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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.

Students Convene for Fossil Fuel Divestment Conference

Students demonstrate for fossil fuel divestment

This weekend, from February 22 to 24, nearly 200 students from dozens of colleges across the country will come together at Swarthmore College for Power Up! Divest Fossil Fuels, a student-organized convergence of youth activists working to divest their colleges’ endowments from fossil fuel companies.

With some notable exceptions, college administrations have largely been hostile towards divestment but student campaigns have been gaining attention and support  nationwide with petitions, referendums, public art displays and rallies, and students are ready to escalate their campaigns by putting more pressure on administrations through direct action. There are now more than 256 organized campaigns at schools coast to coast, and the number is growing daily. Three colleges, Unity, Hampshire, and Sterling, have committed to portfolios free of fossil fuel stock. Cities, pension funds, churches, and individuals have joined the movement to divest as well.

This weekend’s convergence will be an opportunity for students from across the country to meet, share skills and develop strategy to grow a powerful national movement. Activists and organizers resisting hydrofracking, mountaintop removal, the Keystone XL Pipeline and tar sands mining will trade notes and listen to interactive keynotes by Crystal Lameman of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Ellen Dorsey of Wallace Global Fund, Washington, DC, and The Nation’s own Aura Bogado.

"The Power Up! Student Convergence has the potential to springboard the growing fossil fuel divestment fight into a broad social movement for climate justice," said Zein Nakhoda, one of many student organizers of the convergence. "Students will work to build synergy between those taking direct action on the frontlines, those working to transform their local institutions, and those campaigning for bold climate legislation."

Watch this blog for reporting from the conference about next steps being plotted by the movement against climate change.

Greek Factory Under Workers Control

The workers of Vio.Me., a building materials factory in Thessaloniki, Greece, which was abandoned by its bankrupt owners, have been unpaid since May of 2011. This week, after a series of general assemblies the workers convened, they’ve started occupying the factory and operating it under direct democratic workers’ control. The culmination of a year-long struggle that has attracted attention and solidarity in Greece and worldwide, the occupiers are trying to kick-start production and prove themselves a viable new model.

As part of a letter being circulated by the Thessaloniki Solidarity Initiative explains:

This experience of worker’s occupation to workers recovery and control is not new—either historically or currently. Since 2001 there are close to 300 workplaces that are run democratically by workers in Argentina, ranging from health clinics and newspapers and schools, to metal factories, print shops and a hotel. The experience there has shown that workers together cannot only run their own workplace, but can do it better. The example of Argentina has spread throughout the Americas, and now to Europe and the United States. In Chicago, workers of New World Windows have begun production under workers control after years of struggles with former owners and bosses. And now in Greece, workers are again showing that the way forward—out of unemployment—refusing the crisis—is workers control and directly democratic self-management.

This is a dangerous time for Greece. Worn down by years of austerity, the right, led by the neo-fascist Golden Dawn is making gains. But the left is also on the rise. Bold experimentation is called for and has, perhaps, a better chance of a fair test than at previous, more stable points in Greek economic history. The Thessaloniki workers have reached out for solidarity throughout Greece and received critical support. But, more help is needed.

Here’s what you can do:

- Spread the word. Share this information with friends, family and your Facebook and Twitter communities.

- Contribute money. Forging new anti-capitalist economic models is expensive. The costs of production are high and the first few months are critical. Whatever you can afford here will be devoted to a genuine effort to create a new way of doing things. Think of it as an investment in the future.

- Send solidarity statements to Thessaloniki’s Open Solidarity Initiative at protbiometal@gmail.com. The workers are encouraged by the warmth of solidarity coming from abroad.

Paying Tribute to Black History Month

Despite an African-American president and the demographic reality that we’ll soon be in the days of “minority majorities,” a significant measure of racist discrimination remains persistent. To mark this year’s Black History Month, I’ve assembled a list of organizations working to confront this pernicious stain on the American Experiment. A great way to celebrate the month would be to support their work.

The NAACP
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. From the ballot box to the classroom, the thousands of dedicated workers, organizers, leaders and members who make up the NAACP continue to fight for social justice on issues like environmental racism, media diversity, economic opportunity and climate justice under the leadership of the venerable groups’ youngest executive director ever, Ben Jealous.

The Hip Hop Caucus
Established in 2004, the primary focus of the Hip Hop Caucus, a civil and human rights organization for the twenty-first century, is to engage young people and people of color in the civic and policy making process.       

Rainbow/PUSH
Established in 1971 by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, People United to Save Humanity (later changed from “Save” to “Serve”)—PUSH, is an organization dedicated to improving the economic conditions of black communities across the United States. PUSH employs direct action campaigns, a weekly radio broadcast and awards that honored prominent blacks to push its program out. Through Operation PUSH, Jackson established a platform from which to protect black homeowners, workers and businesses and keep inner-city youth in school while assisting them with job placement.

National Action Center
Founded in 1991 by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the National Action Network works in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes one standard of justice and decency for all people regardless of race, religion, national origin and gender. Sharpton is still justifiably controversial, but his group’s initiatives include campaigns in defense of critical entitlement programs, in support of sentencing reform and on behalf of death row inmates with questionable convictions.

ColorOfChange.org
Sometimes called the “Black MoveOn,” CoC’s mission is to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone. Current CoC campaigns call for the NRA to stop attacks on the First Family and for retail giant Walmart to put an end to unfair labor practices.
 
The American Association for Affirmative Action
This is the association of professionals managing affirmative action, equal opportunity and diversity programs, i.e., the people who actually implement the policies.  Founded in 1974, the AAAA promotes understanding and advocacy of affirmative action to enhance access and equality in employment, economic and educational opportunities.

Equal Justice Society
A national strategy group, the Equal Justice Society is heightening consciousness on race in the law and popular discourse. As heirs of the innovative legal and political strategists of Brown v. Board of Education, the organization employs a three-prong strategy of law and public policy advocacy, cross-disciplinary convenings and strategic public communications, in an effort to restore race equity issues to the national consciousness, build effective progressive alliances, and advance the conversation on the positive role of government.

Anti-Racist Action
A broad-based anti-racism group, ARA has been on the front lines of the struggle against fascism and oppression for more than twenty years. ARA got its start in Minneapolis in 1988; since then, chapters have been established in dozens of communities in five countries and three continents.

Please use the comments field to let me know which groups I neglected.

Defending 'Roe' at 40

Tuesday, January 22, marks the fortieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide. The decision has withstood many tests and challenges, both legal and political, but while Roe established abortion as a legal right for women, restrictive laws in many states mean women still have to cross state lines or face other restrictions to secure their legal reproductive rights.

As Nation editors wrote this week in looking at the landscape of reproductive rights in the days leading up to next week’s anniversary, a decades-long anti-choice campaign has resulted in a patchwork system where the legal right to abortion applies, in practice, only to those women lucky enough to live in certain states or to be sufficiently affluent to be able to travel for the procedure. State legislatures have passed dozens of anti-choice laws compromising many women’s abilities to exercise their rights. This invaluable map by NARAL Pro-Choice America offers a state-by-state summary.

In the face of a continuing right-wing assault in both legislatures and clinic corridors, the only thing to do is fight back. In honor of Tuesday’s anniversary, here’s a list of groups doing just that, all of which require continued support of all types.

NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood are the two largest organizations working to defend and expand women’s reproductive freedoms and they can’t do it without the support of all of us. Same for the venerable National Organization of Women which is leading a candlelight vigil on Tuesday in front of the US Supreme Court to commemorate Roe’s anniversary. (NOW also has a good list of local events taking places in all fifty states.)

There are also numerous, less well-known groups in the trenches working furiously on behalf of women coast to coast.

The largest obstacle to low-income women receiving abortions is the Hyde Amendment banning Medicaid funding of abortion. The National Network of Abortion Funds provide grants to low-income women who have trouble paying for abortions and works to close the gap between the legal right to abortion and safe access to abortion. It’s unlikely to happen in this Congress but repealing the Hyde Amendment should remain a critical progressive goal. Add your name to NNAF’s call and support the group with your time and money in its efforts to ensure the Constitutional right of reproductive freedom for all women, regardless of income.

For more than twenty years, the Center for Reproductive Rights has used the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.  The world’s only global legal advocacy organization dedicated to advancing women’s reproductive health, the Center has strengthened reproductive health laws and policies in more than fifty countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the United States.

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women works to protect women’s human rights while pregnant, including the right to abortion but also to safe and healthy pregnancy.

The Young Women’s Empowerment Project organizes young women, especially young women of color, around choice and sexuality education.

Trust Women PAC is a national political organization founded to carry on the vision that Dr. George Tiller had for women of the world. The organization was formed largely to protect physicians who work in states particularly hostile to reproductive freedoms.

A women of color reproductive justice organization, SisterSong was formed in 1997 to educate women of color and policy makers on reproductive and sexual health and rights, and to work towards fuller access of health services, information and resources.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health mobilizes Latinas around reproductive health with an emphasis on the unique needs of immigrant, frequently non-English speaking, women.

Please use the comments field below to let us know what groups we missed.

The Military-Industrial Complex

Fifty-two years ago today, President Dwight D. Eisenhower used his farewell speech to the nation to warn the country against the rise of what he called the military-industrial complex. Sadly, his words, though they became iconic and well-remembered, were not heeded and his warning is now more relevant and critical than ever.

Not in Her Shoes

Just days ahead of the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood released a powerful video today illustrating how the pro-choice and pro-life labels don’t reflect the complexity of the conversation about abortion, and the way that Americans—especially young people—think and talk about abortion today. Part of the organization’s effort to expand the national conversation about abortion beyond simplistic labels, the video aims to help people engage in an authentic, expansive and nonjudgmental conversation about reproductive rights.

Dear NRA: Stop Undermining the ATT

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the National Rifle Association’s paying membership has grown by 100,000 in the wake of the December school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the organization told Politico on Thursday.

At the same time, the gun rights organization declaring that it wants to make a “meaningful contribution” to prevent gun violence, has decided to take a more active roll in President Obama’s initiative’s to address the issue by sitting down today with Vice President Joe Biden, leader of the White House task force on guns, to discuss ways to drive down the violence.

The venerable human rights group Amnesty International has a idea worth amplifying: support the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The United Nations is preparing to finalize the treaty, which would help stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers. And world leaders will negotiate and vote on it in March.

There are tens of thousands of children forcibly recruited right now by various governments’ armed forces and by non-state armed groups who are often armed with weapons irresponsibly traded by governments and private corporations. Children are also part of the 26 million people who have been displaced by armed conflict fueled by guns.

The ATT could make a real difference here. Despite being the largest exporter of small arms and conventional weapons in the world, the US has not been a leader in the effort to establish this treaty due largely to a campaign of misinformation and lies—orchestrated by the NRA—to force the US government to oppose and weaken the ATT.

The NRA has wrongly asserted that the ATT would infringe on the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. But, in fact, the ATT will have no bearing on domestic gun ownership, it deals exclusively with the flow of weapons between—not within—countries.

Implore the NRA to stop its campaign of lies about the ATT, stop interfering in US foreign policy and stop helping human rights abusers overseas get weapons.

Break the Chain

Produced by playwright, author and activist Eve Ensler, written and produced by Tena Clark and featuring dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen, “Break the Chain” aims to raise global awareness about V-Day’s fast growing global campaign, One Billion Rising.

Recent horrifying statistics show that one in three women globally will be raped, beaten or severely violated in their lifetime. That’s 1 billion women. And that’s how this new campaign got its name, its impetus and its focus. On February 14, 2013, V-Day’s fifteenth anniversary, activists, writers, thinkers, celebrities and women and men across the world will come together to express their outrage, strike, dance and rise in defiance of the injustices females suffer daily, demanding an enduring end to violence against women.

There are already thousands of events scheduled in more than 160 countries. Sign up today, find a gathering near you, invite your friends to join the campaign and check out OneBillionRising.org for videos, news updates, information on joining and supporting the campaign, and much more.

Remembering Becky Tarbotton

I only met Rainforest Action Network executive director Becky Tarbotton once. But once was enough to firmly shock me out of my holiday stupor when I heard the horrible news that she had died on December 26 at the age of 39 in a freak swimming accident in Mexico while on vacation.

Brilliant, young, dynamic, female environmental visionaries are hard to find so this loss is enormous. Tarbotton, a self-proclaimed “pragmatic idealist” was widely admired for her work protecting forests, articulating a clean-energy economy and defending human rights. She was the first female executive director of RAN and a strong female voice in a movement often dominated by men.

Under Tarbotton’s leadership since she took over in 2010, RAN achieved significant victories in preserving endangered rainforests and the rights of their indigenous inhabitants. Most recently, Tarbotton spearheaded the most significant agreement in the history of the organization: a landmark policy by entertainment giant, Disney, that’s set to transform everything about the way the company purchases and uses paper.

“Becky was an emerging star who was galvanizing an ever-growing movement of people demanding environment and social change. She believed that to protect forests and our communities we must protect our climate, and to protect our climate we must protect the forests,” said Nell Greenberg, spokesperson for the Rainforest Action Network. “RAN is heartbroken by our loss of Becky, but we are committed to continuing the course that she set for us. Focusing on our core purpose of protecting forests, moving the country off of fossil fuels and defending human rights through bold, effective, and innovative environmental corporate campaigns.”

Tarbotton is survived by her husband, Mateo Williford; her brothers Jesse and Cameron Tarbotton, and her mother, Mary Tarbotton, of Vancouver, BC. Her ashes will be scattered off of Hornby Island in British Columbia where her family owns a cabin and where she spent much time. Public memorial services will be held in San Francisco and in Vancouver. Dates are still to be determined.

RAN has set up a tribute page to help memorialize their fallen leader. This is a place to celebrate Tarbotton’s enormous contributions and share memories and feelings. All voices are welcome. And for those who wish to support Tarbotton’s ongoing vision for RAN, consider a donation in her memory.

Gift Guide 2012

If you’re well organized, you’ve already finished your holiday shopping. But if, like me, you’re just starting to scramble for presents, ideally those of the non-corporate variety, read on for ideas. (That is, If you can’t get away with a Buy Nothing Christmas which might be worth pitching to your friends and family.)

Heifer International holiday gifts of livestock for impoverished families is a venerable progressive holiday tradition. Heifer virtually pioneered the idea of alternative gift-giving in the early 1990s with its The Most Important Catalog In The World and has become a popular way for parents to impart some of the giving spirit to children awash in too many presents. The Heifer gift catalog allows you to purchase a farm animal for needy families around the world, which can help them achieve a degree of sustainability. A pig can be bought for $120 (or chip in $10 to help share the cost of one), three rabbits are a bargain at $60 total, a flock of chicks costs only $20, and, if you can afford to change a family’s life, a $1,500 donation provides two sheep, four goats, a heifer and two llamas. I think of outfits like Heifer as offering the opportunity for the world’s comparatively well-off to voluntarily redistribute a bit of their incomes to those that need the money much more than we do.

The Sustainable Gifts Catalog is a project of Outreach International, a humanitarian organization currently working in thirteen impoverished countries around the world, assisting hundreds of thousands of children, women and men to overcome the effects of poverty each year. All gifts in the catalog grew out of the group's on-the-ground-projects and all proceeds go right back into funding the organization’s poverty-eradication efforts.

Back to the Roots was founded by Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora in 2009 during their last semester at UC Berkeley. Two months away from graduation, and heading into the world of investment banking, they came across the idea of growing gourmet mushrooms with recycled coffee grounds. Inspired by the idea of turning waste into fresh food, they experimented in Velez’s fraternity kitchen, ultimately growing one test bucket of very tasty oyster mushrooms. With that single bucket, some initial interest from Whole Foods and Chez Panisse and a $5,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor for social innovation, they decided to forgo their corporate futures and instead become full-time urban mushroom farmers. They soon created the Grow-Your-Own Mushroom Garden which lets anyone, anywhere, grow their own exotic mushrooms. (Order by December 17 to receive the kit before Christmas.)

Stark Thrist is a wine with a mission. A small company with one core product, each Stark Thrist purchase you make supports the nonprofit WaterAid’s vital mission to bring clean drinking water to those without. And there’s no compromise on the quality of the vino. Stark Thirst sources the best-quality grapes from vineyards that are committed to sustainable and organic practices. The wine is bottled in recycled glass bottles remade in the US, the aluminum screw caps are recyclable and the wine, a crisp, dry Sonoma County Chardonnay, is first-rate.

Kate’s Caring Gifts has a welcome emphasis on food, featuring things like organic fruit baskets from family owned Jerzy Boyz Farms; fair-trade Kosher treats for Hannukah; the very merry vegan basket, the ultimate Organic Chocolate Fantasy Gift Set and the “We’re all Organic Fruits and Nuts Gift Set,” a cornucopia of exotic and organic nuts, preserves, butters and dried fruit.

The Green America Gift Guide offers links to small companies and collectives offering discounts to a wide range of products, services and opportunities. You can find calendars, cards, fair-trade food and wine, wooden toys, baby blankets, organic children’s products and much more. Check out cosmetic cases created by the Lisu Tribe of Northern China and Burma, hand-stitched quilts from India, teddy bears from Sri Lanka, rugs from the Philippines, gift bags flush with fair-trade chocolate, and awesome coffee from Grounds for Change. (I’ve tried it!)

TreeHugger’s extensive Green Gift Guide redefines luxury by delineating ten categories featuring more than 100 low-impact, thoughtfully curated gifts, each paying careful attention to quality, durability and respect for the environment.

For the musically inclined, the Citizens Band’s recent release, Grab A Root and Growl, is a musical call to action featuring sixteen tracks of classic interpretations and original songs in which the band declares war on apathy, and seeks to remind the country why democracy matters. The Citizens Band is donating a healthy portion of the profits to the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, a nonprofit association of community-based, free medical clinics in the US that serve Americans with little or no health insurance, while also performing public policy advocacy. (Click here to donate directly to NAFC.)

Finally, my boss might be mad if I don’t plug The Nation’s own online store, Nation Mart, run in partnership with a quirky group called the Unemployed Philosophers Guild. There are shirts with quotes from legendary Nation contributors like Kurt Vonnegut, James Baldwin and Molly Ivins, Nation logo merchandise, a mug featuring poems by the inimitable Calvin Trillin and subversive buttons and shirts designed by Milton Glaser. The popular “Thank a Teacher” pencil sets are an appropriate gift for educators or anyone else fighting to preserve public education. There’s also, of course, always a good old-fashioned Nation gift subscription — the gift that keeps on giving week after week!

Happy Holidays!

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