Columbus Day was this week. For many of us this is just another day off from school, or work if we hold an office job. Columbus Day became an official holiday in the 1930s when the Knights of Columbus wanted to brand Columbus as a hero for Catholic youth. Before then celebrations centered around Columbus were developed to instill patriotism. Many Italian Americans observe Columbus Day as a day to celebrate their heritage.
Anyone who has read or heard of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States knows that exploration came at a price. Columbus wasn't the benevolent explorer of our children's books. A fact that is becoming more publicly discussed. In counter, people now observe such days as Indigenous People's Day, or World Culture Day to recognize and honor native populations.
To this day Native Americans are facing challenges laid out by Western imperialism. Bryce Covert's article on Think Progress gives us some grim statistics regarding health, unemployment, education, and poverty among Native Americans. A population that was once dominant in this country has been reduced to racial minority, a minority we don't hear much about. Take this as a reminder that racial justice benefits all minority races.
(Image Credit: Robbt, licensed through Creative Commons)
Every year, many schools and businesses across the country close on the second Monday in October to celebrate the Italian Christopher Columbus’s arrival in what are now called the Americas on October 12, 1942, or the “discovery” of America. Of course, Native Americans were already here. And Columbus, while remembered as a hero by many, was brutal to the native people. In his quest to find gold, he enslaved them, working thousands to death; brutalized them; and murdered them.
The native population was nearly wiped out. In A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn writes, “In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.” Columbus’s efforts amounted to genocide. Native people “were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands,” Zinn writes. “By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks [on the Bahamas] or their descendants left on the island.”
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Charles and David Koch are two of the wealthiest, and most powerful, people in the US. These two men are the brains behind the Tea Party Movement, Americans for Prosperity, and a slew of other pro-1% organizations. They're active in everything from voter suppression to climate change denial. They're also huge racists.
Terrell Jermaine Starr's article for Alternet is a list of seven things the Koch Brothers have done that work against racial equality. These range from attacks against the AARP to their stance against raising the minimum wage. While many of these measures would hurt everyone, racial minorities are at the largest economic disadvantage of things like Social Security and labor unions were to disappear. Now more than ever we are seeing just how unequal our country is with the unrest in Ferguson. Protests are still being held, and police are still intimidating protesters. While far away from Ferguson, Rochester has its own racial disparity issues, including a higher than average rate of poverty.
The best way to take power away from the Koch Brothers and their ilk, and promote civil rights is to vote. Review candidates in your district and select ones who stand for social justice and equality. If you haven't registered yet, please do. We're also looking for volunteers to canvass the Northeastern part of the city to get people registered in time for this year's election. If you wish to help with that, or in any other way, visit our volunteer page!
Photo credit: Clyde Robinson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Charles and David Koch are notorious for amassing a business empire well-known for destroying the environment and hijacking the political process to ram their privatization and business agenda on the country. But what is equally egregious about their political activities are their efforts to dismantle years of civil rights progress. The Bridge Project, a non-profit organization devoted to "opposing the conservative movement's extremem ideology and exposing its dishonest tactics," recently released a 16-page report on the Koch brothers' funding of groups that have been accused of suppressing minority voter turnout, destroying unions (particularly in Wisconsin) and attempting to get rid of Social Security.
Here are seven jaw-droppers from the report:
1. Kochs' union-busting efforts hurt African American mobility.
Though unions have been known to increase the economic mobility of African-American workers, Koch-funded organizations have been very active in destroying anything that's left of them. Koch-backed organizations like Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Reason Foundation have long viewed public sector unions with disdain. In 2011, collective bargaining was ended in Wisconsin after the state legislature passed Act 10.
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In Political System Disconnected From Society's Ills, Remedies Pushed to the Fringes of Public Debate
Citizens are angry. We are angry about the destruction of our environment, stagnant wages, bottom-line-profit driven employers, continued systematic oppression including racism, denial of services for women's health, rape culture, and the list goes on. Movements from Occupy to Ferguson are met with authorities attempting to silence their voices through violation of the First Amendment right to peaceful assembly. Politicians when met with these issues, either beat around the bush or place full blame on those speaking out.
Where are our lawmakers? Many of them are deadlocked in party vs. party posturing. They're either obstructing something, or arguing theory without practical application. The few who do take time to address the public have things to say like, "If you didn't want a minimum wage job, you should have aspired for better!". The rest, the ones who could make change, are too chicken to speak in favor of their constituents, or potential constituents.
Robert Kuttner's article for The American Prospect explores this disconnect between government and citizens. Back in the not-so-good "good old days", movements were eventually listened to. Things aren't perfect, but change happened in leaps and bounds. In those years, America had long term prosperity and progress. Social movements, even when initially met with opposition, broke ground for progress. Civil rights led to the end of open racial discrimination, labor movements led to unions, suffrage led to women getting the right to vote.
What will this disconnect mean for those running for office this year? What will it mean for voters? How can we be sure that the people we vote into office this November are proactive in being the voice of their constituents?
(Photo credit: K. Kendall, from Occupy Portland, October 2011.)
For half a century beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, there was a direct connection between the problems that afflicted American society and the remedies on offer from our democratic system.
High unemployment? The New Deal, the World War II mobilization, and the postwar boom took care of that.
Stagnant wages? With unions, growing productivity, minimum wage laws, and other regulation of labor standards, American real wages tripled.
Education? The G.I. bill, massive investment in public universities, community colleges, and later in public elementary and secondary education produced a better educated and more productive population. And until the 1980s, public higher education was practically free.
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Reproductive choices are a damned if you do damned if you don't situation. Motherhood is seen as a societal expectation that all women aspire for, and is treated as a coveted status in our popular culture. Real life on the other hand is a different story, especially for the working woman. Employers actively justify lower pay and fewer promotions for women under the logic, "They'll just get pregnant and leave". For women who are pregnant and on the job, it's a struggle to assure that health and comfort are accommodated, especially for workers in the service industry.
Stephanie Mencimer's article in Mother Jones titled "This Supreme Court Case Will Decide Whether Companies Can Treat Pregnant Women Like Crap" looks into the history of workplace pregnancy discrimination, and the upcoming Supreme Court case filed by Peggy Young, who in 2008 was forced on over six months of unpaid leave by her employer UPS because she was pregnant. All requests for department changes that would accommodate her inability to do heavy lifting went ignored, as her pregnancy was classified as an "out of work injury". Mencimer also noted that this is a rare case where advocates from both sides of the abortion debate are agreeing on something, that the working world makes the choice to carry pregnancies a challenge to health and personal freedom of choice.
Some of you may remember that the ninth point of the still to be passed Women's Equality Act is a bill to end pregnancy discrimination. This bill would include relief from heavy lifting, more bathroom breaks, stools to sit on when needed, etc. as protected accommodations. Such accommodations ensure the comfort and safety of both mother and child. As illustrated in the article, current laws have been twisted and used against women under the line "you're being treated like everybody else, and your accommodations would discriminate against men".
The biggest concern with Young's case is that SCOTUS will rule in favor of UPS. Recent history has shown that many of their decisions have ruled in favor against women, including the recent Hobby Lobby ruling, ruling against Lily Ledbetter, and ruling in favor of clinic protesters.
We are still fighting to get the Women's Equality Act passed in New York State, and we need your help to do it! Visit our WEA site to learn more and sign up!
It's a rare day when pro-choice activists, anti-abortion diehards, and evangelical Christians all file briefs on the same side of a Supreme Court case. But that's what happened recently when the National Association of Evangelicals, Americans United for Life, Democrats for Life of America, and the National Women's Law Center joined forces to support Peggy Young, a Maryland woman alleging that she was the victim of pregnancy discrimination.
Young was a driver for the shipping giant UPS, where she'd worked for about seven years. In 2006, she took some time off to undergo in vitro fertilization in the hopes of getting pregnant. She succeeded and eventually went back to work, where an occupational health manager told her she had to submit a doctor's note about work restrictions. She provided a midwife recommendation that she not lift more than 20 pounds while pregnant.
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Football season is underway, and the NFL is dealing with the recent suspension and removal of Ray Rice from the Ravens after a video surfaced of Rice assaulting his now-wife Janay. With the Rice Video made public at a time when the NFL is working to grow their viewership among women there is a PR scramble to show the NFL taking the issue of domestic violence seriously. Football is a sport that's seen as sacred in American culture. High schools take immense pride in their teams, colleges too. The NFL itself is a highly-lucrative nonprofit. In many cases players are treated as if they can do no wrong, and if they do wrong, they're to be protected at any cost.
Tracy Treu gives us an inside look at the culture of the NFL wife, a role where protecting and preserving image is everything. Her story, shared by former employer Mother Jones, reveals a world of cultural isolation, where silence is everything, especially if you wish to ensure your husband keeps his job and your financial security.
With the NFL stepping up to address domestic violence we can only hope their newfound accountability is sincere, and not just a PR campaign to appeal to women. We can only hope this incident sheds more light on the issue of domestic violence as well, including instances when those abused choose to stay. What can we do to spread awareness, and offer greater help to those in abusive situations?
I'm so fed up by people blaming Janay Rice. We're asking for incredible bravery, and we're giving little compassion to this woman. Because it's so easy to say: "Well, she's the fool who married him. Why doesn't she just leave?" There are just so many components to it that people aren't aware of.
The NFL is a culture that values secrecy. When you're with an NFL team, the message to you is clear: Don't fuck anything up for your partner, and don't fuck anything up for the team. Don't be controversial. Don't talk to the media. Stay out of the way. Support the player and be quiet.
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It has been one month since police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown, and the people of Ferguson are still waiting for something to be done about it. What happened in Ferguson is a glaring example of what's happening everywhere in America, including our own back yard. Our "post-racial" society, is still very much racist, and still very much brutal to black people. Being black is still treated as an automatic mark of guilt, even with such progresses as equal-opportunity and our first black President.
Our own Police Department has come under scrutiny for racial profiling, brutality, and intimidating protest presence in recent years. Most famous recent example is the attack of Brenda Hardaway, who was pregnant at the time of her arrest. There was also the arrest of three teens last November, their crime? Waiting for the bus. Fortunately charges were dropped after the story made national headlines. A quick search of police brutality in Western NY brings up other incidents and scathing criticism against police departments.
Police brutality is just a slice of how racism manifests in today's America, as shown in Bob Herbert's article posted both in Policy Shop and The American Prospect. Other things like the recent change to the Voting Rights Act, poverty in minority neighborhoods, and the majority of critical comments about President Obama that either include, or just come short of using racial slurs show a country that is still deeply racist.
How should we address modern day racism? What can we do to hold police forces more accountable for their actions to assure they serve and protect all citizens? How can we make sure that even if an arrest is warranted, that unwarranted force is taken out of the process? Some communities have drafted laws enforcing officers to wear cameras at all time as a means to monitor their behavior, is that an appropriate route? Read the article and share your thoughts in the comments.
(Photo Credit: Debra Sweet, from the Howard University Protest against police brutality. Licensed under Creative Commons.)
I remember the stunned reaction of so many Americans back in the summer of 2005 when legions of poor black people in desperate circumstances seemed to have suddenly and inexplicably materialized in New Orleans during the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina.
Expressions of disbelief poured in from around the nation: “How can this be happening?” “I had no idea conditions were that bad.” “My God, is this America?”
People found themselves staring at the kind of poverty they thought had been largely wiped out decades earlier. President George W. Bush seemed as astonished as anyone. He made an eerie, oddly-lit, outdoor appearance in the city’s French Quarter on the evening of September 15 to announce that his administration would wage an all-out fight against the economic distress that continued to plague so many African Americans.
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With today being largest national day of fast-food strikes in protest of our current dismal minimum wage this article comes as no surprise. Momentum for a $15 an hour wage has been growing for over a year, and with this year's midterm elections the length of the battle could be determined by who goes into office.
What we really need to remind our culture is that this is an ongoing effort that requires active support for the long haul. Many movements feel come and go in our culture, which seems to have a short-term attention span at times. John Nichols, writing for The Nation, reminds us this. Nichols also gives us a peek into the legislative aspect of the minimum wage movement, and who to nudge for support. If anything is to be accomplished, advocates for minimum wage workers have to consistently stand by them. Not to discount the power of the vote, but as a reminder that a tandem approach is best.
We would like to sincerely thank everyone who joined us during today's strike. For any of you who were unable to make it, there are other ways you can support workers. Opportunities to volunteer or join us for events are listed on the Get Involved page of our website.
(photo credit: Annette Bernhardt, from NYC Fast Food Strike held July 30, 2013)
President Obama launched the fall campaign season with a robust call for increasing the minimum wage.
“If you work full time in America, you shouldn’t be living in poverty, you shouldn’t be trying to support a family in poverty,” Obama told thousands of cheering union members in Milwaukee, adding, “There is no denying the simple truth: America deserves a raise.”
The president wasn’t trying to convince the American people. They know that increasing the minimum wage is necessary to address income inequality and the injustice of a circumstance where millions of American families are struggling because their hard work is not adequately compensated. A poll conducted last summer for the National Employment Law Project Action Fund found that 80 percent of Americans surveyed favor a $10.10-an-hour wage floor. Ninety-two percent of Democrats favor the increase, as do 80 percent of independents and 62 percent of Republicans.
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In February it was announced that Comcast is seeking a merger with Time Warner Cable. Comcast and Time Warner are the two largest television and internet providers in the Country, meaning that a merge between both would create a media superpower. Comcast states the merger would improve service, as well as expand affordable service to rural areas. Critics say that it would make Comcast too powerful by giving them the power to cut down smaller competitors, as well as give them free reign to do as they wish with their services. The merger still needs some approvals through FCC and Department of Justice before it can be allowed. Until then, consumers have been speaking out.
Economically this raises concerns. Current rural customers are unhappy with Comcast's services, including their supposedly-affordable prices. Both companies rank dismally in customer service satisfaction. There's the not-so-covert efforts by Comcast to undermine net neutrality and workers' rights as well. Plus concerns that such a merge would open the doors for future mergers between large companies, putting more money and power into the hands of mega-sized corporations while taking away power from the consumer.
Sarah Lazare of Common Dreams explores these concerns, citing how numerous social groups and consumers have demanded that this merger be blocked. What are your thoughts? Would this merger open the door for mega-sized corporations to further take power away from the consumer? Would it aid in the end of small providers who would either merge with larger companies or shut down?
Please note, the FCC Public Comment period for this issue are now closed.
(Image Credit: May 21st protest outside the Comcast Annual Shareholder's Meeting in Philadelphia. Photo by Joe Piette.)
Sixty-five consumer, social justice, and media reform organizations on Monday released anopen letter urging the Federal Communications Commission to reject the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable on the basis that it would "inevitably lead to unprecedented gatekeeper control over our nation’s telecommunications and media landscape."
The letter was timed for the final day of the FCC's public comment period, which concludes Monday at midnight.Read more
For the past week and a half eyes have been on Ferguson, MO, where in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown protesters have been clashing with police forces. Brown, who was unarmed, has become the latest victim in a line of young black men who have been killed by police on questionable grounds. In response to protests by community members in Ferguson, police forces have been using rubber bullets and tear gas as well as military vehicles. Journalists have been arrested for on scene reporting, leaving their role to citizen journalists on social media to report first-hand what it's like to be in the midst of a tense situation and Constitutional nightmare.
Tensions in Ferguson are decades old with Brown's shooting being the last straw. The majority of Ferguson's population is black, and poor. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, makes note of this, and the bigger economic picture in this piece he penned for Time. Abdul-Jabbar argues that poverty is the bigger issue we need to tackle, and that many of the issues that can intersectionally be under that umbrella (race, sexuality, gender rights) have been used to manipulate and distract the poor from their overall economic oppression through pitting the poor against one another. He notes we are aware of economic oppression, noting the recent popularity in Dystopian themed franchises like The Hunger Games, but do little to fight it as a whole.
There is no denying that poor vs. poor exists. The blue collar employee who makes a barely living wage sneering at a family on welfare being an everyday example. The largest example is the Tea Party movement, a movement of the economically oppressed acting as the social muscle of an organization orchestrated by mega-billionaires to meet their own personal interests. Progressives joke that they're just a group of racist, sexist, homophobes who get duped by Faux news all the time, but they're just as poor, if not more poor, than the rest of us.
The real question is if Abdul-Jabbar's call to action is possible? Can everyone living under economic disadvantage cast aside differences to stand against a common oppressor? Is that asking for too much in a nation where citizens are deeply impassioned by their social stances on issues? Is he ignoring the impact that issues such as race have on poverty?
(photo credit: Elvert Barnes Photography, licensed under Creative Commons)
Will the recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, be a tipping point in the struggle against racial injustice, or will it be a minor footnote in some future grad student’s thesis on Civil Unrest in the Early Twenty-First Century?
The answer can be found in May of 1970.
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Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police
by Mia McKenzie
A Black person is murdered by cops, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes every 28 hours in the U.S. The killing of an unarmed Black teenager named Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, which has resulted in protests in that town and harsh police push-back and brutality against even more of its citizens, and which, via social media, has gotten the attention of people around the world, probably isn’t even the latest occurrence, at just three days old.
Talking to people on Twitter about Mike Brown and what’s happening in Ferguson right now, I’ve noticed (again) how easily folks get distracted when Black people are murdered by the police. It seems as though every detail is more interesting, more important, more significant—including looting of a Walmart in Ferguson, which a local Fox news station focused its entire coverage on—than the actual life that was taken by police.
So, to get folks back on track to focus on what matters most here—the killing of yet another unarmed Black teenager—I’ve compiled this list of 6 Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By the Police.
1. Over-Simplified Talk of “Riots”
According to media outlets and some residents, there’s been rioting in Ferguson since the killing of unarmed teenager Mike Brown. There have been reports of peaceful protests turning less than peaceful, with people confronting cops, throwing things at them, etc. I don’t know if the stories of rioting are true. Most of the video I’ve seen of Ferguson shows the protesters themselves gathered or marching relatively calmly. Angry sometimes, sure. But anger is a perfectly normal response to your unarmed teenage neighbor being gunned down in the street by police (police who have now showed up at your peaceful protest with attack dogs and riot gear).
But let’s get something straight: a community pushing back against a murderous police force that is terrorizing them is not a “riot”. It’s an uprising. It’s a rebellion. It’s a community saying We can’t take this anymore. We won’t take it. It’s people who have been dehumanized to the point of rightful rage. And it happens all over the world. Uprisings and rebellions are necessary and inevitable, locally and globally. This is not to say that actual riots don’t happen. White folks riot at sporting events, for example. Riots happen. But people rising up in righteous anger and rage in the face of oppression should not be dismissed as simply a “riot”.
Don’t be distracted by terms like “rioting”. Whether you’re for or against uprising and rebellion (side-eye if you’re against it, though), it’s a tool, not the issue itself.
The issue is yet another Black teenager murdered by police. His name was Mike Brown.
Looting is often part of the “rioting” narrative. Peaceful protests that turn violent are often accompanied by looting. During the first night of the Ferguson protests there was looting reported at various locations nearby. Looting—stealing merchandise from vandalized businesses during a protest—happens separate from the actual protest taking place and its actual organizers and participants in every case I’ve ever heard about, anywhere, ever. Looting is often an opportunists’ game.
Looting, too, is about power. When people have nothing and something happens to remind them, in a big way, that what little they do have can be taken away in an instant, including their lives and the lives of their children, they may reach for any semblance of power or control they can get. That might mean breaking a window or even starting a fire. It may mean taking something. Something you’ve been told you can’t have because you’re not human enough to live, let alone prosper.
Also (and this important), looting as a crime is NOT on par with the taking of someone’s life. Property is not a life. In this country, police protect property while killing human beings. Sometimes they, as well as civilians, kill human beings in order to protect property. That’s wrong. That’s savagery.
Whatever you think of looting, though, remember this: it’s not the issue, either.