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Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21When Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan return to Washington this week, they’ll have a message from 27 New Hampshire groups: get rid of the filibuster if that’s what it takes to pass legislation strengthening the right to vote and limiting the influence of big money.

At issue is the For the People Act, a sweeping political reform package already passed by the House with support from New Hampshire Representatives Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster. Senators Shaheen and Hassan are already co-sponsors of the bill, but that’s not good enough for the Granite State For the People Act Coalition, which held a news conference Monday in Manchester’s mill district.Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21

The legislation would expand access to the ballot through mechanisms such as online registration, same-day registration, early voting, and easier access to absentee ballots. “No matter what your age, your zip code, or the color of your skin, you should have the freedom to vote and to have that vote matter,” said Liz Tentarelli of the League of Women Voters, who served as emcee.

Surrounded by about 50 activists by the statue of “Millie the Mill Girl,” Rep. Pappas alluded to Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21policies adopted recently in New Hampshire that made it easier for voters to get absentee ballots due to Covid-19, and observed, “It shouldn’t take a pandemic or a blizzard on town meeting day to realize that we should be making voting easier and not harder.”

The For the People Act would also end partisan gerrymandering and reduce the influence of big money in the electoral system among other reforms. With its companion bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, it would restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which have been undermined by the Supreme Court.

Speakers ticked off plenty of reasons why they believe the legislation is necessary and timely, starting with what Grace Kindeke of the American Friends Service Committee called, “an onslaught of efforts to create new vVoting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21oting and election administration laws and practices designed to reverse our democratic process, suppress the vote, and erode democracy itself.”

Unfortunately for the advocates, Senate rules allow a minority of members to block legislation.

Under what is called the “filibuster,” bills lacking support from at least sixty of the one hundred Senators can be kept from the Senate floor. With the chamber deadlocked 50-50 and ties overturned Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21only with the vote of the Vice President, a unified party caucus can stymie just about any legislation. With the Senate going back into session, it’s the potential of a filibuster by Republican Senators that’s holding up passage of the voting reform bill. The coalition believes Senators Shaheen and Hassan have more power than they’ve been exercising.

“We want to make sure our congressional delegation knows the people of New Hampshire stand behind them and encourage them to be the Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21champions that we know they can be on these issues,” said Zandra Rice-Hawkins of Granite State Progress.

Olivia Zink of Open Democracy Action was more specific. “What we need for them to do is put pressure on [Majority Leader] Schumer and members of their party and also members of the Republican party.” As for the filibuster, “It’s an undemocratic institution,” she said.

Our Senators are pretty good at working across the aisle,” observed Tentarelli.

John O’Neil, New Hampshire organizer for Common Cause, said his group appreciates the support of New Hampshire’s senators for the reform bills, but says now his group is asking them “to make a clear statement on fixing, reforming, or otherwise modifying the filibuster to get the bill passed.” It’s “the final step we’re up against,” he added.

Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21At stake is not just the rules for democratic governance, but specific policy matters. For Katie Lessard, a Bow High School student active on climate issues with 350NH, it’s political corruption tied to campaign finance that’s holding up action to reduce use of fossil fuels. Glenn Brackett, president of the NH AFL-CIO, said the filibuster is in the way of Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21the PRO Act, which he called “the most sweeping pro-worker legislation in decades.” Protection of women’s reproductive rights, too, are in the balance, according to Rice-Hawkins.

“I continue to urge my colleagues, Senator Hassan and Senator Shaheen, and others in the Senate, to pass these bills,” Rep. Pappas said.

Tentarelli is expecting Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia to propose an amended version of the bill. “Its name may change but not its intent,” she said.

“We need to ensure that we have a fair redistricting process ahead of the 2022 election,” says Olivia Zink. “We need to end the influence of money in politics. We need urgent action now.”

 

Ronelle Tsheila: “Attacks on voting rights aren’t slowing down.”

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This article was first published August 29, 2021 at InDepthNH.

MANCHESTER—The parking lot was empty and all was quiet outside Planned Parenthood’s Manchester health clinic on Saturday until just before 2 p.m. when staff members started to show up.  But they weren’t showing up for a normal shift. They were showing up for a rally.

Workers at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE), known for providing low-cost reproductive health care, have organized a union and are in the midst of negotiating their first contract.

The union drive started in Maine and jumped to Vermont, with New Hampshire coming on board at the end.  But in recent days, 18 elected staff members from all three states have been bargaining together with the agency’s management over terms of their first collective bargaining agreement.  Talks hit a bump on Friday, which is why union members and friends showed up Saturday with picket signs.Planned Parenthood union rally

“Today, bargaining teams from ME/NH/VT, along with many more who joined in support, spent a long day together, trying our best to reach an acceptable agreement with PPNNE management,” the bargaining team said Friday in a message to members.  “Unfortunately, after more than 13 hours, management has not been willing to move their proposals to an acceptable place.”

The issue in contention is wages, which union members say are too low at the low end of the agency’s pay scale and rising too slowly for long-term employees.

When Katelin Smith, a Holderness resident, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAarrived, she quickly grabbed a blank placard and marker to make a sign that said, “I cannot afford the care I provide.”  Others made signs reading, “Better Pay, Help Us Stay,” and “A Livable Wage is All the Rage.”  Familiar pink “I Stand with Planned Parenthood” signs were altered to, “I Stand with Planned Parenthood Workers.”

“We believe in the mission at PPNNE and that those values should apply to our workers as well as our patients and communities,” Dana Keyes-Gibbons of the Burlington, Vermont office told me.  “Our goal is to settle a fair contract that allows PPNNE to recruit and retain staff, pay a livable wage, and maintain patient access.”

Union members say their priorities are equity and inclusion in all facets of their work, transparency and collaborative decision-making, livable wages and benefits, and appropriate staffing levels that meet the needs of patients.

But wages are at the top of priorities.

Ella Kruczynska, a Concord resident whose normal OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAjob at the agency is major donor fundraising, elaborated.  With the cost of living going up, the agency isn’t paying enough to its workers at the low end of the wage scale, where some staff get as little as $15 an hour.  “What we really want to see is equitable wages,” she said, meaning enough so that workers don’t have to face choices between paying for essential needs like rent, groceries, and health care.  With wages rising at retail and food services establishments, the union sees the need for more pay in order for the agency to attract staff.  “We want competitive wages that enable staff to choose to stay at Planned Parenthood because we love to work here,” she said.

For the union, the magic number is $20 an hour as a base.  That’s more than the agency’s management has been willing to offer, so far.

By way of comparison, the latest NH Housing Rental Survey says a worker would need an annual income of $65,700, or $31.59 an hour, to afford the median 2-bedroom apartment in Hillsborough County, which rents at $1,643 a month.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the sound of it, negotiations have been relatively amicable so far, with the union and management reaching agreements on matters such as health insurance and the employer’s contribution to retirement accounts.  But according to Kruczynska, wages have been “a fighting issue for a long time.”

Kruczynska and about 15 co-workers took the fight to the street on Saturday, choosing to brandish their signs on Elm Street, half a block from the clinic, where more people would see them.  For an hour, with a recording of union songs playing in the background, they waved signs at cars driving by, drawing lots of supportive honks.  No doubt due to plenty of experience with anti-abortion protesters, they seemed unperturbed by the one driver who got out of his vehicle and yelled at them.

Although they have a common employer, the union members chose to establish three separate bargaining units, each of which would have its own contract.  But so far, they’ve been negotiating together, with the Vermont and New Hampshire units represented by the American Federation of Teachers Vermont branch and the Maine group affiliated with the Maine State Employees and the Service Employees International Union.

When they return to bargaining, attention will be back on the pay scale.  But it’s not just about the numbers, Kruczynska said.  It’s also about what increases people will see across the wage scale.  “Bump up the lower wage earners higher and the higher wage earners lower.  We have proposed a way to do this,” Kruczynska said.

Kruczynska’s pockets were stuffed with tiny leaflets, little slips of paper, each asking supporters to email the agency’s board chair with the message, “We support our PPNNE staff. Settle a fair contract now.”

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Imprisoned for an Act of Peace

This story was first published on July 30, 2021 at InDepthNH.

MANCHESTER—When Martha Hennessy was released from a federal prison and transferred to an “adult residential re-entry” program in Manchester, it wasn’t her first trip to the Queen City or her first entanglement with the criminal legal system. Hennessy says her first arrest came in 1979, when she and a group of apple-pickers were arrested for an anti-nuclear protest at the office of Public Service Company, then the lead builder of the Seabrook nuclear plant.

You could call her a “recidivist,” but to label her a “violent recidivist,” as a federal judge has done, turns the truth upside down.

The truth is that Martha Hennessy was arrested in 2018 with a group of other Catholic pacifists engaged in a thoroughly peaceful protest against nuclear weapons.

Hennessy’s latest arrest came on April 4, 2018, not by coincidence the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fifty-first anniversary of his most memorable indictment of militarism and the U.S. war in Vietnam. With six others, Hennessy delivered an indictment of the U.S. government’s most destructive system for delivering nuclear weapons, the Trident submarine. That they made their statemeMartha Hennessynt inside the U.S. Navy’s submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia, is what triggered federal felony charges.

The group calls itself the “Kings Bay Plowshares,” attempting to take seriously the Biblical injunction to beat swords, or missile-bearing submarines, into plowshares.

“Today, through our nonviolent action, we, Kings Bay Plowshares—indict the United States government, President Donald Trump, Kings Bay Base Commander Brian Lepine, the nuclear triad, and specifically the Trident nuclear program,” they declared.

Trident is the name of the ballistic missiles carried on Ohio-class submarines. Each sub carries twenty missiles, called SLBMs, or submarine-launched ballistic missiles. “Each Trident SLBM can carry up to eight nuclear warheads, but normally carry an average of four or five warheads, for an average load-out of approximately 90 warheads per submarine,” according to the Federation of American Scientists’ 2021 report on the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The warheads vary in destructive capacity, from 8 kilotons to 455 kilotons of TNT equivalent. According to facts compiled by the Kings Bay Plowshares, the fleet of 14 Ohio-class subs carries 340 megatons of thermo-nuclear firepower.

For comparison’s sake, the bomb that wiped out Hiroshima in 1945 was about 15 kilotons. In other words, one submarine carries the equivalent of more than 1600 Hiroshimas.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, a “limited nuclear war” involving only 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons would so disrupt the climate to cause the deaths of one billion people. “The consequences of a large-scale nuclear war would be even more catastrophic,” says the Red Cross. An all-out exchange between the USA and Russia with the weapons both countries are allowed under the New START Treaty could transport 150 million tons of soot into the upper atmosphere, dropping world temperatures by an average of 8 degrees centigrade for several years, the international agency concluded. “Agriculture would stop, ecosystems would collapse and most of the human race would starve.”

“The ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide,” says a poster the Plowshares left behind at Kings Bay.

While the United States may not have an intent to initiate nuclear war, neither has it foreclosed the option. The Trump administration, like those before it, explicitly refused to adopt a “no first use” doctrine. The Pentagon’s most recent Nuclear Posture Review upholds the first strike option and says, “It remains the policy of the United States to retain some ambiguity regarding the precise circumstances that might lead to a U.S. nuclear response.”

While campaigning for president in New Hampshire last year, Joe Biden said he would support a No First Use policy, but thus far has made no steps in that direction.

Although most U.S. policy documents state the purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter adversaries by threatening massive retaliation, Hennessy sees the Trident missile, which has sufficient accuracy to destroy hard targets like missile silos, as a first-strike weapon.

“The whole system is a first strike system,” says Hennessy. “The Pentagon has said that. That’s how the Pentagon plans.”

photo courtesy of Kings Bay Plowshares

When Hennessy and six others entered the Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay, Georgia, they poured blood, spray painted slogans like, “May love disarm us all” on the sidewalk and strung up “crime scene” tape.

Hennessy taped their indictment to an administrative building believed to be where launch instructions would be issued. She also left a copy of The Doomsday Machine, a book by Daniel Ellsberg on the nation’s nuclear weapons and its plans to use them. For that, she was charged with three felonies: conspiracy, depredation of government property, and destruction of naval property. She was also charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor. Blocked by a federal judge from introducing evidence that nuclear weapons themselves are illegal, the seven defendants, all Catholic pacifists, were found guilty.

It wasn’t an easy step for Hennessy to take, she said. She had considered joining earlier Plowshares actions, but in 2018, “it was the time in my faith journey,” she said.

Hennessy calls it “nonviolent faith-based direct action for sacramental disarmament.”

She was ashamed of her government for holding the world hostage with nuclear weapons. “It felt right” to join a Plowshares action on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, she said. “As Christians, we are called to protect life, to take care of one another,” Hennessy told me. “The Holy Spirit facilitates these actions.”

The Plowshares movement began on September 9, 1980, when eight activists entered a General Electric factory where nuclear warhead components were being built. “With hammers and blood they enacted the biblical prophecies of Isaiah and Micah to ‘beat swords into plowshares’ by hammering on two of the nose cones and pouring blood on documents,” says Art Laffin, a longtime Plowshares activist.

Since the first Plowshares action, according to Laffin, “others, acting in community and some individually, have entered military bases and weapons facilities and have symbolically and actually disarmed components of U.S. first-strike nuclear weapons systems: the MX, Pershing II, Cruise, Minuteman ICBMs, Trident II missiles, Trident submarines, B-52 bombers, P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft, the Navstar system, the ELF communication system, the Milstar satellite system, a nuclear capable battleship and the Aegis destroyer. Combat aircraft used for military intervention such as the F-111 fighter bomber, the F-15A fighter, the F-18 bomber, the A-10 Warthog, the Hawk aircraft, as well as combat helicopters and other conventional weapons, including aircraft missile launchers, bazookas, grenade throwers, and AK-5 automatic rifles, have been disarmed.” Participants have spent weeks, months, and years in prison.

Hennessy was sentenced to ten months in federal prison. After five months at the federal prison in Danbury, CT, she was released to the Manchester halfway house in June. At the end of July, she was released to confinement at her Vermont home. She will have to wear an ankle monitor for a month, then will be on probation for three years.

In a sense, nonviolent action is part of Hennessy’s heritage. Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, was her grandmother. While the Catholic Worker may be known mostly for its hospitality houses, Day was no stranger to protest. She was arrested several times, including for picketing the White House in support of women’s suffrage in 1917, refusing to join civil defense drills in the 1950s, and picketing with the United Farm Workers Union in 1973. Hennessy represented the family in 2002 when Day was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls. Her three-minute speech focused on opposition to plans for a war with Iraq.

Some things have changed since 2018. For one, the possession of nuclear weapons is now illegal following the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons last January 22. With active and vocal support from Pope Francis, the Holy See was among the first United Nations members to sign and ratify it. The nuclear powers, none of which have ratified the treaty, are all now in violation of its terms.

For another change, Donald Trump, who disdained arms control and ordered the development of nuclear weapons designed for battlefield use, has been replaced by Joe Biden, a veteran arms controller. But while Biden extended the last major nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, his budget continues plans for a new generation of nuclear weapons based on land, air, and sea. A major component of the nuclear build-up, euphemistically called “modernization,” is replacement of the Ohio-class submarines with a new fleet of Trident subs called the “Columbia class.”

“Republican, Democrat, it’s two sides of the same coin of the permanent war economy,” says Hennessy.

Biden is the second Catholic president, she observed, but “Biden’s not a JFK.” To Hennessy, Biden is “part of the machine.”

Like other pacifists who have become tangled in the criminal legal system going back at least to the early Quakers, Hennessy has a lot to say about the prison system as well as nuclear threats. The facility where she lived in Manchester was taking in $100,000 a month in fees from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, an agency with a budget in excess of $7 billion a year. “It’s a form of human trafficking,” says Hennessy, with “money to be made on these bodies.”

The agency’s board includes a high-level official of Raytheon, the nation’s second largest military contractor. The way Hennessy views it, ““It’s all interconnected, the military industry, the prison industry, it’s all part of the same machine.”

Released from custody, Hennessy says she’s looking forward to being back with family and resuming her volunteer activities with Catholic Worker. She expects to participate over Zoom in commemorations of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, August 6 and 9 respectively.

I asked Hennessy how actions like those of the Plowshares actually lead to the elimination of omnicidal weapons.

“The Plowshares movement simply tries to raise a voice, however small that voice is, and however much it’s ignored, it’s still there,” she told me.

“We always have our hope,” says Martha Hennessy. “We always have the hope of actualizing true democracy. It’s always going to be a struggle. It’s up to the citizens to open their eyes, to take risks.”

More on MLK and CRT

As noted in a recent post, critics of Critical Race Theory and any educational pursuits which seek to unpack the roots of systemic racism and patriarchy have tried to find an ally in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, usually citing a single line from the “I Have a Dream” speech. One of New Hampshire’s CRT critics has also cited Dr. King’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, in letters published in the Concord Monitor and NH Union Leader.

If “Critical Race Theory” means anything, it is an inquiry into the persistence of racial inequality despite laws which guarantee equal treatment. This was one of the questions on Dr. King’s mind when he wrote his final book.

“In this book, he piercingly revealed the cause of our national discord, placing it squarely on the ingrained white racism of American society,” wrote his widow, Coretta Scott King in the preface to a 1968 edition (Beacon Press).

While the 1789 Constitution counted enslaved Martin_Luther_King_(cropped)African Americans as 3/5 of a person, “today, another curious formula seems to declare he is approximately 50 percent of a person. Of the good things in life he has approximately one-half that of whites; of the bad he has twice those of whites,” Dr. King wrote. After reciting a series of facts about unequal housing, education, and employment, he said, “These brief facts disclose the magnitude of the gap between existing realities and the goal of equality.”

While acknowledging that not all white Americans are racists, Dr. King states racism had been part of the nation’s “dominant ideology” going back to its founding. From the earliest days, under the leadership of aristocrats, leading clergy, and intellectuals, “the doctrine of white supremacy was imbedded (sic) in every textbook and preached in practically every pulpit,” he wrote. “It became a structural part of our culture.”

If anyone thinks Dr. King would have been uncomfortable with those who say systemic racism is deeply rooted in American history and culture, I urge them to read this book, or read it more carefully.

“The racism of today is real,” Dr. King wrote in 1967, “but the democratic spirit that has always faced it is equally real. The value in pulling racism out of its obscurity and stripping it of its rationalizations lies in the confidence that it can be changed.” More than five decades later, Dr. King still speaks the truth.

MLK photo:  Hugo van Gelderen / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This article was first published on May 24, 2021 in InDepthNH.

Surprised to see a quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. used more than once by advocates of the proposal to ban discussion of “divisive concepts” such as “race or sex stereotyping,” I re-read Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I encourage supporters of HB 544 to do the same.

By most accounts, Dr. King’s speech was the highlight of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom, now remembered as the “March on Washington.” Inspired by A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, 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 began, “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.” Today, we might label that, “systemic racism.”

Dr. King continued with reference to the Declaration of Independence, which he saw as a promise that all Americans, regardless of race, were entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In effect, he 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. Today, we might label that a call for reparations.

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.”

Today we might just say, “Black Lives Matter.”

Yes, Dr. King said he had 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 content of their character.” It is that line, 29 words out of a 1642-word speech, which is especially popular with backers of HB 544, now incorporated into the budget trailer bill adopted by the NH House of Representatives and pending in the Senate. The “divisive concepts” proposal, based on a Donald Trump executive order, seeks to prohibit tax dollars from being spent on training programs which address the systemic nature of racism and sexism. A previously obscure academic concept known as “Critical Race Theory,” or CRT, has drawn the ire of HB 544 backers, though the term itself appears nowhere in the proposal’s language.

At a pro-HB 544 rally held at the State House in April, one person reportedly carried a sign reading, “Teach MLK not CRT.” A writer who calls herself “Barbara from Harlem” addressed the same rally, where she labelled CRT “racist” and said, “The correct path (to King’s dream) is to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” Dr. Elana Yaron Fishbein, founder of a group which has paid for pro-HB 544 display ads in local newspapers calls Dr. King’s teachings “wholesome” and “uplifting,” in contrast to what she calls “radical indoctrination” in schools that teach lessons emphasizing diversity and anti-racism.

In a column titled “Critical Race Theory Is Dangerous. Here’s How to Fight It,” published in the conservative National Review, Samantha Harris writes, “We need to fight the rise of this toxic and destructive orthodoxy if we want America to be a place where, as Martin Luther King said, our children are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.”

And in an opinion column published in the Concord Monitor on April 21 and the Union Leader on May 11, Joseph Mendola backs HB 544 and says, “CRT rejects the work and idea of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that says ‘Judge the people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.’ CRT theorists call King’s idea dangerous. That is toxic thinking. 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.”

But today, we might call Dr. King a critical race theorist. He knew, after all, that discrimination had been baked into American law and custom from the beginning and that it wasn’t just the fault of misguided individuals. He wanted to “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood,” but he never denied the existence of discord or its systemic nature.

Yes, Dr. King had a dream, but he was wide awake at the March on Washington when he called for dramatic protests against racism to continue. Speaking prophetically, he said, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

If we want to learn about Dr. King’s teachings, the “I Have a Dream” speech is a good place to start, as long as we study the whole thing. Then, we can move on to some of the thousands of other speeches he gave in his shortened career and to any of the books he wrote. Considering the body of his work, words, and deeds, it’s hard to place Martin Luther King, Jr. in alignment with those who want to forbid discussion of systemic racism. Instead, we should revisit his call to “let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire” and emulate his insistence that we look critically on the contrast between America’s highest ideals and the reality of violence and discrimination faced by people of color. As Dr. King well knew, ending racism takes ongoing action, not just dreams.

Quotations from “I Have a Dream” taken from A Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James W. Washington.

This article was first published at InDepthNH on May 2, 2021.

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When COVID-19 swept through Lidia Yen’s family at the beginning of 2021, everyone had to quarantine for a month. Yen, who was finishing her college degree and working several part-time jobs, was the only family member with paid sick leave, and that was from just one position at a local nonprofit. With her mother out of work due to a disability, “I was the only child in the house who made enough to help with the bills,” she said. “It was tough.”

Yen attributes her need to work 55 hours a week at multiple jobs to the state’s minimum wage, stuck for years at the federal level of $7.25 an hour. “It’s not livable,” she says.

Yen, who came to Concord from South Sudan when she was little, told her story at a rally Saturday in Concord marking International Workers Day. The overall theme, “All Workers Have Dignity,” came through in speeches from clergy, lawmakers, and activists from several organizations.

“When we lift from the bottom, everybody rises,” said the Rev. Jason Wells of the NH Council of Churches in a phrase reminiscent of the labor credo, “an injury to one is an injury to all.” In addition tojason raising wages, Rev. Wells spoke about the need to defeat legislation aiming to turn New Hampshire into a “right to work” state, one with restrictions on the ability of employers and unions to adopt contracts in which all workers pay a share of the cost of collective bargaining. The concept has been batted around at the State House for decades and is expected to come before the House of Representatives for a crucial vote in early June. The Council of Churches has joined labor unions and other groups in calling on legislators to vote it down.

For David Holt, an activist from Somersworth associated with Occupy Seacoast, “right to work” doesn’t have anything to do with the actual right to work. “What it is is an attack to keep people from working together,” he said.

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The first day of May has been an occasion for labor rallies since 1886, when workers throughout the United States demanded an 8-hour day. When radical labor leaders were framed, tried, and executed for violence that took place during a rally in Chicago, the significance of May Day spread throughout the world. Although it petered out in this country in the mid-20th century, the tradition revived in 2006 under the leadership of immigrants who tied workers’ rights to the need of undocumented immigrants for legal protection and a pathway to citizenship.

john gregory-davis“We stand on the shoulders of ancestors who had a vision for a world that they could not see. It’s hard for us to imagine that an 8-hour day was once not a reality,” observed the Rev. John Gregory-Davis of the Meriden Congregational Church.

In New Hampshire, annual May Day rallies since 2006 have taken place in several southern New Hampshire cities, all led by Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees. This year, Castillo tied issues like the minimum wage and the right to organize unions with the need for humane immigration policies. “Workers should stand together,” she said. “What affects one affects all. We should live up to our values of solidarity with

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one another.”

Castillo also led chants. “They say, ‘get back.’ We say, ‘fight back.’ They say, ‘go away.’ We say, ‘no way.’ They say, ‘shut up.’ We say, ‘rise up.’”

Marta Alvarado, a member of the Granite Statemarta Organizing Project from Nashua, pointed out that plenty of immigrants come to the state with training as doctors, nurses, accountants, and engineers yet are unable to find employment in their professional fields due to lack of proper documents. “It’s a shame,” she said, “that these people are not allowed to fully participate in our society. What we need is to legalize all the millions of people who are here working and contributing to our society.”

lathaRep. Latha Mangipudi, of Nashua, an immigrant from India, described her own problems gaining professional employment in a field for which she held a graduate degree. It took 4 years working in a lower wage position, she said, before she could get her training recognized. “Do we have equality?” she asked. “Do we have justice? Do we have equal opportunity? Do we have equal pay for men and women? Do we have equal opportunity for people with my skin color?” The crowd shouted “no” after each question.

Other speakers, including Linds Jakows of One Fair Wage and Rep. Maria Perez of Milford called for defeating, SB 137, which aims to freeze the minimum wage for tipped workers, now set in New Hampshire as at 45% of the minimum, or $3.27/hour. The bill, which has already passed the Senate, would freeze the wage at $3.27 rather than

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allowing it to float upward if a higher minimum wage makes it through Congress. They want a $15 minimum wage for all workers, with tips on top.

lindsJakows also called for messages to Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, who have voted against bills to raise the minimum wage to $15. The Raise the Wage Act, which they said could come up for a Senate vote this summer, would raise the federal minimum in 4 annual steps to $15 an hour by 2025.

New Hampshire’s Senators received praise, however, for backing the PRO Act, an ambitious labor law reform proposal which already passed the House and received an enthusiastic endorsement from President Joe Biden in his Congressional address last week. According to the Rev. Dr. Gail Kinney, the rally’s final speaker, American workers have had a legal right to organize unions for decades. But there are “minimal consequences for employers violating these laws,” she said. Instead of facing serious sanctions, she added, employers see fines for labor law violations as just another cost of doing business. That would end with passage of the PRO Act, which would also bar “right to work,” prohibit employers from permanently replacing workers during strikes, and reduce barriers to negotiation of first contracts for newly organized unions.

The rally, held in front of the State House steps, lasted for about 2 hours with 75 people in attendance and musical breaks from Portsmouth’s Leftist Marching Band. Anthony Harris of the American Friends Service Committee recalled his own youth and said access to better jobs would make it easier for young people to resist the temptation to engage in criminal activity. Martin Toe of the Granite State Organizing Project added that higher wages would reduce the pressure felt by young families to leave New Hampshire to start families. Dr. Randy Hayes of the Kent Street Coalition spoke about family medical leave, a proposal vetoed by Governor Sununu last year in the midst of a pandemic.

Isaac Grimm, Organizing Director for Rights and Democracy-NH, recalled the history of May Day. “The labor movement has been a century long struggle of raising expectations,” he said. “All of us deserve living wages, to retire with dignity, to be more than workers and consumers.”

anthony martin LMB

Bud Light is still the King of Roadside Trash

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With the disappearance of snow by New Hampshire’s roadsides in the early spring comes the appearance not just of wildflowers, but of aluminum cans, plastic and glass bottles, the occasional worn tire, discards from fast food establishments, and more. Canterbury’s annual roadside cleanup always provides an opportunity to examine the drinking habits of the littering community.

Here are some of this year’s observations, based onuntitled the sample of litter I picked up on April 10. I can’t comment on whether other stretches of roadside would yield the same statistical results. But I can say that the results of this year’s survey are mostly consistent with my analyses from 2013 and 2014.

Aluminum cans are more popular than plastic or glass bottles. I picked up 153 cans, 87 plastic bottles, and 23 glass bottles.

Bud Lite is still the King of Trash. And Anheuser Busch, now AB InBev following a merger with a Belgium-based firm, still dominates the litter market. Nearly 22% of caOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAns and 57% of bottles were Bud Lite. When other Ab InBev brands are factored in, the multinational beer giant made up nearly a third of all the cans and nearly two-thirds of the bottles.

Coors Light and Twisted Tea continued to make strong showings in the can category, with 11% and 10% respectively. No other brands made strong showings in either the can or bottle divisions. If this were an election, the also-rans might be reported as “scatter.” 

But this story is not just about beer and other alcoholic beverages. The roadside trash inventory contained plenty of samples from Dunkins, P4100047McDonald’s, as well as discarded containers of chocolate milk, water, and 1 bottle of hand sanitizer.

Among litterers, Pepsi appears to be kicking Coke’s corporate butt. I found 30 plastic Pepsi bottles and 5 Pepsi cans, compared to only 1 Coke bottle and 1 Coke can.

Poland Springs, a Nestle product, was also well represented. I also came across a number of disposable face masks. (How do we make it clear that “disposable” does not mean it’s OK to leave them by the side of the road?)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not make a formal count, but I think its fair to say that Dunkins and McDonald’s are the clear leaders in fast food trash, mostly plastic cups, with Dunkins coming out on top.

According to Project Archaeology, “Trash—also known as garbage, waste, junk, rubbish, or refuse—holds information about people. It can tell an archaeologist about what people did in day-to-day life. Archaeologists understand how people lived and the material choices they made through the trash they left behind.” But as Bob Dylan might have said, you don’t need to be an archaeologist to see how the trash falls.  Just look by the roadside, make a collection, add it up, and add your report to the litterature.

This story was first published on March 29 at InDepthNH.

At last week’s six-hour hearing on a bill to weaken the power of organized labor, lessons on theology were mixed in with statements on labor law, economics, and the role of unions.

“Catholic social teaching beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, in 1891, called for the protection of the weak and the poor,” explained Ed Foley, a retired sheet metal worker who led the NH Building Construction Trades Council.

Since then, Foley told the House Labor Committee,Curtis Smith is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Manchester “there has been over 130 years of unbroken tradition within the Catholic Church supporting the rights of workers to organize unions as essential for economic justice and the dignity of the human person in the workplace.”

The issue at hand is a concept known as “right to work,” a proposal that has come before the legislature virtually every session since the late 1970s.  In a narrow sense, “right to work” bars employers and unionized workers from adopting agreements which require employees to join a union or pay a fee in lieu of union dues.  But the name is misleading, Foley explained.

“It doesn’t create any new rights for working people. This law seeks to impede worker solidarity and create divisions in the workplace. It sets the economic interests of a single individual against the common good of the group as a whole.”

The idea had its birth in the Jim Crow south in the Rev. Gail Kinney at 2011 Legislative Advocacy Day1940s, testified the Rev. Dr. Gail Kinney, who chairs the Economic Justice Team of the United Church of Christ’s New Hampshire Conference.   Espoused by white supremacists, “right to work” was “all about trying to put a divide between Black workers and white workers,” she said, thereby diminishing the power of organized labor in the workplace and in the wider community.

In that sense, it’s been a smashing success: unionization rates in right-to-work states are about half what they are in free bargaining states.  And that’s why the Virginia-based National Right to Work Foundation and its New England chapter come back to the State House year after year, armed with anti-union invective.

“We know all too well that in the states where it has been adopted, this legislation has led to lower wages, fewer benefits for working people such as employer healthcare, more dangerous workplaces, higher infant mortality rates and higher poverty rates,” Foley observed.  That explains why the proposal’s opponents generally label it “right to work for less.”

“Rarely have I seen a bill that is so avowedly immoral,” the Rev. John Gregory-Davis of the Meriden Congregational Church told the Labor Committee.  “What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that if people have the right to organize for better working conditions, they’ll achieve them? I hope so.”

By giving workers a voice, unions enable all workers to achieve fair treatment on the job, including better wages and working conditions.  Viola Katusiime of the Granite State Organizing Project, a Manchester-based coalition of religious congregations and community groups, instructed the legislators in how it works, citing a 2016 report by the Center for Policy and Research.

“Unions help to bridge the racial inequality gap, particularly for Black workers in the unions,” she said.  “They receive 16% higher wages than their non-unionized counterparts.”

Likewise, they are more likely to have the benefit of employer-provided health insurance and retirement plans.  And by standardizing wages for workers doing similar jobs, unions help bridge the racial wealth gap.

“Much has been said of the heroism of essential workers, but weak labor laws and disregard of NH VOF RTW 2017-1employers for workers’ well-being has put a terrible burden on those forced to work for low wages, without adequate protective gear, without paid sick leave, and with no protections for speaking up to demand better treatment,” added Maggie Fogarty of the American Friends Service Committee, an organization which bases its work on the principles of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  “The pandemic makes a compelling case for strengthening – not eroding – the ability of workers to collectively bargain,” she emphasized.

It’s not just union members who stand to benefit but the community as a whole.  Bob Dunn, Public Policy Director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, said it’s really about “the common good,” a principle expressed in Pope John Paul’s 1981 Encyclical on Human Work. “This reference to the common good should be closely noted,” Dunn said in a written statement opposing the right-to-work” bill, “because the common good is not just a cornerstone principle of Catholic social teaching, but the foundational purpose of our state government as well. To fulfill the principle of the common good, both unions and employers are obligated to work not just to advance their own interests, but to advance economic justice and the well-being of all.”

SB 61, this year’s version of right-to-work,” has already passed the Senate and has been backed by Gov. Chris Sununu.  That’s why the fight in the House is especially fierce this year.  At last week’s hearing, roughly eight times as many people registered and testified in opposition to the bill as those who supported it.

The Labor Committee plans to consider the bill in executive session on March 30, which means it could get to the House floor in a mammoth three-day session the following week.  

The Rev. Jason Wells, Executive Director of the NH VOF RTW 2017-3NH Council of Churches, wants legislators to know the council’s nine member denominations say right-to-work” is wrong for New Hampshire.  “All of these denominations express Biblical and historic support for labor unions and the right of workers to organize for better conditions,” he wrote in a letter to the Labor Committee.  “All of our denominations urge that we support labor unions and collective bargaining and to strengthen (not weaken) them when we are able.”

For Rev. Wells, the timing of the debate, coinciding with the observances of Passover, Easter, and the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is significant.  The rituals of the season “should remind us that if our hearts be with God, we must also have a heart for our neighbors,” he says.  “And if our heart be with our neighbors, that must include our working neighbors who are counting on us to once again stand with them and oppose SB 61.”

This article was published in the Concord Monitor on February 8 2021. 

Back in the twentieth century, most American cities, large and small, had their own newspaper, with an office in the downtown business district. Before text messages, before email, and even before fax machines, the best way to communicate with reporters and editors was often to walk right into the newsroom. The Concord Monitor, then located on North State Street at the corner of Pleasant, was no exception.

Just off the hall by the newsroom was the office of Tom Gerber, an older (i.e. a few decades senior to me) avuncular sort of fellow, who served as the paper’s Editor. His door was usually open, so I could pitch to him my ideas for a column.

It was the early 1980s and I was the young (i.e. a few decades younger than I am now) staff person for the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program. The Reagan Administration’s aggressive and militaristic foreign policy – expansion of nuclear weapons production, increased hostility toward the Soviet Union, and backing of right-wing governments and counter-revolutionaries in Central America and Southern Africa – occupied most of my attention. And I thought the Concord Monitor’s op-ed page was a great place for my analysis of Reagan’s latest outrage.

With firmness, Mr. Gerber explained that his paper already laid out good money for syndicated columnists who analyzed national and international politics. If I wanted the Concord Monitor to publish what I wrote, he patiently explained, I needed to find a “local angle.”

Taking his advice, I wrote a column tying the issue of war toys to an incident in which a Concord High School student brought a gun to school. From there, I linked guns and TV violence to the Reagan administration’s preference for armed violence on the international stage. The Monitor published it in the height of the Christmas shopping season.

Over time, Gerber’s advice affected my approach to organizing in addition to my writing. I began to find better ways to relate the local to the global and vice versa, for example tying the issue of overseas sweatshop labor to attacks on unions, the collapse of New Hampshire manufacturNH AFL-CIO 1997ing jobs, and the impact of “free trade” agreements. I helped activists fighting a proposed water bottling plant make links with people in other countries who were also battling the commodification of life’s necessities. The campaign to establish a state holiday named for Martin Luther King, Jr provided endless ways to talk about the “triple evils” of racism, poverty, and militarism.

While I still think a local whippersnapper might have something interesting and timely to say about goings on far from New Hampshire, Tom Gerber’s advice was sound. And for that I’m grateful.

This article was published first by InDepthNH on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021.

Like a lot of other politics watchers, I thought at first that the Trump for President campaign was a joke, or just a publicity stunt.

Memories of its beginnings flooded back when President Trump, already in the waning days of his administration, appointed Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie to the Defense Business Board
Lewandowski and Bossie, known for their fierce partisanship rather than the “sound judgement” called for in the Defense Business Board’s charter, met up with Trump at a political event they hosted in Manchester on April 13, 2014. 

I was in the audience.

Donald Trump at 2014 “Freedom Summit”

The event, titled a “Freedom Summit,” was sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, whose New Hampshire operations were then led by Lewandowski, and Citizens United, the organization Bossie headed, best known as the group whose TV ads opposing Hilary Clinton led to a U.S. Supreme Court case dismantling campaign finance restriction.

The “summit,” held at the Executive Court, was something of an audition for potential GOP presidential candidates nearly two years before the 2016 NH Primary.  Speakers included Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee, and Representative Louie Gohmert.  Donald Trump, then primarily known as a real estate developer and a star on Reality TV, was there, too.

In an article posted at InZaneTimes, I wrote that the GOP office holders focused on reducing taxes and repealing Obamacare, all to tepid response from an audience consisting mostly of conservative activists. 

“Trump was different,” I observed, after my first up-close view.  “Speaking without notes – and criticizing politicians who depend on speech-writers and tele-prompters – Trump wandered from point to 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 taken over the country’s oil.

Trump was entertaining, but I left thinking I should keep my eyes on Mike Lee.

A year later, I still thought Trump was a joke, but not even significant enough to be in the punch line.

Writing on April Fool’s Day, 2015, I put words in the mouth of faux journalist Adam Baum, who explained that Americans were obsessed with celebrity and would vote for President the same way they voted for American Idol.

“The most important skill a modern politician can have is the ability to deal with the 24-hour news cycle,” Baum says.  “Being president is more like starring in a reality TV show than any other job category.”

But even then, with the Primary only 10 months off, I still wasn’t taking Trump seriously.  My article, in which Trump gets a bare mention, was titled, “Will Kim Kardashian Run for President?”

trump files candidacy at State House

Trump at the State House in Concord

By then I was running the American Friends Service Committee’s project, “Governing Under the Influence,” which was mobilizing activists in New Hampshire and Iowa to challenge candidates in both parties to stand up to big corporations.  When the candidates filed their candidacy papers, Donald Trump had to walk past our giant banners to enter and exit the State House.

By then, Trump was no longer a joke.  After his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” a few weeks later, the candidate’s first public event was in Portsmouth, where he was to accept the endorsement of a police union.  With barely 48 hours lead time, we organized a demonstration outside the hotel, decrying Trump’s Islamophobic statements.

But perhaps, by then, it was too late.  The Reality TV candidate was gaining supporters, especially among those for whom his blustery racism and misogyny had a magnetic appeal.  As Adam Baum had predicted, Trump’s ability to command public and media attention propelled him to the White House and exemplified his approach to the presidency as a giant publicity stunt.

The joke was on us.  And it wasn’t funny.

demonstration at portsmouth sheraton

The demonstration outside the Portsmouth Sheraton was organized by AFSC and Occupy Seacoast.