine Damond
THE STORY is, by now, a familiar one: An unarmed person is gunned down by police officers who shoot first and ask questions later.
But Justine Damond, who was killed by cops in Minneapolis on July 15, was white. Her murder has led to multiracial calls for justice for her and all victims of police brutality--and raised another dimension to the epidemic of police violence that is leading people on the left to consider new questions.
Damond--a 40-year-old white Australian woman who taught yoga and lived in a relatively upscale neighborhood in South Minneapolis--was shot and killed on the evening of July 15 after twice phoning 911 to report what she thought might be a sexual assault in the alley behind her home.
When police arrived, Damond approached the driver's side of the squad car. Reportedly "startled by a loud noise," Officer Mohamed Noor fired through the open window, hitting Damond, who died at the scene.
Although the squad car's dash cam was recording, the body cameras the officers were wearing were not turned on during Damon's killing--despite the fact that department policy requires officers to record video during any "critical incident."
Calls for justice for Damond and other victims of police brutality were on the minds of the hundreds of mourners and activists who gathered July 20 for a "Peace and Justice Walk for Justine." Explicitly connecting Damond's death to the Black Lives Matter movement and the broader fight against police brutality, the crowd chanted, "Justine. Matters."
Especially poignant was the presence of Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Jeronimo Yanez in July 2016. That murder was caught on video by Castile's fiancée Diamond Reynolds as she and her 4-year-old daughter watched.
Yet Yanez was later acquitted despite the video--leading to a rally of some 2,000 people at the Minnesota state Capitol and a march through St. Paul, where protesters chanted, "Your fear is not a license to kill!"
That message is one that Minneapolis police have yet to learn, as Damond's killing makes clear.
Marchers treated the procession through Damond's quiet south Minneapolis neighborhood as a sort of wake-up call--part of a broader revelation, they said, that a fatal police shooting had now occurred in their own backyard.
They chanted, "No justice, no peace, prosecute the police," which has been oft-heard over the past year in protests over Castile's shooting..."It is time for me and other white people to wake up," Sarah Kuhnen, who lives on Damond's block, said to loud cheers. "It's our reality now."
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THE FOLLOWING day, at another protest that again drew hundreds to Loring Park, near City Hall, John Thompson, a member of the group the New North and a friend of Philando Castile's, drew the lessons of the fight for justice not only for Damond, but for all of those brutalized by police--and for the communities who face unrelenting racism as they are disproportionately victimized.
"I'm tired of fitting the description of a suspect. I should fit the description of somebody great," Thompson said.
As Michelle, a member of Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, said, "Any issues we deal with in Black communities eventually trickle down into white communities, and then it becomes an emergency."
Sue Goodstar of Native Lives Matter also addressed the crowd, explaining that she was the only representative of the group at the vigil because the rest of the organization's members were in North Dakota, meeting with the parents of four Native people killed by police.
Speakers at the event, which drew some 200 people, repeatedly commented on the many new participants and welcomed them into the movement against police terror.
Later that day, protesters led by Thompson and others disrupted a press conference by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges as she announced that she had asked for and received the resignation of Police Chief Janeé Harteau. Calling on the "progressive" Hodges to resign, protesters drowned out Hodges' comments with chants that they "had been terrorized enough" and "Bye bye Betsy."
The protest represented the collective work of a broad, multiracial movement against police violence in the Twin Cities area. As community activist Mel Reeves told Britain's Guardian:
What you witnessed there was frustration. The frustration in this city is building over. The international community needs to understand that the Minneapolis Police Department has been a very abusive one. The killings are just the tip of the iceberg. People get brutalized on a regular basis.
Hodges' comments at the press conference that she shares "people's frustration about the pace of change in our policing and building community trust" ring hollow. While Hartreau's resignation was seen as a victory by many, it is also nowhere near enough--and the fact that it took Damond's killing to force the police chief to step down despite other high-profile cases of police brutality in the city is lost on no one.
That's why speakers at the protest continued to emphasize the disparity in treatment between Damond's case and others, as well as the need to continue building a movement for all victims of police terror, who are disproportionately Black.
As activist Sam Martinez said, "The police are here to oppress people, period. They were here to catch slaves, they were here to break unions, that's their role in society. It's a victory that Janeé Harteau resigned today, but we are not stopping there. Everybody needs to resign. How many people have died on her watch?"
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THERE IS, of course, an obvious difference in the response to Justine Damond's death compared to other police killings. Damond has been humanized in the media--no one rushed to condemn her or question what she had done to "make" police kill her. No one combed through her personal history to bring up any criminal or legal infractions, or supposed personal moral failings.
The fact that the Minneapolis police chief was forced to step down--while the officer who murdered Philando Castile continues to walk free--only reinforces the double standard taking place in the media and among city officials.
Unfortunately, this double standard had been seized on by some to suggest that Damond's case doesn't deserve sympathy--because many whites did not express similar sympathy for Castile and other Black victims of police brutality.
In a statement circulated on social media titled "I don't give a fuck about Justine Damond," blogger Son of Baldwin commented:
I don't give a fuck because a Black woman (or a Native woman) in the identical situation Justine was in wouldn't garner support or sympathy from most white people...Most white people rely on this idea that Black people, in situations where white people are in pain, are only ever to be soothing and understanding...
When the situation is reversed, when we require empathy and sympathy, then suddenly we're all of the opposite things that these once-needy white people previously said we were. When the shoe is on the other foot, then they assess us as immoral, violent, criminal, subhuman, unworthy.
These sentiments may be understandable to some, but they are utterly corrosive to building the kind of united mass movement that can challenge police brutality and win justice for Justine Damond, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark and all of the victims of police in Minneapolis and beyond.
They play into the hands of the right, which seized on Damond's killing early on to repeat an ugly and entirely false smear: The Black Lives Matter movement doesn't care about other victims of police violence.
As Jared Goyette wrote in the Guardian, "[T]he group of protesters that interrupted that media conference on Friday was diverse, with a large contingent of young white protesters and several long-time Black activists in the lead...The truth is that Black activists have been at the forefront since day one."
Black Lives Matter activists were a central part of organizing the vigils for Damond. As Mel Reeves told the Guardian, "When these incidents happen it's important to put as much pressure on the system as possible. To get answers, to get justice. It's important to let the system, the power structure, know that people aren't going to just lay down."
As Goyette wrote, for anyone paying attention, "The diversity of protesters in Minneapolis was impossible to miss."
While there is no question that Blacks in particular, but also other people of color and marginalized and oppressed groups, are disproportionately targeted by police, the fight to win justice for Justine Damond does not have to diminish the struggles to make Black Lives Matter and demand justice for all victims of police brutality.
As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, wrote on social media in reference to Son of Baldwin's comment:
It is possible to oppose and be disgusted by all police murders. It is possible to want justice for Philando Castile and point out the hypocrisy and injustice of the criminal justice system that views Diamond sympathetically while demonizing all Black victims. But...mean-spirited blathering won't get us anywhere. I am a socialist because I am for the freedom and liberation of ordinary people and humanity in general. This article is anti-human. It's pathetic and disgusting while posturing as some kind of "radical" politics--when, in fact, it's neither.
Others pointed out on social media that James Baldwin himself once wrote, "There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one's head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people's pain."
In a widely circulated photo from the July 20 vigil for Justine Damond, Valerie Castile embraced Justine Damond's partner Don Damond, offering him comfort in the face of a kind of grief that Black mothers in the U.S. are all too familiar with.
Castile marched with many others that day, holding a sign reading "Justice for Justine."
By the logic of Son of Baldwin, no one would have more reason to declare that they "don't give a fuck about Justine Damond" than Valerie Castile. But in taking a public stand, she made a statement about the need for solidarity in the face of such injustice.
It's that kind of strength and unity--built up by activists in the face of years of systemic abuse and injustice--that will be key to achieving lasting change.
Camila Quarta examines efforts by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reverse the gains made by the anti-sexual violence movement--and how activists are responding.
Emma Sulkowitz (left) graduates from Columbia University
IN SEPTEMBER 2014, after she was failed by the Columbia University adjudication process that found her rapist not guilty, Emma Sulkowicz began a school-year-long senior thesis, performance art and protest piece titled "Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight)".
She vowed to carry a 50-pound dorm mattress, identical to the one she was raped on, wherever she went on campus for as long as her assailant remained at the university. The piece won worldwide acclaim for bringing to light the struggle of survivors of sexual violence who feel that their universities have failed to provide them with any justice.
The support Sulkowicz received was both literal--with people joining her to help carry the mattress--and emotional in helping her handle the weight of the trauma and mistreatment that the mattress represented. But she also faced indifference from administrators and vicious sexism and retaliation from those claiming she was lying about the assault.
In April 2015, Sulkowicz's assailant Paul Nungesser filed a federal lawsuit against Columbia University one month prior to his and Sulkowicz's graduation. Nungesser claimed he was owed damages for the harm done to his reputation, "well-being and future prospects," and contended that Sulkowicz had filed a false complaint with the university and undertaken a bullying campaign against him.
"By refusing to protect Paul Nungesser," the lawsuit reads, "Columbia University first became a silent bystander and then turned into an active supporter of a fellow student's harassment campaign by institutionalizing it and heralding it."
Sulkowicz, it's worth noting, did not release Nungesser's name to the press. The Columbia Spectator made a decision to publish it after Sulkowicz filed a police report and his name became part of public record.
Nungesser claimed to have faced discrimination because of Sulkowicz's senior thesis piece, and even alleged that the university violated Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act by allowing Sulkowicz to receive academic credit for her project, which the suit called an "outrageous display of harassment and defamation."
A court threw out Nungesser's case in March 2016 on the grounds that it did not fulfill Title IX qualifications. It was refiled and then dismissed again a year later. Another appeal was in the works when Columbia reached a settlement with Nungesser on July 10. The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.
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TITLE IX is a law, first approved in 1972 and then expanded in 1988, which dictates that no person in any education program or activity receiving federal funds in the U.S. (which covers almost all universities) can be discriminated against on the basis of sex, gender, gender identity or gender expression.
Columbia University is, in fact, under investigation for violating Title IX, but for the opposite reasons from those claimed by Nungesser. In 2014, 28 students filed a complaint against Columbia to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights for inadequately addressing reports of sexual assault and abuse.
Mishandling cases of sexual violence violates Title IX because it prevents equal access to educational opportunities for survivors, who face tremendous obstacles remaining at the same educational institution as their attackers.
Colleges are mandated to provide counseling, health services, academic accommodations, changes in housing and countless other resources that ensure a survivor's right to learn is not in jeopardy. Title IX complaints have been an important tool for the anti-sexual violence movement that has grown on campuses in recent years: there are currently 345 colleges under investigation.
It's beyond ironic to claim, as Nungesser's lawsuit does, that a protest against Columbia's routine mishandling of sexual violence cases puts the school in violation of Title IX.
Columbia's decision to settle with Nungesser is a blow to free speech because it implies that the university should have prevented Sulkowicz from walking around campus with a mattress and should have been denied college credit for a project based on a subjective determination of artistic expression.
In a recent statement, the university promised to "continue to review and update its policies toward ensuring that every student--accuser and accused, including those like [Nungesser] who are found not responsible--is treated respectfully and as a full member of the Columbia community."
The statement never mentioned the sustained attacks Sulkowicz received for her senior thesis project--from threats and hate mail, to large posters plastered all around campus and the surrounding neighborhood on the day of her graduation ceremony, with the words "Pretty Little Liar" printed above a photo of her and her mattress.
While Sulkowicz's powerful piece was explicitly and specifically directed at the failings of Columbia as an institution, the campaign against her was meant to shame her personally.
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COLUMBIA'S SETTLEMENT is not only a dangerous precedent for survivors and their right to speak out, but also a slap in the face at a time when the administration of our very own pussy-grabber-in-chief is looking to undo all the reforms campus activists have won in the last decade.
One on the chopping block is the Dear Colleague Letter that laid out schools' responsibilities to treat sexual violence as a Title IX issue and mandated that schools use a "preponderance of evidence" rather than "clear and convincing" standard to evaluate allegations.
Following months of silence on the topic, on July 13, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos held separate 90-minute meetings with three groups--representatives of educational institutions, survivors of sexual violence, and students who have been supposedly falsely accused and disciplined--to discuss and evaluate Title IX protections in campus sexual violence cases.
The supposed falsely accused were represented by the National Coalition for Men (NCFM), Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE)--organizations all known for their lobbying to roll back services for survivors, by blaming them for the violence they've faced and shifting the focus to the accused.
SAVE, for example, asserts that "female initiation of partner violence is the leading reason for the woman becoming a victim of subsequent injury," while NCFM has published the personal information of women--whom they call "false victims"--who have spoken out against their assailants.
It's terrifying that DeVos met with accused rapists and outright misogynistic groups and allotted them the same amount of time to weigh in on the subject as she did survivors, giving ground to the false notion that survivors and their perpetrators are on equal footing in the fight for justice.
Survivors' stories are full of egregious acts of negligence and hostility on the part of college administrators: choosing not to disclose important evidence during hearings; taking incomplete and factually incorrect notes; asking survivors about their past sexual history with their assailants, and how much they drank that night; and even institutionalizing survivors in psychiatric hospitals or forcing them on medical leave without appeal because their suicidal thoughts are more of a liability to the school than the accommodation of their rapists.
And even when student survivors manage to navigate their schools' skewed adjudication process and obtain a finding in their favor, sanctions for perpetrators are absurdly minimal. Some assailants are expelled after they graduate, others are given very short suspensions, and most are asked to do community service and write "reflection papers."
With all this in mind, it's a travesty to refer to the men's rights groups that DeVos met with, as many in the media do, as advocates of due process.
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DEVOS' SEPARATE sessions with her "diverse group of stakeholders" also promotes a harmful narrative that false accusations are as prevalent as sexual violence itself--a narrative reinforced by Candice Jackson, DeVos' acting head of the Office for Civil Rights.
Jackson told the New York Times that "accusations--90 percent of them--fall into the category of 'we were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.'"
Jackson issued an apology hours before DeVos began her day of private meetings--which apparently will be sufficient for Jackson to remain at her job as the person in charge of investigating all complaints filed against universities for Title IX violations.
Beyond her shocking belittlement of the trauma of sexual assault, Jackson was also, statistically speaking, dead wrong. An estimated 2 to 10 percent of reported rapes are false reports, a rate that does not exceed the false reporting rates of other crimes.
But the organization Know Your IX points out that this number "also includes recants, which is when a survivor chooses (for a myriad of reasons, including the faulty criminal justice system) to recant and discontinue their report."
On the other hand, one in five women and one in 16 men will experience sexual assault during their college careers, and the rates are much higher for students of color, LGBTQ students and disabled students.
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ACTIVISTS ARE determined to stop DeVos from tearing down survivors' hard-won protections. Dozens of activists gathered on the plaza outside the Department of Education's Washington, D.C., headquarters to read survivors' stories from across the country, while DeVos held her meeting with the accused students inside.
Survivor groups have flooded the Department of Education with meeting requests, while Know Your IX, End Rape on Campus, survivors and supporters have started and joined the #DearBetsy campaign with videos, petitions, open letters and op-eds.
This is a much needed and important start, and if we're serious about keeping our Title IX protections and other reforms, we're also going to need much more.
If the anti-sexual violence movement that has been growing on college campuses has taught us anything, it's that an unrelenting fight, waged with the stories of our struggles, has the power not only to open people's eyes to the ways in which the system we live under is not designed for our well-being, but also to pressure the institutions that have failed us to concede to our demands.
If they don't, we'll keep carrying that weight very publicly, everywhere we go--and we've got muscles they can't even fathom.
Gabriel Paez reports from Chicago on a protest against the looting of more money from the city's schools and other services to pay for a fancier tourist attraction.
Students, teachers and community members demand increased funding for Chicago schools (Grassroots Collaborative | Facebook)
CHICAGO MAYOR Rahm Emanuel and his corporate collaborators have made a troubling yet honest statement with their latest money-laundering scheme: New hot dog stands and a taller Ferris wheel at Navy Pier are more important than our children's education.
An investigation by the Better Government Association and Crain's Chicago Business found that Emanuel funneled $55 million from a tax fund that is supposed to be devoted to used for renovating blighted areas to renovations at Navy Pier, one of the city's biggest tourist attractions, located in one of the richest area of Chicago.
The Chicago Public Schools will begin yet another year this September with deep cuts in essential services, continuing a long legacy of underfunding schools that mainly serve poor children of color.
But it seems like Rahm Emanuel would rather fund new shiny toilets for tourists than fix schools for poor and working-class residents.
On July 24, nearly 100 people gathered in front of the Pier, chanting "Whose money? Our money! Whose schools? Our schools!" The protest and press conference was organized jointly by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Grassroots Collective, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Logan Square Neighborhood Association and several other organizations.
Several speakers, including two aldermen, challenged the mayor's financial shenanigans and demanded a full return of all TIF funds, with the money to go directly into the embattled CPS system.
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EMANUEL'S "ELABORATE financial shell game," as Crain's put it, to deliver tens of millions of dollars to Navy Pier is outrageous even by the standards of U.S. politicians.
Essentially, Emanuel dipped into the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program--a slush fund, controlled entirely by the mayor, of tax revenues siphoned off from paying for schools and other services.
TIF money is supposed to be used to promote development in "blighted" or underserved neighborhoods of the city, but both Emanuel and his predecessor, Richard Daley, found ways to funnel money to some of the richest companies and developers in the city.
The TIF program has been a scandal in plain sight for years, but in the case of the Navy Pier scam, there was another twist to the story: The TIF money was originally earmarked for the construction of a hotel connected to the city's main convention center on the Near South Side, near the poor Bronzeville neighborhood--but the city agency that took the cash then funneled it to Pier renovations.
Thus, TIF funds ended up going to a construction project in one of the most obviously non-blighted areas of the city.
The CTU and supporters of public education have been pointing for years at the TIF slush fund as the source of money to fix the crumbling Chicago Public Schools system and restore all the cuts that have taken place under Emanuel's reign and before.
In last year's contract battle with the CTU, Emanuel caved at the threat of another strike and agreed to dip into the TIF fund to meet the demands of teachers for better schools and a decent contract.
But he has kept the pressure on since, and the Navy Pier scam is clear evidence that he, his unelected School Board and his corporate collaborators oppose well-funded schools. They are part of a national neoliberal education reform project that would put an end to public schooling as we know it.
We know that with every education cut, children pay with their lives on the streets of Chicago. Only struggle and organization can challenge the mayor's attacks and put forward an alternative vision of quality free education for all children.
Isabelle Bartter reports on the first major BDS campaign to originate in Latin America.
Activists in Bogotá challenge the construction materials corporation Cemex (BDS Colombia | Facebook)
MORE THAN 200 Latin American organizations and activists published an open letter on July 9 to the board of directors of Cemex, a Mexican construction materials company, calling for an end to its participation in Israeli apartheid.
Ready-Mix, a subsidiary of Cemex, operates factories in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights, and has provided materials to build checkpoints and the tram service connecting settlements in East Jerusalem, not to mention the illegal apartheid wall itself.
This campaign is significant not only for its large scale and base of support, but also because it is the first major international BDS campaign originating in Latin America.
In an article for Electronic Intifada, Abdulrahman Abunahel, a spokesperson for the BDS National Committee, said the campaign against the Mexican firm will "not only expose its complicity in serious violations of international law but will also affect its contracts."
As with most corporate interests involved in the occupation, Cemex's crimes do not end in Palestine. As Isabel Rikkers, a member of BDS Colombia, said:
Part of the inspiration for this campaign came from Cemex announcing they were willing to help build the U.S.-Mexico border wall. It is clear that Cemex is involved in actions that promote apartheid and occupation in Palestine, and therefore they are violating international law. We also want to call attention to the fact that their actions in Latin America, including here in Colombia, have created a number of social and environmental conflicts as well.
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FOR DECADES, Cemex has been causing enormous damage all over Latin America. Activists and organizations involved in this campaign want to emphasize that the corporations which profit from Israeli apartheid are causing harm in other parts of the world as well--and that solidarity with the Palestinian cause is linked to their own health and well-being.
This especially hits home in Bogotá, Colombia's capital, where BDS Colombia is based.
On June 5, 2010, an injunction was issued to suspend all mining activities at CEMEX Colombia's El Tunjuelo quarry, located in Bogotá. The injunction stated that since 1950, CEMEX Colombia had illegally changed the course of the Tunjuelo River, drying it up completely in some parts, and had used the edge of the river for illegal mining activities.
Activists in the area had been fighting Cemex for years before the injunction. As Andrey Tellez, a spokesperson for El Movimiento Cívico, said in a forum on the social and environmental effects of mining activity:
The mining activity in our territories causes diseases and damage to our common spaces, and affects the life of an area with serious social problems and with few opportunities. Mining ends up benefiting a few companies like Cemex and Holcim, which derive high returns, but don't compensate the city for the damages, and the employment they generate is minimal and precarious.
In an article published at BDSMovement.net, BDS National Committee spokesperson Abunahel was quoted welcoming the efforts of Latin American movements and organizations on the #StopCemex campaign:
Palestinians and Latin Americans share many experiences of oppression, but we also share experiences of popular resistance. It's inspiring to see Latin American movements and organizations pressure the huge Mexican building materials company Cemex to end its involvement in Israel's violations of Palestinian human rights. At the same time, we support their struggles against injustice and walls affecting their own region. Our struggles unite.
This sentiment was echoed by Rikkers of BDS Colombia, who said, "The #StopCemex campaign embodies the BDS movement's understanding of international solidarity, which is once again key to winning this fight."
Considering the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel's recent efforts to advance the occupation of Jerusalem, including increased security measures around al-Aqsa mosque and extension of the light rail system to illegal Israeli settlements, these kinds of campaigns based on solidarity from below are needed now more than ever.