JVP denounces Zoom, Facebook and YouTube for censoring Palestinians

Jewish Voice for Peace

Edward Said Mural at San Francisco State University, host to the censored event

New York City, NY (September 24, 2020) — In an unprecedented campaign of coordinated repression, Zoom, Facebook and YouTube shut down an open classroom academic event dedicated to the voices of Palestinians and other political prisoners organized by Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, founding director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies program, and Professor Tomomi Kinukawa, lecturer in the Women and Gender Studies Department at San Francisco State University.

The virtual open classroom featured Palestinian resistance icon Leila Khaled in conversation with Professors Abdulhadi and Kinukawa, along with academics and former political prisoners from South Africa, the United States, and Palestine, including JVP member Laura Whitehorn.

Abdulhadi and Kinukawa were joined by a team of graduate and undergraduate students from several institutions, including Saliem Shehadeh, UCLA doctoral candidate and AMED lecturer, Anais Amer, president of Arab Women Organization and leader of Students for Justice in Palestine at Wellesley College, and the full Board of the General Union of Palestinian Students-Sabreen Imtair, Ashar Abdallah, Daniella Shofani, Ariana Al-Khatib, and Lena Azzouz.

This is an extreme example of a well-documented and deeply troubling pattern of repression against and silencing of Palestinian scholarship and advocacy, both in the academy and on social media platforms. At a time when Facebook, YouTube and Zoom are regularly criticized for their failures to halt the rabid growth of white supremacist hate speech and calls for violence on their platforms, it is reprehensible that these businesses instead chose to silence an academic discussion about the voices of political prisoners across the world – including Palestinians.

As a Jewish organization committed to equality and dignity for all people in Palestine/Israel, we cannot allow this censorship to stand. The “Facebook, Stop Censoring Palestine” campaign, which we are proud to be a part of, calls on Facebook to stop its suppression of Palestine and Palestinian voices. Zoom, Facebook and YouTube’s censorship underscore the urgency of combatting the silencing of human rights struggles worldwide.

We demand an immediate, strong response from SFSU ensuring that they will do everything in their power to ensure that Palestinian voices are not censored on campus. We also hope to see from SFSU a strong statement naming the actions today by Zoom, Facebook and Youtube as a dangerous overreach and a chilling precedent.

Rabbi Alissa Wise, Deputy Director, Jewish Voice for Peace: “We know that the machinery of antisemitism is being wielded by those in power to divide us, and we refuse to have our pain used to repress others. Palestinians deserve to be heard, and we will repeat until its heard: Criticism of the Israeli state is not antisemitic.”

Dr. Tallie Ben Daniel, Director of Special Projects at Jewish Voice for Peace: “This latest censorship is especially frightening as so many universities now use  Zoom or similar software. In this time of increased digital learning, we believe tech companies have a special responsibility to ensure debates and discussions continue unobstructed by right-wing political forces.”

Ellen Brotsky, JVP-Bay Area member: “The JVP-Bay Area chapter was outraged to learn today that Facebook removed our event page for the webinar “Whose Narratives?” featuring a conversation with Laila Khaled, Palestinian activist and leader. We co-sponsored this webinar because we believe that Palestinian voices must be lifted up and heard by people in the United States, even when those voices are critical of Israel and Zionism and may cause discomfort to some. We are even more outraged that all three media platforms – Facebook, Zoom and YouTube – caved to anti-Palestinian pressure and pulled the plug on the webinar. We stand with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, land and human rights and we stand against all attempts to censor Palestinian voices.”

Dr. Rosalind Petchesky, Distinguished Professor Emerita at the City University of New York and JVP-NYC member: “Given the decades of intensive repression of Palestinians and their allies, it is no surprise that the issue of Palestinian rights is the first to be subject to such an overt campaign of coordinated censorship by these tech giants. Private corporations deciding what is acceptable speech on a college campus should scare us all. Dr. Abdulhadi has built a career as one of the foremost authorities on Arab and Palestinian feminisms in U.S. academia and the world — despite enormous pushback and discrimination against her field and her personal self as a Palestinian scholar. It is an outrage that her hundreds of students were denied exposure to the historic panel of speakers she assembled for today’s webinar.”

JVP staff and members are available for interviews.

This press release was issued by Jewish Voice for Peace on September 24, 2020. It appears on the JVP website here. Listen to Professor Rabab Abdulhadi speak on the situation in Palestine and the growth of the global solidarity movement in this webinar Justice Is Indivisible.

YouTube, Zoom and Facebook censor Leila Khaled for Israel

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Leila Khaled was censored on major internet platforms at the behest of Israel lobby groups and the Israeli government. (Fira Literal Barcelona)

Major Silicon Valley companies censored an event at San Francisco State University on Wednesday.

This means that during the pandemic, private companies closely aligned with the government have immense power over what can be said, even in an academic setting.

Zoom, the web-based videoconferencing platform, announced Tuesday evening that it was prohibiting SFSU from using its software to host a planned webinar on Wednesday with Leila Khaled, the Palestinian resistance icon who is now in her seventies and lives in Jordan.

The event was also restricted by Facebook, which has a lengthy history of censoring Palestinians on behalf of Israel.

On Wednesday, the event went ahead via YouTube, but shortly after it began, the company cut off the video stream, replacing it with a notice that said “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s Terms of Service.”

According to an email seen by The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday, professor Rabab Abdulhadi, director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora program at SFSU, and the event’s co-moderator professor Tomomi Kinukawa, say they expected the university to “seriously and publicly challenge Zoom’s attempt to control higher education and the content of our curriculum and classrooms.”

The professors add that “the privatization of our education is a serious development. As a public institution, SFSU must refuse and resist.”

Zoom’s announcement was a capitulation to the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian groups – including the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs and the Lawfare Project – which have pressured the company for weeks over the planned event.

Last week, Israeli lawmakers publicly denounced the event and smeared its organizers as anti-Semitic.

A member of the left-wing political group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Khaled is best known for her role in a series of plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970. She has not been involved in any armed resistance activities in decades.

Act.IL, the Israeli government-funded astroturfing app that sends its users on “missions” to promote Israel, also encouraged its users to send emails to the university system’s board of trustees.

Act.IL declared “victory” on Wednesday morning.

It had then urged its users to disrupt the YouTube stream while it was in progress.

Khaled would have been speaking alongside South African anti-apartheid military leader Ronnie Kasrils, US activists and former political prisoners Sekou Odinga and Laura Whitehorn, and scholar Rula Abu Dahou, director of the women’s studies institute at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank.

SFSU president Lynn Mahoney had defended the planned event on academic freedom grounds.

But in a bizarre statement, Mahoney said on Wednesday that Zoom’s refusal to host the webinar is as “wounding to some” as Khaled’s participation in a classroom discussion.

She did not say if the administration was going to do more to challenge the company’s policy.

Abdulhadi accuses the SFSU administration of systematically undermining her AMED program, including canceling Palestine-specific courses and gutting its budget.

Pushing back

Israel lobby organizations attempted to get federal and state governments involved in shutting down the webinar.

The Lawfare Project, a pro-Israel group that uses lawsuits to harass supporters of Palestinian rights, recently sent a letter to the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice.

It claimed that SFSU hosting Khaled would constitute “material support” to US-designated “terrorists,” even though Khaled is not being compensated for her involvement in the webinar.

The Lawfare Project has been one of Abdulhadi’s most vicious attackers, attempting – but failing – to silence her.

Additionally, the Zionist group AMCHA Initiative claimed that the event violates two California laws.

However, free speech defense organization FIRE said neither of those laws applies.

Supporters of Palestinian rights and academic freedom have been pushing back.

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) declared “its unflinching support” for the webinar and for Abdulhadi and called Israel lobby efforts to smear and silence those advocating for justice “poisonous and destructive.”

Private companies as arbiters of speech

After earlier failing to get the university to cancel the event, anti-Palestinian groups pivoted to pressuring Zoom, with the Lawfare Project threatening the company under the same “material support” clause.

Israel advocates also protested outside Zoom’s headquarters on Tuesday.

“In light of the speaker’s reported affiliation or membership in a US-designated foreign terrorist organization, and SFSU’s inability to confirm otherwise, we determined the meeting is in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service and told SFSU they may not use Zoom for this particular event,” the company stated later that day.

As a private company, Zoom sets its own terms of service (ToS) and can decide what it will allow on its platform.

But with most public discourse and even education now dependent on such platforms, companies like Zoom, YouTube and Facebook are now essentially the arbiters of free speech.

Israel lobby groups celebrated Zoom’s censorship.

Abdulhadi said what happened is part of a pattern by Israel lobby groups.

“What they’re trying to do – these attacks and vilifications, the smearing and bullying – is to deflect the discussion,” Abdulhadi told The Electronic Intifada.

“They are bothered by the ways in which we are focusing on questions of Black liberation, Palestinian liberation and prison abolition, and the connections between these movements,” Abdulhadi said.

This article appeared on the Electronic Intifada website on September 23, 2020 here. Listen to Professor Rabab Abdulhadi speak on the situation in Palestine and the growth of the global solidarity movement in this webinar Justice Is Indivisible.

Re-imagining union organizing

Ann Finkel

Black Lives Matter at School poster (www.blacklivesmatteratschool.com/)

In her Organizing Upgrade article, From Resolutions to Transformation: How Unions Are Organizing for Racial Justice, Stephanie Luce reported on how teachers, nursing home workers and telephone workers are re-imagining what “union” demands and organizing look like. Here, Boston teacher Ann Finkel reflects on her experience in light of Luce’s article.

As a member of the Boston Teachers Union (BTU), I appreciated reading Stephanie Luce’s article on how a number of unions are organizing for racial justice. Our country is clearly in the middle of multifaceted crises that make the need for rank-and-file organizing in this moment especially critical and exciting.

As Luce discusses, in June the BTU passed a “Resolution to Build an Anti-Racist Union.” While I was not involved in writing or organizing around this resolution, from the receiving end I can say the recruitment to show up to the meeting was very effective. I have only attended a handful of membership meetings before being involved in BTU Caucus of Rank and File Educators (BTUCORE), but after receiving emails over four different lists, texts from three colleagues, and one voicemail asking me to attend this particular meeting, I was certainly committed to attending.

This resolution comes at a time when staff at my school, and at schools across the district, are meeting to figure out how to talk with students about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement, and white teachers are starting to have conversations about how to educate ourselves in the ways that racism plays out in our own classrooms. Showing up to vote for this resolution was a first step in turning this talk into action by putting our commitments down on paper. Now, as a union, we can move forward with the hard work of turning these commitments into reality.

We are in a moment when COVID necessitates that school be completely reimagined. By passing this resolution, the BTU proactively put forward a vision for schools in which every student has ethnic studies courses, special ed students receive the services they are entitled to in high-quality inclusion classes, there is a fulltime mental health professional in every school, teachers are trained in anti-racism practices, and the halls are free of school police.

Getting rid of school police was the contentious item in the resolution, with some teachers being resistant. While some no doubt have concerns arising from deep-seated racism, others have very legitimate concerns about safety.

We see time again a school or district begin to implement an initiative, and then watch as the training and funding fizzle out prematurely, and responsibility for follow-through ultimately lands solely on the shoulders of already-overburdened educators. Teachers then get faulted for the inevitable shortcomings of these initiatives, when in reality the fault lies in the systems which made success impossible in the first place.

In order to remove police from schools successfully, there has to be a commitment from the city and the district to fully fund mental health professionals, hire folks trained in de-escalation, and properly implement restorative justice practices.

BTUCORE, the rank-and-file caucus in the BTU, is in the process of forming, and we will eagerly join with rank-and-file members of other unions in organizing for racial justice, and demand that we are given the tools to follow through on our anti-racism commitments.

NBA Players Demand Democratic Reform

K Mann

With an average height of 6’6” versus 5’9” for the general U.S. population professional basketball players are giants in the conventional physical sense. They recently proved they are moral and political giants as well. First, with the Milwaukee Bucks leading the charge, they halted play in the midst of their playoffs to state their opposition to racist police violence following the brutal shooting and paralysis of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 23. (See Athletes Making Sports Matter.)

Then, the players demanded that the sports arenas they play in — large airy structures with great potential for social distancing — be used as polling stations for the November elections. In so doing, the players are making not only a statement, but a demand — which has been reportedly accepted — in favor of ensuring a basic democratic right: elections open to all eligible voters.

They also reportedly won agreement that game time advertisements, which are worth huge sums, will include voter registration information. Such measures complement the efforts of NBA superstar LeBron James’ efforts to assure voting participation through the recruitment of poll workers.

Even before the NBA players actions professional athletes from Colin Kaepernick to, most recently, the women’s NBA (WNBA) have taken strong public positions in favor of racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The assault on African American voting rights has been a cornerstone of white supremacy since the end of Reconstruction in 1877. Poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and for Black and white women before the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, blanket exclusion, topped off by white violence were the methods of Black disenfranchisement until the sending of federal troops to southern states and the passage of the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

The current methods used to disenfranchise African Americans include the closing of polling stations, the removal of mail sorting machines in the U.S. Post Office by a Trump political hack, gerrymandering, and other dirty tricks, all designed to help Trump and the Republicans at the polls.

The demand that the stadiums be used as polling stations is a measure to assure both public safety and democratic participation. It is also of political and symbolic importance. Urban residents, many of whom are of color and occupy the lowest rungs of the labor market, are at greatest risk of both Covid-19 and disenfranchisement. They often live in the shadow of these stadiums, the price of whose tickets are well beyond their reach.

Many poor people of color have been displaced to make room for the stadiums. Often the stadiums have been paid for with bonds bought up by wealthy investors who can purchase tickets and attend the game, usually in sky boxes whose very presence drives up ticket prices for the regular seats, and write off the price of their tickets as business expenses. The bonds are paid back through the use of regressive sales taxes which fall most heavily on the shoulders of these same victims of economic exploitations, excessive exposure to the risks of Covid-19, and political disenfranchisement.

The demand to open up sports arenas as polling stations is deeply democratic and a rational safe approach to public health. It’s a bold demand that helps us imagine how sports stadiums could be transformed from citadels of displacement and inequality to places where all, regardless of ability to pay, could find a seat to the game, safe shelter if necessary in time of disaster, and a safe space to vote in time of a pandemic.

The demand of NBA players to use sports stadiums for polling places brings the social justice game of professional athletes to the next level in ways that make them truly giants.

David Graeber, Anthropologist and Activist of the 99%

Hannah Archambault

David Graeber’s heartbreaking early death is a great loss to leftist scholarship, popular political discourse, and political action. His work was broad-ranging and explicitly anti-capitalist, and he wrote and advocated along these lines for decades. He wrote extensively on theories of anarchist practice and tactics in terms of direct action and prefigurative politics, principles that he applied in his own activist work throughout his life.

In addition to his fundamental role in shaping the Occupy movement and the rise of “The 99%”, he was also deeply involved in promoting and supporting the Rojava project in Syria. The Kurdish-led movement was deeply influenced by Abdullah Öcalan’s democratic confederalism, which was in turn inspired by Murray Bookchin’s social ecology and libertarian munincipalism, and this framework was compatible with Graeber’s politics.

One of his two most widely read books, Debt: The First 5000 Years, challenged mainstream theories and genealogies of debt and money. The other, Bullshit Jobs, focused on the fundamental alienation of work in capitalist society, and the psychic damage it inflicts on working people. His work is overarchingly about the ways that capitalism inhibits human liberation and community, and the ways that we might overcome capitalism and its trappings and develop a new world for ourselves.

David Graeber was a professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics (LSE) from 2013 until his untimely death earlier this month at the age of 59. Prior to his appointment at LSE he was famously rejected for tenure at Yale despite widespread support from faculty and students, apparently for his anarchist political orientation and related activist work.

This turmoil in his professional career within academia was not reflected in his success as a public intellectual and activist — his contributions were pivotal not just to contemporary anarchist thought (although this is true), but to huge swaths of people across the political spectrum. This spectacular success in extending his analysis and writing beyond academia and into popular audiences was, perhaps, Graeber’s greatest skill. His popular works were exciting to read, his writing was incisive and charmingly acerbic, and only very infrequently slipping into didacticism or sectarianism. His books usually culminated in a case for an anti-authoritarian, generally explicitly anarchist, anti-capitalist politics and future, but reading his work never felt like a lecture on his particular politics.

This has been apparent in my own experience as an economics educator working with undergraduate students at a large state university. I’ve discussed both Bullshit Jobs and Debt: the First 5000 Years with my students at some length, either assigned by me or by another instructor over the last few years. The economics department I am in is a heterodox department, but many of our students are not leftists by any stretch of the imagination. Our students are likely to be equally invested in the finance, business or management departments as they are in our left-leaning econ department, and some of our students are quite conservative.

The impressive thing, then, is that I cannot remember a student reading Graeber and then saying that they got nothing out of it. Students across the board said that they found some part of the books illuminating, or, more importantly, they saw their experiences reflected in it.

Seeing their own life experiences reflected and reframed increased student curiosity, and encouraged them to read further, outside of the assigned materials, to expand on what they learned and the analysis they were building. As far as educators go, this is the best-case scenario — assigning a reading and students being moved to learn more of their own accord.

In Bullshit Jobs Graeber says, “This is not a book about a particular solution. It’s a book about a problem — one that most people don’t even acknowledge exists.”

Graeber’s writing makes the job of an educator easier by teasing out the most meaningful bits of human experience and encouraging students to expand their knowledge, but without explicitly telling them what to do or think. One professor who teaches classes on finance, money, and banking, called Debt: the First 5000 Years “a gift to humanity”.

Graeber’s intellectual endeavors were a part of his activist work. He believed that learning and exploring are aspects of teaching, and this was reflected in research methods. In Bullshit Jobs, he used personal discussions in Twitter direct messaging as material for ethnographic study — meeting people where they’re at in the truest sense.

Graeber’s method wasn’t to analyze the world from above, but to understand it from the where the action is, and to actively work towards the liberated world he hoped his writing was helping to advance. He was actively involved in significant protest movements around the world — the original anti-globalization protests, the Occupy movement, support for the Rojava project in Syria — and, using a variant of his own methodology, if Twitter posts are any indication, he responded to practically everyone who contacted him.

This is not to say that Graeber wasn’t controversial — certainly his staunch political anarchism and overarching rejection of Marxist methods and categories meant that his work was rejected outright by some elements of the left. My own Marxist method butted up against some of Graeber’s ideas, but our visions of the future were closely aligned.

Graeber looked forward to a future that rejected hierarchy, in which life was lived in conjunction and cooperation with the whole community, where human beings were able to live their fullest life, free of the coercion and violence that capitalism inflicts upon the human spirit as much as our bodies.

Despite potential differences in our analysis of the roots of capitalist exploitation, or tactics on how to get out of it, this shared view of capitalism as incompatible with human liberation and counterposed to efforts to build a just world, tied him to me and to all of us building towards the future beyond capitalism.

Hannah Archambault is a PhD student in Economics at UMass Amherst.

University of Michigan grad students strike for COVID-19, anti-policing demands

Robin Zheng

Photo: U-M Graduate Employees’ Organization

During the 1975 month-long strike that garnered the University of Michigan Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) its first contract, agreements on affirmative action and non-discrimination were secured within the first week after more than half the undergraduate students boycotted their classes in solidarity.

Since then, GEO has maintained a consistent record of hard-fought, precedent-setting contract victories that prioritize the well-being of historically disadvantaged groups, both within and beyond its own membership. These include childcare subsidies (2002, after a one-day walkout), trans-inclusive and trans-specific healthcare (2006 onward, including significant gains in 2020), improved disability accommodations (2011), fertility treatments (2014, a benefit secured for employees across the university), and the creation of paid positions for graduate students performing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work (2017, after a strike authorization).

On the picket line in 2020, GEO members regularly invoke this history of “bargaining for the common good” (or “social justice unionism”) as part of their motivations for striking. Their demands for “A Safe and Just Pandemic Response for All” boldly address the two intertwined global crises that have come to define our times: the disastrous failure of our institutions to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the deadly state-sanctioned violence ceaselessly inflicted on communities of color by the police.

GEO’s COVID-19 demands include a more robust testing and contact tracing program, a universal right to work remotely, more flexible subsidies for parents and caregivers, and support for international students; while their anti-policing demands include disarming and demilitarizing campus police, reallocating 50% of U-M Division of Public Safety and Security funds, and cutting ties with the Ann Arbor Police Department and ICE.

This is an abolitionist strike, a historic development unimaginable (and, to many, unintelligible) just a few years ago. But over the span of a summer, the American populace has been confronted head-on with the glaring fact that the people in our society who perform the most valuable work of all — the essential work of caring for others — are also the most exploited of workers, who are disproportionately people of color. Instead of funding health, education, housing, jobs and benefits for all who need it, our collective wealth is poured into the prisons and police forces whose function is to protect private property and profits.

This obvious betrayal of the “Wolverine Culture of Care,” widely recognized across the campus and broader community, has been critical to GEO’s strike. One day after GEO celebrated Labor Day with news of their strike, over 40% of the undergraduate residential staff (residential advisors and diversity peer educators) declared their own strike. The day after that, undergraduate dining hall workers also announced plans to walk out.

These non-unionized student workers have witnessed first-hand how promised safety measures were ineffective (as when university-issued branded facemasks failed the “flame test” recommended by the university’s own residential staff training) and unenforced (as evidenced by shoulder-to-shoulder lines outside dining halls). At least one residential adviser was put directly in harm’s way in carrying out orders to interact with a COVID-positive student.

Such conditions appear even more outrageous when we recall that these workers represent precisely the population of financially and otherwise disadvantaged students — who must earn their room and board to stay in school — that deserve the most protection.

Thus, when the union claims that it is striking on behalf of the entire community, it is no mere slogan or rhetorical flourish. GEO members feel keenly that all the benefits and protections of being in a union, earned by prior generations of graduate student workers fighting tooth and nail before them, simultaneously produce serious responsibilities.

Right up until the strike authorization ballot went out, much of the membership remained unconvinced that it was the right course of action. A decisive factor in changing their minds was witnessing the concerns expressed by the U-M Faculty Senate, which is expected to hold a (mostly symbolic) vote of no confidence in the U-M administration on Wednesday, September 16.

Similarly, during a 4-hour virtual General Membership Meeting on the second day of the strike, in which a record 1,250 members deliberated over whether or not to accept the administration’s initial offer, a majority of the membership started off in favor of accepting the tiny concessions that had been delivered alongside a threat of retaliation. But by the end, the offer was rejected by a margin of about 2 to 1.

Many were swayed by the evidence of widespread community support as well as emotional testimonies from their fellow members, which included perspectives on being a member of color and being out on 5 AM picket lines in the pouring rain.

Perhaps still feeling the weight of contract negotiations settled earlier this year during which the university refused to bargain over planks on disarming and demilitarizing the campus police (as well as divestment from fossil fuels, ICE, and the private prison industry), members asserted that the meager wins on offer simply did not represent what and whom they are fighting for.

As part of a well-organized union, GEO members are capable of coordinating a large-scale action that (1) has a real shot at forcing concrete concessions, due to its disruptive potential, and (2) does not leave isolated individuals or groups to shoulder the challenges and risks of speaking out. Clearly, they see it as their duty to use this collective power — including their most effective weapon, the strike — on behalf of not only GEO membership, but all the other students, staff, and even faculty on campus who have been trying but not been able to make their voices heard.

GEO has worked assiduously to build transparent lines of communication with these wider constituencies, using a variety of innovative means. They wrote a letter to parents of U-M students, explaining: “We have voted to strike because it is the lesser of two disruptions to our students’ education… Many of our demands will directly improve the quality of your children’s instruction.”

They scheduled “virtual picket lines,” open to supporters anywhere, in which participants collectively made phone calls, sent emails, and reflected on the strike. They held a Town Hall for faculty, attended by 600 people and repeated a second time by request, after which meeting minutes were made publicly available.

They wrote up an FAQ in response to U-M leadership emails painting the strike as unnecessary and illegal, and conducted an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. They created a link tree with easy access to information on joining pickets, donating supplies and money for the strike fund, and a live-updating compilation of media coverage.

When striking residential staff broke the news that COVID-positive students in quarantine were provided with virtually no supplies and given chips, nuts, and granola bars in lieu of hot meals, GEO organized donations of food and toilet paper.

The tremendous outpouring of public support for the GEO and residential staff strikes is a testament to how successfully their message has been understood by the local community (and beyond). Since the very first day of the strike, significant numbers of undergraduates have turned out for picket shifts beginning at 5AM, distributed flyers, offered strikers free produce, and, according to one touching account, pooled their money to buy sandwiches for the picket line.

A U-M faculty letter of support had 436 signatories by the time it was published in the student newspaper; indeed, a number of faculty themselves participated in the nationwide #ScholarStrike for racial justice that dovetailed with the first two days of the GEO strike.

U-M Facilities and Ann Arbor Area Transport Authority bus drivers honked their support when passing the picket. Community organizations like the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, Washtenaw County Poor People’s Campaign, Ann Arbor Tenants’ Union, and Huron Valley DSA published statements of support and sent their members to the pickets.

Strikers spontaneously started car rallies, faculty and students organized solidarity marches and rallies, and a virtual university-wide Speak-Out was organized by the U-M All-Campus Labor Council (ACLC) which prominently featured the voices of non-tenure track lecturers, nurses, and hospital workers across all three Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn campuses.

On social media, GEO received support and donations from academic labor unions around the country, public figures ranging from Keaanga Yahmatta-Taylor to N. K. Jemisin to Rashida Tlaib, and Black Lives Matter Michigan — to which GEO replied: “We owe our momentum, especially for our anti-policing demands, to the history of Black-led abolitionist activism in Washtenaw County and beyond.”

Perhaps most significantly, a sizable number of unionized workers on campus construction sites, including electrical workers, bricklayers, plumbers and pipefitters, steelworkers, operating engineers, and the laborers’ union, walked off their job sites in solidarity, despite heated disagreement over GEO’s anti-policing demands.

When GEO members (AFT Local 3550) were confronted with the charge that teachers often cross other picket lines, they were able to point to their recent participation in a successful 7-day informational picket organized by IBEW Local 252 that forced U-M to reverse its decision to hire a non-union contractor (an attempt to “test the waters” after the 2018 repeal of prevailing wage legislation which was widely viewed as an attack on the wage rates of all the local building trades).

Still, they were forced to acknowledge that GEO must in turn do more on their part to show greater and more consistent solidarity with local unions — particularly if they hope for the broader labor movement to adopt their social justice demands. This is a lesson, of course, that all progressive movements would do well to learn.

There can be little doubt that we will soon see more attacks on labor unions; on U-M “workers, patients, students, and the community” (in the words of the ACLC); and on communities of color. On Friday, September 11, U-M filed an unfair labor practice in an effort to quell the strike rather than address the issues that led to it.

Meanwhile, GEO has signed up more than 350 new members and received over $40,000 in donations over the past week. As one member put it: “The historical conjuncture calls for boldness and people feel it in their bones.”

Whatever the ultimate outcome of the GEO strike, which was re-authorized over the weekend for another 5 days, at the very least they will have shown us the critical importance of “whole worker” solidarity in the darkest moments of crisis — and the ability of organized labor to stand on the frontlines of struggles for transformative social change. They will have given light and hope to supporters everywhere, a voice to the most vulnerable, and a powerful demonstration of what it means to fight back.

Robin Zheng is a University of Michigan alumna and former president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization.

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.

Athletes Making Sports Matter

David Finkel

The court and benches are empty of players and coaches at the scheduled start of an NBA basketball first round playoff game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool) SOURCE: Ashley Landis

APRIL 5, 1968 — the night after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. — was the opening of a crucial playoff series between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Reluctantly, the players from both teams went ahead with the game, although their hearts weren’t in it in an atmosphere that sportswriter Leonard Koppett called “subdued.” It’s never been clear to me how much pressure they may have been under, but evidently those players, some of whom were civil rights fighters, felt they couldn’t refuse to take the floor.

Later that same year, U.S. track athletes John Carlos and Tommy Smith were infamously vilified for their fisted salute on the Mexico City Olympic victory podium, then were peremptorily recalled home and had their careers trashed. On the culture wars front, guitar superstar Jose Feliciano and Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell came in for heavy criticism after Feliciano, at Harwell’s invitation, performed at a Tiger Stadium World Series game a gently swinging rendition of the national anthem that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow today.

Times have changed. The 2020 National Basketball Association playoffs inside the Orlando COVID-free bubble were abruptly suspended on Wednesday, August 26 when the players of the Milwaukee Bucks, rapidly followed by other teams, voted unanimously not to play their scheduled game in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. The Bucks read a statement demanding that the Wisconsin state legislature take immediate action for police reform and accountability.

TNT commentator and former NBA player Kenny Smith announced on the air that in solidarity he didn’t feel he should be working the broadcast, and left the studio as Shaquille O’Neal remarked, “I respect that.” This kind of action is unheard of in the tightly corporate world of sports entertainment.

It didn’t stop there. The Milwaukee Brewers baseball team also called off their game, while the WNBA didn’t play after the Washington Mystics players showed up with letters on their uniform fronts spelling Jacob Blake’s name, and each with seven bullet holes drawn on the back. The WNBA players have already dedicated the league’s 2020 season to the memory and demand for justice for Breonna Taylor. As one Mystics player put it, “We’re not just basketball players. When we go home, most of us are still Black.”

Major League Soccer followed the others’ example. This was all on the night when Mike Pence told the Republican Convention that under his and Donald Trump’s rule, “we will never defund the police — never,” while a far-right youthful militia admirer gunned down protesters in Kenosha.

It was four years ago that Trump bellowed that any “son of a bitch” football player who followed Colin Kaepernick’s example of taking a knee during the anthem should be “FIRED — FIRED!” Today, with the beginning of the National Football League season a couple weeks away, some teams beginning with the Detroit Lions have cancelled practice sessions.

The contrast between the white-nationalist-promoting, virus-super-spreading president and the dignified militant stance of today’s generation of professional athletes could hardly be greater. At this writing on Thursday, August 27 the situation is fluid. Tonight’s NBA playoff games are also postponed, while players are meeting to determine their demands and course of action.

According to some accounts, LeBron James has called for cancelling the entire multi-billion dollar NBA playoffs, while other reports indicate that the schedule will resume this weekend. Many developments are likely to have happened by the time you’re reading this article. As I’m finishing it, it turns out that in response to players’ demands, the majority-Canadian and mostly-white National Hockey League has suspended its playoff games for tonight and tomorrow August 27-28.

What happens next remains to be seen, but certainly this “wildcat athletes’ strike” is not over, and it’s a powerful and hopeful sign at a time of calamity in a deeply sick society.

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.