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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.

Partners in Gun Violence

State of NH Joins City of Rochester in Sig Sauer Subsidies

By Arnie Alpert and John Lindsay-Poland

This article first appeared in SeacoastOnline on January 17, 2021.

With the authorization of additional public funds to support Sig Sauer’s expansion into the Lilac City, Rochester, New Hampshire joins the company and the State as a partner in the export of gun violence. The City’s decision to ease the flow of traffic in and out of the gun-maker’s new facility will speed the trafficking of firearms to countries where the company’s products have been used to commit homicide.

Mexico, where Sig Sauer is now the number one supplier of firearms, is a case in point.

Take the case of Marisela Escobedo, who while campaigning for the arrest of the man who had killed her daughter two years previously was gunned down in front of the state government building in Chihuahua ten years ago. According to press reports, the murder weapon was a Sig Sauer pistol made in New Hampshire.

Kassandra Treviño’s experience may be another story worth examining. With her two-year-old daughter, Treviño was at her father’s home in Nuevo Laredo in 2019 when police burst in dragging seven people with them. Before long, Treviño’s father and the seven captives had been assassinated with gunshots to the head, according to a local human rights group. Although two Tamaulipas State Police agents have been charged with murder, in the three months after the killings, that police agency purchased 850 pistols and rifles manufactured by Sig Sauer in New Hampshire.

Since 2015 Sig Sauer has had a contract to sell up to $266 million of firearms and firearms components to the Mexican Ministry of Defense, the only entity in the country that can lawfully import weapons. From the Ministry, weapons are transferred to private individuals and to military and police agencies.

According to research conducted by Stop US Arms to Mexico, based on official Mexican sources, since 2014, the Mexican military has sold more than 10,000 U.S.-produced Sig Sauer firearms to police in 19 Mexican states, including states where there is an extensive record of collusion between police and organized crime, such as Tamaulipas, Michoacán, and Chihuahua.

That some Mexican military and law enforcement personnel collude with organized crime is no secret. In its annual human rights report for Mexico, the US State Department says plainly, “Significant human rights issues included reports of the involvement by police, military, and other government officials and illegal armed groups in unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, and torture.”

A case in point is former General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who headed the Defense Ministry from 2012 to 2018, which notably includes the year Sig Sauer inked its $266 million deal. Last year the US Drug Enforcement Administration indicted Cienfuegos for drug trafficking and money laundering. It turns out that the Defense Minister was also the H-2 Cartel leader known as “El Padrino,” the “Godfather.”*

Mexico is not the only country with a problematic human rights record where Sig Sauer, the largest handgun exporter in the United States, sells it goods.

In the last five years, Sig Sauer has sold firearms to more than 80 countries, including several where human rights violations and/or firearm violence are serious problems, and where end use controls by importing countries are weak. These include at least $57 million in exports of pistols and gun parts to Mexico since 2015, as well as sales to Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, El Salvador, Israel, the Philippines, Guatemala, and Colombia. The United Arab Emirates, a dictatorship that has sponsored brutal militias in Libya and Yemen, has purchased $35 million in pistols and gun parts from Sig Sauer since 2015. A bipartisan Congressional coalition is currently proposing to cancel sales of advanced weapons systems to the Emirates.

Sig Sauer’s record is not reassuring.

The company’s CEO has pleaded guilty to charges in Germany that he violated restrictions on arms exports to Colombia, a country whose tawdry human rights record placed it off limits for arms exports under German law. Apparently, the company attempted to evade German law by shipping weapons from Germany to New Hampshire and then to Colombia. They got caught.

With the recent approval of a New Hampshire Business Finance Authority deal to purchase an empty factory in Rochester and lease it to Sig Sauer, the State is now an official partner in the production of weapons likely to be used in additional atrocities.

It’s not just the City and the State which are complicit in the arms trade; since the Trump administration changed rules governing firearms exports last year, licenses to export firearms are not even reported to Congress. That’s why we proposed to the Executive Council in November that Sig Sauer be required to make public disclosures of the places armaments made in Rochester are exported. Ron Goslin, Sig Sauer’s Vice President of Operations, said simply, “I don’t think it’s something we would want to do.” With that, the Council shrugged and voted 4-0 to approve the $21 million deal.

New Hampshire’s state seal will not be printed on Sig Sauer pistols produced in Rochester, but next time one of its guns is seized after what is legalistically called an “extra-judicial killing,” there will be an invisible seal of approval for those willing to look. Rochester citizens and taxpayers should be among them.

* Attorney General Barr dropped the charges against General Cienfuegos after Mexican military leaders protested and the government called on the Trump administration to relent. Mexico pledged to launch its own investigation. The general was cleared of all charges on January 14. The NY Times says, “the fact that General Cienfuegos will face no charges is not altogether surprising in a country where impunity for the well-connected is exceptionally high, even for minor crimes, and where more than 90 percent of homicides go unsolved.”

Arnie Alpert is a long-time human rights activist in New Hampshire. John Lindsay-Poland is the founder and coordinator of Stop US Arms to Mexico.

ACTIVE WITH THE ACTIVISTS

Big Goals, Small Steps: New Progressive Coalition Launches “Big and Bold” Agenda to Tackle Overlapping Crises

This article was first published at InDepthNH on January 16, 2021

Food. Housing. Health care. Transportation. Clean air and water. Stopping climate catastrophe. Good jobs. The needs couldn’t be more basic, but meeting them for everyone, especially people of color who have been excluded for generations, will take sweeping reforms that won’t happen overnight. But the challenges aren’t deterring NH Renews, a new coalition that launched on Thursday, January 14.

“We are here to address our state’s overlapping crises: mass unemployment, racial injustice, lack of affordable housing, overly expensive health care, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and so much more,” explained Asma Elhuni, Movement Politics Director for Rights and Democracy NH (RAD), one of the founding members of the

Renew New England

coalition.

“We are living through a major crisis and we need to act big and bold in this moment,” she said.

With 145 or more people watching over Zoom and Facebook, the meeting began with a greeting from Paul and Denise Pouliot, leaders of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook/Abenaki People, followed by videos illustrating the need and potential for visionary transformation.

Returning to a New Hampshire vision, Elhuni and Jennifer Dube from 350 NH unveiled an ambitious agenda aimed at sustainable local economies and de-carbonization. Good jobs, especially unionized jobs, are at the core of their proposed changes, they emphasized, whether they are talking about housing, health care, or ending food insecurity.

If you’re thinking of the NH Renews agenda as the Green New Deal brought down to a local level, you’d be right. In fact, that point was underscored by the presence at the meeting of Varshini Prakash, Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group that has put the issue on the national agenda. “We are at the precipice of a whole new age in American politics,” she said, calling it the “Decade of the Green New Deal” tying together movements for racial and economic justice with the movement to prevent climate catastrophe.

For the coming year, Elhuni said NH Renews’ attention will be focused in three areas: housing retrofits, food justice, and “Green Justice Zones” focused on environmental remediation. At the State House, they will back legislation to support “green building standards” and de-felonization of drug possession.

The coalition also plans to back efforts to reduce food insecurity for low-income communities and provide financial support for small, independent farmers who use sustainable ecological practices and fair labor standards.

Representative Rebecca McWilliams (D-Concord) and Senator Rebecca Kwoka (D-Portsmouth) outlined their own legislative priorities, including support for affordable housing, tenants’ rights, and renewable energy.

In addition to RAD and 350NH, NH Renews includes the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook/Abenaki People, Upper Valley Rise, the Conservation Law Foundation, American Friends Service Committee, Granite State Organizing Project, Merrimack River Watershed Council, NH Youth Movement, and Unitarian Universalist Action. The statewide group is part of a regional association with comparable coalitions in the other five New England states and a political arm.

Elhuni said she was pleased with the turnout for the launch meeting, which was multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-generational. The meeting organizers paused from time to time to poll participants about their interests and provided a live transcript scrolling at the bottom of the screen throughout the meeting.

“Let’s insure people no longer go hungry on our watch. That people no longer have to choose between paying their electric bills or buying their children jackets. That our economy is no longer destroying the very foundations of our living ecosystem. And a society where people aren’t forced to self-medicate, and creating space for people to come together in safety without being criminalized,” Elhuni told the participants.

At the end of about 90 minutes, everyone was invited to sign up to join committees which will flesh out specific plans in the coalition’s chosen issue areas.

With Chris Sununu in the governor’s office and Republicans controlling the House and Senate, the leaders of the new effort appear to have their short-term ambitions realistically in check. But they’ve got their eyes on the future, with plans to train and support like-minded candidates for local and state office. “We are building a base to take over in two years,” says Elhuni.

Homelessness is Fatal

This article, from my “Active with the Activists” series, was first published December 22, 2020 at InDepthNH.

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Alex Balcum “would count your buttons and proceed to push all of them,” recalls a homeless outreach worker, but he was “also one of the kindest souls we had the pleasure of working with.” He died in July in Rochester, one of 59 people whose lives were remembered Monday evening in Concord at the annual Homeless Persons Memorial Day vigil.

They were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and at least one grandfather. They were veterans of the armed forces, musicians, and church goers. One of them has been president of the NH Gyrocopter Club. Some were well known, especially to staff and volunteers at the state’s emergency shelters and soup kitchens. Some were remembered only with a first name. Their deaths in the past year were caused, at least in part, to their experience of homelessness, an all too common condition in New Hampshire and throughout the United States.

One by one, their names were read out as the sky over Concord grew dark on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice. With each name, a volunteer stepped forward and placed an electric candle on a table visible to the 75 or so participants who stood by silently, perhaps reflecting on the lives of each individual.

This year’s vigil was led by the Rev. Michael Leuchtenberger, pastor of the local Unitarian Universalist Church and a board member of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, which was one of two dozen sponsoring groups. Prior to the reading of names, the Rev. Kate Atkinson of St. Paul’s Church read a poem, Susan Brewer of the local Baha’i Faith offered a commentary, and Ellen Groh of the Concord Coalition read Governor Sununu’s annual Homeless Memorial Day proclamation.

As an annual ritual, observed in Concord for the past two decades, the event is an act of public witness to the human toll of homelessness. While individual deaths may be attributed in part to addiction or mental illness, complicated by a global pandemic, no one doubts that the primary problem is the state’s chronic shortage of housing affordable to people with low incomes.

The Governor’s Council on Housing Stability says the 2020 median rent for a two-bedroom unit in NH is $1,413 per month, up 5 percent from the previous year. With prices that high, the number of people who face “housing instability” is much larger than the number who are actually homeless, they said in a report issued a week ago. Citing figures from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the NH Coalition to End Homelessness says high rental costs mean an individual earning the minimum wage would have to work 129 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to afford a typical 2-bedroom apartment. Even at $15 an hour, 65 hours of labor would be needed. For too many people, the math wasn’t working even before the pandemic.

According to the NH Coalition’s annual report, released on December 17, the state’s homelessness crisis was already worse than the prior year when the coronavirus hit and spread. With the pandemic, rising unemployment, especially in low-wage sectors like retail and food service where workers were already housing insecure, placed even more people at risk. “Without additional rental assistance, those who are precariously housed and who are unable to find immediate employment face the threat of eviction and homelessness, placing even greater stress on the homeless service system in New Hampshire,” the Coalition says.

The Coalition says the crisis is urban and rural, felt in every part of the state. They also report that African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately at higher risk of becoming homeless.

When the pandemic hit, members of the homeless community were apparently more tuned in than some of our legislators. Aware of the hazards posed in densely populated shelters, more people who were homeless apparently decided to try to live outdoors. And while living in a tent might have enabled safer social distancing, it also distanced people from plumbing, heating, communications links, and social supports promoted by the state’s network of emergency shelters. It wasn’t a solution.

Monday’s vigil in Concord was one of nine held statewide, all timed to coincide with the year’s longest night and the official beginning of winter. Like the public encampment outside the Superior Courthouse in downtown Manchester earlier this year, the vigils bring visibility to a problem that those of us who are comfortably housed might otherwise choose to ignore.

The report of the Governor’s Council of Housing Instability, like reports that preceded it, lists concrete steps to take, with an emphasis on data analysis and planning and an eminently practical suggestion that vacant commercial space be converted to housing. Some measures should be obvious; in addition to more studies and better coordination between agencies, we need more investment in affordable housing, more services for the chronically homeless, and more attention to the educational and psychological needs of children who lack a stable place to live. As the NH Coalition proposes, “all housing and homeless policy recommendations and program initiatives need to be assessed and developed through a racial equity lens.” And while the governor might not want to hear it, the people who suffer housing insecurity would benefit from a higher minimum wage. We’re not lacking in solutions; we’re lacking in political will.

With the State House lit up in the background, the Rev. Jason Wells of the NH Council of Churches and the NH Poor People’s Campaign finished the program by rallying support for an extended moratorium on evictions in the Covid-19 relief bill that was lurching toward final approval. That would be a good step. When Homeless Persons Memorial Day comes around 12 months from now, we can look back at whether any appreciable progress was made while we read another list of people whose deaths were caused, in part, by our lack of political will.

After the Concord Monitor ran a story about a local grocery store manager’s non-compliance with mask requirements, I sent this as a letter to the editor.  It was published in the Monitor on November 3.

Historians tell us that the publication of Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, in 1905, awakened the nation to the public health threat posed by appalling conditions in meatpacking plants. It was not long before the federal government responded by passage of the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 which enabled government action to keep tainted meat from the market. The Pure Food and Drug Act was adopted the same day and other laws followed. According to Suzanne Junod, a historian at the Food and Drug Administration, "Added to initial concerns about food, and in the wake of germ theory, came increasing concerns about microorganisms in foods as a cause of disease."

A century later, it is conventional wisdom that those who produce and sell food to the public can be required by the government to observe reasonable measures to keep dangerous substances out of products they sell. Individuals and corporations that want to enter the food business have to comply with a range of regulations, including being subject to inspections and licensing. When they refuse, they can be fined or have their licenses revoked. The regulations have enabled consumers to have faith in the food we buy, which in turn has enabled food-related businesses to thrive.

The requirement that workers be required to wear masks to protect customers from the spread of a deadly disease may be a new rule. But it is only a small one attached to a comprehensive regime of public health protection measures going back to the days of Upton Sinclair and Teddy Roosevelt.

The Power of Nonviolence: The Enduring Legacy of Richard Gregg, a biography by John Wooding

john wooding cover

The name, Richard Gregg, his book, The Power of Nonviolence, and the concept of “moral jiu-jitsu,” which Gregg introduced in his writing about Gandhi, have been part of my understanding of nonviolence for decades. But it wasn’t until reading John Wooding’s biography that I knew anything about Richard Gregg, himself.

The son of a Harvard-educated Congregational pastor, educated at Harvard like his siblings, and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Gregg seemed destined to enter the elite world. But after a detour into the labor movement in the 1920s, Gregg discovered Mohandas Gandhi, lived in India for several years to study Gandhian methods, and returned to the USA to write The Power of Nonviolence, first published in 1934. In that work and other books and essays, Gregg “introduced the concept of nonviolent action, stressing the possibilities of training and discipline, of strategy and tactics, and most tellingly, the idea that nonviolent resistance was akin to a military campaign, both physical and spiritual,” Wooding writes.

“No pacifist before him had involved the military metaphor to inform and advocate nonviolent resistance,” according to Wooding. Nonviolent action’s potential came from dramatizing moral, spiritual, and political principles in a “public and collective performance designed to gain the sympathy of opponents and observers.” As the Gandhian movement demonstrated, nonviolence could be an effective approach to ending tyranny.

The book soon “became a training manual and argument for pacifists across the world,” including activists like Bayard Rustin and George Houser, who applied Gandhian methods to the American de-segregation struggle. A decade later, Glenn Smiley would give a copy to the young Martin Luther King, Jr., who had recently assumed leadership of the Montgomery Improvement Association. “Gregg’s impact on King is well known,” says Wooding, “and King’s writing during this period frequently carried very similar themes and perspectives to those laid out by Gregg.” King would write the forward to the third edition of The Power of Nonviolence in 1959. By the next year, The Power of Nonviolence would top SNCC’s reading list, above even King’s Stride Toward Freedom.

As Wooding tells the story, Gregg’s connection to Gandhi goes well beyond the ingredients of nonviolent resistance to include elements of the constructive program, especially voluntary simplicity and living in harmony with nature. “For Gregg, the advocacy of nonviolent resistance to war and social inequality could not be distinguished from the need to create a new social and economic system” in place of industrial capitalism and communism. From that perspective, Gregg helped lay the groundwork for the counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s, not just the protest movements of the time.

Along the way, Richard Gregg crossed paths with plenty of notable radicals and intellectuals, including Scott and Helen Nearing, Rufus Jones, A.J. Muste, Bob and Marge Swann, Bill Coperthwaite, and W.E.B. Dubois. Gregg would establish connections to Pendle Hill, the Committee for Nonviolent Action, the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the American Friends Service Committee, and connect with pioneers of organic farming. (There’s even a New Hampshire connection: two of his sisters would settle in South Tamworth, where his brother-in-law ran an innovative woodworking enterprise and Gregg paid frequent visits.)

Gregg would become something of a celebrity in pacifist circles, but those circles were small, indeed. With the exception of family connections, he never went back to the world of Ivy League elites, instead living simply, raising organic vegetables, and scraping by on little income.

How John Wooding came across Gregg’s notebooks in a yurt in eastern Maine helps bring the story to life, as do the author’s reflections on his pacifist father. The book includes a few distractions, and I would have appreciated knowing more about Gregg’s reactions to fascism and global war in the middle part of the century. And there’s little about the actual achievement of Indian independence. But Wooding’s book is a great read, well told and documented. He has helped rescue Richard Gregg’s legacy from relative obscurity and for that I am grateful.

John Wooding, The Power of Nonviolence: The Enduring Legacy of Richard Gregg, Loom Press, 2020

This article was first published in InDepthNH on November 10, 2020.  

ACTIVE WITH THE ACTIVISTS

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When Eleazar Lopez Ayala arrived at the Norris Cotton Federal Building in Manchester on Monday, his family and dozens of local supporters feared they might not see him again.

Threatened with deportation to Honduras, a country he left as a teenager decades ago, Eleazar received a temporary reprieve and left with new hopes that a change in political winds might enable him to remain in New Hampshire with his wife and four children.

The ordeal began three years ago when Eleazar had a flat tire while driving through Deerfield and asked a nearby homeowner to use her phone to call for assistance.  “When they left, the lady called the police,” recalled Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees.

The Deerfield police, in turn, called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency responsible for detention and deportation of unauthorized immigrants.  Soon Eleazar was in jail, facing deportation for entering the country without a visa and for getting a flat tire in the wrong town.

In the months that followed, Eleazar’s story became a well-known local example of the cruelty of federal immigration policy, under which community members are torn from their families and returned to countries where they may be unsafe.  Honduras, with the world’s third highest homicide rate in 2019, is a case in point.

Even the US State Department says Honduras has a record of “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; killings of and threats to media members by criminal elements; widespread government corruption; and threats and violence against indigenous, Afro-descendent communities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.”

Since his time in ICE detention, Eleazar has received support from his local church, members of the Granite State Organizing Project, and a man from Keene who heard the story and donated funds for an immigration lawyer.

He has also had support from participants in the Interfaith Vigil for Immigrant Justice, a group which since 2017 has gathered at the Manchester ICE office every time they knew of immigrants scheduled for appointments with local ICE officials.  Outside the Norris Cotton Federal Building, they have offered prayers and songs, and taken the “Jericho Walk,” seven times around the building calling for the walls of injustice to come tumbling down.

The vigils were suspended in March when ICE stopped requiring immigrants to show up in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  But when members heard that Eleazar had been ordered to show up at the ICE office and to bring a one-way plane ticket to Honduras, they mobilized quickly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After describing Eleazar’s plight to a group of about 40 people spaced safely in a wide circle in the plaza next to the federal office building, Castillo said, “Let’s pray for a miracle.”

Rev. Sara Rockwell, Rector at Saint Andrews Episcopal Church in Manchester, asked God for comfort and courage for Eleazar and his family.

“We pray that your mercy may prevail among those who work at ICE, who may have the leeway, they have the ability to stay this situation, and to grant him reprieve,” she said.

Rev. Jason Wells, Executive Director of the NH Council of Churches, followed, calling attention to the fact that the day was the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the first major Nazi pogrom against Jews in Germany and Austria, a date generally seen as the start of the Holocaust.  No one questioned the relevance of the occasion. 

When Eleazar and his family arrived, Rev. Rockwell led another prayer.  Wheeling his suitcase beside him, Eleazar approached the building, went inside, and quickly returned to wait for the ICE agent.   When he went in again, Maggie Fogarty of the American Friends Service Committee led the vigilers in “We Shall Overcome” followed by a period of silence.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then, the miracle happened.  Eleazar emerged from the building and announced he had been given a temporary reprieve, perhaps due to Hurricane Eta, which has shut down all air travel to Honduras, or perhaps due to the prayers.  He has been given a new date to return to ICE with another plane ticket.

“I feel happier,” he told me. “Because now that they have given me another opportunity.  We have to work on this to see if I can manage to remain here in this country with my family.”

According to Fogarty, the extension will give Eleazar a chance to work with his lawyer to gain more time, perhaps until a new president with a different attitude toward immigrants is inaugurated.  That gives Eleazar hope.

“Hope is the last thing that ends,” he said.

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