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The Militarization of Everything

Hello from Philadelphia where I fell asleep and woke up to the sound of police helicopters, where this was my neighborhood this weekend. As people have come out to protest ongoing police violence and white supremacy across the country and police have turned up to crack down on them with weapons of war, I wanted to do something. It all feels too little, but my publisher agreed that we could share the chapter from Necessary Trouble about militarized policing here, free to download. It’s the story of protest policing in the past ten years, with a focus on Ferguson but certainly not exclusively so, and it gives a pretty concise history of how the police came to look like an invading army–and why so many working-class people around the country, mainly but not only Black people, are so angry, sad, and tired of all of this.

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Prison strikers building a movement for justice and decarceration, with Janos Marton

The nationwide prison strike that began August 21 is ongoing, and it comes at a moment when Americans are perhaps primed to hear demands from prisoners and consider them in a new way. Protests and uprisings in recent years have called attention to the rampant inequality perpetuated by prisons, jails, arrests, and prosecutions, and as prisoners coordinate with each other to resist their conditions on the inside, Janos Marton of the ACLU’s Smart Justice program joins me to talk about what people on the outside can do to support the strike and the demands of the prisoners.

 

People have been asking me what they can tangibly do. The organizers made clear in the lead-up to this strike that they weren’t expecting people on the outside to be able to do a whole lot to actually support the strike as it is happening because it is something that is facility specific and driven by and organized on the inside.
But they made a few exceptions. One is to the extent that there are protests being held outside of facilities, they said that it not only gives them energy and hope when they see people protesting in solidarity outside of their own facilities, but it also generally causes Corrections to think twice before retaliating, which is a major concern we had as an organization in the lead-up to the strike–that the organizers of the strike are going to be retaliated against either during or after the strike is over. The people can participate in local actions, that makes a big difference.
There is a Twitter account @IWW_IWOC which has been posting updates from the strike and occasional calls to action, usually around this issue saying something like, “Call such and such facility to make it clear to them not to retaliate against people participating in the prison strike.” Just continuing to amplify these messages.
I think the idea that there is a prison strike and what the demands of the prison strike are are still not well understood to the broader public. So, the more people who are aware of these issues can do to amplify the ten demands and the fact that the strike is happening, then that is helpful, too.
On a final note, when people read through the ten demands they may be surprised to see how many of them they already knew about and agreed with. Even though this is a radical act to strike in a prison setting and that is why we have to show such solidarity to these brave men and women, at the end of the day what they are asking for is very much in line with what people have been demanding for a very long time outside of prison walls, as well: an end to racist policing, investing in rehabilitation in the system rather than punishment, reducing the length of sentences, and ultimately this right to vote, this right to participate in democracy for all people.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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A new agenda for labor law, with Celine McNicholas


Labor law in the US has been broken down over the past several decades until it’s nearly nonexistent. And yet a new wave of worker resistance and political interest in labor makes it a good time to push for a reimagining and rebuilding of the laws that govern the workplace. The Economic Policy Institute has just published a new agenda for doing just that–rebuilding the right to a union, giving unions real power again, and protecting workers who don’t have unions for what the institute calls “First Day Fairness.” Celine McNicholas, one of the authors of the report, joins me to talk about the movement that will be necessary to rewrite the rules to give workers an equal chance.

I think it is really encouraging that so many of these reforms already live in existing, already-introduced legislation in Congress. None of them get a great deal of attention, but in particular the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act which was introduced this Congress which goes to the heart of many of the reforms aimed at ensuring that folks can unionize. That is the piece of legislation that includes some of the re-imagined right to strike reforms, as well. In terms of how likely it is that any of this passes, I think that is really on all of us. We have a responsibility as advocates to get in there and make sure that people are, number one, aware of these bills, and also that there is a grassroots movement. I think mentioning that you are in Wisconsin, there is a great demonstration in what workers can demand from elected officials. We absolutely have to greet this new Congress with the clear understanding, if it is Democratic controlled, that these issues are top-tier issues, that we demand that they be considered in the first hundred days. The fact that we haven’t had a minimum wage increase in so long at this point, we are looking at over a decade of failure to pass legislation, that is shared by both parties. I think in terms of the likelihood of all of these measures, any of these measures, passing is really incumbent upon all of us to speak up and demand that our elected officials don’t just treat these things as campaign slogans, but that we really demand action on these critical reforms that, quite frankly, affect all of us regardless of party affiliation, regardless of many of the other issues that may divide us. I think a fair economy and how we are all treated at work, how we are all paid, and economic justice, to me, is such a unifying issue that I really hold out hope that it will be a top-tier issue in a Democratic controlled Congress. Let Trump veto a minimum wage increase. Let Trump veto a bill that would actually give people in this country a meaningful path to have a union in their workplace. I remain optimistic that Democrats will recognize that these issues simply cannot be ignored going forward. That said, we have to demand it. It is not enough to just be against the status quo. We really need meaningful reform in this area.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Continuing the teachers’ fight in West Virginia, with Rebecca Diamond

The teachers in West Virginia kicked off a multi-state strike wave last winter when they shuttered every school in the state over their consistently low wages, lousy working conditions, and most importantly, their broken Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), the system that insures every public employee in the state. They won a raise, but the biggest fight, says Rebecca Diamond, a West Virginia teacher and member of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, is still ongoing–the fight to fix and fully fund PEIA. I spoke with Diamond recently at Netroots Nation.

They have had task force meetings and they have gone to all the communities and they have basically gathered from the communities what their main concerns are with PEIA and how it is going to affect them. These panel members are supposed to take it back to the committee and then, they are all supposed to meet and they are supposed to have a decision made before the election – Surprise! – and come up with what they feel like is going to be a solution.
The only solution that I feel like is going to suffice for teachers is if there is a funding source for it. If there is not a funding source for it…which, they have known for the last five years that there was not a funding source for PEIA. They basically just continued to put it on the backburner, because we have not done anything about it. And it is not just teachers, it is every state employee in the State of West Virginia. It is not like they were just hit by a truck and realized that, “How are we going to pay for that PEIA? What are we going to do for it?”
We have given them options. People have given them options to fund PEIA, but nobody wants to take the initiative to make that a funding source for PEIA.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Contesting the Right’s Designs on Public Space, with Prof. Jalane Schmidt

August 11 will be the first anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Heather Heyer was killed and several other people injured when white nationalists and white supremacists from around the country rallied–and brought weapons. In preparation for the anniversary, Charlottesville activists are planning vigils and teach-ins and keeping an eye on the far right’s activities, from Portland, OR to Washington, D.C. Prof. Jalane Schmidt is an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville, and she joins me to discuss the recent far-right violence in Portland, the planned rally in D.C., and what Charlottesville activists are planning for the anniversary and beyond.

They are trying to push decent citizens out of the public square, anyone who opposes white supremacy, out of the public square, and also, to normalize their movement.
Part of what they are doing is they really like to go to places with iconic vistas; whether it is the Lee statue or to Mount Vernon, Washington’s estate up in Northern Virginia–that is where Identity Evropa went a few months ago–or other places. They like to have clean, unobstructed sight lines between themselves and whatever iconic place where they are: university auditoriums, for instance, the Oval Office, because that is very good for their recruitment. This makes for very good propaganda videos.
For instance, here, May 13th, 2017 was the first alt-right torch rally here in Charlottesville. Some 150 white supremacists gathered uncontested. They caught us flat-footed, by surprise. Then, of course, August 11th, around the Jefferson statue at the University of Virginia. Again, largely uncontested. Then, October 7th, 2017 they had a third torch rally here in Charlottesville, also catching us by surprise. That is what they like for their propaganda videos. That is what they like to circulate online. And Richard Spencer even said that last August 11th on the steps of the rotunda at the University of Virginia, “Look! We just took over!”
So, they want spaces cleared of the rest of us, especially those of us who are people of color. But, they are also trying to grow their movement. It is a strategy. That is why it is important to, yes, show up in greater numbers – there is safety in numbers – to say, “No, we won’t allow you to scare us away and we won’t allow you to take over public spaces and to normalize with your appearances there, your movement.”

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Pressing Amazon to stop cooperating with ICE, with Cata Santiago of Movimiento Cosecha


In this week’s episode we talk to Cata Santiago of Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrants rights organization that is spearheading a campaign against Amazon for its cooperation with ICE and Trump’s deportation machine. The world’s biggest retailer, with the world’s richest man at its helm, is lending technology that is mostly used to crack down on low-wage workers while exploiting its own low-wage workforce. As Amazon workers struck in Europe for better treatment, Cosecha launched actions in the US to pressure Amazon to stop cooperating with ICE.

We went in New York City where we shut down Amazon, where we saw customers not be able to go in, where they locked the doors, and where the lights went off. This action was to come out and be vocal about what is happening and also have this bigger invitation to the immigrant community and to anyone who thinks about what is happening for years against families is not right. So, we have this possible action. An action is planned for July 31st where we are asking people at the local level to bring the mounting pressure through, to ask for ICE contracts to end and calling for local county jails to not be used as detention centers. There are different industries that are also in partnership with ICE. So, it is basically exposing that.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Keeping the pressure on Chuck Schumer and the Democrats, with Liat Olenick of Indivisible Nation BK

Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer has been hearing from his constituents a lot lately, and they’re demanding he stand up and fight. That’s the message brought by Indivisible Nation BK, which has held rallies outside of Schumer’s Brooklyn home, his Manhattan office, and elsewhere demanding that Schumer unify the Democrats in standing up to Trumpism and Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. I spoke to Liat Olenick of Indivisible Nation BK about the group’s mission, and how it came together around the idea that someone should hold elected officials accountable.

Indivisible is all about holding your own elected officials accountable. As a Brooklyn group, we meet in Prospect Heights, Boerum Hill, Park Slope area, we’re literally in his backyard, we’re right near his house. We do have members from all over Brooklyn but because we’re so close to him we kind of feel a special responsibility to continue to hold him accountable and put pressure on him to be the leader that we need right now.
All elected officials are there for one reason, because they were elected by people going out and voting for them. When we signal to our representatives what we want them to do or that we are thankful for something or that we are disappointed in actions that they have taken, they pay attention because they want to, ultimately, get reelected and stay in office. The whole Indivisible model is based on that. We, especially with Chuck Schumer, take that really seriously because we are in his backyard and also because he is the most powerful Democrat in the country right now and more than anybody else, we need really strong consistent clear leadership coming from him and his office.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Occupy and abolish ICE, with George Ciccariello-Maher

Around the country, as the demand to abolish ICE spreads, occupations of its offices are springing up. In many of the cities where such occupations exist, they have heightened contradictions between the proclamations of “sanctuary” by elected officials wanting to look progressive, and those officials’ actual policies of repressing protest. George Ciccariello-Maher, an activist and academic, has taken part in the Occupy ICE encampment in Philadelphia and joins me to discuss the evolution of the tactic and demand, the relationship of movements to self-proclaimed progressive mayors, and more.

I think we are used to abolitionist language seeming really extreme or long-term or pie in the sky, and yet, we have seen this claim take root and spread. Partly because of the real brutality of what ICE is doing and the transparency of what is going on. I think it is also really important to remember that one of the first things I think we should do as analysts, but also as movement organizers is to historicize, to think about the fact that ICE is not that old. ICE is a new institution. ICE has not been around very long. Abolishing it really should not be that difficult. That points both towards the potential and the possibility of this claim to actually come about. I think that is why you see many Democrats, or some Democrats at least, talking about the abolition of ICE, but it also points toward the dangers because we are in a strange situation where you are talking about abolishing something, but it is really just an intermediate demand because the last thing we want is to see ICE simply replaced by INS, by Border Patrol doing the same exact work or going back to an old status quo which is not good enough for us. I think we need to be very careful to tether the demand to abolish ICE to the demand to not replace it. This is actually what a lot of Democrats have been insisting on, “We will find a better replacement.” No. We don’t want any replacement for this. We want to roll back the powers that have been granted even to Border Patrol in recent decades and the dramatic expansion of that agency and the dramatic expansion of its budget and expansion of its ground force on the border. We want a radical transformation, ultimately, that points toward border abolition by the end.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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The Supreme Court and the corporate class, with Saqib Bhatti

The Supreme Court last week handed down decisions in Trump’s Muslim ban case, in the public sector labor union case Janus v. AFSCME, and more, decisions that will harm working people, particularly people of color. But most of the time these decisions are talked about separately from one another, and from other Trumpist attacks on immigrants and working people. Saqib Bhatti of the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE) joins me to talk about them all together, contextualizing the slant of the Supreme Court these days and the shape of the struggle to fight back.

Looking at these issues, what is really important to understand is the connections between “Who are the corporate actors that are actually bad across all of these issues?” One of the things that we are seeing is with a lot of these things, the thing that people love to do with the Muslim ban is really beat up on Trump or say, “This is a terrible decision by the Supreme Court,” but the reality is we can raise those concerns all we want and it doesn’t actually hurt Trump for us to be saying, “He is anti-Muslim, he is racist.” In fact, it actually helps him with his base. With a lot of the politicians we are seeing that the reason why they are actually appealing to white supremacists is because they realize that it actually helps them. The way for us to take them on, while it is important to call out those politicians for what they are and what they are doing, we can’t stop there because at the end of the day that is not going to be an effective way to move them. Especially now if we are seeing the Supreme Court that in the coming years is likely to be stacked by far right ideologues, it seems like the avenue to fight on these fights only in the discourse of public sector and government is going to be going away. That is why it is truly important to look at, “Who are the corporations that these politicians are beholden to? Who are the corporations whose agenda the Supreme Court is carrying out?” and really show some of these connections. What we have found in our research is that a lot of the same companies that are really profiting off the mass incarceration system, that are really profiting from our immigrant policies, that are supporting politicians that are anti-Muslim and support policies like the Muslim ban, these are actually a lot of the same corporations, and by the way, those are also the same corporations that are responsible for defunding the public sector because they don’t pay their fair share in taxes.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Our immigration policy has always separated families, with Jess Morales Rocketto

When it comes to family separation, no one knows better than migrant domestic workers the myriad ways that US immigration policy has always kept people away from their loved ones. Domestic workers have for decades been coming to the US to care for other people’s children, often while leaving their own far away, and their leadership is key in a moment when Americans are rising up in protest at Trump’s policies around immigration and the family. I spoke with Jess Morales Rocketto, political director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, about the Trump administration’s latest moves, the growing movement to abolish ICE, and much more.

 

Our immigration campaign at National Domestic Workers Alliance is called We Belong Together and it is focused on family separation because this was something that we knew was a problem in our immigration system and was something that we understood was being totally mismanaged and the consequences were happening in our members and our families. Folks who came here and were not connected with their children for 20 years at a time because they were back in their home countries. Or, trying to sponsor their family members and having to be waiting 15-20 years for their family members to be able to come over. I think that part of why we felt like it was really critical to sound the alarm is that in the same way that people don’t value domestic work because it is women’s labor, because it is women of color’s labor, because it is mostly immigrant women’s labor, they also weren’t valuing what they were saying about the immigration system and about the desire that ultimately wins is because the reason that people come here is because they are seeking a better life, often for their family. That could be their chosen family, it could be their children, it could be their extended family.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here