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Peter Rothberg | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

AT&T and ALEC

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 Kraft Foods quickly followed suit, and it was revealed that Pepsi had quietly withdrawn earlier.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.

#Plan4Trayvon

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!

 

No More Trayvon Martins

The facts beyond dispute in Trayvon Martin’s murder offer a shocking, if sadly unsurprising, example of what it’s like to be young, black and male in much of America today.

The 17-year-old high school junior went out unarmed at halftime of the NBA All-Star game to buy snacks at a 7-Eleven and wound up being killed by George Zimmerman, an armed neighborhood watch captain who had called police to report a suspicious person.

Zimmerman called Martin a “Fu*king Co*n” on the first 911 call, as this chilling recording confirms, and was told clearly by the police dispatcher not to follow Martin and to wait until police arrived without doing anything.

According to the New York Times’s Charles Blow, “Trayvon had a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Zimmerman had a 9 millimeter handgun. The two allegedly engaged in a physical altercation. There was yelling, and then a gunshot. When police arrived, Trayvon was face down in the grass with a fatal bullet wound to the chest.”

Claiming self-defense with many circumstantial questions to the contrary, Zimmerman has not been charged with police citing Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, one of the broadest set of self-defense statutes in the country which, as Mychal Denzel Smith explains, places the threshold for self-defense so low that you need little more than your word to show that your life was in danger. Zimmerman’s description of events was enough for the police, who evidently feel they know all that they need to know to determine that Zimmerman was acting appropriately.

Outrage has grown as details have emerged and media attention has highlighted the many questions in Zimmerman’s portrayal of events. Rallies are being planned and elected officials and community activists are organizing against “Stand Your Ground” which has seen homicide rates jump from an average of twelve to thirty-three per year in the state since the legislation’s implementation.

In a quest for justice, Martin’s parents posted this Change.org petition calling on Florida’s 18th District State’s Attorney to prosecute Zimmerman. Please sign on today; then join the call to abolish Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. No more Trayvon Martins.

 

Investigate NYPD Violence Against #OWS

As the invaluable Democracy Now! reported this morning, New York City police arrested seventy-three Occupy Wall Street activists in Zuccotti Park on Saturday where hundreds had gathered to mark six months since the launch of OWS. Many people reported excessive use of force by officers; several cases were caught on camera and video. This is the latest in a pattern of police abuse against Occupy protesters.

Consequently, a coalition of community activists is calling for a full, independent investigation by the state Attorney General into the active suppression of the Occupy movement by the New York Police Department, including, but not limited to:

1. The use of taxpayer funds to infiltrate and monitor peaceful Occupy protest planning
2. Departmental practices that lead to, or allow for, the violent dispersal of crowds and the violent arrest of protestors
3. Civil rights violations of protestors by the police.

Join the call today. There's nothing more American than the right to peaceful protest.

 

No More Subsidies for Fossil Fuel

After an enormously successful campaign to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline from being built, 350.org and numerous allies are gearing up for a major new fight to end four billion dollars in subsidies the fossil fuel industry receives each year.

There’s no way to move to renewable energy sources like wind and solar without ending the subsidies to an industry that’s already earning record-breaking profits: Exxon-Mobil is currently the most profitable corporation in the history of capitalism.

These subsidies are delivered through the tax code but they are essentially no different from government spending programs that provide money directly. As Seth Hanlon explained on Think Progress: “Some of these tax earmarks have been around for nearly a century, and the deep-pocketed industry has successfully challenged previous repeal attempts. But today’s high gas prices and inflated profits have undermined the industry’s argument that their tax breaks benefit consumers. Meanwhile, federal budget deficits have sharpened Congress’s focus on eliminating wasteful government spending—of which oil subsidies are one of the worst examples.”

So, the time is right to challenge the longstanding advantages the fossil fuel industry has enjoyed in this country. If you’re ready to join this fight, sign on with 350. Over the next month, the group will issue a series of alerts designed to ramp up the pressure on elected officials by having them publicly declare where they stand on the question of subsidies.

The first step is this petition, designed to show Congress how important this issue is, and to alert every member of Congress that an army of concerned citizens are taking this issue very seriously. As Bill McKibben says in this stirring video message, “This fight is a lifetime fight.” Join the battle now.

 

Occupiers Set Up Living Room in Bank of America Lobby

As this video documents, a crew of intrepid occupiers made a home last week in a New York City Bank of America branch lobby with a couch, a coffee table, a rug and a potted plant. “Bank of America took our homes so we thought we’d move in here!”

 

 

Join the action on March 15 as America turns the tables on the nation’s largest bank and activists call out the avarice and social predation of America’s largest bank with a series of creative actions.

Left Forum 2012

Each spring the Left Forum convenes the largest progressive gathering in North America in a rambling, lively confab unlike anything else in the United States. Originally established in 1981 as the Socialist Scholar's Conference, the event was renamed the Left Forum in 2005 after a split in the ranks forced a year's hiatus and a reconstituted organizing structure.

Continuing a tradition begun in the 1960s, intellectuals and organizers meet to share notes, perspectives, strategies, experience, vision and, of course, drinks! Last year's conference, led by the LF's energetic director, Seth Adler, saw a record 3,500 activists attending more than 300 panels and workshops. This weekend's proceedings, invigorated by the Occupy movement, are expected to beat these numbers.

This year, the Left Forum will focus on the $64,000 question of how best to confront global capitalism: How can American leftists best support the many revolutionary struggles abroad that took root in 2011? How can the Occupy movement be sustained and nurtured in the US? How can new technologies help foster social change? What needs to happen for new chains of solidarity to bloom between workers in the West and their counterparts in the global South? Are democracy and capitalism mutually exclusive? Join an illustrious group of writers, thinkers and activists in this immensely important conversation about the fate of the earth.

Speakers include Medea Benjamin, Michael Ratner, Frances Fox Piven, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Wallace Shawn, Marina Sitrin and Nation writers John Nichols, Laura Flanders, Michael Klare, Ari Berman and Doug Henwood.

Panel topics are, to say the least, wide-ranging: Afghanistan, the impact of tax policy on job creation and poverty, the significance of art in the Occupy movement, Neoliberalism and the blockbuster film, the future of Thorium-fueled nuclear energy, self-mobilization from Johnson-Forest to Global Occupy and the US role in Mexico's drug war are just a few of the many themes that will be taken up.

This video featuring Barbara Ehrenreich at last year's opening plenary gives a good sense of the breadth and depth of the conversations you'll find at the LF.

 

Taking place at on March 18 and 19 at Pace University in Manhattan, the Left Forum, which is co-sponsored by The Nation, is the place to be for progressives this weekend. Check out the full, very extensive schedule, read up on the speakers and register your spot in the conversation.

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