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Engaging the Crisis: Organizing Against Budget Cuts and Community Power in Philadelphia

by Kristin Campbell

Reposted from Organizing Upgrade, March 1, 2010

Organizing Upgrade is honored to offer a preview of this insightful reflection on organizing – Engaging the Crisis: Organizing Against Budget Cuts and Building Community Power in Philadelphia – which will appear in Left Turn magazine #36 (April/May 2010).  You can subscribe to Left Turn online at www.leftturn.org or become a monthly sustainer at www.leftturn.org/donate.

On November 6, 2008, just days after Philadelphians poured onto the streets to celebrate the Phillies winning the World Series championship and Barack Obama the US presidency, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a drastic plan to deal with the cities $108 million budget gap. Severe budget cuts were announced, including the closure of 11 public libraries, 62 public swimming pools, 3 public ice skating rinks, and several fire engines. Nutter also stated that 220 city workers would be laid off and that 600 unfilled positions would be eliminated entirely, amounting to the loss of nearly 1,000 precious city jobs. In classic neo-liberal style, the public sector was to sacrifice, while taxpayer money would bail out the private banking institutions.

City in crisis

Well before the economic crises of 2008, a decades-long process of economic restructuring and deindustrialization had left Philadelphia, with a population just over 1.4 million, an incredibly under-resourced city. Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate out of the ten largest cities in the US, an eleven percent unemployment rate and a high-school dropout rate that hovers dangerously around 50 percent.

The proposed budget cuts sparked waves of popular outrage especially concerning the closure of the libraries, many of which are located in low-income communities of color and serve as bedrock institutions for many basic resources. Eleanor Childs, a principal of a school that heavily relies on West Philadelphia’s Durham library, and later a member of the Coalition to Save the Libraries, recalls “a groundswell of concern about the closing of the libraries… people rose up. We had our pitchforks. We were ready to fight to keep our libraries open.

Nutter’s administration set up eight townhall meetings across Philadelphia, designed to calm the citywide uproar. Thousands of people filled the townhall meetings poised to question how such drastic decisions were made without any public input. Under the banner “Tight Times, Tough Choices,” Mayor Nutter and senior city officials attempted to explain the necessity of such deep service cuts. They explained that the impact of the economic crisis on the city had only become apparent in recent weeks, and because the city could not raise significant revenue to offset its financial loses in the timeframe that was needed, rapid cuts were mandatory and effective January 1, 2009.

Community response

In the following days and weeks, Philadelphians quickly mobilized against the decision that their public services and city workers pay for the fallout of a economic system that had already left so many of them struggling. Neighborhood leaders organized impromptu rallies at the eleven branch libraries. Along with organizing people to turn out at the Mayor’s townhall meetings, these rallies gained media attention on both the nightly news and in the major newspapers, demonstrating widespread opposition to the budget cuts. Sherrie Cohen, member of the Coalition to Save the Libraries and long-time resident of the Ogontz neighborhood of North Philly remembers her neighbors coming together to say, “We are not going to let this library close. It’s not gonna happen. We fought for 36 years for a library in our neighborhood.Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s becoming increasingly clear that we can no longer afford to imprison nearly 2 and a half million Americans, a disproportionate number of them black and Latino.  The choice is clear: break the bank to continue to punish people for mostly nonviolent offenses, or figure out a new way to operate “criminal justice” that actually heals people rather than just putting them in cages.

If we continue down a neo-fascist path we will be unable to treat prisoners as human beings, and continue to drive a racial wedge into the heart of the nation. Obama must remember that he is Black and stop these Jim Crow shenanigans. [alex]

The New Jim Crow
How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste

By Michelle Alexander

Originally published by TomDispatch.

Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.

Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality. There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.

Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

*There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

Excuses for the Lockdown Read the rest of this entry »


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Sexism, egos, and lies: Sometimes you wake up and it is not different

By Lisa Fithian / March 22, 2010

Originally posted on The Rag Blog.

Brandon. Darby. Still from a video / videochannels.com

On December 31, 2008, the Austin Informant Working Group released a statement titled: “Sometimes You Wake Up and It’s Different: Statement on Brandon Darby, the ‘Unnamed’ Informant/Provocateur in the ‘Texas 2.’” It’s been over a year since then and here is my long-overdue version of that story.

It was on December 18, 2008, that I learned unquestionably that Brandon Michael Darby, an Austin activist, was an FBI informant leading up to the 2008 Republican National Convention protests in St. Paul, MN. He was the key witness in the case of two young men from Midland, TX, Bradley Crowder (23) and David McKay (22) who, thanks to Brandon’s involvement, have been convicted of manufacturing Molotov cocktails.

They are now serving two and four years, respectively, in federal prison. In 2010, Brandon will be a key witness in another important case to the Government — the case of the RNC 8, Minneapolis organizers who are facing state conspiracy charges.

The case of the “Texas 2” gained national media attention as a result of Brandon’s unique blend of egomania, the media’s attraction to charismatic and controversial men, and the persistence of the U.S. government to criminalize and crush a growing anti-authoritarian movement. I found myself strangely entwined in the story — past, present and future.

I knew Brandon, and I was given a set of the FBI documents because, as it became apparent from reading them, I was one of the primary people he was reporting on to the FBI. (I, like many others engaged in political protest, am suspect because of my politics not my actions.) Now all of us who knew Brandon and worked closely with him, have been coming to terms with what he did, how he was able to do it, how we were used and abused in the process, and what we might do differently next time.

The Texas 2: David McKay and Bradley Crowder.

Waking up

Some of us were more surprised than others when Brandon revealed himself as an informant. My first reaction was deep sadness. I then went through a range of emotions: disbelief, shock, anger, outrage, and at times vindication. I am still hurt and angry, not just with Brandon, but with the whole system that supports and enables him.

I am still struggling with forgiveness for choices made in activist communities and by some of my friends. I understand how difficult it was; Brandon, at times, was also my friend. In the end we must examine the behavior we experienced, reflect on the array of choices we had, and explore what we could do differently to insure this does not happen again.

Brandon’s behavior was problematic long before 2008. Whether or not he was actually working for the state, he was doing their job for them by breeding discord within our politically active communities. I raised my concerns about Brandon’s behavior in New Orleans, in Austin, and also in Minneapolis. Read the rest of this entry »


One of the best documentary series ever produced, Eyes on the Prize is a 14-part study of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. This series is so important because it shows how ordinary people, when organized, can affect dramatic social change.

The Civil Rights Movement remains the most inspiring example of successful social movements in the United States, breaking down the evil system of racial segregation and opening up possibilities for Black people, as well as for other races, that never existed before. It’s important to remember that 50 years ago, most African Americans could not vote, but now we have a Black President.

Obviously the work of the Civil Rights Movement remains unfinished, as we still live in a racist society with many other severe social problems caused by capitalism as well. But as Eyes on the Prize displays so dramatically, the hope we seek lies not in politicians but in our very own hands. We must learn from the past in order to change the future.

I watched episode 1 today and will be viewing the others over the next few weeks. Would you like to watch and discuss the series with me? Please respond by leaving a comment!

Love and struggle,

alex

p.s. anyone know how to embed these videos on WordPress?

Episode 1: Awakenings (1954-1956)

Subjects: Origins of the Civil Rights Movement, Segregation, Black Soldiers in World War II, Brown v. Board of Education, Emmett Till, Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King Jr, White Citizens Council, Ku Klux Klan, White Allies

Episode 2: Fighting Back (1957-1962)

Subjects: NAACP, Integration v. Segregation, Little Rock AR, The Little Rock 9, James Meredith, University of Mississippi

Episode 3: Ain’t Scared of Your Jails (1960-1961)

Subjects: Student Sit-ins, Nashville TN, Direct Action, Civil Disobedience, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Ella Baker, Boycott Movement, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Freedom Rides, Southern Jails

Episode 4: No Easy Walk (1961-1963)

Subjects: Martin Luther King Jr, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Freedom Songs, Albany GA, Bull Connor, Birmingham AL, Fire Hoses and Dogs, John Lewis, March on Washington, John F. Kennedy, Civil Rights Act

Episode 5: Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964)

Subjects: Medgar Evers, Murder of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, SNCC, Voting Registration Drives, Mississippi Freedom Summer, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Failure of the Democratic Party

[This is the BEST video in the series. What SNCC did in Mississippi changed America forever.]

Episode 6: Bridge to Freedom (1965) Read the rest of this entry »


Are we living through the twilight of democracy, or the dawn of a new day?

That is up to us.

The Chambersburg Declaration is a brief but promising political document coming out of Pennsylvania, specifically the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Explanation follows. [alex]

photo by neeloyunus on flickr

THE CHAMBERSBURG DECLARATION

BY THE UNDERSIGNED IN CHAMBERSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, ON
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 20TH, 2010

We declare:

– That the political, legal, and economic systems of the United States allow, in each generation, an elite few to impose policy and governing decisions that threaten the very survival of human and natural communities;

– That the goal of those decisions is to concentrate wealth and greater governing power through the exploitation of human and natural communities, while promoting the belief that such exploitation is necessary for the common good;

– That the survival of our communities depends on replacing this system of governance by the privileged with new community-based democratic decision-making systems;

– That environmental and economic sustainability can be achieved only when the people affected by governing decisions are the ones who make them;

– That, for the past two centuries, people have been unable to secure economic and environmental sustainability primarily through the existing minority-rule system, laboring under the myth that we live in a democracy;

– That most reformers and activists have not focused on replacing the current system of elite decision-making with a democratic one, but have concentrated merely on lobbying the factions in power to make better decisions; and

– That reformers and activists have not halted the destruction of our human or natural communities because they have viewed economic and environmental ills as isolated problems, rather than as symptoms produced by the absence of democracy.

Therefore, let it be resolved:

– That a people’s movement must be created with a goal of revoking the authority of the corporate minority to impose political, legal, and economic systems that endanger our human and natural communities; Read the rest of this entry »


“When you take the time to research and analyze the wealth that has gone to the economic top one percent, you begin to realize just how much we have been robbed.”

Despite the economic crisis, the ultra-rich seem to be making off quite well, even increasing their incomes while the rest of us worry about unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy.

Crooks and Liars recently posted an article, “Richest 400 Americans See Incomes Double, Tax Rates Halved,” which has the latest statistics on income inequality, but to fully understand the widening gap between rich and poor, check out the following essay from David DeGraw.

How long will we permit this to go on? [alex]

The Richest 1% Have Captured America’s Wealth — What’s It Going to Take to Get It Back?

The U.S. already had the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world prior to the financial crisis — and it’s gotten even worse.

By David DeGraw / February 19, 2010

Originally published by Alternet. Recovered from The Rag Blog.

“The war against working people should be understood to be a real war… Specifically in the U.S., which happens to have a highly class-conscious business class… And they have long seen themselves as fighting a bitter class war, except they don’t want anybody else to know about it.” — Noam Chomsky

As a record amount of U.S. citizens are struggling to get by, many of the largest corporations are experiencing record-breaking profits, and CEOs are receiving record-breaking bonuses. How could this be happening, how did we get to this point?

The Economic Elite have escalated their attack on U.S. workers over the past few years; however, this attack began to build intensity in the 1970s. In 1970, CEOs made $25 for every $1 the average worker made. Due to technological advancements, production and profit levels exploded from 1970-2000. With the lion’s share of increased profits going to the CEO’s, this pay ratio dramatically rose to $90 for CEOs to $1 for the average worker.

As ridiculous as that seems, an in-depth study in 2004 on the explosion of CEO pay revealed that, including stock options and other benefits, CEO pay is more accurately $500 to $1.

Paul Buchheit, from DePaul University, revealed, “From 1980 to 2006 the richest 1% of America tripled their after-tax percentage of our nation’s total income, while the bottom 90% have seen their share drop over 20%.” Robert Freeman added, “Between 2002 and 2006, it was even worse: an astounding three-quarters of all the economy’s growth was captured by the top 1%.”

Due to this, the United States already had the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world prior to the financial crisis. Since the crisis, which has hit the average worker much harder than CEOs, the gap between the top one percent and the remaining 99% of the U.S. population has grown to a record high. The economic top one percent of the population now owns over 70% of all financial assets, an all time record.

As mentioned before, just look at the first full year of the crisis when workers lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point clear, 400 people have more wealth than 155 million people combined.

Meanwhile, 2009 was a record-breaking year for Wall Street bonuses, as firms issued $150 billion to their executives. 100% of these bonuses are a direct result of our tax dollars, so if we used this money to create jobs, instead of giving them to a handful of top executives, we could have paid an annual salary of $30,000 to 5 million people. Read the rest of this entry »

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