Why Illinois' House Bill 531 or Any Parole Bill or Sentencing Reform Should Be Retroactive

Truth Out - Sun, 02/11/2018 - 05:00

Illinois's HB 531 supposedly would give juveniles charged as adults, and certain young adults who commit serious crimes, a chance to prove that they have been rehabilitated. However, the refusal to make it retroactive renders it useless for the thousands already serving draconian sentences under a system that favors revenge over rehabilitation.

 BrilliantEye / iStock / Getty Images Plus)(Image: BrilliantEye / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Around the country, advocates are pushing for legislation to improve parole policies, making it more possible for people serving long sentences to be released from prison. However, not all of these bills are equally helpful. Illinois is a case in point. A parole reform bill is passing through the legislature, House Bill 531, but it is not "retroactive" -- meaning it will not apply to any of the tens of thousands of Illinoisans currently serving long sentences in Illinois prisons.

Illinois is one of only two states without an active parole system.

The bill, which will shortly be put to a vote in the Illinois General Assembly, would create a parole board for juveniles charged as adults and certain young adults who commit serious crimes. House Bill 531 would be circumscribed to apply to people under the age of 21 when the offense occurs. Depending on the charge, the person would have served a minimum of either 10 or 20 years before becoming eligible for consideration for parole. Additionally, people sentenced to "natural life" (i.e., life without parole) would likewise be ineligible. Currently, Illinois is one of only two states without an active parole system. 

Retroactivity is a main point of contention for any bill concerning sentencing reform or parole, particularly in Illinois, where vociferous opposition to retroactivity has emerged from many state's attorney's offices. Opponents of retroactivity often make a few arbitrary and false statements to argue that no parole bill should be retroactive.

First, opponents claim that if judges knew that certain people they'd sentenced might be paroled, they may have sentenced them differently. This is a complete red herring. Even if HB 531 were implemented retroactively, the maximum sentence handed down by judges would still be the same. (So, if a person is not deemed by the parole board to be "rehabilitated," they'd still be serving the same sentence required by the judge, in its entirety.) Plus, even if the judge had known of the possibility of future parole eligibility, and had sentenced them to an even longer sentence, under HB 531, that person would still become eligible for consideration or parole at the exact same time -- after either 10 or 20 years, depending on the crime.

Opponents also claim that making parole reform retroactive could violate some constitutional provisions regarding victims' rights. Many of the most vocal people making this claim are prosecutors who should know better. There is no constitutional provision that says the state cannot reconsider sentences once handed down. If that were the case, the entire clemency process that the Prisoner Review Board oversees would violate those same mythical constitutional rights, as would a defendant's statutory right to file a motion to reconsider their sentence, or the right of every juvenile and young adult to file a petition for their release. Illinois's House Bill 531 would be just as constitutional if it were retroactive as it is in its non-retroactive form, because like the clemency process, it does give victims the ability to be heard, which is all that the constitution requires.

Studies of crime victims show that more of them support increased rehabilitation than support increased incarceration.

Additionally, opponents of retroactive parole reform claim that retroactivity would violate "promises made to the victim." Leaving aside the fact that this would be in no way legally binding if it were true, we should also ask: When were these alleged promises made to the victims, and by whom? To which victims? With what authority? They don't say, as there were no promises made other than self-serving tough-on-crime political rhetoric, a judge's sentencing order and Illinois's overly punitive sentencing laws, which we all know are subject to change.

I also seriously question any state's attorney proclaiming to speak on behalf of victims or making claims about a victim's rights. States attorneys have a long and sordid history of exploiting victims for their own political gain, and they constantly portray all victims as having only one concern: revenge. State's attorneys rarely ask victims what they need to heal, or what they believe a sufficient sentence would be. In fact, victims that don't vociferously support the harshest penalty possible are often ignored completely by state's attorneys, or are viewed as the enemy. Nor will state's attorneys ever admit that many people in prison are themselves victims of crime (something most victims' rights groups won't recognize either) -- not to mention the fact that many people in prison are victims of excessive sentences.

Studies of crime victims show that more of them support increased rehabilitation than support increased incarceration. For instance, a report put out by the Urban Institute in July 2017 noted:

Most important, our current system doesn't ask victims what would serve them best. It fails to seek their input in a meaningful way, instead presuming that harsher punishments will mean more complete healing. But when asked, many people who have experienced the most serious crimes express a desire for restorative measures that might help them heal and prevent the violence they suffered from happening again. A 2016 survey showed that 61% of crime survivors are in favor of shorter prison sentences and increased investment in crime prevention and rehabilitation.

Likewise, in a 2010 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, Alex R. Piquero and Laurence Steinberg found that the public in general (and especially in Illinois) is willing to pay more for increased rehabilitation of juveniles than they are willing to pay for increased incarceration.

People serving long sentences are being denied the chance to prove to a parole board that they are not the evil, irredeemable monsters they were portrayed to be.

It is the height of hypocrisy to try to install a young adult "offender" parole board, or any parole board, and not make it retroactive. The only reason the Illinois legislature is even considering a young adult "offender" parole board is because an enormous amount of social science and neuroscience research has shown that the areas of the brain responsible for controlling executive functions -- like weighing risk versus reward, long-term planning, etc. -- don't finish developing until people reach their mid-20s. This is leading policymakers and judges to recognize that people don't truly become adults until their mid-20s. This also has led people to realize the inhumanity, irrationality and unconstitutionality of excessive sentences. It makes us realize that we have been falsely demonizing and falsely labeling our youth as permanently incorrigible when they are not.

Why are legislators obstinately refusing to make their corrective measures retroactive? By doing so, they are denying potential relief to thousands of victims of excessive sentences, seemingly only to satisfy prosecutors' and some crime victims' desires for revenge. People serving long sentences are being denied the chance to prove to a parole board that they are not the evil, irredeemable monsters they were portrayed to be decades ago.

This is especially galling when one considers the arguments that my classmates Al Ameen and Raul Dorado here at Stateville Correctional Center expounded upon a few weeks ago. They asked, "How can they exclude us? We're the ones with the sweat equity put into this fight."

This is true. As it is written, HB 531 applies to hypothetical people serving sentences in the future. However, it isn't these hypothetical people who have spent decades fighting for their freedom, fighting to change the minds of society and fighting to rehabilitate themselves for no apparent reason other than to die in prison a little bit smarter.

No, it was the thousands of men and women who are currently incarcerated, as well as our friends and families, activists (who want to see justice done in the form of our relief when deserved), and even the many crime victims and their families who have rightly lost faith in our current criminal legal system. We put in the work to make parole reform happen. Our reward is a steady kick in the teeth, as we are told that retroactivity is a nonstarter.

This reality deserves consideration when decisions are made as to whether to support retroactivity of any bill that reduces sentences or brings back any type of parole.

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Categories: News

"At Its Core, Anti-Fascism Is Self-Defense": An Interview With Mark Bray

Truth Out - Sun, 02/11/2018 - 05:00

The centrality of self-defense can never be forgotten when we discuss "aggressive" responses to fascism, which is inherently violent and deadly, says Mark Bray, historian and author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. Given the history of fascism, anti-fascists refuse to grant fascists the benefit of the doubt that their rhetoric will not result in physical violence.

 Cory Clark / NurPhoto via Getty Images)An anti-fascist group known as Philly Rebellion marked the arrest of more than 200 protesters one year ago at the inauguration of Donald Trump in Washington, DC, by taking and holding a major intersection in downtown Philadelphia on January 20, 2018. (Photo: Cory Clark / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Mark Bray does not shrink from defending antifa, the militant response to fascist movements and events. Read the book that The New Yorker calls "focused and persuasive." Get Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook from Truthout by clicking here.

Anti-fascism exists in many different forms, from passive disapproval to militant opposition. In this exclusive interview with Truthout, author and historian Mark Bray explains the role of -- and need for -- the antifa movement.

Mark Karlin: Fascism is highly connotative. In summary, how do you define it in your book?

Mark Bray: Defining fascism is notoriously difficult because fascists have adopted and discarded ideas and positions more readily than perhaps any other political tendency. Fascism rejects rationality and ideological consistency. It's not even clear that fascism can be understood as an ideology at all so much as a complex confluence of authoritarian and reactionary tendencies. Especially after World War II when the symbolism, vocabulary and theoretical expanse of far-right politics broadened considerably, it might make more sense to talk about spectrums of the fascistic.

In my book, I include a definition from Robert Paxton's excellent The Anatomy of Fascism, but like Paxton and many other historians, I hesitate to confine this historical phenomenon to an abstract, analytical definition. "Definable," Nietzsche argued, "is only that which has no history." While I may not go that far, I agree with the historian Angelo Tasca that "to understand Fascism we must write its history."

 Eli S. Burakian)Mark Bray. (Photo: Eli S. Burakian)

Trump rode a wave of reactionary and fascistic undercurrents into power, and in so doing, exacerbated their expansion in the body politic.

Is Trump a fascist or an enabler of fascism?

There is no evidence to suggest that Trump has ever had any truly fixed political outlook beyond self-aggrandizement. So, no, I wouldn't say that Trump is a fascist. Nevertheless, he has displayed quite a few fascistic qualities: ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, authoritarianism, misogyny, white supremacy, appeals to extra-legal violence, the development of a cult of personality, opposition to both international free trade and socialistic measures, a populist appeal to (predominantly white) everyday people, and a reactionary desire to turn back the clock to an imagined past glory: Make America Great Again. Even his "America First" slogan came from American Nazis and Klansmen.

But as I said at the outset, this ultra-nationalist Donald Trump came to the fore because he rightly believed that this brand of bombastic, far-right politics would sell. Under different circumstances, he might have chosen to present himself as more of a laissez-faire "globalist," but the wind wasn't blowing in that direction. Trump rode a wave of reactionary and fascistic undercurrents into power, and in so doing, exacerbated their expansion in the body politic. Trump was enabled by fascism (among other things) and in turn enabled fascism by creating space to be proudly racist, homophobic or Islamophobic, and by inviting far-right figures like Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller into the White House.

Do you believe "alt-right" is a legitimate new movement, or is it just a new name for groups that have existed for a long time?

Both. Certainly, Richard Spencer's motivation in developing the notion of the "alternative right" was to rebrand white supremacist politics so they could go more mainstream. He borrowed elements from European identitarianism and the French New Right in an effort to distance himself and his followers from the off-putting aesthetic of neo-Nazi skinheads or Klan robes and present a more "intellectual" and "respectable" image. Despite shifts in language and imagery, the white supremacist and fascist values underlying the alt-right are not new.

An important goal for anti-fascist and anti-racist organizing has been to tear off the mask of "respectability" to prevent these ideas and groups from being able to expand. A lot of progress was made in this direction in the months after Charlottesville when mainstream commentators were forced to acknowledge that "alt-right" was basically code for "Nazi."

At its core, anti-fascism is self-defense.

That having been said, I was influenced by the argument put forward by Matthew N. Lyons in the Three Way Fight blog that it is important to be attuned to changes in far-right self-presentation and never assume that fascist politics (or any other politics) never change. In my chapter "Five Historical Lessons for Anti-Fascists," I argue that interwar anti-fascists failed to recognize the degree to which fascism represented a new threat -- something far more menacing than traditional counter-revolutionary politics.

Anti-fascist strategy cannot afford to assume that the far-right is eternally static. That's why I think that although the "alt-right" is essentially just a mask for Nazis and Klansmen, political imagery and propaganda must be taken seriously.

In what context historically was the term "antifa" formed?

Antifa is short for anti-fascist in a variety of languages, but it seems like the use of that term originated in Germany during the interwar period and was revived again in Germany in the 1980s with the creation of the Autonome Antifa. According to Merriam-Webster, the term first appeared in English in 1930 in an article about anti-fascist organizing in Germany. Subsequently, the term became useful as a way for militant anti-fascists to share a sense of identity and unity across linguistic and cultural lines. Sustained use of the term by militant anti-fascists in the United States started with the 2007 formation of Rose City Antifa in Portland, Oregon, and the subsequent creation of NYC Antifa, Philly Antifa and others.

How are those persons involved in the antifa movement distinguished from those who perceive themselves as simply anti-fascists?

Although often used loosely, the term "antifa" really refers to those whose politics are influenced, to one extent or another, by the development of a specific tendency within broader anti-fascist politics that is known as "militant anti-fascism" in English and Italian, "autonomous anti-fascism" in German and "radical anti-fascism" in French. Militant anti-fascism exists at the intersection of a pan radical left politics and direct-action strategies and tactics that eschew reliance on the police, courts or the state to stop the far-right.

This tendency crystalized as a distinct position after World War II when most continental European socialist and communist parties advocated stopping a far-right resurgence by passing laws against Nazi or fascist politics. By the '80s and '90s, it was clear to many that organized self-defense and militant resistance were necessary to stem a rising ultra-nationalist, racist tide. The lineage of militant anti-fascism in Great Britain is more continuous because the British government allowed more space for the far-right to organize after the war, thereby giving anti-fascists far more reason to mobilize.

The vast majority of anti-fascist actions entail no physical confrontation at all, but the media focus on the spectacular exceptions to the rule.

The direct-action strategies and social revolutionary politics of militant anti-fascists, or antifa, distinguish them from those anti-fascists who turn to the state to make the far right illegal or simply aim to defend parliamentary government. These kinds of distinctions are not always crystal clear in practice, and around the world, many derive their antifa identity from their football fandom or subcultural music scene, but these differences help to delineate this specific tendency.

Can you elaborate on the more aggressive approach to challenging the white supremacist?

At its core, anti-fascism is self-defense. Without the aggression of Black Shirts in Italy and Brown Shirts in Germany, there would have been no anti-fascism. The leftists who mobilized around the banner of anti-fascism in the '20s, '30s and '40s, as well as those who again picked up the torch after 1945, did so reluctantly. For most, it was not even a choice, but a necessity for self-preservation as migrant communities came under attack, punk and alternative scenes were threatened by white power skinheads, and football games became breeding grounds for racism.

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The centrality of self-defense can never be forgotten when we discuss "aggressive" responses to fascism. Fascism is inherently aggression, inherently violence, inherently death. Anti-fascists argue that fighting back is always self-defense, even if they strike the first blow. After the historical legacies of colonialism, slavery and genocide and the unfortunately numerous examples of neo-Nazi murders in recent years, anti-fascists refuse to grant fascists the benefit of the "doubt" that their organizing will not result in physical violence. They do not ask if it will happen -- they prepare for when it will happen. Rather than waiting for fascists to show up at an immigrant's door with baseball bats and knives, they commit themselves to shutting down far-right organizing by any means necessary.

Sometimes that entails physically shutting down a Klan rally, but the media miss the fact that such confrontation is often the last resort after efforts have been made behind the scenes to dox fascist leaders, pressure their bosses to fire them and their neighbors to disown them, encourage venues to cancel their events and web servers to shut down their websites. The vast majority of anti-fascist actions entail no physical confrontation at all, but the media focus on the spectacular exceptions to the rule.

If the legacy of interwar Europe was that not enough people stood up to fascism and Nazism early on while it was still possible, then how bad does it have to get -- how many have to die -- before we resolutely declare that they shall not pass?

Categories: News

This Traveling Museum Is Bringing Black History to a Town Near You

Truth Out - Sun, 02/11/2018 - 05:00

Black History 101 Mobile Museum(Photo: Black History 101 Mobile Museum)

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As a social studies teacher in Detroit in 1994, Khalid el-Hakim used African American artifacts he collected to supplement information about Black history he found lacking in middle school textbooks.

It was a charge, el-Hakim says, by Minister Louis Farrakhan at the Million Man March in 1995 to men to go back to their cities and "join a community organization and try to make some type of contribution to our community," that was the catalyst to start a mobile museum.

El-Hakim went from having tabletop displays at meetings of the local organization he joined to setting up exhibits for various organizations and institutions -- first throughout the city and then across the state and nationwide.

His Black History 101 Mobile Museum travels throughout the year from coast to coast sharing African American history through the ages -- from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the civil rights and Black Power movements, hip-hop and Black Lives Matter -- with artifacts he's collected from around the globe.

"I came to learn that not only are my students missing Black history, but there's a whole bunch of people who have not been exposed to Black history," el-Hakim says. "As word spread about the museum and the visibility grew on a national level, the audience grew well beyond my expectations -- in size and diversity."

Today, the mobile museum's attendees get to experience the exhibits free of charge at the expense of host institutions that bring in el-Hakim at a nominal fee.

Before the museum's 2018 tour, which began last month and will exhibit artifacts from 1968, el-Hakim and I chatted briefly about the museum, its significance today, and the impact he believes it's making.

Zenobia Jeffries: What made you start collecting?

Khalid el-Hakim: I started collecting in 1991 after taking a sociology class with David Pilgrim at Ferris State University. He's the one who started the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. I took his class, prior to him starting his museum. He was just a collector at the time, and he was using artifacts to teach about the history of racism in America. I found that his methodology of using artifacts to teach about very controversial subjects like racism was an effective way of teaching about racism.

But to teach that without the context of other people at the time and seeing how they were responding to White supremacy and racism, it just made more sense to include other material.

So, I took it to a different level [to show] what Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. Dubois or other individuals were doing during the Jim Crow era. It just made more of a powerful impact for me to see Aunt Jemima imagery next to somebody like a Paul Laurence Dunbar, and what he was doing at the time. So, I just started collecting everything that had something to do with the Black experience in America.

How do you decide what items you're going to exhibit?

So, the exhibits are tabletop exhibits. They're usually about 10 tables of 150–200 artifacts. Themes have emerged over the years based on the growth and diversity of the collection.

In the early years it was just a wide array of material in one big exhibit. I decided to make thematic exhibits to be more nuanced in my approach to teaching history and to amplify the artifacts that may otherwise be overlooked in a larger exhibit. Currently, we have the following themes: women, hip-hop, Jim Crow, civil rights/Black Power, music, leadership, sports, and science/technology.

For '68, it's the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, so there's a lot of King material in the exhibit. Also you have the 1968 Olympics with Tommie Smith and John Carlos, as well as musical performers of that year, like Sly and the Family Stone, Jimmy Hendricks, James Brown's "Say it Loud I'm Black and I'm Proud."

Aretha Franklin, Ike and Tina Turner.

Shirley Chisholm runs that year [becoming the first black woman elected to the United States Congress]. I got Angela Davis pieces, Adam Clayton Powell pieces. In terms of sports, we got Arthur Ashe, Muhammad Ali. So, it's material that represents music, politics, it's a very diverse collection of material.

Where do you get your pieces?

The majority of the pieces come from me going into antique shops and used bookstores, and record shops -- not just in the Detroit area. One of the ways I was able to travel to so many different places [and pick up so much material] is because I worked in the entertainment business for 20 years touring with hip-hop groups and poets.

So, anytime I was on tour, around the United States, or overseas -- in Europe, Australia -- I was able to go into different antique shops when those guys were out doing whatever.

What would you say has been your most impactful exhibit, or is your most impactful artifact?

All of them are. We build on the historical context of the time, starting with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. So, there's original shackles in the exhibit, and there's original advertisements for the runaway enslaved Africans.

There's Jim Crow-related material. There are things from the Reconstruction era. There are original photos of lynchings, and postcards of lynchings that are very emotional. The Mammy images, the alligator bait phenomenon in America is represented. There're a lot of different types of material.

What is the rarest? Something where folks are like, "Oh my God, how did you get that?"

A lot of the exhibits are original documents signed by historical figures. So, I have documents signed by Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Carter G. Woodson. W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune, Angela Davis.

And then from hip-hop: Ice T, Chuck D, KRS-One, MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, Ice Cube. I have original photographs of Tribe Called Quest. Everybody from Busta Rhymes to Redman and Method Man.

There's a lot of rare material. I have a collection of hip-hop photography from Ernie Paniccioli, who's considered to be hip-hop's pioneer photographer. I guess he would be the Gordon Parks of hip-hop, if you can say that. I have about 60 or 70 original photographs from him, of everybody from Queen Latifah to 17-year-old Jay Z and young Kanye West.

I have a lot of stuff from the Black Panther Party: original photographs, newspapers, coats.

Original artifacts and photographs from the Nation of Islam -- early years. Letters written by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I have a very early letter written by Minister Farrakhan from the '50s when he was still Louis X, a minister in Boston.

There's a lot of very unique material. I even have clothing items. I have a hat from Aretha Franklin. I have one of Minster Farrakhan's suits.

I have some things from the Jackson 5, stuff signed by Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson dolls. Things from just about every era, from slavery to hip-hop.

Why is there such a heavy focus of items on hip-hop? 

Hip-hop is what informed me in the '80s growing up. My sense of Black history came from listening to groups like Public Enemy and KRS-One, and Queen Latifah, and Ice Cube. Having that social-political context in hip-hop is what informed me, informed my work.

I wouldn't have known who Assata Shakur is if I didn't listen to Public Enemy. If I didn't listen to KRS-One's By All Means Necessary album, I wouldn't have picked up and read the Autobiography of Malcolm X back in the '80s. So, I see a direct connection between my experience, listening to hip-hop, then reaching back studying Black history.

Are the responses you're getting now any different from what you were getting before Trump?

I think it's more real to people now that Trump is in office. Prior to Trump you could see some of this material and you would think that you were kind of disconnected from it. Because I have a lot of White supremacist and KKK material. I have an original Klan hood, and Klan bumper stickers, business cards, original photographs from the Klan.

But over the past year, you have a lot of people seeing it and making that connection between Trump and his supporters, and how there's very much of a White supremacist undertone to a lot of the campaigning that went on, and what you're seeing at some of the rallies and in some of the speeches that he's doing. His response to Charlottesville. So you see it. It's more real to people now.

Do they make that connection on their own by seeing the artifacts, or do you make that connection in your program/lecture?

Really it's just me presenting the materials so that people can make their own interpretations through their own lived experiences.

I can't dismiss somebody's lived experience. If your experience is based upon the fact that you're a Black man and you have been a victim of police brutality, or you have been a victim of some type of racism, I can't deny that. So if you see this material and the way you respond to it is based on your lived experience, then we can use that as an opportunity to talk about your experience and how it relates to those artifacts.

And then on the flip side, if you walk through that exhibit, like [what] happened in Pennsylvania just a few years ago, and you're a White female college student, and you walk into that exhibit and you start crying because you see KKK material. And because of your lived experience of seeing your father and your grandfather as Klansmen, and this material that you see represented in this is exhibit is what you see at home every day. I can't minimize or disregard that being your lived experience.

What do you hope your attendees take away?

I want us first and foremost to become critical thinkers, which is key.

I don't want this to be just information that I'm giving people and they getting my opinion. I want them to see the material interpret it for themselves. Ask critical questions and have dialogue with me, and other people who are in the space.

I also want to spark people to go out and start their own research. If you see a name that you haven't seen before, or an object that just resonates with you -- and one thing I've learned is that different artifacts will resonate with different people based on their lived experience -- I want you to walk away and do your own research, and learn something that you did not know about history already.

Categories: News

John Kelly's True Self and ICE's Mission Creep: Tyranny Is Spreading

Truth Out - Sun, 02/11/2018 - 05:00

 Win McNamee / Getty Images)John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, departs Paul Ryan's weekly press conference at the US Capitol, June 29, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

There's been a lot of news the last couple of days about White House chief of staff John Kelly, whose protective embrace of staff secretary Rob Porter in the face of multiple charges of domestic violence seems to have finally led official Washington and the media to grapple with the fact that the retired general is not the upstanding man of integrity everyone insisted would straighten out the chaotic and unprincipled White House. This was actually obvious long before Kelly was named to the post and he has demonstrated it many times since he moved to the West Wing.

Among other things, Kelly was instrumental in pushing President Trump to blow up a bipartisan DACA deal and earlier this week told an interviewer that some immigrants who were eligible for the DACA program had been "too lazy to get off their asses" and apply. Kelly brings out the worst in Trump, not the best (whatever that may be) -- they are too much alike in their throwback attitudes about women, immigrants and people of color. All the flowcharts and discipline in the world can't make up for that. That Kelly would protect an abuser is the most unsurprising thing in the world. It's his main job.

Kelly's attitudes weren't exactly a secret before he went to the White House to babysit Trump. Many of us were actually slightly relieved to see him leave his former post as the secretary of Homeland Security, where his hardline anti-immigrant attitudes were being implemented in ways that had direct effects on people's lives. Unfortunately, DHS, and particularly Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is still eagerly carrying out his mission. ICE officers were reportedly giddy with excitement at the election of Donald Trump, who promised to let them "take the gloves off" and go after any undocumented workers and their families they choose. His promise to crack down on sanctuary cities had them over the moon.

This presents a contrast with the FBI and members of the intelligence community who, in spite of all the GOP handwringing about private texts between a couple of FBI agents as evidence of disqualifying partisanship, at least don't go around openly celebrating the winners of presidential elections. FBI agents do tend to be conservative, as law enforcement generally is, but it's not considered a good look to openly demand more power and authority. That's the sort of thing they usually leave to friendly politicians.

ICE agents aren't like that. They pushed hard for the authorization to increase harassment, pursuit and incarceration of people for the "crime" of being a non-citizen in America. They were very upset by the Obama-era regulations that prioritized deportation of undocumented workers close to the borders and those who had committed actual criminal acts, beyond just crossing the border.

It's not as if ICE wasn't busy under the previous administration. They deported a whole lot of people. Millions. But it wasn't enough. ICE demanded the authority to go after law-abiding workers who've been in the country for decades and have families. They wanted to raid businesses and homes and arrest people who were minding their own business, paying taxes, going to school, joining the military and otherwise behaving as ordinary members of society.

Now they are doing it. Immigration arrests have increased by 42 percent since Trump took office and they are getting more and more aggressive. Take the example of Amer Adi, a successful businessman and pillar of his community in Youngstown, Ohio, who had lived in the US for 40 years with an American wife and children. Adi had worked with his congressman to gain legal status, but after Trump took office last year ICE put an ankle bracelet on him.

In January, Adi and his wife decided to self-deport so they would not be separated, but were told at the last minute their case was stayed indefinitely. He was told to come into the ICE office on Jan. 15 for a routine check-in. When he did, he was taken into custody and deported to Jordan two weeks later without being allowed to see his family. More and more stories like this are reported every day.

ICE is very serious about chasing down every immigrant who has entered the country illegally or overstayed a visa. Its agents want to use every possible means to get that job done, which explains why they are now pushing to have ICE reclassified as an intelligence agency and get access to all that surveillance data they are collecting on average people going about their business.

Betsy Woodruff at the Daily Beast reported that this initiative began during the Obama administration and has accelerated under Trump since there's a good chance he will actually approve it:

If ICE joins the Intelligence Community, then its officials will have increased access to raw intelligence, unfiltered by analysts. This could prove useful to both of the agency's components: Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which investigates transnational crimes, including drug trafficking, money laundering, cybercrimes, and arms trafficking; and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), which arrests and detains undocumented immigrants.

Apparently, there can't be too many law enforcement agencies rifling through the private lives of average people. You can bet that these ICE agents would not just be invading the privacy of undocumented immigrants. That's not how "raw intelligence" works.

Moreover, there's a very good chance they will work with friendly local and state law enforcement using the techniques described in this 2013 article by Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, which results in people being unable to get due process and a fair trial under the guise of protecting national security. Homeland Security officials are already using junk science to justify long-term surveillance of Muslims. This group of eager beavers have little or no training in the required constitutional procedures and are unlikely to be apt pupils.

One can't help but wonder if all the newly-hatched right-wing civil libertarians who have recently fashioned themselves as warriors against the shadowy "Deep State" are at all opposed to ICE joining the intelligence community and getting access to all that secret surveillance. Somehow I doubt it. These folks seem to only care about the civil liberties of Donald Trump and the people who work for him. They are more than happy for the government to spy on average people. They just voted to expand its powers last month. If legislation come to the floor allowing ICE to join the "Deep State" I would guess that every last one of them will vote for it. If they don't, Donald Trump can always sign an executive order giving his ardent supporters at ICE anything they want. It's happening.

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Categories: News

Get Ready for More Voter Suppression

Truth Out - Sun, 02/11/2018 - 05:00
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When President Trump created the "Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity" last spring -- and put notorious vote suppressor Kris Kobach at the helm -- voting rights advocates had decades of good reasons to be concerned. The panel seemed destined to back harsh restrictions on voting rights.

The fraught commission was recently disbanded. But while that provides a momentary sigh of relief, it doesn't mean that this Trump-Kobach crusade -- or voter suppression -- has gone away.

For one, there's still a lot we don't know about what information the commission collected and what the administration intends to do with it now.

Early reports are troubling. For instance, we now know the commission asked Texas to turn over a list of its voters with Hispanic last names flagged. The threat of officials using this data to fuel large-scale voter roll purges looms large.

Kobach, who's served as Kansas secretary of state since 2011 and is currently running for governor, says that he remains at the center of ongoing administration efforts to crack down on voting. (Trump claims "illegal votes" cost him the popular vote in 2016, despite the lack of any evidence.)

Disturbingly, both Kobach and Trump have said that the Department of Homeland Security will now take up their cause.

While Homeland Security counters that its priority is election infrastructure, not voter fraud, the agency also says that it's working with a handful of states to compare voter data with citizenship data. In addition, the Department of Justice (whose leader, Jeff Sessions, is a notorious voting rights foe) made a sweeping voter data request around the same time that the commission was getting going.

Even without a formal voting commission, the threat of eligible voters who've done nothing wrong having their rights restricted is still very real. Twenty states are considering bills this year that would restrict the ability to vote.

This includes Kobach's home state of Kansas as well as New Hampshire, where they're trying -- and not for the first time -- to make voting harder for students and anyone else who moves a lot.

We're also seeing attempts across the country to enact voter ID laws, restrict early and absentee voting, and to aggressively purge voters who skip just one election cycle, a practice currently being challenged at the Supreme Court.

Congress is complicit through its lack of action on voting rights, having gone nearly five years without mending the gaping hole the Supreme Court ripped into the Voting Rights Act. Since 1965, this crown jewel of the civil rights movement has provided important tools to address voting discrimination against racial minorities and others.

It's still very much needed. But thanks to the Supreme Court, the federal law no longer has the teeth to stop bad state laws before they get started -- when it makes the most difference to voters.

As Trump and Kobach and their far-right allies continue to dismantle democracy at the federal, state, and local levels, those who champion voting rights have a big task ahead of them. But there are signs of hope on the horizon.

Perhaps the brightest light shines in Florida, where voters this November will be asked through a ballot measure to give a second chance to fellow Floridians who've done their time and paid their debt to society -- but who currently can't vote because of a past felony conviction. If successful, this measure would restore the ability to vote to 1.5 million Floridians.

Trump lost his commission, but he isn't giving up on voter suppression. And that means we can't give up on fighting for a democracy where everyone can cast a vote that counts.

Categories: News

Pennsylvania Races to Redraw Gerrymandered Congressional Maps

Truth Out - Sun, 02/11/2018 - 05:00

Pennsylvania mapmakers are sharpening their pencils this week, because the state is under an extremely tight deadline to redraw gerrymandered electoral districts to meet a court-mandated deadline. It's a win for voting rights in 2018, and the GOP is not happy about it.

The story starts in 2011, when the Pennsylvania legislature drew up a new district map. Redistricting happens frequently across the US, reflecting changing populations. The process is designed to promote equally proportionate representation -- at least in theory.

But the map the legislature produced was extremely partisan and slanted in favor of Republicans, according to some. The New York Times describes the state as "one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation," and it's easy to see why, since the state map looks like an explosion at a pretzel factory that went horribly wrong.

So people sued, arguing that the map should be redrawn. And through litigation, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed: The legislature was ordered to redraw the map. Republicans took it to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, allowing the court ruling to stand.

Here's where things get really bananas: The state needs to have a restricting map settled and signed by the governor by February 15, or the court will step in and draw one.

The legislature is controlled by Republicans, but the state's governor is Democratic, so Pennsylvania may see some heated debates in the next few days as both sides jostle for positions -- Democrats, after all, have a lot at stake as they fight to regain control of the House, and they're eager to see districts that favor their interests.

If you're looking at that deadline and counting off on your fingers, so are state officials. Republicans are furious at the ruling, and they say the changes could "cause chaos" at the upcoming midterms. And this, some might argue, is exactly the point: Fair congressional districts could radically change Pennsylvania's representation in Congress, thereby more accurately reflecting the state's residents.

The state has several months before its May primary, when the districts would need to be settled and established to give voters a chance to cast ballots for their preferred representatives.

The newly redrawn map submitted to the governor should include, according to the ruling, districts that are contiguous, and that don't divide townships in order to shoehorn people of one political inclination or another into specific districts. Instead, congressional districts should be based on population and area, with the goal of getting a reasonably even sampling of residents. Biased maps in either direction aren't just to residents, who want to be assured that their votes carry weight and hold value -- regardless of their political leanings.

In addition to their complaints about "chaos" -- though arguably, redrawing districts in time for the midterms will be key to establishing fair representation -- Republicans also say there isn't enough time to do the work. They're not wrong about some late nights ahead. It's important to ensure borders are drawn accurately and fairly, though legislators won't be doing it by hand and will likely have the help of some computer algorithms.

The governor's response? "I think people have gerrymandered districts in far less time."

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Categories: News

The Department of Labor Buried Evidence Showing It's Set to Steal Billions in Workers' Wages

Truth Out - Sun, 02/11/2018 - 05:00
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Last week, President Trump's Department of Labor (DOL) hid an internal analysis that showed that its so-called tip-pooling rule would allow employers to pocket billions in workers' tips. They claimed that they were "unable to quantify" the rule's effects. But we now know that they did, in fact, conduct an analysis -- they just didn't want the American public to see the result, so they buried it.

I discussed what happened and what this policy is all about with Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and former chief economist at the Department of Labor under President Obama.

Rebecca Vallas: Heidi, what is this policy that the Trump administration is advancing and what are they hiding?

Heidi Shierholz: In December, the Trump administration released a proposed rule to try to make it legal for employers to take workers' tips. There were regulations on the books from 2011 -- it was a long-standing practice at DOL that tips cannot be taken by employers. But the Trump administration is trying to rescind those regulations, and it's really bad for workers.

But now the Department of Labor is bending over backwards to try to make it seem like it's not terrible for workers. For instance, they talk about how theoretically employers who take tips could share some of those tips with the back of the house workers or other untipped workers. But there is nothing in this rule that says they are required to do so. So, what's going to happen is employers will end up just pocketing a lot of those tips themselves.

The controversy that broke is that the DOL claimed that they could not do a quantitative analysis of how much in wages and tips would be transferred from workers to employers as a result of this rule. But what was revealed today is that that was all untrue. They actually did the analysis, and it showed billions of dollars being transferred from workers to employers. They actually took it to the Secretary of Labor who said something to the effect of, "Okay, we can't publish something that shows this because this will make us look terrible. Take this back to the drawing board and see if you can bring me back smaller numbers." They did that, but they never got it down as small as was comfortable for Secretary Acosta, so they just got approval from the White House to remove the analysis entirely. So this proposal was released without any quantitative economic analysis about the impact the proposed rule would have on workers, even though they are legally required to quantify the economic impact to the extent possible.

So not only did they try to figure out a methodology to get a number they were comfortable with -- in terms of how much employers were going to end up pocketing in the way of workers' tips and wages -- but they decided because they couldn't get the number down they were just going to pretend they'd never done it at all? Is that what we've learned?

Yes, that's what we've learned. They said in their proposal that they were -- quote -- "unable to quantify how customers would respond to the proposed regulatory change" and that the department "currently lacks the data to quantify possible reallocation of tips." So they just said in a bunch of different ways, "We can't do this." But we know they did do it. The numbers looked bad for them, so they buried it. This is real malpractice. The public deserves to have those numbers. They make the department look like it is not living up to its mission of actually protecting workers -- in fact, it's just going to transfer a whole bunch of money from workers to employers and they wanted to hide that fact.

They did an analysis, buried it, and then claimed that they couldn't do it.

When they went to crunch the numbers on this policy it looks like they found something similar to what you guys at the Economic Policy Institute had already been telling people for a while. You did some analysis finding that if this rule goes into effect, workers will lose billions in lost tips and wages.

So we don't know exactly what the DOL estimate was. We know it's in the billions but no one knows the actual number. I worked at the Department of Labor. I worked on many, many analyses like this. I have full confidence that the analysis that we did at EPI likely used the same data that DOL used for their analysis. And when we did it we came up with an estimate that $5.8 billion would be shifted from workers to employers as a result of the rule and that nearly 80% of that, or $4.6 billion, would be taken from the pockets for women who work for tips, and that's primarily because women are much more likely to work in tipped jobs.

It's not just tipped workers who are actually at risk of being hurt here, correct?

One of the interesting things that's the backdrop to this is that the DOL has been trying to sell this rule as something that will make restaurants more egalitarian, because now we'll have this sharing between better-paid tipped workers and lower-paid back of the house workers like dishwashers and cooks. But it is very unlikely that they will do that. The rule does not require them to do it. They would be no more likely to share tips with back of the house workers than they would be to make any other choice about what to do with that shiny new revenue stream, which is what being able to confiscate tips would mean to them. They could increase executive pay. They could make capital improvements to their establishment. They could just line their own pockets. Under basic economic logic, those back of the house workers are not going to get more pay.

This is hardly the first time that the Trump administration has been caught either lying or hiding evidence about the policies they're looking to advance or the Obama-era policies they're looking to roll back. You mentioned that because there are very specific rules governing how rule-making is supposed to happen in this country -- rules that it appears that the Trump administration has clearly broken here by withholding and lying about evidence in their possession about this rule during a [public] comment period -- can you explain a little bit about how that works?

In this particular case, they are simply required as part of the rule-making process to quantify to the extent possible the economic impact so that the public has that information in hand in order to comment on the purposed rule.

The rule-making process in general is really basic in some sense: The agency puts out a proposed rule, anyone can comment on it. The public, advocates, business groups, anyone has the right to tell that agency what they think about their rule. The agency is actually required to read [the comments] and to take them into account as they're crafting their final rule. So it's absolutely crucial the public is given all the information so it can understand the impact of the rule and comment on it.

DOL claimed it wasn't possible for them to do this quantification. But we produced an estimate in less than two weeks. It wasn't rocket science. And now we know that they did do an analysis, buried it, and then claimed that they couldn't do it.

Given all that has happened, they need to withdraw this rule, re-do the economic analysis, and let the public comment with all the information at hand.

This interview was conducted for Off-Kilter and aired as part of a complete episode on February 2. It was edited for length and clarity.

Categories: News

High school pulls musical after outcry over casting white student

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 02/11/2018 - 03:46

High school pulls musical after outcry over casting white student | 07 Feb 2017 | An upstate New York high school has pulled its upcoming musical production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" after students protested the casting of a white classmate for the lead role of Esmeralda. Ithaca High School faced backlash by some students who banded together in protest following the exit of another member of the spring play due to the casting of Esmeralda - a fictional character that portrays a 15th century Romani gypsy in Victor Hugo's 1831 novel...Another demand read: "STOP ignoring and denying that you have created a white centered program run by white adults for the benefit of white children."

Categories: News

Global Solidarity with Afrin from Mexico and Beyond

It's Goin Down - Sun, 02/11/2018 - 01:30

The post Global Solidarity with Afrin from Mexico and Beyond appeared first on It's Going Down.


In Afrin, in northern Syria, more than 70 Turkish army aircraft are bombing villages and people.

Afrin is not a place most people are familiar with. But perhaps many have heard that a war is being fought in Syria. For seven years, in this corner of the world the global superpowers, such as the United States and Russia with their respective allies, are playing chess with the resources and lives of the inhabitants of these ancient territories. Hundreds of thousands of dead, many more displaced, and the consequences of all-out war: smoking debris, massive rapes, crying children, bodies torn apart, dust and ruins.

Nonetheless, since July 2012, a flower of rebellion has sprouted up in the midst of this desert of destruction caused by superpowers. In northern Syria, a region mostly populated by Kurds, an extensive revolution began: the lands were collectivized, political power passed from the racist Assad regime to a system of assemblies of residents of all ethnicities; the full political participation of women in public affairs was encouraged, polygamy was abolished, divorce was approved and the “Mala Jin” – Women’s Houses – were created; neighborhood meetings were set up to resolve conflicts and special popular courts to combat gender violence; different self-defense bodies have been armed and are under the control of local assemblies; and, finally, they are implementing small scale, self-sufficient and sustainable cooperatives and production projects.

This experiment of stateless socialism from below has a name, coined by the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan (held for the last 19 years in a Turkish prison), and it is called Democratic Confederalism, the federation of autonomous communities where, in the case of northern Syria, communities of different ethnicities and religions live together in constant dialogue: Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Chechens, Yazidis, Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, etc. Today, more than three million people live in this democratic system anchored in some 4,000 local assembles.

This revolution has suffered constant harassment and attacks by other armed actors in the Syrian conflict: the Assad regime on one side and the Free Syrian Army on the other, Salafist paramilitary groups, the Turkish army, and above all, the Islamic State. Against this last one the heroic People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) won a historic battle for humanity: from the liberation of the city of Kobane in January 2015, until the liberation of the city of Raqqa in October 2017, they have inflicted a hard blow on the largest terrorist organization in the world that has spilled so much blood all over the planet. It was these revolutionary militias, and not these well-equipped armies of the Western powers, that brought the Islamic State to its knees.

Afrin is all this and more: it’s a precious place surrounded by centuries-old olives trees under whose shadow the different peoples work and live; languages and beliefs so diverse but already organized in this fraternal system of assemblies. A laboratory of peaceful and anti-capitalist coexistence too dangerous for the Middle East in the eyes of all the powers (and religious sects) that benefit from prolonged war and continual plunder. Thus, with the agreed-upon silence of Russia and the United States, the Islamic-fascist government of Turkey, headed by the detested Tayyip Erdogan, is at this moment bombing and invading this free and autonomous territory. Once again debris, bombs, smoke, mourning and wailing. We know that hope will not be extinguished, as once again the peoples together with the YPG/YPJ will defend house by house, meter by meter, the hard-won collective freedoms.

However, we are outraged by the complicit silence of the international community that allows a NATO member, which is Turkey, to take dozens of planes beyond its national borders and open fire on a civilian population that is actually fight against fascism and Islamic terrorism.

From the depths of Mexico and other rebel geographies, the signatory organizations repudiate this war of extermination by the Turkish state, backed by Russia and the United States, against the Kurdish people and their desire for freedom. We declare ourselves sisters and brothers of the fighting peoples of Syria, in solidarity with their committees, cooperatives, women’s organizations, autonomous schools and to all the efforts of the peoples of Afrin who at this moment are suffering the bombs of neoliberal fascism and the attacks of the paramilitary Salafi gangs.

The struggle of the peoples of northern Syria and Kurdistan is the struggle of all of us: one of a world where many worlds fit. That’s why we shout: Afrin is not far away! Afrin is by our side, below and to the left! Soldiers and paramilitaries out of our autonomous spaces!

#DefenderAfrin #SolidaridadGlobal #ResistenciaGlobal

For global complicity in the resistance:

United Knot (Nodo Solidale) – Italy and Mexico
Raúl Zibechi – Uruguay
Weaving Autonomy: Internationalist Platform for Resistance and Self-Management (PIRATA) – Europe
Indian Organizations for Human Rights in Oaxaca (OIDHO) – Mexico
Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Rights (CODEDI) – Mexico
Magonist Autonomous Collective (CAMA) – Mexico
National Network of Civil Resistance – Mexico
Elisa Martínez Women’s Support Street Brigade – Mexico
Articulation Process of the Sierra of Santa Marta – Veracruz, Mexico
Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of Land and Territory – Mexico
Radio Ñomndaa 100.10 FM The Word of Water – Suljaa’, Guerrero, Mexico
Guarani Yvyrupa Commission – Brazil
Blog – Italy

Categories: News

How to Use Critical Thinking to Spot False Climate Claims

deSmog - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 16:13
Cat graffiti with question marks on a wall

By Peter Ellerton, The University of Queensland

Much of the public discussion about climate science consists of a stream of assertions. The climate is changing or it isn’t; carbon dioxide causes global warming or it doesn’t; humans are partly responsible or they are not; scientists have a rigorous process of peer review or they don’t, and so on.

Despite scientists’ best efforts at communicating with the public, not everyone knows enough about the underlying science to make a call one way or the other. Not only is climate science very complex, but it has also been targeted by deliberate obfuscation campaigns.

Tags: climate science denialcritical thinkingskeptic arguments
Categories: News

Eye of the Troll Storm: Tariq Khan on far-Right Outrage Engine

It's Goin Down - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 11:38

The post Eye of the Troll Storm: Tariq Khan on far-Right Outrage Engine appeared first on It's Going Down.

In November, PhD student of history in Illinois, father, and Air Force veteran Tariq Khan, found himself in the center of a whirlwind of controversy, and a punching bag for a variety of Alt-Right and Alt-Lite blowhards – from InfoWars, to Gavin McInnes, to Anthony Scaramucci. Tariq stood accused of getting into a verbal argument with other students following a Trump protest, and the video of the argument, which shows people yelling at each other and ends in a phone being dropped on the ground, surfaced on the website, Campus Reform, the media wing of Turning Point USA. TPUSA is a growing collection of paleoconservative and Alt-Lite Libertarian students on campuses across the US, is financially backed by massive foundations and billionaires like the Koch Brothers, and is most known for harassing professors and students, often leading to individuals receiving massive amounts of death threats.

Neo-Nazis in the Traditionalist Worker Party, part of the Nationalist Front which was involved in the deadly 'Unite the Right' rally in #Charlottesville + includes KKK groups, is mobilizing to support Turning Point USA at Colorado State University Friday.

— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) January 30, 2018

Campus Reform has spearheaded both a professor ‘watch-list,’ while also attempting to add credence to the idea that ‘conservative’ and far-Right students on campus face discrimination. Towards this end, Tariq Khan was presented to far-Right viewers by everyone from Alex Jones to Gavin McInness as both an ‘antifa’ and as a professor on the campus, regardless of the fact that he was only a student. As Kristina Khan and Shane Burley wrote in TruthOut:

McInnes asked them about an alleged “wild attack by an antifa professor” who supposedly confronted Nelson and Valdez “for being conservatives.” The instructor they were referring to was Tariq Khan, a US Air Force veteran and graduate student at the university. Khan challenged this characterization, saying he confronted the two after they made what he felt was a veiled threat against his children. Khan, his wife Kristina—one of the coauthors of this piece—and one of his children had been filmed by right-wing, anti-Muslim student activists in the same spot on campus two years earlier, and UIUC’s chapter of TPUSA had already attempted to push two campaigns against two different women of color associated with UIUC this past fall: an undergraduate student and a staff member. After the confrontation between Valdez and Khan, TPUSA members and allies created a campaign of threats and intimidation across media platforms.

Soon, the death threats came flooding into Khan’s school, and based on his name, many on the far-Right assumed Khan’s race and religion. As the death threats piled up, pressure also grew from the administration on Khan’s campus to strip him of his status as a PhD candidate.

According to the Campus Antifascist Network:

Far from a “grassroots activist” movement, TPUSA is bankrolled by politically vindictive billionaires and think tanks who target higher education in order to promote regressive and racist political agendas.  Charlie Kirk, the CEO of TPUSA who regularly curries favor with alt-right groups and outlets, has no formal experience in higher education as a student, staff, or faculty member, and wants to target public universities in particular for political purposes.  Faculty members such as Amanda Gailey from the University of Nebraska, Sarah Bond at the University of Iowa, Johnny Eric Williams of Trinity College, and George Ciccariello-Maher, formerly of Drexel University have been smeared in articles in Campus Reform.  Perhaps most disturbingly, TPUSA founded and maintains the McCarthyist, online “Professor Watchlist,” which criticizes faculty who promote racial diversity and multiculturalism in the classroom and has led to numerous instances of cyber-harassment, death threats, and involuntary administrative leaves.

Neo-Nazi and 'Unite the Right' attendee James Allsup speaks here with Turning Point USA talking head + trust-fund dipshit Charlie Kirk. Allsup argues for an end to non-white immigration. Kirk says it can be a good thing because sometimes immigrants make corporations like Google.

— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) January 30, 2018

In this episode of the IGDcast, Khan sets the record straight on what happened, and talks about why he joined the military in the 1990s, seeking direction in life and money for school. While in the military, Khan began reading books about political theory and listening to punk rock bands with radical lyrics, while around him the anarchist and anti-globalization movement grew. Upon leaving the military, Khan became involved in veteran’s groups campaigning against the Iraq War, and currently he is member of the Black Rose Anarchist Federation. Moreover, Khan also opens up about both his process of becoming an anarchist as well as his working-class background and compares it to a life of complete wealth and privilege lived by TPUSA leader, Charlie Kirk.

TFW your Turning Point USA National Field Director texts things out like, "I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all…I hate blacks. End of story." Pic via @willsommer

— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) December 21, 2017

Discussing both far-Right outrage engines and TPUSA at length, Khan also talked about what it is like living through an Alt-Right media attack campaign. From death threats, to harassment at events, to people showing up at his home, what Tariq Khan has dealt with shows the need for a robust antifascist resistance and strong movement self-defense, both on campus and on the streets.

More Info: Campus Antifascist Network Statement in Support of Tariq Khan and Young Fascists on Campus: Turning Point USA and It’s Far-Right Connections

Categories: News

Salt Lake City Capitol Hill Spraypainted in Action for Solidarity with Bears Ears

Anarchist News - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 09:18

In the early morning of February 10th, 2018 the Salt Lake City Capitol Hill building near the East Side steps was spraypainted. Two messages showing clear from the street read "Solidarity -- --- {A}" and "Solidarity w/ Bears Ears". We were unable to complete the writing of "with", but replaced it with a "w/" instead. We maintain the resistance for protection of the wild. Industrial civilization as it exists is not sustainable. We oppose all authority as anarchists in the Salt Lake City community and demand respect deserved by all of the wild.

Tags: salt lake cityanti-civELFcategory: Actions
Categories: News

Trump signs bill to end 2nd government shutdown in weeks

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 06:18

Trump signs bill to end 2nd government shutdown in weeks --Stopgap budget measure boosts spending, sets up new fiscal showdown by March 23 --It was the second shutdown this year | 09 Feb 2018 | The U.S. Congress ended a brief government shutdown on Friday by reaching a wide-ranging deal that is expected to push annual budget deficits to around $1 trillion. The bill passed by a wide margin in the Senate and survived a rebellion of 67 conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives thanks to the support of some Democrats. President Donald Trump signed the measure into law on Friday morning, ending a government shutdown that began just after midnight, when Congress was still debating the budget deal.

Categories: News

Israeli F-16 fighter jet shot down amid Syrian anti-air fire, pilots safe - IDF

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 06:08

Israeli F-16 fighter jet shot down amid Syrian anti-air fire, pilots safe - IDF | 10 Feb 2018 | An Israeli F-16 fighter jet crashed in the country's north after Syria responded with anti-aircraft fire to an Israeli operation targeting Iranian control systems in Syria. "One F16 crashed in Israel, pilots safe," IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said on Twitter. The incident took place after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intercepted an Iranian UAV, which crossed from the territory of Syria into Israel. In response, the Israeli military attacked Iranian positions in Syria. The operation triggered anti-aircraft fire by Syrian forces.

Categories: News

Sen. Tim Kaine demands release of secret Trump war powers memo

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 06:06

Sen. Tim Kaine demands release of secret Trump war powers memo | 09 Feb 2018 | Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is demanding the release of a secret memo outlining President Donald Trump's interpretation of his legal authority to wage war. Kaine, a member of the Armed Services and the Foreign Relations committees, sent a letter Thursday night to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seeking a seven-page memo the administration has kept under wraps for months. Kaine has been leading the charge for Trump to outline his legal rationale for a U.S. bombing campaign in Syria last April in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s [? more likely, US-backed terrorists'] chemical attacks on civilians.

Categories: News

Second White House official departs amid abuse allegations, which he denies

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 05:12

Second White House official departs amid abuse allegations, which he denies | 09 Feb 2018 | A White House speechwriter resigned Friday after his former wife claimed that he was violent and emotionally abusive during their turbulent 2½ -year marriage -- allegations that he vehemently denied, saying she was the one who victimized him. The abrupt departure of David Sorensen, a speechwriter who worked under senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, came as The Washington Post was reporting on a story about abuse claims by his ex-wife, Jessica Corbett. Corbett told The Post that she described his behavior to the FBI last fall as the bureau was conducting a background check of Sorensen.

Categories: News

Kali Akuno on Worker Cooperatives, Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination

Truth Out - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 05:00

Left Out, a podcast produced by Paul Sliker, Michael Palmieri, and Dante Dallavalle, creates in-depth conversations with the most interesting political thinkers, heterodox economists, and organizers on the Left.

In this episode, we sat down with Kali Akuno -- the co-founder and co-directer of Cooperation Jackson. We discuss the emerging network of worker-owned cooperatives and the people behind it building an alternative, solidarity-based economy inside the majority-black and impoverished city of Jackson, Mississippi.

In Jackson Rising, Akuno helps chronicle the history, present and future of one of the most dynamic yet under-documented experiments in radical social transformation taking place in the United States. The book follows the surprising story of the city’s newly elected Mayor, Choke Antara Lumumba, whose vision is to "encourage the development of cooperative businesses" and make Jackson the "most radical city on the planet."

In the first part of the interview, we ask Akuno about the ongoing organizing and institution building of the black, working-class political forces concentrated in Jackson dedicated to advancing the "Jackson-Kush Plan."

We then diver deeper into the different types of worker-owned cooperatives that makeup Cooperation Jackson; the importance of developing cooperatives with clear political aims; and the need for a nationwide network of cooperatives and solidarity economic institutions as a viable alternative to the exploitative nature of our current economic, social, and environmental relations.

Cooperation Jackson is one of the most important stories for those of us struggling for social justice, for human emancipation and self-determination, and for a solidarity economics as a base for working class political struggle and the fight against the systematic economic strangulation.

Pick up a copy of Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi.

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Categories: News

Reclaiming the Radical Critique of Education

Truth Out - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 05:00
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The left has a long history of critiquing not just the content of schooling, but the very concepts and institutions foundational to formal education. Sometimes incompatible but sometimes complementary, radical arguments have marched along side by side over the centuries. Some claimed that the working classes deserved open access to elite education, others that what schools taught was actually nothing more than indoctrination in service to elites and that schools needed a total overhaul in content, while yet others argued that the concepts of school and teacher were in themselves tools for indoctrination and disempowerment and should be abolished. Sometimes one person would adopt more than one, even all, of the above views, depending on the situation or moment. Sometimes radicals just argued the principles among themselves. But there were loud voices for every one of these ideas, as well as many in between and beyond.

That glorious noise of radical discussion on education has been becoming more and more monophonic since the 1960s and 70s.

As the social services we could expect the state to provide vanished one by one in the wake of elimination of welfare as we know it, radicalism seems to have been in retreat, circling the wagons to protect liberal concepts, institutions and processes that were previously subject to sometimes withering critiques. Emma Goldman's slogan "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal" used to be found on T shirts and bumperstickers; now those who used to scoff at electoral politics pour their efforts into undoing gerrymandered districts or fighting voter ID laws. Net neutrality campaigns, defending such no-brainer basics as anti-monopolism and free speech, absorb activists who might otherwise have been paying attention to the Congressional January re-authorization of another 6 years of the government surveillance of Americans. Providing immigrants with housing and legal support has far too often displaced the analysis of and resistance to the foreign policy that brings immigrants to our shores.

Without challenging the importance of defending our shrinking services and rights, I believe that we should wonder and worry: are our larger visions at risk of being eclipsed or even bankrupted by the immediate daily, weekly or monthly struggles we are engaged in to defend the most minimal standards? What happens to our thoughts and our conversations when we are preoccupied defending the very institutions and systems that we recently categorized as bourgeois liberalism? Are we maintaining our deeper and more radical critiques, essential to offering real alternatives to capitalism?

Education is a case in point. The coverage of public schools in Baltimore left without heat during a recent cold snap was abundant in the mainstream press, but also in the independent and left media—as it should be. Articles about test scores gaps or about unequal school funding are easy to find as well. But it's been a long time since we've seen anything like the paradigm-shifting conversations and proposals for education that flourished on the left several decades ago.

In the second half of the twentieth century, thanks to a combination of the G. I. Bill and the civil rights and women's movements, the academic disciplines opened at least partially to working class students, to racial and ethnic minorities, and to women. Radical intellectuals grew up through the academic ranks, and in the 1960s turned their critical eyes to educational institutions and compulsory schooling. The mainstream view of education as an always-benign, universal good that simply needed to be made equally available to all was shattered.

The radical critique of education is longstanding; Thorstein Veblen and Sinclair Lewis wrote acidly on schooling at the start of the 20th century, but were preceded by Tolstoy in the 19th, William Blake's plaintive poem "The Schoolboy" in 18th century, and on. Nevertheless, the second half of the last century provided a boom in radical critiques that is worth remembering and resurrecting.

Some historians were skeptical that publicly funded and compulsory schools were a benefit provided by a newly benign state interested in the welfare of its people, and instead connected the spread of compulsory education with projects of nation building, the need for willing military conscripts, and the rise of the universal franchise, or right to vote. As governments were forced by democratic movements to admit more and more of the populace into the electorate, they realized that they needed to train, inculcate, and tame the citizens that they would now allow to have a voice in elections. Mandatory attendance at government schools provided a handy tool to create a sense of national belonging and thereby legitimize the state, as well as offering a chance to instruct youngsters in government-friendly civics, American history, and Western Civ (a course initially invented in the wake of dismay at the ideological state of U.S. soldiers in World War 1).

Heterodox economists began to wonder how compulsory schooling interacted with the labor force, identifying the industrial discipline of public schools, right down to the factory-like bells that move children from one room to another, as preparing and sculpting children for the life of an obedient worker. They scrutinized the educational curriculum and concluded that schooling was aimed at producing skills that employers, rather than citizens, parents or students, wanted. They assessed what the educational trade calls "the custodial function of the schools", what we might call school-as-daycare, as an important means for the state to free up care-taking parents for incorporation into the capitalist workforce.

Social commentators discussed the ideological importance of a universally available educational structure. They remarked that if capitalist societies want to offer a viable meritocratic myth that class mobility is possible for all, through hard work and innate abilities, the existence of public schools is essential "proof" that there is a level playing field; with universal access to education, it can be claimed that the best and brightest of any group clearly do have the chance to rise to the top, if they are truly worthy. And when the vast majority of people land, as they inevitably do, in low social circumstances, public schools provide critical ideological validation; they are the foundation for the claim that everyone has had a fair shot at success and society is merely sorting citizens into the social classes they "deserve", as evidenced by their school performance. If class mobility proves to be minimal, the blame can then be conveniently laid at the feet of poor schools, not structures of power. Demonstrating the success of this strategy, endless battles over educational policy currently substitute for discussions of economic equality: poor kids end up in jobs that pay less than a living wage? Increase educational standards and re-write the core curriculum!

Cultural theorists framed institutional education as cultural imperialism, both within the U.S. and abroad. Here at home, pedagogues argued that community self-determination and self-sufficiency were undermined as the school system taught poor and working class pupils to disdain their own cultures and social networks, and to instead strive to talk, think, and live like their teachers. Overseas, a vigorous analysis of American foreign "aid" interpreted formerly unassailable ventures such as building schools as the forcible export of a colonizing culture, set on undermining the non-capitalist ways and knowledge in the global South. Iconoclasts like Ivan Illich even argued that teaching was inherently a "disabling profession", premised on sapping agency and initiative from the populace, and proposing alternate models based on self-sufficiency and mutual aid.

Progressives' radical ideas about education weren't just theoretical, they were practical and applied, too. Putting their intellectual ideas to work, teachers and educational theorists of the 60s and 70s with a wide range of leftist political views explored alternative pedagogies and educational structures as a necessary part and parcel of progressive politics in general, following in the footsteps of the anarchist Modern Schools, the workers' colleges, and many other alternative institutions of the early 20th century. (For more, see chapter 84 of the fascinating 1924 book The Goslings: A Study of the American Schools by Upton Sinclair, digitized here..) They reckoned that if education as-it-was reflected and served the hierarchical social order, then they needed to teach differently if they wanted to create a new world. College professors asked students to create the course syllabi their classes would follow. Democratic schools built assemblies of staff, students, and parents which would set schools' policies and make important decisions. Teachers eschewed lecturing, competition, and grades in favor of discussions and portfolios. Some of the most heterodox educational rebels opted out of school altogether, creating the homeschooling, unschooling, and deschooling movements.

But since the start of the retreat of the welfare state, radical critiques of education have waned. In fact, to confess nowadays that you are a radical whose children don't go to school is to risk being called an elitist or a privatizer. Venture a remark that, as institutions of the government, public schools have as their raison d'etre the massification of the working classes, and you will be accused of supporting charter schools' anti-union tactics. Note that universal pre-schools, touted as a people's agenda, remove cultural reproduction from communities and hand over toddlers to curricula built by bourgeois bureaucrats, enforced by the economic conscription of poor parents out of the household and into the workforce, and you are branded a reactionary.

It seems that the radical vision for education has shrunken to advocating for better funding and equipment for a system whose inherent mission is to create compliant citizens and a docile workforce.

It's more than time to resurrect the old, bolder set of radical questions and ideas. If the left abandons an open debate on the nature of institutional education, there will be very few people left discussing how our children fare at the hands of state indoctrination, or how cultural hegemony is built from a tender age.

Of course we need to be clear that the pursuit of a radical critique of institutionalized education is not implicitly lending support to school vouchers or to for-profit charters. Questioning schooling doesn't mean that we are engaged in defunding public education systems, or that we are part of the attack on teachers' unions. It means only exactly what it says: that we are pursuing a deep and critical examination of an essential reproductive institution of capitalism, because we are the only ones who will do it.

But let's take heart. Resurrecting and revitalizing the radical challenge to schooling as we know it doesn't have to be a negative proposition. Our forebears have provided us with plentiful alternative models and histories to draw on; in fact, many of these models continue and flourish today, uncelebrated by the mainstream left. We have free schools and democratic schools, including some which serve large proportions of poor children. We have organizations of African American homeschoolers and feminist unschoolers. India supports a vibrant alternative education movement linked with the concept of swaraj or self-rule, while Mexico's indigenous people have a network of autonomous and self-directed "unitierras", described as places for "learning in small groups how to construct autonomous ways of life, socially just, environmentally sensible and economically feasible". We don't need to reinvent the visionary alternative to institutionalized education, we just need to reconnect the socialist conversation with all those people who have been keeping that vision alive.

The left calls vigorously for universal, single payer health care, and yet also describes the deeply problematic nature of conventional medicine which that health insurance would give us access to. We campaign for regulated and subsidized prescription prices, yet simultaneously point out the extent to which pharmaceutical companies have created self-serving medical research that leads to the over-prescription of the very medicines we want subsidized. We push for free maternity clinics, while also attacking the patriarchal and racist shape of the obstetrical care those clinics provide. We have shown repeatedly that we are able to offer fundamental challenges to institutions, while still supporting the social access to basic services those institutions enable. Now we need to get past the idea that it is impossible to entertain and discuss a range of challenges to state-run and compulsory schooling while also fighting for free, equitable, universal access to humane and meaningful education for those who want or need it.

If we can't, we're giving up our children and our communities without a fight.

Categories: News

Reproductive Rights Groups Slam White House Report on Trump's Unconscionable Global Gag Rule

Truth Out - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 05:00

Protesters hold signs as they march to the White House during a march and rally to support women's health programs and protest the White House global gag rule on March 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)Protesters hold signs as they march to the White House during a march and rally to support women's health programs and protest the White House global gag rule on March 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Women's rights groups on Thursday denounced a report issued by the State Department on the impact of the Trump administration's reinstatement of the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy -- saying the misleading document ignores the clear negative impacts the policy is having on poor communities and women around the world that have lost access to vital health services.

Yet in its review of Trump #GlobalGagRule, @StateDept omitted that clinics are once again shutting down & does not address predicted impacts on people losing critical health services. #maternalhealth

— Guttmacher Institute (@Guttmacher) February 8, 2018

The global gag rule, first applied to U.S. aid in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, rescinds funding from non-governmental organizations and international family planning groups unless they agree not to provide abortion care or counseling related to abortion.

After his inauguration, President Donald Trump announced his administration would observe an expanded version of the rule, applying it to all global health assistance programs instead of just those focused on reproductive health -- putting about $7 billion of funding for international health aid in question unless organizations agreed to honor the administration's opposition to abortion.

According to the State Department, 733 organizations have agreed to halt abortion care in exchange for funding. Four have refused, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International -- two of the world's largest providers of reproductive healthcare in developing countries.

The groups are losing $100 million and $80 million in aid, respectively, and their local partners in impoverished countries have felt the effects.

The two organizations' loss in funding could lead to a combined total of about 7.5 million unwanted pregnancies and 2.5 million unsafe abortions, according to Time.

#TrumpGlobalGag puts life-saving care out of reach for vulnerable families around the world. In Kenya, Family Health Options was forced to close a clinic & cancel 100+ outreach events, including family planning services, cancer screenings & HIV testing.

— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) February 8, 2018

One of Planned Parenthood's partner clinics, the Mozambican Association for Family Development, is losing 60 percent of its funding because of Trump's decision, according to the Associated Press. Ninety of its facilities, which provide HIV and tuberculosis testing as well as family planning care, have shut down, and the group has lost hundreds of staff members and peer educators.

Marie Stopes International expects to close health services for women in more than three dozen countries including Madagascar, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

"Evidence shows that by blocking funding to the world's largest NGO providers of modern contraception, unintended pregnancies and abortions go up," Marjorie Newman-Williams, vice-president of Marie Stopes International, said in a statement this week. "As a result, women and girls are less likely to complete their education, have a career, or pursue their dreams for the future."

Despite the impact of the global gag rules on these groups -- not to mention the untold numbers of clinics that have been forced to halt abortion care in order to continue providing services to impoverished communities -- the State Department's report on the policy, called "Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance" (PLGHA), gives a positive portrayal of the global gag rule's effects:

A majority of global health assistance agreements have already received new funding, and therefore are subject to the PLGHA policy. Nearly all prime partners that have had the opportunity to accept the policy have done so; prime partners declined to sign in only four instances out of 733 awards...USAID is working to transition the activities of those organizations that have not agreed to the PLGHA standard provision to other partners, while minimizing disruption of services.

About 500 grants for health organizations have not yet had to make a decision regarding funding and abortion services, but will at the end of the fiscal year. Critics including the International Center for Research on Women say this makes the administration's assessment of the true impact of the global gag rule even less complete.

The @StateDept just released a premature & inadequate review of the #GlobalGagRule despite the recommendation of over 100 civil society organizations.

Ongoing reviews of this harmful policy’s impact across all global health programs is a MUST.

— ICRW (@ICRW) February 8, 2018

"It is unconscionable that the administration never conducted an analysis of this disastrous policy prior to implementation," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the sponsor of a bill that would repeal the rule, in a statement after the report's release on Wednesday. "The administration's expansion and implementation of the global gag rule will harm healthcare services for men, women, and children around the globe and leave an indelible stain on our legacy of global health leadership."

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Categories: News

Building on a Deep Organizing History, Black Women Are Reshaping the Electoral Landscape

Truth Out - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 05:00

A group of women, under a 'Women's Liberation' banner, march in support of the Black Panther Party, New Haven, Connecticut, November 1969. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)A group of women, under a "Women's Liberation" banner, march in support of the Black Panther Party, New Haven, Connecticut, November 1969. (Photo: David Fenton / Getty Images)

Black women have always been organized despite the brutality of white system control. That tradition of informal networks and formal institutions, which helped maintain Black life under slavery continues today -- most recently seen in movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. What's more, the recent Democratic wins in Alabama, Virginia and New Jersey were largely owing to the work of Black women's organizing in those states.

A group of women, under a 'Women's Liberation' banner, march in support of the Black Panther Party, New Haven, Connecticut, November 1969. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)A group of women, under a "Women's Liberation" banner, march in support of the Black Panther Party, New Haven, Connecticut, November 1969. (Photo: David Fenton / Getty Images)

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Doug Jones in Alabama. Ralph Northam and Justin Fairfax in Virginia, Phil Murphy and Sheila Oliver in New Jersey: All Democratic wins made possible by Black women's historical capacity for building organizational and structural power. This power -- which was originally cultivated to protect and preserve Black bodies, to protect and preserve Black life -- has commanded victories for the Democratic Party in 2017 and is poised to influence the midterms in 2018.

A timeline of current events centering white women would seem to light the path to these victories: Hillary Clinton's defeat on November 8, 2016. Global resistance that demonstrated the will of pink-capped women on January 21, 2017. Alyssa Milano's #MeToo tweet. But more than half of white women in Alabama, Virginia and New Jersey voted for the Republican, while Black women's votes ushered in the Democratic winners at rates above 90 percent. It is Black women walking the path for the Democratic Party, yet the light continues to shine on white women who are on -- or off -- that road. Indeed, none of these current events centering white women make visible the African American women who paved the road in the first place: African American women like Mary Church Terrell, Frances E.W. Harper and Fannie Lou Hamer. Women who are the foremothers of #MeToo founder Tarana Burke. There are more, millions more. These millions are the Black women who strategized, founded and have maintained, for over a century, institutions that edify the Black community.

Informal networks maintained by enslaved African women kept Black people alive, literally and figuratively.

These institutions are civic, social, business and political. They are even athletic. They are diverse. They are Black Lives Matter and Zeta Phi Beta. They are Black Women's Network and Mocha Moms, Inc. They are Black Women's Health Imperative and National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. They are Black Girls Rock! and Black Girls CodeGirl Trek and Black Girls Run. They are The Links and they are everywhere. They are many, many more. They do not endorse candidates. They are not PACs. They do not lobby. They serve the community in various capacities and grow leadership in membership. And they are networks.

These networks often intersect, so that a woman who grew up in Jack & Jill and pledged AKA in college is also a Girl Friend. These organizations demand her time, as she has to serve on committee, has to roll up her sleeves and do the work. She beats a drum, online and off, to support the Movement for Black Lives. She is poised. When a crucial election comes up, she knows how to organize. Structures are already in place for her to do so.

She has been doing the work of delivering structural value to the Black community since her arrival on these shores. Black women have always been organized, despite the brutality of white system control. Informal networks maintained by enslaved African women kept Black people alive, literally and figuratively. Runaway and free-born Black women institutionalized these informal networks. In the North, organized groups of Black women aided runaways, pooled financial resources to help support small business enterprises and contributed to costs when members fell on hard times. The Colored Women's Club Movement as a formal campaign was born out of this strategy employed by Black women in the North. Understanding the effectiveness of more formal structures to support African American communities and defend Black women from the sexual violence of dominant white men, Founding Mothers heeded the call sounded by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and organized colored women's clubs under one structural umbrella at the 1896 First Annual Convention of the National Association of Afro-American Women.

In the early 20th century, Black college women founded sororities that have offered generations of educated Black women lifetime sisterhood and commitment to service in the community. Other organizations founded through the middle 20th century provided refuge from the racist exclusion of Black families that persisted in everyday American life. Now, in the 21st century, African American women continue to innovate, building bricks to edify a structural power that is already in place.

"These organizations and other community institutions like churches and colleges become entry points for candidates and campaigns to make contact with Black women voters," L. Joy Williams, a political strategist and owner of LJW Community Strategies, told Truthout. "But more importantly, these institutions are how Black women organize themselves. Through these organizations, Black women volunteer and work in their communities and know first-hand what issues are important and the impact government policies and legislation have on the daily lives of their families and neighbors. It's what makes them educated and reliable voters who are able to evaluate the records and values of candidates and make the choice that is best for their community."

Williams is president of the Brooklyn NAACP and host and creator of #SundayCivics, a weekly show featuring African Americans who are actively engaged in our participatory democracy. Though #SundayCivics is separate and apart from the Brooklyn NAACP, Williams's program is a dynamic complement to the work she does in that venerable 96-year-old branch of the civil rights institution Ida B. Wells helped found.

Higher Heights for America is another forward-looking organization rooted in the rich sustenance of Black women's fortifying past. A pipeline for Black women's political leadership nationwide, Higher Heights was founded in 2014 by Kimberly Peeler Allen and Glynda Carr. Carr, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and the NAACP, understood from her earliest childhood the importance of active civic engagement. This civic engagement is, for her, a matrilineal heritage. "In their lifetime, my great-grandmother -- who died just shy of her 100th birthday -- and grandmother were able to vote after years of fighting for this basic civic right," Carr told Truthout. "Their experience shaped my family's political activism. They saw voting as a way to improve their schools, economic situations and communities."

Carr, who grew up in Connecticut, witnessed the power and responsibility of being politically active by observing the women in her own family. "My mother believed so strongly in the power of voting that on the day I turned 18, she drove me down to City Hall and had me register, and she called me every Election Day to remind me to cast my ballot," she said.

Black women continue to interrogate the systemic racism and sexism that stagnate white progressives.

This family legacy of active civic engagement drives Carr's commitment to support Black female political leadership through the organization she co-founded. "Higher Heights is a result of the examples set by the women who held sway over my life," she said. "Their teachings, along with my own experiences, drive my work to increase Black women's political involvement so we can have a place at the decision-makers' table and are able to advance progressive public policies."

Organizations like Higher Heights that were explicitly founded to engage the political process have a deeply rooted power that derives from the efforts of Black women through time. In 1969, Shirley Chisholm became the first and only Black woman elected to the US Congress, and in 1972, she became the first woman and the first African American to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. These firsts certainly suggest an aloneness, an absence of other women of color to support her trailblazing efforts; but, of course, that is not the case at all. Chisholm was a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and she remained in community even after her political career ended. She was, as just one example, a cofounder of African American Women for Reproductive Freedom, an organization whose list of founding members reads like a who's who of late 20th century Black female leadership. Chisholm is one dynamic political force whose life's trajectory inspired the Black female team that founded Higher Heights.

African American women trailblazers like Chisholm have historically utilized the formal and informal structural capacity of Black women to push a more progressive agenda in organizations dominated by white men. Consider the ways Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Jacobs energized the abolitionist movement. Where would the anti-slavery struggle have been without them -- and the nameless, countless other Black women who, like these legends, did the hard work of freeing themselves? Just as Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" speech redirected white men's proclivity toward gender and racial exclusion within the movement that was, ironically, organized to liberate enslaved people, Black women continue to interrogate the systemic racism and sexism that stagnate white progressives.

Carr said, "After working almost a decade in politics, in 2011, I found myself questioning why progressives had lost control of the US House and governorships. I was having coffee one day with Kimberly [Peeler Allen] at a Brooklyn café, mainly to talk about my next career moves, but the conversation shifted to our shared frustration that our political work most often found us in rooms with very few people of color, and especially very few Black women. Our experience told us that Black women are a key to long-term progressive leadership -- and certainly, recent elections have proved this true. We knew that, like us, other Black women were seeking spaces and opportunities to aggregate and organize their political power and help move this country forward. That day, Kim and I began to sketch out what a political organization for and by Black women would look like, and we even came up with the name, Higher Heights."

Carr says she and Peeler Allen spent the next two years doing research, having meetings and gathering with small groups of African American women to, as she explains, "talk about growing our political power and developing an organization to do this work."

Young Black women voters in particular wanted to make a clear point that candidates need to intentionally engage us and not take us for granted.

By 2014, that work was happening. Higher Heights launched the #BlackWomenVote campaign in Georgia and Ohio, and launched the Higher Heights Sister-to-Sister Salon, where small groups of Black women gather for a series of discussions about critical issues affecting African American communities and the ways to increase political leadership to address them.

It is this level of Black female organization and structure that, in 2017, galvanized the Black women of an entire state -- and drove from political power a vicious racist who was accused of child molestation by nine survivors. Carr said that while Doug Jones has acknowledged the critical role Black women played in his traditionally conservative state, "What's less touted about this win is that our decisive voter turnout was a direct result of Higher Heights's work to pen an open letter to the Democratic National Party demanding greater inclusion and support for Black women."

The letter was signed by 30 Black women leaders, and it resulted in a convening with the Democratic National Committee some months before the Alabama election. "We demanded that the organization give Black women a return on our ongoing historic role in delivering progressive wins," Carr said. Higher Heights's demands also included investing in Black women voter programs in 2018 and hiring more Black women political strategists.

The Democratic Party would be wise to heed the strength of Black women. Carr says that the large percentages of Black women who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 were mounting a key defensive strategy -- their votes were "as much about keeping [Trump] out of the White House as it was about putting [Clinton] in it."

However, Carr added, "We're hardly a monolithic voting bloc. Post-election polling suggested that there were Black women who showed up at the polls and only voted for state and local candidates because they didn't feel their interests were adequately represented and addressed by either presidential candidate. Young Black women voters in particular wanted to make a clear point that candidates need to intentionally engage us and not take us for granted."

It is Black woman seeing and hearing other Black women, and not taking them for granted, that enables pre-existing structures to implement direct civic action. This is a point echoed by LaTosha Brown, co-founder with Chris Albright of the Alabama-based Black Voters Matter Fund. Brown says the work of Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party inspired her group's own work.

"Our goal is to organize all Black voters in rural, suburban and urban communities around an agenda that advances our community, and not because it is tied to a particular candidate and/or party," Brown told Truthout. "Our strategy is rooted in building Black power: We see that as creating the tools, mechanisms and vehicles to make sure that Black communities are self-determined and able to make decisions about the care, well-being and advancement of our communities."   

Brown is also a principal of TruthSpeaks Consulting, a senior adviser to Black Women's Roundtable and a board member of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Born in New Jersey but raised in Alabama, Brown explains how Black Voters Matter worked to topple Roy Moore in her state's historic race for the Senate. Black Voters Matter made sure to center Black voters in every stage of the campaign, empowering other local groups to organize. "We made sure that our message was rooted in affirming the power of the collective Black vote and focused on Black voters -- not the candidates," Brown said.

Brown estimates that over 90 percent of the leadership that the Black Voters Matter Fund works with is made up of Black women, and adds, "Our work is very much centered in a Black feminist social justice leadership frame." Black Voters Matter partnered with Black sororities, women's civic groups and social justice groups that focus on issues like reproductive health, criminal legal reform and immigration policy, and are led by African American women. These organizations galvanized the state's African American voters in urban centers and rural areas. The list is long and includes Black Women's RoundtableSouthern Rural Black Women's Initiative for Economic and Social JusticeBlack Belt Deliberative Dialogue Group at Tuskegee UniversityBlack Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and JusticeBama Kids and 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement.

The progressive work carried out by Black women in rural areas was crucial in voting efforts. Networking with local activists and community leaders in remote regions allowed Black Voters Matter to transport people to the polls.

"In rural communities, relationships are key to building successful [get out the vote] campaigns," Brown said. "Most communities are [tight-knit] and very connected through church, family and work. Having the right people on the ground that are both respected and connected in these rural communities made the world of difference in our efforts."

Many of the organizations Black Voters Matter worked with are overlooked by traditional political organizations. Brown continues to push back against the white, heteronormative, male power centered in the mainstream, insisting that now Senator Jones engage communities of color and the lesser-known organizations that represent them.

Higher Heights is also looking ahead, even as it builds on the foundation poured by Black women's hands. Carr's organization aims to build on the worker's rights component of the mid-20th century civil rights movement, as Black women have the second-largest rate of labor union participation and are growing in leadership roles within unions. "Higher Heights is working to foster relationships with Black female union membership," Carr said, "both in terms of engaging voters and identifying a pipeline of Black women leaders."

Higher Heights is also focusing on greater representation of Black women in political office. According to Carr, the 21 Black women currently serving in Congress is a historic high, as are the numbers of Black women simultaneously serving as mayors of large cities. Higher Heights continues to work to grow the numbers of Black women in elected office through endorsements and grassroots support of candidates like Georgia's Stacy Abrams, who is poised to become the nation's first Black woman governor.

Carr insists that while Black women are set to influence the 2018 midterms, our power can be even stronger if we aggregate it, develop a clear agenda and maintain our commitment to civic action, like volunteering for campaigns, assisting "get out the vote" efforts and running for office ourselves.

Brown seems to agree. "I think we will have even more impact and influence in upcoming elections as more Black women seek public office and engage in organizing in their field."

As we look ahead, the path forward is especially bright right now, despite the dim realities of the current administration. About 2018, Brown said, "I think this will be the year of the woman."

Categories: News