Justice Is Indivisible

Dianne Feeley

Professor Rabab Abdulhadi gave this presentation on the situation in Palestine and the growth of the global solidarity movement to a webinar on Tuesday, August 25, 2020 sponsored by the Detroit branch of Solidarity, Jewish Voice for Peace – Detroit, U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) – Detroit and Palestinian Youth Movement – Detroit. Dr. Abdulhadi emphasized the importance at this critical time of movements coming together to oppose racism and colonialism everywhere, from the USA to Palestine. She particularly noted the solidarity and mutual support shown by #Black Lives Matter and Palestinian struggling under Israeli occupation, and the growing support for Palestine in the progressive sectors of the Jewish community, among organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace as well as Queer Jewish activists.

The brutal treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, made even worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, is a point of special concern as are conditions in U.S. prisons and the horrific situations in immigrant detention centers.

The presentation was preceded by brief welcoming remarks from the sponsoring groups, and followed by a question and discussion period. Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi directs the center at San Francisco State University that she organized, AMED (Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies).

The Fires Currently Raging in California, and Climate Change

Barry Sheppard

(Noah Berger/AP)

Record wildfires in the San Francisco Bay Area rapidly erupted in less than two weeks, in the midst of a scorching heat wave.

As of August 24, nearly 120,000 have fled their homes as 1.2 million acres have burned, greater than the state of Rhode Island. Two of the wildfires rank as the second and third largest in California’s history – and they’re still growing. The largest was in 2018.

This is happening during the pandemic, which has caused increased difficulties for those evacuated from their homes, as areas where they find refuge must obey distancing rules so these areas cannot hold as many people.

Over 1,200 homes and other structures have been destroyed.

One of the oldest nature reserves of California giant Redwood trees, some over 2000 years old, has been set ablaze. Some may be saved due to fire-resistant bark that accounts for their old age enduring many fires, but many have not. Already the soaring tops of many of these trees where their branches and green needles are, have been burnt, and it will take years for them to grow back.

The fires continue to rage on. There have been 700 fires, with two dozen major fires that firefighters are still battling.

These fires sprang up in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area encompassing a region from the city to its north, east and south.

Thick smoke, creating unhealthy conditions, has spread over the region, impacting 8 million people.

These fires in the Bay Area were ignited by a freak lightning storm of around 1,200 strikes in one night. These were “dry lightning” strikes. Lightning occurs in thunder storms. “Dry lightning” happens when the air below the storms is hot enough to evaporate most or all of the accompanying rain before it reaches the ground, the present case.

So these strikes sparked the fires without the rain that could have dampened them.

The lightning storm itself was caused by the remnants of a tropical storm that went north in the Pacific from Mexico and then veered into central California and continued north, encountering the heat wave.

California has two seasons, a wet one in the late fall and winter and then a dry one in late spring to fall. Vegetation grows during the wet season and then dries out, providing tinder for fires.

Within the dry season, two types of fire seasons have occurred in recent years. One, which runs from June through September, is driven by a combination of warmer and dryer weather. Those fires tend to be more inland, in higher elevation forests. This is what we are experiencing now.

The second runs from October through April even in the wet season, and is driven by strong westerly hot winds coming from deserts east of California, that cross mountains into the state. These fires tend to spread three times as fast as the earlier ones and burn closer to urban areas. That’s what we can look forward to.

While Californians expect wildfires in the dry months historically, climate change has drastically increased the number of fires as well as their intensity, as we have seen markedly over the last decade. One indication of the effect of global warming is that this decade has seen 10 of the greatest wildfires in the state since records were kept beginning in 1932.

Dr. Park Williams of Columbia University’s Earth Observatory noted in the August 22 New York Times, “Behind the scenes of all this is, you’ve got temperatures that are two to three degrees Fahrenheit warmer now than they would’ve been without global warming.” This has resulted in drier conditions over the past decade.

Determining the links between any individual fire and climate change takes time, and analysis from the evolving science studying this. But the effects of greenhouse gases humans produce underlie everything that occurs in the atmosphere, including the tendency of climate change to make dry places even drier over time. The states in the west, including California, can expect an increasingly fiery future.

Reflecting the austerity policies of capitalism, including in the United States, just as the health system was pared down to where it had no reserves to deal with the pandemic when it struck, the fire fighting system in many states including California is stretched thin.

The thinned out number of firefighters has been augmented by the use of trained prisoner firefighters.

One intersection of the pandemic with the fires is that because the prisons have become epicenters of the virus, some prisoners with less than five years remaining of their sentences have been allowed to go home. Many of the firefighting trained prisoners come from this group, resulting in greatly reducing this pool of firefighters.

California is asking other states and even Australia to send firefighters to alleviate this crisis, which will only get worse in the months ahead.

Given the institutionalized system of mass incarceration, which is the source of the New Jim Crow afflicting the oppressed Black population and other peoples of color, it is no wonder that the prisoner firefighters welcome the chance to get outdoors. They are often used for the most dangerous and difficult jobs, including clearing lines to contain the fires.

They are “paid” $1 an hour. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution passed after the Civil War outlawed slavery – except for prisoners. This was famously used as part of the Jim Crow system exemplified by the notorious “chain gangs”, but is still used today, to outsource slave prison labor to contractors for a price, to help finance the mass incarceration system.

As far as the California prison firefighters are concerned the state doesn’t pay the prisons, but uses these firefighters to reduce its number of regular firefighters, cutting expenses.

Obviously the regular firefighters are fighting to expand the number of regulars instead.

But for the prisoner firefighters, they love their jobs. A recent article in the NYT reports, “Some Californians, including former inmate firefighters, say the program provides a sense of purpose, offering prisoners a chance to prove themselves, and the satisfaction of helping others.

“ ‘It gave me a sense of direction and a sense of worth.’ said Francis Lopez, who spent a year as an inmate firefighter. ‘There are people high-fiving you, there are big signs saying “thank you to the inmates for fighting our fires, for saving our homes,” You can see that and you think, “Wow, I can do good. I can be a person who is being respected.” ….

“His one complaint: Inmates should be given a direct path to a firefighting job once they are released.” Fire departments are loath to hire people with prison records.

While dismantling the system of mass incarceration and slave labor (if it hasn’t already been done so), this experience also indicates what a workers’ state could do in providing real socially useful jobs with pay to offenders as part of the transition to abolishing prisons altogether under socialism.

To return to climate change. Another aspect now occurring on the other side of the country is a rare event: two hurricanes simultaneously forming in the Gulf of Mexico aimed at the U.S. – a harbinger of what experts predict will be an intensification of the hurricane season this year. Global warming does this in two ways. It warms the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Ocean and the Gulf, imparting more energy to hurricanes as well as increasing water dissolved in the atmosphere and thus heavier rains.

This probably has something to do with the tropical storm that formed in the Gulf, crossed Mexico into the Pacific, went north and then became the dry lightning storm that set off the current fires.

Will the Military Support a Declaration of Martial Law

Garett Reppenhagen, Veterans for Peace, Interviewed by Bill Resnick

Recently, Veterans for Peace issued a statement condemning the deployment of troops in the U.S.: 

 “Veterans For Peace condemns the inflammatory statements of Donald Trump. His declaration of calling for military troops on US soil to quell people exercising their First Amendment right is inflammatory and incredibly dangerous. We stand unequivocally with the protestors who are in the streets calling for an end to senseless police killings and white supremacy.  

In addition to the 200,000 troops already deployed across the world, US cities are being occupied by military force. Thousands of heavily-armed soldiers, military personnel and police have been deployed to the cities across the nation as Trump calls on the military to ‘dominate the streets’ and that he’d override any local control if governors refuse to deploy the National Guard. Threats and intimidation are tactics of terror by this administration. Trump’s statements as well as past statements are incendiary and effectively declare war on our communities…  

Veterans For Peace calls on all active duty military leaders and personnel to refuse deployment. We as veterans know the terrible aftermath of participating in actions that are morally wrong against communities in other countries. Now is the time to refuse to participate in orders that are unjust.”  

Bill: That’s a strong statement, Garett, why did VFP put it out?  

Garett:  We don’t want to see our US military being used against peaceful protestors that are demanding a stop to the violence in their communities by police officers, demanding equality and challenging white supremacy. There is no peace without justice.  With the federal government deploying troops, we are going to see innocent people killed, protestors who have every right to exercise their constitutional rights being killed. And we’ve already seen it. In Kentucky, a man was killed by a guardsman.  I don’t think we’ve seen violence in our streets by the military since, like, Kent State.  

Photo licensed from Magnum Photos

As veterans, we know how soldiers operate in a military combat zone and we know 

that our National Guardsmen and our federal troops, if deployed, will act in similar  

fashion—to put down any threat towards them with mass amounts of violence.  

It is going to be morally damaging to the soldiers who are deploying. As we see in countries that the U.S. military occupies, it leads to situations where you’re going to kill bystanders, you’re going to kill innocent women and children and you’re going to be killing people who basically will put you on the wrong side of the civil rights movement in this country.  

I don’t think that most service members signed up for that. Atrocities by the

military overseas is certainly awful and it’ll be no different here in our own country

as we’re killing our own citizens.  

Bill: Trump could well be mulling over (in his criminally canny way) his options if he loses the election. He might claim election fraud, declare martial law, and order the military to enforce it. Perhaps this was one reason that highly respected retired military men, like General Mattis, spoke out in opposition to Trump’s use of troops in the streets of Washington, D.C.   

Well, anything is possible and I don’t think that President Trump is removing any options from the table, as they say. I’m sure he was trying to see whether the military would fall in under his command and do something like this, testing the control he has over the military itself. I don’t know what these retired generals and the senior level leadership were thinking when they actually challenged the president on these issues, but it was good that they came out against him.   

However, I want to put a few warnings out there. One, this action by retired military gives a false sense of integrity of the US military command when in a lot of senses, it still is self-serving. And there are worries, I think, within senior level leadership that belief in and support of the US military will fracture if stressed a lot as it did toward the end of the Vietnam war, where there was less and less public support for the US military and I don’t think they want to see that happen.  People may think that because these senior level military people might be challenging Trump or at least have some amount of dissension from him, that they also follow their morals and ethics on the battlefield, which we know is not always the case. We’ve seen it in Afghanistan. We’ve seen it in Iraq. We’ve seen it all over the world for a long history. And I just want to remind people that atrocities that happen, as in Abu Ghraib, are not perpetrated by high command; an E5 (well below Officer ranks) is the highest level soldier for any of the atrocities associated with Abu Ghraib. So, you know, it’s not an ethical, moral institution to begin with, so don’t think they’re going to obey … do the right things and follow their conscience when ordered to do something.  Be prepared for that. And, if it’s possible and it serves the purpose of the military, I think that they’ll occupy American streets if the opportunity arises. 

Bill: Given the many social, economic, and environmental crises this country will face, I can envision a time with vast popular protests challenged in the streets by an armed right. And some future President might well order the military to join with the police to keep order.   So Garett, let’s talk about what can be done to make sure that will not happen. And what can be done so that the men in charge tell the President that their troops will not obey that sort of order, and maybe even better is there anything we can do to ensure that at least large segments of the troops side with democratic forces.   

Garett: Well, I think on the highest level, you know, I think putting pressure on governors and other officials is really important. Donald Trump threatened governors that if they didn’t mobilize the National Guard, he would send in federal troops. You know, some of that has been walked back a bit.  But, the threat still remains and I think governors need the political backbone from their communities to tell Trump “no.”  We can make it very clear to governors that their future re-election might count on the decision that they make. And if governors refuse and Trump sends federal troops, then at least it’s not the local state national guard that’s in the city streets and Trump’s move will have much less legitimacy. 

And also on the local level, on the person to person level, if you know somebody who’s in the military or you know somebody who’s in the National Guard, reach out, talk to them, have these conversations with them. It’s all good and well for these high-ranking military officials to speak up, but ultimately, it’s the lowest level person that’s going to be on the ground having to make the decision to pull the trigger or not.  I’d rather them not be in the situation where they’re afraid for their lives or they’re afraid of their military command who gives them orders.  So, let’s talk to them. There are resources: the GI Rights Hotline, the Military Law Task Force, Courage To Resist, About Face: Veterans Against War, and Veterans For Peace, all standing by to receive calls and emails to help you find the resources that you need if you’re in the service and you want to get out and you want to refuse orders.  

I wonder what role civilian organizing can play in discouraging troops from carryout out orders if they are directed to enforce martial law.  I think we have to present a threat of a general strike or of some other way of people just refusing to go along with the military occupation. It seems to me that that refusal creates some degree of reticence amongst the military and the political elite that otherwise might back Trump. What’s your sense?  

Garett: General strike is always great. I don’t know if we have the critical mass in labor organizing at this point to be able to pull off something that will be effective, but we should keep working towards that. I think withholding our labor is an amazing tool for change, but you also see these protests in the streets are becoming very effective. You see local communities changing, talking about reducing military spending and police spending.   Denver, Colorado, which is the closest large city to me,  the police budget is about a third of the tax dollars spent in the city. And people are demanding to reduce that.  If we stay in the streets, we keep supporting black lives, reach out to national organizations like the Movement for Black Lives and other local coalitions to see how we can show up–I think that is really powerful.  

I’d like to see more military veterans out there. I think having the military veteran community oppose these deployments and mobilizations is really critical right now. We are supporting Veterans for Black Lives and Stand Down for Black Lives as a way to organize against military forces in our streets and for demilitarizing our police forces. I think it’s starting to really make a difference.   

I’m curious, not on the presidential elections because I don’t have a lot of faith in Joe Biden,  but on local congressional elections and state elections if we’re going to see a massive shift, because the popular culture is moving away from the status quo, away from the colonized forms that we’re used to seeing, away from white supremacy. And I think we’re going to have many more progressive leaders take positions of power on a local level and I think that has a way of really changing many things.  

Bill:  Yes, when a big veterans contingent went to Standing Rock to participate in the organizing against the Keystone Pipeline, it was a tremendous boost for the movement. One final issue, Garett.  In the VFP statement, you say that “veterans know the terrible aftermath of participating in actions that are morally wrong against communities in other countries.”  Can you give us a sense of what you see as the aftermaths of unjust wars and killing.  

Garett:  Well first, are the people of the countries that are typically occupied by unilateral, overwhelming military force on the US side. And then there are the veterans who are serving there. And I just want to say that there’s no equality there. The service members are not the ones whose home countries are being occupied; they’re not being suppressed and terrorized by an armed force; their loved ones aren’t being killed; their way of life is rarely being upset to such a degree that their whole world is being turned upside down. You know, in this new scenario, those people are going to be American citizens. But I also don’t want to say this is different in that I don’t want to put any sort of additional value on American lives over other people’s lives.   

So, that being said, there’s also the veterans’ side of things. Many of us who serve in the military do so for economic reasons, to access higher occupations, educations, and so on.  There are also people who have military service as a family tradition, and there are people who believe in the military as their patriotic duty. 

You know, the military who’s actually going out there and doing this, many of us who serve in the military are doing it for economic reasons, do – – are in a situation  

But, when you take the battlefield and take lives,  there’s a weight upon you that you’re not trained for. The military is very good at training you how to kill. I was very excellent at my job as a sniper in Iraq. What they don’t teach you is what happens to you psychologically and emotionally and morally after you take someone’s life. And the ambiguity of the conflict that you’re in, the lack of clarity about why you’re there, also affects that weight upon your soul.  I struggle with moral injury every single day. The immense shame I feel about participating as a perpetrator of violence of against people in Iraq is intense. Some days, I can’t get out of bed and I punish myself for being happy.  And I punish myself because my society treats me like a hero. I’ve sabotaged great relationships with lovers, family members, friends; I’ve sabotaged job opportunities, just because I felt the need to punish myself and go to a very dark place.  

And you can imagine the amount of moral injury that a soldier is going to feel once he draws down a weapon on a person from his own community and kills them when they’re only trying to advocate to end police violence in their communities, to highlight how there’s still not equality in this country, that the economic divide is vast.  That is going to be a massive burden and take a massive toll on service members if they take the streets of America. Right now, we lose about 22 veterans a day to suicide. Twenty-two a day is going to be very small compared to the remorse that military troops will feel if they actually take the streets of America.  

Garett Reppenhagen is Executive Director of Veteran’s For Peace. His family was military: his father a Vietnam veteran; both grandfathers served in World War II. He was a cavalry scout sniper in the Army’s First Infantry Division. After a combat tour in Baquaba, Iraq, he got disillusioned with the war, gained an honorable discharge in 2005, and immediately began working as a veterans’ advocate and dedicated activist.

Bill Resnick co-founded and does interviews on the Old Mole Variety Hour on KBOO Radio in Portland, OR. He’s published on U.S. politics in the Portland Alliance, Socialist Review, Against the Current, and other journals.

The International Aid the Lebanese People Urgently Need Must Not Be Used to Enforce Neoliberal Measures

CADTM International

As activists in the international CADTM network we were deeply moved when hearing of the disastrous explosions that hit Beirut on Tuesday 4 August. In this press release we want to convey our solidarity to the Lebanese people who, for too many years, have had to suffer an unfair concatenation of murderous crises. We think that it is also important to expose political responsibilities and those who attempt to profit from the situation; it is even more important to try to find how the country can escape this vicious cycle.

It will take time to establish the truth about the specific causes of the explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in Beirut harbour in the early evening of Tuesday 4 August, if it can ever be determined. However, what is evidenced by this catastrophe – which caused at least 158 deaths and over 6,000 injuries – is the extent to which the Lebanese State had abdicated its responsibilities. The country’s Prime Minister mentioned a case of negligence. That negligence, which was literally a crime, is first and foremost that of the government and its administration, gangrened as it is by cronyism and corruption. The previous governments since the end of the civil war (many have been in positions of power since then), and of course the various parties and militias, are also responsible. That Lebanon is sick and that the local political leaders are heavily responsible is obvious to everyone. But that responsibility is shared with regional and global leaders, international financial institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) and private banks.

A local situation maintained by the game played by international powers

This catastrophe in early August has to be seen first of all in the context of the intense economic crisis the country has been in for several months. And that crisis itself must be seen in the context of a political situation that has been problematic for several decades. Lebanon is a magnificent country with a centuries-old history at the frontiers between several cultures and religions. This cultural and religious diversity is, as it is everywhere, a source of enormous cultural and social richness. That mixture and diversity of ethnic and religious groups is often exploited and amplified in political competition among the powers in place. The civil war that tore the country apart between 1975 and 1990 is an example. The end of the civil war has not meant an end to the international powers’ habitual attempts to profit from the inter-religious tensions. It is not oversimplifying to say that, historically, Saudi Arabia and its allies (and the USA behind them) and to a lesser degree Turkey have supported the Sunnite parties, Iran and Syria the Shiite parties (first and foremost the famous Hezbollah) and France (and more discreetly Israel) the Christian parties. Each power supports and uses these political forces to further its interests in a region that is geopolitically and economically strategic.

In Lebanon, this organization on the basis of religion defines the country’s political life. Voters can only vote for candidates who share their religion (actual or assumed by birth) – not in the voter’s place of residence but in his or her birthplace. This system has encouraged the development of a system of structural clientelism of enormous proportions. So enormous, in fact, that it is no exaggeration to say that the political class in Lebanon essentially works more or less exclusively and openly in its own interests with barely any regard for the population, which is left to shift for itself in most areas of daily life: the provision of electrical power is chaotic; management of bus services in Beirut is left either to the various militias or to private individuals with mini-buses; waste (non-)management was at the origin of major demonstrations in 2015; communications are unaffordable; projects to build a railway line linking the country’s South and North are postponed endlessly despite permanent congestion of the motorways and the fact that the plans have long been drawn up. As for public contracts and the government administration, the standard is political cronyism and nepotism. It goes without saying that in such a context, “good management of public funds” is a concept that exists only in the pronouncements of politicians. Public monies serve above all to enrich officials and further swell the large private fortunes. The Beirut city centre, around la Place de l’Etoile, with its empty buildings built with State subsidies that serve no purpose but real-estate speculation, is the perfect symbol of this collusion of interests between those who hold public and private power. Between 2005 and 2014. [1]

The popular protest movement in Lebanon began on 17 October 2019 and challenged that entire system of inequalities, demanding the departure of the entire ruling class, the sentencing of corrupt officials and the organization of an economy based on social justice. It has always endeavoured to remain in the streets in spite of repression and the exceptional public-health situation related to CoViD 19. The protest movement denounces confessionalism and the dictatorship of the banks. The movement has resumed after the catastrophe of 4 August 2020.

An ultra-financialized economy based on a shaky financial arrangement

The country that was once known as “the Switzerland of the Middle East” has based its economy on the financial sector to the detriment of the productive sectors. The country has long had a large balance-of-trade deficit (which undermines food sovereignty) and the economy depends heavily on the dollars sent by the immense Lebanese diaspora around the world (8 billion dollars in 2018). The banking sector has built a veritable Ponzi pyramid on those funds. With cash sent by the diaspora, the private banks buy national-debt securities denominated in Lebanese pounds at the highly advantageous interest rates granted by the Bank of Lebanon (BDL), which used the system to finance public budgets that were essentially squandered by the governments, as described above.

This system of financing the State through and for private finance has led to the accumulation of an unsustainable public debt that in 2019 amounted to 170% of GDP (with nearly 40% of the debt denominated in dollars). This pyramid had begun to crumble little by little due to the slowdown in the flow of dollars caused by the war in Syria and the fracture of the financial system worldwide, as well as capital flight organized by the country’s wealthiest citizens. It ultimately collapsed totally with the economic and financial crisis that accompanied the Coronavirus, although the socio-economic consequences were already considerable (a few months ago it was estimated that approximately a third of the population was living on less than $4 per day and that unemployment was at around 25%, and as high as 37% if the population under age 25 is counted). The Lebanese people have now been stripped of their savings and their pensions and the State is incapable of financing anything, not even repayment of its debt (the country is in payment default for the Eurobonds that reached maturity in March 2020, which has only accentuated the suffocation of the banking system).

With the economic and humanitarian crisis reaching levels never before experienced in the country, even during the civil war and the Israeli bombardments, once again it is international politics that has impeded the arrival of aid from abroad. Most political parties have been weakened as a result of the popular protests and only Hezbollah, using its dominant position as the country’s most heavily armed militia to harass the demonstrators, had managed to maintain power. That being the case, it was out of the question for the USA, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel, but also France and the rest of the EU, to provide aid for the country in that context. On the contrary, the USA has attempted to take advantage of the crisis to apply maximum pressure on Hezbollah by depriving it (along with the rest of the country) of cash with the goal of handicapping Iran’s strategy in the region. As for Iran, it was in a difficult position itself because of the economic repercussions of the tightened US blockade and the Coronavirus disease, which has hit the country hard, and was not in a position to provide adequate aid. After decades during which the world powers used Lebanon for their own interests, they are now abandoning the country at the worst possible time.

It is in this context that the World Bank granted an initial loan of 120 million dollars in April to the Lebanese State for financing its health expenditures. The IMF, always quick to react in this type of situation, has also posed as the saviour of the Lebanese by offering the government a loan of 10 billion dollars. Of course, as is traditional for the Bretton Woods institution, that offer of cash was accompanied by a Structural Adjustment Plan (SAP) – in other words, a package of “reforms” to even further liberalize an economy that is already extremely financialized.

For a genuine international aid and reforms that really serve the Lebanese people

Since 4 August, facing the real cataclysm that struck the people of Beirut and quite logically moved the peoples of the rest of the world, governments around the world have been promising humanitarian aid. The French president even went to the city to make an openly neo-colonialist pronouncement to the population of the former French protectorate, who demanded that he withdraw support for the political elites supported by France. While the explosion of 4 August of course affected the inhabitants of Beirut first, all Lebanon’s people will also suffer its consequences. The city’s port – the country’s main trading port (60% of all imports, including 85% of all imported grain) in a country whose land borders have been cut off by the war in Syria and the conflict with Israel – was destroyed, along with a large part of the financial district. As a result Lebanon’s entire economy is prostrate. At a time when the people had already lost their savings and their pensions in the face of a skyrocketing cost of living, 250,000 persons are now homeless and millions will be deprived of income.

And we must not forget that Lebanon is a country where 1 in 4 inhabitants is a refugee. Although the data are not exact, it is estimated that along with 4.5 million Lebanese people there are more than 1.5 million Syrian and more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees, to speak only of the most important groups. We must also consider the huge number of migrants living in the country, working in appalling conditions, particularly domestic workers. All these people will be hit even harder by the current crisis.

It is therefore clear that international aid is indispensable, both to deal with the humanitarian emergency and to reconstruct in the middle and long term. It is also abundantly clear that local power can no longer be held by those who are responsible for this disaster but must be returned to the population, which must be able to manage the country’s institutions in the common interest. The aid must be genuine, and for that to happen it must take the form of donations, medical and food support and provision of logistics expertise (in particular for rebuilding the port, the hospitals and essential infrastructures) and not loans. And the major reforms (demanded by the popular movements) that are indispensable for the country must be of a nature to enable democratic, efficient management of the country, and not the kind proposed (with renewed insistence) by the IMF, which will lead to an even greater increase in economic inequalities and an economy that will remain dependent on finance, as systematically happens in all countries that are subjected to SAPs.

We therefore call for a genuine international aid in the form of grants and a complete cancellation of Lebanon’s debt, and not new loans that will further prevent the country’s reconstruction in the long term.

Translated by Snake Arbusto and Christine Pagnoulle


Footnotes
[1https://wid.world/document/assouad-appendix-widworldwp201714/

This was originally published in CADTM on August 11th 2020

Anti-Carceral Feminism

Lydia Pelot-Hobbs

All Our Trials:
Prisons, Policing and the Feminist Fight Against Violence
By Emily L. Thuma
University of Illinois Press, 2019, 246 pages, $24.95 paperback.

The “Free Joan Little” campaign became a coalitional space for Black liberation, feminist and prisoner rights.

THE DEMAND THAT no one be caged is an old one. Decades before the U.S. prison population hit two million and the concept of “mass incarceration” entered the public lexicon, anti-racist feminist organizers called for the end of criminalization and confinement.

In the new book All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing and the Feminist Fight Against Violence, Emily Thuma traces the “history of activism by, for, and about incarcerated domestic violence survivors, criminalized rape resisters, and dissident women prisoners in the 1970s and early 1980s” (2)

Focusing on how grassroots organizations contested gendered and racial carceral violence, All Our Trials offers a vital history for contemporary prison abolitionists seeking to make the world anew. The author is assistant professor of politics, philos­ophy, and public affairs at the University of Washington – Tacoma.

At the heart of the book is Thuma’s examination of how everyday activism sought to win material victories against the widening net of criminalization and reframe discussion and debates on gender-based violence.

Anti-carceral feminism, as Thuma elucidates, reveals that punitive power is anchored in patriarchal approaches to safety and violence — hence the necessity of rerouting responses to state and interpersonal violence from the carceral state to the transformative potential of community-based responses rooted in care.

In tracing a multitude of abolitionist feminist projects across the United States — from campaigns to close carceral psychiatric units, to Black feminist anti-rape work, to mass defense campaigns for criminalized sexual assault survivors, to radical feminist anti-prison newsletters — Thuma highlights the breadth of this activist current. Their organizing surpassed any single strategy or tactic, reminding us that there is no silver bullet for undoing mass criminalization and the carceral state.

Thuma’s book is also notable for her thick description of not just what these various groups and coalitions organized but how they organized — from the structures of their meetings to their handling of internal political disagreements.

One of many strengths of All Our Trials is Thuma’s keen attention to how through political struggle, grassroots organizers sharpened their analysis of and produced new knowledge about the operations and logics of the carceral state.

Significantly, much of this work was led by radical women of color and anti-racist white women — many of whom identified as lesbians — who took what we would now describe as an intersectional approach to questions of gender violence.

Socialist and anti-capitalist politics also played a key role as anti-carceral feminists located the expansion of punitive state power as entwined with the contradictions of racial capitalism. In centering the experiences of criminalized and incarcerated women, this feminist formation revealed how the disciplining of racialized gender and sexuality was crucial in the production of carceral power — pushing the burgeoning prison abolitionist movement to integrate feminist politics.

At the same time, anti-prison and anti-policing feminists challenged the liberal tendencies of the mainstream feminist movement, which failed to interrogate not only how patriarchy was intertwined with other systems of oppression but also how interpersonal gender violence was situated within structures of state violence.

The abolitionist feminist organizing that Thuma details fundamentally counters the logics and practices of “carceral feminism” — the strand of feminist politics contending that the best strategy for remedying sexual violence and other forms of interpersonal gender violence is through increasing punitive state power.

In recent years, contemporary activists with organizations such as INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence have rightfully tied the rise of carceral feminism to the state’s co-optation of the early domestic violence movement through attaching funding streams to collaboration with law enforcement.

Yet Thuma reminds us that this co-optation was never totalizing. Although the collectives, organizations and coalitions she documents were never the mainstream of the feminist movement, they still provided an anti-racist, left edge to debates on dismantling patriarchal power and offered more expansive visions of liberation.

Organizing Mass Defense

Thuma begins the book by tracing a series of mass defense campaigns focused on women of color and indigenous women’s right to resist sexualized violence. The significance of the campaigns of Joan Little, Inez Garcia, Yvonne Wanrow and Dessie Woods went beyond their specific cases as they illuminated how “the struggle against the abuses of the carceral state and the struggle to eradicate sexual and domestic violence [were] indivisibly linked.” (10)

Through protests, teach-ins, and movement lawyering outside and inside prison walls, these campaigns won concrete victories, set legal precedents and reframed debates on feminist self-defense and racial criminalization.

While mass defense campaigns have a long history on the U.S. left from the Scottsboro case to Angela Davis, the 1974-1975 case of Joan Little galvanized a multi-pronged defense movement that would reverberate across the decade.

During her imprisonment at a North Carolina jail, a white guard Clarence Alligood physically forced Little to perform oral sex until she managed to stab him with the icepick he wielded against her.

The state responded to her self-defense by charging her with first degree murder with the possibility of the death penalty.

Soon the Joan Little Defense Fund organized for Little’s acquittal, Refusing to exceptionalize her story, instead they emphasized how her case was located at the nexus of the right of women to self-defense against sexual violence, the inhumanity and violence of prison conditions, and the discriminatory deployment of the death penalty against Black people and poor folks.

Thuma demonstrates that the Free Joan Little campaign became a coalitional space for Black liberation, feminist, and prisoner movements. This cross-section of organizers rooted the campaign in the long lineage of Southern activism against white supremacist gendered violence, while also expanding the left’s understanding of who constituted a “political prisoner.”

Furthermore the Defense Fund pushed against the mainstream feminist movement’s “everywoman” narrative which contended that Little, like other sexual assault survivors, represented the struggle of all women. Rather anti-racist feminists, most notably Angela Davis, argued the need to recognize how Little’s structural position as a Black incarcerated woman in the U.S. South made her particularly vulnerable to white supremacist sexual violence.

The campaign’s success in making Little the first woman acquitted of armed self-defense against a rapist proved the power of participatory defense campaigns.

The success of the Free Joan Little campaign paved the way for the defense campaigns of Inez Garcia, Yvonne Wanrow and Dessie Woods. Although different contexts shaped each of these cases and campaigns, organizers learned from and built upon each other’s struggles.

Thus Black and white feminists formed the D.C. Coalition for Joan Little and Inez Garcia (acquitted in 1977), explicitly linking the two cases through everyday activism and political rhetoric. Additionally, the National Committee to Defend Dessie Woods — formed by activists affiliated with the African People’s Socialist Party — argued that the state’s targeting of Woods was an example of the repression of Black women under racial capitalism and the internal colonization of Black people in the United States.

Their analysis resonated with the long, ultimately successful campaign to free Yvonne Wanrow — a member of the Sinixt/Arrow Lakes Nation — who stressed how her criminalization was tied to settler-colonialism.

The Prison/Psychiatric State

Moreover, feminist organizers took on the inherent violence of what they termed the “prison/psychiatric state” through the Coalition to Stop Institutionalized Violence (CSIV). Decarceration, feminist, and mental patient liberation activists formed CSIV in 1975 to block the opening of a locked psychiatric facility for “violent women” in Massachusetts.

The state’s proposal was shaped by the medicalization of carceral regimes, particularly the rise of “behavior modification” units in response to prison protests. While this was framed by state officials as necessary for the treatment of mentally unstable and violent women, CSIV declared that whom the state deemed violent was fundamentally a political question.

Building from insights gleaned from previous inside/outside organizing against a similar unit, CSIV “argued that the center would be used discretionarily against imprisoned women who protested their conditions of confinement and that women of color and lesbian women would be particularly vulnerable.” (55)

Their organizing drew on queer activism that challenged the power of psychiatry to define “deviant” and “normative” gender expression and sexuality, and the pathologization of resistance to state violence. CSIV called attention to the carceral links among jails, prisons and psychiatric institutions and demanded community alternatives.

Through mass protests, petitions and political education, CSIV put the proposed unit for violent women up for public debate. Activists took advantage of the fact that the approval of the unit fell under the jurisdiction of the more left-leaning Department of Public Health, which they targeted at public meetings with testimonials — leading to the state removing the unit from the state budget.

CSIV’s victory not only stemmed carceral state expansion. As Thuma illuminates, by the coalition “reconfigure[ing] violent women as victims of institutional violence and foreground[ing] imprisoned women as subjects of feminist discourse, CSIV challenged the liberal legal imaginary in which criminals and victims were discreet populations and called for alternatives to criminal justice.” (80)

Thuma further recounts how radical women’s prison newsletters made abolitionist world-making possible across bars. She details how two publications of the 1970s — No More Cages and Through the Looking Glass

Authoritarianism & Lockdown Time in Occupied Kashmir and India

Mona Bhan & Purnima Bose

As Against The Current went to press in mid June, India has climbed from 7th to 4th place since then in the world rankings for the number of Covid cases. As of June 12, it has averaged 10,000 new daily cases for eight straight days, resulting in over 310,760 diagnosed infections.

The rapid rates of infection illustrate how the big lockdown was less a public health measure than an exercise in Modi’s authoritarian power. Implemented with minimal planning, particularly to prevent infection among India’s most precarious workforce, migrant workers, the government also neglected to improve or expand India’s health infrastructure during the lockdown. Rather than Ram Rajya, governance by ghoulish decrees better describes India under Modi.

India’s lockdown has expanded the scale of police and military operations against Kashmiri civilians.

PANDEMICS GENERATE THEIR own vocabularies, and the “novel coronavirus” is no exception. In the United States the vocabulary of COVID-19 of “sheltering-in-place” and “lockdowns” resonates with Cold War era anxieties about nuclear war and more recent fears about gun violence.

In India the context involves growing Hindu majoritarianism materialized in a national-security state intent on demonizing Muslims and stripping them of citizenship. It is also a state determined to crush Kashmiri aspirations to sovereignty.

On March 24, 2020 Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a lockdown of 21 days for India’s 1.3 billion population as a critical public health intervention to strengthen India’s “war” against COVID-19. Giving four hours notice before the order would go into effect, Modi’s abrupt decision to “ban” Indians from leaving their homes, and to “put every state, every district, every lane, every village” “under lockdown,” bore striking parallels with his earlier crisis management measures, which have garnered considerable criticism across international print and media outlets.(1)

Among them are Modi’s perilous policy of demonetization (e.g. pulling more than 50% of the country’s currency out of circulation) and the attendant decimation of the Indian economy at the greatest cost to the poor and marginal, along with the abrogation of Kashmir’s quasi-autonomous status, which has intensified Indian military repression of Kashmiri Muslims and legally sanctioned India’s Hindu settler colonial project in the region. What might seem like Modi’s thoughtless or sudden string of decisions over the past seven years since his ascent to India’s prime ministership have moved India closer to the reality of an authoritarian Hindu Rashtra [Hindu Nation] — one crisis at a time.

We perceive authoritarianism through its spatial effects ––– the shrinking of space for free speech, activism, and public dissent; the retreat of unionizing and labor protests; and the expansion of carceral spaces through prisons, detention centers, and policing and surveillance infrastructure.

But so too is time marked under authoritarianism. Our essay explores how the Indian state manipulates three simultaneous and competing notions of time to popularize and naturalize Hindu majoritarianism: authoritarian time (compressed historical time), Hindu nationalist time (elongated mythic sacred time), and Kashmiri time (militarized lockdown time).

“Efficient” Compression of Time

As suggested by the brief period between when Modi first announced a COVID-19 lockdown and its implementation a mere four hours later, authoritarian time is compressed time. Authoritarian time does not allow for a lag between decree and implementation. It eschews the time needed for democratic deliberation, which is perceived as an impediment to efficient governance, or worse still, as a threat to the social and political order.

Under the guise of crises, authoritarian governments can compress time, manipulating it in ways to render decisions that are long in the making seem like spur-of-the-moment measures taken to protect the public interest.

In India, Hindu zealots have attempted to rid India’s body politic of Muslims through pogroms, massacres, detentions and public lynchings. They have been encouraged by several political parties which have manufactured socio-political and economic crises over the years.

In the last seven years in particular, each crisis has demanded an exceptional response that upends democratic time, which is by virtue of its process and character, slow and deliberate. In its place, we have the compressed time of a crisis legitimizing quick and sudden decisions. The compression of time becomes an expression of dictatorial agency and sovereign power.

When Modi placed India in a complete lockdown, he brought the entire country to a halt, snatching away people’s fundamental rights to secure food, a livelihood, medicine and healthcare. He criminalized those who were unable to comply with his orders.

Deprived of daily wages in the metropolitan cities they helped build, migrant workers were forced to walk hundreds of miles to reach their homes in the many villages and towns across India. Devastating images of hungry and broken migrants revealed the disproportionate burden of Modi’s dictatorial will on the country’s most vulnerable populations.

Since the big Indian lockdown –– ostensibly meant to protect human life –– hunger, thirst, sickness, and road and train accidents have brutally killed hundreds of migrant workers.

Manipulating Mythic Time

Insofar as the compression of historical time occurs against the elongation of mythic sacred time, a fundamental contradiction informs Modi’s exercise of power.

Modi belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose socio-political vision is inspired by its parent organization, the Hindu militant group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Since its inception almost a century ago, the RSS has demonized Muslims and Christians in India as bloodthirsty invaders and rapists.

Like fascist movements in general, the RSS’s temporal orientation is toward a mythic distant past. Their members look with nostalgia to an era represented in the Hindu epic the Ramayana, which dates to 1400 BCE. That epic ends with the restoration of Ram’s throne and a kingdom kept in line through bodily surveillance. Female chastity, as represented in the fate of Sita, Ram’s wife, is exalted even though it comes at the expense of her life.

For members of the RSS, governance modeled on Ram’s rule (“Ram Rajya,” in popular parlance) is highly desirable. Such a government is based ostensibly on the Hindu virtues of honesty and morality led by a revered king in the mold of the God Ram.

Indeed, Prime Minister Modi explicitly invoked the Ramayana in his appeal to Indians to think of the COVID-19 lockdown as a “Lakshman Rekha.” He warned them that a “single step outside” their homes could “bring a dangerous pandemic like Corona inside.”(2) His choice of vocabulary referenced the famous scene in the epic in which Sita defies her brother-in-law’s orders to stay indoors, and consequently is abducted by the demon Ravana for her intransigence.

With one phrase, Modi simultaneously injected a sectarian note in the discourse of public health and managed to reinforce patriarchal norms that restrict women to their homes. Predictably, following the Prime Minister’s lockdown order, DD National, India’s state-owned television station, began broadcasting reruns of the serial adaptation of the Ramayana, contributing to the effort of making Hinduism even more ubiquitous.(3)

The television serial’s first run in 1987-1988, according to media scholar Arvind Rajagopal, “violated a decades-old taboo on religious partisanship, and Hindu nationalists made the most of the opportunity. What resulted was perhaps the largest campaign in post-Independence times, irrevocably changing the complexion of Indian politics. The telecast of a religious epic to popular acclaim created the sense of a nation coming together, seeming to confirm the idea of a Hindu awakening.”(4)

In 1992, when a Hindu mob destroyed the Babri Masjid, a 13th century mosque rumored to have been built on Ram’s birthplace, many of the religious fanatics were dressed like characters from the televised Ramayana.(5) Today Modi and his Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah are sometimes respectively described in the idiom of the epic as Ram and his brother Lakshman.(6)

In Modi’s and the BJP’s vision of Ram Rajya, Muslims are the perpetual outsiders who must come to terms with their newfound status as India’s non-citizens. In 2019, the BJP government passed two parliamentary acts, the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which could render two million of India’s 200 million Muslims stateless.(7)

Apart from its constitutional provisions, Ram Rajya is also instituted through strict cultural sanctions, which include among other things proscriptions against beef eating. Muslims are now routinely lynched publicly by self-appointed gau rakshaks, protectors of Hinduism’s sacred cows.

Cow protection is a constitutive aspect of patriarchal authority and a defining feature of a robust Hindu state. Both of these, Hindu ideologues believe, are critical to India’s transformation into a Ram Rajya.(8)

Modi’s lockdown order in March 2020 appears engineered to break the massive sit-in protests against CAA, which started in early December 2019. Then hundreds of Muslim women from the Shaheen Bagh locality of North Delhi defiantly took over the streets, emphatically opposing the prime minister’s persistent attempts to portray them as victims of Muslim patriarchy.

Even the brutality of an anti-Muslim pogrom that killed at least 53 people and injured hundreds of others in Delhi, in February 2020 during President Donald Trump’s visit, failed to end the longest protest in India’s history.

But in March 2020, after Modi announced a ban on public gatherings, hundreds of police in riot gear forced protestors to empty the streets, destroying their tents and defacing their posters and billboards.

In addition, the police detained and jailed many protestors. The lockdown served as a lakshman rekha –– meant to contain the unruly bodies of Muslim women who had dared to challenge a tyrant.

At the same time, the lines of surveillance were drawn even closer to home for many Indians when the government made it mandatory to download a COVID-19 contact-tracing mobile application, called Aarogya Setu. That name evokes the Hindu philosophical tradition of yoga.

“Aarogya Setu” in Sanskrit means a bridge to health (or freedom from disease). For many critics, the app is a “sophisticated surveillance system,” which can be retooled for targeted discrimination by monitoring, regulating, and containing the movement of some groups more than others, and forcibly quarantining unwanted social elements.(9)

The Sanskrit-Hindu naming of a health-surveillance app advances the BJPs overall mission to portray India as an entrepreneurial mix of Hindu modernity and ancient Vedic wisdom. In the middle of the lockdown, during one of his television and radio addresses, Mann ki Baat, Modi reminded India’s youth of the perils of forgetting India’s “strengths and glorious traditions.” Modi urged them to return to Ayurvedic practices, popular among some Hindus, to strengthen their immunity against the virus.

Scapegoating Muslims

The Hinduization of the vocabulary of COVID-19 is also evident in the scapegoating of Muslims as vectors of infection for the virus and the creation of terms such as “corona jihad,” “bio jihad,” and “thook jihad (spit jihad).”(10)

Anthropologist Arjun Appadurai explains that “One of the key features of anti-Muslim sentiment in India for quite a long time has been the idea that Muslims themselves are a kind of infection in the body politic. So there’s a kind of affinity between this long-standing image and the new anxieties surrounding coronavirus.”(11)

An Islamic convention held in mid March 2020, which had previously been authorized by the Indian government, provided a convenient origin story among police and senior BJP officials for the spread of the pandemic.

Some 8000 members of the Tablighi Jamaat, including several hundred people from abroad, gathered in Delhi for their annual conference. When it emerged that the virus had taken root among attendees, the ruling BJP moved swiftly to quarantine members and their contacts in 15 states. A cash reward was even offered for people to report information on suspected conference goers.(12)

Although the ruling party had also authorized other large religious gatherings, BJP political rallies, and conferences in this period, it singled out the Tablighi Jamaat as a source of infection. Notwithstanding the pathetically low rates of testing for the virus, Tablighi Jamaat conference goers were administered the test and results announced in the government’s daily briefings, giving the impression that Muslims were the source for the majority of infections.

As economist Saugato Datta points out, “This is basically sampling bias: Since people from this one cluster have been tested at very high rates, and overall testing is low, it is hardly surprising that a large proportion of overall positives is attributed to this cluster.”(13)

Sampling bias thus provided false evidence for BJP and government officials to make irresponsible and incendiary pronouncements, claiming the existence of an “Islamic conspiracy” determined to enact “corona terrorism.”(14) Senior BJP officials accused members of the Tablighi Jamaat of committing a “Talibani crime,” which consisted of launching its membership as “human bombs” in “the guise of coronavirus patients.”(15) Some party members even called for Tablighi Jamaat leaders to be shot and hanged as punishment.(16)

In a now familiar routine, social media enthusiastically began spreading hatred; vile hashtags such as “#biojihad,” “#coronajihad,” and “#TablighiJamaatVirus” began to proliferate on twitter. This was augmented by the circulation of the usual bogus doctored footage of Muslims purporting to spit and sneeze on others in order to spread the virus.(17)

The Islamophobic social media barrage was accompanied by physical attacks on Muslims rumored to have attended the Tablighi Jamaat Convention, by social and consumer boycotts of Muslim merchants, and by violence directed against Muslims attempting to deliver food aid.

Kashmir: Militarized Lockdown Time

Since Prime Minister Modi ordered a lockdown of the entire country, the English-language press has laudably published a significant number of articles critiquing this move as an expression of his authoritarianism. These articles have emphasized his exploitation of the pandemic to further marginalize and rid the country of Muslims.

In their critiques, Indian commentators link Modi’s lockdown to the BJP’s actions in Kashmir last summer. For them, the BJP’s strategic experiments have perhaps revealed the illiberalism of India’s democracy. Many of these Indians subscribe to what we might call “liberal national time” and track the emergence of Hindu nationalism and the BJP to the 1980s.

However, the history of Hindu authoritarianism in Kashmir is much older. It dates back to 1846 when the British sold Kashmir to Hindu Dogra kings for 7.5 million dollars. In 1947 the Hindu King Hari Singh provisionally acceded the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir to India. Since then India has tried all means possible to deny Kashmiris their right to self-determination, granted to them through several United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Kashmiris realized long ago that India’s democratic experiment was from its inception a colossal failure. But the darkest phase of India’s rule in Kashmir was inaugurated on August 5, 2019, when India revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.

The Indian COVID-19 lockdown was preceded by the longest ever known military lockdown and communications blackout in Kashmir. During this period people had no access to telephones or internet. They struggled to buy basic medical supplies and stay connected with their family and friends.

Hundreds of mainstream politicians were imprisoned and thousands of Kashmiris, often young boys, were tortured and illegally detained in prisons across India.

While India restored cellular phones and 2G internet connectivity on January 25, 2020, six months after the beginning of the clampdown, Kashmiris continue to be denied high-speed internet. This makes it difficult for medical professionals in Kashmir to tackle the pandemic.

For Kashmiris, in other words, India’s big lockdown is neither spectacular nor out of the ordinary; nor is it sudden nor immediate. This lockdown too, like the others preceding it, is experienced as a continuum that merges and fuses with previous moments of curfews and shutdowns.

Just as the virus can be superimposed on other preexisting conditions, making some people more vulnerable than others, so too is the COVID-19 lockdown superimposed on the Indian military’s lockdown. As a result Kashmiris are even more at risk of injury and harm. These superimposed lockdowns lose their distinctive characteristics, in part because the regulations and conditions of a military occupation never cease to operate. Their violence too continues unabated.

Kashmiri journalists have tirelessly documented how India’s big lockdown has expanded the scale of police and military operations against Kashmiri civilians. Umar, Rauf, and Haroon report that the police’s powers have intensifed because of the pandemic, with many Kashmiris now being arrested for flouting stay-at-home orders.

The police use a militarized surveillance mechanism to track “Covid Suspects,”(18) while the military has escalated its cordon and search operations in which Indian soldiers drag people out of their homes in routine night raids, destroy their fields, and burn down their houses, rendering many Kashmiri families homeless.(19)

Pandemic lockdowns typically construct homes as safe spaces (a debatable proposition), yet under military occupation the home can become a frightening place.

Violence enters the home through the bullets that penetrate its walls, the soldiers who break down its doors, and the bombs that flatten its rooms, maiming and killing those inside. The proclamation of lockdowns and curfews in the name of maintaining law and order becomes one more way for states to enact terror on those who oppose their presence.

How then do we understand a lockdown order issued by the Indian government in the name of public health in a context like Kashmir where the state’s agenda revolves around terrorizing the population rather than protecting it? For Kashmiris, there are no safe spaces under the Indian occupation.

Whether in the streets or in the home, they are targets of state violence manifest in both deliberate acts and apparently accidental ones (such as stray bullets that injure and kill). Such is the character of daily life in a militarized zone with the highest density of troops in the world.

Time in Stasis

Against the backdrop of authoritarian time (compressed historical time) and Hindu nationalist time (elongated mythic sacred time), Kashmiris continue to live in “lockdown time.” Confined to their homes, they experience time as a perpetual present. One day blurs into the next with little to distinguish yesterday from today and from tomorrow.

Lockdown time is time in stasis. Even before the current lockdown, visual representations of time in Kashmir depicted the future as blocked. As cultural critic Deepti Misri points out, Kashmiris experience time as a “listless passage” with “temporal stasis” shaping their daily lives under conditions of military oppression.(20)

In the current lockdown as the occupying regime has scaled up its violent infrastructure, static time makes it even harder to imagine alternative futures. Yet grounds for optimism remain, existing in the very real possibility of an autocratic, occupying state brought down by a virus and its own hubris. The hope for dignity and democracy in Kashmir and India might very well depend on it.

Notes

  1. Jeffrey Gettleman and Kai Shultz, “Modi Orders 3-Week Total Lockdown for All 1.3 Billion Indians,” The New York Times, March 24, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/24/world/asia/india-coronavirus-lockdown.html.
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  2. Makarand R. Paranjape, “Three-week Lockdown is PM Modi’s Surgical Strike against Coronavirus,” The Print, March 25, 2020. https://theprint.in/opinion/being-indian/three-week-lockdown-is-pm-modis-surgical-strike-against-coronavirus/387911/.
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  3. Amrita Nayak Dutta, “Reruns of 1980s-90s Classics Ramayan, Shaktimaan, Byomkesh make DD Most-Watched channel,” The Print, April 9, 2020. https://theprint.in/india/ramayan-shaktimaan-byomkesh-bakshi-make-dd-national-most-watched-channel-across-genres/398610/.
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  4. Rahul Verma, “The TV Show that Transformed Hinduism,” BBC Culture, October 22, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20191022-the-tv-show-that-transformed-hinduism?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fduckduckgo.com%2F.
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  5. Verma.
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  6. Verma.
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  7. Daniel Victor, “Why People are Protesting in India,” The New York Times, December 17, 2019 (updated February 26, 2020). https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/17/world/asia/india-protests-citizenship-muslims.html.
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  8. Peter Van der Veer, Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India (Berkeley: University of California Press,1994): 90.
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  9. Arshad R. Zargar, “Privacy, Security Concerns as India Forces Virus-Tracing App on Millions,” CBS News, May 16, 2020. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-india-contact-tracing-app-privacy-data-security-concerns-aarogya-setu-forced-on-millions/.
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  10. Taran Deol, “Lakshman Rekha between Covidiot and Coronapocalypse. Pandemic Brings a New Language in Town.” The Print. April 13, 2020. https://theprint.in/opinion/pov/lakshman-rekha-between-covidiot-and-coronapocalypse-pandemic-brings-a-new-language-in-town/400401/.
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  11. Billy Perrigo, “It was Already Dangerous to be Muslim in India. Then Came the Coronavirus,” Time, April 3, 2020. https://time.com/5815264/coronavirus-india-islamophobia-coronajihad/.
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  12. Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizor Rahman, “Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories Targeting Muslims Spread in India,” The Guardian, April 13, 2020. https://theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/13/corona­virus-conspiracy-theories-targeting-muslims-spread-in-india?page=with:img-2.
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  13. Apoorvanand, “How the Coronavirus Outbreak in India was Blamed on Muslims,” Al-Jazeera, April 18, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/coronavirus-outbreak-india-blamed-muslims-200418143252362.html?utm_source=website&utm_medium=article_page&utm_campaign=read_more_links.
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  14. Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizor Rahman.
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  15. Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizor Rahman.
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  16. Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizor Rahman.
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  17. Billy Perrigo.
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  18. Umar, Rauf, Haroon, “In Kashmir, the Coronavirus Means Increased Police Powers,” Jacobin, April 17, 2020. https://jacobinmag.com/2020/04/kashmir-coronavirus-covid-india-lockdown-jammu.
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  19. Umar, Rauf, Haroon. Masrat Zahra, “Kashmiri Gun Battle Leaves Dozens of Families Homeless,” StoriesAsia, May 23, 2020. https://www.storiesasia.org/author/masratzahra/.
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  20. Deepti Misri, “Dark Ages and Bright Futures: Youth, Disability and Time in Kashmir,” Forthcoming in Public Culture, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2020.
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July 4 speech signals new stage in Trump’s race war

Malik Miah

Photos of the victims of police violence line the waterfront in Seattle. Photo: Lisa Ahlberg/lisaahlberg.com

“America in crisis” is a reality.

The US is experiencing twin pandemics: a health and economic crisis due to COVID-19; and a race crisis due to state violence against Black and Brown lives. There is no national governmental leadership to fight both.

The “American Spring” of protests is changing that. The 50-state upsurge, declaring Black lives matter as much as white lives, has led millions of whites to look themselves in the mirror and begin to reject the revisionist history taught in schools and institutions.

The movement has also provoked Trump and his white nationalist supporters to go on the offensive. Many shout “White Power”, and Trump embraces them as “patriots”.

At the same time, many Democratic Party mayors have retreated from taking on the criminal cops, even as they continue to beat and kill innocent people of colour. Most police reforms proposed by liberals are modest and can easily be ignored or reversed.

As the Trump regime downplays medical science and states that COVID-19 will eventually fade away, the facts say otherwise. The US population is 4.25% of the world but 25% of those infected by COVID-19 and 25% of deaths, impacting disproportionately on African American lives.

Trump’s race war

At a July 3 speech in front of four dead presidents carved on sacred indigenous people land in South Dakota, Trump went all in on his race war agenda.

He attacked the BLM movement as advocates of “far left fascism”. Trump defended Confederate monuments as “American Heritage” and defended his Executive Order making it a felony to vandalise such symbols.

Trump called BLM a “symbol of hate”. Former New York City Mayor and Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani said BLM is “a Marxist organisation”.

Indigenous people protested outside the July 3 “Mount Rushmore” race war event. Secret Service and police pushed demonstrators back and arrested some, as pro-Trump white extremists shouted at Native peoples to “go back home”. Only anti-Indian, anti-Black bigots could attend what was called a public White House event.

Trump has positioned himself as the political heir of segregationist (and former governor of Alabama) George Wallace, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University in Houston. Brinkley told the Los Angeles Times that Wallace and former Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina both failed in their attempts to win the presidency on openly white supremacist platforms.

“History will look at the Trump years as being a reactionary right-wing movement that saw America was becoming 60% nonwhite and panicked,” Brinkley said.

“When the economy crashed and George Floyd was murdered, Trump had cement feet. He went back to a tired old playbook, and he lost the centre in America. If you were a conservative, centre-right voter, you’re now looking to get rid of him.”

Only 35% of voters have confidence in Trump’s ability to “effectively handle race relations” and only 15% are “very confident”, according to a Pew Research survey released on June 30.

A majority of those polled ‒ 55% ‒ also said Trump had “changed the tone of political debate in the US for the worse”. Just 25% said he had changed it for the better and 19% saw not much change, either way.

Yet, it is not clear Trump will lose in November. Racism and defence of white grievance is his strategy to win and he doubled-down on white grievance in his July 4 speech at the White House.

Trump is threatening to veto the US$740-billion Defence Authorisation Act, should it include a measure to rename military installations that honour Confederate figures.

Trump’s defence of police “unions” (which are, in fact, cop cartels) and threats to deploy the National Guard against peaceful protesters are pressuring Democratic mayors and governors to weaken the mass movement.

Trump believes his white “silent majority” will win the election, stop the Democrats and the Black-led movement.

Many establishment liberals, while giving lip service in support of BLM demands, are retreating on the issue of defunding the police and moves to bring about fundamental changes.

There are four months until the presidential election. In politics, that is a lifetime.

Three examples of cities led by liberal Democratic mayors shows this. It was only six weeks ago on May 25 that George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis cops.

1. Occupy New York City Hall

In late June, activists in New York City pushed the City Council to cut the largest police budget in the country by US$1 billion, and to redirect the funds to other socially needed programs. Mayor Bill de Blasio pretended support, but then deployed the cops to shut down the week-long protest and occupation.

“Shortly before 3am on Wednesday [June 1],” reported The Nation, “several hundred protesters gathered in the plaza directly east of City Hall Park in downtown Manhattan.

“A few were new faces, but many had been there on and off for a week, when activists set up an encampment and declared that they were occupying the space as part of the nationwide movement against racism and policing.

“The protesters had a lot going against them. Less than 24 hours earlier, the New York Police Department had staged a violent raid at the outskirts of the encampment, injuring several people.

“Just hours before, those in the [protest] encampment watched as local legislators, while negotiating and voting on the city budget for the next fiscal year, brushed off their calls to defund the police.”

De Blasio was elected in 2014 as a police force critic. Since then, he has solidly supported the cops in their anti-Black and violent actions. He preaches there are only a few “bad apples”.

The Occupy City Hall campaign was aimed at defunding the police and making other fundamental changes as the city discussed its new budget. The new budget, however, turned out to be a sleight of hand.

For example, about $400 million of the $1 billion the city is said to be cutting from the Police Department’s $6 billion budget will be achieved by moving school safety officers under the Department of Education. But according to the city’s Independent Budget Office, the Education Department already sends the Police Department $300 million a year to operate the school safety program.

Activists are continuing their fight for real cuts in the police budget and transfer of funds to other programs.

2. Minneapolis mayor retreats

In Minneapolis, where George Floyd died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, the City Council — with a veto-proof majority — immediately pledged to defund the police department there.

Amid a massive crowd of protesters, Mayor Jacob Frey was pressed on whether he would commit to defund the police. When he said he would not support the full abolition of the police, he was booed with chants of “Go home, Jacob!” and “Shame!”.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Frey expressed support for major structural reform, but reaffirmed his opposition to disbanding the police.

“We need to entirely shift the culture that has for years failed Black and Brown people. We need a full structural revamp,” he told NPR. “But, abolishing the police department? No, I think that’s a bad idea.”

Leaders of the Minneapolis BLM movement are determined to keep pressing the City Council to move forward. As in most cities, the activist Black leadership has pursed this demand for years. Frey and the establishment liberals hope the mass upsurge will die down, but are willing to challenge it anyway.

3. Seattle’s mayor sides with cops

According to local media, heavily armed cops swept into Seattle’s police-free “autonomous zone” on July 1 and arrested dozens of people, after Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an overnight emergency order declaring the weeks-long gathering an “unlawful assembly”.

The move to disband the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) and reclaim an abandoned police precinct nearby followed a series of violent crimes that included the fatal shootings of two teenagers. None involved peaceful demonstrators.

Durkan’sorder to clear the occupied protest area remains in effect. Customers and residents must check in with police as they enter and exit the cordoned-off areas.  Many are waved through without delay. Others have reported run-ins with police and, especially at night, intimidation by heavily-armed police in ready mode for continued protests.

Durkan has also called for an investigation into socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant, for allegedly violating her office. Sawant has been active in the protest movement.

Vanguard leadership by Blacks

The history of the US is one of thievery and national oppression.  Whites rarely know the truth about the history.

The Black leadership of the current upsurge and the BLM organisations know the truth. Their vanguard political role has inspired other oppressed peoples to stand up.

The white backlash, led by Trump, is seeking to use more violence to suppress the movement and encourage liberals to protect the police institutions. In the past, that “law and order” message has worked.

History shows that Democratic elected officials and establishment liberals, including Africa Americans, have supported the police, the “law and order” agenda and mass incarceration. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has already declared he will increase police budgets if he is elected president.

What next?

This is why the left wing of the protest movement is not shifting their focus away from peaceful street action to campaign for Joe Biden. The gains won so far are due to mass struggle and must continue no matter who is president and which party rules Congress.

The American crises cannot be solved by liberalism and electoralism.

Trump’s race-war strategy can only win if the movement leaves the streets. As the examples in New York City, Minneapolis and Seattle show, protests will continue so long as killer cops are not prosecuted and put in prisons.

A Third Radical Reconstruction (Revolution) is needed now.

This was originally published in Green Left on July 7, 2020

On the Attack on Robert Cuffy at the Mass March to Defund the NYPD

Solidarity National Committee

Statement of Solidarity, 
Call for Information Accountability and Action 

Foley Square, New York, NY, 8:55 pm –

While leading Monday June 29th’s  Mass March to Defund the NYPD & Abolish the Police from Washington Square to Foley Square Robert Cuffy was filming the march, when he was blindsided and tackled by an unidentified man who then slammed Robert into another car, dislocating his shoulder. Prior to this moment Robert was straining his voice by calling out to marchers “We’re going to City Hall!” but he was not able to continue due to the severity of his injuries.

Police nearby observed the assault, and joked with the attacker before walking him to the Foley Square subway station, where they released the attacker without charges. NYPD  didn’t even document the attacker’s identifying information. 

Robert is a well-known revolutionary socialist in NYC, and an effective organizer for Black Liberation. He is a member of the DSA Afrosocialist Caucus, a leader of the NYC Fight for Our Lives Coalition (which is part of People’s Strike, a National coalition organized by Cooperation Jackson), and a founder of the Socialist Workers Alliance of Guyana. He is also a leader of the DSA Labor Branch. This made him a target. 

Robert was put into an ambulance, and was told that he would be taken to New York Presbyterian. Instead, he was driven a few blocks away where Robert waited over an hour inside the ambulance, which did not budge from its location at Spruce and Nassau Streets. Fearing for his own safety, Robert texted marchers to gather at the intersection for support and to enforce transparency. Robert was provided no pain control for his injury. This punitive and callous treatment of Black patients, especially of movement fighters, is all too common. 

Robert had every reason to be afraid that medical neglect or overt violence at the hands of police could be life-threatening; from Ferguson to Baltimore to here in New York, incidents like this have ended with the deaths of far too many Black Liberation activists and of other working class people of color. Even when treatment is provided, individual EMTs who are aligned with police will often take activists and other Black patients past the closest hospitals, going out of their way to drop them off at the most overcrowded, underfunded, and dangerous facilities, as a particularly isolating and potentially lethal form of racist abuse and punishment. Robert was lucky to have a caring EMT named Nancy who kept him safe and even got Robert a blanket upon his request after arriving at the hospital 

On the short ride to the hospital, his fear, horrifyingly, began to come true; he had been left without a seatbelt and was nearly subjected to a “rough ride” of the kind that notoriously ended the life of Freddie Gray in the back of an ambulance in 2015. Without the use of his arm, Robert (just as Gray, handcuffed) wouldn’t be able to physically protect himself from being slammed into hard, sharp metal surfaces inside the vehicle. 

By responding quickly and collectively, activists can protect ourselves and each other from this treatment by disrupting that isolation. When dozens of  supporters mobilized and gathered outside the ambulance, the police were forced to take a statement from Robert, rather than ignore the attack, or worse—spuriously charge Robert, potentially making good on the continued threats spewed by his attacker immediately after the assault. That collective support gave force to Robert’s demand that his seatbelt be buckled.

Too often, and for too long, Black victims of violence have been routinely subjected to exactly this sort of revictimization by cops and vigilantes, even in death. It is impossible to forget that Trayvon Martin was branded a “thug” by his killer, or that Mike Brown, described there as “no angel,” was blamed for his own murder in the press.

The ambulance eventually transported him around the block to the hospital where his partner, mother, and other comrades were waiting for him. NYC Fight For Our Lives Coalition, Peoples Strike, and the DSA are SEEKING FOOTAGE AND DOCUMENTATION of the attack, the attacker, the license plate of his car, cars parked in that location, the ambulance, and its driver/EMT, as well as badge numbers and identification of the police involved. Any information, including witness statements, may be useful

The attack on Robert Cuffy was not an isolated incident. Police and far-right vigilantes are threatening coordinated attacks on protestors, particularly as the calendar nears July 4. As the #GeorgeFloyd Uprising continues to flourish, and as protests and rallies nationwide call to defund, dismantle, and disarm police, law enforcement and their backers have been stoking the fascist fire, encouraging lone-wolf attacks to terrorize supporters of the fight against police brutality. 

This is a reminder that the movement will need to increase security measures and step up our game. We have to collectively prevent further attacks and protect ourselves as the movement grows, continues to win reforms, and pick up steam. Go out into the streets with your friends and comrades, use the buddy system, and coordinate security to protect the movement’s leaders as we continue this rebellion. Remember that we are all leaders in the fight to get free.

We call on the NYPD to identify and to immediately fire and hold accountable the officers who not only ignored this attack, but aided the attacker. 

If you have any relevant information, or to connect with and support the work that Robert has dedicated himself to, contact NYC Fight For Our Lives Coalition at: 

Phone: (347) 433-8652

Email: GeneralStrikeNYC2020@gmail.com

Twitter: @fight_nyc

Instagram: @fightforourlivesnyc

Hashtags: 

#FireAndThunder
#DefundNYPD
#DefundDisbandDisarm
#AbolishNYPD
#WeKeepUsSafe
#FireFranciscoGarcia
#ChargeVincentD’Andraia
#WeCantBreathe
#NoWorkNoRent
#BlackLivesMatter
#BlackLiberation 
#BlackPower 
#FightForOurLives
#PeoplesStrike
#GeneralStrike
#FreeThemAll
#StrikeForOurLives

Join Us, July 4th: 
Fire and Thunder: Movement for Liberation Broadway Junction, Brooklyn, July 4th @ 4pm

Event Intention:
Inspired by Frederick Douglass’ famous speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”, the NYC Fight for Our Lives Coalition is calling a march for freedom on the 4th of July. It will begin with a meditation and community grounding in recognition of the history of the U.S. as a nation founded on the systematic murder abuse and exploitation of Black people.  

Reimagining Schools Post-Covid

Ann Finkel

I am a 7th grade teacher in Boston Public Schools, a member of the fledgling BTU Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), a member of the PUEBLO neighborhood coalition of East Boston, a DSA member, and a member of Solidarity. 

The Covid crisis has upended the lives of students and their families across the country and world, and has forced teachers to reinvent curricula and teaching methods within days. On top of that, schools are going to enormous efforts to provide food, rental support, cleaning supplies, health supports, and critical information in a family’s native language to not only students but families as well. To the outside observer it may appear as if schools are taking on entirely new roles, but in fact these are roles that schools have always been expected to fill. But now, the need is higher, the resources are fewer, and the methods of support are more challenging than ever. And as in all crises, the inequities between low-income and high-income cities are being laid bare and exacerbated, and the inequitable impact on students’ access to education is tremendous.. Although the education system is more broken than ever, and morale is especially low (anecdotally, we rarely have any kind of staff meeting without at least several people winding up in tears), this situation presents a somewhat unprecedented chance to rethink what schools could, and should, look like in the long run. It is important that teachers, students, families, and unions  determine what the new normal in education will be, before corporate reformers do it for us.

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School’s Role in Mutual Aid Efforts

To my knowledge, none of my 105 students have parents who are “working from home.” They are either laid off and running out of money, or working, highly exposed, and in many cases, getting sick. Further, due to immigration status, many were ineligible for a $1,200 stimulus check. 

As a touchstone for many families, particularly among the largely Spanish-speaking population of East Boston, my school is situated to provide an important information-sharing and coordinating role in the East Boston Mutual Aid network (EBMA). EBMA is coordinated by various community groups and neighborhood leaders. There are two sides to the network: the food and resources side, and a substantial educational component. In order to provide for our school’s families, the Family Support Team has been working with EBMA, as well as tapping into our own staff’s resources. For the last several months, we’ve coordinated the efforts of 50 staff who have volunteered to buy and deliver groceries to the 100 families that we know of (there may be many more) who are facing food insecurity. We have also partnered with EBMA and particularly an urban farm in East Boston who, for about six weeks, provided us with 50 hot meals each week, which teachers spend hours delivering. (It should be noted that BPS does have meal sites set up for students to pick up food daily. However, these BPS meals are pre-packaged, small portions, not particularly nutritious or appetizing, and impossible for quarantined kids to pick up).

As staff have been providing grocery support to families, it has also been important to us to empower the neighborhood organizing as best we can. One way we are doing this is by connecting families to the educational and informational side of the mutual aid. There have been various teach-ins and webinars about tenant rights and other topics run by the neighborhood groups in East Boston and Greater Boston, including City Life/Vida Urbana. As teachers it is easy to contact families quickly to connect them to these resources – I can text 105 parents in 30 seconds – so that is a power we are trying to make good use of. While some (probably less than half) of these resources are sent in emails to BPS, this is grossly inadequate communication. The vast majority of our families are more comfortable communicating via phone calls and text messages in Spanish, which is how teachers communicate most effectively with parents throughout the year.

Reimagining Schools: A Return to Normalcy is Not the Goal

Where do we go from here? How do we harness this collective energy and organizing capacity to create more radical demands and actions? It is important to keep in mind that many people were living and learning in horribly stressful, inadequate, and unstable conditions before the COVID crisis hit. 

Right out of the COVID gate, our Boston Teachers Union created a Common Goods platform. This included calls to cancel MCAS – our high-stakes end of year test – and to put a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Both of these demands did pass at the state level, and soon thereafter our CORE group successfully pushed BTU to sign the Housing Guarantee petition that would cancel rent outright for those unable to pay. But these are just some first steps.

We (several like-minded teachers and I who are coordinating the Family Support Team) are also trying to use this moment to push thus far well-meaning but politically disengaged teachers to take the next step beyond just donating money. These teachers are willing and eager to help students that they know. The question is how to get them to see the larger systemic injustices facing BPS students (fight for someone they don’t know, if you will), and understand the underlying problems that are creating these financial crises for our families. How do we turn this often well intentioned charity into an organized resistance aimed at the root of the problem? As a small part of this effort, I plan next week to host a zoom-action-party where staff can come and work together as we sign the Housing Guarantee Petition, call our State Representatives to push for a bill that would give stimulus checks to people regardless of immigration status, etc. I believe this is also where CORE becomes especially important, as a body of teachers dedicated to pushing our union to the left. 

This is a chance for educators and parents and students to rethink schools and what our priorities are. Some concrete initial ideas are as follows:

  • Educators pushed to get MCAS canceled, and we were successful in that. Year after year, we have always been told that cancelling MCAS is impossible, and yet here we are. Permanently cancelling (or significantly restructuring/reducing) MCAS is no longer a pipe-dream. 
  • Parents are getting a chance to homeschool their kids, and largely determine the curriculum for themselves. We are seeing parents spending more time outside, gardening with their kids, talking about culturally relevant ethnic studies, allowing more play time for kids of all ages. When we return to school buildings, it will be important for educators to gather this data from parents, and ask parents and students what they want emphasized in our curricula. We should also go a step further by inviting family members in to school as guest speakers, particularly when it comes to teaching students the history of their own countries, cultures, and immigration stories.
  • Within two weeks of school closure, BPS ordered 20,000 chromebooks and many internet hotspots (let it be noted that we spent days driving around and delivering these chromebooks and hotspots, while teachers and students in wealthier and whiter districts spent that time starting their online learning routines). Chromebooks and internet access are incredibly important learning tools for students, especially high schoolers applying to jobs and colleges (not to mention their parents needing to apply to receive gift cards from the soup kitchen, apply to the Rental Relief Fund, etc.) If Boston was able to get computers and internet access to all students within a couple of weeks, it should have happened a long time ago. And at the end of the COVID crisis, these resources should not be taken away. 
  • When we return to school buildings, it is likely that there will be significantly reduced class sizes. This could revolutionize teaching strategies and community building within a classroom, and we may need to fight for class sizes to remain small (with increased numbers of school buildings and school staff, of course).
  • Although online platforms have been important in these last several months, it has become clear to any parent, student, and teacher in doubt that online school is a wholly inadequate replacement for the real thing. Many teachers are worried about corporate online schooling, and all kinds of ed-tech companies swooping in and chomping at the bit to turn a profit and take advantage of this crisis. It will require concerted organizing to keep the corporations at bay. 

Closing Thoughts

Teachers, counselors, administrators, and nurses are working around the clock to not only educate our students, but to make sure they are healthy, housed, and fed. While these efforts have reached incredible new heights as more and more students are in crisis, it is a job that school staff are well-versed in even in the best of times. With physical schools closed, the extent of services that teachers and other school staff normally provide has become increasingly clear to the public. As we re-open, schools need to be properly funded as the social service catch-alls that they are, school communities need to continue to be integrated with neighborhood organizing efforts, and teachers need to organize and fight for the re-imagined schools we know our students deserve.

Mutual Aid and Labor Organizing in New Orleans

Michael Esealuka transcription

I’m going to talk about mutual aid and labor organizing, out of my experience with unemployment workshops and tax clinics that New Orleans DSA has been doing as a part of our Fair Fund campaign.

DSA New Orleans launched the first Brake Light Clinic project which got taken up by other DSA chapters. We basically fix brake lights for free in an agitational way of raising awareness about police violence and state violence.

At first, we got a lot of criticism and a lot of blow-back that said our project was a form of charity and this led us to do some internal struggling and political development. We’ve come out of that with an understanding that mutual aid is a tactic and as a tactic, it can only really be evaluated within the framework of a larger campaign–how effective it is in advancing your campaign’s goals.

As socialists, you know, we’re fighting for more working-class power, we’re fighting to capture the state, and services can be a way of building trust with the communities of people that we’re trying to bring into our fight. But we can’t evaluate whether mutual aid is good or bad on its own. That’s like saying is canvassing good or bad; are petitions good or bad.

I’ll just talk a little bit about our campaign right now. In New Orleans, we were really, really hard-hit by the Covid crisis. For a while we had the highest per capita rate of cases in the country. Our neighboring parish, St. John the Baptist, has the highest per capita rates of death from COVID-19 in the country. And, of course, our economy is very heavily reliant on service and tourism. We estimate there are between 85,000 and 100,000 restaurant workers in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area, so they constitute a massive section of our workforce.

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The New Orleans convention center oversees a reserve fund that is made from hotel and tourism taxes. They have an annual revenue of at least $30 million a year and right now they are sitting on $186 million of unrestricted funds, like a rainy day fund.

Community organizers in our city have been trying to get our hands on this money for a long time; that money is made from the work that restaurant workers do in our city. So, DSA did some research to figure out who is our target and we came up with a demand that we wanted $100 million of that relief fund to be allocated evenly, with no means testing and no restrictions, to every single restaurant worker in the city. That sounds like a lot of money, but it’s actually only $1,000 per worker.

We teamed up with UNITE HERE and other local unions, working class community groups and labor organizations to build a coalition around a campaign for $100 million in relief that now includes around 37 organizations. Our coalition included sex workers’ organizations and immigrants’ rights organizations.

In the first phase of the campaign we used unemployment trainings and tax clinics as a way of bringing people in. Tourism involves not only restaurant workers and hotel workers but also taxicab drivers, Uber drivers and gig workers like dancers, sex workers, psychics, musicians, all sorts of things. These are people who fall through the cracks. Separate from this campaign, we also set up a mutual aid Facebook group that our members bottom line. There are about 6,800 people in that mutual aid group. We also organized a petition drive and got about 1,800 signatures—most of them (about 1,200) unemployed hospitality workers, so we had a base of about 8,000 people for our campaign.

We began the campaign by hosting regular tax clinics for independent contractors to teach them how they could file a simple tax form so that they could qualify for the $1200 relief check. And then we also were setting up unemployment workshops. We partnered with a local, nonprofit organization called the Southeastern Louisiana Legal Services, so they were able to provide expertise and we provided access to workers. These workshops were organized by laid off restaurant workers teaching other hospitality workers how to file for benefits. And we pulled participants from those workshops into helping us set up future workshops. And all of these people became part of the mutual aid Facebook group.

And we used these trainings as an agitational tool. We said, you know, why is it that the people who need this money most are always the people who fall through the cracks? How is it that we are the people that keep this city running and we know that the city of New Orleans runs because of the work we do and yet we’re getting left in the gutter by the people who’ve gotten rich off of our work?

Our coalition did win $1 million from the reserve fund to be given to workers in the city, and we also won an additional $1.5 million in grant funding that our coalition is going to be distributing to members of our organizations however we see fit. So, we won $2.5 million; though we didn’t get all the way to the $100 million we demanded.

Our tax clinics were really effective in the first stage of the campaign. Now, most people have filed for unemployment and so we have shifted to partnering with the many mutual aid organizations that have sprung up in the city, organizations that just provide services without political education. For example, the Greater New Orleans Caring Collective started around March 15th and they’ve really quickly established this incredible infrastructure. They’ve been able to distribute fresh food and other services to a thousand working class families across the greater New Orleans area, and they have this desperate need for volunteers. So, rather than set up our own mutual aid system, we partner with them. They get access to our volunteers and we get access to working class families that we can work with around political education.

Just to reiterate, mutual aid is a tactic; it has to be understood within a framework of a broader campaign around demands. It is a way to bring working class people into your struggle and to build trust; but it’s not enough on its own.

Michael E. was a restaurant worker for eleven years and is now an environmental organizer. She is a member of the New Orleans DSA chapter and on the steering committee of the DSA labor commission.