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Albert Parsons and August Spies were hung in 1887. Joe Hill was shot by a firing squad in 1915. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were electrocuted in 1927. Their methods of execution were different, but their “crimes” were common: they were put to death because of their staunch advocacy for the rights of working people to decent wages and working conditions.

The application of the death penalty has always been political – from the Salem Witch trials to New Hampshire’s Attorney General using a death penalty prosecution in her election campaign to yesterday’s verdict by an Egyptian judge that condemned 683 people to death.  (See statement from Amnesty International.)

With International Workers Day, a day that began in honor of Albert Parsons and August Spies, four days away, this is as good a time as any to recall why the cause of labor should be tied to the movement for an end to the death penalty.

Parsons and Spies were leaders of the International WorkingHaymarketRiot-Harpers.jpg People’s Association in Chicago, which was fighting for the eight-hour day. They had already been singled out for condemnation by city leaders, Parsons even threatened with lynching by Chicago businessmen, when they led the planning of a peaceful rally at Haymarket Square on May 1, 1886.

Three days later Parson, Spies, and Sam Fielden, also a member of the Working People’s Association, spoke at another rally, peaceful as well until it was rushed by club-wielding police and then shattered by an explosion.

Eleven people, including seven police officers, died. No one knew who had brought or thrown the bomb, but Spies and Parsons – who was with his wife and two children at a nearby saloon when the bomb went off – were immediately blamed.

In the words of Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, authors of Labor’s Untold Story, “the nation’s press was a unit in declaring that it made no difference whether Parson, Spies, or Fielden had or had not thrown the bomb. They should be hanged for their political views, for their words and general activities and if more trouble makers were given to the hangman so much the better.” The Chicago Tribune, for example, said the labor leaders should be “held, tried and hanged for murder.”

And that’s exactly what happened, despite the lack of any evidence tying them to the bombing or the deaths of the police officers. “The trial was conducted with all the sensation histrionics, all the stage properties which so often transform American legal proceedings into lurid public spectacles,” according to Boyer and Morais, who added, “the verdict was almost a formality.”

This May Day, let’s remember Albert Parsons and August Spies and pledge to end the government’s option to execute those it decides are its enemies.

[Thanks to Wikipedia.org for graphics.]

The last words of Albert Spies

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Senators from opposite ends of the political spectrum took to lecterns on opposite ends of Manchester yesterday to test the waters for potential presidential runs.  At the NH Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders engaged in spirited  back-and-forth with 200 progressive activists on topics including campaign finance, excessive military spending, and the need for a “political revolution.”  Meanwhile, the Americans for the Prosperous Foundation and Citizens United hosted a parade of right-wing Senators and others trying out their stuff before an audience of several hundred conservatives at the Executive Court.  2014 04 12 freedom summit 005

Outside the conservative event, progressive activists – mistakenly identified with the Democratic Party by the Concord Monitor – held signs lambasting proposals to weaken retirement security.  

It was perhaps the first in what will soon be a typical day on the trail to the 2016 New Hampshire Presidential Primary.  

The conservative event was tickets-only, but I got my request in early enough to get a seat and hear speeches from leaders of Citizens United and Americans for the Prosperous, followed by NH Senator Kelly Ayotte, Senator Mike Lee, Do2014 04 12 freedom summit 008cropnald Trump, and a couple of local pols.  While Trump was entertaining, audience response to Senatorial speeches about low taxes and the evils of Obamacare drew tepid responses.  The speakers were ushered to the stage from behind a curtain, gave their prepared speeches, and disappeared again behind the curtain without taking any audience questions or comments.  

Senator Kelly Ayotte, who seems to be on lots of lists of potential VPs, quoted former Governor Meldrim Thomson, equated freedom with low taxes, and equated the Affordable Care Act with freedom’s opposite.  Applause were somewhere south of excited. Senator Lee was teacherly and likewise failed to excite the crowd. 

Trump was different.  Speaking without notes – and criticizing politicians who  depend on speech-writers and tele-prompters – Trump wandered from point to 2014 04 12 freedom summit 028 point, some of which departed from standard AFP scripts.  For example, he defended Social Security and Medicare in an apparent dig at proposals coming from Congressman Paul Ryan.  He said we need “to come up with a humane solution” to the country’s immigration system, but then drew applause for ridiculing Jeb Bush’s recent “act of love” statement and said he could build a physical barrier that would keep immigrants out.  Trump said we had spent $2 trillion on the Iraq war, “for what?,” but then implied maybe it would have been worth it if we had taken2014 04 12 freedom summit 020 over the country’s oil. 

With no candidate Q&A, the event was rather boring.  My colleague Addy and I left during the introduction of Congressman Louie Gohmert and headed across town.

Senator Sanders had already finished his speech and was talking about Harry Truman when we arrived at the Institute of Politics.  The mood felt different, and it wasn’t just that we were in politically comfortable surroundings.  The seats were all filled, except for ones emptied by people standing in line to get their turns at microphones on the left and right sides of the stage.  Sanders handled questions comfortably, clearly at home in a town hall meeting environment.  Decrying “a Congress largely dependent on corporate 2014 04 12 bernie sanders nhiop 011 money,” Sanders called for development of a grassroots movement to demand change and then hold politicians accountable.  

Sanders, a socialist who ran as an Independent and caucuses with the Democrats, is giving active consideration to a presidential run without saying whether he would run as an Independent or take the fight inside the Democratic Party.  “Somebody has got to be talking about these issues,” he told a group of labor activists who met with him in a small conference room after the main event. 

We could have returned to the Freedom Summit and perhaps would have been able to hear Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but I had had enough for one day.  I would have liked to hear Senator Paul criticize corporate welfare at a Koch-fueled forum.  But I’m pretty sure all these wannabe Presidents will be back, as will the progressive protests, grassroots activists, and the reporters who love to take it all in. 

 

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The Occupy New Hampshire members ejected from Manchester’s Veterans Park on October 19, 2011 finally had their say before the New Hampshire Supreme Court yesterday.  Represented by Larry Vogelman on behalf of the NH Civil Liberties Union, the 14 Occupiers argued their rights to free speech and assembly trump the City of Manchester’s municipal ordinance establishing a curfew in public parks and furthermore that the definition of free speech in the state’s constitution offers a higher level of protection than does the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  

“I am privileged to represent the appellants in this case and through them the 99%,”nhsc 3-5-14 013 Vogelman began, and set out to lay out the rationale for the case.  He didn’t get far before he was interrupted.  “The State argues that there was no unifying message” of the protestors, asserted Justice Carol Ann Conboy.  Vogelman replied that the Occupiers were a diverse lot with a variety of grievances, but that they agreed it was possible to organize a society based on mutual respect and consensual decision-making.  And that required a 24-hour a day presence in the public park.

By picking up litter, restricting the use of drugs and alcohol, sharing food and shelter with people who were homeless, and working out their differences through discussion, the Occupiers created a harmonious spirit in Manchester’s parks that even reduced the need for police patrols during their short encampment, Vogelman explained. 

The attorney did not challenge the notion that the State has the right to regulate time, place, and manner of assembly and speech.  But the State still would need a compelling reason for the curfew to trump the free speech and assembly provisions of the New Hampshire Constitution.

The key provisions are Articles 22 and 32 of the NH Bill of Rights.

Art. 22.  Free Speech; Liberty of the Press

Free speech and liberty of the press are essential to the security of freedom in a state.  They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved.

Art. 32. Rights of Assembly, Instruction, and Petition

The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble and consult upon the common good, give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by way of petition or remonstrance, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.

The contrast between Article 22 and the US Constitution’s First Amendment is fundamental to the legal point at issue.  Where the federal document says the government cannot itself abridge free speech, the state’s founding document gives the statenhsc 3-5-14 037 the obligation to actively protect it.  At least that’s what the words say, and Vogelman suggested that’s the first place to look to understand the meaning of a law.  

The State’s representative, Attorney Lisa Wolford from the Criminal Bureau of the Attorney General’s office, made the curious argument that the encampment was not speech at all, but instead was merely “facilitative conduct.”  The Justices did not seem to buy this argument.  Justice Hicks asked if civil rights marches had been “facilitative conduct” rather than speech, with a clear implication that he didn’t think so.  Justice Conboy even noted that the Occupiers had “a message that could not be conveyed” without a round the clock presence. 

Wolford pressed on with arguments challenging the notion that the protests nhsc 3-5-14 032 represented speech deserving of constitutional protection.  “Their problem was sort of amorphous,” she said.  “The core message was not the kind of crystallized symbolic message that you can communicate by a group of tents being in the park overnight.” 

Justice Conboy, at least, had a different understanding.  The purpose of the encampment, she said, was “to demonstrate and model a democratic and transparent government.  That’s the message.”  

The Justice may have understood better than the State’s representative what Occupy was trying to say.  That doesn’t mean she will agree with the legal case made by Larry Vogelman and the NH CLU.   A decision could be months away.   

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Love is caring, Woullard Lett told a group gathered this morning in Mmanchester 2-15-14 075anchester at the Love Your Neighbor Valentine’s Day Breakfast, held at the Puritan  Backroom.  “Caring requires doing something,” he emphasized, in other words: action.  And action has to be at the institutional and personal levels, he said. 

Manchester’s Love Your Neighbor project was inspired by one with the same name a few miles north in Concord.  The capital city’s project was created by New American Africans as a community response to racist graffiti scrawled on the homes of African refugee families. 

Manchester hasn’t faced that exact problem, but the state’s biggest city is home to immigrants and refugees from all over the world and the hand of welcome has not been universally extended.  

The Manchester group got started a few months back. Today’s breakfast was their second public event. 

In addition to Woullard Lett, other speakers were Geraldine “Mama G” Karega, Andrew Smith of the US Department of Justice, and  Susan Yen.  

manchester 2-15-14 088Spark the Dream performed a dance and a song.  Mike Morin served as emcee. 

Maggie Fogarty of the American Friends Service Committee presented Outstanding Neighbor Awards to Mick and  Marcia Lorang, Tika Acharya, and Isabelle Valmont.  Mayor Ted Gatsas and Bud Fitch from the office of US Senator Kelly Ayotte were there, as well, to add their commendations to the excellent community volunteers.

My favorite moment was when Simfora Bangasimbo, one of the Spark the Dream members, said it’s not enough to love  your neighbor.  “You have to love your neighbor’s neighbor’s neighbor.”  When love gets extended beyond the people closest to us, then we’re talking about the institutional changes Woullard Lett called for. 

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Three days after the US State Department issued a 1000-page report that appeared to green light the Keystone XL pipeline project, hundreds of demonstrations against the pipeline and the extraction of Alberta’s tar sands popped up across the USA.  One of them was in Concord, New Hampshire, where forty people stood vigil inconcord 2-3-14 033 front of the State House for an hour Monday evening.

The demonstration was called by 350NH.

The State Department, whose opinion matters because the pipeline crosses the Canadian border, reported that the controversial pipeline wouldn’t harm the climate because the tar sands would find their way to refineries, and massive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, with or without it. 

The Keystone XL project would carry 830,000 barrels of crude a day from Albertconcord 2-3-14 007a, Canada across the middle of the USA to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  Climate activists point to the danger of toxic spills along the route, but more significantly to the climatic effects of releasing that much carbon to the atmosphere. 

Climate activists are focusing their pressure on the White House, where a decision  will ultimately get made.

While Trans Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline might be the most controversial route for tar sands oil, one alternate route would carry the material across northern New Hampshire in an existing pipeline that runs from Montreal to South Portland, Maine.  The pipeline currently carries conventional oil from Maine to Quebec.  But its corporate owner has proposed changing its purpose to transport tar sands-derived bitumen in the opposite direction, a route that traverses New Hampshire’s Coos County. 

Carol Foss, Conservation Director for the NH Audubon Society, discussed theconcord 2-3-14 048 pipeline earlier this evening on “State House Watch,” a weekly radio show I co-host on WNHN-FM in Concord.    There are 4 bills under consideration in the NH legislature right now, she said, which would increase state oversight of the pipeline in the event its owners choose to use it for tar sands transport.  

Pipeline ruptures in Michigan and Arkansas have shown that fears of toxic spills are realistic.  The fact that one possible pipeline route crosses Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine gives a “local handle” on anti-tar sands organizing.  But organizers should not neglect attention to Alberta, where the tar sands are located, and where extraction is already going on at a rapid pace.

Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Crystal Lameman durham 1-28-14 011 of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation highlighted that message during presentations in Concord and Durham last week.  Their communities, already contaminated by the effluent from surface and sub-surface mines, face the most immediate threats.  Lameman said her tribe has filed a legal claim alleging more than 17,000 infringements of treaty rights.  “If these pipelines go through,” she said, “your governments will assist in the raping of the land of my ancestors.”

Forty people is notconcord 2-3-14 031 a lot.  But the fact that so many turned out on short notice to  stand in Concord’s cold is an indication that understanding of the tar sands threat has reached a lot of local homes.  And other demonstrations took place today in Portsmouth, Manchester, and Jefferson, a North Country town along the route of the Montreal-Portland pipeline.

This battle is far from over.

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Twenty Canterbury residents exchanged perspectives with their three State Representatives at the town’s Meeting House Saturday morning.  Long-time Representative Priscilla Lockwood, and first-termers Howard Moffett and Lorrie Carey fielded questions on topics including unsatisfactory road conditions, tar sands, burdens on municipal government, building codes, GMOs, and the influence of corporations on elections and policy-making. 

Responding to a question for Doris Hampton, who organized the session, Rep. Moffett gave a passionate call for the state to expand Medicaid.  “The House is going to support Medicaid expansion as often as it’s given the opportunity to do so,” he said, but explained that the resistance is coming from Republican Senators.

“It’s partisan,” agreed Rep. Lockwood, who made sure to say she was one of six Republican Representatives who voted for it.

“What I have seen coming out of Republican Senators just doesn’t hold water,” Rep. Moffett said.  Medicaid expansion would bring two and half billion dollars – money we’ve already paid in federal taxes – back to the state “to create jobs andcanterbury state reps 1-25-14 004 

Rep. Howard Moffett

provide health insurance,” he observed.  

“It feels like a war on the poor,”  Rep. Moffett said.  No one in the room seemed to disagree.  Rep. Carey threw in an anecdote about a landscaper badly injured on a job across the street from Concord Hospital who was afraid to seek medical attention for fear of getting a bill he’d be unable to pay.  

“We can’t let any member of our population think they need to bleed to death because can’t afford care,” she said.

Rep. Moffett hopes pressure can be exerted on Republican Senators – only two are needed to join the unified Democrats and create a majority – in order for the Medicaid proposal to pass. 

Rep. Carey is a member of the State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee, which tends to get responsibility for non-binding resolutions that ifcanterbury state reps 1-25-14 003 

Rep. Lorrie Carey

adopted express the sense of the legislators on a wide range of topics.  Last year the House adopted a resolution calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and declare that constitutional rights are intended for natural persons, not corporations.  The Senate refused to take it up, but the issue has re-surfaced this year, with two resolutions in Rep. Carey’s committee calling for a Constitutional Convention to be convened on this matter. 

“Is there a lot of money being pumped in by the corporations?” she asked.  “The answer is yes,” she responded to her own question.

Despite what the Representatives indicated was strong support for something to be done, none of them felt that passing resolutions makes any difference.  “Resolutions in the end are meaningless,” Rep. Carey said. 

The presence of two town Selectmen guaranteed that state-municipal relations was on the agenda.  The Selectmen, Tyson Miller and Bob Steenson, worry the legislature could adopt bills intended to increase transparency but which would have the effect of impairing the ability of volunteer town officers to manage local affairs.  They also were eager for funds for road improvement.  The three State Representatives were supportive of proposals to raise taxes on gasoline, with Rep. Carey pointing out that it hasn’t been hiked since 1991. 

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Rep. Priscilla Lockwood

The Representatives said they read all their email, but that messages which appear to be form letters crafted by advocacy groups tend to be ignored.  So write your legislators, use your own words, and make sure you let them know you’re a constituent.  

 

 

Rep. Lockwood, a legislative veteran who has also served on the Select Board, said she plans to step down after the current term. 

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After an hour of circling Laconia and Meredith I intercepted the NH Rebellion walkers on Parade Road in the northern reaches of Laconia at about noon today.  There were several dozen of them, perhaps half of whom had set out from Dixville Notch a week ago.  Others joined later, or were like me just there for the day. 

Walking in the spirit of Doris “Granny D” Haddock, who was born in Laconia in  1910, the rebels aim to oust corruption from American politics by sparking an irresistible demand for reform of our money-driven election process.

The idea of the NH Rebellion was hatched by Larry Lessig, author of Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It.  Speaking at a late lunchtime rally at Laconia’s Vintage Cafe, he said polls indicate 96% of Americans believe we neelaconia 1-18-14 045d to reduce the influence of money in politics.  “There is no other issue in  America that unites us like this,” said Lessig,

One rebel told me he likes the fact that the effort speaks to the concerns of liberals and conservatives.  When I asked if he had met any conservatives on the walk, he could think of one.  There’s still time.

The aim of the Rebellion is to get New Hampshire voters to ask presidential candidates, “How are you going to end the system of corruption in Washington?”

Today’s turnout was largely people from other states.  I met people from New York, California, Massachusetts, and Colorado.

Vermonter Ben Cohen came with his dog, Riley, to walk for the day alaconia 1-18-14 019nd support the movement to get money out of politics.  “It’s all about corporations using unlimited amounts of money to buy politicians,” he said to the packed crowd at the Vintage Cafe.  It’s entirely feasible, Cohen believes, for a mobilized New Hampshire electorate to “create a situation where the presidential candidates have to address the issue.” 

Yes, there were a few Granite Staters among the walkers and supporters. Dick Pollock, from Conway, called the effort the most important thing he’s done.  That’s why he’s taking two weeks off from his normal activities to drive a support van.  And as the walk heads south through Concord and Manchester to its conclusion Friday in Nashua, the walkers expect to sign up more New Hampshire residents.  Lessig thinks 50,000 is a good goal by Primary Day, probably sometime in February 2016.

For more information on the walk and related events, or to enlist in the Rebellion, visit www.nhrebellion.org

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