Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

Talib Kweli's Love Letter to #OWS

Check out “Distractions,” the first single on Talib Kweli’s new album Prisoner of Conscious, a work which the Brooklyn rapper called a “love letter to the Occupy Movement everywhere.” (Kweli explains his motivations and inspirations here.)

Now, read up on “Five Ways You Can Help Re-Occupy America.”

Top Ten May Day Songs

For nearly 150 years, May 1 has been an international day to celebrate and defend the rights of the working class. This year, with the Occupy movement taking full advantage of May Day's historic importance, May 1, 2012 could see one of the greatest explosions of outrage at the excesses of capital since the first mass May Day protest in the US in 1886, when more than 300,000 workers nationwide walked off their jobs on behalf of an eight-hour work day.

In tribute to all those planning actions for May 1, here’s my stab at the impossible task of naming the best songs ever written about working people. A playlist for May Day, if you will. Please use the comments field to let me know my most egregious omissions.

1. Florence Reese, "Which Side Are You On?"

2. Tennessee Ernie Ford, "Sixteen Tons"

3. Billy Bragg, "There is Power in a Union"

 4. Dolly Parton, "Working 9 to 5"

5. Bruce Springsteen, "Youngstown"

6. Pete Seeger, "Solidarity Forever"

7. Hazel Dickens, "Fire in the Hole"

8. Loretta Lynn, "Coal Miner's Daughter"

9. Gil Scott-Heron, "Three Miles Down"

10. The Clash, "Clampdown"

Levon Helm: The True Voice of America

The inimitable singer, songwriter and drummer Levon Helm died today at the untimely age of 71 in the wake of a long battle with throat cancer.

Helm rose to fame in a legendary rootsy rock group, The Band, that featured three extraordinary singers. But you could always tell which voice was his: he was the stern Southern preacher, the broken Confederate soldier and the dirt farmer at the end of his day.

In a beautiful remembrance, Charles Pierce called Helm the “true voice of America.” I agree.

“I want to thank him for the way he sang, and for the throb of his drums, and for the way he helped point the way home for all of us who thought we’d lost our country. He brought us back to what was really important: the fugitive grace of a young democracy, that America, for all its flaws and shortcomings, for all its loss of faith in itself and its stubborn self-delusions, was a country that was meant to rock. For that, I return his salute from long ago. Thank you, neighbor. And godspeed.”

Pierce also talked about Helm’s amazing generosity of spirit, which I was fortunate enough to experience once when, as a teenage Deadhead, I asked him a question after a show at the old Bottom Line in Greenwich Village, which quickly turned into an invitation into a cramped Green Room—and from there a crawl to a local bar and one of the best nights of my life. RIP.


The Green Festival in New York

For the first time, America's premiere sustainability event is coming to New York City. Bringing together more than 300 exhibitors, 125 speakers and tens of thousands of attendees for a two-day party, the Green Festival has a very serious objective: expanding popular support for policies aimed at ecological sustainability and social justice. It takes place all day on both April 21 and 22 at the Jacobs Javits Center.

Co-produced by Global Exchange and Co-Op America and co-sponsored by The Nation, among scores of left-leaning groups, organizations and publications, the GF offers one of the best forums for exploring what’s next on the horizon for renewable energy, socially responsible investing, eco-fashions, environmental tourism, green building, organic parenting and the non-industrial food system. There are also serious political sessions focusing on the struggle against environmental racism, the climate change fight, fracking and much more.

Arrive on a bike and get in free! Check out how to hitch a fun, free, eco-friendly ride to Javits Center North with Revolution Rickshaws Pedicabs.

The Nation will be at booth #703 throughout the Festival. Meet Nation writers and staffers and pick up free copies of the magazine and buttons! Don't miss a keynote by Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel at 1 pm on April 21 on the Main Stage as well as other featured speakers like Amy Goodman, Van Jones, Helen Caldicott, Russell Simmons and Frances Moore Lappé. Click here for a full schedule and to buy tickets and check out the GF website for info on webcasts.

There'll also be Green Fests later this year in Chicago, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Five Ways to Support Re-Occupation

Empowered by a federal court ruling that allows protesters to legally sleep on public sidewalks, as long as they don’t block building entrances or take up more than half of the available space, #SleepfulProtest is proving to be an effective new tactic helping speed Occupy Wall Street’s re-emergence into the streets and public spaces of the US. (My colleague Allison Kilkenny recently explained and explored this new strategy.)

It’s been so effective, in fact, that this morning at 6:00 am the NYPD, in direct defiance of the 2000 decision Metropolitan Council Inc. v. Safir, which held “public sleeping as a means of symbolic expression” to be constitutionally protected speech, raided the corner across from the New York Stock Exchange where Occupiers have been sleeping. A motion for an emergency injunction against NYPD disruption of the sidewalk protests was filed this morning.

In the meantime, here are five ways you can help support the Re-Occupation of America:

1. Go to Wall Street to join the Occupiers if you can. This is the epicenter of the movement and the inspiration for what has happened across the country. During the day, Occupiers distribute literature or hold meetings around Liberty Square, Union Square, and throughout the city. As many as one hundred people have been sleeping nightly on Wall Street—with only a few thousand more the entire length of Wall Street could be legally occupied.

2. Spread the word. Keep up with the latest developments from all of the Occupied media sources. The best way to receive current updates on new encampments and other events is to use social media. The Wall Street Occupiers use @SleepOnWallSt. For twenty-four-hour protests in other cities, check out #SleepfulProtest and #BankSleep. Like and share this Facebook page. Also follow and RT @occupywallstnyc and @occupycolleges.

3. Donate to Occupy Wall Street through its website. If you don´t have money to spare, another way to contribute is to follow the Twitter hashtag #NeedsOfTheOccupiers. Occupiers are often in need of donations of things like food, water, tarps and camping gear.

4. Get ready for the May 1 actions. This is expected to be a major day of resistance on many fronts and of many forms. Do something!

5. Help save Chicago’s Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic. Dozens of people who use Chicago’s mental health clinics along with other advocates have barricaded themselves into the Woodlawn Clinic at 6337 S. Woodlawn. This is one of six clinics slated for closure in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s austerity budget. They intend to remain there until the mayor agrees to keep all of Chicago’s direly needed public clinics open, fully funded and fully staffed. Check #SaveOurClinics for info on how to help. If you’re in Chicago, go to the clinic!

Please use the comments field below to let me know what I’ve missed.


The people scored a major victory this week when Coke announced it had "elected to discontinue its membership with" the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Kraft Foods quickly followed suit, and it was revealed that Pepsi had quietly withdrawn earlier.

The tide is starting to shift but there are still numerous prominent companies helping to fund and legitimize ALEC's extreme activist agenda, including Wal-Mart, FedEx, Johnson & Johnson, Bayer and State Farm.

The Nation is asking readers to implore one of ALEC's corporate benefactors with which they may do business, AT&T, to follow Kraft and Coke in severing ties with a group that that has worked to suppress voter turnout, privatize public schools, Medicare and Social Security, promote concealed gun legislation and gut minimum wage laws. Join the campaign here.


The 99% Spring

Since Occupy Wall Street emerged last September, debates over its impact have roiled both liberals and conservatives confused by the fact of a (successful yet) leaderless movement lacking concrete demands.

But something seems to be working. The 99% Spring is just the latest recent example of OWS's influence. An impressive coalition of liberal-left groups and organizations, led by MoveOn.org and including the AFL-CIO, Greenpeace, the Working Families Party, 350.org, Campaign for America's Future, United Students Against Sweatshops, CodePink, Global Exchange and Color of Change aims to recruit and train 100,000 Americans “to tell the story of what happened to our economy, learn the history of non-violent direct action, and use that knowledge to take action on our own campaigns to win change.” A cross-section of the country—from carpenters and stay-at-home moms to business people, students and farmers—has signed up for hundreds of sessions so far, according to an AP report.

To me, the simple fact that the cream of the liberal-left establishment is promoting direct action trainings in the six-months before a presidential election rather than focusing all its energies on the electoral horse race is dramatic testimony to Occupy's impact.

After the trainings, a series of actions—referred to as "Shareholder's Spring"—are planned to disrupt the shareholder meetings of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and thirty or so other leading multinationals along with a series of student-lead actions against Sallie Mae and other corporations that have profited off the student debt crisis.

The campaign's kick-off will take place from April 9 to April 15 when more then 700 trainings are expected to be held in all fifty states as people gather in homes, places of worship, campuses, libraries and the streets to train themselves in non-violent direct action and join together in the work of reclaiming our country.

Sign up to attend a training, check out this map for a list of upcoming actions and organize your own event and publicize it here.


Digital activist Sara Haile-Mariam sent me this extremely powerful video she created, which chronicles the 911 tapes that preceded and followed the death of Trayvon Martin and highlights the pervasive violence that plagues black youth nationwide.

The video calls on viewers to tell their own stories and provides them with a hashtag for amplifying their voices—the contemporary equivalent of a soapbox.

#Plan4Trayvon is growing quickly and Plan4Trayvon.com was built as a reaction to that response. This site will chronicle the movement that is not just demanding justice for Martin but also honoring his legacy through individual acts.

LIVE STREAM at 7pm: The Wall Street-Washington Connection

As disgraced ex-Governor but really smart financial/political analyst Eliott Spitzer recently wrote in his syndicated column:

"The root causes of Wall Street's violations are really quite simple to catalogue: conflicts of interest built into business models that promote violations of fiduciary obligation; easy access to "OPM" -- other people's money -- coupled with fee structures that reward selling bad products because others are left holding all the down side risk; and the certainty that institutions that are too big to fail will get bailed out when things really get tough, again insuring the socialization of risk while gains are privatized and held by the fortunate few who are properly situated to take advantage of the aforementioned conflicts and fee structures."

Tonight, Tuesday, at 7:00pm, tune in to a live, streamed conversation from Washington, DC featuring Spitzer, Matt Taibbi, Van Jones, Ron Suskind, Heather McGhee, Jesse La Greca and Dylan Ratigan talking about the role the financial and corporate elite played in creating the economic crisis in the United States, and how those same elites impede the flow of democratic life in the country today. Hosted by The Culture Project with FORA TV as part of its invaluable Blueprint for Accountability series.

Democracy Class

In the Granite State, as the Washington Post recently reported, New Hampshire House Republicans are pushing for new laws that would prohibit many college students from voting in the state—and effectively keep some from voting at all. One bill would permit students to vote in their college towns only if they or their parents had previously established permanent residency there. Another bill would end election-day registration.

The measures in New Hampshire are among dozens of voting-related bills being pushed by newly empowered Republican state lawmakers across the country. “It’s a war on voting,” Thomas Bates, vice president of Rock the Vote, rightly told the WP: “We’d like to be advocating for a 21st-century voting system, but here we are fighting against efforts to turn it back to the 19th century.”

Fortunately, at a time when states are passing some of the most sweeping voting restrictions young voters have faced in decades, Rock the Vote’s Democracy Class could help ensure that young people learn their history, register to vote and make their electoral voice heard as soon as they are eligible.

On Friday, March 23, Rock the Vote will hold its second annual Democracy Day, bringing its Democracy Class to students nationwide and helping them register to vote. Schools coast to coast are teaching Democracy Class from tomorrow through the end of the spring semester in recognition of the forty-first anniversary of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote.

Democracy Class was developed to fill a gap created by three decades of cuts to civic education in public schools, at a time when almost 11,500 young people turn 18 every day and in advance of the 2012 election which will see Millennials making up nearly one quarter of the entire electorate.

Consisting of a one-period lesson plan that includes a mock election, classroom discussion, and a new video featuring Grammy award winning artist John Legend, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, Roc Nation recording artist Bridget Kelly and Glee’s Darren Criss, the class is a nationally accredited curriculum that teachers can sign up for online for free. Tell an educator today!


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