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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.

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My latest ‘Active With the Activists” column for InDepthNH, published there on November 5, 2020.

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CONCORD – Alarm bells went off across the country when President Donald Trump began signaling that he might not concede power if he were to lose the election on November 3.

Sparked in part by articles published by George Lakey and Daniel Hunter, who pointed out that in other countries coups have been successfully resisted by mass nonviolent action, groups in New Hampshire started to plan for contingencies.  With analysis and models provided by national projects such as Choose Democracy and Protect the Results, New Hampshire activist groups hatched plans for active resistance should it be called for.

Sure enough, Trump tweeted late on election night, that “they are trying to STEAL the Election” by actually counting votes cast through mailed-in ballots.  “We want all voting to stop,” he ranted, after all voting had in fact stopped but while votes were still being counted.  

Later on Wednesday, as the sun went down over the State House and vote counts in Michigan and Wisconsin were indicating that Joe Biden had probably won, a crowd of nearly  200 people gathered in Concord to “send a clear message that all the votes are counted nationally,” in the words of Asma Elhuni, Movement Politics Director for Rights and Democracy.

Joined by members of 350NH, the NH Youth Movement, and the Manchester, Nashua, and Seacoast chapters of Black Lives Matter, speakers made clear that they were not there just to bid adieu to Donald Trump.

Debbie Opramolla of NH Poor People’s Campaign speaks to the crowd in Concord.

While obviously looking forward to the departure from the White House of a man who has openly given comfort to white supremacists, the speakers, mostly young women of color, delivered emphatic statements that the defense of the interests of Black people, immigrants, workers, and the LGBTQ community can’t be left to Joe Biden and the traditional leaders of the Democratic Party.   

Elhuni, whose organization campaigns on issues such as raising the minimum wage, promoting Medicare for All, and stopping the use of fossil fuels, said they were also there to send “a strong message to our local government that we are going to continue organizing and that they need to listen to the people, and that we are going to continue to demand fair and equitable policies.” Elhuni and other speakers made it clear that whatever the election’s outcome, an end to racism and inequality will require continued vigilance and more.

In the meantime, “we could be dealing with a coup-like situation,” commented Josie Pinto, Political Director for the NH Youth Movement, when the rally ended.  “Today we made it clear that we are going to do everything we can to make sure every vote is counted, that we are watching, and that we are not going anywhere,” Pinto added.

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Plans for additional rallies, tentatively set for Hanover, Manchester, Dover, Laconia, Portsmouth, Keene, Exeter, and Plymouth on Saturday, may be called off if it looks like Trump has lost and is willing to concede defeat.  On the other hand, if Trump follows through on threats to refuse to go along with a peaceful transition in defiance of the will of voters, New Hampshire groups are ready to take to the streets.  

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Marchers leave the NHSC

Active with the Activists

This story was first published by InDepthNH on September 26, 2020.

CONCORD – Anguish, anger, frustration, defiance and determination were in the air outside the New Hampshire Supreme Court Friday when more than 200 people, organized by the state’s Black Lives Matter groups, rallied in solidarity with Breonna Taylor and her family and called for New Hampshire residents to address issues close to home.

The demonstration followed the decision of a Kentucky grand jury not to charge the police officers responsible for Taylor’s killing with murder.  One officer was charged with wanton endangerment for shots fired through the wall of Taylor’s apartment.

“You have a woman who was murdered in her own home, and one person gets charged for the bullets that miss her,” said Julian Maduro, one of several speakers who addressed a rally outside the courthouse.  “Now what does that say to every black woman in this country except that you don’t matter, except that a wall means more than your life?”

“Any system that is going to say that a wall matters more than a human being, it needs to fall apart.  It needs to be taken down,” Maduro charged.

Julian Maduro speaks to the crowd gathered Friday at the New Hampshire Supreme Court in Concord.

While most of the rally speakers confessed to being worn out, they showed plenty of energy in their denunciations of systemic racism, their calls for greater respect for Black women, and their urging for their supporters to use their votes to hold public officials accountable.

While the focus was on justice for Breonna Taylor, speakers repeatedly spoke about issues closer to home and organizers passed out black rubber wristbands saying, “NH IS NOT INNOCENT.”

Black Lives Matter organizer Ronelle Tshiela hands out “NH is not innocent” wristbands.

New Hampshire could be “the next hashtag,” warned Ronelle Tshiela, a member of Black Lives Matter Manchester who served on Gov. Chris Sununu’s Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community, and Transparency.

“Tell your neighbors, tell your friends, tell your family that New Hampshire is not innocent, and we need to continue to fight for our lives before somebody else has to do it for us,” Tshiela said.

Following the courthouse steps rally, the crowd followed a “Black Lives Matter” banner down the Supreme Court driveway to Hazen Drive and over to Loudon Road, one of Concord’s busiest commercial zones.  Taking over the eastbound lane, with police cruisers’ lights flashing around them, the marchers chanted Breonna Taylor’s name and waved signs on their way to Keach Park, where they rallied again.

Marching on Loudon Road to Keach Park in Concord.

The Commission’s recommendations for data collection and investigation of police misconduct are steps in the right direction, she said, but faulted the group for failure to address qualified immunity for police officers and training in the use of “no knock” warrants like the one employed by the Louisville police who killed Taylor in her own apartment.

While we were marching in Concord, a Black friend driving home in another part of the state was stopped by a police officer on dubious grounds. He let her drive away, but followed her home, leaving her frightened and angry.

A moment of silence was held for Breonna Taylor Friday at the Black Lives Matter rally in Concord.

“Every Black woman here knows it could have just as easily been us.  It’s terrifying,” Samantha Searles said on the steps of the Supreme Court.

“We talk about staying woke.  A lot.  But we really do mean it.  Because of people like Breonna who don’t get the opportunity to wake up like we all did this morning.  Think about that when you wake up tomorrow.  It’s not just a hashtag.  While you are awake you had better work, so we don’t have to do this again.” 

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This article was published first on the website of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program on June 16, 2020. 

From what I heard later, my hiring in 1981 as the program coordinator for AFSC’s New Hampshire Program was not a sure thing. I was pretty well known already in the circles traveled by Quakers in New Hampshire due to my work with the Clamshell Alliance and the “No Nukes” movement. I had done some research for the NH Program on organizing possibilities relative to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a major industrial facility that overhauled nuclear submarines. When draft registration was reinstated by Jimmy Carter in 1980, I had participated in AFSC-sponsored draft counselor training and actions at post offices. But some people thought I might not be the right person for the job.

One factor affecting my reputation was an incident from the conclusion of the 1977 occupation of the Seabrook nuclear power plant construction site. More than 1,400 people had been arrested and sent to National Guard Armories scattered across southeastern New Hampshire. I was one of a couple hundred people held at the Concord Armory, my first trip to that city.

Refusing to pay bail until we were assured that everyone would be released on their own recognizance (a promise to show up in court for arraignment), we were in a principled stand-off for nearly two weeks with the state’s ultra-right wing and ultra-pro nuke governor, Meldrim Thomson. 

Finally, at the end of the second week of incarceration in the armories, the Clamshell lawyers reached a deal with the state. If everyone who was still being held would agree to accept a finding of guilty without going through arraignment and trial, we would be released without bail and able to appeal our convictions to the Superior Court, where we would get a trial by jury. It wasn’t a bad deal, but the idea that we would be marched in and out of the court and be found guilty without trial struck me as a “kangaroo court.” So, I decided to fashion a kangaroo outfit out of what little resources I had at the armory.  

First, I put my long hair up in pigtails to represent ears. I made a sock puppet baby kangaroo and stuffed it in a pouch made with a bandana sewed onto my t-shirt. Suitably kangaroo’d up, with my hands curled in front of my chest, I hopped up to the doorway of the Hampton District Court. “You’ll have to leave the kangaroo outside,” said the police officer guarding the door, with a straight face and his finger pointed at my pouch. With a sad look, I passed the sock puppet to an affinity group member outside and hopped into the court, where I was found guilty and entered my appeal.

Four years later, that was about the only thing AFSC people outside New Hampshire knew about me.  Some of them suspected I might not have the proper demeanor to represent the Service Committee.

In my first week on the job, we heard that the U.S. Air Force would be shipping military planes to Saudi Arabia from Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, and that Vice President George H. W. Bush was going to drive down from his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, to see them off. Since a call for an end to arms sales to the Middle East was on the AFSC agenda, I organized a demonstration at the entrance to the base. When the vice president drove in, we were there with signs that said, “Stop Middle East Arms Sales” and made it into local news coverage. Doubts about my suitability for employment with AFSC began to fade.  

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When I began a review of notes from my early years with AFSC, I already remembered many of the details of the New Hampshire peace movement in the early 1980s. Following the lead of AFSC in Vermont, we coordinated the introduction of resolutions into dozens of Town Meetings in March of 1982 calling on the United States and Soviet Union to halt—or “freeze”–all further production, testing and deployment of nuclear warheads and the missiles and planes designed to deliver them to targets across the globe. The surprising success of the Town Meeting campaign, in communities which by and large voted Republican, caught the attention of national political leaders and changed the discourse over nuclear weapons at a time in which a popular president was leading a massive military build-up against a foe he termed “the evil empire.” Within three years, Ronald Reagan had shifted from a strategy based on waging and winning a nuclear war with the Soviet Union to one built around negotiations for nuclear limits. In 1985, Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev came close to agreeing to the abolition of nuclear weapons. The basic story is clear in my memory.

But there were a lot of details of the peace movement’s vibrancy which had slipped from my memory. For example, the month after Freeze resolutions were adopted in 48 of the 61 New Hampshire towns which considered them, my staff report mentioned plans for a “New Englanders for Peace” march in Portsmouth, with 1000 people expected. The following month, rather casually, my report said 2500 people marched from Pierce Island, across the Piscataqua River from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to Pease Air Force Base in Newington. Fourteen busloads went from New Hampshire to New York for the massive peace rally in Central Park in May 1982, timed to coincide with a Special Session on Disarmament at the United Nations.

Meanwhile, seventeen organizations, including the NH People’s Alliance and the NH chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, were participating in a NH Fair Budget Coalition, which sought to get the attention of elected officials to skewed federal budget priorities. My notes report that among the 40 or 50 people attending an April 1983 “fair budget” forum were Congressman Norm D’Amours and Will Abbott, then state director for Congressman Judd Gregg. “I set up a ‘penny poll,’” my notes say, “where people got the opportunity to ‘vote’ on how they wanted their tax dollars spent; military spending proved very unpopular compared to health care, education, transportation, and housing.”

And as I contemplate our current situation, in which a president averse to diplomacy and enamored of nuclear weapons drives a mostly horrendous foreign policy with little public resistance and shifts the public treasury more and more to military programs, I have to wonder why we were able to mount an effective peace movement in the Reagan period and seem to be unable to do so now.

I offer some thoughts on this and invite yours.

“We are surrounded by wars and rumors of war.”

First, let’s look at the current situation. Paul Shannon summed it up recently in a talk at the conference on “The Next Two Years and Beyond,” held in Boston shortly after the 2018 election. After describing the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Yemen, with weapons sold to U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, Paul observed, “That’s just one war, Yemen.’ He went on:

But we are surrounded today by wars and rumors of war:

A new base in Syria

War in Afghanistan

Troops back in Iraq.

Drone attacks all over.

Our president withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal even though Iran lived up to all its requirements. Instead he imposes deadly sanctions on Iran that will kill many as they did in Iraq under Bill Clinton. And he builds a dangerous alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel specifically to confront Iran. A massive new war is not out of the question.

Our president has announced he will withdraw from the INF nuclear treaty with Russia, the very treaty that ended the cold war in the late 1980s.

Meanwhile Washington continues Obama’s trillion-dollar modernization of our nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon’s new nuclear posture review makes using nuclear weapons thinkable.

NATO conducts military exercises near the Russian border after Russia has conducted its own massive military maneuvers. And the demonization of Russia by liberals and the Democrats rolls on.

And tragically we see the growing glorification of the military as the only institution in the country that Americans feel proud of.

Paul says, “The peace movement is building itself up again to counter these dangers and offer alternatives.” I hope this is not just wishful thinking.

It’s not that there is no activism. Consider the 2017 “Women’s March,” considered “the largest single-day protest in U.S. history” (although the largest assembly, in Washington, was still smaller than the 1982 disarmament rally in New York). Or consider the Families Belong Together rallies of 2018, when mobilizations took place in some 700 cities and towns to protest the cruelties of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement practices.

The Peace Movement is Hard to Find in “The Resistance”

And yet, the anti-war movement is hard to detect amidst the “resistance” to Trumpist assaults on democracy and human rights. Opposition to militarism and ranks low on the progressive agenda. Presented with a resolution my own town passed earlier this year calling for a shift of public resources away from the military, my liberal Congresswoman said the issue ranks too low among her constituents’ concerns for it to matter.

Imagine you are a high school junior, born in 2001. Your country has been at war in Afghanistan for your entire life, but you will rarely hear about it in what passes for the news. And while working class people continue to enlist in the military – perhaps out of a sense of patriotism, perhaps out of a need for gainful employment with benefits, perhaps for lack of other attractive options – you may not know there are people in your own community who oppose the war and want it to end. If you think about it at all, you might conclude that perpetual war is a normal state of being.

It might be said that the urgency of other issues – racist police practices, institutionalized xenophobia, climate disruption, toxic masculinity come to mind – distracts attention from international events and U.S. foreign policy. But when I think back to the 1980s, I recall a period disturbingly similar to the present period, yet with a powerful peace movement.

Donald Trump’s Political Ancestry

In a sense, Reagan can be seen as Trump’s closest political ancestor. Coming out of the world of entertainment, with little interest in policy details and an understanding of the world based on the plots of movies in which he starred, he was known as “the great communicator” for his ability to sway people with platitudes and a promise to return America to a (white) paradise that never was. Reagan’s domestic policy priorities were tax cuts, deregulation, and increased military spending at the expense of human welfare programs. Sound familiar?

Reagan brought with him into his administration a troop of ideologues who would be right at home in the Trump White House. There was Attorney General Ed Meese, a Reagan confidante who was forced to resign in the midst of a corporate bribery scandal. As top law enforcer, Meese believed there was no need for police to inform suspects of their right to remain silent. “The thing is,” he told US News and World Report, “you don’t have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.” (Meese later served on Trump’s transition team.)

There was James Watt, the Interior Secretary who believed environmental destruction was a sign that the second coming of Jesus was at hand. There was Oliver North, who ran arms to Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries out of the National Security Council after Congress barred the CIA from doing it themselves. There was Chester Crocker, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who engineered the “constructive engagement” approach to South African apartheid as a friendlier alternative to the Carter administration’s human rights focus. And there was General T.K. Jones, head of civil defense planning in the Pentagon, who famously said of nuclear war, “If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.”

Resistance in the Reagan Era

The people rose up. When the AIDS crisis emerged, gay activists protested the administration’s callous disregard for their lives and forced the pharmaceutical industry to produce affordable drugs. The anti-apartheid movement spread from city to city, state to state, and campus to campus, forcing governments to withdraw economic cooperation with the South African regime, aiding in its eventual collapse. Nearly half a million people joined the AFL-CIO sponsored Solidarity March in Washington after Reagan fired more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers.

A massive solidarity and anti-intervention movement grew up in response to the administration’s aggression against Nicaragua and its support for brutal right-wing regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala. People of faith flocked to the border between Nicaragua and Honduras to “witness for peace.” Churches offered sanctuary to immigrants who had fled violence only to be denied a lawful right to remain in the U.S. Activists developed a “pledge of resistance,” a plan for nationwide sit-ins at local Congressional offices in the event of a Nicaragua invasion. When the administration declared an economic embargo instead, “Pledge groups across the country planned and executed acts of civil disobedience across 80 cities in 16 states, with over 10,000 demonstrators and 2,000 arrestees,” according to the Global Nonviolence Data Base. Pledge of Resistance actions expanded to 42 states by 1985.

The nuclear disarmament movement, which had been quiet since atmospheric testing was banned in the early 1960s, sprang back into life. With the 1979 “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” the short paper by Randall Forsberg that outlined a demand for a US-USSR nuclear freeze, as a rallying point, the movement spread rapidly in response to the Reagan administration’s nuclear build-up, its doctrine calling for the USA to “prevail” in an all-out nuclear war, and the president’s inclination to see the US-Soviet conflict as a battle between good and evil. It wasn’t just the Freeze Campaign itself. There was Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, inspired by Dr. Helen Caldicott’s apocalyptic warnings. Beyond War, a California-based group including ex-CIA officials, reached professional class audiences with the message that war was “obsolete” in the nuclear age. Physicians for Social Responsibility provided clinical warnings about the actual health implications of nuclear war. Bridges for Peace, Promoting Enduring Peace, and others promoted people-to-people exchanges with communities on the other side of “the iron curtain.” Ground Zero, founded by a former National Security Council staff member who didn’t even support the Freeze, ran educational programs on nuclear dangers alongside the rest of the movement.

Within a rather short time, the movement grew large enough to affect pop culture. I remember the “Bloom County” comic strip making friendly fun of the New England town meetings with a character introducing a resolution to fill missile silos with pudding. “99 Luftballons,” a German pop song, became “99 Red Balloons,” a warning about the danger of accidental nuclear war in a hit English language version. The movement reached its biggest cultural impact with the 1983 release of a TV film, “The Day After,” depicting the aftermath of a nuclear war. According to my staff reports, I joined the publisher of the right-wing Union Leader newspaper and a few others for a live, post-film panel discussion afterward at the local ABC affiliate.

By 1985, Reagan’s attitude had been adjusted. A new Soviet leader, determined to find a way out of endless conflict, made it possible for the US and USSR to get back on track for nuclear arms control if not on a path toward abolition. By the end of the decade, the Cold War was over, leaving too many people with the impression that the danger of nuclear war was in the past. But we had made a mark on history.

Why were we able to build such a powerful movement?

For one thing, Reagan was elected barely five years after the United States was booted out of Vietnam. By 1975, the war there was not only massively unpopular, but the resistance movement had developed a powerful critique of the U.S. policies which got us there in the first place. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had put it at Riverside Church in 1967, “the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”

“These are revolutionary times,” Dr. King said. “All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born.” For growing numbers of participants in the anti-war movement, the United States wasn’t just wrong, it was on the wrong side. In other words, the war was not just built on lies, it was built on a deeply rooted and largely bi-partisan policy of aggressive imperialism. And with the ideology of the war system based in extreme anti-communism, the ideology of the peace movement was generally anti-anti-communist if not decidedly leftist.

By the mid-70s, the peace movement was looking at the U.S. role in the Caribbean, in Central and South America, in South Africa and the “frontline states,” and in the oil-rich Middle East. That Reagan’s election came before such lessons had been forgotten made it easier to mobilize the public to oppose a reprise of Cold War militarism.

Another development was the rise of the movement against nuclear power, especially in New England where the Freeze movement would find its first active expressions. After years of largely ineffective anti-nuclear intervention by mainstream environmental groups, the shift to nonviolent direct action at nuclear construction sites in Montague, Massachusetts and Seabrook, New Hampshire gave mostly young “No Nukes” activists a chance to apply lessons learned from anti-war, civil rights, and feminist struggles of the previous period. The Clamshell Alliance, the network of locally based New England groups which led the Seabrook protests, was unhesitant about linking opposition to nuclear power and weapons. It was internationalist in orientation, actively seeking ties to the anti-apartheid movement and to groups challenging the pro-nuclear, anti-communist Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

Although the Clamshell peaked in 1978, New England was still peppered with local No Nukes groups when Reagan was elected two years later. Not only did those groups provide fertile ground for a revived nuclear disarmament movement, they provided leaders with community and political organizing experience. Here we might single out for special attention Randy Kehler, the Vietnam era war resister credited with inspiring Daniel Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers. Kehler later settled in Franklin County, Massachusetts, where he was active in the local Alternative Energy Coalition opposing the Seabrook and Montague nukes. In 1980, he was the lead organizer of the referendum campaign that first put the nuclear freeze to a popular vote.

Why Not Now?

What I’m trying to understand is why a similar form of resistance, focused on U.S. foreign and military policy and especially the danger of nuclear war, has not arisen since Trump’s election. It’s not like we weren’t warned when candidate Trump revealed he had no idea what the “nuclear triad” is, or when he reportedly asked about the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, “if we have them, why can’t we use them?”

Could it be that the intense anti-war sentiment aroused by George W. Bush’s war in Iraq has thoroughly dissipated? At the time, it seemed like anti-war sentiment was not based just on reaction to American body bags but to a fuller critique of U.S. policy in southwest Asia. Didn’t significant parts of the anti-war movement develop an analysis that probed deeper than W’s personal animus against Saddam Hussein and the orchestrated campaign of lies about weapons of mass destruction?

Could it be that the trauma induced by the 9/11 terrorist attacks was so deep that the American public has been cowed into accepting anything done in the name of national security? That’s a tempting theory, but what, then, do we make of the massive movement that opposed the Iraq war? Recall the demonstrations in 150 U.S. cities and hundreds more across the globe on February 15, 2003, termed “the largest protest event in human history.” The NY Times equated the anti-war movement to a “superpower” rival of the U.S. and its military allies.

Yes, the “baby boomers” who grew up under the shadow of The Bomb and who hid under their desks in civil defense drills were more sensitive to nuclear dangers than the millennials who grew up after the Cold War had ended. But where is the foreign policy agenda of the baby boomer progressives who make up such a large component of the anti-Trump resistance?

Did the election of Barack Obama, who ran for president as an anti-war candidate and left office as droner-in-chief, cast a magic spell over the public? Can the fact that the massive nuclear build-up began with Obama’s approval account for the fact that Trump’s policy – largely an extension of his predecessor’s – make it immune from serious scrutiny? Were progressives that reluctant to criticize Obama that their critical capacities were wiped out?

Which brings me to the relationship between progressives and the Democratic Party. Could it be that progressive activists find it harder to distance themselves from the Democrats than they did in earlier generations? The 1960s anti-war movement arose in resistance to a Democratic president with liberal tendencies on the domestic front. While the movement later found champions among Democratic Senators like McCarthy and McGovern, and some of its leaders (e.g. Tom Hayden) found their way into Democratic politics, it did not lose its ability to critique a bi-partisan foreign policy consensus rooted in Cold War ideology and the dictates of capitalism.

That Hilary Clinton was a hawk offers little explanation, for foreign policy played little role in the 2016 campaign and her support was largely based on anti-Trump sentiments.

What of Bernie Sanders, who led a serious (he called it a “political revolution,” after all) alternative approach that almost captured the Democratic Party? I recall one of his earliest campaign stops in Concord, New Hampshire, months before the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, when he was asked about the power of the military-industrial-complex. Acknowledging its unwarranted influence, Bernie was quick to shift to more comfortable territory. “The military-industrial-complex is enormously powerful, no question about it,” he said, adding “You have on Wall Street six financial institutions that have assets that are equivalent to sixty percent of the GDP of the United States. You have big energy companies who are unbelievably powerful. So, I think what you have is a ruling class in America.” Then he was back to the power of insurance and drug companies to block progress toward single-payer health care.

Bernie’s campaign, consistent with his Congressional career, was built on economic issues: jobs, wages, health care, education. For Sanders (and much of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party), even international trade is considered primarily as a domestic issue. Despite Hilary’s reputation as a hawk, Bernie never tried to make an alternative to the bi-partisan national security consensus a significant component of his campaign. Could that be why his legions of followers have failed to do so as well?

Two months before the 2018 election, Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation wrote “the progressive left’s national security policy has been mostly missing in action.“ That opinion is hard to argue with, and there are plenty of good outlines for what such a policy would be. But without some clamor from below, we can’t expect an agenda to have much clout.

Earlier this week, the town council in Durham, New Hampshire, approved a resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Seacoast Peace Response, a local group formed after the 9-11 attacks, is working with activists in other communities to bring similar resolutions before City Councils and Town Meetings in the coming months. With the 2020 New Hampshire Presidential Primary about 14 months away and the tide of possible presidential candidates visiting the Granite State starting to rise, the timing is excellent.

Another ray of hope comes from the Poor People’s Campaign: a national call for moral revival. Following Dr. King’s lead, the campaign sees militarism, along with racism, poverty, and ecological devastation as inter-related pillars of an unjust system that needs radical change. As a new Congress takes office, this is a good time for a new peace movement to make its voice heard.

What do you think it will take?

December 7, 2018

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Oaxaca Pride March Aims to Link Struggles

Oaxaca’ ninth annual Pride Parade set off from the Fountain of the Eight Regions at  about 5:30 PM yesterday, w
P7080733ith perhaps 100 people marching behind a rainbow banner and a marching band. Prior to the march, Jesús Yoshio Morales Ramírez read a statement explaining that two additional colors had been added to the flag.

A brown stripe represented the struggles of indigenous peoples, whose land and  communities are threatened by mega-projects, the new guise of colonialism and an expression of racism. The flag also bore a black stripe, marking the struggles against racism of peoples of AfricP7080744an descent.

Oppression is “a long chain whose links will never be broken if we continue to look at it in isolation, if we think that machismo, homophobia, transphobia, lesbophobia, and so on are not related to class struggle, misogyny, racism, discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities,” Morales said “It all forms part of a whole, it is the mortal alliance that puts us under and oppresses us and places us at the disposal of the elites and the dominant powers of the world.”

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The march proceeded down the hill through a major intersection into the city center, eventually reaching the crowded tourist zone, swelled with people typical of a Saturday evening in July. Along the way, the band kept playing at the front of the march while another group at the rear banged on drums and shouted chants. Several P7080853 people passed out condoms and information about HIV prevention along the way. By the end the number of marchers had doubled.

Morales read his statement again at the march’s conclusion, in the always busy plaza near the Santo Domingo church and museum. It’s not enough for Oaxaca to be “gay friendly,” he said, if people’s rights are not actually protected. “All of the rights, all of the people,” everyone chanted.

P7080824 You can find the statement, in Spanish, at http://www.laondaoaxaca.com.mx/2017/07/invitan-a-9a-marcha-calenda-por-el-orgullo-de-la-diversidad-sexual-e-identidad-de-genero/

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Glimpses of the 2016 World Social Forum

With 200 simultaneous workshops spread among a dozen university buildings in several Montreal neighborhoods,  it was a little challenging to recognize the scope of the 2016 World Social Forum.  Nonetheless, it was clear from day one that thousands of people were there, and that it feels good to be part of a global social movement bringing together people dedicated to human rights, social justice, alternatives to predatory capitalism, and a halt to climate disruption.

We couldn’t see or experience it all, but here’s a few glimpses we captured along the way…


“I Went Looking for Ghosts and Found Coffee”

At the Forum’s opening ceremony we were drawn to a group of people with a banner about the 43 students kidnapped and presumably killed by police 2 years ago in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.  They invited me to attend a session with David Schmidt. 

Although—or perhaps because—he was raised in a fundamentalist family with aP8110109 profound fear of demons, Schmidt says he’s been fascinated by ghost stories since he was a boy.  It was the stories about fantastic creatures and weird occurrences he heard from Mexican friends that prompted him to visit a village deep in the mountains of Oaxaca.  There, he not only learned about the spiritual lives of the region’s Mixtec residents, but he also learned why so many people are forced to emigrate and about the raising of coffee.

In later travels, he learned about the benefits of fair trade for coffee growers.   One could say he’s become an evangelist for fair trade coffee, which he says has been a great boon to the Mixtec village where he had lived.  “Now when I go back it’s not a ghost town anymore.”

He’s a good writer and an excellent story-teller.  You can find out more from his website, Holy Ghost Stories.


Dismantling Corporate Power

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There were dozens of sessions coordinated under the umbrella, “People and the Planet Before Profit.”  I tried to get into one called “A North-South Dialogue on Extractivism,” but all the seats were full and people were already standing in the doorway.

Instead, I went down the hall to “Corporate Rights or Human Rights? The case of Investor State Dispute Settlement.”  This forum on the impact of bilateral investment treaties and the investor rights provisions of multi-lateral “trade” agreements brought together three dozen well informed people from several countries.  As trade justice activists have been pointing out since NAFTA went into effect 22 years ago, P8110129these agreements allow investors to bring claims before private tribunals (also known as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process) if they believe laws or regulations hamper their potential for profit.  The process is based on commercial arbitration practices, not on judicial review. A United Nations database lists 696 “Known treaty-based investor-state arbitrations,” 26% of which have led to rulings on the side of investors.  

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which President Obama plans to put before Congress during the “lame duck” session after the election, includes an Investor Rights/ISDS chapter, as does the pending Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) and TTIP, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that the Obama administration has been quietly negotiating with the European Union.   

Given the dominant role played by Canada-based firms in the global mining industry,  it was no surprise that extractive industries merited a lot of attention.  The session was the first I heard of a global campaign called “Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity!”  This campaign critiques P8110133voluntary corporate codes of conduct and is calling for a “binding instrument” through the UN to hold trans-national corporations accountable for human rights violations.    

The concept is not just backed by radical NGOs.  It also has support from the UN Human Rights Council, which adopted a resolution in 2014 “to establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, whose mandate shall be to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.”  The Working Group’s next meeting will be in Geneva in October.  


Wandering the Halls

In the evening we tried to attend one of the 22 “Grand Conferences,” or large lectures featuring major speakers.  Our choice was “Change the System, not the Climate,” with Naomi Klein and others on the agenda.  In the tunnel underneath the Judith Jasmin Building at the University of Quebec at Montreal,P8110145 we found a line of people waiting to get in.  Working our way to the end, we snaked through corridors, up stairs, around corners, walking for 5 or 10 minutes before reaching the end, where we introduced ourselves to an organizer from Quebec City who works on climate with retired public sector workers. 

After another 5 or 10 minutes moving forward in line we were told the crowd capacity of the hall had been reached. But we were also told we could stay in line and attend a different “Grand Conference,” this one called “Education, Environment and eco-citizenship: the art of living together.”  That sounded interesting.  But again, after a few minutes we were told the room was at capacity, so we wandered some more in the below-ground corridor that connected several UQAM buildings.  Soon we found ourselves back in a line, which we followed into an auditorium that turned out to be the forum on “eco-citizenship.” 

There, the program was in French, with no translation.  Given the limitations of our French comprehension, we decided to leave and spent an enjoyable hour browsing tables set up by left-wing (mostly anarchist-leaning) bookstores.  We also met Ricardo Levins Morales and bought a couple posters.  (Visit his Art for Social Justice website.)


Workers of the World Take on “Free Trade”

On Friday morning I decided to check out a forum on “unions and trade P8120176agreements.”  This time I got there early enough to get a seat and a headset; the session was going to have translation.  The panel had a French-speaking moderator and speakers came from Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, the Basque region, Tunisia, and Mexico. Then there were “interveners” from Argentina, Colombia, and Belgium.

Because the translation was not well done (especially from Spanish to English) I may have missed a lot.  What I got was a well-informed but pretty standard discourse on why “free trade” agreements are bad for workers.  A few key points:

  • Some Swiss communities have declared themselves “TISA-Free Zones.”  TISA is the “Trade In Services Agreement,” a profoundly dangerous proposal that obviously has gotten more attention there than in the USA.
  • The labor chapters of the trade agreements are weak.
  • There is a need for convergence of labor with different struggles, e.g. climate.
  • The advent of the neo-liberal trade agenda has created a need for unions to work together, including along North-South lines.  It’s about time!
  • There will be a “Continental Day of Action for Democracy and Against Neo-Liberalism” on November 4.  More info here in Spanish.

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There were several topics I would have love to hear more about:

  • How are labor movements responding to the opposition to neo-liberal trade agreements that are rooted in nativism?
  • What have we learned from successful and unsuccessful resistance to other agreements?
  • How is labor building alliances with other sectors that would be harmed by privatization and deregulation of services in a Trade In Services Agreement?

Unfortunately, there was no time left for questions or discussion after the 6 panelists, 3 interveners, and 5 more short speeches.


Border Struggles and Migrants Rights

The afternoon workshop on migration benefited from a good facilitator, 4 speakers who were able to deliver their comments clearly and briefly, and a good translator (once we got the proper headsets instead of the ones that were translating the speakers in the adjacent lecture hall). 

Stefanie Kron, the moderator, started out by noting the exclusion of hundreds of Social Forum participants from the Global South whose visas were denied by the Canadian government, an example of harsh policies targeting migrants.  She also noted the “externalization” of border controls by the EU and the US governments, such as the US push on Mexico to increase the number of migrants it arrests and deports crossing its southern borders (see my recent article).  On the other hand, she noted the rise of transnationally connected movements for the rights of migrants.

I was impressed with the comments of Mostafa Henaway, from the ImmigrantP8120224 Workers Center, a Montreal group that’s been around for more than 15 years.  He described problems with guest worker programs in which the rights of workers to migrate is tied to specific employers, a condition which makes it risky for workers to demand just conditions.  Nevertheless, organizing is going on, including a hunger strike protesting indefinite detention.  He also noted that Canada is the 2nd largest exporter of arms to the Middle East, giving the country some share of responsibility for the violence that has caused so many people to flee.  

Later, in response to my question about building alliances between movements for peace and movements for the rights of immigrant workers, he observed that the immigrants’ rights movement in Canada is rooted in anti-xenophobic sentiments that flowed from the beginning of the “war on terror” after the 9-11 attacks.  

P8120255Rosa Nelly Santos, from Honduras, talked about the large numbers of people who have fled due to hunger and terror.  Thousands of migrants have just disappeared; their families don’t know if they died on the road or what.  Her organization, COFAMIPRO, brings together mothers to search for their missing children. 

She also emphasized that the right not to migrate, i.e. the right to have a decent, secure life at home, has to be an emphasis along with the rights of migrants.   

In the end, Stefanie Kron outlined 4 points for further attention:

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  1. Opening and preserving legal channels for migration,
  2. Strengthening trans-national organizing,
  3. Raising the visibility of the migration issue within the Social Forum process, and
  4. Organizing additional trans-national gatherings.

Sounds like a good agenda to me.


“People and Planet Over Profit”

The final official event we attended was a Convergence Assembly on free trade and extractivism.  In Forum-speak, a “convergence assembly is a gathering focused on presentations of initiatives for action.  These assemblies aim to broaden the coalitions of civil society that work in related fields and wish to act together.  They are a step to build or reinforce an international network of actors of change that give themselves priorities of action.”

What that meant in this case was a lively program with short speeches touching on resistance to pipelines in Canada, tailings dams in Brazil, mining in Guatemala, and “free trade” agreements everywhere.  The November 4 Day of Action for Democracy and Against Neo-Liberalism was promoted, as was the call for a week of action to confront corporate impunity when the inter-governmental working group on transnational corporations meets in Geneva in October.

This assembly had good translators, effective facilitators that kept the program moving at a quick pace, a few minutes for participants to meet people in nearby seats, and even an open mic time for participants to speak about their own projects.  Throughout the program, one activist added to a global map every time a new campaign was described and the projectionist located relevant web pages as actions were announced.  

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This was one of 22 convergence assemblies that took place during the week.  It was a good way to end the day.


When the Forum ended, organizers reported

The World Social Forum (WSF) is very proud of this 12th edition of the WSF, the first to be held in a Northern country.  The event counted 35,000 participants, including 15,000 who were present at the opening march, where 125 countries were represented. Let’s remember that at the first World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre in Brazil in 2001, 20,000 people took part in the event. Therefore, considering such numbers, the organizers are more than satisfied as to the results of a first World Social Forum held in a Northern country.

In total, 1,300 self-managed activities took place, as well as 200 cultural activities and 6 parallel forums, the organizers said.  In addition, the planning involved 26 self-managed committees. 

By next week we should be able to find a calendar of initiatives posted on the World Social Forum website.  See you there!

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As we walked into Manchester’s Veterans Park, where yesterday’s Black Lives Matter march would begin, the first person we saw up close was a white man carrying a large rifle.  He was approached right away by Matt Lawrence, one of the activists who had volunteered to be peacekeepers (or “ushers”) for the march.

Organizers of the march had asked people not to bring weapons, Matt calmly explained.  The rifle-bearing man said he was there to help the police with security.  He would be joined by others openly carrying weapons throughout the next two hours. 

As the Back Lives Matter crowd swelled to more than 200, the number of counter-demonstrators grew as well.  By the end, a group of men who were apparently members of a motorcycle club were attempting to goad activists into heated arguments about whether or not “all lives matter.” 

Several members of Manchester’s police department stood by, generally on the edges of the crowd. 

For the duration, a small group of peacekeepers, identified by their white arm-bands, kept an eye on the counter-demonstrators, often walking and chatting with them.  At other times they placed themselves between the two groups as way to provide a buffer, diffuse tensions, and discourage the anti-racism activists from engaging in the types of heated arguments that could have easily escalated into violent conflict that would put lives at risk and interfere with the march’s purpose.

Given the recent events in Dallas and provocative statements from the city’s police chief, this was not an idle concern. 

By the time we left at about 9 pm, most of the demonstrators and counter-demonstrators had already departed.  Two activists were still arguing in a generally calm manner with a young woman carrying a large rifle.  But by then it was clear that the march had successfully created an opportunity for people to express outrage against the pattern of police killings of Black people.  Participants, many of them young, felt the strength of people coming together in a call for change.  It was loud, spirited, and peaceful, which had been the organizers’ intent. 

A few observations:

First, it was constructive for the organizers to be clear that the march was intended to be peaceful and to post guidelines on Facebook:

-if confronted by a counter protestor or violent person, remain calm and peaceful and try to keep moving

-if someone comes at you with their fists, weapon, etc, step back and call for one of the ushers to take control of the situation until law enforcement arrives

The explicit guidelines made it easier for peacekeepers to do their jobs.

Second, peacekeepers demonstrated several techniques that proved to be effective. 

– Talk one-on-one with people who appear hostile.  Introduce yourself.  Try to make a human connection.  Keep them busy talking to you. 

– Remind activists that the purpose of the action is best served by refusing to take the bait from hostile counter-demonstrators looking for a fight. 

– Stay calm and help others do the same.

In a Facebook post after the march, Alex Fried reflected on peacekeeper training he had received several years ago.  “I’ve never had to use the skills I gained in that training until tonight,” he wrote.  “I went up to one of them and introduced myself. I kept my hands open and in front of me at all times. We shook hands and spent the march together. I talked with him about his life, his political opinions, his childhood growing up in NH, and his job working for a weapons manufacturer. As much as possible we kept the armed protesters separate from the march.”

I’ve seen plenty of counter-demonstrators over the years, but last night is the first time I’ve seen them show up with weapons.  If that’s a sign of things to come, let’s get more peacekeepers trained.  

 

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The movement of fast-food workers demanding wages of at least $15 an hour made a spirited visit to Concord, New Hampshire this afternoon.

About 35 workers and allies chanted and marched down Loudon Road from HazenP5050187 Drive to East Side Drive and back again on the other side.  The route took us past Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s, and other establishments that currently depend on low-wage workers. 

The Granite State actually abolished its minimum wage in 2011, which means that the base pay for most workers is $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum.  The base pay for tipped workers is even less.  Attempts every year since then to restore the minimum wage and raise it have been unsuccessful, largely due to effective lobbying by trade associations of businesses that pay low wages.

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“You can’t survive on $7.25.  Live free or die!” was one of the chants.

Others included “Hey McDonalds, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”  P5050127(The names of other businesses can be substituted.) 

The marchers went inside at KFC, where they chanted for several minutes before leaving voluntarily.  At McDonalds we were locked out.  Several members of the Concord Police Department met up with us at Burger King, where they explained the rules regarding trespass and disorderly conduct to labor organizers who no doubt were already familiar with the law.   

Today’s demonstration was organized by SEIU Local 1984, the Granite State

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Organizing Project, and the United Valley Interfaith Project. 

GSOP and UVIP have been holding monthly “Fight for $15” protests in Concord, Manchester, Nashua,P5050098 and West Lebanon, but typically with smaller groups and a less confrontational approach.  The monthly actions generally take place on the 15th of the month.   

For more information, contact

GSOP at 603-668-8250 or http://granitestateorganizing.org/

UVIP at 603-443-3682 or

http://www.unitedvalleyinterfaithproject.org

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“One Day Longer, One Day Stronger”

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With an inflatable corporate pig hovering behind them, hundreds of IBEW and CWA members with their allies rallied at the State House yesterday calling for a fair contract with FairPoint Communications.

The two unions went on strike ten weeks ago following months of frustrated bargaining before and after their contract expired on August 2.

“In April, FairPoint came out with their one contract proposal,” IBEW leader Glenn PC190063 Brackett said, waving his index finger while speaking from a stage attached to a Teamsters truck parked next to the State House.

The unions made three comprehensive proposals and even offered $200 million in concessions, Brackett said. But the company has refused to deal and lied to the public along the way. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of consumers have complained to the Public Utilities Commission that the company, which took over Verizon’s New Hampshire landlines in 2008, is not providing the services for which it is getting paid.  Vermont’s E-911 system has been among the casualties, as has the City of Nashua’s internet service. 

“This company has no credibility,” Brackett charged.

“The corporation is in North Carolina and this morning they have internet.  They’ve got 911 and their telephones work,” Brackett said.  “Why?  Because FairPoint does not provide services to the communities in which their executives live.” [see video] 

“How long will the State of New Hampshire allow its public safety to be threatened by a company frPC190054om North Carolina?,” Brackett asked. 

Strikers and supporters took a few circuits around the State House lawn, chanting and chatting, while  Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and retired IBEW member Linda Horan greeted them as they went by.  Other political figures in the crowd included State Representative Renny Cushing and State Senators Jeff Woodburn, Donna Soucy, and Lou D’Allesandro. 

The crowd left the State House at about 12:30 pm and walked a few blocks to the FairPoint office on South Street, where they chanted some more and tauntedPC190065 strikebreakers who were looking down from company windows. 

The conflict is not just about wages and benefits.  Central to FairPoint’s strategy is its intent to outsource jobs now held by union members.  The unions points out that the service problems consumers are experiencing now will become the norm if FairPoint can hire unqualified contractors to perform functions now carried out by experienced union workers. 

The conflict over contracting out is emblematic of developments in the larger PC190064

economy, where outsourcing via staffing agencies is becoming the norm in ever larger sectors of the labor market.  Strong unions are about all that stops the slide toward a disposable workforce.

That may be why clergy from the United Church of Christ have decided to speak up about the FairPoint strike.  In a column published in the Valley News, they wrote:

So here we are today: hedge fund corporate owners versus dedicated New Hampshire (and Maine and Vermont) workers who have the courage to take a stand to protect the kinds of jobs that sustain families and strong communities. Shades of Moses standing up against Pharaoh’s hard heart, perhaps? Or David versus Goliath? Or Jesus challenging the greedy money changers?

According to the Concord Monitor, a spokesperson for Governor Maggie Hassan said she is “concerned about the disruption in FairPoint services and its impact on the state’s communications infrastructure, our public safety systems and economy, as well as the company’s overall commitment to the people and businesses of New Hampshire.”

“One day longer, one day stronger,” the strikers chanted.  That’s great spirit, but some emergency funds for workers on strike more than two months will help.  You can contribute to the IBEW/CWA Solidarity Fund by clicking here.

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