As Voltaire said, "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize." Who are we currently not allowed to criticize? The police of course! Questioning their policies, practices, and the recent lack of indictments for officers who have killed unarmed black citizens is considered anti-police. Here's the thing though, criticizing a corrupt institution does not equate to being against an institution. It just means there's room for improvement.
Alex S. Vitale's article for The Nation illustrates this exact point. You're not anti-park if you want a swing set repaired. You're not anti-retail either if you think a mega chain should pay its employees better, same goes for restaurants. Vitale's suggestions are ones that would help police departments improve relations with the public, and make police presence in communities more equitable across social classes. Many of these suggestions are along the lines of not targeting the poor or non-white. Protect and serve all citizens equally, remove punitive penalties for things like broken windows in poor neighborhoods, and have individual cops be held accountable when they break the laws they've been hired to stand for. Again, many police unions see these ideas as "anti-police".
While eyes are focused on New York City, as NYPD members have taken their own political protest against Mayor de Blasio for his sympathizing with both protesters and the families and friends of slain officers, Rochester has felt its own strain. A march organized by the city in response to the lack of indictment for Darren Wilson was initially cancelled (and picked up by B.L.A.C.K.) after backlash against Mayor Warren and the city with accusations of being "anti-police" despite the RPD's involvement in its organizing. A week later a pro-police rally organized by conservative radio host Bob Lonsberry was also canceled (and privately picked up). The RPD had encouraged the cancellation of this one, with some public outcry about the "bad guys winning", even with people including local religious leaders citing that Lonsberry's actions would only raise tensions between poor, black communities in the city and the police.
Do you think Vitale's suggestions would improve police forces? Neighborhoods? The relations between the public and police? Personally I think background checks that screen for things like hate group membership/affiliation would help, as well as performance records/history from work in previous departments being seriously taken into account.
(Photo credit: Elvert Barnes, from Justice for Mike Brown protest outside White House, August 2014)
In the wake of the horrific killing of two NYPD officers, police union officials and their political allies have worked to isolate and vilify police accountability and racial justice activists. By claiming that the shooter was motivated by the protests they argue both that the protests should be suppressed and that there is no space for public criticism of the police. Both of these are profoundly troubling claims.
So far the policing of the protests in New York and many parts of the country have been tolerant and flexible and have helped to maintain the overall nonviolent character of the protests. The notable exceptions being Ferguson and Berkeley, where in both cases dissent was pre-emptively suppressed in a way that directly contributed to the outbreak of violence and property destruction.
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We have reached a milestone in the Fight For $15 movement, the National Labor Relations Board is holding McDonald's accountable for retaliatory actions taken by franchisers against employees participating in labor protests. Granted, this is just one fast food chain being held accountable, but McDonald's is also the largest, most well known fast food chain in the country. This decision could help set precedents for other fast food chains, especially chains with franchise holders. Sarah Lazare's article for Common Dreams details the reasoning behind this decision, and how McDonald's is taking it.
Many fast food companies license out franchises. Owners will purchase a franchise, and be able to sell product under a parent corporation's name. That corporation will provide access to resources such as equipment, ingredients, uniforms, policy handbooks, etc. Said corporation will have a say in how a franchise is run for the sake of consistency, like how all McDonald's sell Big Macs. Variations in supply that are allowed, are usually based on local customer demand. Now where this ruling plays in, is in how much McDonald's as a corporation has an influence on McDonald's as a franchise.
With this ruling to protect the right to organize for McDonald's workers, it's a matter of time before other fast food workers can feel equally protected regardless of which company they ultimately work under. Their right to organize is already protected by law, but there's some extra oomph when the corporation they work for can be held accountable for the actions of their franchise owners. How are you supporting our fast food workers? Have you joined any of the protests? Are you boycotting fast food?
(Image: Rebecca from the East Ridge Wendy's and AJ from the Mount Hope Burger King at one of our early December fast food strikes.)
Marking another victory for fast food workers who have staged strikes and protests across the United States, the National Labor Relations Board announced Friday it is taking joint legal action against McDonald's Corporation and several franchisees for violating employees' rights to organize.
The NLRB declared in a press release released Friday that it is issuing 13 complaints involving 78 charges of alleged wrongdoing against the fast food giant for "taking actions against [workers] for engaging in activities aimed at improving their wages and working conditions, including participating in nationwide fast food worker protests about their terms and conditions of employment during the past two years."
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Causes intersect, where one disadvantaged group is pained, another is also pained. This has been emphasized in many of the recent protests against police brutality. While the root of police killings is racial, economic injustice is cited as an endemic problem that affects people in poverty regardless of race. From a racial perspective, racial injustice makes people more vulnerable to economic injustice. People like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice lived in poor neighborhoods where employment was low, income for those who were employed was low, and greater society didn't bat an eye.
Les Leopold's article for Alternet is an in-depth look at the economic injustice issues that perpetuate racism. His main focus is the criminal justice system in relation to poverty, poor neighborhoods vs. gentrified, high unemployment, a growing prison industrial complex, and Wall Street greed. Combined with our country's dismal racial history and we see just how broken our system is.
One issue I wish was included in this article was education. Education in itself is a large issue, but some factors tie in with economic issues. Graduation rates and poor funding for public schools, especially in urban areas, play a factor that lead to young people turning to underground employment. The rise in publicly funded charter schools also plays a factor in the dwindling budgets of public education. A major part of what factors in projected prison populations is how black students are faring in our public education system. When you look at poor quality schools and low graduation rates for black youth, it seems the cards are stacked against them early on. (photo credit: Rochester die-in on intersection of Clinton and Court St.)
On one level the story is simple: racism. Too many police officers fear people of color in the neighborhoods they patrol, and are likely to over-react with force during encounters. The local courts also engage in discrimination by failing to indict the killers, even when captured on video, as in the brutal police slaying of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY. Both the policing and the court system obviously reflect the polarization of our communities, and our inability to escape the legacy of slavery, more than 150 years after emancipation.
But racism only accounts for part of the story. We also must understand how judicial racism and even police violence are deeply connected to the financialization of the economy and runaway inequality.
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These past couple weeks have seen a resurgence in protests, between the killers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner not facing indictment, and last week's national fast food strikes. As many of you know, Metro Justice has also been busy covering these protests in our own city either by assisting or being present. Nathalie Baptiste's article for The American Prospect takes a closer look at recent protests, and remind us we are seeing a new wave in the civil rights movement.
What stands out the most to me is the reason why people gather. First Amendment right to assembly is the obvious answer. The other, more subtle answer, is because protesting is accessible. Not everyone is eloquent or brave enough to lobby for change, and petitions can feel passive. Issues like crimes against justice feel overwhelming to the individual, leaving many to ask, "What can I do?" All you need for a protest is your presence in the crowd. All of those individuals gathering together adds up. The more people gather, the stronger their collective voice becomes. From there, you learn what else can be done.
Protesting creates community, something I felt when I attended the Black Lives Matter rally held the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I was in a group of mostly strangers, but I felt a bond as signs were passed around, as people sang and chanted, and we all affirmed the value of Rochester's black community as human beings. I would like to ask if you have attended a protest recently? What are your thoughts about protesting, and the forceful presence of law enforcement in other cities?
(Photo from November 30 Black Lives Matter rally, courtesy of author)
At the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, the president and his family sought a moment of lightness. It was not to be had. The street in front of the White House was filled with demonstrators, who had blocked off highly-trafficked thoroughfares after the justice system once again failed to call police to account for the killing of yet another unarmed black person: Eric Garner, who died when a New York City police officer pushed Garner to the ground, wrapped his hands around the black man’s neck, and held them there while the man gasped for air. As traditional Christmas songs blared from speakers on the White House South Lawn, protesters chanted. “All I Want For Christmas” drew a spontaneous response: “All I want for Christmas is justice!”
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It's really no surprise to learn that Darren Wilson will not be indicted. Personally, I knew the verdict when I learned that National Guard forces would be stationed in Ferguson. Anyone who can put 2 and 2 together knows that the military industrial complex was preparing itself for the the shit hitting the fan.
Ron Jacobs in his Counter Punch article believes the same. Wilson walking free was inevitable judging by the level of corruption in our system. Not to mention how our culture has romanticized the white male power fantasy of the good-guy cop, or the dashing secret agent. The reality of such figures being anything but glamorous applies to anyone who is outside of the wealthy, white, cishet (cisgender heterosexual), male demographic. If you fall outside of this demographic then views on the police usually range from apathetic, where those meant to "serve and protect" brush off concerns for your safety, to menacing, where you fear for your life.
What is happening right now is important. Michael Brown isn't the only unarmed black male to have been killed by police. Rochester has its own police brutality problem. Rochester has a racial disparity problem, something glaringly obvious if you read recent local poverty reports. We as citizens need to stand up and say enough is enough. We need to demand accountability and body cameras for officers. We need to demand that Constitutional rights are there for ALL citizens, and not just wealthy white men.
What are you going to do?
(photo credit: "Protesters with signs in Ferguson" by Jamelle Bouie - File available on Flickr here as a set. This is the individual photo.. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Did you really believe Darren Wilson was going to be indicted for murdering Michael Brown? Did you think a cop was going to face a trial for gunning down a young man he thought should be arrested? Do you think the law treats all people equally-civilian and cop, rich and poor, black and white? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have been watching too much television. From the crime drama Law and Order to FoxNews and CNN the viewer is fed a constant storyline that portrays cops as heroes in a system that is ultimately fair, despite the fact that that fairness sometimes lets bad guys go.
If one listened carefully to the prosecutor McCulloch during his presentation to the media announcing the failure to indict Wilson, he seemed to be saying that there was never much likelihood that an indictment would be produced. Police officers, he said, are given much more leeway than civilians when it comes to shooting people. Recent history certainly proves this. It seems that all a cop has to do is “fear for his safety” and he can fire at will. Like James Bond in the 007 series, a police badge is a license to kill. If one adds the elements of race—an element that is part and parcel of the US system of justice and law enforcement—even greater leeway is provided to the police. Like the Supreme Court wrote over a century ago, African-Americans have “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
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Just as the headline says, more children than ever are homeless. Children are our most vulnerable population, because they're the population most prone to the whims of society. The accountability politics of the far right act in a manner that says they're to atone for the mistakes of their parents (unemployment, underemployment, "laziness" "moral irresponsibility"). Children are vulnerable to the abuse of adults, despite laws to protect their safety. Children are also vulnerable to poor health from dire circumstances because they are still physically and psychologically developing.
Jon Queally's Common Dreams breakdown of the latest report goes in depth with the statistics and detriments of a high rate of child homelessness. The average numbers are sobering when compared to previous reports. In 2006 only 1 in 50 children annually faced homelessness. The report states we went up to 1 in 30 in 2013 with no sign of that statistic improving. One in thirty children at some point in 2013 either spent time in a shelter or on the street. Other factors were taken into account including geography, race, policy, and domestic violence.
Most saddening of all is the impact that homelessness has on childrens' health. Children are more like to fall physically ill when homeless, and more likely to develop mental illness from the stress. The mental health part is important, as that will affect the rest of that child's life. Now think about that in our own community, eleventh highest in the nation, where homelessness is being addressed by various shelters (unfortunately few serve families and many are sex segregated), nonprofits, fundraisers, and advocacy groups. We even have had our own Tent City since the Civic Center Garage closed its doors to the homeless. Right now they are in need of tents and blankets.
We need to do something to not just put a roof over people's heads, we need long term solutions. We need more family-welcoming shelters for the immediate, and we need to push for affordable housing and sustainable employment. Metro Justice has already committed to fighting for a $15 minimum wage, which will lift numerous families out of poverty. How will you help the homeless? Share your ideas in the comments.
(Image credit: Valerie Everett shared under Creative Commons)
The annual levels of homelessness among children have never been higher in the United States, according to a new comprehensive report released on Monday.
Prepared by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the report—America’s Youngest Outcasts (pdf)—shows that with poverty and inequality soaring in recent years, approximately 2.5 million children in 2013 found themselves without a roof over their head or place to call home. That number equals one in 30 American children nationally, and constitutes an 8 percent increase over the previous year.
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Being poor is expensive in many ways. When you can only afford cheap items, you sacrifice quality and have to replace more frequently. Rent to own with the intent to eventually own leads to the consumer paying 300-400% for an item than if they were able to purchase from a store. Check cashing services usually take a cut, hurting those without bank accounts. Food deserts, places with no grocery stores, often lead shoppers to buy grocery items at a higher than average price from convenience stores. Some employers issue paychecks through debit cards in joint deals with multinational banks. These cards have high usage fees which slowly siphon off of income. Don't forget predatory lending practices for home loans.
What do all of these things have in common? They're all tied to major businesses turning a profit off the poor. Companies actively prey upon poor consumers who are just seeking basic needs. Brett Williams further explores this in his article for Inequality.org, sharing the stories of a few young adults in the Washington D.C. area who are living in poverty. These stories are the reality for many Americans, including people right here in Rochester. Many of us have seen the advertisements on ways to alleviate poverty, "Cash for gold" shops dotted across the city limits, "Cash for houses" signs hammered to utility poles.
Williams suggests the best way to end this vicious cycle would be to invest in ways to lift people out of poverty. To create businesses with jobs that bring people a sustainable wage, and a sustainable community. Unfortunately the problem runs deeper when you consider Wall Street. Can we lift people out of poverty through sustainable development? Is the problem so deep we have to change society as a whole to lift up the poor? How can we hold Wall Street's predators accountable?
(Photo credit: Daniel Oines, Flickr. Shared under Creative Commons.)
For the last three years I’ve been following young people born in the 1990s who are struggling to come of age in D.C. As an anthropologist, I believe the details of their everyday lives reveal how inequality works. I follow their struggles to find jobs and housing, to get school-like credentials, and to stay out of jail.
Staying out of jail is not as easy as it sounds: most of them have done at least a little time. One young man is in jail now after trying to hop the Metro, being saddled with an ankle bracelet because he couldn’t pay the $75 fine, and then missing his court date because he had no fixed address. Getting school-like credentials is hard too—various online scams for for-profit schools derail them often. One young woman has thrown hundreds of dollars into a quest for a degree in forensics.
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Every year during the holiday season pundits declare that there's a "War on Christmas". Usually this war is related to the accommodation of spiritual and cultural plurality. What about a "War on Thanksgiving"? Christmas decorations hit stores before Halloween. Our popular culture forgets Thanksgiving's existence until a week or so before. Black Friday shopping has also crept in, in recent years starting as early as 6pm Thanksgiving. Gives a whole new look to Normal Rockwell's "Freedom from Want", where an idyllic family gathers together for a turkey dinner, having plenty and enjoying one-another's company.
This year, Kmart plans on opening 6am on Thanksgiving. Kmart is expecting people to work, and people not working to go out and buy. For some workers the holiday pay may be a blessing, extra money to assure ends are met at the sacrifice of valuable family time. Either way, it's a holiday that is being taken over by the Commercialization of Christmas. Bryce Covert for ThinkProgress discusses the impact of stores opening early, as well as listing the stores that have chosen to close Thanksgiving.
Black Friday is an economic justice issue. Retail work is considered minimum wage labor, especially for those working at big box stores like Kmart. Some stores mandate working on holidays in hope of raking in extra profit by opening earlier. Other stores offer these shifts voluntarily, which are then taken by people who have the choice of time with their family, or making sure their family has their needs met. If you're not strapped for cash and stuck working, it's a reminder that you are one of society's have-nots, undeserving of the luxury of time off for a major holiday.
Of course there are alternatives to Black Friday shopping. Creative people can make gifts for their loved ones. You can always buy from independent mom-and-pop stores. You can also go to our Alternative Fair December 5th and 6th, where you can buy hand made and eco-friendly gifts from independent vendors. Supporting local business is great for the economy!
Kmart will open its doors for Black Friday shopping a whole day early, starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day itself. Stores will remain open for 42 straight hours, closing at midnight on Friday, November 28.
Sears stores, which are owned by the same company, will also open that day — although later, with hours starting at 6 p.m. The company noted, however, that Kmart and Sears stores in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island won’t open, given their respective state laws that prohibit big box stores, department stores, and large supermarkets from opening on the holiday.
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The Fight For $15 movement is growing, and Walmart is the latest minimum wage employer to feel the pressure. Last week major protests were held demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage. Walmart is the largest employer in the U.S., and OUR Walmart is one of the first organizations to spring up in today's labor rights movement.
Last week's protests were held in major cities (and outside the homes of Walton family members) demanding that Walmart raise their wages and provide benefits. This is something we've been active with in the fast food industry. Michelle Chen's article in The Nation takes a closer look at the movement, as well as the economic impact Walmart has on workers and taxpayers alike.
A higher minimum wage won't help every household, but it's a start, and the benefits will lift countless people out of poverty and ease social services. You can volunteer and support our own Fight for $15 movement if you want to help. If you have any thoughts on minimum wage, minimum wage employers, or how to help further our campaign for a $15 minimum wage please share in the comments.
(photo credit: Neon Tommy on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
For a moment last week, it looked like Walmart CEOs were getting enlightened. The company promised to “end minimum-wage pay” for its lowest-paid sales workers and touted a plan to ‘”invest in its associate base” and maybe even offer more bonus opportunities. But though these moves might help the several thousand associates earning the absolute legal minimum of $7.25 an hour, the real problem is that hundreds of thousands of Walmart workers earn just above that level and still struggle to survive (the average sales associate’s hourly wage is just under $9). In addition to poverty wages, workers have suffered cuts to benefits and exhausting, erratic schedules.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Walmart workers once again voiced their demands for decent work with demonstrations and civil disobedience in New York City; Washington, DC; and Phoenix. They delivered a petition demanding better working conditions, now signed by Walmart workers at more than 1,600 stores nationwide, to the homes of members of the Walton dynasty and the offices of their foundation.
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It's been a year since the Affordable Care Act kicked off its initial enrollment period. This controversial act was put in place to assure every citizen had access to health care coverage. While some of us are facing the sticker shock of high-deductible plans, others have been able to access life saving coverage that at one time was out-of-reach due to cost or pre-existing condition lockout.
The ACA is not without flaws, again the sticker-shock of high deductibles, but it's a step in the right direction. It's also a reminder to us that sometimes the measures we label as socialist are the ones that keep not only ourselves, but our economy healthy. It's also a reminder that many of the Act's citizen opponents are the very people who would benefit most under it.
Sheila Suss Kennedy's article for Inequality.org is a great reminder that we are not purely Capitalist or Socialist as a government. Our society is a mix. Kennedy also reminds us that Socialism itself isn't a dirty word, as it is made out to be by opponents of ACA and government social programs.
The ACA isn't perfect, what do you think could be done to improve it? Do you think a different system, like single-payer, is better for addressing the healthcare crisis?
(Image Credit: by Tax Rebate .org .uk, licensed under Creative Commons)
We increasingly use words as epithets, rather than as a way to describe reality. This is most pronounced in our political life, where terms like “liberal” — which used to mean “open minded,” “generous,” or a follower of the philosophy of John Locke — became an insult to be hurled at people who favor a marginally more activist government. When “liberal” lost its sting, partisans moved on to “socialist.” The problem is that few people using the term seem to know what socialism is. Sometimes a socialist solution to a problem can actually be good for capitalism (another system which few can define with any precision), and very good for ameliorating inequality.
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