On Wednesday, President Obama and a bipartisan collection of Congressional leaders paid tribute to the legacy of Rosa Parks by unveiling a statue of her at the Capitol. The 9-foot bronze figure of Parks desegregated Statuary Hall; hers is the first statue of a black woman to be installed at the Capitol and currently the only statue of a black person (a statue of Frederick Douglass is set to be moved there shortly).
Yet, the statue of Rosa Parks—seated and clutching her purse—turned her into a meek and redemptive figure. To the end of her life, Parks believed the United States had a long way to go in the struggle for social and racial justice. Yesterday’s ceremony, however, was largely an exercise in national self-congratulation and a demonstration of American pride and pageantry. It invoked the history of racial injustice to put that history in the past.
“The statue speaks for itself,” House Speaker John Boehner began, noting how its placement in the hall embodied “the vision of a more perfect union.” “What a story, what a legacy, what a country,” Senator Mitch McConnell extolled at the close of his remarks.
As these words were spoken, across the Washington Mall, the Supreme Court heard arguments challenging provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v Holder. Only one speaker at the dedication, Representative James Clyburn, made specific reference to the case, which threatens to undermine the gains that Parks helped bring about.
[Read the rest here]
Aviva Chomsky in Havana. Photo courtesy of the author.
I’ve been traveling to Cuba
regularly since 1995, for research, to attend conferences, and to take students
on short-term study abroad trips, when those have been allowed under the
Clinton and Obama Administrations. (Such trips were prohibited under the Bush
Administrations.) I’ve published several articles in Cuban journals, mostly
about Cuba-related themes.
Last weekend, I was in Havana to
present the new Cuban edition of ¡Nos
quitan nuestros empleos! (the Spanish translation of my book They Take Our Jobs!, which was published by Beacon
in 2007) at the International Book Fair in Havana.
Shortly after They Take Our Jobs! came out in English, friends in
immigrants-rights organizations told me that we needed a Spanish-language
version. It took a while to find a publisher (Haymarket Press) and even longer
to finish the translation. My Cuban friend who helped with the final editing of
the Spanish version, Alfredo Prieto, offered to help me find a publisher in
Cuba as well. He put me in touch with Fernando García of Editorial Nuevo
Milenio, who ended up bringing out the beautiful Cuban edition. I am thrilled
to have the project come to this fruition, and that I was able to be Havana for
Most often, my trips to Cuba begin
in Miami, a strange, liminal place that always seems like a good way to
transition from the United States to Latin America or vice versa. The driver of
my hotel shuttle asks me where I’m going. “Cuba,” I tell him. “You are going to
my country,” he replies. I switch to Spanish and ask him how long he’s been in
the United States. Since 1998, he tells me. “Here you work very, very, hard,”
he goes on. “I’ve lived well here, don’t get me wrong. But Cuba is my country,
and that’s where I want to live. Cuba is wonderful. It’s just the government
that’s bad, that’s ruined everything.”
Even though my flight doesn’t leave
till 9, I have to check in at 6. This is an improvement over the last time I
went, using the same charter company, Marazul Tours. Last March I was told to
arrive at the airport four hours ahead of the flight and look for an agent
wearing a blue t-shirt in Terminal G. Needless to say, there was no
blue-shirted agent anywhere to be found, and nobody answered the phone at the
several numbers I had for Marazul. Nor were there any counters that seemed
connected to our charter flight, which didn’t appear on any of the “departure”
screens. Finally a rumor reached our ears—other passengers looking for the same
blue t-shirt thought we should try Terminal D. With little else to go on, I and
my 13 students trudged over to Terminal D. Still no blue shirt, and no flight
listed on any screen, but the rumors grew thicker, and, finally, we found
ourselves at an anonymous-looking counter checking in. It was like being in
Cuba before we even left Miami—somehow you just have to figure out how to do
things that seem impossible—resolver,
as the Cubans say.
This time, though, I arrive as
instructed with only three hours to spare. Terminal G is teeming with
blue-shirted representatives, and multiple flights to Havana are listed on
every screen. There are only two people ahead of me in line, and I am quickly
checked in. The only sign that this is not a normal flight is when I try to use
my credit card to pay the $20 to check my bag. “Sorry, we only take cash,” I am
told. The blue-shirted representative says he’ll wait for me while I run to the
I usually try not to check my bag,
but this time I’m carrying many bottles of medicines and hand sanitizer that my
Cuban friends have requested. I’m also carrying a half pound of baker’s
chocolate—they want me to bake brownies while I’m there.
A grey-haired gentleman going
through the same lines asks if I’m with a group. No, I say, and you? “Yes, we
are a gentle group,” I hear him reply. I look around—his companions look gentle
enough, but I’m still confused—are they Quakers, or something? Then he starts
to tell me about the activities they’ll be doing in Cuba, and I realize that
they are dentists—a dental group.
By 7 I’m at the gate. I order a
cafe con leche from a nearby stand before I sit down. “Ya está dulce,” the
server tells me kindly as she hands it to me. We’re almost in Cuba—the coffee
automatically comes sweet, and in Spanish.
My seatmate on the first leg of my
journey—from Ontario, California, where I am teaching at Pomona College, to
Dallas—was a graduate student in Spanish returning home from a job interview.
I’m reading a book called Dangerous
Trade: Histories of Industrial Hazard across a Globalizing World. The third
chapter is about a mercury mine in Almadén, Spain. “That’s where my father
worked—he was a mining engineer,” she offers. When the mine closed, the town
died—now there is hardly anyone left. She came to the United States to study,
and will probably stay. Migrations and global connections are everywhere.
My seat partner on the plane to
Havana tells me that she is going back to Cuba for the first time since she
left, in 1968, at age 13. “Look, I’m trembling,” she tells me as the plane
touches down. Her grandmother left Spain for Cuba in her 30s, and returned for
the first time when she was 80. “I’m almost as bad,” she says. I’m embarrassed
to tell her that I’m going to Cuba for the publication of my book on
If the Miami airport experience has
improved, the Havana experience has not. The line through immigration takes
over an hour, and the bags have still not appeared when I finally get through. Nobody
seems to know which of the two baggage claim areas our bags will be on. It’s
hot, noisy, and crowded, and it’s not clear where there are lines to stand in
and where we are supposed to go. Somehow, though, my suitcase appears and I
manage to pass through the required lines and exit the terminal. As always,
there is a huge crowd of excited friends and relatives waiting for people from
the Miami flights.
Every time I travel to Latin
America, I’m reminded how important, and how complicated, water is. At home, we
expect clean water to flow reliably from every pipe whenever we turn a faucet
or push a handle. Kitchen sink, bathroom sink, shower, toilets—there are so
many places where something can go wrong—assuming that there is water at all,
and that it’s not contaminated. The TV screen in the airport welcoming
travelers to Cuba flashes health warnings, one of which is (in Spanish) to
always boil your water before you drink it. This time, my friends advise me to
use boiled water to brush my teeth and to rinse dishes and vegetables in boiled
water after washing them.
Sometimes you can avoid the
foreign-tourist-in-Cuba experience of being “hustled” by staying away from
hotels and tourist sites. This time, though, I’m approached while waiting on a
busy street in Centro Habana outside my friends’ apartment. It’s 96 steps up,
and someone has to come down to unlock the street door for me. “Are you
visiting Cuba for the first time?” a young man asks me from inside a
neighboring storefront offering “economist/accounting services.” “What are you
doing here?” I’m a professor, attending the book fair, I tell him. “Oh, a
professor, what do you teach? Are you interested in economic issues?” Yes, I
say. “My friend just wrote a book on cuentapropismo,
he reveals. “I have a dozen copies at my place down the street. Do you want
one?” Maybe, I say guardedly, but I don’t have much room in my luggage. “Are
you married?” he continues without missing a beat. “I really like you. (Me caes muy bien.)” “Yes, I’m married” I
lie. “It doesn’t matter!” he exclaims. “It can be our secret dream! Nobody has
The book fair is amazing. The main
installation is at the El Morro fort just outside the city. The parking lot is
filled with buses and cars, and walkers are flowing in as well. The many
streets inside are packed with people. Publishers’ displays are interspersed
with food stalls, children’s activity stations, and performances. There is no
security visible, and the crowds are relaxed and jovial. The only thing I can
compare it to is First Night in Boston. But here everyone has come to look at
A young man approaches me after a
presentation by the sister of one of the Cuban 5, national heroes, imprisoned
in the United States on charges of espionage. They were spying on right-wing
Cuban American organizations that had planned and carried out armed attacks
against Cuba. “You probably don’t recognize me,” he says shyly. “You were
friends with my mother in 1995, when you were in Cuba with your kids. I was a
baby then, but when you left, you gave my mom the child seat from your bicycle.
I rode around in it for years.” He’s the same age as my son, in his third year
at the university.
There are multiple rooms with
concurrent book presentations going on all day, every day. Mine is at 3:00
Saturday afternoon. About 30 people fill the room. Two commentators precede me:
one describes my book in detail, and the second one gives my biography. I hope
he is around to write my obituary, because he gets it all so right: my
intellectual trajectory, my activism, my work life. It’s exactly how I want to
I decide to tell the audience about
four life experiences that brought me to write They Take Our Jobs!. They were experiences that opened my eyes to
the myths I had been living with, and together made me want to write a book
that would do the same for others. There’s a great word for it in Spanish: concientización. There’s no perfect
translation in English, but it’s something like consciousness-raising, or
The first experience was when I
left college after my first year, in 1976, to work for the United Farm Workers
in California. I was looking for something different to do, but I had no idea
what I was getting myself into. I had, of course, been eating fruits and
vegetables all my life, but as far as I knew, they came from the supermarket. It
had never occurred to me that everything I bought at the store had a history,
and that someone had to plant, care for, and harvest all of that produce. With
the farmworkers I was thrown right into the middle of a world I had no idea
existed: a world where almost everyone was Spanish-speaking and Mexican, and
where they worked long hours under harsh conditions to harvest the food we
blithely purchased in Massachusetts.
The second experience I recounted
was at UC Berkeley, where I was exposed to Chicano Studies and had the chance
to study with, and then teach for, one of the discipline’s founders, Carlos
Muñoz. The whole premise behind the Chicano Studies movement—like those that
pressed for the creation of African American and Native American studies
programs during that same tumultuous decade of the 1970s—was that existing
curriculums were basically the study of white people, and had left out the
experiences of people of color in the United States. Once again, this was an
eye-opener. All that history I had been learning all of those years, that was
an exclusive, politicized, history? There were whole histories that it had left
out? I decided to become a historian.
The third experience was when I got
to Bates College in 1990, fresh PhD in Latin American history in hand. Being in
Maine, one of the coldest and whitest states in the country, Bates had been
very slow to diversify, and its Latino student population was extremely small
and extremely new. Both students and faculty urged me to create a course on
Latino history, and I was eager to do so. A lot had changed since my Chicano
Studies days, though. Latin American immigration had skyrocketed, and it had
diversified both in its origins—including far more Caribbean, Central American,
and South American immigrants—and in its destinations, moving out of its
traditional centers in California and the Southwest. The new discipline of
Latino—rather than Chicano, or Boricua (Puerto Rican) studies—was developing. I
jumped on the bandwagon and decided I needed to become part of this new wave of
Finally, the experience that led
directly to They Take Our Jobs! came
in May of 2006, with the massive immigrants rights demonstrations. I
participated in a small part of the nation-wide movement, in Salem, where
immigrant-owned businesses closed and children stayed home from school on May
1, the national “day without an immigrant.”
The next day, I was in my
department office conversing with an African American colleague. Nearby, some
white students were complaining about the demonstrations. “I don’t have anything
against immigrants, only illegal immigrants. My ancestors came here legally! These
immigrants should do it the right way, following the law, like my ancestors
did.” This was a discussion I had
engaged in a million times already, and I had my response ready: Your ancestors
came here legally because they were European, and there were no legal
restrictions on European immigration at the time. But somehow, looking at my
colleague, it struck me for the first time: Only white people say that! Of
course the ancestors of most African Americans came here “legally” too—because
their enslavement was perfectly legal. But white people who are so proud that
their ancestors came legally are basically saying that they are proud to have
benefitted from white privilege.
I decided not to get into an
argument at that moment, but when I got home and opened the local newspaper,
the front-page article about the demonstrations quoted a white observer making
the same comment. It seemed more useful to compose a letter to the editor
explaining my thoughts, so I did; it was published the next day. And a few days
later an editor from Beacon Press called me saying that she had seen my letter,
and wondered whether I’d be interested in expanding it into a book. That was
the seed of They Take Our Jobs!.
The eminent Cuban historian Jorge
Ibarra attends my talk. “Whatever happened to your book on Haitian migrant
workers in Cuba?” he demands. On my first visit to the island, he had provided
invaluable help orienting me to the historiography, and the archives, relevant
to my research. “I never wrote the book,” I confess. “I published the research
I did here as an article in the Hispanic
American Historical Review, but then my work ended up moving in different
directions.” “I still have the original, typed manuscript of that article!” he
tells me proudly. “You gave it to me when you came back the next year, when you
were working on it.”
As I get ready to leave the fair,
I’m asked to sign a statement, a letter to Comandante Presidente Hugo Chávez
Frías. “The undersigned intellectuals, artists, writers, and guests who are
participating in the Twenty-second International Book Fair in Havana, from the
San Carlos Fort in La Cabaña, wish to send the President of Venezuela, Hugo
Chávez Frías, our solidarity and our commitment to accompany him day by day in
these moments of his recovery, because we know that he is carrying out a battle
and his spirit of struggles continues intact in these difficult but hopeful
moments he is living through,” the letter begins, in somewhat typical flowery
Spanish-language style. “You have succeeded in extending ties of unity to other
continents and countries besieged at this time by the twenty-first century wars
of recolonization, and you have always accompanied them with your solidarity. Dear
Comandante, you have succeeded, along with other compañeros, in achieving the uncompleted dream of Simón Bolívar,
José de San Martín, and other heroes of our independence, frustrated by another
imperial expansion that framed our dependence since the end of the nineteenth
century... You are at the forefront of this battle with your strength, courage,
and love. Adelante, Comandante, our
peoples are waiting for you.”
It sounds a lot like a song I
played for my students at Pomona last week, “Simón Bolívar,” written in the
early 1970s by the Chilean group Inti Illimani.
Simón Bolívar, Simón,
revivido en las memorias
que abrió otro tiempo la historia,
te espera el tiempo Simón.
Simón Bolívar, razón,
razón del pueblo profunda,
antes que todo se hunda
vamos de nuevo Simón.
You still live in our memories,
Simón History has opened another era Time is waiting for you, Simón... Before everything is lost Let’s try again, Simón.
The letter is not written exactly
with the words I would have used, but I don’t care, it’s basically a get-well
card, and I sign it, imagining that one day David Horowitz will discover it or
the National Enquirer will splash a
headline, “Aviva Chomsky claims Hugo Chávez at ‘forefront of battle’ and calls
for him to forge ahead!” But I doubt I’m important enough for it to merit any
notice at all. And it feels like the least I can do.
A scene from the million-person march in Los Angeles in 2006. (Photo: David Bacon)
need an immigration policy based on human, civil and labor rights, which looks
at the reasons why people come to the U.S., and how we can end the
criminalization of their status and work. While proposals from Congress and the
administration have started the debate over the need for change in our
immigration policy, they are not only too limited and ignore the global nature
of migration, but they will actually make the problem of criminalization much
worse. We need a better alternative.
alternative should start by looking at the roots of migration - the reasons why
people come to the U.S. in the first place. Movement and migration is a human
right. But we live in a world in which a lot of migration isn’t voluntary, but
is forced by poverty and so-called economic reforms.
Our trade policy, and the economic
measures we impose on countries like Mexico, El Salvador or the Philippines
make poverty worse. When people get poorer and their wages go down, it creates
opportunities for U.S. corporate investment. This is what drives our trade
policy. But the human cost is very high.
In El Salvador today, the U.S. Embassy
is telling the government to sell off its water, hospitals, schools and
highways to give U.S. investors a chance to make money. This policy is enabled
by the Central American Free Trade Agreement, whose purpose was increasing
opportunities in El Salvador for U.S. investors. It was imposed on the people
of that country in the face of fierce popular opposition.
Alex Gomez, a leader of Salvadoran
public sector unions, came to San Francisco in February to explain what the
consequences of this latest free trade initiative will be. He says if these
public resources are privatized, tens of thousands of workers will lose their
jobs, and their unions will be destroyed. They will then have to leave the
country to survive.
According to Gomez, four million have
already left El Salvador. Two million have come to the US, not because they
love it here, but because they can’t survive any longer at home. These migrants
come without papers, because there are no visas for two million people from
this small country.
The North American Free Trade Agreement
did even more damage than CAFTA. It let U.S. corporations dump corn in Mexico,
to take over the market there with imports from the U.S. Today one company,
Smithfield Foods, sells almost a third of all the pork consumed by Mexicans. Because
of this dumping and the market takeover, prices dropped so low that millions of
Mexican farmers couldn’t survive. They too had to leave home.
Mexico used to be self-sufficient in
corn and meat production. Corn cultivation started there in Oaxaca many
centuries ago. Now Mexico is a net corn and meat importer from the U.S.
During the years NAFTA has been in
effect, the number of people in the U.S. born in Mexico went from 4.5 million
to 12.67 million. Today about 11% of all Mexicans live in the U.S. About 5.7
million of those who came were able to get some kind of visa, but another 7
million couldn’t. There just aren’t that many visas. But they came anyway
because they had very little choice, if they wanted to survive or their
families to prosper.
Our immigration laws turn these people
into criminals. They say that if migrants without papers work here it’s a
crime. But how can people survive here if they don’t work? We need a different
kind of immigration policy - that stops putting such pressure on people to
leave, and that doesn’t treat them as criminals if they do.
What would it look like?
First, we should tell the truth, as the
labor-supported TRADE Act would have us do, which was introduced into Congress
by Mike Michaud from Maine. We should hold hearings as the bill says, about the
effects of NAFTA and CAFTA, and collect evidence about the way those agreements
have displaced people in the U.S. and other countries as well.
Then we need to renegotiate those
existing agreements to eliminate the causes of displacement. If we provide
compensation to communities that have suffered the effects of free trade and
corporate economic reforms, that were intended to benefit U.S. investors, it
would be more than simple justice. It might give people more resources and more
of a future at home.
It makes no sense to negotiate new
trade agreements that displace even more people or lower living standards. This
administration has negotiated three so far, with Peru, Panama and South Korea. It
is now negotiating a new one -- the Trans Pacific Partnership. These are all
pro-corporate, people-displacing agreements. We should prohibit these and any
new ones like them. Instead, we need to make sure all future trade treaties
require adequate farm prices and income in farming communities, promote unions
and high wages, and don’t require the privatization of public services.
Increasingly these international
agreements, like Mode 4 of the World Trade Organization, treat displaced
migrants as a cheap and vulnerable labor force. Our trade negotiators call for
regulating their flow with guest worker programs. This is exactly the wrong
direction. We should ban the inclusion of guest workers in any future trade agreement
or treaty instead.
When diplomacy doesn’t work, U.S.
military intervention and aid programs are to support trade agreements,
structural adjustment policies or market economic reforms. This has been U.S.
policy in Honduras and Haiti, for instance. This also must stop. If the U.S.
Embassy is putting pressure on countries like El Salvador to adopt measures
that benefit corporate investors at the expense of workers and farmers, the
Ambassador should be recalled and the interference halted.
Finally, we should ratify the UN
Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families. This
international agreement would give us an alternative framework for recognizing
the rights of displaced migrants, and the responsibility of both sending and receiving
countries for their protection.
The failure of successive U.S.
administrations to even present this agreement to Congress for ratification
highlights the unpleasant truth about the real effect of our immigration
policy. When millions of migrants arrive here, they are criminalized because
they lack immigration status, especially when they go to work.
Labor and civil rights advocates often
fondly remember the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act because of it had
an amnesty, signed by President Ronald Reagan, which gave legal status
relatively quickly to almost four million people. But the law also contained
employer sanctions for the first time, which we often forget. That provision
says that employers will be fined and punished if they hire undocumented
This provision was promoted by those
who said that if work became illegal, then undocumented migration would end. This
clearly failed, since the number increased many-fold in the years that
followed. Compared to the pressure to leave home, criminalizing work was not a
deterrent to those who sought work here so that their families at home would
This provision sounded like a law
against employers, but it was not. It became an anti-worker law. No boss ever
went to jail for violating it. The fines were not great. When the government
agents seek to enforce it, employers who cooperate with them are forgiven. But
over the last four years alone, tens of thousands of workers have been fired
for not having papers. The true objects of punishment under this law have
always been workers, not employers.
Now Congress is talking about a new
reform, and we have to use this opportunity to push to repeal this law. Some
think that since a new legalization will hopefully give many undocumented
workers legal status, sanction won’t really affect anyone anymore.
But even the most positive predictions
about a new legalization still assume that millions of people will not quality
because of stringent qualifications, high fees and decades-long waiting
periods. Those people will still be subject to the sanctions law. And the day
after a new reform passes millions more people will come to the U.S. because of
the same pressures that caused past waves of migration. This is especially true
if a new immigration reform ignores the need to renegotiate trade agreements
and eliminate the huge displacement of people.
These future migrants are not
strangers. They are the husbands and wives, parents, and cousins of people
already here - people who are already part of our communities. They come from
the same towns, and are linked to neighborhoods here in the U.S. by the ties
that have been created by migration, work and family. They will work in our
workplaces, participate in our organizing drives, and belong to our unions. We
need to keep the sanctions law from being applied to them, making it a crime
for them to work. Unfortunately, however, Congress members aren’t talking about
getting rid of sanctions. In fact, they and the administration want to make the
current application even worse.
So let’s do a reality check. Let’s tell
the truth about how has this law been used.
One method for enforcing sanctions
happens when an employer uses it to screen people it is going to hire, using an
error-filled government database called E-verify. Congress and the
administration are calling for making it mandatory for all employers to use
this database, and refuse to hire anyone who it flags as undocumented.
For people who are currently working
now and have no papers, what it means is that if they lose their jobs, it will
be much hard to find others. That will make people fear taking any action that
offends their boss, like joining a union or complaining about illegal
conditions. That’s good for the boss, but bad for the workers.
Employers today not only use this
database to screen new hires - they also use it to reverify the immigration
status of people who are already working. This is a violation of the law. Once
it accepts the form filled out by a job seeker (called the I-9), along with
their ID, the employer can’t reverify it all over again at some point in the
future. But they do. Sometimes it’s convenient to get rid of workers who have
accumulated benefits and raises over years of service, and replace them with
new hires at lower wages.
Reverification just happened, for
instance, to three workers who belong to the International Longshore and
Warehouse Union at Waste Management, Inc. in San Leandro, California. The union
has gone to the Oakland City Council to protest these illegal firings, because
WMI operates under a city garbage contract.
Employers sometimes announce they
intend to begin using the E-Verify database when their workers start to
organize. That’s what managers announced at the Mi Pueblo supermarkets in
northern California. There E-Verify checks are being used to terrorize workers
to keep them from supporting a union, Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial
Another method for enforcing sanctions
against workers is even more widespread. Immigration agents, working for the
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), go into the personnel records of an
employer. They then compare the information given by workers on the I-9 form to
the E-Verify database, looking for workers who don’t have legal immigration
status. ICE then makes a list of those workers and sends it to the company,
telling the employer to fire them.
This is what happened at Pacific Steel
Castings in Berkeley, California, last year. Two hundred and fourteen workers
were fired as a result. Some had worked in the foundry for over 20 years. Many
lost their homes, and their children’s dreams of going to college were
Over last four years, hundreds of
thousands of workers have lost their jobs in these enforcement actions, called
I-9 audits. Almost five hundred janitors in San Francisco, and over a thousand
in Minneapolis. Thousands of workers doing some of the hardest work imaginable
in meatpacking plants around the country. Farm workers. Construction workers. But
the employers all given reduced fines, and many immunity from punishment
entirely, if they cooperated in firing their own workers.
If unions and communities mount a fight
that exposes the terrible human cost of these firings, it is possible to stop
them. The young Dreamers showed that this is possible. These courageous young
people convinced the administration to stop deporting students brought to the
U.S. without papers as children. They forced the administration to change the
way it enforces immigration law. It can be done for workers too, if there’s a
But we must also change the sanctions
law. Otherwise, our experience over the 25 years since it passed shows that
immigration authorities will simply find another method for making working a
crime for people who don’t have papers.
The other unpleasant truth about
sanctions is that they are linked to the growth of guest worker programs. One
of the main purposes of making it a crime to work without papers is to force
people to come to the U.S. with visas that tie them to their employers and
recruiters. These workers are often more vulnerable than the undocumented,
since they get deported if they lose their jobs or get fired. Guest worker
programs have been called Close to Slavery by the Southern Poverty Law Center
and others who have documented their extreme exploitation. The sanctions law
functions as a way to pressure people into choosing that path to come to the
U.S. to work.
When employer sanctions are used to
make workers vulnerable to pressure, to break unions or to force people into
guest worker programs, their real effect is to force people into low wage jobs
with no rights. This is a subsidy for employers, and brings down wages for
everyone. The sanctions law makes it harder for all workers to organize to
improve conditions. This doesn’t just affect the workers who have no papers
themselves. When it becomes harder for one group to organize, other workers
have a harder time organizing too.
Some Washington lobbyists accept as a
fact of life that the sanctions law will continue, or even worse, that E-Verify
will become a mandatory national program for all employers. But for unions and
workers who have had to deal with its effects , it would be much better to
immediately repeal it, and dismantle the E-Verify database.
The use of the sanctions law against
workers and unions is what led the California Labor Federation to call for its
repeal as early as 1994, a position it continued to adopt in successive
conventions. Other unions joined it including the garment unions and service
employees. Finally labor councils in California and then around the country
passed resolutions making the same call, and sent them to the historic AFL-CIO
convention in Los Angeles in 1999. This led to an historic debate and the
adoption of a new, pro-immigrant policy. Delegates at that convention believed
that we have to stop enforcing immigration law in the workplace, because its
real effect is to make workers vulnerable to employers, and to make it harder
for all workers to organize to improve conditions.
In addition to repealing the national
sanctions law, we should also prohibit states from enacting copycat measures. These
laws have passed not just in Arizona or Alabama or Mississippi. California
passed a state employer sanctions law before the federal law took effect in
What would really help workers to raise
wages and improve conditions is much stricter enforcement of worker protection
and anti-discrimination laws, for everyone. Funding used for immigration
enforcement on the job should be given instead to the Department of Labor, the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Labor Relations
Board and other labor law enforcement agencies. It will be a good day for all
workers when ICE agents instead become wage and hour inspectors.
Threats by employers who use
immigration status to keep workers from organizing unions or protesting illegal
conditions should be a crime. That makes it necessary to overturn two Supreme
Court decisions, Hoffman and Sure-Tan. In these cases the court said that if
workers are fired for union activity and have no papers, the boss doesn’t have
to rehire them or pay them lost wages, because the sanctions law makes it
illegal to employ them to begin with. But when there’s no punishment for
violating labor rights, workers have no rights. This also hurts other workers
in the same workplace who want to organize a union, since it makes the
undocumented so vulnerable. Instead, we should increase workplace rights by
prohibiting immigration enforcement during labor disputes or against workers
who complain about illegal conditions.
To ensure that in the workplace we all
have the same rights we also have to eliminate the way undocumented people get
ripped off by funds like Social Security and unemployment. All workers
contribute to the Social Security fund, but because undocumented people are
working under bad numbers, they pay in but can never collect the benefits. This
will come back to haunt us when those workers need disability payments or get
too old to work - something that happens to us all. This is the reason we set
up the Social Security system to begin with - because we don’t want old people
eating dog food, regardless of where they were born.
Instead today the Social Security
number has become much more a means to check immigration status, harming
workers instead of providing them the benefits that were its original and true
purpose. There is a simple solution to this problem as well. Social Security
numbers should be made available for everyone, regardless of immigration
status. Everyone should pay into the system and everyone has a right to the
benefits those payments create. By the same token all workers should be able to
receive unemployment benefits regardless of status, since they and their
employers pay into the funds.
In the end, we need an immigration
policy that brings people together, instead of pitting workers against each
other, as our current system does. During a time of economic crisis especially
we need to reduce job competition, rather than stoking fears. In 2005
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston made an innovative proposal that
would have set up job creation and training programs for unemployed workers at
the same time that it would have given legal status to workers without papers. This
proposal put unemployed workers and immigrants on the same side, giving them
both something to fight for whether they were out of work, or working without
This proposal, and the others made
here, are part of the Dignity Campaign, a plan for immigration reform based on
human, civil and labor rights. In the last three years, local unions and labor
councils in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Alameda County adopted
resolutions supporting the Dignity Campaign, arguing that trade policy is
linked to the increasing vulnerability of immigrant workers because of the
sanctions law and guest worker progrsms. The Labor Council for Latin American
Advancement adopted a similar resolution.
An immigration policy that benefits
migrants, their home communities, and working people here in the U.S. has to
have a long term perspective. Instead of just trying to please interest groups
well-represented in Congress, we need to ask, where are we going? What will
actually solve the problems that we experience on our jobs and in our homes
with current laws and policies?
We need a system that produces
security, not insecurity. We need a commitment to equality and equal status -
getting rid of color and national lines instead of making them deeper. We need
to make it easier for workers to organize, by getting rid of what makes people
vulnerable -- to end job competition we need full employment, and to gain
organizing rights we need labor law enforcement together with eliminating
sanctions and firings. It’s not likely that many corporations will support such
a program, so the politicians who represent us have to choose whose side they’re
Working people in Mexico, El Salvador,
the Philippines, the US and other countries need the same things. Secure jobs
at a living wage. Rights in our workplaces and communities. The freedom to
travel and seek a future for our families, and the ability to stay home and
have a decent future there too. The borders between our countries, then, should
be common grounds that unite us, not lines that divide us.
A millennial examines how his generation is profoundly impacting politics, business, media, and activism
They've been called trophy kids, entitled, narcissistic, the worst employees in history, and even the dumbest generation. But, argues David D. Burstein, the Millennial Generation's unique blend of civic idealism and savvy pragmatism, combined with their seamless ability to navigate the fast-paced twenty-first-century world, will enable them to overcome the short-term challenges of a deeply divided nation and begin to address our world's long-term challenges.
With 80 million Millennials (people who are today eighteen to thirty years old) coming of age and emerging as leaders, this is the largest generation in U.S. history, and by 2020, its members will represent one out of every three adults in the country. They are more ethnically and racially diverse than their elders, and they are the first generation to come of age in a truly global world and in the new digital era. Millennials have also begun their careers in the midst of a recession that has seen record youth unemployment levels, yet they remain optimistic about their future. Drawing on extensive interviews with his Millennial peers and on compelling new research, Burstein illustrates how his generation is simultaneously shaping and being shaped by a fast—changing world. Part oral history, part social documentary, Fast Futurereveals the impact and story of the Millennial Generation—in its own words.
About the Author
David D. Burstein is the founder and executive director of Generation18 and director of the documentary 18 in '08. A frequent contributor to Fast Company, Burstein has appeared as a commentator on youth and politics for a range of publications and media outlets, including CNN, ABC, NPR, the New York Times, USA Today, the Boston Globe, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He lives in New York City.
Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks.
This is the story of Bill Ayers, a survivor of the American New Left who, years later, was pilloried by the Tea Party, who claimed Chicago Bill was Obama's BFF—a "secret socialist plot!"
All that was nonsense, but here's the real deal: Bill Ayer's life and comradeship is far more interesting than banal White House name-dropping.
Ayers came from a suburban upper-middle-class family, a prep school grad. Nothing in his family predicted: "Will Seize State Power Upon Maturity."
The story of how the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement changed Bill's consciousness forever is one that many of us will identify with. Bill became one of the founders of the Weather Underground and spent seven years in its disciplined cadre—the details are excrutiating.
When it all fell apart, after WU bombings went belly-up tragic, Ayers spent ten years as a fugitive, living underground, nameless. Finally, in the third chapter of his life, he became a indefatiguable public education activist.
How did he survive, what does he revere—and what does he regret?
Ayers is an engaging storyteller who doesn't beg for our sympathy but earns your respect. I first read Bill's book when I was preparing to write my own memoir, which also covers violent and passionate years in the trenches of a minuscule-yet-influential American socialist left.
I wanted to read someone who wasn't going to "skip on the embarrassing parts"—nor someone who lost their mind and became a bliss-ninny. Ayers did not disappoint me. Just reading about how his comrades negotiated their love lives, or the communal housework—in the middle of plotting the overthrow of the United States— had me laughing and crying simultaneously. Been there and survived that!
I'm very very proud to bring this historical book to Audible.
Did you unwrap an e-reader this holiday season? Or did you treat yourself to one? (Don't worry, we won't judge.) Here are Beacon's most popular e-book titles for 2012 along with a few suggestions for titles sure to be on next year's bestseller list. Download one or two and see why they've inspired people to click and read.
At the time of Frankl's death in 1997, Man's Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a "book that made a difference in your life" found Man's Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.
"One of the great books of our time." —Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People
"One of the outstanding contributions to psychological thought in the last fifty years." —Carl R. Rogers (1959)
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Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.
"Octavia Butler is a writer who will be with us for a long, long time, and Kindred is that rare magical artifact . . . the novel one returns to, again and again." —Harlan Ellison
"One cannot finish Kindred without feeling changed. It is a shattering work of art with much to say about love, hate, slavery, and racial dilemmas, then and now." —Sam Frank, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
"In Kindred, Octavia Butler creates a road for the impossible and a balm for the unbearable. It is everything the literature of science fiction can be." —Walter Mosley
In this beautiful and lucid guide, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh offers gentle anecdotes and practical exercise as a means of learning the skills of mindfulness--being awake and fully aware. From washing the dishes to answering the phone to peeling an orange, he reminds us that each moment holds within it an opportunity to work toward greater self-understanding and peacefulness.
"Thich Nhat Hanh's ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity." -Martin Luther King, Jr.
"He has immense presence and both personal and Buddhist authority. If there is a candidate for 'Living Buddha' on earth today, it is Thich Nhat Hanh." -Roshi Richard Baker, author of Original Mind: The Practice of Zen in the West
All Souls by: A Family Story from Southie Michael Patrick MacDonald
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A breakaway bestseller since its first printing, All Souls takes us deep into Michael Patrick MacDonald's Southie, the proudly insular neighborhood with the highest concentration of white poverty in America. Rocked by Whitey Bulger's crime schemes and busing riots, MacDonald's Southie is populated by sharply hewn characters like his Ma, a miniskirted, accordion-playing single mother who endures the deaths of four of her eleven children. Nearly suffocated by his grief and his community's code of silence, MacDonald tells his family story here with gritty but moving honesty.
The Cure for Everything! Untangling Twisted Messages About Health, Fitness, and Happiness by Timothy Caulfield
In The Cure for Everything, health-policy expert and fitness enthusiast Timothy Caulfield debunks the mythologies of the one-step health crazes, reveals the truths behind misleading data, and discredits the charlatans in a quest to sort out real, reliable health advice. He takes us along as he navigates the maze of facts, findings, and fears associated with emerging health technologies, drugs, and disease-prevention strategies, and he presents an impressively researched, accessible take on the production and spread of information in the health sciences.
Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, Dr. Lisa M. Schwartz, and Dr. Steven Woloshin
Drawing on twenty-five years of medical practice and research, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch and his colleagues, Dr. Lisa M. Schwartz and Dr. Steven Woloshin, have studied the effects of screenings and presumed preventative measures for disease and "pre-disease." Welch argues that while many Americans believe that more diagnosis is always better, the medical, social, and economic ramifications of unnecessary diagnoses are in fact seriously detrimental. Unnecessary surgeries, medication side effects, debilitating anxiety, and the overwhelming price tag on health care are only a few of the potential harms of overdiagnosis.
Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels by Hella Winston
When Hella Winston began talking with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn for her doctoral dissertation in sociology, she was surprised to be covertly introduced to Hasidim unhappy with their highly restrictive way of life and sometimes desperately struggling to escape it. Unchosen tells the stories of these "rebel" Hasidim, serious questioners who long for greater personal and intellectual freedom than their communities allow. In her new Preface, Winston discusses the passionate reactions the book has elicited among Hasidim and non-Hasidim alike.
"Winston . . . builds fascinating case studies, inviting readers into her interviewees' conflicted, and often painful, lives . . . show[ing] us a Hasidic underworld where large families and a lack of secular education have resulted in extreme poverty and some serious at-risk behavior among youth. Her story of courage and intellectual rebellion will inspire anyone who has ever felt like a religious outcast." -Publishers Weekly, starred review
Around noon on January 15, 1919, a group of firefighters was playing cards in Boston's North End when they heard a tremendous crash. It was like roaring surf, one of them said later. Like a runaway two-horse team smashing through a fence, said another. A third firefighter jumped up from his chair to look out a window-"Oh my God!" he shouted to the other men, "Run!"
A 50-foot-tall steel tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses had just collapsed on Boston's waterfront, disgorging its contents as a 15-foot-high wave of molasses that at its outset traveled at 35 miles an hour. It demolished wooden homes, even the brick fire station. The number of dead wasn't known for days. It would be years before a landmark court battle determined who was responsible for the disaster.
Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish by Joe Mackall
Joe Mackall has lived surrounded by the Swartzentruber Amish community of Ashland County, Ohio, for over sixteen years. They are the most traditional and insular of all the Amish sects: the Swartzentrubers live without gas, electricity, or indoor plumbing; without lights on their buggies or cushioned chairs in their homes; and without rumspringa, the recently popularized "running-around time" that some Amish sects allow their sixteen-year-olds.
Over the years, Mackall has developed a steady relationship with the Shetler family (Samuel and Mary, their nine children, and their extended family). Plain Secrets tells the Shetlers' story over these years, using their lives to paint a portrait of Swartzentruber Amish life and mores. During this time, Samuel's nephew Jonas finally rejects the strictures of the Amish way of life for good, after two failed attempts to leave, and his bright young daughter reaches the end of school for Amish children: the eighth grade. But Plain Secrets is also the story of the unusual friendship between Samuel and Joe. Samuel is quietly bemused—and, one suspects, secretly delighted—at Joe's ignorance of crops and planting, carpentry and cattle. He knows Joe is planning to write a book about the family, and yet he allows him a glimpse of the tensions inside this intensely private community.
“I was born male and now I’ve got medical and government documents that say I’m female—but I don’t call myself a woman, and I know I’m not a man. . . .”
Scientologist, husband and father, tranny, sailor, slave, playwright, dyke, gender outlaw—these are just a few words which have defined Kate Bornstein during her extraordinary life. For the first time, it all comes together inA Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate Bornstein’s stunningly original memoir that’s set to change lives and enrapture readers.
Wickedly funny and disarmingly honest, this is Bornstein’s most intimate book yet. With wisdom, wit, and an unwavering resolution to tell the truth (“I must not tell lies”), Bornstein shares her story: from a nice Jewish boy growing up in New Jersey to a strappingly handsome lieutenant of the Church of Scientology’s Sea flagship vessel, and later to 1990s Seattle, where she becomes a rising star in the lesbian community. In between there are wives and lovers, heartbreak and triumph, bridges mended and broken, and a journey of self-discovery that will mesmerize readers.
The $60,000 Dog: My Life With Animals by Lauren Slater
From the time she is nine years old, biking to the farmland outside her suburban home, where she discovers a disquieting world of sleeping cows and a "Private Way" full of the wondrous and creepy creatures of the wild-spiders, deer, moles, chipmunks, and foxes-Lauren Slater finds in animals a refuge from her troubled life. As she matures, her attraction to animals strengthens and grows more complex and compelling even as her family is falling to pieces around her. Slater spends a summer at horse camp, where she witnesses the alternating horrific and loving behavior of her instructor toward the animals in her charge and comes to question the bond that so often develops between females and their equines. Slater's questions follow her to a foster family, her own parents no longer able to care for her. A pet raccoon, rescued from a hole in the wall, teaches her how to feel at home away from home. The two Shiba Inu puppies Slater adopts years later, against her husband's will, grow increasingly important to her as she ages and her family begins to grow.
The $60,000 Dog is Lauren Slater's intimate manifesto on the unique, invaluable, and often essential contributions animals make to our lives. As a psychologist, a reporter, an amateur naturalist, and above all an enormously gifted writer, she draws us into the stories of her passion for animals that are so much more than pets. She describes her intense love for the animals in her life without apology and argues, finally, that the works of Darwin and other evolutionary biologists prove that, when it comes to worth, animals are equal, and in some senses even superior, to human beings.
Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Writing as an artist, activist, and social critic, Baldwin probes the complex condition of being black in America. With a keen eye, he examines everything from the significance of the protest novel to the motives and circumstances of the many black expatriates of the time, from his home in "The Harlem Ghetto" to a sobering "Journey to Atlanta."
Notes of a Native Son inaugurated Baldwin as one of the leading interpreters of the dramatic social changes erupting in the United States in the twentieth century, and many of his observations have proven almost prophetic. His criticism on topics such as the paternalism of white progressives or on his own friend Richard Wright's work is pointed and unabashed. He was also one of the few writing on race at the time who addressed the issue with a powerful mixture of outrage at the gross physical and political violence against black citizens and measured understanding of their oppressors, which helped awaken a white audience to the injustices under their noses. Naturally, this combination of brazen criticism and unconventional empathy for white readers won Baldwin as much condemnation as praise.
Notes is the book that established Baldwin's voice as a social critic, and it remains one of his most admired works. The essays collected here create a cohesive sketch of black America and reveal an intimate portrait of Baldwin's own search for identity as an artist, as a black man, and as an American.
Melanie Hoffert longs for her North Dakota childhood home, with its grain trucks and empty main streets. A land where she imagines standing at the bottom of the ancient lake that preceded the prairie: crop rows become the patterned sand ripples of the lake floor; trees are the large alien plants reaching for the light; and the sky is the water’s vast surface, reflecting the sun. Like most rural kids, she followed the out-migration pattern to a better life. The prairie is a hard place to stay—particularly if you are gay, and your home state is the last to know. For Hoffert, returning home has not been easy. When the farmers ask if she’s found a “fella,” rather than explain that—actually—she dates women, she stops breathing and changes the subject. Meanwhile, as time passes, her hometown continues to lose more buildings to decay, growing to resemble the mouth of an old woman missing teeth. This loss prompts Hoffert to take a break from the city and spend a harvest season at her family’s farm. While home, working alongside her dad in the shop and listening to her mom warn, “Honey, you do not want to be a farmer,” Hoffert meets the people of the prairie. Her stories about returning home and exploring abandoned towns are woven into a coming-of-age tale about falling in love, making peace with faith, and belonging to a place where neighbors are as close as blood but are often unable to share their deepest truths.
In this evocative memoir, Hoffert offers a deeply personal and poignant meditation on land and community, taking readers on a journey of self-acceptance and reconciliation.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on December 10th, 1948. To honor Human Rights Day, we've collected a selection of Beacon Press titles that explore the issues of Human Rights from a diverse perspective. Order any of these books at Beacon.org using the code GIFT20 and receive 20% off, free shipping, and Beacon Press will donate 15% of proceeds to help schools affected by Hurricane Sandy. Get the full details here.
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.
At the time of Frankl's death in 1997, Man's Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a "book that made a difference in your life" found Man's Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.
"One of the great books of our time." —Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People
"One of the outstanding contributions to psychological thought in the last fifty years." —Carl R. Rogers (1959)
For the last decade, Margaret Regan has reported on the escalating chaos along the Arizona-Mexico border, ground zero for immigration since 2000. Undocumented migrants cross into Arizona in overwhelming numbers, a state whose anti-immigrant laws are the most stringent in the nation. And Arizona has the highest number of migrant deaths. Fourteen-year-old Josseline, a young girl from El Salvador who was left to die alone on the migrant trail, was just one of thousands to perish in its deserts and mountains.
With a sweeping perspective and vivid on-the-ground reportage, Regan tells the stories of the people caught up in this international tragedy. Traveling back and forth across the border, she visits migrants stranded in Mexican shelters and rides shotgun with Border Patrol agents in Arizona, hiking with them for hours in the scorching desert; she camps out in the thorny wilderness with No More Deaths activists and meets with angry ranchers and vigilantes. Using Arizona as a microcosm, Regan explores a host of urgent issues: the border militarization that threatens the rights of U.S. citizens, the environmental damage wrought by the border wall, the desperation that compels migrants to come north, and the human tragedy of the unidentified dead in Arizona's morgues.
A groundbreaking work that turns a “queer eye” on the criminal legal system, Queer (In)Justice is a searing examination of queer experiences—as “suspects,” defendants, prisoners, and survivors of crime. The authors unpack queer criminal archetypes—like “gleeful gay killers,” “lethal lesbians,” “disease spreaders,” and “deceptive gender benders”—to illustrate the punishment of queer expression, regardless of whether a crime was ever committed. Tracing stories from the streets to the bench to behind prison bars, they prove that the policing of sex and gender both bolsters and reinforces racial and gender inequalities.
“Queer (In)Justice ought to be force-fed to the staffs and boards of directors of every national and state gay organization in the hope that it might open their eyes to a reality they too often deliberately ignore. . . . It’s that important.”—Doug Ireland, Gay City News
“A vivid account of how the law in the United States has his?torically treated LGBT people as criminals and, startlingly, the degree to which for?mal decriminalization of gay sex has failed to remove the criminal taint from queer sexuality and expression . . . Mandatory reading.”—Lesbian/Gay Law Notes
Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor, the Bronx. The nightly news brings vivid images into our homes of the mistreatment of people all over the world. In the secure comfort of our living rooms, we may feel sympathetic to the victims of these atrocities but far removed from them. "What does all this have to do with a person in east Tennessee?" is the question, from a radio program host, that prompted William Schulz to write this book.
Schulz provides answers with an insightful work, generously laced with compelling stories of women and men from all continents, which clearly delineates the connection between our prosperity here in the United States and human rights violations throughout the globe. The book reveals the high cost of indifference not only in ethical and moral terms, but in terms of the political, economic, environmental and public health consequences in our own backyards.
Consider, for example, the high cost to U.S. military personnel and their families of radical political instability in the Balkans-costs that might well have been avoided if the United States and the international community had conscientiously defended human rights. Or the devastating economic impact on U.S. businesses of systemic corruption in Asia. Or the serious environmental hazards of nuclear fuel leaks in Russia, the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis, and the expensive dangers of inhumane prison conditions in the United States, to name just a few examples. At the heart of each of these problems lies the abuse of basic human rights.
Through the stories of Natasa Kandic and Alexander Nikitin, of Samia Sarwar and Han Dongfang, of Jaime Garzon and Sister Dianna Ortiz, Schulz introduces us to the front line of the international battle for rights and builds a powerful case for defending our own interests by vigorously defending the human rights of people everywhere.
"If any foreign policy primer could be called a page-turner, it is this one by the executive director of Amnesty International USA. What the human rights community needs to do, argues Schulz in this well-written clarion call, is find 'the compelling reasons why respect for human rights is in the best interests of the United States.' . . . Schulz has written a clear and provocative book that should be read by all concerned with human rights and U.S. foreign policy and will draw new supporters among the general public." -Publishers Weekly, starred review
David Chura taught high school in a New York county penitentiary for ten years-five days a week, seven hours a day. In these pages, he gives a face to a population regularly demonized and reduced to statistics by the mainstream media. Through language marked by both the grit of the street and the expansiveness of poetry, the stories of these young people break down the divisions we so easily erect between us and them, the keepers and the kept-and call into question the increasing practice of sentencing juveniles as adults.
"Riveting . . . An indictment of the system."-Sam Roberts, New York Times
"As U.S. courts send more than 250,000 minors each year into adult prisons (according to a 2008 Juvenile Justice report), Chura's anguished, incisive depiction of one of those outposts is . . . a compelling call to repair our society's brokenness."-Cathi Dunn MacRae, Youth Today
"In its many twists and turns, the book discovers in the prison labyrinth a metaphor of the confinements and refuges of the human spirit. In the face of every person he so carefully depicts, the author shows us a mirror."-David Kaczynski, Times Union
"[Chura] recalls the raw, gritty emotions of young men with little education and few options. . . . A compelling personal look at the failings of the juvenile justice system."-Booklist
Jennifer Harbury's investigation into torture began when her husband disappeared in Guatemala in 1992; she told the story of his torture and murder in Searching for Everardo. For over a decade since, Harbury has used her formidable legal, research, and organizing skills to press for the U.S. government's disclosure of America's involvement in harrowing abuses in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. A draft of this book had just been completed when the first photos from Abu Ghraib were published; tragically, many of Harbury's deepest fears about America's own abuses were graphically confirmed by those horrific images.
This urgently needed book offers both well-documented evidence of the CIA's continuous involvement in torture tactics since the 1970s and moving personal testimony from many of the victims. Most important, Harbury provides solid, convincing arguments against the use of torture in any circumstances: not only because it is completely inconsistent with all the basic values Americans hold dear, but also because it has repeatedly proved to be ineffective: Again and again,'information' obtained through these gruesome tactics proves unreliable or false. Worse, the use of torture by U.S. client states, allies, and even by our own operatives, endangers our citizens and especially our troops deployed internationally.
"The word "torture" has always brought to mind the Gestapo, or the gulag. Jennifer Harbury shocks us as she confronts us with our own nation's record of torture and brutality, from Latin America to Vietnam to Iraq. She tells the story of her husband's disappearance, torture, and murder in Guatemala, but also presents the testimonies of other torture victims, with the C.I.A. a shadowy, ominous presence. Their stories make us feel shame at the betrayal of our most cherished values, but Harbury is undaunted, believing we must expose the truth and demand that our government not respond to the terrorism of 9-11 with the terrorism of the secret torture chamber." -- Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States
"A few bad apples? A small group of undisciplined soldiers? Read this harrowing, courageous book and you will discover that the torments of Abu Ghraib are deeply and systematically rooted in a poisonous American past." -- Ariel Dorfman, author of Other Septembers, Many Americas
"Bully for this brave woman who, despite her personal tragedy, takes democracy more seriously than its alleged protectors. She is a patriot to put the pundits to shame." -- Eric Alterman, The Nation
During the second Palestinian intifada, Philip C. Winslow worked in the West Bank with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), driving up to 600 miles a week in the occupied territory. He returned to the region in 2006. In this book, Winslow captures the daily struggles, desperation, and anger of Palestinians; the hostility of settlers; the complex responses of Israeli soldiers, officials, and peace activists; and even the breathtaking beauty of nature in this embattled place.
"[Winslow] writes in a gentle tone about the constant brutalizing and inhumane quality of the Israeli occupation, the administration of checkpoints, and attempts to crush the Palestinian community and economy. He doesn't consider the political positions of either side but blames both for ignoring the repercussions of their actions, on their enemy and on themselves. Winslow's sensitivity and strong writing make this an important volume." —Library Journal
"Foreign correspondent Winslow depicts the universal cost of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands in excruciatingly human terms . . . The multilayered narrative demonstrates unusual compassion for the human side of the conflict, sympathizing with both the Palestinian citizens and the Israeli soldiers in the clear understanding that the latter, too, are dehumanized by the violence that surrounds them." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
When David Dow took his first capital case, he supported the death penalty. He changed his position as the men on death row became real people to him, and as he came to witness the profound injustices they endured: from coerced confessions to disconcertingly incompetent lawyers; from racist juries and backward judges to a highly arbitrary death penalty system.
It is these concrete accounts of the people Dow has known and represented that prove the death penalty is consistently unjust, and it's precisely this fundamental-and lethal-injustice, Dow argues, that should compel us to abandon the system altogether.
"An honorably dispassionate and logical broadside against a shameful practice." —Kirkus Reviews
"Dow reveals the dirty little secret of American death-penalty litigation: procedure trumps innocence . . . [His book] is insightful and full of the kinds of revelations that may lead readers to reconsider their stand on the death penalty." —Steve Mills, Chicago Tribune
"Dow's book leaves all else behind. It is powerful, direct, informative, and told in compelling human terms. He makes us see that the issue is not sentiment or retribution or even innocence. It is justice." —Anthony Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for the New York Times
Sure, employees have filed at least 10 lawsuits against the founder
and chief executive of sexy-clothing-maker American Apparel, alleging sexual
harassment, bullying, violence, and illegal use of corporate money. His firm
went bankrupt once and has skirted the financial edge two more times.
The newest lawsuit—brought by the male manager of an
American Apparel outlet in uber-cool Malibu, California—claims, among other
things, that Charney spewed obscenities at him for poor sales, called him “a
fag” and “a f***ing Jew,” tried to squeeze and choke him, and then tried to rub
dirt in his face.
Actually, this is an improvement over some of the earlier legal
actions, in which Charney was accused of grabbing his penis in front of one
female worker and using company funds to buy sex videos for himself. At least
this time, he apparently is concerned about store sales.
Yet, the case against Charney is not that simple.
The same bravado and willingness to buck conventional wisdom
that allegedly produce the sexual filth, also propel Charney to open his big
mouth for unpopular causes of social justice.
While other U.S. companies hire undocumented foreign-born
workers mainly to cheat them out of wages and overtime, knowing that they don’t
dare complain, Charney champions their rights. He marches in Los Angeles’s
biggest Latino parade, donates money to immigrant rights’ groups, ran ads
supporting citizenship, and designed two special lines of T-shirts as
While other U.S. clothing-makers ship their production out
to sweatshops in places like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Honduras, and China, seeking
the lowest wages possible, regardless of safety or health, Charney makes
everything in the U.S. At American Apparel’s airy, light-filled main factory,
workers can get subsidized health care, subsidized meals, free loaner bikes,
free massages, free English lessons, discount bus passes, and free international
calls back home (to all those countries they may have illegally come from).
Charney also vigorously opposed California’s Proposition 8,
which banned same-sex marriage.
In short, if you’re concerned about corporate ethics, those
two sides of Dov Charney can drive you crazy. Hate him or love him?
But there is a simple solution: Hate the man, love the
While Charney may be the drum major of the parade, the
qualities that make American Apparel an ethical business should be pretty well entrenched
throughout that factory by now. After 15 years, it would be hard to tear out the
sunny windows or yank away the health care and English lessons. Company
officials claim their “vertically
integrated” manufacturing platform has proved that making clothing in America is
Thus, the good parts should keep running even if Charney
By the same token, the harassment and abuse lawsuits are
only against Charney, personally, No other American Apparel executive has been
accused of talking and acting dirty. Get rid of Charney, and the harassment and
bullying should stop.
Charney probably owns too much of the company to be fired
outright, and anyway, it’s often his creative vision behind the popular
Instead, American Apparel should keep him locked up in a
tower with lots of porn videos, Hungry Man frozen dinners, consenting (and over
18) young women—and a laptop with a good graphics program. Every now and then,
a few upper-tier managers could come by to talk about plans for new hoodies or dresses.
But never, ever, ever let Dov Charney out.
Posters providing help at Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY. (From Bigstock)
This year, thousands of families from Long Island, the Rockaways, Staten Island, and the Jersey Shore were not able to celebrate Thanksgiving at home. For these people, whose houses and apartments were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Sandy, the long recovery journey is just beginning. Rebuilding poses an array of daunting challenges: insurance proceeds rarely cover costs, destruction lays bare the risk of building anew, and doubt lingers over whether neighbors will return. To make matters worse, national attention moves on quickly after a disaster.
Gulf Coast residents can relate. In the more than seven years after Hurricane Katrina washed away the Mississippi Gulf Coast and flooded much of New Orleans, recovery has been a slow and uneven process. Parts of St. Bernard Parish, the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans East, Waveland, Miss., and other Gulf communities remain as empty as the charred blocks of Breezy Point, Queens. Katrina permanently displaced hundreds of thousands of people. For those who have been able to return, restoring life to flooded neighborhoods has been a trying, all-consuming endeavor. Much of their work remains unheralded; the slow work of reconstituting a community rarely makes for snappy evening news stories.
Lessons from the long Gulf Coast recovery can inform the work that lies ahead for Sandy’s displaced survivors. The most important such lesson is that context matters. What works in one place will not necessarily work in another, and local knowledge is vastly more important than outside expertise or prior disaster recovery experience. New Orleans resident Hal Roark, who worked on recovery efforts with hundreds of his neighbors in the Broadmoor neighborhood, puts it best when he says, “We are the world’s leading experts on Broadmoor.”
Because of a vacuum of city, state, and federal government leadership in Katrina’s wake, New Orleans neighborhood-based organizations carried out much of the city’s recovery work. Their diverse recoveries reflect the importance of tailoring efforts to match physical and social context. Hal’s neighborhood of Broadmoor, a racially and socioeconomically diverse community, based its rebuilding effort on the recovery plan drafted by dozens of resident-led committees and democratically ratified by the neighborhood. In Hollygrove, a predominantly poor and black neighborhood, churches and religious nonprofits drove recovery efforts. Lakeview, a white, upper middle class community, drew on a longstanding neighborhood civic tradition to organize its recovery. Village de l’Est, a far-flung Vietnamese-American neighborhood, coordinated recovery efforts through its 6,000-member Catholic parish. The Lower Ninth Ward, which sustained the most damage of any neighborhood in the city, relied on close coordination between resident-led organizations and massive teams of outside volunteers.
Even counting the inevitable missteps, it is clear that the response to Hurricane Sandy from all levels of government has been vastly better than the response to Hurricane Katrina. However, although mid-Atlantic communities will not have to “go it alone” to the same extent as Gulf Coast communities, much of the onus for post-Sandy recovery will nevertheless fall to the most local level. Residents and community leaders bear most of the responsibility for leading recovery. Government agencies, nonprofits, and grassroots organizations can be valuable partners to flooded neighborhoods, but they will not do most of the heavy lifting.
What kinds of partnerships should residents form with outside groups? In New Orleans, the best partnerships augmented neighborhood capacity, providing a hand up instead of a handout. These partnerships emerged when residents had a firm sense of what they needed in order to drive recovery forward and when outside groups had the good sense to listen to residents instead of dictating assistance on their own terms. Strong neighborhood partners emerged across the organizational and political spectrum, from the anarchist-founded Common Ground Collective to the Shell Oil Corporation.
Strong community partners are also appearing in Sandy’s wake. Volunteers for Occupy Sandy, an outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, noticed that returning residents needed bleach to disinfect their flooded homes. They launched a trick or treating initiative for supplies across New York City, collecting thousands of half-used Clorox jugs to distribute in Queens and on Staten Island. The tech community has also jumped into the fray. Recovers.org, a web platform that allows communities to host recovery websites matching goods and volunteers to resident needs, has created websites serving Hoboken; Staten Island; Red Hook in Brooklyn, and Astoria in Queens. More neighborhoods hoped to use the service, but the organization reached capacity.
For recovers.org co-founder Caitria O’Neill, the biggest lesson to come out of Sandy is the importance of prior organization. Recovers.org works with communities to set up web portals before disasters occur, so that residents can immediately coordinate recovery work and solicit donations in a disaster’s wake. Caitria and her staff spent sleepless weeks after Sandy setting up the four web pages, all the while aware the communities would be far better served if the portals had been created in advance. “A disaster is like an inverse political campaign,” she explained. “Attention peaks right after it happens, and wanes after that.” A short delay in web presence can mean losing out on the bulk of potential public giving.
New Orleans residents also sing the praises of prior organizing. Neighborhoods with strong pre-Katrina organizations—namely churches and residents’ associations—had a much easier time launching coordinated recovery efforts than did comparatively disorganized neighborhoods. To be sure, though, although a number of less-organized communities faced a longer and bumpier road to recovery, many such neighborhoods have since caught up. No matter how long or hard the process, few in New Orleans who were fortunate enough to rebuild regret their decision.
In the days after Sandy, a touching blog popped up featuring photos of New Orleans residents holding hand-written notes to Sandy survivors. “Believe in your N’hood,” begins one message. “Take it day-by-day. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Keep believing in the rebuild. You & your neighbors are what will bring your n’hood back.... It’s a long haul for those who are committed, but the emotional payoff is huge.”
I visited Minnesota to meet folks involved in the same-sex marriage debate. I
was inspired by the amount of energy that people were devoting to the cause,
and to emphasizing dialogue and conversation instead of shouting and slogans.
thing we’ve learned is that a lot of Minnesotans (and Marylanders,
Washingtonians and Mainers) are sincere in supporting equal rights for gays and
lesbians and simultaneously sincere in their misgivings about same-sex
marriage. Yes, there are absolutely-sure people on both sides, but there are
also a lot of people sincerely in the middle. If you’re one of those people, I’d
like to share some of what I’ve learned as someone involved in this issue for
several years now—and as someone who married my same-sex partner in New York a
First, I want to say that I get it. I
know many people in the gay community who say that if you don’t support
marriage equality, then you must be a bigot or a homophobe, but I know that
that isn’t true. I know plenty of people who are sincerely concerned about the
consequences of same-sex marriage for their communities and their values—and
some of them are my friends. So this is not about bashing people who disagree.
(Of course, it’s also true that there are some
bigots and homophobes out there, too. But I’m not really speaking to them,
because they’re not interested in what I have to say anyway!)
To those sincerely wrestling with this
issue, I offer four points to consider.
1. Your church
will never have to hold any kind of wedding it doesn’t want to.
Polls have told us that the number-one
concern of “undecideds” is that their church, pastor, minister or rabbi would
have to officiate a gay wedding if marriage equality passed. Let me be clear as
a lawyer and a religious leader: This is absolutely 100-percent false. In every
state with same-sex marriage, there are “ministerial exemptions” and other
protections that ensure that this will never, ever happen.
There’s also the U.S. Constitution. The
exact boundaries of the First Amendment have been debated since it was passed
223 years ago, but every justice on the Supreme Court, and every judge on every
federal court, agrees that no church can be compelled to solemnize a wedding
(or baptism, or funeral) that it finds religiously objectionable. It’s way, way
beyond the pale of the law.
Unfortunately, anti-gay zealots have
deliberately distorted this issue. They have taken a small handful of
borderline cases and twisted them beyond their meaning, or warned of a “coming
storm” that will happen in the future. This is misleading, and it’s led to
confusion. But it is a fact that no church will ever have to perform a same-sex
wedding if it doesn’t want to. Period.
2. You’re right
to be stuck on the word “marriage.”
Another thing we’ve learned in Minnesota
is that a lot of folks support civil unions for gay couples but not marriage.
Why? Because the truth is that “marriage” is a religious term. The state has
taken it over, but the word, the concept, is religious. It’s true that this
debate is about civil marriage, not religious marriage, but it’s also true that
the word “marriage” itself is derived from religious concepts.
The real problem here isn’t same-sex
marriage; it’s the state deciding what marriage is in the first place. Many
people, religious and secular, liberal and conservative, have argued that the
state has no business deciding what “marriage” is. The state should just issue
a civil union license to everyone and leave it to churches and other
institutions to solemnize marriages.
In my opinion this is a good point. The
trouble is that “marriage” is the word we use right now. It’s how the state,
and our communities, recognizes families. It’s how we decide who gets to visit
their lifelong partners in the hospital or leave their property to their loved
ones. More importantly, this is the word we use to decide which families count
and which don’t.
If we as a society want to change that,
fine. But in the meantime, there’s a group of people—around 5 percent of people—who
are excluded from being counted as families because of this definition. Unless
we’re going to change the whole system, that isn’t fair.
So if you’re stuck on the word “marriage,”
you’re right. It is a word that comes from religious traditions. But words take
on new meanings all the time, and this is one of them. That’s what we’re voting
on now: not the original, religious meaning but this new, secular one. It
really is a different question.
3. Marriage has
I know that two men getting married may
seem like a huge, radical break from a tradition as old as the Bible, but it
isn’t. In fact, the tradition has always changed.
For a start, let’s look at the Bible
itself. Biblical marriage wasn’t monogamy; it was polygamy. Abraham had two
wives; King Solomon had a whole harem. And that’s just the beginning. In
biblical societies, when you conquered another group, the victorious men would “win”
their defeated foes’ wives as part of the spoils. Is this “traditional marriage”?
But let’s not stop there. Right up
until the 20th century women were considered the property of their husbands—something
the Bible explicitly states. Until the 19th century girls were married off at
the age of 12. Is that “traditional marriage”?
Of course, let’s also remember that in
some places, interracial marriage was seen as a “crime against nature” up until
the 1960s. In the 19th century African Americans weren’t even considered fully
human. As revolting as it is to even remember this fact today, some people at
that time would have considered interracial marriage a marriage between a human
and an animal. Is that the “tradition” we’re protecting here?
Thank God we have come a long way. Our
society doesn’t treat women as property. All people are seen as fully human,
equal in the eyes of God and the state alike. But getting from point A to point
B was a radical change—no less, I submit, than including gay couples in the
institution of marriage today.
Gays and lesbians aren’t trying to
change marriage. We’re trying to join it. And marriage itself has grown and
changed as long as the institution has been around. Yes, this can seem like a
big step, but look where we’d be if we hadn’t taken such steps in the past.
4. It really is
about “separate but equal.”
Finally (and I think this point will
probably be the one that carries the day in Minnesota), this really is about “separate
but equal.” Slice it, dice it, see it from every perspective, but at the end of
the day this question is about whether your gay uncle or the lesbian in your
church is a real person, to be treated fairly or not.
Let me speak from my own experience.
When our families and friends gathered to celebrate our wedding a year ago, and
when the state recognized it, they were affirming us as human beings. We are
people, and our love is real. The joy in my mother’s face revealed the pride
any mother would feel at her son’s wedding. And yes, it mattered that it was
Civil unions fulfill the legal
technicalities of marriage, but we all know that separate can never be equal.
Anything less than marriage tells gay people that they’re second-class
I really do understand the complicated
religious questions that same-sex marriage brings up, but make no mistake: A
vote for so-called “traditional marriage” is a vote against the dignity of gay
and lesbian people. It is deeply hurtful and deeply unfair. And unfortunately,
there’s just no getting around that.
A person’s sexuality isn’t some kind of
choice, a vice or a psychological defect. It’s a part of who they are, and the
diversity of sexualities is part of the incredible diversity of nature. The
question now is whether we can open our hearts to those who are different from
us, and whether we can see them not only as God’s children but as God’s adults:
fully human, deserving of respect and thankfully blessed with love.
By now everyone knows there are four same-sex
marriage ballot initiatives coming up next month. Minnesota’s is the
old-fashioned kind—a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Maryland
and Washington will vote on whether to keep from going into effect legislation
passed last term allowing same-sex couples to marry. In Maine, voters will
decide whether to enact marriage equality by popular vote; if it passes, it
will be the first state to grant marriage equality this way. Three years ago,
Maine voters rejected a marriage equality law passed by the legislature.
Of course I hope the Maine initiative is
successful (and that the other measures fail). But I am deeply troubled by an
apparent switch in focus by the campaign for marriage equality. According to
Thursday’s Los Angeles Times, the
campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage, Matt McTighe, reports that
campaign volunteers going door-to-door talking to voters “talk less about gay
rights and more about marriage as a stabilizing force in society.” In other
words, this fight for marriage equality is less about equality and more about
But what does it mean to sell same-sex
marriage because marriage is a stabilizing force? If we denominate
those who marry the virtuous ones, then those who don’t marry must be
de-stabilizing. I have never understood how this can be a pro-gay message, when
up until recently there have been no same-sex marriages but there have been a
whole lot of long-term same-sex relationships, with and without children,
contributing to civic life and their communities. The gay rights message can’t
be that we think those families were a de-stabilizing force on society because
they weren’t married. So the message must be a dig at heterosexuals who don’t
marry, and that’s the same message right wing organizations use when they blame
single mothers for all our social problems, thereby displacing responsibility
from the income inequality, inadequate education system, race and sex
discrimination, and lack of public support for childrearing that really cause
our nation’s problems. (For more on this, read one of my early blog posts here.)
Long-time marriage equality opponent David
Blankenhorn got a lot of attention this past summer for his conversion to
marriage equality supporter. In a recent video opposing
Minnesota’s constitutional amendment, Blankenhorn explains that he dropped
his opposition because opposing gay marriage was not helping achieve his goals
of having “society renew its commitment to the marital institution” and having
more children grow up in stable two parent homes. In his New York Times
piece explaining his conversion, he called
for a coalition of gay and straight people who want to “strengthen marriage.” And
he tells us what that means. His agenda is: people should
marry before having children and should marry rather than “cohabit.” He
also hopes this coalition will agree that children born from assisted
reproduction should have a “right to know and be known by” those who donated
the semen or eggs that resulted in their birth. (He calls those people “their
biological parents,” but I am more critical of using the word “parent” in this
context.) So by his account, same-sex couples should not live together until
they marry; should not have children unless and until they marry; and should
not use anonymous sperm or egg donors to procreate. With friends like that....
I’m not saying that Mainers United for
Marriage believes those things. But consider its name. Not Mainers United
for Marriage Equality, or even Mainers United for the Freedom to Marry. Mainers
United for Marriage. If you didn’t know otherwise, that could be the name of a
group opposing marriage for same-sex couples, because, after
all, those groups say they are for marriage. I, on the other
hand, am for equality. And proud of it.
Christopher Finan is president of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, which was established by the American Booksellers Association in 1990 to defend the First Amendment rights of booksellers and their customers. He is the author of From the Palmer Raids to the PATRIOT Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America, the winner of the American Library Association’s Eli M. Oboler Award for the best work on intellectual freedom published in 2006 and 2007.
Banned Books Week turned 30 this year, but this was not your
grandmother’s celebration of the freedom to read.
Since its founding, the centerpiece of Banned Books Week has
been the display of banned and challenged titles on tables in bookstores and
libraries around country. This year the celebration began on the Internet with
a tremendously creative two-minute video produced by Bookmans, an independent
bookstore with six locations in Arizona.
The Bookmans video was a contribution to a read-out of
banned books that was launched on the Internet last year. Most of the more than
1,000 videos that have been posted on YouTube feature people reading passages
from their favorite books. The Bookmans video shows a series of customers and
staff members reading a single line from different censored books. Each line
was carefully chosen to celebrate the importance of books, reading and free
The moving message of the video, combined with skillful
editing by Harrison Kressler, Bookmans’ video producer, helped it become the
hit of Banned Books Week. More than 17,000 people watched it on YouTube, making
it our most popular video to date.
City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco also joined the
read-out, producing a series of wonderful readings by writers and leading
members of the literary community, including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the store’s founder. Director John Waters read from Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Other bookstores who contributed to the read-out include
Chapter One Book Store, UConn Co-op, Vintage Books, Poor Richard’s Bookshoppe,
the King’s English Bookshop, the Book House and Bookmamas. The videos may be viewed here. (Some are exhibited on playlists.)
But the Internet read-out is only one of many new things
about Banned Books Week. The sponsors of Banned Books Week—the American
Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association,
the Association of American Publishers, the National Association of College
Stores and the American Society of Journalists and Authors—have created a
steering committee to plan for the event throughout the year. The Internet
read-out was one of our first ideas.
The committee has also invited new groups to become sponsors,
including the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of
Teachers of English, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Project Censored.
As a result of these
organizational changes, Banned Books Week has grown. Press coverage of the
event doubled last year. We don’t have statistics for this year yet, but it
appears that coverage continues to increase. In the past, we have had trouble
placing opinion pieces in newspapers during Banned Books Week, but this year
the Louisville Courier-Journal approached us for a column. KPFA,
a radio station in San Francisco, devoted a full hour to Banned Books Week.
This doesn’t mean that displays of banned books are old hat. They
remain the most effective means of delivering our message that even in America
censorship is a problem. The “ah-ha!” moment occurs when bookstore customers
and library patrons see that some of their most beloved books have been
Banned Books Week continues to give booksellers a great
opportunity to bring customers into their stores. I saw this for myself this
year when I spent Banned Books Week in Durango, Colorado, at the invitation of
Peter Schertz and Andrea Avantaggio, the owners of Maria’s,
have been expanding their celebration of Banned Books Week for several years. It
happened that this year Banned Books Week coincided with the Durango Literary
Festival, and festival organizers were planning a program on censorship. Peter
invited me to join the panel, which included Ellen Hopkins, whose books are
frequently challenged. It seemed like a long way to go for one appearance, so I
asked him to see if anyone else might want to hear about banned books.
I was surprised when Libby Cowles, Maria’s community
relations manager, lined up three classroom talks at Ft. Lewis College, a radio
interview and a breakfast speech to the town’s booksellers and librarians. From
the first day in Durango, my visit got great coverage in the local newspaper,
which published a column I wrote on the front page of the Sunday
opinion section. The publisher even invited me to address his editors at their
While I want to believe that the warm reception in Durango
was a response to my rugged good looks, it was largely the result of Libby’s
efforts and Maria’s excellent relations with community leaders.
There was something else at work as well. The message of
Banned Books Week is that we only possess free speech as long as we are willing
to fight for it. When people are made aware of censorship, they are grateful to
the booksellers, librarians, teachers, parents and kids who are fighting back.
There is no danger that Banned Books Week will grow old
anytime soon. Our challenge is to continue to find new ways to carry the
least, before you pull out your wallet, think about the forced student
labor, the warlords who
benefit from mineral smuggling, the children exposed to toxic waste from old phones, and the pile of useless accessories you'll throw
With its constant pitching of the
newest cool thing to replace its previous newest cool thing, Apple has always been
one of the worst violators of the environmentalist credo “reduce, reuse,
recycle.” It barely gives customers a chance to use its toys, let alone reuse,
before making the toy obsolete and unfashionable.
But with the
iPhone 5, Apple has really outdone
instance, customers have recently become aware that iPhones and other Apple
gizmos are made in crowded and unsafe Chinese factories where people toil 15
hours a day for barely $50 a month. That’s
bad enough. Then, just a week before the iPhone 5 went on sale, it was revealed
that the factories had dragooned students onto the assembly lines in a rush to
get the phones made on time, threatening to kick them out of school if they
Nor has anything been done to ameliorate
the environmental problems. As with any product, making an iPhone uses up resources
for the components, ingredients, packaging, and marketing, and also uses fuel
and creates carbon emissions in the manufacturing and shipping processes. Again,
iPhones are worse than the average, because their components include dangerous
metals and ores like coltan, which is found only in endangered gorilla habitats
or in African war zones where the profits get siphoned by warlords.
I met Amber at a tutoring program for inner city children. It was 1966, my senior year in high school, and the war on poverty was on, a war we’ve failed to win.
At nine years old Amber looked like a scarecrow, an old scarecrow at that, bird-picked, weather beaten. She was stick thin. None of her clothes fit, hand-me-downs from her sister Bunny who quickly outgrew her clothes while her younger sister didn’t seem to grow at all. Her eyes were dark circled; her hair, straw and falling out.
Saturday mornings she was one of the first kids through the church basement doors. My friends and I weren’t naïve. We knew that that gaggle of children who showed up each week wasn’t there for the mandatory hour of instruction. They put up with our drilling them on the timestables or helping them parse a paragraph. They were really there for the cookies and milk, and the tables spread with art supplies and games. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that they may have been just as eager for our attention, our reliability, and perhaps even our youthful faith in the future as for those treats.
I worked with Amber all that year. She didn’t progress much. But that didn’t seem to matter. She was always there. Besides, there was something else going on: I was being tutored in what poverty was really all about.
Walking Amber home several times I got to see where she lived—a cramped, drafty tenement—and to meet the rest of her family. Her mother, Mrs. Laurel, was as frail and battered looking as Amber. She had a nervous tic that twitched her head, a purple bruise on her cheekbone, a baby on her hip and a toddler pulling at her housecoat. Peter, a year older than Amber, dervished through the apartment while Bunny, a twelve year old with a fifteen year old’s body, refused to say hello.
There were no secrets in the Laurel family. Sitting at their kitchen table I heard how Bunny was boy-crazy, how Peter ate paste in school, and how they all loved margarine and sugar sandwiches. Amber, I was told, shared the bed of whatever brother or sister let her: she was a bed wetter. Pointing to the toddler pulling a waste basket over and the baby on her lap, Mrs. Laurel told me how “Mr. Laurel” was in and out of the house. “That’s what these two are all about,” she laughed ruefully then touched her cheekbone.
I lost track of the Laurels when I went off to college and got involved in another war—the war against the war, the Vietnam War. I didn’t think about them until Ronald Reagan in the 1980s started talking about the “deserving poor.” By then I was teaching kids in an alternative high school that very well could’ve been the children of an Amber or a Peter or a Bunny. I remember at the time wondering if the Laurels would’ve fit Reagan’s criteria for “deserving.” What would he have made of that bubble bath that tumbled out of the grocery bag Mrs. Laurel plopped down on the table one day when I was there? Or the endless packages of Lick-a-maid her kids lapped up from their grimy palms instead of lunch.
And now, years later, census figures show that the US poverty rate has hit its highest levels since President Johnson declared war on it, and that child poverty has increased from its 2010 twenty-two percent level.
This is especially bad news in these high stakes, high pressure days of “educational reform.” How will the Ambers of this world fare with so much depending on a student’s test performance especially when “education reformers” continue to refuse to acknowledge the crippling role that economic disparity plays in academic performance? Yet the stakes have gotten higher. According to a recent Council on Foreign Relations report, “US Education Reform and National Security,” (a report Diane Ravitch called the latest education “jeremiad”) educational failures are indeed a threat to national security. Another burden put on young shoulders.
In 1962 Michael Harrington showed America the face of “the invisible poor.” Now that the ranks of the Ambers among us are growing will we finally be able to look squarely into those faces and help the children of poverty achieve true academic parity? Or do we—and they—have to wait another 50 years?
School officials need to be wary when punishing students for inappropriate off-campus, online speech or forcing students to disclose social-media passwords. Such conduct could violate students’ First Amendment right to free speech and Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
That appears to be the lesson from a recent federal court decision in Minnesota. Earlier this month, a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit arising from a middle school’s punishment of an eighth-grader for her Facebook posts.
In early 2011, a student at Minnewaska Area Middle School known in court papers as “R.S.” got mad at a school monitor and posted on Facebook that she “hated” the school monitor. After receiving a detention and being forced to apologize to the monitor, the student posted a second message containing profanity and inquiring who told school administrators about her initial post. She was subsequently punished for this post.
Later, in March 2011, school officials learned that R.S. apparently had engaged in sex talk that was initiated by a boy in her class. According to R.S., school officials, including a school resource officer, took her out of class and forced her to disclose her Facebook username and password and then read her public postings and private messages.
R.S. then sued in federal court, contending that school officials violated her First Amendment free-speech rights by punishing her for her off-campus, online postings. She also alleged that school officials violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures when they forced her to disclose her passwords and then searched her online content.
The school defendants filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. On Sept. 6, U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis denied the defendants’ motion with respect to the First and Fourth Amendment claims in R.S. v. Minnewaska Area School District.
On the First Amendment claim, Davis ruled that public school officials can punish students for off-campus, online speech only if the speech constitutes a true threat or “pose[s] a substantial disruptive effect.” The judge characterized R.S.’s statements about the school monitor as merely “inappropriate” and a far cry from a true threat or speech that caused a substantial disruption.
Even more significant perhaps to the ultimate outcome of the case, Davis ruled that there is “clearly established” law that school officials cannot punish students merely for “inappropriate” online speech. This finding caused Davis to deny the defendants’ request for qualified immunity, a defense available for government officials if they don’t violate clearly established law.
On the Fourth Amendment claim, Davis emphasized that R.S. “had a reasonable expectation of privacy to her private Facebook information and messages.” He also reasoned that this principle was clearly established law.
Davis stressed, however, that “this case is still in its infancy” and that the school officials “may reveal facts which change the Court’s analysis of the school defendants’ qualified immunity claims or of the ultimate merits of [R.S.’s] claims.”
Bacon writes about labor, immigration, and international politics for The Nation, In These Times, American Prospect, TruthOut, among other publications, and he regularly appears on KPFA and KQED radio. The East Bay Express described his work: "As the US labor movement has come under near constant attack in recent years, the Oakland journalist is one of the last of his breed in the country."
For Labor Day, we've collected some of Bacon's stories about labor as a snapshot of a year in workers' rights.
All photos copyright David Bacon, used by permission of the author.
"Migrant rights activists, artisans and public officials spoke about the important role migration continues to play in Oaxaca's economic, social, political and family life. The state in southern Mexico is the source of one of the largest waves of migration from Mexico to the United States." "Oaxaca's New Government Calls for Migrant Rights," TruthOut, January 5.
"A bruising 16-year battle, the fight brought together African American, white, and Mexican immigrant workers, who were able to find common ground despite the company’s attempts to use racial division and immigration enforcement to try to defeat them." "Common Ground on the Kill Floor: Organizing Smithfield,"Labor Notes, April 20.
In honor of Labor Day, online orders at Beacon.org are 20% off with the code LaborDay12. Offer ends Sept. 4, so shop now!
Bill Fletcher Jr. is the author of "They're Bankrupting Us!": And 20 Other Myths about Unions. Fletcher is a long-time racial-justice, labor, and international activist, scholar, and author. He has been involved in the labor movement for decades, and is a widely known speaker and writer in print and on radio, television, and the Web. He has served in leadership positions with many prominent union and labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. Fletcher is currently the director of field services for the American Federation of Government Employees. We conducted this Q&A with him via email in honor of the Labor Day holiday.
How have attitudes toward
labor unions changed in the United States over the past few decades?
Attitudes towards unions have fluctuated depending, in part, on what
segment of society you are talking about. More than half of non-union workers
would like to be in a union or an association of workers. This has been fairly
consistent. What has changed is that unions, particularly public sector unions,
have become punching bags for politicians. This might be the result of trying
to find ways of saving money that do not depend on raising taxes on the
wealthy, or there might be very ideological reasons. In either cases, the elite
in this society has turned on unions with ferocity. As unions have weakened, so
too has their presence in the media. As regular people know less and less about
unions, their opinions can be shaped and reshaped by anti-union forces in and
outside of the media.
Was there ever a time that
unions were viewed more favorably by the public and the media?
Absolutely. Here the answer depends, in part, on what part of the USA,
but in general in the 1930s-the late 1960s, unions were viewed very favorably. In
the 1930s and 1940s they were seen as being at the leadership of a movement for
social and economic justice. This became less true after the Cold War
devastated the unions and frightened them away from anything that was perceived
as being left-wing. But that said, unions were seen as helping to raise all
What are some of the greatest
difficulties that public unions face today?
State, county and municipal budgets rely to a great degree on
regressive taxes. As these bodies have allowed the wealthy and the corporations
to pay less in taxes (and/or get tremendous tax breaks) the revenue had to be
obtained elsewhere. Politicians began looking at public sector workers as a
convenient target. Additionally, as private sector workers have found
themselves to be victims of concessionary demands and, as a result, lose many hard-won
gains, they have often found themselves focusing their anger and resentment on
the public sector workers. Also, public sector unions face the constant threat
of privatization of jobs, so there is a regular defensive battle to protect
what they have. Public sector unions, in too many cases, stopped organizing,
whether that was with regard to other public sector workers or organizing
workers who worked in privatized facilities. In some respects, and quite
ironically, one of the greatest challenges facing public sector unions is to
figure out how to support the re-organizing of the private sector workforce. Federal
workers face many of the same threats as state, county and municipal workers,
and, as we have seen over the last few years, have been made scapegoats for
What do you see as the
biggest benefit of unionizing a workplace?
It provides workers with an opportunity to gain a voice in the
workplace; a possibility for raising their wages and benefits; and a means to
begin to democratize the workplace such that the workers end up having real
rights rather than being the subject of arbitrary treatment by employers.
What advice do you have for
workers interested in unionizing?
First, make sure that there is not, already, a
union at your workplace. If there is, speak with a representative of the union
about it. Second, go to www.aflcio.org
and read up on unions. Contact the central labor council—a body of unions from
across the board who meet regularly and attempt to coordinate their work
(central labor councils are usually at the county or municipal level)—and ask
them which union would be most appropriate for the type of the job in which you
work. Get some of your co-workers together and meet with a representative from
the union. Even if there is no union that covers your sort of job, put together
an informal committee of workers in your workplace who commit to working
together for justice in your workplace...and then call me.
Because Apple fans love their iProducts so ardently, they have often attributed to Steve Jobs and Apple almost every positive quality they want to see in a CEO and a company, whether deserved or not. Thus, they have assumed that Apple reduces its energy use, recycles its electronic waste, treats its workers well, and generally is a socially responsible corporation.
Toward the end of Jobs’ reign, fans gradually and grudgingly began to realize that their heroes didn’t deserve all those haloes.
Now, ironically, Jobs’ successor, Timothy Cook, may turn out to be the real hero of the myth.
This week marks one year since Jobs stepped down as CEO. He would die just six weeks later. During the transition to the Cook era, customers and investors have, understandably, focused on the products and stock price.
But quietly, Cook has made some important changes in the area of corporate social responsibility.
While he was still the heir-apparent, Cook visited the major Chinese factory that manufactures iPhones, iPads, and other devices, after a series of suicides there by workers protesting the long hours and low pay. Jobs never bothered to check in person. Early this year, Cook brought in an outside monitor to follow up on the complaints and again inspected the site himself.
Even more amazing, Cook publicly identified 156 Apple subcontractors and published the monitor’s report. This, from the company that never talks to the press?
True, Cook has continued the tradition of shunning reporters. However, he showed up at a big meeting to speak with financial analysts—which Jobs rarely did—and has schmoozed with members of Congress.
Such outreach is important, because social responsibility is simply impossible without open communication. Transparency enables customers, neighbors, suppliers, employees, investors, and social activists to see exactly what the company is doing and, in turn, push the company on their own goals.
And Apple employees have started to relax. It’s no longer the case—as Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon famously wrote in their 2005 book iCon—that “You didn’t want to encounter him [Jobs] in a hallway, because he might not like an answer you gave... And you sure as hell didn’t want to get trapped on an elevator with him, because by the time the doors opened, you might not have a job.”
The new CEO is—well—a normal person, not a demigod. He is private but not obsessive and mercurial.
Nor does the praise of Cook diminish Jobs’ incredible talents and achievements. Probably only an obsessive and mercurial creative genius could have had the vision and persistence to transform the floundering concept of a portable music player into the iPod or to revive a cartoon shop called Pixar—to name just two of Jobs’ successes.
Cook may never invent or inspire the invention of a better product.
But he may well reinvent Apple as a better corporate citizen.
The problem with Slaughter’s piece—and now planned book—is not that she doesn’t speak for most women, but that she and other women in the 1% fail to recognize how their failure to exercise power in support of women at the economic bottom hurts all of us. Take a fictionalized, working-class black woman named Crystal living in a city like Baltimore, a town blessed with a large number of highly-ranked hospital systems. Jobs in health care are plentiful and a woman with only a high school education and who is, say, a practical nurse may be able to find employment as a home health care worker or as an aide in a hospital. If she lives in West Baltimore and has no car, she will have to leave her home early—most likely while it’s still dark to get to work at 7 or 8am when her shift begins. Baltimore has one of the most limited subway systems for a major American city. Thus, Crystal will have to wait at a bus stop and take a ride that will last about hour or more before she makes it to her job. When she leaves home in the morning, she must leave her children—ages 12, 9 and 7—to get ready for school. This means that the 12 year old will have responsibility for waking and organizing the two younger children, and ensuring that they make it to school on time. This includes seeing to it that her siblings have their notebooks and homework in their backpacks, locking the door to the home, and navigating bullies (her siblings’ and her own) on the walk to school.
If her shift at work is 12 hours, Crystal will make it home by 8pm or 9pm. Perhaps she has a neighbor or sister or cousin look in on her children in the afternoon. Maybe not. If she has a normal 8 hour shift, she will make it home, physically exhausted, by 7 or 8, with precious little time, or perhaps even inclination, to read with her children or to spend “quality” time asking about their day and getting familiar with the names of their teachers and friends.
So what do the women of the 1% percent, who’ve just discovered that they can’t have it all, have to do with Crystal? The women in the 1% have the power to take the lead in changing the conditions that make it nearly impossible for Crystal to work and parent effectively. They are regular voters. Perhaps they work in city or state government, or they are doctors, professors or partners at a major law firm in town. Perhaps they work in the federal government like Slaughter did, taking the Amtrak Northeast Corridor train to their job at a federal agency in D.C.
Despite Slaughter’s accurate portrayal of the difficulties these women face in balancing their home and work lives, these women actually have power. But the failure of the transportation system in Baltimore to meet the needs of working class people is not a priority for them. They drive or take the commuter train to work. They have a nanny or regular babysitter who meets their children at the bus stop and brings them home. So they did not seek to ensure that the billions of dollars in stimulus money were allocated for construction projects would go to projects that would benefit working women—like inner city transportation improvements—rather than highway construction projects more likely to benefit those at the top.
Women of the 1% vigorously supported the Lily Ledbetter Act, and are mindful at their own workplace of pay equity between men and women. But these same women are not at the forefront of efforts to increase the minimum wage, which stands at a pitiful $7.25/hr. That would give Crystal less than $300/week before taxes on which to raise her 3 children.
What role have elite women played in seeking to change oppressive criminal justice policies like stop-and-frisk, California’s “3 strikes you’re out” sentencing law or the proliferation of long criminal sentences for non-violent drug offenses that might be responsible for landing Crystal’s husband in jail for years, without the ability to contribute to the well-being and support of his children and wife? Isn’t the emotional stability of Crystal’s son—who if he lived in New York City might be stopped and frisked by police a dozen times during his teen years—just as important as that of Slaughter’s son? What choices does the working-class mom of a black, teen stop-and-frisk victim have to help her son through the emotional fallout of police harassment?
And let’s be real. Many women in the top 1% employ women at the economic bottom. All over Manhattan one sees the startling visual of black and Latina women pushing white babies in carriages and strollers. What worker protections do these women enjoy? Many of these domestic workers leave their own children all day in the care of others to take care of the children of economically elite women. Organizations like the National Domestic Workers Alliance have worked for years to organize and obtain basic labor protections for domestic workers. Where do 1% women stand on the efforts to afford labor rights and benefits to the women who care for their children and clean their homes?
Finally, we should remember that Crystal and women like her are not without ambition. Like Slaughter and other economically elite women, they have a strong desire to elevate their educational and professional status. Crystal enjoys working with patients and also knows that if she were able to get her degree as a registered nurse, she would make considerably more money than she is able to make now. Having children should not mean the end of education or professional development for women. How can we support the ability of working class women to move up the ladder?
Slaughter’s piece fails to recognize that women in the 1% have real power to transform the work/family reality for women at the economic bottom, who are seeking the luxury of the kind of choices about which Slaughter and I wring our hands.
As a weekly rider on the Amtrak ACELA train on the run from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, it’s been hard not to notice over the past two years how many high-powered white women on the evening train seem to unwind by reading Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. With briefcases tucked behind their knees and power lipstick faded after the day’s meetings, exhausted 1% women on the evening train ride seem to find a kind of perverse relaxation in reading a romanticized account about the bonds that might develop between privileged white women and their black maids. But we needn’t rely on fanciful, retro fables that elevate personal friendship over economic, educational and social transformation. Change for women in the workplace will happen from the bottom up, and will take hold when powerful women expend their capital on behalf of women in the 99%. But I suspect that we shall wait a long time before there is a book deal that tells this story.
Independence Day celebrations began this past weekend, with picnics, parades, and fireworks displays all around the country. In honor of the holiday, we asked several of our authors to share their feelings about Independence Day and what it means to them-- good and bad. Three authors who grapple with the complex history associated with the holiday quoted Frederick Douglass from his speech, "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?" We've grouped their responses for today's post.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a long-time racial-justice, labor, and international activist, scholar, and author. He has served in leadership positions with many prominent union and labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. Fletcher is currently the director of field services for the American Federation of Government Employees. He is the author of the forthcoming book "They're Bankrupting Us!" And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.
The 4th of July is always a complicated holiday for me. That is largely because it has a complicated historical significance. When I think of July 4th I immediately think about how my African ancestors were largely ignored-- except with regard to labor power and some soldiering--in the course of the events that were transpiring at that moment, and particularly ignored in the context of great minds thinking about the future of the new nation that they wished to create. I also think about how the War of Independence was in part ignited by the indignation of the settlers over restrictions imposed on them by the British regarding going further West-- into the lands of my Shawnee ancestors and other Native American nations.
As a result, I cannot uncritically celebrate July 4th. I consider, of course, the ideal that is contained in the Declaration of Independence, and am aware of those among the colonial settlers who may have had a more egalitarian vision of the future. I am equally aware of the ideal that July 4th is supposed to represent. But I am saddened each year that there is little historical examination of the contradictory nature of the War of Independence, and that for entire populations the War of Independence came to represent yet another stage on the road to their annihilation.
In the 19th century the great Frederick Douglass posed a question in a now famous speech "What to a slave is the fourth of July?" I would expand that and pose the question that today needs to be asked and answered: For those of us who believe in democracy, justice and equality, how do we disentangle the web of myth that surrounds the Fourth of July?"
We live in fearful times. War, racism, social, economic, employment, environmental, energy, health and food security issues are on the long list of things to be worried about. And I do. Worry.
On July 4, 1776, the day America declared its independence, one fifth of the population was in a state of bondage. Seventy-six years later, in 1852, abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass, articulated, “There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
Although legal freedom came in 1865, when four million people were released from slavery, evidence of true emancipation did not come until 143 years later, when Barack Obama was elected the first African American President of the United States. In his inaugural July 4th address, he extolled, “That unyielding spirit [that] defines us as American... It is what has always led us, as a people, not to wilt or cower at a difficult moment, but to face down any trial and rise to any challenge, understanding that each of us has a hand in writing America’s destiny.”
This July 4th, I will be thinking about history and destiny... And celebrating my commitment to be an agent of change in the world independence has wrought.
Celebration of Independence Day ain’t what it used to be for me. What I’ve learned along the road I’ve traveled the past decade-- much of which is horrible, shameful and has been deeply buried or glossed over in America’s collective psyche-- has led me to reevaluate how I view myself and my country. On July 4, 1852, Frederick Douglass said, “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.” The deep wound of racism-– the legacy of slavery-– about which Douglass spoke has never been fully acknowledged and healed. I no longer celebrate “independence” that resulted in the annihilation of millions of indigenous people and the enslavement of millions of Africans. I don’t celebrate drone strikes in the name of freedom. I celebrate truth-tellers and peacebuilders. I celebrate the progress we have made and continue to make in the face of strong resistance. Mostly, I celebrate hope – the hope that one day we will live up to the ideals upon which this great country was founded.