Published: Tuesday 25 December 2012
It was clear the President was a good man and a deeply-committed father of young children.

 

The tendency to identify manhood with a capacity
for physical violence has a long history in America.

- Marshall Fishwick

Violence is as American as cherry pie.
- H. Rap Brown
 
Watching President Barack Obama wipe away a tear as he spoke to the nation on the day a 20-year-old Adam Lanza dressed himself up like a Navy SEAL and took out 20 little kids and six of their teachers, it was clear the President was a good man and a deeply-committed father of young children.

The same day, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted the President’s touching emotions but quickly stressed it was time to strike hard and fast on gun control legislation. The problem of violence in America had gone unaddressed for decades and weapons were becoming more accessible and more lethal.

Meanwhile, Dan Rather told Rachel Maddow he felt President Obama returned to his first term M.O. and caved in to the right on the Susan Rice nomination for Secretary of State. Rather felt the President didn’t like to initiate fights and that when they came or were on the horizon, his first move, before the fight even began, was to concede and seek a centrist compromise.

 

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Published: Tuesday 11 December 2012
Abu-Jamal, who was a young activist in the Black Panthers and later one of the most important radical journalists in Philadelphia, a city that a few decades earlier produced I.F. Stone, has long been the bête noire of the state.

I am sitting in the visiting area of the SCI Mahanoy prison in Frackville, Pa., on a rainy, cold Friday morning with Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s most famous political prisoner and one of its few authentic revolutionaries. He is hunched forward on the gray plastic table, his dreadlocks cascading down the sides of his face, in a room that looks like a high school cafeteria. He is talking intently about the nature of empire, which he is currently reading voraciously about, and effective forms of resistance to tyranny throughout history. Small children, visiting their fathers or brothers, race around the floor, wail or clamber on the plastic chairs. Abu-Jamal, like the other prisoners in the room, is wearing a brown jumpsuit bearing the letters DOC—for Department of Corrections.

Abu-Jamal was transferred in January to the general prison population after nearly 30 years in solitary confinement on death row and was permitted physical contact with his wife, children and other visitors for the first time in three decades. He had been sentenced to death in 1982 for the Dec. 9, 1981, killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His sentence was recently amended to life without parole. The misconduct of the judge, flagrant irregularities in his trial and tainted evidence have been criticized by numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.

Abu-Jamal, who was a young activist in the Black Panthers and later one of the most important radical journalists in Philadelphia, a city that a few decades earlier produced I.F. Stone, has long been the bête noire of the state. The FBI opened a file on him ...

Published: Friday 16 November 2012
“The appointment of Alice Paul as the Congressional Committee chair of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) at the organization’s December 1912 convention in Philadelphia turned out to be this kind of catalyzing step.”

 

Turning points are easier to recognize long after they’ve occurred than while they’re taking place. One of those shifts happened 100 years ago next month, setting in motion a dramatic strategy to achieve a goal first set 70 years before at the historic Seneca Falls Convention for women’s equality: passing a constitutional amendment establishing the right of women to vote. Along the way this new direction would galvanize public opinion, provoke a brutal backlash from the government — including “the night of terror” that took place 95 years ago today, November 15, 1917 — and prompt a transformation of political thinking that cleared the way for the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

The appointment of Alice Paul as the Congressional Committee chair of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) at the organization’s December 1912 convention in Philadelphia turned out to be this kind of catalyzing step. It revived a debate in the movement about how the goal of voting rights would be met — and it opened the door to the use of electrifying nonviolent action as a key to mobilizing the people power needed to dislodge an ancient plank of patriarchy. A century later we still have much to learn from this relentless agent for social change.

NAWSA, with its roots in the universal suffrage movement that began in the 1860s, focused on lobbying state governments as a path to voting rights. Paul, by contrast, believed — as did the earliest proponents of women’s rights in the U.S., including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton — that the surest route was passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Immediately after becoming committee chairwoman, Paul pursued this direction by pouring her energy into organizing highly visible, public ...

Published: Tuesday 13 November 2012
With the cut back of early voting in Florida, the result of lengthy lines was predictable.

If no one else is rejoicing about the systemic inconveniences imposed on Florida voters on Election Day, where waits as long as eight hours to cast a ballot were endured and witnessed by thousands of voters, the state’s former senators Mike Bennett and Ellyn Bogdanoff should be elated.

“I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert,” Bennett said in 2011 when sponsoring legislation to impose stricter voting requirements. His colleague concurred with his view that voting should be made more difficult. “Democracy should not be a convenience,” Bogdanoff said.

With the cut back of early voting in Florida, the result of lengthy lines was predictable. Lee Rowland, counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice, noted that each state that succeeded in limiting early voting, particularly Florida and Ohio, led in the number of waiting hours for the public to vote, according to preliminary reports.

Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, director of the Advancement Project’s Voter Protection Program, said that had her mother been voting in Florida, she would have been unable to endure the wait as she uses a walker. 

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Published: Thursday 4 October 2012
Cash spent to watch televisions and report on suspicious bass fishing in Mexico.

 

An alarming report published by the Department of Homeland Security in March 2010 called attention to the theft of dozens of pounds of dangerous explosives from an airport storage bunker in Washington state.

Like many such warnings, it drew on information gathered by one of the department’s “fusion centers” created to exchange data among state, local and federal officials, all at a cost to the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars.

There was just one problem with that report, and many others like it: the theft had occurred seven months earlier, and it had been highlighted within five days in a press release by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was seeking citizen assistance in tracking down the culprits.

The DHS report’s tardiness and its duplication of work by others has been a commonplace failing of work performed by fusion centers nationwide, according to a new investigation of the DHS-funded centers by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

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Published: Wednesday 26 September 2012
“In a series of JPI studies released this month, the organization is calling for all states to end for-profit bail bonds practices.”

If you were to get arrested in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Illinois, or Oregon, or other jurisdictions such as Washington, D.C.; Broward County, Florida; or Philadelphia,

Pennsylvania, finding a bail bonds agency and the sufficient funds to make bail would be one less concern.

 

That’s because according to the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), a national nonprofit law and justice advocacy and research organization, these locations have eliminated money bail. In a series of JPI studies released this month, the organization is calling for all states to end for-profit bail bonds practices.

 

Two reports were released earlier this month: “Bail Fail: Why the U.S. Should End the Practice of Money Bail,” and “For Better or For Profit: How the Bail Bonding Industry Stands in the Way of Fair and Effective Pretrial Justice.”  A final report is scheduled for release on September 25, and will provide first-hand accounts from Baltimore, Maryland residents’ experiences with the money bail system.

 

Both studies suggest that for-profit money bail is a problematic policy that is especially harmful to the poor and communities of color, and call for it to be eliminated.

 

Instead, JPI offers solutions such as using pretrial services, which would include a risk assessment – an evaluation that would determine if the individual poses a danger to the community, conducted by judges to determine who to release and how to release. ...

Published: Wednesday 26 September 2012
“Consider then-candidate Obama’s description of working class people in Pennsylvania, made in the heat of the 2008 campaign.”

For Democrats caught up in the race for U.S. presidential power, Mitt Romney’s description of “the 47 percent” is a great chance to pile on. Here is a super-rich Republican showing his contempt for the working class, many people are thinking — let’s make the most of it!

But sometimes the “caught in the act” statements of politicians are worth more than a quick dismissal. Consider then-candidate Obama’s description of working class people in Pennsylvania, made in the heat of the 2008 campaign. He told people in a San Francisco fundraiser that small-town Pennsylvania voters “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” to explain their economic frustrations.

The two remarks are different. Romney’s is contemptuous, while Obama’s is only condescending. As someone brought up working class, I can tell the difference; I voted for Obama because I’ve been condescended to a lot in my life, and that doesn’t stop me from making reasoned choices. I’ll vote for him again. But my point here is that both remarks reveal the striking lack of agency that is assigned by leaders of political parties to the working class.

What made Obama’s remark condescending was that he made it as a leading Democrat. If the Democratic Party had been fighting for the agency of working class people, then the labor movement would be so strong that we would now be enjoying full employment, universal health care, and low or no college tuition. The financial sector would have been too regulated to throw us into the current recession, and if it somehow had done so anyway, the priority in 2008 and 2009 would have been Main Street, not Wall Street.

In other words, the economic frustrations that Obama linked to certain cultural expressions in small-town Pennsylvania were exacerbated by his own party. His remark ...

Published: Thursday 20 September 2012
How American Democracy Became the Property of a Commercial Oligarchy

 

[A longer version of this essay appears in "Politics," the Fall 2012 issue of Lapham's Quarterlythis slightly shortened version is posted at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of that magazine.]

 

All power corrupts but some must govern. -- John le Carré

The ritual performance of the legend of democracy in the autumn of 2012 promises the conspicuous consumption of $5.8 billion, enough money, thank God, to prove that our flag is still there. Forbidden the use of words apt to depress a Q Score or disturb a Gallup poll, the candidates stand as product placements meant to be seen instead of heard, their quality to be inferred from the cost of their manufacture. The sponsors of the event, generous to a fault but careful to remain anonymous, dress it up with the bursting in air of star-spangled photo ops, abundant assortments of multiflavored sound bites, and the candidates so well-contrived that they can be played for jokes, presented as game-show contestants, or posed as noble knights-at-arms setting forth on vision quests, enduring the trials by klieg light, until on election night they come to judgment before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they were produced.

Best of all, at least from the point of view of the commercial oligarchy paying for both the politicians and the press coverage, the issue is never about the why of who owes what to whom, only about the how much and when, or if, the check is in the mail. No loose talk about what is meant by the word democracy or in what ways it ...

Published: Friday 14 September 2012
“Studies have shown as many one million eligible voters in the state do not have an acceptable identification under the new law, which requires all voters to show a state driver’s license, government employee ID or a non-driver ID card issued by the state.”

With less than two months to go before the November election, we look a new voter ID law in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. Studies have shown as many one million eligible voters in the state do not have an acceptable identification under the new law, which requires all voters to show a state driver’s license, government employee ID or a non-driver ID card issued by the state. In Philadelphia, it has been estimated that 18 percent of voters lack the proper ID. At least one Republican politician, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, has already boasted that the new voter ID law will help Mitt Romney win the state. On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to allow the controversial law to go into effect, or to approve a preliminary injunction. For more, we speak with two guests: Vic Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and one of the co-counsels who argued the case; and Jessie Allen, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Published: Friday 14 September 2012
“I got arrested with about 30 others as part of a foreclosure-auction blockade.”

 

In its first year, Occupy Wall Street was called a “movement of movements.” Some likened its broad reach to an octopus. One person described occupied Zuccotti Park to me, wistfully, as a “city on the hill.” Then again, over dinner with the organizers of the National Gathering in Philadelphia this July, I heard OWS compared to “a bad dating scene.” As Occupiers gear up for a weekend of one-year-anniversary activities, it seems like the right time to offer my reading. For me, Occupy was more like psychotherapy — a process that helped me see new things about myself and overcome some of my fears.

Last winter, at the height of my Occu-enthusiasm, I did things that, for me, took a lot of gumption. I got arrested with about 30 others as part of a foreclosure-auction blockade. Alone, I stood up and interrupted the governor of New York when he gave a speech at my campus. I spoke before large crowds through the “people’s mic,” sometimes in support of public education, sometimes against corporate personhood, and often on the theme of love.

What motivated me to do these things? I had never been an activist before OWS. I hadn’t even been to a protest. The idea of joining a rowdy, confrontational demonstration never appealed to me. Or else, I thought, I didn’t have enough time or job security to put energy into activism.

It’s true that I had just spent a couple of years studying the history of nonviolence. The abolitionists, Gandhi, Tolstoy, and the Bhagavad Gita all captivated me. And I’ve long been a student of Iyengar yoga. Along with the stretching and breathing, that meant learning about satya (truth) and ahimsa (non-harming, love). ...

Published: Tuesday 4 September 2012
“Our chance to defeat the 1 percent depends on our willingness to give up demanding that others become like us, and instead learn to walk in their shoes.”

How can a small group make a difference with genocide-level violence happening half a world away? When some of us faced that question in 1971, we learned something about leveraging our power. We also learned something new about how people from different classes can form an alliance.

President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger denied that the U.S. was sending weapons to Yaya Khan, the Pakistani dictator who was waging massive war against the Bengalis who wanted to secede. Our Philadelphia Movement for a New Society (MNS) collective soon learned the truth: a Pakistani freighter was at that moment on its way to Baltimore to pick up a shipload of weapons.

MNS members went to Baltimore to see what could be done. They first visited the ships’ pilots association, asking that the pilots refuse to bring the Al Ahmadiinto the Baltimore harbor. The answer was no.

The next step was to go to the bars where longshoremen (dockers) congregated, and sound them out. They had a power we didn’t. Maybe they would refuse to load the weapons.

East Coast longshoremen have traditionally had somewhat right-wing politics. The workers we talked with thought U.S. policy was wrong on this one. Still, the workers’ families counted on the daily wages, and the men said they would need to load the ship when it arrived.

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Published: Thursday 23 August 2012
While publicly touted as a law intended to inhibit voter impersonation at the polls, its real intent was explained in a rare moment of candor by Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who,bragged, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done.”

 

People remember 1929 as the year of the stock-market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression, the global economic disaster which remains the only one in history that dwarfs the one in which we now find ourselves. It was also the year Martin Luther King Jr. was born, who wouldn’t live to see 40 years. And it was the year that Langston Hughes graduated from Lincoln University, outside Philadelphia.

Hughes, the grandson of abolitionists and voting-rights activists, was an African-American writer. His poem “A Dream Deferred” begins:

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

 

And then run?”

Hughes left Lincoln University, one of the 105 historically black colleges and universities in the U.S., and spent the rest of his life campaigning for civil and human rights. He died in 1967, two years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Almost 80 years after his graduation, Lincoln students eagerly awaited the opportunity to cast their vote, many no doubt for the first major-party African-American candidate for president, Barack Obama. For years, the Chester County Board ...

Published: Wednesday 8 August 2012
“Occupiers from all over the country told me their favorite thing about the National Gathering was the chance to compare notes, network, and set up lasting lines of communication between far-flung occupations around the country.”

The organizers of Occupy Wall Street’s National Gathering—or Natgat, as everybody there liked to call it—promoted the event as all about long-distance caravans, “visioning sessions” where protestors would debate strategies for moving forward, and spectacular direct actions in the nation’s birthplace of Philadelphia on the Fourth of July.

I found each of those things at the event. I met people who’d come in from California, Alabama, and Delaware. I sat in on the surprisingly small and intimate visioning sessions, the results of which have now been released (additionally, the results of the virtual visioning process, facilitated by OccupyCafe, are here). And nearly everyone I met had stories from direct actions they’d participated in.

However, the most compelling part about Natgat, for me, was the informal conversation and skill-trading, in which people shared what was working—and what wasn’t—in their own occupations. I wasn’t the only one to find this useful: occupiers from all over the country told me their favorite thing about the National Gathering was the chance to compare notes, network, and set up lasting lines of communication between far-flung occupations around the country.

Here are five of the lessons people said they’d learned at Natgat.

1. Room for Change in the General Assemblies

The General Assemblies are the DNA of the Occupy movement. It’s crucial that there be a regularly scheduled meeting place where people can get together, bring proposals, discuss them, and then develop a plan of action. This ...

Published: Wednesday 1 August 2012
“America has been so degraded as a free society that such intrusive violations of our privacy by a police agency or a librarian are now accepted by most people as normal and to be expected.”

Back in 1976, I co-founded, with some Los Angeles colleagues, a feisty little alternative weekly called the L.A. Vanguard. About two months after we launched it, I got tipped off about a program by the local phone companies, Pacific Telephone and GTE, in which they had so-called “Security Departments,” composed of banks of operators, whose sole job was to provide unlisted phone numbers to inquiring government agencies, all without a warrant. As I delved into this story I learned more: these special operators (led in each case by retired FBI officials) were also providing credit information on phone customers on request, and the agencies who had instant access to all this data ranged from local police to the public library.

When we broke the story, it exploded on the Los Angeles media scene. There was a banner headline across the whole top of the Los Angeles Times front page screaming “Unlisted Numbers Given Out.” We at the L.A. Vanguard, to promote our little paper and being guerrilla journalists, announced that we were holding a protest and press conference on the sidewalk in front of the main entrance of the Pacific Telephone building in L.A., at which we’d be handing out copies of our newspaper. We were mobbed by reporters and camera crews from every media organization in the city. It was huge. Pacific Tel’s PR people realized they had to respond and invited everyone inside for an impromptu news conference at which they tried to quell the furor, but they only made it worse by having to admit the scale of the program.

Now I understand that Los Angeles, which is home to more celebrities per square foot than any other place in the world, has a thing about privacy, but this story even went national. It was simply shocking at the time to learn that the phone company would provide police and other government agencies -- even the over-due books department of the library! -- ...

Published: Saturday 28 July 2012
“Campaigns can be won or lost by the willingness of the campaigners to see the big picture.”

 

There are plenty of times when an individual comes up with a great idea for a group’s next direct action. But when Martin Oppenheimer and I wrote A Manual for Direct Action during the civil rights movement, we also wanted to offer a tool that would help a group, collectively, to generate excellent ideas. So Marty and I created a tool that has spread far beyond that time and place: the Spectrum of Allies.

Here’s how it works: The facilitator puts on the left side of a large sheet of paper or chalkboard “We,” and on the right side “They.” The “We” represents the activist group or campaign; the “They” represents the extreme opponents.

The polarization placed on the board needs to be specific, regarding a particular issue or goal. A given religious group might be extremely opposed to you on reproductive rights, for example, but on immigrant rights it may be in a different spot. Note that the government may not be the most extreme opponent in a particular struggle — for example, for us the government was potentially friendlier than the Klu Klux Klan.

The distance between the two poles — “We” and “They” — represents a spectrum of positions and tendencies, with some groups in society leaning toward us and some leaning toward “They.” Some groups are in the middle, on the fence.

We show the spectrum by placing a horizontal line between “We” and “They,” then by drawing half a circle above the line, like a half-moon. Lines are drawn between the circle and the center of the horizontal line, making the graphic look like half a pizza pie with a lot of pre-cut slices.

We then insert in the slices the groups that belong there. What groups, for example, are in the slice next to “We” — the kinds of ...

Published: Sunday 15 July 2012
“We speak with Honkala and Dr. Stein about their campaign for the White House and the challenges they face as a third party in a two-party political system.”

Dr. Jill Stein’s Green Party vice-presidential running mate, Cheri Honkala, is a single mother who has firsthand experience with homelessness. In 2011, she ran as the Green Party candidate for sheriff of Philadelphia on a platform of ending foreclosures and halting evictions. "Large sections of the population are just sitting out. ... It’s not just because they’re not interested in what’s happening in this country. They just don’t see that their vote actually matters," Honkala says. "But our campaign gives an opportunity for people to see themselves, because we represent the 99 percent." Her Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is one of the country’s largest movements led by the poor and homeless. We speak with Honkala and Dr. Stein about their campaign for the White House and the challenges they face as a third party in a two-party political system. If elected, Stein says she would work to repeal the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. "There are so many strategies that a president could bring into play to help draw public attention to not only the problem, but how we can solve it with a constitutional amendment to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech."

Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Baltimore, Maryland, where the Green Party’s national convention is underway. I’m joined by Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party 2012 ...

Published: Saturday 7 July 2012
“The movement has been accused before of lacking direction. But this week in Philadelphia, delegates to the first-ever national Occupy gathering created a streamlined vision for the change they want to see.”

Occupy participants from every region of the United States poured into Philadelphia from June 30–July 4 for the movement’s National Gathering. Many arrived in caravans from far-flung states like California, Texas, and Alabama, and about 500 people attended the event in its final days, according to Occupy Wall Street’s Linnea M. Palmer Paton.

“It feels exactly like an Occupy,” said Michael Wilson, who came from his hometown of Salt Lake City with three fellow occupiers, each of them driving a three-hour shift. “It’s the like all the months of an occupation compressed into just five days.”

The activities of the National Gathering—or “Natgat,” as occupiers invariably called it—covered a wide range of styles, tactics, and approaches to social change. At the gathering's center was a visioning process in which small groups of occupiers spent days carefully hammering out their ideas about the kind of changes they’d like to see. Then, these groups were combined and began compiling their ideas into a single document, which is rumored to now be 75 pages long.


Attendees held nightly General Assemblies, or GA’s, open meetings that form the heart of most local Occupy groups. Their marches and demonstrations saw relatively little of the police violence that has marred other Occupy events. And there were daily workshops on topics like direct action, maintaining encampments, and interactions between activists. Many attendees said the workshops and skillshares were their favorite part of the week.

“I’m just here to learn,” said Jacqueline Lundy of Occupy ...

Published: Friday 29 June 2012
So there it is, the Republican strategy for staging a quiet coup by first putting the right to buy votes and bribe politicians in the hands of billionaires (think Supreme Court and Citizens United), then using control of state legislatures thus gained to deny some citizens (the ones least likely to support a proto-fascist party) the right to vote. 

 

 

They wrap themselves in a constitution we were taught to revere, a constitution they secretly hold in contempt.  They are subversives in Armani suits, and they are far more dangerous to the survival of this creaky, old republic than communists and terrorists ever were. 

News that a Republican leader recently boasted that Pennsylvania’s new voter identification law will boost Willard Mitt Romney’s chances of winning that key state in the November election is causing a stir among progressives and liberals.  Why? 

First, a few facts:  The loquacious protagonist in this story is a tool named Mike Turzai.  Not exactly a household name, unless you happen to live in the state founded by William Penn – you know the state where the “Miracle at Philadelphia” (aka the Constitutional Convention of 1787) happened, where the Liberty Bell proudly displays its crack, and where the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross famously helped launch a revolution.

Turzai is the Republican House Majority Leader in Pennsylvania’s state legislature.  As such, he was instrumental in getting House Bill 934 – otherwise known as the Pennsylvania Voter Identification Protection Act – passed.  The bill, which was recently signed into law by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, will require Pennsylvanians to show valid photo identification each and every time they vote.  Think of it as a form of contraception: like safe sex, this bill is for the voters' "protection".

Imagine:  Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross could not vote in Pennsylvania without a valid ID.  Something tells me that under the new rules few of Franklin's contemporaries could have voted back then.  One can't help but wonder how many eligible white male property owners would have ...

Published: Thursday 28 June 2012
Occupiers from around the country will gather to discuss the future of the movement.

 

Since the end of 2011, when police shut down most encampments, the Occupy movement’s future has been uncertain. Without the long-term occupations that gave the movement its name, where would participants meet and make their presence felt? Would the movement be able to sustain itself without these rallying points? Would it release policy demands or try to bring down a big bank?

The upcoming five-day Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia will address some of these questions, but without attempting to speak for Occupy Wall Street, the Occupy movement as a whole, or anyone beyond those in attendance.

“I think this could ...

Published: Tuesday 26 June 2012
“Lolly radiates the indomitable and magnificent strength of the women and men who rise up in the pockets of poverty and despair we reported from, whether in Camden, Pine Ridge, S.D., the coal fields of southern West Virginia or the produce fields in Florida.”

I park my car in the lot in front of the rectory of Sacred Heart in Camden, N.J., and walk through a gray drizzle to Emerald Street. My friend Lolly Davis, whose blood pressure recently shot up and whose kidneys shut down, had been taken to a hospital in an ambulance but was now home. I climb the concrete steps to her row house and ring the bell. There is an overpowering stench of garbage in the street. Her house is set amid other brick and wooden residences, some of which have been refurbished under Monsignor Michael Doyle’s Heart of Camden project at Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic parish. Other structures on Davis’ street sit derelict or bear the scars of decay and long abandonment.

Lolly’s grandson, nicknamed Boom Boom or Boomer, answers the door. He tells me his grandmother is upstairs. I enter and sit on a beige chair in the living room near closed white blinds that cover the window looking out on Emerald Street. The living room has a large flat screen television and two beige couches with brown and burnt-red floral patterns that match the chair. There is a stone fireplace with a mantel crowded with family photos. Her grandson, one of numerous children from the neighborhood whom she adopted and raised, yells upstairs to let Lolly know I have arrived.

Lolly, 69, appears at the top of the ...

Published: Tuesday 19 June 2012
“The Occupy movement is not finally about occupying. It is, as Zeese points out, about shifting power from the 1 percent to the 99 percent.”

 

In every conflict, insurgency, uprising and revolution I have covered as a foreign correspondent, the power elite used periods of dormancy, lulls and setbacks to write off the opposition. This is why obituaries for the Occupy movement are in vogue. And this is why the next groundswell of popular protest—and there will be one—will be labeled as “unexpected,” a “shock” and a “surprise.” The television pundits and talking heads, the columnists and academics who declare the movement dead are as out of touch with reality now as they were on Sept. 17 when New York City’s Zuccotti Park was occupied. Nothing this movement does will ever be seen by them as a success. Nothing it does will ever be good enough. Nothing, short of its dissolution and the funneling of its energy back into the political system, will be considered beneficial.

Those who have the largest megaphones in our corporate state serve the very systems of power we are seeking to topple. They encourage us, whether on Fox or MSNBC, to debate inanities, trivia, gossip or the personal narratives of candidates. They seek to channel legitimate outrage and direct it into the black hole of corporate politics. They spin these silly, useless stories from the “left” or the “right” while ignoring the egregious assault by corporate power on the citizenry, an assault enabled by the Democrats and the Republicans. Don’t waste time watching or listening. They exist to confuse and demoralize you.

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Published: Saturday 26 May 2012
“This kind of entrapment and official deceit by police should alarm every American. It’s bad enough when police plant evidence and lie about evidence in order to win convictions, since it means innocent people will be sent to prison or worse.”

It seems pretty clear by now that the three young “domestic terrorists” arrested by Chicago police in a warrantless house invasion reminiscent of what US military forces are doing on a daily basis in Afghanistan, are the victims of planted evidence -- part of the police-state-style crackdown on anti-NATO protesters in Chicago last week.

The Chicago Police clearly realized that it would be hard to convince a jury that the homemade beer-making equipment in the house was some dreaded bio-terror weapon, so for good measure they apparently dropped off some glass jars with gas in them and tried to make out that the kids were preparing molotov cocktails. That’s the word from National Lawyers Guild attorneys representing the men. They say their clients and others like them coming into Chicago from out of town to join in protests against the NATO summit were “befriended” by police informants and undercover Chicago Police, who then offered to obtain gasoline or explosive materials like toy rocket motors, and who proposed actions like firebombing police stations.

This kind of entrapment and official deceit by police should alarm every American. It’s bad enough when police plant evidence and lie about evidence in order to win convictions, since it means innocent people will be sent to prison or worse. But with the new post 9-11 terrorism laws, like the state terrorism statutes in Illinois being applied in these cases, it becomes far more difficult for a victim of such police and prosecutorial misconduct ...

Published: Wednesday 25 April 2012
“Actor and Activist Danny Glover speaks to prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal for the first time.”

Actor and activist Danny Glover speaks to prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal for the first time after supporting him for more than two decades. "I just want to tell you — and I’m really emotional because I didn’t expect to hear your voice this morning right there — that we will continue to struggle to fight for your release. We love you, brother," Glover tells Abu-Jamal. "I am as pleased as punch and thrilled to hear you there," Abu-Jamal responds. On Occupy Wall Street, Abu-Jamal calls the protests "one of the greatest advances in the democracy movement in our modern period," but one that is only in its nascent stages. "They have something more important to do, and that’s to connect with other people’s movements and build a kind of resistance that can transform this country."

Published: Saturday 25 February 2012
“When activist behavior reveals so clearly the injustice of the state, it results in a loss of the state’s legitimacy.”

Occupy Wall Street is similar to many movements in contending that its opponent—for Occupy, the 1 percent—is maintaining a system whose structural, systematic violence far exceeds any violence exhibited by the movement itself. For example, movements will say that class oppression or sexism or racism hurt people in the daily course of life, pointing to statistics like each percentage point of unemployment resulting in increased suicide, homicide and domestic abuse. However, especially when the movement is still young and only beginning to get its message out, the powers that be in politics and the media will often succeed in dismissing such charges and in blaming every appearance of violence on the campaigners. Reversing this narrative in the public perception is one of a growing movement’s most important challenges.

For nearly a year, for example, the Syrian government has been sending its tanks to kill demonstrators while claiming that the violence mainly comes from the pro-democracy forces. The Russian government publicly agrees. The reason why defenders of oppression the world over charge activists with violence—even if they have to make it up—is because it’s a potent accusation. The oppressor doesn’t want the “violence” label to stick to its own side. Those who presently are undecided or passive might move to support the campaigners because they don’t want to support “violence.”

In some circumstances, although not all, who wins the struggle depends on who most believably asserts that the other side is violent. Occupy Wall Street ...

Published: Thursday 9 February 2012
“It felt truly global when I heard an occupier say ‘Goodnight, from Italy’ on a call in November.”

 

As Occupy camps spread around Southern California in early October, a small group of occupiers located at City Hall in Los Angeles reflected on our experiences setting up a camp and our first assemblies. “It’d be awesome to see what they do in San Diego,” I remember saying, sitting in the comfort of Occupy LA’s People’s Library. “Do you think the cops will even let them put down tents?”

The librarian replied, “We should help them. We should be there so that their first GA isn’t as bad as ours was.” But, as we would soon learn, both the challenges and the potential of coordinating Occupy assemblies would be far greater than that.

I drove to San Diego on October 6th to meet with their General Assembly’s facilitation team as they marched around downtown, eventually settling in Children’s Park. We talked about the idea of having a team of people ready to keep the peace and teach horizontal democracy. Then, a week later, after moving the camp to the Civic Center and doggedly resisting pressure to leave, OSD was given an eviction notice. Occupiers were pepper-sprayed when they decided to defend one lonely tent in the middle of a public space. I raced down to San Diego to help arrange bail funds that night. Curiously, another person, a young man dressed in a Tommy Bahama shirt, also showed up and claimed to be from Occupy Wall Street.

He suggested that remaining members of OSD break off into smaller groups and ...

Published: Saturday 10 December 2011
At the state and federal levels, quests to balance budgets have dragged down employment.

Julia Lee hobbled on a cane in a crowd of marchers toward the Longworth House Office Building. She last held a full-time job five years ago. Lee, who now receives disability payments, was injured in an accident and uses a cane due to a rejected knee replacement two years ago.

 

The grandmother of seven from Philadelphia traveled to Washington because, to her, something’s not right.

 

“All Americans have a right to a job and have a right to take care of their families, because that’s what this country is built on,” Lee said.

 

Young and old in mud-caked shoes marched toward the Capitol on Thursday calling for jobs and economic fairness. The marchers have convened in Washington from across the country, camping on Washington’s National Mall by day and sleeping in local churches by night.

 

They are part of an effort backed by Our DC, a grassroots advocacy group focused on good jobs for District residents. It organized the encampment in collaboration with a coalition of union members and the unemployed. Thursday’s procession followed several days of action, including a march on K Street, known as the center of corporate lobbying, and sit-ins at congressional offices.

 

1.8 Million Would Lose Unemployment Benefits

 

The mobilization is tied to Congress’s current focus on proposed extensions of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. If the payroll tax cut is allowed to expire at the end of this month, an American family making $50,000 a year stands to pay an additional $1,000 in taxes next year, according to the White House.

 

And if the unemployment extensions end, 1.8 million people will lose benefits, according to the National Employment Law Project). The president has advocated vehemently for the two measures, arguing that both provided needed stimulus for the slowly recovering economy. House ...

Published: Sunday 13 November 2011
The Occupy movement is bringing deep moral questions that many religions confront to the forefront of national conversation. How faith groups are joining in.

The Rev. Faith Ballenger wears her collar at Zuccotti Park in New York City. Amidst the banging of drums, chants for change, and urban noise, she talks with protesters about their politics, their economics, and especially about their spirits.

Ballenger is the interim pastor at Transfiguration Lutheran Church in Harlem. She knew right away she’d be spending time at Occupy Wall Street, which is, she says, a tense place to be—there is a heavy police presence and the occupiers are often very tired.

“Clergy should be down there,” Ballenger says. “When people don’t go to church, you go to where the people are.”

Ballenger encourages religious communities to join the movement and spend time on Wall Street or in the financial districts in cities across the world. “Faith is an action word,” she says. “This is what faith in action looks like.”

 

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Published: Tuesday 8 November 2011
Frustrated Americans now have decided to use the polls to spell out their frustration.

Americans who are frustrated with the broken politics of the moment will have plenty of opportunities to Occupy the Polls on Tuesday.

That’s what happened in Boulder, Colorado, last week, when voters shook things up by backing a referendum proposal that calls on Congress to enact a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision that corporations can spend as they choose to buy elections. The same election saw Boulder voters endorse a plan to end the city’s reliance on private power companies and replace them with a public utility.

There are big issues, big races and big tests of the political potency of organized labor, social movements and progressive politics playing out this Tuesday, on the busiest election day of 2011. In some cases, voting offers an opportunity to make an affirmative statement on behalf of a change in priorities. In other cases, there are opportunities to push back against bad politics and bad policies. In still others, there are signals to be sent about the politics of 2012.

Here are some of the big races to keep an eye on Tuesday:

1. OHIO REFERENDUM TO RENEW LABOR RIGHTS

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Published: Tuesday 9 August 2011
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