With just one week to go until the next coordinated day of solidarity actions with Bessemer Amazon workers, demonstrations are set from coast to coast. Find an initial listing of actions below, and let us know what you're planning in your area here, or submit an endorsement.
Amazon is pulling out all the stops to try to prevent this historic campaign led by Black workers from succeeding, spending tens of millions of dollars to wage an aggressive union-busting campaign. March 20 will send a message loud and clear to denounce Amazon's union busting, and to let the workers in Bessemer know (and Amazon and workers everywhere!) that there is a movement behind them. The weekend of March 20 is also the U.N. Anti-Racism Day, and the actions will further draw the connection between the fight against racism and for worker power.
Join this growing day of action by planning an event in your area. In different cities, workers and community activists are planning rallies, pickets, gathering neighbors and coworkers to hold signs in front of Whole Foods or Amazon warehouses, distributing leaflets, and more. Each action is significant, regardless of how large it may be. We've also added new materials to use to build for March 20 and at your events, including graphics that can be customized with your local activity.
We're also very excited to announce a special webinar coming up this Tuesday, March 16, at 8pm eastern featuring renowned scholar-activist Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley. Dr. Kelley is the author of "Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression," and will join us to discuss the history and significance of the BAmazon Union struggle and it's connections to the period analyzed in his book. Dr. Kelley has also endorsed the call for actions on March 20. Register for this event here:
Saturday, March 20, 2021
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
10:00 A.M. Picket & Speak-Out
7th & Berry Street, San Francisco, CA
Contact United Front Committee for a Labor Party
1:00 P.M. Car Caravan & Rally
Oscar Grant Plaza/Frank Ogawa Plaza 14th & Broadway, Oakland, CA
Contact Support Amazon Workers – Bay Area
Art Against Imprisonment, a Virtual Art Exhibit, features art from incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in Palestine and in the US as a small testament to their creativity, imagination, and expressions of solidarity. Join us in launching this exhibit with former political prisoners Hafez Omar, Linda Evans, and Oscar Lopez Rivera. We will also hear from Anmar Rafeedie, a cultural worker and long-time member of El-Fanoun Palestinian dance troupe; from Nida Abu Baker, the daughter of US-held political prisoner Shukri Abu Baker; and a message from Kevin Cooper currently on California's death row. We will also be joined by musical artist Naima Shaloub.
Register to Attend
Follow Art Against Imprisonment on
Facebook and Instagram
Join us Thursday, March 25th for an International Women's Month conversation with four courageous women who have stood up for their lives and their communities.
Register here: bit.ly/DefendOurLives
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
• Janet and Janine Africa - the MOVE 9
• Siwatu Salama Ra - Freedom Team Detroit/Grassroots Global Justice
• Laura Whitehorn - RAPP (Release Aging People in Prison)
• *Possible surprise speaker!
• Moderated by Aleta Toure' - Parable of the Sower Intentional Community Cooperative, Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ), People's Strike, and AfroSoc
Spread the word on Facebook!
*In the event that registration is full, join via Facebook live
Across the U.S. and the globe, unprecedented health, economic and social crisis is leading to escalating violence against BIPOC communities, often targeting women and TGNC people in particular. Over 10,000 people were arrested in the course of the 2020 uprisings after George Floyd's murder, but they have largely been disappeared from public view. Women who have been imprisoned for defending themselves and their communities have much to teach us about resisting state violence.
Hosted by California Coalition for Women Prisoners and Parable of the Sower Intentional Community Cooperative
Endorsed by: The National Jericho Movement, New York City Jericho Movement, Release Aging People in Prison, Aging People in Prison - Human Rights Campaign, Oakland Jericho Movement, Freedom Archives, and Grassroots Global Justice, Critical Resistance
My name is Naomi Rubalcava Levinthal. I’m in 11th grade and part of Youth vs Apocalypse. As you may already know, because of the urgency of our time, Indigenous youth who have been working to #StopLine3 will be marching in DC on April 1st. Youth vs Apocalypse and Earth Guardians Bay Area recently learned that CA teachers retirement money is being given by CalSTRS to fund Line 3 where Indigenous communities are currently camping out in the snow to prevent the pipeline that will bring nearly a million barrels of tar sands per day from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin! We will be doing a solidarity action on March 26th at 5pm at the Golden Gate Bridge and we would love your support. Most teachers don’t know there are over $6 BILLION investments like this and it is extra infierating because our teachers are working so hard, especially during this pandemic, and don’t want to fund destruction!
We will be asking State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, who is very progressive and also on the board of the teachers’ pension fund called CalSTRS, to join us in calling for CalSTRS to divest from fossil fuels and help #StopLine3.
Here are different ways you can help us:
Go to this link to sign on as a co-sponsor.
You don’t need to be able to attend. Just having your name in support means a lot to us.
Invite others to join us at the 3/26 Golden Gate Bridge action at 5pm. Flyer attached.
People can sign who live anywhere because CalSTRS deciding to keep giving billions to fossil fuel companies affects the world!
Come to our Covid-safe art build on 3/21 at 2pm in east Oakland where we’ll make the posters we’ll use at the action. RSVP at this link and we will send you the address. Come prepared to have fun and get messyyy!
We must tell CalSTRS and Enbridge that building LINE 3 IS NOT OKAY AND WILL NOT STAND.
Reach out if you have any questions,
Youth vs Apocalypse and the Earth Guardians Bay Area Crew
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Stop Anti-Asian Violence, Stop China-Bashing!
National Day of Action
March 27, 1:00 P.M.
"Comfort Women" Column Of Strength Statue
St. Mary’s Square
651 California St.
The ANSWER Coalition stands in solidarity with the Asian community in the midst of the horrific, racist and misogynist massacre that took place in Atlanta on March 16th. Six Asian women were among the eight shot to death at point blank range.
The alarming rise in hate crimes over the past year correlates to an increasingly hostile U.S. foreign policy towards China. The opportunistic scapegoating of China during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the intensity by which China is deemed the enemy and adversary of the United States, has driven a widespread Sinophobic sentiment nationally. The Asian American community suffers the brunt of the hatred fomented as a weapon of war. To date, there have been 3,800 self-reported hate crimes against Asian Americans.
The mainstream media’s failure to label the Atlanta shooting as a hate crime demonstrates the gross disregard and injustice that our communities are facing. Racism is a sick symptom of a system that profits from war and violence. And to put insult to injury, the cop handling the case was found to be promoting anti-China paraphernalia.
Join us on March 27th for a national day of action demanding an end to anti-Asian racist violence, an end to violence against women and and end to white supremacy now!
Endorse the national day of action here:
Organize an event in your city -- register your event here:https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeTbMgx4cWSYjvhjIGDo4jz8wMrOiddkHQLSWNTLVmnGfRIvw/viewform
Shut Down Adelanto Coalition puts ICE on Trial!
Saturday, March 28th, 12:00 P.M.
There will be testimony from impacted folks, expert testimony, and more.
Reprinted below is a short legal update from Judy Ritter and Sam Spital, the attorneys who are litigating Mumia Abu-Jamal's conviction. On March 17th, they filed a response to DA Larry Krasner's position on the issues that are being re-litigated, following Tucker's ruling to reopen all appeals filed by Mumia's attorneys between 1998 - 2012. Maureen Faulkner also filed a motion yesterday. Both filings are at the link above.
--Reprinted below is a statement released by attorneys Judith Ritter and Sam Spital on March 18, 2021:
Yesterday we filed our reply brief in Superior Court in support of Mumia’s claims in the re-opened appeals. We focused on four arguments:
(a) the Court’s jurisdiction to hear this case notwithstanding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Reid that most petitioners seeking to re-open their cases post Williams v. Pennsylvania cannot do so because their claims are not timely;
(b) trial counsel’s ineffectiveness in failing to present evidence that Robert Chobert was on probation at the time of his trial testimony;
(c) the admissibility of Yvette Williams’s declaration reporting what Cynthia White said to hear about lying against Mumia; and
(d) racial discrimination in jury selection in violation of Batson.
Also yesterday, Maureen Faulkner sought permission, again, to intervene in the Superior Court. Essentially her argument is that the DA is not in her view raising—or at least not vigorously raising—a jurisdictional/timeliness argument, which she says reflects ongoing bias and the need for disqualification.Questions and comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Yesterday we filed our reply brief in Superior Court in support of Mumia’s claims in the re-opened appeals. We focused on four arguments:
(a) the Court’s jurisdiction to hear this case notwithstanding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Reid that most petitioners seeking to re-open their cases post Williams v. Pennsylvania cannot do so because their claims are not timely;
(b) trial counsel’s ineffectiveness in failing to present evidence that Robert Chobert was on probation at the time of his trial testimony;
(c) the admissibility of Yvette Williams’s declaration reporting what Cynthia White said to hear about lying against Mumia; and
(d) racial discrimination in jury selection in violation of Batson.
Also yesterday, Maureen Faulkner sought permission, again, to intervene in the Superior Court. Essentially her argument is that the DA is not in her view raising—or at least not vigorously raising—a jurisdictional/timeliness argument, which she says reflects ongoing bias and the need for disqualification.
INNOCENT AND FRAMED - FREE MUMIA NOW!
NO STATE EXECUTION BY COVID!
NO ILLUSIONS IN “PROGRESSIVE” DA LARRY KRASNER!
The movement to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the most prominent political prisoner in the U.S., from the slow death of life imprisonment and the jaws of this racist and corrupt injustice system is at a critical juncture. The battle to free Mumia must be is as ferocious as it has ever been. We continue to face the unrelenting hostility to Mumia by this racist capitalist injustice system, which is intent on silencing him, by all means.
Mumia is at immediate risk of death by covid! Mumia has tested positive for covid-19. The PA Department of Corrections and officials at SCI Mahanoy at first denied this, but then needed to hospitalize Mumia. He is now in the prison infirmary. Mumia’s life is on the line. He is almost 67 years old; his immune system is compromised because of liver cirrhosis from years of untreated hepatitis-C. It is also reported that Mumia now has congestive heart failure!
An international campaign succeeded in getting a judicial order that Mumia was deprived of essential health care and be treated with life-saving Harvoni treatment. That has compelled the DOC to provide the medication to Mumia and other prisoners infected with hep-C.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said it best, “The refusal of health-care reminds us of the conditions we were put in under Apartheid prisons where sick detainees were allowed to die in very deplorable lonely conditions in solitary as part of the punishment for their role in the struggle.”
We, in the Free Mumia movement, call on all to ACT NOW! Mumia must not die in prison from covid! He should be released, now!
Urgent: Email Gov. Tom Wolf, email@example.com; John Wetzel, Secretary PA Department of Corrections, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Demand: Mumia Abu-Jamal Must be Released from Prison! No State Execution by Covid! Prisoners 50 Years and Older Should also be Released from Prison to Protect them from Covid 19!
Mumia’s life was saved from legal lynching of state execution in 1995 and 1999 by the power of mass, international mobilization and protest, which included representatives of millions of unionized workers. Human and civil rights organizations, labor unions, and students won Mumia’s release from death row in 2012 and his medical treatment for deadly hep-C in 2017. Now we need to do the same to save his life from covid-19.
We also must face the latest obstacle in Mumia’s pending legal appeal.
In the prosecution Response to Mumia’s appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, filed February 3, 2021, “progressive” District Attorney Larry Krasner rubber stamps the lying, racially biased, politically motivated and corrupt conviction of Mumia for the murder of P.O. Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981 under hanging judge Albert Sabo who promised, “I’m going to help them fry the nigger.”
For decades Mumia fought racist and corrupt prosecutors in Pennsylvania state court and the U.S. federal court. “Progressive” Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner joined their ranks in filing the prosecution legal brief to the Pennsylvania Superior Court stating that Mumia is guilty and should remain imprisoned for life.
There is a moment of opportunity to deepen the struggle for Mumia’s freedom. Political consciousness about the systemic racism of the U.S. injustice system and policing has reached a high level not seen in 50 years, accelerated by the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, and the massive protests that followed. Mumia’s name has been injected into struggles around Black Lives Matter, the pandemic and the economic crisis. Notably, Colin Kaepernick has called for Mumia’s freedom.
There is also a new danger. Nationally and in Philadelphia, there is a rise in the illusions of the “progressive district attorney” who will upend the entrenched repressive, racially and class-biased [in]justice system, which is integral to capitalism and rooted in the legacy of slavery.
A new legal path to Mumia’s freedom was opened by the historic ruling in December 2018 from Philadelphia Court Judge Leon Tucker, the first Black jurist to review Mumia’s case. Judge Tucker granted Mumia the right to file a new appeal of all the evidence of judicial, prosecutorial and police misconduct that had been rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1998-2012. That evidence was proof that Mumia is factually innocent and framed and is legally entitled to dismissal of the charges against him, or at least a new trial.
“Progressive” DA Larry Krasner blocked that path with the prosecution’s legal Response to Mumia’s new appeal to the PA Superior Court on February 3, 2021. Krasner opposes Mumia getting a new trial—let alone a dismissal of the charges. And Krasner calls for the appeals court to dismiss Mumia’s appeal without even considering the facts and law. Krasner follows exactly the script of the notorious, pro-cop, racist prosecutors who preceded him, notably Edward Rendell, Lynne Abraham—called “one of America’s deadliest DAs” —and Ronald Castille, whose pro-cop, pro-prosecution, and pro-death penalty bias became the grounds opening up Mumia’s right to file this new appeal.
The Krasner Response begins with the same lying “statement of facts” of the case that has been used since Mumia’s 1982 frame-up trial by District Attorney Edward Rendell. Krasner insists that Mumia’s appeal should be dismissed without considering the merits because it was “not timely filed.” This makes clear the falsity of Krasner’s purported withdrawal of his objection to Mumia’s new right of appeal granted by Judge Tucker.
Krasner also denies that the newly disclosed evidence of state misconduct—“Brady claims”—from the six hidden boxes of Mumia’s prosecution files found two years ago in a DA storeroom are “material” and grounds for a new trial. This is legal jargon for saying the evidence against Mumia at trial was so overwhelming that it wouldn’t have made a difference to the jury that convicted him of first degree murder and sentenced him to death. Krasner’s Response on the new evidence that the trial prosecutor purposely disqualified African-Americans as jurors is that the Pa Supreme Court has previously decided the jury selection process was fair and should not be re-examined.
As District Attorney, Krasner had the legal authority and responsibility to review Mumia’s case and, as constitutionally warranted, to support overturning Mumia’s conviction because of due process violations and state misconduct. Those due process violations included:
*trial and post-conviction judge Sabo was biased and racist
*African-Americans were excluded from juries as a policy and practice of the Philadelphia DA’s office
*police and prosecutorial misconduct in presenting false witness testimony that Mumia shot Faulkner, a fabricated confession and a manufactured scenario of Mumia shooting PO Faulkner which is disproved by ballistics, medical, and other forensic evidence, including photographs of the crime scene; and
*the suppression of witnesses who swore that Mumia did not shoot PO Faulkner, that a shooter ran away and the confession to fatally shooting Faulkner.
But “progressive” DA Krasner argued these factors should not even be considered.
DA Krasner’s Response brief ends with: “For the foregoing reasons, including those set forth in the PCRA court’s opinions, the Commonwealth respectfully requests that this Court affirm the orders denying post-conviction relief.” This means District Attorney Krasner approved all previous court denials of Mumia’s challenges to his convictions made from 1995-2012, including those of Judge Sabo.
This Response is the definitive, final statement of District Attorney Larry Krasner to the Superior and Supreme Courts of Pennsylvania. And should Mumia’s case return to the U.S. federal courts, this would remain the prosecution position: that Mumia is guilty and there are no legal or factual reasons to re-consider his conviction.
Once there has been a conviction and sentence, the District Attorney does not have unilateral authority or power to reverse a criminal conviction, order a new trial or dismiss the original charges. That decision rests the post-conviction review judge or appeals court.
The District Attorney does have enormous authority and credibility to argue to the courts that a case should be reversed, a new trial granted or charges dismissed. The opinion of the district attorney’s office is a persuasive authority to the reviewing court. And it was that process which resulted in overturning the convictions of 18 imprisoned men during the past three years. Those publicized reversals as well as Krasner’s promises of criminal justice reform; his “no objection” to releasing on parole the surviving, imprisoned MOVE 9 men and woman; his partial ban of cash bail and de-escalation of arrests for minor, non-violent offenses, and his record as a civil rights lawyer gave him credentials as a “progressive DA”.
Krasner’s Response to Mumia’s appeal is an undeniable legal blow and has most likely blocked the judicial path to Mumia’s freedom.
To any who held out hope that Krasner would “do the right thing”, Krasner has never given any indication that he questioned Mumia’s conviction, even when—after protest and pressure—he agreed not to oppose the appeal process.
In fact, “progressive DA” Krasner was explicit when questioned during the proceedings brought by Maureen Faulkner to have him removed from Mumia’s case on grounds he was biased in favor of Mumia. Krasner was allowed to continue prosecuting Mumia in the Supreme Court ruling on December 16, 2020. During those proceedings, Larry Krasner assured the investigating judge that, “in my opinion based upon all the facts in law [sic] that I have is that he [Abu-Jamal] is guilty.” Further, the investigating judge found all prosecutors involved, including DA Krasner, stated, “it is their intention to defend the conviction, and that they are aware of no evidence that would support or justify a decision to the contrary or to concede any PCRA relief.”
It is precisely because Larry Krasner has a profile and reputation as “a progressive DA,” and faces hostility from the Fraternal Order of Police, and supporters of racist “law and order” who will be supporting anti-Krasner candidates in this year’s DA election that his total rejection of Mumia’s claim is so damaging.
The rejection of Mumia’s appeals by this “progressive DA” is not just equal to those of prior DAs but is more damaging. The position of the “progressive DA” in opposition to Mumia’s appeal provides additional rationale and justification for the appeals courts to reject Mumia’s appeals.
Krasner must be uncompromisingly exposed and denounced as not different from Judge Sabo and prior prosecutors. Mumia’s prosecution, his conviction, death sentence and appeal denials are an indictment of the entire racist capitalist injustice system. Opening up Mumia’s case exposes the racism, rot, corruption, brutality and fundamental injustice of the whole system. “Progressive” district attorney Larry Krasner would not and cannot go down that road and keep favor with the elements of the ruling class that seek to provide a “progressive” cover to delay and distract those who fight not only for Mumia, but for justice for all.
What is to be done to free Mumia? Continue to mobilize protest action demanding the Department of Corrections and Governor immediately release Mumia – along with prisoners 50 years and older to stop death by covid. In Pennsylvania the governor has the executive power to commute sentences and release prisoners who are serving life without parole.
We must expand the international campaign for Mumia’s freedom, centered on the understanding that Mumia is factually innocent and framed, that he never should have been arrested and prosecuted for a murder the state knows he did not commit. International mobilization has been critical to our prior limited victories. Now more than ever, we need to grow in strength and numbers Mumia’s defenders, including labor, Black Lives Matter, human rights and civil rights organizations, and left organizations in rallies and mass demonstrations.
Rachel Wolkenstein (former attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal); and for the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal <laboractionmumia.org>: Jack Heyman (International Longshore and Warehouse Union-retired), Bob Mandel (Oakland Education Association-retired, member of Adult School Teachers United), Carole Seligman (Co-editor of Socialist Viewpoint)
March 5, 2021
Call the Superintendent of Mumia's Prison and demand he be taken to the hospital for treatment for COVID-19. It is not okay that they merely test him (they had not asof Fri. night), the results will take days to come back and he is experiencing chest pains & breathing problems now--and COVID requires quick medical care to avoid death.
It Is Now Freedom or Death For Mumia!
BRO. ZAYID MUHAMMAD - March 11, 2021
I’m going help them fry the nigger...” Judge Albert Sabo
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal...” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Imagine all NNPA Black newspapers, for example, carrying regularly featured articles as a matter of priority on all of the evidence suppressed in Mumia’s case.
Imagine Black clergy rallying at major news sites condemning the white-out and/or the demonization of Mumia through their media entities.
Imagine Black elected officials from Philadelphia and from all over the country rallying to denounce the continued ordeal of this man.
Imagine surviving ’60s icons conducting civil disobedience at the governor’s office and the DA’s office in Philadelphia with an eager throng of two generations of action-hungry activists looking to bumrush it, en masse if it didn’t yield results.
Even though Mumia has survived two execution dates, 30 years on death row and several recent dangerous medical challenges, thankfully with the force of a multiracial international campaign at his back and our ancestors, this hasn’t happened yet.
It’s time to ask ‘why?’
As this goes to press, Mumia is in a prison infirmary dangling on a tightrope of both COVID-19 and congestive heart failure, a most deadly medical cocktail!
COVID-19 is most dangerous when it attacks the lungs, creates fluid in the lungs and then triggers fatal blood clots. Congestive heart failure, similarly speaking, creates fluid in the lungs, weakens the heart muscle and the kidneys. These two together are extremely deadly.
Not to mention Mumia’s Hep-C weakened liver and skin. Remember that?
Mumia needs to be hospitalized at minimum and truly needs to be released!
If ever there was a time to step forward for Mumia, it is now!
The most tragic dimensions surrounding Mumia’s current ordeal is that there is now so much ample evidence of his innocence, so much ample evidence of both prosecutorial and judicial misconduct to free him if he can just be allowed to get it in on an appeal and that evidence on the court record. In spite of Mumia clearly being on the verge of objectively vindicating himself, he can tragically die in prison if not enough of us turn it up now!
Wait! What about Philly’s highly prized progressive DA Larry Krasner? Hasn’t he moved to overturn more than a dozen bad convictions rooted in deep-seated Philly racism and corruption? Yes, but not for Mumia.
Even though his office ‘found’ six boxes of missing evidence in his case, which includes a letter from a star prosecution witness Robert Chobert seeking payment for his testimony, reeking of prosecutorial misconduct and granting Mumia a new trial, Krasner, up for re-election, went into court last month and said that no new appellate relief for Mumia ought to be granted because his trial and conviction were sound. From Judge Sabo vowing to help ‘fry the nigger,’ to suppressed eyewitness testimony that was not paid for by anyone totally contradicting Chobert’s, to the illegal exclusion of Black jurors from the trial, to Sabo having Veronica Jones arrested on the stand for telling the truth on how she was coerced to testify against Mumia, to their being clear evidence of another person being the actual killer of Officer Daniel Faulkner and a whole lot more, Krasner showed his true ‘white’ color and is now seeking to block Mumia’s real chance at justice and freedom at a time when it can genuinely cost him his life.
The time is now to turn it up and free this incredible human being who has become a breathing living gracious symbol of human solidarity like few others in the last several decades.
Let us all press Pennsylvania’s other liberal ‘fox’ Gov. Tom Wolf to have Mumia and all aging prisoners who pose no risk to society released to help address this insidious pandemic. Over 100 people have died from COVID-19 in Pennsylvania prisons. All over 50 and with preexisting conditions.
Let’s press Mumia’s overseers John Wetzel head of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and Bernadette Mason superintendent of Mahanoy Prison to get Mumia properly hospitalized.
Press DA Krasner to address his now dangerous wrong and go back into court and encourage a conviction reversal and a new trial for Mumia as he has done for others.
The time is now!
Seize The Time!
Free Mumia Abu Jamal!
Gov. Tom Wolf 717-787-2500
Sec’y Dept of Corrections John Wetzel 717-728-2573
Supt of Mahanoy Corrections Institution Bernadette Mason 570-773-2158
DA Larry Krasner 267-456-1000
To support Mumia locally 212 -330-8029
In Philadelphia, 215-724-1618
Zayid Muhammad is a jazz poet, stage actor and well-known “cub” of the N.Y. chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Questions and comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Pass COVID Protection and Debt Relief
Stop the Eviction Cliff!
Forgive Rent and Mortgage Debt!
Millions of Californians have been prevented from working and will not have the income to pay back rent or mortgage debts owed from this pandemic. For renters, on Feb 1st, landlords will be able to start evicting and a month later, they will be able to sue for unpaid rent. Urge your legislator and Gov Newsom to stop all evictions and forgive COVID debts!
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock our state, with over 500 people dying from this terrible disease every day. The pandemic is not only ravaging the health of poor, black and brown communities the hardest - it is also disrupting our ability to make ends meet and stay in our homes. Shockingly, homelessness is set to double in California by 2023 due the economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19. 
Housing is healthcare: Without shelter, our very lives are on the line. Until enough of us have been vaccinated, our best weapon against this virus will remain our ability to stay at home.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
This click-to-call tool makes it simple and easy.
Renters and small landlords know that much more needs to be done to prevent this pandemic from becoming a catastrophic eviction crisis. So far, our elected officials at the state and local level have put together a patchwork of protections that have stopped a bad crisis from getting much worse. But many of these protections expire soon, putting millions of people in danger. We face a tidal wave of evictions unless we act before the end of January.
We can take action to keep families in their homes while guaranteeing relief for small landlords by supporting an extension of eviction protections (AB 15) and providing rent debt relief paired with assistance for struggling landlords (AB 16). Assembly Member David Chiu of San Francisco is leading the charge with these bills as vehicles to get the job done. Again, the needed elements are:
Improve and extend existing protections so that tenants who can’t pay the rent due to COVID-19 do not face eviction
Provide rent forgiveness to lay the groundwork for a just recovery
Help struggling small and non-profit landlords with financial support
Ten months since the country was plunged into its first lockdown, tenants still can’t pay their rent and debt is piling up. This is hurting tenants and small landlords alike. We need a holistic approach that protects Californians in the short-run while forgiving unsustainable debts over the long term. That’s why we’re joining the Housing Now! coalition and Tenants Together on a statewide phone zap to tell our elected leaders to act now.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
Time is running out. California’s statewide protections will start expiring by the end of this month. Millions face eviction. We have to pass AB 15 before the end of January. And we will not solve the long-term repercussions on the economic health of our communities without passing AB 16.
ASK YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO SAY YES ON AN EVICTION MORATORIUM AND RENT DEBT FORGIVENESS -- AB 15 AND AB16!!!
Let’s do our part in turning the corner on this pandemic. Our fight now will help protect millions of people in California. And when we fight, we win!
Tell the New U.S. Administration - End
Economic Sanctions in the Face of the Global
Take action and sign the petition - click here!
To: President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and all Members of the U.S. Congress:
We write to you because we are deeply concerned about the impact of U.S. sanctions on many countries that are suffering the dire consequences of COVID-19.
The global COVID-19 pandemic and global economic crash challenge all humanity. Scientific and technological cooperation and global solidarity are desperate needs. Instead, the Trump Administration escalated economic warfare (“sanctions”) against many countries around the globe.
We ask you to begin a new era in U.S. relations with the world by lifting all U.S. economic sanctions.
U.S. economic sanctions impact one-third of the world’s population in 39 countries.
These sanctions block shipments and purchases of essential medicines, testing equipment, PPE, vaccines and even basic food. Sanctions also cause chronic shortages of basic necessities, economic dislocation, chaotic hyperinflation, artificial famines, disease, and poverty, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. It is always the poorest and the weakest – infants, children, the chronically ill and the elderly – who suffer the worst impact of sanctions.
Sanctions are illegal. They are a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. They are a crime against humanity used, like military intervention, to topple popular governments and movements.
The United States uses its military and economic dominance to pressure governments, institutions and corporations to end all normal trade relations with targeted nations, lest they risk asset seizures and even military action.
The first step toward change must be an end to the U.S.’ policies of economic war. We urge you to end these illegal sanctions on all countries immediately and to reset the U.S.’ relations with the world.
Add your name - Click here to sign the petition:
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
The “Reclaim These Streets” movement in Britain asks why the police demand sacrifices of women rather than forcing men to change to end violence.
By Amanda Taub, Published March 14, 2021, Updated March 15, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/14/world/europe/sarah-everard-women-protest.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Perhaps it was because pandemic lockdowns have left women clinging to whatever is left of their access to public space. Perhaps it was because after more than three years of the #MeToo movement, the police and society are still telling women to sacrifice their liberties to purchase a little temporary safety.
It all came to the surface when 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who disappeared as she walked home in London on March 3, was found dead a week later, after doing everything she was supposed to do. She took a longer route that was well-lit and populated. She wore bright clothes and shoes she could run in. She checked in with her boyfriend to let him know when she was leaving. But that was not enough to save her life.
So the response from British women to reports that the police were going door to door telling women in the South London neighborhood where she disappeared to stay inside for their own safety became an outpouring of rage and frustration.
It has set off a social movement that feels, somehow, different from those that have come before: women from all walks of life demanding safety from male violence — and demanding that the police, the government and men collectively be the ones to bear the burden of ensuring it.
‘Arrest Your Own’
“Hey, mister, get your hands off my sister!” the crowd chanted as the police grabbed women while trying to disperse the vigil on Saturday night for Ms. Everard, a marketing executive, in a park in Clapham, South London.
“Arrest your own!” hundreds shouted, a reference to the police officer who has been charged with Ms. Everard’s killing. “Police, go home!”
As officers trampled the flowers laid on a makeshift memorial to Ms. Everard and wrestled shocked young women to the ground, London’s Metropolitan Police could scarcely have provided a better example of what women were protesting if they had set out intentionally to do so.
In the days after Ms. Everard’s disappearance, a group calling itself Reclaim These Streets announced that a vigil would be held on Saturday night in a South London park. The event would be partly to mourn and partly to protest the police instructions to women to stay home for their own security and to demand safer streets instead.
But “the Met,” as London’s police are known, once again told women to stay home. Citing lockdown restrictions, the police threatened steep fines if the vigil was not canceled.
Eventually the organizers capitulated and called off the event, in part because they could not bear the thought of their fines going to subsidize the very police force they were protesting, said Mary Morgan, a writer and scholar focused on body politics who was one of the event’s original organizers. “It makes my stomach rot,” she said in an interview.
Whatever the Met’s internal reasoning, the message it sent to women across the country was that the police were doubling down on restricting women’s freedom instead of men’s violence.
“@metpoliceuk really do want women off the streets don’t they?” Anne Lawtey, 64, wrote on Twitter after organizers announced the cancellation of the gathering. She was shocked, she said in a telephone interview, that it had been shut down. “We can’t have a vigil? People standing still, in a park, wearing masks?”
A huge crowd turned out anyway, carrying candles and bouquets, crocus bulbs in glass jars and flats of pansy seedlings to add to the pile of blooms.
With no audio equipment, women climbed on the Victorian bandstand that had become a makeshift memorial and used an Occupy Wall Street-style human microphone: The crowd repeated what was said so that it could be heard at the back.
“The police are trying to silence us, the police are trying to repress us,” hundreds repeated in unison. “The police said we can’t have a vigil to remember Sarah Everard. The police have the nerve to threaten us. The police have the nerve to intimidate us.”
Then, louder: “WE. SAY. NO.”
A Bad Bargain
To be a woman is to be “in a constant state of bargaining,” the author and columnist Nesrine Malik wrote in her book, “We Need New Stories.”
Ms. Everard’s disappearance called attention to the terms of a safety bargain so ubiquitous that many women might never have considered it in such terms: that in order to buy their own safety from male violence, they must make the “right” choices. And that if a woman fails to do so, her fate is her own fault.
Online, women shared the details of their side of that bargain. What they wore. Where they walked. Whom they checked in with before they left, and after they got home. When they would go out alone, or with other women, or with men.
Some reflected on their own close calls. Nosisa Majuqwana, 26, an advertising producer who lives in East London, said she told her friends, “Thank God I was wearing trainers, thank God I was carrying a rucksack” on the night a strange man approached her on a deserted path, pulled out a knife and told her to be quiet. “You would never walk home in London wearing heels.”
But Ms. Everard’s death has led Ms. Majuqwana and many others to reject the bargain outright.
“It doesn’t matter what women do,” Ms. Morgan said. “We can be hypervigilant, we can follow all the precautions that have been taught to us since we were children.”
The killing has “shocked people out of accepting that it’s normal” to make those trade-offs, said Anna Birley, an economic policy researcher and local politician in South London who also worked to organize the Reclaim These Streets event. “Every woman can see themselves in that situation.”
Who Should Sacrifice?
Why does the burden of women’s safety fall on women, rather than on the men who are the source of most of the violence against them?
“Women’s freedoms are seen as dispensable, as disposable — very much like sometimes, tragically, women ourselves,” Kate Manne, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University and author of two books on the ways sexism shapes society, said in an interview. “There is just an immediate assumption that men’s lives won’t be significantly affected by this,” so they cannot be asked to make sacrifices to change it.
As women’s role in public life has grown, the differences have become plain, and painful. The #MeToo movement revealed that many women left their jobs or entire industries to avoid predators like Harvey Weinstein — with the result that their abusers were able to continue harming other women for decades.
Women in abusive relationships are often told to just leave their violent partners, but in fact often face the worst violence when they try to do so.
Sometimes the calculus is more subtle, but the collective impact is still significant.
A working paper from Girija Borker, a researcher at the World Bank, found that women in India were willing to go to far worse colleges, and pay more tuition, in order to avoid harassment or abuse on their daily commutes to classes. The impact of that “choice” on one woman can be hard to measure — but among the thousands she documented in her research, it can be expected to have an effect on earnings, economic power and social mobility.
But British women’s anger is beginning to shift assumptions about who should make sacrifices for safety.
Jenny Jones, a baroness and Green Party peer, suggested in the House of Lords last week that there should be a 6 p.m. curfew for men in the wake of Ms. Everard’s disappearance. She later clarified that it was not an entirely serious suggestion, telling Britain’s Sky News: “Nobody makes a fuss when, for example, the police suggest women stay home. But when I suggest it, men are up in arms.”
When asked about the proposal, Mark Drakeford, the first minister for Wales, said in a BBC interview that a curfew for men would be “not at the top of our list,” but seemed to imply it could be considered in some circumstances. (He later clarified that the Welsh government was not considering such a measure.)
Focused on Policing
Demands for men to make changes have become more prominent. But public fury has also fallen heavily on the police. And as photographs circulated of women being detained and manhandled by police officers after the Clapham vigil on Saturday night, anger grew.
“There’s so much anger in the fact that this isn’t the first time that the Metropolitan Police let down women on such a large scale,” Ms. Majuqwana said.
She said she spoke from personal experience, too. A few years ago, she said, a man grabbed her by the arm, then hit her in the face with a glass bottle when she declined his advances. But when the police arrived, they said there was nothing they could do unless she wanted to be arrested, too, because she had admitted to hitting her assailant back in self-defense.
Sisters Uncut, a feminist group that had encouraged women to go to the park even after the official Reclaim These Streets event was canceled, announced a protest on Sunday as well, this time outside Police Headquarters.
“Police are perpetrators of individual and state violence against women — as evidenced last night,” the group wrote on Twitter, adding, “4pm. New Scotland Yard.”
America has never taken responsibility for spraying the herbicide over Laos during the Vietnam War. But generations of ethnic minorities have endured the consequences.
By George Black, Photographs by Christopher Anderson, March 16, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/16/magazine/laos-agent-orange-vietnam-war.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Choi, 19, was born with a severe spinal deformity and a heart defect. He was sent to Vientiane, Laos’s capital, for examination, diagnosis and cardiac surgery.
It was a blazing-hot morning in October 2019 on the old Ho Chi Minh Trail, an intricate web of truck roads and secret paths that wove its way across the densely forested and mountainous border between Vietnam and Laos. Susan Hammond, Jacquelyn Chagnon and Niphaphone Sengthong forded a rocky stream along the trail and came to a village of about 400 people called Labeng-Khok, once the site of a logistics base inside Laos used by the North Vietnamese Army to infiltrate troops into the South. In one of the bamboo-and-thatch stilt houses, the ladder to the living quarters was made from metal tubes that formerly held American cluster bombs. The family had a 4-year-old boy named Suk, who had difficulty sitting, standing and walking — one of three children in the extended family with birth defects. A cousin was born mute and did not learn to walk until he was 7. A third child, a girl, died at the age of 2. “That one could not sit up,” their great-uncle said. “The whole body was soft, as if there were no bones.” The women added Suk to the list of people with disabilities they have compiled on their intermittent treks through Laos’s sparsely populated border districts.
Hammond, Chagnon and Sengthong make up the core of the staff of a nongovernmental organization called the War Legacies Project. Hammond, a self-described Army brat whose father was a senior military officer in the war in Vietnam, founded the group in 2008. Chagnon, who is almost a generation older, was one of the first foreigners allowed to work in Laos after the conflict, representing a Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee. Sengthong, a retired schoolteacher who is Chagnon’s neighbor in the country’s capital, Vientiane, is responsible for the record-keeping and local coordination.
The main focus of the War Legacies Project is to document the long-term effects of the defoliant known as Agent Orange and provide humanitarian aid to its victims. Named for the colored stripe painted on its barrels, Agent Orange — best known for its widespread use by the U.S. military to clear vegetation during the Vietnam War — is notorious for being laced with a chemical contaminant called 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-P-dioxin, or TCDD, regarded as one of the most toxic substances ever created.
The use of the herbicide in the neutral nation of Laos by the United States — secretly, illegally and in large amounts — remains one of the last untold stories of the American war in Southeast Asia. Decades later, even in official military records, the spraying of Laos is mentioned only in passing. When the Air Force in 1982 finally released its partially redacted official history of the defoliation campaign, Operation Ranch Hand, the three pages on Laos attracted almost no attention, other than a statement from Gen. William Westmoreland, a former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, that he knew nothing about it — although it was he who ordered it in the first place. Laos remained a forgotten footnote to a lost war. To those who followed the conflict’s aftermath intimately, this was hardly surprising. Only in the last two decades has the United States finally acknowledged and taken responsibility for the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam, committing hundreds of millions of dollars to aiding the victims and cleaning up the worst-contaminated hot spots there.
While records of spraying operations inside Laos exist, the extent to which the U.S. military broke international agreements has never been fully documented, until now. An in-depth, monthslong review of old Air Force records, including details of hundreds of spraying flights, as well as interviews with many residents of villages along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, reveals that, at a conservative estimate, at least 600,000 gallons of herbicides rained down on the ostensibly neutral nation during the war.
For years, Hammond and Chagnon were aware of the spraying in Laos, but the remote areas affected were almost inaccessible. Finally, in 2017, with new paved roads connecting the main towns, and many smaller villages accessible in the dry season by rough tracks, they were able to embark on systematic visits to the villages of the Bru, the Ta Oey, the Pa Co and the Co Tu, four of the ethnic minorities whose homes straddle the Laos-Vietnam border. It was the first time anyone had tried to assess the present-day impact of the defoliant on these groups.
Of the 517 cases of disabilities and birth defects so far documented by the War Legacies Project in Laos, about three-fourths, like malformed limbs, are identifiable to the untrained eye as conditions of the sorts now linked to exposure to Agent Orange. “When we started the survey, I told American government officials we were doing it and said honestly that we didn’t know what we would find,” Hammond says. “In fact, I hoped we would find nothing. But as it turned out we’ve found a lot.”
Hammond’s requests for both the United States and Laos to acknowledge the long-term effects of the spraying have so far been met with bureaucratic rationalizations for inaction: Congress can do nothing without a clear signal from the Lao government; the Lao government has been hesitant to act without hard data; officials of the United States Agency for International Development in Vientiane have been sympathetic, but other senior embassy officials have waved away the problem. “One said that if we were so interested in what the U.S. had done in Laos, why didn’t we look at what the Soviets and the North Vietnamese had done?” Hammond recalls. “It was like being in a time warp, like dealing with an official in Vietnam in the 1990s. So we’ve been on this endless treadmill.”
So far, these conversations with officials have been informal, but this month she plans to submit the group’s findings to both governments, documenting the extent of the spraying recorded in the Air Force records and the number of disabilities the War Legacies Project has found. That’s when the governments of the United States and Laos will no longer have any reason to avoid taking action that is long overdue.
For Hammond and Chagnon, the personal connection to the war runs deep. Chagnon took time off from college in 1968 to work with Catholic Relief Services in Saigon, later living in a compound near the Tan Son Nhut air base. Even though public opinion had turned sharply against the war since the Tet offensive earlier that year, she wasn’t an antiwar activist. “I’d never been to a demonstration,” she says. “My parents were furious at me for going into a war zone.”
The first jolt to her innocence, she recalls, came when newspapers in Saigon published gruesome photographs of malformed babies and fetuses in Tay Ninh, a heavily sprayed province on the Cambodian border. By the late 1960s, Vietnamese doctors had strong indications that these congenital defects might be connected to the chemical defoliants. By the time Chagnon came home in 1970, the defoliation campaign was about to be shut down amid growing controversy over its possible health effects. But her anxiety increased. Many of the early spraying sorties had taken off from Tan Son Nhut, and she worried about her own exposure and the long-term effects if she had children. Those fears seemed to be confirmed when her daughter, Miranda, was born in 1985 with multiple birth defects. There was no proof that dioxin was responsible, and Miranda’s ailments were treatable with surgery and medication, but that hardly quelled Chagnon’s concerns about Agent Orange.
By this time Chagnon and her husband, Roger Rumpf, a theologian and well-known peace activist, were living in Vientiane and visited remote areas where few outsiders ever ventured. They had heard strange and unsettling stories in Xepon, a small town near the Vietnamese border. Doctors reported a rash of mysterious birth defects. A veterinarian told of farm animals born with extra limbs. There were anecdotal accounts of airplanes trailing a fine white spray. But it was impossible to find out more. “In those days there were no roads into the mountains,” Chagnon says. “You had to walk, sometimes for days.”
Hammond was born in 1965 while her father was serving at Fort Drum in upstate New York — a dark coincidence, she says, “since it was one of the first places they tested Agent Orange.” From there her father’s Army career took the family to Okinawa. Based in Danang, he was responsible for the construction of military installations in I Corps, the northernmost tactical zone in South Vietnam.
Hammond first went to Vietnam in 1991, when talk of normalizing relations was in the air. She fell in love with the place, abandoned thoughts of pursuing a Ph.D., moved to Ho Chi Minh City in 1996 to learn the language and spent the next decade organizing educational exchange programs and conferences to discuss Vietnam’s postwar humanitarian needs. It was at one of these events that she met Chagnon.
Since it began, their project has channeled modest amounts of material support to disabled people — things like a wheelchair ramp or a vocational training course or a brood cow to increase household income — in rural areas of Vietnam that were heavily sprayed. Then, in 2013, Chagnon’s husband died. “After Roger passed away, we started talking about the idea of doing a survey in Laos,” Hammond says. “I think Jacqui saw it as an opportunity to honor his memory.” After protracted negotiations with Lao authorities, the War Legacies Project signed a three-year memorandum of understanding, promising a full report by March 2021.
More than half the cases identified by the War Legacies Project are children age 16 and under. They are the grandchildren of those who were exposed during the war, and possibly even the great-grandchildren, since the people in these villages have traditionally married in their teens. Club feet are commonplace. So are cleft lips, sometimes accompanied by cleft palate. There are disturbing clusters: five babies born with missing eyes in Nong District; a family with five deaf-mute siblings; an inordinate number of short legs, malformed legs and hip dysplasia in Samuoi District — the latter a condition that is easily treatable in infancy, but if neglected will lead to severe pain, a waddling gait and more serious deformity. The rudimentary health care system in rural Laos means that few if any infants even get a diagnosis.
In each village the women visited, groups of elders assembled to share their stories, many in their 70s yet still with sharp memories. At first, they recounted, they had no idea who was spraying and bombing their villages, or why. But in time they learned the names of the airplanes: T-28, C-123, B-52. In most villages, dozens were killed by the bombings or died of starvation. The survivors lived for years in the forests or in caves. They dug earthen shelters, big enough to hide a whole family, and covered them with branches. “We had no rice for nine years,” one old man said. Sugar cane and lemongrass survived the spraying. So did cassava, though it swelled to an outlandish size and became inedible — Agent Orange accelerated the growth of plant tissue, killing most foliage.
For the most part, the old men told their stories dispassionately. But one Pa Co elder in Lahang, a place rife with birth defects, was bitter. He was an imposing 75-year-old named Kalod, tall, straight-backed, silver-haired, wearing a dark green suit with an epauletted shirt that gave him a military bearing. Like most of his people, Kalod saw the border as an artificial construct. During the war, people went back and forth between Laos and Vietnam, he said, depending on which side was being bombed and sprayed at the time. He leaned forward, gesticulating angrily. “Vietnamese people affected by the chemical spraying get compensation,” he complained. “In Laos, we need support from America, like they receive in Vietnam.”
The 600,000 gallons of herbicides dropped in Laos is a fraction of the roughly 19 million that were sprayed on Vietnam, but the comparison is misleading. Between 1961 and 1971, some 18 percent of South Vietnam’s land area was targeted, about 12,000 square miles; in Laos the campaign, which began on the Ho Chi Minh Trail between Labeng-Khok and the Vietnamese border, was compressed in time and space. It was focused on narrow, defined strips of the trail, 500 meters wide (about 1,640 feet), and on nearby crop fields, and the heaviest spraying was concentrated in a four-month period early in the war. It was as intense a ramping-up of the defoliation campaign as in any major war zone in Vietnam at the time.
To make matters worse, the newly examined Air Force records show that the first intensive period of spraying in Laos used not Agent Orange, but the much more toxic Agent Purple, the use of which was discontinued in Vietnam almost a year earlier. Tests showed that the average concentration of TCDD in Agent Purple, a different chemical formulation, was as much as three times higher than in Agent Orange.
Long before the first Marines came ashore in Vietnam in 1965, infiltrators from the North were trickling into the South from the still-rudimentary Ho Chi Minh Trail, and the loyalties of the tribal groups along the border were dubious. In response to the growing insurgency, U.S. Special Forces set up small camps near the border with Laos, notably at Khe Sanh, which later became a gigantic Marine combat base, and in the A Shau valley, later infamous for the battle of Hamburger Hill and seen by U.S. strategists as the most important war zone in South Vietnam.
Operation Ranch Hand was in its infancy. By July 1962, only a handful of missions had been flown, defoliating the perimeters of highways, power lines, railroads and the waterways of the Mekong Delta. The commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, Gen. Paul D. Harkins, now requested authority to hit six new targets. One of them was the A Shau valley, and it would be the first mission aimed at destroying crops that might feed the enemy. The Joint Chiefs of Staff refused: The location was too sensitive; the valley was right on the border, and the neutrality of Laos was just days from being guaranteed under an international agreement. Harkins pushed back, arguing that the proximity of the unsecured border was precisely the point. Despite President John F. Kennedy’s strong reservations about crop destruction, the mission went ahead.
The following January, a 25-year-old Army captain from the South Bronx arrived at the A Shau base. In February, “We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo cigarette lighters,” he wrote later. “The destruction became more sophisticated. Helicopters delivered 55-gallon drums of a chemical herbicide to us, a forerunner of Agent Orange. … Within minutes after we sprayed, the plants began to turn brown and wither.” The young officer was Colin Powell, future chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state. The chemical was Agent Purple. By the end of the defoliation campaign, at least half a million gallons of herbicides would be used in the A Shau valley, making it one of the most heavily sprayed places in Vietnam; thousands eventually became sick or died.
The flow of North Vietnamese troops down the trail only increased, and by late 1965 the C.I.A. was reporting that hundreds of miles of new roads had been built or upgraded to carry trucks. The Air Force was already bombing North Vietnam, so the obvious answer was to escalate the bombing on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.
But in addition to Laos’s neutrality, there was a second problem: Where exactly was the trail? It ran through some of the most remote and inhospitable terrain on Earth, concealed by dense rainforest, largely invisible to U-2 spy planes, infrared sensors on other aircraft, even low-flying helicopters. The solution was to strip away the forest cover to expose the bombing targets: the truck convoys and logistics centers like Labeng-Khok.
In essence, the initial spraying of Laos was a mapping exercise, formally integrated into a massive bombing campaign called Tiger Hound. In early December 1965, the ungainly C-123 aircraft, the workhorses of the herbicide campaign, crossed the Lao border for the first time. Within a week, the first wave of B-52s hit the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The details of these air operations in Laos remained largely unknown until 1997, when Chagnon and Rumpf were at a get-together at the U.S. Embassy residences in Vientiane. They were friendly with Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, who was on her way to Washington, Chagnon recalls. Was there anything they needed? Yes, Rumpf said, you can get the Air Force bombing records for Laos. While you’re at it, said Chagnon, never one to be shy, how about the records on Agent Orange?
By then, Chagnon and Hammond had gotten to know Thomas Boivin, a scientist with a Canadian company called Hatfield Consultants that was completing a landmark study of Agent Orange on the Vietnam side of the border, in the heavily sprayed A Shau valley (today known as the A Luoi valley, named after its main town). The records were in the form of computer punch cards and needed to be painstakingly converted into a database that showed every recorded flight, with its date and the geographical coordinates of where each spray run began and ended. Boivin later calculated that more than half a million gallons of chemicals had been sprayed on Laos, but other declassified Air Force documents show additional amounts not found in those initial records, and several village elders gave persuasive accounts of flights that didn’t seem to conform to the official data.
“I’m sure the records are incomplete,” says Jeanne Mager Stellman, an emerita professor of health policy and management at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who played a pivotal role in documenting the spraying in Vietnam and calculating the risks of dioxin exposure for American veterans. “And my understanding is that the guys who were assigned to missions in Laos were sworn to secrecy.” Boivin adds that “the C.I.A. also undoubtedly used herbicides in Laos, but their records have never been declassified.”
In her push to have the U.S. government take responsibility for its actions in Laos, Hammond has been well aware that it took many years for the plight of America’s own veterans and their offspring to be acknowledged, and much longer still before the same compassion was extended to the Vietnamese victims of dioxin. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 was passed only after a bitter 14-year fight by veterans campaigning for recognition that the chronic illnesses that tens of thousands of them were developing might be directly connected to dioxin exposure. Once the legislation passed, it was determined that if you set foot in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 and suffered from one of the conditions on the growing V.A. list, you were eligible for compensation. This resolution was a matter of political pragmatism rather than hard science. Although there was growing evidence of the toxicity of the herbicides, studies of their health impacts were inconclusive and fiercely contested. But the veterans formed an angry and influential constituency, and politicians had to assuage a good measure of guilt, both their own and that of the general public, over the trauma of those who had fought in a lost war that most Americans preferred to forget.
Accepting responsibility for the horrors visited on the Vietnamese took much longer. Even after diplomatic relations were restored in 1995, Agent Orange was a political third rail. Vietnamese complaints about the effects of the herbicides on human health — raising issues of reparations, corporate liability and possible war crimes — were dismissed as propaganda. American diplomats were forbidden even to utter the words. It was not until around 2000 that the United States was finally forced to acknowledge its obligations, after Hatfield Consultants completed its study of the impact of dioxin and showed U.S. officials incontrovertible evidence of how TCDD moved up the food chain, entered the human body and was transmitted to infants through breast milk.
Reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam was an intricate dance that depended on reciprocal steps to untangle the three most contentious legacies of the war. Once Washington had secured full cooperation in accounting for Americans missing in action, it began to aid Vietnam’s efforts to remove the vast amount of unexploded ordnance that still littered its fields and forests, killing and maiming tens of thousands. These steps, plus Hatfield’s breakthrough study, set the stage finally for the two countries to deal with Agent Orange, the most intractable problem of all.
The United States’ relationship with Laos has followed a similar sequence. Since the late 1980s, joint American-Lao teams have conducted hundreds of missions searching for the remains of aircrew who went missing on bombing missions, and over the last quarter-century Washington has committed more than $230 million to ordnance removal and related programs. The missing step has been Agent Orange, but lacking any data on its human impact, the Lao government has had little incentive to raise such a historically fraught issue. Few government soldiers fought in the sprayed areas, which were controlled by the North Vietnamese, so there were no veterans clamoring for recognition of their postwar sufferings. “In Vietnam, the magnitude of the problem made it impossible to ignore,” Hammond says. “But in Laos it was on a smaller scale, and in remote places outside of the political mainstream.”
All these years later, the mountainous border strip in the southern Lao panhandle is still a landscape defined by war and disease. Unexploded bombs are everywhere. The road that follows the Ho Chi Minh Trail south is a kind of living archive of the conflict, in which its remnants and relics have been absorbed into the fabric of everyday life. Men fish in boats made from the jettisoned fuel tanks of American fighter-bombers. Bomb craters from B-52 strikes are everywhere. Some are now fish ponds in the middle of the rice paddies.
Cluster-bomb casings have morphed into vegetable planters or substitute for wooden stilts to support the thatched huts that store rice, frustrating the claws of hungry rats. Everywhere the village soundtrack is the dull clang of cowbells made from sawed-off projectiles. “These are our gifts from the villagers of America,” one old man told me.
Once or twice the War Legacies team had to turn back, defeated by roads that were impassable after recent monsoon floods. Halfway to the village of Lapid, the four-wheel-drive vehicle ground to a halt in the hardened mud. Chagnon climbed out and paced up and down the steep slope, inspecting ruts that were deep enough to swallow a person whole. There was no way through. It was frustrating, because Lapid had been hit hard. An Operation Ranch Hand plane with its full load of chemicals had been shot down in the nearby hills, and after the war villagers called the area the “Leper Forest” for the high incidence of cancers and birth defects. On an earlier visit to Lapid, the War Legacies Project found a paralyzed baby girl, a 4-year-old with a club foot, a teenager born without eyes.
The survey has been a slow and laborious process. Since 2017, the women have visited scores of villages in heavily sprayed districts in two of the four border provinces that were targeted: Savannakhet and Salavan. In each village, they note the age and gender of each person affected, a description of their condition — with a firm diagnosis where possible — and a comment on any who might benefit from referral to a hospital in the provincial capital or in Vientiane. They exclude disabilities that are clearly unrelated to dioxin exposure, like the large number of limbs lost to cluster-munition bomblets. Their October 2019 trip was designed mainly to check up on cases they had already recorded, but they also found several new ones, like the boy in Labeng-Khok.
Hammond recognizes the limitations of their work. Some of their findings need to be verified by medical experts. “We’re not doctors or geneticists,” she says. Yet she, Chagnon and Sengthong are the first to try in Laos what has long been routine in Vietnam, where dioxin-related disabilities are logged systematically through commune-level surveys and household questionnaires and where victims receive small government stipends, and in some cases humanitarian aid from the United States.
It was Hatfield Consultants who unlocked the door to that aid, first through its four-year investigation of the A Luoi valley and then through subsequent studies of the former Danang air base. There had never been any secret about the huge volume of defoliants used in Vietnam, and the evidence of congenital disabilities in the sprayed areas was inescapable. Hatfield joined up the dots, showing how the two were connected and how dioxin could be transmitted from one generation to the next. But that was not Hatfield’s only insight. According to what it called the “hot spot” theory, the ongoing risk of present-day exposure was greatest around former military installations like the Special Forces base at A Shau, where the chemicals had been stored or spilled. Boivin wondered whether there might be similar dioxin hot spots on the Lao side of the border.
In 2002, Laos signed the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, a class of 12 “forever chemicals” including the dioxin family. All signatories were obligated to report on the extent of contamination in their countries. Boivin got a small grant from a U.N. agency to investigate dioxin in Laos, as the nation had little scientific expertise of its own. He found very little, but pursuing his hunch about Agent Orange, he made an arduous trip into the remote border areas, where it was strongly suspected that the C.I.A. had built secret airstrips, the kind of facilities that might have been used by herbicide planes and that would have been routinely sprayed to keep down vegetation, as they were in Vietnam.
Near a village called Dak Triem, he noticed a strikingly flat piece of land. Yes, the village elders said, it had once been an airstrip. Scavenging for scrap metal after the war, they found some barrels painted with orange stripes. Boivin had time to do no more than some perfunctory sampling, but he found elevated concentrations of TCDD, enough to classify the site as a possible hot spot and recommend further investigation. He and Hammond had known each other for years, and in 2014, with funding from Green Cross Switzerland and the European Space Agency, they collaborated on a more detailed report, which included a chronological table of all the known herbicide flights in Laos and a list of hundreds of clandestine C.I.A. facilities that might pose an ongoing health risk.
Boivin submitted his reports to the Lao government, but they gained little traction. This lack of interest might seem startling, but to veteran Laos watchers it comes as no surprise. “Things move slowly and cautiously there,” says Angela Dickey, a retired foreign-service officer who served as deputy chief of mission in Vientiane. “For an overworked midlevel official, there’s no real incentive to act on something like this. Only people at the very highest level can consider or speak about controversial issues.”
But there was a deeper reason for the lack of action on Boivin’s findings. He had made a preliminary estimate of the volume of defoliants used in Laos and found one contaminated air base. But he had never set out to collect data on the human impact. That was the missing piece of the puzzle that had been assembled in Vietnam, and that the War Legacies Project, using further Green Cross funding, set out to find.
When the United States finally agreed to clean up the Danang and Bien Hoa air bases in Vietnam, the two main hubs of Operation Ranch Hand, and aid the victims of Agent Orange in that country, it was an integral part of building trust between former enemies who increasingly see themselves as strategic allies and military partners. (Today, Bien Hoa is an important Vietnamese Air Force base.) In one of the larger oddities of history, the most painful legacy of the war has become a cornerstone of reconciliation.
In 2019, U.S.A.I.D. made a new five-year commitment to provide another $65 million in humanitarian aid to Vietnamese people with disabilities “in areas sprayed with Agent Orange and otherwise contaminated by dioxin.” The funds are channeled through the Leahy War Victims Fund, named for its creator, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Hammond’s home state, Vermont, who for years has led the effort to help victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam. So why would the same logic not apply in Laos? “We weren’t aware of significant spraying in Laos,” Leahy said by email, “Nor of people with disabilities in those areas that are consistent with exposure to dioxin. But if that is what the data shows, then we need to look at it and discuss with the government of Laos what could be done to help those families.”
Hammond has met several times with Leahy’s longtime aide Tim Rieser, who seems eager to see what the War Legacies Project has found when it presents its report to his boss this month. “We have our work cut out for us in Vietnam,” he says, “but we’d also want to know what was done in Laos, since clearly those who were involved” — meaning wartime political and military leaders — “have not made a point of making it widely known. I’ve always approached this as doing what’s necessary to solve the problem, and if there’s more to the problem than we knew, then we need to deal with it.”
Hammond is painfully aware that bureaucratic wheels turn slowly; that Leahy, after 46 years in the Senate, may not be there much longer; and that Vietnam will always be the front-burner issue. In principle, the smaller scale of what’s needed should make it easier to address. “Even $3 million, which is what the U.S. started off with in Vietnam, would go a long way in Laos,” Hammond says. Meanwhile, the affected people are running out of time. Nine children under the age of 9 on the War Legacies Project list have already died.
U.S.A.I.D. already has an active disabilities program in Laos, which includes help for people injured by unexploded bombs. “All we need to do,” Hammond says, “is add the language we use now for Vietnam, earmark some money for ‘areas sprayed by Agent Orange and otherwise contaminated by dioxin.’ That one little sentence. That’s all it takes.”
George Black is a British author and journalist living in New York. He is writing a book about the long-term human and political legacies of the Vietnam War, in Vietnam and Laos and in the United States. Christopher Anderson is the author of seven photographic books, including “Pia.” He lives in Paris.
In a secret settlement in Virginia, Amazon swore off threatening and intimidating workers. As the company confronts increased labor unrest, its tactics are under scrutiny.
By David Streitfeld, March 16, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/16/technology/amazon-unions-virginia.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Business
Mr. Hough said he had felt pressured to cut corners to keep conveyor belts running. Credit...Ruth Fremson for The New York Times
RICHMOND, Va. — Five years ago, Amazon was compelled to post a “notice to employees” on the break-room walls of a warehouse in east-central Virginia.
The notice was printed simply, in just two colors, and crammed with words. But for any worker who bothered to look closely, it was a remarkable declaration. Amazon listed 22 forms of behavior it said it would disavow, each beginning in capital letters: “WE WILL NOT.”
“We will not threaten you with the loss of your job” if you are a union supporter, Amazon wrote, according to a photo of the notice reviewed by The New York Times. “We will not interrogate you” about the union or “engage in surveillance of you” while you participate in union activities. “We will not threaten you with unspecified reprisals” because you are a union supporter. We will not threaten to “get” union supporters.
Amazon posted the list after the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers accused it of doing those very things during a two-year-long push to unionize 30 facilities technicians at the warehouse in Chester, just south of Richmond. While Amazon did not admit to violations of labor laws, the company promised in a settlement with federal regulators to tell workers that it would rigorously obey the rules in the future.
The employee notice and failed union effort, which have not previously been reported, are suddenly relevant as Amazon confronts increasing labor unrest in the United States. Over two decades, as the internet retailer mushroomed from a virtual bookstore into a $1.5 trillion behemoth, it forcefully — and successfully — resisted employee efforts to organize. Some workers in recent years agitated for change in Staten Island, Chicago, Sacramento and Minnesota, but the impact was negligible.
The arrival of the coronavirus last year changed that. It turned Amazon into an essential resource for millions stuck at home and redefined the company’s relationship with its warehouse workers. Like many service industry employees, they were vulnerable to the virus. As society locked down, they were also less able to simply move on if they had issues with the job.
Now Amazon faces a union vote at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. — the largest and most viable U.S. labor challenge in its history. Nearly 6,000 workers have until March 29 to decide whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. A labor victory could energize workers in other U.S. communities, where Amazon has more than 800 warehouses employing more than 500,000 people.
“This is happening in the toughest state, with the toughest company, at the toughest moment,” said Janice Fine, a professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. “If the union can prevail given those three facts, it will send a message that Amazon is organizable everywhere.”
Even if the union does not prevail, “the history of unions is always about failing forward,” she said. “Workers trying, workers losing, workers trying again.”
The effort in Chester, which The Times reconstructed with documents from regulators and the machinists’ union, as well as interviews with former facilities technicians at the warehouse and union officials, offers one of the fullest pictures of what encourages Amazon workers to open the door to a union — and what techniques the company uses to slam the door and nail it shut.
The employee notice was a hollow victory for workers. The National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that negotiated the settlement with Amazon, has no power to impose monetary penalties. Its enforcement remedies are few and weak, which means its ability to restrain anti-union employers from breaking the law is limited. The settlement was not publicized, so there were not even any public relations benefits.
Amazon was the real winner. There have been no further attempts at a union in Chester.
The tactics that Amazon used in Chester are surfacing elsewhere. The retail workers union said Amazon was trying to surveil employees in Bessemer and even changed a traffic signal to prevent organizers from approaching warehouse workers as they left the site. Last month, the New York attorney general said in a lawsuit that Amazon had retaliated against employees who tried to protest its pandemic safety measures as inadequate.
Amazon declined to say whether it had complied with labor laws during the union drive in Chester in 2014 and 2015. In a statement, it said it was “compliant with the National Labor Relations Act in 2016” when it issued the employee notice, and “we continue to be compliant today.” It added in a different statement that it didn’t believe the union push in Alabama “represents the majority of our employees’ views.”
The labor board declined to comment.
The Chester settlement notice mentions one worker by name: Bill Hough Jr., a machinist who led the union drive. The notice said Amazon had issued a warning to Mr. Hough that he was on the verge of being fired. Amazon said it would rescind the warning.
Six months later, in August 2016, Amazon fired him anyway.
Mr. Hough (pronounced Huff) was in a hospital having knee surgery when Amazon called and said he had used up his medical leave. Since he couldn’t do his job, he said he was told, this was the end of the line.
“There was no mercy, even after what they had done to me,” Mr. Hough, now 56, said. “That’s Amazon. If you can’t give 110 percent, you’re done.”
Amazon declined to comment on Mr. Hough.
Amazon was founded on notions of speed, efficiency and hard work — lots of hard work. Placing his first help wanted ad in 1994, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, said he wanted engineers who could do their job “in about one-third the time that most competent people think possible.”
Amazon managers openly warned recruits that if they liked things comfortable, this would be a difficult, perhaps impossible, job. For customer service representatives, it was difficult to keep up, according to media accounts and labor organizers. Overtime was mandatory. Supervisors sent emails with subject headings like “YOU CAN SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD.”
In 1999, the reps, who numbered about 400, were targeted by a grass-roots group affiliated with the Communications Workers of America. Amazon mounted an all-out defense.
If workers became anything less than docile, managers were told, it was a sign there could be union activity. Tipoffs included “hushed conversations” and “small group huddles breaking up in silence on the approach of the supervisor,” as well as increased complaints, growing aggressiveness and dawdling in the bathroom.
Amazon was in sync with the larger culture. Unions were considered relics of the industrial past. Disruption was a virtue.
“Twenty years ago, if you asked whether the government or workers should be able to put any constraints on companies, the answer always was ‘No constraints,’” said Marcus Courtney, a labor organizer on the 1999 Amazon campaign. “If companies wanted to push people 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, hats off to them.”
When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, Amazon lost some of its glow. For a time, its very existence was in question.
This caused problems for the activists as well. The company reorganized and closed the customer service center, though Amazon said there was no connection with the union drive. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Prewitt Organizing Fund, an independent group, made no inroads organizing Amazon’s 5,000 warehouse workers.
A decade later, in 2011, came a low point in Amazon’s labor history. The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa., revealed that Amazon was hiring paramedics and ambulances during summer heat waves at a local warehouse. Workers who collapsed were removed with stretchers and wheelchairs and taken to hospitals.
Amazon installed air conditioning but otherwise was undaunted. After the Great Recession in 2008, there was no lack of demand for its jobs — and no united protest about working conditions. In Europe, where unions are stronger, there were sporadic strikes. In the United States, isolated warehouse walkouts drew no more than a handful of workers.
Mr. Hough worked as an industrial machinist at a Reynolds aluminum mill in Richmond for 24 years. He once saw a worker lose four fingers when a steel roller fell unexpectedly. Incidents like that made a deep impression on him: Never approach equipment casually.
Reynolds closed the plant in the Great Recession, when Mr. Hough was in his mid-40s. Being in the machinists guild cushioned the blow, but he needed another job. After a long spell of unemployment, he joined Amazon in 2013.
The Chester warehouse, the size of several aircraft carriers, had opened a year earlier, part of Amazon’s multibillion-dollar push to put fulfillment centers everywhere. Mr. Hough worked on the conveyor belts bringing in the goods.
At first, he received generally good marks. “He has a great attitude and does not participate in negative comments or situations,” Amazon said in a March 2014 performance review. “He gets along with all the other technicians.”
But Mr. Hough said he had felt pressured to cut corners to keep the belts running. Amazon prided itself on getting purchases to customers quickly, and when conveyor belts were down that mission was in jeopardy. He once protested restarting a belt while he was still working on it.
“Quit your bitching,” Mr. Hough said his manager, Bryon Frye, had told him, twice.
“That sent me down the wrong road,” Mr. Hough said.
Mr. Frye, who declined to comment, no longer works for Amazon. On Twitter last month, he responded to a news story that said Amazon was hiring former F.B.I. agents to deal with worker activism, counterfeiting and antitrust issues.
“This doesn’t shock me,” he wrote. “They do some wild things.”
The Union Drive
In 2014, Mr. Hough and five other technicians approached the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. A unionization effort was already taking place with the technicians at an Amazon warehouse in Middletown, Del. If either succeeded, it would be the first for Amazon.
The elections for a union would be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. The first step was to measure interest. At least 18 of the 30 technicians in Chester returned cards indicating their willingness to be represented by the union.
“It was not too difficult to sign people up,” said Russell Wade, a union organizer there. “But once the word leaked out to Amazon, they put the afterburners on, as employers do. Then the workers started losing interest. Amazon spent oodles of money to scare the hell out of employees.”
The board scheduled an election for March 4, 2015. A simple majority of votes cast would establish union representation.
Amazon brought in an Employee Resource Center team — basically, its human resources department — to reverse any momentum. A former technician at the warehouse, who declined to be named for fear of retaliation, said the reps on the team followed workers around, pretending to be friendly but only seeking to know their position on the union drive.
If safety was the biggest issue for the technicians, there were also concerns over pay equity — machinists said they were paid different amounts for doing the same job — and about their lack of control over their fate. Part of Mr. Hough’s pitch was that a union would make management less arbitrary.
“One guy, all I remember is his name was Bob,” he said. “They paged Bob to the control room, and the next thing I saw was Bob coming down the steps. He had taken off his work vest. I said, ‘Bob, where are you going?’ He said, ‘They terminated me.’ I didn’t ask why. That’s the way it was.”
Several technicians said they recalled being told at a meeting, “You vote for a union, every one of you will be looking for a job tomorrow.” At another, the most outspoken union supporters were described as “a cancer and a disease to Amazon and the facility,” according to Mr. Hough and a union memo. (In a filing to the labor board, Amazon said it had investigated the incident and “concluded that it could not be substantiated.”)
Mr. Hough, a cancer survivor, said the reference had offended him. He declined to attend another meeting run by that manager. He said he had known in any case what she was going to say: that the union was canceling the election because it thought it would lose. Amazon had triumphed.
On March 30, 2015, Mr. Hough received a written warning from Mr. Frye, his manager.
“Your behavior has been called out by peers/leaders as having a negative impact,” it said. Included under “insubordination” was a refusal to attend the Amazon victory announcement. Another incident, Amazon said, could result in termination.
The machinists union filed a complaint with the labor board in July 2015 alleging unfair labor practices by Amazon, including surveilling, threatening and “informing employees that it would be futile to vote for union representation.” Mr. Hough spent eight hours that summer giving his testimony. While labor activists and unions generally consider the board to be heavily tilted in favor of employers, union officials said a formal protest would at least show Chester technicians that someone was fighting for them.
In early 2016, Amazon settled with the board. The main thrust of the two-page settlement was that Amazon would post an employee notice promising good behavior while admitting nothing.
Wilma Liebman, a member of the labor board from 1997 to 2011, examined the employee notice at the request of The Times. “What is unusual to my eye is how extensive Amazon’s pledges were, and how specific,” she said. “While the company did not have to admit guilt, this list offers a picture of what likely was going on.”
Amazon was required to post the notice “in all places where notices to employees are customarily posted” in Chester for 60 days, the labor board said.
From the machinists union’s point of view, it wasn’t much of a punishment.
“This posting was basically a slap on the wrist for the violations that Amazon committed, which included lies, coercion, threats and intimidation,” said Vinny Addeo, the union’s director of organizing.
Another reason for filing an unfair labor practices claim was that the union hoped to restart its efforts with a potentially chastened company. But most of the employees who supported the Chester drive quit.
“They were intimidated,” Mr. Wade, the union organizer, said.
Mr. Hough was beset by ill health during his years at Amazon. Radiation treatment for his cancer prompted several strokes. His wife, Susan, had health problems, too. Mr. Hough said he wondered how much the unionization struggle contributed to their problems. He added that he didn’t know whom to trust.
After leaving Amazon, Mr. Hough began driving trucks, at first long haul and later a dump truck. It paid less, but he said he was at peace.
Maximum Green Times
When Amazon vanquished the 2014 union drive in Delaware, the retailer said it was a victory for “open lines of direct communication between managers and associates.”
One place Amazon developed that direct communication was in its warehouse bathrooms under what it called its “inSTALLments” program. The inSTALLments were informational sheets that offered, for instance, factoids about Mr. Bezos, the timing of meetings and random warnings, such as this one about unpaid time off: “If you go negative, your employment status will be reviewed for termination.”
As the union drive heated up in Bessemer, the direct communication naturally was about that. “Where will your dues go?” Amazon asked in one stall posting, which circulated on social media. Another proclaimed: “Unions can’t. We can.”
Amazon also set up a website to tell workers that they would have to skip dinner and school supplies to pay their union dues.
In December, a pro-union group discovered, Amazon asked county officials to increase “maximum green times” on the warehouse stoplight to clear the parking lot faster. This made it difficult for union canvassers to approach potential voters as they left work. Amazon declined to comment.
Last month, President Biden weighed in.
“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” he said in a video that never mentioned Amazon but referred to “workers in Alabama” deciding whether to organize a union. “You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”
Owning 25 Hats
Mr. Hough, in an interview before the pandemic, said part of him wanted to forget what had happened at Amazon. Why dwell on defeat? He threw away all the papers from the union drive. He never saw the employee notice because he was recovering from a stroke.
But he has not forgiven the retailer.
“You’re only going to step on me one time,” he said, sitting in his home in the outskirts of Richmond.
Amazon’s customers just don’t know how miserable a job there can be, he suggested.
“I guarantee you, if their child had to work there, they’d think twice before purchasing things,” he said.
Ms. Hough, sitting next to him, had a bleaker view.
“The customers don’t care about unions. They don’t care about the workers. They just want their packages,” she said.
As if on cue, their son, Brody, came in. He was 20, an appliance technician. His mother told him there was a package for him on his bed. It was from Amazon, a fishing hat. It cost $25, Brody said, half the price on the manufacturer’s website.
“I order from Amazon anything I can find that is cheaper,” Brody said. That adds up to a lot of hats, about 25. “I’ve never worked for Amazon. I can’t hate them,” he said.
Ms. Hough looked at her husband. “If your own son doesn’t care,” she asked, not unkindly, “how are you going to get the American public to care?”
The pandemic helped change that, bringing safety issues at Amazon to the forefront. In a Feb. 16 suit against Amazon, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, said the company continued last year to track and discipline employees based on their productivity rates. That meant workers had limited time to protect themselves from the virus. The suit said Amazon retaliated against those who complained, sending a “chilling message” to all its workers. Amazon has denied the allegations.
Last week, regional Canadian authorities also ordered thousands of workers at an Amazon warehouse near Toronto to quarantine themselves, effectively closing the facility. Some 240 workers recently tested positive for the virus there, a government spokeswoman said, even as the rate of infection in the area fell. Amazon said it was appealing the decision.
Alabama is now the big test. Mr. Hough worries the union supporters will be crushed.
“They will fall to threats or think, ‘I won’t have a job, Amazon will replace me,’” he said by phone this month. “When a company can do things to you in secret, it’s real hard to withstand.”
Still, he added, “I’m hoping for the best. More power to them.”
By Donna Muhammad, Contributing Writer - March 16, 2021
His leg is full of sores and bloody wounds.
“Freedom is the only treatment.” According to Pam Africa, MOVE member and head of International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal, that was the sentiment recently expressed by Dr. Ricardo Alvarez. Dr. Alvarez is the personal physician to political prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Ms. Africa was a guest on a recent broadcast of “Elevated Places” hosted by Student Minister Dr. Ava Muhammad, national spokesperson for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Ms. Africa provided an update of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s dire health conditions and issued a call to action regarding his current health challenges and for his long sought-after freedom. She also expressed her deep respect for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam in the long-time fight for justice for Mr. Abu-Jamal along with offers by Min. Farrakhan of financial support for his healthcare over the years.
Mr. Abu-Jamal, 66, who was convicted of killing a police officer in 1981 and has maintained his innocence, has served 40 years in the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania. He contacted Ms. Africa in early March, concerned that he had contracted Covid-19, which led to a subsequent press conference to address his concerns and appeal for health care. Ms. Africa said the press conference resulted in a response from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections in which their lawyers contacted Mr. Abu-Jamal’s lawyers and stated he did not have Covid-19 and that he never had it.
Amid public pressure, Mr. Abu-Jamal was finally allowed to go to an outside facility where he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and Covid-19, said Ms. Africa. During his four-day stay, he reached out to Dr. Johanna Fernandez, associate professor of history at Baruch College CUNY, who has helped published his writings.
He shared with Dr. Fernandez that he was shackled to his bed the entire time resulting in further damage to his skin which, according to a recent press release, he was already experiencing “Unrelenting skin eruptions causing damaged, ruptured, leathery, dry, exposed wounds. Not one spot on his body is free of dry cracked and bloody open wounds.”
Mr. Abu-Jamal has since been returned to the correctional center’s infirmary, where he is allegedly being denied proper treatment.
Ms. Africa said she and supporters of Mr. Abu-Jamal are asking people to mobilize to continue fighting for his release and prove his innocence. “You know who I feel like? I feel like Mamie Till, you know when she showed the body of her son laying in that casket, ‘look what they did to my son,’” she explained, referring to Emmett Till whose brutal killing at the hands of White men in 1955 in Mississippi sparked outrage.
“I’m looking at Mumia, and I’m saying ‘Look what they are doing to Mumia. Innocent. They are trying to kill him before the whole world and want us to hold hands,’” Mrs. Africa stressed to listeners during the March 11 broadcast.
Support includes efforts by Dr. James MacIntosh of CEMOTAP in New York, who is garnering support of doctors to sign a petition to put pressure on the system for Mr. Abu-Jamal’s health care and release and Phile Chinoseu, convenor of Million Woman March, who has established a campaign to contact the Pennsylvania governor along with other elected officials. Dr. Fernandez and Santiago Alveraz, a California-based college student, have mobilized 75 colleges in the “Campaign to bring Mumia Home.”
For more information, call 215-724-1618 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; The Campaign to bring Mumia Home at email@example.com and The Prison Radio Project at 415-648-4505, firstname.lastname@example.org.A “STAND UP/SPEAK OUT” Rally is scheduled for April 10, 12:00 noon EDT at City Hall in downtown Philadelphia to push to free Mumia and all elder political prisoners. For more info contact: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or text: 267-636-3802.
Questions and comments may be sent to email@example.com
By Tatiana Cozzarelli, March 18, 2021https://www.leftvoice.org/the-racist-system-that-killed-george-floyd-is-set-up-to-let-derek-chauvin-off-easy
Minneapolis has become a militarized zone. Streets are lined with barbed wire and fencing. The National Guard has been called in and the streets are heavily policed. The city has spent $1 million on this militarization effort as the Derek Chavuin trial begins.
This trial should be an open-and-shut case. A crowd of bystanders watched and filmed Derek Chauvin with his knee on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, choking the life out of him. We all saw what happened—there is nothing ambiguous here at all.
The currently unfolding trial of Derek Chauvin is a high-profile anomaly, the rare instance of a killer cop potentially facing consequences for his actions. The fact that he is even standing trial is a product of the huge Black Lives Matter uprising over the summer. It is the exception which proves the rule. After all, so many police officers who kill Black people are not even brought up on charges, and fewer still are convicted or punished. However, the racism that is foundational to the criminal “justice” system in the United States extends way beyond coverups by police departments or dismissed charges. Chauvin may be standing trial soon, but the entire process is designed to protect the state and its institutions, not to get “justice” for the murder of a Black man by the police. As jury selection for the Chauvin trial begins this week, the structural racism of American “law and order” is on plain display.
Derek Chauvin Is a Murderer
The murder of George Floyd, captured on camera from multiple angles in broad daylight, lasting an excruciating eight minutes and forty-six seconds, was not Derek Chauvin’s first time brutalizing the people of Minneapolis. Chauvin had received ten misconduct charges before he killed Floyd. Former Presidential contender Amy Klobuchar, who was the district attorney of Hennepin County, overseeing Minneapolis, chose not to prosecute him. In 2005, Chauvin and his partner plowed into the car of three young men, killing all of them. In 2006, he and five other cops shot an Ojibwe man 23 times, for which they were cleared of any wrongdoing. Two years later, he shot and wounded another man during a domestic violence call. At that point, he was placed on paid leave. He was again placed on leave in 2011 after yet another shooting.
Each time, Chauvin returned to the force without skipping a paycheck. In 2008, he was even awarded a medal of valor. With this record, it’s easy to understand why Chauvin was unmoved by the cameras and crowd that watched him suffocate George Floyd—there are clearly no consequences for police violence.
But the brutality of George Floyd’s murder, contrasted with Chauvin’s callousness and impunity, set off a movement—the biggest movement in U.S. history. In Minneapolis, the City Council made headlines by promising that they would abolish its police.
It’s clear now that this was a false promise to pacify a radicalized movement, assuring protestors that they had been listened to and won reforms, when in reality almost nothing has changed. As The New York Times explains, “In Minneapolis, the most far-reaching policy efforts meant to address police violence have all but collapsed.” In fact, the police budget signed in December was $179 million—a mere $8 million had been cut from the budget. The movement died down after a combination of arrests and repression, burnout after a summer of near-daily mobilization, and co-optation by the Democratic Party, which expanded its voter base and convinced many that the next step of the struggle was to elect Joe Biden. It was a masterclass in quelling radical energy by channeling it into the Democratic Party, the graveyard of social movements.
You might be interested in: Black Socialists Speak on BLM, Democratic Party Co-Optation, and the Fight for Revolution.
In the meantime, Chauvin has been allowed to leave prison and await trial at home—a privilege often denied Black and brown defendants. And now, almost a year later, he will stand trial for what is evident to the whole world: he brutally murdered George Floyd. The outcome of the trial remains uncertain despite the overwhelming, indisputable evidence of the crime, readily accessible online.
The systemic racism built into the “justice system” is already working in favor of Chauvin and the three other cops who stood at his side. Recently, prosecutors succeeded in re-introducing a third charge against Chauvin, that of third-degree murder. This charge would carry a significantly lighter sentence than the other two he faces: manslaughter and second-degree murder. Though prosecutors argue that this will hold more avenues open to secure a conviction, this is an “easy out” for the jury, allowing it to avoid more serious convictions. A third-degree murder conviction would also substantially reduce the potential penalties faced by the three other officers.
In a clear demonstration of the systemic racism and pro-police bias in the legal system, Minnesota law automatically elevates the killing of a police officer by a civilian to first-degree murder, but the only way Chauvin could face a first-degree charge is by having a record of previous convictions. This, of course, has been conveniently precluded by the complete lack of accountability for his past violence.
This week, the city reached a $27-million wrongful death settlement with the Floyd family. The timing of this announcement, in the midst of jury selection, is unorthodox, to say the least. The defense has framed this as prejudicial, claiming that it frames Chauvin as guilty without a trial. But it could just as easily be interpreted the exact opposite way: a consolation prize, should Chauvin escape indictment. After all, the family has already been compensated—what good is it to further punish the perpetrator?
The Cops Get Away with Murder
Precedent does not bode well for the possibility of Chauvin’s conviction—the cops almost always get away with murder. Think of Breonna Taylor, who was brutally murdered in her own home. The only legal consequences in that case fell on the cop whose bullets missed their target. Think of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot by police after just two seconds on the scene for holding an orange-tipped toy gun. His murder was excused as an “objectively reasonable response” by former law enforcement officials tasked with investigating it. Killer cops walked free after the high-profile murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Grey, Tony McDade, and Philando Castille; these names are familiar, but the list of Black people slaughtered by police each year is much longer. Most names never rose to the lips of protesters, and nearly all of their killers are still on the job.
Racism and pro-cop propaganda run so deep that even the clearest evidence usually isn’t enough to charge and convict. Thanks to the “reform” of equipping police with body cams, we have now multiple instances of police murder captured on camera in broad daylight. Tulsa PD Officer Betty Shelby was acquitted after shooting Terrence Crutcher to death, captured vividly on video by a police helicopter; she is still on patrol. Eric Garner’s death was likewise captured on video in broad daylight, but this wasn’t enough to even bring charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Even when legal action is taken, the victims and their loved ones often receive closer scrutiny than the killer cops on trial. Trayvon Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel was cruelly and publicly discredited, and branded “inarticulate” based on racist standards. Off-duty officer George Zimmerman, meanwhile, was acquitted of Martin’s murder. In the case of LaQuan McDonald, the defense literally said, “Think about a monster movie” and went on to call McDonald, the Black teenager who was shot 16 times, a “monster.” Ferguson PD Officer Darren Wilson, who murdered Michael Brown, invoked racist stereotypes about Black men, describing Brown as “a demon” and “crazed”. Wilson was also acquitted. Tamir Rice’s mother was accused by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor of having “economic motives” for pursuing justice for her son.
The NAACP reports that 1,025 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year alone. Yet since 2005, only 35 police officers have been convicted of a crime and just three were convicted of murder. These numbers stand in stark contrast to the ease with which people of color, especially Black men, are systematically imprisoned. Some statistics show that one in four Black men in the United States will be jailed or imprisoned in their lifetime.
Jury Selection in the Floyd Case
Already, the jury selection process indicates that this will be far from a fair trial. Four of the jurors—six men and two women—identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Latino, and two are Black. The jury includes a mixed race woman whose uncle is a cop and who has a “somewhat negative” impression of Chauvin. It includes a white man who said, “Floyd appeared to be under the influence of something and was somewhat unruly.” This juror says he believes the system is biased against people of color, but also that “people don’t give law enforcement the respect they deserve.” Another white juror expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, but views the organization itself unfavorably. He also has an unfavorable view of the Blue Lives Matter movement, saying that “everyone should matter the same. The whole point of that is that all lives should matter equally, and that should include police.” He says he has not seen the brutal video of Chauvin killing George Floyd.
One Black juror immigrated to the United States from a West African country. He knows that what happened to Floyd could have happened to him, but also believes that both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. The other Black juror said in a questionnaire that Chauvin may not have meant to kill anyone. While he supports the basic precept of Black Lives Matter, he emphasized that likes to allow everyone to “get their voices heard,” and that he personally knows police who are “great guys.”
Further, the defense keeps striking down Latino jurors. Three have been struck down already and although the prosecution issued a “Baston challenge,” claiming that jurorers were eliminated due to sex, race, ethnicity, or religion, the judge declined the challenge.
The Jury Selection Process Is Racist
Jury selection is portrayed as a neutral way to guarantee a democratic trial by one’s peers, but in reality, it’s a structural feature of a racist system which ensures cop can get away with murder. Most juries aren’t representative of the city, much less the neighborhood, where police violence took place. For example, in Chicago, a city which is less than 50 percent white, only one Black juror served on the trial of LaQuan McDonald. The only juror of color that the defense did not try to dismiss was a Hispanic woman who was trying to join the CPD. To this day, it is not illegal to have an all-white jury.
Further, the selection process itself is biased: members of the jury are selected based on DMV and voter registration rolls. People of color are far less likely to own a car, and less likely to be registered to vote, which already narrows the pool of people of color that can be selected. In other words, from the get-go, people of color, especially those who are low-income, are under-represented in those called to be jurors.
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Juries are not just narrowed demographically—they’re also filtered by political opinion. Once summoned, candidates go through the voir dire process, in which they can be asked questions like “Have you had a bad experience with a police department?” This could be a reason to be struck from the jury, creating an obscenely pro-police and racist bias. Excluding every single person who has had a bad experience with the cops means striking the majority of Black people, especially Black men, from the jury. After all, seven-in-ten Black Americans say they experience police harassment. In a nation of systematic police violence, these kinds of questions define “unbiased” as white, wealthy, and pro-police.
For the Chauvin trial, jury candidates were asked to fill out questionnaires that included questions like, “How favorable are you towards BLM?” and “How favorable are you to Blue Lives Matter?” This is a grossly false equivalency: Black Lives Matter is a movement in response to police killings of Black people, while Blue Lives Matter is an attempt to justify police murders. Blue Lives Matter is an explicitly racist slogan, while “Black lives matter” is a very basic assertion that Black people should matter. Yet again, supposedly “unbiased” opinions are structurally slanted towards pro-police positions.
This is all in addition to the use of the “peremptory strike” which gives attorneys the right to strike down the participation of any potential juror with no explanation or justification. A strike based on race is not technically permissible here, but attorneys can use virtually any other reason—from attending a BLM protest, to listening to hip hop, to having a beard. Across the country, peremptory strikes are used to exclude people of color from juries, even in cases that on the surface do not involve racial bias.
This is what institutional racism in a “color-blind” system looks like. Every step in the jury selection process is meant to cut out people of color, people who have had bad experiences with the police, and people who believe that Black lives should matter. The “impartial” jury selected is almost certain to be more white and middle- or upper-class than the city as a whole. The people of color it does include are those who have accepted pro-cop propaganda or who come from wealthier strata in which police brutality is less common.
It means that the “unbiased” jury chosen is entirely biased—towards the cops. And this isn’t a coincidence or a mistake—it’s part of a whole system based on police impunity and police terror against communities of color and working-class people. The justice system isn’t neutral or democratic. The deck is purposefully stacked to favor the police, white supremacy, and the murder of Black people.
It’s Not One Cop, It’s the Whole System
A conviction of Derek Chauvin would be an important win for the movement, and for the millions of protesters who took to the streets last summer. He would be one of the few police officers to face any consequences for the murder of a Black person—a low bar to begin with.
But putting Derek Chauvin in prison will not exonerate the racist police or the racist system. Convicting one killer cop does not, by itself, change the structures that enable this brutal system. Every aspect of the system is created for the wealthy and powerful, and built on the repression and exploitation of Black people, people of color, and the working class. This is abundantly clear from the fact that Chauvin has been systematically allowed to brutalize and kill people for his entire career as a cop, from the fact that he is awaiting trial at home, and from the racist jury selection process. Institutional racism lives in every crevice of every institution of U.S. democracy, giving the cops ample opportunity to terrorize people of color with impunity.
“Justice for George Floyd” was always meant to be for more than just George Floyd. Justice for George Floyd, and for all victims of police violence, means tearing down the system that inherently and systematically brutalizes Black people with impunity. As so many of us chanted this summer, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.”
Better service would improve millions of Americans’ lives.
By Farhad Manjoo, Opinion Columnist, March 18, 2021
Florian Buettner/laif, via Redux
In America, nobody loves the bus. Lots of people ride the bus — we took about 4.6 billion trips by bus in 2019, more than by any other mode of public transportation. But at least 4.5 billion of them must have begun with a deep, dejected sigh of resignation.
Buses are hard to love. Bus systems across the country are chronically underfunded, leading to slow, inconvenient and unreliable service. In New York, America’s most transit-friendly city with by far the nation’s most-used bus system, terrible service regularly causes people to lose jobs, miss medical appointments and squander many hours, sometimes in rain or snow, just waiting.
People have said for years that the bus could be the next big thing in transportation. Now we can make that a reality. With the proper investment, city buses might be transformed into the sort of next-generation transportation service that technology companies and car companies have spent billions over the last decade trying to build — a cheap, accessible, comfortable, sustainable, reliable way to get around town.
How might we come upon this transportation nirvana? Not through some great technological innovation or a grand infrastructure project. The holy grail is right there in front of us; it’s been right there for decades. All we’ve got to do is buy more buses, hire more bus drivers and, in some places, give buses special privileges on the road. All we’ve got to do is care enough to build bus systems that work.
And now is the time to do it. The pandemic has altered Americans’ commuting habits, and there is a sudden political opportunity to remake American transportation. The Biden administration and Democrats in Congress are drawing up a giant infrastructure plan with lots of big projects on the menu — a multibillion-dollar tunnel under the Hudson, an electric car charging network, perhaps high-speed rail.
These may be worthy projects, but it could be years before we realize their benefits. Adequately funding American buses is one of the simplest, cheapest ways to meaningfully improve the daily lives of millions of Americans right now.
“Every major city in America has streets where, if the bus were made more convenient, transit agencies would reap a bumper crop of new riders,” writes the transportation researcher Steven Higashide in his book “Better Buses, Better Cities.” With improved bus service, Higashide adds, “cities would instantly take a step toward becoming more inclusive and sustainable.”
America’s neglected buses are inextricably linked to its larger collective ills. Bus riders wield little political or economic clout; a disproportionate number are people with low incomes.
Like all forms of transit, buses must also contend with America’s addiction to automobiles. About 80 percent of federal spending on transportation is devoted to highways; the sliver that’s left goes to public transit.
It’s likely that few policymakers ride the bus, and many see the world through car-addled eyes, creating quirks in the law unfair to mass transit. For example, much more federal money goes toward building and maintaining transportation projects than to operating them, which tends to be the costliest part of public transit.
Then there’s the bus’s image problem. Buses are old and boring. They rarely attract champions in the media or in government. Even among riders, a kind of hopelessness clings to them. “We’ve lived with subpar service for so long that it’s hard for people to rally around improving it,” an advocate told The Los Angeles Times in 2019.
Until recently, I was of similar mind. Then, on a weeklong visit to London just before the pandemic, I challenged myself to spend my time in the city without ever stepping inside a car. It wasn’t much of a challenge: In addition to a fantastic transit system, London has a congestion-pricing plan that keeps cars from jamming up the entire city.
What I did find surprising, though, was how often I used London’s iconic double-decker buses in addition to, and sometimes instead of, its Underground trains.
For many of my trips, the bus was my best option. In London, buses are given priority on the roads, and traffic signals can detect approaching buses to extend green lights. As a result, I could get to my destination faster by bus than in a taxi or a train.
The buses were clean, comfortable and easy to use. Many of them are either fully electric or powered by hydrogen. I liked that I could pay for my ride with the same card I used for the city’s other modes of transit. And I appreciated that bus stops displayed real-time route information.
But the major innovation in London’s buses is less technological than numerical. The magic is one of scale — there are simply enough buses in London to allow for frequent, reliable service to the parts of the city that people want to travel to.
It wouldn’t take much money to bring high-quality transit service to American cities. The Urban Institute estimates that for about $17 billion annually, every American city with at least 100,000 people could more than double its transit capacity. (By comparison, the federal government spends nearly $50 billion a year on infrastructure meant mainly for cars.)
According to TransitCenter, a transit advocacy organization, this sort of increase would dramatically improve people’s livelihoods. In Atlanta, for example, a 40 percent increase in transit service would give bus passengers access to tens of thousands more jobs within a 30-minute bus ride.
Just throwing a lot of money at buses might sound like too easy an answer. But it’s also something we haven’t ever really tried.
“For my whole career there’s always been a reason transit agencies were spending money on something other than bus service,” said Jarrett Walker, a transit expert who has worked with many cities to improve buses.
But this might be the bus’s big moment. “We can do buses in a way that’s attractive,” Beth Osborne, the director of the advocacy group Transportation for America, told me. “We just have to choose to do it.”
The victims lived at the nexus of race, gender and class.
By May Jeong, March 19, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/19/opinion/atlanta-shooting-massage-sex-work.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Among the first things I did upon learning about the shootings at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area was to check in with a former massage parlor worker I met in 2019. At the time, I was reporting an article about a prostitution raid at a Florida massage parlor.
Unable to work during the pandemic, she was home alone when we spoke; the news from Atlanta hadn’t reached her yet. “Too frightening,” she said, when I sent her an article about what had happened. Robert Aaron Long, 21, who has been charged with the murder of eight people in Atlanta and nearby Acworth, six of them Asian women, had been arrested on his way to Florida — where she was — and where he planned on killing more, according to what he told the police. She worried for her colleagues. “Do you think someone will kill them? Am I in danger too?”
I didn’t know how to respond, in part because I knew so little about those killed in Georgia: Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Yong Ae Yu, 63. (Daoyou Feng, 44; Xiaojie Tan, 49; Paul Andre Michels, 54; and Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, were victims identified earlier.) In some massage parlors, women, often Asian, may sometimes perform sexual services. But I did not know whether those who died this week would have identified themselves as sex workers.
I have spent the past few years researching the various ways sex work intersects with race, class and gender, routinely amazed by how it connects to such disparate issues as criminal justice, gentrification, poverty, immigration and trans rights. I have come to understand sex work rights as an overlooked civil rights issue that deserves study. I soon found myself placing the Atlanta killings within the context of a horrific history.
In 1974, a soldier, Park Estep, 25, was convicted of a crime against two women at the Suezy Oriental Massage Parlor near Fort Carson in Colorado. According to court documents, he slashed the throat of Yon Cha Ye Lee, 32, an employee at the parlor, and stabbed her in the back. He then raped 36-year-old Sun Ok Cousin, the spa’s owner, before shooting her in the right temple, killing her and then setting her on fire. In 1993, Kenneth Markle III, 20, a medic at a U.S. military base in South Korea, was convicted of murdering Yun Kum-i, a 26-year-old sex worker. Her sexually-abused corpse was found near the base.
Since the terrible events this past Tuesday, much effort has been devoted to understanding Mr. Long — an earnest inquiry that betrays a particular kind of American naïveté. He claimed to have been driven by “sexual addiction”; investigators have not yet ruled out race as a factor. For now, we do not know whether the massage parlor workers who were killed would have considered themselves sex workers, and we may never know. But the answer is less relevant to their deaths than their murderer’s answer: Does it matter how one identifies oneself if a mass killer conflates any Asian woman in a massage parlor with a sex worker?
The stereotype of the Asian woman as simultaneously hypersexualized and submissive is borne of centuries of Western imperialism. An early documented instance of Asian fetishization can be found in “Madame Chrysantheme,” a thinly fictionalized account of a French naval officer’s time visiting 19th-century Japan. “Madame Chrysantheme” was wildly popular when it was published, and went on to create a subgenre of Orientalizing prose. The women in such accounts were, as Edward Said wrote in “Orientalism,” “creatures of a male power-fantasy. They express unlimited sensuality, they are more or less stupid, and above all they are willing.”
Later, an untold number of American servicemen in Korea and Vietnam had their first sexual encounter with Asian women. The U.S. military tacitly endorsed prostitution, considering it good for morale, and at times even explicitly encouraged troops to explore the local sex industry. According to the book “Sex Among Allies” by Katharine Moon, a professor of political science at Wellesley College, an ad in Stars and Stripes, the main military newspaper, read: “Picture having three or four of the loveliest creatures God ever created hovering around you, singing, dancing, feeding you, washing what they feed you down with rice wine or beer, all saying at once, ‘You are the greatest.’ This is the Orient you heard about and came to find.”
Yuri Doolan, an assistant professor of history and of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Brandeis University, has written that the first Korean massage parlor workers most likely came to the United States in the 1950s after the United States reduced its forces in South Korea after the war there. They were unlikely to have been massage parlor workers before they came: The son of one of the victims has said his mother told him she was a teacher before coming to the United States.
These women, the first thousand or so, likely met their servicemen husbands in base towns across South Korea that sprang up during the Korean War, and the American occupation that followed.
In 1986 when the Immigration and Naturalization Service created the Korean Organized Crime Task Force to fight the scourge of its time, Korean prostitution, the authorities estimated that some 90 percent of massage parlor workers in the United States had come to the country as G.I. brides. These women followed their husbands to military bases. Once settled, some opened massage parlors, among the few opportunities for employment and financial autonomy available to immigrant women.
But beyond this specific history, structural violence against Asians in the United States has long been institutionalized. The racist, sexist nature of American society is hardly some aberrant, recent phenomenon that can be fixed through minor reform.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act became the first and only major federal law to exclude a specific ethnic group from entering the United States. It codified in federal law the xenophobia that had been building since the economic depression after the Civil War, in which Chinese laborers were blamed for taking jobs away from white people. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw horrific violence against Asian communities, including the 1887 Hells Canyon massacre, in which as many as 34 Chinese miners were killed, and the 1907 Bellingham riots, which drove out the entire South Asian population within three days.
Predating the Chinese Exclusion Act was the lesser-known Page Law of 1875, which was mostly applied to Chinese immigrants and allowed the barring of entry to those deemed to have agreed to services with “lewd and immoral purposes.” Immigration officials asked every female applicant, “Are you a virtuous woman?” They “apparently operated on the premise that every Chinese woman was seeking admission on false pretenses, and that each was a potential prostitute until proven otherwise,” according to “Unbound Feet” by Judy Yung, a historian and emerita professor of American studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
In this way, the Asian woman became an object of hatred, and lust, a thing to loathe, then desire, the distance between yellow peril and yellow fever measured in flashes.
It is hard to know what motivates a person. Early reporting has pointed to the tension between Mr. Long’s religious beliefs and sexual behavior he saw as compulsive, and the way this tension may have warped him. But Mr. Long is also a white man born in 21st-century America, a country with a rich history of violence against Asians. A place where the previous president was among the first to call Covid-19 the “Kung Flu,” and the “China virus,” possibly sowing the seeds for the nearly 3,800 acts of violence against Asians — mostly women — that followed. Did this history allow Mr. Long to see murder as a way of eliminating “temptation,” as he has said — a way of viewing Asians as expendable?
The events were also informed by class: These women, some of whom were working class, almost certainly died because they were at work. As working women of color, they existed at the terrible nexus of race, gender and class. It is, of course, often women who don’t speak English or are undocumented who are locked out of traditional labor markets, or are otherwise marginalized.
Many have framed the Atlanta spa shootings as a hate crime against the Asian community. Hate crime is a legal designation that serves to justify more policing. Despite being seen as a candidate supporting decriminalization of sex work, the New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang took the occasion to call for more funding of the New York Police Department’s Asian Hate Crime Task Force. The Atlanta police deployed additional patrols across the city, as did the N.Y.P.D., despite the fact that the police are the sources of instability in the massage-parlor-worker community. The irony is, of course, that had the women in Atlanta not been killed, they would have probably run the risk of being arrested by the very same law enforcement officers.
It is the instinct of the living to commemorate the dead, to make their passing not be in vain. I, too, am vulnerable to such impulses, and so I end by saying Georgia reminds us — I hope — that anti-Asian violence is also anti-women violence, anti-poor violence, and anti-sex-work violence, that our fates are entwined, that fighting oppression means fighting oppression not just in one’s own narrowly defined community, but also everywhere.
May Jeong is a writer at Vanity Fair and an Alicia Patterson fellow. She is at work on a book about sex work.