Rally to Free Malik and Demand Geo Group Out of California!
From: No Justice Under Capitalism <email@example.com>
Date: March 4, 2021 at 6:37:56 PM PST
To: "'Vickie Johnson' via No Justice Under Capitalism (NJUC)" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [NJUC Updates] ACTION ALERT : Rally to Free Malik and Demand Geo Group Out of California!
Hi Family,SF Bay View Editor Malik Washington continues to face persecution by the $2.27B for-profit prison multinational, Geo Group, who profit off of caging people at 111 Taylor St. and many other re-entry facilities, private jails, and ICE Detention Centers across California. Malik was severely retaliated against for releasing a public memo documenting the preventable coronavirus outbreak at his halfway house. In response, the facility extended his sentence at 111 Taylor, stole his phone and put a gag order on him on what is the most egregious attack on journalism and Malik's constitutional right to freedom of speech. Malik sued them for violating his rights and now they are threatening to send him back to jail.This Sunday, March 7, join us from 12-2pm at 111 Taylor Street as we DEMAND:1) Malik's freedom2) California cuts all contracts with for-profit prison corporations3) An end to the attack on Black Liberation Journalism! For silencing Malik's voice is silencing the voice of the SF Bay View!***Did you know the SF Bay View distributes 20,000 newspapers per month within the U.S. Prison System and for FREE within Bay Area Black neighborhoods? It is crucial to keep the newspaper alive at a time when Black voices, and most especially Black incarcerated voices, continue to be silenced!Want to be a part of the change? Here's how you can help:1) Join us at the rally this Sunday. More information here.2) Blast the rally invite and flyer (attached) to your networks and all over social media4) Make sure to pack the (Zoom) court in support of Malik on Wed, March 10th at 9:30am.We got this, Community! See you all soon and thanks for your continued dedication to dismantling the carceral state!
The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal asks you to
Attend the Rally:
Free Malik Washington!
Shut Down Geo Group!
End the Attack On Black Journalism!
Keith Malik Washington, editor of the SF Bay View National Black Newspaper, was punished for telling a reporter about a COVID outbreak at a halfway house operated by the GEO Group, a private prison mega corp, which runs this “house” in the Tenderloin in SF, where Malik is incarcerated.
JOIN US at
111 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA
Sunday, 07 March, at 12 Noon to 2 PM
San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper Editor Malik Washington is being severely retaliated against for releasing a public memo documenting a preventable Covid outbreak at 111 Taylor, a reentry facility run by the $2B+ for-profit prison corporation GEO Group in San Francisco's Tenderloin District. Washington is an inmate this Taylor Street facility.
Inmates in this halfway house are routinely allowed to go to work daily, and possess cell phones; and Malik’s release date was just weeks away. Alarmed that the Covid outbreak in the facility could spread the virus by inmates going to work everyday, and that the Taylor St. managers were keeping it quiet, Malik called journalist Tim Redmond of 48 Hills to inform him of the situation.
The GEO response was immediate. Staff confiscated his phone, denied his right to attend a press conference, and imposed a gag order which required that he get special permission to talk to reporters. He also lost some of his “good time,” meaning the period before his release has been extended.
This is an egregious attack on journalism and Malik's constitutional right to freedom of speech. As if that wasn’t enough, the federal Bureau of prisons, GEO’s overseer, is now threatening to send him back to prison!
Malik and the SF Bay View have filed suit against the BOP and GEO.
Mumia Has Covid
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a black journalist who is a political prisoner because of his former his exposure of police brutality and murder. Now in his 40th year of false incarceration, Mumia has Covid, and has been hospitalized. This is on top of his pre-existing condition of cirrhosis of the liver, due to the prison system’s ignoring his hepatitis-C infection. He also has congestive heart failure. This could be death sentence for Mumia. Only freeing him immediately can be a sure step in preventing an early death for Mumia.
No State Execution by Covid-19!
Free Mumia Now!
Free Malik Washington!
JOIN US at
111 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA
Sunday, 07 March, at 12 Noon to 2 PM
This message from: The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
Shut Down Adelanto Coalition puts ICE on Trial! Sat March 28th, 12:00 pm
There will be testimony from impacted folks, expert testimony, and more.
Bessemer, Alabama Amazon Solidarity Virtual Week of
Many thanks to all who've signed the petition and made calls to Amazon and Morgan Lewis to tell them to stop union busting and express solidarity with the BAmazon Union.
Momentum behind the workers in Bessemer continues to build, as U.S. President Biden issued a statement supporting the workers' right to organize. This is a victory for the movement, given Biden's initial reluctance to say anything on what's happening in Bessemer, with many workers and activists pressuring him to go on record.
The Virtual Week of Action to show solidarity with the historic struggle being waged by the majority Black workers in Bessemer, Alabama to win the first U.S. union at Amazon continues with a tweet storm today and a solidarity selfie day on Thursday.
Wednesday, March 3 - Tweetstorm: No Union Busting! Solidarity with BAmazon Union!
Tweet at Amazon, Morgan Lewis, and their executives to let them know: the whole world is watching and is in solidarity with the workers fighting for their union in Bessemer!
Check out this page on the website for a list of handles to send your messages of solidarity and condemnation of their union busting, and some sample tweets to use and inspire your own messages as well.
Bessemer Amazon Workers: Ignites National
Movement to Organize Labor in the South
The Feb 20, National Day of Action in solidarity with the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon workers, was a national call to action to support organizing the South. Thanks to the many who organized and participated in solidarity actions.
The Bessemer workers launched their campaign at a time of increasing repressive government and the rise of a racist and divisive social movement that threatened to turn back the clock on basic democratic rights. Like the 1955, Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott during a similar repressive and divisive period, the Bessemer Amazon workers led by the 80-percent Black and women majority and the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), stepped forward.
Being the largest transnational corporation in the US, and a major part of the US and global economic supply-chain, Amazon corporate elites could not conceive of Amazon workers in the deep South, being a catalyst for igniting a national solidarity campaign.
Solidarity actions at Amazon sites were held in more than 50 cities, with 23 being in the South. The South is a region where US corporations and state governments have enacted the largest concentration of anti-labor laws and social policies designed to prevent unionization, keep wages low and working people divided. This has in turn helped to undermined the strength of the US national labor movement.
The Southern Workers Assembly (SWA), made the call for the National Day of Action, not as a one-time event. It is part of a larger strategy that requires the involvement of local and national labor unions, their rank-n-file, community organizations and social movements. It will take a national and international movement to organize transnational corporations in the South.
The SWA sees the national solidarity actions taking the next step to form local worker assemblies that unite rank-n-file workers, local unions and community organizations into a national network to expand organizing at Amazon locations and to support organizing labor in the South. The SWA will be reaching out to the 23 solidarity actions held in the South, to discuss developing an infrastructure of worker assemblies with rank-n-file organizers at Amazon and other major industries and sectors throughout the South.
With less than a month left before the union vote count of the Bessemer Amazon workers, the continuous solidarity actions in the form of weekly leafleting and developing and follow-up on Amazon worker contacts are important. Videos, photos and reports of weekly actions can be sent to the SWA at southernworker.org or at email@example.com for posting on the SWA website.
The SWA call for the Feb 20 National Day of Action for the Bessemer Amazon workers union campaign, has prompted the formation of other solidarity committees and actions to help to spread the word far and wide. The work of the SWA will be building worker assemblies, and training rank-n-file organizers/cadres as an infrastructure for organizing a radical labor movement in the South. Whatever corporate schemes Amazon tries to use to discredit or defeat the union vote, Amazon workers must maintain organization to continue to involve workers in a collective struggle for changes.
Victory to the Bessemer Amazon Workers!
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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, firstname.lastname@example.org; John Wetzel, Secretary PA Department of Corrections, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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
In Maine, inmates are growing vegetables and making meals from scratch to replace the deadly diets they have long been served.
By Patricia Leigh Brown, March 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/opinion/prison-food-farming-health.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Of the seemingly endless tally of injustices of mass incarceration, one of the worst humiliations gets little attention from outside: the food. This shadow issue — the 3,000 bologna sandwiches, mystery meats slathered on white bread, soy filler masquerading as chicken and other culinary indignities consumed during a prison sentence — permeates life behind bars and instills a nearly universal sense of disgust.
Prison food is high on refined carbohydrates, sodium and sugar and low on nutrients — diets the rest of us have been told to avoid. Like everything about prisons, it disproportionately affects people of color, and it has grown worse during the pandemic. With most states spending $3 or less per person a day for meals, penitentiaries have become hidden food deserts, paralleling the neighborhoods from which many inmates have come.
The “hidden punishment” of food is the subject of a comprehensive new report by the research and advocacy organization Impact Justice. “Food is a fundamental human rights issue,” said Alex Busansky, the organization’s president and founder. “It’s not just one bad meal or experience, but years and years and thousands and thousands of meals.”
At the Mountain View Correctional Facility in Maine, however, an organic farmer with dirt under his fingernails and reform on his mind is demonstrating a new path, making the prison a pioneer in a nascent farm-to-prison table movement. “It would be a whole lot easier to just go ahead and throw on some chicken patties,” said Mark McBrine, the facility’s food service manager, who comes from generations of farmers. “But by putting time into it and cooking from scratch, we can provide much healthier and better-quality meals that save money and benefit the well-being of residents and staff.”
This medium- and minimum-security prison has a 750-tree heirloom apple orchard and a three-acre vegetable farm. The inmates cultivate and harvest crops, learn to prepare healthful meals from scratch and bake virtually all the prison’s rolls, breads and muffins. For what they don’t grow, Mr. McBrine aggressively courts fellow farmers and other local sources, scoring significant “opportunity buys” — from surplus organic mushrooms to multigrain stone-milled flour.
Early in the pandemic, when local suppliers were overflowing with food for shuttered restaurants, Mr. McBrine snapped up 45 free-range turkeys at 59 cents a pound and prepared a full Thanksgiving-style dinner in March with all the trimmings, followed by his grandmother’s recipe for turkey potpies with biscuit toppings.
On a chilly autumn morning with frost on the clover, a few inmates harvested the last of the season’s 77,000 pounds of apples (the surplus goes to other prisons and food banks). Like prisoners everywhere, they had strong opinions about standard-issue fare. “Consider eating ground-up gym mat with a little bit of seasoning,” Alexander Roth, 34, said about a typical meal at a county jail.
Before Mr. McBrine took over six years ago, inmates at Mountain View would routinely chuck their food trays in the garbage. This is typical, according to the Impact Justice report. The organization’s survey of 250 former prisoners found that many did not receive enough food and contended with soured milk and spoiled meat.
Food quality, or lack thereof, has a direct impact on behavior, notes Jeff Morin, Mountain View’s warden. “This is not a healthy population due to some of the lifestyles they grew up in,” he observed. “If they don’t feel good, they’re not going to act good.”
The issue, though, goes way beyond fostering good behavior. Though the average American rarely spends time worrying over how incarcerated people are being treated, their physical, psychological and emotional health has a ripple effect on all of us, especially after they serve their time. If the goal of prison involves not only punishment but also rehabilitation and lowering recidivism, then sending a healthier person back into society is in everyone’s interest.
“Mark teaches them the science and health values behind what they’re doing,” Mr. Morin said. “So when they leave they have a knowledge base that they can utilize in the community.” Over the last five years, more than 25 of Mr. McBrine’s “graduates” have landed full-time work at a large commercial bakery.
In Maine, the enlightened approach comes from the top: Randall Liberty, the state’s corrections commissioner, is a certified master gardener and beekeeper. He is also a former inmate’s son and grew up in a trailer on public assistance and ate molasses and biscuits for dinner when money was tight.
When he was warden at Maine State Prison, Mr. Liberty instituted composting after learning, to his horror, that leftovers from the 3,000 meals served a day were being thrown away. The composting saved $100,000 annually and enriched the soil where a two-and-a-half-acre vegetable garden now flourishes. He also installed beehives “outside the wire” periphery that he initially tended himself (inmates now care for the hives throughout the system). Prisoners can become certified master gardeners or beekeepers through the University of Maine’s cooperative extension.
Initiatives like Maine’s, of course, are rare. As Impact Justice’s report makes clear, slashed prison budgets have resulted in fewer hot meals, smaller portions, poorly equipped and unsanitary kitchens and 20-minute-or-less meals in cacophonous and dehumanizing chow halls.
Arthur Robinson, 63, who was incarcerated for 40 years in California, considered the food a plus when he arrived in the 1970s, recalling a fresh half-chicken or menudo (a traditional Mexican soup made with cow stomach) for dinner. That changed when the “tough on crime” policies of the 1980s precipitated a sevenfold increase in the state’s prison population. “They got dietitians to say, ‘This is what a person needs to survive, right?’ They didn’t take into account feeding the people. So you were getting the bare minimum,” Mr. Robinson said.
Sam Lewis, executive director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, an advocacy network, performed a grim science experiment on one prison’s prepackaged lunches: watering the chemical-smelling bread to see if it would develop mold (it didn’t) and trying to get the cheese to melt (it wouldn’t).
The public health ramifications of a poor diet are profound: Incarcerated people suffer from higher rates of costly chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. “Lifestyle changes are a significant tool for these conditions, and diet is a huge part,” noted Dr. Shira Shavit, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine and the executive director of the Transitions Clinic Network, a constellation of 44 health clinics for formerly incarcerated patients. In addition to a lack of daily fresh fruits and vegetables, Dr. Shavit pointed out that in prison, “people don’t learn needed skills about healthy eating because there are very few food choices.
“It’s a missed opportunity,” she continued. “It’s yet another example of how we don’t prepare people to come back to the community.”
Yet even beyond Maine, the culture is changing, albeit at glacial pace. At the Noble Correctional Institution in Ohio, for instance, the desire to foster positive family visits led officials to organize a cookout so that inmates and their families could grill and share a meal together. The prep, eating and cleanup “symbolize the effort involved in any healthy relationship,” said Tim Buchanan, the former warden.
And in Maryland, the nonprofit Farm to Prison Project is piloting a program with the Maryland Institute for Women to replace standard canned and frozen fruits and vegetables with fresh locally sourced produce.
Peter Allison, the executive director of Farm to Institution New England, a six-state network that helps to create markets for farmers and fishermen through institutional procurement, said the pandemic prompted a shift in thinking. Many schools and colleges, long regarded as steady sources of income, have closed temporarily. Correctional institutions, Mr. Allison noted, can potentially play a vital role as stable outlets for farmers, fishermen and other producers.
Improving the health of incarcerated people through more palatable and wholesome food will mean bringing together farmers, chefs, corrections officials and legislators as well as people who have lived behind bars. There is just one missing ingredient.
“It’s really a question of political will,” Mr. Allison said.
A vote on whether to form a union at the e-commerce giant’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., has become a labor showdown, drawing the attention of N.F.L. players, and the White House.
By Michael Corkery and Karen Weise, March 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/business/amazon-union-bessemer-alabama.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Players from the National Football League were among the first to voice their support. Then came Stacey Abrams, the Democratic star who helped turn Georgia blue in the 2020 election. The actor Danny Glover traveled to Bessemer, Ala., for a news conference last week, where he invoked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s pro-union leanings in urging workers at Amazon’s warehouse there to organize. Tina Fey has weighed in, and so has Senator Bernie Sanders.
Then on Sunday, President Biden issued a resounding declaration of solidarity with the workers now voting on whether to form a union at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse, without mentioning the company by name. Posted to his official Twitter account, his video was one of the most forceful statements in support of unionizing by an American president in recent memory.
“Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union,” Mr. Biden said.
A unionizing campaign that had deliberately stayed under the radar for months has in recent days blossomed into a star-studded showdown to influence the workers. On one side is the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and its many pro-labor allies in the worlds of politics, sports and Hollywood. On the other is one of the world’s dominant companies, an e-commerce behemoth that has warded off previous unionizing efforts at its U.S. facilities over its more than 25-year history.
The attention is turning this union vote into a referendum not just on working conditions at the Bessemer warehouse, which employs 5,800, but on the plight of low-wage employees and workers of color in particular. Many of the employees in the Alabama warehouse are Black, a fact that the union organizers have highlighted in their campaign seeking to link the vote to the struggle for civil rights in the South.
The retail workers union has a long history of organizing Black workers in the poultry and food production industries, helping them gain basic benefits like paid time off and safety protections and a means to economic security. The union is portraying its efforts in Bessemer as part of that legacy.
“This is an organizing campaign in the right-to-work South during the pandemic at one of the largest companies in the world,” said Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School. “The significance of a union victory there really couldn’t be overstated.”
The warehouse workers began voting by mail on Feb. 8 and the ballots are due at the end of this month. A union can form if a majority of the votes cast favor such a move.
Amazon’s countercampaign, both inside the warehouse and on a national stage, has zeroed in on pure economics: that its starting wage is $15 an hour, plus benefits. That is far more than its competitors in Alabama, where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
“It’s important that employees understand the facts of joining a union,” Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We will provide education about that and the election process so they can make an informed decision. If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site and it’s important associates understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon.” The company, which went on a huge hiring spree last year as homebound customers sent its sales to a record $386 billion, recorded more than $22 billion in profit.
In Alabama, some workers are growing weary of the process. One employee recently posted on Facebook: “This union stuff getting on my nerves. Let it be March 30th already!!!”
The situation is getting testy, with union leaders accusing Amazon of a series of “union-busting” tactics.
The company has posted signs across the warehouse, next to hand sanitizing stations and even in bathroom stalls. It sends regular texts and emails, pointing out the problems with unions. It posts photos of workers in Bessemer on the internal company app saying how much they love Amazon.
At certain training sessions, company representatives have pointed out the cost of union dues. When some workers have asked pointed questions in the meetings, the Amazon representatives followed up with them at their work stations re-emphasizing the downsides of unions, employees and organizers say. The meetings stopped once the voting started, but the signs are still up, said Jennifer Bates, a pro-union worker in the warehouse.
In this charged atmosphere, even routine things have become suspect. The union has raised questions about the changing of the timing of a traffic light near the warehouse where labor organizers try to talk to the workers as they are stopped in their vehicles while leaving the facility.
Amazon did ask county officials in mid-December to change the light’s timing, though there is no evidence in the county records that the change was made to thwart the union. “Traffic for Amazon is backing up around shift change,” the public records stated as the reason the county altered the light.
Amazon regularly navigates traffic concerns around its facilities, and wasting unpaid time in congested parking lots is a frequent gripe of Amazon workers in Facebook groups.
But the retail workers’ union president, Stuart Appelbaum, questioned the timing of the request in Bessemer, coming as it did at the height of the organizing. “When the light was red we could answer questions and have a brief conversation with workers,” he said.
Last week, the union questioned an offer the company made to the Alabama warehouse workers to pay them at least $1,000 if they quit by late March. Mr. Appelbaum accused the company of trying to entice employees to leave before the vote ended.
“They are trying to remove the most likely union supporters from their work force by bribing them to leave and give up their vote,” he said in an interview.
But “The Offer,” as it’s known among employees, was the same that Amazon made to workers at all of its warehouses around the country. It is an annual program that lets the company reduce its head count after the peak holiday shopping season without layoffs. It has been in place since at least 2014, when Jeff Bezos wrote about it in a shareholder letter.
“Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit,” Mr. Bezos said at the time. “In the long run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”
Mr. Appelbaum was not swayed. He said he believed that Amazon had chosen to make the offer across all of its warehouses when it did in order to help eliminate possible “yes” votes in Bessemer.
President Biden stopped short of urging the Amazon workers to unionize, but his statement instantly raised the stakes of an already momentous campaign.
“Let me be really clear,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s not up to me to decide whether anyone should join a union. But let me be even more clear: It’s not up to an employer to decide that, either. The choice to join a union is up to the workers. Full stop.”
He added, “Workers in Alabama and all across America are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. This is vitally important — a vitally important choice.” And it is one, he said, that should be made without intimidation or threats.
Despite the union’s suspicions, it has not filed any formal complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, Mr. Appelbaum said. Typically, unions can raise objections to a company’s tactics before an election and the labor board can step in.
If a complaint were to be filed, the labor board could potentially determine that the election is invalid because of Amazon’s actions. But after working for months to build support inside and outside the Amazon warehouse, the last thing the union wants is for the labor board to intervene and rule that the election must be held again. The voting has already been taking place in Bessemer for nearly a month.
Mr. Sachs, of Harvard Law School, said that despite Mr. Biden’s admonishments of companies’ interfering in elections, the current labor law does allow Amazon to hold certain mandatory meetings with workers to discuss why they shouldn’t unionize and enables the company to post anti-union messages around the workplace.
“It is very helpful that the president is calling out these tactics, but what we need is a new labor law to stop companies from interfering,” he said.
It is rare for such a large union election to be held by mail. Over Amazon’s objections, the labor board required a mail-in vote after determining that federal election monitors would be at risk of contracting Covid-19 if they had to travel to Bessemer to oversee in-person voting.
By pushing back aggressively against the union, Amazon risks angering Democrats in Washington, many of whom are already calling for more antitrust scrutiny of big tech companies, whose businesses have grown even larger in the pandemic. Amazon has mounted a public campaign supporting legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, buying prominent ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications.
In his video on Sunday, President Biden specifically mentioned how unions can help “Black and brown workers” and vulnerable workers struggling during the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.
Ms. Bates, 48, one of the leaders of the union drive, started working at the Bessemer warehouse in May.
She said she felt insulted by some of Amazon’s anti-union efforts, particularly the company’s statements to the staff that they would be required to pay nearly $500 in union dues every year. Because Alabama is a right-to-work state, there is no such requirement that a worker in a unionized workplace pay dues.
“It angers me a little bit because I feel like they know the truth and they won’t tell the truth and are taking advantage because they know employees come from a community that is looked on as Black and low income,” said Ms. Bates, who is Black. “It felt really horrible that you would stand there and mislead people intentionally. Give them the facts and let them decide.”
The gray wolf lost Endangered Species Act protections last year, prompting a recent hunt that killed at least 216 wolves — far exceeding a quota set by state wildlife officials.
By Maria Cramer, March 3, 2021
The Trump administration announced last year that the gray wolf would no longer be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Last week, hunters in Wisconsin killed more than 200 wolves. Credit...Dan Rozak/Alamy
Hunters in Wisconsin killed more than 200 wolves last week, far exceeding the state’s limit as they scrambled to take advantage of Trump-era wildlife rules that they worry may be tightened by the Biden administration.
At least 216 wolves were killed in less than 60 hours, exceeding the state quota of 119 and prompting Wisconsin to end what was meant to be a one-week hunt four days early, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Environmentalists, who fought unsuccessfully in state court to stop the hunt, said the killings had occurred during breeding season, when gray wolves are especially vulnerable. They said the large number of wolves killed in such a short time underscored the need for President Biden to put the gray wolf back on the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“These animals were killed using packs of dogs, snares and leg-hold traps,” Kitty Block, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said on Tuesday. “It was a race to kill these animals in the most cruel ways.”
The hunt, reported by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, follows the gray wolf’s January removal from the Endangered Species Act. In October, the Trump administration announced that the species, which had been all but exterminated in the lower 48 states by the mid-20th century, had rebounded enough that it no longer needed federal shielding.
The removal of the wolf from the list was one of many rollbacks of environmental regulations under the Trump administration, which last summer announced new rules that would make it easier to remove a species from the endangered list and weaken protections for threatened species.
The resurgence of wolves in certain parts of the country has been called a success story for conservationists. But as their numbers grew, ranchers have had to contend with wolves’ appetite for cattle and sheep. Conservationists counter that wolves keep deer, elk and other species in check and therefore help prevent more vegetation loss.
The last time wolves were hunted in Wisconsin was 2014, after President Barack Obama said the wolf could be removed from federal protection.
A federal judge later rejected the Obama administration’s efforts to keep the wolf off the list.
Wisconsin is the only state in the country that requires a yearly wolf-hunting season if the animal is not protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to Nicholas Arrivo, a lawyer for the Humane Society.
The Trump administration’s decision meant the state would have to hold one hunting season a year, which under Wisconsin law starts in early November and ends on Feb. 28.
Wisconsin wildlife officials had scheduled the start of the hunting season for this November, citing the need for time to develop a “science-based” harvest quota and work closely with the public and Native American tribes to create a plan.
But Hunter Nation, a hunters group led by Luke Hilgemann of Wisconsin, accused state officials of “intentionally delaying the wolf harvest to give radical anti-hunting groups time to block the delisting and stop a hunt altogether.”
The group filed a lawsuit on Feb. 2 in which it argued that under state law, the hunt should be scheduled immediately since the wolf was taken off the list on Jan. 4.
The lawsuit noted a letter from Republican state lawmakers dated Jan. 15 in which they called for a wolf hunt season that month.
In their lawsuit, hunters pointed to President Biden’s executive order to tackle climate change, which included a review of all existing regulations and policies enacted by federal agencies under the Trump administration.
“There is a substantial possibility that Wisconsinites’ time to hunt wolves is limited,” according to the lawsuit.
On Feb. 12, a Jefferson County circuit court judge ruled in favor of the hunters, ordering the state to start the season that month.
Before the hunt, state officials estimated there were about 1,200 gray wolves in the state.
Mr. Arrivo said it was possible that many of the wolves killed last week were pregnant or might have been mothers with new pups that were still dependent on them and might now die of starvation.
“I think the actual death toll is considerably higher because of the rippling effects through the wolf family structure,” Mr. Arrivo said.
Hunter Nation said the large number of wolves hunted in such a short period of time showed that the population had “significantly increased.”
The group said that in 2014, it took two months for hunters to kill about 100 wolves.
“This season it took just three days!” the organization said in a statement, describing the hunt as a success. “Clearly, the population of gray wolves has significantly increased during that time and the D.N.R. must take a serious look at their population models and counting methods.”
Richard M. Esenberg, a lawyer for Hunter Nation, said it was misleading for animal rights activists to claim that hunters had killed double the number of wolves allowed by the state.
The state had set a quota of 200 wolves, with 119 for hunters who applied for permits with the department and 81 set aside to the Ojibwe Tribes under their treaty rights.
“The notion that there was this wide divergence between the outcome of the hunt and the number of the wolves that could be hunted simply doesn’t bear up to analysis,” Mr. Esenberg said.
But the tribes consider wolves to be sacred and made a deliberate decision not to hunt them, said Dylan Jennings, a spokesman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which represents the tribes.
The tribes saw their allocation as a way to conserve a large number of the wolves — not to give hunters more animals to kill, he said.
The losses are “appalling,” Mr. Jennings said. “There are a lot of people upset about it.”
Mexico’s president is supporting a candidate accused of rape. Women may need to give up on him.
By Viridiana Ríos, March 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/opinion/international-world/amlo-feminist-salgado-macedonio.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
MEXICO CITY — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is in the middle of a political storm. His party nominated Félix Salgado Macedonio, who has been accused by five women of rape and sexual harassment, as a candidate for governor of Guerrero State.
Among the allegations: A woman said that as a 17-year-old in 1998 she was raped by Mr. Salgado in his home. Another woman said she was drugged, beaten and raped by him in 2016. A third woman accused him of sexual harassment in 2007.
Protests were quick to follow. A majority of Mexicans believe that Mr. López Obrador should withdraw his support for Mr. Salgado’s candidacy. Even within the president’s own Morena party, more than 100 senators and deputies demanded the withdrawal of the nomination. People who have been staunch party loyalists have threatened to resign.
Until now, the Morena party, Mexico’s largest, had been unified in its support for its main leader and founder, Mr. López Obrador. Demonstrating unwavering loyalty to the president was a path to party positions and voter support. Now, female Morena members are openly questioning Mr. López Obrador’s leadership. The result may be the fracturing of the party, perhaps the most important political development in Mexico in a decade.
Still, Mr. López Obrador seems to have not taken notice of the storm brewing. He is standing by Mr. Salgado.
Moreover, even though his cabinet has more women in it than any one before it, Mr. López Obrador believes that feminism is the wrong battle to wage. He thinks the root of Mexico’s poverty and gender inequality is the result of a government that for decades has been corruptly committed to protecting a group of businessmen who amassed fortunes thanks to their proximity to power, and not the country’s ingrained misogyny.
By his logic the injustices women suffer will be resolved when corruption is eradicated. Championing feminism, he reasons, is the conservative party’s attempt to create a distraction while it brazenly loots Mexico.
I am a Mexican woman, and I agree with Mr. López Obrador on many points. Like him, I believe that predatory political and economic elites have enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of us.
But unlike Mr. López Obrador, I know that even if wealth is redistributed, the abuse and inequalities suffered by women will remain. Women should not tolerate this lie the president continues to espouse.
Nor should we tolerate Mr. Salgado’s candidacy. Over 40 percent of Mexican women have been victims of some form of sexual assault. The sexual harassment we endure will not be resolved through trickle-down economics, but through punishing abusers.
Poverty has also increased among women while it has decreased among men: 32 million women are poor — 10 percent more than the number of men. Women in white-collar jobs continue to earn less than men.
This is the result of a history that has been forged by greedy men, who have exclusively run the show. The results have been disastrous: Their decisions have led us to become a country where inequality is endemic and poverty has the face of a woman.
Our economy, shaped by men, is replete with privileges for them. It is built on the unpaid work of millions of women who take care of children and the elderly so that men can study or engage in paid work.
My great-grandmother did not attend school so that she could take care of her father. Nor did my grandmother, so that she could care for her siblings. And my mother went to school until the day that she had to take care of me. Women are the victims of a government and an economy devised by men so that they have the money and women help them obtain it.
When Mr. López Obrador was elected president in 2018, he pledged to wage war on social injustice. Many women, including myself, thought that this meant that he would fight for us, because if the poor should come first, as he declared in his campaign speeches, then women should be at the forefront of his agenda.
Since his election, he has failed to hear our message, showing his insensitivity to the feminist cause and to the most basic demands of women.
We must change our tactics and stop wasting our energy trying to convince Mr. López Obrador that our fight against sexual violence and for gender equality is legitimate and essential. Many leftist women and politicians from his Morena party are also wasting valuable time on this uphill battle.
We must turn our focus to organizing and championing the fight against all injustices — not just those Mr. López Obrador deems relevant. Insisting on the withdrawal of Mr. Salgado’s candidacy is not a question of conservatism or liberalism, of right or left. It is a matter of basic human decency. And if the president does not understand this, it is time to find new leaders.
We must channel our anger and frustration into a political organization that includes all parties and encourages them to include a solid and reality-based gender agenda. Denouncing men who have committed sexual abuse is only part of the objective. The ultimate goal must be to correct the failures in the systems that make our society, and the state, dependent on the unfair labor burdens shouldered by women.
It is not enough to have female leadership in order to win the battle for women. We must fight for the social, political and economic justice that we have been denied and we must share it with others.
Only then will we be able to expand opportunities for all Mexicans.
Viridiana Ríos (@Viri_Rios) is a political analyst. This essay was translated by Erin Goodman from the Spanish. A version of it appeared on March 1 on the Spanish-language site of The New York Times.
Racism must be exorcised from culture, including, or maybe especially, from children’s culture.
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, March 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/opinion/suess-books-race-bias.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
As a child, I was led to believe that Blackness was inferior. And I was not alone. The Black society into which I was born was riddled with these beliefs.
It wasn’t something that most if any would articulate in that way, let alone knowingly propagate. Rather, it was in the air, in the culture. We had been trained in it, bathed in it, acculturated to hate ourselves.
It happened for children in the most inconspicuous of ways: It was relayed through toys and dolls, cartoons and children’s shows, fairy tales and children’s books.
At every turn, at every moment, I was being baptized in the narrative that everything white was right, good, noble and beautiful, and everything Black was the opposite.
The first book I ever bought was a children’s book about Job from the Bible. Job was the whitest of white men in the book and so was the white savior with white beard lounging on a cloud. Indeed, every image I saw of Christianity featured white people. My great-uncle had a picture of a stringy-haired, blue-eyed white Jesus hanging over his bed.
Some of the first cartoons I can remember included Pepé Le Pew, who normalized rape culture; Speedy Gonzales, whose friends helped popularize the corrosive stereotype of the drunk and lethargic Mexicans; and Mammy Two Shoes, a heavyset Black maid who spoke in a heavy accent.
Reruns were a fixture in the pre-cable days, so I watched children’s shows like Tarzan, about a half-naked white man in the middle of an African jungle who conquers and tames it and outwits the Black people there, who are all portrayed as primitive, if not savage. I watched the old “Our Gang” (“Little Rascals”) shorts in which the Buckwheat character summoned all the stereotypes of the pickaninny.
And of course, I watched westerns that regularly depicted Native Americans as aggressive, bloodthirsty savages against whom valiant white men were forced to fight.
As James Baldwin put it in a 1965 essay:
“In the case of the American Negro, from the moment you are born every stick and stone, every face, is white. Since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose you are, too. It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, 6, or 7 to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to see Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, and although you are rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians are you.”
But, as the Equal Justice Initiative points out:
“Throughout history, Native people have been subjected to more than 1500 wars, attacks, and raids authorized by the United States government. Under the guise of ‘expanding civilization,’ the drive to amass land and widen borders incited decades of racial genocide.”
In elementary school we celebrated Columbus Day by coloring pictures of a happy, smiling white man and his three boats, not knowing that Columbus was a brutal enslaver and slave trader and who wrote in 1500 of enslaved women and girls: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls: those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
In fact, it is in the early years that we become conscious of race, and it is then that we can begin to assign value to it.
As the American Psychological Association pointed out last year, new research indicates “Adults in the United States believe children should be almost 5 years old before talking with them about race, even though some infants are aware of race and preschoolers may have already developed racist beliefs.”
I was a teenager before I could start to understand what had been done to me, that I had been taught to hate myself, and for me to start to reverse it. The most illuminating — and sad — realization came when I became aware of the doll tests in which very young children were presented with a white doll and a Black one and asked to describe each. Most of the children preferred the white dolls and described them positively.
About 30 years ago, in my own version of the experiment, I grabbed an old yearbook from a school I attended whose student body was roughly evenly split between white and Black students. I gave it to my nephew who was 4 or 5 years old and told him to point to the people he thought were pretty. Every face on which that little brown finger landed was white.
It underscored for me that the things that we present children with, believing them innocent, can be highly corrosive and racially vicious.
So, this week when the company that controls the Dr. Seuss books announced that they would no longer publish six of the books because of racist and insensitive imagery, saying “these books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” I cheered as some bemoaned another victim of so-called “cancel culture.”
Racism must be exorcised from culture, including, or maybe especially, from children’s culture. Teaching a child to hate or be ashamed of themselves is a sin against their innocence and a weight against their possibilities.
Despite the danger, women have been at the forefront of the movement, rebuking the generals who ousted a female civilian leader.
By Hannah Beech, March 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/world/asia/myanmar-protests-women.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
An undated photograph that Ms. Kyal Sin, whose English name was Angel, posted on Instagram in 2019.
Doctors at a hospital in Yangon, Myanmar, protested days after the military coup last month. Credit...The New York Times
Protesters in formal gowns in Yangon last month. Credit...The New York Times
Protesters in Yangon last month. Credit...The New York Times
Esther Ze Naw and Ma Ei Thinzar Maung leading a rally in Yangon on Feb. 6. Credit...The New York Times
Protesters in front of the United States Embassy in Yangon last month. Credit...The New York Times
Ma Kyal Sin loved taekwondo, spicy food and a good red lipstick. She adopted the English name Angel, and her father hugged her goodbye when she went out on the streets of Mandalay, in central Myanmar, to join the crowds peacefully protesting the recent seizure of power by the military.
The black T-shirt that Ms. Kyal Sin wore to the protest on Wednesday carried a simple message: “Everything will be OK.”
In the afternoon, Ms. Kyal Sin, 18, was shot in the head by the security forces, who killed at least 30 people nationwide in the single bloodiest day since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the United Nations.
“She is a hero for our country,” said Ma Cho Nwe Oo, one of Ms. Kyal Sin’s close friends, who has also taken part in the daily rallies that have electrified hundreds of cities across Myanmar. “By participating in the revolution, our generation of young women shows that we are no less brave than men.”
Despite the risks, women have stood at the forefront of Myanmar’s protest movement, sending a powerful rebuke to the generals who ousted a female civilian leader and reimposed a patriarchal order that has suppressed women for half a century.
By the hundreds of thousands, they have gathered for daily marches, representing striking unions of teachers, garment workers and medical workers — all sectors dominated by women. The youngest are often on the front lines, where the security forces appear to have singled them out. Two young women were shot in the head on Wednesday and another near the heart, three bullets ending their lives.
Earlier this week, military television networks announced that the security forces were instructed not to use live ammunition, and that in self-defense they would only shoot at the lower body.
“We might lose some heroes in this revolution,” said Ma Sandar, an assistant general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar, who has been taking part in the protests. “Our women’s blood is red.”
The violence on Wednesday, which brought the death toll since the coup to at least 54, reflected the brutality of a military accustomed to killing its most innocent people. At least three children have been gunned down over the past month, and the first death of the military’s post-coup crackdown was a 20-year-old woman shot in the head on Feb. 9.
In the weeks since the protests began, groups of female medical volunteers have patrolled the streets, tending to the wounded and dying. Women have added spine to a civil disobedience movement that is crippling the functioning of the state. And they have flouted gender stereotypes in a country where tradition holds that garments covering the lower half of the bodies of the two sexes should not be washed together, lest the female spirit act as a contaminant.
With defiant creativity, people have strung up clotheslines of women’s sarongs, called htamein, to protect protest zones, knowing that some men are loath to walk under them. Others have affixed images of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief who orchestrated the coup, to the hanging htamein, an affront to his virility.
“Young women are now leading the protests because we have a maternal nature and we can’t let the next generation be destroyed,” said Dr. Yin Yin Hnoung, a 28-year-old medical doctor who has dodged bullets in Mandalay. “We don’t care about our lives. We care about our future generations.”
While the military’s inhumanity extends to many of the country’s roughly 55 million people, women have the most to lose from the generals’ resumption of full authority, after five years of sharing power with a civilian government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The Tatmadaw, as the military is known, is deeply conservative, opining in official communications about the importance of modest dress for proper ladies.
There are no women in the Tatmadaw’s senior ranks, and its soldiers have systematically committed gang rape against women from ethnic minorities, according to investigations by the United Nations. In the generals’ worldview, women are often considered weak and impure. Traditional religious hierarchies in this predominantly Buddhist nation also place women at the feet of men.
The prejudices of the military and the monastery are not necessarily shared by Myanmar’s broader society. Women are educated and integral to the economy, particularly in business, manufacturing and the civil service. Increasingly, women have found their political voice. In elections last November, about 20 percent of candidates for the National League for Democracy, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, were women.
The party won in a landslide, trouncing the military-linked and far more male-dominated Union Solidarity and Development Party. The Tatmadaw has dismissed the results as fraudulent.
As the military began devolving some power over the past decade, Myanmar experienced one of the most profound and rapid societal changes in the world. A country that was once forcibly bunkered by the generals, who first seized power in a 1962 coup, went on Facebook and discovered memes, emojis and global conversations about gender politics.
“Even though these are dark days and my heart breaks with all these images of bloodshed, I’m more optimistic because I see women on the street,” said Dr. Miemie Winn Byrd, a Burmese-American who served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army and is now a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. “In this contest, I will put money on the women. They are unarmed, but they are the true warriors.”
That passion has ignited across the country, despite Tatmadaw crackdowns in past decades that have killed hundreds of people.
“Women took the frontier position in the fight against dictatorship because we believe it is our cause,” said Ma Ei Thinzar Maung, a 27-year-old politician and former political prisoner who, along with another woman the same age, led the first anti-coup demonstration in Yangon five days after the putsch.
Both Ms. Ei Thinzar Maung and her fellow rally leader, Esther Ze Naw, protest by day and hide by night. About 1,500 people have been arrested since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.
The pair were politicized at a young age and spoke up for the rights of ethnic minorities at a time when most people in Myanmar were unwilling to acknowledge the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims. At least one-third of Myanmar’s population is made up of a constellation of ethnic minorities, some of which are in armed conflict with the military.
When they led their rally on Feb. 6, the two women marched in shirts associated with the Karen ethnic group, whose villages have been overrun by Tatmadaw troops in recent days. Ms. Esther Ze Naw is from another minority, the Kachin, and as a 17-year-old she spent time in camps for the tens of thousands of civilians who were uprooted by Tatmadaw offensives. Military jets roared overhead, raining artillery on women and children, she recalled.
“That was the time I committed myself to working toward abolishing the military junta,” she said. “Minorities know what it feels like, where discrimination leads. And as a woman, we are still considered as a second sex.”
“That must be one of the reasons why women activists seem more committed to rights issues,” she added.
While the National League for Democracy is led by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, its top ranks are dominated by men. And like the Tatmadaw, the party’s highest echelons have tended to be reserved for members of the country’s ethnic Bamar majority.
On the streets of Myanmar, even as the security forces continue to fire at unarmed protesters, the makeup of the movement has been far more diverse. There are Muslim students, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks, drag queens and a legion of young women.
“Gen Z are a fearless generation,” said Honey Aung, whose younger sister, Kyawt Nandar Aung, was killed by a bullet to the head on Wednesday in the city of Monywa. “My sister joined the protests every day. She hated dictatorship.”
In a speech that ran in a state propaganda publication earlier this week, General Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief, sniffed at the impropriety of the protesters, with their “indecent clothes contrary to Myanmar culture.” His definition is commonly considered to include women wearing trousers.
Moments before she was shot dead, Ms. Kyal Sin, dressed in sneakers and torn jeans, rallied her fellow peaceful protesters.
As they staggered from the tear gas fired by security forces on Wednesday, Ms. Kyal Sin dispensed water to cleanse their eyes. “We are not going to run,” she yelled, in a video recorded by another protester. “Our people’s blood should not reach the ground.”
“She is the bravest girl I have ever seen in my life,” said Ko Lu Maw, who photographed some of the final images of Ms. Kyal Sin, in an alert, proud pose amid a crowd of prostrate protesters.
Under her T-shirt, Ms. Kyal Sin wore a star-shaped pendant because her name means “pure star” in Burmese.
“She would say, ‘if you see a star, remember, that’s me,’” said Ms. Cho Nwe Oo, her friend. “I will always remember her proudly.”
Several times in recent years, migrants trying to cross between Djibouti and Yemen have been thrown into the sea.
By Richard Pérez-Peña and Abdi Latif Dahir, March 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/world/africa/migrants-overboard-djibouti-yemen.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
Migrants boarding a smugger’s boat bound for Yemen last year in Djibouti. Credit...Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press
Smugglers threw 80 migrants into the sea between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula on Wednesday, and at least 20 of them are believed to have drowned, in the third incident of its kind in less than six months, United Nations migration officials said.
The smugglers had packed about 200 migrants, including children, onto a boat in Djibouti that was bound for Yemen, crossing the narrow mouth of the Red Sea, according to Yvonne Ndege, regional spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, a U.N. agency.
About a half-hour after leaving shore, the smugglers began shouting that there were too many people on board, and threw dozens of them overboard, she said. At least five bodies had been pulled from the water by Wednesday night, she added, and survivors were being treated at an I.O.M. center in Djibouti.
No information was immediately available about the migrants, but every year, thousands of Africans cross the sea to war-torn Yemen, intending to make the dangerous journey through that country to one of the wealthy Gulf states, where they hope to find work — just as many others cross the Mediterranean Sea, hoping to reach Europe.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought an economic slowdown and new travel restrictions, significantly reducing the flow of migrants into the Arabian states. They have also been scapegoated in Yemen as carriers of the virus, making the trip more perilous.
Many migrants who lost their jobs in the Gulf in the past year have made the trip in reverse, and thousands have spent time in I.O.M. quarantine facilities in Djibouti.
Mohammed Abdiker, the Horn of Africa director of the U.N. agency, tweeted that in two instances in October and in the incident on Wednesday, dozens have died at the hands of smugglers who forced people overboard. The people were thrown into the sea on Wednesday off the coast of Obock, a small port town in Djibouti, he said.
In one case in 2017, at least 50 people drowned. Some migrants have reported being beaten with sticks and metal bars to force them off the boats. Other say that once at sea, smugglers have demanded more than the agreed-upon price, threatening to throw them overboard if they fail to pay.
“Prosecuting traffickers and smugglers who prey on the vulnerabilities of migrants must be a priority,” António Vitorino, director general of the I.O.M., wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
Djibouti is a tiny country, smaller in area than New Hampshire, with fewer than one million people, wedged between Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea. The major city and capital, also called Djibouti, lies only about 80 miles from the Yemeni coast. In some places, the strait between the two countries narrows to less than 17 miles, making it a prime crossing location.
A promising bill to ensure African-Americans’ civil rights was snuffed out by a Senate filibuster in 1891.
By Jamelle Bouie, Opinion Columnist, March 5, 2021
An African-American family in Southern Mississippi in 1895. Credit...Sepia Times/Universal Images Group, via Getty Images
This is the story of how a bill to save the vote and preserve a semblance of democracy for millions of Americans died at the hands of an intransigent, reactionary minority in the Senate, which used the filibuster to do its dirty work.
In the summer of 1890, the state of Mississippi held its second constitutional convention of the post-Civil War era. The first, in 1868, was an attempt to make biracial democracy a reality. This second was meant to be the final nail in its coffin.
White elites, working within the Democratic Party, had already toppled the state’s Republican-led Reconstruction government in 1876. “The Mississippi Democrats had conducted a classical counterrevolutionary crusade,” the historian George C. Rable writes in “But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction.”
“While publicly professing peaceful intentions, Democrats selectively used armed intimidation to destroy the Republican Party in the counties by keeping Black voters away or forcing them to vote Democratic.”
Angry whites, Rable continues, “engaged in terrorist activities with seeming impunity.”
Seizing power is one thing, consolidating it is another. Endemic poverty in the state put both whites and Blacks at the mercy of planter-merchants who provided land and credit in exchange for a substantial share of the crop. An ongoing depression — as well as additional economic shocks, like the Panic of 1884 — pulled these farmers deep into debt as they borrowed money at high interest rates to make up for low prices.
To fight these conditions, farmers organized as the Greenback Party, which urged greater government involvement in the economy. White farmers and some Black voters challenged Democratic control of state government. Tens of thousands of white Mississippians would join the Farmers’ Alliance, founded to end the exploitative crop-lien system and inflate the currency for the sake of sharecroppers and other small farmers.
Black farmers, banned from the Farmers’ Alliance, formed their own organizations. The Colored Farmers’ Alliance, for example, claimed many thousands of members mostly in the fertile lands of the Mississippi Delta. “Organized to emphasize self-help and new and efficient farming methods, it quickly moved to boycotts, demanding higher wages and espousing some types of legal and social reform,” the historian Dorothy Overstreet Pratt writes in “Sowing the Wind: The Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1890.”
Agrarian revolt fomented by poor whites challenged elite control over state politics; agrarian rebellion fomented by Blacks threatened control over a large part of the labor supply. And the violence used to suppress Black voting and political activity brought unwanted attention from a federal government still in the hands of the Republican Party. A new state constitution would solve the problem.
The unwanted attention came in the form of a voting rights bill. In his first message to Congress, issued in December 1889, President Benjamin Harrison, a Republican and a veteran of the Civil War, called on Congress to stop the disenfranchisement of Black voters in the South and to help “secure to all our people a free exercise of the right of suffrage.” Voter suppression had cost Harrison the popular vote in the 1888 election. Securing the voting rights of Black Americans would redound to his — and the Republican Party’s — benefit, although that was not his only concern.
“In many parts of our country where the colored population is large the people of that race are by various devices deprived of any effective exercise of their political rights and of many of their civil rights,” Harrison wrote. “The wrong does not expend itself upon those whose votes are suppressed. Every constituency in the Union is wronged.”
Henry Cabot Lodge, a young Republican congressman from Massachusetts and the chairman of the House elections committee, took up the call. In June 1890, as Mississippi elites debated whether to hold a constitutional convention, Lodge introduced his federal elections bill. Rather than let Southern officials certify elections, Lodge would place that power in the hands of federal officials. The bill, he explained on the House floor, would make public “all the facts relating to elections, to protect the voters and to render easy the punishment of fraud.” He went on:
“There is absolutely nothing in this bill except provisions to secure the greatest amount of publicity in regard to elections and to protect the ballot-box by making sure the punishment of those who commit crimes against the suffrage.”
Echoing President Harrison, Lodge declared that:
‘The government which made the Black man a citizen is bound to protect him in his rights as a citizen of the United States, and it is a cowardly government if it does not do it! No people can afford to write anything into their Constitution and not sustain it. A failure to do what is right bring is own punishment to nations as to men.’
Southern Democrats were livid, calling Lodge’s proposal an unconstitutional “force bill.” In the Senate, John W. Daniel of Virginia charged that it would “strip the states” of their “ancient and confessed right to determine the qualifications of their voters” as well as “the prerogatives of a state to choose and the right of each House to judge of the election, the return, and qualification of its members.”
Back in Mississippi, news of the Lodge bill pushed white elites into action. “Let us take warning from republicans who are entrenching in power, in the hope of permanent control of the Federal government,” wrote one newspaper editor, according to Pratt’s account. Although there were still disputes over the exact shape of a new constitution, there was wide agreement on the need to suppress Black voters and, as one delegate put it, “secure to the state of Mississippi, white supremacy.”
The convention had several constraints. It could not run afoul of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which barred states from denying the right to vote on the basis of race. It also had to be careful not to disenfranchise too many white men, given the real risk of backlash. The solution was a set of overlapping rules, regulations and reforms that established white dominance and defused some class antagonisms (while exacerbating others).
The new Mississippi Constitution would impose a poll tax for voting and a literacy test — called the “Understanding Clause” — for registration. These would disenfranchise a significant number of white voters in the poorer, less developed regions of the state. To account for this, and to resolve disputes over apportionment, delegates created a new system based on voting population, in which most representation went to majority white counties. This was a significant change from the status quo, where seats were based on population, and wealthy whites in majority Black counties reaped additional representation on account of the voter suppression of Blacks.
The convention, held in the state capital of Jackson, also created new majority white districts out of several majority Black counties. Finally, to guarantee white control of state politics, delegates implemented an electoral college for choosing the governor, called the “unit system,” in which a candidate would have to win a majority of votes and a majority of counties to claim victory.
Mississippi completed its new constitution just as the Lodge bill moved from the House of Representatives — where it passed without a single Democratic vote — to the Senate. And in the debate over the bill, Mississippi’s plan to disenfranchise its Black population took center stage. “The white body of the South will forever keep the colored people as a lower stratum, without political power or social significance,” Senator Henry Blair of New Hampshire said, “until the time when the masses of the white people themselves have intelligence enough to know what real freedom is and to cast that ballot which ordains liberty for the millions of all races, and not the elevation and power for the few of one.”
Not every Republican, however, thought the bill was necessary. Some, explains Alexander Keyssar in “The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States,” were convinced that the party’s “procapitalist, pro-economic development, protariff views” would “attract a new white constituency in the South while shoring up Republican support elsewhere.” The party, they argued, did not need Black voters to thrive.
Division among Republicans allowed Democrats to take the initiative. They delayed debate on the bill until after the November midterm elections, where Democrats won control of the House. When, in December, Republicans moved to open debate, Democrats objected again. “We are acting in a great deal of haste to propose at this time repressive measures for the passage of a repressive and coercive force bill for the people,” said Senator John Reagan of Texas.
When, later that month, the Lodge bill finally reached the floor of the Senate, it was met by a Democratic filibuster. Democrats blasted the proposal as an unconstitutional power grab, a “cunning contrivance to place in the hands of a minority the control of the institutions of this great people, with a bayonet for every ballot to perpetuate their ruin.”
Republicans pointed to the new Mississippi constitution as evidence the bill was needed. “No artifice, no expedient, no fraud, no violence, no disregard of public opinion in the North or of the moral sentiment of the world is going to deter the Solid South from maintaining its supremacy by a suppression of the colored vote,” proclaimed Senator Joseph Dolph of Oregon:
“Nothing but the exercise by Congress of the powers lodged in it by the federal Constitution and the power of the general government to enforce the legislation will ever succeed in securing the free exercise to citizens of the United States in those States of their right to free speech and to a free ballot.”
Debate continued into the next Congress. But when Democrats motioned to move on from the Lodge bill, a number of Republicans joined them. Some were simply exhausted, others opposed the bill outright as overreaching and unenforceable. By a vote of 35 to 34 with 19 abstentions, the Senate tabled the bill to take up other business. It would not return to the floor. The next time Congress would try to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment was more than 60 years later, with the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
With the death of the Lodge bill, the new Mississippi Constitution could take effect without federal interference. There were still the courts, but the Supreme Court would eventually rule in 1898 that the disenfranchisement clauses of the constitution “do not on their face discriminate between the races.”
By the end of the decade, in 1900, most of the rest of the South had followed Mississippi down the path of official white supremacy and total suppression of Black voting. Circumstances varied from the state to state, but the dynamics were the same: first came biracial agrarian rebellion, then new constitutions, new restrictions, and a new equilibrium of white elite dominance over land, labor and capital.
It is too much to say that the Lodge bill alone would have stopped this; the rise of industrial capitalism in the North, the profound economic downturn in the South and the spread of virulently racist ideology throughout white society are among the factors that led to Jim Crow and the triumph of Southern reaction at turn of the 20th century.
But none of it was foreordained, and a forthright defense of the right of Americans to vote, to participate in politics and to govern themselves may have kept the worst of the era at bay. No historical comparison is ever exact, but Americans today should take note.
March 4, 2021
Bismarck – Water Protector Steve Martinez was taken back into federal custody in Bismarck, North Dakota yesterday following an appearance before the federal Grand Jury. Martinez is also being fined $50 a day for every day he maintains his refusal to give testimony. He continues to stand in solidarity with his Indigenous relatives and Water Protectors by refusing to testify or cooperate with this secretive and unjust process.
More:Water Protector Steve Martinez ordered to be released
On February 24th, after being jailed for 19 days for refusal to cooperate with the Grand Jury subpoena served to him, Martinez said:
"I was served another subpoena before I was released, making it the third one. My lawyers are working hard to keep me from being imprisoned for standing up for my constitutional rights as an American citizen. After having my rights stripped from me, I was imprisoned with no charges for 19 days. Even with the work of our legal team, the chances are high that I will be imprisoned once again for up to 18 months or the duration of the grand jury. I humbly ask for your continued prayers & support as I continue to speak volumes through my silence. Thank you. MNI WICONI, WATER IS LIFE."
Martinez was previously subpoenaed in 2016 to a Grand Jury allegedly seeking information regarding the injuries incurred by Sophia Wilansky in November 2016 at Standing Rock; a now infamous night where law enforcement used fire hoses on Water Protectors in freezing temperatures. Wilansky was gravely injured, nearly losing her arm, and unable to receive emergency medical transport due to the blockades implemented by law enforcement and the State of North Dakota. Martinez acted as a good Samaritan on that night, driving Wilanksy in his vehicle to receive emergency medical care. He was then summoned to appear before a grand jury and refused to cooperate.
More:Indigenous Water Protector Jailed in North Dakota for Refusing to Cooperate With Secret Grand Jury
Four years later, Martinez is once again being targeted by the government and detained for his principled refusal to participate in a secret process that has historically been highly susceptible to politically motivated abuses. "The secrecy of federal grand jury proceedings and the unfettered power and discretion that federal prosecutors have in the proceedings makes federal grand juries ripe for abuse against dissident political activists and their movements," said James Clark, a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild. "Mr. Martinez's saga with federal grand juries seems to have already been characterized by a number of procedural abuses and irregularities, such as his incarceration last month by a magistrate judge who lacked legal authority to order it," Clark continued.
Chava Shapiro, a legal worker and supporter of Martinez since 2016 said:
“We are all standing in solidarity with his choice to invoke his constitutionally protected right to silence to the Grand Jury. Political activists know that Grand Juries have historically been used as a tool of political repression against Indigenous people in their efforts to maintain sovereignty, push the United States government to honor treaties, and achieve self-determination for their relatives and nations. The best and safest choice for Steve and for all those who protect the water is to maintain silence in the face of this Grand Jury.”
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The recent attacks on Asian-Americans have unearthed the contradictions and questions beneath America’s impoverished understanding of race. To solve the problem, we must first learn how to talk about it.
By Jay Caspian Kang, March 6, 2021
In the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, a dedicated group of community organizers, activists and academics banded together to address what the press had called the “Black-Korean conflict.” Their work, which included a march through Koreatown demanding peace and the publication of several studies, aimed to tell a story of mutual misunderstanding and media distortion.
In “Blue Dreams,” the first in-depth post-1992 study of the Black-Korean conflict, John Lie, a sociologist, and Nancy Abelmann, an anthropologist, wrote that while the fissures between the two communities had a long history, “the situation is not simple; the responses are not singular.” For example, they noted, “There are Korean-American merchants who work hard to better community life by holding neighborhood picnics, sponsoring sports teams and offering scholarships.” By casting out a constellation of exceptions, the authors, who certainly were not alone in this type of work, attempted to show that underneath all the media hype, real people were still sharing real community.
One can certainly understand the desire to reduce tensions and provide some path toward mutual understanding, but many of these calls for unity, especially those expressed in the endlessly nuanced, overly caveated language of that era’s academy, read in hindsight like desperate attempts to paper over the immensity of the divide.
The commonly observed reality was much more straightforward. It took the form of Latasha Harlins, the 15-year-old girl who, a year before the Rodney King verdict, was shot in the back of the head by a Korean store owner in an argument over a bottle of orange juice; the more than 2,000 Korean stores that were looted or burned to the ground during the riots that followed the verdict; the Korean men who carried rifles onto the roofs of their businesses in Koreatown and shot at looters who came near. And anyone who thought that the national news media had invented a race war out of thin air needed only to listen to Ice Cube’s 1991 song “Black Korea,” which warned:
So don’t follow me up and down your market
Or your little chop suey ass’ll be a target
Of a nationwide boycott
Juice with the people, that’s what the boy got
So pay respect to the black fist
Or we’ll burn your store right down to a crisp
And then we’ll see ya
Cause you can’t turn the ghetto into Black Korea
Over the past month, as reports of attacks on Asian-Americans, particularly Asian-American elders, have circulated, a new generation of scholars, writers and celebrities have tried to figure out not just what to do, but what exactly is even happening, and how to discuss it.
The public conversations, which have focused on rising xenophobia and what it means for a largely professional class of Asian-Americans, reflect, in many ways, the legacy of the scholarship following the 1992 riots. One can feel the understandable desire to reroute the conversation to safer and more familiar conclusions. The conversations also reflect a disconnect between the people on all sides who experience the violence — who are often working class — and the commentariat.
What’s different is the lack of clarity in the story. It’s still unclear what, exactly, is happening and even less clear why. This time, there is no easy line to draw from the history of a Korean merchant class setting up in Black neighborhoods to a girl lying dead on the floor of a convenience store; no buildings are being torched in retaliation.
What exists, instead, are videos that show Asians being attacked in cities across the country. Viral outrage usually requires sustained propulsion: One video usually isn’t enough because it can be written off as an isolated incident, but two videos released just days apart, both showing horrifying acts of violence, can create a narrative.
Two of the most widely shared of these involved elderly men in the Bay Area who were shoved to the ground by Black assailants. One of the victims, an 84-year old Thai man named Vicha Ratanapakdee, died from his injuries.
It is difficult to put these videos into a context that makes sense of them, leaving us with several unsatisfying interpretations. And not even the videos themselves are reliable — images of what was described as an attack on a second elderly Asian man, released shortly after the shoving of Mr. Vicha, prompted another round of outrage, including a $25,000 reward from the actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu for information that would lead to the capture of the assailant. It turned out that the victim, a 91-year-old man named Gilbert Diaz walking in Oakland’s Chinatown, is Latino.
There are claims of a huge national spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, but they largely rely on self-reported data from organizations like Stop AAPI Hate that popped up after the start of the pandemic. These resources are valuable, but they also use as their comparison point spotty and famously unreliable official hate crime statistics from law enforcement. If we cannot really tell how many hate crimes took place before, can we really argue that there has been a surge?
There have also been reports that suggest that these attacks be placed within the context of rising crime nationwide, especially in large cities. What initially appears to be a crime wave targeting Asians might just be a few data points in a more raceless story.
There have also been condemnations of Donald Trump and how his repeated use of the phrase “China virus” to describe the coronavirus and his invocation of white supremacy might be responsible. But how does that explain the attacks by Black people? Were they also acting as Mr. Trump’s white supremacist henchmen? Do we really believe that there is some coordinated plan by Black people to brutalize Asian-Americans?
And there are writers who argue that Asian-Americans fall outside the accepted discourse about race in this country — that there’s just no available language to discuss bad things that might happen to them.
This last point is only partly true. There are plenty of words to describe discrimination at the hands of white people: white supremacy, microaggressions, the bamboo ceiling, Orientalism. What doesn’t exist now, or for that matter, didn’t exist in 1992, is a language to discuss what happens when the attackers caught on video happen to be Black.
And so, we are left with the videos, which transcend language and cultural barriers and exist in a space outside mediation and intervention. They have been viewed thousands, or even millions, of times by a people who are not really a people at all. There is no shared history between, say, Thai immigrants who saw images of one of their own attacked in San Francisco, and the Chinese-American population of Oakland alarmed by the assault in Chinatown.
Asian-American identity is fractured and often incoherent because it assumes kinship between people who do not speak the same language, and, in many cases, dislike one another. Solidarity between these groups is rare — the burning of Korean businesses during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, for example, did not produce a mass response from Chinese- or Japanese-Americans. But because the recent attacks seem aimed at anyone who looks Asian, they have translated across the language, country-of-origin, and perhaps most important, class lines that usually separate one group of Asians from another.
For better or worse, a collective identity can emerge from these moments. Amid the outcry, a new form of Asian-Americanness has begun to stand up, unsteadily, on its legs, still uncertain of where it will go. In private conversations, the foreign language press, and messaging apps like WeChat and KakaoTalk catering to the Asian diaspora, a central question is being asked: Why does nobody care when our people get attacked and killed in the streets? Where is the outcry for us? Do our lives not matter?
This is not to say that all Asian-Americans believe that these attacks are racially motivated, nor does it mean that some silent majority now believes that Black people are waging a race war against them. But the answers to the question “Why does nobody care?” has unearthed a series of contradictions that always lurked right beneath the surface, unmentioned in polite company: We are not white, but do we count as “people of color”? (Not according to the newer literature around school equity, which increasingly doesn’t include Asians when discussing diversity.) When people say “Black and brown folk” do they also mean yellow? (Probably not.)
These questions are not new, but the attacks have placed them in a discomforting, sometimes maddening, context and heightened their urgency. The videos of the two assaults in the Bay Area, for example, coincided with national scrutiny over the place of high-achieving Asian students in public schools.
The San Francisco Board of Education recently voted to end merit-based admissions to Lowell, the city’s premier public high school. The ostensible reason for the change is to address equity concerns within the school system and to make Lowell more representative of the city at large. Like most of the public schools with merit-based admissions that have come under fire over the past few years, Lowell is predominantly Asian, with many students coming from Chinese working-class families.
For some Asian-American families in San Francisco, the change amounted to discrimination, not from right-wing politicians or white supremacists, but from the liberals who were supposed to be on their side. This change, juxtaposed with the recent attacks, expose, in microcosm, the deep, discomforting tension that sits at the heart of progressive politics around race: Why would we give up our spots at selective schools to benefit the same people who attack us in the streets? And more broadly: If we are the natural enemy of equity and racial progress, then why should we support it? Is the pursuit of a more equitable America a zero-sum game?
The relative truth of this tension can be excavated, debated and examined. The usual explanations, invoking the history of this country, the model minority myth, and the need for solidarity against white supremacy, can be forcefully stated. All these are true and necessary, but they do not tell us why nobody seems to care when Asian people get attacked.
In the fall of 2018, I spent a few days with Yukong Zhao, a Chinese immigrant businessman who had worked on several Asian-American activist campaigns, whether protesting Jimmy Kimmel’s show or supporting Asian anti-discrimination initiatives against prestigious universities.
At the time, it seemed that Mr. Zhao was part of an ascendant Asian-American conservative movement whose main appeal came from upending the carefully constructed, nuanced narrative about the place of Asians in the American racial hierarchy. Mr. Zhao, who voted for Donald Trump and made a losing congressional bid as a Republican in 2020, has fashioned himself into an evangelist of pure meritocracy and self-reliance. He believes that Asian-Americans should be politically active like right-wing Cuban-Americans in Florida.
Instead of the capitulations and endless contextualizing offered up by progressive, second-generation Asian-Americans, he and his fellow activists simply asked: What about us? Why does it not count when we’re discriminated against? Toward the end of our time together in his home in Orlando, Fla., Mr. Zhao told me he wished Asian-Americans could unite to fight for their own and persuade Americans to protect them in the same way the Black community does.
I disagree with Mr. Zhao on almost every possible substantive point. I do not think America protects Black lives, I support affirmative action, I reject all forms of self-interested, racial chauvinism. But I recognize that in this time of crisis for Asian-Americans, this message of nationalism and self-protection, with all its implied calls for law and order and incarceration, will be heard by millions who are still trying to figure out what “Asian-American” even means. Who will sound like the truth-teller, and who will sound like the out-of-touch liberal who talks vaguely about the need for unity?
Last year, a few weeks before the pandemic shut down San Francisco, a video made the rounds on social media. It captured a 68-year-old Chinese man in the Bayview neighborhood in a confrontation with a handful of Black people. The man, who made his living collecting cans, was being harassed and humiliated. The cart he used to carry the day’s haul had been taken away from him. His grabber had also been snatched and a Black man was swinging at him with it.
In the video, you can hear a woman off-camera ask the person filming the encounter to help the old man. He responds: “Hell, no, I’m not helping this [expletive]. I hate Asians.” As the Chinese man begins to despair and cry, the man filming shoves the camera in his face and mocks him.
Asian-Americans in the area demanded justice from San Francisco’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin. Mr. Boudin, who is among a new breed of prosecutors who favor restorative justice over jail whenever possible, dropped charges against the 20-year-old man who filmed the attack, citing the wishes of the victim. The decision prompted people to raise the well-worn questions asked by Asian-Americans conservatives like Mr. Zhao: What would have happened if the attackers were Asian and the victim was Black? Do hate crimes count only when they run one way?
These are not sophisticated questions, but they are being asked over and over again. My fear is that these attacks will also accelerate a trend already underway. Roughly one-third of Asian-American voters supported Donald Trump in 2020, a figure that represented a seven point increase from 2016. As Asian-Americans once again ask themselves where they fit in the country, champions of law and order like Mr. Zhao will provide simple, compelling answers.
They will not care about the decades of efforts by courageous Asian, Black and Latino organizers to build solidarity between working-class people in the Bay Area and nationwide, nor will they care that the people who have been attacked appear largely to be from the working poor and will certainly bear the brunt of an escalation in racial conflict.
Electoral politics are not everything, nor should they be the basis for how we think about ourselves and how we relate to others. But these past months have also shown the limits of the rote progressive language about race and its assumption, in practice, of a binary between Black and white Americans.
There is an opportunity to reshape that language to address the contradictions inherent in the lives of millions of immigrants and to create a reality that acknowledges the size of the rift between Asian and Black Americans, but does not fall into a zero-sum game in which everyone loses.
These questions and contradictions must be taken up before the narrative around these attacks calcifies into something more sinister. Foot patrols have already formed in Asian neighborhoods around the country. Those of us who, like Mr. Boudin, believe in non-jail solutions to crime, must not bury these concerns about the simplistic way in which race is discussed and then acted upon with a fog of platitudes about white supremacy and Donald Trump.
It has become increasingly clear that in the coming months, the climate of fear and the unsaid conversations could lead to vigilantism or a false accusation against a Black defendant. A militant response, which takes, at least in part, its inspiration from the images of Korean shopkeepers patrolling their rooftops with guns during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, seems possible and should not be dismissed. If left to fester, this reactionary anger will only harden into a reactionary nationalism that will threaten vital community and organizing work and turn one race against another.
Jay Caspian Kang is a writer at large for The New York Times Magazine.
As Biden pushes for an infrastructure package, let’s fix our scandalous lack of public restrooms.
By Nicholas Kristof, Opinion Columnist, March 6, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/06/opinion/sunday/public-toilets-united-states.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
PORTLAND, Ore. — Here’s a populist slogan for President Biden’s infrastructure plan: Pee for Free!
Sure, we need investments to rebuild bridges, highways and, yes, electrical grids, but perhaps America’s most disgraceful infrastructure failing is its lack of public toilets.
Greeks and Romans had public toilets more than 2,000 years ago, with people sitting on benches with holes to do their business. There were no partitions, and Romans wiped with sponges on sticks that were dipped in water and shared by all users.
I’m not endorsing that arrangement, but at least the ancient Romans operated large numbers of public latrines, which is more than can be said of the United States today.
The humorist Art Buchwald once recounted an increasingly desperate search for a toilet in Manhattan. He was turned down at an office building, a bookstore and a hotel, so he finally rushed into a bar and asked for a drink.
“What kind of drink?” the bartender replied.
“Who cares?” Buchwald answered. “Where’s the men’s room?”
America should be better than that. Japan manages what may be the world’s most civilized public toilets — ubiquitous, clean and reliably equipped with paper — and almost every industrialized country is more bladder-friendly than America. Even poorer countries like China and India manage networks of public latrines. But the United States is simply not made for people who pee.
“I go between cars or in bushes,” Max McEntire, 58, who has been homeless about 10 years, told me as he stood outside the tent where he lives here. “Sometimes at my age, if your body says pee, you’ve got to pee. If your body says poop, you can’t wait.”
Most stores and businesses are of little help, he said, because they often insist on a purchase to use the restroom — and that’s even before a pandemic closed many shops.
“At night you’ll see men and women pulling their pants down and peeing and pooping in the gutter,” McEntire said. “People lose their dignity, they lose their pride.”
Cities also lose their livability, and open defecation becomes a threat to public health. Americans have painstakingly built new norms about dog owners picking up after their pets, but we’ve gone backward with human waste.
Meanwhile, it’s not just the homeless who suffer. Taxi drivers, delivery people, tourists and others are out and about all day, navigating a landscape that seems oblivious to the most basic of needs. The same is true of parents out with kids.
In Ferguson, Mo., Walter and Ritania Rice took their children to a city park. Their 2-year-old son needed to pee, there was no toilet around, so Walter Rice took his son behind a bush, where the Rices’ 4-year-old urinated as well. A police officer arrested Rice for child neglect, and he was held in jail for nine hours and later found guilty by a judge.
And in Piedmont, Okla., a police officer gave a 3-year-old boy a $2,500 ticket for public urination, even though the incident occurred on private property. After an outcry, the officer was fired; instead, I suggest he should have been given a couple of extra-large coffees and ordered to spend his shift monitoring a playground with no toilet.
What’s a parent supposed to do when a toddler needs to wee? And what about people with medical conditions that require more frequent urination or defecation? Why do we make life so difficult and humiliating? How is it that we can afford aircraft carriers but not toilets?
For men, it’s more convenient to disappear behind a trash can, but men also face greater risk of being arrested — and the consequences can be dire. At last count, 13 states sometimes classify people arrested for public urination as sex offenders.
In Florida, a welder named Juan Matamoros was fined and ordered to move away from his home, which was near a park, because 19 years earlier he had been arrested for public urination; as a result, he was considered a lifelong sex offender and not allowed to live near a park.
Women seem less likely to be arrested but more likely to be humiliated.
“It’s a big hit to your dignity the first time you have to squat down in a field or by the side of the road,” said Raven Drake, 37, who until recently was homeless and now works with Street Roots, a Portland group supporting the homeless. “Slowly you take these hits to your dignity, and one day you don’t even think you’re a person anymore.”
Drake told me that she had lived in a homeless encampment in Portland that was two miles from the nearest restroom she could use, and she flinched as she recounted the shame of having to relieve herself where she could, trying to avoid people leering. Toilets, she said, are an infrastructure issue, but also far more than that: “Bathrooms are a humanitarian issue.”
In the 19th century, the United States did set up public toilets in many cities. They were often called public urinals, abbreviated as P.U. (this may be part of the origin of “P.U.” to mean something that stinks, although there are competing theories). In the early 20th century, these were supplemented by “comfort stations” for men and women alike, but most closed in waves of cost-cutting over the years.
That’s partly because this is a class issue. Power brokers who decide on infrastructure priorities can find a restaurant to duck into, while that is less true of a Black teenage boy and utterly untrue of an unwashed homeless person with a shopping cart.
Granted, operating toilets is tough. American cities have experimented with various approaches to providing public restrooms and found that they are costly to maintain and sometimes attract drug use and prostitution. Still, no one would build a home today without a bathroom, even though it adds to the expense. So why economize and accept cities without lavatories?
Americans have had tumultuous debates about transgender use of restrooms, but we haven’t adequately acknowledged a more fundamental failing in Democratic-run and Republican-run cities alike: the outrageous shortage of public restrooms generally.
The White House can work with cities to experiment with various approaches to expand restroom access. We can work with corporate sponsors. We can use advertising to help underwrite the expense. We can give tax breaks to businesses that make restrooms open to all. There are models all over the world, such as India turning old buses into clean public toilets.
f the Romans could figure this out two millenniums ago, surely we can, even if we’ll want to skip those shared sponges.
So come on, President Biden! Let’s see an infrastructure plan that addresses not only bridges and electrical grids, but also bladders and bowels.
Just 50 or so remain, eking it out in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast.
By Joe Roman, March 6, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/06/opinion/discovery-whale-extinction.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
On a January day two years ago, an emaciated whale washed up dead on Sandy Key, at the southernmost reaches of Florida’s Everglades National Park. The 38-foot-long male had the long white throat grooves characteristic of baleen whales, which are rare in the Gulf of Mexico. A team of biologists soon gathered to examine the whale.
During the necropsy, a sharp piece of stiff plastic, not much bigger than a credit card, was removed from its second stomach chamber. The whale had probably swallowed the shard while feeding near the ocean floor, and it had perforated the stomach lining. There were no other injuries. Plastic had killed this whale.
The animal’s DNA matched that of a small population of endangered whales that resides off the Florida Panhandle, thought to be a subspecies of the Bryde’s whale, found in warm waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, examined the bones, and after making skull measurements and reviewing genetic data from other similar whales, they came to an exciting conclusion: These gulf whales were not a subspecies of the Bryde’s whale at all, but a new species unique to the Gulf of Mexico.
Here was Darwin’s “mystery of mysteries” at work: These whales apparently diverged from other baleen whales because of their long isolation in the gulf. With limited opportunity for gene flow with other related whales, they evolved in their reclusion into a species of their own.
The newly described species, Balaenoptera ricei, is the only great whale believed to occur in the waters of only one country. It has gone by several names: Rice’s whale, Bryde’s whale, the Gulf of Mexico whale. The marine mammalogist Peter Corkeron at the New England Aquarium suggests that we call it what it is: the American whale.
It is also critically endangered: With an estimated population of just 50 or so, all in the United States, the whale’s fate rests entirely in America’s hands.
This whale once lived in the highly productive waters off the Mississippi Delta and swam along the coasts of the Yucatán. They are the only filter-feeding cetaceans known to inhabit the region year-round, capturing small fish at the bottom of the gulf with sievelike baleen. The surviving whales tend to be solitary and skittish, and they have remained mostly hemmed into their small pocket of the gulf. A few sightings have been reported as far west as Texas.
But it’s tough to make a living and raise your young in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most industrialized seas on Earth. Death comes in the form of ships, oil rigs and plastic. The gulf whale could be the first baleen whale to go extinct since the Atlantic gray whale disappeared 300 years ago.
Around 2,000 oil and gas platforms and more than 20,000 miles of active pipelines lie in the Gulf of Mexico. One of those rigs, the Deepwater Horizon, spilled an estimated 210 million gallons of oil in 2010, the biggest accident of its kind in the United States. The vast slick of oil covered about half of the whale’s known habitat. Predictive modeling by scientists estimated that almost one in five of these gulf whales were killed outright; another 18 percent experienced adverse health effects, including lung and adrenal disease. More than a fifth of the females may have suffered reproductive failure.
The whale was listed as endangered a few months after the Everglades stranding. Fortunately, the area around the nutrient-rich De Soto Canyon, 60 miles off Florida’s northwest coast, where these whales tend to dwell, has been excluded temporarily from direct oil and gas leasing. But that does not preclude energy exploration. That means seismic surveys — in which air guns or other sound devices are used to map oil and gas deposits — are allowable in this area and in other habitats used by the whales, with potentially devastating effects on whales, including permanent hearing loss. The Cornell scientist Chris Clark has described the soundscape of industrialized oceans as “acoustic hell.”
Commercial shipping also presents a threat. About half of all merchant vessel traffic in the United States passes through the Gulf of Mexico’s ports, putting whales at risk of ship strikes.
The best hope for this new species is the deindustrialization of the gulf. During a presidential debate in October, Joe Biden said the oil industry “has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.” But that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So the immediate question is: What can be done to keep these whales around until a green future arrives in the gulf?
Several steps will help. Mandatory slowdowns should be imposed on commercial vessels in the whale’s core range to avoid collisions. Oil exploration and drilling should be limited, to reduce noise. Last year, a moratorium on offshore drilling for an area that included the whale’s range was extended for ten years. A permanent ban should follow. Finally, the federal government should identify habitat critical to the whale’s survival and protect it.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has spent $2.3 million since 2017 to examine the whale’s ecology and habitat, but it has yet to identify the whale’s critical habitat, as the Endangered Species Act requires. These whales have been sheltering in a small corner of the gulf for too long. Habitat along the edge of the continental shelf, where the whales feed at depths below 300 feet, should be protected and restored from Florida to Texas.
Each of these steps is urgent. Others will be necessary. As the federal team of scientists behind the endangered listing wrote in 2016: “Small-scale incremental impacts over time or a single catastrophic event could result in extinction.”
This is America’s whale. We shouldn’t allow that to happen.
Joe Roman (@roamnjoe) is a conservation biologist at the University of Vermont and the author of “Listed: Dispatches From America’s Endangered Species Act.”
When Michaeleen Doucleff met parents from around the world, she encountered millennia-old methods of raising good kids that made American parenting seem bizarre and ineffective.
JOE PINSKER, MARCH 2, 2021https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/03/hunt-gather-parent-timeless-advice-for-modern-parents/618172/
At one point in her new book, the NPR journalist Michaeleen Doucleff suggests that parents consider throwing out most of the toys they’ve bought for their kids. It’s an extreme piece of advice, but the way Doucleff frames it, it seems entirely sensible: “Kids spent two hundred thousand years without these items,” she writes.
Her deeply researched book, Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, contains many moments like this, in which an American child-rearing strategy comes away looking at best bizarre and at worst counterproductive. “Our culture often has things backward when it comes to kids,” she writes.
Doucleff arrives at this conclusion while traveling, with her then-3-year-old daughter, to meet and learn from parents in a Maya village on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; in an Inuit town in a northern Canadian territory; and in a community of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. During her outings, she witnesses well-adjusted, drama-free kids share generously with their siblings and do chores without being asked.
She takes care to portray her subjects not as curiosities “frozen in time,” but instead as modern-day families who have held on to invaluable child-rearing techniques that likely date back tens of thousands of years. I recently spoke with Doucleff about these techniques, and our conversation, below, has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Joe Pinsker: Many American parenting strategies, you estimate, are only about 100 years old, and some of them arose more recently than that. What about American parenting sticks out to you as distinctive and particularly strange?
Michaeleen Doucleff: One of the craziest things we do is praise children constantly. When I was first working on the book, I recorded myself to see how frequently I praised my little girl, Rosy, and I noticed that I would exaggeratedly react to even her smallest accomplishments, like drawing a flower or writing a letter, with a comment like “Good job!” or “Wow! What a beautiful flower!”
This is insane if you look around the world and throughout human history. Everywhere I went, I don’t know if I ever heard a parent praise a child. Yet these kids are incredibly self-sufficient, confident, and respectful—everything we want praise to do, these kids already have it, without the praise.
It’s hard to cut back on praise, because it’s so baked in, but later on, I decided to try. It’s not that there’s no feedback, but it’s much gentler feedback—parents will smile or nod if a child is doing something they want. I started doing that, and Rosy’s behavior really improved. A lot of the attention-seeking behavior went away.
Pinsker: You visited an Inuit town in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, and spent time in households where children were almost mysteriously immune to tantrums. How did the parents you met respond when kids misbehaved?
Doucleff: One night while I was there, Rosy and I were staying with a woman named Sally who was watching three of her grandchildren—so, four kids under 6 years old in this house. Sally just approached everything they did with the most calmness and composure I have ever seen. At one point, a little toddler, maybe 18 months at the time, I think he was pulling the dog's tail or something. Sally picked him up and, when she did, he scratched her face so hard that it was bleeding. I would have been irate, but Sally, I saw her kind of clench her teeth, and just say, in the calmest voice, “We don’t do this.” Then she took him and flipped him around with this playful helicopter move, and they both started laughing. Then it was over—there was no conflict around it.
If the child's energy goes high—if they get very upset—the parent’s energy goes so low. Another time on our trip, in the grocery store, Rosy started having a tantrum, and I was getting ready to yell at her to stop. But Elizabeth, our interpreter, came over to her and addressed her in the calmest voice. Immediately, Rosy just stopped—when she was around that calmness, her whole body relaxed. I was like, Okay, I’m just doing this tantrum thing completely wrong.
Read: No spanking, no time-out, no problems
Pinsker: You write about how when Sally and Elizabeth see behavior like that, they think about the causes of it differently than many American parents do. What is the narrative they have for why young kids act out?
Doucleff: Yeah, this is huge—it single-handedly changed my life, and it’s something you hear in other parts of the Arctic. In the U.S., when a child calls you a name or smacks you, many parents think that the child is pushing your buttons, that they’re testing boundaries and want to manipulate you.
The Inuit parents and elders I interviewed almost laughed when I said that. One woman said something like, “She’s a kid—she doesn’t know how to manipulate like that.” Instead, what they told me is that young children are just these illogical, irrational beings who haven’t matured enough and haven’t acquired understanding or reason yet. So there’s no reason to get upset or argue back—if you do, you’re being just like the child.
This has totally shifted the way I interact with Rosy—I have so much less anger. She’s trying her best. Maybe she’s clumsy and illogical and irrational, but in her heart, she loves me, she wants to do well, and she wants to help.
Pinsker: One interesting observation in the book is that many American parents take their whole family to spaces that are expressly designed for kids, like children’s museums and indoor play places—despite the fact that these spaces are generally not very fun for parents. How do you think about these activities?
Doucleff: I think that a lot of the time, we don’t know what to do with kids. On weekends, it was sometimes like, How do we fill this time with Rosy? But the idea that parents are responsible for entertaining a child or “keeping them busy” is not present in the vast majority of cultures around the world, and definitely not throughout human history. What some of the psychologists I interviewed told me is that in these fake, childlike worlds, the child is separated from reality in some ways—they don’t learn how to behave as an adult.
There’s a lot of good scientific evidence that children have an innate instinct to cooperate and work together with their families. And child-centered activities can kind of strip away what I call their family “membership card,” the feeling that they’re a part of the family and working together as a team—not a VIP that the parents are serving. Kids want to help us and be part of our lives, and we can take that away with constant child-centered activities.
Pinsker: So if you aren’t going to the children’s museum as a family, what are you doing instead?
Doucleff: Basically, my husband and I do things that we used to do before Rosy was born, or things that we have to do, and modify them to include her. Sometimes I have to work, and she has to entertain herself. Or we go to the beach, and I sit and read for three hours, and don’t play with her—sometimes there are friends and sometimes there are not. We’ll go hiking or work in the garden or go visit friends together. And then we do chores. We do the laundry together. We clean up together. We go to the grocery store together. We just live—without a kiddie museum.
All over the world, and throughout history, parents have gone about their lives, but they’ve welcomed the kids into it. In many cultures, parents let the kids tag along, and they let the kid do what they want to do, within the boundaries of being respectful and kind. And for kids, that’s entertainment enough.
Read: The way American parents think about chores is bizarre
Pinsker: In the U.S., many parents find themselves essentially on their own when making sure their kids are being looked after. Could you talk about the more communal approach to raising children that you saw with the Hadzabe, the community of hunter-gatherers you visited in Tanzania?
Doucleff: I was with a group of about 15 to 20 adults and their kids—they live in small huts and work together all day. They spend enormous amounts of time with each other, but they're not all related. And when we first got there, it was hard for me to tell which toddlers belonged to which moms and dads, because everyone was helping to take care of them. The children were comfortable with all these different women and men.
If you look around the world, you'll see that in many cultures besides Western culture, and definitely in hunter-gatherer communities, there’s an enormous amount of what’s called “alloparenting.” Allo- is derived from a Greek word meaning “other,” so it just refers to caretakers in a child’s life other than the mom or dad.
These people are deeply involved in the child’s upbringing. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an anthropologist, has done some amazing research where she shows that young children are basically designed to be raised by a group of people, not just two—meaning sometimes a mom or a dad is on their own doing the work of several people. So of course we feel worn down and exhausted.
Pinsker: American culture generally doesn’t encourage this approach to parenting, since there’s often an emphasis on individual parents. How do you think about transporting the spirit of those models over to an American context?
Doucleff: First of all, we do way more alloparenting than we give credit for, but often, we don't value the alloparents as much as we should: Nannies, day-care providers, teachers—those are all alloparents. Personally, I’ve been trying to value those people more and show my appreciation for them.
But there are opportunities aside from that. For one thing, a lot of alloparenting is done by children who are two, three, four, five years older than the child. I think we underestimate what children can do—there are children I met who were, like, 12 years old, making meals and taking care of younger children. It’s because they’re given opportunities all along to learn those skills.
Another thing is, we’ve built an “auntie-uncle network,” which is an idea I got from the psychological anthropologist Suzanne Gaskins. We have two other families who pick up the kids from school sometimes, and then I pick up the kids sometimes, and we trade off. The three kids get to have a sort of extended family. Rosy loves it, and we don’t have to pay for after-school care.
People tend to think of the nuclear family as traditional or ideal, but looking at the past 200,000 or so years of human history, what’s traditional is this communal model of working together to take care of a child. For me personally, this is reassuring, because I don’t want to be with Rosy, like, every moment. Really, that’s not natural.
JOE PINSKER is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers families and relationships.