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Your Guide to Meaningful Action

Thousands of Americans Demand Transparency Around Bush-Era Torture

Activists deliver a petition to Senator Udall's office

Representatives from Demand Progress and Daily Kos deliver a petition calling on Senator Mark Udall to release the “torture report.” (Pablo Mayo Cerqueiro)

Carrying a heavy white box with the signatures of more than 165,000 Americans, Carissa Miller led a handful of fellow transparency and civil-liberties advocates into Democratic Senator Mark Udall’s office in Washington on December 4 to urge him to disclose the full extent of what the Senate has learned about torture by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Bush administration.

“We came here to show our support for Senator Udall releasing the entire CIA torture report,” said Miller, a campaigns assistant for the political website Daily Kos. “We want him to know we appreciate that and look forward to him taking that step.”

The petition—which was sponsored by thirteen organizations, including NationAction (the activism arm of The Nation), Daily Kos and Demand Progress—comes amid rising criticism of how little the government appears ready to disclose about Bush-era torture.

Despite disputes between senators and the intelligence agency, a redacted version of the torture report, which the Senate Intelligence Committee began preparing in 2009, is expected to come out early next week, as reported by Reuters. But activists question whether the document will actually see the light of day and consider the redacted version insufficient.

“We have heard that before,” said Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, one of the organizations pushing for disclosure. “The report, at this point, remains secret.”

Udall is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee but lost his seat in the November elections. Udall has told the media he’s considering making the information public under the "Speech or Debate Clause” of the US Constitution. The privilege allows lawmakers to read classified documents into the congressional record and was used in the 1970s by Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska to release the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War.

“As the only member of the intelligence committee with a modicum of independence and nothing to fear from the agencies he’s overseeing,” Buttar said, “he is in a unique position to…disclose to the public the most sensitive intelligence document in his generation.”

Upon entering office, President Barack Obama signed an executive action banning torture as an interrogation method. But the notion of torture as a legitimate information-gathering means to address national-security threads must be eradicated, activists say.

“There will be other Administrations, and there will be other emergencies,” said Greg Thielmann, a former senior staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee who visited Udall’s office to support the petition. “And it’s very important to help people learn the right lessons from the torture that occurred during the decade that followed 9/11 in order to prevent recurrence.”

For her part, Miller, the Daily Kos campaigns assistant, says the full original torture report needs to come out to hold people accountable. “Names,” she said. “The reason that’s important that the entire 6,000-page report comes out is names.”

Before Senator Mark Udall Leaves Office, He Can Make History

Photo of a man being tortured at Abu Ghraib prison

A man is tortured in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Back in April, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted overwhelmingly to release its report detailing widespread torture of prisoners—and possible CIA lying to Congress—during the Bush administration. Seven months later, the public has yet to see it. While the White House continues to stonewall Congress and insist on redactions, time is running out before Republicans, who are far less likely to insist on transparency, take power.

But there’s another way—and before the end of the year, we have a rare chance to make it happen.

Transparency and civil liberties advocates are calling on outgoing Senator Mark Udall to use his powers under the Constitution’s “Speech and Debate Clause” to read the entire report into the public record. Under the clause, which Senator Mike Gravel used to release the Pentagon Papers in 1971, members of Congress have an absolute right to free speech and can enter classified reports into the public record without fear of prosecution.

When Senator Udall leaves office this January, we will lose an important advocate for privacy and accountability from our increasingly secretive government. But, as The Nation’s John Nichols points out, by releasing the torture report into the public record, the outgoing Senator has a chance to “shake up the whole debate about how US intelligence agencies operate—and about the secrecy surrounding those operations.”

TO DO

Join The Nation, Win Without War, Daily Kos and a host of other organizations in calling on outgoing Senator Mark Udall to read the “torture report” into the Congressional Record.

TO READ

Thanks in large part to the leaks provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, we now know more about the disturbing expansion of government powers under the guise of national security, and better understand the critical need for more transparency and accountability. Earlier this month, The Nation’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen sat down with Snowden for a wide-ranging interview that covered, among other topics, the surveillance state, the American political system and the price he has paid for his understanding of patriotism.

TO WATCH

When the Senate Intelligence Committee voted back in April to release their report, Stephen Colbert summed up the attitude of much of the political establishment toward this shameful chapter in our history: “Some people thought it was right, some people thought it was wrong. Let’s meet in the middle and never discuss it again.”

Act Now to Save the Open Internet

The FCC

The headquarters of the Federal Communications Commission. (Flickr/Federal Communications Commission)

As the country recovers from the midterm elections, the FCC is nearing a decision that could dramatically transform the Internet. The good news is that the 4 million comments submitted to the FCC on net neutrality, a record number, have made an impact: the FCC has abandoned the undemocratic, corporate-championed proposal on net neutrality the agency announced in May.

The bad news is that the FCC is reportedly considering a “hybrid” plan that could still leave us with exactly what we don’t want: fast lanes for the 1 percent and slow lanes for everybody else.

Advocates for net neutrality agree: the only way to truly protect Internet freedom is by reclassifying broadband under the Communications Act. Only then will the FCC have the tools to prevent giant cable companies from running roughshod over the freewheeling, dynamic Internet we’ve come to rely on.

TO DO

Write to the FCC and demand that the agency protect real net neutrality. To amplify your call, use Fight for the Future’s tool to call the FCC directly.

TO READ

In an article at TechDirt.com, Mike Masnick breaks down the “hybrid” plan as reported by The Wall Street Journal and explains why just about everyone hates it.

TO WATCH

As the FCC nears its decision, it’s worth revisting one of the biggest moments in this year’s fight for net neutrality. Back in June, when John Oliver pointed out the absurd arguments made by net neutrality opponents, he prompted thousands to submit comments on the FCC’s website, temporarily causing it to crash.

Here’s Something Your State Can Do to Fight Corporate Money in Politics

An activist in New York City.

An activist in New York City. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

Nearly 90 percent of Americans think that there is too much corporate money in politics. With numbers like that, you would think it would be easy to pass legislation to roll back Citizens United and end the flood of out-of-control corporate spending that has poisoned our elections. That has been far from the case. Just this fall, Senate Republicans blocked an attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens decision.

In the face of this federal inaction, Maryland could pass an exemplary bill next year that would make a real difference. This January, State Senator Jamie Raskin will introduce the Shareholders United Act, legislation that would require corporations to post all political contributions on their websites within forty-eight hours and would forbid corporations from spending on political campaigns and candidates unless they are able to prove that the contribution reflects the “majority will” of their shareholders. Crucially, if the majority of the corporation’s shares are held by institutional investors that cannot take political positions—this includes pension and retirement funds, insurance companies, universities and non-profits—that corporation would be forbidden from donating to political campaigns. Because the majority of shares of Fortune 500 companies are owned by institutional investors, this provision would seriously hamper the ability of corporations to disproportionately influence popular elections.

TO DO

Join our campaign with RootsAction and Free Speech for People and call on your state lawmakers to pass their own Shareholders United Act.

TO READ

In The Washington Post, Raskin breaks down his reasoning for introducing the Shareholders United Act and explains his plans for the bill in Maryland.

TO WATCH

Early this year, Move to Amend, an organization that fights for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, released their mini-documentary, Legalize Democracy, about the history of the movement and its importance. Watch the trailer and then find the full movie on YouTube.

Why Are We Using Prisons to Treat the Mentally Ill?

356,368 severly mentally ill people were imprisoned in 2012 in the US

A still from OverCriminalized, our video series produced in partnership with the ACLU and Brave New Films.

This fall, we’ve partnered with the ACLU and Brave New Films to launch OverCriminalized, a video series highlighting the many social problems that we surprisingly expect the criminal justice system to solve. Focusing on mental illness, housing and drug dependency, the series sheds light on the damage done when we criminalize social problems and profiles innovative solutions that have proven to be far more effective than throwing people in jail.

In our video on mental illness, we look at Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), a program that teaches police officers to safely and effectively interact with someone struggling with a mental-health crisis. Growing in popularity, CITs have proven effective in cutting down on police violence and arrests of mentally ill people, while making it easier for people undergoing a mental-health crisis to get medical help.

While we fight to reform policing practices in our cities through programs like CITs, we can also make change on the national level. A new bill being considered by Congress, the Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act, puts the focus of mental health reform where it belongs: on the gaps in community-based services that cause many thousands of people with serious mental illnesses to experience crises, become homeless or endure needless institutionalization or incarceration. It would also increase funding to train police officers in how best to respond to mental health crises and includes provisions that recognize the importance of protecting the civil rights of those struggling with mental illness.

TO DO

Sign our petition to Congress calling for passage of the Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act. And if you’d like to begin a campaign to fight mass criminalization in your city, check out our action guide for hosting your own screening of OverCriminalized.

TO READ

In an article to accompany OverCriminalized, Agnes Radomski looks into the fight for Crisis Intervention Teams in New York City. And in his piece introducing the project, Mychal Denzel Smith writes that the series “focuses on the people who find themselves being trafficked through this nation’s criminal justice system with little regard for their humanity and zero prospects for actual justice. They are the victims of an unwillingness to invest in solving major social problems, and the consequent handing off of that responsibility to the police, the courts and the prisons. They are the mentally ill, the homeless and the drug addicted. Sometimes they are all three.”

TO WATCH

Our video on the criminalization of mental illness looks at San Antonio’s CIT program and the difference it has made in the lives of the mentally ill of that city.

In the Wake of Ferguson, Demand Concrete Change

Protest in Ferguson

A man holds up a piece of police tape during a protest Monday, August 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

We must not forget the murder of Michael Brown and the violent police crackdown on the community of Ferguson, Missouri. While the story was unique in the attention it received, it shed light on a national problem: our police are systematically targeting people of color, are alarmingly quick to use lethal force and are alienating communities by using equipment more appropriate to a war zone.

The history of racist and abusive policing in the United States is long and the numbers are stark. According to the latest study compiled by the FBI, in the seven years leading up to 2012, one black person was killed by a police officer at least twice each week.

Thanks in large part to tireless organizing—including on the part of young people of color and their allies—more people are now paying attention. It is long past time for our federal government to act. Although the Obama administration cannot singlehandedly end our country’s long history of abusive policing, the executive branch can make concrete changes and it can do so without needing the support of our recalcitrant Congress. Through executive actions and the work of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense, the administration can move us closer to ending discriminatory police tactics, holding departments accountable for systematic abuse and getting tanks, riot gear and other military equipment off our streets.

TO DO

Sign our petition with ColorofChange.org, Daily Kos, the Advancement Project, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, RH Reality Check and a host of other organizations calling on the Obama administration to take definitive steps to end abusive, militarized, and biased policing targeting black and brown communities. Then, head to FergusonOctober.org to find out how you can support local activists in the upcoming “Weekend of Resistance” planned for October 10th through the 13th.

TO READ

In our special issue on racial justice published earlier this year, Mychal Denzel Smith profiled young people of color organizing to fight for racial justice and to end the criminalization of black youth.

TO WATCH

In a powerful segment filmed shortly after the death of Michael Brown, Melissa Harris-Perry named nine unarmed black men killed by police and connected their deaths to our nation’s long history of denying the humanity and civil rights of black men and women.

Stand Up for Internet Freedom

Net neutrality protest

Net Neutrality protest (Courtesy: Flickr user Steve Rhodes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

When people across the country visit many of their favorite sites today, they will be greeted by the “spinning wheel of death” that every frustrated Internet user knows as the sign of a slow connection. It isn’t because their computers are broken; it’s because a coalition of organizations including Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, Free Press Action Fund, Reddit, Netflix and The Nation have banded together for today’s “Internet Slowdown.” All over the web, sites are giving readers a taste of what it could feel like if big cable companies have their way and net neutrality is undermined.

If that happens, it could suddenly become much more difficult to visit under-funded start-ups, nonprofits or independent media outlets like The Nation—basically any site that doesn’t have the extra funds to pay for “fast-lane” service. Instead of the freewheeling, dynamic place we know it to be, the Internet would become more like cable television, with giant corporations essentially choosing what you can and can’t see.

TO DO

The Federal Communications Commission will be accepting public comments on net neutrality until September 15. Use our advocacy tool to demand that the FCC stand up for real net neutrality. The FCC is particularly interested in personal messages, so be sure to add your thoughts on what net neutrality means to you as a business owner, student, activist or any other Internet user.

TO READ

In the fight for net neutrality, we’re up against some powerful players. Earlier in August, Lee Fang reported on the censorship of his reporting by a telecom-industry related lobbying group.

TO WATCH

When John Oliver pointed out the absurdity of net neutrality opponents earlier this year, thousands submitted comments on the FCC’s website, temporarily causing it to crash.

Excited About the New iPhone 6? You Should Read This Report

An Apple store in China

A policeman looks out from a balcony as the crowd is dispersed from the front of an Apple store in the Beijing district of Sanlitun. (Reuters/David Gray)

Earlier this year, The Nation joined a campaign with Green America and China Labor Watch to call on Apple to protect workers in its supplier factories from dangerous chemicals. Just five months after we launched, we had good news to report, when the technology giant announced that it would ban the use of benzene and n-hexane in its final assembly factories.

While a step in the right direction, Apple’s announcement failed to address all of our concerns. Since final assembly factories only represent a fraction of Apple suppliers, the change left many workers vulnerable. Furthermore, according to a recently released report from our friends at Green America and China Labor Watch, when it comes to safety and labor rights, Apple may have a long way to go.

In their investigation of an Apple supplier factory owned by Catcher Technology in Suqian, China, Green American and China Labor Watch found mandatory yet unpaid overtime, the presence of flammable aluminum-magnesium alloy dust, a lack of proper ventilation and locked fire exits and windows that could trap workers in the event of a fire or other emergency. The report also charges that workers were made to sign a statement confirming they participated in safety training—despite the fact that they never actually did.

For its part, Apple claimed that its own inspection had found the factory in need of changes and said that a team would be dispatched to investigate. China Labor Watch had already shared the results from a similar investigation privately with Apple in 2013. According to the advocacy organization, little has changed in the past year and conditions in the factory may actually be getting worse.

TO DO

Sign the letter to Apple demanding that the company protect ALL of its workers from dangerous chemicals.

TO READ

Head to Green America’s website to check out Green America and China Labor Watch’s full twenty-five-page report.

TO WATCH

Released shortly before our campaign, Heather White’s film Who Pays the Price? The Human Cost of Electronics, tells the stories of workers in China who struggle for recognition and compensation after discovering that they have been poisoned by toxic chemicals at their jobs.

Six Ways to Fight for Racial Justice

A woman protests police brutality in the wake of Mike Brown's death

A woman joins a silent protest in front of the White House to demand justice in the wake of Mike Brown's death. (Flickr/Elvert Barnes)

Late this summer, the world’s eyes were on Ferguson, Missouri, as the killing of Michael Brown and the occupation of his community by a militarized police force shed light on our country’s long history of police brutality against people of color. For many, the events in Ferguson were eye-opening. But as Mychal Denzel Smith illustrates in our recent issue on racial justice, young people of color across the country had already been fighting policy brutality, racial profiling and a host of other issues that have a disproportionate effect on people of color. We reached out to some of these groups to find the best ways readers can help. From making a donation to watching a video to sharing your own story, here are six ways you can support young people at the forefront of the fight for racial justice.

1) Formed in 2012 in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin, the Dream Defenders aim to “develop the next generation of radical leaders to realize and exercise our independent collective power” and have been active in advocating for an end to police brutality and the criminalization of communities of color, among other issues. Watch and share their latest video, which outlines their demands on our national government for their #HandsUp Don’t Shoot campaign.

2) One of the ways the Dream Defenders are aiming to effect change is by developing power at the ballot box. Donate to help fund organizing to support their “Bloc Is Ours” voter engagement program.

Black Youth Project 100 logo3) The Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) is a national organization of 10-to-35-year-old black activists dedicated to “creating freedom and justice for our people using a Black queer feminist lens.” Donate to support their membership base building and to help them train, mobilize and organize young black activists across the nation.

4) Every day, countless black youth across the country experience racial profiling by the police. Few of those stories make the national news. Share and, if you are a young black person between the ages of thirteen and thirty-five, add your own video to BYP100’s #CriminalizedLives campaign to “amplify the stories of youth who have been racially profiled and abused by law enforcement.” On top of collecting and sharing the stories, BYP100 uses the submissions to inform their campaign work on the ground.

Million Hoodies for Justice logo5) With their 50,000 plus members, the Million Hoodies Movement for Justiceworks to empower young people of color and fights to protect them from racial profiling and senseless gun violence. In 2012, the organization mobilized to help with the collection of 2 million signatures for a petition created by Howard University students demanding the arrest of George Zimmerman. Since then, it has organized rallies, built new platforms and tools, and educated the public about violence against people of color. Going forward, the group plans on deepening its membership in local communities and developing campaigns to “raise the profiles of victims of gun violence and racial profiling.” Donate to help them make that happen.

6)The Million Hoodies Movement for Justice launched the community platform The Frequency to give its members a place to exchange ideas, artwork, photos, videos and writing. Spread the word about this innovative community platform (or add your own work!) and keep up with the Million Hoodies Movement on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Demand That Cops Stop Acting Like Soldiers. Plus: How to Help in Ferguson

Police wearing riot gear walk toward a man with his hands raised in Ferguson, MO

Police wearing riot gear walk toward a man with his hands raised in Ferguson, Missouri. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

When residents of Ferguson, Missouri, took to the streets to protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, they were met with assault weapons, armored vehicles, tear gas and police decked out in full riot-gear. A community already suffering the loss of one of its own found their town occupied by what appeared to be a paramilitary force.

If the police looked ready to fight a war, it’s because that’s what their equipment was designed for. Much of it came courtesy of the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which sends “surplus military equipment” to police departments. Since 1033 was introduced in the late 1990s, the federal government has sent $4.3 billion worth of military hardware to local and state police forces. The program has a particularly brutal effect on communities of color, as it is used primarily to execute the disastrous and racist “war on drugs.” While the images in Ferguson have just recently become familiar to many, police have long used SWAT teams outfitted in military gear to serve warrants for arrests for minor drug crimes, terrorizing whole communities and sometimes injuring or even killing people in the process.

TO DO

This fall when Congress is back in session, Representative Hank Johnson will introduce the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which would end the federal government’s policy of sending military equipment to local communities. Write to your representatives and demand that they fight to end the militarization of the police. Then, to help people in Ferguson right now, donate to one of a number of worthy causes: you can help the Brown family collect the funds needed to pursue justice for their son, contribute to the bail or legal fees of protesters who have been arrested or pay for food for children of Ferguson who may go hungry while school remains canceled. There’s also a campaign to fund independent journalistic coverage of what is happening on the ground in Ferguson and CREDO is raising funds to keep up the progressive livestream it has launched with WeActRadio. You can also call the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office and demand that he take action against Officer Darren Wilson. (The good folks at Bolder Giving compiled much of this information on an excellent resource page.)

TO READ

At The Nation, Alex S. Vitale argues that at the root of militarized policing is “a cynical politics of race that has perverted criminal justice policies” that focuses on “the management of poor and non-white populations through ever-more-punitive practices.”

TO WATCH

While it is crucial that we demilitarize the police, law enforcement doesn’t need tanks and body armor to terrorize communities of color. On her show on MSNBC, Melissa Harris-Perry reminds us how familiar Michael Brown’s story is, as she gives voice to nine black men recently gunned down by police officers and points out that between 2006 and 2013, white police officers killed a black person at least two times a week.

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