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REPORT FROM THE PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH

“A healthy movement has lots of creativity,” Judy commented as we walked down New York’s 42nd Street toward the conclusion of the People’s Climate March.  By that measure, the movement to reverse climate change P9210418is pretty healthy.

Today’s march featured lots of costumes, chants, street theatre, props, dances, puppets, and marching bands as well as slogans galore on banners and signs, many of them hand-made.  Many marchers carried signs that read “I’m marching for…” with a blank space each person could fill.  Organizations also brought printed placards for their members to carry to spread their own messages.

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“To Change Everything We Need Everyone” was an official slogan printed on hand-hed silk-screened banners and large ones carried high above the marchers.    Vanessa Simwerayi, for whom this was her first big march, saidP9210232 she was impressed with the big flat screen displays at several intersections showing solidarity marches taking place all across the world.  “Climate is something everybody has to face,” said Vanessa’s brother, Addy.   Marchers were more diverse in age than race, but it can certainly be said that the climate issue is getting significant attention from an aroused public. 

Participants paused for a moment of silence at about 1 pm, followed by everyone waving their hands and shouting, making a mighty roar that rolled up the avenue.P9210216 

Slogans and chants gave more attention to fracking and tar sands than any other issue, at least in the sections of the march I observed.  I was glad to see a couple P9210355 groups of marchers with banners calling attention to northern New England’s local tar sands threat, the prospect that the Portland-Montreal pipeline could be re-purposed to carry tar sands-derived oil for Montreal to South Portland, Maine. 

Addy Simwerayi said he was pleased to see local community groups calling attention to other social justice issues.

Without a rally at the beginning or end of the march, it was impossible to see or feel the size of the crowd.  It also meant that the march’s message was delivered through the aggregation of varied messages rather than the words of official spokespeople. P9210227 (2)

Stretching for blocks along Central Park West, marchers assembled in good spirits waiting for the procession’s late start.  Our section of the march didn’t start to move until about 2 pm.  Eventually the march started down the avenue and chugged along in high-spirited fits and starts for  a couple of hours, down Central Park West, east on 59th Street, South on Sixth Avenue, and west on 42nd Street to its conclusion on 11th Ave.  Volunteer ‘peacekeepers”  wearing orange t-shirts were dispersed through the crowd to provide information and intervene in the case of unpleasantness.  Unless you count a guy with a battery-powered P/A system haranguing marchers that they should be attending to homelessness and the perils of tobacco instead of the climate, I didn’t see any unpleasantness.

For most of the route marchers occupied the width of the major streets and avenues, with metal barricades separating marchers from pedestrians and onlookers.  New York police were very much in evidence, but didn’t have much to do other than keep their barricades intact.  

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The New Hampshire contingent was organized largely by 350 NH, the local arm of the international action group.  Riding back on the bus, fellow travelers with  internet access reported march organizers were saying there had been more than 300,000 marchers.  From her seat on the bus, Sarah Hubner commented, “I just hope somebody was listening.” 

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Democracy Movement Takes a Message to Senator Ayotte

NASHUA, NH — The “Democracy for All Amendment” failed on a procedural vote today in the US Senate, but not before a dozen New Hampshire activists made one more attempt to get Senator Kelly Ayotte to support overturning the US Supreme P9110119Court’s “Citizens United” decision.

“Corporations are not people.  They should not control our political process,” Representative Sylvia Gale of Nashua said to the group assembled at City Hall Plaza at 9 am this morning.

The group was small, but they are part of a large movement of people concerned that “corporate people” and the wealthiest Americans have the legal ability to drown out competing voices in the political process.

“I don’t have a lot of money and I want my voice to be heard,” explained Fred Robinson, who drove to Nashua from Goffstown to participate.   

“Democracy should work for people,” offered Dr. Thabile Mnisi-Misibi, an ANC member visiting from South Africa.

The contingent of 13 people walked with signs and chants througP9110155h the downtown district to the Senator’s office.  There, they delivered a petition with 12,000 New Hampshire names calling on Senator Ayotte to support the constitutional change.   

“This is an issue for all of New Hampshire, and Senator Ayotte needs to get involved,” said Dan Weeks of the Coalition for Open Democracy, the group which led the organizing of today’s action.

Weeks handed the petitions and supporting material to Simon Thomson, an aide to Senator Ayotte, who met the group on the sidewalk outside her office.

Dan Weeks presenting petitions to Simon Thomson.

A similar action took place last week at Senator Ayotte’s Portsmouth office.

Ayotte voted Monday for a motion that allowed consideration of the amendment to go forward, but today joined her GOP colleagues voting against ending debate, thereby blocking the measure from an up or down vote on its merits.   New Hampshire’s other Senator, Jeanne Shaheen, was a co-sponsor of the amendment proposal.

The notion that the Supreme Court believes corporations are people, that money is speech, and that therefore corporations can spend without limits to affect election campaigns has provoked a reaction expressed through petitions, resolutions, and proposals for constitutional change.  SJ Resolution 19, the proposal defeated today in the P9110141US Senate, is just one of a couple dozen advanced by members of Congress in response to Citizens United.  Some groups, such as Move To Amend, have made it clear they think it doesn’t go far enough to reverse corporate constitutional rights.  But it was the only proposal likely to get considered in the foreseeable future, so many groups calling for constitutional change were on board. 

Writing in his blog at The Nation earlier this week, John Nichols said:

The amendment that is being considered is a consequential, if relatively constrained, proposal, which focuses on core money in political concerns but which does not go as far as many Americans would like when it comes to establishing that money is not speech, corporations are not people and elections should not be up for sale to the highest bidder.

Yet it is difficult to underestimate the importance of the debate that will unfold this week. The debate signals that a grassroots movement has established the rational response to a political crisis created by US Supreme Court rulings (including, but certainly not exclusively, the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions) that have opened the floodgates for domination of political debates by billionaire campaign donors and corporate cash.

No one expected the amendment to get the two-thirds vote it would need to pass or get a vote at all in John Boehner’s House of Representatives.   But the fact that any vote took place is evidence of a significant expression oP9110133f public sentiment that the“Citizens United” decision did serious damage to fundamental issues.  The questions now are whether the movement will grow or fizzle, and whether the pro-amendment groups will intensify their demands for more aggressive language or head down the familiar road of further compromise.  A decision to water down the language in hopes of gaining votes at this point would be a huge mistake.

“Constitutional amendments become viable when support for them grows so overwhelming that traditional partisan and ideological boundaries are broken,” wrote Nichols, who will speak at an AFSC dinner in Concord on September 27.  “When this happens, the divide becomes less a matter of Republican versus Democrat or left versus right and more a matter of a broken present versus a functional future.”

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Peace on the Corner

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Ken Mayers’ little red Honda hybrid was loaded up with banners and signs when I hopped in on Friday morning, headed for a peace protest at the corner of St. Francis Drive and Cerillos Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  There, Ken and other local activists give the community’s peace movement dependable visibility.  Friday was the 12th anniversary of their first weekly protest during the build-up to the Iraq war.P8080503

Back then the protest might attract upwards of a hundred people.  Now they are down to a few stalwarts, but someone is there every week.

Ken takes out a large Veterans for Peace banner but since the weather is calm, he assembles another using sections of plastic pipe.  The vinyl banner on one side says “Stop the War on Mother Earth.”  The banner on the other says “Close Guantanamo.”  Both are attached to the pipe framework with bungee cords.  I admire the design, and tell Ken about Don Booth, who held peace vigils for years in Concord and who never ceased fussing with banner designs and slogans.  Ken is able to hold the flag and the banner rig at the same time.

Ken started the Santa Fe Veterans for Peace chapter in 2002, but he’s been an activist longer than than.  He still runs a business out of his home, but peace is high on his agenda.  Ken has made several trips to Israel and occupied Palestine and participated in the 2011 “Audacity of Hope” flotilla to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. [Click here to read more about Ken.]  We share the distinct honor of having been arrested with Will Thomas in acts of civil disobedience.

I grab an FCNL “War is Not the Answer” road sign from the back of the car and join Ken on the sidewalk by the busy intersection.

The corner is on the road from Albuquerque to Los Alamos, which still functions as a lynchpin facility in US nuclear weapons development, but the location was chosen, Ken said, because it gets so much traffic.  Sometimes demonstrations are held in the center of town, near the state capital building P8080492 (“The Roundhouse”), but the weekly Friday protest is always at the corner.

Soon after we arrive, Ray rides up on his bike with his service dog, Dawson, and unfurls his own peace banner.  Ray tells me he and Ken were both active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War back in the day.  Now Ray supports programs that provide shelter to people who are homeless. 

Ken points across the intersection to another man having his own peace protest. 

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d2/Peace_sign.svg/220px-Peace_sign.svg.pngHis name is pronounced “Mo,” but he says he spells it with an “M,” an “h,” and a  – a peace sign.  He’d like the peace sign to be recognized as the 27thP8080470 letter and says his own vigil was inspired by former Beatle Ringo Starr, who asks people to stand out for peace and love at noon on his birthday.  Tibetan peace flags dangle from a pole that also sports Buddhist symbols, feathers, and peace buttons. “It’s a hippie thing, too,” he says.  A button that reads “stop the next war now” is pinned to his shirt.  He used to be joined by a World War 2 vet named Bob, but Bob is 90 years old and can’t stand out by the road for an hour.  So Mho stands by himself, waving peace signs to the cars driving by, just like Ringo suggested.

When I head back toward Ray and Ken’s corner I find another spot occupied by Mark and Bud with another set of signs.  Mark’s says “One Nation Under Surveillance” on one side and P8080482 “War is a Racket” on the other.  Bud holds a poster with lots of photos and the words “violence begets violence begets violence … ”  Later he gives me a copy of his film, “The Forgotten Bomb: Everything Depends on Remembering.”

Dave arrives and joins Ken and Ray.  His sign says “honk for peace” and it works pretty well.  But by then the allotted hour is up.

I help Ken take apart his banner display and stash it in the back of the car.  Ray and Dawson ride off on their bike.  The protest will resume next Friday.

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“Bring Back the Boss”

I have to cheer when workers take collective action to defend dignified working conditions.  So I was happy to stop by the pickP7300456et line outside the Demoulas Market Basket Supermarket in Concord for a chat with some of the workers this afternoon.

Three workers were out on the road, waving signs and collecting honks from motorists.   Others were by the doorways, hanging out with fellow workers who were on the job.  Workers are even making picket signs inside the store. They don’t have a union and the workers I talked to don’t want one.  This is the strangest strike I’ve ever observed.

Strangest of all:  their demand is to win reinstatement of the company’s paternalistic CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, who workers say has treated them well.

The chain’s 71 stores have been open since the labor conflict erupted two weeks ago.  The issue is a conflict within the Demoulas family, which has been squabbling for years.  When Arthur T. was deposed by the company’s board, workers revolted, from management to entry-level.  The stores are open but the shelves are getting bare, especially since the regional distribution center is mostly shut down.

The Boston Globe has provided a useful chronology.

Austin, who was waving a sign on Fort Eddy Road in Concord this afternoon, said the struggle has “a lot P7300461 of union aspects,” but said the workers have no interest in forming an actual union.  Apparently they believe their interests are being adequately represented by others who are at the negotiating table with the Demoulas family and the Board of Directors. 

I told him my own activist career started, in a sense, as a participant in supermarket picket lines during the United Farm Workers boycotts of the 1970s.  He has heard of Cesar Chavez and says the Demoulas workers have had supportive visits from union reps.  

Demoulas workers say that under Arthur T. they have been treated well, prices have been kept lower than in other chains, and customers have been happy.  Their fear is that the Board will discard profit-sharing and other policies that make Demoulas a good place to work. 

Brianna, who has been working as a cashier for a year, has been happy with her wages and says there’s been no talk of unionizing.  She just wants everything to go back to the way it was. 

What I wonder is whether workers who have gotten a taste of their power will go back to what she called “normal.”  “Normal” has a way of changing.  

 

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

The demonstration was called by 350NH.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This battle is far from over.

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8-29-13 008

COMMUNITY RALLY FOR FAIR PAY

ELLSWORTH, MAINE — On the outskirts of Ellsworth, Maine, just after we turned off Route 1 in pursuit of a more scenic route home, we heard a notice on WERU, an Orland-based community radio station, announcing that a rally in support of fast food workers had just begun.  Having been on vacation, we had been unaware that August 29 had been designated a day for fast food workers and their allies to strike and rally for a hike in wages to $15 an hour until Jan mentioned it to us the previous day. 

Assuming we would find the rally on the strip we had sought to avoid, we did a u-turn, re-traced our path, took a right, and soon found a small group of sign-holding protestors in front of McDonalds. 

For the next hour we joined them, with chants of “Low Pay, Not Okay,” and8-29-13 005 conversations about their other activities.  Standing under the sign reading “Looking for a job?  We are looking for you,” we waved at passers by, many of whom gave us friendly waves in return.

The activist group, made up of local retirees, began its life as Occupy Ellsworth and continues to meet regularly for social and educational events plus occasional actions.  The call themselves “Community Union,” and are already planning a Black Friday protest at a local retail store. 

The nationwide protest, backed by the SEIU, called attention to the low pay rates typical of work in fast food establishments and also to the fact that the federal minimum wage – stuck at $7.25 an hour – is far from enough for workers to support themselves, let alone their families.  In fact, members of the Ellsworth group pointed out that the wages earned by fast food and many retail workers are so low that they are eligible for public assistance.  That means taxpayers are subsidizing the operations of highly profitable corporations like McDonalds.  

The protest drew attention from Maine Public Radio Network and two local TV stations.  My hope is that workers will be emboldened to demand better pay, that state and federal lawmakers will raise the minimum wage, and that even giant corporations will be forced to give in. 

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PORTSMOUTH NH — Kim Richards’ mom scrubbed out her swimming pool before a recent family party at her home in Eliot, Maine. “By the end of the day,” Richards said, “the pool was full of this.” She showed us a photo showing lots of black soot, which she said comes from the Schiller Station coal-fired power plant just across the Piscataqua River in Newington, New Hampshire.

Richards, founder of a grassroots group called Citizens for Clean Air, was one of portsmouth 8-10-13 052 several speakers who addressed an August 10 rally in Portsmouth’s Market Square calling for a shut-down of the region’s few remaining coal-fueled power plants. “Residents of Eliot have long been suspicious,” she said, of Schiller’s atmospheric outputs. She finally got fed up and started a petition calling for an EPA investigation and got a resolution critical of Schiller adopted by the town.

“We will not stand idly by and let big corporations determine our living conditions,” she called out to the crowd of several dozen people outside Portsmouth’s North Church.

It’s not just soot and sulfur that motivated the turn-out, though. Mostly it’s the carbon, which is also emitted by Schiller, that aroused people concerned about  changes in the earth’s climate. “A coal-free future” was the focus of the rally, the first portsmouth 8-10-13 022 organized by 350 NH, an affiliate of the global activist group 350.org.

“Shut down Schiller. It’s a killer. Wind is clean. Let’s be green,” participants chanted.

Schiller is the region’s oldest and least efficient power plant in New England, “the baddest of the bunch,” said long-time activist Doug Bogen, “It deserves to be shut down,” he said.

Moreover, the potential of wind power is not just some green fantasy, Bogen insisted. Construction of wind turbines off the coast of New England could generate as much as 150,000 megawatts of power, enough to electrify the entire East Coast,portsmouth 8-10-13 103 he said, citing reports from the federal Department of Energy and the State of Maine.  Construction of the turbines—800 could be used off the coast of Maine—would also generate lots of jobs, twice as many as the coal industry.

Bogen is promoting a concept that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard be re-tooled for manufacture of offshore wind turbines. As a major industrial facility with a skilled workforce, located at a deep-water port, the Navy Yard would be an ideal site, he said, noting as well that an economic future built on wind power has other advantages over one dependent on the overhaul of the Navy’s nuclear submarines.

Bogen’s statement that we are either at the “sunset of a declining society or the dawn of a new one” may have been a tad apocalyptic, but his point was well taken. It is past time for commitment to a post-coal economy.

Jay O’Hara spoke of an aquatic route to the dawn of a new society. On May 15 he portsmouth 8-10-13 070 piloted a lobster boat named “Henry David T” into the path of a freighter delivering 40,000 tons of Appalachian coal to the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts. He and his colleague, Ken Ward, were arrested. Now facing five charges (negligent operation of a vessel, failure to act to avoid collision, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and conspiracy), O’Hara told the rally “our job is to make it clear what the moral ramifications of our actions are.”

It will take many kinds of actions to make a serious dent in fossil fuel use. Petitions,portsmouth 8-10-13 009 research, engineering proposals, rallies, leaflets handed to Market Square tourists, and dramatic nonviolent acts of civil disobedience are all called for. To its credit, 350.org and its offshoots take an all-of-the-above approach. Its leaders also appear to respect the role of culture and humor. That’s why the Market Square rally concluded with a skit pitting Mother Earth against Mean Mister Coal.

Yes, it may have been a bit ironic to hear the Leftist Marching Band performing “Which Side Are You On,” an anthem of Appalachian coal miner unions, at a demonstration calling for the shut-down of the coal industry. That song’s spirit, which deals with resistance to corporate domination, was not out of place. But it also stands as a helpful reminder that the climate movement would do well to devote more attention to the transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar and what will happen to actual workers along the way. There are moral ramifications, as well as political and economic ones, to the choices we have before us.

Click here to find 350 NH on Facebook. 

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