Thursday, November 11, 2021, San Francisco
Timeline of Events:
Meet at The Ferry Building, grab signs and get ready to march.
March along the scenic Embarcadero, the route is two miles, flat and wheelchair accessible
End at Aquatic Park near Hyde St. Pier for a short rally.
COP26 in Glasgow this November has the stated aim of “uniting the world to tackle climate change”.
Yet at the previous 25 COP conferences since 1995, world leaders have repeatedly failed to deliver on this.
We will not accept this failure—governments must act now!
“Stop killing us” is the message from XR Global South groups already suffering the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. We must also provide a voice for the millions of species and future generations who cannot speak for themselves.
XR will continue demanding immediate action to tackle the climate and ecological emergency in the run up to, during and beyond COP26.
Join us. Together we will tell these leaders to listen.
Bring yourself, friends, colleagues, neighbors, schoolmates, children, and community for a demonstration to let the power that be know we are watching them.
We will march with signs, hand crafted puppets, banners, a safety team, and each other to call for our right to safe and healthy planet for future generations by Non-Violent Direct Action.
As a renewed wave of worker militancy and organizing is unfolding across the United States, alongside major developments in recent months in the fight to organize Amazon workers, the Support Amazon Workers network is reconstituting itself on a national basis to build and mobilize solidarity for these critical struggles.
On Monday, October 25, Amazon workers in Staten Island picked up the baton from Bessemer workers and filed for a union election there. The effort, organized by the independent Amazon Labor Union, is a critical new front in the long term battle to organize Amazon. Right now, solidarity from every corner of the workers and progressive movements is needed to support the Staten Island workers, who will undoubtedly come under a fierce anti-union attack from Amazon as the drive toward the election picks up.
The development in Staten Island is but one among many in the drive to organize Amazon. In recent months:
- A hearing officer from the National Labor Relations Board, in response to 23 charges filed by Bessemer workers and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, recommended that the results of the election there earlier this year be set aside and a new election conducted. There has not yet been an official ruling on this recommendation from the NLRB, but one could come in the weeks or months ahead.
- The Teamsters overwhelmingly approved a resolution at their national convention in June to undertake a major campaign to organize Amazon. The language of the resolution indicates that, rather than going the route of a shop by shop NLRB election approach, the Teamsters intend to carry out a campaign that targets Amazon across the country with a wide array of tactics, including shop floor actions, recognition strikes, close coordination with community and solidarity activists, and more. They are wrapping up their national leadership election soon, and more could unfold on this front following that.
- Canadian Amazon workers at 9 locations across the country recently filed to hold elections for their union there. The Teamsters are organizing those 9 facilities.
- Amazon workers in Germany are currently conducting rolling strikes demanding higher wages and better working conditions
- Each and every day, Amazon workers across the country are organizing shop floor committees, engaging in boss fights, and building power on the job through a wide array of other initiatives and organizing efforts, including with Amazonians United and others.
At the same time, organized and unorganized workers in many sectors are also on the move, including Starbucks workers in the Buffalo area, rideshare and other gig workers, graduate students, school bus drivers, and many more.
In the upcoming weeks, the Support Amazon Workers network intends to build solidarity with these workers:
- We invite you to participate in a Strategy/Organizing Meeting to support Amazon (and Whole Foods) worker organizing and connecting this work to other workers struggles (reply to this email if you’re interested in joining)
- Supporting and helping to organize actions on November 26 (known as Black Friday) and November 29 (known as Cyber Monday)
- Forming local solidarity committees that can engage in a variety of activities to support Amazon and unorganized workers
- Mobilizing solidarity for Staten Island Amazon workers and other Amazon workers engaged in struggle on the shop floor
- Looking ahead to activities, national actions, and more in the new year.
All workers have a stake in the fight to organize Amazon, given its central role in the global capitalist economy and the logistics sector in particular, as well as for the way it is pioneering new methods of automating work and exploiting our labor.
With these developments unfolding, and many more likely to open up in the months ahead, re-constituting a national solidarity network that can engage in a variety of activities to support Amazon and all workers -- especially the unorganized -- fighting for power could not be more critical.
Organizing Amazon cannot and should not be left to the major unions and Amazon workers alone -- it will take a strong, united, and powerful mobilization of the entire working class to take on this giant. Join us in the fight.
To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
Sign Petition at:
Rashid just called with the news that he has been moved back to Virginia. His property is already there, and he will get to claim the most important items tomorrow. He is at a "medium security" level and is in general population. Basically, good news.
He asked me to convey his appreciation to everyone who wrote or called in his support during the time he was in Ohio.
His new address is:
Kevin Rashid Johnson #1007485
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Road
Burkeville, VA 23922
Freedom for Major Tillery! End his Life Imprisonment!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
Mumia Abu Jamal Appeal Denied!
We regret to share with you some alarming news on the continued case of Political Prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)—The Pennsylvania Superior Court has challenged Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest effort for an overturned conviction and new trial—nearly 40 years after he was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
The high court said Abu-Jamal’s appeal was untimely, adding that the lower court shouldn’t have reinstated any part of his appeal because it lacked jurisdiction.
This fifth appeal attempt—filed in 2016—was based on a federal ruling involving former Philadelphia District Attorney Ron Castille, who later became a state Supreme Court justice and ruled on a death penalty appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Castille had an “unconstitutional risk of bias” as the district attorney.
ABU-JAMAL’S ATTORNEYS ARGUED TO A PHILADELPHIA JUDGE IN 2018 THAT CASTILLE WAS ALSO THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY WHEN ABU-JAMAL WAS CONVICTED, AND A STATE SUPREME COURT JUDGE WHEN HE APPEALED.
And, they pointed to a letter Castille penned to the governor in 1990, urging the death penalty be used to send a “clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.”
The Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that “the 1990 letter cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille had a personal interest in the outcome of the litigation,” court documents say. “There is no evidence that Castille had ever personally participated in the prosecution of Abu-Jamal.
“The 1990 letter is not evidence of prior prosecutorial participation. It is evidence that while acting as an advocate, District Attorney Castille took a policy position to advance completion of the appellate process for convicted murderers: ‘I very strongly urge you immediately to issue death warrants in each and every one of these cases. Only such action by you will cause these cases to move forward in a legally appropriate manner.’ He was not arguing that the law should be changed or should be ignored. Rather, he simply took a position to facilitate collateral review of death sentences which was subscribed to by many prosecutors at the time.” But, the state Superior Court noted, Castille didn’t list Abu-Jamal, and they say Abu-Jamal didn’t file a new petition, using the letter as an argument, in time.
“Further,” the decision reads, “the 1990 letter was dated June 15th. At that time, Abu-Jamal’s direct appeal was still pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. … As such, Abu-Jamal was not even in the class of litigants that District Attorney Castille was referencing in the letter. The 1990 letter therefore cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille was personally biased against Abu-Jamal.”
Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case
Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.
In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.
KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:
“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.
“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
The Demand for Money Behind Many Police Traffic Stops
An investigation into traffic stops across America and the deaths of hundreds of motorists at the hands of police.
By Mike McIntire and Michael H. Keller, Published Oct. 31, 2021, Updated Nov. 1, 2021
Nick Oxford for The New York Times
An officer in Windsor, Va., doused Second Lt. Caron Nazario with pepper spray at a stop last December.
Busted taillights, missing plates, tinted windows: Across the U.S., ticket revenue funds towns — and the police responsible for finding violations.
Harold Brown’s contribution to the local treasury began as so many others have in Valley Brook, Okla.: A police officer saw that the light above his license plate was out.
“You pulled me over for that? Come on, man,” said Mr. Brown, a security guard headed home from work at 1:30 a.m. Expressing his annoyance was all it took. The officer yelled at Mr. Brown, ordered him out of the car and threw him to the pavement.
After a trip to jail that night in 2018, hands cuffed and blood running down his face onto his uniform, Mr. Brown eventually arrived at the crux of the matter: Valley Brook wanted $800 in fines and fees. It was a fraction of the roughly $1 million that the town of about 870 people collects each year from traffic cases.
A hidden scaffolding of financial incentives underpins the policing of motorists in the United States, encouraging some communities to essentially repurpose armed officers as revenue agents searching for infractions largely unrelated to public safety. As a result, driving is one of the most common daily routines during which people have been shot, Tased, beaten or arrested after minor offenses.
Some of those encounters — like those with Sandra Bland, Walter Scott and Philando Castile — are now notorious and contributed to a national upheaval over race and policing. The New York Times has identified more than 400 others from the past five years in which officers killed unarmed civilians who had not been under pursuit for violent crimes.
Fueling the culture of traffic stops is the federal government, which issues over $600 million a year in highway safety grants that subsidize ticket writing. Although federal officials say they do not impose quotas, at least 20 states have evaluated police performance on the number of traffic stops per hour, which critics say contributes to overpolicing and erosion of public trust, particularly among members of certain racial groups.
Many municipalities across the country rely heavily on ticket revenue and court fees to pay for government services, and some maintain outsize police departments to help generate that money, according to a review of hundreds of municipal audit reports, town budgets, court files and state highway records.
This is, for the most part, not a big-city phenomenon. While Chicago stands out as a large city with a history of collecting millions from motorists, the towns that depend most on such revenue have fewer than 30,000 people. Over 730 municipalities rely on fines and fees for at least 10 percent of their revenue, enough to pay for an entire police force in some small communities, an analysis of census data shows.
A majority are in the South and Midwest, though clusters also appear outside New York City and Washington. They include Henderson, La., a town of about 2,000 people perched along Interstate 10 that collected $1.7 million in fines in 2019 — 89 percent of its general revenues — and where officers were accused of illegally receiving cash rewards for writing tickets. Oliver, Ga., with about 380 residents, gets more than half its budget from fines, but an investigation last year found that the local police had improperly written more than $40,000 in tickets outside their jurisdiction.
In Bratenahl, Ohio, the town government is so dependent on traffic enforcement that the police chief castigated his officers as “badge-wearing slugs” in an email when a downturn in ticket writing jeopardized raises. Ticket revenue helped finance sheriff’s equipment in Amherst County, Va.; a “peace officers annuity and benefit fund” in Doraville, Ga.; and police training in Connecticut, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
“The message goes out that if you want more training, then go ahead and write more traffic tickets,” said Gil Kerlikowske, a former police chief in Seattle and three other cities.
To show how a dependence on ticket revenue can shape traffic enforcement, The Times examined the practices of three states — Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia — where police traffic stops have set off controversy. What emerges is a tangle of conflicts and contradictions that are often unacknowledged or explained away.
Mayors of predominantly white suburbs in Ohio, for example, defended the ticket-blitzing of Black drivers from Cleveland as an acceptable, if unfortunate, side effect of vigorously patrolling brief sections of interstates within their borders.
Some officers in Oklahoma, insistent that public safety is their goal, no longer cite drunken motorists for driving under the influence, and instead issue less-serious tickets that keep the drivers out of district court and generate more money for the town.
And in a small Virginia town last December, just days after the police threatened and pepper-sprayed a Black and Latino Army lieutenant, Caron Nazario, over a license plate infraction — body-camera video released in April would elicit public outrage — elected officials questioned the chief on why ticket revenue was down for the year. He later reminded his officers to issue at least “two tickets per hour” during federally funded patrols.
Mr. Kerlikowske said that ticket quotas created bad incentives, but that there was value in police traffic enforcement focused on speeding, drinking and reckless driving — a “more important role than just, ‘you have a taillight out’ or ‘you have a tag light out.’” Using small violations as a pretext to search for more serious crimes was “a pretty weak excuse,” he said, given their rarity and the unnecessary risk that encounters could escalate.
A traffic signal citation in Euclid, Ohio, led to Richard Hubbard III, then 25, being beaten and Tased by an officer who was later fired, then reinstated by an arbitrator and is now facing assault charges. For Juanisha Brooks, a 34-year-old Defense Department employee, it was unlit taillights that prompted a Virginia state trooper to pull over, handcuff and arrest her — a traffic stop prosecutors later declared illegal.
And in Cashion, Okla., an officer chased, threw to the ground and Tased a 65-year-old grandmother who initially refused to accept an $80 ticket for a broken taillight. Ed Blau, a lawyer who represented the woman, Debra Hamil, said there was an entrenched financial motivation behind such traffic stops.
“You’ve got to fund the government somehow,” he said, “and that’s exactly how they do it: through fines and fees.”
The Money Machine
Newburgh Heights, a frayed industrial village of about a half square mile with 2,000 residents just south of Cleveland, doggedly monitors traffic on the short stretch of Interstate 77 that passes through.
Its 21 police officers cruise around looking for vehicles to pull over, and aim speed cameras from the Harvard Avenue overpass or from a folding chair beside the highway. This augments the town’s automated cameras.
All told, revenue from traffic citations, which typically accounts for more than half the town’s budget, totaled $3 million in 2019. Some of that money is processed through the Newburgh Heights Mayor’s Court, one of 286 anachronistic judicial offices that survive, mostly in small towns, across Ohio.
A 2019 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio found that 1 in 6 traffic tickets in the state were issued in towns with mayor’s courts, which the A.C.L.U. called a “shadowy and unaccountable quasi-judicial system that wrings revenue from drivers.” The U.S. Supreme Court, as far back as 1927, flagged the inherent conflict in Ohio mayors imposing fines to pay “marshals, inspectors and detectives” who, in turn, generated cases.
The fixation on revenue has made mayor’s courts an enduring source of controversy. Years of complaints about tiny Linndale, population 160, raking in as much as $1 million annually from speed traps led to a ban on mayor’s courts in towns of under 200 residents. In Kirkersville, the police chief resigned, citing, among other things, pressure from the mayor on traffic enforcement.
Trevor Elkins, the mayor of Newburgh Heights, said his town’s increasing use of cameras has reduced the need for traffic stops, though the latter remain disproportionately high, according to state data. Either way, funding a significant police force — nearly triple the small-town average — is “really what our revenue goes for,” he said.
“That has gone into public safety, whether that is police, fire, building department and the service department,” the mayor said.
Publicly, mayors insist their courts are not used to generate money, yet privately that is often the focus of their concerns. The mayor’s court in Bratenahl, a wealthy suburb on Lake Erie, typically has more than twice as many traffic cases each year as there are residents in town, according to state records.
But that was not enough for Mayor John Licastro, who emailed his police chief in November 2018 that a “downturn in mayor’s court revenue” was exacerbating a budget crunch and employee raises could be affected.
Chief Richard Dolbow sent a blunt email to officers: “I will be looking at stats and scheduling to see what I should do to motivate the badge wearing slugs that have fallen short on the promise and jeopardized our financial raises that we have worked so hard to maintain.”
Mr. Dolbow, who announced his retirement in August, did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Licastro said, “The concern I expressed to the chief was because of a drop in revenue across the board, not just revenue from our mayor’s court.” That, he added, “affects all aspects of how we govern, including employee compensation.”
Bratenahl, with a population of 1,300 that is 83 percent white, uses its roughly 18 officers to patrol a strip of Interstate 90 that skirts the town’s border with Cleveland, where half the residents are Black. As a result, many days, the crowd in Bratenahl mayor’s court is mostly Black.
When Caitlin Johnson, a former journalist who had recently relocated to Bratenahl, tried to raise this issue at a public meeting, she said, the once-welcoming community turned cold. Bratenahl residents “love the police,” whom they view as a bulwark against big-city crime, she said.
“If you live there and you have a problem, any little thing, the police will be right there to help you,” said Ms. Johnson, who has since moved away. “But that is not the way that the people who pass through Bratenahl experience the police.”
Mayor Licastro said officers were simply following the law.
“We don’t choose who drives the Shoreway,” he said.
Mr. Elkins offered a similar defense of Newburgh Heights, where Black residents account for about 22 percent of the population yet often make up a majority at his mayor’s court. A Times analysis of more than 4,000 traffic citations there found that 76 percent of license and insurance violations, and 63 percent of speeding cases involved Black motorists.
“We don’t really control who drives through our community,” he said.
Public Safety and Profiteering
On April 19, 1995, Oklahoma State Trooper Charles J. Hanger, nicknamed “The Hangman” for his zeal in pursuing traffic violations, made one of the most famous of roadway stops.
Heading north on I-35, Trooper Hanger spotted a battered 1977 Mercury Grand Marquis with no license plate. Its driver was Timothy J. McVeigh who, about 90 minutes earlier, had detonated a truck full of explosives outside the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people in what then was the worst act of terrorism on American soil.
The McVeigh case holds mythic status among police officers, for whom it is a go-to rejoinder to concerns that many traffic stops are pretexts for raising revenue or searching, without cause, for evidence of other crimes. But researchers and some former police chiefs say that for every occasional lucky break, hundreds of innocent motorists are subjected to needless scrutiny, expense and potential danger.
“Because everybody on the road violates traffic laws, that allows the police, who are also in charge of criminal law enforcement, to investigate crime without meeting any of the standards required for criminal investigation,” said Sarah A. Seo, a law professor at Columbia University and the author of a history of traffic enforcement.
As early as the 1910s, Dr. Seo said, departments found that taking on traffic enforcement meant they could hire officers and expand their investigative powers. By 1920, traffic fines helped the Los Angeles police traffic division become “practically self-supporting,” according to an annual report at the time.
“We think that modern police departments and their power came from the need to fight crime,” Dr. Seo said. “Actually, it started with traffic enforcement.”
While tickets and the threat of punishment deter some would-be offenders, the need for municipalities to sustain that revenue model appears to be an incentive for many traffic stops today. An analysis of North Carolina court data by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that “significantly more tickets” were issued when localities experienced financial difficulties, suggesting they were “used as a revenue-generation tool rather than solely a means to increase public safety.”
Thirty-one states and Washington, D.C., required annual vehicle inspections before 1976, but many dropped them over time, saying they failed to deliver safety benefits. Indeed, the Government Accountability Office found that vehicle component failure figured in only a small percentage of crashes, and there was no evidence that things like broken taillights were significant factors.
Nevertheless, state and local governments continue to profit from catching violations that are largely unrelated to traffic safety.
In the 2019 fiscal year, Valley Brook, Okla., collected over $100,000 from tickets for “defective equipment” like Mr. Brown’s burned-out tag light, with citations issued, on average, nearly every day.
A majority of stops in this town of less than a half square mile occur along a four-lane road with the police station, the courthouse, a cannabis dispensary, a liquor store owned by the mayor’s wife, and three strip clubs. Valley Brook — which collects 72 percent of its revenues from fines, the highest in the state — encourages swift payments; in court one night in July, a local judge told people to call friends and family to get money for fines, or else face jail.
Chief Michael A. Stamp defended the police department’s practices. Because their jurisdiction covers only one block along the main roadway, he said, officers look for broken taillights or “wide turns” to catch more serious infractions.
“I put officers out on the street every single night for the sole purpose of drug and alcohol enforcement, because it’s such a big problem that we have here,” Chief Stamp said. He conceded the town’s dependence on traffic tickets, but added, “I will stand by the fact that what we are doing out here also saves lives.”
By some measures, Nicholas Bowser, 38, is exactly the kind of driver the chief says he wants to take off the road. Rather than pulling over around midnight on July 2, he led officers on a chase from Valley Brook to his home about a mile away. Upon his surrender, the police found a handgun at his feet and discovered his blood alcohol content exceeded the legal limit.
That might have been enough to keep Mr. Bowser from driving for a while, or have a court-ordered breathalyzer installed in his truck. But the next day, he retrieved his truck from the impound. All he had to do was pay $2,185.11 in estimated fines and fees to Valley Brook.
Local police had charged him with “negligent driving” and “public intoxication” — lesser crimes than driving drunk, which must be transferred to district court. Some lawyers say that a 2016 law designed to prevent repeat offenders’ drunken-driving records from staying hidden in local court systems has incentivized towns to downgrade offenses, keeping the ticket — and the revenue.
“The law put a hole in cities’ pocketbooks,” said Bruce Edge, an Oklahoma defense lawyer specializing in drunken-driving cases. So they reduce the charges, he said. “They get the money, and the driver is not going to be the least bit unhappy.”
Chief Stamp acknowledged that they file drunken-driving incidents as “public intoxication” but said revenue was not a factor and noted that prosecutors hadn’t pursued previous D.U.I. cases they had sent.
In an interview, Mr. Bowser said, “I should have gotten a D.U.I.” This summer, after he requested a jury trial, Valley Brook dropped the charges against him and refunded about $2,000.
After details emerged of the case involving Mr. Brown, the security guard, those charges too were dismissed, the officer was disciplined and Chief Stamp called to apologize. Still, Mr. Brown sued the town, which he asserts has turned traffic enforcement into a ruthless profit-making enterprise.
“They are lawless,” he said.
A Culture of Quotas
When Lieutenant Nazario’s mistreatment by the police made national headlines in April, officials in Windsor, Va., fired one of the officers involved and called the case an aberration. But in many ways, the traffic stop was routine.
Windsor is one of nearly 100 Virginia communities to receive federal grants encouraging tickets. The annual grants, awarded by state authorities, ranged last year from $900 to the village of Exmore for nabbing seatbelt scofflaws to $1 million to Fairfax County for drunken-driving enforcement. Windsor got $15,750 to target speeders.
There is little doubt that these grants affect the economics, and frequency, of traffic stops. In an interview, Windsor’s police chief, Rodney Riddle, denied having ticket quotas, though he suggested the “bean counters” in town hall might welcome the money.
But in a January email to officers, obtained through an open-records request, the chief pushed for enough tickets to comply with the grant paying the hourly cost of patrols.
“Please remember,” he wrote, “that you are required to write a minimum of two tickets per hour while on grant time and there is zero tolerance.”
Jessica Cowardin, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said the number of citations “is just one of many things we look at to evaluate how effective a grant is.” She added, “We do not require nor encourage grant-funded police departments to issue a prescribed number of traffic citations.”
Authorities in Virginia are well aware of the risks of tying traffic stops to money, whether from fines or grants. A state inspector general report in 2013 warned about providing incentives for police to conduct “excessive enforcement solely to generate additional revenue.”
The Virginia grants are a fraction of the roughly $600 million that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sends to states each year. Lucia Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, said it did not encourage or require quotas or targets for grant recipients.
But a review of state grant applications found that the number of traffic stops is a common performance measure. In Arkansas, for instance, the goal was “three vehicle stops per hour” during grant-funded patrols, while in Madison, S.D., officers were required to “obtain two citations per grant hour.”
Indiana officials boasted in their 2014 annual report that officers enforcing seatbelt laws averaged 3.26 stops per hour. One was in Hammond, where an officer on grant-funded patrol pulled over a Black family and ended up in a dispute with a passenger, Jamal Jones, after demanding he identify himself. Video shows officers smashing a car window and firing a Taser at Mr. Jones, who, according to a lawsuit he later filed, tried to retrieve a document to use for identification.
It was a traffic ticket.
For all the billions spent to promote ticket-writing by police, there is little evidence that it has helped achieve the grants’ primary goal: reducing fatal car crashes.
In 2019 there were 33,244 fatal crashes nationwide, up from 30,296 in 2010. Traffic safety experts say targeted enforcement works, but improvements in automobile technology and highway engineering account for much of the progress since the 1970s and ’80s, when annual fatal crashes routinely exceeded 40,000.
In the wake of the George Floyd protests, some municipalities and states are rethinking their approach to traffic stops. Berkeley, Calif., has proposed shifting away from police enforcement, in favor of an unarmed civilian corps; Virginia lawmakers prohibited stops initiated because of defective taillights, tinted windows and loud exhaust.
Fallout from the Nazario case moved Windsor to pursue ways to slow traffic “while reducing police and citizen contacts,” including electronic signs and rumble strips. The Windsor police also ended grant-funded patrols, saying it was “in the best interest of our agency and our community.”
When the town council presented a new budget for the upcoming fiscal year, it projected revenue increases from all major sources except one: traffic fines.
Arya Sundaram contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research.
After exploitative loans buried taxi drivers under crushing debt, some cabbies say the city’s $65 million rescue package does not go far enough.
By Brian M. Rosenthal, Nov. 1, 2021
“We've got one chance to make this right,” said Bhairavi Desai, president of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, pictured here outside City Hall in Manhattan in October. Credit...Dave Sanders for The New York Times
When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in March a plan to spend tens of millions of dollars to help New York’s taxi drivers, many praised the move. For years, officials had stood by as cabbies were channeled into exploitative loans that crushed them under mountains of debt. Finally, it seemed, the city was fixing an injustice.
But an influential group of drivers is now urging recipients not to accept the city’s help, pressing for a more ambitious — and expensive — bailout in a fight that has escalated into a hunger strike. Bhairavi Desai, the head of the group, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said she and a dozen others stopped eating on Oct. 20 to push the city into offering more aid.
“We’re not backing down,” Ms. Desai said.
Mr. de Blasio, whose relief effort recently began handing out modest grants to help drivers negotiate with lenders to reduce their loans, has not budged from that plan, despite pressure from the city’s entire congressional delegation and Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, to increase the assistance.
The conflict is the latest turn in a yearslong saga over taxi medallions, the city permits that allow yellow cabs to pick up passengers on the street.
Medallions were an unremarkable tool of city bureaucracy until about two decades ago, when a group of taxi industry leaders began steadily and artificially inflating the price of a medallion to more than $1 million. To afford the permits, drivers took on hefty loans while lenders pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars.
The market collapsed in 2014, leaving drivers in debt, with many owing $500,000 or more. Hundreds went bankrupt. Several died by suicide. Industry leaders have long denied wrongdoing, blaming the crisis on ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, which entered New York near the bubble’s peak and eventually took some revenue from cabs.
Supporters of a more aggressive rescue plan have pointed out that the city played a role in the plight of the cabdrivers. During the bubble, the city exempted the industry from regulations and filled budget gaps by selling new medallions and running ads promoting them as an investment that was “better than the stock market.”
After a 2019 series in The New York Times revealed the exploitative lending practices, a flurry of proposals emerged to help the drivers, including a $500 million plan from a city task force and the threat of an $810 million lawsuit from the state attorney general, Letitia James, who wanted to give the money to the drivers.
But the pandemic struck, worsening the financial crisis for all cabdrivers and sapping the city’s budget, putting bailout plans on hold. By the time Mr. de Blasio announced his program this year, it had a modest price tag: $65 million, covered by the federal stimulus package.
The program provides individual medallion owners with up to $29,000 in grants that are meant to help them negotiate with their bank to lower their outstanding debt. The city has argued that because of the crisis, lenders are eager to agree to reduce the overall loan amounts in order to recoup some money from drivers who could otherwise default.
Thousands of drivers are potentially eligible. As of last week, 155 drivers had reached deals to restructure their loans, including some who contributed their own money as part of the deal, according to the city. Before entering the program, city data show, those drivers owed about $310,000 on average — less than many cabbies. Today, they owe about $180,000 on average.
In addition, about 1,000 other drivers have expressed interest in participating in the program, according to the city’s taxi commissioner, Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk.
“I’m confident that the people that have reached out are going to reach deals and achieve meaningfully debt relief, hopefully before the end of the year,” Ms. Heredia Jarmoszuk said. “I think the program is achieving what it set out to do, and that is identifying medallion owners who have unmanageable debt and getting them into monthly payments they can manage.”
The Taxi Workers Alliance has a sharply different view. The group, which says it represents about 20,000 drivers, has insisted since the day the plan was announced that the program does nothing to help drivers.
The grants are too small to persuade lenders to reduce loans by a meaningful amount, the group argues — and even if drivers get some debt relief on paper, it will not matter because they will still owe far more than they could ever hope to repay, it contends.
For months, Ms. Desai and her supporters have been pushing their own proposal, which calls for all lenders to agree to lower all medallion loans to $145,000 in return for a guarantee from the city that it will pay for any driver who defaults on a loan. The group estimates this will increase the city’s cost for the relief package by another $93 million.
Over time, the group has held increasingly dramatic demonstrations, blocking bridges and camping outside City Hall around the clock for 43 days straight, and counting.
The group also received a boost earlier this year when Randal Wilhite, a lawyer with a nonprofit organization working on the city relief fund, began speaking out against it, saying lenders were either not offering much debt relief or were refusing to participate altogether. Afterward, city officials asked that he stop working on the plan; the nonprofit ultimately suspended him from working on all its projects because he had spoken to the media.
The protest effort has also been fueled by the industry’s ongoing crisis. Passengers have begun returning to yellow cabs, but business is still far below where it was before the pandemic. In September, the last month for which city data is available, there were 50 percent fewer cabs operating than before the pandemic, and the industry made 52 percent less revenue, according to city data.
Among those joining in the group’s hunger strike is Richard Chow, a driver and the brother of Kenny Chow, a driver who faced enormous debt and died by suicide.
In an interview, Mr. Chow said he felt weak and dizzy but would push on until the city agrees to help the drivers.
In recent days, the group has received more support, as people have rallied around Mr. Chow and the others. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, recently visited the protesters at City Hall, as did the actor Kal Penn, among others.
One top ally is City Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez, who chairs the transportation committee and is close to Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor, who is likely to win the election this week. Mr. Adams, who declined to comment for this story, has indicated he might support increasing the aid package.
Ms. Desai said cabdrivers could not wait until next year.
“We’ve got one chance to make this right,” she said. “How are we ever going to build this level of political capital again?”
Seven senior officers rebuked the government’s treatment of an admitted terrorist in a handwritten letter from the jury room at Guantánamo Bay.
By Carol Rosenberg, Oct. 31, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/31/us/politics/guantanamo-torture-letter.html
Camp Justice, at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, houses the court for detainees charged with war crimes. Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — In a stark rebuke of the torture carried out by the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11 attacks, seven senior military officers who heard graphic descriptions last week of the brutal treatment of a terrorist while in the agency’s custody wrote a letter calling it “a stain on the moral fiber of America.”
The officers, all but one member of an eight-member jury, condemned the U.S. government’s conduct in a clemency letter on behalf of Majid Khan, a suburban Baltimore high school graduate turned Qaeda courier.
They had been brought to the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay to sentence Mr. Khan, who had earlier pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. They issued a sentence of 26 years, about the lowest term possible according to the instructions of the court.
At the behest of Mr. Khan’s lawyer, they then took the prerogative available in military justice of writing a letter to a senior official who will review the case, urging clemency.
Before sentencing, Mr. Khan spent two hours describing in grisly detail the violence that C.I.A. agents and operatives inflicted on him in dungeonlike conditions in prisons in Pakistan, Afghanistan and a third country, including sexual abuse and mind-numbing isolation, often in the dark while he was nude and shackled.
“Mr. Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse well beyond approved enhanced interrogation techniques, instead being closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history,” according to the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times.
The panel also responded to Mr. Khan’s claim that after his capture in Pakistan in March 2003, he told interrogators everything, but “the more I cooperated, the more I was tortured,” and so he subsequently made up lies to try to mollify his captors.
“This abuse was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests,” the letter said. “Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr. Khan in the hands of U.S. personnel should be a source of shame for the U.S. government.”
In his testimony on Thursday night, Mr. Khan became the first former prisoner of the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites to publicly describe in detail the violence and cruelty that U.S. agents used to extract information and to discipline suspected terrorists in the clandestine overseas prison program that was set up after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
In doing so, Mr. Khan also provided a preview of the kind of information that might emerge in the death penalty trial of the five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks, a process that has been bogged down in pretrial hearings for nearly a decade partly because of secrecy surrounding their torture by the C.I.A.
The agency declined to comment on the substance of Mr. Khan’s descriptions of the black sites, which prosecutors did not seek to rebut. It said only that its detention and interrogation program, which ran the black sites, ended in 2009.
More than 100 suspected terrorists disappeared into the C.I.A.’s clandestine overseas prison network after Sept. 11, 2001. The agency used “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and violence to try to have prisoners divulge Al Qaeda’s plans and the whereabouts of leaders and sleeper cells, but with no immediate plans to put its captives on trial.
President George W. Bush disclosed the existence of the C.I.A. program in September 2006, with the transfer of Mr. Khan and 13 other so-called high-value detainees to Guantánamo. President Barack Obama ordered the program shut down entirely after taking office in 2009.
Mr. Khan, 41, was held without access to either the International Red Cross, the authority entrusted under the Geneva Conventions to visit war prisoners, or to a lawyer until after he was transferred to Guantánamo Bay. He pleaded guilty in February 2012 to terrorism crimes, including delivering $50,000 from Al Qaeda to an allied extremist group in Southeast Asia, Jemaah Islamiyah, that was used to fund a deadly bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, five months after his capture. Eleven people were killed, and dozens more were injured.
The clock on his prison sentence began ticking with his guilty plea in 2012, meaning the panel’s 26-year sentence would end in 2038.
But Mr. Khan, who has cooperated with the U.S. government, helping federal and military prosecutors build cases, has a deal that was kept secret from the jury that could end his sentence in February or in 2025 at the latest.
Under the military commission system that was set up after Sept. 11, even defendants who plead guilty and make a deal with the government must have a jury sentencing hearing. This was the case for Mr. Khan, whose sentencing was delayed by nearly a decade to give him time to work with government investigators and win favor in the form of early release from a jury sentence.
The clemency letter also condemned the legal framework that held Mr. Khan without charge for nine years and denied him access to a lawyer for the first four and half as “complete disregard for the foundational concepts upon which the Constitution was founded” and “an affront to American values and concept of justice.”
Although it is rarely done, a military defense lawyer can ask a panel for letters endorsing mercy, such as a reduction of a sentence, for a service member who is convicted at a court-martial.
But this was the first time the request was made of a sentencing jury at Guantánamo, where accused terrorists are being tried by military commission. A clemency recommendation is not binding, but it could send a powerful message to the convening authority of military commissions, the senior Pentagon official overseeing the war court, whose role is to review a completed case and an accompanying clemency petition from defense lawyers to decide whether to shorten a sentence. An Army colonel, Jeffrey D. Wood of the Arkansas National Guard, currently fills that role as a civilian.
In closing arguments, Mr. Khan’s military lawyer, Maj. Michael J. Lyness of the Army, asked the panel for a minimum sentence and then to consider drafting a letter recommending clemency.
The lead prosecutor, Col. Walter H. Foster IV of the Army, asked the panel to issue a harsh sentence. He conceded that Mr. Khan received “extremely rough treatment” in C.I.A. custody but said he was “still alive,” which was “a luxury” that the victims of Qaeda attacks did not have.
The jury foreman, a Navy captain, said in court that he took up the defense request and drafted the clemency letter by hand, and all but one officer on the sentencing jury signed it, using their panel member numbers because jurors are granted anonymity at the national security court at Guantánamo.
Ian C. Moss, a former Marine who is a civilian lawyer on Mr. Khan’s defense team, called the letter “an extraordinary rebuke.”
“Part of what makes the clemency letter so powerful is that, given the jury members’ seniority, it stands to reason that their military careers have been impacted in direct and likely personal ways by the past two decades of war,” he said.
At no point did the jurors suggest that any of Mr. Khan’s treatment was illegal. Their letter noted that Mr. Khan, who never attained U.S. citizenship, was held as an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” a status that made him eligible for trial by military commission and “not technically afforded the rights of U.S. citizens.”
But, the officers noted, Mr. Khan pleaded guilty, owned his actions and “expressed remorse for the impact of the victims and their families. Clemency is recommended.”
Sentencing was delayed for nearly a decade after his guilty plea to give Mr. Khan time and opportunity to cooperate with federal and military prosecutors, so far behind the scenes, in federal and military terrorism cases. In the intervening years, prosecutors and defense lawyers clashed in court filings over who would be called to testify about Mr. Khan’s abuse in C.I.A. custody, and how.
In exchange for the reduced sentence, Mr. Khan and his legal team agreed to drop their effort to call witnesses to testify about his torture, much of it most likely classified, as long as he could tell his story to the jury.
The jurors were also sympathetic to Mr. Khan’s account of being drawn to radical Islam in 2001 at age 21, after the death of his mother, and being recruited to Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks. “A vulnerable target for extremist recruiting, he fell to influences furthering Islamic radical philosophies, just as many others have in recent years,” the letter said. “Now at the age of 41 with a daughter he has never seen, he is remorseful and not a threat for future extremism.”
The panel was provided with nine letters of support for Mr. Khan from family members, including his father and several siblings — American citizens who live in the United States — as well as his wife, Rabia, and daughter, Manaal, who were born in Pakistan and live there.
In “The Dawn of Everything,” the anthropologist David Graeber and the archaeologist David Wengrow aim to rewrite the story of our shared past — and future.
By Jennifer Schuessler, Oct. 31, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/31/arts/dawn-of-everything-graeber-wengrow.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=696103872&algo=bandit-all-surfaces_setnthitem_0_news_typekoftopn_2_5_news&variant=2_bandit-all-surfaces_guardrails_pool_hp_3d&pool=pool/eb1c3756-caa2-47cd-b3ba-0be3d88f1636&imp_id=290601084&action=click&module=Popular%20in%20The%20Times&pgtype=Homepage
One August night in 2020, David Graeber — the anthropologist and anarchist activist who became famous as an early organizer of Occupy Wall Street — took to Twitter to make a modest announcement.
“My brain feels bruised with numb surprise,” he wrote, riffing on a Doors lyric. “It’s finished?”
He was referring to the book he’d been working on for nearly a decade with the archaeologist David Wengrow, which took as its immodest goal nothing less than upending everything we think we know about the origins and evolution of human societies.
Even before the Occupy movement made him famous, Graeber had been hailed as one of the most brilliant minds in his field. But his most ambitious book also turned out to be his last. A month after his Twitter announcement, Graeber, 59, died suddenly of necrotizing pancreatitis, prompting a shocked outpouring of tributes from scholars, activists and friends around the world.
“The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity,” out Nov. 9 from Farrar Straus and Giroux, may or may not dislodge the standard narrative popularized in mega-sellers like Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” and Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel.” But it has already gathered a string of superlative-studded (if not entirely uncritical) reviews. Three weeks before publication, after it suddenly shot to #2 on Amazon, the publisher ordered another 75,000 copies on top of the 50,000 first printing.
In a video interview last month, Wengrow, a professor at University College London, slipped into a mock-grandiose tone to recite one of Graeber’s favorite catchphrases: “We are going to change the course of human history — starting with the past.”
More seriously, Wengrow said, “The Dawn of Everything” — which weighs in at a whopping 704 pages, including a 63-page bibliography — aims to synthesize new archaeological discoveries of recent decades that haven’t made it out of specialist journals and into public consciousness.
“There’s a whole new picture of the human past and human possibility that seems to be coming into view,” he said. “And it really doesn’t resemble in the slightest these very entrenched stories going around and around.”
The Big History best-sellers by Harari, Diamond and others have their differences. But they rest, Graeber and Wengrow argue, on a similar narrative of linear progress (or, depending on your point of view, decline).
According to this story, for the first 300,000 years or so after Homo sapiens appeared, pretty much nothing happened. People everywhere lived in small, egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups, until the sudden invention of agriculture around 9,000 B.C. gave rise to sedentary societies and states based on inequality, hierarchy and bureaucracy.
But all of this, Graeber and Wengrow argue, is wrong. Recent archaeological discoveries, they write, show that early humans, far from being automatons blindly moving in evolutionary lock step in response to material pressures, self-consciously experimented with “a carnival parade of political forms.”
It’s a more accurate story, they argue, but also “a more hopeful and more interesting” one.
“We are all projects of collective self-creation,” they write. “What if, instead of telling the story about how our society fell from some idyllic state of equality, we ask how we came to be trapped in such tight conceptual shackles that we can no longer even imagine the possibility of reinventing ourselves?”
The book’s own origins go back to around 2011, when Wengrow, whose archaeological fieldwork has focused on Africa and the Middle East, was working at New York University. The two had met several years earlier, when Graeber was in Britain looking for a job after Yale declined to renew his contract, for unstated reasons that he and others saw as related to his anarchist politics.
In New York, the two men sometimes met for expansive conversation over dinner. After Wengrow went back to London, Graeber “started sending me notes on things I’d written,” Wengrow recalled. “The exchanges ballooned, until we realized we were almost writing a book over email.”
At first, they thought it might be a short book on the origins of social inequality. But soon they started to feel like that question — a chestnut going back to the Enlightenment — was all wrong.
“The more we thought, we wondered why should you frame human history in terms of that question?” Wengrow said. “It presupposes that once upon a time, there was something else.”
Wengrow, 49, an Oxford-educated scholar whose manner is more standard-issue professorial than the generally rumpled Graeber, said the relationship was a true partnership. He, like many, spoke with awe of Graeber’s brilliance (as a teenager, a much-repeated story goes, his hobby of deciphering Mayan hieroglyphics caught the eye of professional archaeologists), as well as what he described as his extraordinary generosity.
“David was like one of those Amazonian village chiefs who were always the poorest guy in the village, since their whole function was to give things away,” Wengrow said. “He just had that ability to look at your work and sprinkle magic dust over the whole thing.”
Most recent big histories are by geographers, economists, psychologists and political scientists, many writing under the guiding framework of biological evolution. (In a cheeky footnote assessing rival Big Historians’ expertise, they describe Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, as the holder of “a Ph.D on the physiology of the gall bladder.”)
Graeber and Wengrow, by contrast, write in the grand tradition of social theory descended from Weber, Durkheim and Levi-Strauss. In a 2011 blog post, Graeber recalled how a friend, after reading his similarly sweeping “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” said he wasn’t sure anyone had written a book like that in 100 years. “I’m still not sure it was a compliment,” Graeber quipped.
“The Dawn of Everything” includes discussions of princely burials in Europe during the ice age, contrasting attitudes toward slavery among the Indigenous societies of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, the political implications of dry-land versus riverbed farming, and the complexity of preagricultural settlements in Japan, among many, many other subjects.
But the dazzling range of references raises a question: Who is qualified to judge whether it’s true?
Reviewing the book in The Nation, the historian Daniel Immerwahr called Graeber “a wildly creative thinker” who was “better known for being interesting than right” and asked if the book’s confident leaps and hypotheses “can be trusted.”
And Immerwahr deemed at least one claim — that colonial American settlers captured by Indigenous people “almost invariably” chose to stay with them — “ballistically false,” claiming that the authors’ single cited source (a 1977 dissertation) “actually argues the opposite.”
Wengrow countered that it was Immerwahr who was reading the source wrong. And he noted that he and Graeber had taken care to publish the book’s core arguments in leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals or deliver them as some of the most prestigious invited lectures in the field.
“I remember thinking at the time, why do we have to put ourselves through this?” Wengrow said of the process. “We’re reasonably established in our fields. But it was David who was adamant that it was terribly important.”
James C. Scott, an eminent political scientist at Yale whose 2017 book “Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States” also ranged across fields to challenge the standard narrative, said some of Graeber and Wengrow’s arguments, like his own, would inevitably be “thrown out” as other scholars engaged with them.
But he said the two men had delivered a “fatal blow” to the already-weakened idea that settling down in agricultural states was what humans “had been waiting to do all along.”
But the most striking part of “The Dawn of Everything,” Scott said, is an early chapter on what the authors call the “Indigenous critique.” The European Enlightenment, they argue, rather than being a gift of wisdom bestowed on the rest of the world, grew out of a dialogue with Indigenous people of the New World, whose trenchant assessments of the shortcomings of European society influenced emerging ideas of freedom.
“I’ll bet it has a huge significance in our understanding of the relationship between the West and the rest,” Scott said.
“The Dawn of Everything” sees pervasive evidence for large complex societies that thrived without the existence of the state, and defines freedom chiefly as “freedom to disobey.” It’s easy to see how such arguments dovetail with Graeber’s anarchist beliefs, but Wengrow pushed back against a question about the book’s politics.
“I’m not particularly interested in debates that begin with slapping a label on a piece of research,” he said. “It almost never happens with scholars who lean right.”
But if the book helps convince people, in the words of the Occupy slogan, that “another world is possible,” that’s not unintentional.
“We’ve reached the stage of history where we have scientists and activists agreeing our prevailing system is putting us and our planet on a course of real catastrophe,” Wengrow said. “To find yourself paralyzed, with your horizons closed off by false perspectives on human possibilities, based on a mythological conception of history, is not a great place to be.”
By Kathryn Kolbert and Julie F. Kay, Nov. 1, 2021
Ms. Kolbert, the co-founder of the Center for Reproductive Rights, argued Planned Parenthood v. Casey before the Supreme Court in 1992. Ms. Kay is a human rights lawyer who argued against Ireland’s ban on abortion before the European Court of Human Rights.
Michael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock
For the first time in a generation, the Supreme Court appears likely to overturn Roe v. Wade. The end of Roe need not herald the end of an era of reproductive freedom. It may instead launch a new strategy that protects the fundamental human right to decide whether to have children and raise them in safety and dignity.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Monday in two separate cases challenging the new Texas law effectively banning abortion. The more direct nationwide threat to Roe, however, comes in December in a case challenging a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks.
To fully grasp what is at stake now, it’s worth looking back. In 1992, one of us, Ms. Kolbert, argued on behalf of Pennsylvania abortion providers in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which challenged abortion restrictions including a waiting period requirement, biased mandatory counseling, parental and spousal notification requirements and other obstacles to care. At the time many court watchers believed Roe was doomed. Justice Clarence Thomas had just joined the court, and at least four other justices appeared likely to vote to overturn the ruling.
More than two decades later, Justice John Paul Stevens’s memoir confirmed how close supporters of abortion rights were to losing Roe: Following the oral argument seven justices agreed that most of the onerous Pennsylvania abortion restrictions should be upheld. Justice Stevens wrote that he and Justice Harry Blackmun “assumed that the result would be explained in an opinion overruling Roe v. Wade.” Indeed, Chief Justice William Rehnquist then “circulated a draft opinion for the court on May 27, 1992, that met our expectation,” Justice Stevens wrote. The drafted opinion did not explicitly overrule Roe, but it “effectively repudiated its central holding.”
Thankfully, at the 11th hour, Justice Anthony Kennedy had a change of heart. He quietly worked with Justices David Souter and Sandra Day O’Connor to draft a joint opinion reaffirming Roe’s holding that a woman has the right to choose abortion until viability (usually at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy) and thereafter if necessary to protect her life or health. But the court reduced the high level of constitutional protection that Roe afforded, permitting states to impose restrictions on abortion so long as they do not constitute an “undue burden.” The court upheld most of the Pennsylvania restrictions, but fortunately, struck a provision requiring spousal notification.
In recent years, the courts have upheld more barriers to care under the Casey standard, effectively placing abortion out of reach for many women, particularly teenagers, those living in rural areas and low-income women — limitations that are disproportionately experienced by women of color.
Still, Casey supported legal abortion in all 50 states. Today, the votes are likely no longer there to save even this diminished version of Roe. The new ultraconservative-dominated Supreme Court is poised to give states the unfettered ability to ban most abortions.
In the cases on Monday, the Supreme Court will address whether the Justice Department and abortion providers have the ability to challenge the Texas law in federal court.
The more significant case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, will be argued on Dec. 1. Dobbs, with its ban on most abortions even well before the point of fetal viability, poses the central question of whether Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey remain the law of the land.
Five justices — Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — are expected to eviscerate abortion access with their decision in Dobbs. None of these extremely conservative justices are likely to join a last-minute reprieve as happened in Casey.
When Roe falls, 26 states are likely or certain to ban abortion. Just 14 states and the District of Columbia will reliably continue permitting abortion, safeguarding women’s liberty.
“Save Roe” has been the rallying cry of abortion-rights groups for nearly 50 years. But we need to stop banging our heads against the Supreme Court’s marble walls. While the situation is dire, we do have the potential today to realign American politics and develop a new strategy that not only preserves but expands reproductive freedoms.
First, we must think and talk about this issue differently. While our opponents talk about protecting religious beliefs or the “pre-born,” we must highlight the rights of women themselves, and point out that enabling them to choose whether, when and with whom they have children is central to gender equality and essential to the ability to control one’s own life.
Such fundamental reproductive freedoms require more than just access to abortion. Rather, they require access to basic services that empower all families to have and raise their children when and how it is best for them, including affordable birth control and child care, equitable health care and an end to L.G.B.T.Q. discrimination. We need a framework for recognizing basic human rights that goes well beyond the privacy rights that Roe rests upon and aligns with the goals that women of color have pursued for decades through the reproductive justice movement.
All of this requires political power, and that means getting active in electoral politics. The right has used abortion as a wedge issue for over 40 years; we must likewise vote as if our lives depend on it in every election, not just once every four years. Reproductive rights supporters must insist that all elected officials — from school board members to state legislators to members of Congress — be champions for the cause.
We also need to make noise. We need to organize protests and boycotts well before state laws like the one in Texas come to a vote, let alone make it to the Supreme Court. Eight years ago, a Texas state senator, Wendy Davis, conducted an 11-hour filibuster that briefly stopped an anti-abortion law and started a run on pink sneakers. Creative, newsworthy resistance builds public awareness and support, rallying voter support from the Capitol steps to social media influencers. Those voting for abortion restrictions should pay a political price for doing so.
At the same time, we must help all who need critical reproductive health care services. The pandemic has exposed and worsened economic and racial inequities in getting health care. We must raise money for abortion funds to fill the gap for patients forced to travel. In states where abortion remains available, we must push for broad access to medication abortion by expanding telemedicine and encouraging student health services and urgent care centers to provide these essential services.
The cases before the Supreme Court this fall are cause for alarm. Let’s make them a rallying cry for demanding reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right — and not just a privilege dependent on your race, where you live, whom you sleep with or how you define your identity.
Like many men in Gaza, Wasfi al-Garosha regularly returns to prison for failing to repay a wedding loan. His trip back, always on foot, reveals much about the stresses of life in the Strip.
By Patrick Kingsley and Iyad Abuheweila, Nov. 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/02/world/middleeast/gaza-wedding-debt-prison.html
GAZA CITY — When Wasfi al-Garosha returned to jail, shortly after sunrise one September morning in Gaza City, his daughter did not cry and his brother was still asleep.
Mr. al-Garosha, a 29-year-old plasterer, began the walk back to jail as his niece and nephew were preparing their bags for school. His wife and mother were making tea. And his father — unemployed, like nearly half of Gaza — was only just waking up.
This was Mr. al-Garosha’s 17th stint in detention since the start of 2020, or possibly his 18th. He had lost count, and the Gaza authorities have no exact records. Mr. al-Garosha took out a loan to pay for his wedding in 2019, and now regularly endures stints in a police jail because, unemployed like his father and brother, he cannot repay the debt.
“It has become normal now,” said Mr. al-Garosha, as he emerged from his apartment. “Just a normal part of my life.”
Debt — and particularly wedding-related debt — has become emblematic of the economic crisis here. In the first nine months of 2021 alone, the Gaza City police alone issued 448 arrest warrants for indebted bridegrooms — already more than the cumulative total recorded in the city throughout 2017, 2018 and 2019. The figures for 2020 were not available.
Since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007, Israel and Egypt have heightened pressure on the militant group by enforcing a blockade on the strip. That has helped damage the Gazan economy and is one of the major causes of an unemployment rate of more than 40 percent. For young Gazans, one result of this is that they often cannot afford a wedding ceremony.
But for many, a large wedding is an important rite of passage. Unwilling to delay marriage — in a conservative society, the only accepted route to sexual intimacy — young men take out wedding loans, often worth about $2,000, or nearly an average annual salary in Gaza.
If, like Mr. al-Garosha, they fail to repay it, they usually end up in jail, the result of a 2015 law, which makes it even harder for them to reduce their debt.
On the September morning when he returned to jail, Mr. al-Garosha stepped out onto his landing, still holding his 1-year-old daughter, Dina. She was born after he started his cycle of jail terms, and he has been only a stop-start presence in her life. Mr. al-Garosha gave Dina one last kiss, before handing her back to his 20-year-old wife, Samar.
Reaching the street, he settled into a brisk stride. He walked past the tire merchant opening up his shop, past the patch of empty ground where a missile struck during a brief war last May, past a line of scuffling schoolchildren waiting to buy snacks from a refreshments stall.
It was at a similar street stall that Mr. al-Garosha had first met Samar, one afternoon in 2017. Mr. al-Garosha ran the stall with a friend, selling tea and coffee. One day, the friend’s sister turned up, and Mr. al-Garosha chatted briefly with her. It was Samar, then 16.
They spoke for only a few minutes, and he was in no financial position to support a spouse. But Mr. al-Garosha felt a connection and, perhaps as importantly, felt he was running out of time to get married.
Many Gazans marry in their late teens, and he was already 25. Since most Gaza marriages are still arranged through a bride’s parents, he called Samar’s father to ask permission to marry her. They were engaged four days later.
After passing the scuffling children, Mr. al-Garosha quickened his pace. The jailers expected him before 8 a.m.
To his left was a shuttered cinema — abandoned, like almost all cinemas in Gaza, since the late 1980s, when the combination of a Palestinian uprising and rising Islamist extremism forced cinema owners to close their businesses.
To his right was a wall covered with paintings of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Stuck in Gaza since the blockade began, Mr. al-Garosha, like most Gazans, had never seen the mosque in person.
A single Israeli shekel — legal tender in Gaza — lay glinting in the dirt outside a school, not far from a dead cat. He stooped to pocket the coin, worth a little more than a U.S. quarter, half-smiling, half-shrugging. Just 5,569 shekels to go to clear his debt.
Mr. al-Garosha first fell into debt as soon as he and Samar were engaged. Like most Gazan grooms, he needed to pay a bride price, in his case about $3,500, to the bride’s parents. To raise the money, he sold his phone, laptop and furniture — as well as his drink cart, depriving himself of a revenue stream.
Then, 17 months later, came the costs of the wedding. Poor as he was, Mr. al-Garosha did not want to stint on a rare chance to prove his social standing to his friends and family. So he hired a wedding hall for 70 guests, a motorcade, an outdoor stage and several loudspeakers — and bought the furniture required for his new marital bedroom.
Altogether, that came to 7,500 shekels, or about $2,375. To pay for it, he took a loan from Accord, a firm originally founded to finance wedding expenses, but which now focuses on more profitable markets.
“There are so many grooms losing their jobs,” said Accord’s owner, Louay Ahmed. “There’s a higher risk in lending money.”
For four months, Mr. al-Garosha managed to make his monthly repayments, relying on irregular work as a plasterer. But by the summer of 2019, he fell behind, leading the loan company to begin legal proceedings. In October 2019, just five months after Dina’s birth, he started the first of six three-week jail terms, beginning a rolling cycle of freedom and incarceration. He faces more jail time if the debt is not repaid.
Each three-week term is usually broken into three parts: He is allowed to return home most weekends.
As he got closer to the jail that September morning, Mr. al-Garosha strode past a monument commemorating a Hamas attack on Israeli soldiers — a giant fist punching its way through a replica of an Israeli armored vehicle. Then he passed under a huge banner honoring Hamas.
Seeing the banner, Mr. al-Garosha shook his head. He respected Hamas’s military campaigns against Israel, he said, but its domestic approach angered him. In his view, the group funnels money, jobs and social support to its members, leaving people like him to fend for themselves financially.
He pressed on up Omar Mukhtar Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, passing several clothing stores yet to open for the day.
Given the choice, Samar al-Garosha said she would work in a shop like this — keen to help her husband repay the debt. But Mr. al-Garosha refuses to let her. He considers it dishonorable for his wife to work alongside men.
Spotting a street vendor, Mr. al-Garosha stopped to buy two cigarettes, for a shekel each, with a five-shekel coin his mother had given him. What was another two shekels, he said, when he owed thousands?
He turned onto a side street. The detention center was in sight, and another jail term was about to begin. Inside, a cramped cell awaited him, often filled with 40 men, usually charged with minor crimes.
Fatherhood made it all worthwhile, he said. No marriage would have meant no Dina — and he believed it was important to raise children while he was still young himself.
Though still half an hour early, he strode briskly inside without bothering to savor his last moments of freedom.
He nodded at the guards on the gate, their faces now almost as familiar to him as his daughter’s..
At times in jail, Mr. al-Garosha admitted, he even forgets what Dina looks like.
By Mary Ziegler, Nov. 3, 2021
Ms. Ziegler is the author of “Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present.”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/03/opinion/roe-v-wade-texas-abortion-sb8.html
After Monday’s Supreme Court oral arguments, the writing seems to be on the wall for Senate Bill 8, the Texas law that bans abortion starting about six weeks after a person’s last menstrual period and that hands enforcement to private citizens. It now looks as though two conservative justices may flip on the Texas law and put it in jeopardy — while clearing the way for the ultimate goal of overturning Roe v. Wade next year.
S.B. 8 looked for a while like a kind of Faustian bargain between the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority and state legislators: The justices could all but eliminate abortion access in Texas without inciting the kind of political backlash for conservatives that seems likely to come from openly reversing Roe v. Wade. And Republican state lawmakers could rally base voters (a key strategy for today’s G.O.P.) and soothe anti-abortion leaders in the state, including self-proclaimed abortion abolitionists, who have accused some Republicans of being weak on the issue. S.B. 8 allowed the state to appease these activists by banning abortion well before the point of fetal viability — which is unconstitutional under Roe — without the risk of losing in federal court and having to pay attorneys’ fees.
At this week’s arguments, it certainly sounded as if most of the conservative justices were no longer interested in such a deal. But it’s not because they are sympathetic to abortion rights. There are strong reasons to believe that the justices calculated that they need political cover for overturning or badly damaging Roe v. Wade later this Supreme Court term — and this Texas law just might give it to them.
To understand the various dynamics at play, it’s important to look more closely at why the justices might not like the Texas law as a vehicle to undermine abortion rights, especially when a major Roe-targeted case will be argued before them in early December. S.B. 8 is the result of conservatives’ decades-long quest for a bulletproof abortion ban — one that’s exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to challenge in federal court.
In recent years, some states relished the thought of passing blatantly unconstitutional laws tailor-made for this Supreme Court. Texas, by contrast, forked over more than $2 million in attorneys’ fees after losing a 2016 Supreme Court abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. After that experience, the state’s lawmakers wanted to maximize reward while limiting risk: a ban on abortions very early in pregnancy that no federal court could touch.
State officials got something close to that with S.B. 8. Because of the way the law was crafted, Texas argued that the only way to raise constitutional challenges to it would be after providers were sued — and then only as a defense. Providing abortions would turn into a game of Whac-a-Mole, and many abortion providers, afraid of limitless legal liability, would lose almost by default.
The Supreme Court let S.B. 8 go into effect on Sept. 1 and then wrote a cryptic order explaining that abortion providers might not have a case that belonged in federal court.
During Monday’s oral arguments, though, it appeared that as many as six justices did not see S.B. 8 as so ingenious. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, widely watched as a potential deciding vote in the case, asked whether states could create an S.B. 8-style law going after gun rights or the freedom of religion.
Part of the conservative justices’ seeming hesitation might come down to defending the court’s own power. The justices may indeed plan to gut abortion rights, and soon, but that does not mean that they want to hand states the authority to ignore whichever constitutional protections they wish.
If Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Justice Kavanaugh are leaning toward allowing abortion providers to challenge S.B. 8 in federal court, as they seemed to be on Monday, it will be about politics as much as power. Both justices seem sensitive to popular opinion and political context: Justice Barrett recently felt the need to proclaim in a speech that the justices are not “partisan hacks,” while Justice Kavanaugh clearly has a desire to be respected by his intellectual peers and an awareness of the potential institutional consequences of his decisions.
The Supreme Court’s reputation has taken a nosedive, dipping almost 20 points over the course of a year. In addition, a record percentage of Americans think that the court is too conservative. It is easy to see why. The court is tackling one culture-war issue after another, from abortion to guns and back again — and climate change, too.
As far as abortion goes, all evidence suggests that the conservatives on the court are gunning for Roe. If they overturn the 1973 ruling, they would eviscerate a decision that a majority of Americans say they support and dismantle a compromise — abortion is legal, but it’s restricted — that many Americans seem to like.
So if the court’s conservative justices decide to let abortion providers sue in federal court, that is not necessarily a sign that they’ve gone soft on Roe. Instead, they may want a way to go after Roe v. Wade in the near future without giving up on the narrative that they are above politics. They have already teed up a case out of Mississippi, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that will address whether states can ban abortion before fetal viability — or whether there is a right to abortion at all. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for Dec. 1, with a decision expected next June.
It may turn out that the court’s conservative justices, just like Texas lawmakers, would rather skirt accountability. They want Americans to believe that if Donald Trump all but promised an end to Roe and the Supreme Court justices he appointed deliver just that, partisan politics will have had nothing to do with it. And handing Texas a loss over S.B. 8 might make that fairy tale a bit more believable.
By John McWhorter, November 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/02/opinion/english-grammar-pronouns.html
It may seem from some of my recent newsletters — championing “they” as a singular pronoun and “me” as a subject pronoun — that there’s something about being a linguist that makes one strangely permissive about what language is supposed to be like.
And there is. Before technology existed to stay underwater long enough to watch undersea creatures in their natural habitat, illustrations of sea life might show the creatures sprawled out around a tableau of the seaside. A linguist feels like someone who gets to hang around underwater watching those creatures party, while everybody else settles for seeing a few specimens that wash up on the shore.
For example, because English doesn’t have the long lists of endings that some languages have, it can seem as if our language’s grammar is kind of dull. But there’s so much that we just aren’t trained to see. In Cantonese, for example, there are lots of particles that you place at the end of a sentence to convey countless degrees of sentiment. “Nei hai gam jat faan uk kei?” means just “You’re returning home today?” But “Nei hai gam jat faan uk kei gaa?” can lend a note of displeasure, as in “You’re returning home today? Seriously?”
English doesn’t have as much as Cantonese by way of particles like this. But think about what the “be” in “Don’t be telling me you can’t make it” means — that same skeptical note. Similar is “go and” if we say, for example, “Now he’s going to go and shut it all down.” It conveys disapproval of what’s about to happen, even though by itself “go and” means no such thing (nor does “be”). In terms of marking the passive, the way we’re taught is with forms of “be”: “He was included.” But what about the one with “get”? “He got hurt,” “He got laid off,” “He got hit.” English has a neutral passive — and a special passive that you use for something negative or unexpected. Note how saying, “In the battle he was hurt” sounds more clinical and less real than saying that “he got hurt,” because “be” elides that getting hurt was something bad that came as a surprise.
I also hear English as having all kinds of coded ways to throw shade, of a kind that learners could be taught just as carefully as they are taught something as straightforward as putting an “s” on a verb in the third person singular. These aren’t idioms in the sense of “call it a day” or “on the ball”; they’re grammar. Black English has even more such constructions, using the otherwise neutral verb “come”: “He come saying nobody knew until today” implies that you’re not happy with him. Black English even has a future perfect of disapproval: “I’ll be done left if she tries getting here late again.” (I owe this observation about this construction to the linguist and poet Alysia Harris.)
There are many other things that hit a linguist’s ear that way: As one of “A Hundred Million Miracles” that Oscar Hammerstein wrote about in a song for the musical “Flower Drum Song,” one was a baby learning to walk who “nearly doesn’t fall.” Or “own”: It’s a verb, but also an adjective, as in “my own book.” But why not “my owned book”? And as an adjective, it’s odd: What’s own about the book? And while you can say “the red book” and “The book is red,” why not “The book is own”? It goes on: I have “my very own car” — but I can’t say “I have a really own car.” We say, “He came into his own” — but his own what? I’ve heard Britons say “She got her own back” to mean she got back at someone. But again, her own what?
Few of us ever have reason to think what a quirky thing our humble “own” is. But imagine being new to the language and having to master just how we use this crazy little thing: I once knew such a guy who would say “I just rented a own apartment,” and I felt genuinely pleased that I picked up his meaning before I had to think about it!
Then there are the things that strike people as mistakes, where a linguist just sees the language moving along. Most of what distinguishes the language of “Beowulf” or “The Canterbury Tales” from the English we know is what started as “mistakes.” One example these days, which people often write me about, is “versus” becoming a verb. Kids, especially, hear it as “verses” and for years now have been saying things like “We versed them in baseball last year.”
A preposition becoming a verb — “What’s next?” you might ask. And I would say, more of that, and all power to it. After all, the word “newt” is a mistake that happened when people said “an eft” so often that they began to think it was “a neft,” and later “neft” became “newt.” Today, “eft” is found mostly in crossword puzzles, and I wouldn’t want to give up “newt.” The singular “cherry” is “wrong” — it started as the French “cerise” and people misheard the “s” sound as a plural and made up the singular word “cherry.” Who would have it otherwise now?
It’s getting close to the centenary of “talkies,” and old movies can teach us much about how new words happen. “Cute” began as a slangy way of saying “acute,” and then drifted off into having a new meaning. In the 1938 comedy “Topper Takes a Trip,” a woman being wooed says a man’s come-ons are “cute talk” — but she means that he’s a bit shifty, not that he’s irresistible. Even now, the word still has a whiff of meaning “acute,” as when you refer to someone pulling one of those “cute” moves where you mean clever, not adorable.
Thus, someone in my line of work hears around him a linguistic feast, where many just hear the English language going to the dogs.
There are few better ways to get a sense of the true wonder of English than curling up with “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language” by Rodney Huddleston and my friend Geoffrey Pullum. After reading my essay on subject pronouns, Geoffrey usefully reminded me that if we want the rule about conjunctions to really apply to the whole language, then what we’re talking about are “coordinating” conjunctions, where “and” is used to link, or coordinate, two nouns or pronouns. But you and me have, of course, already been over this one.
Stella Tan and Vivian S. Toy contributed translation.
Some people are resigning. Some are sitting on the sidelines awaiting a prime gig. Others are flexing their muscles — requesting raises, or remote options — while still clocking in.
By Emma Goldberg, Nov. 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/03/business/jobs-workers-economy.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Business
Zella Roberts was one of the highest performing waitresses at the Sonic drive-in in Asheville, N.C., her manager told her, but there were days during the pandemic when she questioned whether she could continue her job. The customers were unruly and often unmasked; the base pay was $5 an hour. Then one afternoon, last November, a man coughed in her face as she served him a hot dog. Ms. Roberts went home and cried.
Some of her colleagues were quitting — often walking out mid-shift — and Ms. Roberts, 22, could tell that the managers were “sweating” trying to figure out how to staff the restaurant. So instead of leaving, she wrote a petition. She asked that Sonic make it easier for customers to tip their carhops. Weeks later, her manager pulled her aside to say the Sonic app was being changed to allow credit card tips.
Back at home, Ms. Roberts and her friends celebrated by blasting an old union song, Pete Seeger’s “Which Side Are You On?”
“Workers are fed up and restaurants are desperate,” Ms. Roberts said. “We’re scarce, we have higher standards and that gives us more power than we’ve had before.”
With the country’s labor force down by more than four million people and resignations at a high, employers are desperate to make hires. The share of job postings on ZipRecruiter offering retirement plans is up 30 percent since before the pandemic; posts advertising flexible scheduling grew threefold; the share offering signing bonuses went from 2 to 12 percent. Still, the flood of people leaving their positions has kept rising. In August, one in 14 hospitality workers quit their jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a quit rate more than 50 percent higher than before the pandemic.
Today, job seekers find nearly 50 percent more openings than they had pre-Covid, and many can expand their search beyond their hometowns because of newly flexible workplace arrangements across industries.
Flush with options, and frustrated after laboring through lockdowns, workers are feeling a sense of possibility. Some are resigning. Some are waiting for a prime gig. Others are flexing their muscles — requesting raises, or remote work options — while still clocking in. Employers are noting the jump in demands, and in some cases catering to it, during a shift in power they realize may be long-lasting.
“People don’t realize the scale of what has changed,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter. “If you take even one chair away in musical chairs, it changes the entire dynamic of the game. That’s what we’re seeing now, where the 50 percent increase in job openings has given job seekers dramatically more leverage.”
Businesses are scrambling to offer new benefits, including bonuses and family insurance plans; some hospitality companies are promising managers “stay bonuses” as high as $75,000 to prevent poaching. Workers, meanwhile, are taking the chance to make bolder requests of their bosses.
Adam Ryan, 33, who works at a Target in Christiansburg, Va., has been trying to organize his co-workers, who are not unionized, to ask for better pay and conditions since he started at the store in 2017. Before the pandemic, Mr. Ryan used to see a look of fear creep over his co-workers’ faces when he asked them to sign his petitions.
But in recent weeks, Mr. Ryan’s colleagues have been eager to hear his ideas. When he approaches them — at the trash compactor, in the clothing aisles, as they’re restocking shelves — many agree to join his campaign requesting $2 hourly in hazard pay for working during the pandemic.
“Folks feel that they’ve been through a lot and have less to lose,” Mr. Ryan said. “With the labor shortage, people feel more valuable and harder to replace.”
Last month, Target announced that it would pay employees an extra $2 hourly during peak days of the holiday season, which Mr. Ryan saw partly as a response to the pressure employees like him put on the company. He calculated that the bonus could earn his co-workers at most $180 extra for the season, so it has invigorated him to continue making larger demands.
Target is part of a swell of companies facing employees who want higher pay, better benefits or more flexible working arrangements. There have been strikes against 178 employers this year as of mid-October, according to a Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations tracker.
But for all the new assurance that workers like Mr. Ryan feel in making demands, they know that the bosses still hold a fundamental kind of leverage: the jobs. And at some companies, workers have received warning signs that organizing too noisily or publicly could put their roles at risk.
At Netflix, a former program manager who is transgender was fired last month, which the company said was for leaking internal documents. A Google researcher said she was fired last year after criticizing bias in artificial intelligence systems as well as the company’s approach to hiring minorities. At Apple, one of the leaders of an internal push to improve working conditions called #AppleToo was recently fired, which the company told her was for violating policies on interfering with investigations.
“I suspect that one of the goals of my termination was to send a message to other employee activists,” said Janneke Parrish, 30, the Apple employee, who had helped organize a 7,500-person Slack channel advocating for remote work. This week she filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Apple had retaliated against her.
Even in what economists have christened a “workers economy,” many tech and service workers are at-will employees and can be fired with little warning. And when workers have managed to sustain wins, the improvement they see in working conditions or earnings is often marginal. Weekly wages for restaurant workers, for example, have increased as the hospitality industry struggles to find staffing. But that has brought annual earnings for nonsupervisory workers up to roughly just $22,000 as of September.
“There’s a lot of momentum right now, but there are some very serious obstacles toward workers actually acquiring sustained levels of power,” said Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, noting that under 11 percent of American workers are represented by unions.
“Employers are trying on for size this idea that the pandemic has been hard on everyone,” Ms. Shierholz added. “It’s a window for them to claim they don’t have power. But we absolutely know that employers hold the cards.”
But if some of the power that workers feel right now is limited, or even illusory, the debates over remote work arrangements have given them some concrete victories.
At 3M, a multinational manufacturing company based in Minnesota, internal polling showed that 87 percent of employees valued flexibility in where they could work; in August, while the Delta variant was spreading, the company announced a new approach to remote work that lets employees set their own terms on when to come to the office, if at all. At PWC, more than 40,000 employees learned last month that they could work anywhere they want within the United States.
Even at companies that put a high value on in-person work, the realities of recruiting in this market have changed the calculus.
“To some degree we’re catering to the expectations and wishes of law students and our younger lawyers,” said Brad Karp, chairman of the law firm Paul, Weiss, which is requiring most employees to be in the office at least three days a week starting this month but is far more flexible on remote work than pre-pandemic.
The last year has emboldened laborers to tell their bosses where, when and how they want to work, according to Mr. Karp. “At some organizations that might have been more stodgy or hierarchical, you’re seeing the March 2020 demarcation as a watershed moment,” he said. “The ability of the work force to speak their minds became actualized.”
And some of what workers are pushing for, beyond specific changes, is the chance to keep asking for more. In July, David Barrett, the chief executive of the software company Expensify, appeared on a panel with Ifeoma Ozoma, who helped push for a California bill signed last month to limit the use of nondisclosure agreements. Ms. Ozoma asked the C.E.O. whether he would consider specifying in his employees’ contracts that they could speak freely about discrimination, harassment or unlawful conduct in the workplace.
“Sign me up,” Mr. Barrett responded immediately.
Ms. Ozoma dropped sample contract language into the Zoom chat. “You can share it with your general counsel, who’s probably a bit nervous right now,” she said.
To Mr. Barrett, it was an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to free expression for employees without fear of being fired; to others, it might have seemed like the sign of a distinct moment.
“Economists are going to be looking back at this time for centuries saying ‘What the hell was going on?’” Mr. Barrett said. “I was in a restaurant yesterday and there was a sign that said ‘We’re short-staffed so please be polite with our employees.’ I’ve never seen anything like that ever. That’s a company taking a very public and pro-employee stance.”