New reports provide an unprecedented look at contaminants leaking from coal ash ponds and landfills. But the chasm between information and environmental protection may deepen thanks to a proposed Trump administration rollback that would lessen the consequences and weaken requirements for polluting power plants.
Coal ash slurry pours into the first of two settling ponds adjacent to the Riverbend Steam Station on Mountain Island Lake in Gaston County, North Carolina, January 23, 2008. (Photo: Jeff Willhelm / Charlotte Observer / MCT via Getty Images)
In tests conducted in late 2017, one in three coal-fired power plants nationwide detected "statistically significant" amounts of contaminants, including harmful chemicals like arsenic, in the groundwater around their facilities.
This information, which utility companies had to post on their websites in March, became public for the first time under an Obama-era environmental rule regulating coal ash, the waste generated from burning coal.
Mixed with water and stored in ponds and landfills at nearly 300 facilities across the country, coal ash has been found to contain carcinogens and toxins like mercury and lead. For decades, people living near coal-fired plants have feared the ash was seeping into the ground and contaminating their drinking water.
But now, just as residents are getting their first indication of whether neighboring plants might pose a threat, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is advancing a proposal to amend the rule, giving states the authority to lessen consequences and weaken requirements for polluting power plants.
As the rule stands today, if a plant exceeds federal limits for certain pollutants in groundwater and the utility company can't prove its coal ash pond has an adequate liner to hold in the toxins, the pond would be shut down. The new proposal would give states the power to allow the pond to remain open while the plant cleans up the contamination. It would also set more lenient thresholds for types of contaminants that trigger mandated cleanups.
Pruitt has said the plan would save utilities an estimated $31 million to $100 million per year in compliance costs and give states flexibility to set their own standards that are "at least as protective" as the federal ones, rather than simply installing the EPA's nationwide.
The EPA didn't respond to requests to elaborate on the reasoning behind the proposal.
Relative to the more dramatic examples of regulatory rollback at the EPA under the Trump administration, the proposed changes to the rule regulating coal ash are relatively subtle and targeted, not like the planned wholesale elimination of the Clean Power Plan or new fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. Still, the effects stand to be substantial.
With a public hearing on the proposal scheduled for April 24, operators of plants across the country have reported results from their initial groundwater tests, but have a second phase -- the one that leads to remediation under the existing rule -- still ahead.It is uncertain if those remedies would still be required if the EPA amends the rule.
The operator of the Healy Power Plant, located two hours southwest of Fairbanks, Alaska, has completed the second round of testing and detected troubling levels of antimony, arsenic, lithium, molybdenum and selenium. The company says it will follow the rule's current guidelines to address these problems even though the rule is in flux.
But activists in Alaska wonder how long that commitment will survive if the rule is amended.
Pamela Miller is the executive director for Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Before the monitoring requirements, the group conducted its own limited sampling that found contamination around disposal areas in Fairbanks.
Even before Pruitt intervened, the rule granted the EPA no direct authority to sanction plant operators caught exceeding limits on groundwater pollution, leaving it to states to do so or to groups like Miller's to sue. If the new proposal goes forward, it'll be even harder to compel action on contamination, Miller said.
"We knew the regulations for coal ash were too weak," she said. "The Obama administration made some progress in that area, but we weren't happy with it. To see attempts to roll those back -- the already inadequate regulations -- is just an abomination."
For decades, the EPA didn't regulate coal ash, deciding it wasn't hazardous waste -- a designation reserved mostly for chemicals that ignite and corrode, or kill humans in low doses -- and was instead solid waste, a category managed by states.
There were patchy state requirements for how coal ash ponds and landfills should be built and how much contamination they could release. Fifteen states required plant operators to install liners in ponds to prevent chemicals from seeping out. The rest didn't. In some locations, the industry moved on its own toward installing liners and monitoring ponds and landfills, but many storage sites had no such controls in place.
As cases of contamination cropped up in cities across the country, the EPA announced in May 2000 that national standards were necessary, but made no progress toward setting them.
It took a spill of epic proportions to shock officials to attention.
Initial 911 calls reported what happened as a mudslide. Three days before Christmas 2008, in eastern Tennessee, a coal ash storage unit at the Kingston Fossil Plant collapsed, unleashing 5.4 million cubic yards of sludge into the Emory and Clinch rivers.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which owned the plant, had been storing the coal ash in what looked like a hill, but was really a stack of ponds called "cells," sealed and layered on top of each other like a tiered cake. The earthen walls deteriorated, weakening the foundation. And as the cells started to collapse, decades of loose, wet ash began to flow, piling up fast against the dikes before the weight overpowered and crushed them.
The muck toppled a cell phone tower, moved a bulldozer and shifted a house off its foundation. In the end, three homes were destroyed, dozens of others were damaged and the equivalent of 100 city blocks were blanketed in sludge. At a committee meeting on Capitol Hill, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. passed around a jar of the stuff. "This is why the community is so up in arms," she said. "This isn't harmless mud."
When environmental regulators had focused on coal ash previously, they had concentrated on its potential to contaminate groundwater -- not on structural failures like what happened at Kingston.
"It was completely out of the blue," said Suzanne Rudzinski, who retired in 2013 as head of the EPA's Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, which had studied coal ash. "Nobody had thought about that. There may have been an assumption that someone else was regulating it, but states didn't control it, mining offices didn't control it. It was just sort of out there… It fell through the cracks."
The EPA began overseeing the cleanup, along with a nationwide study of coal ash disposal sites. It gathered information from 240 facilities that operated 676 ponds and landfills and looked for the same risk factors that led to the collapse, including whether the structure stretched more than six feet high.
The survey flagged 49 sites at 26 facilities around the country as "high hazard" -- located in areas that would suffer economic, environmental or infrastructure damage if they were to fail.
Seven years after the spill, the EPA finalized regulations designed to prevent structural collapses like Kingston from ever happening again. The requirements for shoring up landfills and ponds were uncontroversial.
But the 2015 rule went further. It required new landfills and ponds to have liners, set limits on where coal ash could be stored and dictated how companies should decommission retired ponds. The rule created requirements for monitoring the groundwater around disposal sites, specified where companies needed to collect samples and created a stringent threshold for contaminants.
But the federal government could do little to enforce these mandates beyond requiring plant operators to hire qualified engineers to certify that facilities are in compliance and insisting they post engineers' reports on websites accessible to the public. Residents and state regulators can scour the documents and perhaps challenge a company's compliance by bringing a lawsuit.
"There wasn't a better tool out there," Rudzinski said. "So, it was the best way."
Then, in 2016, a new law created another path to enforcement. The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act empowered states to create permit programs for plants that generate coal ash, making permits contingent on at least meeting federal standards for monitoring groundwater and limiting contaminants.
But in giving states a mechanism to enforce the federal requirements, it also gave them the authority to make site-specific modifications to the rule. This, in turn, opened the door for industry to argue that states should have even more latitude and that the rule should be rewritten to reflect that flexibility.
In May 2017, the EPA received a petition from Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, an industry lobbying organization. It noted that because states now had the power to issue permits for coal ash ponds, the states should have the flexibility to tailor monitoring standards and corrective actions like they do when regulating other kinds of solid waste.
The group did not challenge the key structural protections designed to prevent another catastrophic failure like the Kingston spill. "We're not suggesting that (the rule) be thrown out," said Jim Roewer, executive director of USWAG. "We do want those federal standards to make sense."
USWAG asked the EPA to reconsider mandates on what concentration of chemicals trigger additional action in groundwater monitoring tests, the location of monitoring wells and standards governing inactive coal ponds. States should be able to determine what constitutes an adequate liner, the industry group said.
The EPA's proposed amended rule, released last month, tracks closely with what USWAG wanted. Among the changes, the rule would move one contaminant, boron, to a later stage in the groundwater monitoring scheme, meaning that only facilities that detect other abnormal levels of chemicals need to test for it. The proposal would give states the power to alter deadlines for facilities to show their corrective action measures are working. Instead of professional engineers, states would certify that facilities were in compliance. States could set different groundwater protection standards for certain contaminants, and give more flexibility to facilities in how they address contamination.
So far, only Oklahoma has submitted an application to create a state permitting program, but officials in states with lots of coal plants like North Carolina, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Texas all expect to submit them. Other states, including South Carolina, Florida and Illinois, say they are still considering their options.
Former EPA officials, experts and activists are worried the changes could lead to the same patchy standards in place before the rule. Allowing flexibility on where a plant can put a monitoring well, they said, could skew results. States have historically had poor track records for setting adequate standards on liners, testing and contaminants, they said.
"[States] don't necessarily see the rest of the picture," said Rudzinski, now an environmental consultant. "The federal government sees the bigger picture."
ProPublica asked EPA officials how they respond to criticism that the proposed revisions giving states more leeway would dilute environmental protections, and what they will do to ensure that state oversight will remain standardized across the country.
The EPA did not respond to those questions.
The rule, as written, is showing signs it can be effective.
In the first months of 2017, its monitoring requirements caught the potential contamination of an aquifer near a facility run by the Tennessee Valley Authority, the massive power provider involved in the Kingston spill.
TVA was planning to retire a coal-fired power plant it operated in Memphis and replace it with a new natural gas generator. It needed a water source to cool the generator, and tapped into a pristine one -- the Memphis Sand aquifer, the city's source of drinking water.
From TVA's standpoint, drilling wells directly into the aquifer wasn't a big deal -- "dozens" of companies around Memphis do the same thing, said Scott Brooks, a TVA spokesman. So, after getting the requisite approvals in fall 2016, it started drilling five groundwater wells.
Around the same time, the coal-fired plant across the street -- the one on its way out -- got eight new wells, too. To comply with the federal coal ash rule, TVA was required to install these monitoring wells to check groundwater for potential contaminants.
In November 2016, the first baseline samples from those monitoring wells produced elevated levels of arsenic, fluoride and lead. The company tested again in January, February, March and April 2017. Each time, it found elevated levels of contaminants.
The standard for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion; tests in May 2017 found arsenic levels as high as 3,560 parts per billion in one well. Lead was present in that well, too, at 63.9 parts per billion -- four times the federal action level.
That summer, TVA alerted state regulators, and local news outlets alerted the community. The levels were "uncharacteristic for coal ash, based on historical data" from TVA's fleet, which suggests that contaminants from other facilities may have migrated into the area. Regardless of the source, TVA and the local government now had to contend with the information that Memphis' aquifer was at risk for contamination, and drilling deeper wells at the gas plant could make it worse.
"We wake up and it's like, 'Jesus,'" said Ward Archer, president of the citizen group Protect Our Aquifer. "If it wasn't for that mandate -- for those test wells, for those monitoring wells -- we would have never known this. It absolutely would have gone by unnoticed."
Under state oversight, TVA conducted an investigation into the contamination. It found that contamination was limited to the upper alluvial aquifer, which is separated from the Memphis aquifer by a layer of clay -- shielding the drinking water from contamination. But as a precaution, TVA will buy water from the local utility, Memphis Light, Gas and Water, instead of using the wells to cool the plant, which will come online before summer, Brooks said. TDEC is reviewing the investigation results and will work with TVA if any additional testing is required, he said.
Now, preliminary results for all of the country's coal ash storage sites are online. And they are indicating more potential contamination.
The rule requires companies to check one set of constituents first, including boron, calcium, sulfate and total dissolved solids. They're like a canary in a coal mine, their presence in groundwater signaling that further contamination might be present.
If a facility finds a statistically significant increase in those chemicals, it must then test for an additional set that the EPA has deemed to be more harmful, including arsenic, mercury, radium, cobalt, lithium and lead.
In the 259 reports that were posted in March, facilities were required to show the work they'd completed last year -- taking enough samples to establish baseline levels and initiating the first round of tests. The deadline for analyzing the first round of tests hasn't hit yet, but of the 111 facilities that completed this step early, 86 detected the canary-in-a-coal-mine chemicals.
If those results are confirmed, they could spur the second round of tests for more harmful chemicals.
Of the reports ProPublica obtained, two facilities so far have tested for and discovered such toxins: the Healy Power Plant in Alaska and James De Young Power Plant in Holland, Mich. The De Young Power Plant has already been decommissioned -- the contamination was discovered through tests in 2011 before the coal ash rule was in place -- and the ponds removed as the city works to clean up the site for reuse.
At the Healy plant, Naomi Morton Knight, environmental officer at Golden Valley Electric Association said the company is "committed to meeting all requirements" of the rule, and was working to design and test alternatives to using coal ash ponds.
Under the current coal ash rule, if values in that second tier exceed the federal groundwater protection standard for any contaminants, the facility must tell state and local officials and put a notice on the facility's website. The facility is also required to install additional wells, collect data and figure out what chemicals are leaking from the site, and how much contamination was released.
If the contamination has left the boundaries of the facility's property, the owner is required to tell landowners and residents affected. The facility then has 90 days to fix the problem -- by installing a liner, closing the pond or landfill or some other measure. Once the fix is implemented, the facility has to continue groundwater monitoring for three years to show that the contaminants have been lowered to an acceptable level, according to federal standards.
Under the proposed rule, though, states could weaken those requirements.
"Instead of reacting to this data by requiring additional cleanups and protections," said Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center, "what Pruitt is proposing to do is put in place a system that will protect the utilities from having to do anything about the serious pollution they are causing."
There are moments, walking through Lakeshore Park in Kingston, Tenn., when it's easy to forget what happened there. The Emory river glints in the sun. The breeze ripples over the water and shakes the leaves of trees.
Melinda Hillman remembers. She always thought she would retire at her home on the other side of the river cove in the city of Harriman. "We had exactly what we wanted," she said. "Not too big, not too small. We could keep our boats in the water year round."
She remembers standing in her yard that morning in 2008, and seeing boats, jet skis and docks swallowed by the ash. Within a month, she sat in lawmakers' offices on Capitol Hill, trying to explain what it's like to see your backyard "look like the moon."
Life in her neighborhood became unbearable. The cacophony of train horns, truck engines and heavy machinery was nearly non-stop as crews worked around the clock to clean the site. In her backyard, ash swirled, leaving a thick layer of soot on the patio table. Her 2-year-old daughter developed breathing problems.
In the end, Hillman couldn't stay. Her family accepted a settlement and moved. Almost all of her neighbors left, too. TVA bought 180 properties and razed them to the ground. Instead of a neighborhood, the area would become a park.
As a part of the six-year, $1.1 billion cleanup, TVA built a new landfill to hold the remaining ash from the spill, capped it and covered the area with grass. It is phasing out its coal ash pond and will continue to monitor groundwater in the area for the next 30 years as part of an agreement with the EPA.
The Kingston plant is back and running at full capacity.
In the groundwater monitoring report released last month, four of the five wells at the site showed statistically significant increases of the first level of contaminants. In fact, all nine of TVA's facilities subject to the coal ash rule showed elevated levels of those contaminants in their groundwater monitoring reports, including the plant near the aquifer in Memphis.
Brooks, the TVA spokesman, said the results are preliminary. The company will do further testing to confirm the findings, and if they remain statistically significant, it will trigger an additional round of testing for more harmful contaminants, including arsenic.
"What's important for the public to know is that we take this seriously and are committed to the environment," Brooks said. "These initial results do not mean that there are confirmed interactions with groundwater and coal ash or TVA operations. It also doesn't mean there are any levels of concern beyond TVA property. Decades of monitoring at all our sites confirm that there are no impacts to drinking water sources."
Hillman is watching the EPA's proposal to amend the coal-ash rule intently, from a different home in nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn.
"It's very frustrating because I know that my personal opinion is that this all comes down to making it easy for business and industry to make more money by loosening rules that protect the general public," she said. "I guess the government doesn't care what we breathe or absorb into our bodies."
This false flag reeks of MKUltra programming or CIA psy-ops: Waffle House shooting suspect may be armed, was arrested near White House in 2017, police say | 22 April 2018 | The man suspected of killing four people in a half-naked shooting rampage inside a Waffle House outside of Nashville may be carrying a pistol as he evades police -- and has what authorities described as a history of mental illness. The suspect, 29-year-old Travis Reinking, was arrested in July 2017 for being in a restricted area near the White House, investigators revealed in a Sunday news conference, saying he "wanted to set up a meeting" with President Trump. A possible motive for the shooting at a Waffle House in Antioch early Sunday morning was unclear, according to police. Investigators said in a news conference Sunday afternoon that two guns were missing, but tweeted later that just one gun was unaccounted for...Reinking's firearms authorization was revoked at the request of the FBI after the arrest near the White House, Metro Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron said Sunday. He added that four weapons were seized, including the AR-15 that Reinking allegedly used in Sunday's shooting.
Two members of the Black Panther Party are met on the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento, May 2, 1967, by Police Lt. Ernest Holloway, who informs them they will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they cause no trouble and do not disturb the peace. Activist scott crow says the Black Panthers inspired his own theory of liberatory community armed self-defense. (Photo: Bettmann / Getty Images)
According to an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force memo, author and activist scott crow is "... considered armed and dangerous. He is proactive in civil disobedience skills and goes to events to instigate trouble." Having been involved in myriad organizations and direct actions ranging from anti-racist to environmental to disaster relief, crow was under surveillance and investigation by the FBI for at least three years for political activity relating to anarchism, animal rights and environmental activism. crow's book Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective, tells the harrowing story of going into New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, where he co-founded Common Ground Collective, now known as the largest anarchist organization in modern history. Building off his experiences in New Orleans with armed self-defense, horizontally-organized disaster relief aid and FBI informants, crow is the editor of the newly released anthology Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self-Defense. In this interview with Truthout, crow discusses his experience with armed self-defense, the current gun control debate, the student-led protests on gun control, the militarization of police, the media framing of police killings and the military-industrial complex.
Chris Steele: Can you elaborate on your experience in New Orleans when you engaged in temporary armed self-defense and what the result was?
scott crow: I was one of two white men invited into part of the Black Algiers community to take up community armed self-defense -- from my relationship with former New Orleans Black Panther Party chapter leader Malik Rahim through our work to free political prisoners, the Angola 3. They asked for armed support to protect themselves against white vigilante groups and the New Orleans police that were out of control before [Hurricane Katrina], and were more lawless after. What I saw when we arrived was criminalization and indifference [toward poor, Black communities all over the city] from government at all levels. Racism and fear dominated the media and [the narrative] on the ground.
While people were literally dying or suffering, the state put emphasis on restoring "law and order" above saving or helping tens of thousands of people. The police were turning a blind eye as the white vigilantes calling themselves the "Algiers Point Militia" drove around in trucks, drunk, with loaded weapons, intimidating and killing Black men on the streets. My first duty on showing up to Malik's was to cover a bullet-riddled, shirtless dead body of a man with sheet metal. Who killed him: the police or the white militia?
So, we organized a community-based armed self-defense rooted in liberatory ideas. It started with five of us: three Black men from the neighborhood and two white men from Texas (one who would later become an informant for the FBI against us). It evolved into protection and defense of the neighbors within a few blocks, to the developing disaster relief spaces and clinics we were building. Suncere Shakur -- who took great risk as a Black man from another city to take up arms with us -- also guarded Malik, whom the vigilantes were threatening.
In short, we ended up in a brief armed standoff with the militia, and law enforcement continued to harass volunteers and almost murdered me on four occasions within the first month by putting guns to my head and threatening to "blow my fucking brains out."
From these rudimentary defense efforts, we built a decentralized disaster response organization and network called the Common Ground Collective (now known as Common Ground Relief) to help defend and rebuild these communities with them.
Can you explain how these experiences in New Orleans led you to writing and putting together your latest book, Setting Sights?
Everything is built on something that came before it; when we took up arms, we were building on liberatory histories before us -- from anarchist ideals, the Zapatistas in Mexico and the Black Panthers. All of these disparate tendencies gave us foundations to build from. I had also read many other smaller stories over the decades of historically marginalized groups or communities taking up temporary arms as part of larger survival efforts, but realized that none of them had ever been told together -- as collective narratives with similar underpinnings. From my actions in New Orleans and the trauma from it, I began a process of reflecting on and developing the ideas of liberatory community armed self-defense as a theory.
And remember, at the time this was happening in New Orleans, the so-called left was almost virulently anti-gun and deeply in the methods of nonviolence. We were almost seen as "illegitimate" for this praxis. The ideas of community armed defense only found acceptance within largely white anti-fascist networks I was part of, and in a handful of militant Black radical traditions only.
With new attention and student-led protests advocating for gun control, where do you think the debate should start?
scott crow. (Photo courtesy of Leon Alesi)I think students -- and all of us, really -- have to fundamentally understand three things in talking about gun issues. One, that government is not going to make a violent society go away; only we will, by working together to shift culture in the ways we handle violence and conflict in this country. We live in a country founded and maintained by violence. We can ask, "What are the ways we can subvert and break the toxic cycles of both individual or personal violence, and state-sanctioned violence by entities like the police, military or court systems?"
Secondly, people need to see through the political lies that laws will protect us. More gun laws don't and won't always make us safer, especially relying on weak politicians who are in the pockets of corporate arms dealers to enact substantive gun reforms while they are being showered in money.
Thirdly, "law enforcement" officials claim to be against guns and for stemming violence, but they themselves are more heavily armed than most militaries around the world. Let's not forget it was the FBI [and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] who just two years ago -- in blatant disregard for human life as well as domestic and international laws -- armed Mexican drug cartels with high-powered rifles which were used to kill innocent civilians on both sides of the border.
The debate should start with questions that lead to deeper conversations. How do -- or can we -- take this complex cultural symbol, the gun, and decouple it from what it means to very different people? How do we deal with violence in the US, including guns? What responsibilities do we as individuals and communities want to take in dealing with violence? Are there legitimate roles for firearms, and do the benefits outweigh the challenges? How do we culturally shift from guns being sold with fear and masculinity to something else?
Can you explain where liberatory community self-defense and gun control are compatible?
I am not sure if they are, except in very limited ways. In the 30 years I have been in the political sphere, I have been on both sides of this debate. I used to unwaveringly support more gun laws, but like many ills of society, I kept seeing stricter laws weren't doing what they intend, and only criminalizing people and communities already marginalized. That said, I don't think any of us have a magic answer to these very deep and complicated issues that touch many lives in varying ways.
Part of calling for a liberatory approach to community self-defense is calling for sensible gun ownership. To me, that means a few things, like that we are not all armed to the teeth; some in communities may not even be armed at all, or it's on a rotational basis. We don't need individuals or communities with access to guns everywhere -- laws or no laws. That community (whatever makes it a community) must decide something important like that.
Another aspect of the liberatory approach is that it hopefully challenges the ways we engage in conflict and the toxic masculinity that is within current gun culture, individually and in groups, especially with arms involved. I believe if we begin to change our approaches to conflict and violence, that these are pieces toward subverting the dominant paradigms, just like any other cultural issue.
Even if the US did pass strong gun control reform like Australia, do you feel that gun violence in the US could be curtailed?
I don't think at this time that could ever happen in the US without a lot of bloodshed from many groups of right-wing leaning people, including white militias, sovereign citizens, neo-Nazis and even spineless politicians, who at least claim that there would be "bloodshed" if that happened. These are entrenched cultural norms outside of liberal circles, tied to other cultural "conservative" institutions like church or family that are deeply embedded. Removing guns or any other part of that culture is seen as nothing less than an attack, and people can do desperate things when they think they are being attacked; just look at the standoff at Ruby Ridge in the 1990s.
Again, that said, even though I have thought about these issues from multiple angles for decades, I am still unsure of all the paths that will lead us to stop mass shootings, and I don't want to close the door.
How would gun control affect communities of color and liberatory armed self-defense communities?
We can already see that current gun control laws disproportionately affect poor [communities] and communities of color. For example, we have been in a crisis in this country through mass shootings or workplace shootings, which we should call it what it is: white male terrorism. And still, law enforcement handles those killers differently from the first time they arrive on the crime scene through the court phases (for those that don't kill themselves). In many instances, the perpetrator can walk away without being shot, while police continue to kill Black unarmed men almost daily. And if we look at the legal aspects, once again, people of color are treated disproportionately unlawfully.
White nationalists, neo-Nazis and "alt-right" fascists have continued to murder and terrorize historically marginalized people and communities to this day, stockpile weapons and call for mass genocide and exclusion, but the FBI barely lists any of these individuals or groups as terror threats or go after them. Instead, they chose to target Black groups who armed themselves for protection, but have never killed anyone, like the Huey Newton Gun Club or Rakem Balogun (born Christopher Daniels), as "Black Identity Extremists" instead.
A liberatory approach challenges the assumptions that law enforcement is unbiased or fair or even helpful to any communities, but especially marginalized ones. It also starts with the assumption that these communities know better how to be able to collectively defend themselves from racist attacks, whether by the state or right-wing paramilitaries like the militias.
You pointed out that Black people are being killed on a near-daily basis by the police. Can you speak on the recent police killings of Stephon Clark and Danny Ray Thomas, and the acquittal of Alton Sterling's killers? How these killings are framed in the media? Where the gun debate is during this coverage?
I can only speak to the larger patterns and histories of police murdering Black people, and not individual circumstances. The media -- which we have to recognize is part of Power (which includes any entities that have undue amount of influence or control on our lives) -- almost always fall lockstep into the larger narratives in these police murders. First is justification. The media unquestioningly back the "official law enforcement narrative." Secondly, the media never question the militarization of the police and their ability to kill unarmed civilians without consequences. Lastly -- and possibly most important -- is the often, inherent racism in how police respond to people that possibly have guns and how they are portrayed. If they are Black, narratives of "criminal" or "dangerous" are used, especially if the police killed them; whereas in similar or worse situations involving white men, [white perpetrators] walk away alive from it, and the media portray them as "lone wolves" with "mental issues" or other sympathetic tropes.
In corporate media portrayals, after the police kill another innocent person, the gun debate only focuses on guns being in the hands of so-called dangerous criminals, or other racist tropes that hold the murdered individual to one standard while the police, as an institution, are never questioned in their access to weapons or ability to kill with almost impunity. Law enforcement can murder at will without question in corporate media. They never ask questions like, "Should the police be armed at all?" Instead, they perpetuate often racist or sensationalistic coverage.
With the US having a higher military budget than the next 10 countries combined, can you speak on the military-industrial complex and how it is often left out of the gun control narrative?
When the so-called gun debate is had, it's always framed as "individual's rights" and rarely (if ever) about the killing capacity of the military or law enforcement. We cannot have over 2 million people who served in the military and taught to kill with weapons not be affected by that; and in turn, we cannot pretend that violence is only a moralistic failure by individuals. It is internalized by all of us in civil society. This country was built on -- and is maintained -- by violence domestically and abroad, and this is a national disaster.
If we keep funding war and occupation everywhere, it will continue to reflect on elements of our societies. Dismantle the occupying militaries, the policing and prison systems. We've tried them, and they don't work for most of us. Let's rebuild localized deeper and broader health care, education, family support and other foundations of civil society that help us deal with conflict individually and collectively to defend and liberate ourselves on our terms.
NOTE: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Chris Steele co-authored an article with Noam Chomsky that was published in the latter's book Occupy: Reflections on Class War, Rebellion and Solidarity.Tags: Interviewscott crowgunsviolencecategory: Actions
The thirteenth annual Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival (MIATF) – the world’s biggest and only anarchist theatre festival – will present 20 artists (seven troupes) from the USA, France and Montreal for two nights of provocative, socially engaged, freedom-loving theatre, Tues May 22nd and Wed May 23rd, at La Sala Rossa, 4848 boul St-Laurent, 7:30pm.
Tickets $13 each night, or $20 for a two-night special, available at the door or online from La Sala Rossa’s website. www.lasalarossa.com No reserved seats.
Program highlights include the classic, Waiting for Godot, reinterpreted by two afro-American women; the story of a sheepherder inspired by the letters from three French political prisoners; outraged puppets from Montreal’s Hochelaga ‘hood portraying the results of gentrification for populations living on the margins, and the inspiring stories of six anarchist women who resist Fascism from Italy to Syria, from the 1920s to today.
Tuesday May 22nd:
• Pisser dans l’herbe…, Théâtre du Sable (France)
• Chansons anarchistes, Gwenael Kivijer (France)
• Trashlaga Puppet Crew, Trashlaga Puppet Crew (Mtl)
• No way! No way! (part I), Trees that Talk (Mtl)
Wednesday May 23rd:
• Didi and Gogo, MC Theatre Troupe (USA)
• Chansons anarchistes, Gwenael Kivijer (France)
• The Wah-Wah Pedal, Thought Experiment Productions (Mtl)
• Darwin avait raison, Dire, encore (Mtl)
• No way! No way! (part II), Trees that Talk (Mtl)
– 30-festivaleventstheatrecategory: Projects
On Monday morning, 9 April 2018, shortly before the French police offensive, some friends on the ZAD (Zone á Défendre) circulated this text on the platform lundi.am
For five years we’ve been preparing for this, despite taking steps up until now to make it impossible. Nonetheless, we are now at the dawn of another large-scale police operation whose scope and duration is unknown. The State had to get even, there had to be a rematch. Everywhere in the country, people who have visited the zad are asking themselves how far Macron will go to put an end to one one of the most beautiful collective political adventures of the last decade, to the possibility of a space for seeking other forms of life.1 While barricades take shape again on the country roads, everyone here is huddling close and wondering what will exist tomorrow, what will remain of the trembling heart of our existence from one day to the next. Most of all, our embraces say this: five years after Operation Caesar, we will have to confront the invasion, stand our ground at all costs, and make sure, yet again, that the future remains open.
We’ve just gone through a tumultuous period after the State’s abandonment [of the airport project], one rife with tensions and the temptation to retreat to one’s own turf or indeed to simply give it up. But for many of us this period has also been marked throughout by the ongoing search for the outlines of a common way forward. It has been rather painful at times in these last weeks to see how widely a single binary and depressive narrative could spread. In this moment of truth, we prefer to recall what even now makes it possible still to think in a shared, collective way. Before the storm blows through here again, the following is a way to communicate why we still find it vital to continue the defence of the zad. Here, on the terrain where each of us will be in the coming days. And in the coming months as well, since Caesar 2 will certainly not bring what we’re doing here to an end.
Image: source https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DaiDnJ4XUAAnYec.jpg
What Negotiating Is Not About
After the government’s abandonment of the airport project, the movement has indeed decided to enter into dialogue in order to negotiate its own vision of the zad’s future. This sequence of events has forced us to tackle new issues. We have been guided by objectives at once clear and extremely complex:
- Neutralise the quasi-absolute necessity of state vengeance on the zad (in the form of the eviction operation) and so keep the inhabitants of this territory here, in all their diversity.
- Preserve, as much as possible, the margins of autonomy that have given this experiment its meaning while, at the same time, securing the stability desired by many of those planning to stay here.
- Maintain and amplify the collective responsibility for the fields of the zad and its links to other ongoing resistance struggles.
In this period, there was never a choice for us between negotiating OR fighting. We have never assumed that we could get what we wanted immediately within government offices. Negotiation is only one of the levers that the movement has chosen for itself after the abandonment, and it relies on a relation of forces produced through years of resistance. It is these same forces that will be able to think an offensive negotiation, and organise a gathering in front of the prefecture when the State’s responses are unsatisfying. These forces have, in the course of the last few weeks, led a juridical and political struggle against all expulsions, organised a demonstration in Nantes on this issue with collectives of refugees and the ill-housed, and they will also be the ones that physically resist on the ground when the State attempts to evict sites within the zone.
Given the fear of losing the zad’s edge, it was hardly an obvious choice for the occupiers to throw themselves into the gamble of negotiation. But for other segments of the movement, there was nothing obvious about postponing the outcome of the post-abandonment period and putting the urgent decisions it would require into the hands of large and heterogeneous assemblies. These risks and the reciprocal assumption of responsibilities are precisely what have allowed us to keep moving together as opposed to deserting or isolating each other. In this case, we firmly believed that it was necessary to make an attempt to engage at that time so that we could also continue to go beyond this, whenever the negotiation showed its limits.
For years, the capacity of the anti-airport movement to compose and recompose itself has been a real nightmare for the government. The possibility that the movement should persist beyond the abandonment was extremely disagreeable to them. Consequently, at the beginning of negotiations, one of the first objectives of the government was clearly to explode the form of common delegation we had chosen. It also had to hinder our will to bring forward the future stakes of the struggle transversally: from the refusal of evictions to the movement’s collective responsibility for the land, in firm opposition to the return to classical agricultural management, without forgetting the question of amnesty. The prefecture has accordingly attempted to select its interlocutors from among us and to summon them to be part of a strictly agricultural steering committee. In every segment of the movement, and in the assemblies, the debate was long. One must not underestimate the force of these lures and the energy that the prefecture has deployed in order to avoid being rebuffed. The framework that we had slowly constructed could almost have broken into pieces, but the prefecture’s manoeuvre failed. The Acipa [Association Citoyenne Intercommunale des Populations concernées par le projet d’Aéroport de Notre Dame des Landes] has declined the prefect’s invitation while the Confédération paysanne called for a gathering opposite the steering committee and decided to bring the movement’s message in.2 The common delegation has held. The prefecture had to cede ground immediately and accept the delegation as interlocutor. Where initially only agricultural activities were to continue, the offer now concerns ‘para-agricultural activities broadly speaking’ and it is already almost certain that several hundred hectares of saved and collectively-maintained lands, in addition to the lands of the historicals [i.e. the ‘historical farmers’, those who were present before the movement began], should remain dedicated to projects linked with the movement. It is an important first step, but one that does not resolve the outcome of the struggle over the habitats, and the need, already present in this transitional phase, to gain collective responsibility over the property so this collectivisation can be made permanent later on.
During this first negotiation phase, the prefecture announced its ambition to order and separate us according to unacceptable criteria. Those who wanted to stay legally were given notice to apply for individual agreements and to quickly register with the MSA [social security for farmers]. Some, impassioned by defeat and unable to scan the horizon without preconceived schemas, immediately prophesied betrayals: some would inevitably get their place in the sun at the expense of others. Indeed, at any point during the last few weeks nothing could have been easier than for individuals to save themselves through a few simple emails and administrative procedures. That was precisely what the prefecture expected. But in truth, and despite much pressure, nobody fell in that trap.
Nobody sent separate applications to be examined for selection, nor did we agree to filter ourselves on the authorities behalf. On the contrary there was a firm, political refusal of these injunctions and we maintained the demand for a protective collective framework and a comprehensive agreement for all the movement’s land. This real solidarity has upset the prefecture in at least two ways: it couldn’t pursue negotiations in the manner it initially wanted to impose, and it undermined the legitimacy of its selective expulsion operation.
In spite of this united front, we hear a lot about the divide between ‘radicals’ or ‘hardliners’ on one side and quitters on the other, the latter supposedly impatient to negotiate or to normalise their farmland. It is remarkable how much mainstream media, the prefecture and the preachers of a fantasised radicality all love this fiction. But for most occupants, those who fought for the zad, who inhabited it and cultivated its groves during the past years, this divide is pure fabrication. Among those who share a common line of negotiation AND struggle, among those who wish to remain here and genuinely maintain the zad as a shared space, there are in fact individuals and groups from each segment of the movement: farmers, young and older squatters, ‘historical’ inhabitants, members of the Acipa, neighbours, environmentalists, comrade unionists, passionate hikers, Coordination activists… If we envision the zad as continuing to unfold and to spread, then the idea that everything should be legal or remain illegal are two faces of the same (bad) coin. Both options are ideological fetishes, each one as sterile as the other, when it comes to pursuing struggles on the ground. The people who’ve really participated in the unfolding of the movement over the last few years, rather than simply commenting on it online, know well that these univocal visions – ‘legalist’ and ‘illegalist’, the ‘violent’ and ‘non-violent’ – have never corresponded to our real force and to what allowed us to make the State give in. These labels are as inappropriate today as they have been throughout the movement, inadequate to articulating the differing horizons present in the movement and the objectives that we have given ourselves with the ‘6 points’.
The aim was never to march into a normalisation process with our heads down, but to determine what concretely would allow us to hold on to the totality of our spaces of life and activity in this reconfiguration of the situation. To do this, it is necessary to determine step by step what will best help preserve margins of autonomy and support, in order to avoid the isolation and constraints imposed by all forms of commercial and industrial production. What’s at stake here are very real practices, within a concrete relation of force with a powerful enemy, and not visions of an ideal world. We can place our trust in the attachment we have developed, over the years, to the meaning found in the free reinvention of our relationship to what we produce. That should be enough not to let go of it easily.
Image: source http://bigpicture.antifa-net.fr/wp-content/uploads…
Enough with the Road D281 Mythology
As active, physical resisters during the weeks of Operation Caesar in 2012, we know that the general defence strategy of the zad has never depended centrally on Road D281, which was barricaded by a single isolated group, and still less on the nostalgic obsession with this apparatus outside periods of attack. This road, however, has always represented to us the possibility of blocking strategic access when the time comes, and holding the ground with a wide range of methods and support from within and without. Unfortunately it is this very possibility of a wide range of resistance that the recent fixation with the road puts at risk.
For months we have fought to avoid any political breach that the State could deploy to evict individuals. This gamble paid off many times over the past years, and we thought it was still worth taking after the abandonment, despite the Prime Minister’s threats. To materialise these threats, the prefecture needed an appropriate story. It needed people who could embody the infamous ‘ultra-radicals’ in the most caricatural manner. Some have performed the role that was expected brilliantly, in particular around the question of Road D281, reducing the struggle to stakes and claims that became incomprehensible to anyone, whether they be comrades in struggle, or neighbours, or more generally those following things up close or from afar. By blocking construction workers the first time, certain people – not to be confused with local inhabitants nearby the road – have in fact justified the police presence which we had to put up with for weeks, enabling them to make gains on the ground. The destruction of a few strips of pavement at the end of the works programme was a big blow. The police could have retreated and let the situation clarify itself, and we could finally have worked on finding our common strength again. Instead this managed to throw into despair many of those who have shown unfailing support confronting threats of eviction. Since the local authorities refused to open the road under these conditions, the evictions finally had a major justification and so became almost inevitable.
Stand Together No Matter What
The strength of this struggle has always lain in the way it counters the banalities of both so-called ‘radical’ identitarian ghettos and classical citizen activism. For this very reason it has often clashed with those who shut themselves up within either of these polarised positions, forcing those who have wanted to join it to rethink everything. The struggle has hereby found its own way and laid the foundations for a united front, at once anchored, offensive, and popular. For many of us, this simple fact has been a transformative political event and the driving force in a historic defeat of the State. Nevertheless, it is hardly surprising that the advent of another phase brings new questions with it, new hopes but also ideological fossilations. The sequence that follows on from a victory is certainly a moment of truth that discloses the real tenacity of those who fought for it. In this tense phase, there have been two closely related and typical ways of sabotaging our common commitments and the movement: by blocking the work on the road, OR by publicly dissociating oneself from a meeting organised by the movement to oppose the steering committee and support a transversal delegation. The sad truth is that certain people did prefer to weaken the movement by curling up around obsessions that to the rest of the movement seemed indefensible, while others were just as quick to forget our common ‘red lines’ under government pressure. Some set to work brilliantly justifying a partial eviction, placing those targetted in as isolated a position as possible. Others have remained almost completely silent as the eviction came closer. These bitter assessments could be rehearsed without end, and we could leave it at that. However, another and much more radiant truth is that up until this point and in spite of everything, across all segments of the movement most of those who have formed the core community of this battle over the years, braving dangers and trials together, have remained faithful to the promises they gave themselves. It is this very truth to which we now must hold fast to if we are not to perish in self-fulfilling prophecies of the inevitable fall of autonomous spaces and collective adventures.
Despite the backlash which without a doubt has weakened the movement and its legibility in recent weeks, there can be no question of letting the government proceed with their evictions without a fight. Whatever the traps we could for a time have fallen into, the actual foundation of the zad and the hopes it continues to inspire did not fall apart during a few weeks of lamentation. We can feel this in the forces remobilised on the eve of the expulsion operation: in those who, whatever their doubts, made a call and immediately hit the road; in the last minute assemblies, on all kinds of barricades erected against the armed forces of the State and against the story that the government is getting ready to tell…
We will have to go through a violent ordeal that may well reshuffle all the cards. But we do not doubt that the zad will survive Caesar 2. What we will continue to carry forward will not be a showcase of docile alternatives or a radical ghetto. It will remain a granary of struggles and a common good of resistance, a place where people as different as they are unexpected live and meet, a territory that makes you want to organise seriously, to live fully, a permanent building site for wondrous constructions and waking dreams. We always need places where it is very visibly both desirable and possible not to rely on the economy and institutional management. And we need these places to last, even if they’ll take their share of impurities and hybridisations. Because the spaces that excite us most compel us to recompose and put our received political ideas into question. We believe that this basic character of the zad is what will continue to put tens of thousands of people across the country in motion.
Now we have to stand together!
1 The authors of the article, like many in the movement, ceased capitalizing ZAD. It is now simply ‘la zad’, on its way to becoming a common noun. Similarly, they no longer write ‘the abandonment of the airport project’, but simply ‘the abandonment.’
UPDATE: 20 April 2018 – Communique from the Assembly of Usages of the zad, following some dialogue and threats of new evictions
Today the delegation of the movement, during a meeting with the préfecture ( representative of the state at the department level in France), handed in a large file of filled with forms with names on them concerning divers concrete existing projects and those being built on the zad. Today we have decided to respond to the state’s injunction. We want to stop the escalation of tension on the zone and at last be given the time necessary for dialogue and the construction of the project that we defend.
On the 9th of April the government decided to brutally break off the dialogue that had been initiated with an operation that destroyed several dozen homes and places of activities on the zad. The operation has injured several hundred people. It also sparked off a host of different acts of solidarity in the bocage (the landscape of forest, fields and wetlands that makes up the zad) and across the country, mobilizing tens of thousands of people. Ministerial announcements make us believe that there will be new evictions on Monday.
Despite the refusal of the government to study our proposal for a collective agreement, today we want to make a concrete gesture of dialogue to be able to get out of this infernal cycle. Now that we have handed in all the forms and declaration of intentions, we wait for the values that we hold in this bocage to at last be taken into account in the next stages of dialogue. Contrary to what the government declarations say, we never refused to put our names to or present projects, but simply want to keep a cooperative dimension and links between uses of the land. We still want to throw down roots of a vision of the commons and peasant farming that really looks after the bocage. We still want an inhabited, shared and living territory, that is also open to non agricultural projects. Together we refuse all new kinds of selective sorting and evictions of homes and spaces of activity on the zad. The pressure from the police and indefensible ultimatums have to stop. Finally we must engage in a real dialogue about the future of the zad and as fast as possible find calm the situation down on here on the terrain.
We call on all our supporters to be extremely attentive to what will take place at the start of next week . If the evictions start again despite our gestures of dialogue, we will be ready to react together.
The assembly of Usages…
Tags: Francela zadZADcategory: International
This Sunday 22 April, at 2.00pm
Ever since 2012 we have been saying that if the state wants to try to control the ZAD again, it will come back with the army. We were not wrong. What has been running since 9 April has been a military operation, with its columns of armoured vehicles and trucks, with its grenades, its drones, its troops. In the middle of the countryside, with the first flowers of Spring, we are in the government’s gunsights. Our nights are punctuated by helicopters overhead shining their searchlights into our sleeping places, and alarm signals coming from living spaces that are under attack, and call-outs from our neighbours on walkie-talkies. They have brought their war into our lives, thinking that they can annihilate the life that we live here, in the same way that they would wipe out a foreign army.
But here, despite the destruction, despite the unprecedented violence of their weapons, we do not bend to their will. In the place of the rout they foresaw, what they are seeing on the contrary is thousands of people flocking to join us. Because you don’t put the tanks against people without summoning up the images of great moments of popular resistance: from Prague Spring to Tiananmen Square. Always the powerful underestimate the courage of the people. Their military thinking has no way of understanding the strength of a shared emotion. They have missed a most basic fact: their very presence here has triggered a power that is now increasing. And of course, the only answer that a military mind can have in a situation like this is to double their firepower - the threat of total war.
So last Friday the Prefect announced a ten-days truce of destroying living spaces. But this was only to ram down the throat of the movement her "Declaration Form for Individual Agricultural Projects". She has given each of us until 23 April to sign it, otherwise everything left standing in the ZAD will be swept away by the bulldozers. The state has so far categorically refused the collective project that the movement has been proposing. It seems that even the simple word "collective" has the state wheeling out its tanks. An allergy that is perfectly understandable in these times when each space is supposed to have its function, each individual his or her defined task, with everyone and everything well separated from each other.
For them, the countryside is for agriculture and that’s it. Books, concerts and debates belong in the city. Simple as that! That a corner of the countryside has been able to develop such an interweaving of links and activities, without putting classificatory barriers between them - what a scandal! The fact that everyone here is a little bit peasant, a little bit artisan, a little bit poet, a little barricade-builders, without a single destiny, what a mess! The Republican order that they’re so fond means that everybody’s houses have to be neat and tidy, in order better to control them, even if that leads only to sadness and boredom.
It happens that in the Taslu library, we like to cultivate a bit of disorder. There is poetry in among the politics, and comic books next to philosophy. And, horror of horrors, we have no "agricultural project", let alone "individual". Ask yourself, what would an "individual library" mean? We’re not after a plot of land, we can’t boast degrees in agro-economics, and we have no produce to sell. It seems that spiritual food doesn’t count in the state’s basket of human requirements. So, like so many others here in the ZAD, we are expecting the government to send its armoured cars against us in the coming week. Because in the absence of any credible way of exiting this crisis for the ZAD community, everything leads us to think that they will come to finish their dirty work, and launch a second wave of destruction even more massive than the first.
Last Sunday we gathered to collect the sticks and staves that we had planted in the field on 8 October 2016. On that day thousands of you also brought a book to the library.
On Sunday 22 April 22, we ask all of you who who for a year and a half have come to the Taslu, for talks or events or whatever, to come together at 14.00 hours at the Rolandiï¿½re. We will raise an army of a different kind: the troops of the imagination. In your backpacks, along with your teargas antidotes, you will bring a short piece of text that talks about resistance. We shall read them together in the face of those who threaten us, and erect barricades of words so that the courage of past insurrections, whether in poems or novels, will give us hope in the oncoming battles.
Together we will save the Taslu, together we will save the ZAD.
To facilitate the organization of the day, you are asked to let us know that you are coming, and let us know about the piece that you want to read.
Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For further details about Taslu see: https://zad.nadir.org/spip.php?rubrique85FranceZADla zadlibrariesbookscategory: Projects
This weeks crossword puzzle is on Love and Rage.
Download it here: https://anarchistnews.org/crossword/crossword48.pdf
From LBC about the book:
For those anarchistnews fans who miss Worker's acerbic and insightful bon mots on modern-day anarchy and anarchists, here is a fix (however temporary) for you.
Fifty crossword puzzles of occasionally ludicrous difficulty (there are scattered puff questions throughout also, for those of you, like me, who are terrible at these kind of games) are featured for your education and amusement.
Anarchistnews.org is the most popular, utilized, and non-sectarian news source pertaining to anarchists in North America. Its open commenting system continues to be one of the few spaces in which anarchists, nationally and internationally, converse about topics of the day, challenge each other, and critically engage with a wide variety of issues and events.
Worker retired from running the site after eleven years... Since then they have reflected on their time in the daily trenches of running the site, and this book is the result. These crossword puzzles speak to the years of comment threads, the ridiculousness and wonderfulness of the anarchist space in North America, and finally the absurdity of working with cantankerous, stubborn, and self-righteous people by way of essay or manifesto.
These puzzles should probably be done by a reading group or a group of friends. They are supposed to make you think, laugh, and perhaps smack your head. A more perfect metaphor for North American anarchism cannot be found.
[ Here are the solutions! Don’t peek!: http://ardentpress.com/crosswords/ ]Tags: beautiful crossmess parzelthis sitepdforganizationthe platformfederationBlack Rose Anarchist Federationcategory: Projects
Afghanistan: Kabul voter centre suicide attack kills 57 | 22 April 2018 | A suicide bomb attack at a voter registration centre in the Afghan capital Kabul has killed at least 57 people, officials say. The dead include 21 women and five children, killed when the blast hit the queue outside. A further 119 people were injured. The Islamic State group said it had carried out the attack.
It's been about a year's worth of https://anti-civ.net! anti-civ.org was launched late 2016 (as far as we remember). Then the whole thing was relaunched (as the present incarnation) in March 2017. And in October it moved to https://anti-civ.net. One year ago to the day, we announced the relaunch over here on anarchistnews.org—so today seems to be as good as any day to do a little reflection.
Since March 31, 2017, there's been 1,312 posts in 246 threads, by our 147 members. More than three posts per day, with more than four replies per thread. Our most active threads have well over 20 replies each. Additionally there's been a lot of guest visitors, contributing to our most viewed threads, which have thousands of views. We can't recall the last time we noticed there being less than 10 guests per 15 minutes. And we know several people who visit the board regularly without joining or posting.
And as that indicates—despite being reasonably successful for a forum in this day and (social media) age—not everything came up roses. Only slightly more than every third poster has posted anything at all. If you adjust for the most active posters, the average poster has very few posts—sometimes only their introduction post. Finally, lots of people who routinely "lurk", never feel the desire to join up at all.
Still; an anti-civ Internet forum with an active core group of posters (and even an active IRC channel) is pretty remarkable as-is. We're genuinely surprised that the universe hasn't collapsed due to the weight of our hypocrisy—using technology to criticise technology, we must be utter mad.
For our second year, it would be nice to see our core group of posters to double. In order to accomplish this, we need to do two things well. Firstly, we need to reach new people. Secondly, and probably most importantly, we need to make sure the people who are already familiar with the site find it worthwhile. There are some measurements under way to help accomplish both of these things. But, ultimately, we're not concerned with having lots of discussion for discussion's sake, but having good discussion. As such, https://anti-civ.net is already a success to us few regulars!
We hope to see more people joining up and adding their thoughts to ours, so we can all think together. Or, you know, post anti-civ memes or whatever. Anti-civ-curious and anti-anti-civ people are welcome too! This isn't some elite community. We don't even moderate posts. (Spambots notwithstanding.)
We don't have all the answers—we just want a good discussion. So come join us!Tags: anti-civanti-civ.netforumcategory: Projects
A day will come when all the imaginary lines will be blown away, and in the scattering dust of all the maps made meaningless, all things will be left equal once again.
Pray for calamity
We do not know if there is a wilderness that lies within us, or beyond us, that might serve as refuge from the onslaughts of commodification. Is not the wild but the mirror image of the civilised? Or can a deeper reality be revealed by this word, of wildness as the voice from the “underground”, from the “irrational” rituals of love, giving and festivity?
Religion once meant tying individuals together into collectives that by their shared ways, brought into being realities greater than themselves. Perhaps then the “wild” is this ancient religiosity, this capacity for joint, ungovernable, self-creation of spaces and times not beholden to any logic of hierarchy and subordination, and slavish, destructive instrumentalisation; and the determination to build and defend these ways, together, against those whose desires can only find fulfillment in the domination of others.
From the blog “Pray for calamity“, we share an essay entitled “A wilderness between us” and a film documentary-intervention on the ZAD of Notre-dame-des-Landes from the Cinema Committee …
A Wilderness Between Us
April 15, 2018
The world was white. From ground to sky the white was constant, and etched in it were the vertical brown streaks of tree trunks. Stepping outside on the first day of spring the forest around my house was gone, entombed in snow. Ice came first, so that when the snow followed for several hours it sheathed every branch and twig. Heavy with now frozen leaves, the smaller beech are bent downward, tips touching the ground until all of these young trees become arches, man sized croquet wickets frosted and strewn about the land.
On the barest winter day, I can look to the southeast and make out the shape and color of my nearest neighbor’s house through the foreground of maple and poplar. Today there is just the solitude of white.
The unseasonable eight-inch snowfall was followed days later by highs in the sixties, which retreated to nights below freezing, and only days later shot back into the seventies with beaming sun, to land once again in the cold of the thirties. The entire month of April has been a mix of glorious spring warmth and bouts of freezing rain and snow. Apple trees are budding, hyacinths are donating flashes of pink and purple to the landscape, and trout lilies are breaking from the leaf litter in such densities as to make the forest floor look like it has a carpet of grass. Then a quick layer of ice will fall in the dark of night to test them all.
In early April the House of Commons Library detailed how the richest one percent of the population is on track to own two-thirds of all of the world’s wealth by the year 2030, should trends maintain as they are. Oxfam reported prior to this that eight billionaires have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population – 3.6 billion people. All of the land that is being gutted and made uninhabitable, and all of the laborers the world over who stoop and heft and daily erode their bodies through exertion and chemical exposure are part of a great machine that exists to send a steady stream of excess to a small handful of individuals.
Capitalism was supposed to have corrected the contradictions and failures of feudalism, and it seems to have done so by creating a class of people with no loyalties, no fidelity to place or people or principle other than a berserk lust for profit. Capital and its controllers float freely over the borders that cage the underclasses. Money and power write and erase laws, and at whim wage war against the peasant class and nonhuman life with a cold business class gusto.
Centuries ago, the edicts of lords could only reach so far. Kings and their vassals had broad power of life and death within the ringed walls of cities. This power held sway in the nearby villages and hams, but dissipated at the edges of settlements until the commands that they bellowed were shorn of all pomp and circumstance in the reality of the wilderness. In the wild there is no king and money buys no quarter, a truth so bare that the masters of civilization have tried to destroy any incarnation of wilderness the world over with visceral contempt.
The wild suffers no man’s stories. The order of the world was set in the rock and soil long before any human named them, and the immutable simplicity of this order is visible in the golden sunlight that beams through a forest canopy, in the sweep of a raptor’s flight as it falls upon its prey, and in the stinking decay of a maggot eaten animal slowly returning its flesh to the ground.
We are invited to walk within this order, to find humility in the gifts and tragedies of nature. Conversely, if we try to subjugate this order to our own narratives, then we are invited to suffer and die. The lords of capital, who worship a god named production, have chosen the latter. Technocratic full spectrum dominance casts eyes over the entirety of the planet.
Where are we to escape to?
This past week French police came in a force of thousands to evict the ZAD, a sprawling piece of farmland crisscrossed with hedgerows that has been occupied by anarchists and recalcitrant farmers for years in an attempt to prevent the construction of an airport. Previous eviction attempts always failed and sparked waves of tumultuous protests in the cities. In January the French government finally abandoned plans to build the airport, and this latest attempt to boot the anarchist squatters was the most intense.
Blockades were built and fire bombs thrown in response to police concussion grenades and tear gas. After days of battling the residents of the ZAD, which included the wholesale destruction of many of the homes and structures they had built there, the state finally backed off, unable to break the will of the occupants. The victory of the Zadists is not total however, as police currently hold a piece of the land under their control, and have thousands of officers stationed in the region. Barricades are being rebuilt, and the future of autonomous life in the ZAD stands on a razor’s edge, as does the success of people around the world who attempt to carve out a space for themselves to freely exist.
For the Zapatistas in Mexico, the Kurds in Rojava, and even all of the people camped out on a pipeline easement in the backwoods of the rural United States, danger abounds for those who dare shuck off the rule of the wealthy.
If the wilderness is gone, we fight where we stand. Instead of escaping to an unseen frontier, let us invite the wild in. Let it consume civilization from the inside out.
Eight clouds arise. The eightfold fence of Idzumo makes an eightfold fence for the spouses to retire. Oh! That eightfold fence.
-Kojiki, “Records of Ancient Matters”
In James Clavell’s novel, “Shogun,” the character Mariko explains to Blackthorne that in a world of paper walls and crowded spaces, that to avoid going mad and killing one and other, they rely on a type of mental compartmentalization, hiding their true selves deep within a mental maze. She refers to this as the “eightfold fence.”
In a world of facial recognition technology, big data, electronic tracking of the movement of nearly all people in some regard or another, are we not pushed deeper and deeper within the fence complexes of our minds? As civilization and its capitalist architecture demands more and more of our time, our effort, and our attention, less and less remains for us to keep for ourselves. Interests and hobbies are commodified as advertising opportunities. Free time is gig time, driving around strangers for a few extra dollars. The precious moments of our lives are harvested by corporations to be sold back to us as monetized Instagram “lifestyle” posts.
Our eightfold fences shall guard our hidden wild. Within us we can foster vast wildernesses and let them grow fecund and thick. Loving the smell of woodsmoke and the bitter cold of a stream clinging to our ankles, the wind pressing on our faces and our lover’s breath on our necks. Detesting the rich with contempt for their pathetic pleasures while desiring so entirely to watch the failure of their industrial projects. When the wilderness is rooted deeply within our thinking, safe from being uprooted by contact with the madness of the world, we can safely expose it to one another, and foster a wild amongst us.
They have worked very hard to make commerce the primary human relationship. We cannot cede the space between us, the last space, the space where all potential for rebellion to their false order exists.
We must let each other know that we have no love for this false narrative. We must make it safe to declare that our allegiance is to life, not to the dreams of wealthy men. The wilderness can be reborn between us, and there give us refuge.
A chill blew across the land with the gray dawn. Diagonal rain falls on my daughter and me as we walk past the barn to tend to our morning chores. Mayapples seem to have all decided that this was the morning to reveal themselves. They line the drive like sentries, somehow already inches high where yesterday they were completely hidden beneath the soil. Dark pink flowers are blossoming on the tips of the jane magnolia, daring to brave the cold air that feels entirely out of place.
We are invited to take our place within the order of the world. Or we are invited to die.
Film: Bringing the ZAD home …
In the early morning of Monday, April 9, 2018, the current invasion of the ZAD began. This land-occupation near the village of Notre-Dames-des-Landes is still under siege after nine days of tear gas, concussion grenades, drones, clubs, tanks, and attack dogs. Like the famous French children’s song, the imperial assault began on a “Lundi matin” and continued every day of the week until the following Monday when it started all over again. This is now the second week of the siege.
In the original lyrics of the children’s song, the emperor, the empress, and the prince come to put “you” in a pinch every day of the week but luckily “you” are never there. The emperor of this little song was based on Napoleon III, the disease-ridden tyrant who ruled over France until his disastrous war with Prussia. Thanks to his idiocy and egotism, the city of Paris was surrounded by the invading army and within a year the autonomous Commune had forced the Republican government to flee the city. The current situation is much different than it was in 1871 and hopefully it ends with victory rather than bloodshed. In no uncertain terms, what is being fought for at the ZAD is the earth itself. Unlike the Commune with its delusions about the citizen, the state school, money, and government, this epic battle in the hedgerows is being fought to free the land from the capitalist economy, not compromise with it.
Our own personal time in the ZAD was far too brief and yet long enough to linger in our minds forever. Like those who’ve visited Chiapas or Rojava, the ZAD is one of the few places on the planet where capitalist time and its market relations have been abolished. Living a communal life free from economic constraints is a visceral experience that makes even the longest work-vacation seem like a sick joke. Nothing is more infectious and viral than the experience of a life worth living. It’s powerful enough that thousands of people have spent the past week fighting for it on the moorland of Notres-Dames-des-Landes where there have been over 100 serious injuries.
On this Wednesday, April 18, three representatives of the ZAD met with the French state and reasserted their demand that the entire zone be held in common by the inhabitants. As could be expected, the state refused this demand once again and insisted that each parcel must be individually claimed by a private owner no later than April 23. Should the inhabitants of the ZAD refuse to sign their names on these individuals contracts, the French state will order another round of evictions and destroy the remaining 70 structures. This cannot be allowed to happen.
To help spread awareness of this beautiful zone, we are releasing a series of videos that document this battle to save the ZAD. Each one is formatted as a self-contained episode and will cover the various aspects of this struggle. They are meant to be circulated across North America and will be released until the siege has been broken. This first episode covers the first two days of the eviction and weaves together footage from a variety of sources. As could be expected, the mainstream media outside of France is hardly covering this historic event and it’s up to us to disseminate news of the ZAD. We wish everyone good luck between the hedgerows and hope you all stay free. Keep up the good fight and know we are all with you across the ocean. Let’s bring the ZAD back home!
With love and affection,
-The Cinema Committee
That's it, we're storming the castle. On April 23, thousands of New Yorkers are showing up at Gov. Andrew Cuomo's front door in Albany to demand genuine action on climate change. We're not going to bus up just to go "rah-rah-rah" on the steps of the statehouse for the press and going home. We have three specific demands: halt of all fracking infrastructure now, a just transition to 100 percent renewables, and make corporate polluters pay into a transition fund.
We will meet in Albany at noon, at the site of a proposed fracked-gas plant slated to power Empire State Plaza and hear from local residents on Sheridan Avenue. Then we will march to the Capitol building and peacefully walk through its doors.
How did we go from congratulating Gov. Cuomo for banning fracking, vetoing the Port Ambrose LNG terminal and stopping two pipelines to storming his castle?
Let's back up to January 2017, when Cuomo declared, "The state must double down by investing in the fight against dirty fossil fuels and fracked gas from neighboring states." This is precisely the kind of bold statement that continues to come from this administration sans action to make genuine, big-picture progress a reality.
Just four months later Cuomo appeased his fossil fuel donors by playing right into the industry narrative that fracked gas is a necessary bridge to a renewable economy. "I don't think you can get from here to there without using natural gas," he told the Buffalo News.
Record scratch! What happened to doubling down? Of course, we can start building a renewable energy future now without fracked gas. However, that will require a shake-up of our economic system, which feeds the power structure that supports Cuomo. In order to protect what's most important to him, his donors and his liberal voter base, he's opted to hide his contradictions in the closet.
Let's talk about what Cuomo's energy system of the future really looks like: Gas, gas and more gas. Fracked gas in regions that Cuomo deems sacrifice zones.
If we look at a map of the fracking infrastructure of New York State, it's clear that we have a fracked gas problem.
Transmission lines, frack waste dumps, storage and support infrastructure are expanding. All expansions must go through a state approval process. We're elated for the successes our environmental movement has had pushing the governor to halt specific projects, but had it not been for our work to mobilize constituents he considers crucial to his reelection, he would have approved all of them. He continues to ignore local communities working to protect their health, safety and democracy from the fossil fuel industry in regions of the state he deems disposable.
Cases in point:
- In Orange County, N.Y., Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) is currently constructing a fracked gas plant built on bribes from his recently-convicted top aide and childhood friend, Joseph Percoco. This plant is situated near the most fertile farmland in the state adjacent to an environmental justice community and a Native-American burial ground, to cite only a few of the most heinous attributes of this project.
- In Westchester County, due to immense public outcry, Cuomo finally mandated an independent risk assessment of the Spectra Energy-Enbridge Algonquin Pipeline that runs 105 feet from critical safety infrastructure at the decaying Indian Point nuclear power plant. It has been over two years and Cuomo continues to ignore local residents' requests to see the report, as well as pleas to shut down the pipeline for health and safety violations.
- Cuomo's indifference to New Yorkers is echoed along the massive expansion of the Dominion pipeline that crosses nearly the entire state from the Southern Tier through Central New York and over to Dutchess County, where another power plant twice the size of CPV's called Cricket Valley will continue to lock New Yorkers into a future of fossil fuels.
- Cuomo has proposed situating a fracked-gas power plant in Albany's Sheridan Hollow neighborhood, a predominantly African-American community, in order to power the complex of government buildings at Empire State Plaza nearby.
- In New York City, gas boiler conversions are cheap and easy due to fossil fuel subsidies that disincentivize renewable options.
- And even as we see offshore wind coming to our shores, the Williams Pipeline Company is aiming to snake its way back into the Rockaways.
How does Cuomo keep getting away with it?
To maintain his environmentalist facade, the governor launches flashy websites like rev.ny.gov. Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) is framed as a network of locally-owned renewable energy microgrids. Meanwhile, his policies drive capital to the same old power structure, creating another destructive pattern. If we are to genuinely shift the system onto a renewable economy, we should shift our system of investments into renewables instead of using our renewable tax dollars to fund the fossil fuels in secret. Cuomo's "Energy Czar," Richard Kauffman, a former chair at Goldman Sachs, revealed the administration's backstage reality in a February blog post, after New Yorkers, initially excited about the project, started asking why it was increasingly difficult to get renewable energy access.
"The goal of REV, and New York State energy policy in general, is not necessarily to make solar work for every customer right now," according to Kauffman. "The economics are not going to pencil out for every customer in every location in the state."
While Governor Cuomo aims at climate hero status by making popular statements and congratulates himself for defying President Trump by announcing he will stand by the (very low-bar) Paris Climate Accord, his administration is busy figuring out how to continue to support the corporations that create climate destruction. That sure doesn't sound like a reform of our energy system at all.
It is crucial that we come together on April 23 to force Cuomo and others playing decision-making roles in Albany to take climate change seriously. We will carry our demands on hand-crafted signs with drummers and trumpeters at our side. We know we can succeed here in New York because we have a track record building movements that shift popular consensus. Gov. Cuomo is up for reelection this year. Now is the time to fight for our entire region to push for the required action to protect our lives and build a future worth living.
The newspaper Naomi Klein calls "utterly unique," full of insightful dispatches from around the world, The Indypendent offers a fresh take on today's events.
Vieques, Puerto Rico -- As the cry of a rooster heralded the dawn, Joe Garcia, 41, pulled a vial of insulin from the fridge. He filled a syringe and wrapped it in aluminum foil in preparation for the long day ahead.
"I tell him that from here to there, that'll spoil," said his mother, Martina Collazo de Jesus, 63, watching the preparations under the fluorescent bulb lighting the family kitchen.
It is a gamble Garcia, who has both diabetes and kidney failure, has taken since Hurricane Maria slammed this Puerto Rican island just east of the main island. More than six months after the storm, Garcia and 13 other Vieques residents must still board a plane three days a week for kidney dialysis on Puerto Rico's main island.
Hurricane Maria totaled Vieques' hospital, which housed the island's only dialysis clinic.
That set off an ongoing crisis for patients with kidney failure such as Garcia -- who cannot survive without dialysis and for whom the thrice-weekly round trip to a dialysis center in Humacao on Puerto Rico's main island, including treatment, takes at least 12 hours.
When seriously ill patients like Garcia will again be able to access their lifesaving treatments in Vieques remains uncertain, as federal, local officials and nonprofit groups debate strategy and finances. No one knows when the hospital will be rebuilt, either. And the government and nonprofit organizations continue to punt the responsibility of paying for the flights.
"This is really hard," Garcia said, as he prepared for his long day of treatment. "I am crazy, crazy, crazy for them to build a clinic here in Vieques."Who Plans, Who Pays?
Before Maria, Vieques, a sleepy island with about 9,300 people and miles of popular beaches along the Caribbean, once was home to a thriving tourism industry.
Since that September storm, residents have relied on generators for electricity, and tarps still serve as roofs for many houses.
The hurricane ravaged Garcia's home. It tossed the appliances and ripped the metal sheets off, leaving only the wood frame standing. He now lives next door with his mother. The tattoos on his left arm bear her nickname, Tati, alongside the names of his sister and daughter.
Before Garcia received the diagnosis of kidney failure 2½ years ago, he worked odd jobs, including as a handyman at a hotel and a manager in a car rental business.
With the hospital condemned due to storm damage, most medical services were transferred to a tented facility nearby. But dialysis cannot be performed in that setting, since the machines that filter impurities from patients' blood require a steady source of power and clean water.
Puerto Rican government officials have discussed various solutions for restoring dialysis services, including bringing in mobile clinics and finding another building.
Puerto Rico's health secretary, Dr. Rafael Rodríguez-Mercado, said in an interview last month in Washington, D.C., that the department is moving to bring in mobile dialysis units that should arrive within four to six weeks.
"I think this issue is a question of waiting for things to arrive, 'go with the flow,' and begin doing them," said Rodríguez-Mercado.
He also said the government is searching for buildings suitable to house temporary dialysis services in Vieques.
But three weeks later, patients are still taking flights. Luis Emanuelli, regional vice president of the national dialysis provider Fresenius Kidney Care, said he is aware of the plans for mobile dialysis clinics but is unaware of any timeline. Officials with Puerto Rico's Department of Health and local officials in Vieques did not respond to phone calls seeking information on the status of the dialysis units.
The health secretary and Vieques officials have disagreed about who is responsible for coordinating repairs of the ravaged hospital and its infrastructure -- each pointing to the other.
Héctor Ortiz Jiménez, the Vieques municipal secretary, said, "All decisions with respect to the hospital correspond to the Department of Health because that is already part of the agreement between the Department of Health and the Vieques municipality."
Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is collaborating with the territory's health department and the federal Department of Health and Human Services "to help identify costs for mobile or temporary units that are eligible reimbursement expenses," the agency said in an email.
It said officials hope to reconstruct buildings that "meet the needs of the community with resiliency for future disasters."
But the email added that "no long-term solution has been identified yet for any reimbursement costs for reconstruction."Footing the Bill for Flights
Multiple groups have stepped up to help transport dialysis patients to a working facility. In the months following the hurricane, the responsibility of paying for this transportation has switched regularly between government and nonprofit organizations. These exchanges have at times left patients and the dialysis provider wondering where funds for the next flight would come from.
First, helicopters coordinated by the federal Department of Health and Human Services carried the Vieques residents to the main island for treatment.
In late October, the nonprofit organization ViequesLove began coordinating the flights, ultimately spending $9,000 in airfare, according to its founder.
Then Americares, a nonprofit international relief organization focused on health, began paying, ultimately spending $55,000 on flights. The Puerto Rican health department informed Americares that it would shoulder the travel costs for March.
"The most sustainable solution for patients in need of long-term care is to have the local health system coordinate," said Donna Porstner, director of media relations for the nonprofit.
But this month, a local nonprofit that specializes in kidney health, the Renal Council of Puerto Rico, has assumed that responsibility. It secured the funding from the foundation Unidos por Puerto Rico, according to the Renal Council's executive director, Ángela Díaz. She said she expects the money will cover transportation for the next five to six months.
The council also asked for funding to rent a building in Vieques that could be retrofitted into a dialysis clinic. The foundation has not made a final decision on that request because it is waiting for the various government agencies to come up with a plan to re-establish services, Díaz said."I'm Worried About These Patients"
Eight hours after getting up in Vieques, Garcia dozed in one of the pink reclining chairs lining the walls of the treatment room in Humacao, still only halfway through his four-hour dialysis treatment.
Tubes full of blood snaked from his left arm and funneled into the machine on his right side. The electronic screen showed an assortment of numbers reflecting blood pressure and the amount of dialysis fluid flowing through the filter. The tattoo of his mother's name on the same arm peeked out beneath the tangle of plastic.
Some patients from Vieques don't know how much longer they can take the journey for this treatment.
Beside Garcia sat Radamés Cabral Trinidad, 65, who has threatened to stop dialysis to protest the traveling and the lack of effort to provide local treatment. "I want to die," he said. "I want to die in Vieques."
José Lorenzo, director of operations of the clinic run by Fresenius Kidney Care, said he sympathizes with the Vieques residents' call to re-establish the clinic as soon as possible. "I'm worried about these patients," he said, noting the toll the grueling travel takes on their health.
It would be another four hours before Garcia pulled up to his mother's home, plopped his bag down and fixed a plate of leftover rice, exhausted. He took off his shirt and checked his blood pressure to make sure they were stable post-travel, post-treatment.
"I'm glad we made it," he said.
"Thank God," his mother replied.
Vincent Thompson was first arrested when he was 14. It was a Friday night and Thompson and some friends in his neighborhood in Hempstead, Long Island, had just come home from a party. They were clustered outside their buildings not yet ready to call it a night, when the police "rushed" the group, he said, and searched them. Thompson had just started selling crack, and the police found it. He was handcuffed and stuffed into the back of a police car. "It was my first time ever being in that position," Thompson recalls. "I was young."
He was released into his mother's custody, but placed on juvenile probation -- a label that would come to define his adolescence, as was the process of shuttling back and forth to court. By this point in his life, Thompson had already witnessed his older brother and sister get arrested; the images of them sitting in the back of a police car, handcuffed, were cemented in his conscience.
Thompson's home situation was loving. His mother was strong, stable and the sole provider for her three children. But the realities of the neighborhood were dominant. There were two constants for Thompson growing up in Hempstead: drugs and police. He described his community as swallowed by drugs. He often saw the buying and selling of it, but also a heavy, perpetual police presence. If a group of kids were hanging together outside, there was a significant possibility that they would be searched and harassed.
In the early 2000s when Thompson became a teenager, the "superpredator" myth was largely unquestioned. This was the theory that certain cohorts of young people in urban settings (and almost always black or Latino) are violent, terrifying and with "no conscience, no empathy," as Hillary Clinton famously said in 1996. Thompson experienced stop-and-frisk long before he even knew there was a name for it. And Thompson witnessed so many arrests, beyond his siblings, so many people leaving the neighborhood for stretches of time, so many people returning to the community, that incarceration became normalized.
The superpredator condemnation was conceived by John J. Dilulio Jr. in the mid-1990s. ''A new generation of street criminals is upon us -- the youngest, biggest and baddest generation any society has ever known," he said, and the term ushered in a methodology of putting violent teenagers in adult prisons with no thought given to intervention or rehabilitation. Dilulio's description of "brutally remorseless youngsters" won out against children's inexperience and suggestibility. William J. Bennett, with John P. Walter and Dilulio, penned "Body Count" in 1996 and promoted the theory that superpredators would skyrocket the level of teenage violence by the new millennium. But violent crime declined; what surged was the juvenile justice population.
The reality that the US has the highest prison population in the world is both devastating and well-known. The US also leads the world in youth incarceration. There are more than 850,000 juvenile arrests per year and nearly 50,000 young people sit in incarceration every day. And like the adult prison population, black and brown youths are disproportionately impacted. Black children are five times more likely to be held and detained than white children, according to data from the Department of Justice.
The superpredator theory has been disproved. Dilulio andClintonhaveapologized for propagating it. But the policies that followed and the effects of this thinking are still very much in place. In California, people from as young as 14 years old can be transferred to adult courts and tried and sentenced as such. It is a proposition still on the books from 2000. And California is not alone. In a new VICE documentary called "Raised in the System," it says, "There are up to 200,000 youth, tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults annually."
"That superpredator myth really scared generations," Bahiyyah Muhammad, assistant professor of criminology at Howard University, said. "That myth is continuing to go on, even in the midst of the apology for it."
The next year, Thompson was arrested again. This time, the police observed him making a drug sale. They chased him into his apartment and "put the guns to me and all that," he said. They thought he broke into someone's home. "I'm 15 years old," he added. For this charge, he spent 60 days in the Nassau County Juvenile Detention Center. Thompson's major takeaway from the center was, "it really got you ready for prison."
"They make very little even pretense at rehabilitation at this point anywhere," said WNYC reporter Kai Wright. He takes an in-depth look into the juvenile justice system in a new podcast series "Caught." He added, "Coming out of, again, the politics of the '90s ... it really started to crowd out the idea that we would be rehabilitating people instead of punishing them."
Thompson remembers that when he was incarcerated there, the detention center held about 60 young people from all over Long Island. But at least one-third were from his same neighborhood. That's because juvenile justice is local and incarceration overwhelmingly cripples distinct geographic areas, but research by Harvard sociologists shows that when law enforcement finds its focus, entire neighborhoods in major cities -- mostly poor, and black and brown -- can be swept up by the prosecutorial zeal.
When it comes to youth incarceration and one's ZIP code, "it's an immediate correlation," Muhammad said. "That really is the bread and butter of the entire juvenile justice system." Wright added, "The sorting of innocence from irredeemable guilt starts young. And more often than not, that stark divide depends on what you look like and where you live."
Researchers labeled areas with high concentration of crime and plagued by mass incarceration as "hot spots." Informally, they have been dubbed "'million-dollar blocks' to reflect that spending on incarceration was the predominant public sector investment in these neighborhoods," the American Prospect magazine reported.
This means mass incarceration can be totally invisible to some Americans or ever present for others. The same is true for youth incarceration. Muhammad says that like the criminal justice system, "the doors revolve" in the juvenile justice system and "the majority of people incarcerated have a juvenile record. So it's clear that there is this pathway." One common denominator is the lowest-performing schools -- those that are the most underfunded and underresourced -- are often in areas where incarceration rates are the highest.
Eighth grade was the last grade Thompson completed as a teenager. He started at Hempstead High School, but was kicked out for truancy, and was officially expelled his second year for the same thing. "I didn't need to be pushed out of school," he said. "I needed to be inside a school." Thompson felt his expulsion drove him right into the juvenile justice system.
It didn't help either that his high school already resembled a place of lockup. It had metal detectors; police patrolled the halls; status offenses, misbehavior or fistfights meant you could leave handcuffed in the back of a police car. Thompson thought school was supposed to be a "safe haven," but with his expulsion, his problems spiraled. "It doesn't help living in highly criminal areas and the school system just pushes you back into that area," he said.
The superpredator myth didn't just infect courtrooms. Schools became these militarized "zero-tolerance" zones, where childish behavior was criminalized, and schools, in specific underresourced neighborhoods, became gateways to youth incarceration. It is a phenomenon known as the school-to-prison pipeline.
Muhammad described the pipeline as:
Individuals in certain schools are being pushed out and being disciplined in a way that's very vicious, that's disrespectful and is a disregard for young black bodies within schools. You started to see metal detectors popping up in these different schools and it was connected to zip code. So if it was a zip code that was plagued by mass incarceration -- connected to the statistics that come out of the Bureau of Justice highlighting the different communities and city that individuals are returning home to -- their children started to get targeted within the schools that they are attending. And not reaching out to help them, but creating an environment where the school is almost just like prison.
In WNYC's "Caught," Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of a civil rights organization, explained that in schools, talking back became disorderly conduct; writing on desks became vandalism. In some states, schools have to alert the courts if a student is cutting class, and fights at school became felonies. So instead of providing social services in schools, children as young as elementary and secondary are facing draconian-style laws and are shifted into the juvenile justice system, which VICE estimates makes a young person 38 times more likely to enter the criminal justice system as an adult.
A horrific video surfaced from a South Carolina high school in 2015, when a school police officer wrapped his arm around a 16-year-old black girl's neck to forcibly remove her from her desk. The desk flipped over and he proceeded to drag her and throw her across the floor before arresting her. Classmates said the teenager used a cellphone in math class and then refused to leave the classroom. For this, she faced a misdemeanor charge for "disturbing schools." Wright worries that even as we are in a political moment where the school-to-prison pipeline is named and known, which he says is progress -- as a society, we have yet to wrestle with the long-term effects of these zero-tolerance policies.
With no school to attend, Thompson spent more time on the streets, more time selling drugs and more time face to face with what he says were "the hardships of the neighborhood." Thompson was arrested again for a drug sale at 17 and sent to Nassau County jail -- an adult jail, but he was housed in the adolescent block for one year. There, he turned 18 and got his GED. And five months after his release from jail, Thompson was arrested for manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
"Very few people would look at this and say this works," Wright said of the juvenile justice system. "It is almost unanimous that this does not work. The debates are really about how much harm does it do."
But something clicked for Thompson during his sentencing as a legal adult. He saw scores of young black men shuffling in and out of courtrooms and it amplified the way the system disregards young black bodies. To see his mother in tears at his sentencing was exemplary of the way the system crushes entire families. And to see the district attorney pine for a plea deal made clear the system's priority for a conviction over justice. Thompson said that if he didn't devise a plan for himself, the system had the possibility of determining the rest of his life. So education became his primary goal once he learned there was a possibility of getting a college degree while incarcerated.
It is no accident. "The teenage brain is like a sports car," is the title of "Caught's" fifth episode. It follows the scientific brain research that demonstrates how teenagers are unpredictable and how brains do not mature fully until young people are in their 20s. (This adds to the long-established research of how most people age out of crime.)
In 2002, the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to execute mentally disabled people, because they lack culpability, judgment and impulse control. Wright shows how this opened the door for lawyers to argue for the same treatment for youth -- that a teenager is just as impulsive as someone with intellectual disabilities.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for a teenager under the age of 18 to be sentenced to death. Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that a juvenile could not be sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicidal crime. And in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that a juvenile could not be sentenced to mandatory life without parole. (This does not bar life sentences for youth, just mandatory ones.)
"Brain science, and juvenile life without parole, I think that's a perfect example of where the conversation around youth incarceration and youth criminalization is driving us into a space to think newly about what is justice," Wright said. "We've done this before, because we've thought newly about what is justice and made it a more punitive and more avenging space. We can think newly about justice and make it more about reform."
Reforms are happening. In Tuledo, Ohio, the documentary "Raised in the System" shows how juvenile court administrator Deborah Hodges has diverted a significant portion of juvenile offenders from detention to a youth assessment center. The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative is another well-known project that reduces juvenile detention populations. What began as a pilot project in the 1990s is now present in 300 counties. And in Illinois, youth under 18 are no longer tried as adults, but now automatically sent to juvenile court. Other nationwide programs like Models for Change incorporate mental health and community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.
"There are efforts inside the system and around the system to figure out how can we put rehabilitation back on the table and find ways to intervene with mental health," Wright said. "They are swimming against the tide of what the system is built to do at this moment."
Muhammad says to upend the superpredator myth, what's needed is a cultural upheaval for how we treat juvenile offenders. She added that it is crucial to keep youth in their communities, to connect them with mental health and other social services, to include their families in the reentry process and to provide young people with employment. Beyond the structural reforms, Muhammad stresses that, most important, young people need to be listened to and forgiven.
Thompson served just under 10 years in Sing Sing, Attica, Coxsackie, Eastern and Wallkill Correctional Facility. He tried three different times to enter college programs, but either did not qualify or did not make the cut. "It's so hard to get into a college program inside prison, so it took me about eight years to qualify," he said. "It's highly competitive."
At Wallkill, Thompson was accepted into New York University's Prison Education Program and earned his associate's. Now free, Thompson is at NYU working toward his bachelor's in American Studies. In his spare time, he works with Just Leadership, an organization that empowers formerly incarcerated individuals and others most affected by incarceration to craft prison reform through policy. Thompson is helping to create a Just Leadership branch in his hometown, Long Island. For the long term, he plans to start his own organization, "to provide mentorship to the youth and the support that I felt I should have gotten at that age," he said.
"No longer is the criminal justice system swallowing the juvenile justice system," Muhammad said of the research and reform dedicated to youth incarceration. Formerly incarcerated individuals like Thompson are increasingly leaders in this work. And since the juvenile justice system is the starting point of criminalization and incarceration for so many adults in prison, juvenile justice reform is integral to repairing the criminal justice system.
A nationwide cultural shift is still needed, but "you're starting to see a drive for juvenile justice," Muhammad continued. "And by looking at these children, this is the way that we're beginning to free them. And I feel like it's allowing us to humanize these children that should have never been animalized or dehumanized in the first place."
Demonstrators protest the deportation of undocumented immigrants on July 24, 2013, in New York City. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)Truthout is your hub for thought-provoking, conversation-sparking stories. Support independent journalism by making a small, tax-deductible donation today!
A year after the Santa Fe City Council adopted in February 2017 a resolution strengthening its welcoming and non-discrimination policies toward immigrants, the federal government launched a series of audits demanding verification from local small businesses that their employees were eligible to work in the country. In response to this blitz, advocates and city officials held a press conference in early March calling out an attempt to disrupt business, wreak havoc, and create a culture of fear and panic.
"Today, children will wake up at home wondering if there will be a knock on their door; parents will go to work wondering if there will be a knock at the door of their place of employment; families will wonder if they'll have one more meal together," said then-Mayor Javier Gonzales, who, following President Trump's election, became an outspoken proponent of cities enacting sanctuary and non-discrimination policies. "That is not what our country has ever been about, but it is what this administration is trying to do by dividing our communities. All of us in our community know that one of the best values Santa Fe incorporates every day is the value of welcoming people."
And that value of welcoming is not just compassionate talk. There is proof that sanctuary policies are working, keeping residents safer than in places that collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement tactics.
According to a new study from Pew Research Center, nationwide deportations made by ICE in 2017 increased 30 percent from the previous year. But these increases are not distributed evenly. In regions where city and state governments worked hand in hand with ICE, deportations have increased more than 75 percent. In regions where sanctuary policies are more prevalent, increases have remained relatively low.
Along with California, New Mexico has emerged as one of the most welcoming states for undocumented immigrants. And it's not just the capital, Santa Fe. Across the state, immigrant rights groups and faith communities are working alongside local governments in innovative ways to resist the Trump administration's deportation efforts. Not only have these efforts succeeded, but they have provided a blueprint for other towns, cities, and states to emulate.
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Santa Fe adopted its first sanctuary resolution in 1999. It was a reaction to the new Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which threatened undocumented immigrants with lengthy bans. This first resolution was largely symbolic—a declaration of the city's values, stating only that the city would not use its own resources to aid federal immigration officials.
Nearly two decades later, following Trump's election and xenophobic rhetoric, city leaders and immigrant communities were activated once again.
Mayor Gonzales appeared on CNN, Fox News, NPR, and other news outlets just a week after the election explaining why Santa Fe would continue its welcoming policies toward immigrants and would resist any large-scale deportation efforts.
Somos un Pueblo Unido, a state-wide immigrant rights organization based in Santa Fe, held a meeting for its members a week following the election to provide a space for people both to express their fears and brainstorm ways of strengthening policies to better protect them. "What's great is that when you are membership-based, the solutions are so deeply rooted in the realities of lived experiences," says Marcela Diaz, Somos' executive director. She has been with the organization for 20 years and helped the city with the 1999 resolution.
Over the next three months, Somos un Pueblo Unido worked with city council members, the ACLU of New Mexico, and other stakeholders to create a legally defensible document that would provide meaningful protection for immigrant families. The new policies bar city employees from inquiring about or disclosing information about residents' immigration status, deny federal immigration agents access to non-public areas of city property, direct staff to improve language access on all government documents and programs, and mandate outreach to employers and community members to educate people on their civil rights and the city's new policies.
While these are considered sanctuary policies, over the course of the drafting process, the word "sanctuary" was removed from the resolution. There is no legal definition of sanctuary, and advocates reasoned that the word could become a lightning rod for the Trump administration.
Even so, when the council unanimously adopted the welcoming, non-discrimination resolution in February 2017, the room exploded in cheers and applause. Everyone seemed to feel the weight of the occasion. "As a native Santa Fean, I'm proud to be on the right side of history," said city councilor Renee Villarreal.
Unlike the resolution from 1999, this one wasn't merely a statement of values, but a prescription of policies for the city to implement.
As people celebrated, Diaz said, she was thinking about what lay ahead: "Our work begins now."
Over the past year the new policies have been put in place. There's still work to be done, Diaz said, especially in the realm of language access, but has not received any complaints from members about the city not living up to its stated values.
Additionally, Villarreal said the city will start to coordinate with the county, school district, and local community college to ensure each entity is working together in a complementary fashion.
The city and groups like Somos hold know-your-rights workshops. Significantly, many of these trainings are peer-to-peer and allow the kind of firsthand information sharing that attorneys cannot always provide.
"We do a lot of peer-to-peer because it's just different," said Diaz. "The difference is that there are some organizations and some attorneys -- and rightly so -- that say 'stay calm, don't run.' We know people that have run and have gotten away, so it's weird for us to say don't run."
Somos does work with attorneys and groups like the ACLU to offer legal advice. But because a lot of important information comes from other members as they encounter ICE and Border Patrol, peer-to-peer is often most effective. As Diaz explained, "We're not telling you to run -- we're just saying these are the consequences."
Because there is no playbook for the crackdown on undocumented immigrants currently taking place, Somos un Pueblo Unido has had to be nimble and adapt to shifting ICE tactics. Through its member network, the organization can quickly disseminate information efficiently when ICE agents enter a community.
When ICE began launching audits back in February, Somos and other organizations throughout the state were forced to act quickly. Two days after the press conference where Gonzales decried ICE's disruptive actions, Somos co-sponsored a know-your-rights workshop with the city, the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, and the Hispanic and Green Chambers of Commerce. The workshop was specifically designed for employers to learn what they are legally required to disclose during an I-9 audit and how they could best protect their employees. Despite just a couple days' notice, more than 50 businesses showed up.
"We're playing whack-a-mole," said Diaz, referring to the fast-paced, random nature at which they are encountering new threats. "But that's what sanctuary for us is—helping people understanding what's going on and sharing resources. All of the answers are not necessarily going to be there. We have to be nimble, we have to figure out how to attack each tactic as it comes."
Villarreal is also encouraged by the proactive way in which Santa Fe has faced these new threats head on. "It's a sign of the activism in New Mexico," she says. "That we have very strong immigrant rights organizations that work well with governments is a large reason why we've been successful.
Not all governments, however. Santa Fe's immigrant community knows to avoid the state probation office and opt to deal with any legal business at the county jail. Why? Even though Santa Fe County does not cooperate with ICE, the state of New Mexico under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez does.
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To be clear, members of Somos un Pueblo Unido are in the thick of a battle against the federal government. For these people, wins can seem temporary, while losses last longer and are felt more acutely. They come in the form of people being deported and families being torn apart. Despite the difficulty in feeling successful, though, New Mexico has proved to be a national leader in resisting deportation.
According to Pew's analysis of data provided by ICE, 143,470 people were arrested during 2017, compared to 110,104 in 2016. (Trump's first year in office pales in comparison to the 297,898 arrests during President Obama's first year.)
ICE compiles its data based on 24 different regions that largely follow state boundaries. In 2017, Miami (which includes all of Florida), Dallas (which includes the northern half of Texas and Oklahoma) and St. Paul (which includes Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas, and Nebraska) saw the biggest jump in arrests made by ICE with increases of 76 percent, 71 percent, and 67 percent, respectively.
San Antonio (central-southern Texas), Houston (southeastern Texas) and San Francisco (Northern California, Hawaii and Guam) saw the lowest increases at 1 percent, 5 percent, and 9 percent, respectively. But those numbers can be misleading. In raw numbers, the Houston region saw the second highest number of deportations, and San Antonio ranked fifth.
On the other hand, ICE's El Paso region, which includes west Texas and all of New Mexico, saw a modest growth in the numbers of arrests at 12 percent. But in raw numbers, the region remains the third lowest of all ICE regions with only 1,892 arrests last year. That still ranks above Baltimore (1,666 arrests) and Buffalo, New York, (1,494 arrests), which both saw larger increases last year of 34 percent and 27 percent, respectively.
Considering that New Mexico is a border state, its ability to minimize the number of residents deported stands out.
An analysis conducted by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center provides useful context. Mapping every county across the country, ILRC created a 0-7 scale to determine the extent to which counties do or do not work with ICE with 0 representing the highest level of cooperation and 7 representing the lowest level of cooperation.
Counties with a rating of 0 either work closely with ICE or have entered formal agreements under which local law enforcement officers are essentially deputized as federal immigration agents. On the other side of the scale, counties with a rating of 6 or 7, like Santa Fe, have comprehensive "sanctuary" protections in place to block local resources from being used to aid ICE.
According to ILRC, California laws passed last year turned every county in California into a 6 or 7. Oregon and Vermont also stand out with pro-immigrant policies prevalent across each state. New Mexico is the only other state where most counties have policies that favor protecting immigrants. Of the state's 33 counties, 22 rank as a 4 or higher.
In a similar report, ILRC also looked at how county-level policies changed after Trump took office. In New Mexico, every county that ranked as a 4 or higher strengthened their policies over the past year. The same is true of every California county, along with many in Oregon. On the reverse side, counties in ICE-collaborative regions like Miami, St. Paul, and Buffalo largely decreased protections for immigrants, likely contributing the increased arrest rates.
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While sanctuary policies can be credited for part of New Mexico's success, the state has also built a supportive culture around its immigrant communities. Nowhere is this more true than its second largest city, Las Cruces, which sits just 40 miles north of the Mexico border.
In response to raids in February 2017, NM CAFé (an acronym for Comunidades en Acción y de Fé), a faith-based community organization and affiliate of the PICO National Network, led a protest in downtown Las Cruces, blocking parts of Main Street for 45 minutes. The group was joined by local faith leaders, and the next day a group of eight state senators and local representatives signed a letter to Gov. Martinez calling on her to bar ICE from entering sensitive areas like schools, churches, hospitals, and courthouses to calm the sense of anxiety running through the community.
"We wanted to push back against this narrative that ICE just gets to come in our communities and kidnap people from their homes," said Johana Bencomo, a community organizer with CAFé. "We wanted to make sure it was something the community knew about."
In many communities, civil disobedience could be divisive. But in Las Cruces, it seems to be energizing. Anxiety persists, acknowledged Bencomo, but "it hasn't paralyzed people. If anything, it's woken up many other people."
Late last year, the city of Las Cruces adopted its own non-discrimination resolution.
CAFé also organized its members to pressure the state's two senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, to vote against a Dreamers bill that included $25 billion in border security funds. In February, Udall and Heinrich joined California's Sen. Kamala Harris as the only dissenting votes. In addition to its policy work, CAFé embraces organizing strategies similar to Somos', such as holding know-your-rights workshops and teaching employers and employees what to expect from I-9 audits.
CAFé has also created a rapid response network that allows people to alert organizers when immigration raids are taking place. Staff and volunteers serve as operators, and once claims are verified, the organization can send email or text message blasts.
And when all else fails, CAFé turns to Father Tom Smith, director of the Holy Cross Retreat Center in Mesilla, just south of Las Cruces.
In May 2017, Father Smith took in Jorge Taborda as his first sanctuary case, although Smith prefers the term "Francisican hospitality." Taborda arrived with his 16-year-old son, who is a U.S. citizen, after his wife was deported to Colombia. And since October, Smith has taken in a second person, Lorena Rivera.
"We are called by the gospel and the scriptures to welcome the aliens, to care for those in need," Smith explained.
With room enough for only four people, Smith acknowledges that he alone cannot make a difference on a large scale. And while ICE has agreed not to enter sensitive areas like churches, if federal agents come with a search warrant, he cannot stop them. He said that his work is intended to "raise consciousness." He allows media access to both Taborda and Rivera and also brings in school groups to learn from their experiences. "They listen to their stories, and it helps change their opinion because they're hearing it directly from that person," Smith said.
"Father Tom has been a godsend to our community," Bencomo said. "He has shown the kind of boldness and courage our community members need."
"We are building a really strong counter-narrative that is only enhancing Las Cruces's culture," Bencomo affirmed.
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Despite the work being done by New Mexico communities to keep their residents safe, the Trump administration is determined.
The Justice Department is suing California over its new laws that bar private employers as well as state and local jails from cooperating voluntarily with federal immigration officials. The federal government maintains it has complete authority over immigration issues.
In Texas, the state legislature passed a law banning sanctuary cities. An injunction had been granted, but a federal appeals court ruled in March that the law could take effect. The court battle will continue.
Meanwhile, construction of Trump's border wall is set to begin in New Mexico as well as parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authorized the federal government to pay for potential deployment of up to 4,000 National Guard troops for the border mission through September. Arizona and Texas have committed hundreds of troops so far. Many fear that the further militarization of the border will serve only to cast immigrants in a negative light.
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With the national landscape more fraught than ever, immigrant rights groups in New Mexico are busy.
Somos un Pueblo Unido has helped facilitate meetings to bring community members together with the law enforcement community and recently conducted a training for 90 Farmington police officers on the benefits of not checking immigration status, which they have ceased doing. Somos was also involved in McKinley County's decision to cease its cooperation with ICE, and it helped dissuade Luna County, west of Las Cruces, from entering into a deputizing agreement with the agency. In Albuquerque, the election of a progressive mayor has meant a non-discrimination resolution in the state's largest city is making its way through the city council.
The thought of continuing at this pace for another three years of a Trump term is daunting, but Diaz is encouraged by the experiences of the past year. "What it takes is giving people the space to stand up for themselves."
Bencomo agreed. "I believe in the power of an organized community," she said. "I hope we can keep building power so that we can continue to protect more families."
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On April 18, nearly 5,000 JetBlue Airways flight attendants voted to form a union, notching a major victory for organized labor. The employees voted 2,661 to 1,387 to join the Transport Workers Union (TWU), a labor group that represents rail and airline workers, among others, and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Sean Doyle, Assistant Director of Organizing for the TWU, tells In These Times that the vote to unionize JetBlue is "probably one of the largest and most successful union campaigns that's happened in quite some time." Doyle sees a connection between the successful effort to organize JetBlue employees and the recent wave of strikes and walkouts, particularly among teachers in states like Oklahoma and West Virginia.
"You can see by the workers, the teachers and what they're doing that middle-class America has taken it on the chin long enough," Doyle says. "Workers are uniting to protect their interests, not only in their jobs, but also their families and their welfare." Although most workers at airlines such as Southwest are already unionized, Doyle believes JetBlue was hoping to block their employees' desire to organize and join the TWU.
"We don't do cold calls," Doyle wryly points out, noting that it was JetBlue flight attendants who sought his group's help, and not the other way around.
JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said in a statement that, while his company does "respect the outcome of the election," they are also dismayed at the vote to unionize. The statement does not spell out JetBlue's reasons for resisting the flight attendants' efforts, although labor organizing is not a new issue for the airline. In 2014, the company's pilots 3,500 unionized with the Airline Pilots Association, yet they are reportedly still waiting to have their first contract ratified.
JetBlue flight attendants have been attempting to form a union since at least 2017, according to several news accounts from last year. From the New York Post to the New Republic, writers and industry observers have documented the brewing battle between the company's "in-flight crewmembers" and JetBlue management. An inflammatory message sent by JetBlue to its employees last year even went so far as to declare that the TWU was an "opportunistic and negative third party" determined to "generate negativity and drama."
JetBlue advised flight attendants that, if they found themselves being "harassed" by union organizers, to "Just Say No."
That message clearly did not work. The airline industry is extremely profitable, according to Ted Reed, who covers the business side of airlines for Forbes. In a February 2018 story, Reed noted that airlines scored a "record $25.6 billion in 2015 profits," and that JetBlue's value is estimated to be just north of $1 billion. Although airlines typically engage in profit sharing gestures with employees, according to Reed, that hasn't shielded the industry from remaining a "labor stronghold"—even in the era of right-to-work laws that seek to undermine union organizing.
Reed describes JetBlue as a "primary battleground" for union activity. In January 2018, just after the flight attendants won the right to hold a union vote from the National Mediation Board, JetBlue gave all of its employees a $1,000 bonus in what the company said was a nod to the new federal tax cuts signed into law in late 2017 by President Trump. If management's intention was to douse employees with a one-time bonus and hope that the union threat would go away, they were sorely mistaken.
Instead, according to Doyle, the tax cuts and one-time bonuses served as more evidence of runaway corporate greed. "These tax cuts were sold as being beneficial to the middle class," Doyle says, "but those at the top have made millions from them already." This point of view was echoed by a recent post from Matt Egan at CNN Money, which noted that the post-tax cut bonuses celebrated by Trump and his supporters are little in comparison to the windfall raining on "already-wealthy shareholders and CEOs."
In this climate, workers are "fighting for a seat at the table," Doyle insists. "JetBlue flight attendants want a legally binding contract so that they are no longer at-will employees. They want respect on the job and voice in their future." Some of the main points of contention appear to be health insurance coverage and the right to weigh in on company policies, such as work schedules.
In a video posted to a website created by pro-union JetBlue flight attendants, employees describe the working conditions they face. "We work in a petri dish," flight attendant Lyndi Howard says, while her colleagues note that health insurance premiums have more than doubled in recent years. "I want a proper grievance and arbitration process," flight attendant Vance Green says, explaining that he wants to make sure he can express his views without fear of reprisal.
Now, Green and the thousands of other flight attendants who keep JetBlue in the air have won the opportunity to negotiate their first contract with the airline's management team.
In a statement, John Samuelsen, president of TWU, called on JetBlue to quickly come to the table and negotiate a "fair and just contract with the workers they employ." If not, Samuelsen says, TWU is "prepared to engage in a fightback campaign that will continue until a contract is secured and Inflight Crewmembers are protected."
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