Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.
Edward Snowden. (Courtesy: Guardiannews.com)
Immediately following the announcement that the source behind The Guardian’s NSA spying revelations is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old NSA contractor, protesters around the world rallied to show support for the whistleblower.
In New York, a group of activists gathered in Union Square amid downpours. Organizer Andy Stepanian called Snowden’s cause “a marginalized story:”
It’s saturating the media right now, but history has shown that when these whistleblowers come forward—whether it be Daniel Ellsberg or it be Bradley Manning—within a short period of time, there are attempts to malign the individual or co-opt the narrative or try to demonize that individual for what they did. Edward Snowden put aside a $200,000/year career, a house in Hawaii and left his loved one to go on the lam to show people the truth, which was that our government was spying on us without warrants under the auspices of the war on terror. And in doing so they violated our Fourth Amendment rights.
In Hong Kong, up to 1,000 Snowden supporters are expected to stage a protest to call on the government to protect him.
The AFP reports that the group, including lawmakers, will march first to the US consulate and then government headquarters to urge the administration of the semi-autonomous territory to not extradite Snowden.
“We should protect him. We are calling on the HK government to defend freedom of speech,” Tom Grundy, a rally spokesman, said Wednesday.
“We don’t know what law he may or may not have broken but if Beijing has a final say, they don’t have to extradite him if he is a political dissident,” he told AFP.
When asked why he chose Hong Kong as a refuge, Snowden cited the city’s “strong tradition of free speech.”
On Wednesday, Snowden told the South China Morning Post: “People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.”
Several lawmakers have agreed to take part in a discussion forum following the protest, including prominent pro-democracy politician Albert Ho, according to Grundy.
The online community has also rallied behind Snowden, organizing a White House petition demanding a presidential pardon that has already attracted more than 61,000 signatures, while a separate campaign was launched to help pay for Snowden’s expenses.
Facebook employee Dwight Crow donated $1,000 of his own money to help Snowden with legal fees, hotel bills or flight costs. Facebook is one of the companies that has denied links to the NSA’s Prism program.
Crow wrote: “I’d imagine Snowden’s fate is going to be determined by forces larger than legal bills, but have heard he’s stuck in HK with frozen accounts. Figured a little cash might help significantly.”
Obsession over Snowden’s personal life highlights a major flaw of the establishment media: the tendency to fixate on minute details while completely missing the big picture, namely the US government’s vast spying program.
While the media speculates about Snowden’s motives and allegiances and salary and pontificates about his dancer girlfriend and if she’s feeling lonely, Snowden’s supporters seem to grasp that this story is about something bigger.
“Anyone who uses the internet and expects some privacy should be concerned about what was said in [Snowden’s] interview, so I imagine we will get a good turnout,” said Grundy.
The Senate just passed a farm bill that contains massive cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Read George Zornick’s analysis here.
Riot police use tear gas to disperse protesters at Taksim Square. (Reuters/Osman Orsal)
A relatively small protest at Turkey’s Gezi Park to prevent the ripping out of trees to make way for the building of a shopping mall has erupted into an uprising in which over 1,900 people have been arrested and reports of 1,700 more injured. Protesters say the harsh treatment by police, such as shooting tear gas and water cannons at protesters, is just one more symptom of Prime Minister Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.
Iconic images of Turkey’s uprising quickly appeared on the Internet. There was the image of a young woman defiantly kicking back a tear gas canister toward police, and a young man casually strumming his guitar as he approaches a wall of officers. Then there was the incredible photo of another youth standing upon a flattened improvised barricade, waving Turkey’s flag, reminiscent of Enjolras’ last stand.
Occupy Wall Street showed its support when hundreds of protesters gathered at Zuccotti Park, a k a Liberty Park, over the weekend. The “peaceful international solidarity event” is being held “with the goal to direct public attention to Istanbul Gezi Park protests and consequent police brutality of AKP/Erdogan government!” Occupy Wall Street announced.
Photo by @EyeOnTheGround.
Overall, the social media response to the protests has been staggering. Between Friday and Saturday, at least 2 million tweets mentioning hashtags related to the protest (#direngezipark, #occupygezi, #geziparki) were sent. At one point, more than 3,000 tweets about the protest were published every minute.
Even Erdogan weighed in on the Twitter factor, calling the social media tool a “menace.”
“There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” Erdogan said. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”
Making a small concession, Erdogan did admit the police had made “mistakes” in their initial response.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu took to Twitter to warn citizens: “The continuation of these protests…will bring no benefits but will harm the reputation of our country which is admired both in the region and the world.”
What’s clear is that Twitter is certainly a menace to unchecked power, and those who wield that power against citizens.
Al Jazeera reports that what makes this social media phenomenon especially unique is that unlike some other recent uprisings, around 90 percent of all geolocated tweets came from Turkey and about 50 percent from within Istanbul. For comparison, only 30 percent of those tweeting during the Egyptian revolution were actually in the country. Approximately 88 percent of the tweets are in Turkish, suggesting the audience of the tweets are other Turkish citizens and not the international community.
Al Jazeera speculates that Turkish protesters are replacing traditional reporting with crowd-sources accounts of the protest due to being unsatisfied with the local media’s coverage of the uprising.
In addition to being a tool for reporting, Twitter has allowed activists to share information about resisting police brutality. Under the Turkey subcategory on Reddit, a user posted an Occupy Wall Street guide to defending against teargas for Turkish activists.
Over the weekend, numerous countries expressed support for Turkey’s protesters. Turkish nationals gathered in front of the EU Parliament in Brussels to protest against police violence in Turkey, many chanting anti-government protests and holding up banners. Similar rallies took place in London, Egypt, Canada, Helsinki and outside the Turkish Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus.
The ripple effect continued to Amsterdam and Germany, with its significant Turkish population.
“The police were too violent with the demonstrators,” said Hakan Tas, a local councillor. “There is talk of a thousand injured, some seriously. There are unconfirmed reports of deaths. We are here to show our solidarity with the people in Turkey and in Taksim Square, and that is why we are here today in Berlin.”
Overnight in Istanbul, the situation appeared to escalate again in what the BBC called “some of the worst violence since unrest erupted three days ago.”
Protesters in Besiktas district tore up paving stones in order to build barricades, and police responded with tear gas and water cannons. Mosques, shops and a university in Besiktas have been turned into makeshift hospitals for those injured in demonstrations. Witnesses say the protesters were coughing violently and vomiting after police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd.
Akin, a protester who spoke to Sky News as he camped overnight at Istanbul’s Taksim Square, said, “We are not leaving. The only answer now is for this government to fall. We are tired of this oppressive government constantly putting pressure on us.”
Perhaps offering the best summary of the events of the past few days, he added, “This is no longer about these trees.”
What’s next for Bradley Manning? Read Greg Mitchell’s take.
Cooper Union in New York’s East Village. (Flickr/CC, 2.0)
The occupation at Cooper Union has continued for twenty days with little public or media attention—certainly nothing on par with the profiles written on Zuccotti Park in the fall of 2011. Part of that lukewarm reception has to do with the Cooper occupation’s modest numbers (the occupation is sustained by a group ranging between fifteen and twenty-five students), and another part with their mission, which is more specific and less sexy than an anti-capitalist revolution. Cooper Union students are protesting the school’s decision to charge undergraduate tuition for the first time in 150 years, and they’re doing so out of the public’s view, between the walls of president Jamshed Bharucha’s office.
The occupiers quickly gained support from nine full-time members of Cooper Union’s art faculty, who signed a petition and released a statement:
Out of deep concern about the direction of the Cooper Union under President Jamshed Bharucha, the full-time faculty of the School of Arts adopts a resolution of a vote of No Confidence in President Jamshed Barucha.
A Village Voice investigation revealed that the board of trustees have been less than forthright about the dire situation at Cooper Union. While alumni trustee Peter Cafiero claimed a shutdown scenario was never taken seriously, the Voice obtained a transcript from a trustee meeting that paints a different picture.
“[A shutdown] is a real option and I will only recommend it if we do not have a constructive, positive way for that particular school, in which case I will say I don’t see a light at the end of this tunnel, let’s begin to close it down,” a trustee said during a meeting in September.
The transcript also shows that trustees reviewed an option to shutter the entire institution for five years with plans to reopen it in 2018 when group rent on the Chrysler building, Cooper Union’s primary asset, would jump.
Former trustee Stanley Lapidus appears indifferent to the idea that a faculty turnover could bust the staff union, calling the jobs “cushy” and “un-economic.”
That casual indifference continues when trustees refer to the process of closing the school, forcing current students to transfer to other schools, as “flushing.”
Check out Democracy Now!’s debate on what caused Cooper Union’s financial woes and whether charging tuition will fix the problem:
Saar Shemesh, a Cooper Union occupier, expressed her and her fellow students’ frustration at the board of trustees when they announced the school would start charging tuition.
“We were beside ourselves,” she writes. “The board of trustees had dropped this big news on students just as the semester was about to end, catching us at the onset of finals (arguably the most stressful point in our semester). We hugged the Foundation building and held a candlelight vigil where we shared memories of a free Cooper Union. But again, we were trudging along, shocked that the administration had finally dared to announce tuition, our worst-case scenario, after we had been campaigning for transparency in Cooper’s operations for the last two years.”
Shemesh describes an initial period of sporadic actions and poor planning by unexperienced protesters that eventually culminated in a cohesive blueprint for resistance:
As an insider, it’s hard to tell what came first: our plans or our actions. As an organizer, I crave particular structures (albeit loose ones) with which to run a campaign, so the smattering of unplanned actions at Cooper would typically worry or frustrate me. However, this style of organizing seems to work for us here, like no other group that I have organized within.
The majority of us are not versed in direct action tactics or organizing strategy, and have somewhat of an allergic reaction to structure-heavy organizing. However, we have a certain type of loose structure that lends itself well to action-heavy organizing, and that has made both the lock-in last semester and the current occupation very successful.
She goes on to describe the formation of a spokescouncil that they hoped would ideally function like that of Occupy Wall Street in which working groups would meet regularly and report back to each other via representatives once a week, or through meetings coordinated on an as-needed basis.
“Good strategy is important to me because without it even well planned actions fall flat. Without some form of escalation, campaign, or action sequencing we don’t build power,” says Shemesh.
That “good strategy” includes having clear goals (a free, accessible and transparent Cooper Union), identifying allies and constituents, targeting someone who can give protesters what they want (in this case, President Bharucha and the board of trustees), then deploying tactics that can get protesters close to their goals (petitioning the student and faculty bodies for a vote of “no confidence” and an open, rolling occupation).
It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of the Cooper Union occupation since, as Shemesh notes, many of the students were hesitant about strategic organizing or even disdainful of it:
Only a few of us have experience from Occupy or other social justice movements. We’re college students who believe in our school and the sanctity of free higher education. And we’re occupying because we think it will help us protect that. But that doesn’t mean that long-term strategic Organizing will come naturally to all of us.
As for their progress, Shemesh notes, “We’ve so far been able to get by on our antics and actions.”
“It took me the better part of a year to adjust to the Cooper ‘style’ of organizing,” she adds, “but I continue to learn more about myself as an organizer (and an Organizer) in the process of helping to sustain, with the rest of my classmates and fellow occupiers, a budding student movement.”
It was there that the occupation announced their plans for a free school and salon to coincide with the college-wide end-of-year show, an open space dedicated to free and accessible education and liberating institutional resources. (Photo via @FreeCooperUnion)
“The exhibition will facilitate open space for dialogue through daily Open Forums and Free University classes visioning and remaining new cooperative structures for higher education in the form of free performances, dialogues, screenings, classes, workshops, and more,” Free Cooper Union announced on its Facebook page.
Walmart workers across the country plan to strike from now until June 7. Read Josh Eidelson’s report.
Public school teachers cheer outside the Chicago Board of Education district headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong)
Chicago is braced for a critical vote by the Board of Education this week to determine if fifty-four schools will be closed.
Last week, parents of three children, two who have disabilities and a third who is black, filed a lawsuit at the US District Court in Chicago alleging that the school closings violate the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act.
A second complaint, filed by the parents of three more children with disabilities, alleged the closings will occur too late in the year and don’t allow sufficient time for those children and their peers to transition to “unfamiliar” schools.
The parents sued on behalf of a proposed class of about 5,000 disabled students they say will be irreparably harmed by a transfer into new schools and for the 23 percent of the city’s black elementary-school children whose rights are allegedly being violated by the plan.…
“Every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high-quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, but for too long, children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilized, under-resourced schools,” CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett said of the closings plan in a statement issued on March 21.
The announced closings spurred a weekend of protests in which activists claimed children’s lives will be put at risk when they are transferred to new schools, some of which are located in neighborhoods infamous for gun violence.
“There is no way [CPS] can keep people safe walking through this danger zone,” protester Jitu Brown shouted into a megaphone during a protest outside Overton Elementary School in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighbourhood—one of the schools slated for closure.
The Chicago Tribune reports, earlier this month, a man was fatally shot along the route that Overton students might take to their new schools.
The Tribune also found that, for children who aren’t eligible for busing, the average walk to a new school in the coming year will be almost twice as far as it is now, increasing from about a third of a mile to nearly six-tenths of a mile. Almost all the students—92 percent—at thirty-seven of the schools slated to be shut down currently have walks of four blocks or less. Sixty percent of that number walk two blocks or less.
CPS has claimed that 30,000 children will be affected by the school closings, but WBEZ fact-checked that claim and discovered the district’s plan will actually touch more than 46,000 children.
Additionally, WBEZ poked holes in officials’ claim that the City of Chicago lost 145,000 children in the past decade, making the soon-to-be-shuttered schools “under-utilized.” However, a drop in child population does not automatically mean a loss of students in CPS. In fact, WBEZ notes, between 2000 and 2013, actual enrollment in Chicago Public Schools has not decreased dramatically, and since 2000, the proportion of Chicago kids attending public schools has actually increased. For decades, the percent of city kids (ages 5–19) in CPS hovered around 65 percent, but in 2010, that jumped up significantly to 79.7 percent.
District officials calculate how under-used, overcrowded or “efficient” a school is by assuming every school should have thirty students in each homeroom. WBEZ reports that if you apply CPS’s own formula to the fifty-four schools proposed for closing, you find not all are “half-empty.” Fifteen have a utilization rate higher than 50 percent: Buckingham, Canter, Emmet, Ericson, Femi, Goodlow, Key, Mayo, Near North, Overton, Owens, Ryerson, Trumbull, Williams Elementary and Williams Middle.
Activists have challenged that formula. Rod Estvan, education policy analyst for disability advocacy group Access Living, says the utilization rates are “totally wrong” for schools like Trumbull and Lafayette because they have inordinately high proportions of special education students (30 and 28 percent, respectively).
CPS officials have admitted the formula does not take reduced special education class size requirements into account.
Furthermore, there is absolutely zero guarantee that children will be moving on to better schools, despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s claim that the key reason to close schools is about getting children “trapped” in low performing schools to a better place.
In a 2009 study of school closings, the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that between 2001 and 2006, most students whose schools were closed by the district re-enrolled in schools that were academically weak. Consortium researchers found that most students lost academic ground in the year their school was slated for closure. And once they were in their new school, they continued on an academic trajectory that was just like the trajectory of the closed school.
The Tribune recently reported that Ericson Academy on the West Side was targeted for closure by officials who claim it would cost $9.6 million to fix the fifty-one-year-old building, but what they didn’t point out in materials provided to parents is that they planned to spend nearly as much on repairs to Sumner Elementary, where Ericson students are to be reassigned.
District officials also claimed Calhoun Elementary, another school slated for closure, was being shut down in part because of its lack of air conditioning in every classroom. Yet records that were not part of the district’s presentation on closings show the designated replacement school, Cather Elementary, would require the installation of thirty-three window units to bring cooling in every room, the Tribune reports.
After reviewing documents related to the closings, the Tribune concluded, “In many cases, the district appears to have selectively highlighted data to stress shortcomings at schools to be closed, while not pointing out what was lacking at the receiving schools. In fact, total renovations to several of the schools slated to take in students would cost millions of dollars more than the estimated cost of fixing up the buildings where those children are currently enrolled.”
Michelle Rose, the grandmother of three students at Ericson, was furious when CPS sent a flier home contending that the school lacked the science and computer labs like ones promised at Sumner. This summer’s work at Sumner is only a start; the district estimates complete renovations will run a total of $24.5 million.
“We have two computer labs, two mobile computer labs, we have a science lab, we have two pre-K classrooms, so I don’t know why no one saw this,” said Rose, a volunteer at the school.
Emanuel and company claim the closings must occur because of budgetary shortfalls, but closing fifty-four schools won’t reduce the $1 billion deficit because all of that cost saving (plus tens of millions of additional dollars adding up to around $233 million) will go straight into receiving schools.
“We’ve assumed that we’ll have to spend in this first year an investment that we’ll make back over time with the savings that we’ll realize both in operating savings and cost avoidance of capital investment at these closing schools. So that’s the way we’re looking at it,” Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley told reporters on a telephone briefing March 21. (Check out the full WBEZ factcheck list on CPS closings.)
Zenitra Hodges, 23, of West Englewood, is studying psychology at Kentucky State University. She learned about one of the anti-closings marches Sunday morning and decided to join.
“My parents instilled with me the importance of education, but there are tons of kids who go without that,” she said. “So I’m here to help change that.”
Think the situation in Chicago is bad? Check out Allison Kilkenny’s reports about Philadelphia.
Over the course of the past week, actions by offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement have brought attention to the issues of student tuition hikes and food sovereignty.
In New York, a group of students at Cooper Union took over the college president’s office last week to protest a decision to begin charging tuition for the first time in at least a century. The trustees’ decision caused an uproar at Cooper, previously one of the last remaining free colleges in the country. The school claims it has no choice as it faces a $12 million annual deficit and, as a result, has decided to reduce its financial aid to 50 percent scholarships.
Activists believe the decision will lead to dire consequences, including limiting access to education. Occupy Wall Street states at its website that Cooper Union is by far the most diverse of all elite colleges: “white students are a minority here and two-thirds of the student body attended public high schools.”
In response, fifty students took over President Jamshed Bharucha’s office on the seventh floor of the school’s Foundation Building in Manhattan and signed a statement of no confidence in the president. Nine full-time members of Cooper Union’s art faculty signed onto the petition.
“Out of deep concern about the direction of the Cooper Union under President Jamshed Bharucha, the full-time faculty of the School of Arts adopts a resolution of a vote of No Confidence in President Jamshed Barucha,” the statement reads.
As of Tuesday, Bharucha’s office is still occupied.
“In case you were wondering if last night was the end the office is STILL occupied. Twenty-four students beginning to wake. #BharuchaStepDown,” Free Cooper Union tweeted.
“Institutions funded by philanthropy and real estate earnings are clearly unsustainable as foundations for a quality education, but the school’s economic problems and its board’s regressive solutions mirror the situation currently taking place at countless other universities, both public and private,” OWS states. “From CUNY tuition hikes to the torpedoing of Medgar Evers College to NYU’s unprecedented land grab, students across the city are fighting back. As student struggles continue across the globe, Cooper Union is a flashpoint for something much larger than itself.”
“The ongoing fight at Cooper Union is but one part of the broader struggle against austerity, debt, and all other symptoms of capitalism,” the group states.
Occupy could have also included Buena Vista High School in its list of austerity consequences. The Michigan school was closed six weeks early because the district—comprising 400 mostly black, mostly poor students—doesn’t have enough money to continue operations. The district has laid off all its teachers and all but three employees.
On the West Coast, another offshoot of the Occupy movement, Occupy The Farm, experienced a resurgence this week when activists returned to a plot of land owned by the University of California where a few of them had been arrested earlier in the day.
The activists had moved in over the weekend in order to plant crops.
Last spring, I wrote about Occupy the Farm’s efforts to highlight the issues of food sovereignty, climate change and the overall health of society. At the time, OTF activists had moved onto the Gill Tract, a patch of land along the San Pablo Avenue in Albany, California. The location was chosen because Gill Tract contains the last acres of Class One soil left in the urbanized East Bay. According to the group, ninety percent of the original land has been paved over and developed, irreversibly contaminating the land.
“We envision a future of food sovereignty,” OTF stated, “in which our East Bay communities make use of available land—occupying it where necessary—for sustainable agriculture to meet local needs.”
Food sovereignty is really an issue of food security, which is why this movement has been embraced at a global level. La Via Campesina, an international movement that coordinates peasant organizations of small producers, agricultural workers, rural women and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe, defines food sovereignty as “the right of people to define agriculture and food policy, including prioritizing local agricultural production, access of peasants and landless people to land, water, seeds and credit.”
A healthy society eats good food and ensures the sovereignty and dignity of the people growing its food.
OTF activists have returned a year later to Gill Tract in order to fight the same battle. “This space is really important,” said organizer Lesley Haddock. “We’re not going away.”
“We feel that as public land, we all have a stake on what happens to it. We like to see it turned into an urban farm and we intend to see that happen,” said Haddock.
The university plans to develop the lot into a senior housing complex and a national chain grocery store.
University police officers have warned the activists they could be arrested for trespassing, but thus far the standoff remains peaceful.
While Congress dallies on immigration reform, groups are calling for the Obama administration to stop deporting people who are set to gain documented status. Read Aura Bogado’s take.
A massive new pipeline that will carry hydrofracked gas is being constructed in New York City. The pipeline, built by subsidiaries of Spectra Energy, will carry the gas from the Marcellus Shale, a bed that lies under Pennsylvania and New York State, into New York City’s gas infrastructure. Naturally, the construction of such a pipeline, carrying controversial highly pressurized gas, has been met with resistance.
In the spring of 2012, Occupy the Pipeline emerged, raising health and safety concerns about the pipeline.
For starters, the group states the Marcellus shale has seventy times the average radioactivity of natural gas and possesses extremely high radon content. Worse, monitoring radon content doesn’t appear to be a priority for federal regulators. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stated radon risk assessment is “outside their purview.” High radon levels have been linked to increases in the risk of lung cancer among non-smokers, a claim Occupy the Pipeline restates in a video that was recently picked up by Upworthy (the video currently has been viewed over 470,000 times):
In the video, Occupy the Pipeline also addresses other safety concerns, for example, contaminated water and a 2010 explosion from a pipeline of similar size and pressure in San Bruno, California. That explosion killed eight people and destroyed thirty-eight homes. Overall, Spectra Energy has a dismal safety record that includes seventeen safety violations in 2011, a $15 billion fine for contaminated pipelines and multiple facility explosions. At one time, Spectra was named the number-one gas polluter in British Columbia.
“The pipeline is an explosion risk,” says Eric Walton, a member of Occupy the Pipeline. “We believe that installing a thirty-inch [diameter] pipeline that carries highly flammable gas at pressure greater than that of water through a fire hose directly below the street in neighborhoods as densely populated as the West Village and Chelsea is nothing short of unbridled hubris.”
“This is the first time that [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] has approved a pipeline of this kind in such a densely populated area and we believe it’s a disaster in waiting,” he adds.
The 2010 documentary Gasland, which detailed the consequences of hydraulic fracturing, documented cases of homeowners who say their water has been discolored, and in some communities, people were able to ignite the water coming out of their faucets.
“The Spectra Pipeline would increase the demand for fracked gas and make New Yorkers complicit in a method of fossil fuel extraction that is causing untold harm to the environment in Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere,” says Walton.
In October 2012, George Pingeon, 27, a protester form Occupy the Pipeline, chained himself to a backhoe in order to delay the pipeline construction. Pingeon remained locked to the backhoe for an hour before police arrived and collared him. A month earlier, police arrested six pipeline protesters after they chained themselves to Spectra’s construction equipment on the Gransevoort Pier.
When Governor Andrew Cuomo attended a conference at the Sheraton Hotel in midtown Manhattan last August, he was greeted by over 100 protesters who had gathered outside to protest against fracking. At the time, Cuomo said there’s a lot of emotion surrounding the issue.
“The demonstrations, we’ve seen them pro, and we’ve seen them con, all over the state,” he said. “Let’s make the decision on the facts. Let the science dictate the conclusion.”
Occupy the Pipeline activists are also fans of science, says Walton.
“We recognize the scientific consensus that fossil fuels cause global warming. We believe that the need to stop extracting and burning hydrocarbons could not be more urgent and that the construction of infrastructure to transport fossil fuels only postpones the day that we as a city and as a society free ourselves from the fossil fuel addiction that imperils the very future of life on this planet.”
Concerns over the pipeline construction extend beyond the activist community. West Village residents have tried to derail the pipeline construction (upward of 5,000 complaints have been filed by locals), and in September of last year, opponents sued the Hudson River Park Trust for allowing Spectra to build beneath the waterfront park without first doing an extensive environmental review.
A weird addendum to the story: Occupy the Pipeline activist Lopi LaRoe says she has been contacted by federal officials, not out of concern over radon levels but over her use of Smokey Bear in an anti-fracking meme that reads, “Only YOU can prevent faucet fires.”
“I was recently served a cease and desist order by the US Forest Service,” says LaRoe. “Not only is it an attempt to suppress political speech, it comes at a time when the US Forest Service is pushing hard to allow fracking in our national parks.”
When will big environmental groups divest from fossil fuels? Read Naomi Klein’s column.
All photos by Allison Kilkenny.
This year’s May Day events featured the familiar tableau of union members marching in matching T-shirts and carrying their banners, while an insane number of police officers crept along the perimeters of Broadway, monitoring the peaceful procession. But this year also included an especially reenergized contingent of youth supporters and immigrant rights activists.
Of course, that’s not to say young people and advocates of immigration reform haven’t turned out in prior May Days. Certainly, Occupy Wall Street injected the worker-led event with a ton of youthful energy, but this year definitely possessed a different, more serious note. For many immigrant rights activists, they feel they’ve reached a critical moment, and if real reform is ever going to come, it will be now or never under President Obama’s leadership.
For youth, they have never lived in a world in which workers have held the upper hand. All they have known is the decline and bottoming out of unions, and the young people I spoke to cited non-unionized workers’ actions as sources of inspiration, particularly the fast food workers’ organizing recently seen in New York City.
Gregory, a student at Rutgers and delegate of the Young Workers Committee, a project of the Transit Workers Union formed to get youth more involved in the union, said he joined the protest because it’s important youth become engaged in workers’ struggles.
“Youth are the future. If they’re not involved now, then they’re not going to be involved later, and then they’ll get steamrolled when it comes time to the companies making decisions. If they haven’t been involved from the beginning, it’s going to be easy for companies to take advantage of them,” he said.
“The entire service industry isn’t unionized—banking isn’t unionized—but in a lot of other countries, they are. Bankers in Korea are unionized,” he added.
Angela Cassie, a member of TWU, said she was attending the event to support young activists.
“Youth do care about workers’ rights,” she said, emphasizing TWU’s commitment to supporting and training youth who may have no prior experience with, or exposure to, organizing the workplace.
“There’s always strength in numbers. We need to build that because people deserve a voice in the work place.”
And if any union knows the struggles of workplace negotiation, it’s TWU.
“Our contracts have hit mediation and we kind of went into a stalemate when it comes to negotiating with the companies,” said Cassie. “Another issue we face is union-busting firms in terms of organizing.”
Which is precisely why the morning event at Bryant Park was, in part, a tour of companies TWU accuses of being union-busters, such as the law firms Ford & Harrison and Jackson Lewis, and the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority. Protesters charged into lobbies, shouting slogans like, “Union busting is disgusting!” before security inevitably asked them to leave. At the MTA protest, a particularly overzealous security guard got in the face of activist Jeff Rae, screaming at him. The protesters left without further incident.
Activists inside the lobby of Ford & Harrison.
The only arrests happened later at the anti-capitalism march departing from Tompkins Square. As is the custom at wildcat marches, youth clad in black led the police on a chase throughout the city, oftentimes, but not always, outrunning officers, and the march culminated in eight reported arrests. While some of the youth were undeniably rowdy and furious with police, I did witness one young man being arrested for the crime of telling a police officer to stop harassing a female photographer.
Officer arresting a protester from the anti-capitalism march.
In the evening, thousands of activists gathered at Union Square for the traditional march down broadway. At the front of the march, immigrant rights groups proudly carried banners that read “People Power” and “Stop Deportations,” while chanting in Spanish, beseeching President Obama to listen to them.
“We’re here because we are demanding legalization,” said Gonzalo Venegas, a 28-year-old member of a hip-hop activist group from the Bronx, who performed in front of the crowd during a rally in Union Square. “For us, the idea of immigrant rights and workers’ rights goes hand in hand.”
That “hand in hand” relationship is especially evident in the restaurant industry, where undocumented workers might account for more than 700,000 of the industry’s 12.8 million employees, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
An aerial view of the protest at Union Square.
Though they account for a huge part of the workforce, and ultimately contribute enormously to the overall productivity of the United States, undocumented immigrants have never been in more jeopardy.
In four years, Obama’s administration has deported as many undocumented immigrants as the administration of George W. Bush did in his two terms, but many immigrants’ rights activists still believe Obama is their best shot at a path to citizenship.
Will Obama live up to his Guantánamo rhetoric? Read the Editors’ take in this week’s issue of The Nation.
Protest groups across the country are gearing up for May Day protests on Wednesday. In New York, Occupy Wall Street has posted a schedule for the day, kicking off with young workers marching from Bryant Park in solidarity with the Transport Workers Union. Occupy says it plans to visit the offices of union busters and companies with whom the TWU members have contract disputes.
At around noon, protesters will then go on an “immigrant worker justice tour,” in order to highlight the daily struggles facing immigrants and workers in New York City. Activists will visit several workplaces in midtown to “demand an end to exploitation of immigrant workers” with the march ending at Senator Schumer’s office for a speak-out on what real immigration reform looks like.
Occupy has also scheduled an event to “Save The People’s Post Office” where protesters will meet at the Peter Stuyvesant Post Office at 14th Street and First Avenue. I previously have written about the fake USPS budget crisis and how our pro-privatization Congress refuses to allow the Post Office to save itself.
The evening will culminate with a rally for labor and citizens’ rights at City Hall, a May Day People’s Assembly at Foley Square and a memorial for Kimani Gray, the Brooklyn teenager slain by the NYPD, at Zuccotti Park. Protesters plan on addressing racial profiling under stop-and-frisk, full legalization for immigrants, an immediate end to deportations, the injustices of the 1 percent and the devastating consequences of austerity.
Nationally, May Day protests have already attracted the attention of authorities. FBI agents in Seattle and Olympia have reportedly been showing up at people’s houses, schools, workplaces and even favorite jogging routes to question individuals about their May Day plans.
The agents were mostly chummy with the people they contacted. As one woman talked to agents, another housemate described their manner as “jokey and flirty—I almost thought they were gonna ask her out!”
Flirty or not, they identified themselves as members of the FBI’s domestic terrorism unit. Apparently, the vandalism of May Day 2012, and the potential demonstrations on May Day 2013, are terrorism investigations. (Which, frankly, seems to me like a grave insult to anyone from Boston to NYC to Kandahar who’s been a victim of, or lost a family member to, actual terrorism.)
In one case yesterday, the agents reportedly turned up at a public park to intercept two joggers. The joggers said “no, thanks” and went home. About 20 minutes later, the agents reportedly showed up at their house.
This highly invasive behavior by authorities isn’t unusual. In 2012, the NYPD raided activists’ homes before the annual protests. At the time, the National Lawyer’s Guild said it was aware of at least five instances of the NYPD’s paying activists visits, including one where the FBI was involved in questioning.
Ayn Dietrich, a spokesperson for the FBI, would neither confirm nor deny anything about the visits to the Seattle Stranger. However, she did say, “We do all kinds of routine activities throughout the state on any given day. If we have people out there, it could be community outreach, emergency response, or investigative work…. We sometimes knock on doors when there’s an issue of a missing child. We’re around the community, especially with ethnic minority groups, to let them know they can come to us to report hate crimes.”
It’s ironic Dietrich specifically mentioned ethnic minority groups, given that they’re doing some of the most serious planning around May Day, specifically in fighting for immigrant rights, legalization and an end to deportations. In California, large protests are expected because some undocumented immigrants and their supporters view this as their best chance in many years for immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Reporter David Olson writes that many grassroots immigration activists are unhappy with key elements of the Senate immigration bill, such as the thirteen-year wait for potential citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which Olson says many view as “excessive,” and a trigger mechanism in the bill that makes a path to citizenship dependent on the implementation of stringent border security measures.
Though there is considerably less press coverage of this year’s May Day in comparison to last year’s events—when activists were still coming down from the frenzied energy of the Occupy movement’s apex—now is actually the time when the most exciting grassroots workers’ actions are taking place. Fast food workers in New York City and Chicago have shown innovative ways non-unionized workers can fight for living wages and demonstrated for workers everywhere that labor rights aren’t just for a select sect, but rather for everyone who has ever worked for a day’s wages.
I will be live-tweeting from May Day 2013. Follow me at @allisonkilkenny and check back here for a full report.
José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, at the European Development Days in Brussels, October 16, 2012. (Flickr/EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection)
In the past week, political officials and economic experts in several countries have indicated they believe austerity is not, and indeed never has been, the answer to pulling the world’s economies out of recession. First, everyone found out Paul Ryan is super bad at math (shocker). As it turns out, the paper the House Budget Committee chairman has been using to make the case for austerity was discredited after it became known that essential data was excluded from the study, leading to “serious errors that inaccurately represent the relationship between public debt and growth.”
The Harvard professors who produced the paper have acknowledged their grave error.
Of course, Ryan’s quest for austerity was never really about accurate figures or projections. His was an ideological battle that might as well have been waged by plucking random numbers from the ether for all that “facts” actually figured into the debate. The people at the bottom rungs of our society know austerity doesn’t work. They’ve known that for years. After all, it is the people relying on public services like schools who see the direct impact of austerity in their day-to-day lives.
However, it seems as though at least some societal elites are finally waking up to the fact that budget cuts don’t work during recession.
Bill Gross, manager of the world’s largest bond fund for Pimco, and widely considered one of the most influential voices in the bond market, launched a harsh attack on the euro zone’s severe austerity measures.
“The UK and almost all of Europe have erred in terms of believing that austerity, fiscal austerity in the short term, is the way to produce real growth. It is not,” Mr Gross told the Financial Times. “You’ve got to spend money.”
This week, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the bloc should place a greater emphasis on policies that stimulate growth in the short term and less on cutting government spending. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Barroso’s statement is only the latest in a series of public statements that indicate a “shift in European economic policy is under way.”
The International Monetary Fund last week point-blank said the bloc should ease back on austerity, while a number of governments outside the EU have already made that call, noting budget cuts are hindering economic recovery. Spanish Finance Minister Luis de Guindos said over the weekend that his country’s new budget plans that will be presented later this week will emphasize economic growth and reduce spending cuts.
Oh, also, austerity has led to widespread protests, societal collapse and agony for the poor masses, but entities like the EU and IMF shy away from laying out things in those kinds of stark terms.
Recent austerity protest in Spain:
As the WSJ notes, the euro-zone economy has contracted for five straight quarters to the end of 2012 (most experts agree official figures for the first quarter of 2013 will show six quarters of decline), and austerity has contributed to declines in spending by households and businesses and a rise in the unemployment rate to a record high of 12 percent.
Though spending cuts and tax increases have helped reduce deficits across the seventeen EU countries that use the euro, the region’s overall debt rose because the countries’ economies have flat-lined and fewer companies and households are paying their taxes.
The Seattle Times reports that, of the four countries that have accepted outside financial assistance by the end of 2012, Portugal and Spain saw their deficits swell—Portugal’s deficit increased to 6.4 percent of the country’s annual GDP from 4.4 percent the year before, and Spain’s jumped to 10.6 percent from 9.4 percent. Meanwhile, Greece’s deficit rose to 10 percent of GDP from 9.5 percent, and the country remains mired in deep recession. As a result, these are also some of the countries where we have seen high unemployment, the greatest social unrest and most terrifyingly, the rise of right-wing extremism in the case of Greece.
Der Spiegel reports on Greece, “The worse the financial crisis gets and the harsher the budget cuts imposed by European creditors are, the worse the terror gets on the streets. Foreigners have been attacked, homosexuals chased and leftists assaulted. Some were beaten to death. There are parts of Athens in which refugees and minorities no longer dare to go out alone at night, and streets are echoingly empty. Foreign merchants have had to close their doors, while journalists and politicians who criticize these developments receive threats or beatings.”
Euronews on the rise of the extreme right wing in Europe:
But one would have to be in the streets, living among the people, to notice these developments. For academics and politicians, largely shielded from the realities of austerity, these kinds of cuts have always ranged from the ideological to the theoretical.
In America, unless politicians send their kids to public schools, the reality of an epidemic of school closings in Chicago and Philadelphia probably doesn’t hit close to home if they send their kids to private schools.
The Guardian and Bloomberg have said “austerity is on trial,” but we already know the outcome of this trial. Budget cuts during recession only worsen the economic realities for billions of citizens. If elites needs a refresher on that reality, they need only walk outside and talk to the people reliant on public services and stagnant (and declining) wages.
For communities of color, acts of “foreign terrorism” stoke race-based fear and violence. Read Aura Bogado’s interview with Sohail Daulatzai.
Representative Darrell Issa. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
It's been a truly bizarre and painful experience watching the budget negotiations between Congress and the US Postal Service. The USPS has consistently presented lifesaving ideas to an apathetic Congress that seems utterly unconcerned with saving a federal service that caters primarily to the economically disadvantaged and employs over 574,000 union members.
In 2012, the postal service lost $16 billion, largely due to the 2006 Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) which mandates that the Postal Service fully fund retiree health benefits for future retirees. This is the only time Congress has demanded universal health care coverage.
Two years ago, I wrote an article for Truthout in which I spoke with Chuck Zlatkin, political director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union. He said the following about USPS's strange future-funding of retirees:
It's almost hard to comprehend what they're talking about, but basically they said that the Postal Service would have to fully fund future retirees' health benefits for the next 75 years and they would have to do it within a ten-year window.
Naturally, USPS suggested that this be the first provision to axe, but Congress hasn't pushed for a repeal of PAEA. Next, USPS approached Congress with the idea of suspending Saturday mail delivery, but Congress prohibited USPS from making that change. In short, the Postal Service has approached the government time and time again with ways to save itself, but Congress has rejected every idea.
Well, a lot of it has to do with the whole catering-to-the-poor-and-employing-union-workers thing.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been fighting to cripple the USPS under the guise of "reform" for years. Issa first went to war with the USPS soon after the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the Postal Service reached a collective bargaining agreement that would have guaranteed USPS over $4 billion in cost savings on employees over the life of a contract. At the time, Postmaster Patrick Donahue hailed the deal as a victory for the Postal Service, its employees and the people they serve.
But then, as the union was preparing to vote on the agreement, Issa called a hearing on the contract—a completely unprecedented move. Here was a Republican chair of the Oversight Committee grilling the postmaster general about an agreement upon which a union was currently voting.
Zlatkin called the move election tampering.
Because Issa has had it out for the Postal Service and its union from day one, he consistently heaps the blame for failed negotiations on the USPS. Strangely, Issa made it seem as though the reneging of cutting Saturday delivery was the Postal Service's idea, and not, in fact, Congress's fault. Issa quickly announced he would hold a full committee hearing to waste everyone's time—er... discuss the matter:
"The Postal Service’s decision to first pursue modified Saturday delivery and then renege on its cost-cutting plan has seriously set back efforts to advance postal reform legislation,” Issa said when announcing the hearing.
He promised “to review a wide variety of options to bring the troubled agency back from insolvency."
Issa has largely been successful in villainizing the Postal Service precisely because the USPS serves the poor and marginalized. Sure, wealthy Congress members, prominent bloggers and elite columnists probably don't use the Postal Service—they rely on FedEx, UPS and email—but millions of Americans (primarily the poor and elderly) still use the Postal Service.
This week, the LA Times published letters from readers who thought the Times minimized the need for Saturday delivery.
"Not everyone uses email, and the private delivery companies are much more expensive than the Postal Service. It seems there is a push to privatize every possible service run by the government," wrote Sue Roediger.
"Agreed: The U.S. Postal Service doesn't exist mainly to provide jobs. But providing pretty good jobs is an excellent reason to maintain the service and six-day-a-week delivery," Frank Stricker wrote.
The lack of passionate defense of the USPS is a direct result of the United State's two-tier society. Those of us who can afford privatized services like FedEx and UPS prefer those companies over the long lines at the post office. The fact that the caricature of the post office (long lines with only one teller at a single open window) is a direct result of budget woes doesn't really concern us because we can upgrade to more expensive services, while those left behind, i.e., the poor, make due with dwindling public institutions. Unfortunately, those who can afford privatized services wield all the power and hog all the media airtime, and so those who rely on public services like the USPS are under-represented in the national conversation about whether or not to save institutions like the Postal Service.
And let's be clear: This isn't just an attack on the USPS. This is an attack on one of the country's last great unions.
Privatized versions of the USPS, FedEx and UPS have been accused copiously of union-busting, not to mention FedEx's shady tax-dodging history. FedEx spent $8.7 million in campaign contributions and $71 million in lobbying expenditures form 2001 to 2010. It paid a .0005 percent effective tax rate recently, and spent a whopping 42 times as much on lobbying Congress as it did paying taxes by utilizing 21 tax havens.
So we know what it looks like when mail delivery is treated as a business: Congress-approved tax-dodging, union-busting and price-gouging.
Meanwhile, as the USPS scrambles to save itself, Representative Issa hopes for death by slow suffocation.
Saturday mail is here to stay (for now). John Nichols explains why.