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If you’re going to take a quote from “I Have a Dream,” at least read the entire speech

This column was first published on January 15, 2023 by InDepthNH.

When New Hampshire House Republican leaders quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. in their defense of the state’s “Divisive Concepts” or “Non-Discrimination” law last week, it wasn’t the first time King’s words were used to imply something quite different from what he intended.

All the law does, according to a statement from GOP Majority Leader Jason Osborne and Deputy Leader Jim Kofalt, is prohibit “teaching children that some of them are inherently racist based on their skin color, sex, race, creed, etc. Is that not what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for when he said, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character?’”

To that I say, no, that’s not what he called for, not if one takes the time to review the entirety of the speech now known as “I Have a Dream.”

Since all sides to this controversy say they want history portrayed accurately, a review is in order, starting with the New Hampshire law in question. The statute began its life in 2021 as HB 544, sponsored by Rep. Keith Ammon and co-sponsored by Rep. Osborne, aiming to bar teachers, other public officials, and state contractors from the “the dissemination of certain divisive concepts related to sex and race in state contracts, grants, and training programs.”

The proposal was not of local origin. According to The First Amendment Encyclopedia, “’Divisive concepts’ legislation emerged in multiple states beginning in 2021, largely fueled by conservative legislatures seeking to limit topics that can be explored in public school classrooms. The laws have been driven in large part by opposition to critical race theory, an academic theory that says racism in America has largely been perpetuated by the nation’s institutions.” Those proposals followed an Executive Order on “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” issued by President Donald Trump the previous year, which blocked federal agencies from providing diversity, equity, and inclusion training “rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors.”

In its statement of purpose, the order cited the same brief extract from Dr. King’s 1963 speech, talked about the “significant progress” made in the intervening 57 years, and went on to criticize diversity training conducted in a variety of federal agencies. It listed nine “divisive concepts” which would be prohibited, among them were that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist,” and that anyone “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

Trump’s order was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge and later rescinded by President Joseph Biden, but it’s intent and language were picked up by legislators in several states, including New Hampshire.

The Trump order’s list of “divisive concepts” was repeated almost word-for-word in Rep. Ammon’s bill, which received considerable attention from supporters, several of whom tried to recruit Dr. King among their ranks. For example, a letter-to-the-editor published both in the NH Union Leader and Concord Monitor, stated, “HB 544 eliminates the use of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the discussion of issues of race and the other ‘isms’ we are addressing today.” It went on, “America has been moving in that direction of Dr. King’s idea for the last 50 years. We want to teach our children and share with our employees that we want to act in the way Dr. King has prescribed, not the CRT idea of systemic racism.” Speakers made similar comments at a State House rally that spring, where one participant reportedly carried a sign reading, “Teach MLK, Not CRT.”

But after a public hearing and extensive work in committee, HB 544 was tabled on the House floor.

The proposal was not dead, however. Instead, it sprang back to life as a provision in the House version of the state budget. Now titled, “Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education” and with a somewhat reduced menu of concepts to be prohibited in schools and other public workplaces, the Finance Committee inserted it into HB 2, the budget trailer bill. Under this version, “any person” who believed they had been aggrieved by violation of the law could pursue legal remedies.

When Senate GOP leaders heard that Governor Sununu was not happy about the “Freedom from Discrimination” language, Senator Jeb Bradley re-re-wrote it, turning it into what is now the non-discrimination statute. Once again the proposal’s scope was reduced, for example limiting it only to conduct of teachers. But it did contain a provision that “any person claiming to be aggrieved by a violation of this section, including the attorney general, may initiate a civil action against a school or school district in superior court for legal or equitable relief, or with the New Hampshire commission for human rights.”

It’s worth noting that other than in the original public hearing on HB 544, at no time did the House or Senate provide a meaningful opportunity for public comment on the proposal, whose final details were worked out in the rapid deliberations of a House-Senate conference committee.

Following adoption of the budget, with the Bradley version intact, The NH Department of Education added a link to its website encouraging parents to report teachers they believe are disseminating ideas banned under the “Non-Discrimination” law. A right-wing group promised $500 to the first family that files a successful complaint.

Given what we might call the “original intent” of its sponsors, it’s no surprise that some teachers are fearful that “any member” of the public might put their jobs at risk if they teach about the ways in which African Americans and other people of color have faced systematic discrimination.

It was the clamor for laws that would end systematic discrimination that brought a few hundred thousand people to Washington DC on August 23, 1963 for the March for Jobs and Freedom. Inspired by A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car IhaveadreamMarines.jpgPorters, the rally marked the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery in the states of the Confederacy. It took place shortly after demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama brought inescapable attention to the brutality needed to maintain racial segregation. By emphasizing jobs and freedom, the march sought to advance an agenda for job training and an end to workplace discrimination as well as voting rights and a civil rights bill that would end segregation in schools and public accommodations. Dr. King was one of several major speakers.

A century after emancipation, Dr. King said, “the Negro still is not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” Referring to the Declaration of Independence, Dr. King said, the founders of the nation had issued “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned,” he charged, saying that instead of following through on a promise, America had issued a bad check. “We’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice,” Dr. King said.

Seeking to rescue the nation from “the quicksands of racial injustice,” including “the unspeakable horrors of police brutality,” Dr. King said “There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”

Looking back, there is no doubt Dr. King was addressing the collective and systematic discrimination experienced by African Americans, a view fully consistent with what HB 544 backers decried as critical race theory.

Yes, progress has been made since 1963. But the realities of police brutality, extreme inequality, and denial of voting rights which Dr. King condemned are still with us. Dr. King can still help us find the way forward if we take the time to study what he actually meant.

At the Night of the Radishes

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Oaxaca is a city of festivals, especially in December. There are three major religious festivals, one each for the Virgin of Guadalupe, the20221223_163238 Virgin of Juquila, and the Virgin of Solitude, all celebrated with parades, fireworks, and special masses. Then there’s Christmas, observed much the same way. Other Mexican cities no doubt have similar traditions. What is unique in Oaxaca takes place on December 23. It’s “The Night of the Radishes” (or “La Noche De Rábanos”), a tradition going back 125 years.

Supplied with giant radishes grown on farms in the 20221223_162138Valley of Oaxaca, artists go to work on a wide range of creations, some with Christmas themes, some domestic, some monsters, some just fanciful. There are also displays by artists who work with dried flowers or corn stalks. All are exhibited in stalls along three sides of the Zócalo, the public square in the city’s center.

Last year the lingering pandemic and the likelihood that the mayor had absconded with the city treasury put the festival in disarray. This year it was back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAccording to a story in that morning’s newspaper, “everyone” in Oaxaca shows up. While that might have been an exaggeration, we thought it best to arrive on the early side, about 2:30 PM. Taking a place in what already seemed like a long line, we were told they would start admitting people to the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdisplay area at 3:00. For the next hour and half, we stood, sometimes moving a few steps toward the front of the line, watching an array of strolling families, street vendors, and police (plus a handful of soldiers). Finally, at about 4:00, we reached the front of the line and spent the next hour checking out all the displays.

It was worth the wait. (By the time we reached the exit, the line extended out the north end of the plaza, down the block to the east, and alongside the next block heading south. We didn’t wander that way to see how far it extended.)

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Photo credit shared with Judy Elliott.

If New Hampshire loses its precious First-In-The-Nation Status, I won’t see it as a terrible injustice

Arnie Alpert with Elizabeth Warren in the selfie line in Concord.

In the “Selfie Line” with Elizabeth Warren.

This column was  first published on December 15, 2022 at InDepthNH.

The deep, resonant voice was already familiar, and there it was in my voicemail.  “Hello Arnie, this is Senator Barack Obama.  Can you give me a call?”  It was 2007, and the NH Primary campaign was in full swing.  I called him back that day and discussed how provisions of “free trade” agreements could be used to override democratic government.  Later, I handed a report on the issue to Michelle Obama at a retirement community in Concord and asked her to pass it along to her husband.

Considering the possible demise of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status, I’m thinking back fondly on plenty of interactions I’ve had with candidates since my first NH Primary in 1980.  My first of several close encounters with Joe Biden came during his first presidential run in 1987.  During a Concord street festival, I asked him about his approach to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons.  He thumped me on the chest while telling me to visit his web site regarding his commitment to arms control.  I also recall discussing trade policy with Wesley Clark, talking about for-profit immigrant prisons with Lindsay Graham, meeting Jesse Jackson in a Warner home after the town’s state senator told a racist “joke” at Jackson’s expense, going door-to-door with Walter Mondale to support a Concord referendum for a nuclear arms freeze, and chatting about inter-continental ballistic missiles with Al Gore in Gene Daniell’s living room in Franklin.  John McCain once challenged me to a debate.  It’s been a good run.  Plenty of Granite Staters can tell similar stories.

But if New Hampshire loses its precious status, I won’t see it as a terrible injustice.

For one thing, nowadays the New Hampshire primary offers fewer opportunities for citizens to talk to candidates face-to-face. Yes, some candidates still show up in living rooms and coffee shops.  Early in the exploratory phase of his 2016 campaign, I joined dozens of others for an event with Bernie Sanders in Arnie Arnesen’s Concord living room.  It was a crowded affair, where Bernie engaged in give-and-take with whoever wanted to throw a question his way.

But once his campaign took off, he ran like a rock star, speaking mostly at big rallies with few opportunities for Q&A.  Elizabeth Warren’s “town hall meeting” practice in the 2020 campaign was to give a speech and take three questions, drawn from those submitted ahead of time by audience members and filtered by her staff.  Then, if you wanted to actually speak with her, you could wait in line where one of her staff would take your phone and snap a photo so you couldn’t record what she said.  And with music turned up loud, you couldn’t hear what anybody else said, either. 

By 2020, the selfie line had largely replaced the genuine town hall meeting, at least for any candidates who were being taken seriously by the national news media.

That’s right, the national news media.  With the decline of local media and the rise of the 24-hour online news cycle, a campaign event in Nevada can have just as much impact on local voters as one in Goffstown.  Local news sources still have good reporters, but they can’t compete with CNN, let alone Twitter or whatever replaces it once Elon Musk leads it over a cliff.

For all their defense of our state’s civic engagement and small-d democracy, for the New Hampshire political class the primary’s main benefit is that it gives them unparalleled access to powerful leaders, some of whom will make it to the White House.

The primary is also an economic boon.  Campaigns spend millions on advertising and lure reporters and other political tourists from throughout the world.  WMUR alone reaped almost $40 million during the 2016 primary campaign, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2020.  A report on the 2000 campaign from NPR’s StateImpact Project counted 2,200 Primary-related jobs and said, “There’s a whole economic ecosystem tied to the First In The Nation primary.”  I wonder how much the campaigns spent just on pizza.

Another under-noted impact is that when the Primary comes to town, it sucks the oxygen out of other political dynamics.  Grassroots groups lose their members to the campaigns for months on end. The few local political reporters who are left turn their attention from Main Street and the State House to the excitement of the national horse race.  Reporters, activists, and other spectators watch it like the Kentucky Derby.  And the substantive issues discussed by the candidates receive scant attention compared to who’s ahead and who’s behind.

Yes, our small state is a good place for candidates to try out their stuff.  With our 400-member legislature and our town meetings, active citizenship is accessible for those who want to participate.  Politics is New Hampshire’s unofficial state sport, and supporting an end to our special status is worse than rooting for the Red Sox to lose.  But that’s not enough to justify our privileged position in a changing political environment, especially one in which voters nationwide are looking beyond our state’s aging and mostly white electorate.  If we have to become second-in-the-nation, or even third, it won’t be the end of the world.

New Hampshire Has a Problem

History is, of course, about the past, but we study it to understand the present. In the present, New Hampshire has a Nazi problem.

Two days after this article was published in InDepthNH on November 11, members of the Proud Boys – some with firearms – protested outside a Concord café that was hosting a Drag Story Hour.  The Proud Boys were informed about the event by a woman known for protesting public health measures at the regional hospital, disrupting the Executive Council, and casting doubt on the reliability of vote-counting machines.  InDepthNH has also published a report on racist threats received by an African American legislator from a local white nationalist.  Ongoing vigilance and action is needed.

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Börnerplatz synagogue burning on Kristallnacht, November 10, 1938.  Photo from Wikimedia Commons. 

Eighty-four years ago, the threat of Nazism became reality, as murder and destruction spread across Germany. Over a 48-hour period, mobs destroyed hundreds of synagogues; plundered thousands of Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and schools; and murdered more than 90 Jewish men, while police looked the other way. The Nazis called it Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, but it was much more — a night of broken families, broken communities, broken bones, and broken lives. It was the beginning of the Holocaust. By its end, the Nazis had murdered millions of people — Jews, gays, Roma, and others — and dragged Germany from the ranks of civilized nations into the gutter of violence and hatred.

History is, of course, about the past, but we study it to understand the present. In the present, New Hampshire has a Nazi problem.

These are not cartoon Nazis, sit-com Nazis, or soup Nazis. They are the real thing, members of a group called NSC-131. They’ve revealed themselves in Nashua, where they showed up outside School Board meetings, left leaflets in neighborhoods, paraded through downtown streets, and harassed a Latino legislator. Last summer they demonstrated outside a drag story hour held at a Portsmouth theater.

When the Nazis demonstrated outside the Kittery Trading Post on July 16, Dresden Lewis, owner of a Portsmouth bakery, spoke out in defiance of anti-Semitism and hate. Her friend, Miriam Kovacs, began speaking up as well by sharing Lewis’ social media posts to her own accounts.

Kovacs owns Broken Spoon, a Jewish-Asian fusion takeout restaurant in downtown Franklin, where her shop’s windows are decorated with symbols of love and welcome. Soon after her own posts were

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published, a picture of her windows showed up on a white nationalist website. “And they urged their followers to leave a review,” she said.

She knew the “reviews” she received were implicit threats. But Kovacs didn’t keep quiet. Having grown up in a Jewish household and learning about the Holocaust when she was little, “I just always wondered, what if more people had spoken up?” So, Kovacs spoke up, going to the police, giving interviews, talking with the state’s attorney general, and maintaining visibility in New Hampshire’s smallest city.

I met Kovacs in Kittery on October 3, when the UNH Carsey School held a forum on responses to hate group activity. At a crowded community center, Zandra Rice-Hawkins of Granite State Progress briefed about 100 people on neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups active in New Hampshire and southern Maine. Captain Dave Keaveny of the Portsmouth Police spoke about the definition of hate crimes, including the sometimes fuzzy line between protected speech and criminal activity. Nevertheless, he said, anyone who has experienced threats rooted in hate should report them to law enforcement. He noted that some people don’t trust the police, but said, “If you don’t feel like going to the police, there are other groups out there.”

In one small group discussion, Kittery residents said they felt like they had been living in a safe bubble that burst when the Nazis appeared in their own town.

“How many of you came here tonight because you’ve heard about things happening in your communities and maybe you were scared or a little bit worried?” Rev. Heidi Heath of the NH Council of Churches asked. Lots of hands went up. “How many of you came here tonight because you believe in our collective capacity for change, or you believe in our capacity for telling a new story?” she asked. Hands went up, including that of Miriam Kovacs.

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Kovacs said she was encouraged by the turnout, “seeing how many people are aware of what’s going on, and how many people are looking for ways to help.” Still, she’s frustrated by an inadequate response from law enforcement and the elected officials who are supposed to protect their communities. The resolution condemning white supremacist attacks approved in September by the Franklin City Council – with six votes in favor and three abstentions – left her dissatisfied, as did unresponsiveness from other elected officials. More is needed, she said, including more police training and more education for state and federal lawmakers about the threat posed by Nazism and white nationalism.

What I’m seeing is a normalization of the signs of hatred and genocide and intolerance.

Incidents of Nazi swastikas and racist slogans recently found in places such as Laconia, Goffstown, and Hopkinton stand as examples of how the ideology of hate can spread. Such graffiti is not just vandalism, Kovacs said, “It’s an abuse of freedom of speech, when the symbols represent genetic cleansing and harm to your neighbors and intolerance for the right for other people to exist.”

“What I’m seeing is a normalization of the signs of hatred and genocide and intolerance. And if we start becoming numb, to seeing them more often, that’s a dangerous foreshadowing. I don’t think we should ever get used to seeing these symbols,” she said. “Six million people were murdered. And that symbol represents it.”

Not Just Nazis; NH Has a White Nationalist Problem

Moreover, it’s not only virulent anti-Semites who pose a threat. New Hampshire has a broader problem with extremist and militia groups motivated by white nationalism and anti-democratic ideologies. According to Zandra Rice-Hawkins, groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are organizing in New Hampshire, as are Three Percenters, Boogaloo Bois, and the Patriot Front. If it wasn’t already clear, the January 6 insurrection is a clanging alarm bell that white nationalist activity is a threat to human rights and democracy.

The national leader of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), which the Anti-Defamation League calls “an anti-government extremist group,” spoke on May 22, 2021 at a Manchester convention center. According to the ADL, the CSPOA recruits sheriffs into the anti-government extremist ‘Patriot’ movement. A researcher who watched a video of the event told me the audience included Don Bolduc and others whose names appeared on ballots this week.

The CSPOA is not the only extremist group trying to recruit from the ranks of law enforcement. According to the ADL, the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as a member, but “what differentiates them from other anti-government extremist groups is their explicit focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement and first responder personnel.” An analysis of leaked membership data obtained by the ADL says that more than 600 people with ties to the Oath Keepers were elected officials, law enforcement officers, first responders, or members of the armed forces. It’s no surprise that some victims of hateful activity, including people of color, are reluctant to seek help from the police.

Just this week, a sign outside a church in Westmoreland was defaced with a Confederate flag, racist and homophobic slurs, and a white supremacist symbol, according to a report in the Keene Sentinel. The sign had rainbow colors and conveyed a message of love, inclusion, and healing.

You need to speak up if you don’t want it to happen again.

“I think a lot of people are comfortable with learning the history, but not comfortable with acknowledging the reality of history repeating. People like to believe it can’t happen again,” said Kovacs. “You need to speak up if you don’t want it to happen again. It takes the entire community; it’s not going to blow over.”

Some communities have spoken up. Following a recent incident in which Nazi swastikas and racist slurs were spray-painted on a public road and street signs in Hopkinton, the town’s Select Board and School District were quick to “unequivocally condemn” the act. “We recognize the pain and trauma that arise as a result of antisemitic and racist hate,” their statement said. “We stand in solidarity with our Jewish and Black neighbors.” Hopkinton Police announced on Wednesday that they had identified the people who were responsible, but released no details.

Franklin has appointed a “citizens task force” to address the white supremacist attacks it condemned in its September resolution. According to a City Council member, the task force has already met twice.

Nashua, where both Nazis and Proud Boys have demonstrated in public places, has declared itself a “Welcoming Community.” The city is the first in the state to receive official certification from OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Welcoming America, a status it achieved last month. “Having this recognition helps us reinforce the assertion that we are passionately dedicated to ensuring that everyone feels safe and supported here in Nashua,” said Mayor Jim Donchess.

The NH Department of Justice has had a Civil Rights Unit since 2017. Its responsibilities include investigating civil rights complaints, including “actual or threatened physical violence, property damage, and property trespass that was motivated by race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability,” according to their website.

Laconia, too, has shown leadership going back at least to 2000, when the mayor and the police department formed the Laconia Human Relations Committee. Among its objectives is to “pursue the prevention of prejudice, intolerance, harassment and discrimination in our community through public discourse, media exposure, community action and education on these issues.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACarol Pierce, a founder and member of the Committee, was one of about 70 people who gathered outside Temple B’nai Israel in Laconia for a Kristallnacht commemoration on November 9. Pierce described discovering her German heritage at a young age, in the midst of World War Two. By the age of 10 she was wondering what her family would have done if they had stayed in Germany. “As the war ended, I read with horror about death camps,” she said.

With the crowd huddled by the Temple steps as the

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAweather grew colder and cars zipped by on Court Street, Pierce finished her talk with a call to connect the past and present. “We cannot help but be aware of the anti-Semitism that swirls around us, amplified once more,” Pierce said. When even one incident of racist graffiti can contribute the growth of terror, she said, “the overwhelming historical tragedy of Kristallnacht must never be forgotten. By all of us.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALois Kessin, who served as host and emcee for the commemoration, wore a pin on her lapel that said, “Silence is the voice of complicity.” After the program, she told me, “I grew up in this synagogue. And when I was here, there were seven or eight Holocaust survivors. And they didn’t talk much, but I saw their numbers. I saw their pain.” Now, when she sees other holocausts unfolding around the world or anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled in public places in her own town, she says, “I just want to do something.”

But do what? Miriam Kovacs told me, “I just want everyone to be aware that even if they think they don’t know where to start, or they don’t feel like they’re doing enough, just showing up and wanting to help is a lot.” She wants more public education, more responsiveness from police to hate incidents, and more attention from the public officials who make and enforce the laws.

Kovacs said after the threats, the support she received from customers gave her a boost. “Once word got out, people from all over the state started showing up,” she said. One woman even called from California to order takeout for her mom, who lives in New Hampshire.

“What I’m seeing is the majority of people aren’t in support of Nazis and white nationalism. But it’s also important to give people the knowledge that this is happening,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to speak up.”

“I am exhausted,” Kovacs said. “But I’ve said it several times, I’m never gonna pass up the opportunity to keep the message going, to keep raising awareness.” A sign in the window at Broken Spoon is spreading the message: “More Equality. More Humanity. More Hope. More Pride. More Acceptance. More Love.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARep. Maria Perez in Nashua, August 27, 2022

This article was published by InDepthNH on November 4, 2022. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHANOVER –When student workers at the Dartmouth College dining service agreed they were being treated unfairly, they did what others in countless workplaces have done before. They organized a union, the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth (SWCD).

Fifty-three weeks after they started conversations about unionization, and 31 weeks after a unanimous pro-union vote in an NLRB supervised election, the SWCD is at the negotiating table with college administrators demanding $21 an hour, sick pay, and bonuses for “especially challenging” shifts.

At a rally held Thursday in front of McNutt Hall, union members, mostly international students, described the long hours, inadequate pay, and the disrespect they experience from white, privileged Dartmouth students who make up much of the student body. It’s a huge class divide at one of the wealthiest private colleges in the country.

Like many of the other students, Esmeralda Abreu-Jerez works at the Novack Café, where she described getting a scar from a minor on-the-job injury. “I got hurt on the job, because I was stressed and because I was in a rush to make food for the students that don’t work,” she said. But she’s more disturbed by what she called the “Novack scars.”

A Novack scar is “the emotional scar that I get when someone doesn’t look me in the eyes when they order, when someone doesn’t say ‘thank you’ when I give them their food, when I have to serve my professors, or I have to serve a student I just had a debate with in class. That’s what a Novack scar is to me. It’s a scar of not having a life and not having as much fun. It’s a scar of missing a party or missing an event because I was working.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbreu-Jerez said she works because she has to pay rent and send money home to her family in the Dominican Republic, where her mom takes care of her sick grandfather. “That’s why we demand $21 an hour,” she said to cheers from the crowd.

“I work at Novack because I have to,” said Alejo Rincon, a student athlete. “I’m on financial aid. And most of what I earn goes towards paying for my college and making sure that I can graduate with as little debt as possible.” Higher pay for him would be “monumental,” he said, a chance to have a social life and get some sleep.

Solange Acosta said the community of workers at Novack means a lot to her, but “what I’m asking for, what we were all asking for here, is a chance to be a student first and a worker second.”

More than one hundred people, mostly students of

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“We are trying to tell the Dartmouth administration that we are here, and we are not afraid of making use of the organized power of workers,” declared Kaya Colakoglu, the union’s chairperson.

The SWCD was conceived a year ago when student workers got nowhere after voicing concerns to their managers about stressful pandemic working conditions. Speaking at a rally in Manchester last May, Ian Scott expressed the frustrations experienced by dining hall workers, mostly international students, undocumented students, and first-generation college students from working class families. “Our financial aid packages are such that we have to work, have to have a work study, in order to keep our financial aid,” he said. “And while they are still going through the trials and tribulations of being a student in the pandemic, trying to balance all the academic work that they have, trying to have some form of a social life in the midst of all this, they then have to clock in for a long shifts with a bunch of rich and white students.”

“They’re terrible to us,” Scott said.

In an interview with several Dartmouth students published last March in Jacobin, Colakoglu said, “One professor noted that when you walk into Novack Cafe, it is a startling sight. You have poor,

Novacks Cafeinternational people of color on one side behind the counter preparing your coffees. Waiting in line, you have a mass of the stereotypical Dartmouth demographic — the WASPy, top 1 to 10 percent, mostly white student population — asking for their coffees. People who were exposed to this sight day and night ended up having the first impulse to get organized.”

After consulting with other unions, including the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAService Employees International Union local which represents other Dartmouth workers, the Student Worker Collective went public as an independent union at the beginning of the year. Five days later, the college announced a temporary pay increase of 50 percent.

When the college refused to recognize the union and forced them to petition for an election under the supervision of the National Labor Relations Board, they won the election 52 to 0 at the end of March. Where once the term “student union” referred to a campus building, it’s now a union of student workers. According to Ale Morales, the Dartmouth group was the fifth union of undergraduate student workers in the country. Since April, they have been working toward their first collective bargaining agreement.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the top of the union’s list of demands is a base wage of $21 an hour, the amount the dining hall workers were getting as “hazard pay” during the pandemic. But the hazard had apparently ended by last June when their hourly wage reverted to pre-pandemic levels and their sick pay was withdrawn. If the college could afford $21 during the height of the pandemic, said Colakoglu, they can still afford it now. After all, pointed out Sheen Kim, the union’s vice chair, Dartmouth has more than $8 billion in its endowment.

The union is also demanding sick pay and increased pay for special shifts, such as during rush hours and late nights. “Student workers dealing with impatient customers, drunk students and tiring machinery should be paid appropriately,” according to Demand 7 on the union’s “Contract Negotiation Platform.” And they want to get rid of “Josephine,” their nickname for an espresso machine that makes one cup at a time and frequently breaks down.

Grad students, too, have recently formed a union, the Graduate Organized Laborers at Dartmouth (GOLD), affiliated with the United Electrical Workers. Within just a few weeks, they have already secured union cards from more than half of the eligible members, said Chris Callahan, a PhD

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAstudent who spoke at the rally. Even without recognition from the college or a date for an election, they’ve already won a raise.

“Yesterday, Dartmouth administration announced a tentative raise that would increase our stipends by $400/month to $40,000 starting next academic year,” the new union tweeted on Wednesday. “Pressure from our union has clearly forced the administration to respond to pleas that grad workers have been making for years.”

Colakoglu said the SWCD union will resume negotiations with the college next Tuesday morning.

“Dartmouth is meeting regularly with the SWCD this term in an effort to reach a contract as soon as possible,” according to an email message from Diana Lawrence, Dartmouth’s Associate VP for Communications. “Negotiations have taken place with a positive spirit of cooperation and understanding. Dartmouth looks forward to reaching a signed agreement,” she said.

“We are not going anywhere,” said a defiant

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAColakoglu as the rally drew toward a close. “We are not taking a step back. We have tasted power. We have experienced what it means to live for ourselves and not for others. We now know what it means to live a life free of servitude and we have no intention of going back, ever.”

After listening to the student worker testimonies, Jan Schaffer, a union veteran from Warner, took the stage and said their struggle reminded her of the 1912 textile workers strike in Lawrence. There, the workers demanded “bread and roses,” meaning the ability to lead a dignified life, not just earn enough money to put food on the table. “Twenty-one dollars and a union,” she chanted.

Throughout the one-hour rally, Alice Ignacio Oliveira held up one end of a banner reading “Support Our Struggle.” She’s a member of the class of 2026 and is working in child care. She believes the union should grow beyond the dining halls. “It should expand to include all the workers here,” she said.

Colakoglu vowed, “We are in the process of making Hanover a union town.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARev. John Gregory-Davis of the Faith and Labor Coalition supporting the SWCD

Interfaith Prayer Vigil

This article first appeared on November 1, 2022 at InDepthNH.  Subscriptions to InDepthNH are free; donations are welcome.

Donald Trump’s 2016 election sent shockwaves through immigrant communities from coast to coast. Members of the New Hampshire’s large Indonesian community, who had been reporting for appointments for years with officials of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), were terrified that what had been a routine “check in” meeting would instead lead to deportation.

That’s when Rev. Sandra Pontoh of the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ in Madbury put out a call for support. In her humble way, she asked if members of other religious congregations might join the Indonesians for a prayerful presence in the hallways of the Norris Cotton Federal Building in Manchester, where ICE has its state office.

Eva Castillo, an immigrant from Venezuela who heads the NH Alliance of Immigrants and Refugees (NHAIR), was one of the people who showed up and kept coming back. When ICE expressed displeasure about immigrant supporters outside their office, Castillo and others began holding prayer vigils outside the building on days when they knew immigrants were scheduled for check-in appointments, usually once a month.

Held outdoors on a busy city street, “the vigils serve to call attention to the issue of immigration,” Castillo said, and “at the same time, send a message to ICE that we’re here.”

In addition to prayers and songs, they began a

Jericho Walk - 3practice they call the “Jericho Walk,” circling the block around the building seven times in accord with the biblical story from the Book of Joshua. But instead of praying for the physical walls of the Norris Cotton Building to collapse, they prayed that the walls of injustice facing immigrants would come tumbling down.

As fears of deportation grew, the Granite State Organizing Project (GSOP), an interfaith group based in Manchester, began outreach to congregations to see if any would consider offering themselves as places of sanctuary for immigrants facing deportation orders. They began scheduling their Immigrant Solidarity Network meetings in a Manchester church after the monthly prayer vigils.

PB010026Month after month, regardless of weather, immigrant solidarity activists prayed and walked and convened meetings on topics such as sanctuary, immigration reform, and support for those seeking asylum.

When COVID hit in 2020, ICE began holding its check-in meetings by phone and the vigils came to a halt. Likewise, GSOP began holding its Solidarity Network meetings over Zoom. But when ICE recently resumed scheduling in-person check-ins, vigil organizers from GSOP, NHAIR, the American Friends Service Committee, and the NH Council of Churches decided to resume prayer vigils and Jericho Walks on the first Tuesday of each month.

This month, vigilers included members of the Community Church of Durham, three Sisters of Mercy, a member of Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, two members of Concord Friends Meeting, a representative from the local office of Congressman Chris Pappas, and several others.

Debbie Leavitt, a member of the Immigrant Housing and Accompaniment Team at the Community Church of Durham, said she attends as often as she can. “All of us are here showing the families who have to report in that they are not alone,” she said.

PB010012Pastor Jerry Doyle of the N.E.P. House of Praise in Manchester and Rev. Jason Wells of St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Goffstown led the group in prayer. “We gather from East and West, from North and South,” Pastor Jerry read. “Crossing borders, we encounter God,” sixteen people responded.

Together they read, “We gather with the faith and the hope that one day the desert will once again bloom with life, that one day the love we carry in our hearts will matter more than the documents we carry in our hands, and that one day the walls will come tumbling down and all God’s people shall live together in peace.”

After a song, they began the Jericho Walk. “Across the country, people of faith are walking the Jericho Walk as a form of prayer for liberation for immigrants facing the threat of detention and deportation,” Pastor Jerry explained.

“We know that you are a fair God and that you have listened to our prayers. We know that in the fullness of time you will bring down these walls of injustice. We know that you will help us to soften the hearts of our government, politicians, and all people so that, very soon, we can have a new immigration law that protects the dignity of all,” the group prayed aloud.

Ken Barnes and Debbie Leavitt sing We Shall OvercomeWhile most of the group circled the block seven times, a few stayed behind with signs and greeted at least one family that had to check in with ICE. After the Jericho Walk, the vigil closed with another short prayer and singing of “We Shall Overcome.”

A half hour later, the Solidarity Network convened at a nearby church, where discussion centered on efforts to communicate with state and federal elected officials about the changes they want to see in immigration policy.

They plan to meet again on the first Tuesday of December, first at the Norris Cotton Federal Building for the 9 AM vigil and afterward for the Solidarity Network meeting.

Looking back on several years of payers, walks, and songs, Castillo said the vigils provided immigrants and their supporters with a chance to meet each other and “coalesce for a common cause.” Those who have to check in with ICE, always fearful of an order that could force them to leave the communities where they have settled, have reacted at first with puzzled looks, she said, but “once they know what we’re doing there, they feel grateful. They feel like somebody’s got their back.”

As for ICE officials, Castillo said the vigils tell them “that we’re still here, and that we still care, and that we’re watching what’s going on. And we will continue fighting until we achieve a fair immigration system that works for all.”

Debbie Leavitt agreed. “We believe that someday justice will occur, and our country will have a more just immigration system,” she said.

Rev. Jason Wells with Martin Toe of GSOP

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis article was first published by InDepthNH on Friday, October 21. 

Twenty days into a strike against Sysco, a giant food wholesaler, unionized drivers approved a new five-year contract and declared victory Thursday evening.

Following two days of negotiations, members of Teamsters Local 653 voted 215 to 2 to ratify the new contract, which according to a union statement gives them significant wage increases, improved retirement benefits, better treatment of overtime work, and Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday.  The union also hung on to their Teamster-sponsored health insurance plan.

Dave Remick, a New Hampshire driver and union steward who served on the negotiating team, said he’s “very proud of all drivers for standing strong to achieve this great contract.”

Read more about why the Sysco drivers went on strike

In a statement issued Thursday evening, Sysco said, “We’re proud to have a new contract in place that provides our delivery partners the pay and benefits they deserve, while positioning Sysco Boston for continued growth and success. We look forward to getting back to business as usual and returning our focus to servicing our customers and community.”

The New England Sysco truck drivers’ union is relatively young, organized with the Teamsters several years ago due to dissatisfaction over issues including health insurance and wages.  Drivers also said their long hours on the road, which can be up to 14 hours in a shift, place tremendous stress on them and their families.   “We’re working in every weather condition, I mean, snow, sleet, rain, 95-degree weather, we’re delivering. Upstairs, downstairs, we’re delivering to the beach, delivering to boats, we’re delivering in every possible place that you could think of,” said Remick, who lives in Bow and has driven a Sysco delivery route for almost 23 years.

When negotiations for their second contract broke down in September, members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The work stoppage, which started October 1, disrupted food deliveries to restaurants, health care facilities, and educational institutions throughout New England.

With support from Teamsters Local 633 of New Hampshire, Sysco drivers picketed in Manchester, Bow, and Epping.  A rally at the Epping yard on Monday drew about 75 people, including Democratic elected officials and candidates plus representatives of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO and other unions.

A rally outside the company’s warehouse in Plympton, Massachusetts Sunday night and into early Monday resulted in about 20 arrests of union members who were accused of interfering with trucks attempting to exit the facility.

“Corporations will fear the Teamsters,” said the union’s General President Sean M. O’Brien in a statement posted on Local 653’s Facebook page.  “Their ability to hold down our members is over. The Teamsters are ending it.”

“Any company that bullies workers will be met with the full firepower of this union. Our momentum cannot be stopped. We still have open contracts around the country, and we will strike again and again to protect our members,” said O’Brien, who headed Teamster Local 25 in Boston and served as the union’s Eastern Region Vice President before winning election as the union’s president last November.   The union has its eyes on Amazon and also on its contract with UPS, which expires next August.

According to the union, the agreement included a $5.00 an hour wage increase effective immediately, $11.00 in wage increases over the life of the contract, “drastic improvements” in retirement benefits, continued participation in the union’s health insurance plan, improvements in treatment of overtime, and the addition of Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday.  The union failed to win a shift from the company-sponsored 401-K retirement plan to the union-sponsored pension fund. 

Sysco drivers will be back at work on Sunday, with deliveries resuming Monday.

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This article was first published by InDepthNH on Tuesday, October 17, 2022.  The  union approved a new contract and declared victory 2 days later, before I had a chance to post this article here.

As they prepared to return to the negotiating table with hopes for a new union contract, striking Sysco drivers were joined by high profile Democrats at a support rally alongside Route 125 in Epping Monday morning.

The drivers, members of Teamsters Local 653, walked off the job at the beginning of October when negotiations for their second collective bargaining agreement broke down over wages and benefits.  The work stoppage affects the company’s drivers and customers throughout New England.  Talks are expected to resume Tuesday.

Read more about why the Sysco drivers went on strike.

Based in Houston, Sysco calls itself “the global leader in food distribution,” with contracts at a wide range of restaurants, health care facilities, lodging establishments, and schools.  In a statement released October 6, the company said they offered “industry-leading pay,” with substantial raises over the life of the new contract plus a higher employer contribution to the health care plan.  The union said the offer wasn’t good enough.

Striking Drivers Rally Support“We want to keep our Teamster health insurance. We want to increase our hourly wage,” said Donovan Reed of East Kingston, who has driven for Sysco for ten years.  He’s also hoping drivers can get time-and-a-half pay for each shift they drive over eight hours, instead of overtime being calculated on a weekly basis.

Last week, Sysco reached an agreement with another Teamsters local, in upstate New York, which went out on strike in September.

Dave Remick, a union steward, said, “We’re thinking positive and we’re hoping the company is going to come to the table to negotiate in good faith.”

Karen Calabro of Hollis said she knew the Sysco drivers from her time as a chef in a hotel kitchen.  “These people were the face of Sysco for me, and they were the ones that helped me be the best I could be.  I help them in return.”

Calabro is now running for a state Representative seat in Hillsborough County, but said, “I’m not here as a candidate.  I’m here as somebody who supports the people.  I believe in the unions as being the best answer to solve the problems for the working people and keeping government out of those entities. So, I’m here to support the Teamsters today.”  She was far from the only candidate in the crowd, which numbered around 75.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, in the thick of a re-election campaign, stopped by and gave a short

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAspeech to show support for the drivers.  “I am so grateful to stand with you, and to stand for the right to organize, to stand for the right to collectively bargain so that our country, our people, our businesses, our families, all move forward,” Hassan said.

Dr. Tom Sherman, the Democratic candidate for OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgovernor, was there, too.  After mixing with the crowd, he said, “We have to have a right to strike, we have to have a right to collectively bargain, and we have to repeatedly, and over and over again, say ‘no’ to ‘Right-to-Work.’”

At press time, spokespeople for Gov. Chris Sununu had not responded to requests for comment.

Worker Revolt Reaches NH

This was first published at InDepthNH on October 10, 2022.

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Drivers for Sysco, the Houston-based food service giant, went on strike at three locations in New Hampshire on Oct. 1 when their union contract expired.  Instead of spending up to 14 hours a day loading and unloading trucks and driving all over New England, they’re picketing in Bow, Manchester, and Epping.

The issues are pretty standard ones:  pay, insurance, and retirement.  But the conflict is about something more.

Daren Lones, from Manchester, was on picket duty Friday in Bow, where Sysco trucks unload and reload behind Berube’s Truck Accessories on Route 3A.  He’s been a Sysco driver for eleven years, the last five of which he’s been driving shuttles.  That means taking a tandem trailer from the company’s regional warehouse in Plympton, Mass., to one of the yards where he meets up with the delivery drivers.  Then, he hauls two empty trailers back to Plympton.  It’s back-breaking work, he says, and days can be 10, 12, or even 14 hours long.  It’s not just the pay that’s at issue, he says, “it’s the work.”

Dave Remick agrees.  He’s a driver out of Manchester, delivering all over New Hampshire.  He’s also a union steward and a member of the union’s negotiating team.  “The guys are working in the back of one of those trailers. You can’t believe how much work it is.  They put it on pallets, you gotta sweat through it. Pick through it. We’re working in every weather condition, I mean, snow, sleet, rain, 95-degree weather, we’re delivering. Upstairs, downstairs, we’re delivering to the beach, delivering to boats, we’re delivering in every possible place that you could think of,” he said.  “It’s tough. It’s very taxing on everybody.”

Sysco calls itself “the global leader in food distribution.”   According to their website, the company’s business is “selling, marketing and distributing food products to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, lodging establishments and other customers who prepare meals away from home. Its family of products also includes equipment and supplies for the foodservice and hospitality industries.”

“We deliver to nursing homes, all kinds of health care facilities, we deliver to restaurants, we deliver to schools, colleges, anybody pretty much that serves food,” Remick said.  Back when he started driving for Sysco nearly 23 years ago, he said the company was “pretty good” to its workers.  “But as time went on, corporate out of Houston got more involved, more involved. And as they did, things started disappearing.”  The things that were disappearing included a pension plan and some of their paid holidays.

When workers sought to organize a union, the company brought in union busters (known more politely as “management consultants”) to stop them.  “They fought us hard,” Remick recalled.  But the workers prevailed and are now members of Teamsters Local 653.

The first contract was good, but not perfect.  With every contract, Remick said, “you try to make it a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better.”  You never get everything you want, he said, but it’s a negotiation.  “It goes both ways, you know, the company still has to prosper and make money.”

Prosper they have.  Sysco generated $68 billion in sales last year, with net earnings of $1.4 billion, more than double the previous year, according to their 2022 annual report.  The CEO’s compensation package topped $23 million last year.  According to the AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch website, that’s 309 times the median employee’s pay. 

“It’s terrible that a company of that magnitude, that makes that much money, doesn’t care about their employees,” Remick said.  “We’re just really looking for a decent contract, you know, to care for our families and compensate us for being away from them.”

Sysco says it offered an excellent compensation package to those it calls its “associates.”  In a statement released October 6, they said they’ve offered “industry-leading pay,” with substantial raises over the life of the new contract plus a higher employer contribution to the health care plan.  Instead of the union’s proposal to join the Teamster pension fund, the company wants the “associates” to stick with the company-sponsored 401-K retirement plan. 

“The Teamsters’ agenda,” Sysco said, “is aimed at gaining attention and promoting the interests of the union leadership.”

Remick rejects the company’s assertion that they were offering industry-leading pay. Apparently, most other union members do, too.  When the proposal came up for a vote in late September, members voted 175 to 5 to authorize a strike.

The strike involves about 300 drivers in New

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEngland.  Another Teamsters local in upstate New York is on strike, as well.  The Food Management newsletter reported on October 7 that the company said it has “brought in third-party replacement drivers and is operating a 24/7 will call operation for customers.”  We have also heard that non-union drivers from Maine are servicing New Hampshire routes.

The strike is Remick’s first and “it’s not fun,” he said.  To keep everyone’s spirits up the union members stay in regular contact with each other.  “We’re all here for each other,” he said, “we try to keep everybody thinking positive.”

Remick is well aware that Sysco is not the only workplace in turmoil.  Every week brings news of more organizing drives and strikes, at college campuses, fast food establishments, distribution centers, and retail chains.  A nationwide rail strike is still a possibility.

“Right now, I mean, there’s a worker revolt, I guess you’d call it, you know what I mean?  People are tired of corporate America,” Remick said.

“At the end of the day,” he added, “we all want to go back to work. We don’t like this. But it’s necessary.”

This article was first published by InDepthNH on October 8, 2022.  Subscriptions to InDepthNH are free, but donations are welcome. 

women's wave

CONCORD—Sharon Morgan, a practitioner from Etna, New Hampshire, took upretired nurse a position by the corner of Court and North Main Streets in downtown Concord at around noon on Saturday.  Holding a sign that said, “Roe, Roe, Roe Your Vote,” she raised her voice every few minutes, shouting “Vote for women’s rights in November” at cars passing by.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I went to the first women’s march in 2017, in D.C.,” Morgan said.  “It was so energizing to see all these women – and men – from all over the country, who were just so flabbergasted of what the presidency of Donald Trump meant for women and families across the country for health care.”

Morgan wasn’t alone.  She was part of the “Women’s Wave,” a nationwide day of action in hundreds of communities in all 50 states, according to national organizers.  The purpose:  rally supporters of reproductive rights ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Nationally, the events were hosted by Women’s March, in conjunction with UltraViolet, All* Above All, the National Women’s Law Center, and the American Federation of Teachers.  Locally, there didn’t seem to be anyone representing major feminist organizations like Planned Parenthood or the NH Women’s Foundation.  A person named “Jo C,” who signed up on the national website to initiate the Concord action, didn’t seem to be there, either.  The demonstration was much more grassroots, with no speeches, no music, and most people, like Morgan, carrying home-made signs.

Since attending the first women’s march, Morgan said the national organization has kept her posted on what was going on.  That’s how she found out about plans for a demonstration in Concord. 

The Concord contingent was small, about 20 people, including those like Morgan who remember what it was like before the 1975 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion.

“I grew up in a time when it wasn’t a right for women,” Morgan recalled.  “I saw as a nurse the devastation that happens to women and families when that right is not given.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were also younger participants.  Reilly Roedel’s sign said, “Arm Schools with Tampons, Not Guns.”  She’s a high school senior from Hollis and a volunteer with the Period Movement.  “We focus on ending period poverty in our lifetimes and fighting the stigma that surrounds periods, especially because a quarter of students in the US actually struggle to afford period products,” she said.  Still ten months short of her eighteenth birthday, Roedel favors electing candidates who support women’s rights.

Meals McCauley, a high school freshman, said “I’m here because I’m angry at the government for taking people’s rights away.”   Asked which rights in particular, she said giving states the right to ban abortion is a slippery slope.

“They could ban same sex marriage or interracial dating next,” she said, adding, “I can’t vote yet, unfortunately.”

“New Hampshire is going down the wrong track as far as supporting women and supporting families,” Sharon Morgan said, referring to a recent Executive Council vote that held up funds for a sex education program meant to reduce sexually transmitted diseases and prevent pregnancy.  As reported by InDepthNH on October 4, the program has been around for a decade and has previously been supported by councilors who voted to table the funding proposal.  “It’s egregious,” Morgan said.

Then, she resumed calling out to the cars passing by, “Vote for women’s rights in November.”