Praxis - Metro Justice

In America, the UN Finds the Rights to Peaceful Assembly and Association are Being Eroded, and Race Plays a Big Factor

The right to peaceful assembly is a part of the First Amendment, the amendment that grants us free speech without government retaliation. Unfortunately that right has been violated again and again when said speech challenges current systems of oppression. Rochester saw this first hand with the arrest of over 70 people at a recent Black Lives Matter event. This included two reporters, the only black reporters at the protest. Let's also remember cops were in full riot gear at this protest as well.

The UN has found that our rights to peaceful assembly, especially in racial justice issues, are below UN standard. These findings are from Maini Kiai, their rappoteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Kiai raises five points that are listed in the article below from the ACLU covering everything from the need to purchase a permit to protest, to how our counter-terror efforts only increase racial and religious profiling. 

The right to assembly is much needed in today's times. Citizens need to be able to go out and let their voices be heard, and if peaceable, be heard without interference. The presence of police in riot gear do nothing to promote a peaceable atmosphere, if anything it's passive aggressive. If there is to be police presence, it should be light, without riot gear, and only be there to help protect protesters from violent opposition, and help manage any bad apples in the crowd. Put trust in the organizers of these events. 

The U.N.’s special rapporteur  on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association completed a 17-day mission to the United States this week, and he drew some concerning conclusions about the state of those rights in this country.

Maini Kiai covered an impressive 10 cities in 17 days. He observed protests at the political conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia and visited cities rocked by the police killings of Black men, like Baton RougeBaltimore, and Ferguson.

Though Kiai had much to say about the negative impact of economic and racial inequality on assembly and association, here are five important takeaways from the special rapporteur’s preliminary findings following his visit:

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How Student Movements for Racial Justice can Survive Summer Break

Rochester is home to a number of colleges, as well as a number of activist movements. One way many younger people engage with activism is through their college campus, addressing social issues within their school. These can range from labor issues, to curriculum, to how students are treated. 

For many administrators, summer is a time where things are quiet, and many hope that with the majority of students on break campus movements will quietly die out. Students graduate and move on, others take the time to enjoy summer and lose steam so to speak. For some students in Seattle, they're working to keep campus movements alive and well. Alia Marsha's article in The Nation (originally published in The Globalist) shares the stories of young activists who have kept on-campus racial justice movements alive through the summer. 

It's important for student activists to stay engaged as it ensures change happens at their schools. Fortunately there's a number of organizations, ours included, where students can get involved in standing for issues that matter to them. Through staying involved, students can return to school ready to pick up where they, or their graduated seniors, have left off.

Last year, when Palca Shibale was a junior at the University of Washington, she started going to meetings of Reclaim UW, a coalition fighting for better treatment of campus employees.

The students in the group fought hard for better wages and benefits for TAs and janitors throughout the school year, even disrupting a meeting of the UW Regents in April 2015 to amplify their demands.

But by the end of the spring quarter, they were burned out. And when classes began the following fall, Reclaim UW had lost much of its member participation.

This is exactly what Shibale said she does not want to see happen to Decolonize UW, a new activist group on campus that formed this past year around a six-hour student walkout to press the administration to address systemic racism on campus.

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Save Your Sympathy. You Are the Problem

hqdefault.jpgIt was difficult finding an article related to what happened in Orlando, for a few reasons, a major one being that last week, when posting would have been on schedule, things still felt too raw. To focus on another topic didn't seem justifiable. Now there's a plethora of articles and think pieces about Orlando, and more coming out every day. To be honest, this is attempt number two at a blog post, I was working with another article until I came across this one.

C.J. Prince's article for The Huffington Post fortunately takes us to the heart of the matter, LGBT violence and its intersection with race and the systematic bigotry of our political system. Yes there's a wealth of issues related and unrelated that are buzzing around, but it boils down to good old "Thoughts and prayers", and how they're a load of BS. Many of the legislators who offered up their thoughts and prayers are the same ones who have pushed for anti-trans "bathroom bills", and took similar stands on other LGBT issues. 

You can't simultaneously stand with and vilify a community. If you do, your thoughts and prayers are empty gestures in hopes of positive PR. If you legislate against LGBT people, or people of color you're unconsciously advocating for violence against them. You are saying they're second-class citizens and therefore can be treated in a subhuman manner by anyone who feels uncomfortable or hateful. Thoughts and prayers are simply a hollow statement if you're trying to give them to a group you fear and hate.

One way to break away of a culture of Thoughts and Prayers is to hold our legislators accountable. Vote out people who think and pray while voting against human rights. Call out politicians when they're turning tragedy into a PR campaign. Tell these people that we're not taking it anymore. 

In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox attended a vigil for the victims and gave a speech, which soon went viral, in which he apologized for his past homophobic behavior and thanked the LGBTQ community for being patient with him while he evolved. He later said in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell:


“I think it’s pretty sad that a speech by a Lieutenant Governor in Utah is getting this much attention just by saying we should love each other. How low is the bar in our country?”


On that much we can all agree. But will Cox now find the courage to speak out against his own administration’s lawsuit over Obama’s directive to states to allow transgender people to use the restroom that matches their gender identity? Will he explain to Gov. Herbert that the “bathroom bill” in North Carolina demonizes and discriminates against trans people and puts them at risk for violence from cisgender transphobic people who want to harm them? Will he recognize that discriminatory policies demonizing the LGBTQ community are what led to the atrocity in Orlando that took 49 lives and injured dozens more?

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Rigged 2016 Election has Voters Feeling Helpless, Unheard, and Ashamed

8170198962_cec1621c0b_z.jpgAmerican voters are not happy with this election year. The majority of Democrats and Republicans aren't happy with their party front runners. The GOP has been wondering what to do with Trump, who some would believe is an upfront version of Republican values. Meanwhile Democrats are facing an implosion of their party between party and superdelegate preference for Hillary, while voters have shown strong support for Sanders. This has especially been noted in the Arizona and New York primaries, and the Nevada Caucus.

Lauren McCauley's article for Common Dreams offers a breakdown of a recent survey, stating that 90% of voters feel disenchanted with our current election system. Voter fraud comes up every Presidential election. Not so much from voters themselves, as from rigged voting machines that have switched or refused to count ballots for certain candidates. Democrats are getting fed up with the superdelegate system, one where those chosen have already pledged themselves to a candidate before primaries. There's also the matter of the Electoral College, which has been contested for the past number of elections.

While the President is one of the many roles in government, taking up one of the three branches. It's also the role that plays figurehead for our country as a whole, and how other countries perceive us. The President is the one who determines which direction to steer the country in. Unfortunately for voters, many feel helpless in a system stacked in favor of the interests of the few. Many don't feel adequately represented, and it's time for things to change. Do you think the two party system is antiquated and rigged? Would a third party growing in prominence help? Would open primaries be a solution? 

(Photo: WyoFile, licensed under Creative Commons)

This year's presidential primary has left many voters feeling helpless and alienated from their political parties, according to a new poll, which found that Democrats and Republicans alike want to see major changes in the way presidential candidates are chosen.

The survey, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and published Tuesday, reported that a full 90 percent of voters lack confidence in the country's political system while 40 percent went so far as to say that the two-party structure is "seriously broken."

Seventy percent of voters, including equal proportions of Democrats and Republicans, said they feel frustrated about the 2016 presidential election and 55 percent reported feeling "helpless."

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Oxfam: Poultry Industry Denies Workers Bathroom Breaks

chicken-647226_640.jpgChicken is the most popular meat in the country right now. It's considered healthier than red meat, quality cuts of chicken are more affordable than quality beef, and it's pretty versatile as a meat. Unfortunately many workers in the poultry industry are also wearing diapers while on the processing line. 

Tom Philpott's article for Mother Jones explores the latest Oxfam report on conditions in poultry processing plants. The gist of it is that to meet daily quotas, workers are denied bathroom breaks and are told to hold it until their designated break time. To avoid discomfort and health risks associated by "just holding it in", many workers resort to wearing diapers. 

Poor treatment of meatpackers isn't new. We can look back at Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle", based on Sinclair's knowledge of labor exploitation as an investigative journalist. Meatpacking was only a part of the book, but it created a massive demand for improving working conditions for meatpackers. If we want to look at other companies, Hormel is notorious for both animal and worker abuse, including firing workers for falling ill with a neurological illness caused by inhaling pork brains, courtesy of their "brain machine". 

Some solutions would be to buy meat from the farmer's market, or swear it off altogether. While this would personally take you out of this cycle, more needs to be done for the workers. 

The United States isn't exactly a hotbed of trade unionism and worker power. But presumably, most people can take for granted access to the bathroom while on the job. Not so for people who staff the nation's chicken slaughterhouses, according to a scathing new report from Oxfam America.

After a three-year project interviewing dozens of current and former workers across the country, Oxfam came to this stark conclusion:

Routinely, poultry workers say, they are denied breaks to use the bathroom. Supervisors mock their needs and ignore their requests; they threaten punishment or firing. Workers wait inordinately long times (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline.

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What Abortion Has to do With the Minimum Wage

5707606109_0b66c8f51f_o.jpgWe live in a day and age where we're realizing that social movements are interconnected, and that siloing individual movements is an easy way to alienate those who could gain the most benefit from each movement's victories. Today we'll be looking at how reproductive justice is also an issue of economic justice. 

Historically reproductive justice has always tied in with economic justice. The ability to practice family planning helps women gain economic control over their lives. For many women having that choice is a matter of staying in, or overcoming poverty. For poor women, it's also a decision our current system is fighting to deny. Much like the days of the Comstock Laws, certain parts of society are trying to keep reproductive choice out of the hands of the economically disadvantaged for reasons of "morality" and "preserving life" while staying silent on the choices of those who can afford private doctors.

Zoë Carpenter's article for The Nation discusses how reproductive justice helps women working minimum wage jobs. By preventing choice we keep poor women in the cycle of poverty, making it more difficult to move up in the world through college or the time and energy to focus on a career. Healthcare also plays a role, as the Hyde Amdendment prevents those insured through the government from accessing abortion. On the flip side, those on medicaid may also have difficulty accessing pre and neonatal care as well. To sum it up, abortion while on medicaid or uninsured is unaffordable, raising a child can be equally so.

Reproductive justice is just one facet of fighting for economic justice, but it's one that will help lift up two thirds of minimum wage workers. This doesn't only mean better abortion access, but also better access to contraceptives, as well as better access to sexual education. Leaving family planning in the hands of those who bear children, and trusting them is one step towards greater equality.

(Photo Credit: ProgressOhio)

What does abortion have to do with the minimum wage? Both are in the news, with ongoing fallout from the Planned Parenthood sting videos and attacks on abortion access continuing at the state level, while political candidates are centering wages, equal pay, and other issues of economic security in their campaigns. But these discussions are mostly happening separately, overlooking the ways in which access to reproductive healthcare is inextricably tied up in a woman’s ability to support herself and her family financially.

We know, for instance, that two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, and that the low wage floor leaves many below the poverty level. We also know that women have a greater chance of escaping poverty, or avoiding it in the first place, if they’re able to control when and if to have children. An unwanted pregnancy can cause a woman to abandon her education or a career; an unaffordable abortion can force her to rely on the predatory services of payday lenders, entrapping her in a debt cycle. Yet it’s poor women who have the hardest time accessing family planning services—because they don’t have access to a clinic, because they’re uninsured, or because their insurance doesn’t cover the service they need and they can’t afford it otherwise. The IUD, one of the most effective methods of birth control, costs nearly a full-month’s salary for a woman working full-time at minimum wage, while fewer than a third of low-income women of reproductive age have access to federally funded family planning services.

(more after the flip)

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Activists Swarm Capitol for Democracy Protests

democracy_spring_twitter.jpgWe're fed up. We're fed up with big money in politics, and the resulting lack of integrity. We're fed up with a rigged election system that pushes for party and corporate favored candidates (Looking at you, Hillary!). We want action from those we have elected into office, and not the crybaby partisan tantrums that have been held over Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland for Supreme Court. We demand change, and mainstream corporate media has been silent. 

Justin Miller's article for The American Prospect covers last Sunday's rally during the Democracy Spring protests. Thousands have descended upon DC demanding a government that works for the people. The demands are simple and American; protect voting rights, take corporations out of politics, end the obstructionism that has plagued Obama's presidency, smash the oligarchy. 

Over a thousand people have been arrested, including the founders of Ben & Jerrys, and actress Rosario Dawson. Yet big media has spoken little of it, instead favoring the three-ring-circus that is the GOP nomination race. Of course Big Corporate news wouldn't cover the movement, because that would mean even more people coming out to fight their influence.

(Image from Democracy Spring Twitter)

On Sunday, more than a thousand people gathered on Capitol Hill for a “Democracy Awakening” rally to demand that Congress move to protect voting rights, limit political spending, and create a public financing system for political campaigns. Activists also want the Senate to take up President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Protesters held signs saying, “Money Talks, We’re Silenced,” and “Let My People Vote!” amid a crowd that displayed some flamboyant props and costumes, including a giant dummy of a corporate lobbyist holding bags of money, an “Uncle Sam” walking around on stilts with corporate logos plastered on his coat, and a man donned in a full suit patterned with hundred-dollar bills.

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Protesters to March on New Hampshire Jail Where Homeless Fast Food Worker Died Mysteriously

jeffrey-pendleton-strike-photo-1024x580.jpgIn the past this blog has shared articles discussing how Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter intersect, and here is another sad example. Jeffery Pendleton made only $100 a week at the Burger King in Nashua, NH. He never told anyone he was homeless, and was known by friends and colleagues for being vocally active in local Fight for $15 efforts. After an arrest for marijuana possession, one he didn't have the $100 in bail for, he died in jail under mysterious circumstances. He was also one of the only black residents in a predominantly white community.

This story intersects with various economic justice causes, illustrating how interconnected everything truly is. It tragically illustrates how race and economics also play into homelessness, the war on drugs, criminal justice, and punishment for being poor. In response, co workers of Pendleton, and activists have come together to protest the Department of Corrections and call for answers. The autopsy performed by the DOC showed no signs of harm, but an independent second autopsy has. 

Lets not have deaths like Pendleton's be in vain, and call justice for Jeffery Pendleton and others like him. He was a human being who deserved dignity, respect, and opportunity to live a better life.

(Photo credit: Fight for $15, Pendleton is third from left)

Jeffery Pendleton was only 26 when he was found dead in a jail cell in Manchester’s Valley Street detention facility earlier this month. The Arkansas native had been working at a Burger King in Nashua, New Hampshire, earning something like $100 a week and sleeping on the streets because he couldn’t afford housing.

An official autopsy found no signs of trauma or clear cause of death, leaving Pendleton’s family in Arkansas and friends in the Fight for $15 workers’ movement confused, angry, and suspicious.

A group of workers from the area and police watchdogs from elsewhere in New England are set to march Friday on a Department of Corrections headquarters in New Hampshire to demand answers.

A GoFundMe page raising money for Pendleton’s family to cover burial costs says they commissioned a second examination of his body. That second autopsy indicates he “was harmed prior to his death and likely that harmed caused his death,” according to the burial fundraising page. The family were not available for interviews.

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Why do I Need to Love a Company to Work There

Let's take things across the pond, not only to see how America's low-wage work culture is infiltrating overseas, but to see how people outside our own country view this culture. Now, usually when we learn about Europe, we learn about how employment is a little more laid back in the US. Longer afternoon breaks, casual coffee breaks as means to bond with co workers instead of corporate team-building exercises, better work/life balance, etc. Not so anymore, some employers are taking pages from America's book on how to run things, especially for minimum wage jobs. 

Abi Wilkinson's article for The Telegraph paints a picture of how more low-wage U.K. employers are copying America, and according to Wilkinson it's downright dystopian. It's moved beyond general pride in work, and is all about taking your employer into your heart and soul. Memorize their values, sing the company song, dance the company dance (literally!), and show your love and devotion to the organization paying you a meager paycheck for your labor. If anything, this attitude of needing employees to go above and beyond what's needed all the time is doing more harm than good for employees.

This is by no means advocating employees to be surly in front of customers. It's about allowing them to vent in the break room after a particularly difficult customer. It's about employers seeing their staff as human, and having human expectations. It's about allowing co workers to bond in a more natural fashion to create a more cohesive team.  It's about building brand advocacy by creating a great environment, as opposed to operating your business like a cult.

In truth, employees at low wage service jobs want to be treated better. They want good pay, benefits, holidays, stability, and for their employers and managers to know that they may just be there for the paycheck. Maybe if more employers considered raising wages over song-and-dance numbers they'd have a happier, more loyal work force.

For anyone who has worked at a low wage employer, have you had to engage in any of these "loyalty building" practices?

Like many people, I spent my late teens and early twenties bouncing between a variety of customer service jobs. For between £5 and £7 an hour I manned tills, waited tables, pulled pints and mixed cocktails with a forced pleasantness that in hindsight sometimes masked fairly disturbing thoughts about the misfortune I wished upon particularly unpleasant clientele.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely didn’t hate every customer. As I remember it, I felt either positive or neutral about the vast majority of them. Occasionally, though, it took every ounce of willpower to avoid either bursting into tears or telling people what I really thought about their obnoxious behaviour.

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That Seemingly Harmless Paper You Signed When You Were Hired Can Bite You in the Ass

business-962359_1280.jpgLet's talk about non-compete agreements. A non-compete is a contract you sign stating that if you were to leave an employer you won't work for one of their competitors for a stated period of time. Originally these agreements were intended to for higher-level positions to protect trade secrets and keep the playing field between companies level. Today they're used to lock low wage employees into jobs with whoever the agreement was signed for. Either stay at your job, or change careers altogether, or move out of town if you wish to work for someone else.

Stephanie Russel-Kraft shares her story, and the nature of the modern non-compete agreement, with Alternet. As a legal journalist, she left her entry level position with Law360 to work for Thompson Reuters, and was fired a couple months later for violating the non-compete she signed with Law 360. She took some accountability, stating she should have remembered the agreement when changing jobs, but more importantly she stressed how non-compete agreements stifle employment prospects for low wage workers and entry-level professionals in all industries.  

This isn't a rare thing, these agreements are becoming more prevalent. In fast food, Jimmy John's has a notorious non-compete agreement. Amazon warehouse workers have to sign these agreements, which can either bar or intimidate them out of working retail for other employers. Not even young professionals fresh out of college are immune, and some feel pressured to change careers altogether if they want to change employers. Mind you, not all of these agreements are 100% legal (in some states they're banned but still put into use by companies), and some lucky people are able to violate them with little to no penalty. In many cases they're simply used as an intimidation/bullying tactic.

Today's mass-market non-compete is broad, harsh, and targeted towards a company's most powerless workers. If companies want to preach the virtues of "free market", they need to realize that labor needs to be just as free, or it's not a true free market. If you are hired and have to sign a non-compete, read it carefully, take it to a lawyer, and if you agree to sign request a copy for your records. 

I showed up to work early on the morning of September 24 in order to squeeze in a round of calls before jury deliberations continued in the law firm fraud trial I was covering. Five hours later, I was packing up the desk I had only just moved into. I was fired after just weeks on the job because of a piece of paper I had blindly signed two years before.

The entire experience, which was covered earlier this month by the Wall Street Journal, was awful, embarrassing and financially stressful. But it’s also been incredibly illuminating.

After working at a subscription-based legal news site for two years, I took what I thought was the next logical step in my career: a reporting job at an international newswire. During my exit interview, I was reminded I had signed a non-compete agreement on my first day in 2013. I hadn’t been given a copy, so I had forgotten all about it in the interim. But knowing that many other reporters had gone on to work for various competitors, I didn’t think much of it. It never crossed my mind that my former employer would come after my new job once I was gone.

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